Andiamo Naples woman's take on round-the-world... (well, sort of)

05 January 2015 | finally writing, back in the USA
23 October 2014 | The Islands of Eastern Fiji
12 October 2014 | East of Savusavu, Fiji
30 September 2014 | Savusavu, Fiji
21 September 2014 | Lape Village, Vava'u, The Kingdom of Tonga
14 September 2014 | Neiafu, Vava'u in The Kingdom of Tonga
01 September 2014 | safely in Neiafu, Vavua, Tonga
31 August 2014 | hundreds of miles from anywhere
21 August 2014 | on route to uninhabited Suwarrow atoll
06 August 2014 | French Polynesia
28 July 2014
10 July 2014
09 July 2014 | Bora Bora, French Polynesia
26 June 2014 | Papeete, Tahiti
17 June 2014 | departing Anse Amyot, Tuamotus
24 May 2014 | Writing from Tahuata
03 May 2014 | Rikitea, Mangareva
24 April 2014 | En Route to French Polynesia

NEW ZEALAND: Lasting Impressions

05 January 2015 | finally writing, back in the USA
Please forgive the much overdo and inadequate blogpost on our memorable experience of New Zealand. Recognizing my shortcomings in doing our trip justice, I write this to merely go on record to capture my impressions and share some photos (see my facebook albums).

The first humans to settle New Zealand - the Maori, migrating from Polynesia over 700 years ago - named their new land Aotearoa -" land of the long white cloud". There can be no mystery why. I spent five and a half weeks in this (two) island nation and was granted a mere handful of days that featured sun. But in wild New Zealand, where one can experience all four seasons in one day, we learned that she is equally striking in a drizzle or a downpour (some claim more so), and despite gloomy weather, this is sure to go down as one of our best trips ever. With us largely off the internet-grid this past year, we whole-heartedly thank Ann and Nick, David's sister and brother-in-law, who did the detailed planning for our joint multi-week exploration of the South Island. And what an exploration it was.

Sure, sailing nearly halfway around the globe this year certainly has made for memorable "adventure travel", but this excursion - at last - felt like VACATION! I was finally traveling off the boat and blessed with comfortable lodging, long, hot showers (and even baths!), daily hikes, laundry facilities on demand, and meals cooked and cleaned up by others. I didn't even mind the 7 beds, 3 rental cars and 2 plane rides necessary to accomplish our ambitious itinerary. Nor the need for dressing in layers or raincoats or clunky hikers, which was actually a refreshing break from a solid year of sweating in the Tropics. Frankly, just being in a car was an incredible treat, even if it meant riding on the "wrong" side of the curvy, narrow, shoulderless, rain-slickened, mountainous roads (which were both challenging and nauseating enough to warrant an all 8-eyes-forward, team approach to driving). It was all perfect. Craggy, sea-sprayed, seal-dotted rocky coasts, majestic snow-dusted mountains, verdant sheep-packed pastures, dense ferny "Middle Earth" forests, forging rivers, turquoise lakes and instantaneous rain-induced waterfalls. All of it perfect. While the terrain is often reminiscent of our own Pacific Northwest, with a national population of only 4.5 million people - equivalent to that of the state of Kentucky - we widely-dispersed tourists gain a sense of having this stunning, unspoiled ("unspoilt" in Kiwi) landscape to our very selves. (Yes, this is a land where there truly are "more sheep than people"). Additionally, because of New Zealand's geographical isolation, it was one of the last land masses to be settled by humans and, as such, has developed a unique biodiversity found nowhere else on the planet. So, even if anchored by our (somewhat) common English language, in remote New Zealand one cannot help but feel FAR AWAY from home: perhaps never more so than standing on the wind-whipped shores at the bottom of the South Island, somewhere below 45 degrees latitude, knowing there was nothing out there between you and Antarctica! Dorothy, you are not in Kansas (or Kentucky) anymore.

Our South Island journey looked like this: Auckland-Dunedin-Otago Peninsula-Catlins Coast-Riverton -Te Anau-Fiordland-Milford Sound-Queenstown-Central Otago - Arrowtown - Nelson-Picton - Marlborough Sound- Blenheim -Kaikoura - Christchurch.....Phew! From the Royal Albatross Centre at the extremes of the Otago Peninsula, to the allure of cold, misty dramatic Milford Sound, to the crazed, bungee-jumping vibrancy of Queenstown, to the long, coastal trek through Abel Tasman National Park, to our leisure wine samplings in Central Otago and famous Marlborough Sound, and finally, to sobering strolls along the slowly rebuilding streets of earthquake-shattered Christchurch - we ate, we drank, we hiked, we drove, we packed and unpacked. We laughed, and gawked and marveled. We snapped hundreds of photos in a feeble attempt to capture and share our visual delight. Along the way we had the pleasure of meeting entertaining, quirky innkeepers, free and easy backpackers, relaxed, friendly Kiwis proud of their country and eager to help, and dozens of young adults (mostly UKer's) here on temporary visas striving to balance work with travel while awaiting a crack at citizenship. Though this Floridian hailing from the Sunshine State could never, over the long haul, stand the gloom of this high-latitude living, it is nonetheless easy to see how the beauty and wide-open opportunity of New Zealand draw so many each year in the hopes of making this their new home.

