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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Nadi Airport & Diwali
10/28/2008, Nadi

We picked up our friend Margaret from the airport today. The Nadi airport was nice and easy to navigate. It is also the big hub in this area. If you want to get to anywhere in this area, you're likely to fly to Nadi first. I was surprised that Nadi is the hub as opposed to something closer to Suva, the political and population capital.

Today is Diwali and a national holiday in Fiji. The Hindus celebrate their new year today. The holiday has religious tones and many lights of various colors can be seen as you drive through town at night. Lots of things are closed by you can still get things at the resorts.

After getting Margaret loaded into the boat we ha a little Christmas opening all of the things she had brought for us. We now have electronic charts of our complete path around the globe, new topsiders and a host of other little bit that are hard to come by in the islands.

We spent the rest of the day enjoying the air conditioning in our rental car and driving around Nadi, Latoka and Denero.

Denero is a great little resort town. It is fairly contrived but fun to visit and you can anchor right in the center of town, which I would highly recommend. There's a golf course (looks nice) a Sofitel, Hilton, Westin and Radison resort and a little mall area near to port. We visited some of the resorts, ate lunch and shopped at the stores for a nice afternoon.

Vuda Point Marina
10/27/2008, Vuda Point

Up with the sun again today we found ourselves pleasantly anchored in a much more windy Fiji. The sky was fairly overcast but not dark and threatening. We pulled up the anchor with no problem (we were wondering how things would go last night when we set the hook). We put the main up just outside of the anchorage with a reef in. Things in the anchorage said full main, but the sailors in us said reef one.

It was a reef one day. We had wind from the northeast to north at 20 - 30 knots. The trouble being that the route to Vuda Point winds around reefs and causes you to have to jibe frequently. We're cruisers, jibing every half hour (sometimes in rapid succession) is a lot to ask! It was one of the most lively sailing days we've had. We ran wing and wing, port tack, starboard tack and typically with a scrap of jib but sometimes with no jib at all.

We passed by Latoka in the early afternoon. As we neared curly's Vuda Point waypoint we began to wonder what was up. We were headed right into an oil tanker mooring field, complete with oil tankers. The only coastline feature was a reef with a nice break on it about a quarter mile from shore. Hmmm.

We crept forward until we began to see masts sticking up in shore. The entrance to Vuda Point is far from obvious. The marina is fairly new also so the chart simply shows a solid shore and reef line. The two ponds that they used as the marina basin are on the chart though. As you come right up on it (and very close to the coastal reef I might add) you will be able to make out a narrow fairway with wooden markers on either side with white painted tops.

We hailed the marina on 16 about an hour out and they responded right away saying to call back when we were on approach. When we called back no one answered. Except some folks we had chatted with earlier on the VHF who were headed for Vanuatu. The yacht Barbara Ann (from California of course) has been cruising for a few years and they suggested we go to Denero. If we weren't doing maintenance and the like it would have been the best tip yet (see future blog). We thanked Barbara Ann and hope to see them in Vanuatu. They are heading south to Oz as we move North so perhaps in Port Vila.

We made our way into the marina unaided by staff and finally got someone's attention as we entered the circular docking area. It is really advisable to contact the marina before hand in hind sight. The fairway coming in is blasted out of pure reef and there is not a lot of room (especially with catamarans involved) for two boats to pass).

In the marina there is a large mooring buoy in the center of the "pond". It is designed to tie up to while you sort out where you will be tying up. Unfortunatly thee is no painter and with 5 feet of freeboard there was no way Hideko could pick it up. It wasn't too windy in the marina so we just stayed on station until a guy came to help us stern to the dock between a couple of other boats.

Parking a catamaran is much easier than parking a monohull, unless there are lines in the water. The marina at Vuda Point is a circular basin with moorings around the circle and little stubby one meter square docks along the shore to use for ingress/egress. The problem with a cat in these scenarios is that the moorings are fairly close together and it is difficult to position the boat with both screws clear of hazards. In this situation I focus on using just the prop under the helm so I have the best vis. Even so you have to avoid moorings on the other side because they can still snag the drive leg or rudder.

A guy from the marina came in a dinghy to pull the moorings to one side as we backed in and some helpful cruisers took the stern lines from Hideko. In short order Hideko had the bow lines to the guy in the dinghy and we had two lines off the bow to moorings and quarter lines on the stern. We spent a while tuning the setup and ended up putting cross ties on the stern to align the starboard swim step with the little dock for getting of the boat.

The tide here runs up to 6 feet so the swim step is handy some of the time, the swim platform is handy some of the time, and you have to jump the rest of the time. We could have put out the pasarelle but we were to lazy to drop the dingy.

Ashore there is a nice restaurant near the coast, usually with a good breeze to keep the mosquitoes down. The marina office is laid back and the main building has a general store, a chandler and a great little cafe with internet.

