Tuesday, June 30, 2009

July 1st – Canada Day Eh!

A day in the life of a cruiser!
Actually let's start the evening before.  Sitting in the cockpit at dusk, fortunately we do not have a problem with bugs here.  The sun has gone down and we are enjoying a glass of a blended dry French red wine!  Buying wine here is always a gamble.  Most of it comes from New Zealand or Australia.  Anything else costs an arm and a leg.  This particular blend of French is quite drinkable, though our standards may have changed somewhat from the days of storing hundreds of bottles in the cellar, all individually chosen and brewed to perfection by our own personal winemaker at Grapes to Glass Winery in Victoria!  But those days are long gone and now we get by on what we can find and what we can afford.  As we gaze off into the SW, lightning flashes illuminate the horizon, forecasting the thunderstorms we have been led to expect.  But today we had enough sun to keep the batteries up so treated ourselves to a movie.  We are adding to our collection from the street vendors selling pirated movies for $1 or $2 and that is Fijian $ so really only costing half that!  Tonight's treat, 'Nim's Island', a delightfully light family story with a bit of the S Pacific thrown in!
Morning brought overcast skies but the rain seems to have paused momentarily so I remove the shattered piece of glass from the dodger to take in as a pattern.  A small blue cloud can be heard overhead but fortunately is hidden by the large gray clouds filling the sky.  Cutting a broken piece of glass out of its caulking in the heat and 99% humidity proves to be a challenge but perseverance will out and what's left of it is bundled between two pieces of plywood for transport to the glass cutting place.  Yogurt and bananas for breakfast and just as we drop the dinghy into the water, the heavens open up and a deluge sets in!  So we abandon all hope of going to town and pick up our books again.  But within the hour, the rain lightens up so we make a dash for it and with our new umbrella over us, manage to make it to the dock in a light sprinkling and decide to take a taxi for all of $4f to the glass place.  We leave it and walk downtown, stopping at an internet cafĂ© to check the email as the wifi onboard was not working this morning.  We have also found an Acer laptop dealer in town and they claim they can get a new motherboard to replace the one we lost in the knockdown last fall.  So we are communicating with them to see if it is possible.  Its only about a 20 minute walk downtown so we dodge the rain, hiding under our umbrella and shuffle down among the hustle and bustle of the city core!
We find the narrow stairway going up to the small room that is Rainbow Jewelers where Linda left a pearl from Polynesia a few days ago to be mounted on a pendant.  Work like that is very inexpensive in Fiji.  The quality is a bit crude but I guess we can look back on it someday and remember how it came about!
By this time we are getting hungry and though we usually find a curry place full of locals, today we want something lighter and find some fish and chips in a mall.  A few items from the supermarket for dinner, a couple of bottles of wine and we walk back to find the glass cut and ready.  The heavens open once again and we hide under overhangs of building to hail a cab which takes us back to the dilapidated fisheries dock and our dinghy.
Shuffling carefully down the slippery ramp and around the holes and piles of rubble, we load our treasures in the dinghy and climb aboard under a light rain. We cast off and much to my surprise the pull cord on the outboard does not return and the engine did not start.  As we drift away from the dock and the rain begins in earnest, the little blue cloud can once again be heard to hover over me!  But I pull the cover off the top of the outboard and jump back as the tail of a coral snake greets me thrashing from within the top of the engine!  Seems one of the little guys has crawled up inside and when I pulled the cord, I must have wrapped it around the spring.  Now what?  I can't see the snake as he is now buried inside the pulley the starter cord wraps around to crank the engine.  Hmmmm!  So I poke the end of the umbrella along the edge trying to rewind it manually.  Remember these little coral snakes, though not aggressive, are one of the most venomous snakes in the world and this guy is probably not happy at the moment!  For more info check out 
I managed to rewind the cord, the tail of the snake disappearing in the process and give it a yank, hoping to release the snake and the engine but to no avail.  Once more, I rewound it manually and gave it a yank!  This time Linda, who likes snakes about as much as Indiana Jones does, lets out a shriek that has me jumping up and down in the dinghy in the rain, thinking the thing has gotten loose and is about to attack me!  Then I notice about 4 inches of snake, the tail end, lying in the bottom of the dinghy.  I guess cranking the cord ripped it up inside and it must be wound around the pulley.  At this point the rain is starting in earnest and the wind is picking up so we row our way out to Toketie and unload our precious cargo, leaving the poor Laticauda colubrina, or what's left of it, to fend for itself inside the outboard.
We are soaked to the skin but having replaced the hot water heater only days before, hot showers were in order.
This followed by a bottle of bubbly they threw in when we bought the wine and much laughing about how the day went.  So warm and dry and home again with a new piece of glass that might get put in tomorrow, weather permitting.
A stiff rum and coke, some wine with a fresh pasta dinner and cruiser's midnight sneaks up on us at the usual 9PM!  
As we drift off, exhausted, dreaming of snakes, we wonder what tomorrow might bring!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"On the Rocks!"

