Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

We took a break from our boat chores yesterday afternoon to join a Cruiser Christmas Eve get-together. We played "pick a present" ... everyone brings an inexpensive gift, and you pass a dice around the table. When you roll 6, you get to go pick a present from the table. The next time you roll a 6, you MUST swap your gift with someone else's. The hot gift at our table was a hand-written gift certificate from David of s/v Equinox, who promised to come make a gourmet Italian meal aboard your boat. In Fiji, there are lots of restaurants, but none that would come close to "gourmet Italian". That envelope got traded for about 20 times before we stopped passing the dice around the table.

Today we are going to Curly's houseboat for a small potluck.

Chores we have completed since returning to Soggy Paws two days ago:
- Big solar panels mounted back on the arch
- Dinghy launched & outboard on
- Refrigerator & freezer swabbed out and started up
- 4 large suitcases full of stuff unpacked and mostly stowed
- Enough groceries purchased to get us through Christmas week

My next huge task is to tackle the cupboards. While we were gone, we were occupied by a colony of spiders, and they and the 'cupboard moths' I was already struggling with, have waged World War III in my cupboards. They are a mess!! I have to pull everything out, kill the spiders and the moths, and salvage what's salvageable from the dry goods in the cupboards. Everything is covered in moth bodies and spider poop (the moths are losing the war)!! Nearly every spider I have encountered is a big momma protecting an egg sac (ie, 1,000 new spiders), so the sooner I get to this, the better.

Dave's first priority is to track down the source of the fresh water leak. We can hear our fresh water pump come on, when neither of us has been using water, so we have a slow leak somewhere.

The weather here right now is pretty benign--very low wind and hot and sunny (think Florida in June). If we didn't have so much boat cleanup to do, we should be out diving!!! This kind of weather is exactly why we stayed in Fiji for the summer.

On the weather front, there is a new Low showing up in the 10 day forecast, spinning up over the Solomon Islands and heading south and east. Hopefully it will go right on past Fiji--it's still too early to start worrying.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Slow Boat to Savusavu

Note to self: Never EVER EVER travel just before Christmas! And especially not with too much luggage.

I am sure that my experiences aren't much different from all those travelers in the U.S. trying to get somewhere tonight by air. Except the Fijians are much pleasanter to be with, than Americans, when they are under stress.

The "show time" for the ferry last night was 8pm. We got there at 8pm and found the dock mobbed with people and stuff, and they were still unloading. Fortunately it was a fine evening, not too hot, and not raining. We amused ourselves watching the ship next to us trying to load containerized freight with a giant forklift, with children playing, and people and cars milling all around. Amazingly, no one got hurt, no one got mad, no one told anyone what to do.

We finally got aboard at 10:30pm--another incredible mob scene with no order, but no violence at all. In the U.S., I'm sure a group of frustrated travelers would have just jumped the flimsy line keeping us funneling (squishing) into the one-person-at-a-time gate. For us, it's a nightmare--we're each dragging 2 big rolly bags and wearing a heavy backpack--of boat parts, etc. It was about 100 degrees in ship loading area, and we were all sweating like pigs. There were lots of old ladies and little kids in the crowd, and very few people had regular shoes (just flip-flops). I was worried about rolling over everyone's feet with my bags. There was no crowd control, it was a madhouse. Except, it was Fiji, and nobody was mad, everyone tired, but smiling and mostly polite.

Once we got through the crowd, we had to drag our 4 too-heavy rolly bags up a narrow flight of stairs. Two Fijian guys going the same way grabbed 2 of the bags for us and hefted them up the stairs. (It helped that Dave had grey hair--I think next time I'll wear a grey wig and limp a little).

Even though only half of the people were loaded, every inch of common area floor space was already packed--even outside. Even under the signs in the lobby that said "No Sleeping Here", there were already people with mats laid out and sleeping.