Our final days in New Zealand found us saying goodbye to Ann and Nick and returning to Andiamo anchored up in the equally beautiful Bay of Islands in the North Island - her resting place through the cyclone season. Eric will live aboard and serve as boat caretaker as David and I return to Naples over the coming months. Unfortunately, in our final days, the dreary, rainy weather persisted, damping our plans to visit famous 90-mile beach and swanky Waiheke Island, leaving me wishing we had seen more of this compelling Northland. Yet, between breaks in patching leaky windows, securing the boat, endless sessions in the laundromat and the stress of packing to finally head home, we did managed quick jaunts to the historic towns of Russell and Kerikeri as well as strolls around holiday-oriented, seaside Paihia. With fingers-crossed, we also drove Eric's newly purchased $1000 car (yes, it is as grungy as you would imagine) to see the ancient, giant Kaori trees; we cooked up copious amounts of green-lipped mussels in a garlic-wine sauce; and we had a bittersweet, final potluck on the dock with our growing collection of sailing friends. In closure, we had a chance to meet some of Eric's new NZ friends, both locals and others - like him - from overseas here for a stint. Yes, my sun-deprived body gladly departed Andiamo eager to return home to family, friends and warmth, but after an awesome stay in wild New Zealand, I was deeply comforted and just a tad jealous to now know firsthand that Eric was sure to have an amazing next 4 months as a temporary Kiwi.


23 October 2014 | The Islands of Eastern Fiji
Late in the game, after nearly one year at sea and traveling 11,000 nm, the Fijian concept of land and sea ownership and its ramifications for visiting yachts has added a new - not totally welcomed - dimension to our cruising. While the state ultimately retains ownership of the ocean and its resources, the people of Fiji have been given the tenure and the right to fish for subsistence from all coral reefs - a practice referred to as "iQoliqoli". Consequently, the protocol and custom for yachts cruising iQoliqoli areas is to first visit the village with jurisdiction and present sevusevu asking permission to anchor, use their waters and go ashore. In preparation, back in our port of entry, Savausavu, we bought enough yaqona (kava) to visit nine villages and off we went.

The Village of Qamea: After a false start and no need for sevusevu at Viani Bay (see last blog post), it was not until Qamea that we encountered our first genuine iQoliqoli village. It was finally time to crack out the kava. Learning from our Viani Bay dry run, we dropped anchor and grabbed our yaqona parcel and sulus, but this time we waited until after our wet dinghy landing before slipping them on over our shorts. We asked a young boy we met on the shore to show us to the Turaga ni Koro or headman (aka, the mayor), the gateway, chain-of-command person who would then take us to the chief so that we might present sevusevu. While the unsure lad eyed us up and down in our full-dress outfits, a gentleman named Pedro appeared and informed us that both the headman and chief were still at work. Silly me. I had naively pictured the chief milling around in the village all day doing dignified "chiefly" things, but alas, he works as pool crew at the nearby resort and wouldn't be off until five.....It was not yet three.

Pedro graciously occupied us in the mean time with a stroll through the simple, poor village. Electricity, if available at all, is solar. Water is captured in cisterns; ramshackle outhouses evident. Homes are built on raised stumps and many have linoleum floors but are without furnishings, as seating cross-legged on the floor is customary. We saw well-worn, soiled and mangy bedding outdoors, uncertain whether this was the sleeping arrangement or an attempt to dry/air them out. But the moms with toddlers underfoot were friendly, curious and outgoing, beckoning us with enthusiastic "Bulas!" and peppering us with questions. They were so very impressed and appreciative of our sulus, commenting that yachties may arrive covered-up in long pants, but that we were the first to directly adopt this, their most respectful style of dress. They were tickled that I had on a proper sulu jaba, a step over and above just a wrapped pareo. When the ladies learned that we had sailed from the US, they were particularly incredulous, asking several times of me, "and YOU, my lady, traveled all this way on the yacht?"

Pedro also introduced us to the headmaster for a quick tour just as school was releasing. The vivid blue, clapboard, 120-student primary school has five, age-divided classrooms serving not only the children of this particular village but also those transported via the red panga "schoolboat" from a few adjacent villages. The teachers - responsible for instruction in all subjects in their class - are government sponsored and live (with their families) in private cottages on property. The classrooms are lacking computers and even A/V equipment but the walls are lined with bright and instructive posters and other tutorial aids in math, biology, ecology and health. While villagers young and old speak Fijian among themselves, all classes are conducted in compulsory English. Outside the schoolhouse, rugby rules and the just-dismissed school children rough house on the large, grassy field which fronts the beach. Pedro, seemingly running out of tour talking points, steered us around the kids and proudly walked us to the village's prize mahogany tree.

Our First Sevusevu: It was a few more awkward minutes before the chief arrived, grubby and beat from a hard day's work. We were invited to his modest home, quickly introduced and seated in a circle on the floor. We offered our sevusevu, and with surprisingly little ceremony (silly me, what did I expect, dropping in all unannounced!), the chief and Pedro exchanged what seemed to be a Fijian invocation and we were bid adieu. A few "Bulas!" and "Vinakas" (thank you) later and Pedro explained we were now essentially a vassal of the village and free to use their resources. He then asked, I sensed with a hint of eagerness: "And would we like to drink some kava?" Apparently presenting the seveusevu offering of kava is required, but not necessarily the drinking of it. You bet, already sulued-up, we were all in!

We followed Pedro over to the "community center" - literally nine upright wood poles supporting a flat, corrugated roof over a patch of dirt. Overhead, some suspect wiring was rigged to a lone dangling light bulb. A couple of village ladies spread out a dusty, woven mat over the space and brought Pedro a green laundry tub to serve as a tanoa or mixing bowl, a tea-towel sack and a bilo (a drinking cup formed from a highly polished half-shell of a coconut). We had brought kava root for the chief so we were surprised to see Pedro mixing up a powdered version with some water in the tub and straining it through the stained tea-towel, but we learned we were spared the time necessary to pound the raw root pieces to this fine pulp form.

