Cruising the South Pacific with Tackless II
Tackless II, along with her two captains, Don and Gwen, cruise from Fiji to Australia
Sunday, May 25, 2008
25 May 2008 - The 2Cs Play Hookey!
We are playing hookey! Our Vuda friend Jim on the Hallberg Rassey 49' FLIGHT invited us kind of at the last minute on Saturday to hop aboard for a weekend out at Musket Cove. Jim has been trying to get out of Vuda Marina for weeks! Always something kept him yet another day, the last of which was the 'desertion" of one of his volunteer crew, the attractive young Ruth, who flew back to New Zealand upon the death of her uncle. Both Ruth and Bob arrived in Fiji (about the same time we did) expecting to hop aboard and take off. The inevitable boatyard delays have been very frustrating for all of them. So, having the two captains along to help troubleshoot some lingering system issues (not to mention do the cooking!) has been a nice thing for them. I am fairly sure they would be thrilled to have us come along for the trip to Vanuatu,( since they are down to the two of them), on which they need to soon leave, but I think we will restrain ourselves.

Both of us, however, really needed the break. We've been at this yard work effort for a month now! Believe it or not Willie, the painter, was aiming to shoot the first coat of primer Saturday afternoon. I think perhaps Willie PAID Jim to seduce us away. Almost surprisingly, Don came!

It was a beautiful trip over to Musket (although the wind was on the nose, of course), and we had a nice reunion with several friends here, a reprise of our morning walk around the island this morning, and we will be on hand for the first Sunday night barbecue at Musket's Ratu Nemani Island tonight! Last night in FLIGHT's unfamiliar galley I cooked up a nice dnner that seemed to please the guys (I was thrilled with a head of romaine that I turned into a right passable Caesar salad) and we had croissants from the Musket bakery for breakfast! Our palates and bellies are happy, plus Don had the best night's sleep he's had since we've been back to Fiji, even if it was in separate bunks in the V-berth. There's nothing like a rocking boat and a fresh sea breeze!

FLIGHT will head back to Vuda Tuesday morning and we will be back at work soon enough. When we get there Willie will be at work on the hard top and sanding and fairing the first rounde of primer, and with luck we will see the rest of the primer and maybe even final paint the next week, weather permitting.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008
20 May 2008 -- Week Three – Progress!
An attribute crucial to sane cruising is the ability to remain relaxed and flexible in the face of on-marching time, circumstances and weather, which leads directly to the cruiser's golden rule: "Never have a schedule". Don and I are usually pretty laid back about such things…why we have taken nine years to do what some manage in two! And life here at Vuda wouldn't be too bad – what with the nice room, movies three nights a week, live jazz on Sundays at the Yacht Club, internet via the broadband card, someone else cooking meals, and plenty of interesting conversation…..if it just weren't for two constraints: every day costs $$$, and every day ticks off against our time limit in the country.

When Monday rolled around last week and we woke to a resumption of rain, it looked like we were going to have a rerun of the previous week. I mean, how much sanding can one cockpit take!?! In reality, the rain must have been lighter, because by the time we reached the boat four guys in blue dust suits with masks and sanders were working away on Tackless II's hull! It was as though we had climbed up to a new plateau of commitment, and every day such great strides were made in grinding, filling and sanding that we actually believed it when Willie said Friday that he thought his team would be taping and spraying primer by the following Tuesday (today).

No such luck! After another beautiful weekend during which Don and I worked hard on the deck digging out old caulking and cleaning, replacing and re-bedding rusty bolts and screws to be ready for the paint, damned if the rain clouds haven't rolled in again on Monday. This time it's heavy enough that there's little point in the guys even coming to work. We went in light rain early this morning to the café to Skype Tiffany on her birthday but were driven to shut down and pack up when a cloudburst rolled through with big winds driving the wet into the café's seating area.

Some highlights of the week for those who care: Don got the windlass off the deck after he discovered the keyway in its drive shaft was contorted. Brian of Baobab took it up to their shop, and when Don went to check on it this morning, Brian already had it taken apart into dozens of pieces. The boys had already sanded the metal part down for repainting, so, when Brian is done with it, it should be like new.

Then there was the day Don poked his head out from below to find the guys stripping the paint off the teak caprails. This is the colored epoxy we put on in Mexico over three layers varnish to seal the wood.. We thought the plan – conceived to make things really simple for painting – was to just spray over the old paint. But Willie grew concerned that putting two-part paint over our old one-part paint might not hold, so now they are stripping it, resealing it (with a better product) and THEN will come the paint. The good news is that the layers of varnish laid on five yeas ago have in fact protected the teak! We could varnish her right up...but we won't! The paint has been so much easier to care for!

