10/19/2010, Musket Cove, Fiji
After 6 weeks and 1 day, we're saying goodbye (moce, pronounced "mothay") to Fiji and on to meet the French and the Kanak's of New Caledonia.
We'll be underway at first light. We expect to motor the first day, with good winds after that and even up to 22 knots on the 4th day, arriving at the southern tip of the island at daybreak on Saturday. Then, around the west side and into the harbor and big city of Noumea by sunset.
We had a nice, easy day in Musket Cove today, even went ashore and took advantage of our Musket Cove Yacht Club membership (Fiji $1 for the Captain, $5 for crew) for a swim in the big pool at the resort next door. A little silly, really - it's a big, slimy salt-water pool that doesn't even have any fish, but it was a nice change of scenery.
I'll be posting daily as I usually do on passages, so in roughly 24 hours we'll report on the events of Day 1, which hopefully won't involve large quantities of soda crackers and Coca Cola ...
Vinaka (thank you) Fiji!
10/18/2010, Musket Cove, Fiji
(Sunday) Here we are, back in Vuda Point Marina for one more night, with plans to have dinner with Steve and Trish on Curious before we head for New Caledonia and they head for the Yasawa Group in north-west Fiji and then to New Zealand. In the morning we'll cab to town for provisions and check out with Customs, then we'll sneak over to Musket Cove for a night (or two?) and leave for New Caledonia when the winds fill in.
We arrived in Vuda Point around 3:30, and although they have lots of space for boats, they've suggested we hang on the mooring ball that sits conspicuously in the center of the circular marina for the night, then get fuel the fuel we need at the dock in the morning, and after that move into a berth. The process of snugging in between two boats, tying 2 bow lines to shore and 2 out to mooring balls on the stern is a bit labor-intensive, and I think they're short-handed today. So that's what we're doing -- the dinghy is lowered from the davit so we can get off the boat, and we're now the centerpiece of the small marina for the night.
Our time in Denarau was fun. The cruise ship arrived this morning and anchored outside the shallow harbor, shuttling it's people into the tourist mecca of Port Denarau in bright yellow shore boats to be regaled by Fijian performers and directed to the Hard Rock Cafe and the clothing and souvenir shops. It felt odd, surrounded by sunburned tourists -- Allan kept saying, "We're in Fiji?" Our cruising has been so different from the way a big cruise ship travels.
We had a few great meals with friends Rod and Elisabeth on Proximity, and one very fun multi-national night with some new folks (above.) In all, our dinner group that second night had representatives from South Africa, England, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and America, dining in a restaurant owned by a Tunisian in Fiji. We had fun swapping stories with Ralph, the former Luftwaffe pilot cum retired airline Captain, who is now cruising on his American-made catamaran and having the time of his life.
The sail from Denarau Marina to Vuda was nice, a 4-mile ride up the sunny coast on a glorious Sunday afternoon. Halfway up Allan took advantage of the calm sea and clear water to jump in the water and see what clogged our generator intake this morning, causing it to auto-shutdown. The water in both Denarau and Vuda Point marinas is seriously yucky, so dropping sails and coming to a stop in the middle of the ocean is far preferable. What he found was a little puffer fish stuffed into the small intake hole with only his tail sticking out, poor little guy. It took a pair of pliers to get him out, but we're back in business now.
Returning to Vuda feels good; I think wherever you lay your hat the first time becomes a home of sorts, and having that connection when you're cruising offers a measure of comfort, at least for us. We even find we like the same mooring ball or corner of the port or anchorage when we make repeated return trips, as we have in Neiafu, Tonga, Vuda Point and Musket Cove, Fiji. Vuda is quiet, and we have our people here: Steve and Trish, tucked into "their" spot on the southern edge; Mohammed the taxi driver, standing by to help us in any way he can; Shan at the chandlery; the familiar faces in the restaurant and the store. We need these gentle anchors to give us some sense of stability. So even though Denarau had the energy, the music, the restaurant choices, the slick new docks - even though many prefer it over dull, quiet Vuda, we prefer it here.
(Monday) We've now moved to Musket Cove, and as I write a good-smelling Lentil Loaf bakes in the oven, the sounds of an a cappella Fijian singing group wafts across the water in lovely harmony, and Allan is fine-tuning our weather and route planning to New Caledonia. Okay, Lentil Loaf, I know. Most of you are wondering how that could be a good thing. But nearing the end of our trip has necessitated a creative approach to cooking the remaining ingredients that will be confiscated in Australia. Raw nuts, legumes, and dried fruits and vegetables will all be taboo, so my vegetarian leanings are in full swing, and I'm even getting at some of the raw foods cookbooks I brought along. I'm thankful Allan is such a willing experimetee as I mess around in the galley.
The updated report from the router and and weather planner to my immediate right (Allan) is that the winds seem to favor departing day-after-tomorrow. We've spent all our Fijian money, but there's always an ATM somewhere. Better yet, we can bide the time snorkeling and reading. Allan snagged the 5th Harry Potter book from the Vuda Point book swap shelf, so I'll be happy whether we're underway or sitting here in Musket. I'll post a quick blurb tomorrow when we decide for sure. Meanwhile, check out the latest Photo Gallery: Viti Levu & the Mamanucas.
PD (Post-dinner): The Lentil Loaf was GREAT!
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.