Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Day 8 - a majestic swell

All's well here – the swell (about 4m) is quite majestic but isn't troubling us. We motor-sailed through the night but got a good sailing breeze this morning from WSW so have managed to cut both corners of the dog-leg to the SE that we had planned, saving quite a few precious miles. In the past hour the winds shifted back SSW so were aren't pointing at Opua any more but we're making best course and speed to windward. We're expecting to have to motor again motor tomorrow as the wind drops but, with 170 miles to go, we should arrive Saturday evening if all goes well. The entrance to Opua is well lit (that'll be a novelty after Fiji where most of the marks aren't lit and those that should be often have malfunctioning lights) so we can get in at night if necessary and tie up to the quarantine doc to await clearance on Sunday.
Our timing will be good as another weather front, bringing strong wind and rain, will hit North Island on Monday  and we'll be in the Marina Cafe eating Eggs Benedict and drinking a Flat White coffee for brunch.  

Our update at 00.00UTC Friday 31st October is as follows:

Position: 32 degrees 26 mins south, 174 degrees, 46 mins east
Wind: SSW 10-14 knots
Boat: 6.0 knots SOG at 165 degrees true, Sea: 4m swell plus some wind chop 
Pressure: 1018hPa
Cloud cover: 60%, grey cloud to our east

Mileage covered in past 24 hours: 138nm

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Day 7 - Apollo 13

Our update at 02.00UTC Thursday 30th October is as follows:

Position: 30 degrees 25 mins south, 174 degrees, 40 mins east
Wind: SSW 10-12 knots
Boat: 5.8-6.1 knots SOG at 146 degrees true, Sea: 2.0m 
Pressure: 1017hPa
Cloud cover: 15%, bright sunshine and blue
Mileage covered in past 24 hours: 150nm
Yesterday was a great sailing day with the Parasailor flying for 6 hours followed by a beam reach with white sails through the night. Unfortunately beam-reaching (the wind coming from the side of the boat) is Winnie the Windpilot's least favourite directions and because of our ailing battery we couldn't run Constance the electric autopilot to help her out. Normally the combination of Maunie, Winnie & Constance (which sounds like a rural solicitors firm) is unbeatable in most conditions but we had to hand-steer through the night watches which was tiring.
At 5.00am we met the weather front we'd been expecting – a brief soaking of rain, a sudden coolness to the wind and an instant windshift from NW to SW. So MAunie is, sadly, no longer pointing he nose at NZ and instead we've started a dog-leg to the SE. All being we'll this will have some benefit in taking us out of the path of the worst big swells due to arrive tonight and then tomorrow the wind direction should alter to allow us to sail south before it swings again on Saturday night to head SW to Opua.
Our battery situation rather reminds us of one of Graham's favourite films, Apollo 13, where the crew of Lovell, Swaggart and Haise had to move into the landing module as a cramped emergency base and shut down the main spacecraft after most of its electrical power was lost after an explosion in one of the oxygen tanks. Preparing for re-entry after several days with 'Sir Isaac Newton in the driving seat' they had to restart the main craft with only dregs of power left in the batteries; every amp counted in the process. The film, if you haven't seen it, is brilliant – many of the scenes were shot in a set installed in NASA's 'vomit comet', a jet plane that can fly a 40-second parabola to create weightlessness, and of course it stars Tom Hanks. Anyway, back on Maunie it wasn't quite so dramatic but last night we shut down pretty much everything apart from the masthead navigation light, the VHF radio and the GPS so we reduced our current consumption to only 2 amps. We're glad to say that our remaining serviceable battery kept going with just a one-hour run of the generator during the night to top it up, during which time the fridge was switched back on and Graham had an hour's respite from the wheel as Constance could be used.
So, apart from the fact that we're not quite pointing in the right direction, all's well here. The sun's shining so the solar panels are allowing the fridge and Constance to play. The relatively calm conditions at the moment have allowed us the luxury of hot showers and this afternoon we'll use the last of our fresh mince to make a double batch of bolognese sauce for supper. Hopefully the swells, when they arrive, won't be too disruptive of our progress but more hand-steering lies ahead tonight, we suspect, so we've both tried to get some sleep during the day.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Day 6 - a technical hitch and some very sad news

After nearly 30 hours motor-sailing through the night the wind has shifted to the NNW as we begin to sail down the west side of the high pressure so at 07.00 the engine went off and we're sailing downwind. The Parasailor was hoisted at 10.30am and we're currently bowling along in wonderful sailing conditions. Very pleased with that.
our update at 00.00UTC Wednesday 29th October is as follows:

