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Monday, June 14, 2010

Another long-awaited post from Stu

Here we are at Tauberan Island which is commonly known as Fanning Island. Tauberan is the original name that the Gilbertese people used and when the Island was discovered by Westerners it was renamed Fanning Island. In 1916 Fanning Island had its name changed back to Tauberan by the Gilbertese and it was recognised as part of the Northern Line Islands. The Line Islands have three groups  - Pheonix, Northern and Gilbert - and each group has around five islands. Together the area is known as Kiribati (pronounced Kiribus).

Leaving Hawaii was not the easiest as we really enjoyed our time there and had met some great people but the ticking clock is getting louder; we are due back at work in August and hope to meet my parents at Apia in Western Samoa.

We left on a Monday and had 20 knots of wind just forward of the beam for the next seven days, we averaged 130 to 150 nautical miles a day with a part furled headsail there was a large swell running making it a very wet trip and due to the heat the salt caked onto everything including us.

On our eighth day, just before day break, we were thirty nm away from Fanning when the wind picked up and the rain started to fall. In no time we had 45 knots of wind and more rain than Strahan would get in a year. Finding the entrance to English Harbour on the South Western side of the atoll was not easy because you enter through a small channel with large breaking reefs on either side. The difficulty was compounded by poor visibility due to the rain and there was only an outline of the atoll on the chart plotter that did not show the channel or the depths. Just after 9 in the morning we motored through to the anchorage and were guided by a New Zealander as to the best place to anchor.

Fanning Island truly is third world and could not be described as a developing population. They do not have electricity, telephone or internet, and a supply ship arrives every three months and brings only the most basic items like rice and flour. The population is around a thousand and their diet consists of rice, fish, papaya and coconuts. Adults are mainly employed packing copra and the children attend school until they are old enough to work.

The atoll is a ring of land no more than three metres above sea level however it is densely populated with coconut trees that grow up to 27 metres. The climate is very tropical as we are only three degrees north of the equator. Fanning Island is an amazing experience; it is a place where time has stood still.

Pelon has had issues - faulty nav lights, loose rudder, broken non return valve on the hot water service and worst of all a blocked macerator pump on the main toilet holding tank.

Rudder fixed

Hot water Service bypassed

Nav lights improved

Macerator pump – FAIL! We have a 50 litre tank full of our waste that we cannot pump out and if I remove any plumbing from the pump there will be a catastrophic shit explosion due to the pressure in the tank. If you were in a marina you would just use a shore side pump out station to suck it out and then fix the pump. I am still unsure as to how to fix this without disaster. A man called Gunter came over spruiking for work as he funds his cruising by being a fix it man for other boats. I explained our problem and he said ‘Good luck with that’ and left. I guess that we will leave on Saturday and hope (pray) for a suction pump in Samoa.

It is 1300nm, or two-and-a-bit Sydney to Hobart’s, to Apia and we expect it will take about ten days to get there. We are looking forward to reprovisioning and having access to spare parts as we are running out of bailing twine.

At Fanning there are currently 7 boats anchored which seems to be a record as there were only 5 boats visiting during the whole of 2009. We have Swiss, French, German, American and New Zealander neighbours in boats ranging from a home built 30 footer to a mega million dollar GunBoat Catamaran. Everyone is friendly helpful and happy to share excess supplies (we gave bin liners and got our water tanks filled, we gave oranges and were given bananas)

Our stay at Fanning was extended partly by our need to fix things but also due to the people that we met there. We had only been anchored for an hour when dinghies started to visit as other cruisers introduced themselves and the inevitable questions began-

Where have you come from?

How long did it take?

Where are you going?

Bruce and Travis from the big Cat came over and invited us to a “Pot Luck” on the Friday night. A pot luck is when everyone takes a pot of food and something to drink and all the people attending share the different dishes. Kym was concerned that we may struggle with a nice dish as we had finished all our fresh food but answered the call with delicious tuna pasta. Some of the other dishes were a fish curry, olive bread and a really nice meat dish that was not from a can. During the evening we chatted to most of the twenty plus people and soon discovered that the cruiser currency comes mainly from books, DVDs and every day house hold items that are unobtainable unless you travel 2000 kilometres or more. Deals were done, promises were made and the ratty paperbacks were passed over the next few days. I came out quite well with two good books-

A Voyage for Mad Men – about the first round the world single handed yacht race in 1968.

The Measure of a Man – an Auto biography by the actor Sidney Poitier

I gave a book about the Queen’s Birthday Storm that decimated the fleet sailing between New Zealand and Tonga in June 1994 as well as a few other ‘who dunnits’.

