2012, 10-17 ........Persistance Pays Off in the End.
We arrived in Suva Fiji with plenty of time to check out the marina at Vuda Point and then make an informed decision about whether to stay in Fiji for the coming cyclone season or turn north to the Marshall Islands as we had originally planned. To expedite things at Vuda Point Bill took a five hour cross island bus trip to check things out while I remained with the boat in Suva. He was satisfied with the details and so returned to Suva after deciding to reserve a spot on the quay for the next six months. Then by chance we were wandering through Lami town outside of Suva when we met David one of the owners of the two marine hardware stores in the Suva area and a member of the family that also owns and operates Vuda Point Marina as well. The store was actually closed when we arrived but they let us in to wander around and we started talking a bit. He was friendly and easy to talk with but more importantly he was able to tell us a more about the marina and their policies and what their past experiences had been with cyclones. We shook hands and took his business card and walked back to the Royal Suva Yacht Club feeling a bit more confident with our decision decision to stay in Fiji.
From my last blog post you know that I was basically instantly taken with the place when we arrived. The staff is friendly and warm and knew our names from day one, the town of Lautoka was easy to reach and has a great market, the buses are cheap and easy to use, they have movie night tree nights a week and they have two washing machines. What more could we ask for? Well, a guarantee that our place would be waiting for us if we traveled out to the nearby islands to beat the seasons worst heat.
Our plan all along was to prepay for the spot on the quay -$2500.00 FD/$1500.00 US- then over the next six months spend most of our time away from the marina traveling around the outer islands. We knew from experience that the marina would be blisteringly hot for the coming months. The cyclone protection the marina offers is here only because the design of the boat basin reduces the airflow in and out. Which means all the usual cooling breezes of the pacific ocean are also kept out. Getting out of the marina would also remove us from the polluted marina water and free us up for swimming, snorkeling, walking the beaches and diving while we get better acquainted with some of the local islanders. A perfect solution.
Perfect until we found out that despite the lump sum payment the marina would not hold our spot. They did promise to fit us into the marina in case bad weather threatens which sounds like a reasonable offer but all things considered not all of the spots along the quay are equal. We had managed to land in a spot well away from the channel opening across the reef while also sitting tucked in behind the widest area of reef, rock, dirt and width of trees that separates the in-the-water boats from the open ocean and we wanted to be able to come back to it. Guaranteed.
But the marina isn't run like that. So despite being done in by several days of hot temperatures and high humidity our planned jump to Musket Cove would have to be delayed while we worked on an answer to our question. In fact we were starting to discuss alternative choices for the coming season while we persisted in our quest for a guarantee. The marina has until now operated by moving boats around, a lot. They want to be able to move anyone (except the commercial boats who have permanent spots!!!) at their discretion in order to fit in the comings and going of transient boats and generating the maximum amount of income from each few foot wide swatch on the quay. We on the other hand come from a back ground of always renting an actual space. You're own little 50'x15' piece of real estate that you could call home.
Next we tried the general operating procedure, third world approach: small well placed currency. It was accepted and landed us the choice spot we are now sitting in and a big smile but it obviously came with no true guarantee. Then we tried the office manager Maria who smiled and suggested we talk with Mo. Mo being the man who previously couldn't give us any real guarantee seemed a dead end so we moved on. Then we met the marina manager Adam at a kava ceremony and tried appealing to his business acumen. Adam didn't think it would be any problem at all. In fact he said he assumed that we had actually rented a specific spot and it would of course be waiting for us on our return. He then had to back peddle a bit with surprise when we told him that the marina was saying no, that wasn't the case. He was positive and reassuring but also stated that since he had only been working here at the marina for a week and a half that he would need to talk with his boss and see what he could find out for us.
Ah, but there are no pits left save one that is reserved but the boat is still in Tonga and they have not paid any deposit and may not be coming. He had emailed them and would tell us the next day if we could have the pit. The pits to be clear is a hole in the ground where they lower your boat after lifting it out of the water via the travel lift. You are keel deep in the pit with old tires propping you up all around -the pit area looks like someone has planted a crop of blue water boats. It's a great choice if you are going to leave you boat for an extended time away but a less enjoyable experience if you are going to try and live on it. It is generally hotter with no water to cool the hull and you have a tendency to get infested with vermin like rats, ants and roaches. Most people go in the hole here in October/November and get back out in the spring.
Finally yesterday Adam tells us that after talking it over with Tony the big boss and surprise surprise David!!, we could have the pit that has now been released (we later learned there is in fact a waiting list of other boats hoping for a spot in a pit but one was offered to us regardless.) Then after another day and a moments relaxation into the whole idea of opting for the pit Adam came to us once again saying after a further discussion with Tony and David we would be offered the choice of the pit if we wanted it or they would guarantee to hold our spot. They decided they would give us our guarantee and proceed with the idea that they would use us as research into what impact offering guaranteed spots would have on the marina. They did ask if we thought a guaranteed space would be worth a premium and we honestly told them that yes we thought it would, we didn't know about other cruisers but had we been offered in the beginning a choice of a premium space with guaranteed in and out privileges or a place that would change every time we came and went we would have chosen the premium package.
Finally we're satisfied. Never raised our voices or threatened or caused a fuss. Captain Bill simply kept asking questions until we got the answer we needed. By the time the final decision was made we were actually getting pumped about the possibility of New Zealand which certainly would have given us an entirely different experience and blown a bunch of friends out of the water -whom we had said our good byes too -when they saw us sailing into the anchorage next to them. But Fiji had been the plan and we are still happy with it. We assured everyone that they are free to put other boats into our spot when we are gone and we will be gone a great deal. We know if we came to the marina and were told that we were welcome but that the spot belonged to another boat and we would have to move if they returned we -and everyone we know- would be fine with that. So help themselves, no problem. The marina has promised to make a sign saying reserved and an email went out saying that “they (we) were adamant about having a guaranteed place at the quay” so the yard staff should consider us a commercial account.