Position: 27 degrees 55 mins south, 174 degrees, 19 mins east
Wind: NNW 12-16 knots
Boat: 4.8-5.3 knots SOG at 184 degrees true, 1 knot adverse current)
Sea: 1.5m mostly northerly
Pressure: 1018hPa
Cloud cover: 5% Cumulus all around, bright sunshine and blue
Mileage covered in past 24 hours: 137nm
Unfortunately that's about the only good news to report today. Yesterday Graham spotted a problem on the battery monitor gauge – even though the engine had been running for hours and the batteries should have been fully charged, it was showing that the alternator was pumping 33 amps into them. We stopped the engine and inspected the batteries (in a sealed locker below our bunk) and found one of them was almost too hot to touch, with the electrolyte boiling like a simmering kettle. Not good. Our previous experience in Tonga told us immediately that the batter had shorted internally and all those amps were just being turned into heat. So we've now isolated that battery and are down to just one house battery plus the separate engine-starting battery.
It looks as though our hope that we'd be able to nurse the ailing batteries in to NZ for replacement rather than buying perhaps inferior Fijian ones might have been optimistic. The remaining battery is pretty tired so it'll be interesting to see how much charge it holds tonight (during the day the solar panels easily keep up with demands from the fridge and nav systems) but we may have to switch off unnecessary loads like the fridge and run the generator every 3 hours or so. Just in case, we've programmed in all our waypoints into our hand-held GPS which runs off AA batteries but it shouldn't come to needing that we hope!
The really bad and sad news is that we received an email from Adam and Cindi on Bravo yesterday. Adam had managed to talk to Batai, the nurse at Fulaga, on the SSB and had been told the shocking news that Meli had passed away that morning. We know he'd been ill for a few weeks and had gone to hospital in Suva but it transpires he had cancer of the gall bladder. We still can't quite believe it as he was such a strong, healthy guy when were there; it's just so sad. Maybe it's because we've been at sea for a few days (we're not normally into the 'spirits' stuff) but on the night he died Dianne had a vivid dream of sitting in Meli and Jiko's house chatting to Meli, whilst on Graham's morning watch he suddenly found himself humming a Fijian song that he'd filmed Meli and his brother-in-law Ledua singing.
Meli leaves his widow Jiko and children Jima (2) and Jona (8) plus an extended family in both Suva and Fulaga. Thankfully Adam and Cindi can attend the funeral in Suva on Friday so will represent us and the other yachties who met and appreciated  Meli.

Evidence of southerly progress: RNZAF and Coconut Oil

The RNZAF Orion comes to say hello
Hello from Maunie of Day 5 of the voyage. As we expected we had to start the engine at midnight last night as the wind began to drop but we've had a bonus of better-than-expected winds this morning so we're sailing again in bright sunshine.T he wind's clocking around behind us (currently NE going NW) so we're rolling a bit and not make great speed but we'll take it over motoring for as long as we can.
For the stats enthusiasts and fellow yachties – here's our update at 00.00UTC Tuesday 28th October:

Position: 25 degrees 51 mins south, 174 degrees, 18 mins east
Wind: NNE 12-14 knots
Boat: 4.5 knots SOG at 173 degrees true
Sea: 1.5m mostly easterly
Pressure: 1018hPa
Cloud cover: 10% Cumulus all around, bright sunshine and blue
Mileage covered in past 24 hours: 130nm
So our speed has dropped but Bob our weather guru has sent us a new routing which does a bit of an interesting south-east then south west zig-zag in a couple of days. Hopefully it'll give us a good angle to meet the big swell coming up from the south.
Anyway, we're definitely feeling as though we're coming out of the tropics now. Though the days are still warm, the nights are distinctly chilly so the duvet is on the bunk for the first time since May and we've dug out our fleeces. Hell, we'll be wearing long trousers soon! The one instrument we don't have aboard Maunie is an air thermometer but we can confidently tell you that it's averaging below 24 degrees. How do we know? Well, our coconut oil from Taste of Tonga in Neiafu (wonderful stuff for cooking) has started to go solid and that happens at below 24 degrees, apparently.
The other evidence of our progress (about 550 miles to go) is that we were buzzed by the RNZAF Orion reconnaissance plane this morning. We were alerted to its presence when we heard the VHF radio suddenly come to life as it called up another yacht over the horizon so we spotted it approaching us from the south. It banked around our stern to take photos of us (the rumour is that this is the aircrew's preferred approach since they might surprise attractive female yachties sunbathing naked in their cockpits!) and then called us up to confirm our identity and ETA in Opua (the morning of Sunday 2nd Nov at the moment). The female radio officer was very professional as you'd expect and confirmed that our Advance Notice of Arrival that we'd emailed to Customs had been received.
Today marks our half-way point so we may allow ourselves a little G&T to celebrate this evening.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Day 4, good sailing but preparing for the first world