We were going to leave on the Saturday so shut the forehead hatches in preparation and the cabin soon started to smell of sewerage... We did not fancy 10 plus days sailing in a boat that smelt like the Werribee treatment plant on a warm day shortly after international Curry week. Within an hour the dreaded shit explosion had occurred and that’s all I want to say about that.

We left Fanning on the Monday and were about 40 nm SW when we were hit by a squall. We began to reef the headsail when the furler jammed leaving the sail half in and half out. The boat was horribly overpowered and all we could do was to drop the main sail which gave us back some control while we fought with the headsail, unable to furl it or let it out which meant we could also not drop it. Fortunately the squall passed and with Kym steering I was able to wrap the sail around the forestay by hand. Unfortunately in the time that it took to do this the foot of the sail shredded itself.

It is amazing how quickly a squall moves and how violently they hit you with wind and rain and then they are gone and you are left bobbing around soaking wet with little or no wind. These squalls are not really dangerous but they are good at identifying weaknesses on the boat.

As dusk turned to dark we considered our position and reluctantly turned back towards Fanning as I did not want to go up the mast in a 6 foot swell, Kym didn’t want to pull me up the mast and I had a vague memory that somebody at Fanning said they had a sewing machine on board. We motored during the night and arrived off Fanning at midnight, which meant waiting until dawn before entering the channel. As the sun shone its first rays we snuck back into the atoll and anchored at our old position.

Phillip from the Catamaran ‘Blue Bie’ called us on the VHF radio and asked what happened? After I told him we had a working party of volunteers from all the boats offering their assistance. Before long the damaged sail was unfurled and Travis from the catamaran Sugar Daddy arrived with his Bosun’s chair saying that he was a rigger and wanted to help. He quickly diagnosed a twisted shredded halyard at the mast head and went up to retrieve it, climbing the 60 foot mast like a spider monkey. While we were at Hawaii I had bought a length of rope long enough to be a spare halyard which Travis spliced into a halyard. Mike from Kia Kaha came over with his sail maker’s sewing machine and in no time the headsail was repaired. The following morning we were fully repaired and we left Fanning again.

1287 nautical miles on a course of 215 degrees True lay Apia, the Capital of Western Samoa. This leg would also mark a major milestone as we would leave the Northern hemisphere and return to the Southern. We did this at local time 1608 on the 15th of May and took a photo of Latitude 00° 00’. We also toasted King Neptune with a drop of Scotch from me, a drop of Gin from Kym and we each threw in a piece of chocolate.



We were nervous about entering Apia harbour because it is between two poorly marked reefs and our depth sounder had drowned on the way from Fanning. It was also raining and foggy making it hard to see the coral heads. Once inside we motored slowly towards the anchorage off Aggie Grey’s Hotel. There is very little information to be had about South Pacific ports and they are generally not charted so you just go slow and hope that your sounder works (bugger). After half a mile I could see a few yacht masts past a point so we turned towards them and found a newly built marina.

The first boat that we saw in the marina was my parent’s boat Ariel. We had made some loose plans a few months earlier that we may meet in Samoa so this was a nice surprise. My parents were living on their boat in the UK and had left Plymouth last August to return to Tasmania via the Canaries, Atlantic, Panama and the Pacific; we had not seen them since March last year.

After tying the boat up and having a shower and brekkie of bacon and eggs the marina electrician came down and said that he could fit a transformer that would step the 220volts on the jetty down to 110volts for our American wired boat. I would not have bothered but the thought of unlimited power and not having to run the engine was hard to pass up. In no time at all he had performed his magic and blown up our battery charger and inverter as well as giving himself a good jolt of 220volts. The damage was confined to our ‘shore power system’ which meant that the boat would still operate ok but there would be no more microwave, charging of laptops or halogen lighting. When I told him that he had wired it the wrong way and wrecked the inverter, he responded in a rapidly deteriorating form of English that he may be able to fix it tomorrow if I removed it from the boat. I think not. Lesson number 34,175,001 learnt - ‘watch out for bodgie electricians’.

We found a really great restaurant opposite the marina and ended up eating there 4 or 5 times. The fish and chips were really good and obviously fresh as the fish was caught fresh by a fisherman who kept his boat in the marina next to ours. Robert Louis Stephenson, the author of Kidnaped, Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, lived the last few years of his life in Samoa up in the hills just behind Apia. His house was restored in the mid 90s by an American Squillionaire who must have been a big fan of the author. The house is now a museum with many of the original features and furnishings returned. It is not only the grandest house in Samoa but also the only house to have an open fire place minus the chimney as it never gets below 25 degrees.

