09/14/2010, North Viti Levu
We are making our way westward across Fiji toward Musket Cove on Malolo Lalilali Island where we hope to spend a couple of days snorkeling and exploring the nearby bays. Fiji is tricky to move around in as there are many reefs. Many, but not all, are well marked. Another challenge for us is that you can't go ashore in most bay unless you get permission from the village chief (typically by offering a gift of kava). It is not always clear where the village is that owns a particular beach we see, so unless we stay multiple days in a bay it is not possible to seek permission. It is very hard for the kids to see a beach but not be able to play on it. The Malolo area is more liberal and more accessible to cruising boats as an expat bought the area for 50 muskets and some gold long ago.
Our first day out of SavuSavu we hugged the southern coast of Vanua Levu, and anchored off Coconut Point. This leg was our initiation into Fiji sailing. We are limited to sailing during good daylight due to the reefs and channels. We are typically sailing near land and inside the main barrier reefs. Sometimes the channels get narrow, but we have consistently had an easy time seeing the reef in daylight, as they reef areas tend to be less than 5 feet deep, dropping off quickly to 50 plus feet deep. These passages are like a maze, and without a chart it would be exceptionally difficult to find a path through and not continually backtrack from dead ends. We have relied on local knowledge for bays providing good anchorage, as with the reefs and mountains it is not always clear which spots have good protection and holding.
The second day we crossed Bligh Waters to the northeast corner of Viti Levu. Today we followed coastal channels on the north side of the largest island to a bay near Lautoka. It was a tiring 48 mile trip zigging and zagging through channels. Tomorrow we will have an easier day, 25 miles to Malolo, much of it more open water. While it might seem easier to sail near land, it is land that sinks boats, not water. I have more peace of mind when I know ships and debris are my main risk.
During our trip across Fiji the landscape changed dramatically from the windward to leeward sides of the islands. SavuSavu was lush, while Lautoka is arid. The hills here in northeast Viti Lev remind me of the Methow valley in Eastern Washington.
I am keeping my mechanics skills sharp with unplanned projects like fixing the transmission control cable. When anchoring the other day I found that I did not have access to reverse. After setting the anchor without it I discovered the cable was loose (and worn), I have fixed it enough to engage reverse with just the right gear shift bump - I will fix this properly in Oz. I have a growing list of such items. As I have said in a past blog, most of the people I know out here are getting by with some broken gear - cruising is hard on boats and parts are hard to come by. While I brought many spare parts, space, cost and weight imposed limitations. I have gotten more relaxed about not having the boat in perfect working order. Still I am looking forward to entering a well stocked marine store.
I mentioned in the blog about SavuSavu that we had taken a day trip to Labasa and visited a Fijian village along the way. There is something called SevuSevu here that describes the welcome ritual when a foreigner arrives in a village. Under the guidance of our taxi driver, we first stopped in the Labasa market before we went to the village in order to buy $5 Fijian worth of Yagoni (Yahn-GO-ni), or Kava root. This we presented to the village chief as our gift when we asked permission to enter his village. The chief is just an ordinary person with no fancy clothes or living quarters. He just happens to be the most respected person in the village. We were invited into his house, and shown were to sit on the floor. The kids sat down cross legged with no shoes, while Eric and I were asked to sit on the only two chairs they had. The chief sat cross legged amongst his few family members that happened to be in the house with him at the same time. He gave a speech during which his family clapped short rhythms at certain points. Once it was over, they smiled and said "Ok, you can go now." The point of the speech was the heart of the SevuSevu. When a foreigner comes to a village, he asks the chief for permission and all the reasonable protections that can be afforded. If the chief accepts the Kava root, he is taking on the responsibility of protecting the visitor. As the visitor leaves, there is a special way of saying good-bye that literally releases the chief of his obligation of protection. We clearly did not need the protection and felt very safe visiting the village, but it is a ritual that lingers and remains quite strong. It appeared the chief's family was actually happy to have had the brief ceremony.
Now for the ironic part - we were taken to the village to see a curiosity - stones where people were killed before they were eaten during cannibal times. We didn't know that is what we'd be shown; we just followed the taxi driver's guidance along the way to Labasa. I don't think I would have asked to see such a site, but there we were. Maloni, a nice woman from the village, walked us to the stones and explained what happened where: "this is the stone used to chop people's heads off" and then "this is the stone where the head was placed so the blood could drip out, see the little pocket where the head would sit? We don't do this anymore; our grandfathers did that." She explained this as a matter of fact, no remorse or revulsion, just a notion of a time long ago. Eleanor, Malonoi's sister-in-law, joined us at the stones and she too said wistfully, "our forefathers."
