Yasawa Part 3: Power Struggle

rain on a sailboat, sv cavalo

Immediate agendas are generally not discussed much amongst sailors. The bigger picture, sure, but the short term is better left to circumstance. It’s pretty much a guarantee that any attempt to stick to a schedule will leave you feeling like things didn’t go ‘according to plan’, so we tend to make a general outline and then take it day by day.

After leaving the mantas we jumped up to Blue Lagoon to hunker down; the forecast was for a few days of rain, so we figured we’d sit it out there and continue north once the skies cleared. Fortunately we still had good visibility when we rounded into the pass, because the entry to the lagoon is an absolute minefield. We did a series of sharp turns as reefs seemed to appear out of nowhere, and after dropping the hook we sat and watched some following boats do the same; others sailing about the area had arrived for similar reasons. The anchorage in Blue Lagoon is one of the most protected in the Yasawa, and the yacht club has a basic shop, showers, and some local attractions that we could take advantage of in the meantime, so for a stretch of grey days things were looking pretty good.

There’s a delightfully picturesque hike up and over the ridge to the village on the other side, even in the rain, and we encountered Lo along the way. She’s a tall Fijian woman with big features, and when she spotted us from several meters away, she stretched her arms wide and exclaimed “Hello! I’m Lo!” She was on her way to tend her crops, but pointed us in the direction of her beachfront Tea House in the village where we sat down for fresh lemon tea and some cake, watching the waves gently lap the shore just steps away. We needed more food, though, and the shop back at the yacht club was woefully barren of produce.

We’d been given some insider information on a nearby farm that would possibly sell some of their bounty, so we put on our sulus and rain jackets and ventured off to the neighbouring island. It’s a few miles by dinghy, and only accessible at high tide, but once you find the entrance into the mangroves a winding channel leads you right to the steps of the farm. They go up up into the jungle, slippery from the rain and mud. Two of the family’s children, Millie and Duncan, spotted us first and came screaming, literally, down from the hills with their dog to meet us. They led us to the crops where we met their mother, and she promptly began filling our bags with all the things we love: tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, bok choi, aubergine, radishes, herbs, eggs. The farm was massive, terraced, lush and beautiful. We bought enough to get us through the northern end of the Yasawa, and attempted fishing on the way back to the boat. Guess what? No fish…

Blue Lagoon, though somewhat touristy for our liking, provides a good base for a handful of activities in the immediate area. I could go on about paddle boarding the lagoon, fishing in the pass (we actually hooked something for a second but lost it), or late nights at the yacht club watching rugby. But really what I would be doing is avoiding the part where everything started to go wrong. The part where our adventure through the Yasawa came to an abrupt end.

A year and a half ago, back in Opua, our old batteries finally gave out and we had to get new ones. Batteries are *really* not cheap, but a friend of a friend who was a rep for a battery manufacturer managed to get us some at wholesale. We didn’t know anything about the brand, it being a relatively new one, but they were made in China and deceitfully affordable. They actually worked beautifully for the time that we had them. We made sure they never got too low and regularly gave them a good strong charge. There was no significant decline in performance that indicated failure. Alas, the morning after we stocked up on veg, I woke at 5am to the battery monitor reading 11.3V. If you don’t know much about batteries, I can tell you that those are really bad numbers to see. The inverter was off, nothing had been left on overnight save for the fan in our room. We made a silent apology to the anchorage and fired up the engine. The alternator kicked into gear and the batteries started accepting a charge, so we let her run for several hours hoping we could set things right. However, once shutting down ol’ Mr. Perkins, our hopes of a simple recharge dropped away with the rapidly declining voltage. We borrowed a generator and let it run for four more hours. The batteries again tried to hold a charge, but once unplugged it was becoming clear something was amiss. We checked connections, looked for leaks, turned off absolutely everything.