While touring the island in a rental car we were going along a really skinny one- and-a-half lane wide major cross island arterial highway when a speeding truck travelling the opposite direction decided to use the whole road and hit us at 60kmph. Fortunately she only got our side mirror but it came back with such force that it dented the door and scratched the passengers window. Samoa has been in a state of confusion over the last 12 months as they changed from driving on the left hand side of the road to the right. The real advantage to this was that they were able to source cheaper Japanese right hand drive cars direct from Japan as opposed to American left hand drive cars from Pago Pago in American Samoa. Unfortunately the funding must have run out before they had time to alter the road signage and lane markings. After paying $150aud to repair the mirror we decided to continue our touring on foot.



One week after arriving we left again headed for Suva in Fiji - about 5 or 6 days away. It was fairly windy so we only had a small jib up and were still maintaining 8 knots. The wind increased the next day and we reduced sail again. It was wet, bumpy and noisy but the trip was fast and we arrived at Suva harbour at 3 in the morning after a 4-and-a-half day passage. We were told that Fiji had introduced a new entry arrangement for visiting yachts and that we would be required to email 48 hours before entering Fijian waters, which we did from Apia as we do not have email access from the boat at sea. On arrival we were told horror stories that boats which had not emailed may be fined 10,000usd, and that the skippers of two separate yachts had spent the previous 2 days in Suva at the Customs building trying to sort the issue out. We also spoke to another skipper who arrived in Suva from Apia a few days before us. His passage had taken 12 days so we were happy with our time!

Suva is at 18.5 degrees South and it is nice to feel a slightly cooler breeze. For the first time in ages we have a top sheet on the bed and putting on a tee shirt before heading into town is almost bearable.

Our plan is to fix a few things on the boat if we can get the spare parts; here is the current job list:

-Nav lights

-Main toilet macerator pump (I still don’t want to talk about it)

-Deck & steaming lights

-Dinghy motor

- Batteries

Suva is typical of the Pacific Islands in that labour is cheap and parts and supplies are expensive, for example to remove and replace a broken head stud and remove the gearbox to check the impeller as well as a tune up on our dinghy motor was $80 Fijian (about $50AUD), while a small container of parmesan cheese ‘Kraft brand’ was $13 Fijian (about $9AUD).

Initially I had planned to replace all the batteries before leaving California but due to a dwindling bank account and the apparent reliable operation of the existing batteries I did not. Pelon’s batteries consist of two banks that can operate independently or together. After a day or so in Suva it became obvious that the smaller bank was not able to start the engine so we went to the battery shop with the intention of replacing all 6 batteries and were quoted $3200 Fijian. These batteries (Trojan 105 6v) were about $120 USD in California. We then asked the battery supply shop owner to come to the boat and load test all the batteries as they have a combined weight of 200kg and I didn’t fancy ferrying them in by dinghy... The load test revealed that the small bank of two were dead but the other 4 performed as they should therefore we replaced the two 6v start batteries with one huge 12v battery. Everyone at the Suva yacht club was said that the locally made Fijian batteries had a one start life - even the taxi driver who took us to the shop said don’t buy Fijian - so we ended up with Eveready.

The Fijian people are really nice and very helpful. The marine shop opened especially to fix our motor even though it was a long weekend, people often say hello in the street and say if a restaurant is good or not; most are Indian and vary in quality. After eating at a small Fijian Indian restaurant it pays to remember one of life’s earliest cruel lessons ‘never trust a fart’.

We will leave tomorrow for New Caledonia with most of our jobs fixed. We have still not been able to get an impeller for the front toilet but the aft one is working fine. Our Nav lights really need re-wiring as corrosion has crept right through the circuit so we will continue to use our emergency battery operated spares. The deck light has a blown bulb that we cannot replace in Fiji and the Steaming light has been ripped off the mast by a loose halyard and will need to be replaced. Pelon will still be well illuminated via the anchor light and the portable nav lights. We expect it will take about 6 days to reach Port Moselle in Noumea.

Sorry about 6 weeks’ worth of blog in the one post but internet access has been sketchy to say the least.
Cheers Stu.


  1. Too bad you missed Pago. Fabulous harbor, Ace, Costco, real maintenance sushi at 6.95. Next time, perhaps.

    From Pago,

    John Wasko

  2. Hey Guys, TRavis here from Sugar Daddy, hope all is going well, sail safe and good luck on the fishing
    The Daddies