Yesterday morning we got up at 5:30am, preparing to leave Nambouwalu and cross the Bligh Water for Veti Levu, the big island. We rowed to shore and asked some fishermen the best passage and they told us where to go. The captain's name was Simili. He was dark with a 2 inch scar starting at the corner of his right eye and down. We ended up giving them two packs of Marlboros from Panama, and they gave us a freezing cold, gutted barracuda and cooked taro root which they pulled steaming from a battered aluminum pan tucked in a hole in the front of the boat. They showed us as well as they could on our chart, something they had never seen before, where their little local passage to leave the fringing reef offshore of Vanua Levu. Should have seen the wonder in their eyes as they looked at the island they are from on paper.
As we pulled the anchor to leave, and Megan yelled to me that there was something wrong with the engine. I ran down, heard scratching, figured a main bearing was out or a belt was going, could not find it, ran back up, dropped 200 feet of chain in 5 seconds, and signaled for Megan to kill the engine. After turning off the ignition, she still heard whirring. The starter, I knew it, it never disengaged after I started it. It was hot as hell. I quickly removed it, with a towel to hold it, put the replacement starter in and figured we were off. Nothing. The new one that I had all ready to go was a no go. Solenoid must be out. So it was out with that one I had just installed, put back on the old one, and away it went. A side note, when I was putting the old one back on I heard the dreaded hacking of a person choking. I lept out of the engine room and made it to the galley where Megan had just cleared two pills that had gone down her trachea. She was doing the full on no air in, no air out with a few gagging noises. I was thinking Heimlick...She cleared it on her own. By that point we were two hours behind schedule to make our next anchorage. I thought if one more thing goes wrong, we are going to wait a day. It seemed like if we were delayed another 5 minutes it was a major message for us to stay put. But all went smoothly after that
Later, I was up in the rig thanking God for my polarized Kaenons looking at Simili's passage. I'm not kidding. This passage was definitely not in any cruising guides, charts, maps, or ever will be. Total local knowledge coupled with me being able to see and us threading the needle. After clearing that, we weaved around three or four more obstacles that led us out into deep water. Crazy place this Fiji. I may not surf too much, but the sailing is fast, powered, and you have to keep on your toes. Megan is an incredible navigator. Two nights ago, after we made anchor, she was worked up into such a navigating frenzy that she was sitting at the table with a chart and instruments at hand. (editor's note: I don't know if it was a "frenzy" but I've been spending a few hours a day watching where we're going, plotting points and reading all the information we have about various routes and anchorages.)
After crossing Bligh Water, at a very high rate of speed in a very comfortable manner, we approached Malake Passage, again with me in the rigging. It was a nice wide open pass with the sun at the perfect angle for conning. In time for sunset we had the hook down in 17 meters of water next to the grass-topped, tree-fringed Malake Island. We could hear small pterodactyl squawks (turned out to be large dark egrets) from the bushes and then buzzing of cicada type bugs after the wind finally eased. This morning we rowed to shore and saw that the buzzers were about 3/4 of an inch long shiny metallic green beetles clustered on certain brown pods in the trees. Beautiful.
Now we're out in Bligh Water again on the north edge of Viti Levu sailing downwind. We'll anchor near Vatia Point tonight and make Lautoka tomorrow.
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