Seated on Pedro's left, I would be the first to drink. As a nubbie, with Pedro's patience and step-by-step instructions, I asked for a "low-tide" pour, clapped one cobo (a deep, cupped-hand clap), and drank - in a single gulp - from the bilo (drinking from a common cup is said to cement communal bonds). Once emptied the entire group cobos three times. Pedro then turned to David who tried a "mid-tide" pour, while I was noticing the earthy aftertaste and mild tingling in my mouth ...and fearing the anticipated narcotic results. Moving on to the boys (mid-tiders) and finally, Pedro (a brimming high-tide pour), I covertly squirmed, unaccustomed to sitting on the hard ground. After two more rounds like this, Pedro, in a "stoner" way, seemed even more relaxed and buzzed, his laugh even more effervescent. For me, sticking to low-tides, a numb, tingling sensation persisted - like Novocain or original gold Listerine - but I felt no drug effects; apparently years of regular sundowners was proving excellent preparation. I was glad to not be high but was, in all honesty, a bit disappointed to have our first sevusevu be so pedestrian. Silly me - I had pictured sharing our sevusevu with a chief and headman in traditional garb, gathered around in a tribal-looking longhouse with a palm frond roof, and mixing our roots in an elaborate tanoa hand-crafted from a single slab of hard wood like I'd seen in the gift shops in town; Instead, we drank grog from a plastic tub served by a half-lit guy in "jorts" (blue jean shorts). But Pedro was awfully easy and gracious and walked us through what could have been an intimidating ceremony in a strange land. In hindsight, Qamea was a great place for a starter sevusevu.

The Village of Daliconi: We quickly learned that villages have personalities. Finally arriving in the remote out islands of the Lau area, the village of Daliconi had a decidedly different, more reserved, even formal feel relative to light-hearted Qamea. We were required to stop here to present our sevusevu so that we could have access to the Bay Of Islands, acclaimed as "the most beautiful anchorage in the South Pacific". Late afternoon on a Saturday as we suited-up and beach-landed, Samu (the "tourist commissioner") and Biu (wife of Eroni, the headman/mayor) meet us on shore. Again, we found the chief was not in the village - away at an inter-island rugby tournament. Eric offered a grateful Bui the carcass of the mahi-mahi he had just caught entering the pass and we were escorted to meet Eroni, the headman/mayor.

Catching Eroni mid-task, he ushered us over to the longhouse (this one legit, with a thatched roof!) while he finished up his chores. The men of the village were seated on the ground riveted to the The Gold Coast Classic 7's Rugby Tournament viewed via satellite on the village's only TV run on their sole generator. While the mood was upbeat (Fiji was ahead against Poland) the crowd seemed restrained - no sports bar vibe here - so we did not take it too personally when no one tried to engage us in conversation as we sat uncomfortably on the rock hard floor. A half hour later with still no chief in sight, Samu and Eroni on his behalf acknowledged our sevusevu granting us village access, charged us roughly $45 US as a "donation" and invited us back for church the next morning to be followed by a special lunch for the preacher. Feeling a bit cornered, we politely accepted.

Since we arrived ten minutes early for the Sunday service, while the congregation gathered, we were invited to wait separately with the all-male church leaders seated in a circle on the concrete porch (ouch!) next to the chapel. {Fijians are 65% Christian, and as here on Daliconi, mostly Methodist. In fact, the proportion of the population adhering to Methodism is higher than any other nation}. The men, as we expected were dressed in sulus, but we were taken aback by their western-style jackets and ties. Very proper, soft-spoken, somber, reserved folks.

At precisely 10 AM, the churchmen walked over in an organized line, entering the half-filled chapel by the side door to take their seats up front, while we three went through the rear to join the congregation at large. Sitting in overly upright, ergonomically-punitive pews we took in the conventional choir music and subdued tenor of the service if not the message, as it was all in Fijian. The ladies were in their Sunday best, but the white-walled church was so plain that it lacked even a crucifix. I welcomed the familiar and entertaining distraction offered by the full pew of 8 or 10 year old boys - like those the world over - who could not resist fidgeting and carrying on amongst themselves, the very attempt to go unnoticed the essence of their fun. We also appreciated the respect shown to us when introduced as village guests to the congregation; David, as our spokesman, thanked them for including and welcoming us. Seventy yachts have stopped here this year. I wonder how many made it to church.

After the service, with the preacher and churchmen still occupied in a meeting, we waited another hour on the porch of the church hall for lunch to be served. Here we had a bird's eye view of the village ladies carrying in their prepared heavy, covered dishes. {The Sunday Sabbath is strictly observed here as a day of rest... yes, for all but these hard working woman}. While we swatted mosquitoes and managed some strained banter with the school headmaster, we were basically ignored by the rest of the villagers. {Was the cultural divide creating too much discomfort and/or disinterest or were they just a reticent lot?} When lunch finally came, it felt like The Last Supper - me and twelve plus men around a long, narrow table. On the crisp, black and white gingham tablecloth set with matching stoneware plates (such a surprising disconnect from the tattered village) the meal consisted of two main dishes - both stews with fish and greens. We preferred the "cod" (grouper) with "dalo" (taro) leaves in coconut milk enriched broth - quite delicious even if heavily laden with bones. Yet it was quite satisfying to graphically see our contribution to the meal as Eric's mahi carcass, head and all, peered back at us as the basis of the second dish. Watching the men mop up their plates with hunks of dalo and cassava which had been baked in the "lovo" (the underground and only oven), we were sorely missing those French Polynesian baguettes. We chewed slowly, removed the occasional bone, had seconds when offered and, as the village men exchanged minimal, muted conversation, we prayed our churchgoing would nullify any ill effects of the glasses of water before us. After a respectful wait, we made the rounds and said our "Vinakas", while Samu offered us a bag of limes and papayas. Yum. In parting, Eroni suggested we return another day to drink kava. Nice offer, but more than done with decorum and not too keen on another pass at the dishwater stuff, we remained politely noncommittal and finally departed. Now the women could finally clear and eat what food remained.

