We Fixed the Watermaker!

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This is the happy sight that greeted me mid-afternoon today, a gauge indicating that our water maker was producing 42 gallons of sweet, tasty water per hour, a 75% increase over the machine’s throughput before it broke down 15 days ago.

This wound up being the longest, most complex repair job we’ve done to date on Sophie. Needless to say, I was an extremely happy man this afternoon.

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As I have mentioned in previous posts, the culprit behind the machine’s failure was this little black box, manufactured from white polycarbonate, called an “Energy Transfer Device (or “ETD”). It takes a stream of water coming out of a pump at 150 Pounds per Square Inch (PSI) and increases it to 650 PSI, which is enough force to strip the salt from salt water as the water is pushed through a special type of membrane. The good thing about this ETD approach is that it enables a cruising family to make water on their boat with a relatively low amount of power consumption. The bad thing is that it is a complicated design that is easily prone to failure and potentially quite expensive (or impossible) to repair. These are not good water maker design characteristics for a family that is about to embark on a 4,500 mile passage across some remote cruising grounds.

This last week we met a family that is cruising across the Pacific, and they had gone through five (5!) Sea Recovery water maker ETDs before they decided to ditch the design and head in another direction.

Jenna and I decided that after 2 ETDs we were ready to move on. Chris Dent, the Kiwi who installed our most recent ETD in February, suggested we redesign out water maker by replacing the ETD with a powerful pump that can push the seawater at a high pressure directly into the membrane, eliminating the need for a fancy and complicated set of pressure-increasing valves. It turns out that this big pump/simple design approach is what most boats out here do for their water makers. Since Sophie already has a 9kw diesel generator, we had the power plant to support this big pump approach.

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Chris was very cool and helpful and gave us a credit on the ETD we bought from him in February and then shipped up to Fiji a 2.5 horsepower high pressure pump, a new feed pump to supply water to the high pressure pump, along with some new sensors, coils, and valves. He also provided some design guidance on how to modify our existing Sea Recovery unit to support this new approach.

One of the challenges we faced is that the new high pressure pump has to be located right next to the membrane and the watermaker, and both of these are mounted behind Sophie’s starboard engine on a special shelf and mount under the aft transom steps.

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So we removed the ETD from the old water maker housing, moved the housing 6 inches forward on the shelf under the transom steps, and then mounted the new high pressure pump (which weighs about fifty pounds) on the back end of the shelf. To get it all to fit, I had to take a Dremel with a ceramic metal cutting blade and cut a hole in the back of the old water maker housing in order to create space for the new pump. I had to do all of this with my abdomen wedged under the shelf that is located under our transom steps.

Good thing I wasn’t alone.

IMG_1891Neil Towner, shown here with his lovely bride Wendy, was down there with me for a couple of days. He’s the Managing Director of Oceania Water Group in Fiji and supports most of the desalinization plants at the big resort hotels here. Neil and I were crammed together doing bilge yoga poses in an area about the third the size of a Gemini space capsule trying to get all of this stuff installed. (And if you are encountering water maker problems in Fiji, don’t waste your time. HIRE HIM.)

Installing the new feed pump was easier, because it could go into the bilge in our stateroom where the old feed pump was located. The new pump’s mounting plate fit directly onto the old pump’s mounting bolts.

Once we had everything mounted, it took us a while to get the wiring right. By using the old Sea Recovery’s electronics, we were adopting an approach where both pumps would try to start at the same time. This required too large on an electrical load from Sophie, and at various points during our testing we brought down our AC circuit breaker, our inverter, and even our generator.

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So we decided to deploy a staged approach where we turn on the water maker and feed pump first and THEN turn on the high pressure pump. I even installed a switch to do so. Problem solved. We also installed a manual valve that enables us to directly manipulate the amount of water the high pressure pump pushes through the membrane. At 750 PSI we were getting the 42 gallons per hour depicted above.

This was a really hard problem for us to solve. I feel bad for our friends Cathy and Melissa who had to endure a water-deprived Sophie Adventure Cruise, and for my daughter Sara and cousin Birgit who both had to change their travel plans due to our delayed departure for Vanuatu.

But all’s well that ends well. And the best thing about all of this?

I now know water makers.

Have I told you lately how lucky we are?

Back in Fiji!

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Hello everyone.

After a 7 week whirlwind tour of the United States, the four of us returned to Fiji and our beloved Sophie in the middle of August. It was the longest we had ever been away from the boat in over 6 years, and we were more than a little nervous when we arrived back at Musket Cove to check out how our home fared during our absence.

Fortunately, Sophie was moored exactly where we had left her! More importantly, the battery bank measured 13.3 volts, which is a bigger charge than when we left. It means that the solar panels and windmills worked really well and that we didn’t lose the freezer full of fish that we had left behind.

The boat had a bit of a musty smell. The watermaker wouldn’t start, the genset stopped with a low oil pressure fault, and the electric water heater didn’t work. Fortunately, we were able to sort most of these out right away. The water maker had some clogged filters, the genset diesel engine had a pinprick-sized hole in its oil filter, and the electric water heater was blowing fuses and I believe has suffered from internal corrosion. The first two were easy repairs, and we switched over to using our diesel heater to heat water. (Yes, Sophie has 2 water heaters.)

We also had a laptop whose battery melted during our absence. In hindsight, this was pretty scary because it could have easily started a fire. We will take better care of our NiCad batteries during future trips away from the boat.

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We got through most of this stuff in our first morning back. Jenna then made grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, we all went down for naps, and we subsequently woke up at 7:00 AM the next morning. It had been a long trip from Boston, and we were all quite tired.

We then proceeded to get back into a boat rhythm over the next few days. Jenna and the kids would do Sophie school in the morning, I’d do boat projects, and we’d all head over to the Musket Cove pool for an afternoon swim. It was great to be back on the boat and in the tropics.

