Cruising in Fiji – Part Two

We returned to Fiji on September 7th, having left Tahoe on September 5th. The complexities of the international date line still cause Nancy some confusion, so it was a few days before she knew what day it was, never mind what time. Regardless, the mission was clear, to get Duet off the dock and go cruising.

Duet herself looked great. Jo’s folks had taken good care of her, with weekly checks and monthly washes and bottom cleanings. Jamie, Captain of the Nordhavn 75EYF Lady Grey, was docked just across the way, so he kept a professional eye on her for us. Jamie was also helpful when Fiji had a substantial earthquake and we were concerned about damage.  It turned out the event was so deep underground that the impact was limited to a little shaking in Suva. Lady Grey is a beautiful vessel, it’s a pity so few of this model have been built.

Once we recovered from the jet lag, Ron started in on some basic maintenance, while Nancy went provisioning. Jo provided her with a driver in a spotless air conditioned van.  Fiji is left hand drive and everyone figured Fiji would be much safer if Nancy wasn’t behind the wheel. She spent a nice day in the company of a young local gentleman, who drove her to all the selected purveyors, carried the packages and even pushed the grocery cart. Personal service is a respectable job in Fiji, and, while it took Nancy a little time to adjust to this level of attention, it is common here.

First we visited Flavios, which is a local Italian provider of fine foods. Nancy tasted and selected a broad range of items, including cheeses, salamis, hams, etc. An estimated bill of close to $2,000 USD was presented. So a number of items were dropped, to get the bill more into Duet’s range, not that of a mega yacht. It is common for the mega yacht chefs to spend many thousands per order at Flavios, but Nancy, despite her much smaller budget, was treated with the same respect and care as the chef of Senses, Google Co-Founder Larry Page’s vessel, which was also docked in Denarau.

Flavios delivered the goods to Duet several days later and the package included a number of “promotional” items, which did not appear on the bill. Both Nancy and Ron protested but apparently they do this for all the smaller vessels, so all of us continue to shop there. The quality of the goods is outstanding, Ron spent weeks working his way through Italian cheeses and salamis, which were as good or better than we can get at home.

We then continued on to South Pacific Butchering Company, which is exactly what it sounds like, meat, meat, and more meat. Almost all locally sourced in Fiji, although there were a few Australian steaks. Nancy ordered chicken, lamb, steak, mince (hamburger in the US), etc. All would be packaged up for her by the time we returned from the rest of our stops. We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of what we got, it was all excellent.

Meat, meat and more meat

Next we went to the Farmers Market. This was a larger version of what Sean and Nancy visited in Savusavu, consisting of many stalls under a large roof. Nancy’s minder, however, pointed her right at Farm Boy, which not only selects products from a list you give them, but also delivers it to the boat whenever you want. Nancy walked through the aisles with a Farm Boy representative, made a list of items and arranged for delivery several days hence, so it would all be fresh for departure.

Finally, the Duet team arrived at a grocery store. This was a modern supermarket, with plenty of choices. Nancy consulted her driver on local foods as they traveled through the isles. She selected a number of curries, chutneys and other Indian food for Ron. Fiji’s population is almost 40% Indian, so the selection was outstanding.

The only thing the supermarket didn’t have was Fiji Gold beer in cans, most people buy it in bottles. Nancy’s driver saved the day by delivering her to the local liquor provider, and loaded several cases of what the locals call “medicine” into the van. A brief stop at South Pacific Meats on the way back to pick up our order, and we were back on the boat inside four hours. This was the most efficient provisioning Nancy had ever done, she could easily get used to it.

Fijian Medicine

Several days later we pulled off the dock. We planned to travel through the Mamanucas and the Yasawas, which are a contiguous island chain between Viti Levu and the outer reef. These islands are quite close to the marina, and are about 100 miles long from end to end.

First we stopped at the famous Musket Cove Resort, where the annual Fiji Regatta is held. Like Papeete, Musket Cove is a gathering spot for boats from all over the world, so we saw a lot of different home country flags. The Regatta was the week before we returned and Musket Cove was still pretty crowded, although the anchorage is quite large.

We anchored Duet some way from the primary anchorage, in deep water, and off loaded the dinghy. Our first step was to join the Musket Cove Yacht Club for $10 Fijian ($5 US) dollars, which gave us the run of the property. And a nice property it was, with multiple restaurants, a pool with a great bar and miles of hiking trails on the island. A number of high end houses are being built at Musket Cove and it has the feel of a resort on the way up.