Fortunately, we had paid extra for a cabin. Unlike our previous trip, where we were almost the only ones in the cabin area, all the cabins were full. And *surprise* the walls are paper thin. Last time we took this ferry, there were so few people in the cabins that it was very quiet and very pleasant. This time, most cabins had 4-5 people (grandmas, kids, etc etc). This morning when I opened the door, there was an entire extended family sleeping in the corridor--spill-over from the cabin opposite ours. Having a cabin means that a couple of people get to sleep in real beds, and they have a private bathroom, and access to the cabin-area (shared) shower.

Fortunately we had eaten last night before we showed, because the cafeteria was locked up when we came aboard, and they didn't announce that it was open until about 11:30pm. By then, we were already trying to get some sleep.

Out in the common spaces there were bodies laying on the floor sleeping everywhere. At least no goats and chickens, though :)

I don't think the ship got underway until around 1:30am. The swell as we were coming around the south coast of Viti Levu made the ship roll from side to side sickeningly--leftover swell from Tropical Cyclone Evan, who had only left a few days before. I NEVER EVER get seasick, but I was feeling it a little. (The 2 shots of rum I drank to put me to sleep might have been a contributing factor, though). We could hear someone puking in the cabin next door. Fortunately, when we turned north, the swell was behind us, and the motion was not bad at all. By morning, the sea was almost flat calm.

Our friend who had taken this ferry once below had warned us about the freezing cold cabins. They said they couldn't sleep because the cabin was so cold, even with sweaters and long pants on. On the return trip, they taped the vents closed. Well, typical Fijian non-maintenance seems to have taken care of that problem. The boat interior spaces are hot as heck in general, and our room was just barely cool enough through the night. Sitting in the dining room this morning, it is also warm. I suspect half of the chillers have broken down and have not been replaced/repaired.

The cafeteria was supposed to be open at 7am, so I set my alarm for 6:45 get up and get in first and get a table and make sure we got some food. In typical fashion, the cafeteria was closed when I got there at 0710, and no one knew when it would open. I went back to bed. They finally made an announcement over the PA that it was open at 0830.

Breakfast was overfried eggs, greasy sausage, not-quite-toasted white bread, and instant coffee. Or you could have a soda, cookies, and chips (blech!) But we ate it anyway. Fortunately we brought some fruit with us. I am worried that they will run out of both food and water before we get to Savusavu. Unfortunately, since we were already lugging too much luggage, we didn't "provision" for this trip adequately.

When I got to the dining room I managed to get a table near a window, so I could hook my GPS up and see where we are (our cabin is an interior cabin and you can't see anything). We were "hove to" off a tiny island, lightering a few people and stuff ashore. Now (0930) headed for Koro Island, ETA noon, if I understood the annoucement (in Fijian) correctly. Savusavu is another 2-3 hours beyond Koro, and they'll be (optimistically) unloading in Koro for at least an hour.

In Fiji, Not Quite "Home" Yet

Short Story: We made it to Fiji yesterday.

Long Story: When we realized that we were waitlisted on the absolute last flight we could take and make it to Savusavu before Christmas (and maybe even New Years), we decided to try again and "take the first flight out".

Tuesday morning (America time) we finally managed to get through on the phone to Air Pacific and secure the LAST TWO SEATS on Tuesday night's flight from LAX. So we apologised to Evan (our current host) about changing our plans yet again, and hustled in our rental car headed back to LA. We managed to get away with enough time go part of the way on Pacific Coast Highway. It was a beautiful day and a nice trip--wish we could have stopped and explored more.

However, halfway to LA, we got a text message that said our flight had been delayed until Weds morning. But we were committed at that point and carried on to LA. Worst case scenario, we spend the night in the USO at the airport and best case, we get a room at the Hilton on Air Pacific. I checked our status and the flight status on the computer, and the results were confusing and conflicting.

