Farewell to Fiji
20 August 2017 | Vuda Point Marina, Fiji
This will be our last visit to Fiji - a country and people we have grown to love. Our intention this season had been to spend a month (or at most six weeks) in Fiji and visit the west side, which we had not yet seen; then continue on to Vanuatu and New Caledonia. However, as I write this blog, it is now the middle of August and we arrived in early June!
In part, we have lingered in Fiji to spend time with cruising friends, many of whom we likely will not see again. Cruising friendships are different from at home; here they spring up quickly, with strong bonds formed through shared experiences. We have been fortunate to have met so many wonderful people on our voyage so far - some have been friends since Mexico, some belong to our "Class of 2014" Pacific Crossing and, of course, many others during our travels in New Zealand and Fiji. Many cruisers are on a schedule and once they have cruised for 2-5 years and/or reached New Zealand, IT IS DECISION TIME! Do they continue to sail the South Pacific circuit for a few more years, continue with a circumnavigation, make arrangements to sail or ship their boats back to North America/Europe OR sell their boats, closing the cruising chapter of their lives, and either return to their former lives or pursue other options? Age, health, jobs, aging parents, children, grandchildren all play a role in this decision. As a result, our circle of cruising friends is splitting apart this year, with people choosing from all the above options.
We finally left Savusavu on July 8th, as Ted had a dental appointment in Suva. We anchored in Lami Bay beside True Blue V; we first met Leanne and Craig in Mexico. Leanne was also going to see the same dentist as Ted (Stewart Street Dental). Fortunately, the dentist determined that Ted's issue was not a dental problem, but due to congested sinuses; so we only spent a few days in Suva before heading on to Musket Cove and the West side of Fiji.
The West side of Fiji is like being in a totally different country! It is the tourist side of Fiji and for good reason - wonderful dry, sunny climate and some spectacular islands reminding us of the Society Islands like Bora Bora and Huahine with rugged volcanic spires, good snorkelling/diving and swimming and beautiful white sand beaches everywhere. We went to Musket Cove on Malololailai Island first. We first heard of Musket Cove when we were in Tahiti in 2014 and were intrigued, as people seemed to stay there for months. We found Musket Cove to be a lovely cruiser friendly resort, with great hiking, beaches for shelling and full access to the facilities; we felt like we were on holiday...haha, as if our life style isn't one big holiday, but I'm sure you understand what I mean. While we waited for Sequoia to join us from Savusavu, we took advantage of what the resort had to offer - taking a snorkel trip out to Castaway and Honeymoon reefs (which included visits to two other resorts), much needed massages, and hiking the hills and beaches of Malololailai Island daily. There was lots of socializing as lots of our "yachtie" friends (as the locals call us) were in and out of Musket - Mango Moon, Havachat, Scoots, Pacifico and Erie Spirit to name a few. Sequoia arrived a week later, and we enjoyed showing them around the resort. Just before we headed north to the Yasawas, our Inverter/Charger suddenly stopped working, so we sailed over to Port Denarau, the super yacht centre on the main island of Viti Levu, to see about repairs. Luckily, an electrician with a Master's Degree in electrical engineering, has recently set up his own business there (Ravi at RavMarine). He diagnosed the problem immediately and we ordered two new circuit boards from Florida. We had the parts shipped to Yacht Help at Port Denarau (FYI using an agent like Yacht Help is the best way to expedite importing parts). We expected the part to take 7-10 days to arrive; so we planned to use that time to finally get to the Yasawas and Mamanucas.
We provisioned in Nadi and Port Denarau, then returned to Musket Cove to meet Sequoia. (Note: Provisioning in Port Denerau - I highly recommend the specialty items, meat and fresh arugula found at the Deli and the wines at Victoria Wines).
At long last we headed north to the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands - the whole reason for returning to Fiji this year. Several cruisers had given us lists of their favourite anchorages and there were so many to choose from. On the passage north, we were excited to see the island of Modriki, where the Tom Hank's film, Castaway, was filmed. It was fun to look at the beach and cliff and relive the story. Our first stop was the island of Navadra (Navandra). The anchorage itself was lovely, although more than a little rolly with the wrap-around swell in the high winds we experienced. Mango Moon and Li'l Explorers were also anchored there. Ted and I couldn't resist climbing to the top of the cliff overlooking the anchorage to take in the fabulous views. Snorkelling was good there too. We were greatly amused by the kids from Li'l Explorers, who held hermit crab races on the beach. After two days we moved on to Drawaqa (Drawanga) to swim with the Manta Rays. As the current changes with the tide, the Manta Rays can be found feeding in the channel between Naviti and Drawanqa islands. We took turns driving the dinghy, while the rest of us dropped over the side to swim with the crowds following the Manta Rays. What spectacular creatures! We spent two days swimming with the Manta Rays and hiking above the Mantaray Island Resort on nearby Nanuya Balavu Island. We had hoped to travel on to the Blue Lagoon; but an email changed our plans. Unbelievably, the parts had arrived in 4 days!!! That...and the forecast of high winds, cut short our travels and we reluctantly headed back to Port Denarau. Although we didn't spend as much time as we would have liked in the Yasawas and Mamanucas, we did stay in some absolutely drop dead gorgeous anchorages. We would have liked to hike on Waya, anchor off Tom Hanks' (Castaway) island of Modriki and seen the Blue Lagoon; but we had a good taste of the islands anyway.