After a few days we headed back over to Denarau Marina to collect our long-time friend Cathy and our new friend Melissa along with their daughters Penny and Greta. They were joining us for a week-long Sophie Adventure Cruise. Our plan was to spend some low-key time hanging out at Musket Cove with some day trips over to Cloud 9 and maybe to the island where the film Castaway was shot.

Little did we anticipate how low-key the trip would be! On the way over to Denarau the water maker stopped working again. At the time I didn’t think it was a big deal because it usually means there is a clogged filter somewhere. Remember, we had the “Energy Transfer Device” (ETD) replaced in New Zealand and had the high pressure pump rebuilt there as well? It was supposed to last us the next 5 years, right?

Nope.

Over the next 5 days I spent about 27 hours debugging and disassembling the system, and we still couldn’t get it to work. The problem was that the ETD wouldn’t create  enough pressure to force the saltwater through the membrane, which is how these machines create fresh water.

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At one point I even pulled the ETD, pictured above, out of the watermaker housing and disassembled the little b*tch (somehow I keep singing an Elton John song over and over to myself while I am working on it) to see if there was something clogging it.

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I found some rust in its valves and cylinders, which was interesting because this device has no internal metal parts. I used Q-tips to clean out the rust as best I could, reassembled the ETD, got it back into the water maker, reconnected all of the hoses and wiring, and turned the machine on and got the exact same result as before.

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We are planning to leave Fiji soon for a long stretch of remote cruising, and we need a reliable water maker. The folks in New Zealand offered to fix the ETD if we shipped it back to them or even try to get a warranty replacement from the manufacturer (Sea Recovery) in the US but that could potentially take a month or longer. Besides, we don’t know why this particular ETD failed after such a short period of time. So we decided to rearchitect the watermaker, ditching the ETD for a higher pressure pump that feeds directly into the membrane. This is a much simpler design and is how 99% of the other boats out here cruising go about making water. While we are at it we will add another membrane and increase our fresh water production to 70 gallons per hour. This new approach means we will have to run our genset when we produce water, but we almost always do that anyway so it is not much of a sacrifice. The parts are allegedly arriving in Fiji today and we hope the install will be a straightforward process early next week.

Meanwhile, while all of this was going on, we had 4 guests to entertain, and it turns out that Sophie Adventure Cruises requires a lot of water for things like doing dishes, washing clothes, and taking long lingering post-swim showers on the aft steps.

But Cathy and Melissa were very, very cool about doing their visit with us in water conservation mode. It didn’t hurt that we were in Fiji with spectacular weather in a harbor with a 100 foot infinity pool. Even though Jenna was doing daily Sophie school and I was practicing my advanced water maker bilge yoga poses, we were able to get our guests out on activities including a rollicking sail in 25 knots of wind, coral snorkeling, a trip to Beachcomber resort, and multiple trips to Cloud 9.

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They especially liked Cloud 9 because the kids could chill out on the day beds while the grown ups chilled out all over the place.

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We also had the requisite Sophie dance party one night, complete with some new songs we picked up at a family wedding in July. It was a lot of fun.

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One of the best ways to cope with a low water situation on Sophie with guests on board is to play Yahtzee. A lot of Yahtzee. We introduced Cathy and Melissa to the game midway through the trip, and they were hooked. Cathy in particular was very, very proud of some of her rolls.

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One night Melissa and I thought it was a good idea to do a shot of tequila after every Yahtzee, and I immediately proceeded to roll a 3 Yahtzee game. Needless to say, it was a fun night.

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Cathy, Melissa, and the girls were wonderful guests despite our need for water rationing, and their week with us went by much too quickly. We miss you, and you are always welcomed back.

On their last night here, I drove them to the airport in a borrowed car in the pitch dark on roads with no signs while driving past burning sugar cane fields.  I think Cathy was thrilled and terrified at the same time; she kept suggesting that I could pursue a second career as a third world taxi driver. Personally I prefer my current career as a boat driver.

At the airport Cathy and Melissa were told that the plane was in an oversold situation, and they were each offered $850 Fijian plus a $750 airline voucher if they stayed another couple of days. Cathy really wanted to get back to see her boys, Melissa wavered, there was too much momentum, and they both went ahead and boarded the plane. Two days later they each told us that they regretted the decision. Seattle is still there. Good life lesson for everyone: if an airline offers to PAY YOU to stay in paradise for another couple of days, then always TAKE THE CASH!

The day after Cathy and Melissa left, my daughter Sara arrived. She is the last member of the family to join us on the trip, and we are so happy that she will be spending a month with us, including our passage from Fiji to Vanuatu next week.

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Leo and Hazel adore Sara, she’s been sailing for 15 years, and she will fit right in to the Sophie lifestyle.

In addition to Sara, we’ll be joined this weekend by my German cousin Birgit and next week in Vanuatu by Sara’s partner Julie. And we are in full blown planning mode, because our year in Fiji and New Zealand is rapidly coming to an end. Once the water maker is fixed, we will head off to Tanna in Vanuatu to check out the volcano there. It’s a 465 mile trade wind sail from Vuda and should take us 2-3 days. We’ll then hang out in Vanuatu for a few weeks before proceeding north and then west through the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand.

Singapore is “only” 4,500 miles away. We’re pretty excited to get back into adventure mode, and we still have a lot to do before we leave.

Have I told you how lucky we are?

Yanuya and Monuriki, Fiji

We’re halfway through a whirlwind trip through the US and I finally found some time to write an update about our last month in Fiji.

One of the best parts of cruising Sophie is the quiet family time we share, and after months of fun with friends, we welcomed the opportunity in June to transition back to our version of normal family boat life in the Mamanucas, the resort islands of southwestern Fiji. The kids focused on finishing school while Max studied for the bar exam. We played in the water, played Settlers of Catan, listened to music, made dhal, falafels and hummus, and devoured many fresh barbecued fish dinners. Although we tried to put a dent in all the fish we’ve caught, there is still a full freezer on Sophie.

Family dinner

Family dinner

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Look who’s in first grade now!