What ended up happening was that the flight that was ORIGINALLY was supposed to go out Tuesday evening had been bumped to Weds morning, but WE were actually booked on the flight that was supposed to have gone on Monday evening, but was actually flying on Tuesday evening. You can imagine the line and the confusion at the Air Pacific counter when we got there. It took us an hour and half to reach the counter!

However, once we did, we found we were confirmed on that flight, AND they hadn't lost the 3 bags we had checked on Saturday. The flight ended up being delayed about 2 hours, but did finally get off the ground late on Tuesday night. It turned out that Air Pacific, trying to recover from the Cyclone Evan debacle in the week before Christmas, had chartered an Atlas Air plane and crew to try to catch up.

We landed in Nadi, Fiji after an 11-hour overnight flight. We got about 6 hours of sleep--not too bad for a crowded airplane. All our luggage (4 big bags) arrived with us, and we had no Immigration or Customs hassles at the airport. All in all, a very successful flight.

A friend at Vuda Point Marina (near Nadi) had encouraged us to come visit her for a couple of days before going on to Savusavu, but we were on a mission to get home. We were worried about not getting on the last ferry going to Savusavu before Christmas. We had done a little investigating while in LA and found out that the ferries shut down between Christmas and New Years, and also that the short-hop airplanes were all fully booked.

So we took the Express Bus down to Suva right from the airport. This is a 4-5 hour bus ride. The Express Bus isn't supposed to stop anywhere, but it does at a few places. But it is air-conditioned and we saw 2 movies on the way!! All for about $10 US.

We also had to make contact with our friends from Fulaga's family in Suva. We brought back a laptop (a nice new/refurbed HP laptop on Walmart.com for only $256) for Sera, the nurse at Fulaga. After a few phone calls to arrange things, Sera's sister met us at our hostel and paid us for the laptop. Unfortunately Sera and Sikeli haven't made it (by ferry) from Fulaga yet--they also got delayed by the cyclone, and aren't due for another couple of days.

Fortunately, we had made reservations on the Lomaiviti Princess ferry, by phone, with Kong, the agent in Savusavu, while still in LA (thank god for Skype!). When we got to the ferry office today to pick up our pre-paid ticket, they had a big sign on the door "No more space on today's ferry". But we have a confirmed ticket for a sleeper cabin. Thanks, Kong (he told us to just stop by his office and Savusavu and pay him when we get there)!

So, tonight, off we go on our last leg "home"--an overnight ferry to Savusavu.

Next problem: Getting food aboard before everything shuts down for Christmas!

P.S. For a first-hand account of Tropical Storm Evan at Vuda Point Marina in Fiji, see Island Bound's blog.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tropical Storm Magnet

At least one of our friends (Bruce from s/v Migration) has emailed us from the safety of Thailand "Geez you guys! You seem to attract Tropical Storms!"

It's probably because Dave so actively has advocated in the last 2 years (in person, and on the radio nets) NOT making the difficult and sometimes dangerous trip to NZ to avoid cyclone season, but staying and enjoying the tropics in the calm summer months.

We have yet to hear an "I told you so." from our friends who think we're crazy for staying in a cyclone zone. But I'm sure several are thinking it!! (as they are emailing us happy to hear we are OK).

Some updates from this morning:

From Dr. Jeff Masters Wunder Blog: "According to a database maintained by NOAA's Coastal Service Center, Evan is the strongest tropical cyclone on record to affect Fiji's main island, with records going back to 1941"

We found an interesting YouTube video supposedly taken yesterday from a boat at Vuda Point Marina, before the height of the storm. Here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gh6S9D6Hs8A Crazy guy, eh?

From our friend Linda who's boat-sitting at Vuda Point Marina, on the hard, on first look this morning: "No huge pileup of boats but stuff all over. Not anything like we have seen in the Caribbean. Guava Jelly (in the water) looks o.k. other than ripped cover. Sidewinder (on the hard) looks good if they took the blades off their wind generator (they did). Can't see anything else just yet. There's a big tree down between me and the marina office."