We returned to Port Denarau to have the parts installed, then moved over to Vuda Point Marina in preparation for clearing out and heading to Vanuatu. It was apparent that our time in Vanuatu was going to be limited; as friends were joining us in New Caledonia in early October, and we needed to have enough time to familiarize ourselves with New Caledonia before they arrived. We applied for and received approval to check-in at Aneityum, the southernmost island of Vanuatu; and the plan was to visit the islands of Aneityum and Tanna before heading on to New Caledonia. Now we wait for the weather for the 500 nm passage to Vanuatu and another new adventure...
03 July 2017 | Taveuni, Paradise Resort
After reading the travel brochures and the book "Fiji" by Daryl Tarte, I wanted to visit Taveuni. Last year we sailed all along the west coast of Taveuni, but hadn't gone ashore. This year, we planned to go over to Paradise Resort while our friends on Sequoia were on passage from New Zealand. However, Savusavu again proved to be a tarpit harbour - various friends arrived and then the weather wasn't good for the pnassage...long story short, I thought that my opportunity to see Taveuni had come and gone.
Ted needed to see the dentist in Suva and we were waiting for a suitable weather window to sail down there. During a farewell dinner with our friends on Il Sogno, Silhouette, Irie II and Erie Spirit, Mark from Erie Spirit said they were heading for Paradise and I thought "why not take this opportunity and go too?"! Sequoia had been delayed due to problems with their autohelm and had detoured to Minerva Reef to do the repairs; they would not arrive in Savusavu for a few more days. The weather forecast was good, so the next afternoon we headed out and anchored off Cousteau Resort to give us a head start on the 40 nm passage the following morning. At Cousteau, we kayaked over to Split Rock and enjoyed the first snorkel of the season - a good diversity of fish, although visibility was not the best. Next morning we were awoken at 0530 by Erie Spirit's AIS, as they headed out. We were underway by 0600 in company with Il Sogno; they were heading north to Viani Bay. Part way across to Taveuni, we had a call on the VHF from a very puzzled Mark: "I thought you guys were going to Suva, but you seem to be following us!" We explained that we had had an abrupt change of plans and now were coming with them to Paradise.
Paradise Resort is mainly a dive resort, although very cruiser friendly. They have 5 mooring balls available for visiting yachts, free of charge. We were quickly signed in and told that we were welcome to use the showers, pool, bar, dining room and garden. We booked an island tour for the next day and enjoyed a delicious roast dinner at the resort that evening. A very pleasant group of clients were staying at the resort and we enjoyed exchanging travel stories with them.
Cyclone Winston badly damaged both ends of Taveuni last year; coconut plantations had been decimated, as well as many homes. Paradise Resort had also been badly damaged. Several cruisers had come over last year to help with the re-building, including Karen and Cheryl (Interlude IX from Canada). They happened to be at the resort when we arrived, and at Happy Hour they told us about the damage and the re-building and showed us photos. An amazing amount of work was done. The resort now looks beautiful with new bures, lodge, rock platforms and lovely landscaping.
Early next morning we met Waya, our guide for the day, and headed off. The plan was to drive around to the east side of the island to Buoma Park, about a two hour drive, and then hike to the three waterfalls. We couldn't have asked for a nicer day; the views as we drove along the coast were spectacular and the island lush with vegetation. We passed several old estates from the 1800s, with sheep peacefully grazing in the fields. The hike to the waterfalls was well worth doing with some spectacular views of the east coast as we gained altitude. Waya suggested that we go from the first waterfall directly to the third waterfall via the bush walk and then come down a different path to the second waterfall. This made good sense, as below the second waterfall we had two river crossings to make - a challenge in the swift water with slippery rocks! We enjoyed a refreshing swim in the lowermost pool when we got back down. When we got back to the Park centre on the banks of the Buoma River, Waya set out a magnificent picnic lunch which had been prepared for us by the Resort - roast chicken, potato and pumpkin salad, a green salad with fresh arugula and watercress from their garden, fresh fruit and cake - so delicious! After lunch we drove back around the island, stopping at various places: the International Date Line which bisects the island, some craft shops in the town of Somosomo, a natural water slide (we opted not to try this as the water levels were down) and "The First Store to Open in the World" which sits just a short distance from the International Date Line - a wonderful general store with a little bit of everything from 'soup roosters' to fabric! It was a full eight hour day by the time we got back to Paradise and worth every penny.
