Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Slow Travel Tidbits
By Michael
SAVUSAVU, FIJI


It's good to be back home with Windy
and the girls.
Just last month I stepped up to the counter at a Bank of America in Camarillo, California.

"Hi, I just want to cash this check I received." I pushed the Bank of America-drawn personal check and my ID to the teller.

"Okay, are you a Bank of America customer?"

"No."

"Okay, that's not a problem." She tapped on her keyboard and looked down at my driver's license. Then she tapped some more and looked down at my driver's license. "Hold on one second, I'm going to have to get a supervisor."

She walked over to where a supervisor seemed to be helping another teller. She waited and waited. Finally she gave up and came back to me. After more tapping and looking, she furrowed her brow, "I just don't see any licenses that match yours," she said, swinging her monitor around so I could see.

"Oh, those pictures are all examples of Washington state IDs, my driver's license is from Washington, DC."

She stared back at me blankly. And here I have to say, having lived a decade in the District, I'm no longer surprised by when I come across people who have no idea that Washington, D.C. is not a city in any of the 50 states and who can't even say what D.C. stands for.

"The District of Columbia," I added.

"Colombia?" she asked.

She was clearly a Latina and she pronounced the word like the South American country, with two long Os.

"Habla Espanol?" I asked.

"Si…" she answered, curious.

I went out on a limb, taking a chance she was Mexican. "El District of Columbia en Los Estados Unidos es como DF." I knew a Mexican would immediately get the DF reference.

Her face lit up, we were on the same page. She and I spent a few minutes talking (in English) about D.C., about how small it is, how it's home to the White House and Congress and many incredible museums, and how so few people live there that here in California, she is unlikely to ever see another D.C. ID.

She seemed appreciative.

And this is one reason why I love our nomadic life. Not sharing information, but acquiring it myself, in a way that our unique lives make possible. I could have traveled to Mexico a dozen times for vacation and never have learned that Mexicans refer to their seat of government, and usually Mexico City itself, as DF (pronounced "day effay"), that there is not a Mexican alive who doesn't instantly know what someone means when they hear those two letters. I know this only because our cruising life has allowed us to spend a lot of time in Mexico, and like the time we spend in every place we visit, it’s filled with the sundry tasks of laundry and shopping and doctor's visits and more that give us insights and knowledge we'd not gain traveling another way. It makes my experience, and my life, richer.

In the month I spent in the States, I mentioned Fiji to a ton of people. Many have seen the water bottle, many associate the name with an exotic vacation destination. Few know that it's a country, where it is on the planet, what the population looks like, what the greetings are, what the shopping malls in downtown Suva are like, what sevusevu with a village chief entails, and a million other things. And I don't report that as a slight—I know just as little about the hundreds of countries I've not visited.

But my point is that I want to visit all of them because of what I feel I've gained in perspective from the few I have visited. Knowing that many shop keepers in Tonga use Chinese calculators that feature a little speaker that shouts out the keypad numerals in Chinese as they're pressed, is a tidbit that means absolutely nothing, but that I cherish. Knowing the two-letter abbreviation that Mexicans use to refer to their capital won't make me rich, doesn't prepare me to write a book on Mexico, and doesn't make me any smarter than the bank teller and anyone else who doesn't share this knowledge. But these things, combined with all the hundreds of thousands of arcane bits of info I've acquired about the people and places we've been fortunate to visit over the past seven years, make me happy. These are miniscule pieces to life's puzzle, a puzzle that none of us can ever fully assemble, but which we're all lucky to spend time working on.

And of course, picking up knowledge—some of it useful, much of it meaningless—is something that happens to all of us as we age. And maybe the way in which it shapes perspective is what we refer to as wisdom. But a diversity of that knowledge is something that comes from slow travel. It's what I'm happiest about when I think of the benefits my family realizes from our nomadic life.

--MR
A near-daily trek into town from our Savusavu Marina mooring.

The crossroads in downtown Savusavu.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Pennies on the Dollar
By Michael
SAVUSAVU, FIJI


Hotspur has a very unique layout, with this aft
22-foot "great room."
Good old boats. Classic plastics. Call the older fiberglass monohull cruising boats what you will, they're plentiful and not going anywhere and growing in number. Whereas most of the wood-hulled cruising boats of yesteryear long ago wasted away to nothing, 40- and 50-year-old fiberglass good old boats are completing circumnavigations. In a world where a quarter-million dollars is close to the minimum cost of a new family-sized cruising boat, older fiberglass monohulls are an outstanding value.