For a more detailed first-hand account of Tropical Storm Evan at Vuda Point Marina in Fiji, see Island Bound's blog.

We have been re-booked as wait-listed on Air Pacific to leave on Thursday night for Fiji. We never did get through on the phone, but got a near immediate response by email, suprisingly. The first flight (last we heard) was SUPPOSED to go at noon today, California time (right about now). Glad we didn't stick around the airport all night waiting for it to go!!

For now we'll hang in Santa Barbara and keep Evan from s/v Java company.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Soggy Paws OK, Thanks to Friends

We are happy to report that Cyclone Evan is receding from Savusavu, and Soggy Paws is OK. We got several Skype calls from Jerry on Challenger today giving us status updates. He reported early that it was still gusty and nasty, but the wind seemed to be starting to abate. Two unattended boats had dragged in the night, but neither was damaged. He and Curly and a couple of other cruisers were out during the day securing these boats.

Late in the day, Jerry called us again and said that he thought Soggy Paws was dragging (but it was then only blowing 15-20 knots). Later we found out that it was friends of ours on another boat, named Mambo, who thought we were dragging, because we were closer to them than before. So Jerry Skyped us once again to find out what he needed to do to start the engine on Soggy Paws... The waters were too murky after the rain to send someone down with tanks to see what was going on with the mooring. He wanted to back hard on the mooring with the engine to make sure we WEREN'T dragging. At the time he called, we were driving in fairly heavy traffic on one of California's 5-lanes-across-in-each-direction highways, so I had to take the call and relay instructions from Dave on the steps to re-commission the engine. (raw water seacock on, engine start battery cut-off enabled, ignition circuit breaker on, ignition key, and cold starting instructions).

Later we got another update from Jerry by email, that when he backed on the mooring, it straightened the chain out (drug a half a boat length and then stopped), but didn't drag.

The problem with our mooring is that the moorings are so close that when the wind drops and the tide changes, we have problems with boats going in different directions and getting too close to each other.

Jerry also reported that the internet (Vodafone cellular data) was out--after being fine during the whole storm. Though he didn't say so, it is probably due to the other half of Fiji being hit by the storm (where the internet trunk line comes in to Fiji).

Anyway, all is fine in Savusavu.

Meanwhile, we are now worried about friends who's boats are in Vuda Point Marina, on the west side of Viti Levu. We know 2 people who are THERE, aboard, on the hard. We also know about 6 other people who left their boats in the water and on the hard at Vuda, and are somewhere else. Several have contacted me by email asking if I had any updates.

The problem is that the cyclone turned south a little earlier than recently forecast, and the "bad" side of the cyclone has just raked the western side of Viti Levu, where Vuda Point Marina is. We haven't heard anything from them yet.

We have heard 2nd hand that Jim on Also Island, on the north coast of Vanua Levu is OK, but has lost both his HF antennas, so is having more trouble than usual communicating and emailing. Our friend Evan on Java left his boat in Jim's care, and finally got an email from Jim. Jim said the winds got to about 70 knots there, but that things weren't too bad. Java was tied up in the mangroves near Also Island, and he hadn't gotten out to check on Java yet, but he was pretty sure that she was OK.

Meanwhile, we are still in Los Angeles. Air Pacific said that they were going to fly 2 flights leaving at 2am and 3am tonight, and we could have gotten on one of those flights. But, frankly, we checked the satellite picture just before we went to the airport and it looks like Evan is going by pretty close to the airport, at 110 knots. We think it is really unlikely that they'll be able to get the airport back in operation by noon tomorrow in Fiji, in time for a flight leaving LA at 2am to arrive.

