Saturday, June 22, 2013

Labasa

Today we took a bus to Labasa (pronounced Lam basa) with friends from catamaran Morning Glory. This is the largest town of Vanua Levu Island (Fiji's 2nd largest island) and brags of the first set of traffic lights on the island.

The area is very fertile and consequently has a big bustling market where we all excitedly purchased large pamplemouse (the grapefruit-like fruit that we loved in the Marquesas)! But sadly when we got them back to the boat and tasted them, they were not good at all. We have never found any that taste as juicy and sweet as in the Marquesas.

Happily selling their wares

There were a couple of parades happening in Labasa while we were there. One was quite unusual and I haven't been able to find any information as to what was happening and why. The Indo-Fijians (predominant here) were dressed up spectacularly in their very bright and jewelled native outfits...

2 lovely young ladies

Some lined up, lay down in the centre of the street, and then a fancy hand-drawn cart was pulled over the procession.

The other parade seemed to be promoting crime prevention. Leading the parade was the police department dressed in fancy outfits, and there were a few floats with pretty princesses, a stilt walker, cars with masked people, sign carriers, etc.

Dapper police

Everywhere we go in Fiji, someone is always saying Bula (boo la). This means a friendly Hello and Fijians are extremely friendly. The other word we use all the time is Vinaka (vee nah ka) which means Thank you.

We had an excellent curry meal at a restaurant before waiting amongst the din and bustle of afternoon pedestrians at the bus station. It was a long 3-hour return over verdant ridges to our boats on the other side where we arrived after dark.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

FIJI - Savusavu

As we left North Minerva Reef on June 16th with strong winds on the beam, we made for a fast day's sail under a double reef main, triple reef head, and storm staysail. The night was blustery with near gale force winds. Jordan was out on deck a few times through the night making minor sail adjustments and making sure everything was secure.

About 15 nautical miles from Savusavu (Fiji), we finally ran out of wind. We had been having a great sail right up till then. Around midnight, we dropped all sails to lay ahull so that we could enter the harbour safely during dawn's daylight. At 03:00, we started to slowly motor in, arriving at the mouth of the inner harbour at 05:15 June 20th where we drifted until the sun came up.

The harbour was small and there were about 40 boats there, most on mooring balls or at anchor. We tied up to a mooring ball at the Copra Shed Marina (S16°46.689' E179°20.033') at 07:15. The Marina arranged for the officials with their insouciant manner and schedule to come out to the boat for an easy check in.

The small town of Savusavu is located on Vanua Levu Island, the second most prominent of the 333 islands of tropical Fiji.

Fiji is predominantly populated by indigenous Fijians (mainly Melanesians and Polynesians) and Indo-Fijians. The Indo-Fijians came from India as indentured labourers in 1878 to work in the sugar cane fields. Today they are very much a part of the culture, and sari shops, temples, and curry houses are regular fixtures. Ethnic tensions still exist but are not visible to tourists. The government has experienced some upheaval here over the last few years with actual, yet mild coups.

Motley village architecture

Close to where we moored, we could see a wreck on the shoreline. There are a couple of stories making the circuit as to what happened to this boat. Were the folks aboard causing problems with the Fijians or did their propane tanks explode? The death of the couple is all very mysterious.

Tragedy in paradise

We were also close to hot showers, laundry facilities, and restaurants that made our dinghy ride the shortest yet. Many places served excellent and inexpensive curry dishes. We could also see the hot springs nearby...

Steam from the hot springs

One afternoon, we attended a talk given by a well-known sailor, Curly, who explained all the dangers of sailing around Fiji waters. The waters here are lousy with reefs and you should never sail at night except perhaps where the reefs are well marked (not very frequently though). There are usually a few boats lost each year and many others with stories of going on the reef but managing to extract themselves.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Back to North Minerva

After almost 7 months from sailing into New Zealand, we finally made our departure on sunny June 6th at 16:15 with the wind on our beam. Just before the sun was down, we were escorted by a pod of large dolphins. One dolphin, no doubt curious of Jordan's bright yellow rain slicker, followed him as he moved from stern to bow turning sideways and looking up at him.

The autopilot refused to think right at first but after an hour and a few restarts, it finally got its head clear and did its thing. The next morning, we tried the newly installed Saye's Rig wind vane and it worked fine, but it wandered a bit so went back to the more precise autopilot.