We expected to spend several more days at Paradise, so we took a rest day, planning to snorkel or dive with our hookah at the resort reef the next day. We had been told that there was an eel garden right underneath our mooring ball! (I'm kind of glad I didn't find out about that before I went swimming!). However, the following day the weather forecast was for increasing winds and seas, so reluctantly we left Paradise and headed back to Savusavu. It was a lovely downwind sail and Sequoia was waiting for us when we arrived.
New Zealand to Fiji 2017
13 June 2017 | Savusavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji
New Zealand to Fiji 2017
We arrived back in Whangarei, New Zealand in mid-April. It was so nice to see our friends again and catch up on their news. Sadly, our friends, Judy and Steve from Code Blue, have had to return to Seattle, as Judy requires heart surgery and Steve needs elbow surgery. We will really miss them, as we had hoped to spend the season sailing the islands together and then both go on to Australia. Jan, from Sequoia, had just returned from San Francisco as she had to go home for cataract surgery. Old age is a drag sometimes.
Roundabout was still up on the hard at Norsand and Neville had kept her in excellent condition. Our launch date was in one week. When we had chosen that date months before, we had not taken Easter into consideration; four days of the coming week were holidays - a bit of a challenge to get work done and buy supplies! I set up my sewing machine at the motel and Ted worked like a beaver on the boat. I had numerous repairs to make - covers for the dinghy, spare propane tanks, anchor and flat-line reel all needed resewing as the thread had disintegrated with the UV. Luckily, the weather was nice for a few days and Ted got the anti-fouling applied and the hull polished; then the torrential rains started and we discovered a number of leaks that required fixing before we could move aboard. Fortunately, we were able to delay our launch for another week which allowed us to trace and fix them. Once the leak at the head of our bed was fixed, we were able to move back aboard - neither of us had relished sleeping on a soggy mattress. After our launch, we moved down to the Town Basin, where everything is within walking distance, and spent the next four weeks working daily on boat jobs and watching for a suitable weather window for departure to Fiji. We did take one day off for an excursion up to Opua, via the backroad to Russell, with Judy and Steve (Code Blue) and Susan (Erie Spirit). It was a lovely day and we enjoyed the spectacular coastline on the way north. We met up with friends, Theo and Wanda (Et Voila, now called Tortuga), in Russell. We first met them in Fakarava, French Polynesia on the Pacific Cossing. They have recently changed the name of their boat, as officials were having trouble understanding the name; however, we all agreed that we prefer the name Et Voila. It was a welcome respite from our heads-down work schedule.
Many of you may be wondering "What do you do you do all day" (a great Eileen Quinn song) and why are there so many boat jobs? This, on a well-maintained yacht. Here is a note that we sent to our Bluewater Cruising Association Fleet group which may shed some light on how things go...
"Words for Fleet from the Admiral😎
Contrary to what Ted says, not EVERYTHING breaks at sea, BUT, it does require CONSTANT MAINTENANCE! .....and the only spare part you didn't bring is the one you need.....and every "1 hour" job takes a day and requires multiple long distance walks to source the said missing parts and/or supplies....and you must dig out every tool you have on the boat, which means dismantling the interior every time, usually after the wife has just finally got things sorted out after the last job...and then there are the pink jobs... and oh did I mention that you need a LOT of Corrosion Block spray..!"
I have just completed the Maintenance Log for the boat with the list of things done in NZ before we left. I have over 20 entries and that is only what is important to note and/or that I remember. The major items were:
* Rudder - we had Norsand drop the rudder to check it, as to our knowledge it had not been done since our Moody was built in 1998. It has been a constant source of minor leakage, mostly a design issue. Norsand installed a Bisconite bearing with grease pump attachment for lubrication, which after 1200 mm seems to have done the trick, although the steering is stiffer. They also discovered that the fiberglass on the leading edge of the rudder was beginning to separate, so that was also repaired.
* Ted installed new Raymarine Chartplotter and Quantum Radar.
* Ted installed new Feed pump for our watermaker.
* Traced and fixed leaks in a number of places on the boat, including frames around windows, rear stanchions, re-bedding a hatch and replacing glands for some thru-deck wiring.
* Replaced rubber seals around the opening ports in the galley and salon, but unable to do the large windows as the seals Lewmar supplied were all wrong - some too big, some too small; yet all marked as the correct size for the ports!!
* Anchor and chain re-galvanized.
* Ted replaced the bracket, regulator and solenoid in the propane locker.
* I sewed a cover for our new semi-flexible solar panel which will be used to charge the Hookah Rig.
* New faux leather upholstery in the salon makes Roundabout look like a new boat! Palmer Canvas did a great job. The micro suede had done well for over 10 years, but was tired. After much debate, we chose a vinyl for the marine environment.
* Replaced clear vinyl windows in the Bimini side curtains (lasted nine years).
