Saturday, September 22, 2012

Excitement in Suva, Fiji

Having motored in the pass to Suva Harbor in cloudy weather with no winds, using Yannie, we set Rocky in 15-ft of mud just before 1100 Thursday morning 13 September. We had hailed Port Control to ensure permission to enter and the pass was clear, and once in Suva Harbor, hailed the Royal Suva Yacht Club as we had been told they would organize check in with Fijian officials. First they said 1400 then amended to 1500 for the officials to visit our vessel. No problem for us, that provided time to relax for a moment with post-passage drinks and snacks, dry some gear, and get down below spruced up for the visit. The weather was a bit crazy, downpouring one moment and brilliantly sunny with big fluffy clouds the next. We managed to put the drifter up to dry it and hang our foulies to nearly dry, then raced to pull them all in before the next downpour.

At just after 1400 three Fijian officials showed up in a boat organized by the yacht club. Though early, we were mostly ready, and unfortunately it started to pour the moment they boarded. One woman (handling both Customs and Immigration) and two men (Health and Quarantine) made themselves at home with both of Tao's table leaves up for maximum paperwork efficiency. We broke out a pineapple juice, having let the woman choose the flavor, and the three of them downed it as the paperwork flowed with carbon paper in duplicate. We were informed that Fiji charges the same entrance fees no matter what port you enter and they required payment right away. Since we were not allowed ashore to get Fijian money until checked in, we paid in US dollars; $165 for Health and Quarantine and $40 US for the Royal Suva Yacht Club for the organization and boat for the officials to come out to Tao in. Overall, the check-in procedures were quite painless and just after dark we fell into bed.

We got a solid hour of sleep before being rudely awakened to a strange grinding sound on our hull. We leaped out of bed and onto deck thinking, "Which of the boats has dragged down onto us?" Having never dragged ourselves, it was incomprehensible that we could have dragged, and in our foggy state, Chris remembers thinking "How did that boat get upwind onto us like this? Rocky obviously couldn't have dragged." As our foggy minds cleared, we realized that it was actually Tao's hull grinding into the chain of a boat downwind of us. Chris in his boxers, Shawn in a t-shirt and underwear and the other boat owner in his birthday suit, we relatively easily fended off Tao from a gratefully stout boat. Chris jumped to start Yannie (who for a heart-stopping moment sounded as if she wanted to stall) and immediately put us in reverse. We pulled away from the other sailboat, but toward shallows. Chris was seeing 8-ft depths as Shawn was at the bow dealing with our strangely limp chain grabber and pulling in chain which was near unfathomably not taut (which usually indicates that the anchor holding). We spent the next couple hours in the middle of the night with the winds up to 20-knots, motoring by the lights of the city in search of safe anchorage in a new-to-us area riddled with stakes marking submerged shipwrecks, shallows and rafted up moored fishing trawlers. On the third round (after pulling up a muck filled plastic bag on one of the haul ins) we felt confident with the set and commenced to ride out the winds with nearly 13:1 scope in 12-ft of water.

Indeed, we had dragged for the first time ever! Astounding as we had 8:1 scope out with what we thought was solid holding. This had been one of the rare times that we didn't dive on the set because (a) we wouldn't have been able to see in the murky water and (b) the water quality in Suva Harbor is highly suspect. Post drag discussion established that a combination of strangely gusty winds from a multitude of directions, swirly currents that may have wrapped our chain around itself, but it was most likely, Rocky catching up in trash on the bottom during one of the wind switches that led to us drag. The next morning we found in the past week alone there had been several dragging incidents, most going aground. At least the surrounds muck not reef rock, but still, this provided a less than ideal situation not conducive for restfulness. Overall, there was no damage to either boat, the situation was just a scary and stressful and ultimately a blow to our confidence. We suppose that there are two kinds of sailors those that have dragged and those that will. However, on a positive note, our recovery was stupendous, and really, isn't life all about the recovery?

With the less-than-ideal anchoring situation, we worked to get our To-Do list done efficiently. We spent six nights there in all, constantly doing internet tasks (which required visiting the local Vodafone office and purchasing a data stick with a SIM card that provided us wireless 3-G service for our first time since Hawaii), making several trips to the gargantuan market (we're talking mazes of stalls filled with apparently never ending vegetables), and enjoying the interesting mix of Melanesian and Indian cultures that make up Suva, the largest city and capitol of Fiji. In order to receive permission to cruise the outer islands of Fiji, one day we visited the Itaukei Affairs Board in the Great Council of Chiefs building next door to the President of Fiji's estate. The Fijian woman that dealt with us was wonderful and we met a Peace Corps volunteer (from Colorado) on her first day of work. The document we received was completely in Fijian, so hopefully it says nice things about our intentions. Additionally, we walked through town (Shawn pulling Chris into every store to look at dresses from Fijian to Indian in style), rode the bus home laden with fresh veggies, took a few taxi rides, ate some amazing Indian and Chinese food, spent some time with a fun singlehanded cruiser Riki on Guava Jelly, made a final trip to market to purchase kava for outer-island village sevusevu (in which we ask permission of the Chief to cruise the area), and finally went to the Customs office to receive costal clearance to leave Suva. We paid the yacht club for our time in the anchorage ($5 Fijian daily per person for anchoring and use of dinghy dock and shower facilities), took one more hot shower (the first hot freshwater showers we've had access to since March!) and on Thursday morning, again racing the weather, we pushed off for the outer island of Kadavu.

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