We settled in at Musket Cove Resort and Yacht Club on Malolo Lailai Island, where we spent a few weeks last year. It’s as great as we remember, plus they upgraded the island bar and added new gas barbecues so it’s now possible to cook dinner without smoking yourself from head to toe. I can’t say I will miss the dirty, smoky “barbecue outfits” that our cruising friends used just for cooking to avoid contaminating their whole wardrobe, but the new grill plates won’t provide us with as much adventure or entertainment in the wind as those old wood fires did.

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Sunset at Malolo Island.

Cooling off in the pool.

Cooling off in the pool.

Hazel is fearless.

Hazel is fearless.

The lovely Va, our favorite bartender.

The lovely Va, our favorite bartender.

Relaxing at the new Island Bar.

Relaxing at the new Island Bar.

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My sister Julie and her husband Silas joined us for the last week of June and fun at some of the local attractions. One of our other favorite is Cloud 9, a floating bar with pizza oven that is anchored on the outer reef. Jeff and Melody from DD joined us on Sophie and we cruised over for an afternoon of chillaxing in the sun, snorkeling, and jumping off the upper deck.

Cloud 9

Cloud 9

Max and Jenna snorkeling.

Max and Jenna snorkeling.

A fish followed Max and me around the reef. At first glance, it had looked like a shark but as it approached turned out just to be a huge waloo. I’ve never had one keep following like this one did, almost the whole way back to the platform.

View from the upper deck.

View from the upper deck.

Hanging out at Cloud 9.

Hanging out at Cloud 9.

This year, everyone made the big leap into the water from the upper deck. Both kids are fearless!

Leo was the first one in.

Leo was the first one in.

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Boys jump.

Boys jump.

Leo & Hazel

Leo & Hazel

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More boys.

More boys.

It was a perfect day.

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Sisters.

We needed to prep the boat for our USA trip, but we also wanted to cruise with Julie and Silas so we opted for a quick trip to Monuriki Island, where the movie Castaway was filmed. Double Diamond joined us, turning the day into a mini Lagoon rally. Of course we all hoped to sail, but ended up with absolutely no wind so we motored across the glassy sea.

Double Diamond

Double Diamond

Julie and Silas cruising on Sophie.

Julie and Silas cruising on Sophie.

Silas had never caught a saltwater fish before, so despite our official Sophie moratorium on fishing until we freed up more room in the freezer, we trolled one line off the pole. Maybe we would catch a little tuna? That was not in the cards. Suddenly we heard the line run out over 300 feet in just a few seconds and looked back to see a huge billfish leap out of the water. I took the wheel while Jamie grabbed the pole to work the fish and 25 minutes later we landed a 100+ pound sailfish.

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Jamie decided to keep the fish and give it to the local village. It was getting late in the day, so we headed for Monuriki to drop a hook, but after a quick drive by decided the lee shore wouldn’t do for the night so we moved over to Yanuya Island, anchored off the village, and went to shore with a bundle of yaqona for sevusevu.

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The ladies prepare kava by squeezing a silk bag of the ground roots underwater.

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Silas, Julie and Max attend their first sevusevu ceremony.

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Pouring kava. Low tide, high tide or tsunami?

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Clap once before accepting the cup.

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Right before the kava started, Jamie, Jeff and one of the locals went back to Sophie to retrieve the sailfish. Several of the moms met us on the beach and instructed a pack of boys to carry it up to a clearing between some houses. After posing for photos, they laid it out on a piece of plywood and set to work.

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Say cheese!

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Boys present the fish.

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Sailfish on display.

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Marking the fish.

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Ready to carve.

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Fish steaks Fiji style.

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Every bit will be cooked and eaten.

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Carving the fish cheeks.

Each family took one chunk of fish to cook for dinner, and they planned to make a communal fish stew with the head. Around 500 people live in the village, another without electricity or refrigeration. They rarely troll for fish given the expense of gasoline and instead typically use hand lines or nets to catch reef fish or small barracuda. Any bigger fish are usually sold to one of the resorts so it was a treat for them to eat one. We were just so happy to share and see all the priceless smiles.

Julie and Silas ultimate Fiji vacation.

Rainbow over Yanuya.

Rainbow over Yanuya.

We feel so fortunate to have had another extraordinary experience on our big adventure. The friendliness and hospitality of the villagers was overwhelming and we wish we had more days to spend there. It was hard to leave, but the ebb tide and sun going down beckoned us back to Sophie.

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Sunbeams over Monu Island at sunset.

Sunbeams over Monu Island at sunset.

 

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Sunrise at Yanuya Island.

The next day we explored Monuriki, the uninhabited island where Castaway was filmed. A tourist boat left just after we arrived, so we ended up with the island all to ourselves.

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Sophie anchored at Monuriki Island.

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Tropical paradise.

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Temporary castaways.

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View of Monu Island with Yanuya in the background.

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Another beach with Tom Hanks cave at the far end.

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Exploring tide pools.

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Eel trapped in a tide pool.

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Barefoot rock scrambling at Monuriki.

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Beachcombing.

Leo couldn’t understand why Tom Hanks didn’t just swim over to the neighboring island to be rescued.

After a lazy sail back to Musket Cove we enjoyed our last couple days with Julie, Silas and Max swimming, playing golf, and eating out by the beach. Needless to say, we loved every minute with you three in Fiji. Thanks for the incredible family time. Have I mentioned lately how very lucky we are?

Rambi and Qamea

I am currently writing while underway from Monuriki Island, where the movie Castaway was filmed, back to Malolo Lailai. In addition to Max, my sister Julie and her husband Silas are visiting this week so Sophie is a full and happy boat.

Over the last couple weeks we cruised northern Fiji and experienced village life. Our first stop was Rambi Island, inhabited by descendants of people from Kiribati. We stayed a few days in Albert Cove, which had a great beach and beautiful reef. We saw so many fish jumping out of the water. Even the dolphin stopped by to herd their lunch against the inside of the reef.

