10/14/2010, Denarau Island, Fiji
Motoring east toward the mainland on flat, calm water under a high overcast, the air cool, our brains in 3 places at once and nowhere at all. We're off to Denarau Island, a tourist resort mecca south of Nadi where all the major hotels have set up camp. 2 years ago when United Airlines had a temporary contract covering Air Pacific's 747 routes while they did some scheduled heavy maintenance on their planes, I was fortunate to get the Nadi flying and had some great layovers at the Sofitel on Denarau. It'll be fun to go back and see it again. But the real reason we're going is to see our friends Rod and Elisabeth on Proximity, who have made an unscheduled stop in Fiji. We'll spend a little time with them and then head up to Vuda Point and prepare to leave for New Caledonia on Tuesday morning.
We've had steady rain the last few days, heavy at times, and took advantage of the weather to hole up aboard Fly Aweigh and get some work done. Curious and Mary Powell had left, and it was just us and the rain. We did some research on renting camper vans in New Zealand, checked weather for our next leg to New Caledonia, read our books, did crosswords, and in the afternoon jumped overboard for some boat-bottom cleaning. Good exercise, when you do it without scuba tanks. Allan has the lung capacity of the Hindenburg, and mine is getting better. We knocked furry growths and scraped scum off the blue bottom for about an hour together, then Allan stayed in another hour and did some serious work on the prop, which was being taken over by barnacles -- which creates drag -- which slows the boat down -- which is bad -- since sailing is slow enough without barnacles to impede progress. So now the bottom is smooth and the prop is clean and we should slip through the water at breakneck speeds.
Our heads are slowly shifting toward Australia and all that selling the boat might entail. We're trying to stay focused on the last month of our cruising but it's a bit like brackish water, the merging of worlds is beginning and we need to let that happen. It's a mix of feelings, of course -- excitement at moving on to the next phase of our adventure, a land-based series of trips that might include some time in Australia and more in New Zealand, sadness at ending the fabulous cruising part of our trip just as we're really getting the hang of it, and trepidation at selling the boat -- will it sell? Will it sell for what we want? We're trusting that it will all work out, as things consistently have since we first came up with this crazy idea over a year-and-a-half ago.
For now, we'll enjoy our last few days in the Fiji Islands, then we'll rattle our sleepy brains and try to drum up what little French we might remember from our time in French Polynesia, since New Caledonia is a French colony. Which also means back to the expensive world of South Pacific France, and, I assume, the land of fresh baguette and brie.
10/12/2010, Namotu Island
We've decided to take some time to chill, if that's possible in 85 degree weather, and catch our breath after a very busy month that has literally flown by. So we're back at Musket Cove on our favorite mooring, #16, alongside Steve and Trish on Curious. We're going to stay about a week and relax, as well as take some day trips out to dive and snorkel.
The weather has been spectacular, with a nice breeze most of the time, and even a little rain, which is so welcome in the drought Fiji has been enduring, and we like it because it washes the soot off the boat. One of the downsides of this area is the burning of the sugar cane fields, which seems to happen perpetually in some field or another. Big gray-brown plumes of thick smoke fill the air and catch on the breeze and end up littering boats and clogging up lungs. Luckily, it doesn't last too long and seems to clear quickly when there's a breeze.
Our few days in Vuda Point after our return from California were good, we reconnected with some friends we hadn't seen in a few weeks -- Steve and Trish on Curious, Brain on Further, and Melva and Steve on Mary Powell. A few dinners ashore, some shopping in town, a bunch of laundry, and it was time to head back out where we can breathe and swim.
Sunday Allan and I joined Steve and Trish on their gorgeous Oyster 56 and motored out to one of the places we discovered with Mark and Pam near Tavaroa and Namotu, the two surf islands southwest of Vuda Point. We dropped anchor near the busy islands and Steve, Allan and I went on a great dive while Trish stayed behind and caught up on correspondence. It was the first dive I've been on for awhile, and it was so great be to back in the water. I'd missed all my fish buddies, and we saw some great stuff on the dive. Allan was attacked by the 20-inch beauty pictured above, a female Titan Triggerfish. Apparently the females can be quite aggressive toward divers, we assume this is a protective trait. She was a fearless bully, rushing at Allan with her sharp teeth and chasing every fish in the area away, then taking him on again. She put on an enthusiastic show, and I wasted a bunch of air laughing into my regulator.
