Our Ever-Changing Backyard--Sailing with Scoots

24 July 2017 | Nadi, Fiji
17 July 2017 | Port Denarau, Fiji
09 June 2017 | Port Denarau Marina, Fiji
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21 May 2017 | Marsden Cove Marina, Whangarei
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02 March 2017 | Whangarei Town Basin Marina

Kava and Curry

24 July 2017 | Nadi, Fiji
Vandy
At seven o’clock, armed with our sparkly blue box of drinking glasses and our little brown paper bag of kava powder, we walked to the parking lot to meet Kumar. He was there, wearing a bright island shirt, smiling and waving to us. Another man stood beside him.

“Bula!” Kumar said. “How are you?”

“We’re well, and you?”

“Very well,” he said. “This is my brother, Ashwin.” He indicated the man next to him. “He’ll be your driver. I have to make a trip to the airport. I’ll meet you later at my house.”

We shook hands with Ashwin and exchanged Bula!s. As we walked to Ashwin’s car, Kumar called, “Do you like Fiji beer?”

“Yes.”

“OK I’ll get some. See you later.”

We chatted with Ashwin as he drove us the dozen or so miles to Kumar’s house. The route took us from Denarau Island, through the business district of Nadi Town – where Ashwin pointed out the clothing store in which he worked – and finally into some fields on the other side of town. We bumped for awhile along a dirt road that wound through tall woody stalks of sugar cane, here and there punctuated by dirt driveways. Ashwin turned down one of these driveways, which ended at Kumar’s house: a rectangular building about 20 x 30 feet; its foundation, patio and walls were made of concrete; the roof and upper portion of the walls were corrugated metal.

On the covered patio was a round table, on which rested a pitcher and some drinking glasses (small ones, I noticed, the kind with pretty decorations on the sides). Standing beside the table, wearing a brightly-colored dress, was Kumar’s wife. She smiled and greeted us warmly, “I’m Anita,” she said. “Welcome.” When she shook my hand and kissed my left cheek, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t done my homework about Fijian greetings, beyond the “Bula!” I made a mental note to get up to speed on that before our next invitation.

Anita poured juice for the four of us and we sat making small talk. Soon Ashwin’s wife and their two young sons came over (they live in a neighboring house), presumably to see the crazy Americans who live on a boat. Though the conversation was in English when it involved Eric and me, the family members drifted from time to time into what I think was Hindi, when speaking with each other. Kumar – who hadn’t yet arrived – was clearly the extrovert of the bunch.

An indigenous Fijian man wandered over from across the yard, found a chair, and sat down with us. “Bula!” he said, with a big smile.

“Bula!” everyone said. Eric and I introduced ourselves, and the man did the same. “My name is Paula,” he said, pronounced “Pah-oo-lah.”

Now we were eight, sitting on the porch, making small talk…sometimes in English, sometimes in Hindi, sometimes – now that Paula was included – in Fijian.

After about a half hour, Kumar arrived and, striding onto the porch, welcomed us exuberantly to his home. He had a big, unopened bottle of Fiji Gold beer in one hand. After some pleasantries he asked, “Do you have the kava?” We showed him the bag. “Good,” he said. “Let’s have kava.”

A smattering of Hindi from Kumar roused the family members, who stood up and quickly fashioned a seating area on the concrete patio floor, comprising two large, decorated rugs with padding underneath. Kumar invited us to sit on the rug, which we did. Kumar and Paula sat down with us. Anita handed Kumar a large bowl, a pitcher of water, a dishtowel-sized piece of cloth, two small ceramic bowls, and three coconut shell bowls of different sizes. What little I knew about the kava ceremony (sevusevu, as it’s known in Fiji) included this fact: it’s considered impolite not to drink your share in one gulp. I made a quick grab for the smallest coconut bowl, which when full might have held about four ounces of liquid. Eric took the next size up (maybe eight ounces); Kumar and Paula were happy to use the two ceramic bowls which held twelve ounces or more.

Paula placed the kava powder in the cloth and as Kumar poured water over it, squeezed the suspension through the cloth, into the large bowl. They repeated the process until all the kava had been sifted into the water, and then added a bit more water to the bowl, to get the consistency just right. The correct consistency being a watery brown concoction.



“Your tongue might feel numb after you drink it,” Kumar said, as he handed me the small coconut shell of kava, filled only about half full, as I’d asked. He, Eric and Paula then clapped slowly three times, and I drank the kava – all in one draught. As I tipped the cup back, I noticed Ashwin’s two sons watching me intently, curious to see my reaction. Swallowing the kava, I put down my cup and clapped once, as Kumar had instructed, to indicate that I had finished.

