It takes time, every time, to get the rhythm of our watches. With short-ish passages about the time you really find your rhythm you’re there and it seems you have spent far too much time trying to sleep and far too little time actually sleeping so often arrive exhausted. On longer passages there are always external pressures that throw a whammy on the schedule –bad weather, catching a fish, making a set schedule for talking with friends on the ham radio, engine or fuel problems or bits of maintenance or repairs that must be taken care of immediately. This trip we were affected by fishing, heat and then in the end weather. Oh and a repair problem that sprang up on us before we had even left.
We were ready to go. Groceries bought and stowed, check. Chickens roasted, check. Boat cleaned, check. Fuel and water tanks topped off, check. Life jackets out and ready, Epirb tested, jack lines ready check, check, check. We had just finished our official clearing out procedure and had one hour to leave Fiji. All that was left to do was secure the outboard, lift and stow the dinghy on deck and let loose the mooring lines and we would be ready off in time for our 4pm set departure. Not so fast…what is that smell and what is that puddle at the bottom of the companionway steps. &^#$%*&^&%^!!!!
While we were checking out a sight tube-a piece of hose that lets us see how full a tank is- had broken and had begun emptying one of our diesel fuel tanks directly into the locker that houses our water maker. The floor of the passage way to our aft cabin was awash in diesel and the puddle was creeping under the companionway stairs and forward into our main cabin and was leaking through the floorboards and into the bilge. And the clock was ticking. Suddenly all of our focus was on getting the leak stopped and then the hose repaired and the mess cleaned up. Amazingly we barely blinked an eye as we waded through the mess and began the cleanup and repairs. It could have been worse of course –it could have been an ordinary day where we were off the boat for hours and come back to a much fuller bilge and a much bigger clean up. Instead an hour after scheduled we were calmly motoring out of the anchorage but the stench of the spilled diesel would be with us for the entire trip.
The weather window we had been waiting for never really appeared. We had hoped to have south winds which would allow us to sail the 236 miles but finally settled for little or no winds and a passage that promised to be mostly a motor sail. No wind and motoring is far better than winds on our nose and miles of beating into a rolling sea.
A highlight of the trip was the fishing. Bill had been busy making homemade fishing lures. He cuts the top off of a pop bottle cap so all you have is the mouth of the bottle and the screw on top. Then he punches a hole through the lid where the line will be strung. He cuts strips of shiny plastic bags –think lunch box sized bags of Cheetos or chips – folds them over the lip of the bottle cap and then screws the lid over the bottle mouth. The high test leader line goes through hole in the cap and then the bottle top gets screwed down over the mouth of the bottle. We use heavy duty double hooks on a leader line that’s set off the bottle mouth with a few beads and viola’ a very enticing big fish hootchie lure for the price of the hooks and line! They look like shiny squid and the fish love them. Thanks to Chuck on S/V Jacaranda for the great idea.
The lures have been paying us back in spades. Midday of the second day we caught two yellow fin tunas and a short time later a slight coarse shift to was taking us over a very promising looking shoal. Having just finished catching, cleaning and stowing two yellow tail tuna Bill was below sleeping as I charted our progress toward the shoal. As we closed in on the shallow patch I could see birds working the water and soon saw small fish shoaling the surface. I checked each of the lures trailing behind the boat for seaweed as we approached and was standing on deck in the sunshine watching behind us as we began passing over the bulls-eyed spot. I could see more small fish running on the surface and then a few pan sized fish running towards our lures. Then in a space of a minute four big fish were racing across the top of the water towards the three lures being drug behind the boat. I watched as a huge fish hit one of the lures and came flying up an easy four feet. The huge fish hit and flew up and out of the water a good four feet with sparkling water and bits of cookie bag flying in a huge arc before the fish slammed back down into the sea. In the blink of an eye I had all three lines running with very large fish, each big enough to run and fight and all three crossing back and forth behind us. One fish successfully fought his way to freedom but with Bills help we soon had two large fish on board –a four foot Wahoo and a twenty five pound Big Eye tuna!!!! Bravo, bravo! Of course that meant a good hour of work. First the fish must be….dispatched and then filleted. Then Bill scrubs up the huge mess that always results from killing and cleaning big fish on deck while I work below in the galley where a bit of fillet fine tuning gets the pieces portioned and bagged and ready for meals and the freezer. For dinner we had a taste test of the earlier caught yellow fin tuna and the big eye –both amazingly delicious but the big eye won out in the sashimi test. The only bad part of the whole deal is that the freezer was now full and until we were somewhere where we could give fish away poor Bill was going to have to stop fishing.
Thirty hours after leaving Savu Savu we had arrived at Fortuna. The anchorage there can be very rolly and uncomfortable with a south swell and that was just what was predicted for the following day along with winds on our nose going back so our choices were clear, stay for several days in the rolly anchorage or leave straight off. Add to that the fact that we had no French Polynesian francs and there is no ATM on the island so we wouldn’t even be able to have a meal off the boat or splurge on baguettes and imported French cheese. Plus it was astonishingly hot even in the early morning. So a quick in and out it would be. We dropped the dinghy off the deck and paddled in to the wharf to a short walk to Customs and Immigrations and then on to the Gendarmerie. Passports were stamped and papers filled out then right back to the boat for a quick lunch and in no time we were raising the anchor and off on our way back to Fiji.
The whole trip so far had been dry and hot and that’s what we got going back. Right up until I heard Bill say “Kat, come up on deck and look at this sky.” It was nearly six pm and we had just clearing the Somosomo straight -the reefy-est part of the six hundred plus mile passage. Ahead of us was a bank of black clouds that spread completely across the skyline. At the bottom of the line of ink black clouds was a strip of lighter color clouds that were rolling and boiling. The storm front was still many miles away but within moments the seas were up and Island Bound was rocking and rolling in short steep wind waves. By the time we got our dodger/bimini side and door pieces in place the rain drops were falling and suddenly we were in some of the worst seas we have ever sailed through. Luckily the winds were not too bad –an easy 25 knots with gusts up into the mid or even high thirties. The rain was fierce and the seas were like a washing machine. The soon to set sun was obliterated and we were suddenly sailing into the night rolling and plunging and trying our best to stay dry.
In the end out of a sixty hour passage the last 12 were pretty uncomfortable. Not scary because the winds didn’t get too bad but rough and wet and not much fun. It was too rough to really sleep or move about the boat so by the time we hove too outside of Savu Savu to wait for sunrise we were both completely exhausted. Our concern as we sailed into this weather front had been for the reefs between us and Savu Savu and the lack of anywhere safe to stop and wait out the weather.
As uncomfortable as the end of our passage had been we had been concerned for friends who had left Savu Savu a day and a half after us. Behind us they would be facing this weather in the open ocean and were likely to see higher winds and bigger waves. Leanna and John on Ref Sky and Charlene and Ernie on Lauren Grace struggled through much higher seas and winds over 50 mph! Red sky blew out there main sail and had the fresh water pump on their engine go out leaving them without an engine and beam on into very high seas while Lauren Grace a cat had an easier ride of things but blew out the bungee cord that attaches the trampoline on their foredeck and both came limping into Savu Savu with tales to tell. I was glad we had picked the weather window we had. Out here you can run but you just can’t hide. Fair winds, Kat.