We enjoyed the dive so much, we went back today. This time it was Fly Aweigh's turn to be the host boat, and I took the opportunity to prepare my nut burger recipe for Steve and Trish, who were interested in trying it. Another terrific dive, although the current was pretty swift. We stayed shallow, hanging onto rocks to rest from the oncoming current, and enjoyed the gorgeous aquarium. Blue spotted sting ray, sleeping white-tipped reef shark, more Titan Triggerfish, and a delightful little Pixy Hawkfish, who let me get quite close so I could really look at his fringed front fins, tiny flower-like dorsal fins and beautiful markings.
Yesterday I spent a huge amount of time preparing for something that seems to be coming way too soon: the sale of this boat. I spent the better part of the day cleaning and staging for photos, clearing out all our "we live here" junk and making it look like a showplace, sort of. It was fun, really, but required moving huge piles of stuff from cabin to cabin, smoothing out the sheets or artfully tossing pillows, placing ridiculous props like flowers, bottles of wine, and plates of cheese and crackers (I've been to enough boat shows, I get the idea) all to enhance the milieu and entice a buyer. We've found a broker in Brisbane that we're excited to work with, and he suggests the sooner we get the boat on the market, the better. So we're working on putting together a package, and as we do, we realize, again, how lucky we've been to have this boat for our adventure.
After a lot of work in the stuffy cabin, the cool water beckoned, so we jumped off the stern with masks and snorkels and headed for the reef behind us here in the anchorage. The water was a bit murky, the flora was dull, and we thought it would be a rather boring snorkel, but I've discovered the most amazing things hiding in dull places (a metaphor for life at times?) and indeed -- it was a great swim. We saw some pipe fish, which look like a cross between a seahorse and a tiny snake. They have little square bodies (rather than cylindrical) and pink fan tails with adorable little seahorse faces. We saw a very shy sting ray, and a few juvenile Many Spotted Sweet Lips -- beautiful, lacy-looking tan fish with garish brown spots, like something Goldie Hawn might have worn on "Laugh-In."
We topped the day off with a trip to the resort nearby to catch the last of a series of events celebrating Fiji Day, the 40th anniversary of Fiji's independence from Britain.
We have a few more days here in Musket, and are planning a dive with the local dive company tomorrow to see some of the things we can't do on our boats, weather permitting (looking pretty stormy out there as I write.) Then back to Vuda Point Thursday, or Friday, or whatever. From there, we wait for the wind to invite us to New Caledonia. It could be a long wait -- right now they're forecast to be weak and floppy for at least the next week, and we aren't looking forward to a 4-day motor to New Caledonia -- too expensive and rather tiring. We're not really good motor boaters, as much as we love our Yanmar 75hp turbocharged engine; we prefer the quiet and exhilaration of a good sail. So put in some good words for us with the Wind Boss, and we'll hope to head out soon for our next-to-the-last South Pacific destination.
10/06/2010, Vuda Point Marina, Fiji
A few thoughts:
First of all, I'm so sorry I worried some of you by not posting for over a week. Seriously, I didn't think anyone would notice! Imagine my surprise to get yelled at by so many people. It got me wondering, though: if a regressive cannibalistic Fijian Chief decided our plump cruiser bodies were just what the soup needed, who would notify our next of kin and pop out a quick blurb, or even a short restaurant review? ("The soup was especially good!") Chances are, it would turn up on p. 22 of the Fiji Times, next to the ad for a sale on tinned corned beef at MH Supermarkets. Well, a fitting end to our adventure, I suppose. But anyhow, thanks for that.
Next, a number of people asked some very specific questions when we were home that began to fit a pattern. Seems everyone wants the real dirt, the inside scoop on how this cruising life affects our relationship, how we REALLY feel from day to day, what the down sides are, what makes us unhappy, and how in the world we have marital relations when other people are on board.
And to all of that I have this: it's work sometimes. It's hard sometimes, and we get grumpy. No more or less than usual, though, which is why I love to say, "No matter where you go, there you are." The main core of our personalities is not really affected, we're still who we are. Our marriage is progressing along normal lines, I think, enhanced by the closeness rather than stressed by it. For us, hanging out 24/7 isn't hard.