[A side note here: apparently the pattern of clapping in kava ceremonies varies from group to group. When drinking kava in a traditional Fijian setting, the guide books tell us, one claps once before drinking, and three times afterwards.]

I thought the kava tasted like peppery dirt, reminiscent of ginseng tea. Not terrible, but not something I would drink for its flavor. As for its effect, my tongue didn’t go numb, but it did tingle a little, for about a minute. I didn’t notice any other effects.

Eric, Paula and Kumar each took their turns. During the short break that followed, Kumar poured Eric and me each a shot glass full of Fiji Gold. Then we each had another round of kava. Again my tongue tingled a bit, but that was it. Eric said that his tongue felt numb and he felt slightly relaxed after downing his kava. Maybe if I’d consumed more, I would have felt more of an effect. Certainly Paula and Kumar, who were quaffing bowlfuls of the stuff, were showing signs of being relaxed.

We had a relaxed conversation about life in Fiji, the politics of sugar cane farming (Kumar had been a sugar cane farmer, until the 99-year lease on his land had expired), the islands they visit to see their extended family, his other house in the country, the faster pace of life in America, and the relative costs of things.

After three rounds, Eric and I had consumed all the kava we wanted, though another couple of liters remained. By now, it was nine o’clock, there had been no mention of dinner, and I suspected that Anita was waiting to serve dinner until we were finished with the kava. I asked Kumar what would happen with the remaining kava. “Paula and I will drink it,” he said. And so they did, over the next half hour or so, becoming ever more relaxed in the process. When Kumar pressed a $5 bill into Paula’s hand and asked him to go to a neighbor’s house to buy more kava, I started to get a little nervous about riding back to the marina with him.

Nine-thirty came and went. The food that Anita had prepared was on the table. I began to wonder if we were going to have dinner at all. Then, just after ten o’clock, Kumar suddenly announced, “It’s dinner time.” He stood up, as did Eric and I. “You two will have dinner with Anita,” he said.

“What about you and Paula?” I asked. “Aren’t you going to eat?”

“No,” Kumar said, sitting down on the mat again. “We’re just drinking kava.”

Before going inside for dinner, Anita led us over to the edge of the porch, where she poured water over our hands from a water bottle to clean them. We entered her tidy house, and Anita asked us to sit at the table, which I now noticed had only three plates. And three more of the small decorated glasses. I wondered if she would find a use for the large, unadorned drinking glasses we’d brought, which were still in their shiny blue cube.



“I made roti for you,” she said. “Do you like roti?” (Roti is Indian bread similar to a tortilla.)

“Yes, we do,” Eric said.

Glancing around, I noticed that there were no utensils with which to eat the chicken curry, rice, dal and salad that Anita had prepared. Apparently, that was what the roti was for. Anita demonstrated how to tear off a small piece of roti, and use it to pick up our food, similarly to eating Ethiopian food with injera bread. We followed her example. All of the food was very tasty.

Anita eventually dispensed with the roti and ate her meal with her fingers. This actually made it easier to eat the chicken curry, which seemed to have been prepared by hacking the chicken into chunks with a cleaver, before putting it into the curry pot. Eric and I followed suit again, staining our fingers turmeric-yellow in the process, a souvenir of the evening’s festivities.

Kumar appeared in the doorway, quite relaxed, eyes a bit bloodshot. “Are you finished?” he asked jovially. When we replied in the affirmative, he said, “Did you like it?”

“Yes, very much! Everything was delicious.” Anita beamed.

“Good,” he said. “Your ride is here. Ashwin will drive you back to the marina.” Ashwin smiled at us from beside Kumar. Was I ever glad to see him.

A few days later, we welcomed Kumar and Anita onto SCOOTS, where we enjoyed fruit juice and conversation. But no kava this time. Kumar and Anita told us that they’d been on quite a few boats – mostly large ferries – as they visited their family on different islands. Afterwards, we walked along the dock, checking out the massive and amazing superyachts berthed near SCOOTS.

When we said goodbye, Kumar told us to call him the next time we were in town, so we could get together again. And he promised to bring roti and curry at 7:00 the next morning, which he did. Eric and I enjoyed it for lunch later that day. It’s nice to have friends in Fiji.













