After our amazing experience in the Musket Cove Regatta we head to Denarau to provision, fuel, and tend to other necessary matters. As soon as we leave Denarau we will head up wind to the eastern Ringgold Islands and Taveuni which will take us approximately 2-3 days. But the universe had other plans for us when our main sail decides she is worn out and tears 7 meters across – from being just tired and worn out. How did that happen….read on.
We are lucky enough to secure a mooring during our brief 2-night stay in Denarau. There is a lot to do in a short amount of time.
We hired a taxi to take us shopping in the main town of Nadi. Stops include: 2 grocery stores, the fresh market, the butcher, and a pharmacy. We were able to replace several expired medications for our onboard medical kit including antibiotics, ear and eye drops, anti-malaria pills, and a few other key medications (without a prescription). I had hoped to purchase an Epi Pen and my chemo pills but alas they did not have those in stock.
I know it must sound odd for me to write about running errands, but please remember we can only do this in a few villages on a few islands. Out of the 332 islands in Fiji there is really only 1 place where we can do ALL of this in one place, so it is BIG day when we can check these errands off our list. Sometimes we go months without seeing a grocery store and certainly longer for a pharmacy, butcher, and doctor.
Doctor Says “It’s a Perforated Ear Drum”
One of our priority items was to have a doctor look at Matt’s ear. A few weeks ago, he free dove down to 45’ to retrieve our dinghy anchor that was stuck. Typically, he would clear his ears several times when going down to this depth. Clearing your ears is easy. You pinch your nose and blow out – which gently relieves the pressure in your ears. However, this time, he was using both hands to scale down the dinghy painter to get to the bottom faster. He only cleared once and when he got to the bottom, he heard a loud pop in his left ear, and then felt pain. Not good. He retrieved the anchor, came up, and we rushed to the boat.
We had hoped it was just water in the ear so we put swimmers ear drops in and that hurt like hell (so we did not do that again). Next, we started him on antibiotics and he stayed out of the water until we could get to a doctor (2 weeks later).
We stopped in the Emergency Clinic and saw a lovely physician who told us that Matt had a perforated ear drum. The good news is that it was not infected (probably because he stayed out of the water and was on antibiotics) and it was healing. The doctor prescribed 2 more weeks of antibiotics and 1 week of antihistamines. He can’t go in the water for 4-6 weeks (which is the rest of our stay in Fiji).
Chores and Errands
- Laundry (3 loads at the marina’s laundry facility which is awesome!)
- Bank (more Fijian funny money)
- Extend Visas (lots of paperwork and visits to customs and immigration)
- Farmboy delivery (fresh produce we couldn’t find elsewhere)
- Taxi run to town: Markets, fresh market, pharmacy, butcher
- We say goodbye to our friends on Sea Jay and Anima as they head to Vanuatu
- Fuel (644 liters of diesel and 105 liters of gasoline)
- We had not fueled since we left French Polynesia (over 3000 miles ago!) Of course, a lot of that was sailing from FP to Fiji.
After several busy days, we are a bit work out, but we are ready to leave. Yea, a new adventure and new islands. Our plan was to head NE around Viti Levu, then cross the Bligh waters toward Vanua Levu, then make our way back to Taveuni and the Ringgold Islands. However, the universe had other plans for us.
Tired and Just Done with Us
Our main sail and jib are 21 years old and are original to the boat. This is actually incredibly surprising since most sails last about 10-12 years. We have been very lucky that they have held up for so long! For several years we have been “making due” with the poor sail shape which impacts the boat’s performance and speed. We knew they were tired and worn out, but it did not make any sense to replace them in French Polynesia or Fiji where the options were limited and very expensive.
We knew the sails had to be replaced and soon, but we were hoping to do it in New Zealand where there are several sail makers to choose from. And frankly, it is a huge expense at almost $20,000 that I was hoping to put it off as long as possible.
Well, as we started crossing the Bligh waters our sweet sail finally was worn out and she blew a spectacular 7-meter rip along the seam just below the second reef. Not a little tear mind you, but a massive one. We quickly turned into the wind and dropped the main to prevent further damage. We looked at each other, then at the instruments – we were in 12kt of steady wind, no squalls, or wind puffs, just a steady breeze. I wish I had a photo to show you but we were so shocked she ripped that we went into salvage mode to prevent further damage.