Musket Cove pool and dining

We arranged to do some scuba diving with Subsurface Fiji. Since we’ve come to the South Pacific we’re rekindled our interest in diving, which we hadn’t really done since the Caribbean some twenty years ago. We did a check out dive at the Plantation Pinnacles, which was a fascinating rock formation in the middle of the sand.

The Pinnacles were surrounded by colorful fish, and, at the bottom at a depth of about 80 feet was a tunnel, through which we all swam, several times. That was a first for us and we really enjoyed it. The highlight of this dive, however, was the schooling behavior of the local amber jacks, which love the diver’s bubbles. A hundred or more of them traveled in a tight clockwise funnel just above our heads while we lay on our backs looking up.

Nancy on the dive boat

Ron at the end of a day of diving

This experience of Fiji’s world famous diving kept us at Musket Cove for several days, while we dove local sites like the Supermarket, known for it’s sharks, and the Malolu Wall, which had some amazing fish. Soon enough, however, we felt we should move on and see something of the Yasawas. So we raised the anchor one morning and trundled north, bound for one of the many anchorages in the Yasawa chain.

Somosomo Bay, the classic South Pacific deserted beach

Dinghy at Somosomo

Other people getting to experience the classic deserted South Pacific beach. They stayed an afternoon, we stayed a week.

When visiting one of the outlying islands it is common to go ashore to the nearest village and perform sevusevu, a ceremony during which the village chief grants you permission to visit the island, fish the waters and anchor.  In return you gift the chief with something, often kava root, a local delicacy which is made into a mildly intoxicating drink.  

We didn’t actually visit a village, as we didn’t anchor near any, but the village in Somosomo came out to us.  We bought fruit from them and Ron gave them some line and tubing to fix a spear.  Everyone was quite happy with the exchange.  

Visit from the villagers

Technical consultation

It looked easier when the chief did it


Over the next couple of weeks we visited various places, including the Blue Lagoon which Brooke Shields made so famous years ago in the film of the same name. We didn’t do any more diving, but we did a lot of snorkeling and general hanging out on the hook. We even tried, twice, to find the sunken airplane snorkeling site that everyone talked about, but that was not to be. The path across the island from the Somosomo anchorage was so overgrown that we got lost every time we tried to get anywhere, but we did get some really good exercise bushwhacking our way in and out of the center of the island.

Ready to find the plane

Bushwhacking a trail

While we’ve been in Fiji there have been a number of serious fires back home.  During our stay at Somosomo, the island caught fire, which is apparently a pretty common occurrence here during the winter dry season.  According to our local sources, the fires are caused by human carelessness and burn unchecked until they burn out.

Brush fire off Duet’s bow

While we were cruising the Yasawas, a true miracle occurred, Nancy caught a fish. Actually she caught several, proving it wasn’t a fluke. For some reason, fishing on this Duet has not been successful thus far, even though we hauled in many a mahi mahi aboard Duet the Nordhavn 46. Nancy, as usual, consulted the local fisherman before we departed for the Yasawas and was told “Spanish mackerel are biting on the red/white Rapala lures”. So in went our red/white Rapala lure and, bingo, out came a Spanish mackerel.


Enough fish already

Ron was astounded, Nancy was vindicated and we had several great meals. Then, perchance, we happened to research the incidence of ciguatera in Fiji.  Ciguatera is a type of nerve poisoning caused by eating certain reef fish. Turns out that larger Spanish mackerel have been implicated in cases of ciguatera in Fiji.  Ron banned all Spanish mackerel aboard Duet immediately. But the jinx was broken and Nancy expects to catch many fish on this Duet in the future. In the meantime, she enjoyed herself running various lure combinations in search of a tuna, while returning all Spanish mackerel unharmed to the deep.

Eventually we ran out of fresh fruit and veggies, so we returned to Musket Cove. They have a small market there, which has everything a cruiser could want, provided you don’t have to ask how much it costs. By this time, it had also become apparent to Ron that our stabilizers weren’t operating quite up to spec. We also noted that several of our portholes were leaking after the rough passage from Bora Bora and the low pressure booster pump on the water maker was leaking. Actually, several pumps were leaking, as the generator’s raw water pump was also misbehaving. So it was time for a little Duet TLC.