* General maintenance - hull painted with anti-fouling, hull and deck polished, stainless steel polished, everything lubricated, impeller replaced, oil changed, spare fuel and water jugs filled, all sheets and halyards re-led, jack lines put on and the boat readied for sea.
The weather was proving just as challenging as last year. The few boats that left early did not have a comfortable ride. We thought their might be be a window in mid-May, but as David from Gulf Harbour Radio said, "the window turned dirty and needed to be scrubbed!". So we waited another week and finally left on May 27th from Marsden. I can hardly believe I'm saying this after the rough passages we have had between the Islands and New Zealand, but the passage was lovely. Seas, for the most part were less than 1.5 meters and the winds in the 15-20 knot range. We did have one front pass through, but we happened to be at the narrow part and were through it in 6-8 hours. Twenty boats left that day from Marsden, as well as numerous boats from Auckland, Gulf Harbour and Opua - so we had quite a crowd displayed on the AIS and were within VHF range of several boats along the way. It is amazing how spread out the fleet gets on a passage, when you all start together - over 120 miles east-west; although except for the bigger boats, probably only 60 miles in latitude (north-south). Rondivag, a Swedish boat, left within a few minutes of us and our paths didn't cross until we were out 900 miles - amazing! It is a big ocean.
The issue of plastic pollution in the ocean is always on our minds; but this time a number of yachts, including ourselves, got right up close and personal to it. Three days out, solo sailor, Phil on Silhouette reported that he had fishing net wrapped around his prop and he would have to sail to Minerva Reef, as he was unable to remove it by himself. Next day, we had the same problem. Fortunately, we were still able to use the motor, but at much reduced RPMs. Next day the seas were pretty calm, so we decide this was our opportunity to try to remove it. Ted got the Hookah Rig out and dove down to cut the net off. Our Shaft Shark had done it's job pretty well, as it came off easily. In fact, it took longer to set up and put away the Hookah, than to cut the rope off. That day, two more yachts ahead of us had encounters - one with it wrapped around their prop and the other with a narrow miss from running through a large piece of floating net. They had been sailing through the Japanese fishing fleet the previous night. We reported this to Gulf Harbour Radio and they took steps to contact the NZ Fisheries department and they took it on to the Japanese Embassy Officials we were told.
We arrived in Savusavu on the morning of June 6th, just less than a 10-day passage, the first of our crowd to get here. Astarte (Michael and Barbara) arrived the following day. It felt a bit like a homecoming as we had spent such a lot of time here last year. Our friends on Hotspur spotted us arriving in Savusavu and we had a great reunion over drinks and dinner. They crossed the Pacific with us, but have remained in Fiji and Samoa since then.
We finally received our Cruising Permit yesterday, so we can now get on the move; although the winds and seas are forecast to be rough for the next few days. Our friends, Jan and Carl on Sequoia left NZ on the weekend and should be here early next week.
News Flash as I write this: The boat, Kia Ora, left Savusavu yesterday morning and went up on a reef in the afternoon while going through Nasonisoni Passage. They phoned for help and Jolene from Waitui Marina and Curly, the local ex-pat guru, got a rescue organized in quick order. A call went out for volunteers to go out with the Namena Divers boat and Ted and Michael (Astarte) quickly volunteered, along with two other cruisers who had extensive experience gained while refloating 20 yachts after Cyclone Winston.
Ted takes up the story: It was about a 2 hour trip each way. When we arrived, Kia Ora was on her side on the coral about half way through the pass. She had fortunately hit a sandy spot initially which trapped her and then, as the tide went out, she lay down on the coral. Two divers went down to check the bottom of the boat and whether we could safely attempt to pull her off. We determined that the only safe method was to try to pull her out from the starboard quarter to avoid several nasty coral heads. Unfortunately we could not move her, even with the 600 hp on the dive boat. It was clear that we needed to wait for high tide which, unfortunately, was well after dark. As it was not safe to be doing this in the dark, Kia Ora was prepared to spend the night on the reef. We set two additional anchors to try to prevent her being pushed higher on the reef at high tide. We then left with the plan of returning early in the morning at the next high tide.
Arriving back at 0900 today, we found that Kia Ora was just afloat bouncing on the reef. She had been pushed further in and forward when one of the anchor lines broke during the night. Fortunately, she had moved to where the divers could see a clear path to pull her out bow first. We quickly got a heavy line rigged from the dive boat to her bow. She was then pulled off relatively easily and motored to a safe area while we retrieved her two anchors. The divers checked her hull and reported only minor damage. Kudos to Jolene, Curly, Namena Divers and the volunteers for a successful effort!
Beqa, Kadavu and Ono - Southern Fiji
11 June 2017 | Southern Fiji - Beqa, Kandavu and Ono
I know, I know, this post is long overdue, but somehow life just got in the way. As I write this, it is now June 2017 and we have arrived back in Fiji after sailing to and from New Zealand and spending the Canadian winter at home. Late though it is, the story is still worth the telling...
