Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sugar Cane Express
By Michael

Children of the cane.
Most of the cruisers and cruising families we’ve ever met hail from one of the big six: the United States, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. It’s not unusual to come across a boat from Sweden, Spain, or Holland, but a boat from anyplace else is unusual. Since leaving Mexico, we’ve met the crews of cruising boats hailing from countries that don’t spawn a lot of cruising boats. In the Marquesas we met a family from Monaco (I think you’d have to meet a cruising family from the Vatican or Lichtenstein to beat that) and a couple from Cape Verde. The other night we met a family from Israel. And since arriving in Fiji, we’ve made friends with two families from Switzerland.

Our encounters with the two Swiss families were just days apart and I was surprised neither knew of the other, Elas just a day sail away from Oniva, halfway around the world from home. Then I learned that tiny Switzerland—and Windy says everyone already knows this, but she’s a geographer—is essentially divided by language and culture into German-Swiss, French-Swiss, Italian-Swiss, and Romansh-Swiss. So our new German-Swiss friends (Elas) weren’t aware of our new French-Swiss friends (Oniva) and they each speak and blog in a different language (besides, one sails a monohull, the other a multihull—how well would they get along anyway?). The things you learn cruising.

Weeks after my Swiss geography lesson, we tied up in Port Denarau to pick up the girls’ cousin, Kat, visiting from Washington State. Down the docks come the Elas family with a tale of woe.

We knew they had decided to haul out in Fiji’s Vuda Point Marina, for a quick repair before their passage to Australia. A sleeve on their rudder shaft was worn. The play that resulted wasn’t too bad, but neither was the fix going to be a big deal; there was a machinist near the marina that could turn a new sleeve in his sleep.

But halfway through the job, Elas on the hard, the machinist requested they bring in their rudder, explaining that it would help him to fabricate a part with closer tolerances. That was music to Swiss ears. Kim and Claudia delivered Elas’s rudder, the machine shop accidentally destroyed it.

“It’s not my problem,” the shop owner told our friends, “go after my employee.”

That’s the flip side of the joys of living and doing business in a less-regulated, less litigious place.

Kim shakes his head, a self-deprecating lament of his decision to address the problem in the first place. “We are Swiss and so everything must be perfect, no wobble, no tiny wobble...”

The rudder might be reparable, but they reckon it’s too critical a part to rely on an iffy repair. It’s going to take Beneteau at least 6 weeks to fabricate a replacement in France and get it to Fiji. It’s going to cost the family thousands of dollars. (They talk all about it here, in Swiss-German.)

After the girls’ cousin departed, we sailed north to Saweni Bay to visit our rudderless friends in Vuda Point and cheer them up. We walked 2 hours each way from Saweni Bay to Vuda Point Marina. Elas was there, but the family had found a cheap flight to New Zealand and went exploring. It was a good day anyway.


Saweni Bay, where we left Pudgy to begin our trek to Vuda Point.

Dry dirt roads all the way.

We followed these tracks nearly the entire way. This is sugar cane
growing land and these tracks are used to transport harvested cane
to the refinery in Lautoka.

About 30 minutes in.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was the
bar at Vuda Point.

Vuda Point Marina is famous, it's where boats are hauled
for cyclone season and their keels lowered into pits that
surround this enclosed basin. Boats within the basin are
rafted together in a big circle.

Starting home, the engines were positioning to pull
the cars loaded with cane.

Goat herder.

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