Musket Cove is the perfect place to do projects, we had plenty of hiking to ensure we got exercise, we could eat out for a change of pace, there were provisions to be had and the snorkeling was excellent. The anchorage is also completely sheltered with no swell, unlike almost all the other anchorages in the Mamanucas and the Yasawas, so it is a great place to spend time. A number of mega yachts, including the 90 foot catamaran Orion, spend weeks on the hook there, between guest visits. The Google yacht Senses tended to hang out at a small island near Cloudbreak, the famous surfing location, instead, but each to their own.

So Ron started on boat work. We did the easy stuff first, rebedding the portholes is something we have done before, both on this boat and on the 46. Nancy removes them and Ron caulks them. So we did two in the master stateroom, but, when we tested the fixes on the master units, unlike the previous fixes on the starboard side portholes, they still leaked.

It looked like enough caulk

The conclusion, after much study of the situation, was that the caulking between the outer collar and the hull, in which the collar is set, had failed. This causes the porthole to leak down behind the paneling, and is a more difficult fix, as we have to remove the outer collar from the hull. So Ron caulked the collars from the outside, which, while it looks terrible, seems to have stopped the leaks, although the acid test will be our passage to New Caledonia.

These leaks, btw, do not indicate a build quality problem with Duet. They are, instead, a result of her age. She is now 18 and has worked quite hard in the last four years or so. Caulk wears out. Once it is replaced, she will be leak free for another 18 years.

Ron then fixed the water maker and started on the generator. Both raw water pumps needed new seals. Replacing the seals on the watermaker’s low pressure boost pump was easy and he’s done it before. It all came apart and went back together as planned, and took less than a day to do.  

He had not previously tried to rebuild the generator’s raw water pump, since it requires quite a bit more disassembly, including removing the shaft and bearings, to get at the seals. When we last had a seawater leak from the pump’s weep hole, we simply installed a brand new pump we had as a spare.

That was only a year (and 1600 hours) ago, and already the pump was leaking again. We did have a seal kit, and fortunately Ron had purchased a bearing puller for just this sort of job.  He was actually using it backwards to push the bearings out, but, whatever, it worked.

Bearing pusher

Old seal

Much to our chagrin, when he got the first generator pump apart it was obvious that not only were the seals in need of replacement, one of the two bearings that the shaft spins on was bad. This seemed very surprising for only 1600 hours of use. There was some evidence of corrosion on the bearing and we suspect that the leaking water seal allowed some seawater to get past the oil seal and on to the bearing. Normally, the weep hole should prevent this from happening, but for unknown reasons it did not.

We didn’t have any spare bearings, only spare seals. So Ron ended up rebuilding two older pumps that had serviceable bearings and just needed new seals. One lesson we learned is that these pumps need to be pulled out of service at the first sign of seawater leakage, lest one run the risk of more significant internal damage.

Another important maneuver is to not let these pumps sit with seawater in them during prolonged periods of disuse, especially in hot climates. Whenever Duet is left idle while we return to the U.S., all raw water pumps are opened up, their impellers removed, and the impeller housing thoroughly flushed with SaltAway followed by fresh water. This includes the raw water pumps on the generator, main engine, reverse cycle, and watermaker booster pump.

Once new seals have been installed on the pump shaft, the bearings need to go back into the pump body.  They are a very tight fit, so the pump body was heated in the oven to expand it, and the bearings were frozen in the freezer, to contract them.  Then the bearings were gently hammered back into place.  The key is not to hammer too hard, or they get damaged.

Heating up the pump body

Fitting in the cold bearings

Gentle hammering

All done

Repairing the stabilizers was a much more challenging undertaking. The fins had worked very hard on the Bora Bora to Fiji trip, and it had been 5 years since they were upgraded. Both were making knocking noises and the port one had a pronounced squeak.

More importantly, Ron could clearly see excessive play in the attachment of the torque arm pin to the rod end assembly.  This is the component at the end of the hydraulic cylinder shaft, which allows the cylinder to move the torque arm, which then rotates the fin. When the fins work hard, this component takes a lot of strain.  

There was excessive play in this attachment on both sides, which meant that the rod end assemblies and torque arm pins needed to be replaced. We also replaced a cylinder on one side, we would have done both but we only had one spare.