The Bay of Islands: The weather got glorious and we moved on from Daliconi but stayed in the Bay of Islands for days. This, and the larger Exploring Islands, is a maze of islets we could have endlessly "explored" but that would have meant more villages, more sevusevu, more off-putting, time-consuming awkwardness. After our hard-earned miles to windward to reach the Lau Group, we found ourselves actually limiting our itinerary and abandoning our usual ad hoc cruising behavior simply to avoid the requirement and constraint - as we were now holding it - of sevusevu. Sure we knew of some boats that simply blew off the whole thing, but not only are we pretty by-the-book people, we additionally felt a certain duty to serve as ambassadors, representing both Americans and the larger cruising population in a favorable light. We wanted to "do it right" - kava parcels, proper sulus, gifts for the children, dedicated time ashore. Ultimately, the sevusevu custom was unique among our travels and provided an intimate, albeit somewhat "forced", Lonely Planet glimpse of everyday village life in Fiji. But, at least for us, more villages would not necessarily have enhanced the experience. Perhaps not very PC, but honest..... It was becoming quite clear that we had bought too much kava.

So with village people burnout, we more or less parked ourselves, hiding out in Batavu Harbour - a freehold, plantation area not subject to iQoliqoli. The sun finally shining, no other boats in sight, nothing to do, even a bit dull, but content to take in the natural splendor. We hiked through the working plantation, passing grazing sheep, cows and horses and stopped briefly - as a simple courtesy rather than a necessity - in the caretaker village to offer some gifts (which were rewarded with bananas). Then without delay, we continued up to the crest to the lookout for a breathtaking view down the entire Bay of Islands cluster -" the most beautiful anchorages in the South Pacific". THIS is a cruiser's idea of paradise: A million dollar view with no strings attached.

VIANI BAY - Jack's Place

12 October 2014 | East of Savusavu, Fiji
Posting Remotely (without internet once again)
Despite reading, planning and briefing, cruising in strange lands still entails a fair measure of winging it, the unexpected inevitable. Heading to our first real Fijian village, we left Savusavu all geared up for sevusevu only to be bustedbusted. But often, as providence would have it: When a hatch closes, a port opens. At Viani Bay, rather than our anticipated first ever kava buzz - thanks to a character named Jack - it was "reefer madness" instead. Allow me to explain.

Late afternoon on my birthday we dropped anchor in Viani Bay. We were tired from an all day sail and sweaty from this heavy, humid air, but nonetheless - as local custom and protocol requires - we suited up in our sulus, grabbed our kava parcel and precariously headed towards what looked like the village to partake in sevusevu with the chief and request permission to use their locally "owned" (iqoliqoli) waters. Beaching the dinghy, all four of us hiked up our skirts (hilarious!), climbed out as daintily as possible and made our way towards a clump of schoolchildren playing in a wide open field. We must have been quite a apparition, vulagi (visitors) all duded-up traipsing through the scruffy brush. The pre-teens, with their universal indifference, pretty much ignored us, but we naively believed the mom in the adjacent shack who told us that we needed to go to the next village to find the chief. We pulled up anchor, repositioned in the next cove and again went ashore, once again without finding a chief. With our intel failing us despite our earnest effort, we found ourselves all dressed up with nowhere to go. Kava was apparently not in the cards for my birthday.

With sundown upon us, we returned to the boat, dressed down and popped some beers. As the guys readied to fix me a birthday dinner, we spotted a lone figure paddling his panga from the shore to greet us. We had heard we should seek out a guide named Jack in these parts and here he was introducing himself. Jack Fisher is a jovial, bulky, part-Fijian man whose pudgy, ruddy face and undersized sunglasses are barely contained under his broad-brimmed, chin-strapped fisherman's hat. In his fast rambling, mumbled English - which makes him a bit hard to understand - he explained that in this "chiefless" part of Viani Bay, he serves as overseer and manager and has permission to bring us to the fringing reefs. We made arrangements to rendezvous with him the following day for a snorkel and dive on Rainbow Reef. The next morning, Jack - punctual and bearing an overflowing bowl of bananas and papayas - boarded Andiamo and gave David instructions on where to drop our hook just off the reef. We squeezed into our wetsuits, slipped into the water, and swam in the direction where Jack told us - with his favorite expression - to "check it out".

I was utterly blown away! It was so unexpected and exceptional to be snorkeling and to find it was NOT about the fish. The underwater structure was a marine metropolis. Thirty-foot bommies (coral columns) of multi-level, multi-faceted and multi-hued formations. Brain coral studded with "push pin" dots of assorted species: colored speckles punched into the beige base. Broad flat grainy, mushroom fans, colossal branched stag horn coral, piercing fire coral, vibrant blood red crown-of-thorn, and the unique wavy bunches of white SOFT coral. This is the diverse, varied soft/hard, light/dark, high/low dimensional effect landscape architects aspire to construct. And the colors: OMG. If I had been told that an artist with her spray-paint palette had passed through minutes before it would have been totally plausible. I effortlessly floated immersed and mesmerized by the astounding beauty as if encircling a Great Master's work of art - for I was. The complete spectrum of the color wheel sat before me illuminated by the overhead light. Blues: turquoise, periwinkle, cobalt. Greens: lemon-lime, forest and mustard - all side by side. Purples: mauve, plum, rose, lilac and violet. And it wasn't even that sunny! For their part, the fish added a colorful confetti dynamism to the aquatic backdrop. Reallyreally, you had to be there. Rainbow Reef - and then on subsequent days out with Jack - Fish Factory and Cabbage Patch (so named for the coral that looks just like cabbage) - provided some of the best snorkeling I have ever experienced. Utter reefer madness.