Sequoia and Roundabout left Suva on October 4th, 2016 for a three week exploration of Beqa, Kadavu and Ono islands in southern Fiji. As mentioned in the previous blog, while we were in Suva I developed an abscessed tooth which required a root canal. The dentist wanted to wait at least three weeks before putting on the crown to ensure there was no further infection. This worked well with our plans to go south; we would then return to Suva for this last procedure.
Beqa (pronounced Mbenga)
It was a nice sail down to Beqa and we anchored off one of the dive resorts on the west side of the island. We went ashore to see the dive resort, enjoy a beer at the bar and take a tour of the grounds. To our surprise, the clientele was mainly Chinese tourists. Beqa is famous for its shark dives; and several friends had raved about the experience, although they admitted that it was pretty scary being that close to so many sharks. Ted had been keen to do the shark dive; however, he would have to forego the experience this time. He had cut his hand very badly in Suva when he slipped on the rocks getting into the dinghy in Suva and it hadn't healed well enough yet to go diving. Back on the boat that evening we were treated to a brilliant sunset. After the solitude of the Lau, we found Beqa very busy with fishing and dive boats going at speed in every direction; so the next day we moved over to Yanuca Island, still within the Beqa reef, and enjoyed some peace and quiet and snorkelling. Huge winds were forecast to be coming within the next few days; so, as we couldn't dive and protected anchorages were limited on Beqa, we decided to scurry down to Kadavu, where we knew we would find good protection in Kavala Bay.
Kadavu (pronounced Kandavu)
Much of the kava grown in Fiji is grown on Kadavu. At the market in Suva, the entire upper level is devoted to kava and most of what is sold is from Kadavu. When we purchased our kava for sevusevu at the market before leaving, we wondered aloud if it wasn't like taking "coal to Newcastle"! One sign of prosperity on the island is that it has the best wifi we found anywhere in Fiji.
When we reached Kavala Bay, we found that our friends, David on Rewa and Paul and Andy on Talulah Ruby, had moved further on around to Waya Island in Korolevu Bay (near Kandavu Village on the SE corner of the island). We thought it would be nice to catch up with them, so the next day our two boats headed south keeping a careful lookout for the reefs. We anchored in Naisogonikino Bay, but the holding was poor and we didn't fancy sitting out the coming storm there. Next day, the light was poor and there were many reefs to be negotiated to get down to Waya Island, so we opted to return to Kavala Bay. Back in Kavala Bay, we anchored next to Van Kedesi, a boat we had met in Suva. Dick and his son, Steve, are Canadian/NZ from Vancouver, but had sailed their boat from Turkey. The storm was expected the following day, so we took advantage of the good weather and hiked the roads around and above the village and up to the residential school. The storm arrived on Thanksgiving Day (Canadian) with pouring rain and big winds. Musket Cove and the Yasawas on the west side of Fiji were forecast to receive winds to 50 kts, but we later heard that they had gusts to 70 kts with several boats dragging. We were glad to be tucked into our sheltered bay, but still saw winds to 35kts.
I prepared Roast Chicken for Thanksgiving Dinner, but it was far too rough for Jan and Carl to come over by dinghy to join us. Over the VHF we could hear bits and pieces of conversation from Rewa and Talulah Ruby. Sequoia and ourselves wondered what the heck they were doing moving on a day like this! Next day both boats arrived in Kavala Bay and dropped anchor next to us. Over drinks on Rewa, they told us their harrowing tale... The winds had been very strong and the waves were breaking over the reef. Talulah Ruby thought they were dragging and attempted to re-anchor; but in the process, before they could get their anchor down, their prop got tied up in the line from a small mooring ball. With those winds they were then in a desperate position - surrounded by reefs with no propulsion and tied to a mooring that was not designed to hold the weight of a boat as big as theirs. David on Rewa came to the rescue by dinghy and managed to attach a line from Talulah Ruby onto a much bigger mooring ball used for the supply ship - very challenging and dangerous in the high seas and wind! Taloolah Ruby was now secured, but being still attached to the small mooring ball by the prop, they were lying stern to the wind and waves breaking over the reef; water repeatedly filled their cockpit through the night and ultimately destroyed their chartplotter. The storm was forecast to continue, so they knew they had to get back to Kavala Bay for better protection. It was very challenging, as the winds were still blowing hard and visibility very poor; they had to negotiate their way through all the reefs following close behind Rewa, with no chartplotter. Needless to say, they were both very relieved to drop anchor next to us. However, the excitement was not over! The high winds and rain continued through the night. Around midnight we were awoken to the sound of voices and a horn blowing. Rushing out on deck we saw the shadow of Rewa, all 65ft and 50 tons of her, barrelling down towards us. Rewa had been anchored upwind of our five boats; and miraculously, when she dragged, had threaded her way through our fleet without hitting anyone or catching anyone else's anchor. Dick's son, Steve, had stepped out on deck around midnight and realized that Rewa was dragging. He managed to make enough noise to waken David, who was alone on his boat. The night was black as Toby's ....! All of us turned on our deck lights so David could see where our boats were in the driving rain. Great sailor that he is, he quickly got control of the boat, hauled up the chain and re-anchored - all without hitting anyone or going aground on the reefs that bordered either side of us. It all ended well and by the next morning the weather was clearing and the seas settling, so the four boats headed for the north side of Ono and Great Astrolabe Reef. Van Kedesi headed for Vuda Point.