General anatomy where the repair took place

New pins and rod ends

Unfortunately, replacing the cylinder meant replacing the bushings as well and we didn’t have any of those. $500 worth of air freight later, we had four sets of $8 bushings, just in case we needed more than one. This part supply process was “overnight” but took 7 days to make to Fiji and another day to be brought to Musket Cove by Captain Steve. The mega yacht Hope is also a client of Jo’s, so she handed the package off to him as he left Denarau and we picked it up when he arrived at Musket Cove.

Naiad doesn’t make it easy for owners to work on their systems and their factory support is nonexistent. This is one of their big weaknesses in comparison to ABT, which has superb end user support. We have been lucky in that Chris Fonteneau, owner of Fonteneau Yacht Repair, is very knowledgable about Naiad systems.  He has taken Ron under his wing and provided him with technical information, including pictures, instructions and phone calls, while we are in remote areas of the world.

Chris came through again this time. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for him and his lovely wife Wendy, he has since sold the business and retired. We haven’t met the new owners yet, but will make a point of it next time we are in San Diego.

Before we left the boat in June Ron knew that he was probably going to be replacing at least the pins and the rod ends, so he brought the special $500 Naiad pin puller with him on the plane. It worked beautifully on the starboard side.

Pin still in place in yellow torque arm head

Expensive Naiad pin puller in place

Happy engineer

New pin on the left, old on the right

Unfortunately, after more than a day of effort, the pin puller failed on the port side.  The pin was completely seized into the rod end, so it needed to be cut through, twice, once on either side of the rod end.  The pin is stainless steel, which doesn’t cut easily with the small hand tools we keep aboard.  Initial tries with a hand saw made no progress at all, so Ron dug out his Rotozip saw, which isn’t really man enough for this, but was all we had.  

Before Ron could cut the pin, the Rotozip saw shaft had to be extended so that the body of the saw wouldn’t interfere with getting the cutting wheel close to the area of surgery.  This took some ingenuity and several iterations.  Then Ron wrote off our entire collection of Rotozip cutting wheels, which wear out fast on the stainless steel of the pin.  

Still the pin resisted. Finally he resorted to a hammer and chisel, which cracked the last sliver of metal holding the pin together.  Cutting the pin took several days of effort, not to mention several false starts before we had a method that worked.

Altered Roto Zip saw

Cut pin

Center of pin seized in rod end bearing

Once the pins were out, the rod ends off and the cylinder on one side removed, then everything had to go back together with new parts.  This was slightly easier than taking it apart, but required considerable attention to detail to get it all right.  Ron actually did the work on the fins one at a time, to try to ensure that we had at least one working fin at the end of the project.  

We only had two pins, so getting one stuck halfway back into position wasn’t really an option. Too much pounding to get the pin fully seated, on the other hand, could damage the cylinder and/or the rod end. Our single spare cylinder was installed on the starboard side, since it looked in worse shape than the port one.  

New rod end goes on

Carefully measuring the cylinder extension to ensure it is correctly positioned

Finally, Ron managed to get both of the fins back together and now they work properly with no play, knocking or squeaking.  We have also learned a lot about the Naiad system, and the maintenance it requires when worked as hard as we work ours.  Should we do a trip of this magnitude again, we would replace the pins, rod ends and cylinders prophylactically, to avoid having to do a repair of this magnitude in such a remote place.  

The entire Naiad repair took nearly two weeks in a hot engine room, and we missed at least one weather window for Australia during that time. It had to be done, however, or there was a better than even chance the fins would fail on the trip. Given that the sea conditions would be similar to our trip from Bora Bora, namely on the beam most of the way, neither Ron nor Nancy wanted to deal with that eventuality.

Once the Naiads were fixed we started looking seriously for a weather window, as it was already late October. Cyclone season officially starts in Fiji on November first, so we wanted to depart post haste. We moved into the Port Denarau Marina to simplify our departure, as Customs and Immigration require 24 hours notice to come check us out.

The weather, however, just wasn’t cooperating, so far we have spent a month waiting in the marina while low after low stormed up from the Tasman Sea and pounded our route between Fiji and Australia. Some boats left for NZ, but had tough journeys.

Others remained with us, waiting for inevitable summer weather pattern to assert itself. Even our weather router was surprised by the continued winter like weather, which brought unseasonable cold and rainy conditions to NZ. Apparently, this delayed weather transition may be a side effect of the transition to a weak El Nino condition. Whatever the cause, we were stuck until it ended.