In water berths run 50 cents per foot per day, $3 per foot per week, $10 per foot per month, $50 per foot for 6 months. The hard runs 80 cents a day per foot and $65 per foot for 6 months. Electricity is 240V and runs $3.50 a day. All prices in Fijian of course. The water and the cock roaches are free and there's a lot of both to go around.

Abdule the cab driver set us up with a good rental. The Rav4, 4 door 4wd has come in very handy because everything is a good 20 minute drive from here. Nadi is about 20 minutes to the south and Latoka is about the same to the north. Abdul is very helpful and is just about the nicest guy you could meet.

Anchored at Malake Island
10/26/2008, Fiji

We got up with the sun today to make our second day sail on the way to Vuda Point Marina, which is near Latoka on Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji. It was a great day for sailing. We had the wind everywhere but ahead of the beam. The wind was light but workable and we managed anywhere from 6 to 9 knots along the track. The speed always seemed to max out right when we were threading through an intricate reef section with a jibe involved.

We used Curly's waypoints for this leg. They were very good with the exception of one pair that take you too close (perhaps over) a surface level reef. The route from Makogai to Malake required 33 way points to cover 50 miles. Today we performed more sail operations than I can recall in a similar stretch of time. We saw a turtle and a large grouper as we peered into the water looking for coral en route. The islands along the way are a little more arid than I expected with large areas of rock and grass mixed in with the stands of coconut trees, mangroves and others

Curly's waypoints take you to an anchorage about 5 miles before the one we stopped at. His looked much better than this spot. We picked this place because it was marked on the chart as an anchorage and it was closer to our ultimate goal. I would not recommend this spot. The bottom is poor and the island does not provide much protection, you get a little chop wrapping around from both sides. It is not bad in a catamaran but it is certainly not flat. The nice part is you get a good breeze and few bugs. We anchored off of a little beach on the west side. The water is too mucky to see the bottom type but I'm guessing it is rock and mud (with plenty of rock). If you do try this spot (and I say again there is not much to recommend it) don't try to anchor in less than 30 feet of water as the reefy bit closer to shore goes from 30 to 7 feet or less straight away.

I would hesitate to sail anywhere around Fiji without good sunlight unless I had made the trip before. This place is reef central. The water is also not the clearest in all of the places I have seen so far.

Tomorrow we will tie up at Vuda Point Marina and get checked in to Latoka. Fiji requires crazy amounts of check ins and outs. Our friend Margaret arrives the day after and we will check out and leave the day after that.

Anchored at Makogai
10/25/2008, Fiji

We decided to leave Savusavu yesterday at the 11th hour. We are meeting our friend Margaret at the main airport (Nadi) across the Koro Sea on Viti Levu. It is only 150nm or so but the span between is almost totally covered in reef. After some route planning we determined that we would need three days to get there comfortably. A wise man once told me that Fiji was for day sailing.

We got up early and went ashore to take care of some final errands. A wet suit from the Cousteau resort ended up in our bags and we had to leave that at the office for them to pick up and we also wanted to hit the big Saturday Farmers Market (they call it a fresh market here) to get veggies and Kava. The Kava is offered as Sevusevu (a gift) to the village chiefs along our route. Failing to do so, particularly if you go ashore is considered rude and potentially grounds for being run out of the anchorage. I have not had any of the Kava drink that they make up from the root but I must say, after getting a good look at it, I'm in no hurry. Hideko did manage to buy a Kava bowl, as the shop in the Copra shed opened just as we were leaving. It is a beautiful dark wooden bowl with carvings and pearl inlay.

We said goodbye to all of the new friends we had made on the radio as we left the harbor. All but one boat were New Zealand bound. Hawkeye was headed north but they were going to the Marshall Islands. The harbor was flat calm as usual and the land breeze was in control out in the bay. We motored along with the main up and flapping, nose to wind, until we reached point reef. Once clear of the island the wind started to come around and before we knew it we were on one of the best sails of the last two years. We had 14 knots apparent about 45 degrees off the port bow and we were doing 8 plus knots in a flat sea. I love the undisturbed sound of the boat really moving through the water under sail. In a flat sea it is moving by magic.

We took turns on the helm and did chores around the boat as if were were at anchor. The 30 degree turn to starboard around the coral reef park killed our apparent wind and brought things behind the beam. This brought the wind down to under 10 knots and spoiled the fun. We put on a motor to finish off the last 10 miles of our day sail.

By 3:30PM we were entering the Makogai atoll, about 20 miles off the coast of Viti Levu. We used Curly's waypoints (from the Bosuns Locker in Savusavu) to guide us in, but as we have seen in the past, they pretty much match the waypoints I put on the chart. The nice thing is you know someone with experience has sailed that route with a draft deeper than yours. They also lead you to the preferred anchorages. I had picked a different spot to anchor in Makogai and I'm now glad we're hooked up where Curly's waypoints lead. The Waypoints are pretty Spartan (a chartlet with the waypoints lat/long on it) so hopefully he'll add a little narative in the future.

