Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Wind, The Reef, and The Long Night

The weather reports we get have been, as a rule, quite accurate.  When we're underway, we get GRIB files and listen to a great radio net run by a former meteorologist.  When we're able to, we check a number of weather related websites as well.

So, it was a little exciting to realize that we could still be taken by surprise...

After a delicious meal onshore with Piko and Dilligaf, we enjoyed a dingy ride back to the boat in flat calm.  Reflection from anchor lights on surrounding boats twinkled in the water, mingling with bioluminescence and our gentle bow wake.  Moon.  Stars.  Calm.  I love dinghy rides like that.

About midnight, the wind started to kick up to about 20 knots, along with some spectacular lighting displays.  When we're underway, lightning totally freaks me out (I don't understand why we wouldn't get hit since we're sitting under a 55 foot lighting rod with nothing around for miles...), but when we're anchored surrounded by taller masts and land masses, I actually kind of enjoy weather like that.

I'd normally have no trouble sleeping through 20 knots, but the wind had shifted such that rather than being abeam of Piko with a comfortable distance between us, we were now in front of them with only a boat length or two separating us.  Practically speaking, this meant that if we did drag our anchor, we'd have basically no warning before we bore down on them.

In the course of the next hour, the winds built to the high 20's.  For those who don't know, the wind force is exponential - 20 knots produces 4 times the force that 10 knots produces, and 40 knots produces 16 times that force.  So, the difference between low 20's and high 20's is actually pretty noticeable.

As the winds built, I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep with Piko so close behind us, so I sat an anchor watch and decided to play the "watch the instruments and see if it gets to 30 knots game".  It's fun - I came up with it myself.

Our anchor held perfectly, and sometime around 2AM, I started feeling a little silly being on anchor watch.  Just as I was thinking about calling it a night, the main force of the weather system hit.  The light rain became torrential, and Britannia swung 90 degrees, sailing at anchor as the wind came roaring in at 40+ (we talked to many people that saw consistent wind in the mid 40's).  The boat heeled as violently as it ever has underway, and I invented a whole new game called "see if you can fill the water tanks in 40+ knots."

Because we'd changed directions, I was a little less worried about falling back onto Piko.  We had our dragging alarm on, and I was amazed that we weren't budging, just swinging in an arc behind our Rocna.  As I fought my way to the bow through rain drops that felt more like bullets, the anchor line was bar tight.  Between the wind and the heavy chop that built in the anchorage, Britannia was bucking pretty hard and I chose not to try and compute the snubbing loads she was generating.

Since I no longer had to worry about dragging into Piko, I chose instead to worry about dragging onto the reef that was directly behind us with this new wind direction.  We hadn't been facing this way when we'd anchored, and I wasn't sure what the radius of our swing circle was, not to mention any movement we might have if we started dragging.

The reef at dawn, just a few boat lengths behind Britannia
The next time I looked over at Piko, I got a sinking feeling in my gut.  She was heeled 35 degrees, and eerily still.  Not swinging in line with the other boats, and not responding to the wind or swell.  When I saw a corner of the jib come out, I knew they were in trouble, and had to be hard on the reef behind us.

I got in the dinghy, leaving Amanda with the dragging alarm on and the engine running.  Arriving at Piko, I was struck by two things in particular.  The first was how calm both Laurens were - I was expecting total chaos, or at least some serious stress, but they were responding to the situation perfectly, remaining calm and focused.  It was impressive, and I can only hope we'd react as well.  The second thing was how unnatural the motion of the boat felt as it lay on the reef.  Sometimes the chop would lift her off just enough to pound the boat back down again and even standing off the boat in the howling wind, I could hear the crunch.  It must have been both deafening and heart wrenching to hear that below deck.

Lauren Boy and I had a quick conference on the bow and decided that the best plan was to put out a secondary anchor and attempt to kedge off.  We loaded up the dinghy and I tried to place the anchor appropriately between Britannia and another boat to our starboard side.  Piko's windlass is the stuff of legend (she's been described as a windlass cruising around on a hull), but grinding down until the deck lights dimmed and the windlass stalled wasn't making a difference.  There didn't seem to be much else that could be done.  At this point, they'd been aground for about an hour or so, and the bilge was dry and the tide was rising.  It was fair to hope that the situation wouldn't worsen, and there wasn't much else that we could think to do in the dark and the wind.  It felt weird to leave them, but winds were still in the 40's, more weight on Piko wasn't going to help anything, and I was still worried about Britannia.

