Wednesday, 24 June 2015

20-23 Jun - Boat Preps, Passage Making, Maintenance and Sevusevu in Matuku


I told everyone that I would not write an email tonight - we are all still tired from the passage, and it would be wise to get an early night, but now that the boat is quiet and everyone is sleeping, I have changed my mind!

I have a lot of catching up to do :) When I last wrote, we were anchored by the sandspit in Fulaga, getting ready to depart early on Sunday morning. We timed our departure to be just before the slack tide at high water, so that there would be a little bit of current against us (this gives us steerage because the water is flowing past the rudder, but we can move over the ground slowly and under control), and after a bit of a recce to see how it looked, we went for it. The pass was pretty straightforward, and since we had been snorkelling several times, we had a better sense of its layout than we had had on our way into Fulaga. As usual, I was on the bow checking for obstacles (clipped in with my tether and wearing my lifejacket), and Max was on the helm. Even with the +/- 20 kts of wind, we could hear each other well with our headsets (this may be a theme in this email!). Once we hit the 2m swell outside the lagoon, the bow started acting like it was part of a carnival bucking bronco ride - I took off my headset and put it safely into my jacket before I knelt down to release my tether to return to the cockpit!

I must say that the next 24 hours were long. We seemed to have lost our sea legs quickly in the two weeks we were in the shelter of the lagoon. The winds were stronger than forecast, and even though it was "only a one-day passage" even the kids commented that it seemed long. I had been focused so much on stowing the boat that I hadn't done my usual pre-passage over-preparation of quick foods, which meant that there weren't the usual assortment of pasta, rice, muffins, etc to eat, and I didn't feel much like going down into the galley to prepare anything. We ate a lot of crackers!

By dinner time (after my off-watch nap), I decided that I should make up for a day of minimal offerings by cooking dinner from scratch. I would redeem myself by preparing a one-pot rice/ground beef/tomato concoction that everyone would love. This way, all the wheaty, cracker-filled bellies would have something else in them besides gluten (which can sometimes be too much of a good thing). Into the pot went the beef. Into the pot went the raw rice. That's when it hit me that the beef didn't smell quite right. Not wanting to take chances while on passage, I decided that we had better have something else for dinner. Unfortunately, that's when it could be said that my logical thinking ran out, and the rest of this story is a bit of a lesson in humility. Not wanting to pass a heavy pot up the stairs, and not wanting anyone to leave the cockpit to toss the contents of said heavy pot overboard, I took a look at it, thought to myself that it *kind of* looked like something that had already been eaten, and went into the head. As soon as I started trying to flush 2c of dried rice and 1 lb of beef out of the toilet, I had a bad feeling that I might have made a mistake... when after a few strokes, I couldn't even move the handle on our Groco head more than 1 cm, I knew that I had made a mistake. Since it was "only a one-day passage" we decided not to do anything further that night and to revert to the "bucket" method for doing our business ("we've done it before, and we can do it again" intoned Victoria). Not a way to win friends and influence people for sure, especially since now Benjamin (who had been entertained by Johnathan all afternoon while I slept) was wailing, and there was still no sign of dinner. Out came the canned pasta that I had been trying to avoid, and anyone with an appetite (not the entire crew, by any stretch - [ie I got the whole can of canned pasta. Max) at least had food.

The winds built through my watch, until by the time Max came back on watch around midnight, we were getting steadily into the high 20s/low 30s kts. The seas were between our quarter and our beam, and the motion was not especially comfortable. The one good thing was that very few things went flying - I might not have been baking on Saturday, but at least the boat was well stowed! No one got much sleep, especially since the autopilot didn't like the big winds/seas, and Max had to hand steer for a while. It started having problems just after the chartplotter lost power when I moved it, which makes us think that there might be something wrong with the computer we installed last year. Eventually we reefed to the point that the sails were smaller than our trysail/storm sail combination, and the autopilot was able to handle steering again. We probably could have arrived at Matuku much earlier than we did, but we like to wait for good light to go through passes, reefs, lagoons, etc, so we slowed down and took our time, and arrived at the pass at around 0900 on Monday morning.

Our friends on Exodus, Nirvana, and Nautilus had all made the overnight journey with us, and Exodus and Nirvana were already anchored when we arried. We were met at the pass by a local fishing boat, who led us through the pass and around the reef that fringes the anchorage. They performed this service for all the boats. Even though we had had rain, at times heavy, through the night and the wee hours of the morning, it stopped briefly as we transited the pass and the lagoon, so we had good light and visibility (so grateful for this small mercy!) We were greeted shortly thereafter by the village chief, who was very friendly, and buzzed around the anchorage in his panga, told us that we could wait until the next day for sevusevu, and that he wouldn't be there then, anyway, as he was going to a neighbouring village for several days. This was a huge relief to us, as we wanted to spend the afternoon tearing our head apart.

Exodus gave us both something to look forward to and a deadline, by inviting all the kid boats over for a sushi party that evening ... I was determined to have the head fixed, and time to shower before then!

Right after lunch, Johnathan got on the radio: "Kid boats, Kid boats, this is Fluenta, Fluenta. I'm going swimming, does anyone want to come?" Within a few minutes, Johnathan, Jesus, and most of the kids were in the water. Victoria stayed back until Benjamin was ready to nap, and the others came to find her on paddle boards. It was a bit of an exercise in eating humble pie, as I listened to these ever-pragmatic kids say to Victoria, "She put *what* into the head?? Why didn't she just pass the pot upstairs to dump overboard??" Why indeed.

