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The Two Captains



2C Update #146 - Passage to Fiji   (Aug 24 - 27, 2006)   Sorry, no photos, camera broken

Tackless II is safely arrived in Savu Savu, Fiji....and we are wondering what took us so long to get here!!!!

Having been sedentary for so long, putting to sea from Vava’u was an adjustment, so the first two days had us again thinking seriously about that chicken farm in Nebraska, a 2C euphemism for "this is not fun."  Our first evening out of Tonga was deceptively pleasant; despite overcast skies, we enjoyed smooth sailing with the big genoa poled out.  Then the wind started to pick up just about the time we got far enough out to feel the sea action, which brought us the confused seas we and T2 so dislike. Everything on the boat creaked, all the crockery and bottles (which we’d neglected to “dress” in their underway wear) clinked, and something we couldn't identify on the aft deck sent a resounding "b-b-b-b-bong" through the aft cabin with every roll.  It thwarted any efforts we made at getting some sleep in our bunk off watch. As the main cabin is always too noisy going downwind, we were forced to snatch what sleep we could in the cockpit, one up on watch, the other on the back bench trying not to roll off. 

I suspect that it is always like this between Vava'u and Fiji, owing to the effect of Tonga's long sea barrier splitting the ocean swell so that it comes back together again from two angles.  Also the underwater terrain between the two island groups is very busy, not just in terms of submarine topography disturbing the water flow, but there are actual underwater volcanoes, part of a chain of volcanic activity that parallels Tonga.  One of these recently belched, spewing forth a huge amount of molten rock that solidified in the sea to floating pumice.  We had heard reports on the radio net about great rafts of the stuff that boats found themselves grinding through.  One of the excuses for yet another delay in Vava'u had been the hope this all would disperse.

Not so, although in comparing stories with other boats, we faired pretty well.  Friday brought bright sunny weather that turned the big ocean waves that memorable aquamarine, …only this time the sea surface was streaked as far as the eye could sea with great drifts of reddish brown pumice about the size of large gravel.  It was quite the sight.  Bits of the stuff kept clogging our knot log (which measures speed through the water, an important factor in the calculations our nav computer makes), and Don had to pull the log about eight times to dislodge them! At night, as we'd apparently plow through a raft of it, it sounded like we were sailing through tinkling glass.  We were very grateful not to have left two days earlier when the forecast calms would have meant motoring.  No way we wanted that stuff in our engine intake!  As it was, we fretted that all this floating sandpaper might be doing a number on our hull paint, not that it's in such great shape!  On our second day, instead of drifts streaking the surface, the pumice was all clumped together into islands several hundred feet across!!  (We heard a story after arriving that some friends on a very little boat were actually brought to a standstill by a pumice island of volleyball size rocks!)

We had planned our passage to arrive with daylight to be able to see the infamous Duff Reef, a submerged reef at the north of Fiji's eastern arc of islands and reefs known as the Lau Group, bordering the entrance to Nanuka Passage.  Charts in this part of the world are notoriously inaccurate, and  Duff Reef has snagged many a cruising boat that has cut it too close, but we were sailing fast, so fast that by our second day, our GPS had us arriving at Nanuka passage in the middle of the night!  Wanting to slow the boat down (such an ironic desire for a CSY owner), we had reefed the sails down to a triple-reefed main and staysail only, but we hardly slowed at all. So Don tried an experiment.  We already carried our staysail sheeted to the centerline to help steady the boat in the seas.   Now Don brought the main into the center, even though the wind was nearly dead aft.  To our amazement, this not only successfully slowed the boat without stopping her, but smoothed the ride out dramatically. Of course we'd known about sheeting OUT when close on the wind to slow a boat down, but not this opposite!  Maybe the sailors among you already know this trick, but it was news to us.  We ended up carrying on in most of the rest of the way like this, which allowed us finally to get some sleep.

Things got so much better after that that not only was there no more talk of chicken farms, but we actually started to enjoy the ride.  We rounded into Nanuka Passage (giving Duff Reef a several mile-wide berth) entering Fijian waters, but we still had a hundred miles to sail to Savu Savu, our check-in port at which we most definitely did not want to arrive  before Monday morning.  Fiji has heavy penalties for arriving in overtime hours, AND they are very strict about not stopping anywhere on the way in!  One hundred miles for us is about twenty hours of sailing, yet we had about 26 hours to kill!  So we left the boat in our new slow mode, and progressed most gently through a glorious day of sunshine and easy winds, reading and napping, while the outline of mountainous Taveuni took shape on the horizon.

It was in these gentle conditions that we finally got motivated to throw over the fishing line.  A boat about ten miles ahead of us, with whom we’d been chatting on the radio, had (motivated by two hungry kids to feed) been fishing productively the whole way across.  Discouraged by a year of poor return on our efforts in Tonga (not to mention by the rollicking seas), we hadn’t yet bothered.  However I had read in Fiji’s somewhat dated cruising guide that even inept and casual fishermen like us could expect rewards from a little effort. 