Port Denarau Marina caters to mega yachts, and, since everyone was getting ready to leave for NZ, Australia or, in one case, Hawaii, there were a number of very large boats docked there.  During a previous stay, we had made friends with Sue and Brian, the wonderful crew of the 90 foot Benetti, Haven. They were from Australia, and had lots of local knowledge. When they left early, they gifted us their slip, so Duet ended up right in the middle of the mega yacht action.

Haven before her departure to New Caledonia

The view from Duet’s stern. To the left is the 200 footer Calypso, to the right is the 200 footer Dream

The view from our Portuguese bridge, across Dream’s stern is the helicopter on Senses, a 195 foot expedition vessel

Senses loading one of her 4 tenders

During our stay, we had one of those great “immediate community” experiences that one often has while cruising. There were five boats on the dock waiting to go, three to NZ, one to the Marshalls, and Duet, bound for Australia. So we had dinners out and boat get togethers to pass the time. Duet hosted six sailors one night, most of the visit was spent in the engine room. There was even a breakfast for boat crew members who “do” the weather, which Ron actually said was too geeky for him. Nancy was amazed, as usually Ron is too geeky for the company, not the other way around.

Weather geeks, from the left Ron, Randy from SV Velic, Vandy from SV Scoots and Douglas from SV Tumbleweed

A good time was had by all, and we made some fast friends. Funnily enough, all the boats were from the U.S., which was the most U.S. flagged vessels we’d seen in one place since we left Mexico. All this made the time pass relatively quickly, although everyone was feeling some time pressure. All of us are experienced cruisers, used to waiting for weather windows, but the advancing cyclone season and various family commitments made everyone a bit antsy.

We, and Vandy and Eric from Scoots, attended the marina’s cyclone preparation meeting, which was held in the Rhum Ba bar. The marina has a very organized approach to storms, all boats are evacuated in the event of a cyclone greater than Category 3. There is a mangrove “river”, it’s more of a stream really, that abuts the marina entrance channel. The marina has cut a deal with the village that controls that river, so that all marina boats are allowed to seek shelter there in the event of a storm.

The marina operations manager explained the process in some detail. He assigns a spot in the river to each boat, based on draft. The catamarans are first, and go as far in as their draft will permit. Some sit on the bottom, which is pretty easy with two hulls. Then the mono hulls, which would include Duet, follow. All of this is done at high tide. There are a number of deep “holes” in the curves of the river, where the monohulls go.

Once you reach your “spot” you anchor fore and aft. Then you tie the boat to the mangroves, on whichever side of the river you happen to be assigned. That leaves the rest of the river clear for other boats to proceed, although they try to do this process in order, so no one gets blocked.

Boats getting set in the mangrove river

During the biggest tropical cyclone to hit the marina, winds topped out at 225 kilometers per hour (about 140MPH) at the breakwater. The marina was essentially destroyed. They measured 120KPH at the tallest sailboat masthead in the mangrove river and 40KPH on the decks of the boats. There was almost no damage to the sheltered vessels, a few solar panels and bits of canvas went flying but that was it. No one aboard was hurt. So the process works. It also depends completely on community cooperation, which was definitely in evidence at the cyclone meeting.

We do not expect to be in Fiji much longer, but participating in the cyclone scheme gave us confidence that there is an option should a storm arrive while we are still in the area. The marina maintains a weather watch, and everyone is on an email list, so we are kept informed of any weather feature that the marina weather person is tracking and which might become a problem. On average, they begin tracking something 7-10 days before it becomes an issue, so there is plenty of warning.

When we leave Fiji, we will depart for Australia.  We may, or may not, stop in New Caledonia on the way, it depends the weather conditions and how we feel.  It is about 640 miles to the entrance to the New Caledonia lagoon, and another 40 miles or so to Noumea, where we check in with the local authorities. The journey should take about 4 days.  

It is about 800 miles, or another 5 days, beyond New Caledonia to Bundaberg.  As part of the Go West Rally, we registered with the Australian Border Force, which checks boats into Australia. They have kept in close touch with us as our arrival date has slipped.  Nancy even got a message from the Bundaberg District Commander to let us know the station is closed December first and second, in case we planned to arrive then. If so, he would contact his opposite number somewhere else on the coast, to ensure that we were taken care of when we arrived. We’ve been very impressed with their professionalism.