And the market for vintage, offshore, world-cruising boats has only gotten more buyer-friendly, perhaps for these few reasons:

  • Older, heavy, long-keeled and full-keeled cruising boats really cannot hold a candle to newer boats in terms of performance and sail-handling ease.
  • A huge swath of the cruising boat market has drifted over to multi-hulls.
  • The traditional M.O. of buying a boat outright and saving up a cruising kitty before casting off has waned as more and more couples and families cast off for a 2- to 3-year cruising sabbatical aboard a shiny, sleek new boat purchased with a mortgage and a plan to sell at the end of the road.

The decline in the value of these boats is not all bad (except for sellers of vintage cruising boats). We could not have embarked when we did on this cruising life had we not been able to find our then-33-year-old S&S-designed Fuji 40 for $64,000. We've gotten to know 20-somethings who have sailed across the Pacific in their own yachts. I'm not talking about trust-fund kids, but hard-working young people who have shunned the trappings their peers could not and have saved a chunk of change, found a bargain, invested a lot of sweat equity, and cast off. These old fiberglass boats make stories like this possible for the first time in human history. Imagine that!

And the impetus for this post is a 41-foot, offshore-ready classic plastic for sale just a few hundred yards from where I'm writing in Savusavu, Fiji. My friends Meri and Jim and their kids were blogosphere inspirations to us before we began cruising and now they've reached the end of their cruising road. Their Hotspur, a 1976 S&S-designed Tartan T.O.C.K (Tartan offshore cruising ketch) has carried them from Mexico to Fiji and everywhere in between. They've made numerous upgrades. They just last week returned to Fiji from a sail to the French protectorates of Wallis and Futuna. Hotspur is well-equipped and for sale for $29,000! Jim and Meri want to move on and understand the cost of leaving a boat sitting in the Tropics waiting to fetch top dollar. They've priced her to sell immediately. That's an amazing opportunity for the right buyer, a dream launched for pennies on the dollar. Just check out this video from their sale site. Can your $29K SUV offer anything close?



I'll add that Jim and Meri are good people with a strong positive reputation in the cruising community.

--MR

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Helpful Voyage
By Windy
SAVUSAVU, FIJI


The girls searching for whales aboard Caro Vita.
Last week the girls and I had the good fortune to meet a guy named Don who invited us on an overnight trip out to Koro Island on his beautiful, spacious sailboat, Caro Vita. There couldn't have been a better weather window. The passage, normally a nauseating slog to windward, was on calm and sparkling seas beneath a blue sky. On the way, Frances spotted two humpbacks in the distance and we diverted to get a closer look. When we arrived roughly where the whales had been, all was quiet until we heard an exhale nearby and there they were, mom and babe, surfacing parallel to Caro Vita. A little later, we heard the fishing line zing and reeled in a mahi-mahi (which Don later prepared as sashimi, with filets for dinner). As we neared Koro Island we took a detour, nosing through a pass in a ring of brilliant turquoise coral. We anchored and jumped into the clear water of a protected offshore lagoon for a refreshing swim and an unanticipated reminder of why we were there.

Through my dive mask I saw a reef that was a leveled field of gray, pulverized, rubble strewn with the toppled carcasses of mushroom corals the size of cars. I kicked toward the few bright sprouts of newly grown coral and their company of tiny multi-colored fish. We were swimming off the village of Nabuna, one of the villages devastated by cyclone Winston last year when it hit Koro Island head on.

Cyclone Winston is the most powerful and devastating storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere with wind speeds nearing 200 miles per hour that powered massive storm waves. From my parents' home in California we watched as Winston zigged and zagged across the Pacific. At one point the storm headed directly toward Del Viento (then floating on a mooring in Tonga) but then it veered, hair-pinned, and intensified to a Category 5 cyclone as it bore down on Fiji, hitting Koro Island directly and at its peak intensity. Del Viento was spared, Fiji was not.

On Koro, villages are squeezed in between steep mountains and the sea, many homes sit just meters from the water's edge. Winston flattened whole villages, toppling sea walls and bringing down substantial concrete structures that had been used as cyclone shelters for decades. Of the 70 people killed by Winston, 35 died on sparsely populated Koro Island.