Ono and Great Astrolabe Reef
Our four boats sailing along in a nice breeze made a beautiful sight as we headed for the north side of Ono. Our friends, Craig and Karene on Il Sogno, had been here earlier in the season and provided us with some good information on dive/snorkel locations etc. We anchored in an unnamed bay adjacent to Alacrity Reef. It was a beautiful sunny day, so once anchored we headed out to snorkel on Alacrity Reef. The snorkelling was wonderful, with the most colourful hard corals we had ever seen and lots of fish. Unfortunately, on the three-mile return trip, our Mercury outboard stopped working yet again! The best it could manage was a slow idle. Jan and Carl stuck with us for much of the trip, but it was painfully slow. The group gathered on the beach for a potluck that evening which was lots of fun. Next day, Ted cleaned the hull in preparation for returning to New Zealand, where hulls are inspected on arrival. There was only a small amount of slime, so we were pleased with the Carboline 3000 anti-fouling we had put on in New Zealand and would recommend it. The afternoon was spent on Talulah Ruby playing a marathon game of Mexican Train with all four boats participating - what fun!
Next day the group separated with Rewa and Talulah Ruby heading for Vuda and Sequoia and ourselves returning to Kadavu to explore the north shore and another suggestion from Il Sogno - Papageno Resort. We received a warm welcome from the staff at Papageno and were given a tour of the grounds. Of course, we decided to have dinner at the lodge. There were only three guests there, a couple of American birders and their British guide. Constance, the acting manager, insisted that we must hike to the waterfall the next day. We all enjoyed the hike and Ted and I enjoyed a freshwater swim. When we returned, Constance insisted that we help ourselves to fresh vegetables from their wonderful garden. The lodge grows all its own produce. Jan and I picked some tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce, arugula and a few fresh herbs. We again had dinner at the lodge and were invited to join the staff in a pre-dinner kava ceremony. We are beginning to get used to the taste, but mostly it is the sense of camaraderie that we enjoy. Baskets of fruit, picked by the staff, were waiting for us when we left the lodge. Such lovely, friendly people. In my basket, among with other types of fruit, were Kumquats. I had no idea what to do with them, but a quick search on the Internet and I found a recipe for Kumquat Marmelade. I made it and shared it with Sequoia. It was the most delicious jam I have tasted!
Carl and Jan planned to return to Kavala Bay on a "sevusevu reconciliation" tour, as we felt badly that we had not done sevusevu in Kavala due to the storm. We sailed back to Kavala Bay and anchored again in front of the dock and store, which is about a mile away from the village. When we arrived at the village to do sevusevu, we were directed to the chief's substitute, as the chief was out working. A few of the villagers joined us, including Seri, the chief's wife, who was from Daliconi on Vanua Belavu. One of the young men gave us a tour of the village, showing us the kava drying, the grog pounder and the church. When we returned over the hill to the store by the dock, the owner came out to thank us for respecting their customs. News travels fast. It just reinforces the point that it is appreciated when cruisers respect the ways of the people whose islands we are visiting. We met some boats that did not do sevusevu and the villagers were not pleased. We need to remember that we are guests in their land.
Next day we set sail for Suva for my dental appointment. The ceramic crown was put on with no problems. I can certainly recommend Stewart Street Dental in Suva.
Next day we sailed round to Vuda Point Marina and found a place in the famous hurricane hole. Lots of familiar boats there. Everyone talking about the weather and trying to decide on a good departure date. Judy from Code Blue, Joyce from Chara and I took a bus into Lautoka for last minute provisioning. Five days later, on October 26th, Roundabout headed for New Zealand and third time lucky...we had a good passage directly to Marsden, arriving in nine days. We had three weeks to get the boat ready and up onto the hard again at Norsand Boatyard, bid farewell to our friends and fly home to Canada for the winter.
04 October 2016 | Suva Harbour and Lami Bay
The two-day passage from Falaga to Suva had been a lovely downwind sail with calm seas. We wondered wistfully why we couldn't have those conditions all the time. The winds finally got too light for us to make our planned arrival time, so we ended up motor-sailing for the last day.
