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s/v Sand Dollar
Friday, October 12, 2007 - Giant Clams
10/12/2007, Makongai Island, Fiji

The former leper colony here has been transformed into and ecological research station for the purpose of restoring a species of giant clam which suffers from over-harvesting. Baby clams are incubated in special tanks and then grown to adult size in designated areas of the lagoon. They are then transferred to various locations in Fiji in the hope that they will repopulate the reefs. These huge clams are almost three feet long!

The underwater visibility is quite good for snorkeling. However, most of the coral is dead and the fish are small. I did see a large sea turtle basking on the surface near the boat. There were no sharks of any size which is surprising.

All else is well onboard. Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will leave for another island 18 miles to the south.

Thursday, October 11, 2007 - Leper Colony
10/11/2007, Makongai Island, Fiji

Sand Dollar weighed anchor at 6:20 AM this morning for the 50 mile passage to Makongai Island, the site of a former leper colony. The trip was uneventful but the entrance to the lagoon was nerve racking. There were no channel markers but reefs everywhere. Fortunately we made it in without leaving any bottom paint on the coral. The anchor was put down near a small village located at the ruins of the leper colony.

The normal procedure when anchoring near a village is to go ashore and ask permission of the chief and then present him with "sevu sevu", a small bundle of kava roots. This small act is a formality which has been customary for hundreds of years and is expected of cruisers. After I presented my gift, the head man conducted a short ceremony and then welcomed me to the village and gave me a tour of the ruins. The leper colony was built by French missionaries in 1911, had 5000 occupants at one time, and was closed in the 1960s. Very few intact buildings remain today while the ruins are overgrown with all matter of vegetation. The surrounding countryside is mountainous and lush. The hundred or so people living on the island survive without roads, a supply ship or an airport.

All else is well onboard.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 - Cousteau Resort
10/10/2007, Lesiceva Pt., Vanua Levu Island, Fiji

This afternoon Sand Dollar moved about five miles to an anchorage near the entrance of the bay, affording a quick start for tomorrow's passage. We are about 200 yds from an exclusive resort owned by Jacque Cousteau's son. I snorkeled on the adjacent reef but was disappointed in the visibility. However, there was plenty of healthy coral and abundant sea life.

Tomorrow we will leave around 6 AM for the 50 mile passage to Makongai Island which is southwest of here. It was a former leper colony (I hope!). The weather forecast promises pleasant sailing with 15 knots of wind on the beam.

All else is well onboard.

Thursday, October 4, 2007 - New Destination
10/04/2007, En route from Neiafu, Tonga to Savusavu, Fiji

Sand Dollar is now headed to Savusavu instead of Levuka. The wind and seas have continued to pound us and the entrance to Levuka is subject to dangerous swells in high winds. For that reason we have detoured to Savusavu which is the same distance but much more protected. I expect landfall early tomorrow morning.

The past 48 hours has produced the fastest sailing I have experienced in Sand Dollar. At times yesterday we were maintaining an average speed of over 8 knots, surfing over one huge wave after another. The noon-to-noon distance was 139 miles for an average speed of 7.0 kts when the time is adjusted for the 4.25 hours hove to waiting for daylight at the passage through the reefs. Four boats converged on the passage at daybreak so we kept in touch on the VHF radio because visibility was so poor in the rain. Conditions eased for about three hours this afternoon and the sailing was quite pleasant but at dusk the wind and sea picked up again pushing the boat up to 7 kts.

All else is well onboard. Unfortunately, I heard news today on a radio net that the Finnish boat "Marita" hit a reef at the approach to the Fiji capital city of Suva. The boat is badly damaged and may be a complete loss but the crew are fine. I had spent some time with them in Niuatoputapu, Tonga. I hope they recover from their loss.

Saturday, September 22, 2007 - Off-road Island Tour
09/22/2007, Nieafu, Tonga

This morning a group of 13 cruisers including myself rented "off-road go-karts" and went on a guided tour of the island of Vava'u. We drove through jungle, swamp, and plantations and ascended to a couple of high mountain lookouts. The views were absolutely breathtaking with 1000 foot cliffs and whales breaching below. Off in the distance was the Tonga Trench, the second deepest water in the world at about 30,000 ft. We also saw a colony of large fruit bats hanging from tree branches. When we approached they took to flight, being quite impressive with a wingspan of 3-4 feet. All of this sightseeing was very "touristy" but worth it just the same.

Tomorrow the tourism continues when I join a whale watching group to "swim with the whales". Can't wait.

All else is well onboard. Old friends continue to arrive and depart.

Friday, September 21, 2007 - Friday Night Fish Fry
09/21/2007, Nieafu, Tonga

Fishing for mahi mahi has been especially good lately in Tongan waters and quite a few of the sailboats set up for fishing have caught their share. This evening we had a fish fry onboard the only power boat in the fleet, "Special Blend", a Nordhavn 43 trawler. It was a potluck affair and the food and drink were excellent, as is usually the case. There were three U.S. East Coast boats, two West Coast boats and a Canadian boat from B.C. in attendance. All are planning to land in Opua, New Zealand at the start of the cyclone season in early November. It was fun to compare notes and discuss plans.

All else is well onboard. It will be hard to leave this place.

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Sand Dollar
Who: Don Pratten
Port: Beaux Arts, WA
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