Our passage back to Savu Savu was planned over a three day period. Three leisurely 30 mile sails stopping in Catherine Bay on the south shore of Rabi island, then on to Fawn Harbor and finally into Savu Savu. As the old saying goes…”Man plans, God laughs”.
With weather predicted to be 20 kts from the east on the morning of our departure, we motor sailed NE from Also Island to the tip of the cape at Udu Point…the most NE tip of the Fiji Mainland. With water depths rising rapidly from 3000 ft to 10’ in less than a mile…this is a very ‘interesting’ body of water. We went from seas of a meter and a half to 4 meter swell topped by breaking wind waves from all directions. This was not fun! It took more than an hour of very heavy slogging to make it around the corner and allow the boat to fall off on a lee shore enough to hold sail and settle the boat down. It was a pleasure to finally cut the motor and enjoy the quiet of the wind across our beam.
We enjoyed a sprightly 4 hr. sail in which we crossed the 180 meridian twice from West to East and Back to West.
The afternoon was waining and it was getting time to find our entrance into Catherine Bay anchorage and settle in for the night.
As we neared the entrance to Catherine Bay I attempted to restart the motor…it was not to be. Despite turning over with plenty of battery juice…it would not fire.
There was little time to make a decision as to Plan B. It was either fight our way to windward into an anchorage we had never been, hope that we could sort out the engine issues in a place that offered no opportunity for help or services, or carry on and sail overnight back to Savu Savu.
With plenty of wind and going our way, we chose to sail. Shortly after this, Kaija said “what’s that noise”? We could hear a metal on metal grinding sound coming from outside the hull. There are only so many options that can produce this and we quickly determined it was shaft related. Without a shaft brake, we slowed the boat enough to place our trusty very large Pipe Wrench around the shaft to stop it from turning.
The noise stopped!
We worked our way out thru the reef into deep water, had one good hit on the fishing line, but no joy on even seeing what teased us…as darkness fell we rounded Somo Somo passage and with 40 miles to go we settled in for a pleasant night sail.
This was not too be.
We have come to rely heavily on “Otto” (our ships Autopilot) who in truth has steered KaijaSong virtually all of our 25,000 sea miles over the past 13 years. As captain my job is to drive the boat in and out of harbors and anchorages…Otto’s job is the mindless steering of hour and after, day after day of passage making…and a fine job he has done. However, we noticed after ‘splashing’ the boat last fall that he was slightly ‘off’ on some days. Not always, but from time to time he would ‘wander’. Well, this was one of those times when he wandered to the left and wandered to the right and since we were sailing pretty much downwind…it was dangerous as the swings brought us very close to broaching…which is not something you want to do at any time. It was obvious that we could not trust ‘Otto’ to drive and so Capt. G was called to the wheel for a rather long night of hand steering.
It was one of those dark nights where the clouds obscured all starlight and outside references to direction were minimal. This leaves you with few options other than ‘chasing’ the compass and ‘feeling’ the trim. The hours passed slowly and with heavy eyes we welcomed first light. As daylight broke we found ourselves abeam of the Savu Savu Light…then the wind died and what little gust there were, were on the nose! We once again found ourselves on a lee shore in danger of drifting on the rocks.
A quick call on the VHF resulted in three outbound boats offering to assist. However, as they were considerable smaller boats this proved problematic. They did however, stand by until I assured them that help was on the way.
This is when you are very thankful for friends that you can call at 5am…wake up out of a sound sleep and be assured that with a “no problem mate” they will weigh anchor and come to your rescue. Such is the case of Capt. Alister of Mv Contraband, wife Ling and new sweet baby girl, and son Derrick motored out to meet us and take a line to tow us into our mooring with Curly standing by to take our line. This is one of those cases where “it’s all well that ends well”. We were safe and happy to be securely back in Savu Savu.
The First problem to sort was that of the shaft. A quick dive under the boat confirmed that it was one of the shaft zincs that had come free and was grinding against the Shaft Strut. In this case, we were fortunate that the engine had failed us, as we might never had heard the grinding sound which would have certainly caused substantial damage to the strut. Sometimes things do happen for a reason.
After a day of cleaning fuel lines and filters our little engine that could…DID… and started up with a minimum of injector pump ‘bleeding’. What I did discover was a tremendous amount of water in the fuel. This could only have come from our fuel tank air vents that must have submerged during the rounding of Udu Point.
The next problem to sort out was ‘Otto’. What had gotten into his brain that affected his performance so radically? I was pretty sure it had something to do with the Fluxgate Compass which sends directional signals to the Smart Pilot. With the help of good friend ‘Derek’ at Raymarine I was provided a ‘list’ of items to check including all mechanical and electrical fittings and voltages. After two days of comprehensive checks I found nothing that should have made any difference. All fittings were tight and clean and all voltages were within the acceptable tolerances.
As is sometimes the case (more often than not) when I am faced with a problem I will awake in the early morning hours of ‘O-dark-hundred’ and have a ‘flash’ of inspiration that has put me on the path of solution to the problem at hand. Luckily for me…quoting David Letterman “there is no off switch on the genius brain”….hahahah LOL…I jest of course but sometimes, just when I sleep in the right position and hold my ears ‘just so’…it happens. I came to with a bit of a start and knew instinctively what the problem was. I quickly fired off an email to Derek…and with the 8 hour time difference knew that I could catch him at his work…I said “Derek, during our last ships refit I moved the position of the Smart Pilot Brain from a vertical position to a horizontal position…would this make a difference?”. It wasn’t’ long for his reply. “YOU DID WHAT? Apparently the Smart Pilot Brain…or more specifically the Rate Gyro “don’t work lying down”. As the sun came up, I had relocated ‘Otto’s Brain’ back to his necessary vertical position and VOILA…I WAS ONCE AGAIN A GENIUS! (This is Kaija’s expression of satisfaction when I finally get something right!)
Unfortunately for us, we missed our weather window to the Lau’s but did have occasion to meet up with our good friend Bev on Sv Kokoh and bid her and her crew safe passage as they headed east to meet up with the Sea Mercy flotilla and render what assistance they could. As for us…we are heading west back to Vuda Point for the necessary repairs to damage that we took during Cyclone Winston and bid a fond farewell to Savu Savu and all the fine people we met, many who we now call friend.
As I write this we are moored outside of the Cousteau resort and just finished a lovely evening with our new friends Frank and Nicky on their Sv Stars End II along with their guests Des & Dave. We first met Frank and Nicky under less than ideal circumstances last year at Musket Cove Resort...but that is a story for another day. The evening with them was all that cruising life is about...good friends getting together to share stories and make memories for the next time.
We depart tomorrow from Savu Savu not knowing when or if we shall ever be this way again. We are heading for Savuna Point en-route the Yasawas. I will dream tonight of the big fish that will take my lure...a cruisers delight.