We arrived in the busy port of Suva on the morning of September 20th. What a change from the peacefulness of the Lau. I said to Ted that I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz..."we're not in Kansas now Toto"! Aside from all the active shipping, the harbour is littered with rusting hulks, shipwrecked hulls and numerous reefs to be negotiated. Police sirens, car horns and traffic noise was deafening after the solitude of the Lau. We aimed for what we hoped might be the sanctuary of the Royal Suva Yacht Club. It has fallen on hard times, to say the least; the only accurate portion of the name is "Suva". The water depths were so shallow as we approached the entrance, that we turned and scurried back out to deeper water to anchor with enough room to swing clear of the rusting hulks, various cement structures and a nearby reef. A few shallow draft boats were anchored off the entrance, but we wanted no part of it. Once the dinghy was launched, we went ashore to register at the Yacht Club. The manager in the office could best be described as "indifferent and unhelpful" and possibly more accurately as "sleazy and surly". Not our favourite person. As we were not actually staying in the marina, the only benefit to registering was having access to the showers, which to my surprise were not in the Yacht Club, but in the back of the work yard next door - relatively clean, but certainly not "Royal"! It was late afternoon by this time and we all had a hankering for a beer and burger. We had read, and the bartender insisted, that the Galley Restaurant (on the premises, but operated independently from the RSYC) had good food; anyway we were hungry and thought we would try it. The food was not good...it was delicious! So much so that we ate there four nights in a row! The staff were absolutely lovely too. We give it 5 Stars - possibly one of the best restaurants in Fiji.
The four of us were tired from the passage and we headed back to the boats for a good night's sleep. Next morning, Ted woke me up grumbling about "where had I put the shower bags?" "Hanging on the steering wheel, where I put them last night" I said. "Well they're not there" he grumbled again "you must have put them somewhere else". After a quick look around the boat, we determined there were no shower bags on board.....very puzzling??!! At about the same time, we could see Jan on Sequoia preparing to launch her dinghy. There seemed to be something odd about it. A frantic VHF call from Jan soon revealed the problem - someone had stolen their outboard motor right off the dinghy!!!! It had been out of the water, suspended at deck level from a halyard, as usual. Fortunately, our dinghy and motor were securely locked for the first time since arriving in Fiji. We have all felt so safe and trusting in Fiji up to this point; but Suva is a big city, with big city problems. As for our missing shower bags...well the thieves got "clean away" with them. Ted's fishing bag had also been rifled through, but nothing missing. He wryly suggested that that explained why he catches so few fish...he's got the wrong stuff! It certainly gave us pause to think that someone had been on our boat, right into the centre cockpit and above our heads with both an open window and open hatch, and we had not heard a thing. It was certainly not a pleasant way to return to civilization. This is the first time in all our travels that we have experienced anything like this, although you certainly hear of it happening.
The main reason that we had come to Suva was to get our Visitor's Visas extended. Our automatic four months would be up in mid-October and it was unlikely that we would be ready to head to New Zealand until after that. We reported the theft to the RSYC Office, but the manager wouldn't even tell us where the police station was...totally useless person. Finally one of the other staff gave us a map and general directions. Our first stop was at Immigration, where we waited in line for almost an hour only to find that we needed to bring copies of all our documents as they would not make any copies for us. "Come back tomorrow" they said. It would then take a further 3-4 business days before the visas would be processed.
Carl and Ted headed back to the boats to do boat jobs and Jan and I continued on to find the police station. After asking directions along the way, we eventually ended up at the main police station, where we directed to see the Tourist Police. Inspector Mariana was very helpful and took our statements. She then wanted to go to the "scene of the crime"; so Jan and I, along with three officers, drove back to the RSYC, where we handed them over to Carl and Ted for the rest of the investigation. The suspicion was that the motor had been taken by someone from the nearby squatter's village.
Meanwhile, Jan and I took a taxi to Cost U Less for a major re-provisioning. Jan was familiar with the store from American Samoa and said it was similar to Costco, but smaller. A couple of hours later, we caught a taxi back to the boats, laden with a miscellany of goods from hoses to pears!
Cruising is often described as doing boat repairs in exotic places. Our watermaker feed pump was making strange banging noises (not good), the big outboard motor was still not running properly and our VHF reception was getting so bad that we had to use the handheld to receive, although we could transmit on the big one. Carl and Jan had a serious problem with the belt that drives their alternator and the water pump for the motor - the idler pulley had self-destructed on the passage from Falaga. Apparently this is the third time it has happened, so they know they have a major design flaw. It would take Carl the next two weeks, many ramifications, new belts, milling and re-milling of parts and hours spent lying on the floor working in the bilge to finally solve the problem - he deserves a medal! It turned out that two of our own boat problems were due to work we had done in Savusavu (at great expense). The outboard motor had finally died at the dock. Ted was sent to City Marine. They came right over, took the carburetor in for service and returned it a few hours later. The motor has never run better - total cost $35 Fijian. Sea Mech repaired the watermaker feed pump - a bolt had been left in the electric motor when it was serviced in Savusavu and this had broken off a large chunk of the magnet. They glued it all back together, but promised no guarantee that it would last. Fingers crossed, it's still working fine. Sky Tech determined that the VHF receiver was definitely not working, but the parts would not arrive from Australia for several weeks. We opted to purchase a new inexpensive radio to get us to NZ, which then could become our spare. James insisted on charging us only for the cost of the new radio and not for the work he had put in trying to fix the old one. We can recommend all of these services to fellow cruisers. Jobs were done well and inexpensively.
