Monday, September 30, 2013

Farewell to Our Guests

We dropped our guests, Chris and Vladka off at the sea wall in Lautoka yesterday after a peaceful day sail from Mana Island in light winds that ranged from southeast to northwest. The four days we spent with them were a lot of fun. We enjoyed sharing with them what it is like to cruise on a sailboat and they were great guests, pitching in with the cooking, cleaning, and sailing.

Here are a few more photos from our stay at Mana Island. Most of the underwater pictures were taken on the reef outside the pass into the Mana island lagoon.

Vladka and Chris pose for a couple shot

Mushroom coral - photo taken by our guests

Vladka enjoying a swim on a very calm day

Damsel fish

Lagoon triggerfish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus), also known as the blackbar triggerfish, or Picasso triggerfish.

I think this is a wrasse of some sort.

This fellow is quite large and has the most striking contrasting colours - oriental sweetlips.

The reef outside the pass at Mana had very clear water and some larger schools of fish like these convict surgeonfish.

Nurse shark. We also saw an octopus on this reef

I like this shot of Chris and Vladka upside down

It was nice to have someone else take a few pictures of us as a couple.

Sunset at Lautoka

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mana Island Walk and Snorkel

We had a full day today snorkeling on the reef just off the beach here where no fishing is allowed. The fish are plentiful and there are more varieties than we have seen anywhere else in Fiji. The visibility was not bad and improved as the wind died out this morning.

We always see these little fish in among the corals in pairs.


Squid detail

And another squid shot

Not sure of the name of this fish

Moorish idols

These fish puff their fins out like this when alarmed

Military style camouflage

The reef was home to many larger schools

Later we went for a hike around about half the island following volcanic rock shelves and beaches including the spectacular Sunset Beach on the island's west coast.

Fisherman hand lining.

Heron in flight

Romantic walk

Our guest, Chris took this nice shot

These shelves made walking around the island easy.

Friday, September 27, 2013

From Momi to Mana

It has been a while since we posted, so here is an update on the last week. We sailed to Musket Cove (Malolo Lailai) from Momi Bay and stayed there for a couple of days while the winds howled and the rain poured down. There are three resorts on the island, an airport, and rental and private houses. Roads lead all over the island and provide some fine walking with views in all directions. It was a bit of a shock sharing an anchorage with 40+ boats after so many weeks on our own! The anchorage is deep (about 15 meters) but the holding very good and we safely sat out gale force squalls and torrential rain.

View over Musket Cove

Anchorage at Musket Cove

Next we sailed to Lautoka and anchored off the container pier and sugar refinery. There were several boats in this anchorage, about half of which were in the process of checking out of Fiji to head for Vanuatu and New Caledonia. We were here to meet our guests - friends we had last seen in Auckland. The next morning, we awoke to a boat coated in a fine layer of black ash from the sugar refinery. I would not want to spend more than a day or two here because of this. We rowed in, re-provisioned, and returned to the boat where I left Rani to pack things up and returned to town to meet our friends.

Anchorage at Lautoka

Ash from the Lautoka sugar mill

Chris and Vladka were waiting in the market when I arrived and we returned to Ladybug and set sail for Tivua, an island we had passed on our way here. The winds were gusty and strong and we put two reefs in the main and beat our way out of the anchorage, with our guests taking turns at the helm. An hour later, we dropped the hook off an extensive reef and went for a snorkel. The visibility was not great here, probably because the higher winds had stirred up the sandy bottom.

Our guest Chris kicks back on Ladybug

Vladka prepares a salad for the potluck.

Today we sailed to Mana Island, stopping for lunch and a snorkel at a sand quay that lies south of Elevuka Island. The pass into the lagoon at Mana Island is very narrow with a dogleg. Strong gusty winds swept across the channel and the sun was in our eyes, making the whole experience hair-raising, despite the poles that clearly mark both sides of the channel. However we made it safely into the lagoon, seeing nothing shallower than 9 feet below our keel. Our friends, Bruce and Craig on Gato Go are anchored here and we are just back from a very pleasant potluck evening on their lovely catamaran.

We plan to stay at Mana for a couple of days snorkeling the fringing reef and hiking on the island.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Are Two Sails Enough?

When we sailed Ladybug in the relatively protected waters of the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, we kept a largish genoa hoisted most of the time. This sail - about a 145 (145% of the area between the mast, fore-stay, and fore-deck) overlaps the mast by quite a lot when pulled in. It is quite a heavy sail - I can barely lift it on deck in its bag. The big genoa is wonderful in light airs giving up to an extra mile per hour. However it is harder to furl in and when furled a lot, its shape is a bit too full to allow Ladybug to go well to windward. It is also difficult to tack because of our inner (cutter rig) stay. It usually requires a helping hand on the fore-deck to work the sail past the inner stay or that you roll the genoa in a bit to get it around. Also, because the sail extends so far aft when sheeted in, it induces additional weather helm.

