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The Big Blue
Fouth of July
07/04/2013, Latoka

Today I found myself at Musket Cove, Fiji on the Fourth of July. Fiji is wonderful. The locals are humble, polite and greet you with a warm "BULA!" (hello.) We've been making our way around what most Fijians call the mainland, or Viti Levu. While I still regret not having been able to cruise the Lau Group, the east coast of Viti Levu was pretty cool and as we made our way on to the southern islands of Mbenga, we found more of the remote island village existence we like. Rushed by airline tickets, we pushed on to Musket Cove. Having viewed the Google Earth images of Musket Cove, I expected to meet the fleet as it were because the Google map showed many white dots anchored in the protected bay. The next day I departed for Honolulu to meet my daughter, Piper, and escort her back to Fiji. I had left Laurence and Danny to fend for themselves amid the several resorts and languish in the pool and happy hour specials. After four days, Piper and I were back, but Musket Cove had changed. Danny seemed to have gained a bit of a celebrity status among the bar waitresses. But there was something else. Since arriving in Fiji nearly a month ago, we'd been dodging a couple of yacht rallies: one, an ICC rally that originated in New Zealand, and the other, an Oyster Yacht rally. It seems the Oyster rally had arrived at Musket Cove in my absence and over the next 48 hours I watched as non-Oyster yachts were literally kicked off the dock to make room for the arriving Oysters. While they elbowed their way into the marina and raised their banners, I happened to noticed that 13 of the 15 boats flew the British ensign. I have never been interested in cliques. In college, I avoided the Greek scene like the plague and have always abhorred the schmaltz and schmooze of it all. But as we came ashore several times to do laundry, get water, buy fuel, etc., I noticed as each Oyster yacht arrived, the level of pompous arrogance at the marina grew...exponentially. Last night, while strolling up the ramp for a quick fresh water rinse after our swim, we were nearly pushed over by a particularly pompous British ass. When I looked back at him I noticed the back of his shirt read "Boss." Something in me clicked as I realized these were the people whom epitomize the worst in yachting; the arrogant few who push their way around marinas and former British colonies, acting like they own everything. Piper and I made our way to the resort pool to find it cordoned off and reserved for the rally banquet; each table set atop black table cloths, etc. We walked around the palm fronds and both took a dip in the pool. Use of the pool was granted by our $1 Musket Cove Yacht Club membership and I like my rights. It was then that I decided what we would do. I'd simply had enough of these people. We were leaving in the morning, but not before making a point. It would be the Fourth of July; the celebration of Independence Day...Independence from Britain. Now I don't normally consider myself particularly patriotic. And there have been many times when I wished perhaps I was not born in America. But here, now, after 13 months gone from America, I'm beginning to get annoyed with the pervasive presence of the union jack in the South Pacific. Colonialism was/is so rampant that most of those counties I've visited each sport in the top left corner of their flag, the union jack; Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, New Zealand and Australia...even the original Hawaiian flag is marred by it.
Time to capture the flag. Not the union jack, but maybe the next best thing. As Danny and I waited patiently while the Oyster crews shuffled off to their banquet we handily absconded with one large pompous looking Oyster flag... a symbol in my opinion of what I despise in yachting. While I have certainly heard that American's have an air of arrogance, that seems no comparison to that of Oyster rally Brits. Hats-off to those countries with the balls to say no to the Union Jack. Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Soloman's and Vanuatu...your flags are your own and I salute you for being independent. There is simply no way an American would ever agree to a union jack in corner of our flag. France was the first ally to America, helping and supporting us to gain our independence from Britain. This morning, with the American flag flying proud off our stern and the Alaska flag flying high above, we paraded around the anchorage. On the flag halyard flew the Fiji and French flags. The upside-down Oyster flag flopped in the breeze. Bruce Springsteen blared on the stereo with "Born in the USA." Tom Petty would be next on the playlist. Perhaps I am realizing that I am more fiercely American than I thought. Happy Fourth of July on this day...Independence Day in the Unites States of America.

