Friday, November 25, 2016

In New Zealand

A ten day passage from Fiji's Vuda Marina to Opua in NZ is completed. It was a decent passage. The 1071 miles turned into much more as we couldn't stay on the rhumb line. For one entire day we made only 20 miles towards the destination though we traveled a tad over 100! Astarte scored two – 143 mile days and we had some good sailing though hard on the wind the entire trip (with the exception of the last two days when we had to motor with no wind).

The trip was not without its adventures. Before we left we dealt with the transmission. That worked great underway...bravo, Michael and thanks to Moon Engineering in Auckland. We got some big swells, thanks to a big storm in NZ that sent up 5 meter swells (that's 20 feet!) along the route. We didn't see the five meters, but saw and experienced 2.5 meters. Plus the seas were confused with the big swell from one direction and the wind waves from another.
Underway on one of the two really bad, lumpy, rolly, icky days, the steering decided to quit. Of course this happened at night and in the confused seas. We offloaded the lazarette (a chore to keep things from rolling off the decks) and Michael climbed in the hole to take a look. Too dark and too much of a roll to get a good look, so we determined we'd wait until morning. Morning brought the light, but certainly not calmer conditions. The autopilot, "Nigel" was doing a great job steering (it is attached directly to the quadrant so the wheel steering was not needed.) We thought we'd just wait until conditions or "Nigel" demanded otherwise.

We were now sailing a good speed and heading more southwest. The forecast promised that we would get more easting in the wind over the next few days and we could get our "southing" at that point. We were covering a lot of miles each day now, and actually gaining on the destination.

On Wednesday morning with less than 400 miles to go, conditions lightened enough to tackle the steering. This was a chore. The emergency tiller needed a bit of lubricating and work to get it to bend at the right points. Once attached, holding it in perfect place so it wouldn't move an iota was critical. Fingers could be lost if we had any movement. A scream from inside the lazarette was scary, but fingers got only pinched not cut off. Whew! The cables got reconnected and we aligned the wheel as best we could. Now, the wheel steering was working with Nigel still working hard. Another problem sorted.

The wind died and we had to motor for a bit after getting below 3 knots of speed. The winds were pretty inconsistent. One minute it would be blowing good enough to push Astarte along at 5 or 6 knots, the next minute we'd slow to 4 or 5. Bang. "What was that noise?" "Don't know" "The engine temperature is going up fast." A quick look in the engine room showed that the belt broke. So, engine off again. Another project for Michael. But a spare belt was retrieved from the spares locker, installed and all good again.

Now we figured we had our three bad things for the trip behind us: transmission, steering and now alternator belt. Clear sailing or motoring the rest of way! ?!

The last several hundred miles were a mix of sailing and motoring. A big front was due in on Friday around 10 am, and we would hopefully beat it in. We entered the Bay of Islands in the dark (something we are loathe to do), and made our way towards the quarantine dock. We went very slowly knowing that by 0500 we would start to get the early sunrise light. We got to the dock at 0600 and luckily there was room and we got a hand tying up. Passage over. Now the wait for the officials. There were about 25 other boats that day waiting for clearance as well. In fact, it might have been a new Opua record for the number of boats cleared in one day. When we see the customs or biosecurity folks we'll find out.

Now we are all cleared in and settled in a slip at the Bay of Islands Marina (we often call it the Opua Marina). Now the work will begin on the galley/refrigeration. We arrived in time for the last of the All Points Rally so enjoyed a free burger dinner on Friday night and a chance to reconnect with the Gypsea Hearts (Sandy and Rankin) as well as Lily and Otto who are 2009 cruising friends whom now own the Marina Cafe here.

Overall it was a decent passage even with all the fixes along the way. Just a few hours short of a ten day passage. A few rough days. Forty-six hours of motoring. Much of it pretty good sailing hard on the wind. Glad to sleep more than three hours at a time again!

Let the work begin.
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At 11/25/2016 7:30 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 35°18.95'S 174°07.22'E

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Leaving Fiji for New Zealand

We are off today as soon as all the clearing out formalities are done and the Vuda Marina bill settled. The we will get "sung out" of the marina. This is a really lovely tradition. Several staff members (whomever is available at the time) come down to the boat and sing a farewell song in Fijian to you as your goodbye. We have heard them doing it for many and it feels really special.

