No, no, no ! Don’t you be worried ! Although having been seperated from my loved ones for more than a month now, the psyche of the skipper is still in good shape. Turbulent was the weather which got affected by a tropical depression during these last days. That’s why I’ll do another post with pics of wind and rain.
After being at anchor out at the reef for more than two weeks, a few days in Savusavu are a welcomed change. Because of the forecast I took down the big sunroof and gave it to a local tailor to stich up a few holes. Then we wait for the wind. The weather prediction was spot-on and despite being well protected behind the little island, we still had a constant 30 knots with gusts reaching into the 50ies.
It wasn’t too easy doing pictures with the rain coming in horizontally and the light being only slightly above candlelight-level while working mostly with maximum zoom. It was a lot easier on the next day, during the ‘golden hour’ when the water level was at it’s high and we could watch as an australian yacht was pulled out of the mud.
The Beneteau somehow got the mooring line around the keel and shaved through it after which the boat was adrift and ended up close to the mangroves. That was pretty lucky – as there is enough coral around to split the thin fibreglass hull. But the lucky boat got stuck in soft mud and could be towed out at the next high tide without any further damage. Two dinghies and a boston whaler from the local perl farm pulled on the mast to lift the keel out of the mud and a dive boat with 500hp pulled the yacht into deeper water.
Uh ! And I’ve even got more good news: After waiting for eight weeks, yesterday my christmas parcel finally arrived !! After months I’ve finally got a decent computer again. Yay !
My old MacBook Pro died in the caribbean when a glass of water was spilled over it. The replacement, a MacBook Air killed itself when the internal (SSD-) harddrive got knocked out. So I had to use the ship’s navigation computer, an old Asus EeePC. It’s a nice little laptop that draws nearly no power but for working with pictures and videos it’s the wrong equipment. That’s why I’m as happy as a child on christmas day to finally have a decent laptop that won’t lag behind when I’m typing my blog posts. Maybe it also has positive influence on the frequency of updates. Only two posts duting the last month ?!? That’s an all-time low, I better start writing again…
With all the work on the engine I completely forgot one of my favourite blog topics: the weather !
The marine weather report here in Fiji is quite funny: although there was not much wind during these last weeks, we were continuously warned of foul weather and heavy rain. When we had 15-20 knots, the marine weather warned of ‘rough seas’ sometimes even mentioned ‘very rough’ seas – even when the wind in this area wouldn’t even exceed 25 knots. I guess, the boys and girls from Fiji’s weather bureau don’t get out to sea much – otherwise they would know that it takes waves of four to six meters with breakers to qualify for a ‘very rough’ sea. Don’t get me wrong: I really appreciate them sending meaningful warnings out to the people cruising the oceans but if you shout ‘Fire ! Fire !’ all the time – no fire brigade will show up when it really burns. I know this analogy sucks but I guess you get my point.
A related story might illustrate it further: When we were cruising the Canary Islands in 2011 some overeager employee of the local authorities sent two DSC-alerts in front of *every* marine weather bulletin. This means that six times a day the whole crew is startled by the intense alarm of their VHF radio just because they send weather info. This resulted in most of the yachts turning off their VHF ! Fortunately we could revert to our handheld radio which doesn’t support DSC. Hopefully this dangerous and silly practise since has ceased.
Well but now back towards the actual cause of today’s posting. One of the most important tasks of the local weather bureau is to alert the population in case of a cyclone. And right now there is no such warning. Although in my opinion, the situation is quite critical. Wikipedia lists six requirements for the development of a tropical cyclone:
- Warm ocean surface of at least 26.5°C. – check
- Atmospheric instability (tropical wave north Fiji towards Tonga) – check
- High humidity in the lower atmospheric levels. – check
- sufficient Coriolis force (always given near the equator) – check
- Preexisting low level focus or disturbance (two lows north of Fiji) – check
- Little vertical wind shear (hard to tell but likely)
Two additional factors are left out: El Nino, which has influence on hurricane activity – but this year is no El Nino event. And the Madden-Julian-Oscillation which seems to have massive influence on the frequency of tropical storms. In a scientific study done in 2009, the area of Fiji-Samoa-Tonga was investigated and the study came to the conclusion that in case of an active MJO there are five times (!!) more cyclones forming than during the inactive phase. The MJO develops in a 30 to 60 day rhythm in the indian ocean and then travels east. According to current observation, the MJO will reach our area during the next days. Although it’s not extremely active, it still enhances my alertness.
Let’s hope, Fiji’s meteorologists know what they do. I’d be happy if I’m proven wrong.
Every now and then we excape the anchorage and get some fresh air out at the reef. Only four miles away there is the Cousteau Resort at the very end of the strip of land that encloses the Savusavu bay in the south. Out there, closer to the open sea the water is a lot nicer (although still far from clear), there is wind and the insects are less annoying.
