09/06/2010, Savu Savu, Fiji
We made it! And we're hungry again.
We sailed into Savu Savu Harbor this morning at about sunrise, and were tied to a nice, calm mooring by 7. The cockpit was clean and de-salted by the time the Customs, Immigration and Health folks arrived, and around 9am I saw my mom and Melodie waving cheerfully from the Copra Shed Marina deck.
So all is well. We're checked in to the country, have a phone card and computer access, Fijian money, have dropped off the laundry, and my mom and Melodie are off having tea with the real estate agent who is handling the sale of our land. They will join us for sundowners on the boat and then dinner at the Hidden Paradise Guest House.
We're relieved and excited to be here. More later. First: food.
09/05/2010, Enroute to Fiji
Well, yesterday's cereal didn't make it past late afternoon, marking an historic occasion for me: I've held a non-barfing record since 1962, and been quite proud of it, I must say. But yesterday I learned some things: one, instant relief! That's nice. And two, apparently I need to chew my food more thoroughly. Allan commented that the sun-dried tomato and cheese crackers he had eaten "tasted as good coming up as they did going down." Ah, the romance of sailing.
The winds have been relentless yet dependable at 27- 30 knots, with seas like a shaken can of 7-Up: frothy and bubbly, wet and wild. It was a loooonnnnnnggg day yesterday, and an even longer night. We had planned to arrive at a point on the eastern side of the islands and cross between two reefs at daybreak, but the winds had us roaring along so fast, even with triple-reefed sails, and finally no jib at all, that we arrived 6 hours ahead of schedule. We were well-prepared with cross-referenced digital data on both our E-120 Nav Thingy and our MaxSea program on the laptop, and had marked where numerous "uncharted" reefs were reputed to be (all south of our position) and felt confident going between the reefs in the dark though a wide 5-mile gap.
We started the day with a conversation over the SSB radio with our friends on Serenity and Paikea Mist back in Neiafu, who offered to "follow" us on the passage. Having read our blurb yesterday, Gloria passed on her suggestion to "eat crackers" to keep the queasiness at bay. After we finished our chat with them we downloaded our Sailmail and had more first-hand advice from friend Carol to "eat crackers and drink Coke." A certain kind of cracker was best, she says, but we're fresh out of that particular one, so we've been munching on Saladitas -- Mexican soda crackers, and sipping icy cold Cokes, and yes, we feel pretty good today. Yay for crackers.
We feel good enough to catch up on our reading a bit. When it's really rough and wet, and you don't feel much like even moving your head from left to right, it can get rather boring. Perhaps it could be viewed as a nice opportunity for personal evaluation and insightful thought, but mostly, we just continue to whimper and manage an occasional, pitiful groan. So today it's nice to read and help pass the time a bit more positively.
I'm excited to see my mom, of course, but I'm really excited about those Keen's she has for me! And new Columbia shorts. And a new, extra-tough, waterproof camera. Cruising is really hard on things. Clothing wears quickly, collecting unidentifiable stains, rips and tears; zippers and snaps corrode; elastic relaxes. And shoes wear quickly as well, especially since most people narrow their daily shoe selection down to one or two pair, leaving, in some cases, an Imelda-sized collection mildewing in the shoe locker. Cameras, even well-protected as much as possible, suffer the rigors of salt air and constant transportation, and my sweet Canon, new before the trip, has given up. We all rely on pack-mules coming from home to bring us stuff, sometimes to bring other cruisers stuff, and we're grateful for their willingness to pack and lug an extra bag with our necessities -- not just limited to splurges like shoes and clothes, but important things like joker valves to fix the toilet. Thanks, Ma.
The winds are still cranking at 22 - 30 knots, so we'll get to Savu Savu Harbor in the early dark of morning tomorrow and probably just heave-to somewhere quiet until daybreak when we can go in and find a place at the dock. Only 16 more hours to go!
09/04/2010, Enroute to Fiji
Well, we're not wimps, but we are whimpering a bit.
Last night went very well, the wind was a steady 15-20 knots and the seas, while rather choppy and mixed- up, weren't really that bad. And today has gone, overall, just fine, but the wind and seas are increasing as forecast; right now we're seeing a steady 27-30knots. The boat is handling it all very well, as we knew it would. At this point we're heavily reefed with just "a scrap of a main and a scrap of a jib" as Greg used to say, and still barreling along at over 7 knots.
The worst part so far is some physical discomfort. Although neither of us was ever prone to seasickness in the past, the last few passages have introduced us to mild mal-de-mer, and it makes for a rather bleak experience. So we're not eating much, are trying to stay hydrated, and have found the 3 best places on the boat for comfort. Allan has pretty much set up camp on the downwind side of the cockpit with me on the floor just beneath him on a pad. This keeps me stable and rather near the center of gravity on the boat. The third best place is the stern bunk, where we take our breaks, and we've been rotating in and out of there.