Cannibalism occurred throughout the islands we've visited, but Fiji is the first time it has been a topic so out in the open. In Samoa we read a plaque on a statue at the Robert Louis Stevenson museum recounting the legend of a prince whose father would regularly eat young men until his son took the place of one of the offerings and just before he was killed; the King suddenly realized what he had been doing was wrong. His son pleaded with him to stop eating people and from then on he ate fish. So the story goes. In Tonga an expat from Australia owned a South Pacific artifacts store where you could purchase an authentic cannibal axe used to chop heads in the late 1800's. Eric noted this kind of shop was like Borgen & Burkes from Harry Potter - the Diagon Alley shop selling dark artifacts to Death Eater families such as the Malfoys. While the practice existed in Samoa and Tonga, you had to seek out the legend or go into the shop to bump into it. Here in Fiji it is much more a daily topic of history.
I took the kids to the market yesterday so they could spend their souvenir allowances. We were looking around at the handicrafts when a lady came up to us holding carved, four-pronged forks. She smiled as she held them up and said, "Oh, you might like these cannibal forks. The small one you can use for your salads and the big one is great for the BBQ. Nice price if you buy both." Looking at her kind face holding an object that replicates what was used to eat people not so long ago was such a confusing moment. The topic (let alone the practice) of cannibalism clearly represents a cultural divide.
Fiji is quickly becoming one of my favorite stops along our route to Australia. We've been in SavuSavu Bay on the southern end of Vanua Levu since Tuesday and we are planning an end of weekend departure. I could stay another 2 weeks - there is great Indian food here. I have to admit that the main attraction is not the food (did I mention the great Indian food!??), but the warm and friendly Fijian people. "Bula, Bula!" is the greeting, quickly followed by a handshake and their first name. Of course, people want to know our names too, which they don't forget and which they use when we see them again on the street. The other greetings are "Namaste" or "Salaam Alaikem", among the Hindus and Muslims, but when in doubt, Bula! is the safest bet and universally accepted salutation.
There are two distinct Fijian populations, the native Fijians and the Fijian-Indians. I recall last year when I visited Lautoka on Viti Levu at the start of my training sail from Fiji to New Zealand, the Fijians and Fijian-Indians lived very separate lives. It was less than harmonious. In a much smaller town like SavuSavu the lines are not so stark and the two cultures seem to interact and work together in a more seamless way: our Indian cab driver spoke fluent Fijian, the boys on the rugby field were from both cultures playing on the same team, some of the shops have an integrated staff. However, Fijian-Indians and native Fijians rarely live in the same villages. I asked a Fijian-Indian man about this and he told me the "simple reason is the meat, we don't eat beef or pork and sometimes we don't eat any meat at all. Fijians love beef. It doesn't work to live together." Eric and I were talking about this very simple reason and suspect it points to the much more complicated issue of religion. Most Fijians are Christian; the missionary history is quite strong here. Most Fijian-Indians are Hindu, Muslim or Sikh.
Thursday we hired a car and driver, Mohammed, to take us up across the mountains and into the town of Labasa (pronounced Lambasa.) We stopped in a Fijian Village, visited an Indian temple, took in breathtaking views from the mountain tops and ended up at a wonderfully peaceful resort called Palmlea Lodge. Some day I'd like to come back to Palmlea and spend a week sitting on a lounge chair overlooking the sea.
Today we went to the farmer's market for fresh produce and Eric took the kids to a local hotel for some swimming (the harbor here is a bit too dirty for that with so many boats and traffic.) A couple local men are waxing and polishing our fiberglass today. It got pretty dirty from the sea miles since Seattle and we want to look sparkly bright when we arrive in Brisbane to sell our boat.
We were looking over our route so far and realized that we have now been in all 4 Hemispheres. We left the Big Dipper somewhere along the equator and have been following the Southern Cross ever since. Orion is also high in the sky and right on top of our boat each night as we take our final look around before going to sleep.