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07/08/2013 | Meghan
Atta boy!
08/03/2013 | Ron
Nice Boat. Hope to be doing SP eventually...
06/24/2013, Suva

Yesterday we got an early start, cleared the pass and sailed the 50-miles or so from Levuka to Suva. We had a nice breeze, close reaching under full main and jib along the outer fringing reef for most of the day. It was overcast and except for the reduced reef visibility, was a welcome change in temperature and sun. Pulling into Suva harbor was a bit ominous as we sailed past 5 or 6 ship wrecks strewn along the outer reef. There was a heavy "damaging southwest swell" and it was pretty exciting watching huge wave's crash with great power on both sides of us as we entered the reef passage. I had apprehension about going to Suva at all because it's a big, dirty and noisy city with no stable government. Pulling into the harbor area we were immediately surrounded by an oily sheen on the water and large ships of all kinds. Freighters, tankers and fishing boats of all lengths, even a square-rigger was anchored amongst the few yachts at the head of the bay. We dropped the hook in 36 feet of mucky water into mud just behind a crane that was off-loading another barge, and right next to a raft of 5 listing steel fishing ships. We launched the dingy and rowed ashore to have a cold beer at the Royal Suva Yacht Club - which after meeting fellow cruiser friends turned into dinner. We had to laugh as we all ordered the tuna burger, because it was the same price as the regular cheeseburger. It was delicious. Today, we made a failed attempt to attain our letter from immigration allowing us to travel out and back into the country without a return ticket and after waiting for several hours at the immigration office (just like the DMV). We decided to try our luck in Lautoka instead as they are more accustomed to dealing with yachties. So we spent the day walking around Suva, eating Indian food, going to the markets and exploring the sights. The open air vegetable market was simply gigantic compared to what we've seen in the rest of the south pacific and we bought fresh pineapple, papaya, limes, onions, cucumbers and even a strange fruit called "wee." Guess we will find out how it tastes after it ripens a bit. After filling our bags, we went upstairs to find what must be the largest market in the world for Kava. Though we'd already bought our bundles for sevusevu (ceremonial kava offering for villages) in Savusavu, we could not help but buy some kava bowls, powdered "waka" (already ground kava root) a strainer bag and even sample a bowl of kava ourselves. There were huge bags of amazing, colorful and exotic spices. It was a fun day, but I'm ready to leave the bustle and noise and get to clean water again. Hope I can get the anchor out of the muck and off the bottom tomorrow.

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06/21/2013, Namena, Fiji

Friday, 21 June. We are anchored off of the small Namena Island, inside the Namena barrier reef some miles south southwest of Savusavu. We arrived yesterday evening at last light, after a long, calm, hot, motorboat ride from Viani Bay (which is about 40 miles east of Savusavu Bay). We had a few exciting moments, one being when we turned the water pressure on but still weren't getting any water out of the faucet - we looked in the bilge and discovered all of our fresh water being pumped out of the joint where a hose clamp had come off. Luckily, Mark had unpickled the water maker the day before, and we were motoring, so we had plenty of power to run it. We ran the water maker the whole trip and figure we should have about 40 gallons again. It was about 90 degrees down below since there was no wind and we had the engine running for hours, so I decided this would be an excellent time to turn the oven on to make bread. Finding a good spot to anchor off Namena proved a bit difficult and we motored around scoping it out. The bottom drops off quite rapidly off the shore of the island, and there is coral on the inside. We dropped the hook in about 55'. Namena is a nature preserve and appears to be a frigate nesting colony. They were making quite the racket last night! Mark and I felt like we were back on Palmyra. We have heard there is excellent snorkeling and diving here with lots of giant clams, sharks, and coral pinnacles. Today we will explore some of these spots. As you may have guessed, we have given up on going to the Lau Group this year. We were sandwiched by plane tickets. Our guest Trish left on June 20, and Mark has to leave Fiji on June 28. So instead of traveling over 100 miles southeast to the Lau, we have decided to make our way to the Nadi area, where the international airport is, on the west northwest side of the big island of Viti Levu. We will sail around the south end of Viti Levu and hope to spend a little time in Kadavu, a reef/island complex off the south of Viti Levu, on our way. We'll find a nice spot for Radiance, and Danny and me, while Mark flies to Hawaii to pick up Piper. This will be a nice spot to start from to cruise up the Yasawa Group, to the northwest of Viti Levu, with Piper. Meanwhile the three of us are settling nicely into life in the tropics on Radiance.