This morning's sunset
Last night was pretty perfect – a lovely 16 knot beam reach and gentle swell saw Maunie sailing fast and comfortably and we've both got into the rhythm of the watches so are feeling less boat-lagged. Today dawned bright and, though the wind is steadily decreasing, we are still sailing a good course; it's pretty much a perfect day so far. By the way, if you haven't already seen it, there's a video of another perfect day aboard Maunie (filmed crossing the Irish Sea) on YouTube - just search 'Maunie of Ardwall' and you should find 'Perfect Day' on the list
As predicted yesterday, the latest weather files suggest that we'll be motoring by this afternoon to we're enjoying the peace and quiet whilst it lasts.
our update at 00.00UTC Monday 27th October is as follows:
Position: 23 degrees 55 mins south, 174 degrees, 43 mins east
Wind: North-Easterly 7-9 knots
Boat: 3.6-4.2 knots SOG at 207 degrees true
Sea: 2m south-easterly swell but nice long-period waves
Pressure: 1016hPa
Cloud cover: 5% Cumulus to our south and east, bright sunshine and blue skies
Mileage covered in past 24 hours: 161nm – our best day of the passage so far
As I've written this the wind is dropping further so the 'howler monkey', as Peter on Stormvogel calls his engine, will soon be in fine voice.
These long passages give us plenty of time to think and plan and, with that in mind, we've been chatting about what we'll do when we get back to New Zealand. Of course, there's a list of boat jobs, the most expensive of which will be to replace our four 12v batteries (one is dead and the others are now very tired) but this list isn't too long and hopefully there'll be time to enjoy travelling in Horace, our Honda CRV, again. However, our time in NZ is going to be punctuated with a couple of absences this year, as some of you will already know.
Firstly, having completed the passage in Maunie, we're going to leave her on a mooring in Opua and fly back to Fiji on the 14th November to crew for our friend Lionel (the ace kiteboarder) on the 52ft catamaran Kiapa. Irene has returned to Perth to do a term's supply teaching at her old school and Lionel was concerned about getting reliable crew so we volunteered for the job. For most people, one Fiji to NZ passage is quite enough so we're hoping we don't regret this decision but it'll be great to experience the trip in a fast catamaran.
Secondly, we're flying back to the UK, reversing the journey that took us 18 months with one which will take 32 hours. We'll be back in early February for 5 weeks so will leave New Zealand in mid summer to arrive just in time for floods and snow in Britain. Having just re-read both the last two paragraphs, we're not sure of our sanity at the moment! Anyway, it's going to be great to catch up with family and friends and we'll sort out some admin stuff that'll be much easier there than from the other hemisphere.
So, a culture shock awaits us after a few month in 'Fiji-time'. We remember the wide-eyed delight with which we greeted the supermarkets in New Zealand last year and coming back to the busy roads and hectic pace of life at home will be even more of a jolt to our systems. In preparation for this, we spent a bit of time using up our mobile phone credit in Levuka to check out world news on the internet. We have to say that the slightly hysterical reporting of Ebola and Isis, plus the ins and outs of political life in the UK after the waste of money and time excitement that was the Scottish Referendum, left us distinctly nonplussed but, on the upside, there were lots of videos of cute cats on YouTube.
To further get our finger placed firmly on the pulse of British life, we also downloaded the weekly omnibus edition of The Archers. For those not familiar with The Archers, it's a BBC radio soap opera that's been running since 1843 (we may have that date wrong), with some of the original cast members still performing. Anyway, bloody hell, what's going on? We leave Borcetshire for only a couple of years and now find that Elizebeth's had a fling with Roy Tucker, distraught Hayley's done a runner with daughter Abbie and, to top it all, a new road threatens the farm at Brookfield! David and Ruth are thinking they might sell up and move to Prudoe? 'Oooh noooo', as Ruth would say. Clearly, once the shock had been absorbed, we reflected that the farm move's not really going to happen, is it, as the BBC has already used up it's quota of Geordies in the programme (and, yes, Simon Raine, we know that Prudoe isn't technically in Geordieland but to us southerners it sounds similar) and anyway, the north east isn't exactly prime dairy farming territory so we doubt they'd find a suitable farm.
So if there's anything else we need to be prepared for before we return to 'non-Fiji-time', do email us. But, please, break it to us gently.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Day 3 - out of the tunnel and blinking in the light