Don was very skeptical.  We were barely making three knots, and glances back at the bungeed trolling line showed little action.  We only found the fish when, just for something to do, I went back to test the line.  “Don…I think there’s a fish on.”  Don came back and started reeling.  “Well, if so, it’s a little one.”  Hah!  As the line rolled up on the yo-yo, we began to make out the shape of a large mahi mahi. Apparently we were going slow enough that it had been able to keep up with the tug on its jaw!  However, as the fish neared the stern, I also saw a large black shape shadowing it! “^%@^$#%, Don!  There’s a shark!”

Okay.  I’ll admit it yet again.  The 2Cs are really very poor excuses for fishermen.  Although the line had been put over, it was with such little expectation of success that we weren’t really ready to land anything.  No booze on hand to put down the gills, nor the club, nor the towel we usually cover a fish with.  Even the gaff was entangled in some other back deck clutter.  As the fish and the shark neared the stern, it was clear we weren’t going to have time to bring the rod down the side like we usually do to gaff it.  So with little expectation of a good outcome, Don gave a might jerk and yanked the big fish right out of the water from under the very nose of the shark.

Up sailed the three-foot fish, flying through the gap between the arch, the wind vane, the stern rail and the backstay.  As it flew, we both saw the lure whip free of its mouth and sail past my ear, and as the poor creature fell to the deck, I shrieked and Don threw himself upon it.  I managed to dig out the club, and Don did his best to whop it a couple of times.  That fish was no dummy:  as he lay still for a second, Don relaxed a fraction, and the moment Don relaxed, that fish gave a mighty corkscrew and slipped over the back before we knew it.  Incredulous at our loss, we could only stare as the fish, now making the same mistake Don had, relaxed for one fatal moment.  In a flash and a splash, the shark darted in and snapped him up!  A major disappointment for all but the shark!  Back to the books for the 2Cs!

One of the big moments in a cruising sailor’s career happened for us several hours later. As we rounded the southern point of Taveuni just about sunset, our GPS ticked out the last seconds of the Western hemisphere as we sailed across the 180th meridian into eastern longitudes!  Unlike the equator where your latitude reads 00 minutes for 118 miles, you don’t get to stay at longitude 180 very long, since the GPS jumps back to 179 degrees immediately as the “Eastern” seconds start counting back toward Greenwich, England again! Probably that minute window is the reason why there’s not the same tradition of parties for “Dateline” crossings as there is for the equator!

As we turned onto the last 40-mile leg of our voyage to the port of Savu Savu on Vanua Levu, the wind, of course, began to die.   Having learned to go slow (and having enjoyed it), it was hard not kick ourselves for having squandered the time.  Even with going slow, we'd thought we'd have to heave to for the last few hours before dawn.  Now, about midnight, Don had to fire up the engine (for the first time the whole trip) and start motoring if we didn’t want to be still out in the middle of the Koro Sea the next day!!!

I cannot tell you how incredibly gorgeous that last night was.  We had a crystal clear sky with all the familiar constellations of the northern sky on the starboard side and the still unfamiliar late night southern hemisphere ones on the other.  The air was soft with a warm tropical caress, the water like black glass flecked with bioluminescence to match the sky, and, although we knew there were islands five or so miles away all around us, there were no shore-side  lights that we could see.

We motored up to Point Passage, a long shoal with a flashing light, just about sunrise.  As beautiful as the night had been, the sunrise was an equal stunner, heralding a picture perfect day.  We’d made radio contact with Curly, a 35-year resident of Savu Savu who has guided the port into being an attractive haven for cruisers, and reserved one of his moorings.  By the time we turned into Nakama Creek, the inlet on which the town is situated, we had the boat completely put way.  Although Savu Savu’s mooring field is packed close together (the whole harbor is quite reminiscent of Red Hook in St. Thomas), our mooring gave us a lovely vista of mangroves and coconut topped hillocks off one side with town bcked up against steep hills on the other.  We also had a pretty clear view of the shoals right off our stern!

Savu Savu’s officials came to the boat in two loads and impressed us with their polite efficiency, a refreshing change from the power hungry (and generally hungry!) Tongan officials.  At 0830 Curly came on the VHF radio with a Robin Williams-esque "Good Morning, SA-vu Savu" radio net with all the cruiser activities and services for the upcoming week!  Shades of Trinidad!  If one could bottle the white-bearded Curly’s energy, one would be a millionaire!

After the officials, we grabbed a quick lunch ashore and then went down for the long count in the aft cabin, sleeping about five hours, waking just in time for the happy hour at the Yacht Club followed by a big curry feast up at the local hotel.  In just our first day, we met a dozen new people, including the family from Namibia aboard the steel schooner Stenella that had been traveling ahead of us.  They’d caught so much fish on the passage, (and SMOKED it underway!) they had enough to share with the two wieners (whiners?) behind them

All in all, a great start to a new phase of our adventure.  No chicken farms in the near future for these 2 Captains.  We're back in the mood!


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