My friend Carol once told me that listening to music through earphones helps to ease the queasiness, so we've both been lost in our own worlds with our I Pods on, and overall it's been helping. We got doused about a half hour ago by a wild wave from the port side; we heard it roaring up and before we could react the cockpit floor was oozing with water. So now I'm in my foulies for the night.
Really, it's no worse than anything we've been in before, in fact it's quite a lot better than Day 3 of the Baja Ha Ha last October, the day that taught us a lot about ourselves and our boat. So we'll get through this night and then we'll be inside the reefs on the eastern side of the Lau group in the Fiji Islands and will be better protected from the seas, which will help some. The winds, however, aren't forecast to start dying off until midnight tomorrow. In the meantime, we'll keep whimpering and try not to starve to death. (Food tally for the day: a bowl of cereal each.)
09/04/2010, Enroute to Fiji
We decided to take it on the nose -- or the stern, to be more accurate -- and head for Fiji despite a frisky wind forecast for tomorrow. We slid out of Neiafu Harbor just after lunch, waving at our friends on the second-level balcony of The Giggling Whale as we sailed past. It wasn't really sailing; the motor propelled us through the anchorage while our sail and the fickle wind argued, but I imagine it still looked good from afar.
It was rather hard to leave Tonga, especially with everyone else staying behind, making plans for another dive, or to rent a car and explore inland, or to head back out to that spectacular anchorage on the south side and see if they could find that purple fish again. And despite my strict orders that they not have too much fun without us, I think they're going to have plenty of it.
But Fiji beckons, and we felt that waiting a few days for the weather to be comfortable was, well, sort of wimpy. So we're surfing down easy 6-foot swells with the wind on our port quarter, getting ready for a less amiable day tomorrow as the seas and winds pick up and cause us to no doubt question our choice to leave. Ingi on Boree shook her head a bit disapprovingly as we sailed past and said farewell, and promised she'd think of us out here in the stuff while she sips her wine, safe and snug. Well, so it goes -- we'll send a report tomorrow evening and you can see how we're doing.
It's a 60-hour passage to Savu Savu on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji. We'll be dodging islands and reefs for the second half of it, and should arrive Tuesday morning at about the same time my mom and her friend Melodie are touching down on Savu Savu's runway a few miles away, arriving from Los Angeles. We'll spend a few days in town stocking up -- and then head for the Natewa Peninsula on the eastern edge of Vanua Levu, where my family has been part-owners in a large parcel of land since the early 1970's. My mother and Melodie manage the land now, and make annual trips to Fiji. It will be an amazing opportunity for me to sail to our property, to anchor offshore and look in at our little house where it sits snugged against a small cliff on a large lawn, and to be able to dive the reef I've snorkeled on for over 35 years.
I'm excited to share some of the things I've learned about Fiji over the years with Allan, and of course, to be able to spend some time with my mom, who I haven't seen since last November when she met us in La Paz, Mexico. The property is for sale, and we have a potential buyer who seems quite serious, so this could be the last time we visit our home-away-from home in the Fiji Islands, and I'm honored to share that experience with my mom and Allan.
So you see, it was time to let go of Tonga.
You can see a few pictures of our land if you're a Google-Earth-er. Zoom in on 16 30'S by 179 56'E. Our friend John, who joined us on a trip to Fiji several years ago, posted some very nice geo-tagged photos. The northeastern portion of the land is not covered by a current satellite photo, but the house is, and appears as a white blurry square just in from the beach.
09/03/2010, Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga
We're in our final day(s) in Tonga, unsure which day will be the actual very last as we're still evaluating weather for our passage. We had intended to leave last night at midnight, but increasing winds in the forecast influenced us to wait until today and take a closer look. Basically, we're looking at some nice, 25 knot winds with some occasional gusts that go up into the high 30's, and seas to 12 feet at times. Not anything we haven't tackled before, but not very comfortable. It's a matter of personal choice. We either leave this afternoon for a challenging passage or we wait 3 days.
As we wrapped up our errands in town the other day, I became acutely aware, for the one-millionth time, how fast time goes by. We've been here a month -- the longest time we've been in one place since we left La Cruz, Mexico last March, yet it seems only a few days ago that we tied up to the tall cement Customs dock and served cold Cokes to the officials as they perused our documents. There's a wonderful feeling when you've been in a place long enough to gain a sense of comfort and connection with it, and a month just barely provides that opportunity. The ladies in the produce market have become familiar faces to me now, and I know who has zucchini, who has the best luscious greens, and who makes the nicest baskets, and even better, some of them remember me each week.
