It’s questionable whether leaving the yacht in Fiji over the cyclone season was a wise decision.
Frank & I knew the risks we were taking, but we wanted to enjoy another season in the Pacific and felt that packing up Stars End 2 for a few months and leaving her in Vuda Point Marina would be less of a big deal in comparison to sailing over a thousand miles to safer waters back in Australia or to New Zealand and then having to face a return ocean crossing back this year.
In all honesty, we hadn’t realized it would take over two weeks to strip the yacht of every item that might be a potential hazard in a cyclone to store down below decks, pack up all our food, clothing & bedding inside the yacht to avoid humidity and mildew plus attach fenders and car tyres from the railings to ropes that went around the hull (to prevent riding up), and attach copious lines and chains securing the yacht to shore.
We certainly weren’t expecting one of the Southern Hemisphere’s most powerful storms on record. Category 5 ‘Winston’ which decimated many areas of Fiji on Feb 20th hit with winds of 230 kilometers per hour and gusts up to 325 Kilometers per hour, though Vuda Point Marina thankfully survived with comparatively little damage.
SE2 herself received minimal damage, though the driving rain had infiltrated a few areas inside the yacht and once we flew back to Fiji mid May we weren’t sure if the damp stale air inside the yacht was not preferable to the pungent odour of mothballs I had scattered in the lockers.
It was hard to know where to start de-cluttering the inside of the yacht, as each job required hours of work- reassembling the dinghy davit, re attaching solar panels, putting back the clears and covers around the cockpit, cleaning up all the damp mildewy bulkheads and cushions, sorting out the many vacuum sealed bags of clothing, bedding & foodstuffs & getting my galley back into working order. We had to take off the many extra ropes & chains attaching Stars End 2 to the shoreline and submerged buoy in the centre of the marina not forgetting replacing the old anchor with our shiny new Rocna Vulcan that we had dragged (pun, haha!) all the way from Australia.
We turned on the fridge and were able to keep that running for essentials but after last year’s problematic issues we needed to figure out whether the old gear could be retrieved or whether we would need to look at installing a 12 volt system. So within a week of returning, we called in refrigeration mechanics who felt that it was worth trying to recondition the old compressor. They spent a full day thoroughly draining the oil from the compressor and cleaning out the pipes, and then fitted a new drier & re-gassed the system- fingers crossed, so far this has given the fridge and freezer a new lease of life and I am a happy yachtie wife.
Before we could attach the sails & covers back on the booms, I had to hoist Frank to the top of the mast using the electric winch so that he could install a new tri-light. Once at the top, he discovered the rope sheave that allows the sail to be pulled up the mast was broken, so that required him being let down and then hoisted back up with a new one.
Then Frank found he needed some spacers to centre the sheave, so I lowered him back down again and pulled him back up. As he was trying to attach the spacers, he accidentally dropped the entire sheave which fell into the water between us and the neighboring yacht on the wharf, so yes, you guessed it, I lowered him back down the mast and this time, Frank needed to lower the dinghy so he could get in and back out of the water after diving to look for it.
Visibility in the water was bad as the bottom is silty and filled with crab holes, but after a number of attempts, Frank managed to find the black plastic sheave, although not the ceramic ball bearings that made up the centre part. So, after searching his spare parts, he luckily found a sturdier option and I had to pull him yet again back up the mast to install this one to which he wisely super-glued the spacers on beforehand!
Before finishing his day up and down the mast, Frank had me lower him slowly down inch by inch so he could check, drill out & redo any pot rivets that needed replacing along the mast track.
This is the sort of thing that happened on a daily basis and resulted in us taking a full two weeks before the yacht was sorted, and began to feel more like home again.
You know when you have been a ‘landlubber’ too long, away from life at sea, when an incident occurs as follows.
We had booked Stars End 2 to be hauled out of the water so we could repaint her keel with anti fouling, as we were not sure when opportunity or location would allow us to do this within the next year.
Once the crane had placed us on the ‘hard’ (solid ground) in the marina, Frank became concerned that the rudder had been very stiff and hard to move from side to side whilst maneuvering from our mooring into the crane lift. He couldn’t see signs of damage or wear & tear but he was worried there was a serious problem.
Next morning, as we sat in the cockpit having breakfast, Frank admitted he had spent a restless night worrying about the rudder. I had admittedly not paid a great deal of attention to his concerns the day before, but as he spoke, I reached out beside where I was sitting, to the screw knob at the side of the steering wheel and asked him if he had checked to see if it was still closed tight to stop the wheel turning. Sure enough, it was screwed tight.