Marine toilets have a plunger (piston/cylinder) system that forces the contents of the bowl through a "joker" one-way valve. When I took ours apart, the short segment from the bowl to the joker valve was absolutely stoppered with rice. Thankfully, once I removed the joker valve, the rest of the hose run seemed clear (but I wouldn't know until we put it all back together and tested it). Tag-teaming Benjamin and toilet disassembly, we cleared the components of the mess I had made, and put it back together once he was napping. I am not sure when I have felt so thankful, as when we found that water would flow through the whole system - no lasting damage, and we had planned to do a mini-overhaul/parts replacement sometime soon, anyway. I even enjoyed the camaraderie of working together on a project, as we often tackle separate jobs.

It turned out to be a good afternoon - not only did we finish with time for Victoria to bake cinnamon buns to take to Exodus, but we even had time to shower as well! (Aside - we have learned from our friends on Nautilus, who don't have a watermaker, how to shower with less than 1L of water each - we used squeeze-bottles of diluted shampoo, and then re-filled them a couple of times to rinse). Deanne and Tim had caught two skipjacks on their passage, so Deanne made delicious Poke (sounds like Po-kay), as well as a spicy mayo mix, and we rolled sushi once we all arrived. Katrien (Nautilus) brought pumpkin soup, and since most of the others are out of fresh fruit/veg, we brought along our watermelon. What a *delicious* feast we enjoyed! Even with all the visiting we had to do, the nice thing about cruiser parties after all-night passages is that everyone is tired - we were still all back to our own boats by 9pm!

This morning dawned clear and still. We had a chance to really look around the anchorage and enjoy its beauty. The island is taller (geologically younger) than many we have been on since Bora Bora or the Marquesas. There is a fringing reef, but we are in a big indentation/harbour that is surrounded by hills on three sides. All the land is green with shrubs and palm trees, and there is a constant misty cloud at the highest points (which are supposed to offer fabulous vistas if we hike to the top). After the men went spear fishing this morning (and Tim came back with a Tuna), we all got dressed in our fancy "bula" clothes and headed ashore for sevu sevu.

We are in a very welcoming village. We were led to the community hall, where some women were weaving floor mats. We all shook hands and exchanged names. After a short wait, some men came, and we sat in a circle while they performed the formal part of the ceremony. Afterwards, they wanted to know if we had time to enjoy some kava with them, and what followed was one of our most enjoyable afternoons thus far in Fiji. The kava was crushed with a lap-sized mortar and pestle, then it was scooped into a fabric bag over which was poured some water. The bag was squished around with two hands until the water was a muddy brown, and then we were ready for the ceremony. Since the chief was out of town, Gary (Nirvana) was chosen to be the chief for the day. I will write more about the actual kava ceremony later, but today's was a nice mix of traditional protocol and friendly chatter (even the kids were invited to try it, although ours declined). The village women kept weaving their mats, but they were very much a part of the socializing that went on. They also cut up some local fruit for us to enjoy.

After a couple of hours, we headed back to the boats. The dinghy steps were well high & dry, and we had a bit of a walk in the mud to reach our dinghies, but before long we were back at Fluenta. We had precious cargo on the return trip - a 5 Gal jerry jug of water :) There is plenty here, and we were shown a tap/tub that we are allowed to use for water and laundry. We will bring a jug on each trip ashore, and probably borrow some jugs to top up our tanks before we leave. Between conservation and water ashore, we are in pretty good shape, which is a relief.

It was just as well that we came back when we did. Before long, our quiet anchorage had winds howling through at 25 kts, in conjunction with a front that is passing. We decided that we were too close to the reef behind us, and re-anchored. Another boat dragged when (we think) their anchor was fouled by a non-kid boat that arrived today. They both reanchored. Just as we were setting our anchor, a second boat dragged, and finally Exodus moved forward to give Nautilus more space. Just as it was getting dark, and the winds were creeping up to 25 kts, the heaviest boat in our fleet started moving towards us - they were dragging, too, and had to re-anchor. In fact, every boat in the anchorage ended up re-anchoring. Once the front was by, the winds came down, and now it is still and calm once again. [For the sailing crowd: the anchoring here is interesting as the bottom is mud and 45 to 60' deep with reefs alongside most of the sides of the narrow bay and a large reef in the middle. The Navionics charts [on the chartplotter and iPad} show the whole area as intertidal zone and some dotted lines which hint at the inner reef plus the datum is off by at least half a mile. The C-Map charts have much more detail {that is what we have on the laptop} but I have not checked the datum yet. Before dark I went out with the RHIB and my old handheld GPS and did a mini survey so we could plot on the chartplotter the edges of the reefs and where the water shallows. That way if we need to reanchor in the night we know where the boundaries are. Of course, we always have the option of following our track that used to enter the bay to exit the bay if we think we will be safer at sea. Thankfully neither was required last night. Max]

The evening was quiet. Dinner was delicious - we had sashimi with a piece of Tim's tuna (a gift given with thanks for the dive tank that Max had brought over because the tuna had headed to the deeps and around some coral [at 80'] with Tim's spear once he was shot, and they thought they might need to dive to untangle it all), as well as albacore cooked with soya/sesame/rice vinegar with rice and canned corn. So good :) We finished with an episode of BBC's Blue Planet, which was very popular.

That's most of the news from the last few days. I hope you are well,

At 6/23/2015 7:02 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 19°09.54'S 179°45.11'E
At 6/23/2015 7:02 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 19°09.54'S 179°45.11'E

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