Tomorrow Curly's waypoints will be really put to the test. Today's route had maybe 8 waypoints. Tomorrow we enter the Viti Levu reef and our 50 mile trek has 33 waypoints.

The anchor set first try, though the water is hard to read (at 15:30) and there are some nasty rocks closer in to shore. Hideko directed us to the anchoring spot from the bow. After it was set she snorkeled to check it over. We anchored in sand but our chain is running over some rocky bits. We dropped it in about 30 feet of water, if you put it down a little farther back (40 feet of water) you have pure sand.

There is a NZ catamran anchored off to our port. I thought they were French at first because it is a French built catamaran and they were all running around naked.

There is a small traditional village here on Makogai. We have the dinghy up and plan to leave early tomorrow. I am sort of bummed that we didn't go ashore and get a chance to offer the Kava we bought to the chief. It is a nice spot though and the sunset was brilliant.

Last day in Savusavu
10/24/2008, Savusavu

We spent the day today getting ready to depart. We had to get immigration clearance for our friend Margaret to join the yacht. The guy at the office wanted a copy of her passport. I couldn't produce this and he was not satisfied with the name and passport number. He wanted date of birth, expiration date and other odd details (in line with our favorite Fiji customs question of all time, "what color is the bottom of your boat?"). Fortunately Margaret had been to Fiji before and he found her data in the system.

We then headed for customs to get clearance to travel to Latoka with stops along the way. The key here is to list every spot you could possibly imagine staying. They are used to this and take it in stride. Once cleared we received a document in English for us and one in Fijian to show to any village chiefs who might inquire.

Once in the area of Latoka we will have to check in with them and repeat the process if we want to sail around that area.

After getting some more groceries and enjoying the town we picked up some of the exact fitting that we had needed in Tonga. The hardware store here ordered us a full set of Ts, 90s and straight fittings so we are well stocked in the plumbing department now.

The Spirit of Ecstasy crew invited us to a curry dinner. It was a nice meal with lots of different curries and the entire dinner with a beer ran only 15 fijian ($8 US).

Back at the boat we made final preparations to depart and turned in.

Diving with Cousteau
10/23/2008, Vanua Levu

We dinghied over to the Copra Shed dock this morning to meet the guys going to work at the Cousteau resort. We left our dink and they gave us a ride out to the resort. We zipped out of the creek anchorage and along the coast, then, surprisingly, straight through the middle of the pearl oyster farm. Local knowledge never ceases to amaze.

The Cousteau resort has a nice dive boat. We were the only outsiders amongst the 8 resort guests. Our first stop was around Point Reef to a place just outside the barrier reef called Long Beach. Ashore there is a beach but you are dropped off about 20 meters from the reef in the open ocean. A short surface swim gets you over the reef. It is a nice dive and the reef is very alive. I think the variety of hard and soft corals in Fiji, and particularly the amount alive, is the best I have seen. I really enjoyed the dive even though the vis was not much better than 60 feet.

We returned to the resort after the first dive and Hideko decided to go ashore to relax and skip dive two. Hideko rarely does more than one dive in a day because she gets cold so easily. After a while on the dock a few new divers joined and we headed back out.

Dive two was at Dreadlocks, a site across the bay on a pair of pinnacles. These pinnacles are dotted throughout the west side of the bay and make for some seriously hazardous cruising unless you have a very shoal draft. Some rise up to 15 feet below the surface others are at the surface at low tide. The pinnacles were nice and even more lush then the first dive site.

As we made our way back to the dock after dive two I reflected on the fact that this was a dive operation run my Jacques Cousteau's son. There was no Marine Biology briefing, no suggestion that you shouldn't touch the coral, in fact other than the minimal entry exit instructions there was little briefing at all. While underwater I saw staff stand on the coral while posing for a photo (with mask and reg off for flair), I saw one diver with gloves on crawling over the coral, literally hand over hand, rather than swimming. There were no reprimands or suggestions. Disappointing.

We made a reservation for lunch to ensure a place at the table after our dives. Lunch was expensive for Fiji but reasonable most other places. The food was very good and they have a new menu everyday, so you won't get tired of the fare. The service is good at the resort and everyone is friendly. We had a fun day but we hope Jean Michelle will boost the environmental awareeness of his staff and guests in the future.

Around Savusavu
10/22/2008, Savusavu

We had coffee this morning with Ian and Louise on Spirit of Ecstasy. We've been chasing each other through anchorages since Moorea. It was nice to finally spend some time with them. They are from South Africa and Ian used to run a business that supplied wood bits to Saint Francis.

Later in the day we had lunch at Surf and turn in the Copra Shed. This is an InoFijian spot with good food at a fair price. Later we had drinks with Joni from Lotus. Lotus is spending the cyclone season on a mooring in Savusavu.

Dolly, with her usual efficiency, secured our cruising permit today. This is required to leave your mooring where you clear in. Now we can actually go somewhere in Fiji. This is good because we are planning to move over to Latoka in the next few days to pick up our friend Margaret from the airport.


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