Highs and Lows of Fiji

Bula from Vuda Marina in Fiji—

I’m writing from the comfort of a shaded area next to the marina office. The weather in the past couple weeks has taken a dramatic turn for the humid, hot and more frequent rain storms— the ushering in of the rainy season, and the signal to cruisers that it’s time to get settled for cyclone season. The cyclone season in the South Pacific is generally mid-November to mid-April. During this time many cruisers migrate to New Zealand, Australia or a small few stay put and bounce around between “hurricane holes.” There is definitely an air of anxiousness and excitement around the marina. Many are here preparing to leave of passage, looking for weather windows, gathering and talking about weather patterns, last minute provisioning and projects… similar to the feel and experience in La Cruz.

We are in the midst of it all, but trying to conquer a significant portion of projects. Sedna is currently on the hard, baking the the sun, gettin' pretty. The bottom was sanded and painted. We raised our water line and put a black boot stripe of hard bottom paint and repaired the blisters that have been forming right at that line. And the big project… the real reason why we’re spending all this cruising time on the hard, is because we’re replacing our bowsprit (and the rigging around it).

I know I sound like I broken record when I say this, but cruising, is a series of big ups, and big downs. The highest of highs and some very low lows. Those sailors that continue on in their cruising journey have managed to balance out the two— and experience more highs… or just have an amazing resilience for lows. Our time in Fiji has been filled with both, and has tested my own resilience, but certain things, like the genuine friendship of the locals, the inexpensive delicious food, and the precious time with good cruiser friends has helped lift up the past six weeks.

Without giving you all the details… I’ve summed up some of our highs and lows below. I did something similar for past job, where my manager wanted the important stuff unlined and highlighted— so he could breeze the headlines and read further if he chose to do so. Now you can do the same…

High #1: Walker Bay- Dinghy was found! By some miraculous occurrence, another sailboat found our dinghy floating among the Lau Group of Islands on the eastern side of Fiji (To be precise, it was found as 17°27’ 7S - 178°45’ 9W). A fellow cruiser friend recognized our dinghy as it arrived into Savusavu being towed. “Hey… That’s Clif and Giselle’s rowboat!” Minimal damage, just the inflatable tube was ripped in several places, so either needs extensive patching or a new tube. We have been using Walker Bay without the inflatable tube, and it’s been fine.

High #2: Clif completed his Dive Master Training! After several weeks at Taveuni Dive Resort, Clif completed the training and had his instructors sign off on Dive Master status— essentially a certified guide. This means, besides being a feather in his cap, he can apply to dive jobs or live aboard dive boat jobs, if he chooses and opens up other similar opportunities.

High #3: Excellent passage with Rob from Tonga to Fiji. We had a very speedy passage to Fiji, with the perfect amount of wind, and making record time. The week we arrived with got to spend several days exploring the area, which was also fun— just adjusting to the new culture: the friendly people,

High #4: (see lots of highs) We made it to Ed and T’s wedding on the island of Caqalai! We’ve been looking forward to the event for months. Four boats were anchored out in total, all of our closest cruising friends. It was a excellent way to round out the end of the season, despite the very windy weather, which has us all hunkered down for the several days after the wedding. The ceremony day was beautiful, lots of good Fijian food, tons of Kava drinking (traditional grog from a pepper plant… google it), and LOTS of dancing.

… and Clif’s 33rd birthday! Which was a beautiful day shared with friends on Caqalai! I made a coconut spice cake with a pineapple compote, and Clifton caught a beautiful dorado (mahi-mahi)— our first nice fish on the rod this season. So he got several days-worth of fresh fish for his birthday gift.


Low #1 (and the priority of our Vuda Marina visit): Our bowsprit broke. Out at Taveuni Dive Resort, the mooring we were on detached itself from the reef, and Sedna began to free-float back, without us on her, and bumped into another boat. Thankfully, we were watching, got to the boat quickly before more damage was done and moved to another mooring. Turns out… they had crappy moorings, and it was high tide, and the wind waves picked up in the wrong directions…. It was no-one and everyone’s fault. The tip of our bowsprit snapped off right at the attachment of the headstay rigging, making us unable to fly the head sail (the jib).

Low #2: I got sick! After our first day out on the dive boat at Taveuni, I had weird symptoms that aligned with mild decompression sickness— After a day of calling diving doctors in the states and visiting the local clinic, we decided to motor-sail back to Savusavu where I could be a little closer to better healthcare. After several visits to the hospital in town (all free), some blood tests… all sorts of stuff, they (and the diving doctors in the states), decided to put me on antibiotics, in case of a unknown infection. I did improve after the antibiotics, and then promptly got a bad head cold, which I’m pretty sure was from being in the Savusavu hospital… which was not the most sanitary place. Now, after a month, A whole month… I am feeling 100%, back to myself. But it took me that long. On the plus side, I didn’t drink alcohol for most of the time until the wedding, so that was a nice break for my body and health.