As the winds subsided, the direction shifted 90 degrees again, and Britannia was now directly over  Piko's kedge anchor.  We could actually hear the rode grinding on the hull at times.  If Piko came off the reef, it was likely that the secondary anchor rode would act like a big rubber band and send her right into us.  There was still only a boat length or two between the two boats.  I got back in the dinghy and Lauren and I set our secondary anchor as yet another kedge.  Piko's bow was starting to look pretty tangled in a web of rode, snubber and chain.

The wind was in the low 30's at dawn as Piko came off the reef.  The feeling of relief at seeing the mast pointing up and boot stripe comfortably above the water line was huge.  We gave a big cheer and started feeling like it might be time to think about relaxing.  As we watched though, Lauren Girl looked back from the helm and I could just make out her yell of  "we've got no power" over the wind.  That was weird - the bilge had remained dry...  I couldn't figure out why they would have lost power.  That meant that they no longer had a VHF or a windlass.  I got back in the dinghy.

So did Jake from Hokeulea and Bill from Dilligaf.  Good thing too, because as we approached Piko, Lauren said "now the engine's died too!".  Piko was totally dead in the water, 100 feet in front of the reef that they'd just escaped, in a gusty 30+ knot winds .  Lauren Boy had managed to get the second kedge anchor up, but the first kedge was still set (though not placed appropriately to keep them off the reef or off of us), and their primary was still on the bottom somewhere. 

We used the dinghies as tugs, keeping Piko in place, while Lauren Boy dove to clear what turned out to be a fouled prop (the rode from the secondary kedge had wrapped on the prop shaft).  It was a relief to hear the engine start back up and feel like the immediate prospect of disaster had been diverted.  For reasons unknown, Piko still had no power, so Lauren and I raised the primary anchor by hand and buoyed the primary kedge for later retrieval.

Piko unanchored and without power

Bill had scouted out an available mooring ball for Piko to pick up. Once she was tied on, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief.  It had been a long adrenaline filled night.

As it turned out, Piko's master breaker had tripped - they had the radar, all instruments, computers, VHF and the windlass all on all at once.  I guess they'd just never used that much power before.  A quick dive of the boat showed just how tough she was.  There was a good chunk of glass missing from the rudder skeg, and a few gouges in the keel, but other than a good deal of missing bottom paint.  The boat was basically undamaged.  It was a good practical lesson in the value of a skeg hung rudder.  If they'd had a spade rudder, it almost certainly would have been badly damaged.

The biggest lesson for me was not to get complacent in my trust of the weather forecasts. If you anchor every time knowing that there's always a possibility that severe weather could come in, you won't be caught by surprise. Britannia could have easily been in the same situation as Piko that night. After all, we're basically the same boat, with exactly the same anchor, in the same wind, in the same holding. We will never know how it happened.  Did we drag? Did they? If they did, why didn't we? I'm thankful that this lesson learned wasn't as painful as it could have been. May God and lady luck always be so kind.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A nice surprise; Musket Cove

Hiking Malolailai island with Tavarua on the horizon

Almost like a honeymoon vacation

We're adding this one to our collection of "interesting" signs

The anchorage at Musket Cove

Musket Cove Marina

Sunday night BBQ with cruising friends

Pool day!

A great day for a hike around the island with Jake and Jackie (s/v Hokulea)

After leaving Saweni Bay we spent a night anchored off Beachcomber Island in the Mamnuca Group.  It wasn't so great; a deep, rolly anchorage, with the nuisance of jet skis and tour boats buzzing all around. By morning I was in a foul mood and ready to go anywhere as long as it was away from there.

We weighed our options and randomly chose Musket Cove on Malololailai island. It was close, and a known safe place to anchor to wait-out the forecasted rain. After being in the city, I was hoping to get away to a quiet, isolated place. From what we'd heard and from scoping it out on Google Earth we didn't expect to like it much. We're not into posh-snotty resorts or tourist traps; you know, for those other types of yachties. But we were pleasantly surprised. The yacht club's easy breezy policies, the use of all the facilities, (pools, paths, laundry, showers, garbage disposal, water, fuel, grocery store, cafe, bar, surf moorings, book exchange), were accessible and affordable- some even free. Best of all, we finally caught up with friends that we haven't seen since Savusavu, New Zealand and Kadavu. So maybe we are all into the amenities and creature comforts... I'm going to take a long hot shower and ponder that one :)

Looking out towards the mainland (Viti Levu) from Malolailai

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lautoka; for better or worse

We've been anchored at Saweni Beach near
Lautoka for a week now. Here are the pros
and cons of being back in the big city.

Spices at the market

Finally; fresh veggies!

The road to Saweni Beach

Local Rugby at Sunset

 The grocery stores aren't the best for variety or availability but after the isolation of Kadavu, the produce market is great!