A little trip like that brightens the mood and once we hop into the water and have a look around in this big aquarium, the day is safed. The difference to the more eastern parts of the Pacific are big and the diveristy of fish and coral still amazes me. Especially as we’re not in a proper dive- or snorkelspot. For that one shoud go out to the smaller islands or visit the neighbouring Namena, only 25 miles from here. The diving there must be one of the best in the pacific and we will check it out sometime.
As you can see in one image, the Suvarov already got decorated and ready for Christmas. The kids had a lot of fun engarlanding the whole saloon, hanging stars, balls and little angels. Viola spent hours cutting colorful stars out of paper and decorating the cockpit dodger. Otherewise there is not much reminding us of the year’s top consumption fesast. There are no huge masses running around on the streets, trying to get some last-minute gadgets, no decoration on houses or in shops and best of all: No stupid christmas songs !
To that effect, I want to wish all our readers and friends a verry happy christmas and a beautiful 2014 !
There’s not too much to do here in Savusavu. We knew that already before we came here and that’s ok. Gui is organizing the trip to Argentina. We all will travel there and we need plane tickets and visas for Australia (a pain in the a.. !!) In Argentina Gui will work on the upcoming collections for Coquito and the Kids will have fun with the grandparents.
So what’s the captain doing ? Fixing things – of course ! I can’t sit still for too long and there’s enough work on the Suvarov. Our engine still tends to overheat so again I took apart the whole cooling system. All the tipps of the boat neighbors and of Leon (the local machanic-guru) are implemented. The whole system is checked from inlet, impeller, all hoses, mixing elbow, water collector to exhaust. But the problem is IN the engine which is no surprise since the above mentioned parts were checked before we left Polynesia.
During that check I was quite confused that I didn’t find a thermostat. Now – with the proper manual I could verify: It’s indeed missing ! Luckily somewhere with the boat tools I found a box containing four used thermostats who after checking were all verified to work correctly. They just needed some cleaning.
The next surprise was the air filter – I wanted to clean it but – there is no filter in there ! Well. That safes me a little work. ;-) Next step: replacing the sacrificial anodes. That’s convenient because while doing that I can have a look inside the cylinder head and see wherther there’s any calcium builup. Next surprise: instead of a gasket someone used household silicone ! – On the front of the cylinder head !! The backward plate had no gasket at all. :-) Luckily we have gasket paper on bord and Gui made nice new ones for me.
Inside the cylinder head it looked a lot like a flowstone cave. Lots of stalagtites and stalagmites – and even some crystals ! What a beauty !! Well – and why the cooling of the engine isn’t really working well is clear now. After consulting the almighty internet I find out that it’s best to use 10-15% acetic acid to remove that calcium buildup. Unfortunately the only related liquid available in Savusavu is white vinegar. So I decide to take a little risk and use 5% sulfuric acid to remove the crud. I fill the (warm) engine with four liters of acid and let it sit until it stops hissing and bubbling. From the connection on the top of the engine we can see the CO2 escape. A nice chemical experiment for our schoolkids. The acid cleaning will continue for the next days. We’ll see whether it works…
While I was at it I also changed the oil, de-rusted and painted some parts, replaced hose clamps and hoses, etc. A nice little service for our engine. As you might be curious it’s a Yanmar 3QM30H with saltwater cooling. And as I had to search forever to find it, I safe others the work and put a link to the service manual !
Although we already are anchored at the next postcard island, I still have to post some pictures of Levuka, our first contact with Fiji. I mentioned the funny haircuts but somehow forgot to shoot some pictures of the beautiful ladies of Levuka… Well, those will come later, I guess. Also worth mentioning is that Levuka once was the capital of Fiji ! Hard to believe as it’s a quiet, little Village.
As we found nearly everywhere else too, there are numerous schools and plenty of kids everywhere. All dressed up in nice, colorful school uniforms. A treat for the eye !
When we picked up the cruising permit, I noticed the schedule of the authority. It has a seminar on climate change for the employees. Yeah – when the big polluters of the earth still are arguing whether or not it’s true, the island nations of this world are getting prepared for the worst.
Maybe the people of Levuka will also start thinking of getting rid of that awfully noisy Diesel generator located in the center of the village that provides power for the whole island. There would be more than enough sun to power all homes here on the island and as for storage, I suggest to use that huge fuel tank up on the hill. One could use the excess power during midday to pump up salt water and use a turbine to generate power during the night. – Just a thought…. But I guess burning fuel is (still) just too convenient.
Alright. Enough of the ranting. There are also some pics of our little hike up the hill to the little freshwater pond. On the way the kids got a little toy cooking set and when we were back on the ship they promptly openend a restaurant on the foredeck. Let’s see if someone can decypher Viola’s menu. It’s a wild mix of german, spanish and english but it shows promise and she’s definately not lacking inspiration. Also – she’s still just five. :-)
After our last sailing voyage we spent five days getting all the saltwater out of our boat and everything washed again. As we don’t like to repeat this experience, the newly found leaks were on the top of my ToDo list. And as the beach is too beautiful and the coral too colorful I look the other way grab screwdriver, hammer and chisel and start attacking the rust !