After a very wet day in the weather trough lying south of Fiji yesterday we finally saw the sun as it set and had a great night's sailing. It was really pretty horrible – dense grey cloud with heavy rain and wind squalls that required frequent changes of sail reefs. Once again we patted ourselves on the backs for our choice of boat; Maunie took it all in her stride and we were able to shelter in the pilothouse, comfy and dry, rather than having to be up in the cockpit. Today is a complete contrast - bright and sunny – se we really do feel as though we've emerged from a very damp and dismal tunnel and are blinking in the bright light.
For those interested in the details our update at 00.00UTC Sunday 26th October is as follows:
Position: 21 degrees 37 mins south, 176 degrees, 07 mins east
Wind: South-Easterly 12-15 knots
Boat: 5.9 knots SOG at 207 degrees true, with a 0.2 adverse current
(reducing, it was about .6 knots adverse at daybreak)
Sea: 1m south-easterly swell
Pressure: 1014hPa
Cloud cover: 5% Cumulus to our south and east, sunshine and blue skies
Mileage covered in past 24 hours: 142nm
This part of the ocean is pretty deserted so once we left the shipping routes into Suva (we saw the lights off one tanker) we weren't expecting to see any other boats. However, last night Graham had a slightly eerie experience on his watch as our route took us within a couple of miles of a seamount – the depth rises from 2000 metres to around 30 metres and, from what happened, we assume it's a good fishing spot. Anyway, Graham spotted some bright lights away to our port, roughly at the position of the shallows and then passed a bright white strobe light, which we assume to be a marker for a line or net, close to starboard. The bright lights turned and headed towards us and a searchlight illuminated Maunie's sails. A few seconds later our radar alarm sounded (it detects if we are being 'swept' by another vessel's radar so is a good early-warning in empty bits of ocean that there's someone else around) so the other vessel had obviously just switched his radar on.
Graham checked our radar and saw the 'blip' of the other boat turn and then follow us, keeping just about 3 miles astern of us for about half an hour. Eventually they got bored and fell away but it was mildly unnerving to be followed like that!
This morning we've received a weather update from our router Bob McDavitt who predicts that we'll sail into a high pressure system tomorrow afternoon then have to motor in light winds for a couple of days before hitching a ride on the favourable NW winds on the west side of the high. All as hoped for but we always knew that we'd have to contend with a weather front north of NZ and that should meet us on Thursday morning – hopefully the rain and squalls in it will be short-lived and then we should get westerlies which should be fine for the final 2-3 days down to Opua. Some serious finger crossing here as friends on Mystic Moon had a very unpleasant weather front to cross yesterday and were in the rough stuff for 18 hours.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The first 24 hours and it's raining hard

We left Levuka at local midday yesterday (00.00 UTC) and after a slightly bumpy start made good progress through the night. Our current position is:
Update at 00.00UTC Saturday 25th October:
Position: 19 degrees 33 mins south, 177 degrees, 17 mins east
Wind: Easterly 12-14 knots
Boat: 5.9 knots at 207 degrees true
Sea: 2m south-easterly swell
Pressure: 1014hPa
Cloud cover: 100% with rain and drizzle
Mileage covered in past 24 hours: 153nm
Unfortunately at about 9.00am local time this morning we sailed into the weather trough that's sitting just below Fiji and suddenly had very heavy rain (with a circle of visibility of no more than 200m radius ) and wind guts up to 30 knots. Lots of sail changes required but things have settled down again and we are making steady progress southward. The forecast suggests we'll get some light winds in a couple of days as we hit the centre of a passing high pressure system so we'll have to motor through that and then there's a weather front crossing below us that will bring more rain and adverse winds but nothing too unpleasant we hope.
As ever we are both adapting to the loss of sleep and constant motion of the boat but Maunie is revelling in the conditions.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Leaving Fiji - and Happy Diwali!

The weather window looks ok for a departure from Fiji tomorrow so we moved up to the port of Levuka yesterday and spent today getting ready for the off.

