May 20, 2003
Denarau Anchorage
Denarau Island, Viti Levu, Fiji

Beaching the Cat
By Lois Joy Go to beaching the cat photo journal      


At 1000 we pull the anchor, buried in oozy mud. It 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. Pacific Bliss just sits here calmly in the still bay. The instruments show Force 0 wind. The sky is a baby blue with the kind of white fleece clouds one sees on a toddler’s pajamas. Yet Gunter and I sit here fraught with fear and trepidation, as we watch the clock. We are waiting until exactly 45 minutes after high tide. Then we will motor to a mud bar within the marina harbor and attempt to beach the Cat. We pray for God to send a Guardian Angel to keep Pacific Bliss safe in this maneuver. Then we bellow out a primal scream, waving our hands above our heads to release the tension: “A-a-ah!” We start the engines. After sailing over 17,000 miles—one-half way around the world—we are beaching Pacific Bliss for the first time.

We snake through the smooth waters of the well-marked Denarau Marina channel, meeting two excursion yachts, Captain Cook Cruises and Whales Tale, as their passengers wave to us. A pair of huge moon jellyfish glide along: one floating flat like a purple-rimmed plate, the other puffing open its bell, gently trailing its translucent tentacles.

As in a film set to slow motion, we wind around the posts where the workhorse vessels tie, toward the post with the huge sign sporting an anchor symbol with a red slash running diagonally through. NO ANCHOR. It goes against the grain to continue to inch forward.

“Nice and easy now,” I caution Captain Gunter at the controls. We stop on the bank, water all around us, with no sound, no scrape, just a gentle settling. We are beached.

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

“Two bellies,” I respond, “like a pair of beached whales.”

“Piece of cake,” said Gunter, “beaching a Cat.”

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


May 21, 2003
Unbeaching the Cat

I awaken at 0600 after a fitful sleep. The sky has barely begun to lighten. The tide has risen and fallen and is now rising again. Yesterday our trusty mechanic here, David, along with his assistant, came to the mudbar where we now reside and successfully replaced the zincs. The most difficult part of our maneuver is yet to come. Today we must unbeach the Cat.

By the time I sit at the helm seat with my morning coffee and the sun breaks gloriously over the highlands of Viti Levu, we have already discussed our options. We checked out one possibility: whether our spare anchor, the Danforth, would hold sufficiently in the mud to winch Pacific Bliss off into the deeper waters there. It won’t. So we retrieve our bow anchor.

The tide is rising nicely. Pacific Bliss has shifted in her muddy cradle with 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 Gunter is not persuaded. His dire ruminations had kept him awake most of the night. He feared that we had miscalculated… How could that have happened despite our careful planning?
• We beached her at exactly one hour after high tide, so that the high tide the next day would float her off.
• But every night since the highest tide at the recent full moon, the high tide is less; e.g., for May 20th the tide table forecasts 1.7m at 0932; for May 21st it predicts 1.6m at 1029.
• The evening tide at 2227, which we stayed up for, was a little lower than the daytime tide: 1.5m. We didn’t want to float her off in the dark anyway, but when we walked around the top deck at 10:30PM, she was clearly not floating. That’s what caused our angst.
• We should have been more conservative, perhaps waiting until two hours after high tide, we now calculate. We left little margin to allow for a falling high tide. In fact, to be really conservative, we should have planned the maneuver during a rising high tide, before the full moon. Waiting on this mud bank for the next full moon, however, is not a viable option!
• Fortunately we are in mud instead of sand. It should be easy to hire workmen to dig two channels to pull the hulls back, but that would entail at least another day. 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 tie our long ‘palm-tree’ line to one of the poles to which the barges tie up. We winch it tight. The tide is slowly—agonizingly slowly—rising. The measurement at the swim ladder is 3.1’ vs. the 3.5’ when we beached. The bottoms of the daggerboards are tight into the mud. Gunter has lifted them up as far as they will go. He starts the engines. “Just to give it a little test,” he says. Pacific Bliss does not budge.

Gunter talks to the barge Captain on VHF 69. He will deploy his motorboat (with a 30hp outboard) at 1015, 15 minutes before high tide. If that fails to work, he’ll use the 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 daggerboards, or worse yet, the rudders. Then we pray again for the safety of Pacific Bliss. It is now time for action. Gunter deploys a second heavy line to use, if needed, as a towline for the barge. We have already tied a number of our dock lines together for the dinghy tow.

At 1015 the man motions to me from the barge. I signal for him to come over. We offer the captain and crew $50 Fijian to help get us off, money well spent. We fashion a bridle to the little boat and cleat it at each stern hull of Pacific Bliss.

Both of our 40hp engines are now revving in reverse. The men in the boat pull their line taut. The long line to the pole is winched taut. It is 1030, high tide.

“Let her roll!” says Captain Gunter. Pacific Bliss joyfully leaps backward, her engines purring, happy to be out of the mud. After all, she is a sailing vessel, not a pig. I don’t think she liked the mud flat any more than we did!

I always find it amazing how fast a positive situation can deteriorate on a boat. The barge crew failed to watch the towline. They had let it go slack, and their line began to drift underneath our prop. By then, Thank God, the engines were in neutral. But it took Gunter quickly donning his mask and fins and diving underneath the hull to free the line.

We had arranged for space on Denarau’s dock with the Mega Yachts. But first, we anchored in the bay, washed Pacific Bliss decks with our salt-water hose, and shared a can of ice cold Fiji Bitter. We hope that it will be some time before our next adventure!
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