The timing seems good as a few tropical depressions are starting to form in this part of the world. We hope the trip of 1100 miles or so will be without sighting one directly! It looks like a good, though slow, window. We may encounter some adverse winds – on the nose, but they don't look to be too big. The seas are going to be quite large – but an ocean swell with about 14 seconds between them so we should do okay in them. We are actually really glad we didn't leave on the last week window. Big stuff – besides earthquakes is hitting NZ. The North Island is getting hammered with some serious winds and huge seas over the next few days – right when we would have been arriving. So we thank the transmission.

You can keep up on our passage through YIT.co.nz (look for Astarte) and if the radio and computers all work, we'll update the position daily.

It should take us about 10 days or so – arriving on Thanksgiving perhaps.

Wish us luck – this is always a difficult passage.
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At 11/2/2016 5:08 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°40.86'S 177°23.21'E

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Transmission Update

Michael has been country hopping and has returned from New Zealand with a new transmission in hand on Wednesday afternoon. He got a great lesson from Moon Engines in Auckland on the installation of the transmission and things to check and made it back to the airport. He sweet talked the airline into letting him carry it on as "carry-on" luggage. All flights were on time and upon arrival in Fiji he had to spend a long time in customs. They wanted a big duty to be paid and Michael kept showing them all the boat papers saying we are a boat in transit and had what Fiji needs, a rotation number. Finally, after a long time, they let him go without the $800 duty!

He gets back to Vuda Marine where the election results are coming in from the States. People are in shock. Most Americans and all the Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Brits, Germans and Fijians can't believe what is going on and are fearful for the world. We are offered flags from many countries. It is always interesting and eye-opening to get a world view of what happens in the USA.

Back to the transmission...the next morning (Thursday), Michael dives into the engine room and removes the old transmission. He then installs the new one. All goes quite smoothly. New transmission fluid is put in and we test start the motor. So far so good. All seems smooth. While in the slip, we put it into forward – it works. Then reverse – it works. It was a full days work – we go up to Happy Hour in the bar and celebrate.

On Friday, we go for a test run leaving the safety of the slip. The help here in Vuda Marina is terrific and Toba guides us out in the fiberglass launch and stays nearby in case anything goes wrong. It is a very narrow cut in the reef to get into and out of the marina. All good so far. We run for 45 minutes to get it good and warmed up with Michael checking it every five minutes. All good. We then put it into neutral, reverse, neutral, forward a few times while out in the sea away from anything. Because of the slightly different gear ration, we notice that it takes a bit longer to react...so planning ahead will be more critical. We also think we have lost about two or three tenths of a knot of speed with the same tachometer reading. But the good news is we have a working engine again.

It cost us a bit more for replacing the transmission – but we have it done and can take the next weather window for New Zealand. If we waited for it to be shipped here – it would cost us the time in the marina, probably a harder Fiji "duty" fight, and the possibility of it lost in transit. Now it's done and Michael did a terrific job.

It looks like next week may have a possible leave time – perhaps as early as Tuesday. A few more days to look at weather and we'll make the call. Hope NZ lets us in!
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At 11/2/2016 5:08 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°40.86'S 177°23.21'E

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Oh No

It has been hot in Vuda Marina with no breeze and steady sun. The regular rain showers at night may cool the decks a bit, but it also means closing up the boat. We didn't get hauled out on Thursday as scheduled but did the deed on Friday morning. But there was one small problem.

As we got pulled out of our slip, Michael was supposed to back into the slings for the haul out. It is a narrow alley way and sailboats don't back very well. So as we approached the slipway, he needed to straighten out and put the boat into forward...only the forward gear did NOT engage! The two workers from the slipway were yelling "forward, forward" as the concrete piling/wall was quickly approaching the boat. Luckily Toba, the guy in the small fiberglass boat was still nearby and grabbed a line to pull the boat and one of the workers jumped aboard to help fend off. Barbara on the swim platform was also pushing and trying to stay aboard and not get crushed. It all happened very quickly. The workers were terrific and very capable. We got into the slings and hauled and had something new to stress over.

After our bottom cleaning (the hull actually looked pretty good!) and a set of new zincs, we got relaunched and then towed back into our "slip." We had friends help us get the boat into the slip and Toba did a terrific job as tow boat. It was a short distance and we got settled. Michael then went below to check the transmission out – being hopeful it was simply a slipped cable. We worked the boat back and forth as best as we could while tied in the slip and Michael came to the conclusion it was NOT the cables or linkage. Bummer. The problem was much bigger.

