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Pacific Odyssey 2010/2011
Follow the Larsens from Seattle to Australia and back.
No Complacency
09/21/2010, Lautoka

Today we made the run from Musket Cove back to Lautoka to clear out. Tomorrow we will come back this way, through a break in the reef surrounding western Fiji called Navula Pass, and on to New Caledonia. Unfortunately Fiji is not very flexible with clearance, we can't clear out then stop at any more islands.

On the one hand, today's should be an easy run, 20 nm back along a course we have traveled. The sun makes the reefs visible around 9:00 AM, but as we had a previous track in our GPS to follow we could start earlier and make sure we had enough time in Lautoka to provision and clear out.

As we approached the second turn out of Musket Cove, I saw that a ketch which left just before us had stopped near the turn. At first I thought he might have anchored out away from the other boats, perhaps to dive, but as we got closer I grew concerned: it was a strange place to stop. I followed my track and stayed clear of the boat, and as I drew nearer I could see the green water of the shallow reef on both sides, and the churning of water behind the boat as the skipper tried to power off the reef. We circled nearby and hailed the skipper on the radio, but he did not answer. We got closer and Christine called to him, he held up his arms indicating he needed assistance, but there was not much we could do directly as we could not get very close without risking our own boat. He needed assistance from a shallow draft power boat. We radioed the Marina and both local resorts, but as it was only 7:30, we did not get an answer. After our third call another boat on anchor responded, and we explained the situation. The skipper said he would dinghy into the marina and organize assistance. We continued to try to communicate with the grounded skipper, but he was not responding to us at all. He continued to try to motor off. His dinghy was in the water but it did not look like he had set a kedge. Our dinghy was aboard and tied down, we couldn't launch it without returning to the harbor and anchoring, more appropriate help was on the way.

Soon we received a call from the skipper helping from the marina: it might be an hour or more until a boat could come assist, and the tide was falling. The grounded skipper then broke in, providing detail on his situation. We circled back to make sure the grounded skipper stayed safe. A few minutes after we returned, a dinghy came out, took a line and begin trying to pull the boat off. It was soon joined by a trawler. They had attached a line to a halyard at the top of the mast. By using leverage and pulling the boat partially onto its side, they could reduce the depth of the keel, and hopefully slide it off. We thought we could hear grinding as they tried this, but the boat did not free. Soon we received another radio call: the boat could not be freed on this tide, they would have to wait several hours for the tide to come back up. They released us, and with sadness we continued to Lautoka.

I think the boat grounded within a couple of hours and a foot or two of the earlier high. Judging by their position had likely been at full speed and run up onto the reef with a lot of momentum. It would not be easy to free, even at the next high. As we continued we heard a frantic search for truck tires in an attempt to brace the boat and minimize damage at low tide as the afternoon winds came up.

We had several more reefs to pass on the route to Lautoka, and we kept a careful watch. As we passed Vunda Point and and approached Saweni Bay, Christine thought a boat near shore was listing. As we approached we realized it was another boat aground. This one had struck between two coral heads near shore. It had clearly been there for a few hours, as it was listing badly with the still receding tide. We approached as close as we dared and called out, but there was no answer. A dinghy was tied to it, but anyone aboard should have heard us. There were other boats anchored not far away, so we think they had already received assistance.

It was quite a shock to see two freshly grounded boats in one day. As I have mentioned before, sailing in Fiji is tricky. The reefs are often not exactly where the chart plotter says. In fact, to enter Musket Cove, I had to follow my eyes and the local marks, sailing directly over what my plotter though was shallow water. Entering at mid day we could clearly see the shallow reefs. Christine was often stationed at the bow looking out, with me at the helm. I think the ketch was a single hander.

I have entered the approximate location of the first grounded boat in this blog. Via the Google Earth utility you can see the reef he hit. The second boat was near 17 deg 38.0 minutes S, 177 deg 23.17 minutes E.

P.S. The next day as we were leaving Fiji, the second boat had been cleared of the reef. The first boat appeared from a distance to still on the reef. I think he grounded hard, and after 24 hours on the reef with some high winds, it is possible that the boat will be beyond repair. A real tragedy for the owner. Fortunately it appeared that no one was injured.

We will stay diligent in our remaining time at sea.

Scuba Diving
Sophie Larsen

Hi everyone! This entry is about yesterday, when I went scuba diving.

In the morning, I went to the dive shop to listen to the rules of scuba diving. After that lecture I went with the divemaster and another beginner to scuba dive near the docks. We had to practice things like taking our regulators off, letting it swing in back of us, and retrieving it again.

In the afternoon, my Dad and I went with a dive group out to a location called Monkey Wall. When I tried to get in the water, I had to have help because altogether the gear weighed 50 or 60 pounds. Once I was in the water, I descended on the anchor line to the bottom, about 10 meters(30 ft.)down. The coral down there was amazing. Reds, yellows, and oranges were everywhere. I saw a beautiful blue and yellow striped fish, and some purplish blue parrot fish. All the life down there was amazing, and I didn't need to come up for a breath.