My starting point is the little vent in the kitchen. Sometime ago there was also an electric ventilator installed but corrosion has eaten it away probably years ago. The Vetus vent itself, I replaced back in Moorea as the old one didn’t even close properly. But somehow water still found it’s way in – so I remove it completely and discover some realy nasty stuff: The leak probably existed for many years and not much is left of the 4mm of steel that our deck is made of. So I start the old game: first hammering the loose material away, then brush the metal until it looks somewhat stable. After cleaning it, I soak everything with phosphoric acid. Half an hour later the acid has done it’s magic and converted all the rust to black ferric phosphate. Now I clean again with freshwater and let it dry. The epoxy primer appears on stage and gives the ugly spot a nice, watertight cover. During the next days, I will paint additional layers of white polyurethan paint. Time will tell how that combination works out….
But as I’m already at it, I crawl around on deck and open more and more rust spots. Some are easy, others quite nasty. The always leaking bathroom window was missing a fitting underneath the handle and the window itself wasn’t glued to the deck with Sikaflex or 3M-50200 but instead sat on a 1cm layer of filler (the one that is used for fixing bumps in cars *rrr*). In general I usually uncover two or three generations of household silicone which if at all is only to be used inside the ship. – Well it’s an amateur construction, one can tell.
Like this I work for five days on my knees with chisel and power drill in my hands.
We discovered that the hatch on the foredeck also leaks water *underneath* the frame and onto our children’s beds. So I take the whole hatch off and again ramove three layers of silicone and cheap one-component paint. I polish the aluminium frame and after painting everything in the above mentioned manner, I glue it back in with Sikaflex. Also I turn the whole hatch a 180˚ so it now opens to the front. That will let a lot more air into the cabin and make our life more enjoyable in those hot regions we’re cruising in.
My last item on the todo list ist the tiller, which I dismount to put in nice, water resistant marine grease and again glue everything together again. Now all the leaks have been worked on - if they really hold up against the waves only our next trip can tell…
And the only thing I remember is doing laundry, laundry and laundry. As we ‘wet’ the bed(s), we had to wash everything. Mattresses, covers, bed linens, cushions, clothes, towels and also some clothes. Well today I think, we dropped the last two bags off at the Coconut Cafe who do a great job getting all the salt out of our fabrics.
Otherwise we’ve been strolling through the village, got fresh groceries from the fantastic little market down at the harbour, met maaaaany sailors we saw passing through in Moorea. Also we try to make a decision where to head next: Fiji or New Zealand ? Right now I’m looking for a taifun-safe mooring in Fiji. If we get one, we’ll be sailing west. Otherwise we will receive our guest in a few days, spend another few weeks in those magnificent little islands of Vava’u and it’s south to NZ. But we’ll see….
Tomorrow we’ll be leaving Neiafu to check out some of the fantastic anchorages here. Expect some jaw dropping pics of the most beautiful beaches of the south seas in a few days. (You’ve been warned !)
Oh, and that also means: No internet these next days….
Just a very short clip made during the front that hit us on the way to Tonga:
Finally an action post for the sailors that read our blog.
On our way towards Tonga we ran into a front / through. As the thing really looked weird on our weather maps we prepared ourselfes for the worst – and pretty much got it. Luckily for us, the storm hit during daylight which is a lot less freightening than having strong winds in the pitch black night. Lucky for you too as you get some scary pictures (and maybe a video later on).
The front was clearly visible in the morning after breakfast and when it hit, the wind turned 180 degrees and increased to about 40 knots at which it stayed pretty much all day. After a few hours, the sea picked up and nearing the end of the storm we had waves reaching well above five meters. Despite the rough seas we still did 4-5 knots, going against the wind with the main and genoa in the third reef.
Slightly further south it was even worse. We heard of yachts that encountered more than 50 knots of wind just 50 miles south of our position.
The damage: one genoa sheet was nearly shaved through and again we made lots of water. The most of it in the lazarette but not as much as previously in the living quarters. The sunbrella cover of our Genoa was already slightly damaged from all the flapping during the light wind sailing and the storm did some additional damage. But it’s already down and we gave it to the local sailmaker to re-stitch it. It should be fine again in one or two days. We had to use the autopilot for a few minutes while we put in another reef. Although it usually keeps the course quite well it managed to do a jibe (!!) while we were sailing on the wind. A jibe with 40 knots is not very nice and it tore out the stopper of the track of the main sheet. But that I can also repair easily. The culprit seems to be a faulty connection on the autopilot computer – a common fault, we learned. I’ll look into that during the next days too.
Compared to the other boats that came into harbour during the next days, we did pretty well. Other boats had their sails completely torn, blocks destroyed, hailyards snapped, etc. I don’t like cleaning the boat after an incident like that but if that’s all – I can live with it. And of course we will again improve and try to stop some more leaks that we found on hatches, vents, etc.