We had no choice but to turn around and head back to Denarau – 2-day motor. The good news is that she blew when we were close to land and only 2 days away from “town” vs tearing while we were in the middle of the Pacific under passage to New Zealand. Thank God for little blessings.
The Hunt is On
It was Sunday, but I started emailing companies and checking resources to see what our options were. Not many. There is only one sail maker in Fiji, Marshall Sails. There are several canvas makers but they don’t have the machinery big or strong enough to go through two layers of heavy dacron material (our main sail is double layer).
By Monday morning at 0900, the owner of Marshall Sails tells me he can fix our sail and get it back to us in 10 days. This is a huge blessing as we are scheduled to leave for New Zealand in 2-3 weeks and we kind of need our main sail!
Taking the Main Sail Down
It is no small chore to remove the main sail. First of all, she weighs in at over 300lbs! Matt does most of the work as I am sick with the flu and a fever and am tasked with manning the helm. Steps to remove the main sail:
- Remove the halyard (we tie it off to a port cleat)
- Move the boom to the side so Matt can reach the reefing lines (upper right corner shows the red, yellow and green reefing lines around the boom)
- Remove the cars (while not losing the very small pins while underway) that raise the main at the mast
- Remove half of the lazy jacks holding the sail bag (lower photo)
- Remove the other half of the lazy jacks and the entire sail bag
At this point we can see the severity of the damage. It appears the stitching gave out but the majority of the sail is fine. The only part of the sail that needs a dacron patch is the end (upper right corner photo). The rest should be an easy, although long zig zag stitch to fix the tear.
Together, we flake the sail and put her in her bag and ready it for delivery. We managed to get to Denarau by 1400 on Monday, while the owner was still there. We had to use the halyard to get the sail from Sugar Shack into the dinghy. Again, not easy to do with the winds and chop in the anchorage, but we succeed.
Marshall Sails to the Rescue
Alan Marshall, the owner of Marshall Sails meets us, helps us get the sail into the truck and takes it back to his loft. The next day he sends me a quote which floored both Matt and I. We anticipated it being well over $2k USD to repair the seam and to re-stitch the other seams which are probably just as worn out as the torn seam. But he came back with a quote of $500 USD. Most excellent considering, we just need it to last long enough to get us to New Zealand (2 more months or 1500 nm).
Alan had to confirm that our sail was truly 21 years old. He was surprised that it was in “such good shape” for her age and thought she would have been “more worn out” than she actually was. If you might recall, in Q3 of 2020 we had the entire sail examined, repaired, and resewn in Tahiti (blog post). They checked all the seams, reinforced the corners, and verified that she was in good shape.
We got our sail back (a day ahead of schedule), for the quoted price, and they did really good work. It was a process getting the sail back to the boat. After all she is 300lbs of dead weight! One of the guys from Marshall Sails helps us load her into the dinghy and we make the 2nm jaunt across the bay.
Installing the Main Sail
Then we use the halyard to hoist her onto the boat. Thank goodness we have light winds and very little swell.
Matt spends about an hour installing the sail bag and lazy jacks. Next, we unroll the mighty beast and lay her out so we can prepare to install her back in place.
We have to start installing the sail before we can evaluate the repair. First, we put the batons in from top to bottom (short to long). There are 6 of them.
Matt connects the sail to the mast at each baton point. He will connect the bungee points as we lower the sail (hard part first). Look how he has to balance to reach the halyard.
We are finally at the big repair seam. It looks good. The used special sail tape to connect the seams, then they stitched 3 times with a 3-point zig zag stitch.
Marshall Sails also used the 3-point zig zag stitch over the other seams that run across the sail. Extra reinforcement as they are just as compromised as the one that actually tore.
The overall repair looks strong and ready to test out!
After we attach all the cars (so she goes up and down the mast), we (meaning Matt) has to attach the rest of the sail bag, the reef lines, and the main sheets.
It took 3.5 hours the first day (we worked until dark). Then it took another 3.5 hours the following morning to complete the install.
Our anchorage was blessedly calm with light winds and no swell as we are protected from 3 out of 4 directions.
Thank goodness that is done. Now all we have to do is test her out!
Here she is happily flying again, albeit, still out of shape, but getting us to where we want to go.
The events from this blog occurred in early September 2022. Our blog posts run 6-8 weeks behind actual events. Matt tries out a new sport in our last blog post – did you read it?