For Want of a Windlass!

May 16, 2016| 0 Comment

Monday, May 9th – After several beautiful blue sky with puffy white cloud days, today is overcast.  Our plans to leave the Bay of Islands to anchor below the village of Daliconi where we would go for our official welcome ceremony of Sevusevu are changed.  Our guidebook advises us that there are numerous shallow patches on the way to the anchorage at Daliconi, so “transit with good light and a good lookout.”  Without sun to highlight the shallow areas of coral uprisings, it would not be safe for us to venture into the bay below the village.  Not unduly distressed with the delay, we settle back to enjoy the beauty and solitude of the Bay of Islands.

1520 – What’s this?  Looking up from her book, The First Mate’s gaze sweeps across the landscape.  A sailboat is entering our bay!  We follow it as it motors towards us.  Not near us, please.  With relief, we watch it turn into Ship’s Passage and disappear from sight.  Though out of view, our feelings of complete privacy and distance from the world have changed.  There are others in it now!

A short while later, a longboat motors into the bay.  This place is getting crowded!  7 men and women are in the boat, and they come over to chat.  They are from the village and are delighted to hear that we plan to visit tomorrow.  They ask if we have a lighter that they could have for their cigarettes.  No lighters, but we do have several boxes of matches which we give them.  

Tuesday, May 10th – Grey and rain is what we wake up to this morning.  How fortunate we were to have had 3 beautiful days here before the weather changed!  Plans to move over to the bay below the village are put on hold.  We cannot leave until at least 1030 anyway since the sun needs to be up enough to highlight obstacles under the water.  Maybe by that time the sun will be out.

Our new neighbors turn out to be 3 delightful Germans on s/v Julia.  They dinghy over to say hello.  Now that we are friends, they are welcome to stay!

Later, it does appear to be clearing.  The Captain decides to try motoring over to the village, but as we retrace our path out the bay, clouds build up and water darkens.  Without good enough visibility, we return to the same place and re-anchor.  Now that we are here for the evening, we dinghy over to s/v Julia to invite them for sundowners on Avante.  

Back on Avante, the windlass needs attention, for it is running slower and slower.  The Captain feels it might be a corroded connection and proceeds to trouble shoot the problem.  Sometimes our best efforts only make matters worse, and though that seldom happens with The Captain’s endeavors, it does now.  The motor completely stops running in the up direction.  It will not raise the anchor at all!  There are a few systems on Avante that really, really cause us angst if they stop working.  Foremost, might be the engine.  Next might be a backed up head because of the smell and mess of repair.  Here in the coral and rock strewn, very deep anchorages of Fiji, the anchor windlass not working is a disaster.  The anchor and chain weigh over 500 pounds.  There is no way the two of us can raise that weight without some mechanical assistance.  We do have the option of decreasing the amount of chain and replacing it with rope, but with the sharp coral and rock down below potentially sawing into the rope, that honestly is not an option.  The only pragmatic solutions are to replace the motor or to fix it.  Not having a replacement motor, fix it we must.  With darkness approaching, The Captain wraps up his work, for there is nothing he can do now.  

Cleaned up, we wait for our guests to arrive.  Claus, the owner of Julia, has one of those contagious senses of humors.  We laugh and enjoy a great time together, and if The First Mate had known we were going to have such a convivial time, it would have been dinner she offered and not just drinks and appetizers.  Claus is also an electrical engineer, and he and The Captain discuss possible problems with the windlass motor.  He offers to come over tomorrow to lend a hand which The Captain readily accepts if his initial efforts in the morning do not get it going.


Wednesday, May 11th – With daylight, The Captain is out working on the windlass.  He still has no idea what the problem is, though obviously it is more than a corroded wire.  He decides that a remote anchorage is not the place to be doing any more work.  It would be better to immediately return to Savusavu where, safely tied to a mooring ball, he can take the motor apart and, hopefully, get it working.