How to be a good guest in Fiji

17 July 2017 | Port Denarau, Fiji
Vandy
Fijians are some of the friendliest people we've ever met, quick to share a “Bula!” and a smile, directions and advice, and, apparently, quite comfortable extending an invitation to people who would – by American standards – be considered strangers. This open congeniality is one of the many things we like about being in Fiji.

Kumar, the taxi driver who had taken us to the airport three weeks earlier, and had given us his cell number so we could call him on our return, was waiting for us when we exited the airport, bleary-eyed, at 6 o'clock Saturday morning after our eleven hour flight from San Francisco. “Bula!” he said with a big smile, shaking our hands. “Welcome back!” He took one of our bags and showed us to his car.

On the ride back to Port Denarau Marina, where SCOOTS had been berthed while we were away, we three chatted pleasantly. Though Eric and I participated somewhat sleepily, Kumar, it seemed, was always energized, no matter the time of day.

Suddenly, Kumar said, in his rapid-fire, Hindi-tinged, island-accented English, “You must come to my house for dinner.” A pause. “Tomorrow night. We will have chicken curry and dal. You like curry and dal?”

Eric and I glanced at each other, shrugged. “Yes we do. Thank you,” I said. “What should we bring?”

At first Kumar said, “Nothing.” But then he asked, “Have you had kava before?”

“No.”

“Bring kava then, and anything you want to drink. I'll pick you up at seven o'clock, in front of the Rhum-Ba.” (The Rhum-Ba is a restaurant at the marina.)

When we arrived at the marina, Kumar helped unload our luggage into the marina trolley. “I'll see you here, tomorrow night at seven,” he said. “Remember the kava.”

“Sounds good,” Eric said. We waved goodbye to Kumar and walked down the dock just as the sun was peeking above the mountains in the east, remarking to each other at the open friendliness of the Fijian people, and wondering aloud how to be good guests according to Fijian culture.

After a short nap, we made plans to catch the yellow Dollar Bus from Denarau to Nadi, the closest big town to the marina, to find lunch, kava, and also a gift for Kumar's wife, as we'd heard that kava drinking is mainly a guy thing. Clueless as to what an appropriate gift would be, we stopped in at the marina office to ask Mere, the marina office manager, for advice.

“A set of drinking glasses,” she said, almost immediately. “You can get them at Rup's Big Bear, near Chicken Express. Ask them to wrap them for you.” Then she added, “Are you also bringing kava?”

“Yes,” I said. “Should we bring roots or powder?”

“Powder,” she said. “A ten-dollar bag is the right amount.” We thanked Mere for her excellent advice, and walked across the parking lot to wait for the Dollar Bus.

Arriving in Nadi, we struck up a conversation with a local man who disembarked the bus with us. Following our exchange of “Bula!”'s, he asked us where we were going. (Eric and I don't have a chance of being mistaken for locals here, and Fijians are always stopping to ask us if we need help finding something.) We told him we were looking for a place to eat lunch.

“Not Chinese food,” he said. “There are many Chinese restaurants, but Fijian food is better.”

When we told him that we were in fact looking for a restaurant serving local Fijian food, he said, “I know a place.” He paused for a few moments, apparently figuring out how to give us directions, then said, “Follow me. I'll take you there.”

We followed him down some of Nadi's crowded streets, turning left and right, occasionally dashing across the street through traffic, finally arriving at a small parking lot. “There it is,” he said, pointing to a small restaurant on the top floor of a building adjacent to the parking lot. “Good Fijian food.”

After thanking our guide, we climbed the stairs and enjoyed a tasty lunch of curry and coconut-milk-based fish soup. Afterwards, wanting to be sure that a set of drinking glasses was in fact the right thing to bring for Kumar's wife, I sought a second opinion from our server. “Drinking glasses are a good gift,” she confirmed. “You can find them at Rup's Big Bear. Have them gift-wrapped.” OK then.

Rup's Big Bear was easy to spot as it’s painted bright yellow and sports a picture of a big, friendly-looking teddy bear on the front. We spend some time perusing their inexplicably-extensive selection of drinking glass sets: big ones, small ones, some with decorations painted on the outside. Which to buy? We eventually settled on a set of six large glasses, roughly the shape of beer glasses, without decorations. We bought two sets, wanting to be prepared in case we were suddenly invited to someone else's house. We had both sets gift-wrapped in sparkly blue foil, the only option available.