As to the need for personal space, we have plenty of time to be alone, even on a 300 sq. foot boat, believe it or not. Similar likes and dislikes help, as does respect for our differences. Allan loves to watch TV and movies, I'm not so into that and prefer to read and write and play Scrabble. So he puts on his Bose headset and dives into the wealth of movies he has on his laptop, and I sit across the way in my favorite spot on the settee and write, or play computer Scrabble, or read, or go to bed early. We're both Trekkies, so our entertainment of choice is watching the series in order. So far we've gone through the whole of the original series and are into Season 2 on Next Generation. Occasionally, we pick a movie we both want to see and settle down for the evening. We're both water babies, so there's not a lot of conflict about what we prefer to do out here. Some people struggle with that -- he likes to hike, she hates dirt and bugs. She dives, he doesn't. He's a vegetarian, she loves meat. Biggest conflict: he loves cruising, she tolerates it.
Someone told us before we left that strong marriages are enhanced by cruising, weak ones are challenged. Often, the weak ones get some measure of healing by the experience, but what I've noticed is the ones that can't hack it fall apart pretty early in the game. Most of the people who have made it this far are in it for the long run.
You have to be a bit of a gypsy or a camper to like this lifestyle. It's not for everyone. We have a lot of extra luxuries on this boat -- the miracle water maker so we don't have to collect rainwater or lug 5 gallon jugs to and from shore all the time; a washer/dryer so the clothes are spun out and I don't have to wreck my hands wringing out towels (I don't use the dryer and prefer to hang stuff on the rails); air conditioning when it gets unbearable, although we rarely use it; two televisions and 3 laptops; a microwave; a front-opening fridge rather than the awkward box with the heavy lid; a freezer; a terrific generator; solar power; inner spring mattresses rather than decomposing foam; the list goes on. But to some, all of that still adds up to an uncomfortable series of compromises. So, it starts with wanting to have an adventure, and being willing to pay the price. Some cruisers pay a higher price but they love it all the same, maybe even more than we do with our complex conveniences. In fact, that's what becomes clear: the more you have, the more you have to maintain.
You learn to lower your expectations, and that's a good thing. I think our culture has brought us to a place in the last few decades of expecting more and more, of having almost a moral obligation to improve our surroundings and expect the best, as though expecting less will ultimately lower the standard of living, and expecting more raises the bar. True, I suppose, but it can't go on like that in perpetuity -- historically, it hasn't -- and certainly out here and in the Third World countries of our planet things just aren't that way. So if you want paper towels that don't fall apart the minute they touch a drop of moisture, or chicken that's cut into recognizable parts, or a specific kind of spice for a recipe, you will be frustrated. It's nice when someone comes from the states and brings us a few luxuries -- little comforts and splurges -- and admittedly we stuffed our bags with some of those comforts (as you can see from my staged picture) but we have adapted to so much out here. I hadn't realized how much until I went back, and I like me better for it. I admire my mother for this quality -- she's the least picky person I've ever known, and can survive with a smile when many of us are groaning in agony. I like to say she and the cockroaches will survive in the end; the rest of us will wither from lack of Bounty paper towels. (Sorry Ma, I'm not calling you a cockroach.) The ultimate question, of course, is how long our adaptations will hold once we get back ...
If anything, I think we suffer from a mild case of normalcy out here. When everyone around you is doing the same thing, it seems normal. When we go home, it's suddenly not so normal. We have to remind ourselves that we're on the trip of a lifetime, it's finite, and that we may never pass this way again. Going home and talking to people reminds us of that, and as we share our adventures we're amazed ourselves that we're talking about our life -- it seems too great to be real. So we try to be in the moment, which gets easier and easier.
As to the marital relations part, well, that's a topic always best left to the imagination.
Sometimes we get an interlude -- a break in the flow of things, and an opportunity that brings us back with renewed perspective. This week we flew to California to celebrate the lives of two very important people in my life who recently passed away. The 5 days back in "the real world" were surprisingly good for us, and now, sitting on an Air Pacific 747, 1 hour from landing in Nadi, I feel like we had a bit of an overhaul, or at least, a chance to step out and look back at the life we've been leading for the last year.