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06/27/2013 | Francina
Seems as if you are enjoying the sailing again. Beautiful picture. By the way, it seems as if sailyacht Nina gone missing.
Ooo Lau Lau
06/17/2013, Lau Group, Fiji

After enjoying the small town of Savusavu for a week or so, we picked up our visiting guest Tricia, got diesel, propane, topped up the water tanks, did some tourist shopping, bought kava, fresh veggies, more groceries and beer and shoved off for the Lau Group. Our first stop was just an hour or so out and we dropped the hook at the Jean Michel Cousteau resort for what we thought would be one night. Shandon was anchored there and after showing us where to anchor, we were invited for drinks later. Lolo and I had a nice snorkel and walk along the beach at the resort. Ever since I tasted Angelina's (LaFiesta) laksa soup, I've been a fan and we had provisioned in NZ for several bouts of it. We try not to go empty-handed when visiting boats and since David is a single-hander, all the more reason to bring dinner. So I whipped up a big batch of the spicy Indonesian soup and we all headed over. I had warned David it was spicy, but upon tasting, he exclaimed "you should have told me it was seriously spicy!" We enjoyed David's stories on into the night. Next morning, we readied the boat for the 40-mile passage down the coast (against prevailing winds) but ten minutes after clearing the reef entrance, were hit by 30-knots of wind, big seas and squally rain. The rain was coming down so hard there was no way to see. After a few minutes, we opted to abort the plan and try the next day rather than bash into that. The next day was even worse weather. It was sweltering hot and humid and because it was raining so hard we had to keep all the hatches closed as we sweated down below. For dinner, I made Thai eggplant special with lots of fresh hot peppers..... Upon tasting the meal, Tricia questioned the spicy food theme in such hot weather and mentioned that we were already sweating enough. But there was more to come. Next day the clouds cleared, but it was still howling 'round the corner' so we opted to explore the inside reef area and go for a snorkel. Though the visibility was bad from the stirred up water, it did not stop us from seeing black-tip reef sharks and a bunch of colorful fish. The trouble was that Tricia had opted for a tank-top shirt and I don't think any of us thought about sun screen. Later that evening, writhing in her flaming skin, Tricia began laughing and explained that "this had so far been the most painful vacation do date!" Next day, we locked down everything on the boat, put in 2-reefs and headed out into the wind. It was rough and windy, but at least it was sunny. Once we cleared the point on the reef, we were able to bear off and head mostly toward Viani Bay, but we knew we'd be tacking to get there. Laurence was already shooting evil stares in my direction as green water poured over us about the third time. Tricia had opted to cover herself today from exposure to the sun and so was wearing long sleeves and trying as best she could to cover her beet red knee caps. We were making slow progress in 28 knot headwinds due to the short steep seas. Surely this wind had to ease at some point. About two hours in, the wind suddenly dropped down to 10 knots and though it oscillated a few times, it did finally abate and veered slightly more south allowing us a fast close reach. By this time, and since Lolo had already muttered a few words about mutiny, we decided to head to a destination some 12 miles closer. We needed good sunlight to enter the reef wherever we ended up and Viani Bay was looking too risky at this point so we veered toward Dakuniba and the closer we got, the lighter the wind. Finally about 2-miles out, it died down to about 7 knots but the swell was beam-on and so quite rolly. On came the iron genny and we motored safely in through the pass in the reef and were safely anchored in a beautiful quiet cove just east of the village by 4:30. The boat and ourselves were salt encrusted and so a swim followed by a cool drink was in order. We were the only boat anchored in the bay and it was beautifully green and quiet...just the thing after a hard won 30-miles of bashing. Too late to do our Sevusevu, we opted to wait until next morn. After watching the large fijian fruit bats take to the skies in the dimming light, fresh water rinses and a meal made for an early for all of us. Next morning, we donned our Sunday best and headed into the village to do Sevusevu - the ceremonial offering of kava to the chief where you formally ask permission to anchor, swim, snorkel, fish or whatever you can think of. I was dressed in black pocket lava lava (aka skirt) and a LONG sleeve shirt to show respect to the chief. Women are supposed to cover their shoulders and everyone must cover their knees, not wear sunglasses, hats, shoes, etc so we were all were dressed accordingly. Approaching the beach with our bundle of kava, we were met by Margaret and directed to the chief's house where we all sat cross-legged in a circle and listened to chief George utter the formalities in Fijian. It was all over very quickly and after a short chat, we walked through the village. Before we got even half way around the 15-house village, we were invited by Amelia to join them for breakfast. This small village is very meager by American standards and certainly would be characterized as "below the poverty level" yet Amelia, her husband Chris and grandmother would share their breakfast with us without batting an eye. We sat cross-legged on the floor of their home and enjoyed small whole fish in coconut curry and breadfruit. A memorable moment. Though we had been invited to church service, it was already hot, so we opted to head back to Radiance and go for a snorkel. We dove at two places and the abundance of fish and colorful corals were amazing. I'd seen a small white tip shark already and was on the lookout when I spotted a large one cruising the edge of the reef. Danny and I both swam along and got a good view of him before he disappeared into the blue. Danny has obviously taken to this world class snorkeling, and in fact the whole lifestyle. I remind him that he is pretty darn lucky to be here at his are we all. This morning we pulled the hook and threaded our way through the inside of the barrier reef to Viani Bay. With Danny atop the first spreaders looking for coral bombies, Tricia watching the computer screen and Lolo on the bow, we safely made Viani Bay and tied to one of Jacks moorings next to Blue Rodeo. Just minutes later local Jack stopped by to inform us that he was just about to take a group out to the reef for diving and snorkeling and would we like to tag along? We quickly tossed our gear into the dinghy and headed over to another anchored boat Gipsy Heart already en route to the spot. Four boats tied off their dinghies and we all clamored aboard Gipsy Heart as Jack motored us to the dive spot. Soon we were moored to an underwater mooring on the most beautiful reef we've see for a while. The variety of corals, both hard and soft were staggering. Schools of fish were feeding along the edge of the reef and I saw some larger ones just out of view but managed to follow a large Napoleon Wrass. Most of the boats had dive gear, but the reef was shallow enough and we all dived and relished the clear water and scenery. Just as I had gotten out of the water, Danny yelled "there's a manta ray right here!" And we all piled in again. Unfortunately Danny was the only one to see it, but it was certainly a highlight for him today. Tomorrow, we move on up to Buca Bay to connect Trisha with her bumpy bus ride back to Savusavu and a connecting flight home. Though it may have been the most painful vacation yet, she seemed to enjoy herself today. :)