We've watched as boats have come and gone. At this point in our Pacific adventure, we're familiar with a lot of boats who've made it this far from many points East. And this is the place where we begin to disperse. Boats heading for Australia are starting to leave for Fiji, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia so they can make the passage to Australia before cyclone season starts mid-November. Those bound for New Zealand have more time to spend in Tonga, a month or more, before the weather for their week-long passage is more predictable. So it's here that we part ways with our good friends Michael and Gloria on Paikea Mist, and Gordon and Sherry on Serenity, who leave for New Zealand next month. Bittersweet indeed.
Allan and I spent Tuesday night at the Aquarium restaurant, where they were having a Spanish Tapas night, accompanied by a Tongan string band with a twelve and a six-string guitar and two ukuleles. After dinner we joined the musicians on the mat for a few kavas, and as I sat mesmerized by their beautiful songs, watching the lead guitarist work his twelve string in very creative ways, I became aware of the juxtaposition of worlds before me. We were sitting in a traditional way: cross-legged on a woven mat. But the mat was made of recycled plastic bottles, probably in India. We sat around a beautiful old kava bowl with inlaid shell and intricate carvings, worn in such a way that I could tell it had served an ocean of the numbing beverage in it's lifetime, as we participated in the ancient ritual of kava drinking and music playing. But across from me the ukulele player had his cell phone, a butane lighter and a package of cigarettes carefully arranged before him on the mat. As he played, he continually reached down and punched a button on his phone, obviously awaiting an incoming message. The lead guy in the band chatted with us between songs in perfect English, telling us about his family in California's Bay Area, and his former position with an airline there. The food was being prepared by the chef from the Spanish 177-foot mega yacht in the harbor, whose owner has gone home for a few weeks, leaving the crew here. The restaurant is owned by an American from San Diego. Yes, it's a merging world. I do love, though, the casual way in which bands play, as though they were in your living room. Relaxed, slow-paced, with frequent breaks for passing the kava bowl or smoking a cigarette, taking time to goof around with a little blond cruiser kid as though he were one of their own, and taking time to talk with anyone who honors them by joining in the kava circle.
Last night we met with Michael, Gloria, Gordon and Sherry for a final meal together at The Dancing Rooster, taking some time to exchange photos one last time, give each other gifts, cards, hugs and promises to stay in touch. We've been so blessed to make these good friends in the last 6 months, and are sure these are friendships that will last, forged under circumstances that allowed us to get to know each other in deeper ways than our usual lives allow.
We both got a good night's sleep, and at the moment are having breakfast at the Aquarium (where the photo above was taken) pulling up the latest latest weather, allowing the caffeine to sink in and perhaps lend some courage to our decision. Stand by ... any moment now we'll make up our minds ... soon enough we'll be on our way to the next phase of our adventure. I'll be posting daily blurbs over HF radio as usual once we're underway, so you'll know which choice we made soon enough.
08/31/2010, Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga
I've forgotten how to be a Type A. This is good, except when I need those organizational and time-management skills to efficiently accomplish a pile of tasks and move on to more important things, like returning to the islands, to the lovely anchorages with whales blowing in the distance, fabulous snorkeling at our feet, empty white beaches, gorgeous water, and nights as quiet as a breath.
But first, a quick run to town for Internet bill-paying, ordering things I want my mom to bring to Fiji in 10 days, blurb and photo posting, grocery shopping, towels to the laundry, and more more more. So, in preparation for our last week in Tonga, we decide to do the Type A Hustle and do it all in 30 hours.
Day 1 goes pretty well. We leave anchorage #15, get to Neiafu by 11am. Do some work online on the boat since the connection seems pretty good. Move to Aquarium for lunch and more Internet, meet up with the collective gang from Curious, Serenity and Paikea Mist for a walk to the T-shirt shop, where we've decided to order custom whale t-shirts to commemorate our mother and calf experience. Spend a long, hot hour-and-a-half sorting through colors, styles, logos, and fonts and finally come up with a pretty good design, which will be ready the next day. Squeeze in a quick nap and shower and head for The Giggling Whale, where we're all meeting to spend a last evening together since Curious is off to Fiji and then home to England to be around for the arrival of their first grandchild.
The Giggling Whale evening is as enchanting as the previous Wednesday, with a terrific group that does a blend of traditional and modern Tongan music, some hauntingly beautiful a capella songs, a little Elvis and a bit of Appalachian hillbilly music, all sung from cross-legged positions on woven mats on the floor around the ever-present, always flowing kava bowl. At 8pm every Wednesday the kids from a local village come to dance, and they are fabulous. We cap off the evening with an ill-advised trip to Tonga Bob's, the local bar where a bad karaoke transvestite show happens weekly. Lots of people love it, but we're just not into the smoky bar crowded with drunks hooting and hollering and stepping on everyone's toes, so we chalked it up to a worth-a-try event and headed for home.