Initially, we were going to cruise Australia for a year before returning Duet to the U.S.  We have instead decided to ship Duet home in early 2019. For a variety of reasons, this is a good time for us to bring our South Pacific adventure to a close. We are looking forward to some time in the mountains at home and to giving Duet some serious TLC.  She deserves it, she has taken great care of us throughout this amazing journey.

Duet will be shipped home on DYT Yacht Transport from Brisbane to Ensenada, Mexico, a trip which will take approximately 3 weeks. Funnily enough, the Nordhavn 60 Daybreak, with whom we crossed the Pacific over a year ago, will also be on the ship, boarding in Auckland, New Zealand.

Shipping with DYT is an interesting process.  First, the ship sinks into the water until her cargo area is submerged.  Then we drive Duet aboard and position her over the keel blocks made for her.  Divers put supports around her hull, just like when she is put on land. Once all the boats are aboard, the water is pumped out and she is strapped into her “berth” for the journey. The process is repeated in reverse, when she arrives at her destination.  While shipping this way isn’t cheap, everyone we have spoken to has had good experience with DYT, except that the ship is often late arriving.

We will write another blog once we reach Australia, or when we get home in January.  In the meantime, we wish all our readers happy holidays.

Cruising in Fiji – Part One

Our time in Fiji was to be divided into two parts, first, the four weeks or so after our arrival in Savusavu, before we flew home for the summer, and, second, the several months after we returned in mid September, before we departed for New Caledonia and Australia. This blog covers our initial visit.

Duet in Savusavu

Upon arrival in Savusavu, our plans immediately underwent a change, because Ron got the local Savusavu flu bug. We’ve found that we are more susceptible to microbes in other countries, and our US flu shot obviously didn’t work here. He got pretty sick, 4-5 days of temps to 102F and at least 10 days of coughing after that. Nancy, fortunately, only got the cough and Sean didn’t get anything, since he was still recovering from whatever he caught on the plane flight to Bora Bora.

The check-in process in Fiji is rather drawn out, especially as we were out of the reach of our agent. She was able, however, to prevent a bit of a mess with Customs when we first arrived, thank goodness. Fijian Customs requires you to send your 9 page form at least several days in advance of your arrival. Nancy had sent ours to our agent at least a month in advance and she had forwarded them to Savusavu. So far, so good.

When we arrived, however, said form was nowhere to be found, or at least nowhere that our local Customs official was looking for it. Significant fines were mentioned, but we were able to get our agent on the phone and she got it straightened out. After that, it was relatively smooth sailing.

There are four departments which require forms and information from boats arriving in Fiji. First, the Health department. The Health Inspector boards the boat alone to confirm there is no communicable disease aboard, before the other three departments make an appearance. This seems like a high risk job to us, but the service was free, unlike several other departments.  Our Health Inspector was a nice guy, he looked us over, walked around the exterior of the boat and then issued our “Pratique” which is our health clearance, with the minimum of fanfare.

Once he gave Duet the thumbs up, on came Customs (with the immediate missing paperwork problem), BioSecurity and Immigration. All three officials were uniformed, friendly and polite. They ignored all our typed paperwork (except for Health who took it) and completed everything again, which gave them a chance to all ask Ron questions at once while stamping everything they put under his nose to sign. During this they also spoke rapid Fijian to one another, which made for complex communications.

The entire process took about an hour, and we were cleared in. But we weren’t done, far from it. Two departments required that a fee be paid, but the officials on the boat aren’t allowed to collect it. Fortunately, this didn’t require Ron as Captain, it just required cash. So Nancy and Sean went out the next day, got lost several times, and finally managed, after about three hours, to find the appropriate buildings and pay the fees. When we leave the country, we need to produce the reciepts for these payments, as apparently some boats try to dodge paying up.

Copra Shed Marina from Duet’s slip

The Savusavu Yacht Club

Before Sean left, a few days later, Ron staggered down the street to Immigration to sign him off the boat, thereby removing him from our crew list. This means that Fiji Immigration won’t be looking for him when we check out in a few months. Nancy also went to Customs about a week later to get our local cruising permit, which is not issued by Customs until all the paperwork is processed.

In the meantime, Nancy stocked up on local fruits and veg, we got caught up on email and news (Fiji has very cheap good local internet access), Nancy and Sean saw a few local sights and tested the local milkshakes, while Ron recovered from his brush with the local pneumonia. The weather really went to pot, as expected. It rained, it blew and conditions were not amenable to Duet going anywhere, even if her Captain was feeling up to it.