The only problem with that plan is that we currently have the anchor and 300 feet of chain 90 feet below us.  How can we get the anchor up?  The windlass motor will work in the down direction but will not work in the up direction.  The Captain comes up with a real jury-rigged fix.  He reverses the direction of the chain on the windlass and with clever placement of rope to allow the chain to run backwards without doing a lot of damage, we will be able to raise the anchor.  It will be a strain on the motor and certainly not something we want to do more than once.   


Before hoisting the dinghy, we motor over to Julia to bid farewell.  We may see them in Savusavu in a few days, as that is their next destination.  They are going over to the villages later, and we ask them to please give our apologies to the village for not having visited.  Hopefully, they will understand.


It is a slow, laborious process to lift that 300’ of chain with both of us working up at the bow to keep the chain moving smoothly and evenly.  Seeing smoke rising from the sail locker, we must frequently stop to let the motor cool down.  45 minutes later, the anchor and chain are secured.  We slowly retrace our track, lining up on the leads and head out the passage back to Savusavu.  It is over 100 miles to Savusavu, so we are in for an overnight passage.  Fortunately, our route takes us through open waters until we reach the reef on approach into Savusavu, and it will be daylight by then.


Thursday, May 12th – We arrive at the Copra Shed Marina in the late morning after an overnight down wind sail.  A nearly full moon made the trip delightful, for there is nothing more reassuring than to be able to see what is ahead of one’s boat in the dark of night.  Beneath a beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds, we may not be happy to be back here so soon, but at least the weather is working to raise our spirits.  No rain!  Tied securely to a mooring ball, we head ashore for lunch at a Chinese Restaurant.


We enjoy a leisurely lunch, for ahead of us lies the laborious task of refueling, for here in Savusavu, there is no fuel dock.  One must cart one’s fuel containers to the local gas station.  We have 50-liter containers on the boat.  Think almost 90 pounds each when  full of fuel.  4 containers to fill.  4 containers trollied one at a time from the gas station and across the street to the dock.


Four painstaking trips are needed to carefully wheel the cumbersome fuel containers down the rickety dock to be loaded down onto the floating dinghy. Then, a trip across the waters to Avante where each container is hoisted up onto the deck of the boat.


Then through an ingenious system of tubes and cloth stuffing, The Captain exerts positive pressure so that the diesel fluid flows from the container, through the tube and syphons into the main fuel tank.  Voilà!  Done!  The Captain learned this trick from our friend, Bob Trenary, and says that it sure beats sucking on the end of the hose to create a syphon. That trick can easily lead to a mouthful of fuel!

Now The First Mate does not want it assumed that all she did was to photograph the lifting and hauling of these 90-pound containers.  Her job was to hold such things as the dingy, dock or boat steady and in line while The Captain did the hoisting and hauling.

Finished with today’s heavy work, it’s cold beer time!


Friday, May 13th – Fully rested, we head about our separate chores.  The First Mate to the ATM and markets.  Wandering around town, she hears a loud pounding vibrating forth on the still air.  Following her ears, she detours around a corner and comes upon a kava grinding shop.  


Various sections of the root are spread out on metal sheets to dry in the sun.


The deafening noise is coming from a shed.  Nobody stops her as she nonchalantly walks forward to peer into the dark recesses.  The antiquated machines, the darkness and the primitive workspace make her feel like she has stepped back into the Industrial Revolution.  A woman sits in the darkness spooning the ground powder into small bags.  The air is filled with kava dust.  What must this do to the lungs?  Pulling out her camera, she is warned off, but showing her pleasure at the operation and her dismay at being forbidden a photo, she is allowed to take one picture of the machines.  Nobody, however, would pose for her.  Has she stumbled on some bootleg operation?  No, kava is totally legal with kava bars a part of a town’s street scene.   She assumes that they were just being shy.