We put a new transmission aboard in 2008 before we left Florida for our cruise. So it had about 2800 hours on it. We kept thinking, "it's new" but then we remember we have been cruising for seven and a half years and have put some hours on the engine. This year in Fiji alone, it seems we've had to motor many places.

Now what do we do? We had planned to leave for New Zealand on Tuesday. A great weather window was there for the trip. We are a sailboat, so we could go without a forward gear. Michael did lots of research on a new transmission – but getting one in Fiji wasn't possible. Talking to the place in the US where we bought the last one, he learns they have discontinued this model. So we can't just simply take this one out and drop in a new one. More modification would be required for the engine (raising it a bit and dropping the prop shaft a bit). That would be something we would not want to do in Fiji after talking to several folks. We also kept hearing stories about parts not arriving or getting lost here in Fiji. We had a bit of a dilemma. Our insurance requires us to be out of the cyclone "box" by December 1. Yes, we probably could buy a rider...but that would be expensive. We are a sailboat, so we could simply sail to NZ and hope for a tow into the dock in Opua...a tricky dock with wind and current and lots of boats. There were also a few reefs to get through prior to leaving Fiji waters. Michael spent most of the weekend doing research and in NZ, he found two places that claimed to have the transmission we currently own (a ZF 10m). So he e-mailed them and would call them first thing Monday morning. Was it just listed on their websites or did they really have the part in hand? On Monday, he actually located one at Moon Engines in Auckland, a company that was incredibly helpful on the phone. It had a slightly different gear ratio than our 1.79 – but it went the "right" way to not overload our engine. It was a 2.04. It was also mighty expensive because they don't make them anymore! Michael also priced flights to NZ to go and actually pick it up and bring it here. To ship it, it would be close to $400 and it could be "lost" for weeks. He found a plane fare that was reasonable and we made the call on Monday afternoon that he would fly down on Tuesday morning to get it. He would return with the part on Wednesday afternoon. We could still make a next week weather window if it holds and it all goes together smoothly.

He arrived in NZ (actually stopping in the south island). At least he's been on the South Island – because with all these expenses this year chances are good that we won't be traveling there this year as planned. He got to the shop on Wednesday morning (today) before they opened and they gave him a lot of time explaining all the tricks of installation and aligning the engine. As I write this, he is at the Auckland airport with the part in hand waiting for his afternoon flight. He will be exhausted.

He will install over the next few days and we will probably test it this weekend. We will re-fuel again and be ready to go if everything works as planned. So all readers, please send all the good karma you can.

And today is election day in the US – we did manage to vote from Fiji. Hope they count!
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At 11/2/2016 5:08 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°40.86'S 177°23.21'E

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Celebrating Diwali in Nadi and Saweni. Now in Vuda

We spent a few days in Momi Bay and enjoyed the comings and goings of boats and ships through the reef passage. A pilot boat often came and anchored near us in Momi waiting to go out and meet a ship. We hit 15 "zero dollar days" in a row, so we thought it was time to start spending again!

We moved about 25 miles up the western side of Viti Levu, watching carefully for the many reefs, and headed to Wailoaloa which is near Nadi. It is a long beach quite close to the airport and has several small resorts, hotels and restaurants that mostly cater to the younger backpacker crowds. You can horseback ride on the beach or go out on one of the many dive boats or surf boats to nearby reefs. We anchored in about 3 meters (10 feet) of water. It is good holding and though we were quite shallow, we were still quite a distance from the beach.

We would make this stop a provisioning one – as it is easy to get a bus to Nadi and many grocery stores. There is also a good butcher on the way to Nadi/Denarau called South Pacific Butchery and we needed some meat for the next few weeks and for the upcoming passage.

We dinghied to shore and ran the dinghy onto the beach (those wheels are quite handy) and were told we could leave it in a spot and it would be safe. We even purchased a few coconuts from a guy in the hopes he would keep an eye on our dinghy. We told him he could leave the drinking coconuts in the dinghy.

We went to catch the bus and as we were waiting for it, a cab offered to take us to town for bus fare. There were four if us standing there and so it was a good deal. He didn't want to drive an empty cab back to Nadi and we lucked out with a quicker ride. We also got his name and number and ended up using him for the trip back with all our groceries and a stop at the butcher.

It was a productive day getting some fresh stuff, some beer, bread, meat pies and our fresh meat at the butcher. It was a wet ride back to Astarte. The wind had switched direction (sea breeze) causing the waves to kick up. We stayed aboard and enjoyed the many fireworks being set off around the area. They were constant and varied.

