Thursday, October 6, 2016


One of the things that we love about living on the sea is the constant change in our surroundings. Take the ocean.  Below is what we saw after leaving Yadua crossing some of the bluest and calmest stretches of water we've seen.  The water was so clear you could easily see 100 feet into the depths, maybe more.  The sun's rays seem to just go on to infinity.

When we diverted from Tonga to Fiji, we decided to make this year's Fiji tour  a pure reconnaissance mission for next year's more in depth exploration.  Our itinerary was to sail West to the Yasawa Islands, then South to Musket Cove with short stops along the way, eventually arriving at Vuda point for provisions and departure clearance to New Zealand.

Our next destination after Yadua Island was a bay called Yasawairara at the northern end of the Yasawa group.  When we arrived the color of the 30 foot depths over pure white sand changed from the iridescent blue above to a turquoise so beautiful it made your eyes hurt.

Ashore we were greeted by these charming Fijian children whose smiles and cheerful disposition was contagious.  They took us through their village to the chief's house, stopping at one point to announce of our arrival to the villagers by beating on a huge hollow log.  The drum looked like it had seen years of such calls.

The Chief and his wife greeted us and invited us into their home where the ceremony called Sevusevu was performed.  The idea is we offer a gift of kava as a way of requesting permission to use the village's land, beaches, ocean, etc.  We were graciously granted permission to stay as long as we wanted, "a week, a month, a year..." and offered some land to live on if we wanted to stay and live ashore.  Later we joined the Chief at their 4:00PM church services.  We couldn't understand a word of that, but the singing was inspiring with everyone including the children belting the songs out at the top of their lungs.

Despite living in conditions that would rank far below the level our country calls poverty, it seems these islanders want for little and are among the happiest, most joyful people we've met.

As we left, we took our regular positions aboard Moonshadow:  Deb at the helm...

... and John on the bow giving the sign that everything is looking good.

But besides checking out the view astern, John logged a lot of time on the bow watching for coral reefs.  In this part of the world coral reefs are everywhere and the navigation is challenging.  Thankfully, we can utilize Google Earth imagery to augment our navigation, but it also takes one thing everybody has two of: eyeballs!

Along the way, we couldn't help wonder if we'd somehow gotten our navigation wrong as some of the hills here remind us of Northern California's wine country.

Soon we were finding the transition from very remote islands to touristy resorts.

The first clue was the mode of transportation.

Compared to the shock of landfall in Papeete after weeks in the remote islands of the Tuamotus and Marquesas, these scattered signs of modern civilization were easier to digest.

In fact, we decided to go directly to a place where we could do some real digesting.

But soon enough we were back to anchoring in yet another stunningly beautiful cove.  Here we used our scuba tanks to clean Moonshadow's bottom in water so clear we could see the bottom 65-70 feet below Moonshadow.  This became important when John's hookah hose snagged and released his weight belt and slowly sank to the bottom, it's black form in the shape of a semi-circle, clearly laughing at us from well beyond our diving skills.   Fortunately, new cruising friends Mark and Ursula aboard Anahoa are certified Scuba Divers and fetched it for us.

Next stop was Musket Cove, or as Deb likes to call it Buccaneer Bay.  Somehow that name, which may refer to an actual place somewhere, but nowhere in Fiji, got stuck in Deb's head.  Either that, or there's something wrong with her buccaneers!

As blue water cruisers, we meet people, become friends, then say goodbye, move on,  and wonder if, when, and where we'll ever see them again.  What we've really enjoyed is that we do, in fact, run into these friends in far away and unexpected places.  That was the case with Steve and Linda Dashew, who we met in Beaufort, North Carolina, and again in Camden, Maine, back in 2012.

Steve and Linda have created something in excess of 60 blue water sailing yachts all around the same concept:  Large, rugged, fast ocean passage makers that can be handled by two, even elderly sailors, most often husband and wife.  We think they did a pretty fine job on that.  Now they are doing the same thing for cruisers on the dark side (the sailor's term for power boats).

In Camden, we took this shot of three of Steve's creations: 62 foot Moonshadow, 74 foot Interlude, and his radical blue water power boat, 83 foot Wind Horse, all lined up for a portrait.

Little did we know then that we'd be anchored within shouting distance on the other side of the earth one day, but here we are next to Steve's latest wonder and personal 78 footer, Cochise.

Like Wind Horse, Cochise is a fast, long range ocean crossing power cruiser, looking like nothing else.  Unlike Wind Horse, an 83 footer, 78 foot long Cochise is nearly twice the boat in terms of volume, interior space and modern technology.  Learn more about Steve's power boats here.

After we got our anchor down, Steve came by to invite us over for sundowners.  We spent the evening with our mouths agape, marveling at the rugged, yet elegant little ship that Cochise is.  If this is the dark side for sailors, we could be convinced to switch teams!

The next day Steve let John row his feather light skiff, equipped with carbon sculls and a sliding seat.  It has been 25 years since John rowed his single shell at San Diego Rowing Club, so this was a treat.

Returning after a fun row, Deb's photo put the size of Cochise in perspective.

Later, we were invited to ride along while Steve put Cochise through her paces as part of his data collection and shakedown prior to his upcoming voyage to Florida, then Greenland next year.

The state of the art class cockpits on both the flying bridge and the salon provide every piece of performance and navigation data you could ever want to know.  The chart plotter display reveals that we were making full speed, full rudder 180 turns to put the stabilizers through their paces.

This was about the only time we heard any noise from the engines three levels below.