As the only boat in Viani Bay, we had Jack to ourselves as our go-to guy for four activity-filled days. Unlike the pricey dive boat operations, Jack (with no boat expenses) was an unbelievable bargain: ours for the equivalent of $20 US, a sandwich and a couple bottles of water per day. When David and I would head back to the big boat for a break from snorkeling, we could really relax knowing Jack was staged in the dinghy feet from the Eric-Rob spearing duo. The guys stayed in the water for hours and each day came back with a prize: dogtooth tuna, grouper ("cod") and kingfish ("walu"). Jack was very appreciative when they gifted the grouper to him as well as the dogfish carcass - head and all - which he brought home to Sofi - his fifth "wife" - for fish stew. {As Jack enjoyed his favorite end of the day treat - David's homemade ice cold Coke - we asked, "Why so many wives, Jack? "..."Oh, the ladies find this life hard; they like shopping and roads". Amen to that!}

Jack also served as our escort on a day trip over to Taveuni, The Garden Island, famous for the Bouma National Heritage Park and Tavora Waterfalls. This time Jack asked if Sofi could come along for the sail to pay a visit to her granddaughter - and presumably to get her fix of shopping and roads. Once ashore in the main village of Somosomo (nojokenojoke), Sofi went her own way, Jack waited at the boat ramp guarding the dinghy against opportunistic, nefarious types and we hopped in a cab with our Indian driver, Kamel, for our drive out to the park. Kamel's cab - like all we had seen in Fiji - featured seats that were completely encased in clear vinyl; despite wide-open windows, we instantly stuck to the seats. Unaccustomed to the speed of car travel and further disoriented driving on the British-influenced left, we reached for our seatbelts - as implored by the "Fasten Your Seatbelts" sign glued to the rear of the passenger headrest - but found them useless, the buckles apparently hidden, trapped and sealed beneath the thick plastic. Our bumpy 50-miunte drive over predominately unpaved roads took us by open ocean vistas, verdant slopes of coconut palms and pineapple groves, a single, neat pre-fab dormitory supplied by the Chinese for their workers building the hydroelectric facility, and dozens of small, ragged, impoverished villages.

At the park, we paid the admission fee and reached the first beautiful waterfall after a short walk on the tree-lined path. As David and I enjoyed the cascade from the bridge, Eric and Rob - boys being boys - climbed up to the ledge under the fall and appeared to us as mere dots in the distance. We continued on, skipping the second fall and choosing the fork to the third and final waterfall. Our hike, initially over groomed, crushed coral, became increasingly difficult and degraded to a muddy base as we advanced, the final approach requiring a rope for balance and footing. Once in the basin of this architecturally lovely, triple-spillover, natural water feature, we chose not to swim but cooled off ever so slightly in the airborne spray while we wolfed down our squashed tuna wraps and limp granola bars. After this rigorous 2.5-hour hike, we were a fatigued and silent fare as Kamel drove us back into Somosomo, where we rounded up a sunburned Jack and a spent but satisfied Sofi. It took two trips in the dinghy to get the six of us, plus Sofi's two large cardboard parcels heavy with supplies, on board for our return sail. She slept the whole way back.

On the following morning we put the finishing touches on our guestbook entry for Jack, returned it to him and squared up our tab. He brought even more bananas and papayas as we reciprocally offered him some of our fresh baked banana-oatmeal-raisin muffins, an extra bag of flour and a special cellophane gift-wrapped soap for Sofi. We shared a genuine, mutual gratefulness for this opportunity to spend these four jam-packed days together. Viani Bay: I will fondly remember it as the Memories that Jack Built. Thankyouthankyou.

Bula! It's My Birthday!

30 September 2014 | Savusavu, Fiji
The Birthday Girl
BULA! October 1, 2014 - my 57th birthday

My morning reading: " Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

The only thing easy about Fiji so far has been getting here. We arrived Friday after an uneventful 3-day passage - relieved and grateful, yet feeling somewhat righteously that we had earned one. Fiji, however, has proved thorny since. A combination of official red tape, a disappointing return to hot, wet weather, and a new set of quirky local customs all conspiring to anchor us here for five days.

Having researched , timed and managed our passage perfectly, we had arrived from Tonga , spot-on, early morning Friday with the expectation that we could complete our 4-department clearing-in process that day (as we have in other entry ports). Then we would re-provision here in Savusavu and quickly get back into these magnificent waters the next day....the clock is ticking with Rob leaving in a week. Ah, but as luck would have it, the Dawn Princess cruise ship dropped anchor right behind us minutes after we arrived and proceeded to consume the officials' time the rest of the day. No Go until at least Monday. So we sat all weekend in this dingy port, the stagnant, hot, sticky, buggy weather exacerbating my irritation and further challenging my patience insufficiency. Already missing Tongan's cool breezes, we used the weekend to acquaint ourselves with the town's main strip, the farmer's market and the marina scene; sweating every step of the way.

Waddayagunnado? When in doubt: eat, drink, and shop. As we (get this) move farther West towards the Far East, the breath of local dishes is expanding, adding Indian curries, Fijian preparations (Polynesian influenced) and Chinese mainstays to the pizza/pasta mix . The dhal soup is sublime; the beef stir-fry is the choice for budget-protein. We find the open-air market darker, denser and dirtier than the one in Neiafu, Tonga, but the selection of produce is better. After a night of sampling local options, we deem the fancier Fiji Premium beer (still cheap versus Polynesian pricing) worth the dollar differential. Even in the marina gift shop, I find trinkets inexpensive enough to lure me, while David and I - crossing the street over the muddy, sewerage-smelling drain pipe - splurge on some delicacies in an incongruously up-scale wine & specialties shop. We pretty much crushed the main drag.