Air Pacific also said we could change our reservations without penalty. Though we had a nice time staying aboard Capella in Redondo Beach last night, when friend Evan from s/v Java invited us up to stay with him in Santa Barbara for a few days, we jumped on it. So we cleaned up Capella, and took the bus back to LAX this afternoon ($2.00 on the bus for the two of us versus the $30 cab fare it took to get down to Redondo), and rented an Enterprise Rental Car for only $22/day. We can't hang here too long, or we'll run into Christmas slow-down on our arrival in Fiji, and have trouble getting back to Savusavu, but I think we'll stay a couple of days and do some sightseeing.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bad Neighbors in a Storm

Even in the most perfect cyclone hole, you have to worry about your neighbors.

With a cyclone bearing down on Soggy Paws in Savusavu, Fiji, we thought we were worried about this boat:

A Derelict Boat on a Mooring Near Soggy Paws

But we had no idea that a big ferry would come in and try to take refuge in the tiny creek that was already chock-a-block with moored boats:

They just ran this big honking boat up on a mud bank, tied a few lines off, and left it. There ought to be a law about that! Unfortunately, Soggy Paws' mooring is fairly close. Our friend Jerry on s/v Challenger, who is right next to us, took these pictures.

Jerry and the other cruisers staying aboard in Savusavu, you might imagine, are furious that this boat would do this, endangering all the boats already there. If this boat gets loose, it will take out ALL the cruising boats.

Fortunately, the storm track is forecast to pass 100 miles to the north of us, and the wind direction should be blowing this beast onto the mud bank at the height of the storm. The forecast for Savusavu is only about 45 knots, starting from the SE and backing around to the N overnight and into tomorrow, and then tailing off.

Meanwhile, we are stuck in LA. Air Pacific had told us yesterday that they would email or call if the flight was going to be cancelled. So, not receiving an email, we were hopeful when we landed in LA. But they have cancelled the flight. They offered all the passengers a voucher for a room at the Airport Hilton for $60/night. I tried to get Dave interested in doing that (hot showers, luxury room, Tv, etc). But we had already been offered a spot on a friend-of-a-friend's sailboat in Redondo Beach, and if we passed it up tonight, we wouldn't be able to stay tomorrow night. Not knowing how long we might be stuck here, it seemed best to get hooked up with the free spot, rather than getting stuck in a $60 a night room. At least we're not on a 2 week vacation!

But it's blowing like stink here tonight in the marina, and it's cold. It's a snug little boat, and quite nice (a Pacific Seacraft 31), but no heat. Our friend, Bill from s/v Solstice stayed long enough to give us the key and show us the ropes aboard, and then took off to catch his flight to Sydney, Australia.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

No-Surprise Cyclone Evan

For almost a week now--ever since our friend Curly in Savusavu sent us an email warning about a possible Cyclone developing near Fiji--we have been watching what is now Tropical Cyclone Evan develop.

Tropical Cyclone Evan Over Samoa, Heading for Fiji
Forecast Map Courtesy the US Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center

In the map above, the black line is where Evan has already been, and the magenta line is the forecast track.

Originally, Evan was heading NE, away from us, and toward American Samoa (see Pago Pago on the map). But the GRIB files (the only thing forecasting the development a week ago) showed it turning around over Samoa and heading right back toward Fiji. Originally, the forecast had Evan passing well to the east and south of Savusavu, where Soggy Paws is. So we were watching Evan develop, but were not too worried. However, yesterday's forecast picture showed TC Evan going right over where Soggy Paws is, at nearly 100 knots!

Current IR Satellite Picture of Evan Over the Samoan Islands
Courtesy the NOAA Satellite Information Service

Fortunately, this morning's forecast has moved the track further north still, and it looks like it will pass far enough away that it will be an "exciting event" rather than a total disaster for Fiji (and Soggy Paws).

Now that we're not totally scared about what might happen, all we have to do is figure out how to get back to Soggy Paws most efficiently. Our existing reservations take us from Atlanta to LA on Saturday afternoon, and then overnight from LA to Fiji, arriving just about the same time as Evan!! (We cross the dateline going back, so after much head-scratching, we have figured out that we will be landing in Fiji Dec 17 at 0600 local Fiji time, which is the same as Dec 16th at 1800 UTC).