We found kava in abundance at Nadi's produce market: hundreds of stacks of gnarled brown roots, bowls of tan powder, and small, pre-packaged bags of powder. We bought two ten-dollar bags of kava powder (an extra one just in case we got another kava invitation) from a man whose bloodshot eyes and slow movements as he scooped powder into the small bags intimated that he had been enjoying samples of his wares for most of the day.

Mission complete, we walked back to the bus station, hopped on the Dollar Bus and returned to SCOOTS, weary from our day's shopping and jet lag, but satisfied that we were prepared to be good guests at Kumar's house the following night.



We found Fiji!

09 June 2017 | Port Denarau Marina, Fiji
Vandy
It was right where it was supposed to be.

We saw the sun rise behind Fiji's mountains on the morning of Thursday, June 8, after a 60 hour, 400 mile trip from North Minerva.

Fiji Meteorological Service (FijiMet) had issued a "high wind warning." The high winds worked in our favor, providing us with 20-25 knots of wind from a good direction for much of the trip, which kept SCOOTS bopping along at 7-9 knots.

I was happy that our weeks of waiting in Whangarei for just the right weather window paid off...we encountered no snarly weather along the 1200 mile route.

Eric and I were thrilled when the sweet fragrance of the island wafted out to meet us...essences of flowers, citrus, and a little bit of smoke.

As soon as we entered Navula Pass, and entered the lee of Viti Levu Island, the wind died and the water was flat. The pass is wide and well-marked; no need to wait for slack tide. The sun was out and the air was warm. The butter is soft and my coconut oil is completely liquid again. We're definitely back in the tropics!

After checking in with Fijian customs, immigration, health, and biosecurity at Vuda Marina, SCOOTS headed for her reserved berth at Port Denarau Marina, her home for the few weeks, while we fly back to the States for Kelly's college graduation and other festivities.

When we return, we'll get SCOOTS ready to travel again, and then set out to explore Fiji's many islands.

Thanks for following along with us on our passage! It was nice to have the company.

Wind, waves & boobies

07 June 2017
Vandy
Those 14 knots of wind we had yesterday rose to more than 20 knots during the night, kicking up pointy waves, and generally making for quite an uncomfortable ride. Still riding with both headsails out (though we'd put our Code 0 away in favor of the staysail), SCOOTS surfed down the waves, rolling side to side, and, occasionally, was walloped by a wave from the side, sending her over even farther. For the first time, we deployed the lee cloths on the settee and slept there during our off-watches, contained in a snug cocoon.

Today, the wind and waves are still up, but I guess we've grown accustomed to them, because they don't seem as jarring. We've got the main and jib up on a broad reach, which is a lot more comfortable ride than rolling along dead downwind.

All this wind makes for fast boat speeds, though, and SCOOTS is cruising right along. When we left Minerva Reef, we hoped to make it to Navula Pass by Friday morning...now it looks like we'll arrive tomorrow (Thursday) morning. That's good, because some weather is due to arrive on Friday. By then, SCOOTS should be tucked into a berth at Port Denarau Marina.

We're excited for our first view of Fiji, which will most likely be the lights on Kadavu Island, sometime tonight. The wind is coming from behind us, so we won't be greeted by the smell of land until we get right up close, and downwind of the island. I'm wondering how it will compare to the first scents of Nuku Hiva or Tahiti....

Yesterday afternoon, three red-footed boobies appeared. They circled SCOOTS a few times, reconnoitering for possible landing sites. Eventually they came in for landings: one on the radar, one on the solar panels, and one on the antenna Eric made to receive satellite images over the radio. Eric immediately sprang into action. Though both of us don't mind having hitchhikers aboard, we don't like what they leave behind. Armed with the boat hook (in case you haven't seen one, they're blunt, not sharp), he stood on the top of the dodger, prodding each booby until it took off. They were all uninterested in the funny human that was yelling at them and poking them. One of the boobies even stepped up onto the boat hook pole, and stood there. Eric had to shake the pole to make it take flight.

As they circled back, time and time again, Eric would yell "NO!" at them, occasionally causing them to abort their landing. We even tried the air horn, but they didn't care. When one landed on the radar, we turned the radar on, hoping that the spinning bar would dislodge the bird. Nope. The booby just did a flat-footed tap dance on the rotating bar, to keep facing in the same direction.

When it was time for our night watches to begin, Eric had dissuaded all but one of the boobies to sleep on the water. This one perched resolutely on the solar panels, preening despite the wildly rocking surface. A pretty impressive feat, actually. We gave up and let it stay. When the booby took off this morning, it had left behind a clear record of its wild night, slip-sliding all over the panels in its own excrement. Lovely. Eric got the soapy water and cleaned the solar panels. It's all part of the glamorous life we lead.