We were between the inner and outer reefs South of Musket Cove where the water is always smooth, and where we found a perfect place to take some aerial photography with our drone.

Steve often hires a helicopter, pilot and photographer to get shots like this, and now thinks he knows what he hopes to find in his Christmas stocking.  Check out more photos on Steve's blog here.

When we returned we enjoyed the view outside the massive windows of Cochise's great room.  Moonshadow, one of over 60 sailboats to evolve from Steve's creative mind still looks pretty darn nice sitting nearby.  

As the moon set over Moonshadow's boom, we wondered when and where we'd see Steve and Linda next, and couldn't help but think that this reunion - the Dashews seeing a boat they created 30 years ago anchored nearby after over 100,000 miles of blue water cruising and still going strong - must feel pretty good.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Barge Salvage in Paradise

With rainy weather finally behind us, we worked our way west from Savusavu along the southern coast of Vanua Levu, then up the western shore to the large open Bua Bay from which we could see our next day's destination: the island of Vadua.

After getting Moonshadow anchored and ready for the night, there was nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the sunset.

The sun put on quite a show.

From here it was just three hours or so to Cukuvou Harbor on the west shore of Yadua Island.  This is where we were greeted by a Somali Pirate.  The Somali Pirate.  Well that's the name of the panga operated by Jone, the ranger in charge of nearby Yadua Taba Island Crested Iguana Sanctuary.  Jone came by to borrow some CRC lubricant to free a frozen battery door on his camera.  

But the real story was the other boat in Cukuvou Harbor.  Viking Star was once a fishing trawler with a big winch for bringing fish gear aboard through a transom ramp.  It has been converted to tow inter-island cargo barges...

... like the one in the picture below.  

Evidently about 2 weeks before our arrival, the barge rolled over in heavy seas a few miles from Cukuvou Harbor, losing all of it's cargo of palletized fertilizer.  The crew managed to bring the upside down barge here in hopes of salvaging it.  They had been awaiting the arrival of a larger, more powerful tug.

The next morning, this huge, massive, 3000 HP brute of a tug, named Ballina arrived, looking ready to take care of business.

And the crews immediately went to work.  
Phase one was to relocate the barge to the other side of the bay.

They asked another sailing yacht to move, but seemed to think we were fine where we were.  
We had seats on the 50 yard line.

But it started to look like maybe we should have moved.

But it quickly became obvious we couldn't move because the barge and tug were situated directly over our anchor.

We decided to employ our secret weapon:  Standing on the bow with hands on hips.  This usually works when other yachts look like they want to anchor too close to Moonshadow's anchor.

But we weren't dealing with some yahoo on a Moorings charter yacht.  Here the head honcho gave us his version of hands on hips.

Hey... Can they do that? 

Yes.  At 290 tons, a big tug like this can do whatever it wants, where ever it wants!  We quickly let out all but the last 10 feet of our 325 foot anchor chain, and put a buoy on the chain so we could recover our anchor and chain if we'd have to cut it loose. 

But these guys are pros.  For them it was just another day at the office....

... and soon the adrenalin rush had passed.  

We quickly gathered up our chain and anchor then relocated a safe distance away.

Meanwhile the team got organized securing ropes to big volcanic rocks on the shore.

These warps are huge hunks of rope.

Hundreds of feet long, the larger than life hawsers took a lot of effort to move around.

But we never broke a sweat, watching the action from aboard our floating home.

Eventually, it was time to flip the barge.  First, they tried pulling with both ships in tandem.

They tried with both ships rafted together.

And they tried with each ship pulling separately.

There were dozens of failures.  Despite the astronomical strength of their huge towing hawsers, several of them broke, often at the knot or a high chafe point.  The following four photo sequence from our drone shows the moment one rope snapped in the middle.

The lesson here is never, ever get near a line or cable that is under such severe loading...

...because when one breaks it recoils like a rubber band...

... and that could cost an arm, leg or life.

Each failure led to hours of work re-engineering the faulty components.  At the end of the day the stubborn barge remained upside down.  Nothing to show for all the hard work.

That first day was a whirlwind of activity with amazing amounts of sheer effort, and at least a half dozen attempts at flipping the barge.  But day two the pace was much slower with a methodical effort where each line was carefully placed to get the barge in exactly the right position so none of the shore lines were slack.  By the end of the second day, the team appeared to be no closer to flipping the barge. 

We shifted to watch another sunset...

...while the team carried on into the evening.

By day three, they were ready for a final assault employing all the lessons learned from the previous trials.  With five lines anchoring the barge to the shore passing under the rusty box, then around to the top (what was once the bottom), and both ships rafted together with tow lines extending from each to the far side of the barge, they began to run up the engines.

At first we were somewhat casual about what was happening, having seen so many previous attempts go nowhere.  But then the sound of the engines seemed louder.  Something was happening!

We heard some cheering.  Soon everybody was yelling like mad.  Smoke was pouring out of the ships' stacks, and one of the huge warps tided to shore exploded, but the tugs continued pulling. The barge was ever so slowly rolling past 45 degrees, the previous limit, then 60 degrees then past vertical.  

They did what had seemed impossible, and though it was still half sunk and listing 60 degrees, the rest of the salvage was easily doable now.  Just a matter of plugging leaks and pumping water out.  

We had stayed longer than planned to watch this spectacle, and it was worth it, but now we decided to leave in the morning.  So we swiveled around to watch yet another amazing sunset while someone on the salvage crew grabbed the VHF, keyed the mike and held it to the stereo that was playing Phil Collins' One More Night.