Low #3: Not enough time in Fiji! Because of the length of time the Dive program took, my illness, and the time we’re about to spend on the hard fixing our boat, we definitely don’t feel like we’ve had time to explore Fiji, which is a bummer, because our friends have all being bouncing around having a blast…and we’ve been stressing about finding a carpenter to replicate our bowsprit. That being said, coming back to Fiji with the boat is definitely in our long-term plans after working and storing the boat in NZ.

“For scale or for a nap?” Asked Clif’s Dad Rob. Me lying next to the bowsprit after the removal… just to give you an idea of the size of wood we’re dealing with.

“For scale or for a nap?” Asked Clif’s Dad Rob. Me lying next to the bowsprit after the removal… just to give you an idea of the size of wood we’re dealing with.

Time in the Yard (On the hard)…

Dejavous! Time on the hard, in the beating sun… with mosquitos at night… seems oddly familiar. The minute we saw our bowsprit break at Taveuni, we knew we had this time allotted for us. Thankfully, here in Fiji, the workers are plentiful and the labor is cheap. When we pulled out of the water on week ago, we were able to hire a project manager, who arranged materials and labor for the bottom of the hull and the formation of a new bowsprit. New Fijian Mahogany was ordered, new wire was purchased for the whisker stays. It’s all been remarkably fast (the majority of it), and we have been working just as hard, if not harder, alongside our Fijian workers. The Guaymas yard was hot, but Vuda is HUMID. Our boat turns into a larger teak sauna around 10am… sweat dripping from every pore. There’s a couple trees near our boat that provide shade a slight breeze which gives us cooling breaks. The showers are right next to us, so we also take multiple cold showers to cool us down during the day.

All the work is on track. The hull is almost complete, I’m working on re-varnishing the port cap rail which can only be done in the early morning because of the heat. We hired a worker to replace the shaft packing in our rudder, and Clif spent two miserable days installing a new bilge pump. The riggers installed new wire for the forestay and whisker stays, now we’re just waiting for the bowsprit, which is being fabricated in Denarau (about an hour away). Once the bowsprit is installed, we can get back in the water and tune the rig!

I’ve been coming to realize that I actually really enjoy boat maintenance. I love working on a project and seeing results. I think it also has something to do with knowing you’re constantly improving the boat, rather than watch the boat (pumps, paint, parts) slowly age. It reminds me of reading Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Clif and I constantly remind each other to “get in the right frame of mind” for a project, pull out all the right tools. There’s a scene in the book where he’s reading a Japanese bike manual, and the first instruction is to have “peace of mind.” Boat yard work… especially hot, sticky, humid boat yard work has to start with the right mind set (and a TON of sunscreen… put on early, so it won’t melt off).

The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.
— Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Passage to New Zealand…

About a week ago, I made the decision to fly to New Zealand and allow Clif and our Alaskan buddy Dave to sail Sedna south. The decision was made so I could spend more time with my girlfriend, Jill, down in NZ, and allow me a little break from some of the day-to-day boat stressors that have been impacting me a little more in the past mont… (I would say, since the day Sedna broke the mooring). Dave and Clif are completely capable of sailing south on their own— and will probably be more relaxed about the passage than I would ever be. This won’t be my last opportunity to sail Sedna on an ocean passage, I foresee several in my future, so I don’t have a problem bowing out and allowing the guys to rally.

At first, while making the decision, I felt like I was ditching Clif or that I was fulfilling a stereotype. I’ve known many women (wives) that have chosen to opt out on long passages, and I felt some guilt by being a part of that. But, ocean passages aren’t everyone’s cup of tea… and my longevity in cruising relies on intermittent land-based travel and time with friends and family. As my girlfriend Meli said to me, “I need my land-based time to catch up with my ocean time…” Also quoted from another girlfriend, “Guilt is a useless emotion.” (Maybe not totally useless… but in my particular case…. I would say that I could get rid of some guilt.)

So, in the name of not feeling guilt, I’m flying to New Zealand on the 25th, and going to explore Wellington, Marlborough Valley and Nelson area with one of the best human beings I know (Jilly)!

Plus! I can be a weather router for the boys. So I’m going to study up, download some weather apps and dive into more weather routing and understanding for this particular jump.

I’ll post a more detailed blog on the bowsprit repair once complete! We have lots of photos! More in a week or so….