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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?