When we left Mexico, we took the big genoa down because it needed some restitching and a repair to the UV protection where it had chafed on the spreaders while tacking. We repaired it and then folded it and put it away in its bag until two days ago, using the smaller jib that is around 110 to 120% of the fore-triangle. In the last 18 months or so we have sailed over 10,000 nautical miles (20,000 kms) with this smaller jib. It is easy to reef by hand without overloading the roller furler, tacks better, and even in light airs has proven to be adequate (or maybe I am just getting more patient!) It has also required virtually no maintenance until now. We took the sail down because I noticed some stitching on the UV protection strip was coming undone.

The small jib is, I believe, the jib that came with the boat back in the late 1980's. When a new taller mast was put in Ladybug about 10 years ago, this jib was modified slightly and restitched. The sail cloth must be a good one because it is still in very good condition and it holds its shape quite well even when beating in heavier winds or furled in a few rolls. I will repair the worn stitching by hand, using the machine stitched holes and a heavy darning needle and palm to replace the worn stitching with fresh polyester sunbrella thread. This will likely take me a day of labour. I will then re-hoist this as our working jib.

We used the big jib for the passage yesterday and were reminded of its strengths and weaknesses. The passage started in light winds and the speed we were able to make in these put a smile on my face. But that smile disappeared as the wind increased to 10 and then 15 knots on the nose and I had to reef the main. In these winds we would normally use our full small jib, but the boat was just overpowered with the full larger jib. We had more trouble tacking and we had to reef the beast in order to keep the boat at a decent angle of heel. The loads on the roller furler while reefing were substantially more and even though we ran off downwind to do the furling, it was all I could do to haul in the line by hand.

The reason I am writing this is to suggest that from our admittedly limited experience in cruising in the South Pacific, if you are setting off on a similar cruise, I think you could get away with one modest furling jib in your sail wardrobe - something not too big and cut so it can be roller reefed in heavier winds and still work adequately to windward. The advantages are many - less expense, less storage required below, ease of handling, etc. The only major downside I can see is a small loss of speed in lighter airs.

For very light airs we have a cruising spinnaker and while we rarely use this, I suppose some sort of light air sail makes sense unless you have large fuel tanks and like the sound of your engine. That said, we have used our smaller jib/mainsail combo in very light airs - keeping the sails filled if necessary by pointing more to windward, off our desired course. I think we have used our cruising spinnaker only 5 or 6 times in the last 18 months and most of these uses were on the passage from Mexico to the Marquesas. We might have spent an extra day or two at sea had we not had this sail on board.

Re: storm sails - I have met people who have never used their storm tri-sail or storm jib at all during a circumnavigation and we have never had the storm jib out of its bag except to do a trial hoist. In heavy weather we can put three reefs in the main and heave to or fore-reach. If we need to beat to windward we use a scrap of unfurled jib, which seems to work for us up to about 35 knots. A storm jib would obviously be useful beyond that, but so far, we have found that in the heavy weather we have encountered, we have been offshore with plenty of room to either run off under a scrap of jib or to fore-reach under reduced mainsail alone. So maybe you can save some more money and storage space here.

Many books on cruising advocate an extensive sail wardrobe - at least three jibs, a light air nylon sail or two, and the mainsail. I think if you are on a smaller boat or a more limited budget, you can save the $5000 to $10,000 and spend it on the cruise itself, by going with one good quality roller furling jib and a sturdy three reefed mainsail of similar quality. BTW - if you intend to use an older jib, having it restitched before you leave with good quality UV resistant black thread probably makes sense. The dark colour resists UV better than light and it is easier to see if a stitch has failed on black against white.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Cane Cutting in Momi

I am not sure why Chris volunteered to cut sugarcane at 0730, probably a mix of curiosity and gratitude to our kind hosts, but he hardly slept last night and woke me up at 0600 this morning! Last night I baked a peach upside down cake to take to our host family together with some yogurt and yanqona. Thankfully it was high tide when we rowed to our landing beach and no wind, as it is quite far and there is a reef guarding the beach.

What the well dressed cane cutter is wearing today
The farm dog heard us long before we tramped up the hill and Fulwati popped her head from the garden hedge and pointed at the hill where the cane field was being harvested. We unloaded the cake and other items and asked her to keep the backpack until our return. She gave Chris a long sleeved shirt belonging to her husband so he would not get scratched and sunburned out there and we were off! We heard the men shouting and laughing as we approached the field. To our surprise there were three men and a boy slashing at the cane and they had a pile cut already. Chris confirmed that Subas Chand was amongst them and parting the rustling cane stalks at the road's edge, tramped over to begin his labour. One of the men shouted to a young girl at a house nearby to tell grandma that "aunty" was here but she answered that dadi (grandma)  was sleeping. I had no intention to disturb anyone that early and told them I was going for a walk to get some exercise.

This machete is quite heavy. Subas later gave Chris a lighter one, more suitable for beginners.