A highlight that was a bit of a lowlight was the discovery Saturday morning of some voids in the original lay-up, undetected until now, that once discovered have to be fixed. Old Tacky II is gonna be better than new when she comes out of here…of course, that's if we ever get out of here! The enthusiastic optimism of last Friday is somewhat dampened, and it doesn't help that all around us boats are launching and leaving, while three of our cohorts from last season have already arrived back to Musket Cove from New Zealand. The season is getting underway without us! Waaaannnh!

It has not been all work and no play. We have had several home-cooked meals on friends' floating boats. Peter of Otama Song made us a big dinner of spaghetti, while Ruth made her debut in Flight's galley with a sumptuous dinner of chicken and mashed potatoes topped with salad and finished off with homemade lemon-papaya sorbet! Sunday the lowering clouds held off long enough that we had time to get cleaned up and enjoy a couple of hours of Fiji Fusion, a really fine live band that plays alternate Sunday afternoons at the Yacht Club. Despite being stiff and sore from the day's work, we recovered enough energy to dance along with Rod and Shirley of Sundowner while most of the locals looked on!

The forecast calls for today's heavy rain to taper off tomorrow, and then, by golly, for a longish stretch of dry weather. Please, let's hope so. Our Ark is not ready to float!

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Week Two - The Destructo King and the Yard Princess
You may recall my mentioning that the weather our first week in Fiji was consistently hot and sunny? And I predicted more of same? Well, you can delete that. No sooner than the work on Tackless II was due to start last week than the rains began. Monday morning during breakfast the pessimistic captain predicted no one would show up to work. The optimistic captain...was...well.... more hopeful. Imagine the pessimistic captain's surprise when we cleared the gate and there were three workers hard at work sanding.....all three in the covered cockpit!

Tackless II is a big boat to sand when you can't use your electric sanders and you are working instead with small squares of sandpaper. Don says the guys reminded him of the animated "scrubbing bubbles" of TV ad fame, kind of following one behind the other over much the same territory. However, the rain did ease off a couple of times long enough to let the guys emerge from the cockpit to work on the foredeck and cabintop some, and by the end of the week they had pretty much covered the whole boat. It was a traumatic moment when the artwork on the bows and stern disappeared (documented by photograph for the artists to replace...we hope). There is still lots to do -- specifically all the hatches, hatch coamings and compartment lids, as well as lots of stress cracks to grind out and fill. But there has definitely been progress. Don has a running banter going with Willie, who is in charge of both the bottom and the paint jobs, ticking down the days of Willie's promised month for both. Willie just smiles....

The steady rain did bring one bonus. Richard, the oft-in-demand fiberglass specialist, was not able to work outside, so he was free to tackle a major inside project for Don, including glassing in the new backing plates for the thru-hulls.

In between excavating all the nooks and crannies for Richard to fiberglass, Captain Destructo himself has been hard at work ripping out the plywood liner backing our bed on the inside of the transom. Years of mysterious leaks had pretty well rotted this wood away, and the liner Don had covered it up with ten years ago was stained with rust streaks. The leading plan now is to fill and fair the back wall and paint it white. We are especially optimistic about this since Richard added a layer of glass to the wet locker above, which we THINK has put an end to those mysterious leaks (seeing as we've been able to test it with all the rain!) Don has also been busy in the aft head removing the toilet plumbing for its biennial beating to remove the calciferous build-up therein. He also took the chance to move the toilet an inch inboard so its lid will stay up better.

What has the Yard Princess been doing during this time? Well between the rain, the fiberglass dust, and the Fijian workers there really was no place for me on board. So, in between running loads of work clothes through the washer and drier, I spent most of the week perched on our hotel room bed laboring away furiously on the computer. I have produced three pieces for my Admiral's Angle column, thereby buying me some breathing room on my deadlines and begun some interviews and note-taking for a couple of other article ideas. Quite truthfully, I think both captains are pleased with this arrangement!

Wednesday did give us a day's respite from rain, so I made a trip into town to deposit more US $ into our local account. These dollars were the 20s Don so painstakingly collected from daily visits to the ATM in the States. It added up to quite the stack, which would have been embarrassing enough had they stayed neatly together, but when they erupted from my hands in a cascade at the international teller window, it made me feel like a drug dealer or counterfeiter! The best part about the trip to town was getting our Vodafone broadband card reactivated so that we have Internet right in the room. Sadly, the card does not permit voice Skype like the WiFi connection up at the cafe. We've had a lot of fun Skyping people from the cafe while we eat lunch or sip decaf cappucinos. The connections have been like we're next door! ( I even indulged in a long chat with Captain Rob and Barbara in Saba on Mother's Day!)

mv Doulos

While on that trip to town, Jim of Flight, with whom I was sharing the taxi, wanted to make a stop at the mv Doulos, "the world's largest floating bookstore,"( which was tied up to Lautoka's main wharf. We had been hearing quite a bit about her on the radio. A venerable old vessel built just a few years after the Titanic in 1914 in Newport News, Rhode Island, the Doulos is "the world's oldest active ocean-going passenger vessel". At 130 meters in lengthwith a beam of only 16.6 meters, she is a long and narrow 6818 gross tons! She started life as a freight steamship, but was converted to a passenger ship in 1948. In 1952, she was acquired by the Costa cruise line and her steam engine replaced with a huge 18 cylinder double-acting deisel engine. In this guise she cruised between Itlay and Argentina and later the Mediterranean. She became the Doulos in 1977/78.