The next day we decided to make another run to Nadi for pleasure. It was the Hindu holiday of Diwali – a festival of lights. The holiday lasts five days two before, the actual holiday, and two after. Because Nadi has so many Indo-Fijians (many of which are Hindi), it is quite a festive time. Its sort of like their Christmas. There are lots of fireworks, gifts are exchanged, sweets are made by the ton and shared, and everyone dresses in their fanciest and best and newest saris. That was the treat seeing all these beautiful women dressed in bright colored saris with all the jewels and ornamentation. We thought it would be interesting to also go to the Hindu Temple in town that is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. It is a brightly colored and ornate structure with lots of carvings and paintings

You have to be appropriately dressed to get into the temple. We paid our small entry fee for tourists rather than devotees. A great tour guide took us through the temple and he had not only a great sense of humor, he really was interesting. It was pretty special and many devotees were around making their various offerings at the many alters around the temple. The Diwali Festival is a tribute to their god of wealth and prosperity (thus the new clothes and gift exchange). That alter was getting a lot of action.

After retrieving our shoes after the temple tour, we walked around downtown Nadi watching everyone buying fireworks and gifts. It was like the last shopping day before Christmas. After our fill of the consumerism of Hinduism – we headed back to the bus stop and our trip back. It is just great fun to watch all the people on a busy Saturday morning.

After getting back, we splurged on a fish and chips lunch out and a few beers then headed back to the boat for more fireworks watching.

On Sunday, we thought it would be fun to head to see some old friends we hadn't seen since the Marshall Islands. The "Irish Melody" crew were in Saweni Bay, just north of Vuda Point Marina where we would go on Tuesday. It is a pretty bay and much more protected than where we were off Nadi Some big stuff was potentially threatening on Monday – so we thought we'd see our friends and be in a more protected bay.

We enjoyed our time with Andrea and Anthony after so many years it was great to catch up. We had them over for sundowners and decked our boat out in lights (thanks Sandy) to celebrate Diwali. It was pouring out so we would sneak outside at every rain break and watch the fireworks surrounding the area. A fun and festive night!

Tuesday arrived and it was time to get into Vuda Point for a quick haulout on Thursday (hopefully) and then waiting on a weather window. Check out Vuda Point Marina and our location on YIT.co.NZ, Zoom in and we are right next to the guard house in this round marina. It is challenging to get in as they keep squeezing more and more boats into tiny spots. It provides entertainment (if it's other boats) and stress if it's your boat! It's been fun reconnecting with many friends here. This is the waiting for weather spot (or waiting to put your boat in a pit for cyclone season).

Enjoyed half price pizza night last night with Barbara and Dennis from Land Fall and celebrated Dennis' birthday.
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At 11/2/2016 3:31 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°40.86'S 177°23.21'E

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Vunanui, Lekuri and Momi on Viti Levu

We enjoyed a few days nestled behind the reefs near Vunanui (pronounced Voo-Nah-New). The anchorage was very flat and quite comfortable and the views of the crashing waves on the outer reefs is always impressive and noisy.

On Saturday morning, we went into the village to do our sevusevu. We were met on the beach by a few young boys and Bill. Bill took us to the toronga ni koro (well actually the brother of the toronga ni koro). It seemed there was a going away party for some visitors so many of the men from the village were gathered in an open hut. We were brought in and introduced to a few folks and invited to sit on the mat. There was a huge tanoa bowl front and center with kava. The tanoa bowl is a lovely wooden bowl normally mounted on four legs carved out of a single piece of wood (bowl part and legs). This one was quite large with probably six legs on it and very lovely.

We presented our bundle of yaqona (the kava making plant roots) and a speech in Fijian was made followed by some chants and thombos (loud claps). Then the bundle was handed over to the chief (actually the brother of the chief) and he also did a small speech on Fijian with chants from the rest of the crowd and more thombos. It was the most formal sevusevu ceremony we had been to yet and it was very moving. We felt very welcomed. Then a few bowls of kava came our way with the traditional thombos and "matha" after the drink is completed. We stayed awhile, having a few bowls of the kava. Meanwhile, our package was taken by some young men and already opened and being pounded for the next bowl of kava. I guess we had good timing!

We then took a stroll around the village which was filled with friendly people and lots of kids playing volleyball and running around. We came by the hut before leaving and were invited in again for "one for the road or one for the ocean" - we passed on the temptation.