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Welcome to the Tropics!
06/06/2013, Savusavu

After realizing we would not make Savusavu in daylight hours, we slowed the boat down yesterday (something that is very difficult for me) to a crawl so we would arrive instead at first light today. Sailing under over-sheeted double reefed main alone, we were just able to make the boat go at about 4 knots in the 18-20 knots of wind and arrived at Point Reef just outside of Savusavu at precisely 0600. Once behind the point we escaped the incessant swell that we've lived under for the last 8 days and pulled into the river to be met by Aseri from Waitui Marina, who guided us to a mooring (before business hours) and that was that. About 8-1/2 days from Opua, NZ to Savusavu, Fiji and WOW - what a difference! IT's HOT here. IT's downright tropical and what a quaint village. While waiting for Health, Customs and Immigration, Danny and I extracted the dinghy, assembled it and mounted the motor. I charged the batteries, fabricated a paddle for our new paddleboard (aka old free windsurfer) and we got the boat cleaned up. The minute we were all cleared in, Danny and I stripped down to our shorts and dove into the water. You know that feeling you get when you first dive into a clean warm pool at some fancy resort while on vacation? The feeling was sublime and Danny could hardly contain himself. We swam around the boat in the hot morning sun and tested the paddle. It is truly paradise here and you only need go ashore to glimpse back at the movie set of Radiance not 100 yards away from the waterfront with a full on tropical palm tree backdrop. Yes! It is nice to be back in the tropics.