We had some local dock excitement when a boat from NZ checked in, was searched and found to be carrying several thousand rounds of ammunition. No guns, but lots of bullets. Armed police in flak jackets appeared (an unusual sight here, no police are armed), the ship’s master was imprisoned in the local jail, that section of the dock was taped off with yellow police crime scene tape, and rumors flew. In the end, from what we heard about three months later in Port Denarau, the captain got out of prison pretty quickly and we saw the boat anchored at Musket Cove in October.

Fiji takes guns and drugs very, very seriously (as do all the other countries we’ve visited) and, in our time there, caught at least one other vessel smuggling in large quantities of cocaine. That case didn’t go well, the captain tried to commit suicide when discovered (he was unsuccessful and, last we heard in October, still in jail) and the boat was impounded.

We never cease to be amazed by the number of people who seem to think either the rules don’t apply to them (such as the boat on the round the world ARC rally which refused to check in as required, and, consequently, was not allowed to check out until after Customs had searched it for two days) or that, because Fiji is a little far from anywhere, it’s Customs, Police or other officials are asleep at the wheel.

We had one other incident in Savusavu that affected Duet more closely than the ammo uproar. As a result of the weather, several boats had tied up on the end of our dock. They were aluminum dive boats, with a lot of windage. Duet is also a heavy boat, and was taking up an entire double slip, due to her rather substantial girth. The dock itself was floating, sort of, in that it was a series of wooden planks screwed to some floating supports, which were, in turn, chained or tied to the bottom or the shore.

Anyway, on Sunday morning about a week after Sean left and Ron was slowly coming back to life, Nancy happened to look out the aft door and noticed that Duet was no long perpendicular to the land. Nor was the dock. It had cracked in half just prior to Duet’s slip, and her end of the dock, with Duet, the two dive boats and a couple of small sailboats, was slowly turning out into the bay in front of Savusavu.

Duet and one of the dive boats

The broken dock

This definitely wasn’t good. It could even possibly qualify as bad. One marina guy arrived pretty quickly, followed by the waitress from the yacht club and the lady who did the laundry. With Nancy and Ron, that gave us a team of 5 and a few lines to fix the problem. The dock guy got a line on the end of the dock, the team pulled on it and he snugged it around a palm tree. That helped, but not much. With the wind blowing at about 25 knots and Duet’s 40 plus tons, not to mention the other boats, pulling on it, the tree was looked a bit outgunned. Ron dug out some of our longer dock lines and we started putting backup lines on other trees.

In about an hour the marina owner and several other folks appeared. Gradually a series of lines at appropriate angles were tightened up and order was generally restored. We ran a shot of our sea anchor line from Duet’s samson post out to the commercial buoy in the middle of the channel to windward, to take some of the strain off the dock. The marina owner evicted both dive boats, which, it turned out, were supposed to be on buoys in the first place. He then restored the underwater line from the far end of the dock to the buoy upwind of it, somehow it had become mysteriously detached when the dive boats arrived.

More help

Tightening things up

Tied off to the big buoy

Missing dock line to windward restored

Then the owner then did an inspection of the rest of the dock. The finger piers were a little shaky, particularly one with a 60 foot sailboat from Marina Del Ray, CA, attached to it. They ran a bow line out to share the commercial buoy with Duet, to take the strain off that. The next morning a dock repair man appeared and added more chains underwater and nailed a couple of planks over the hole. We gather, from folks we met several months later, that the dock is still a little shaky but remains a coherent whole.

Sorting out a bow line to the buoy for our neighbor

Soon after this, the weather moderated, Duet unwound herself from the commercial buoy, we recovered our dock lines from their roles as dock tethers and we set off for Port Denarau. The weather hadn’t moderated much, honestly, we saw winds in the mid 30s all way across the pass to the northern end of Vitu Levu, which is the main large island of Fiji. Duet chugged happily along, with conditions reminiscent of our 11 day trip from Bora Bora, but at least they only lasted about 10 hours this time.

We had one of our rare anchor incidents on this part of the trip. Normally our big Rocna hook (all 154 pounds of it) sets with little fanfare, but this time it was obvious that it wasn’t doing it’s usual competent job. Duet was slowly but surely dragging backwards as Nancy throttled up in reverse to test the set. So up came the chain and hook. The culprit was immediately obvious, a large ball of coral was jammed tight into one of the flukes. Several minutes later, after much pushing, pulling and general threatening with the boat hook, the coral returned to it’s natural habitat, and we reset the hook in a slightly different place. All was well thereafter, and we had a quiet night.