This however was not the traditional with two cubes of ice!  
I have been procrastinating reporting this adventure partly not to concern people and partly because it affected us more than we would care to admit.  About a week ago, at 3AM on Monday morning (these things always happen in the middle of the night) the mooring we were on broke at the bottom and we woke up with Toketie hard aground on a reef.  Fortunately it was at the inside edge of Snake Island, a small island in the bay we were in.  The wind had been up off and on all night, and I had been up off and on with it.  But during one of my naps, we drifted across the bay and struck bow first into the reef.  The wind, of course, had picked up again and was now pushing us sideways as we were jammed between two high spots below us.  It was an extremely unnerving experience.  We both scrambled out, got the engine going (luckily we did not have a fuel pump in pieces) and put it into reverse and gave it as much power as we dared.  The rudder was jammed in the rocks and we did not move at all.  The tide looked to be very high and that meant if we did not get off soon, we would be high and dry in a few hours and lying on our side!  We then got on the VHF radio and placed a Mayday call to anyone listening, hoping to get a power boat to help pull us off.  A local Fijian boat came back and was too far to assist but phoned the police on a cell phone and relayed that they were heading to their boat at the yacht club in the next bay and would make their way over to us.  This did not sound like it would help us in time.  Another local cruiser in a catamaran heard us and responded as well.  They were anchored at the yacht club and could not navigate the reefs to our bay in the dark but offered to assist at first light if necessary.  We thanked them and signed off.  I then went back to trying to budge the boat using the engine.  I could manage very small motion forward but since that was driving it up on the reef, I put her in reverse again and left her running at high revs.  By the grace of Neptune or whoever looks after fools, children and sailors, a big gust of wind came along at just the right time, heeled us over enough to break free and we slowly crawled backwards away from Snake Island and into the howling wind.  In darkness we anchored somewhere in the middle of the bay, dug the hook in, breathed a huge sigh of relief, cancelled the Mayday call and made a pot of coffee!
If bad things happen in threes, this would be the third for us!  Our knockdown last fall out of Tonga, the recent storm and losing the engine, and now going on a reef so hopefully its all sunny skies from here.  Fiji has been rough on us in some ways.  On the brighter side, we have actually enjoyed our forced stay in Suva!  The engine is now repaired.  Today we found a place that can make us a new panel of safety glass for the dodger (did I mention that falling out on the passage?), the people are very friendly.  
Yesterday I dinghied over to the owner's home to meet him.  He was aware of what happened, as I had talked to his brother the next day when they were repairing another mooring in the bay.  Tony Philp is an Australian businessman who owns several marinas and chandlery shops in Fiji and we had been told that he is very approachable.  So after a brief chat, he offered to lift Toketie for free at Vunda Point Marina so we could examine the bottom more thoroughly.  We know we have scratches to our new paint job on the keel but further than that we cannot tell here.  Vunda Point is about two days away (depending how many stops we make) and on the West side of the island.  We have decided now to skip the more remote Northern areas we wanted to explore and head around to the West side where there are more resorts and tourists but supposedly it is sunnier there as well and the water will be clear enough to swim in some of the anchorages.
This cruising life can be trying at times!  Will try to have something cheerier to report on the next episode of the trials and tribulations of the Toketie and crew!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New fuel pump!

Well, the fuel pump arrived today!  All went smoothly through customs with no duty or taxes for a yacht in transit.  And the good news is, it fits!  So today's job was to remove the old one and replace it with the shiny new one that does not leak.  Then the fuel lines had to be bled and primed but all is well now and our engine is back on line.  So we have a few errands to do while in the city and now we are thinking of skipping the Northern section and just going around to the West side of Fiji, the sunny side apparently!

Friday, June 12, 2009


This kind Australian businessman has generously allowed us to use one of his moorings while in the bay!

Waiting for Godot!