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When we left Rambi, we had a perfect day for sailing to Mitangi, a small uninhabited island off the coast of Taveuni. Snorkeling was fabulous and I managed to remember my underwater camera this time.

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We had hoped to stay overnight at Mitangi, but by the time I finished snorkeling the wind had shifted to the north and rollers were coming through the anchorage. We made a quick late afternoon decision to motor to Qamea before dark. This turned out to be a great call. We dropped the anchor at sunset in a totally protected and calm anchorage. Three other boats there left for the Lau group at first light, so we ended up being the only boat in the bay for four days.

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In the morning, we dinghied in to the settlement for a sevu sevu ceremony with Moses, the chief, and met a few other people from the village.

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The chief and his family welcomed us with open arms into the village and were extremely generous. They have no electricity other than a few solar chargers, and they are still waiting for government money to finish rebuilding from damage sustained in 2009 from Cyclone Mick that destroyed almost every structure on the island. Leo and Hazel had tons of fun playing with all of the kids, dogs and one of the pet pigs that had jumped over the fence of its pig pen and was running loose.

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We really wanted to watch the opening game of the World Cup but that wasn’t going to happen in the village. It turns out there was a house across the bay owned by an American that had satellite TV, so the village spokesperson invited us to the caretaker’s house to watch the opening game of the World Cup. I baked some muffins to bring along.

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A few local kids paddled out to Sophie to play with the kids. They loved the trampolines and jumping off the bows. The boys were so excited by our library on board that we ended up with five kids reading books in the fly bridge for a solid hour after lunch.

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The next day more boys paddled out to Sophie to swim with the kids, but we were in the middle of Sophie School and it was raining, so we asked them to come back in the afternoon. A little while later Jamie went down to our room to straighten up and realized they had been under the boat the whole time, hiding from the pouring rain. Smart kids. We gave them chocolate chip cookies.

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Moses, the chief, is also the pastor of the village. On Sunday he invited us to church followed by lunch with his family. The kids went to Sunday school and learned hymns in Fijian, which they sang during the service.

Following Moses uphill to church.

Following Moses uphill to church.

Singing during the church service.

Singing during the church service.

Three of Moses' grandsons.

Three of Moses’ grandsons.

Sunday school friends.

Sunday school friends.

What an amazing meal we ate! Here is “Mama” preparing Bele leaves. Every dish was delicious. We think they fished all day Saturday to catch something big enough to host all of us. Their kindness and generosity were overwhelming.

Mama prepares lunch.

Mama prepares lunch.

Sunday dinner with the chief's family.

Sunday dinner at the chief’s house.

Sunday dinner.

Sunday dinner.

Freshly caught waloo head.

Freshly caught waloo head.

Bele, breadfruit, chicken with noodles and fish with vegetables.

Bele with fish, breadfruit, sea grapes with fish, and chicken with noodles.

Sea grapes with octopus.

Sea grapes with octopus.

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On our last night, Mama brought the women, all the grandchildren, one of her sons, and the village spokesman to Sophie for a kava party. We made popcorn and drank several bowls full of local grog with them. It tasted slightly better than I remembered, less like dirt and more like pepper.

Making kava.

Making kava.

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"Kava girl" served low tide, high tide and tsunami pours of grog.

“Kava girl,” as she was nicknamed, served low tide, high tide and tsunami pours of grog.

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The kids loved eating popcorn and otter pops, and even managed to play a few videogames in my bed.

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By Sophie standards this was one memorable party.

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Mama

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We had such a wonderful time and were sad to leave this friendly community. It was one of the most positive experiences we’ve had on our trip and inspired us to invest more time in each village we visit and get to know the families we meet.

Getting a ride to school.

Getting a ride to school.

The chief's family waving goodbye.

The chief’s family waving goodbye.

Villagers waving goodbye from their windows and doorways.

Villagers waving goodbye from their windows and doorways.

 

Going to work as we depart.

Going to work as we depart.

On our way back to Savusavu we caught a lot of fish. First up, this 18 pound Mahi Mahi:

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Next we snagged this little barracuda that we let go.

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We were about to pull in all our lines when we caught back to back Wahoo on our port hand line, 41 and 34 pounds. We gave a big chunk of one plus both carcasses to the local village.

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Needless to say, our freezer is now completely full.

Wahoo bagged and ready to freeze.

Wahoo bagged and ready to freeze.

Full freezer.

Full freezer.

Post wahoo remains of fishing lure.

What’s left of our lure after Wahoo bites.

After a quick provisioning run to Savusavu, we made a quick crossing along the north shore of Viti Levu and arrived a few days later to Musket Cove on Malolo Lailai, just in time for Julie and Silas’ arrival. So far this week, we’ve paddle boarded, kayaked, swam, snorkeled, caught a huge sailfish and visited Monuriki and Yanuya, but more on this in our next post. Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?

What a Birthday! (so far …)

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It has been almost a week since I returned from the U.S. back to Fiji. There has been a strong easterly blowing all week, which made us a little reluctant to depart the Savusavu area. Also, our friends Misti and Abbie were scheduled to leave on a plane from Savusavu yesterday, so we wound up spending the last 3 days back at anchor off the Cousteau resort.

I shouldn’t complain. We went swimming every day, we deployed the Relaxation Station V2, and we had one of our better dance parties on the eve of Misti and Abbie’s departure. Max, who spent some time on a collegiate swing dancing team, helped Hazel transform her skill at doing a yoga bridge into an outstanding dip.

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Hazel then tried to teach Max some advanced moves she learned from the playgrounds of New Zealand, but I think they may still need a little work before Caroline and Alex’s Maine wedding in July.

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Meanwhile, Misti stepped in and taught Leo that there are actually more dance moves than simply standing in the middle of the dance floor, karate chopping invisible assailants on either side of you. I often dream of fixing things with someone, but I am really glad Misti stepped in and started the process of fixing Leo’s approach to wedding dances.

IMG_1576In case you are wondering, Leo is completely set for the dancing that will take place AFTER the reception.