Leone, a new friend and Koro island resident.
Last year, in the aftermath of cyclone Winston, our host, Don Salthouse, arrived in Savusavu from New Zealand wanting to help. He went to Jolene (the lovely soon-to-be-ex-manager of Waitui Marina, who knows everything and everyone) and asked her where help was needed most. When Don arrived at Koro the people were just beginning to rebuild and were simultaneously devastated and overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead. Don has a no-nonsense way about him and an ability to get to the core of things. He asked people what they needed. He learned that aid was coming in but that efforts to build were hampered. Key things were missing, like strapping to hold the structures together and tools to build with. Skilled carpenters were spread thin, but essential to train builders and to ensure that new homes were strongly built. So Don set out to fill in the gaps. He purchased power tools, generators, and materials off-island, and even found a carpenter willing to travel to Koro. He anchored his boat off villages and brought supplies in by dinghy.

On our trip to Koro we visited two villages, Nabuna and Navaga. Don delivered a chainsaw, fuel, some plastic bins, and other various small bits. With a gaggle of adorable kids in tow, all eager to hold our hands, we were given tours.

It has been over a year now since cyclone Winston hit and though there is still work to do, there is a justified feeling of pride and accomplishment in the villages. Through hard work, cooperation, and a bit of help from the outside, the people of Koro Island have been rebuilding their communities. All around us we saw brightly colored new homes, sprouting up like the colorful patches of new coral on the nearby reef.

If you would like to help Don in his successful efforts to help the villagers of Koro Island to rebuild their homes you can donate through our Paypal account (PayPal.Me/delviento) and we will make sure all money gets to Don. Any amount helps and 100% will be used for tools and materials for Koro Island--more than 100% actually, as Don pays out of pocket for related expenses, taxes, and is not above leaning on businesses to get good deals on supplies. Add a note to your remittance that the money is for Koro, not that we regularly get unsolicited funds sent to us via PayPal.

--WR
Cyclone Winston, 2016--that's Koro at the eye. For
reference, Savusavu is almost due north of the eye,
on Vanua Levu.

Don and Frances in Savusavu.

Tasty treats from the Koro islanders.

On Koro, new homes in the background.

Broken concrete is what remains of the church where residents
sought shelter during Winston, and from where many just escaped before it collapsed.

Windy, Frances, and Koro kids.

Group photo.

Eleanor in a play circle.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Big Boom and Departure
By Michael
TEMPLETON, CA


It wasn't this dramatic, the camera is playing tricks.
We didn't know anybody at the party, but there were lots of interesting people to talk to. There were Pinto and Lara, our gracious and charismatic hosts and long-term Fiji residents famous for their 4th of July parties on their sprawling property fronting a windward Fijian beach. There were the visiting South Africans who willingly gave me their own take on the state of race relations at the tip of the African continent. There was the American couple—ex-pats like Pinto and Lara—who both descended from scientists who worked at Los Alamos during development of the atomic bomb. She was a precision welder before retiring and a total science nerd. "Richard Feynman is my hero too!"

Fortunately, it was towards the end of the evening, while the live band played, that Windy and I sat across the yard, farther than anyone from where guests launched the excitingly close fireworks show. As they exploded overhead we compared notes about the new people we'd met that night, about our time back on the boat in Fiji, and about our unhappy plans for the coming days.

Then Windy leapt up and began purposefully, desperately pouring what was left of the 40-ounce beer we were sharing into her ear.

"Are you okay?!" Another shower of sparks had just exploded our way following a boom across the yard.

"I need to get inside, I'm burned."

Here we are waiting to check in our bags in
the hold of the overnight ferry we took last month from
Suva to Savusavu. Interestingly, the M/V Lomaiviti Princess
was formerly M/V Queen of Prince Rupert, one of the
many heavily used BC ferry boats. She was built in 1966
and left BC for Fiji in July 2011. She's not doing well.
 Too much deferred maintenance means that rails are
rusting away and the public toilets back up and
flood the carpeted interior walkways. It ain't pretty.
For 45 minutes she kept her head under the flow of cool water from the kitchen sink. The inside of her ear was badly blistered and the skin had already sloughed off. She was in a lot of pain. I fended off a parade of inebriated well-intentioned advice givers. She did willingly pause from the water flow to allow a couple of the four veterinarians in attendance (one Scottish, one English) to take a look and offer reasoned assurances and care instructions.