Frank stared with a look of incredulity on his face, and we both burst out laughing amazed how a few months away from the yacht had made us forget such a basic thing. He told me I was never to tell anyone as he was so embarrassed, but it is too funny not to tell.
We spent four long, hard days of work sanding back the keel, filling some bad gouges in the fiberglass after running aground on reefs a couple of times last year, and then we repainted with anti fouling paint. On one day, we hired marina workers Luke & Russi, to help wet & dry sand the entire hull prior to painting.
(Note- we pay the marina Fj$8 an hour for each worker and the marina pays them Fj$4 per hour- that equates to about Au$2.80. A hot indignant topic for discussion among all us yachties! Cost of living in Fiji is low but their diet is mainly fish and vegetables with carbs from kassava and yams. You can purchase a number of imported products in the supermarkets in larger towns but they are up to five times the cost at home so western food increases the cost of living enormously.)
As we were unable to buy prop speed paint ourselves, we paid for Boabab Marine to paint the propeller and shaft, as we have used it successfully for several years to prevent build up of barnacles and growth, but Frank & I painted the new anti fouling on the keel and finished off all the other jobs whilst we were up on the slips.
A much smarter Stars End 2 was placed back into the water a few days later, but Frank & I felt exhausted, and the yacht was so dirty from all our traipsing up and down the ladder and the dry dusty conditions that we hosed down the decks thoroughly and treated ourselves to a BBQ dinner at the marina restaurant to celebrate a job well done.
A couple of days after we were back in the water, I started chatting to the crew of a nearby yacht being transformed into a pirate ship. In a few weeks time, the “Jolly Bula’ would offer charters to families and groups and was being fitted out as a fun boat complete with water cannons, treasure hunts, face painting, pirate songs and crews entertaining guests with mock fights and walking the plank.
‘Pirate Pete’- the owner, is an enterprising South African Aussie who has turned this innovative concept into reality. He purchased a previously sunken wreck and with his talented Fijian offsiders, ‘Tai’ and ‘Ice’ they have created a completely pirate themed ship.
The charismatic second mate ‘Tai’ lives aboard and was so welcoming & friendly that before too long I was invited on board to check out their progress.
Pete mentioned they were keen to paint a pirate picture board with face holes cut out that would stand on the wharf at Denerau near their sales booth so that people could have their photos taken. A short while later, after doing some research online, I showed Pete some ideas, offered my help, and this is how my bond with this enigmatic crew began.
All too soon, the boys had built the board and over the next few days, Tai & I, with help from Ice, had so much fun painting as well as getting to know one another. I loved being involved with such a motivated crew and watching the ship and ideas come together as they all worked so hard each day and bounced ideas off one another.
I was blown away how Tai & Ice took care of me on board the pirate ship, sharing their lunches and offering me numerous cups of tea (I am a Pommie after all!). I started calling Tai ‘Leonardo’ in deference to his artistic talent and he called me his art teacher.
The boys just loved their music and as we painted, they joined in song after song from the local Suva radio station. One of the days, Tai disappeared for a few minutes and a little while later, I got the shock of my life to hear the radio announcer dedicate a song to Nikki & Tai aka Leonardo on board the Jolly Bula.
Frank was happy to see me preoccupied painting with my new friends and he continued to tick off many jobs on the list of things to do back on Stars End 2.
I had not wanted any payment for my work, but when the board was finished and admired by all, Pete blew me away by presenting me with a brand new kayak as thanks for my artistic efforts. Hello fitness and fun, and goodbye tuckshop arms!
Pete was most generous offering his ‘Jolly Bula’ pirate car for us to use and then offered to drive Frank & I all around Nadi one day picking up our food and provisions ready for leaving port.
It was only a couple days after this that our good friend Dave Gooding was due to fly in from Brisbane to stay with us on board Stars End 2 for a few weeks, so now that all the important jobs on board had been completed, the yacht was loaded to bursting point with provisions and drinks, Frank & I did a big clean up on board, cleared away all the tools and work clothes, and for the first time in over a month since we had arrived back in Fiji, the night Dave was due to arrive, we finally sat back, well satisfied with all our hard work and ready to start enjoying another season of cruising.
I know some of you are my friends on Facebook, but there are a number (mainly family overseas) who rarely access fB at all and so I apologise if I have repeated anything I have posted in recent days. Now I must make a concerted effort to keep ahead with my blog postings to avoid this happening.
We are starting off our cruising season by sailing up through the Yasawa Islands with our friend Dave, then sailing across to Vanua Levu to pick up his wife Des from Savusavu. From there after who knows? Frank & I don’t yet!