Rummy and Helen Deese were the parents of my best friend, Mary Ann (pictured above with her husband Dave), and our next door neighbors for most of my childhood. I spent almost as much time at their house as my own, and ate more than my share of frozen mini pizzas, Kraft Noodles Parmesano, and Space Food Sticks while lounging around listening to Firesign Theatre and Bill Cosby. I raked leaves with Mary Ann in the fall, planted pumpkins in the back yard, and got rides to school with Mr. Deese, knowing that his strict rules meant that if I was one minute late, they left without me and I walked. Mary Ann and I learned to fly together at Chino Airport our senior year in high school, an opportunity that changed my life. I loved Friday night tacos, cooked with reliable consistency in the Deese household, by a tiny but powerful mother who raised 4+ kids while she worked tirelessly on finishing her Bachelors, earning a Masters and ultimately a Ph.D. Life in the Deese household was all about laughter and intelligence, critical thinking, art, music and an unwavering commitment to learning. It was a home that always had open doors, except those few times when Mr. Deese finally had enough of my annoying presence and would say, in his slow and deliberate way, "Alison, go home." (Mary Ann and I have differing memories there: she's sure it was my father who said "Mary Ann, go home.") We spent so much time together that our parents almost forgot who belonged to whom.
After I grew up and got married, Helen would call and invite me to New Years Eve parties, Christmas celebrations, backyard BBQ's -- whether or not Mary Ann was in town. She kept me in the loop and part of the family all the way to the end. For the last 10 years I've had the pleasure of joining them on their annual week-long gathering in Yosemite, California, always encouraged by Helen and welcomed by everyone.
The end of these two people's amazing lives came in the early summer this year; Helen in June after a long 5 years of contending with Lou Gehrig's Disease, and Rummy a scant 5 weeks later. The obituaries in our local papers and the memorial service were shared events, as all of life in the Deese world had been. For a month, I knew the service was planned for October 3rd, and had spent weeks quietly scheming about going back, but unclear on the mechanics. Where could we put the boat in a generally marina-free part of the world? Could we bust the monthly budget with airline tickets home? And could we spare the time, knowing hurricane season is around the bend and we need to keep moving toward Australia? Then, just like the rest of how this trip has gone, opportunity presented itself. Rupert Deese, Helen and Rummy's oldest son, says "Follow the breadcrumbs" and that's what I've learned to do since we set about on this journey: even when answers are not in evidence, clues are, so I just keep my eyes and options open and sure enough, answers come. Our arrival at Vuda Point Marina a few weeks ago gave me the solution to worries about where to safely leave the boat; Pam's arrival in Fiji last week gave me the courage to really consider going home -- she got online and checked flights and we found a good price. The final part came when Allan enthusiastically embraced and supported the idea, and within hours we had round trip tickets to Los Angeles, cars waiting for us, and a place to stay.
And so, a trip home. And an overhaul, not so much a needed one but the kind that makes you see things from a fresh perspective, and in our case, helped us realize that our life is going in just the direction it should be. Time warped for us both in that scant 5 days, it stretched and even seemed to stop at times. We accomplished so much, and saw so many people. We shopped, raided the storeroom for stuff we needed on the boat, spent time with all the family we have in California on both sides, saw our fuzzy cat Max, spent a good amount of time with the Deese family, and ate 85,000 calories-worth of great food. 65,000 of those were at John and Carol's, Max's foster parents and the keepers of "his" car in Claremont, who generously housed us, among so many other things. And we realized with renewed clarity that we would not be on this trip without the incredible support of friends and family. John and Carol, who go above and beyond in all ways to help us make this selfish dream of ours a success; Pam in Houston, who handles our complicated mail; Allan's Dad who keeps his new Hybrid Camry safe and dry and also manages part of our mail and finances. The support and enthusiasm of our families is so nurturing, and it's hard to describe how much that matters.
We were stunned at how easy it was to step back into our old shoes (a bit alarming, actually), to sit behind the wheel of a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side and drive, remembering how the A/C works and where the NPR stations are, and just how to get at the hidden safe in our storeroom. I polished my nails and wore a bit of makeup, bought glammy new shoes and lots of paper towels and Ziploc bags, relishing and a bit overwhelmed by the abundance of places like Costco and Kohls and Albertsons. It was easy to feel right at home again, but underneath it all, something had changed in us, and this was the first time we noticed it. I believe the time warp we experienced was due to this change, to an inner calm that seems to be holding everything together in a new way, rearranging time and making things richer and more meaningful. It was quite extraordinary to note that in previous times we would have called this a "whirlwind" trip, but this time we went from place to place, cramming in more than seemed possible, feeling virtually no compromise or crunch of time.