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Night Watch

Tonight we are sailing at 22 degrees south latitude under clear skies on smooth seas with a 12-knot breeze. After being hammered for the last 3-days with 30-40 knots of wind gusting 45, and big seas, this feels a true luxury. I watch the Southern Cross slowly turn in the night sky with its pointer stars and realize that we are leaving it astern. Tonight was the first time in a long time that I've noticed the Big Dipper - all strange and upside down with the crux simultaneously visible. The North Star is below the horizon, but we sail toward it. The Milky Way is there again clear and bright. There are long tail shooting stars and Steve Earl is playing on my iPod underscoring the moment. Late night watches are often special. I remember when I first discovered late nights in college. It was a space in time previously unknown to me - where I could listen intently to music and not feel guilty about the things I should be doing during my waking hours. I mean, these were not really my waking hours. So what if I just borrowed a little time from my sleeping hours? I found that music was somehow a portal to this new dimension. Since then, I have been a night person and as a musician, I've probably experienced the most fun a person can have during these hours in time where everyone meets and just enjoys music and the moment with none of the clutter of the days cares. Most of the time we are just too busy to stop and ponder the experiences and the people that have been responsible for bringing so much joy to our lives. Night watch tends to be a perfect time to reflect on just those things and tonight a flood of thoughts and memories start to come - too fast to really capture and I just let them on through. As I listen to Vassen, I'm reminded of my buddy Ian, who plays the Swedish nickelharpa with virtuosity and the time I convinced him to do a solo set on stage at the Alaska Folk Fest, saying he'd definitely get some female attention if he did...and he did. And when he, my late friend Gerard McDonnal and I played a rocked up electric Irish set at Humpy's on St. Patrick's Day. And of the kick-ass dream trad band I'd like to have formed with both of them and Chris Behnke that would never be. Poncho and Lefty comes on and while I've never really loved that song or had time for it during the day, I savor it now and think of riggers Keith and Ray's heartfelt rendition and wonder how those guys are doing, having most certainly rocked the William H. Seward Yacht Club again this year. That's followed by a bluegrass song bringing back to a random tues night, where I found myself at the packed Brown Bear Saloon with Suzi and Linda, my Irish music friends - crashing a little impromptu show by the best of the Alaska Bluegrass scene. The music that night was beyond good. It would be impossible to replicate and I felt so lucky to be there wishing i could share it and knowing I'd remember it forever. Kate Hamry met me with a bright smile and warm hug, I talked with Todd who said he really liked my bands CD I'd given him in Juneau, and danced a memorable waltz with Rebecca Mohlman. It was awesome. Then there was the time I first heard three of what would become some of my favorite artists, Spiff Chambers, Leeroy Stagger and Tim Easton. Arriving late to the packed show at the original Taproot Cafe, I got the last table, not 3-feet from the stage, front and center. Sipping a Dutchess, I sat mesmerized at Spiffs guitar playing and hung on every word - not knowing I'd become attached to his Walking Song - which even now brings a tear to my eye. I'd later be elated and feel so lucky that Spiff would end up opening shows for my band. I felt like I'd hit the jackpot that night watching Tim Easton shred on his trashed black Gibson j45. I had. There's all the crazy late night playing music in my room upstairs at the Alaskan Hotel during folk fest with Caitlin, Gerard, Liz and Ellie May. And the bow dance..... Then there are the guys and the band. More fun than an adult is supposed to have. The rehearsals. All the gigs: The Brown Bear with Whipsaws, thirty below zero in Talkeetna at the Fairview Inn, the Marlin in Fairbanks, where after downing a 5-hour energy drink, I watched Steve literally turn into a human pogo stick during our set - banging his head on the ceiling beam. The Telepalooza gig at the Sitzmark we Aaron Benolkin sitting in, opening for Lucero in Girdwood, opening for the Bodeans at Bears Tooth on the big stage, Oceans Fest for Son Volt. All the Taproot gigs�.... I do miss the scene and just creating music with great people. I wonder how much home will have changed by the time we get back. How much we will have changed... Lolo tells me sometimes every song that comes up on her iPod during night watch makes her tear up. Maybe it's the late night time warp. Maybe it's the music. Maybe it's the time to ponder the memories....of friends so very far away.

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