Although I didn't know for sure before visiting the ship, I had rightly guessed she was a Christian charitable endeavor. Except for a large section of children's books and a diverse cooking section, the majority of the books for sale had a Christian motif. The ship's mission, as stated on the website, is to "visit port cities throughout the world, supplying vital literature resources, encouraging inter-cultural understanding, training young people for more effective life and service, promoting greater global awareness, providing practical aid and sharing a message of hope in God wherever there is opportunity."

The crew (including the captain) are all volunteers coming from 156 countries, who sign on for a two year stint, paying about $6000/year for their room and board. It is not luxurious living, and they all work hard on onboard jobs. Our tour of the vessel was led by a relatively new young Dutch crewmember. He was hard put to answer out nautical questions (like what kind of engine she now had...a question we were able to answer for ourselves in the engine room), but he was eager to show us all the pictures of their good deed doing.

The Weekend

Come Saturday, of course, the rain stopped. For some reason, nary a worker showed up for the Saturday half-day. When the "skilled" workers are absent, suddenly the old Admiral is in demand again. I got a lot of brownie points by solving in five minutes a plumbing problem that had kept Don up fretting half the night. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes is more important than skill! Don and I then spent the rest of the weekend cleaning up and removing all the remaining hardware and equipment from the deck and hatches in anticipation of a big push this week.

However, guess what? It's Monday and its raining again, and the forecast is for more all week!

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Saturday, May 3, 2008
About Boatyards and Boer Goats!
How fast a week has gone by! We have fallen into quite a routine, staying awake a little later each night and rising a bit later each morning. We try to fit a short walk in each morning before our complimentary breakfast at the resort, at which we tend to eat way more than we should because it is free. Lunch is invariably at the Marina Cafe because it is cheap and tasty AND they have free WiFi as well as washing machines around the corner. Sadly, dinner is an unreliable meal. Our only choices are either the resort -- which has a two-for-one pizza night on Mondays and Fridays (popular with the boaties) and a reasonably affordable bar menu other nights -- or the Vuda Yacht Club which definitely has the atmosphere, but rather disappointing cuisine. The options are already seeming old. I am not cooking on board because we decided to go ahead with the paint job for Tackless II, so it makes no sense to clean everything up and stock the fridge and shelves only to have to shut down as they sand the fiberglass etc.

Don has spearheaded great progress on the boat. The day after the last update, he and David managed to get all the through-hulls out, a project that had had Don stressing for weeks. As often is the case, what he stresses over most goes unexpectedly smoothly. It was still a lot of work, and Don was hugely grateful for David's help.

Unfortunately, David is back at work on Jim's boat Flight for the next week or so, so Don has had to make do with me. Together we have gotten the boat emptied out into a trailer our contractor Baobab Marine has lent us, plus we have stripped a lot of hardware off the deck, including the main and staysail boom,the compressor and deck storage box (which has never been off before) and the dinghy. The deck was a mess with the debris of six months of leaves and a blue tarp that had distintegrated into blue threads. Cleaned up she actually looked pretty good; maybe we don't need to paint, said Don! Not quite. Besides the sanders are already hard at work.

We've managed several improvements in the working conditions. We got our big awning from Trinidad out and hoisted over the foredeck as well as the one we had built in Mexico to hang over the aft deck. Also, we did a deal with a departing cruiser for their air conditioner, of which we finally took possession yesterday. After working hard for 24 hours it has cooled the boat down at least fifteen degrees and sucked out a ton of humidity which drains away through a hose shoved down the scupper at a rate approaching a small faucet. With luck T2's doors will close again someday!

Socially, it's also been a lively time. Jim of Flight has had two crew fly in and occupy the last two discounted rooms at the resort. Ruth is an attractive and interesting young woman who grew up in England but who has been living in New Zealand the past four years. She is taking this adventure, her first open water sailing experience, as a break from her career as a geneticist! Bob is a retired fellow from Rochester, NY, who instead of buying his own cruising boat has made a hobby of crewing on other people's boats. This will be his fourth crew passage...the last one being a trip from the Horn to Buenos Aires! The five of us generally dine together and then divide up for the day, although Ruth and I have made several trips to town together.