So the question is... do we hang in Atlanta til the coast is clear?? We are with family (who we haven't spent enough time with anyway), we have a nice place to stay, and we have a car. But it means changing our discount airfare at a huge expense. (The LA leg is not with the same carrier as the Fiji leg, so it would cost double to change our whole reservation). Do we go ahead and get to LA, and then HOPE that the Fiji flight is going to go--getting stuck in LA could be as expensive as changing tickets!

Air Pacific said they would notify us about 24 hours in advance whether they planned to go on schedule or not. If THEY cancel, then we don't have to pay a ticket-change fee for their flight. Also, a good cruising friend (Bill on Solstice) emailed us and offered a place to stay in LA near the airport.

Ha ha, this is why I LOVE cruising. I don't even know Bill's last name. But, we have been cruising together, talking on nets, sharing information, sometimes sharing anchorages, etc. for the last 2-3 years. We now consider him a good friend, and he obviously feels the same way. And the place to stay he is offering doesn't even belong to him, but is a boat owned by someone else (where HE is staying in LA right now). So Bill has gone to bat for us with his friend.

Anyway, I think our current plan is to go ahead and go to LA, unless Evan takes an unexpected turn toward Fiji. It looks like there is now a reasonable chance that our Air Pacific flight WILL go on Saturday night as scheduled, and we'll beat the storm into Nadi airport in Fiji.

Then our second challenge is actually getting to Soggy Paws. The international airport is on Viti Levu (the lower left island in the picture above). Soggy Paws is in Savusavu on Vanua Levu (the elongated island where the big red arrow is pointing). It's a $150 airplane flight or a $70 overnight ferry ride to get from Nadi to Savusavu. We have reservations on the ferry going the same night we arrive. But now it looks like the water will be too stormy to risk going in even the newest ferry that Fiji has to offer. So we'll have to figure out where to stay in Viti Levu for a night or two until the sea calms down enough to make the ferry ride comfortable and safe.

Here is where yet another 'I love cruising' comes in. We have another friend, who is staying on yet another friend's boat in Vuda Point Marina on the west side of Viti Levu. She has offered us a place to stay for a couple of nights if we need it.

And we haven't even bothered (yet) checking up on the possible available resources like the SSCA Cruising Stations for LA and Fiji.

And finally, we are not too too worried about Soggy Paws in Savusavu (especially not now that we don't expect to get a direct hit), because another cruising friend, Jerry on Challenger, is on the mooring next to us. We have been talking daily with Jerry via Skype, and Jerry is watching out for us. We prepped Soggy Paws pretty well before we left, but there are still a few things that need doing before we get high winds. Jerry has been making sure the 2nd mooring line is properly hooked up, hatches dogged, solar panels secured, the last bit of canvas down, etc. (He is paying back what we "paid forward" looking after his boat in Fulaga a few months ago).

We are in Atlanta, mostly packed, and leaving tomorrow. I CAN'T WAIT to get back to the boat!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wouldn't This Ruin Your Day?

This really happened!

Boat Stuck on Tortoise Island Bridge

Tortoise Island Bridge is in a residential area, and sees little use except during the weekend. The bridge tender shack is poorly positioned, and the bridge tenders poorly paid and poorly trained. I think they also double as security guards on Tortoise Island.

We have at least once had to nose up to the bridge fenders and put someone ashore to wake up the bridge tender.

This incident happened a couple of weeks ago, and what I heard was that 3 boats went through the bridge. The first guy called for the opening and said "3 boats requesting to go through". Apparently the bridge tender closed the bridge on the last boat. The mast of the boat poked through the bridge ironwork, and when the tender opened the bridge again, it lifted him in the air. I heard through the grapevine that the boat didn't suffer much but a broken headstay. No one was hurt.

But what a picture!!