Malolo Lailai, Fiji
October 30, 2012Done now with Suva, I headed out for another overnight sail. This time it was a bit further. Actually a day-nigh-day sail. And there was absolutely no wind. And none was forecast for the next few days. I ended up motorsailing most of the way with only a couple hours of actually sailing.
Departing Suva I had to contend with a fleet of Chinese longliner fishing boats that also decided this was a great time to exit the harbor.
Chinese Longliner departing Suva
Galena's track from Suva to Musket Cove, Fiji
From Google Earth, the reefs around Musket Cove
From the Yachtsman's Guide to Fiji, the reefs around Musket Cove
I ran down into the cabin and opened the engine compartment. I switched the fuel supply valve from the port tank to the starboard tank. That should fix it. But it didn't. The engine was still running, but sputtering and surging as if starved for fuel. I looked at the reefs close by. I looked at the depth sounder. It read 180 feet. Too deep to anchor. But maybe I should prep the anchor for a quick release. Maybe I should raise a sail to at least give me some semblance of control if the engine dies.
I went forward and prep'd the anchor for a quick drop. I pulled the sail ties off the staysail and released the hold-down at the stay.
The engine continued to sputter. Wait... It sounded a little better for a second. Then better still. Finally, slowly, it smoothed out. I was back to speed and heading in to the harbor.
Passing the last reef mark before turning in toward the yachts moored in front of the Musket Cove Resort I called on the VHF and asked for mooring instructions. "Just pick up any mooring you like and come in and see us when you get settled." I found one that wasn't too close to the other boats. Which meant it wasn't too close to the resort, also. I had no problem picking up the mooring. There was no painter just a heavy loop and about three feet of line above the mooring ball.
Once I was secured my friends Ernie and Charlene (s/v Lauren Grace) came by to say, "hi." After a brief chat they gave me a ride in to shore and Ernie took me around to introduce me to everyone and show me what was where. Having been up all night I barely remembered what he was saying. So I soon went back to Galena to put her to bed and then do the same with myself. After a nap I launched my dinghy and found my way to the little island bar at the entrance to the marina.
The "Island Bar" with Galena at her mooring to the far right
The "Island Bar" with Vasiti and Lavinia. At one time this was called the $2-Bar (Just about everything cost $2). By the time I got here it was called the $5-Bar. When I left it was up to $5.50-Bar
Some of my good friends, Chris and Paul, at my favorite place.
Me doing what I do best: harassing the tourists
I decided to stay here for the cyclone season.
One of the comfortable places to hang out at Musket Cove is the Trader. It's the small cafe and general store. A large porch surrounds the building with nice views and constant breezes.
Charlene, her friend, Linda, and Ernie (s/v Lauren Grace) on the porch at the Trader
There are two ferries that make 4-times a day runs to the mainland (near Denarau, Fiji). While I was there they hauled Cat II out for maintenance.
The main ferry that runs between Musket Cove and the mainland of Fiji
The newest of the Malolo Cat ferries being built near Malolo Lailai Airfield
The hardest working boat in Fiji: m/v Bili Bili
From the ridge line looking down on Armstrong island and the cyclone hole
Musket Cove. Z-Galena's mooring, B-Island Bar, X-Galena's Cyclone Spot, Y-Galena's promised spot
On the 18th of November 2012 we received word of a possible cyclone heading our way. Forecasts were calling for winds over 40 kts. I told Patrick I wanted to come in and asked where my new position was. He said he'd put me up against the walkway bridge leading to Armstrong Island. This was the place normally reserved for the BiliBili barge. But he was not coming in for this storm and I was welcome to tie up there.
First we moved s/v Lauren Grance into position. Ernie had done this before so I just assisted by handling lines for him.
Then we moved Galena into position.
Galena moving through the small draw bridge and to her cyclone spot against the Armstrong Island Bridge
Galena secured to the Armstrong Island Bridge
Galena about a foot out of the water at low tide
Within a couple of days I was back out on the mooring and everything had returned to normal. All in all it was just a nice practice run. Although now Patrick says my official spot will be just outside the drawbridge at the Malolo Cat dock. Good enough I guess.
Erie was sailing over to Denarau (on the mainland) and asked if I wanted to come along. Sure, why not? I was going over to buy some heavy line to use during the cyclones and he would be able to bring it back with ease.
Charlene and Ernie onboard s/v Lauren Grace
I hung out at the main tourist center at Denarau and partied a bit during the following weekend. They have the standard attractions such as a Hard Rock Cafe.
The ubiquitous Hard Rock Cafe, Denarau, Fiji
The main boardwalk looking out at the tourist ships that take people to the outer islands
Mooring field at Denarau. Lauren Grace is the cat right of center.
Look closely and you can see that the raft is completely stainless steel and fiberglass. In fact, everything that looks like wood is actually fiberglass.
Me playing Tom Hanks. In front of me is what's left of Wilson.
Crossing the end of the airstrip on the beach road
Rainbow over the mooring field at Musket Cove from the deck of Galena
Tree trimming from a scaffold on a forklift
Cyclone Evan - Monday, 17 December 2012
On 5 December I started seeing signs of a storm developing over the Solomons, several hundred miles west of here. The usual path for these storms is right down the island chain and then between Vanuatu and Fiji. Then they turn east and blow themselves out well south of Fiji.