The weather was mostly sunny with a few isolated showers. Once away from the land that moderates the sea climes we soon experienced the briny undulation and I was just a little nauseous at first as I forgot to take a seasick pill after being at anchor for so many months. After 2.5 days of broad reaching (a great point of sail) out of New Zealand, there was mostly no wind so we resorted to the purr of the Perkins motor (54 hours!)

On June 13th, we set anchor (S23°39.631' W178°54.222') in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, once again back at North Minerva Reef. Already anchored were several boats we knew: Catharpin Blue, Meikyo, Morning Glory, Solstice as well as 2 others (1 being a power boat).

Our first stay at Minerva Reef in November 2012 on our way to New Zealand from Tonga resulted in the capture of 4 large delicious lobsters with friends on SV AKA. Unfortunately, this time Jordan's efforts were unsuccessful. The tide was high at mid-day making overflow runoff strong and still a bit cool in the water so he didn't stay in long. Such a change from November when the water was glassy smooth and warm.

He saw 2 lobsters but couldn't quite get a good shot with his spear gun. He also saw a few sharks and when 1 got too close for comfort, Jordan poked him with the tip of his spear and it scooted away.

Jordan snorkelling at Reef edge with strong runoff

The sun set early, between 17:00 and 17:30. We poured a nightcap, put on some music, and as dinner cooked, we danced. What a life! We ended the evening with Jordan serenading me on his violin. Oh...stop my heart...I am so happy and I know my man is too. I thank my beautiful, lustrous, heavenly stars every night.

We were the only boat at the Reef last night and for the second time was the last boat out, leaving it vacant for the next seafarer.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Good and bad

To balance the negative bureaucratic experiences, there are some pluses for visitors here in New Zealand. One is that if you are injured for any reason while visiting here, all medical treatment is free. Two incidents here that boaters we know of made use of this service. One was a broken hip and the other a broken wrist.

New Zealand is a beautiful country. We had a great tour of the North Island and the South Island by motorcycle and we spent some time sailing around in the Bay of Islands. New Zealand reminds us of Victoria BC on a smaller scale with all its islands, coastal scenery, picturesque mountains, and lush greenery.

This is a great place to get boat work done as almost everything can be purchased here or sent in pretty quickly. But it's not cheap anymore partly because the New Zealand dollar is strong against our Canadian dollar. But even the locals complain how everything is expensive. Having said that though, we completed a lot of necessary boat projects that we had been putting off until we got here.

I personally think the New Zealand Northland summer season is very short and the sandflies have a vicious bite. The Antipode winter season is now upon us down here and it's very chilly. We can even see our breath when talking in Sea Turtle some mornings and evenings. Brrr.....

I went swimming only once in the cold water when coerced by my visiting daughter. We are looking forward to warm water and clear snorkelling adventures as we head north. That seems strange to say, but we are so far south at the moment. When we left northern Canada, we said the exact opposite and were looking forward to warmer waters as we were then heading south.

So now we are elated, happy, overjoyed...we're off to Fiji this afternoon from New Zealand. We took refuge here from the northern hurricane season since November 12, 2012 (other than a 6-week visit home). We have a great weather window and checked out today with no hassles.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Bureaucracy

We, as well as many other sailors, have had unfortunate liaisons with New Zealand bureaucracy.

Our incident cost us $400 when we unwittingly checked into a New Zealand airport with ONE banana in our suitcase that we had forgotten about. We went through an appeal procedure with no luck.

Another boater needed to extend their Visa. They filled out all the forms and sent everything from Opua to Immigration in Auckland, 4 hours away by car. Immigration received the information prior to expiry of the Visa but informed the sailors they had used an old form. But yet the form had been given to them by a Custom official in Opua. The newer form was almost identical to the one they had filled out and did not ask for any different information than what they had already provided. It was impossible for them to fill out this new form and get it back to Immigration before their Visa expired. So now as overstayers, they had a $700 fine imposed on them. For a mistake that was the officials' fault.

The Custom's office even sent a letter to Immigration stating it was Custom's fault - not the boater's fault - but no dice. Even after several letters and emails, the sailors were told they still had to pay the fine as 'everyone is treated the same'.

Oh, really? Another boater sent their papers to Immigration with a courier that arrived 9 minutes after 16:00 - the time that Immigration closes. But the door was open and the papers were signed for. These sailors were informed that their papers were late and had to pay the $700 fine. They refused and demanded to speak to a superior (they had been dealing with the same official as the above sailors). They were reluctantly allowed to speak with someone else and were charged the regular price of $165 for a Visa extension without a fine.