That is Godot, the fuel pump…with apologies to Samuel Beckett!

Hard to believe we have been in Suva for 2 ½ weeks now. The Eastern side of the islands really is the rainy side, although we did have a few nice sunny days recently. The village of Lami is nearby and it is a short walk in for bread and eggs. The Fisheries dock where we park the dinghy though is falling apart. That does not seem to deter the workboats that are crowded around it. But it is no longer connected to the wharf and two planks with boards nailed across them allow access between the semi-submerged, somewhat afloat section of dock and the concrete wharf. One treads carefully up and down this slope that varies with the tide, trying not to step into the holes that would easily submit your entire leg to the murky waters below. Our neighbors on the only other yacht moored in the bay tell us they have found small black and white banded, highly venomous sea snakes in their dinghy several times now. We have not been so fortunate yet!

Water is available at the wharf. Our hose fittings do not fit so we cannot use the filter. On asking if we could fill some jugs with water to carry back, the workers on the dock directed me to the Fisheries building about 10 minutes down the road and said to talk to Saresh. Well I found him and he was a very busy looking official with piles of paper on his desk. Once he realized we did not want to pull Toketie up to the dock but only wanted to fill some jugs with water, he was quite relieved and directed us to Captain Liga (pronounced Linga) who is responsible for security at the dock. Liability was his major concern!

The bustling downtown city of Suva is only a 20 minute bus ride away and at $1.60Fijian (about .85Cdn) for both of us, it is fast and easy to ride the noisy, diesel fumed, public transport filled with easy going Fijians, East Indians and a pot pourri of Melanesian culture. Riding home last night as the sun was setting, the whole city was alive with people looking forward to a long weekend. We thought NZ drivers were aggressive! Here, they are crazy! But its all done lightly and no one shouts at anyone, the horn honking is carried out with big smiles and a complete lack of competitiveness or at least a general acknowledgement that it doesn't really matter who gets there first. The whole city reminds me a lot of India, the smell of street vendors preparing cheap food for the workers mingled with the faint odor of raw sewage in the humid tropical air.

On board Toketie, we have managed to completely remove, disassemble and strip down three of the portholes, a project we meant to do in NZ but never had enough dry weather to carry out. The metal behind the portholes was worn over time and rust was seeping out the edges. It was a bigger job than anticipated, always is somehow, but they are all re-sealed and re-painted inside, with new rubber gaskets and should hopefully last another 20 years. Only 7 more to go! The sandy beach on the island around the corner beckons. Maybe today we will take the dinghy around and explore it. A local told us it is municipal property with a caretaker living on it and it costs $1F to use the beach.

Thunderstorms forecast for later this evening, then more sun and rain tomorrow. Meanwhile time is drifting away as the rhythms of Fiji blend one day into another. Looking forward to getting out and exploring some of the more remote islands, swimming in crystal clear coral lagoons and meeting the locals!

Friday, June 05, 2009

A day in the country!

Our friend, Rakesh, had to drive out to a resort to fix their generator and offered to take us along for the ride.  It was a very pleasant day and we got to see some of the interior of Viti Levu.  An hours drive or so saw us take a winding gravel road over a hill and down to Waidroka Bay where a beautiful little resort was located on a beach inside the reef.  We wandered the grounds and had a very nice lunch.  The resort caters mainly to surfers as nearby are some of the primo surf destinations.

Tradewinds Hotel

We are moored near the old Tradewinds Hotel which is partially open and mostly under renovation.  The bay is pleasant, though not clean enough to swim, and the people are very friendly.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Two steps forward, one step back....

We have moved to Draunibota Bay, the next over from where the yacht club was!  Still in Suva, the capital of Fiji but now on a mooring ball in front of the old Tradewinds Hotel which is under renovation.  The bay is more sheltered, cleaner and the little town of Lami is about a 20 minute walk down the highway.  A bus can take us into Suva for pennies.  Might try that today!  There is one other cruising boat here and they have been here for three months.  We are the first other boat they have seen in that time.
The good news with the engine was that we cleaned the tank and fuel lines and got it running again, only to discover that the fuel pump was leaking.  No luck sourcing one here so had a friend back in Victoria locate one.  Now all we have to do is get it here from California and hope it fits!  Meanwhile we are on the rainy side of Fiji so it is overcast most of the time with occasional rain showers.  When we get the pump installed, we should be able to head off to some of the Northern Islands and see some of the 'real' Fiji.