This storm showed a different path. It was going to head directly west toward Samoa passing north of Fiji. Strange but it would still have little effect on us.
By 7 December the projected track showed a disturbing twist: The storm would hit Samoa and then stop, turn southwest and move directly toward Fiji. This was not good. Everyone started checking all the available web sites and weather sources. The projections said it would hit us on or about 16 December.
As we watched the various forecasts I noticed that the US Navy site (The Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC)) was the one the other sites followed. During the next few days the forecast changed constantly from - it's going to pass just west of us
- it's going to pass right over us
- it's going to pass just east of us
The forecasts wind speed and directions from WindGuru looked like this:
The sequence, top to bottom, of the forecasts we received
Galena tied up alongside the main dock. The island bar is just off to the right of this picture
Anyway, one of the expats, Dave, who runs Musket Cove's excursion boats took charge. He began directing who goes where. When I said I was worried about getting back to my spot if I waited too long, Dave understood. He directed me to a position just a few hundred feet down the dock from my assigned spot. As the ferry made it's last run evacuating the last of the tourists I moved into position and started securing Galena. I hauled my metal dinghy up on shore and put it behind a hedge and tied it to a tree.
Just about ready
The forecasts kept getting worse. This was now a Cat 3 and coming right for us. But the day before the storm we had a lovely sunset as we partied at the Island Bar. Little did we know that it would be the last party at that bar.
The day before Cyclone Evan. Sunset at the Island Bar
Cyclone Evan with Musket Cove circled
The barometer was dropping fast. Everyone was doing last minute checks of lines and fenders. I walked over to the cyclone hole behind Armstrong Island. Everything looked good on the couple of boats I was 'watching' for friends.
Gradually the winds climbed as the barometer fell. But the winds were from the SE. Throughout the afternoon they continued to build and slowly clock to the East. That put the winds on Galena's starboard quarter. The one place where I didn't have as many lines as I might have had. Galena rocked hard over with every gust. Remember I was below ground level. The wind hitting the rigging was rocking her 20-degrees!
I started to see leaves, coconuts, palm fronds and then whole trees blow by. The water was whipped to a mist in the little lake that made up the inner harbor (it was only 250 meters across and it was rough as a small lake).
The big ferry also on the dock just in front of me started to pull the dock away from it's mooring poles. I saw the crew out on the dock and on the land frantically passing more lines around trees and using 'come-alongs' to pull the big boat back against the dock. I was concerned since I, too, was tied to that dock. If the dock let go, I knew my few lines to the trees wouldn't hold Galena, the dock, and the big ferry. We'd all be swept out of the harbor and out to sea. I went out to help them. We were wearing dive masks so we could see. We got a couple more lines to the trees and managed to coax the ferry back into position.
About then one of the few lines from Galena's stern to the dock exploded. It was about 16-mm 3-strand nylon. But it was a bit old and it was way too short (no room to stretch). I wasn't too surprised by it's failure. What surprised me was the way the other lines (much longer as they went up to the trees on shore) stretched and let Galena swing about eight feet from the dock. Too far for me to jump off and run another line. I was seriously considering abandoning ship when the crew from the ferry ran up and tossed me a line. I secured it to Galena's stern cleat and they pulled us back to the dock. I was so thankful they were there to help.
Finally just before dark the wind suddenly let up. The eye of the cyclone was on us. The sky was bright white. The air was almost completely still. The barometer read 945mb. I've never seen it anywhere near that low before.
I went for a walk to check on things. The devastation was pretty amazing. I met John, the guy who runs the dive operation for Musket. He was checking his shop and surrounding buildings.
John checking his dive shop during the passage of the eye of cyclone Evan
Looking across to the Trader from Galena. This is the little harbor that's only a couple hundred yards across
I curled up on the port settee and fell asleep. I awoke many times and there was no change. Winds howling from the NW and Galena rocking against the fenders on the dock. Back to sleep.
At dawn I got up and surveyed the damages. Galena was in good shape. One solar panel had a broken hinge. The plywood steering vane had snapped off (I was unable to loosen the bolt that held it so left it) and one of her lines had snapped. I walked around and took a few pictures of the damage:
Galena after the storm
Looking across to Galena and the ferry
Banana trees stripped to almost nothing
Many trees were toppled over
The fuel dock was pretty much destroyed.
This is the Cyclone Evan Survivor's Club, Musket Cove, Fiji
The main wharf leading out the Island Bar was damaged. The power lines to the island were cut. So there would be no island bar drinks for a while. And I had to move right away since the Ferry had to start service. So I went back out to my mooring.
I talked with the owner of the resort, Will Smith, and asked when the docks and Island Bar would be repaired. He said Yachtie support was at the very bottom of his list. Maybe he'd get around to that stuff in May or June. This made me feel very unwelcome. I was no longer happy in this little corner of paradise.
I called my old friends Jeff and Jose on s/v Stravaig. They had recently arrived in Savusavu, Fiji. I expressed my displeasure with Musket Cove. They suggested that if I came back to Musket Cove the owner of the marina would put in a new cyclone mooring for me. I decided that I would head back to Savusavu as soon as I had a reasonable weather window.