As Allan fills out the Customs forms next to me, asking about what date we plan to leave Fiji so he can fill in Box 13, we are aware of the waning time left on our sail across the Pacific. We'll be in Australia in about a month, where we plan to put our beautiful Fly Aweigh on the market. What happens next is a gray blur. Ideas float at the edges, but we don't really know what the remaining 5 months of our time off will look like. But it doesn't matter. We'll just follow the breadcrumbs.
09/25/2010, Mamanuca Islands, Fiji
It's late afternoon and we've just returned from a delightful snorkel on a reef surrounding a small sandpile of an island north of Malolo Island in the Mamanucas. This was our best snorkel yet, rich with color and variety, lots of new fish, and warm, clear water.
We "discovered" this little island a few days ago on our way north to Monoriki Island, where the movie "Castaway" with Tom Hanks was filmed. We saw the pristine pile of white sand, devoid of people, trees, or any evidence of mankind at all, made a detour, and claimed it for ourselves. But just as we rounded the corner to the little anchorage we noticed a small boat from one of the many, many, MANY tourist resorts in the area that had beat us to the punch, with a few snorkelers splashing about in the clear water. We swam ashore and roamed around, squinting without sunglasses in the brilliant white light of the sandy blob, trying to pose for man-on-the-moon pictures and still keep our eyes open, despite the pain. A bit of snorkeling and then we were back aboard, showering on the deck as the other boat packed up and left. Not 10 minutes later, another arrived, deposited a couple on the isle, set up a big striped umbrella and a little table for two, and left them to a private lunch ashore. We decided it was time to go, not sure whether it was a marriage proposal or an anniversary or just a little getaway, but surely we were not a necessary component to their moment.
And now, a few days later we have returned to "our" island for another go at the little reef. We had the place all to ourselves for about a minute, and then, sure enough, the resort fleet arrived, offloading 3 groups of people, 5 umbrellas and various piles of beach paraphernalia. We confined ourselves to the reef, which was beautiful, unspoiled and undamaged. Mark and Pam are getting quite comfy in the water, and as with all dives, we all love to excitedly share the things we saw and look them up in the fish book. Our new Lumix camera is also proving to be a great asset and Allan has taken some wonderful underwater photos.
So far our time with Mark and Pam has included a few nights in Musket Cove, and a few nights anchored in front of the posh Likuliku Resort on the north end of Malolo. Musket Cove is a crowded anchorage with moorings, restaurants, resorts, a small marina, fuel, and all sorts of other amenities, although we didn't partake of any of them except the trash bins and the well-stocked store. We used Musket Cove more for a staging area, a jumping-off point to local snorkeling spots, including a gorgeous day anchored near the outer reef between Tavarua and Nomotu Islands, both surfing resorts.
Our two nights off the Likuliku Resort were peaceful. Pam and I took the dinghy to another little uninhabited island, offloaded our beach chairs, books, masks and snorkels, and some snacks and had a nice few hours to ourselves, searching for shells and relaxing. Meanwhile, Allan gave his brother Mark his first dive lesson, ultimately getting him into the water in scuba gear and down to 50 feet for awhile. Mark took to it as easily as his fish-like brother and will no doubt have no trouble getting scuba certified. Pam is next, Allan hopes to find a good spot to work with her tomorrow.
This morning we resumed our attempt to see Monoriki Island which we circumnavigated, taking loads of photos and trying to decide which scene in "Castaway" was filmed where. The island is rugged and uninhabited, although tour boats make daily treks and let people off to clamber around. We were not able to stop because it was too deep for us to anchor, but we thoroughly enjoyed the view.
Tonight we're headed once again to Musket Cove for one more day on the fringing reef by the surf islands, and then back to Vuda Point Monday to do a little shopping in Lautoka before Mark and Pam leave Tuesday evening.
09/21/2010, Musket Cove, Mamanuca Islands, Fiji
We have just arrived at Musket Cove, Malolo Lailai Island, off the west coast of Nadi. We are joined by Mark and Pam, Allan's brother and his wife, who arrived this morning at 5:10am, and are by some miracle still awake despite a long 25-hour trek from Houston, Texas.