There are buses that service the beach, but aren't frequent so we walk the road to the main highway. It's about a mile of country road that reminds me of the midwest in the summer. We really enjoyed getting out for a nice walk, but man, were we dusty when we got back to the boat.

We passed an evening rugby game on the way home. Sweet to see the neighborhood and the locals in their element.

Lautoka is the Sugar City and you can see can it growing everywhere. Unfortunately, the fields are burned after harvesting so the air is full of smoke.  Well, from that and burning garbage. Like all third world big cities, garbage disposal is a problem. The big trucks and busses belch diesel fumes and black smoke pours out of industrial smoke stacks. Our deck is sooty but there's no use cleaning it until after we sail to the next anchorage.

Trucks waiting to drop sugar cane off at the mill

Typical activities on Britannia; drink coffee, play guitar, listen to podcasts, hang out with Piko.

We've enjoyed eating-out and walking through town. It's not all that big or difficult to get around. After only 2 days I think I've seen pretty much all of the main streets and picked up everything we need or want. Krister bought new headphones for playing guitar and I got portable speakers for listening to music at the beach and in the V-berth.

Fully stoked for Indian food

So that's about it. Happy to have the fast internet and all the amenities of town, but also looking forward to getting back to crystal clear water and white sandy beaches.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Gender Limbo

Nabouwalu Village

We recently visited a small village on Ono Island in Kadavu,(still in Fiji). When I say small, I mean about 70 people, no cars because there are no roads, no TV because there is no power grid, no store to buy stuff, and no school so no school age kids (they stay at a boarding school during the week so we didn't see them). The village is called Nabouwalu; literally village "number eight." Hard to picture it if you've never been there but I'll do my best to give you a sense of it.

Situated along the shallow water front, behind a protective line of palms, stand a couple dozen small buildings, the largest of which is the church. They are not in rows, or numbered, and they're surrounded by neatly kept grass and fruit trees. Foot paths are beaten into the ground, but are not traveled frequently enough to wear the grass away. Quaint and quiet. Except for that gong-like clanging, but we'll get back to that.

After an overnight sail from Taveuni, we anchored in the large bay with Piko and Dilligaf. Fijian custom requires that visiting yachts come ashore to meet the chief, present them a gift of kava, and ask permission to... well do whatever it is one may want to do there. It is not alright to just go wandering about thru their private property. The ritual is called sevusevu. Sometimes it is short and sometimes it can become hours of kava drinking. I like it because it's an easy opening to go ashore and interact with the locals. So just after putting the boat to rest that's what we did.

The Traditional Fijian Bure
A few of the village men greeted us as we arrived. "Bula, bula!" The now familiar greeting of welcome and hello. They gave us a tour around. As we walked, men and women came over and shook our hands with genuine smiles and enthusiasm. They showed us their fruit trees, poinsettias, kava plants, the hot spring, and the bure built by the whole village to accommodate a tourist that wanted and "authentic and traditional" Fijian experience (ironic given the setting). We continued to walk and meet villagers. They handed us papaya and beautiful shells and asked for help repairing an outboard engine. We laughed together at the hunting dogs chasing pigs. The toddlers stared at us wide-eyed; hiding behind their mothers' shirts, shy but curious.



It turns out that we turned up on just the right day. The villagers of Nabouwalu were just finishing roofing their new solar storage house. (This was not the banging I wrote of above.) One of the village women is in India studying solar power installation and the town has been preparing to fit each house with it's own panel. The completion of the building was celebrated by a community tea which we were invited to join. And here's where the gender thing starts to manifest itself.

When cruising, boat tasks usually are broken down into pink and blue jobs. Something that isn't as prevalent or noticeable on land. It's not a hard line, but even on Britannia, I do the cooking and most of the cleaning and Krister does most of the installations and fixing of things. (He is a mechanical engineer so that makes sense right?) So I thought maybe this is more of the same. The women baking and serving tea and the men building and constructing. But then I noticed that the women didn't eat until we (the cruisers and the men) were finished.