The following morning we set off through the Makogai Channel towards Nagani Island. Just north east of Nagani we crossed to the channel behind the reef that surrounds Viti Levu, and began picking our way around to Port Denarau, which was about 85 miles away. The easiest way to reach Port Denarau from Savusavu is to continue up Broad Passage, through the Vatu-I-Ra Channel and along Bligh Water, but the Ra Channel acts as a serious wind funnel. Winds were already in the high 20s early in the morning, which meant they could hit 40 knots in the Ra, so we gave it a pass and started along the rather opaque and poorly marked inside channel towards Nananu-I-Thake Island.

The water in Fiji isn’t as clear as the lagoons of French Polynesia and the charting is quite poor on both C Maps and Navionics. Much of the reef in Fiji is submerged, so the radar doesn’t help, and many of the physical buoys and other markers have been destroyed by the storms that pass through the area.  We relied heavily on Google Earth satellite photos, which had been geo synchronized so that they could be displayed on our PC navigation software. Given that the weather was overcast and raining throughout our three day journey to Port Denarau, using water visibility, other than intermittently, was a nonstarter.

The four pictures below were taken at approximately the same time.  All charts are north up, while the radar is course up.  Hardware in use includes the boat PC, the laptop, the radar and two iPads.  The second iPad (not pictured) was running the SailFiji app, which cannot be used for navigation directly, but provides good waypoints, which we entered on our main PC navigation software.  The SailFiji app also has pictures of anchorages, marinas, etc. which helped orient us.  

Finally, we had paper charts with excellent waypoints and extensive information, which we purchased from Carol Dunlap, who is part of our agent team.  Carol captained a 125 foot mega yacht in Fiji for 20 years and her local knowledge was definitely worth it.

C Maps charts

Navionics charts


Google earth

We traveled slowly and carefully to the anchorage off Nananu-I-Thake the first day. It turned out to be a kite surfers paradise, at least half a dozen kites were in the air as we came around the corner, with more poised to take off. Duet rumbled serenely through them, although one rider did manage to fall off right in front of her.  Ron maneuvered carefully around him, we dropped the hook and spent a pleasant night. It was a beautiful anchorage, we wish we had more time to spend there.

Nananu-I-Thake Anchorage

“We wish we had more time” was the story of our first month in Fiji, between the delays in Savusavu and the need to reach Port Denarau and get Duet settled before we flew home, we didn’t see much. What we saw though, made us want to see more when we returned in September.

Our arrival in Port Denarau was relatively easy, as we arrived early in the day from a nearby anchorage. Our slip neighbor, who came later in the day, fell afoul of the brisk afternoon land breeze and had a rather eventful docking, getting a line tangled in his bow thruster and subsequently losing control of his bow, which then headed straight for Duet. No one was injured and Duet was not harmed, as the captain’s wife, at much risk to herself, fended off their bow pulpit as it slid down Duet’s port side.

Duet’s red kayak is just visible in the right of the picture.Port Denarau is definitely a mega yacht destination.

Once all that excitement was over, we met with our agent Jo, set up various services, including having Duet washed and hiring a diver to change her zincs. Ron had injured his ear diving in Tahiti and so hadn’t changed them. It turned out that our diver had never changed a zinc before, but, as he said when he arrived “No worries, I watched it on YouTube, so it’s all good”. We generally found all our Fijians workers to be like that, willing, friendly, and anxious to learn. Several even came down to see Duet’s dive hookah in use, as they had not seen one before.

Ron and our diver, after the zincs were installed

We’ve gotten pretty good at getting Duet settled to be left, so after a few days we had a little time to go out to dinner and explore Port Denarau on foot. It is a large gated resort with half a dozen hotels, and multiple low rise housing developments. It’s beautifully kept and has many flame trees, some of which were in bloom. It is not, however, as one of our dinner waitresses said “the real Fiji” so we were glad we’d had a chance to see that in Savusavu. Soon enough, our airplane arrived and off we went, back home for Captain Ron to spend some time as Dr. Ron and to catch up with family and friends. We were to return in early September and begin the process of moving Duet to Australia. This will be covered in the next blog.