But once again, I digress. I had planned to write a post about Sophie’s history of dance parties, a history that goes back six years, a history that even had Hazel asking me yesterday about exactly when we were getting our disco ball. But the events of my birthday, which is taking place today in Fiji, has given me much better things to write about.

Because when Jenna and I woke up this morning, we saw that there was no wind. We had assumed we would be heading west, with the strong easterly wind at our backs, towards a bay called Mbua and then on to the iguana sanctuary of Yadua. Our friends Jeff and Melody made it to Mbua last night, and they said there was nothing there except for a lot of wind and a large number of blue jellyfishes. Jenna and I had wanted to head east to the Lau Group since we arrived in Fiji a month ago, there was no wind this morning, so we looked at each other and said, basically at the same time, “Let’s go east”.

And we did.

It was bouncy for the first hour but then smoothed out as we got inside the lee of Taveuni. We had 3 meat lines out along with the trolling rod, it was a beautiful sunny morning, and then Max and I saw a school of fish going nuts 200 meters a way. We saw one of them destroy one of our lures (goodbye, Cougar, we will miss you) and then a fish hit the lure on the rod. 10 minutes later, we had Sophie’s biggest mahi mahi ever on the boat.

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That’s 30 pounds, baby.

What a birthday present! I fileted the fish and was in the process of vacuum sealing it’s chunks when the trolling rod exploded again with another fish hit!

This one was all Max’s. Jenna got some good airborne shots.

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We had to use the gaff on both of the fish, and Max’s fish actually pulled the gaff from my hand as it dove under the boat. Good thing our friends on Muk Tuk in Nuku Hiva a year ago taught us to but a rope on the end of the gaff.

FJ_20162FJ_20143But the important thing is that we got Max’s Mahi Mahi into the boat, and we could get the father-son trophy shot.

FJ_20201There was enough room in the freezer to store 28 pounds of filets, and that was after setting 5 pounds aside for my birthday lunch and dinner.

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And to think a week ago I was hanging out in Washington DC with friends I hadn’t seen in 30 years, and now I am back in the tropics on the other side of the world surrounded by family and connected with friends, doing what I love. I am wicked lucky.

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Eating Stateside

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I left Fiji a week ago for a quick trip to the US. The main purpose of my visit was to attend my son Max’s graduation from law school in Boston. It was a great ceremony, and he flew back to Sophie with me today and will spend a month with us on the boat. This will be Max’s second visit with us since we left San Diego last year.

The thing that struck me the most about this particular trip to the US is the quality, price, and sheer volume of food that my fellow Americans eat. Granted, I was there for a week of celebrations and a bit of a homecoming, but for lack of a better word the overall experience was remarkable.

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My food trip started last Monday at my parent’s house in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. I had completed a simple 3 leg, 28 hour journey to get from Sophie in Savu Savu to Logan Airport in Boston, and it was 3:00 AM by the time I snuck into their guest room and touched my head to a pillow.

I had a quiet morning reconnecting with my parents and ate a Sophie-like breakfast of fruit and toast. But then my brother John swung by with his family on their way back from Cape Cod, and to celebrate my arrival brought with them some takeout lobster rolls. These are considered a New England delicacy, and the ones John brought with him were ENORMOUS. That monster in the photo at the top of the blog is just HALF a lobster roll.

In case you missed it, please let me share it with you again.

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Of course I ate it. It was delicious.

Earlier in the day I had gone with my father to a seafood market and bought 8 lobsters along with some clams for steaming. My mom wanted to have some extra food “just in case” anyone happened to drop in. She made a good call, because my daughter Sara was driving down from Maine with her partner Julie, and I had my second lobster meal of the day. The lobsters were OK, but I had never met Julie before and she seems quite nice.

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The two of them will be joining us in Vanuatu in September.

The next day I wandered around Shrewsbury visiting some of my old haunts. This included a long walk with Sara.

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This is the house I lived in from birth through age 2. I have no memory of it, but it now seems a little small for 2 adults and 5 children. Heck, it seems around the same size as Sophie.

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This is Saint Mary’s, the catholic grammar school that I attended from first through eighth grades. I even worked as janitor there for a couple of years, cleaning the classrooms and bathrooms after school. When Sara and I walked past last week, there was a funeral taking place. In addition to being a janitor, I also used to be an altar boy and loved weekday funerals because it gave me a chance to get out of class.

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After the school, we walked up the hill to visit the public library. My mom told me they bought a house in the center of town so that we could walk there every day. I did so.

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Here is the house I lived in for 16 years. It’s up the street form the library and looks WAY fancier today than it did when I was a kid. The woman who bought it from my parents 14 years ago installed things like the brick driveway, iron railings, lampposts, rooftop patios, and an addition out back. When I lived there it was a great home for my parents, their nine children, and my grandmother. It also required a lot of work, and we had to do chores every day. We did so because it was the right thing to do and also because there was an occasional threat of a wooden spoon.

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It was also the source of a LOT of fun. I wrote last year about how we had a pig roast in Tonga with some other boats. Well here is a photo of my parent’s first pig roast in our back yard. They used a fieldstone barbecue that must have been there since the house was built over a hundred years ago. (Please note the wooden keg of beer next to a rhubarb patch in the background of the photo.)

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As part our reconnaissance mission, Sara and I snuck into the church parking lot next door and were pleased to see that the old pig roast barbecue is still there.IMG_1399

After visiting the old homestead, Sara and I walked another couple of blocks to visit my grandmother’s grave. She grew up in Newfoundland, which is now part of Canada. The grave is made from granite. This is where my parents will be buried when they die.

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As part of her enscription, she has this ball of yarn and crossed knitting needles carved into the headstone. I am not sure what my parents will want as their headstone icons, and I should probably ask them.

OK, I hate being chided about anything, especially going off topic in a blog. Please forgive me for sharing this little walk down memory lane. Let’s get back to food.