Some of the cane is quite tall and straight, but many canes were bent and harder to clean and stack.
The young boy gave over his machete and a glove to Chris and walked over to ride the raft-like sled pulled by two oxen to the bottom of the hill. Small loads of cane are taken to a railcar parked on a piece of track in the field in this manner.

On Saturdays the three older men who cut these fields have the help of a young man. Here he is skidding a load of cane to the bottom of the hill for loading on the rail car.

Cutters at work. These bullocks are just  grazing.
Subas demonstrated the cutting and cleaning of the cane to Chris and I took a few photos for our album from my roadside stance. I watched Chris swipe at a few canes and then hiked up to explore the valley. It was very hot already and it was not even 8 a.m. yet!

View out over Momi Bay. Ladybug to the left and a pilot boat that guides large ships through the Navula Pass. In the distance is an unfinished resort - apparently a sinkhole for government money.

In one valley I saw a little Mosque. There is a small Muslim community here.

By the time I returned after my two hour walk, Chris was cleaned up and schmoozing with Subas and Fulwati at their house. I took a walk up to the cane field with him to see the amount of cane that they had cut. The rail car was full and we found out that it probably weighed about two and half tonnes. Four men can harvest this much in less than four hours. Subas pays a local farmer F$4.50/tonne to pull the rail car by tractor to the small gauge railway a kilometer away. The car is left on a siding where it gets picked by a daily sugar cane train and taken to the Lautoka sugar mill. The rail car has a farm number on it and this is how the mill knows whom to pay. The farmer gets paid F$75-$80 per tonne of cane on today's market. A few years ago, the price was only F$45/tonne and the cost to produce amounted to almost F$20/tonne plus labour.
Rail car loaded with about 2.5 tonnes of cane - a morning's work for 4 men to cut and stack.

Close-up of cut and stacked cane
The day's load of cane awaits the train
Back at the farm, Subas had another bag of goodies ready for us - cassava roots and more oranges. Lunch was also ready - a table laden with curried fish, beans, dal, boiled eggs, rotis, rice and a delicious tomato chutney. Almost everything was fresh from their garden and very flavourful.

Fulwati explains how to de-seed tamarind
After lunch we set off to see the World War II gun batteries on the hill. You have to pay $5.00 per person to walk around the compound which affords a great view of the valley below,  the passes into the lagoon, and the islands in the vicinity. It was hot and we felt very dehydrated when we finally returned to Ladybug at 3pm. We both jumped over for a refreshing swim. It was a very full day!

Two of these guns guarded the nearby passes from Japanese advances. US, New Zealand, British, and Fiji troops were stationed here.

Momi gun battery

Friday, September 20, 2013

Welcome to Momi

We sailed from Likuri Harbour with a blustery tail wind and a strong full moon ebb tide carrying us out of the pass. Lord - what a swell as we cleared the entrance - long heaving hills of water. With a partial jib, we rolled our way down the coast for a dozen miles, turning abruptly to enter the Nabula Pass on a roaring beam reach. Our destination of Momi Bay was as tranquil as a pond in comparison and we were pleasantly surprised at how beautiful our surroundings were after we dropped the hook in about 20 feet.

The bullocks are used for transporting sugar cane on sleds. I guess they don't mind a passenger either.

 Rani was desperate to get off the boat and go for a walk, so we put the dinghy in the water and she rowed us into a headwind a half mile to the nearest beach. We tied the dinghy under a tamarind tree and Rani showed me what a delightful, if tart, snack fresh tamarind pods make. Immediately behind the beach a rough road runs toward the village of Momi in one direction and off into sugar cane plantations in the other. A narrow gauge railway that carries the cane from the local Indian small-holdings to the mill in Lautoka also runs alongside this road.

Subas Chand brings his bullocks back to the house from the well.

The scenery here is dry and hilly, reminding us a little of Mexico or even Catalina Island in California
We had not gone far when we were met by a man sitting on a wooden sled pulled by two oxen. A little later we met his cousin driving another team of oxen to a well where he watered them. Rani tried out her Hindi with him and was able to have a good chat in a mix of Hindi and English. Subas Chand invited us to his house for tea where we met his wife, Fulwati (which means 'flower of light'). We talked about their lives on their farm while Fulwati prepared a sweet Indian chai tea.

Subas Chand, Rani, and Fulwati
This couple has lived here all their lives, farming the leased land that Subas's father farmed before him. They have 9 acres, on which they grow just about all their food - beans, corn, cucumbers, melons, herbs and spices, and many varieties of fruit trees. They also have a few acres under sugar cane. Their children are grown and live in the city and the two of them farm all this land with their two bullocks to haul the cane to the railway and to plow the soil. They were most generous to us, giving Rani a bag of mangoes and later another of oranges and inviting us to have lunch with them tomorrow. Subas will be harvesting sugar cane in the morning and I asked if I could help him. I will meet him tomorrow at 7:30 for instruction on how to cut cane. Wish me luck!  

Bullocks are used by all the farmers here. There were half a dozen in this lower field.

This is the cane field I will do my best to help out in tomorrow