Friday, September 14, 2012

A Long Day, but a good one!

Late Island : resembles Rangitoto
Now that I am here in Fiji, what happened getting here doesn’t seem that important, but for the record I shall describe that last 24 hours, the first half of which was so mentally challenging I was going to title this Post “I went mad and Shot myself”. As I previously explained I was trying to arrive at Navula Pass, which is the passage from the ocean into the reef-sheltered waters off the western side of Viti Levu, at first light yesterday, Thursday. Approaching unfamiliar land is a risky business in a yacht even in daylight, because we rely on charts and GPS signals to show us exactly where we are and where the nasty hard bits like reefs and islands are. So its harder at night and more so if theres only one pair of eyes, and of course at night one prefers to sleep. So, arriving early,in the dark, is too risky, but arriving  much later would mean there wouldn’t be enough daylight for me to get to Lautoka and back to Vuda Point before dark, and I couldn’t contemplate traveling these busy waters full of yachts, ships, fishing boats, motor cruisers, tourist boats and local traffic, reefs and various other hazards in the dark.   So really what you would like is a nice steady consistent breeze from a convenient quarter, a sea state that’s kindly, so the boat approaches the coast nice and easy at dawn or a little after: which is not what happened! For one thing, the breeze at first was too strong and even with the main reduced by 2 reefs and no headsail, with wind at 20 knots and gusting higher, we were going to  be at the Pass 3 or 4 hours before dawn. An obvious solution might be to slow the boat down by reducing sail further or even heaving to – but I  knew the wind wasn’t necessarily going to remain strong and if it lightened I could end up arriving much too late! So I was reluctant to slow down, at least initially, but I found myself getting quite cranky at the wind for being so unnecessarily strong. Next issue was that the sea state and our angle to the swell had us rolling rather horribly and whereas  mostly  the boat will roll away from vertical and then back, now it was rolling past vertical to the opposite side and hence it was impossible to lie in the sea berth comfortably and get any sleep. I knew I would get very little anyway, but early in the night I had hoped to get a few naps but this was not to be. Making it all worse was the rain, which meant the cabin all closed up but drips getting at various annoying places, and then when I went out to adjust the Hydrovane – a task that takes about 30 seconds – I got wetter than I thought I would and then developed an intensely irritating itchiness on my back and arms and legs, something that has afflicted me for years whenever I get wet. So I was feeling mighty cranky and itchy and sleep deprived, started to feel quite angry and frustrated with everything, started shouting at the bloody wind and the damned itchiness and the horrible short lumpy sea that was throwing the boat round and the stinky dampness of everything…

Anyhow the wind did reduce somewhat, and in fact it finally stopped completely and the Hydrovane tried to make us turn in a little circle. The rain however only got heavier and when dawn finally arrived, darkness was replaced by greyness and a wind that was too light to be of any use to anyone, and I was still about 10 miles from the Pass. Much as I love to sail, and feel defeated whenever I have to use the engine, there was no other choice unless I wished to wallow around in the ocean going insane for another day or two, but to start the motor. I put dry clothes on and then the wet weather gear, which is huge bright red over-trousers that come up almost to my armpits, and a bright red all weather Jacket with a rain hood and Velcro strips to seal the sleeves at the wrist and another flap that  comes round under your chin. Out I went in the grey gloom and the pouring rain, and having already worked out my compass heading started the engine and stood there in the cockpit hand steering for the next two hours, all the while wondering when I would get to see Fiji, which was only a few miles out to my starboard side. Instead all I saw most of that two hours was thunderous rain pouring into the sea, the drops so heavy they flattened the tops of the waves and made a grayish haze that often made it impossible to see where exactly the sea stopped and the rainy sky began. I nervously looked about me for ships which  could have been 200 meters away and be invisible in these conditions. At intervals I would open the companionway and clamber down into the cabin dripping water over everything and check my position and heading on the Chart plotter, confirming we were getting close but still I could see nothing.

With 2 miles to go I noticed whiteness in the grey sky to one side, and then wonderfully I saw a faint outline of hills, and then as if in answer to a prayer the whiteness became a little streak of blue and the rain slowed and finally stopped and  as the  low rain clouds lifted I could see details on the hills and the ocean horizon. Before long I  came to the Pass and entered the smooth sea inside the reef, Nadi Waters it was called on the chart, flat calm, windless quite peacefull and with a low grey sky above the hills. It was such a wonderful relief and a great feeling to get my sanity back, take off the wet weather gear and simply motor to Lautoka, nearly 20 miles away.
The clouds lifted and there was Fiji
 At Lautoka I came across a bigger yacht with a crew of two that had left Vavau the same day I did, and I heard them on the VHF getting instructions on what to do to clear Customs, so I did what they were doing and went  to a designated quarantine area to drop anchor. I wanted to tie up at the wharf but was shouted at by a man in a yellow hard hat and orange jacket to clear off and anchor where the others were. My problem was that I was seriously sleep deprived and exhausted,  and could barely contemplate hauling out my dinghy, inflating it,  lowering it into the water, and mounting the outboard just so I could go in and pay money and get papers stamped by “Officials” – and yet that was what I would have to do!  But then I decided to ask the yacht that was also checking in if they would give me a lift in with them – their dinghy was suspended from davits off the stern – and they agreed.

Checking in  took 3 bloody hours! And I wanted to get back to Vuda Point before dark so was having to bite my tongue and not complain or get irritated at the whole process : one question I had to tick Yes or No for was “Is there any Holy Water on board?” And to pay fees, I had to take a fifteen minute walk up to  the shops and an ATM, before I had even been certified free of the Plague and various other horrible infections! In fact the biggest delay resulted from the long time it took the Health Officer to come down to the wharf – a jovial fat bureaucrat who took our fees and issued the Certificates of Pratique without even looking at the forms we had filled in for him. I SO wanted to complain about him…

Finally two officials had to come out to the Boat! And when we emerged from the Offices on the Wharf it was once again pouring with rain, so we all got soaked as we squeezed aboard Barflys little dinghy and the officials clambered on board and made a 1 minute inspection, and a  request for the last packet of Bluebird potato Chips. I think they were disappointed I didn’t have any liquor on board.

So finally I heaved up the anchor and motored into the pouring rain again, this time without the foulies so I just got completely soaked, and my fingers went all white and wrinkled. I quickly lost all sight of land and following my inward  path on the Chart plotter headed back down about 5 miles to Vuda Point, the clouds once again parting and allowing me to see where I was heading at the last critical moment, not half an hour before sunset. The Marina Office by this time was closed so I tied to the Fuel dock with the help of the night security guy. Next I had a lovely hot shower, the first real hot shower I have had since I left Papeete at the beginning of August ! - and after my shower had a lovely meal of Cajun spiced Wahoo and salad, and two Fiji Bitters, returned at last to my damp and stinky cabin, lay down on the bunk and when I next opened my eyes it was morning.
Vuda Point Marina in the morning

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