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That afternoon, Sara and went to Wegman’s, a local gourmet mega-supermarket in the nearby town of Northborough, in order to stock up for a family barbecue that night. In general, I found Wegman’s to be 3 times the size of the largest grocery stores in New Zealand with food that was half the price. I think most people in the U.S. don’t appreciate how inexpensive food (and beer) is there compared to most of the rest of the world. I was a little overwhelmed, especially after spending 6 months in New Zealand where food is expensive. We wound up getting 6 racks of ribs (at $4 a pound!), vegetables, berries, beer, wine, shortcake, whipping cream, and other assorted barbecue stuff. I cooked the ribs in tinfoil on the grill for 5 hours at ~140 degrees F, and they were falling-off-the-bone awesome.

(Jenna just pointed out that you can buy onions here in Fiji for $4 a pound).

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The next stop on what was quickly becoming my stateside eating tour was the Boston steakhouse Grill 23 for a Wednesday night pre-graduation celebratory dinner with Max. Back when I worked in the business world, it seems like I would have meals like this once a week. What you are looking at here are 10 oz. filet mignons with buttered mashed potatoes and sides of mac and cheese, asparagus, mushrooms — all preceded by New England seafood chowder and followed by a bourbon apricot crisp. (I also feel like I weighed like 69 pounds more back then compared to know … and “he still lives” to tell about it!)

Anyway, in case you are keeping track, in my first three days in New England I had lobster rolls, lobsters, ribs, and a decadent filet mignon restaurant meal.

For the morning of Max’s graduation I was still able to squeeze into my suit and head over to Harvard Yard with Max’s girlfriend Becca to watch the morning commencement exercise.

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Unfortunately, a proud parent standing next to us decided to record the entire 2 hour parade ceremony on her iPad and blocked our view of Aretha Franklin (and lots of other people) as they walked by. Later on the Law School had a luncheon ceremony where they awarded individual diplomas to all of their graduates. The boxed lunch contained a grilled chicken breast with fried plantains, fruit, and rice. It was excellent, Sophie-like food on a beautiful late spring New England day.

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Needless to say I was very proud of my son.

Later that evening we prepared for a celebration barbecue at Max’s apartment on the Cambridge-Somerville line. Earlier in the day his sister and his mom drove out to a German butcher for some sausages, a very Utzschneider thing to do. We had all of our Boston cousins coming over and wanted to celebrate in style with 2 types of bratwurst, Nurenburger wurst, Weiss wurst, and excellent sauerkraut.

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To kick things off, Max’s cousin Danny, also known as “the wingman” for his ability to be there when you need him whether it’s a bar or an Oktoberfest tent, took care of the fire. In real life Danny is a biologist in Switzerland.

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Once the coals were ready, the brats went on. Here we go again …

While the meat was cooking I took a moment to peruse the bookshelf immediately inside Max’s door. Here is what I found.

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In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Max is going to be a labor lawyer. Like I said, I am very proud of him.

IMG_1493Soon the sausage was ready and the beer was flowing. Here is Max and my brother John talking about life with an admiring Sara in the background. John is a successful corporate lawyer, and Max is, well, Max. Nothing like beer and sausage to help bridge any type of ideological and generational divides. If only real life could work this way.

It was a fun party, we stayed up late, and I even got to see my niece Caroline and her fiancé Alex. They are getting married in Maine in July, and the Sophie crew plans to be there. Here is Caroline’s ring.

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But all good things have to come to an end, so on Friday morning I woke up at 6:00 in order to take my eating tour down to Washington DC for my 30th college reunion. I said goodbye to Danny and Sara and headed on my way.

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Fortunately I made my flight and was at my hotel in Arlington just in time for lunch. I met up with some of my old Georgetown friends and we decided to walk around DC for a bit. Phil suggested a butcher that sells really good deli sandwiches, so off we went. We ordered our lunch, and it seemed to take an extremely long time to be prepared. We soon would understand why. IMG_1508Phil and his wife Alice ordered a “4 Meat Grinder”, and the result was a sandwich almost a foot and a half long and weighing nearly 5 pounds. (“Grinder” is a northeast US term for a foot and a half long, 5 pound sandwich). This thing was even more impressive when it was laid out on a picnic table.

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I decided to be much more subdued and ordered a simple pastrami sandwich, one that I agreed to split with my classmate Laura. Well, this is what HALF a sandwich looked like:
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I think the same people who measured John’s lobster roll measured this sandwich. My guess is that this half weighed in at 2-3 pounds, which is more than what we would cook for dinner for Sophie’s crew of 4 back on the boat. But the meat had been wood smoked to perfection.

Of course I ate all of it. It was delicious.

Later that afternoon we walked around our old neighborhood and stopped off at the various houses we lived in. Here is a photo of me, James, and Maureen (who joined us in New Zealand in February) hanging out on the stoop of the “2114” house we lived in for 2 years.  The house is looking much fancier today than it did back in the 80’s.

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It was a fun walk.

Later that night there was a class reunion reception that ran late. The food was reasonable: sliders, salmon skewers, salad skewers, and what seemed to be fried mac and cheese cakes. (I skipped those but overall I was surprised I could move after the pastrami).  But it was a lot of fun to reconnect with many people I hadn’t seen in 30 years.

We all stayed out until 3:00 AM, but I was able to wake up in time to make my 8:30 AM flight to Boston where I hooked up with Max, Becca, Sara, Danny and my father for a dumpling lunch in Boston’s Chinatown. Then Max and I headed for the airport and Fiji (where I am right now.)

So over the course of the week we had lobster rolls, lobsters, ribs, steak, sausages, pastrami ballast, cocktail food, and dumplings. I saw family, friends, and a memorable academic ceremony. I’m full and I am tired and I am glad to be back on Sophie.

At the bar at Logan Airport there was a display advertising Fiji Water.

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Since we actually were flying to Fiji, we decided to pass.

Still pretty lucky.

Adjusting to Life in the Tropics is Easy and Fast

DSC_0058We loved our stay in New Zealand, but we really love our time in the tropics.