Wait a minute - what happened to 'everyone is treated the same'??

Another incident involved a boater that incorrectly wrote 1 digit of their credit card number. Immigration sent a letter informing them that as they would have to redo their forms, they were now overstayers, and charged them the $700 fine. (I believe they left the country without paying this ridiculous fine.)

Some boaters, including us, would not return to an otherwise very beautiful New Zealand because of this bureaucratic idiocy.

BUREAUCRACY as defined by the dictionary: 1. a body of appointive government officials 2. administration characterized by specialization of functions under fixed rules and a hierarchy of authority, also an unwieldy administrative system deficient in initiative and flexibility.

Enough said...

Monday, June 03, 2013

Kiwi 'slanguage'

G'day mate. Here's a bit of Kiwi slang that we have heard throughout our stay in New Zealand.

As might be heard in the shopping market parking lot: 'Be careful with that trundler, you wouldn't want the bill from my panelbeater.' English interpretation: 'Be careful with that shopping cart, you wouldn't want the bill from by body shop.'

At the New World supermarket

Or, 'Can't find the short. Call the sparky.' (electrician)

Or, 'Thanks for your help.' Response: 'No worries.'

Washrooms or restrooms are simply toilets. 'Could you please tell me if you have a toilet in this restaurant?'

Barbecues are barbies, flip flops/thongs are jandals, grog is alcohol. And if you see BYO on a restaurant sign, this means that you can bring your own wine to drink with your meal! Something we can't do back home in Canada.

Kids may politely ask for a lolly which is a request for something sweet (i.e. lollipop, etc.)

If you're asked to 'bring a plate', don't bring an empty plate! This means to bring food to share.

And a contagious verbal mannerism is the response 'Yeah yeah yeah' in rapid fire. It's not considered rude, but an affirmation that you understand exactly what the other is saying.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Taking on crew?

Many boats take on crew for passages to help with watches and chores like steering, etc. Up till now, we have not had crew. That is to say, not in the flesh. But we do have what some sailors call an extra crew that works without sleep and doesn't complain and is very reliable (well, most of the time). That is, we have an autopilot. It runs efficiently on little electric power and is tied into our hydraulic steering. It has been with us since Mexico.

Another common self-steering device is a wind vane and there are various makes. They are mounted at the stern, are mechanical, and by sensing and using the wind, move a trim rudder that in turn steers the boat. The upside to these is that they use no electric power. The main downside is they don't work well when motoring or sailing in light winds.

We have had some failures with our electric/hydraulic crew man and it's always a worry that if it fails on a long passage, it would be hell to have to hand-steer great distances. So a backup wind vane would be wise. Jordan has always wanted to get a particular type that is best suited to Sea Turtle's configuration. It is made in California USA and is a very simple reliable unit, called the Saye's Rig wind vane. He's been looking a long time for a good second-hand one and recently spotted one. He contacted the boat owner to see if it was by chance for sale and sure enough was able to buy it for a fraction of its new price. This Saye's Rig will be a backup unit to use if our automatic pilot ever breaks down again.

The Saye's Rig is connected externally to a boat's rudder that is manipulated by a trim rudder. The connection to the rudder is a long looped bar that is trailing off the main rudder. So it required us to expose the bottom of Sea Turtle to do that attachment. We decided to careen her. That is a procedure of tying her up to a dock at high tide with her keel almost on the bottom. Then as the tide goes out, she would no longer have water under her and would lean against the dock - a common and inexpensive practice among boaters.

Well, we found out that Sea Turtle doesn't like this exercise. When the tide went out, poor Sea Turtle had her bow (nose) almost in the mud as she slowly fell forward from the weight in the bow. She settled to within an inch of snagging the main port shroud on a piling which could have been catastrophic if she had gone any further. Also, she settled just as one of the newly refurbished stanchions came in contact with the same piling. We were very lucky.

Sinking in the mud with bow almost touching

But there was nothing we could do until the tide came back up several hours later when we quickly motored away. The next day, we had Doug's Boat Yard once again put Sea Turtle on his slipway and pull us up and out of the water.

Jordan got busy and installed the Saye's Rig rudder bar to Sea Turtle's rudder and was finished by the following day.

Saye's Rig ready to go

We both feel more comfortable now knowing that we have a backup system if our automatic pilot fails as it has in the past. Jordan can't wait to head offshore and put the new crew man through the manoeuvres!