Levuka is a wonderful place. It was the first capital of Fiji and was the site of the first school, post office and bank in the country and it was the place where Fiji ceded to Great Britain in 1874; Prince Charles came here to hand the country back in 1970. Its expansion was limited by the high cliffs surrounding it so the capital moved to Suva and Levuka has remained mostly undeveloped ever since. It was accorded World Heritage Site status last year - see this website for more: http://levukatourism-com.webs.com/about-levuka

The anchorage just off the main street which runs along the seafront is ok but suffers from a few assaults on the senses. A huge, modern tuna-processing factory lies upwind of us (so the boat has a not unpleasant aroma of cooking fish around her), the town's very noisy diesel generator is also upwind of us and, for today especially, the cliffs have echoed with hundreds of loud explosions.

Fish cannery to the left, generators to the right, Maunie in between

The less industrial side of the town
The town is a bit like a wild-west street with clapboard shops and buildings. Today was a national holiday (and the reason for the explosions) so it was fairly deserted when we went for a walk around this morning.

Quay Street in the morning light

The first MH supermarket (the main brand in Fiji) now  the town's rather run-down museum

Quay Street

A great 'we sell everything' Indian shop, in the same family since 1934

Hopefully World Heritage status might lever some funds to maintain some of the decaying buildings 

Others are lovingly looked after

Above and below - Colonial churches

The Anglican church, built in 1904

Inside the church

One of many exampled of British involvement

As ever, we were stopped by friendly Fijians. They'd all worked out that we were the yacht crew and wanted to know about us. Here Dianne chats to Talley who has invited us to tea when we return next year!

The reason for the public holiday is that it's Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light. Everyone, native Fijians particularly, seems to love the opportunity to buy industrial quantities of Chinese fireworks (of the 'light it and 25 rockets go up' variety) and so we've had prime seats for an amazing display. Some couldn't even wait for it to go dark!

Daytime fireworks!
So, assuming we get some sleep tonight, we'll go into the port to clear out with Customs and Immigration and leave at lunchtime. The forecast suggests a gentle start to the passage, then 3-4 days of good sailing; unfortunately we'll meet a weather front with adverse winds on Wednesday but hope we'll punch through that fairly quickly and, all being well, we'll be back in Opua on Sunday 1st. The temperature change will be a shock - were were melting in 32 degrees and no wind today whilst it's about 16 degrees in NZ!

We'll aim to update the blog each day of the voyage with a short story on our progress but, as ever, don't worry if there isn't an update as there's always the risk of computer or satellite phone problems. We'll be reporting in to the daily radio net so will have regular safety contact with other boats should our computer comms let us down.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Getting ready to head south

The two-day passage around the northern side of Viti Levu went pretty much to plan. As expected, we had quite a strong headwind to contend with so we motor-sailed (with the mainsail set to get the engine a little extra assistance) but, thanks to the protecting reef, the water was pretty flat and it wasn't too much of a chore. We are delighted to report that the propeller no longer rattles! Hurrah!

We've come to the east side of Viti Levu and taken a (free) mooring at a little island resort called Leleuvia. Here we are just 2 or 3 hours sail from the port of Levuka on Ovalau island, an official 'Port of Entry' which is where we will go through the process of clearing out of Fijian waters with the Customs and Immigration people. We're told that the process is reasonably hassle-free there so we'll see. Anyway the plan is to wait here at Leleuvia until we think we have a favourable weather window then move up to Levuka to clear out, though we may go a do a day-sail there tomorrow just to recce the place and get some more diesel to replace the 45 litres we burned on the way from Denarau.

Waiting at Leleuvia is certainly no hardship. It's a very attractive, laid-back resort catering to a lot of weekenders from the mainland as well as foreign tourists who want to get away from it all. The mooring is well sheltered and the water's great for a morning swim around the boat. We've been welcomed to use the bar and restaurant (the place is pretty quiet at the moment, we've only seen about a dozen guests who are currently outnumbered by staff).

Above and below: The bar and restaurant

The place is well set up for water sports so this morning Graham went for a brilliant dive with their divemaster, plus a boat driver and two new members of staff undergoing training. Highlights of the 'Wall' dive (a 25m vertical wall of brilliant coral) included a sleeping 6ft Zebra Shark in his favourite alcove in the wall and some energetic chasing of turtles. The dive team here is taking part in a government survey of turtles to tag them and monitor their travels but this involves trying to sneak up on them from behind and grab them. Today we weren't successful as, though we saw 5 turtles they skedaddled before we could nab them; they have quite a turn of speed when they need it. Good sport though! The cost of the dive, including pick-up from Maunie, hire of all the kit and the services of the excellent divemaster - about £35.