On our way again

05 June 2017
Vandy
After three wonderful days at North Minerva Reef, we headed out the pass just before sunset yesterday, aiming for a waypoint just outside of Navula Pass, Fiji, about 400 miles away.

On our last day at Minerva, we took the day off from boat work and spent time with friends walking on the fringing reef and snorkeling. It was so amazing to be walking on the submerged reef, looking out and seeing nothing but water in every direction.

I had Eric haul me up the mast with a couple of cameras, so I could take pictures of the view from 70' up. It was, in fact, spectacular!

The water is extremely clear, and at 77F almost Vandy-approved temperature. Tropical weenies that we are, we both wore wetsuits. We snorkeled around the wreck of an old ship for awhile, and then some nearby coral heads, where we saw a good variety of tropical fish. I wondered how the ancestors of these little guys found their way to North Minerva, hundreds of miles from other reefs.

We left Minerva before the predicted wind had arrived, relying on Yanmar the Magnificent to make some miles toward Fiji, where we need to arrive by Friday morning to clear in with customs. Today, the wind eventually filled in a bit, from mostly behind us, where it is forecast to stay for most of our trip to Fiji. At the moment we're flying our Code 0 and Genoa wing-on-wing, making 7 knots in about 14 knots of wind. Flying just the headsails makes for a quiet and comfortable downwind ride.

Our current position is 22 09'S 179 41'W. We'll be crossing the Date Line again in a little while. If it's still light outside, I'll look for the dashed line...

Hanging out at Minerva Reef

03 June 2017
Vandy
We've been anchored at North Minerva Reef for two days now, enjoying the warm weather and sleeping all night long. Twenty boats are currently sharing this brilliant turquoise circle with us - all of us waiting for the right wind to take us to our next destination- but there's still plenty of room.

Yesterday, a friend came by to announce that he had a lobster emergency - he had caught a few more lobsters than he could eat. Could we possibly help him out? We possibly could! We dinghied over at lunchtime and with some other cruisers spent the afternoon enjoying a lobster feast.

The lobsters ("crayfish" as they're known in this part of the world) of Minerva Reef are legendary and plentiful; big, colorful, and lacking claws or any other defenses, crayfish can be found hiding in the reef by anyone who takes the time to go looking for them and dares to stick his or her arm deep into crevices.

Our time in Minerva has so far also been what I've termed a "fix-o-rama." In the past 24 hours, we've fixed the dinghy motor, the fridge compressor motor, and we're currently working on the generator.

The dinghy motor had suddenly refused to run. After some ministrations involving carburetor cleaner, and some sleuthing with regards to the fuel supply, Eric discovered that a big chunk of gunk had blocked the fuel line. Once he removed that, the outboard ran like the champ it is.

The fridge compressor stopped working yesterday, after emitting a death squeal and tripping its breaker. Suspecting for awhile that the compressor might be on its last legs, Eric had proactively ordered and received a spare compressor. During the postmortem, Eric discovered that the compressor's motor - not the compressor - was shot. Taking the motor down to its elemental parts, he then discovered that the motor's bearing was bad.

We don't have a spare fridge motor, BUT, thanks once again to the foresightedness and diligence of SCOOTS' previous owners, we did have spare bearings for the motor, so Eric was able to swap out the bad one for a brand new one. The compressor is once again purring along making plenty of cold.

The first time we fired it up, on passage, the diesel had stopped running under load. We've been using Y the M to charge our batteries since then, so it's not a desperate issue at the moment. We do want to get it working soon, though, so we can use it to make water and also charge the batteries and make hot water. Eric thinks the problem might be dirty fuel injectors, and in the process of taking the injectors off to clean them discovered that we don't have the precise size of wrench or deep socket - 21mm - to get the injectors off. A call on the VHF resulted in some responses from other cruisers but none have the right size. So, when we get to Fiji we'll make sure to buy a 21mm deep socket and a wrench, so we can finish the job.
Vessel Name: SCOOTS
Vessel Make/Model: Able Apogee 50
Hailing Port: San Francisco, CA
Crew: Eric and Vandy Shrader
About: We've been living aboard full time since September 2014. We sailed to Mexico with the 2014 Baja Haha and had fun exploring Mexico until April 2016, when we turned SCOOTS west and headed to the South Pacific. As of late Nov. 2016, SCOOTS and her crew are exploring New Zealand.
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