Two days later we were invited to a lovo (a Fijian banquet prepared in an underground oven). This celebration and ceremony was not for us. It was a thank you to a villager that works in Suva that had donated the building material for the solar house and as such, it was not the usual tourist, chatty event. It was a solemn affair, with blessings and prayers. The village reciprocated with gifts to the man and his family of coconut oil and woven floor mats. Just before sundown, we went ashore and were greeted by our new friends and brought to the village mayor's home. Then we walked to what I think of as the kava-drinking house to wait while the women finished preparing the meal. Now here's the thing; Lauren girl had stayed on board Piko due to a headache, and Bill and Sue on Dilligaf had sailed to the next anchorage, which left me as the only female cruiser. And now the only female in the room. Awkward. Not only was there the language and the cultural barriers, but I felt stuck in limbo. I was a guest, so working with the women wasn't appropriate, but I am also clearly not a man. So as the sun set, we sat together on woven mats with the village elders and waited quietly until word came that it was time to eat.
Fijian Food; what looks like bread is cassava and taro root
The hall was set with plates and dishes piled with food; fish, crab, pork, chicken, taro greens in coconut milk, wild spinach, cassava, taro root... But no forks and knives and no glasses. We sat in long rows with the men, feasting happily with our hands. Everything was BBQ-smoky and delicious. The taro and cassava were great, but starchy so I reached for my bottle of water saying "Americans drink a lot." Smiles and chatter. It felt like a big family dinner- with the men eating and the women hustling about, exchanging empty plates for full ones. When the chief and elders finished, the women and young men took their places. There were a few small boys eating and playing with each other, but only one little girl. And she watched me throughout the whole dinner. It felt like she had never seen a white women or straight hair before. Her father sat her on his lap across from me and smiled; offering her hand to me to shake. The room held a warmth and friendliness not unusually found among strangers or the newly acquainted.

Round II: Women and Children

Krister, who had gone off to pound kava, peeked inside to tell me and Lauren boy to come outside. Although the dinning hall had only been lit by one bulb(run by an old generator and strung along multiple extension cords), the darkness was thick and we stumbled towards a clanging sound; the sound of kava root being pounded in a heavy metal bowl. This sound can be heard at any time of day in many of the anchorages. The beating stick was heavy too and the guys took turns bringing it down hard against the roots until all that was left was a fine powder. Time to drink kava.

The kava bowl

Lauren drinking from the bilo

The bilo is passed around. The group of women in the back corner did not drink. 

So as the women cleaned up, we (me and the men) went to the kava drinking-house and prepared the first bowl of grog. There's a whole ritual that goes along with it; the bilo (half a coconut shell) is filled, and brought over from the bowl. The drinker claps once, drinks until it's empty, hands the bilo back and usually claps 3 times, but in Kandavu they clap 5 times. The chief drinks first, then the elders, then the bilo was handed to me. I don't know if it was because I was the first guest or because of my gender, but I was always given a "low-tide" cup, meaning it was only half full. Krister was also offered "low-tide" but Lauren was always given a full cup. Huh. As the cup was pasted around, more kava was made and women filtered into the back of the room. I noticed that they never drank and I never saw them offered any. Earlier in the evening Krister had asked if it was okay that I was there- the guys said yes and chuckled like it was a funny thing to ask. I had a great time and was thankful to be welcomed into the community- even if I was an anomaly.

At 6/16/2012 10:05 AM (utc) our position was 16°26.75'S 179°56.28'W

Monday, July 2, 2012

In and around Kadavu


From  floor to ceiling

Clown fish guarding their home

White-tip reef shark

Krister hovering over coral and fish

Amanda coming up for air

Since posting last, we haven't seen a non buddy-boat. Kadavu is close to Suva, but feels way remote compared to any place we've been in Fiji. We've gotten out of the habit of following the cruising guide for anchorages, and we've started getting more adventurous and just dropping the hook wherever looks good. Sounds simple enough, and it's a little strange I guess, that it's taken us this long to feel comfortable making calls on our own. Feels good though. Right now we're in 15 feet of water over white sand. It reminds me a little of Tahiti.

The moon's almost full and the sky is clear which means that we'll have one of these almost eerie swimming pool-ish views by moonlight tonight. Sounds like a good night to sit in the hammock long after the sun's gone down.

The visibility in the water here is amazing - leaps and bounds above anything we've seen. It actually makes moving around in the reef hard because we can see everything. This morning when we were moving to this anchorage, I thought we were in 45 feet of water because I could see sand and bommies below the boat, but when I looked at the sounder it was 98 feet. As we sit in 15 feet right now, it seems like the boat is suspended in air and if it wasn't for the surface ripple on the water, I'd almost be afraid to jump overboard.

All that good vis has made for truly epic snorkeling. Head and shoulders above anything we've ever seen before - the coral formations are AMAZING - caves and swim-throughs everywhere you look with 80 foot walls of both hard and soft coral. We've seen sharks, a turtle, Mahi Mahi and more little reef fish than I've ever seen before. We'll post pictures when we can.

Beautiful bay & crystal clear water

At 6/16/2012 10:05 AM (utc) our position was 16°26.75'S 179°56.28'W