Back on the boat - with surprisingly fast internet - we collectively continue to hack away at our Fiji familiarization campaign, as each country we enter offers its own cruising challenges. Here, that specifically entails getting a better handle on these navigationally exacting, poorly charted, reef-riddled waters and learning the nuances of honoring the customs in the remote villages we plan to visit. Serendipitously, as it happens time and again with cruising, a friendly yachtie stops by to introduce himself and becomes a floodgate of useful information. Steve is a fellow Leopard Catamaran owner and an American intensive care physician who has hopped around the world these last nine years with his young family living in Costa Rica, China and most recently, New Zealand. He and his bright wife (intensive care nurse) and precocious pre-teens (all fluent in Mandarin and Spanish) provided hours of details on their favorite Fijian anchorages helping us further refine our cruising itinerary. Additionally, Eric and David attended an essential chart review by local guru, Curly Cardswell, a white-bearded Kiwi character, transplanted here over 40 years ago who lives in the harbor on his houseboat and conducts vital seminars sharing his extensive knowledge of these local waters. For our part, Rob and I traipsed downtown to purchase kava root - Latin for " intoxicating pepper" - or YAQONA in Fijian. We have learned it is the single most important gift to bring to the out islands.

Our plan is to cruise the Lau Group of islands, a pristine area of turquoise waters, abundant reefs and traditional, welcoming villages, holding special intrigue in that this area has just this year been opened up to cruisers. As such, it should be the most unspoiled part of all of Fiji...and the most traditional. Unlike our western notion of public lands, the land and sea here is regarded as belonging to the village. So dropping your anchor in their bay, snorkeling, fishing and going ashore for hiking, etc. is equivalent to parking in their front yard, trampling through their property, playing in their backyard, and stealing their animals. Hence, all visitors to the islands are required to partake in the SEVUSEVU ceremony (where the YAQONA is shared) to seek acceptance into a Fijian village. SEVUSEVU is the central component of all life-cycle rituals, social gatherings, healing ceremonies and community meetings and, given its significance and reverence, everyone participating in the ceremony is expected to be dressed appropriately - in a SULU.

Rob and I head to the "Grog Shop" to purchase our kava root (which resembles gnarly, unruly kindling wood). An unfamiliar, pungent musky smell wafts out of the door as we approach. We work our way to the back of the dim shop as the locals around the pool table check us out. We haggle a bit on price, choose our grade and wait patiently as the Indian proprietor prepares our requested nine, one-third kilo parcels, each individually wrapped in the daily newspaper (the islanders like to read the current events) and affixed with yellow ribbon. We dinghy back with our bulky bundle to stow the stash in a water-safe (and hopefully scent-containing) bin on the boat . Next up: SULU shopping. Truth is, David has always longed to wear a skirt. Over the years he has often lamented the paradoxical dress code that puts sweltering, red-faced men in suits and ties and shivering, frail, thin-blooded women in skimpy shifts. He could not have been more eager to try on the SULUs. The boys all settle on similar versions of traditional pin-striped, ankle-length wrap-arounds. I too purchased a SULU JABA , the female counterpart which includes the matching top for the skirt bottom.

The last, long-awaited component needed before heading to the out islands was our official Cruising Permit, the document in the Fijian language requesting that the village Chief accept our request to visit their island. We ultimately received that yesterday - Day 5 of "patiently" waiting. This morning, Fiji Day 6, we finally set off to our first remote island. It is my 57th birthday and instead of a sundowner, I will probably be quite intoxicated on YAQONA by five. We have heard that kava root is mildly narcotic and makes one numb so I suspect that trying to be duly respectful while uncomfortably buzzed could be interesting. I hope I do not embarrass myself and, especially, that I do not spill any on my lovely new, Fijian blue, SULU JABA.

A Traditional TONGAN Feast

21 September 2014 | Lape Village, Vava'u, The Kingdom of Tonga
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The compact, five-family village on Lape Island hosted a traditional Tongan Feast for 23 of us yachties on Saturday night - complete with a roasted pig that was surely a pet minutes before. The evening started with a cultural tour by didactic "Cleo" - elder and former teacher - which took us by the 2-room, 11-children schoolhouse built by the EU, the recently installed solar panels leased from Japan post Tsunami, and the church renovation subsidized by USAid. But aside from this very limited international support, the villagers pride themselves on growing their own food, selling their artisanal wares and hosting these gatherings to raise funds for their new wharf and additional planned improvements on the island.

Indicative of a new industrious and even entrepreneurial focus, while most of the threadbare, tiny homes have dirt floors and outhouses, the concrete structure for the new public toilets is essentially complete, merely awaiting a break in the drought to fill their shiny new gigantic plastic cisterns. Cleo described how (when the rains do come) grass is finally growing in their scrappy yards and organized gardens can now thrive, all since they ingeniously learned to pen the pigs on the other side of the island instead of allowing them to freely forage - apparently a novel practice in these islands.