Scuba diving yesterday was really fun!

09/18/2010, Musket Cove, Fiji

I am writing this from the Musket Cove Resort, poolside.

The night we entered was the final night of regatta week, with a local roast pig dinner, island dancers, and music. The feast provided a nice reception. Sailing along the north coast of Viti Lev gaining beach access was not that easy. We brought our yagoni (kava) to offer to the chiefs, but at the end of a day of sailing, tracking down local officials to ask for beach access was more than we were up for. Thirty to forty years ago, when cruising was starting and there were fewer boats you could trade for many things, such as fruit and vegetables. Cruisers used to write about entering bays and canoes coming out to meet them. Now, with hundreds of boats coming through the main tracks each year those days are gone. For the more adventurous who go farther off the beaten, and well charted, tracks, trading may still exist. With three kids in tow,that is not us on this trip. Besides the added effort and challenge, we are less likely to encounter kids in such remote anchorages, and socialization of our kids helps keep mom and dad sane.

We have also found on the trip that often where we get the best beach and snorkeling access is when we anchor off a resort. These are not massive complexes like the Grand Wailea on Maui, but often small, family run establishments with a few fales or rooms, a pool, and a small dining area. More like Faulty Towers, sometimes complete with some entertaining staff behavior. (I am sure we cruisers reciprocate with our own antics.) I think there may be some selection bias involved as well: villages with nice beaches welcoming yachts and foreign visitors open resorts, while villages reluctant for contact, perhaps wishing to preserve their culture, do not.

Musket Cove is a little larger, reminding me a bit of Kauai in the 80s. Here they welcome the cruiser to use the large pools with rocks for the kids to climb on, and there are quite a few kids for ours to play with. There is a nice mix of boat kids and children on holiday from Australia and New Zealand. There is also laundry, a grocery, snack bars, and a couple of restaurants. We have Internet access for planning our next leg, communicating with Yacht brokers, and researching Australia. Yesterday I went diving. Today Sophie took a discover scuba class in the morning and will do a 12 meter reef dive with me in the afternoon. (One drawback of our smaller boat is that I have no room for tanks or dive gear.) Life is pretty easy here and we are having fun.

This may not be "real" cruising, but our goal was to spend time with the kids, each other, and have fun. When we are in anchorages without other kids around, we end up on duty 24x7. Today, our kids are in the pool playing with new friends while I write my blog, and Christine reads her book. I have no guilt... another cruising boat has been here for two months!

Updates for the Blogging Faithful

We may have surprised some of you with one of our latest blog entries -that we'll be selling Jenny P in Brisbane. This has been an option that we've entertained since we began our journey back in May. We thought we might sail her back to Seattle, but that passage is against the prevailing winds and would take a bit longer than our passage down under. We've also outgrown this little boat - our kids have put up with sleeping like sardines since May 9th and they are hanging in there for another 2 months or so, but space is tight and we all need a little extra.

We found a broker through some boating friends and we'll be listing soon. We are sure that Jenny P will find new owners who will love her as much as the past four owners have. She is in great shape and now has some serious sea miles to her credit.

We'll stay on to travel Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand by land and air.

In response to the cannibalism blog comments - this is one of the strange parts of being in Fiji. The modern Fijian relationship to the cannibal past is carnivalesque. We heard of a t-shirt a local was wearing; it read: "Send more tourists, the last ones were tasty." The history is quite disturbing and none too historical. When we went to the market and the kids had their own allowance to spend, Freya chose a fish necklace, Finn chose a shark tooth necklace and Sophie was fascinated by the cannibal forks the market lady so happily marketed. Sophie did end up purchasing them. This was a tough call from a parenting standpoint. The money was hers to spend and Eric and I both feel it is important at that age to be able make decisions (and mistakes) about how to spend their own money. I would have drawn the line at the purchase of an authentic fork, but decided to let it go with regard to the replica. Not sure if that was the right call, but it wasn't a time I wanted to use up one of my "No's."

With regard to food supplies - we are eating well. Each town seems to have an extensive local market where families sell everything: eggs, coconuts, fish, basil, lettuce, green and red peppers, limes, watermelon, bananas, pineapple, cucumber, red and green tomatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, taro and breadfruit. The dried vanilla beans are to die for; the fragrance is so delicate. Our canned supplies are holding up well (chicken and lentil soups, refried beans, tomato sauce) and we still have months worth of dried beans, pasta and rice. The day before we leave port for a longer passage, we usually stock up on UHT (long shelf life) milk and juice, bread and some snacky snacks like cookies and potato chips. I make a run to the market to get our fresh ingredients and we are off. Eric is our cook underway - he likes to use the pressure cookers. Rice in one and some kind of soup/chili/curry/or other rice topping in the other. We discovered a fish soup that we love -it can take a lot of tobasco and really satisfies.

Crossing Fiji
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.

Fijian Village

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.

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Who: Eric, Christine and family
Port: Seattle, Washington
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