On to the weather and lots of boats are looking for a good time to head south. As mentioned before, it's a really hard passage to predict as the frequency of the high and low pressure systems rolling eastwards from southern Australia make it almost certain that we'll get some adverse conditions. A few boats left yesterday but one, Mystic Moon, just emailed us to say they were experiencing a horrible short wavelength swell which was throwing them about a lot. Mystic Moon is a 52ft heavy displacement trawler yacht with a 400HP engine and anti-roll stabilisers so we're glad we're not out there with them. 

Must dash - Happy Hour is about to start in the bar (half-price beers)!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A successful, if slightly surreal haul-out

Maunie has her bottom exposed for the first time in 12 months
Having your boat hauled out onto 'the hard', as it's known, is a necessary evil of boat ownership and isn't something that most crews enjoy. Back int Britain, many boats will be lifted out at the end of October and returned to their natural environment in March, giving their owners plenty of time to attend to maintenance work and apply a new coat of anti-fouling paint through the autumn and winter months. In reality, most leave it to the last minute, only to discover it's the coldest, wettest March since records began.

For us 'liveaboards', the boat is in the water for the full yet year with just a brief haul-out, to attend to things 'down below', once a year. We have the advantage of being able to pick a location and time of year where the warm sun is shining but it's usually a stressful, back-breaking and expensive few days. We hand our floating homes into the care of (we hope) skilled boatyard operators who crane them out and chock up them securely in the boatyard. However it;s seldom straightforward and we know of 2 boats that had disasters in reputable yards in New Zealand in the past year; one got the lifting strop of the crane in the wrong place so it bent the 40mm diameter propeller shaft, whilst another suffered huge damage when a prop failed and the 20 tonne, 4 year old 46ft yacht fell over onto the concrete resulting in a £300,000 repair.

So, in context. our unplanned haul-out in an unknown-to-us Fijian yard was potentially going to be fraught. The reason for our decision to do it was an unpleasant rattle from our expensive Brunton's Autoprop feathering propeller (only a year after we treated it to a full rebuild in New Zealand) and we just didn't want to wait until our return to NZ in case there was something seriously amiss. 

So, on Monday morning we arrived at the dock to meet Vinay the yard foreman, Avi the crane driver and Jonni the pressure-washer expert and general sage. It was slightly worrying to read the small print of the contract which stated that the yacht captain was entirely responsible for the positioning of the lifting slings under the boat and that, in the unlikely event of a disaster, the yard would accept absolutely no responsibility! Anyway the team of three were extremely attentive and we managed to get the slings in the right places for a smooth and safe lift. It was only once Maunie was safely propped up in the yard that Avi confided that he was nearly at the end of his three-month probation period so was still, technically, in training!

First stage of the project - take boat from water and place on land - successfully completed, we then set about investigating our rattling propeller and discovered that it had worked loose on the tapered propeller shaft. 
The propeller, cleaned and removed

The tapered section of the prop shaft with the brass 'key' visible. The spurs ahead of it are the Stripper rope cutter which we have, we have to admit, tested in anger!

There was no danger of if falling off, thankfully, but it became clear that someone (not us!) had made a mistake with the measurements when we ordered the propeller 5 years ago and, no matter how hard the securing nut was tightened, it wasn't securing the thing tightly onto the taper. It had held in place by friction and goodwill until a few weeks ago and the rattle we could hear could, if left unattended, have damaged the bronze propeller beyond repair.

Step forward another Vinay, this time the foreman of an onsite engineering business called Baobab Marine. He called his boss in and between us we decided a new spacing washer was required - the following morning a made-to-measure washer, machined from bronze, arrived from the workshop and the problem was solved.

What really impressed us was the interest and enthusiasm of all the guys we worked with in the yard. There was none of the usual 'seen it before' weariness that we have encountered elsewhere and they all wanted to know how the feathering propeller worked and what the rope cutter was for.

The slightly surreal aspect of the project was that the yard rules forbade us from living aboard Maunie (as we'd usually do) whilst she was out of the water so we found a wonderful alternative of a one-room apartment a few hundred yards away. This came with a proper kitchen, a washing machine and drier (which saw a lot of use!) a big TV and DVD player and a superb pool. So, we were able to escape back to luxury in between bouts of hard work and even managed to host a drinks party for the crews of three other boats who were as surprised as we were that a haul-out could be so easy!