As an attentive pack, we followed Cleo to a clearing where he proudly showed us the trick to husking coconuts with this sharp gismo installed on the end of a long, skinny bench. We learned that milk is collected from the green ones, while the white meat is extracted from the dry brown variety. Around us the village women were seated on woven mats, demonstrating their age-old crafts: the painstaking preparation of traditional Tapa cloth and the many intricacies of weaving baskets, waist-skirts, and other household items. Tapa is crafted from the mulberry tree, the husk scraped-away and then beaten until pliable. Additional steps involve sun-drying, sewing the panels together and finally preparing dyes for the elaborate designs. Tapa of various sizes are not only used decoratively, but play an essential role in every Tongan family, as Tapa cloths serve as burial shrouds. We also got a quick tutorial on the local weaving methodology, a craft for which these islands are especially well known. On display were beautiful baskets, trivets, belts, necklaces, braided trays, all again for purchase to benefit the village.

We noticed and Cleo confirmed, that these labor-intensive, tedious tasks are solely the work of women, often accompanied by grimy, smiling, curious toddlers in tow, "pitching in" to help. That was surely the case on this cool Tongan evening. After enjoying a traditional Tongan feast at this surprisingly "progressive" Tongan village, it seemed to me that while the pace here remains unhurried, the tasks burdensome and the progress slow, that this generation of wide-eyed tykes will be inheriting a more modern Lape village; one which is inching towards a more prosperous future while mindfully preserving the treasures of their past.

FAKATONGA - The Tongan Way

14 September 2014 | Neiafu, Vava'u in The Kingdom of Tonga
Here in Tonga, we find ourselves both a day ahead and seemingly years in the past. Across the date line, The Kingdom of Tonga - the oldest and last remaining Polynesian monarchy and the only Pacific nation never brought under foreign rule - may be as proclaimed, "the place where time begins", but the pace is decidedly slow. Life is simple, backward, even impoverished relative to what we saw during our many months in subsidized French Polynesia; but the Tongans seem quite unfazed. They are an unhurried, traditional people who value family, church and time over material wealth. The Tongan mode of dress is conservative with the women covering their shoulders and many Tongans - men, women and children alike - still donning traditional garb (tupenu, long wrap-around skirts everyday; ta ovala, intricately woven waistmats for ceremonial occasions). The Sabbath is strictly observed - forever sacred in the Tongan Constitution - and no work of any kind is allowed on Sundays. {Don't even try to hang out your laundry!}

During Captain Cook's three excursions here, he called these "The Friendly Islands" and we have found the Tongans so, if not a tad subdued....or is that just Fakatonga? Translated as "The Tongan Way" - basically, super laid-back - I am pleased to say that two weeks into our stay here, Fakatonga is beginning to rub off on us. After back to back stressful passages logging 12 out of 15 days sloshing about in the ocean, we all needed a powerful dose of Fakatonga to get our mojo back. Oxymoronically (is that a word?), we are actually feeling a "relaxation urgency", as incomprehensibly, we are counting down mere WEEKS until our stint in Polynesia ends. Luckily for us, the Vava'u Group is a perfect venue for relaxation.

First and unavoidably however, we needed to spend the better part of a week here in the main harbor of Neiafu tracking down the right folks to repair our tiller arm. While we prematurely committed to the expensive Kiwi fabricator who saw us coming, we fortunately were steered to the inexpensive local Tongan who actually did the more crucial welding. Nonetheless, the repairs were swiftly completed and, aside from dealing with the insanely slow internet in town (Fakatonga!), being stuck in port was actually a joy, as our yachtie friends are all converging here on the same circumnavigation route towards New Zealand. Balancing work and play, we interspersed David's multiple, frustrating sessions re-wiring our two auto-pilots, with shopping the open air farmer's market, hiking up Mt. Talau for panoramic views back on the harbor and catching up with friends at happy hour. Finding ourselves yet again without a working washer, we were pleased to happen upon Lisa who did our laundry (priced reasonably by the kilo) and whose cafe makes a satisfying, dense brown bread. It took a week, but we finally located the best place for eggs and chicken and pork, the latter imported from New Zealand not sourced from the numerous piglets found squealing in virtually every yard.

But for me, the clear highlight of our harbor-based week was spending our 33rd wedding anniversary out swimming with the majestic humpback whales, who migrate through Tonga's cool waters from July to November to mate and bear their young. Packing our full wetsuits on this cool morning, we met our guides on the dock before 7:30 am (ouch!.) Along with the other four guest, Isi, the "whale whisperer", briefed us on how to spot the flattened-out water and the steam-like spouts of the cagy mammals and, after a slow start, we were finally rewarded with a dramatic sighting of a small pod "playing"- an explosion of activity including rolling in the waves, whale tail lobs, pectoral slapping and finally breaching - our inadequate camera shutter never quite fast enough to capture their folly. Later in the crisp day, with much patience and persistence, we tracked down another triplet in a quiet cove. Once again slipping into the deep, cold water without a splash, we followed Isi's lead, slowly swimming towards them so as not to spook them off. In return, the momma and her calf permitted us a close and intimate encounter while the male "escort" bull stood guard at a comfortable distance. Initially, I was a bit nervous never having been so near such large animals in the water, but ultimately, I was awed by their size, grace, markings, behavior and, especially, harmonic singing. On this memorable day, I could not help but think of our very own triplet: David, me and our full-grown calf, Eric, also migrating through Tongan waters. :)

This second week - with provisions restocked and the endless repairs abated for now - we are focused on R&R and finally off cruising the easy waters of Vava'u. While the short distances between picturesque islands and the calm protected waters are reminiscent of sailing in the Virgin Islands (with a fraction of the boats), the overall landscape is more akin to the coast's of Maine or the Pacific Northwest: undercut, creviced, cave-laced islets rising vertically from the cool, azure waters covered in a dense mixture of leafy, scrubby and piney greens, the only evidence of Polynesia seen in the palm trees piercing the ridges. Having now reached our southernmost latitude to date, the weather too hints of cooler climes which, given my Florida blood, has warranted a wind-breaker on the deck and a blanket on the bed. The Tongans say it is their coolest, driest winter in 5 years, apparently influenced by a developing el nino pattern. After months feeling sticky and sweaty, I'll gladly take this welcomed and refreshing change!

