I’m busy writing another chapter in the second book in my nautical trilogy In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: SAILING THE SOUTH PACIFIC.  This chapter is about our adventures in Fiji. I laughed about this story of our circumnavigation and decided to share it with you here:

Beaching the Cat

Before we leave Denarau to go cruising again, we will need to replace the zincs—a maintenance that must be performed every one to two years or whenever they are eaten up by electrolysis. These sacrificial electrodes are not-so-conveniently located on the bottom of the propeller shaft which entails pulling the craft out of the water or simply beaching the boat on an incline that allows access.

At 1000 we pull anchor to head for such an incline. Buried in oozy mud, the anchor makes a giant sucking sound, like the hundreds of U.S. jobs that Ross Perot said would go to Mexico with the implementation of NAFTA.

Now Pacific Bliss sits in the still bay, waiting patiently. Her instruments show Force 0 wind.  The sky is baby blue with white fleece clouds, serene as the scene on a toddler’s pajamas.

Yet Günter and I sit here watching the clock, shaking with trepidation. We are waiting for a certain moment: exactly 45 minutes after high tide. Then we will motor on to the mud bar and attempt to beach our catamaran. We ask God to make sure that our Guardian Angel comes along. Then, together, we let loose with a primal scream, “A-a-ah!” waving our hands above our heads. After sailing over 17,000 miles—one-half way around the world—we will beach Pacific Bliss for the first time.

Günter starts the engines. Events unfold as in a film set in slow motion.  We snake through the well-marked Denarau Marina channel, meeting two excursion yachts, Captain Cook Cruises and Whales Tale.  Their passengers cheerfully wave us on. A pair of moon jellyfish glide along our hull: one floats flat like a purple-rimmed plate, the other puffs open its bell, trailing translucent tentacles. We motor slowly to the row of posts where the workhorse vessels tie and straight for the post bearing the huge sign: an anchor symbol with a red slash running diagonally through it and the words NO ANCHOR.

It goes against my grain to continue to inch forward.

“Nice and easy now,” I caution Günter, who is still at the controls.

We kiss the bank, surrounded by water. No scraping. No scratching. Just a gentle settling in. We are beached.

Günter deploys the dinghy, Petit Bliss. He checks the depths at the props, dagger boards, and rudder. I dutifully mark down the measurements. “She must be resting on her belly,” says Günter.

“Two bellies. Like a pair of beached whales.”

“Piece of cake. Beaching a Cat.”

But beaching the Cat is only part of the story…the worst is yet to come.

Günter calls David, the trusty mechanic at Denarau Marine. He arrives in a small powerboat with his assistant. They get out at the same time and promptly sink up to their knees. David reaches back into his boat for a tarp and lays it down lightly over the mud to catch anything that might fall.

He knows what he’s doing.

But to get at the zincs is not easy. Both struggle to wrench the propeller free.

It’s a race against time. I can’t help holding my breath.

They finish the job before the tide rises again and take off.  Now we must stay here overnight and wait for the rising tide to free Pacific Bliss.

Pacific Bliss on Sandbar

Unbeaching the Cat

I awaken at 0600 after a fitful sleep. The most difficult part of our maneuver is yet to come. Today we must unbeach the Cat!  As I sit at the helm seat with my morning coffee, the sun breaks dramatically over the highlands of Viti Levu. The tide is rising nicely. Pacific Bliss shifts in her muddy cradle, adding a little more weight toward the stern. I see that as a good sign, perhaps she will float off all by herself at high tide!

Captain Günter is not persuaded. His dire ruminations kept him awake most of the night. He fears that we have miscalculated.

“How could that have happened,” I ask, “despite our careful planning? We beached Pacific Bliss at exactly one hour after high tide, so that the high tide the next day would float her off.”

“Here’s the problem,” Günter says. “Every night since the highest tide at the recent full moon, the high tide is less. So for May 20th the tide table forecasts 1.7 meters at 0932.  For May 21st, it predicts 1.6 meters at 1029. Remember, the evening tide at 2227, which we stayed up for, was a little lower than the daytime tide: 1.5 meters. We didn’t want to float her off in the dark anyway…but when we walked around the top deck at 10:30 p.m., she was clearly not floating.

“What else could we have done?”

“We should have been more conservative. Maybe we should have waited until two hours after high tide. We left little margin to allow for a falling high tide… in fact, to be really conservative, we should have planned this maneuver during a rising high tide, before the full moon.

Waiting on this mud bank for the next full moon, however, was not a viable option. Why bring it up?  But I know better than to talk out loud right now.

Fortunately we are in mud instead of sand,” Günter continues.  “It should be easy to hire workmen to dig two channels to pull the hulls back.  But that would mean at least another day here…Unfortunately, we are in the mud instead of sand. Pacific Bliss could have settled in with all her weight, nesting comfortably in a cradle of mud. After all, she didn’t budge at high tide last night.”

We decide to tie our extra long “palm-tree line” to one of the poles to which the barges tie up. We winch it tight. The tide rises slowly—much too slowly. Günter takes a measurement at the swim ladder. It is 3.1 feet versus 3.5 feet when we beached. The bottoms of the dagger boards are stuck tight into the mud. Günter has lifted them up as far as they will go.

He starts the engines. “Let’s just give it a little test.” Pacific Bliss does not budge.

“See that barge over there!” I point. Maybe he could help.”

Günter talks to the barge captain on VHF Channel 69. The captain agrees to deploy his powerboat at 1015, 15 minutes before high tide. It has a 30 horsepower outboard motor. If that fails to work, he’ll use the big barge proper. “But I do not think that will be necessary,” he says.

For a five long minutes we agonize over the potential damage to the dagger boards, or worse yet, the rudders. Then we pray again for the safety of Pacific Bliss.

Now it is time for action. Günter deploys a second heavy line to use, if needed, as a towline for the barge. Promptly at 1015 a man motions to me from the barge. I signal for him to come over. Günter offers the captain and crew $50 Fijian to help get us off, money well spent.

Mechanic Changes Zincs on Sandbar

We fashion a bridle to the powerboat and cleat it at each stern hull of Pacific Bliss.  Günter begins to rev both of our 40hp engines in reverse. The men in the boat pull their line taut. We have also winched the long line to the pole taut.

It is 1030, high tide.

“Let her roll!” Günter says.

Engines scream. The reluctant mud makes another giant sucking sound and gives up her prey.  Pacific Bliss leaps back with joy. Her engines purr. She is so happy to be out of the mud!

After all, she is a sailing vessel, not a pig. 

But it’s never over until it’s over. I always find it amazing how fast a positive situation can deteriorate on a boat. The barge crew fails to watch the towline. They let it go slack. Their line begins to drift underneath our prop. Thank God, our engines are back to neutral! Günter quickly dons his mask and fins and dives underneath the hull to free the line.

We have arranged to berth on Denarau Marine’s dock, next to the mega yachts.

But first, we anchor in the bay, wash down the Pacific Bliss decks with our salt-water hose, and share a can of ice cold Fiji Bitter. “To no…more…adventures,” I toast.

“Here’s to no more adventures for a very long time…but I know they’ll come,” Günter adds.

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