Howdy Capt Koo from the Marshal Islands, January 23, 2010
I am moored off Ugila, Majuro catching up on boat projects and enjoying some nice
snorkeling in the lagoon. There are over 20 boats here escaping the southern
Hemisphere hurricane season making for active society. I last wrote from Savu Savu,
Fiji 6 months back.
Fiji was great again. From Savu I made two trips up to the Somo Somo Straits to visit
friends in Viani Bay and do some diving on the walls there, some of the worlds best. In
July I set off to sail around the north end of Vanua Levu inside the Great Sea Reef.
The trip took most of a month and I saw only two yachts. Rambi Island was a first stop,
really a lovely spot. We anchored in Albert Cove and visited the Micronesian people
who were relocated from Ocean Island during the phosphate mining period. Rambi is a
high island with nice folks, views and snorkeling. From Rambi we rounded Vanua Levu
to visit many nice anchorages and river trips. Most of the rivers here are easily
navigable by dingy, making a guy feel nice and primitive, sort of in the Joseph Conrad
style. There are ample great anchorages well protected by the reefs and only Fijian
villages rarely visited and eager for my company. Fijians were always eager to stop
their activities to have ceremonial kava (yangona) drinking sessions with me.
The only real settlement in the north is Lambasa, the sugar town. It is a dusty place
with a very depressed economy. I anchored off the sawmill there for a few days to get
some help with a battery charging problem. It is the only civilization in the area, a
possible repair stop, but not at all entertaining. From my last anchorage at Baulailai I
sailed in company with a French Boat across the lumpy Bay Waters to Voli Voli Point in
the north of Viti Levu, a breezy welcome stop. I had a pleasant two day trip again west
about the top of the island to Latoka for some shopping before heading to Vuda Point
Marina where I had reserved a haul out. The Marina and haul out are fine, but I made
the BIG MISTAKE of using Baobab Marine there and had an all time terrible
experience which resulted in my joining a number of yachts who, having been abused
by this terrible contractor, participated in investigations by the Fiji Government Fair
YACHTS BEWARE… The Fiji Fair Trade Department recommends that we avoid using
Baobab Marine because of bad business practices. If yachts find no alternative help
available they suggest using Baobab only on small fixed price contracts and while
keeping a close eye on the work. Not only has work been overcharged, inflated in
scope, delivered incomplete or unsatisfactorily engineered, but a number of yacht
owners have charged physical and verbal abuse. The problem has continued as most
of us must move on so just pay up and leave with a bad taste for Fiji.
My experience was to engage Baobab for bottom painting involving a change from
ablative to hard bottom paint and to have my chain restored by hot galvanizing. I was
told that Baobab won’t do fixed price work because of the difficulty of managing
changes, but that the bottom job should be about 3500F$ or about 1750 US$.
Galvanizing is usually around $280US$. While I was hauled I began to learn of the
problems people were having with Brian Smith, the S African who operates Baobab.
One boat left suddenly after a dispute with Smith resulting in a head butting attack. My
chain was returned spray painted over the plastic chain markers rather than hot
galvanized. I showed the work to Smith, saying it was not as ordered and
unsatisfactory. He simply said that what I ordered was not availably in Fiji and walked
away. The bottom job was billed at 7200F$ and the chain spray at 840F$. I refused to
pay for the chain spray and eventually agreed to pay the other work as billed in
protest. I posted the 7200F$ with the marina office to show good faith on the advice of
Tony Philip, the marina owner. To resolve the matter, he offered to pay Smith the
840F$ balance. Smith told Philip he didn’t want the payment but wanted “to teach
those yachties a lesson”. Without any answers to my written offers to resolve the
matters he went to court in Fiji, swore that I was trying to escape the country without
paying and had the boat seized by the court with no prior notice or opportunity to
defend. I offered full cash payment to Smith’s lawyer and that was refused. I had to
engage a lawyer to get the boat released. I am hopeful that Vuda Point Marina or the
Government of Fiji will fix this problem and protect Yachts from Baobab Marine and
Brian Smith. Until then, Yachts BEWARE!!
I made stops at Dicks Place, Malolo Lailai, and Robinson Crusoe Island to stock up on
the yachtie social scene. Both spots were a nice break after the haul out stress. Dicks
Place continues to be a busy but excellently operated place to congregate. One of the
best in the world. Next was a trip around the top of Viti Levu again for a few days with a
stop at Makongai Island, the abandoned leper colony to Savu Savu for a rest and a
couple of weeks with the friendly and familiar.
We left Savu Savu with California and Fiji Pal Marty Smith aboard for the Marshal
Islands. A last night in Fiji was taken at pristine Bua Bay before a breezy and fast
passage though Bau Waters and past the top of the Yamaha group to sea just before
After a very fast 3 day passage and 500 miles we arrived Funafuti, Tuvalu without the
light wind genoa that we destroyed on the way. The remaining bots are now being
used as an awning by one of the villagers there. We liked Funafuti. The people were
pleasant if a little crowded, there was a good Chinese restaurant, and no one showed
up to check us in or out of the country. Sadly, Tuvalu makes it difficult for yachts to
stop legally at any other atolls without approvals well in advance of going to sea. If
crowded Funafuti is nice, I expect the other atolls would be great.
The 740 mile passage to Tarawa, Kiribati was very much a mixed bag. We started
motor sailing, lost the wind and had glassy sea and arrived in a nice breeze. Tarawa
was the first big atoll battle of WWII where the US learned a lot about displacing dug in
Japanese defenders with large losses. Later battles were much less costly due to
lessons learned here. The island is now one of the most crowded places on earth due
to the depopulation of the out islands as the Gilbertese move to the population center.
There are over 40,000 on this narrow coral strip without revenue other than from
foreign fishing licenses and a little copra. Rusty hulks are numerous in the harbor,
afloat and sunken. One big rust bucket drifted down on Jubilant while Marty and I were
ashore, scratching up the pert side a bit. No one was aboard the ship, probably
Majuro provided a warm welcome from yachts in residence and a bullet proof mooring
after the last 395 miles in light winds or the equatorial convergence zone. There is
good protection here from all but strong west wind, which is rare. Majuro is the capitol
of the Marshal Islands. There is some shopping for American goods. The great news
seems to be that the US Postal Service is here, so parts ordered from the US are
delivered at reasonable cost fairly predictably. After a few days Marty flew back to
Nancy in California. He was great company and fine crew; never threw up even once.
I have been making use of the mails. So far I have replaced two alternators, one
voltage regulator, two pumps, one water maker membrane and a lot of little stuff. Life
is good. I missed going home for Christmas because there is no marina here but we all
put together a decent if familyless holiday. I am hoping to start cruising the out islands
in the next few days. The next big trip will either be up to Hawaii or west to begin
another world loop. Anybody want a ride??