It has been over 2 weeks since our arrival in Fiji, and all of our hats, fleece, pants, and down comforters have been safely stored away, potentially forever. Our readjustment to life in the tropics is pretty much complete, and it was accelerated by the fact that we had some challenging (in a good way) guest logistics after our arrival in Savusavu.

If you recall, we had a full crew on the passage up from New Zealand, consisting of the four of us plus Dan and our friends Ravi and Alison (whom forevermore shall be referred to as “Ravison”.) The morning after we cleared customs, our friends Ian and Becky (remember “Hooked”?) arrived for a 10 day visit. That means we had a minimum of a 4-5 day period where Sophie had 9 souls on board. I say minimum because whenever guests join us in the tropics, I repeatedly try to convince them that “missing” their flight in order to remain in paradise for a few more days, in the greater scheme of things, is a much better choice than going back to another 3 days of work in the office.

Anyway, this chart shows how we managed people logistics over the 2 weeks.IMG_1347

The boat icon shows where we are currently located, in Savusavu. After Ian and Becky arrived, we motored down to that little anchor icon and spent 3 days of water fun offshore from the Cousteau Resort, one of the world’s first eco-friendly family vacation spots.

Fortunately, Sophie had two new pieces of equipment to assist us in our readjustment to tropical water sport fun. The first was the “Relaxation Station” V2, the successor to a floating water toy that we used to bring with us on summer vacations in British Columbia’s Desolation Sound. We used to raft with 5 other families on their boats on those vacations. The kids would usually play on Sophie’s trampolines, and the grownups would safely move off of the boat, and, well, relax.

V2 definitely delivered.

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The second piece of equipment is something I picked up on a whim at a Mitre store on our last day in New Zealand. It is a simple water dispenser with a spigot and a frozen tube in the center.IMG_1348

I had no idea that such a simple piece of plastic would become a black hole in our liquor cabinet. The combination of this piece of plastic, 7 adults on board celebrating a successful ocean crossing, Relaxation Station V2, and some tropical sun after 6 months in New Zealand and a lifetime in gray Seattle resulted in Sophie essentially running out of booze for the first time ever. Granted, our stocks were very low, and granted, the days of our having 40 people over every Thursday night for the Downtown Sailing Series are long gone, but I have to say, it was quite an accomplishment.

Of course it didn’t help that in my ongoing attempts to provide the best possible guest experience on Sophie Adventure Cruises that I would occasionally swim a resupply out to the people on the Relaxation Station. None of the guests complained.

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I also don’t want to create the impression that all we do is drink when we have friends on board, because we actually spend most of our time swimming, playing games, cooking, talking, homeschooling, reading, and listening to music.

One of the nice things about being a day ahead of North America is that we get to listen live to Michele Myer’s Friday night radio show on Seattle’s KEXP on Saturday afternoon. When we were down at Cousteau we emailed in a request for some surf music, and Michele responded with some Dick Dale. The crowd on the trampoline approved. Leo plays an excellent air surf guitar.

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Thanks Michele!

We spend a LOT of time swimming, paddling, diving, and splashing around. For me, Jenna, and the kids, it is definitely the best part about being out here. The water temperature is 83 degrees F right now. Our guests seem to enjoy it as well.

Normally, I am the king of the Olympic dives into the water from the top of Sophie’s coach roof, but I think I have finally met my match in Alison (also known as half of Ravison).

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At sunset, Alison decided to take Hazel out for some paddleboard yoga. Hazel enjoys yoga as a means to find her inner peace. So off they paddled, with Hazel doing the driving.

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However, Hazel decided that hanging out on the Relaxation Station V2 was going to be way more fun than finding inner peace doing paddleboard yoga with Alison, so she jumped into the water for a change of venue.FJ_29829

After some sunset paddleboard yoga, Alison, good soul that she is, came around to collect Hazel and bring her back to Sophie.

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One challenge Jenna and I faced that weekend was trying to figure out how to pull together meals that met the various dietary requirements of everyone on board. For starters, Ravison are strict vegans, which means they don’t eat meat, fish, or any animal product like milk or cheese.

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According to one of my favorite night watch movies, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” it also means that they are “better than the rest of us.” In reality, it means that they wind up eating delicious things like potato chip hummus cucumber wraps. A lot.

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Ian and Becky are gluten-free, which means we have to read the label for anything we might potentially cook with.

On the other extreme are people like me and Dan who can spend all day eating stuff like this.

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Jenna, as usual, played the role of happy medium who brought everyone together in a harmonious and respectful way. It turns out that we all agreed that vegan food tastes really good, and some dishes Ravison shared with us are now Sophie staples. The important thing is that we cooked together and ate well.

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Unfortunately, our weekend off Cousteau had to come to an end. We failed in our attempt to get Dan or Ravison to “miss” their flights. When I took Dan to the airport, he shocked us by breaking out his light blue Bermuda travel shorts. Where were those in New Zealand, dude?

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For Ravison’s departure the next day, I figured that they could enjoy some donuts without actually eating them.

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Dan, Ravi and Alison, you were wonderful crew and guests. We miss you so much and cannot wait until you re-join us.

Ian and Becky still had another 8 or so days with us. We wanted to head 40 miles east towards Taveuni Island, and area with excellent snorkeling that is on the right side of the map.

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Unfortunately, we ran into a low pressure system with strong winds from the east which forced us to hole up off of Cousteau in the rain for 2 days. (This low forced 24 boats heading north from New Zealand to hide out in Minerva Reef in 40 knot winds halfway up — we are hearing that it was a very, very rough passage for the boats that left a week after we did.)

On one of the days we tried to poke around the corner and see if we could make it, but we pounded into a very steep chop for five minutes. One of the screws holding a support arm for our starboard windmill post worked loose, causing the windmill to fall forward into the main sheet and snap off a blade. Fortunately it missed Ian’s head! (Barely.) We have ordered replacements.