Allan and I left Savu Savu last Friday after a quick overnight in town and headed around the corner, past Wainunu Bay to Nambouwalu near Vuya Point on the southern tip of Vanua Levu. Or, if you're into the numbers: 16 59'50"S 178 41'00"E. The hill above Vuya Point was adorned with modern tiki's in the form of wind generators, cell towers, and satellite dishes, and not surprisingly, the village of Nambouwalu was lit up like a Christmas tree at night, an unusual sight in most villages, where power is rare and most homes operate by lantern after dark, or occasionally by sparse electric lights powered by noisy generators. A church service of some sort was going on, and a loudspeaker blasted harmonious gospel music and a sermon in Fijian across the tranquil bay. The area was lovely, with some rather large homes on the hill, and we wondered about it all -- the wind generators, the electric lights, the large homes. Curious.
We left in the morning for a perfect sail across the Bligh Water, which was not the least bit dramatic or scary or anything, much to my disappointment. Fly Aweigh was on her favorite point of sail, a broad reach in 15 - 20 knot winds. Daylight waned in time for us to drop anchor by the Vatia Wharf in a very uninteresting, windy anchorage surrounded by dry, featureless hills and murky water, but it was a good home for the night, with a beautiful sunset that we enjoyed from our "back porch." In the morning we continued our westbound trek, feeling much like we were sailing over Highway 1 near San Luis Obispo, California in the heat of summer. We are definitely on the dry side of the Fiji Islands, and it's all reminiscent of our own Channel Islands off the coast of Oxnard.
Our destination was Vuda Point (pronounced "Vunda"), a new marina north of the airport town of Nadi, where we hoped to find a berth for a few days, hose off the boat, do some laundry and all that civilized stuff. The only problem was, we couldn't find the marina. A solid mindset is a definite liability in us humans, and we were victims of an erroneous idea that had us looking for a large opening to an obvious marina, neither of which describes Vuda Point. After a bit of searching, which included checking the lat/long position on the marina's website (not enough numbers -- they didn't include the seconds, so we were still searching a fairly large area) we turned around, and it was then we spotted an innocuous series of poles in the water with little flag-like arrows pointing through a narrow channel cut into the reef, which led to the tiny marina around the corner. As we motored through the small channel we saw Joseph and Marcy from Horizon on the deck at the restaurant, who waved hello and joked about our apparent lack of situational awareness.
After a short wait on the mooring ball in the center of the circular marina, we were wedged between two sailboats just steps from the laundry (fluffy towels!), the showers (unlimited water that comes from from a thing that doesn't require you to hold down a button continuously!), and a faucet for our hose (clean boat! Unstuck scupper drains!) So all was well with the world. We had a delicious pizza in the restaurant on the edge of the marina with a superb sunset view, and caught a good nights' sleep.
The next day our new friend and personal taxi driver, Mohammed, drove us and Joseph and Marcy to the Customs office at the Port of Lautoka, where we checked in, updated our cruising permit for the Nadi area to include the offshore islands, and added Mark and Pam to the crew list for a week. A bit of shopping at the big MH grocery store and the huge produce market in town, and then Mohammed picked us up and drove us back to the boat. We had one casualty in the big city: we lost my cell phone, which had a Fiji sim card so we could keep in touch locally with our personal taxi driver Mohammed, and my mom, who also has a Fiji phone. Don't know if the phone was pick-pocketed, or just lost, but it was unrecovered so we bought another sim card and thankfully have another old phone on board to use.
Another nice pizza with a view, joined by Marcy and Joseph, who are headed for Vanuatu. We had a great time patting ourselves on the back for being smart, or courageous or perhaps foolish enough to be out here on sailboats and seeing the world in such a fun way.
And now, Mark and Pam have arrived. As I write this sentence, they've finally given in to exhaustion and are peacefully napping while the wind howls in the rigging at 20 knots, the boat dances this way and that on the mooring, and Fijian fishing boats zoom by noisily. We're hoping for a calmer evening and a day or two to explore what Musket Cove has to offer, and then we'll head to our next destination: somewhere else beautiful in the Mamanuca chain, maybe the island they filmed "Castaway" on, which is just up the way.