By this point we thought ourselves lucky that we could even start the engine (our isolated start battery was more or less fine) so we made the call to head back towards town where we could plug in at a dock and figure everything out. Fortunately the weather had cleared; there wasn’t much of a breeze, but we could see the reef well and running the engine gave us a chance to charge devices and keep the fridge cold. Still, it was a rough morning. Matt was wracking his brain about what could be wrong, I was bemoaning my botched escape from Musket. But then! Zzzzzzzzzing! What is this? The fishing line went out at lightning speed and the rod was so bent I was sure it would snap. We slowed the boat and Matt started reeling. Whatever was on the other end of the line was big, and I was convinced it was the dreaded Skipjack that we’re so sick of. Even with our lousy luck lately, it’s possible we’d have thrown back a Skipjack. Silvery stripes shimmered below the surface of the water and we both let out a hoot. I grabbed the gaff and together we brought on board an impressively sized Walu. Walu being the Fijian name for the Narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel, and boy are they tasty. Butchered, bagged, back on course. Even with the past days’ battery blunders, we were feeling pretty high and psyched to throw some giant fish steaks on the grill back at the Island Bar. Oh, life, don’t bring me down now… girl catches spanish mackerel walu sailing

We were back in the Mamanucas, so we called up the Musket Cove Yacht Club and secured a spot on the dock. It was getting a bit later in the day, but we were steaming along glassy water and would easily get there before dark. Assuming the engine kept running, that is. Just as we entered the reef pass the tachometer wound back to zero, and, silence. We’re super embarrassed about it, but we did it. We ran out of fuel. We’d both been meaning to check the level, and we even had 80 litres on deck, but somehow it all got forgotten with everything else going on. But back to the matter at hand. Here we were, in a reef pass. There was no wind and the water was as calm as could be, so we scrambled to get the diesel we had on deck into the tank and then proceed with the line-bleeding. Another lesson here for those that don’t know much about diesel engines: you don’t run out of fuel. You just don’t do it. It’s not like a petrol engine where you just fill it back up and off you go. No, no, no. Air gets into the lines and it needs to come out. This involves topping up filters, operating a manual lift-pump, and sequentially opening and bleeding all the fuel valves and lines until there’s nothing but diesel in there. We’d done it before (after replacing filters, not running out of fuel) so we thought maybe we could get the engine up and running in ten to twenty minutes, but something wasn’t working. The manual lift pump had failed, and we didn’t have enough battery power to keep cranking over the engine to get the fuel to the injectors. We drifted closer and closer to the reef. Left with no other choice, we dropped the anchor and called for help.

Two familiar longboats appeared from behind Malolo Island. We were able to fashion a bridle to the bow and get the anchor up quickly, and for the first (and hopefully last) time in Cavalo’s history, we got towed. We averaged about 4.5 knots along the way, which was faster than expected, but it still took long enough for it to be pitch black by the time we were in the marina. We med-moored under the power of the two longboats; a somewhat graceless dance that had our neighbours chucking out fenders and ready to grab lines. In the end we secured Cavalo without incident and offered half our catch and a bit of cash to the boys who rescued us.

towing a sailboat with a fijian longboat
Cavalo gets her first tow. Big “Vinaka Vakalevu” to the boys who came out and got us during what turned out to be a holiday…

Why so few pictures of this ridiculous event? The camera stopped working. Go figure. Looks like we’ve got a few projects ahead of us.

Cruiser’s Notes:

Blue Lagoon:

  • Approach to the anchorage is a MINEFIELD. Do not trust charts, or even others’ tracks. Keep a sharp eye and only navigate in good visibility.
  • The anchorage itself is great, though deep. Anchor in 20 meters. Sand.
  • Nanuya Island Resort is very open to cruisers. Small shop, bar with food menu (though the two times we tried to get food there the kitchen was inexplicably closed) and hands down the best showers in Fiji at $5 a head.
  • Apparent laundry service, though we didn’t explore it.
  • Go to Lo’s. Ask about lunch.

* These notes are offered as observations only and are not meant for navigational purposes.

1 Comment

  1. good share ! Like how humble you are .. and what a reel in ! Good timing considering the chance to share half to the long boater rescuer’s .. bet they sold lots of folks back home bout crossing paths with you .. Like the title Angels In Blue.. the Mackerel and blue long boat !

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