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We also started to hear the “Water is seeping into the space between the two gaskets of the saildrive” alarm. This was a first for us and somewhat more disturbing, especially since we had just pulled the boat in New Zealand and that the Yanmar manual said the probable cause for the alarm were small cracks in the gasket causing seawater to leak into the boat. The repair requires hauling the boat out of the water.

The optimist part of me, which is essentially all of me, wasn’t too worried though. Our watermaker is located directly above that saildrive, and a couple of days earlier a hose inside the watermaker that feeds one of the unit’s pressure gauges had worked loose, dumping tens of gallons of water onto the saildrive and into the bilge. I had fixed the watermaker a few days earlier, but it had never occurred to me to check the saildrive. After we returned to Cousteau, I pulled the sensor that triggers the alarm, inserted a little hand pump into the space between the gaskets, and pumped the small amount of water out. The alarm hasn’t gone off since.

That is all that has broken since New Zealand, and I am so glad we don’t have to pull the boat out of the water again. Whew!

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Meanwhile, the strong easterlies continued and we had no appetite for motoring directly into them so we decided to sail 20 miles south to Namena Island, a nature preserve surrounded by a coral reef. Becky and Ian got to enjoy a 9 knot sail under a reefed main and full jib, and we all got to explore a new place for a couple of days.

The diving was excellent, and Jenna took a bunch of underwater photos diving the reef at the anchorage and also near South Save-A-Tack Pass.

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We also attracted the attention of a very small and VERY poisonous sea snake whose mouth, we hope, was too small to bite a person. We saw him on our cockpit steps (where we shower after swimming), swimming around near the boat, and even trying to climb inside our canvas engine cover for the dinghy. He apparently enjoyed our company.

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After a few days in Namena, we saw that we had a <10 knot easterly, so we decided to go for it and motor the 40 miles over to Viani Bay and Tavauni Island. It turned out to be a great call. For starters, we were treated to one of our best aerial dolphin shows, ever.

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It then got better, because as we neared our destination after a quick and calm passage, the fish began to bite, in a big way. It kicked off one of our best four day stretches of fishing we’ve ever had on Sophie. It started with Becky landing a 2 pound yellowfin tuna.

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One of our local friends described it as the smallest yellowfin he had ever heard of, but from Becky’s perspective it was enormous.

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Not to be outdone, a few minutes later Ian spotted a Spanish mackerel on one of the meat lines and we were able to get it onto the boat. It weighed in at 5 pounds

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Needless to say, this is one happy couple. And no, I am not wearing a skirt.

We spent the next 2 days with Jack, the local who owns the moorings in Viani Bay and who takes care of visiting yachties. We were the only boat in the harbor. We dodged bombies (coral heads), refilled gas, sat through a 40 knot squall, cabbed into town for supplies, discovered the beautiful “Cabbage Patch” reef, and enjoyed Jack’s stories as much as we enjoyed his papayas, bananas, and limes.

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But back to fishing.

Leo and I took Ian and Becky out trolling one morning, and we had an absolutely fabulous time. We had multiple hits and came back with an 8 pound Spanish mackerel and a 4 pound barracuda, Sophie’s first.

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Leo netted the barracuda and was proud to appear in the trophy shot.

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We gave the barracuda and the soup parts of the Spanish mackerel to Jack. On the next day we landed an 8 pound dogtooth tuna, another first for Sophie. The fish had meat so rich it almost looked like liver, but it made for a great sashimi goodbye lunch for Ian and Becky later that day.

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At this point, we were in a full-on fish frenzy. We were gently sailing downwind under main to get to the Matei airport anchorage so that Ian and Becky could avoid “missing” their flight. We had 3 big lures in the water, and we stumbled across a marlin sunning himself. I gybed the boat to chase him down and came within 10 meters of him but he avoided our offerings.

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I did use the opportunity to present a Quentin Tarantino-like hypothetical question to our guests:  Cut or Fight?

If we hook this fish, we would need to fight it for a couple of hours. You would miss your flight and be forced to stay with us for 4 more days. You would miss work, dogs, friends etc. and probably have to pay a few hundred in airline fees. But you would get a memory of a lifetime. So if we hooked a marlin, would you ask me to cut the line, or stay and fight?

One of our guests said after 30 minutes, basically “cut it”. The other said “stay and fight, OF COURSE!” (Each respondent’s identity will remain anonymous).

I posed this question earlier on Facebook and got some interesting answers.

Regardless, the fish solved the problem for us and 30 minutes later we were anchored in Matei. Ian and Becky packed, I scouted out how to get to the airport, and we then all enjoyed a nice luncheon on the flybridge. Becky tried on the mystery bra (over her shirt) and informed us that it didn’t belong to her. Our search continues.

We said our goodbyes, and then it was one more sad dinghy ride to take good friends off to the airport.

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Ian and Becky are wonderful people, and we are lucky to have them as part of our lives.

With their departure, the boat suddenly became quite quiet. We’ve had guests on board for over 3 weeks, and it was now back to just me, Jenna and the kids. We love our friends, and we also love our quiet time.

The next day we sailed 50 miles back to Savusavu. It was a beautiful and gentle sail. We hooked a big mahi mahi that we lost on the stern steps but landed a small bonito that we grilled last night.

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We’ll be on a mooring here for the next 10 days. I will fly back to the US for a week to attend my son Max’s graduation from law school. The kids have fewer distractions that can prevent them from focusing on their schoolwork (we hope).

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We also have the opportunity to run errands, South Pacific style. Like filling up on diesel directly from the fuel truck. Visiting immigration for government letters. Or going to the market every day.

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This is normally the part of the blog where I talk about how lucky we are. But it’s all not simply just luck. We have a guardian angel here on earth who watches out for us every day from her perch on our nav station.

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Gladys!

Sharing with friends like you back home, in addition to the friends who come to visit with us out here, is one of the things that makes life worth living. And that can happen regardless where you are and what you are doing. And for that we are all truly lucky.

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