Monday, June 30, 2014

Better Late than Never

This is whats happened : I worked in Tasmania for three months and came to Fiji and worked in my capacity as volunteer Locum at the Lautoka Hospital for the next three months.  That bought me to the end of May at which point the boat was to have been in the water fixed up and all set to go. I was going to have two months sailing in Fiji waters then go to Nigeria with MSF for August.

But there have been a series of delays and frustrations that have almost driven me mad, which I shall outline in brief :

On returning to Fiji I spoke again to BaoBab Marine , at the Marina, who had told me last year they could fix the engine but it would take about two or three weeks.  I had 12, so plenty of time but I wanted them - and asked them - to get on with it so I could get the boat in the water and sort out everything else that may have developed over 20 months of inactivity. Yes, now I was back they will get on with it - to make it easier for them I had brought back the reconditioned pump and detailed instructions on how to repair the broken cam shaft, as well as the parts they would need, gaskets seals and "O" Rings.

Two weeks later nothing had happened and I asked why - they would do it next week they said. The next week something came up and they finally did it the week after that - they removed the motor from the boat and extracted the cam shaft. It was now week six. On week eight I went to see what had happened : they announced their workshop couldnt fix it and they would send it to another workshop - why they took two weeks to decide this is beyond me. A week later, week nine, they rang and said the "other" workshop couldn't fix it either. What they had to do was cut the broken end off the cam shaft at a precise length and fit the new end on with the two  special screws I had supplied from Sydney.

Shaft with broken end on left, new part bottom right
Now something REALLY outrageous happened : after they rang me, on a thursday afternoon, I went straight down to get the cam so I could send it urgently to Sydney to my mechanic at Wichard Marine who supplied the engine in the first place about 15 years ago. At the workshop I frankly but politely expressed my dismay at the enormous delays and time wasting that had gone on - there were only three weeks left and the boat was supposed to be back in the water by then - and was immediately verbally attacked by the Manager with an outburst of such shouting and a torrent of vulgar language and abuse for having dared to ask, for even bringing my shitty little problem to him to fix, for being such a f'ing little "C" for leaving my crappy motor in his brought the entire workshop to a standstill as all the other workers shrank into their corners as this tirade of abuse continued and I feared this huge front -row forward hulk of a man towered over me bellowing abuse was about to assault me. He may have been surprised that I stood my ground and insisted I had a right to express my dismay and give him some feedback about the service, asked him why he was shouting at me and abusing me...he stalked off still shouting filthy abuse at me.

Two weeks later I returned with the repaired cam, it was now week 11, I had a week to go at the Hospital and the engine finally went back into the boat. By this time I had agreed to go to Kiribati for a week to conduct a training course for the young Doctors and midwives there, so instead of getting the boat lifted for a quick anti foul, as there was a whole week to kill I asked the painters to do a thorough job this time and strip all the old antifouling off and start all over again.  She would finally be ready to launch when I got back at the end of week 13.

Then, the day after I left for Kiribati, the Travel lift dumped someone else's boat right in front of Sapphire and blocked access to her - it was only for a day but yes that yacht was still there when I got back, and was finally removed at the end of week 14. The agreed job then took several more days but now I wished I had just paid for  the usual quick anti-foul job....

While this was going on I began a discussion with Customs and Revenue about the fact that Sapphire had been in Fiji longer than the routinely permitted 18 months.  I had several meetings with Officials who informed me I had broken the rules by  keeping her here nearly three months too long, and by working in Fiji. They made me pay $450 to get a formal valuation of the boat done and then assessed my liability under the relevant legislation : $FJD30,000.00. The fact that I had been working as a "Volunteer" for the people of Fiji for 5 months meant nothing. Not only that, I would not be able to use the boat until the debt was paid.

At that point, two weeks ago, Sapphire went into the water! What I needed to do was sail to Futuna, a French territory half way between Fiji and Samoa, then return to Fiji and reset the clock - I would be able to stay another 18 months! This is what I had planned for late last year, when the engine broke down and thwarted my plan to avoid the Tax. I spoke to my bosses at the Hospital - the Professor knew the Health minister and phoned him, I wrote and appealed, and eventually it was determined I would pay $2500 and must leave Fiji by the end of June. I received this notification on Friday 20th June at 5.12pm after everything had closed! At the same time my long term accommodation expired and I had to pack up and moved to a cheaper and horribly noisy and grotty hotel in an industrial part of Nadi. The boat was a mess and not ready for me to move aboard.

The following Monday I paid the money.  Over the weekend I was frantically cleaning out the boat, cleaning up the inflatable and the ants that had infested the boat, airing clothing and wet weather gear, - a million things needed to be done - checking the radios and the batteries - one was faulty and I hadto replace it , I pulled my self up to the top of the mast to check the fittings and adjust the Windex which was bent and stopping the wind instrument from spinning and recording wind speed - and so on and on and on in the steaming tropical heat.

Then I had to get a Coastal Travel permit and some other Clearance. Another day gone. Food and drink, water, diesel....and finally on Wednesday the 25th left Vuda marina under motor on a windless  morning, hurrying for Savu Savu the port from which I will leave for Futuna, the boat hastily sorted, poorly prepared, incompletely tested, my mind a jumble of frustrations, irritations, anxieties and disappointments.

But as I motored north and away from the Marina, some of the tension and the stress and the chaotic scrambling of the previous weeks started to drain away and I started to smile, and to breathe a bit easier....
Anchored in Vatia Bay, alone, the end of the first day back on the water
A few hours later the engine alarm sounded, a high pitched scream I hadn't heard before. There was no wind but a current was slowly moving us to the reef we were passing - I inspected the engine and immediately saw he broken fan belt - the mechanics had moved a hose so the belt was rubbing on it and the hose was broken and the belt snapped! The engine was baking hot but I had to pull the water pump off to replace the belt, burning my finger tips and all the while  watching on the GPS as we drifted towards the reef - it was 100 yards off when I got the motor going again!

The next day I motored for six hours to the north eastern corner of  Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, swam off the boat and planned my crossing the next day to Vanua Levu. In the morning there was a breeze, and after creeping out through the reefs was at last in clear water, 30 miles across on a fine reach with no motor, the Hydrovane working beautifully, and then in through a Pass on the other side to Nambouwalu Bay for the night, anchored off a wharf in 4meters.

Oh yes we nearly sank on the way across  - a hose came off its attachment to the underside of the sink  and the cabin started flooding. Easily fixed but then a few dozen buckets of water to remove!

The fourth day I motorsailed to Savu Savu, passing through a remarkable natural shortcut that must save 30 or 40 miles, the Navisonisoni Pass with huge steep standing waves and strong currents pushing me back. And it was Saturday afternoon when I got here, so yesterday I wandered about the empty streets and checked the weather for Futuna..
A view at Savu Savu
Probably I will leave for there tomorrow. A few chores and the usual round of forms and notifications to do in the morning...

My next post will be when I have returned to Savu Savu - hopefully in  about a week