The next day is where I totally blew my Type A planning skills, as evidenced by the photo above, which says it all much better than I can. It started out when I flooded the dinghy motor and found myself adrift halfway between the boat and the market. Just as I was pondering putting the oars in the oarlocks and getting a little exercise, up came Paikea Mist on their dinghy to rave about the New Zealand apples that just came in on the supply ship, followed a minute later by Serenity, on their way to breakfast. So Serenity towed me to the Aquarium dock, leaving me with their dinghy to do my shopping. Michael and Gloria went back to Fly Aweigh to retrieve Allan who started the now-unflooded dinghy with ease and went back to gather our genoa sail and take it to the sail maker for miscellaneous repairs.
I got the apples, and zucchini, and all the other greens I crave at the produce market and joined Serenity for coffee. After awhile I remembered my produce, baking in the Tongan sun in Serenity's dinghy, so I raced back to the boat, stashed them in the cockpit in a shady corner for washing later, grabbed my computer and raced back. Meanwhile, Allan and Ross the sail maker had our genoa spread out on the dock in the steaming sun, working on threading the leech line back into the trailing edge of the sail, a tricky task that required unstitiching the hem at times. I finished my blurb, posted a photo, shopped for a camera, caught up on the last of my email for a few days, checked our finances, and, hours later, Allan showed up with mild heat stroke and a re-sewn and re-leech-lined sail, nicely bundled in our dinghy.
Meanwhile, Steve and Trish from Curious were coming and going, preparing to check out of the country and looking a bit stressed despite the British stiff upper lip and all that, because the fuel truck here in Neiafu has broken, the part won't be in for two weeks, and anyone needing diesel for their boats has to get it in 5 gallons jugs. So he was working out those details and borrowing jugs from various boats for his fueling adventure the next day. Meanwhile, a chaotic series of events and mis-planned meet-ups ensued in which we were trying to decide, as a group, if we could make a trip to the grocery store 2 miles away that was reputed to carry a lot of hard-to-find items, including Kirtland products from Costco. But we weren't sure when their shelves would be restocked with the recent acquisitions from the cargo ship, and rumors vacillated from "this afternoon" to "not until Friday." Ultimately, we bagged that idea for another week.
Still languishing at the Aquarium at 2pm, having completely lost track of time and all focus, I realized we still had 400 things on the list. Our custom t-shirts were ready to be picked up, the laundry was done, the mooring and the sail guy needed to be paid, we still needed some groceries, and we were now getting a bit desperate to get out of town.
Allan drove me down to the laundry and waited on the dock while I ran in to get the towels, where I realized I didn't have enough money. We zipped back to Fly Aweigh to get more cash, and realized the forgotten produce was still in need of washing and storing, and now sitting in full sun in the cockpit. I did a quick de-bugging (all organic here, and loaded with critters) and chopped and crammed most of it to fit in the freezer, fridge or hanging baskets, tossed the empty bags willy-nilly into the cabin, and zoomed back to town, where we were late for a rendezvous with the gang at the t-shirt shop. We picked up our shirts, paid the mooring and the sail guy, went back to the laundry, bought some beer and frozen hamburger, and zipped back to the boat again to get our 5-gallon fuel jug for Curious, who we were all supposed to meet in 10 minutes. But the fuel jug was full of fuel, so we got waylayed pouring it into our tank, which required getting the funnel out from under the settee and trying to avoid making a mess all over the deck or getting diesel on our new t-shirts. That task accomplished, we broke the 5-knot speed limit zooming down to Curious, where we all posed in our new shirts on their bow, said our farewells, and returned to our boats.
Town tasks accomplished, bills paid, goodbyes said, veggies stowed -- we had reached full frenzy, peak stress and anxiety, and, along with Paikea Mist, were desperate to get out of town. Back on board, I glanced down into the cabin, and laughed out loud -- it's so unlike me to leave a mess like that, but I must say, it was rather liberating. Never mind; clean it up later, but not until I get a quick photo -- and then I realize I've left the camera on Curious. We dropped the mooring lines and started moving, feeling instant relief and cool air wash over us, spirits lifting within minutes. We made a quick pass by Curious, launched our dinghy, Trish handed the camera down while Allan hovered in Fly Aweigh nearby, and off we went. By the time we dropped anchor around the corner at Anchorage #6 thirty minutes later, everything was ship-shape in time for sundowners.