We are safely in Fiji after a quick passage with strong winds. More to come as we explore this town. (We are starting to see a lot of the familiar faces and boats form Tonga and Samoa.)
Fiji in less than 24 hours! We are just about to make a crucial turn around Wailangilala Light on the NE edge of the Fiji Islands, Lau Group, a long awaited waypoint on this passage. First we had to slip through two reefs and soon will round another larger reef called, Duff reef, before we can make that turn. We are doing this all the while facing weather that has given us our new personal records of 36 kts, 15 foot plus seas, and an all-time surf down a wave record of 13.2 knots GPS speed.
Theoretically our 33ft boat can travel 8.0 kts (this is calculated using the length at the waterline); realistically, we can travel at 6.5 knots comfortably if the sails are balanced and the seas are at the right angle. So 13.2 is rockin! Our other surfing moments were more like 10 and 11 kts and we had that happen maybe 10 times. At one point in the night we were slammed by a side wave that flipped open our hatch cover and dumped a bunch of water in the cabin. Ooops, we forgot to put the extra clip on the hatch lock. Otherwise, we're surviving the passage thanks again to Eric who is eternally optimistic and incredibly capable. He may even rightly claim single-handing some of this trip to Australia as I shut down when the wave action is too much. Give the kids snack and a book on tape and they can handle anything.
We will be in Fiji instead of back in Vavau awaiting a chart plotter replacement because we simply abandoned that problem and worked out another solution to our overall issue. We've blogged about that before (Eric downloaded software for a very old chartplotter we had in storage and our Fiji chip fired up just fine, albeit ¼ of the screen size we paid so dearly for.) We've also had problems holding our course on this passage because we had to travel 150 miles dead-down wind. Our boat sails best down wind when the wind angle is 120 to 140. We've had to keep it around 180 without gibing the boom just so we can keep our course. We've had to be precise because of the numerous reefs and shoals that dot the area between Tonga and Fiji. Yesterday we realized that we weren't going to be able to keep our course. We toyed with the idea of gibing to track North for a few miles and restart our position on the original course line, but in the end we decided to abandon that problem and plot a new course (not ideal but manageable) and try to keep to that instead. While solving other problems on this trip I find that we've employed a similar strategy to great result: If the problem you are trying to solve becomes to cumbersome, stop trying to solve it and focus on the result you want instead. Reinvent the issue in a way that you can solve it. We've had to cast off so many original plans and create new ones in order to move along. I am thankful for the opportunity to reflect on that in a conscious way.
After a very nice stay in Vavau we are heading to Fiji. We expect this to be a 3.5 day trip.
On our last night, we went back to Port Maurelle, our favorite little bay in Vavau, and had a late afternoon soiree on the beach with Na Maka and the crew of Let It Be, a Belgium boat with three young kids. It was a nice farewell to Vavua and our friends. Let It Be will likely stay in Vavua while we are in Fiji, but we may see Na Maka in Fiji. I will email Jerome once we settle in. Fiji is more restrictive for movement than Vavua, so we will likely try to find a nice anchorage for the boat and stay put. We have made contact with Totem, anther family boat out of Bainbridge Island, and will try to rendezvous with them in Fiji. It has been great for the our kids to spend time with other kids. While Sophie misses her friends, she is fully enjoying the adventure of seeing new places and cultures and is working hard on her French to better mingle with other cruising kids. Finn and Freya are having fun but are getting homesick for their friends.
We have actually had calm sailing today, 15-20 kt of wind on the stern. Some forecasts call for 25-30 plus kt of wind tomorrow afternoon and evening, we are hoping to have less than that, but we can deal if that comes. The wind level doesn't bother me, but the seas that will likely come with it may be uncomfortable.
Going to sea is tiring. There is a lot to put away: the dinghy, kayak, sunshade, snorkel gear, etc, and more to get out, and every thing must be secured. Right now I am being reminded every few seconds that I forgot to stuff a towel in with the cooking oils - I'll take care of that before I lay down. In addition to the preparation, adjusting to the motion of the sea makes us all drowsy. I don't get seasick in the nauseous sense, but I do get a light headache and feel more tired. Christine and I both took naps this afternoon to recover and get ready for our night watches. It is bed time for the kids, and it is a typical first night at sea, the kids are wound up and not sleeping. Tomorrow everyone will be tired, but it will be a better day.