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.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Fiji Phase One

After two nights and a day sailing from Tonga, a
 glorious sunrise welcomed us to Fijian waters.  Having endured weeks of rain and gloom in Tonga, seeing and feeling the warm sun was a welcome development.

We planned to arrive at the eastern edge of Fiji's waters at dawn because we still had day of navigating the countless reefs atolls and islands in the Lau Group of Islands.   

We were sailing along with our buddies Tim and Jerri Miller who sail their brand new Atlantic 47 Agility.  This amazing catamaran is either a schooner or a ketch.  Nobody really knows because the rig is so new fangled.  What she has is two foiled masts like wings, from which two club footed staysails are carried with electric roller furling.  The boat can sail under the masts alone because they are each airfoils that produce lift like sails.  The result is almost push-button sailing from the forward cockpit.

Tim and Jerri took some incredible sunrise photos of Moonshadow that morning, for which we are so grateful.

It's so rare to have a picture of your own boat sailing, 
but to get these with the lighting was just awesome.

Plotting our track on the Google Earth site made us realize how big this Pacific Ocean really is.  And how much water we've put under Moonshadow's keel in the last few months.

Our landfall was Savusavu, a bustling one street town with a yacht harbor that draws all the yachts passing through Fiji.  This is the nearest port of entry for yachts arriving from the east of Fiji, so that explains most of the boats here. 
Moonshadow was the 157th boat to check in through Savusavu this year.

The harbor is just jam packed with cruisers.  Moonshadow was too big for the available moorings, so we took a slip at the Copra Shed Marina.  The slips were just 30 feet long, so we Med-moored with our anchor out in the channel, and our stern lines tied to the Savusavu Yacht Club.

After cruising through remote islands Savusavu offers the opportunity to shop for things you haven't seen in a while, and it seems you can find almost anything you need here...

...including Fiji water.

Along with Agility and our other buddies Mark and Deanna aboard Speakeasy, which had arrived in Savusavu a week earlier, we made a formidable team to tackle sight seeing, eating and drinking. 

The hike to the top of the hill was a good way to work off all the calories and take in the view.

Soon Tim and Jerri had arranged a day of sight seeing in two taxis.  First stop was the copra processing plant.  Here the girls are studying hard for the expected quiz at the end of the tour.

Next up was a hike to a waterfall, but first we stopped to pay tribute to the local village that owns the waterfall.  Through centuries the land has been held by tribes and tradition is to first gain permission to visit.  This is done by presenting a gift of kava to the Chief.  This time, because it was early in the morning and the village men were still in bed, instead of the Chief, we got an elder woman who performed the ceremony.

Accepting the gift of Kava equates to giving permission to join the village, swim in the water, anchor in the bay, hike on the beaches, the whole nine yards.  If the gift is refused, that means we are tonight's dinner.  

You know how this ends:  We hiked up to the waterfall through some really lush country...

... stopping to admire the vivid colors...

...then there it was, spilling into a cool pool of clear fresh water.

Check another waterfall off the list.  By our count this is the fourth waterfall hike we've shared with Mark and Dee.

The day long tour finished with a visit to a Hindu temple and a huge lunch.

Back at the marina, we realized we'd better make plans to visit some of the surrounding islands and bays.  Our friends were leaving for the western coast of Viti Levu, the largest of the Fijian islands, while we planned to head east.

Heading east anywhere in the tropics is never a great idea, as Sojourn demonstrates here.

But Moonshadow just plows on through this kind of seaway and in a few hours we found ourselves in the lee of Taveuni, Fiji's third largest island.

Across the channel from Taveuni we found Viani Bay, which appears to offer great protection from weather approaching from any point on the compass.

Speaking of weather, we also found ourselves right under a stationary front which produced rain, clouds and gloom for a few days, reminding us of Tonga.

But, snug in our cockpit we watched this family traverse the span between a small island and the larger island across a sand spit that is knee deep at low tide and overhead at high tide.

This family picked the right time to head home after a day visiting and fishing.

Eventually, we carried on to the north to Albert Cove on the north end of Rabi Island.  Like most of the anchorages here, the water is deep everywhere except along the shore where it quickly transitions from well over 100 feet to 30-40 feet sand with coral bommies, to solid coral that dries at low tide.

A small challenge which rewards with spectacular views.

It was here that the weather turned from crud to "fine".  In these parts when the weatherman says it will be "fine" the picture below is what he means.

There is just one family that lives here in Albert Cove.  This mother's (we forgot her name) Great great grandfather was relocated here from his ancestral home of Banaban by the British in the early 1900s.  Banaban, maybe 600 miles to the north, is is not part of Fiji but rather belongs to the Republic of Kiribati.  The relocation was done when Banaban was rendered uninhabitable by phosphate mining operations.

The family (Mother and Dad, children ages 3, 2, and 1; grandmother and an aunt) has some pigs, chickens and plentiful fruit growing in the lush surroundings...

... but not much else...

... unless you count the fact that where they live, it's paradise!

The last night before the stationary front moved out provided the sunset that just kept giving.  It started out looking like a potential dud, but then...

... the ever changing sky yielded a tapestry of colors and textures that lasted...

... long past the actual setting of the sun.

On our return to the south, we stopped for another night in beautiful Viani Bay.  The next morning the air was so still and the water mirror smooth.  We had to delay our departure just to take it all in.

Besides raw beauty, Viani Bay has Charmaine and Jovan.  Charmaine appears at Moonshadow's stern in her kayak where Jovan climbs up the ladder and makes himself at home in the cockpit.  

After all, who can resist this face?

If you can believe her story, Charmaine is 15, and her son is three.  Her mother died last year and her father left to Savusavu for work.  So Charmaine offers fruit to all the yachties for money.  My guess is that with her story and Jovan's face, none of the yachties refuse.  We didn't.

Things could be worse.  Charmaine and Jovan live here.

And they are under the constant watch of these ancient faces...

... and this guy.

With the weather finally cooperating, Deb is taking in the beauty of another fine sunset.  John is just taking in the beauty.

And just after sunset, by simply turning our chairs 180 degrees we were treated to a beautiful harvest moon rise.

So now we're back in Savusavu for dinner, some supplies, and an internet fix.  Then it's off to Fiji phase 2:  the western side of Fiji where we'll explore the Wasaba islands.