The living room of our apartment
The propeller, serviced, refitted and coated with a non-stick coating called Propspeed which has done a very good job of keeping the barnacles at bay over the past year

Polished and ready to return to the water

Avi, the trainee Travel-lift driver, at work
Overall the project (including the cost of the apartment) cost about the same as we would have paid in NZ (with no luxury apartment and, of course, and we won't have to haul out there now) but it was infinitely more agreeable. The process is one of those expensive moments in sailing though - we spent about £500 all-in - which does make us focus on the costs of boat ownership. Again, Fiji scores highly, not just in labour costs but in other aspects; cooking gas for example.

Our selection of gas tanks
On Maunie we have Camping Gaz 2.2kg cylinders as our main supply, plus a 4.5kg Calor Gas bottle but in New Zealand we had to buy some expensive 1.8kg aluminium tanks as no-one would refill our tanks. Here in Fiji, no problem and the Camping Gaz tanks cost about £5 each to fill whereas when we left England we were paying about £24 each. Any explanation of the difference would be welcome!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

A cautionary tale

We've previously mentioned the risks of uncharted reefs and shallows in this part of the world. Fiji remains a beautiful but risky place to cruise and we've chatted to several boat crews who have 'kissed the coral' with their keels.

There's a very honest but sobering account of what happens in a moment if you get it wrong. The American yacht Bella Vita mistakenly went the wrong side of a marker post and ended up high and dry on a coral reef as the tide ebbed - it's worth reading and is a timely reminder for us to remain super-vigilant in our last couple of weeks here. Here's their story

On a more positive note, we're busy preparing Maunie for the 1260 mile / 8-9 day passage to New Zealand at the end of the month. Graham will be up the mast today to do a full check of the rigging and we've been restocking the boat with food. Tomorrow we get lifted out for two days for below-the-waterline maintenance so a busy couple of days lie ahead.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Planning the migration and reflecting on Fiji

October is the month when boats begin to start their seasonal migrations from this part of the Tropics. From November to May this area become susceptible to cyclones (the southern hemisphere name for hurricanes) so most of us don't want to be around for those! 

A few brave souls will book a 'cyclone mooring' in a sheltered creek here, where they can attach their boats to a very substantial concrete block on the seabed and hope for the best, but our insurers wouldn't cover us for that and we wouldn't want to be here through the hot and humid Fiji summer, anyway.

So the options are, broadly, head south to New Zealand or south east Australia or head north up to the Marshall Islands or Indonesia. For us, New Zealand has always been the plan so are now beginning to focus fairly seriously on the weather forecasts for the 1260 mile (8-10 day) passage south.

The latest NASA satellite photo - we're currently in the rain band at the top of the picture
The challenge for us is that a series of significant weather events roll from west to east from the south of Australia to New Zealand, squashed between the cold air of the Antarctic and the hot conditions in the Australian centre. So a big low pressure system will roll along, followed by a high pressure then a low pressure and so on, with about 5-8 days between each event. In the southern hemisphere the winds rotate clockwise around a low and anticlockwise around a high. There's a really nice website which shows animations of the current wind patterns across the globe; it really helps make sense of the weather wherever you are - you can spin the earth and zoom in - so do have a look at it here

Anyway, the theory goes that we should wait for a big high pressure to pop up north of NZ, moving east on the line from Fiji to NZ and then set off, riding the northerly winds on its western flank. The problem is that the next low pressure is likely to come along before we get to our destination so we'd hit a front (big change of wind and weather) then get south or south-westerly winds against us. It being the end of the NZ winter, those winds could be gale force if we were unlucky and, of course, the weather forecasts for 8-9 days ahead aren't very reliable. So the best we can do it to study the conditions, consult the experts and keep our fingers crossed; needless to say we'll have the boat set up to face heavy weather conditions so everything will be strapped down securely. 

We're aiming to leave towards the end of October and so have only a couple more weeks to enjoy this wonderful country. There are huge areas of Fiji that we haven't visited and other places we'd have liked to stay longer but we've done pretty well for a first visit. We are now back in Port Denarau and today made the decision to do a maintenance pit stop here; on Monday Maunie will be hauled out of the water for 2 days to allow us to service the folding propeller and other under-water fittings. The cost here is about two-thirds of that in New Zealand and it'll save us the job down there; a super-clean bottom might also give us 0.2 knots of extra boat speed and shave maybe 5 or 6 hours off the passage time!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The northern-most village

We're returning from a really lovely exploration of the northern Yasawa islands. We made it up to the northern-most village, Yasawairara, and anchored in perfect turquoise water off a crescent shaped golden sand beach  (at 16 degrees, 42.5 minutes south, 177 degrees, 34.6 minutes east, if you fancy a look on Google Earth).