The biggest distraction of the week began when Don looked up from lunch one day and noticed Joe and Julie (of Palmlea Farm in Vanua Levu where we spent so much time last season) standing at the fuel dock gazing across the basin of the marina. They were, they said, wondering if we might be here. Since Tackless II is poised broadside at the opposite rim (sitting on jackstands, she towers over the other yachts moored or still in pits),, it's hard to imagine how there could be any doubt. Joe and Julie and their farm manager Ravine were in town to meet an Air New Zealand flight coming in from Australia the next evening bringing them 60+ Boer Goats, their latest enterprise for Palmlea. ( as well as other links found under Palmlea Farms!)
Boer goats are larger and meatier than their run-of-the-mill cousins, and this project is a big deal, not just for Joe and Julie (who, in their seventies, might supposed to be retiring!!!), but for Fiji agriculture in general. Joe had a big press kit prepared and the relevant ministers of the Fiji government were all over it. Unfortunately, it was impractical for us all to troop down to the airport to see the goats' actual arrival, but we did all cab to the Lautoka Wharf Thursday to see them transhipped by truck to the Westerland ferry for an overnight ride to Savusavu and thence over the mountains to their new home at Palmlea. They looked hot, tired, uncertain goats. Joe and Julie and the Fijian government have an ambitious breeding plan planned. Ravine is proud as punch.

Also in the small world department, our friend Peter of Otama Song sailed in from Tonga for some yard work before sailing home to Australia. In the process of hailing him, I borrowed a radio from a boat in the marina, and then got talking to the owner, who had worked in the liveaboard dive business for a number of years as I did. In his case, he had worked for the Aggressor dive fleet. As we worked through the roster of people we knew in common (most of them former Tropic Bird crew) it turned out that he'd been crew on Lammer Law at the same time as I was on the Aquanaut ships, at which point we realized we'd met! Interestingly, he was closing his sailboat up to return to work as a cruise ship captain with Royal Caribbean! That's the biggest jump I have ever heard of for former dive yachties!

And so it goes here in Paradise. The weather has been consistently hot and sunny, except for a bit off rain and wind night before last which brought us a bit cooler weather this weekend. thenext few weeks will probably be more of same...but never fear! I will keep you updated!

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On the ground, running!
Considering we have barely been back 24 hours, a lot has been happening. We hardly had our suitcases aboard when the Travelift came and hoisted us out of the pit (and more importantly out from under the tree we didn't want to under in the first place!) to jackstands in the main part of the yard. This morning the guys are already at work on the bottom, which is looking pretty dry!

On the ground we met another cruiser with his boat on the hard who had worked a MOST ATTRACTIVE DEAL at the resort next door. In a small building that used to be the dive shop (from our first visit here three years ago!),First Landing Resort has created four small rooms with bath, fridge, coffeepot and AIRCONDITIONING that they are renting to people in the yard for very cheap weekly rate. It even comes with breakfast! It is less than 100 feet from the boat! Such a deal. So we moved our clothes right back off again. Man did we get a good night sleep last night.

At 5 am when we were up considering the world this morning, we discussed whether our decision not to paint Tackless, made in the gloom of US market worries might have been a bad call. The Fiji dollar has only gained 3 cents on its old exchange rate against the US dollar, and things will never be cheaper anywhere down the road. Business is slow in the yard and willie says he can paint the whole boat in three weeks! Even using the "boatyard factor" and doubing that time, makes very feasible. and our old girl sure needs it!

Then Jim, the guy who hooked us up with the room deal also has a day worker David he uses outside Willie's guys for other jobs. David makes $8F an hour. That's about $5.50! Jim will be leaving in ten days, so we can inherit David after that. Since the painters are working on Jim's boat today, we have David today starting on cleaning Don's tools which have molded and rusted. My job will be to get the galley back in working order so we can eat at least some meals aboard, and then start from the aft cabin and work forward cleaning. Oh joy. But I have an airconditioned room to retreat to in the heat of the afternoon to catch up on my column, a deadline for which is coming up fast. Gotta get ahead, and this will be a good time to do it.

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The 2008 Season Begins!
To all who care, the two captains are safely back to Vuda Point Marina, Fiji. Thanks to our extra night (thank you, Ray) in Oakland and a relatively empty plane across the Pacific, we have arrived much fresher than we usually feel. The weather this morning is lovely, pleasantly cool as the sun rose over the mountains...but it is warming up now. We need to excavate some shorts. All our bags made it, with the only shadow on the whole trip being that they got us for some duty. first time ever...but inevitable, and Don and the customs officer danced nicely together and got it down to a less painless amount! Tackless is opened up and we are waiting for the cafe to open for some morning coffee. I'm sure there will be more to tell soon!

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