Back on the boat, all does not appear to be going well.  The Captain, at work since daybreak, is covered in grease and grime.  He has never been so filthy!  Grimly, he announces that this being Friday the 13th, it is living up to its reputation.  He cannot figure out what is wrong with the motor.  At one point, our spirits are raised when he feels he has a 50/50 chance of success, but by late afternoon, he gives in to the diabolical inanimate object that will not respond to his ministrations.


The question now is what are we going to do.  We cannot cruise without an anchor, and there is no way we can lift all that chain by ourselves.  The electric winches cannot be used, for they are designed to pull rope not chain, and we cannot substitute chain for rope because of the cutting rock and coral.  We have two choices:  find a good motor man who can hopefully fix this thing or order a new one from New Zealand.  We are going to pursue both avenues.  Unfortunately, it is now late Friday afternoon with the weekend ahead of us.  Nothing can be done until Monday when The Captain will contact Cater Marine in Opua, New Zealand to try to order a new motor.  Tuesday, we will rent a car to drive to Labasa where a good motor man is supposedly located.  Over the weekend, The Captain will research what he needs.  Plan made, The Captain scrubs up, and we enjoy a very nice dinner at the Copra Shed Marina.

Saturday, May 14th – NO INTERNET!  Needing to recharge our wifi device anyway, The First Mate is sent ashore to the local Vodaphone shed/office to do that and see if she can find out what is going on with the internet. She is also to locate the rental car office for information.  At Vodaphone, she is told that the internet is down, no idea why and no idea when it will be back up.  She feels like Friday the 13th is just continuing and continuing.  She does get the information needed at the car rental office.  Returning to the boat, she gives The Captain the bad news.  We both figure that this being Saturday, tomorrow being Sunday, nothing will be repaired until Monday.  Unfortunately, we are right!

A really good group has been playing and singing all afternoon on the Copra Shed Marina lawn.  We decide to head to the bar for dinner and sit in the cool darkness listening to some very good music.  Our German friends from s/v Julia had arrived that afternoon and are also there for us to talk with in between the music.  What a difference this sunny, bright weather is having on our feelings toward Savusavu this time!  Everything is greener.  Everyone is sprightlier and happier.  Life is good!

Monday, May 16th – Surprise!  Internet is live!  The Captain immediately starts research on a replacement motor.  A few hours later, an expletive beyond repeating is heard.  There are absolutely no motors of the kind we need available in all of New Zealand!  The next possible shipment is expected in on June 8th.  That’s way too late for us.  By the time one gets sent on to Fiji, we’ll be heading back to the States for the summer.  Now what do we do?  A search is made in Australia and the States.  Nothing in Australia.  The States looks promising, but it is Sunday there so he cannot communicate with anyone.  Also, we have learned from past experience that getting things shipped to Fiji from the States is not easy for some reason.  He continues pecking away on the computer hoping to find a solution.  Our windlass is an older model.  What about a newer model?  Cater Marine contacts the local agent for the manufacturer who tells us that the new model will not fit the holes on the boat, turning a small job into a very big job.  We are running out of luck, but then later in the day, Cater Marine sends another email.  They have found us a motor that will work with our current windlass  Three cheers for Cater Marine!  Cater Marine will receive it tomorrow.  They will ship it out same day.  It could be in Fiji by the end of the week or early next week.

The very good news is that we have a windlass motor.  Cruising Fiji will recommence as soon as we get it installed.  We decide that we would be a lot better off if we were in Port Denarau rather than Savusavu.  Port Denarau is a short drive to the international airport, and there is a yacht service company called Yacht Help that can expedite our motor shipment through customs.  Also, there are a number of marine services that could possibly help if there are any issues with the installation of the replacement motor.  The distance is just over 150 miles between Savusavu and Port Denarau. Five years ago, we traversed that distance twice.  However, because of all the reefs along this route, we sailed during the day and stopped each night.  Can we do this trip without the ability to anchor?  If so, can we do it through all those reefs without stopping for the night? Those are questions only The Captain can answer.

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