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"Bula!" from Fiji - up the mast!

I had a good sail over Friday night (apart from a second major squall which backed the sails), the seas calming as I got into the lee of west Viti Levu towards morning. I reached Vanula Passage (reef pass) soon after sunrise..... good news was a lovely relaxed early breakfast under full sail to that point, bad news was the leading marks being on 077T - so absolutely impossible to see against the sun... The wind was light & dead 'on the nose' so I had to motor in. Fortunately, the Navionics charts
on my plotter were spot on, entrance was very wide and a local boat came speeding past me just then towards the entrance. Shortly after that, while I was still searching for those leading marks, a big Panamanian tanker came out through the same pass - where it had been, "Nereida" could surely go!! By then, I'd spotted the two light structures either side of the pass anyway, so all was fine. Just had 20 more miles of easy motoring in bright sun, flat calm sea & almost no wind to Lautoka where I
had to inflate dinghy & lower outboard once I'd anchored off, ready to go ashore for check-in.... all ready by 1.30pm.

I came into Vuda Pt Marina on Saturday. Very nice place, full of friendly Kiwis (& v. friendly locals - nice!), many of whom have just arrived from NZ. Quite a community here (some long-term) - a real hurricane hole! Very different from Lautoka ("Sugar City") where the check-in involved LOADS of paperwork, but all very friendly & helpful. Of course, they had to come (in my dinghy out & back!!) to "Nereida" to 'inspect' her (with soft drinks consumed & checking on declared amount of alcohol on
board), which cost me F$20 (Health) on top of the F$40 for the Customs clearance. Avoided another F$15 charge (by Quarantine) by not giving them my rubbish - was very little there & I said I'd take it on to Vanuatu(!!) with me. In fact, I added it to a newly-arrived nearby Kiwi boat's black sack waiting to be taken ashore when I chatted with them later as they were being 'inspected'. I'd had to walk in to bank in town to get money, past dozens of trucks & lorries piled high with sugar-cane waiting
to offload at the processing plant, which was giving off lots of sooty smoke - "Nereida" was soon covered in black specks.

It's Z+12 here, so at least reading the chart-table clock, set to GMT, is easy!! And I found my instructions for re-setting my barometer/clock - so that's finally been changed to local time now, not the Mexican winter time (PST - 1) it's been showing since leaving Zihuatanejo in March!

This is an excellent, large, cruising area, inside the barrier reef - lots of little islands to explore.

Big news of Saturday was that I finally climbed to the top of the mast by myself! Can't honestly say I enjoyed the experience... & complicated by trying to make myself 'safe' using harness and clipping onto steps as I went up (nothing else to clip onto!!). Started off without - and felt very vulnerable halfway up so came down ... My tricolour hasn't been working for a time (bulb presumably gone) - trouble is, having finally got up there (some difficulty avoiding shrouds etc while placing feet
on steps at top!), I couldn't get bulb out - couldn't see how to undo fitting for top bulb...grrr!!! And both hands not easily available to work with, since have to hold on to something as well - must figure out a way to deal with that - tried wrapping harness line around mast-top but not too successful... Maybe I should use gri-gri &/or jumar clips on spinnaker halyard as a safety line... But did change the steaming light bulb halfway up the mast, which had also gone, and, later, the port nav
light down in the bow ... good to have the spares on board, although chandlery here is quite good.

Outboard is playing up ... should have been one of Sunday's jobs but didn't get far with looking at it - fuel problem, it seems - carburettor? Took a long time to download emails in the morning, what with PC playing up & poor connection giving 'decompression error' in first two tries at download ....! Had to switch off & restart PC several times.... I've had to give up on the one laptop - too unreliable - so just using chart-table (Nobeltec) laptop - tried putting ferrite (choke) on wire by laptop
input - but didn't seem to help - it was still playing 'silly devils' & hanging up when I tried connecting on frequencies around 13/14MHz (OK on lower/higher ones) However, later, I noticed it was better - maybe because I'd wound the cable around the choke a third time &/or maybe because I'd moved the laptop further from the SSB radio...?? Live music Sunday after lunch was excellent - too much socialising again - gets in way of doing boat jobs! Meant I did way less than I should have ...

Was thinking of taking bus in to Suva on Monday - Queen's Birthday Public Holiday here (second Q's B'day - had one 2 wks ago in Nuie!)... but decided I'd better sort out motor - neighbour is excellent mechanic & said he'd help me. I took the carburettor off & he dismantled it & cleaned it thoroughly - but motor still not behaving. (I'll need it in Vanuatu.) Later, to get rid of salt and soot, I gave 'Nereida' a thorough freshwater hose-down in the heat of the afternoon - a thoroughly enjoyable

Tuesday was a successful, if long, day. Managed to get a gas bottle filled which they said they couldn't fill in Papeete (with butane, not propane, but that's OK). Then I was lucky to be directed by my neighbour to some really helpful, friendly Fijians close to Customs in Lautoka (Dan's Outboard Motor Repairs) who inspected my outboard, checked the carburettor over & decided the head gasket had gone due to overheating. The load of plastic that had wrapped itself around the prop on Friday after
I ferried the officials back to shore, following the check-in 'inspection', when the motor suddenly started misbehaving, must have also presumably plugged the cooling water intake. That diagnosis was bad news since parts for an aged Evinrude were clearly not available here but they then proceeded to go out of their way to find a 2h.p. replacement - I would have preferred a Yamaha, but the smallest for sale at the local agent in Nadi was an expensive (& heavy) 8hp. Then they remembered that a friend
had a 2hp Suzuki for sale (lying around for the past 18mths, it turned out, but not that old) so I was taken to look at it & bargained him down from F$450 to F$300 (100sterling) on the understanding that it would be thoroughly serviced to make sure it worked reliably before parting with any cash - a necessary proviso, since it didn't sound too much like wanting to come back to life initially, even with a new spark plug! Having explained my sailing to them, they understood my need to be able to get
to & from shore when at anchor without being forced to row (they clearly didn't think a 'lady' should have to row anywhere, let alone in a soft-floored multi-directional inflatable, and as for sailing around the world.... they reckoned that was far too dangerous!!) So one hour and a nice mug of green tea later, having parted with a total of F$330 to cover their time also, with lots of smiling, handshakes & good wishes, I was brought back to Vuda Pt marina at sunset with 2 outboards. I had also found
time over the day to get to an Internet cafe (F$1/hr, including use of headphones for Skype - about 50 US cents per hour!!) and to Fiji Meats for some good, fresh, inexpensive meat for my forthcoming passage (they will vacuum pack & freeze meat if you ask them).

I was interested to see the little single-track railway bringing in high loads of newly-harvested sugar cane in tiny trucks from further south to the Lautoka processing plant which I was told operates continuously from June to early December.

I gather the NZ High Commissioner was expelled from Suva on Thursday - but no-one seems to know exactly why (except maybe a personality clash?)!! Also heard on Sunday there'd been a major earthquake in the Solomons - tremors being felt here - but that's well off my path.

I hope to clear out tomorrow morning (2 days later than planned), ready to leave for Port Vila, Vanuatu - a 5-day passage.

Written by : Mike

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