We stayed a few days and attempted a snorkel on the reef. There was a very strong current though and it was windy and choppy...so we ended up doing a drift snorkel – just holding on to the dinghy and floating behind it looking at the critters below.

We left early on Monday morning for a 45 mile trip to Lekuri. We sailed much of the way with just the headsail in a downwind run. Two lines in the water – going pretty good speed at times...no fish were caught...though at one point we had two bites – one on each line and Michael could actually look back and see what looked like four mahi checking out the lures – but not biting them again. Bummer.

We stayed one night in this anchorage – near the Robinson Crusoe resort. We were entertained from shore with lots of singing, drumming and fire dancing. It was pretty windy though and a long day and we decided to not head into the resort. We were working on a record of zero dollar days!

This morning, Tuesday, we left early to take advantage of the lighter winds and slack waters to get through the very narrow cut in the reef. It was pretty rocking and rolling coming in the day before. Once out of the cut, we killed the engine and put up the head sail and had a nice downwind run for the 15 or so miles. We were slower today – and again, two lines in the water, different lures...no fish.
We may stay here a few days – or move on...who knows! No more fresh vegetables or fruit on board. Beer supply is also pretty low. But it is a pretty and protected spot inside the reef on the southwestern corner of Viti Levu.

Latitude:17 55.06s
Longitude:177 16.07e
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At 10/25/2016 7:07 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°55.05'S 177°16.06'E

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Snorkeling in Beqa and Moving On

We really enjoyed our week in Malumu Bay on Beqa (pronounced Ben-ga) Island. It was a good spot to sit out some inclement weather because it is protected from most directions and has a good muddy bottom for holding. Not so much fun when pulling up that muddy anchor chain! We had the place to ourselves for one night and then the boat "Pilgrim" returned because of the weather predictions.

We did a snorkel right in the bay – a reef that we saw many locals diving at night. The visibility wasn't terrific, but it was nice and shallow so we could really stay over a bommie and take a long look for the little stuff...and not so small critters. We saw two quite large eels that seemed to not be afraid of us, several different types of nudibranchs and lots and lots of small tropical fish – a few new ones. It was a treat. Day two we repeated the snorkel in a slightly different spot and Michael dared to bring the underwater camera. Good thing too, he spotted a quite large nudibranch that was different than ones we had seen before. Getting the photo would help us identify it (perhaps with the help of Kathryn).

We had a local boat stop by to visit on Thursday – they were from the village across the island and were heading to their gardens (they were yagona (kava) farmers!). They told us that there was a cut through the mangroves to get to their village. Wish we knew that sooner as we would have visited them. The cut isn't on any charts or even on google earth maps – ah, local knowledge!

On Friday morning, we thought it was time to move on and so we headed 26 miles to Vanunui on Viti Levu. We did manage to sail some of the miles, motor sailed some and motored some. The winds were either 2 knots or 12 and from varying directions. We put out two lines (I gave up on the coke bottle/oreo wrapper lure) and went back to the "Lance Lure" (made by our NZ charter fishing captain friend, Lance). Michael used "Pedro" from the Kathryn and Mark collection. We were moving well over 6 knots much of the time. We sailed or motor-sailed through cuts in the reefs. We have no bananas on board. We checked the lures regularly for weed or fouling. We changed distance from the boat of the lures. But did we catch a fish? NO. Still scoring zero.

We came through the reef hoping to beat a squall that looked like it was heading to the cut at the same time as us. We wanted good visibility – even though the cut is relatively wide. It is still a cut in the reef. The squall kept away and we made our way along the inside of the reef to a nice anchorage. It should be well protected from any swell – but not much wind protection. The forecast is for only 10-15 knots from the SE – so we should be fine here. There is a village nearby and if we stay more than one night, we'll go in and do our sevusevu. We are down to our last batch of kava – so this will have to be the last village until we can re-supply.

It is pretty here and when the sun shines, the reef around us is a variety of shades of blues. The crashing waves on the outer reef is impressive both visually and aurally. Pretty spot. We'll have to see if there are bats here. Last night's display in (anchorage) on Beqa was quite amazing – hundreds on bats flying overhead.

If we stay it does look like some good snorkeling around.

Latitude:18 15.7s
Longitude:177 52.12e
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At 10/21/2016 4:09 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 18°15.69'S 177°52.11'E

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