Looking towards the village

The anchor chain - the 'snubber line' is stretchy rope which acts as a shock-absorber for the boat when she pitches in any waves.
Once again, we found that it's the opportunity to meet the local people that makes Fiji so special. Although Yasawairara is comparatively well-connected compared to Fulaga, with a supply ship running once a week to the mainland at Lautoka, only a few hours away, plus an airstrip serving a posh resort and good mobile phone and internet connections, it's still pretty much on the way to nowhere so visiting yachts are welcomed warmly.

We dinghied ashore with Pacific Hwy. to offer our sevusevu and were taken to the most substantial house in the village to meet Ratu Assaelli. He welcomed us and explained that the last chief (his fbrother, we think) had died and, as yet, a new chief hadn't been appointed. There are 4 'tribes' in the village and we gathered there were some serious village politics at work. However, Aselli, as the villagers seemed to call him, (the 'Ratu' bit is a reference to the chiefly status of the family) and his wife Winnie told us a bit about the village, once the formal sevusevu was completed.

Aselli and Winnie with Laura from Pacific Hwy.
Aselli and Winnie's house

The place seems to get whacked by a passing cyclone on spookily regular, 20 year cycle. In 1952 it was abandoned after a particularly devastating storm but people started to move back in 1970 only to suffer more damage in the 1972 cyclone. The  story was repeated in 1992 and the last Cyclone, Evan, hit in 2012. Aselli said he had 9 families sheltering in his strongly-built house and they experienced the eerie calm as the eye of the storm passed overhead before the full force returned from the seaward side. Waves flooded into the low-lying village and the Methodist church, several houses and many trees were flattened; their house still has plywood in place of glass in most of the windows and the village generator and underground cables are still out of action two years later. 

The village hall, left, is now also the temporary church as the original is now the pile of rubble to the right

Abandoned Lali (church drum) and the demolished church
The village has had to raise funds to pay for the repairs to the power supply but that should be restored 'soon' whilst the government has paid for contractors to come and fix the wharf; once that's done (again 'soon') they hope to entice the odd cruise ship to call in, as they are a lucrative source of income in a place otherwise dependent on subsistence farming and some employment in the nearby resort. Aselli told us that they charged the last liner $6,000FJ and that was several year ago, though we wondered who would get around to the process of contacting the cruise operators to entice them in.

Certainly the village and the surrounding coastline are worth the effort to visit. We were assigned a team of 5-year-old children to guide us out to the beach on the eastern side of the island and they were lovely - chatting and giggling and, of course, delighted to see their pictures on our digital camera.

Our guides lead us out of the village

Plantations of yams - the vines are trained up onto the trellis to keep the fruit from scorching on the sun-baked earth

The beautiful eastern beach

The delights of drawing in the sand are universal

Kids at play, young and old! Bruce leads the cartwheeling
As we left to return to our boats, Aselli asked if we wanted to go fishing. Or, in real terms, could he come fishing in our boat. So the following morning, Graham, Bruce and he set off in Bruce's dinghy for a long trip around the reef to a favourite spot; Aselli's a keen fisherman and was delighted when Graham gave him a new lure to replace his fish-eaten one. His delight was heightened when he reeled in a 3lb Trevally about 20 seconds after putting the lure into the water. In all we caught 12 fish, mostly large mackerel which are delicious so Maunie and Pacific Hwy took one each and Aselli distributed the rest around his neighbours.

Happy fishermen
Our final part of the Yasawairara experience was to be invited back for afternoon tea and we sat on a pandanus mat in the shade of the house eating Winnie's home-made scones plus a very fine chocolate cake made by Laura. She'd also made a large batch of popcorn so the children were given equal shares as they lined up, each with a little plastic container. 

Popcorn distribution

We walked back, after a fun afternoon, via a little market garden run by a few of the women. They are praying for rain but have to carry water from a well at the moment to irrigate the tomatoes and cabbages but the soil seems relatively fertile here and they have plans to extend their operation to sell produce to the resort in addition to supplying the village. One of the younger women was the the village nurse and it turned out she new Batai, the nurse at Fulaga, so we were able to pass on her regards to him on the SSB the following day.

The bucket-chain from the well

Evening light on a perfect beach
So, we're now heading south back to Musket Cove, having really enjoyed another slice of Fijian hospitality. The weather threatens strong winds for the early part of the week, accompanied, we hope, by some much needed rain.