Rather than try to hit all forty-plus recommended anchorages in these close waters - and already feeling a bit burnt-out - we have opted instead to spend multiple days in tranquil spots with few boats and welcoming villagers. As David and I walked around peaceful Hunga Village, we counted more pigs than people. The homes are no more than a collection of rusted, corrugated hovels on grassless (chicken and pig denuded), government-granted parcels. Barely subsistence living, the poverty is quite astounding. But the ostensibly unaware school children, in their bright red uniforms, playful and curious, were delighted to ham it up for us palangi (foreigners) when we asked to photograph them. With their footwear options seemingly limited to barefoot or flip-flops, they pointed to and were especially intrigued by our substantial Keen trail shoes. Later, a village elder who came out to our boat was pleased to trade bananas and lettuce and handmade jewelry for the boy's offering of freshly-speared grouper. He appeared equally grateful for the packages of instant coffee and powdered milk he requested and we gave him; items hard to come by here.

In contrast to the poverty ashore, we find riches in the surrounding sea. So, while I hate the hassle and necessity of the full wetsuit - oh, that Florida blood - the incentive of the vibrant reefs and the jagged walls draw me in to enjoy their display of architectural coral and luminescent fish. After that initial chill, it feels great to stretch my boat-crammed muscles and fill my snorkel-assisted lungs. At first my unaccustomed eyes see little, but Eric and Rob's keen focus help me spot dozens of golden starfish on the sandy ocean floor and then, clinging to the coral walls, those unique elongated, skinny royal blue ones that are the exact color and texture of Gumby. As my confidence in the water increases, I now move from my usual, comfortable spot precisely two feet behind David's fins. Inches from my face appear schools of blue fish and green fish, and fish that turn from blue to green and back again. Sea anemones, urchins, octopi, grouper, blue-lipped clams, the occasional reef shark. A kaleidoscope of constant, fluid, dynamic multi-colored motion. And, if we are especially lucky, it is all accompanied by a background melody of distant whalesongs.

The chill limits me, but the boys could, and often do, spend the entire day in the water. Nimbly moving through their daily, multi-sport rotation of activities - free diving, spearing, fishing and surfing - I try to look the other way and practice deep breaths as they invariably leave their discarded, cumbersome gear strewn liberally throughout the cockpit, salon, foredeck and life lines. They will surely clean up later, right? Alas, to be honest, even now, after all of these months afloat, immersed in island time, I stink at Fakatonga. Luckily, I still have six weeks to perfect it.

If nothing else, I humbly ask that at least a hint of The Tongan Way travels home with me.
Vessel Name: Andiamo
Vessel Make/Model: Leopard 40 Catamaran - Robertson & Caine design
Hailing Port: Naples, FL, USA
Crew: David, Dede & Eric
Catalyzed by my husband David's unexpected early retirement and cemented by our 25-year-old son Eric 's eagerness to (pay his way and) join us, I find myself a reluctant but willing third-shift circumnavigator....well not really. [...]
Extra: "When we stop struggling we float" ... from The Book of Awakening
Andiamo's Photos - Main
No Photos
Created 27 January 2014
Happy 56th Birthday, Captain Dave. Remember these sailing moments?
11 Photos
Created 2 December 2013
A glimpse at the challenges of provisioning and stowing.
21 Photos
Created 1 December 2013
Captain David and Eric spend 6 days covering much sea
27 Photos
Created 25 October 2011
Eric arrives on his 23rd birthday; Dede leaves for home
33 Photos
Created 16 October 2011
In the ICW with stops at Southport, NC and Georgetown, SC, as well as motoring through The Ditch
18 Photos
Created 15 October 2011
Hatteras, Ocracoke, Oriental (ICW) and Cape Lookout, sailing to Wrightsville Beach
33 Photos
Created 9 October 2011
Norfolk, The Great Dismal Swamp, Elizabeth City, Manteo
25 Photos
Created 5 October 2011
New Jersey Coast, Cape May, Annapolis, St. Michaels and Oxford and the southern Chesapeake
43 Photos
Created 30 September 2011
Sailing down "memory lane" - Long Island Sound - we visit with Uncle Paul & Aunt Ann and Marty & Linda as we anchor in Black Rock Harbor; then on to NYC
31 Photos
Created 18 September 2011
What an awesome time cycling around Nantucket and hitting different ports on The Vineyard!
26 Photos
Created 13 September 2011
Highlights: visit w/ LAURA's family AND celebrating our 30th anniversary at the OCEAN HOUSE
27 Photos
Created 5 September 2011
After 1998.9 miles, we begin our return home from Bar Harbor. With Katie & Eric still with us we also makes plans for Hurricane Irene
21 Photos
Created 28 August 2011
Katie & Eric join us to explore our country's second most visited park
34 Photos
Created 23 August 2011
Boothbay - Visiting with Cousin Fran & Family; Katie & Eric arrive!
30 Photos
Created 19 August 2011
Starting out at Kittery Point and heading to Booth Bay Harbor
23 Photos
Created 14 August 2011
Captain Dave and Reluctant First Mate Dede begin THE GREAT SAILING ADVENTURE from Stonington, CT
25 Photos
Created 8 August 2011
Captain Dave and First Mate Mike sail from Virgina Beach to Stonington, CT. Dede Finally shows up!
10 Photos
Created 4 August 2011
Captain Dave, who is later joined by temporary First Mate Todd, sails from Naples to Virgina Beach
8 Photos
Created 27 July 2011