We left when she was ready, a potted aloe plant under one arm, courtesy of Pinto and Lara.

The next day I was able to swab all of the powder residue out of her ear with a Q-tip saturated with burn gel. Apparently, a burning piece of firework had found its target in one of the little crooks in the inside of her outer ear. "I could hear it hissing as I extinguished it with the beer." She told me.

That was a couple weeks ago. She is healing. The pain is gone.

The following day I was gone, the unhappy plan in action.

We've long heard countless stories from cruisers older than we about the need to return home to care for parents, since our first cruising spell in the mid-1990s. Now I guess we are older. I left Windy and the girls in Fiji the afternoon of July 5 to return to the States to help care for my mom, to take some of the load off my dad and sisters. Fortunately, this will not be a long-term, cruise-ending event as it is for so many. I plan to return to Fiji to rejoin my family in early August. Unfortunately, we're all booked on a flight back to the States again in late September. So this sojourn interrupts an already brief Fiji cruise.

But that's life.

And overall, life is good. My job, the job of all of us, is to enjoy every bit of it to the extent we're able. For ourselves, for our kids.

Fortunately, Windy and the girls are able to do just that in my absence. Hopefully she'll soon report here from the islands. Stay tuned.


--MR

Scene from a bus we took from the hills above Suva down to
the city center. We love Suva, something about it, nice vibe.











Friday, June 30, 2017

Our Mold Hell
By Michael
SAVUSAVU, FIJI


So check out this dorade vent,
shiny white before we left.
Out in the sun the whole time.
Last year we flew back to the States and left Del Viento afloat in Tonga, for 3 months. When we returned, she looked surprisingly similar to how we'd left her. That experience set our expectations for our recent return to Del Viento in Fiji, after what turned into an 8-month absence. Disappointment is a product of expectations. We arrived back to Del Viento disappointed.

We shouldn't have been, we should have known better.

Things turned out so well in Tonga that we got complacent. We didn't have a regular minder this time, to open the boat weekly and check on the batteries. We smugly assumed we'd left a leak-free boat behind. We hadn't. That latter fact made all the difference in the world.

Photos tell the story best, so I'll use them to do so.

The silver lining is that we had a great dinner ashore the other night with Meri, Jim, and Carolyne of Hotspur. (They're housesitting in a hillside home with a million-dollar view and a killer porch to enjoy it from. All isn't roses with regard to that situation, but the downsides only add fuel to the great stories Meri has to share.) Well, the silver lining I'm talking about isn't the dinner, but the story idea that came out of our mold hell. Meri and I are going to co-write a magazine article about it.

--MR

So check this out, upon dinghying up to the boat for the first time,
I saw these blisters--never had them before--all over the hull. I
know our gelcoat is shot and we've plans to paint, someday, but
above-the-waterline blisters is something I don't want to deal with.
Turns out they are all spider webs, and I had to touch one before
I was sure, bullet dodged!

This looks bad, but cleans up super easily, it's already done.
This ain't mold hell, just what we expected.

The start of mold hell. The cushion that sat here, beneath a drip,
we didn't know about, is in awful shape.

Frances cleaning out the fridge. Interestingly, there was
no mold in there--we'd cleaned it thoroughly before leaving
and we'd left the hatch propped open. Yet it obviously served
as a cockroach meeting place because there were dead bodies
in there and it was streaked with crap. Ugh.

So the Force 10 stove grate is rusting away and this teapot
kind of highlights the general state of things. 

This is the depth of mold hell. These painted fiberglass surfaces were shiny
white when we left. I sanded and painted them all with Interlux one-part
polyurethane in 2015. They were gorgeous. It's a hard shiny surface
on which I would not have expected mold. And there is not a speck of mold in those books
below. Doesn't jive. I'd have thought it easy to clean mold from these hard, shiny surfaces.
It's not. Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide and scrubbing failed. Then, literally minutes
after handing this blog post over to Windy to review, I tried a Kiwi solution
I bought in town, Exit Mould. It's a miracle product.

But really, This is the view ashore. This is where we get to clean
mold. We returned to a boat still afloat. I'm not complaining.

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