We remained anchored off the RSYC until the weekend, as it was convenient for us to get laundry done and for access to the various services we needed for the repairs. (Note: the manager tried to overcharge us on the laundry, so either weigh it ahead of time or ask for it to be weighed when you collect it). We moved over to Lami Bay, by the Novotel Hotel, on the weekend. A much more pleasant location. There are six mooring balls which belong to Tony Philps (owner of Copra Shed Marina) available for use by cruisers at no charge. Food was very good at the Novotel, although finding a place to leave the dinghy when you go ashore is problematic. The police dock is recommended, but it is badly damaged and apparently, they don't plan to repair it anytime soon. The stairs on the east side of the hotel are handy for loading and unloading, but not a good place to tie up because it is dry at low tide and children like to play in the dinghies. Best place we found was beside the pool at the hotel, very secure, and we usually stopped to have a beer at the hotel on our return. There is a ring in the wall where their old dock used to be - no plans to rebuild that one either. A highly venomous black and white sea snake climbed into our dinghy on the first afternoon; it gave Ted a real shock when he climbed in. Fortunately, they went in opposite directions, the snake overboard and Ted back on the boat -yikes! It made for a good story when we picked-up Sequoia to go in for dinner that evening.
We were keen to do some hiking while we were in Suva. Mount Korobaba, at 430m, is the highest hill around and the trail starts quite close to the Novotel. It is a major hike, about 2 hrs up from Lami Bay, very steep for the last 20-30 minutes of the climb, but the view over Suva and the harbour is well worth the effort. Suva residents were impressed that we had done it.
It was just as well that we had to wait in Suva for our visas, because the following week I developed an abscessed tooth. The Fiji Shores and Marinas cruising guide and several friends recommended the Stewart Street Clinic, so I phoned and got an appointment the following day. I was most impressed with the facility and Dr. Singh's state of the art equipment. He was able to do the root canal the same day, but wanted me to wait at least three weeks before putting on the crown. This would take us to Oct 20th and close to the time we hoped to return to New Zealand; however, it was important to get the infection cured. In the meantime, it meant that we could proceed as planned to Beqa, Kadavu and Ono and then return to Suva.
We celebrated our 43rd Wedding Anniversary with a lovely dinner at the hotel with Jan and Carl. Carl was still working on his alternator, so our departure for Beqa was delayed. He finally had it working properly by the weekend. We decided that, as he had spent the last two weeks in the bilge, he deserved to see something of Suva. We all wanted to visit the Museum and Botanic Gardens. It was very interesting tracing the history of Fiji and there were some lovely examples of the boats used for seafaring over the years. We now have a better appreciation of the role played by the Lau Group in the early history of Fiji. We walked through the Botanic Gardens, watched the government forces practicing for the upcoming Fiji Day parade and then made our way back downtown to the famous Tico Seafood Restaurant. The food lived up to its billing and we enjoyed a lovely meal there on the old ferry boat.
Next day we left Lami Bay and Suva for Beqa.
20 September 2016 | Falaga, Southen Lau, Fiji
Falaga - Southern Lau
Until recently, it was difficult for cruisers to get permission to visit the Lau Group. Due to the remoteness of these islands from the rest of Fiji and the upwind sail to get there, the islands remain isolated and still do not receive many visiting yachts. Yachts currently must check-in to Fiji at ports which are well west of the Group, and it is a minimum of an overnight sail to reach the closest islands. In special situations, for example this year when the Sea Mercy boats arrived to help the Northern Lau after Cyclone Winston, a temporary check-in has been set up in Vanua Balavu. Cruisers hope that in the future a permanent port of entry will be set up there.
Islanders in the Lau want to preserve their way of life; and, so far, there has been little commercial development. Life is changing slowly though, and some homes now have solar panels and there is limited wifi on a few of the islands. The Fiji government offers programs to assist with the solar power, but the islanders must still pay a portion. Their only source of income is copra and wood carvings. Kava is grown as a cash crop on many islands in Fiji; however, the islands of the Lau are composed of limestone rather than being volcanic, and kava won't grow. This proves to be an issue and the islands often run out of cash. All the money earned from the carvings is used to purchase food on their behalf and sent out on the next supply ship. The supply ships come infrequently, and only when there is cargo for the return trip; but the islanders do not have much to sell - a vicious circle. The lack of cash severely restricts much in the way of improvements to their lifestyle. Falaga does collect a $50 fee from each boat, one of their few sources of cash income.
On Falaga, each yacht is hosted by a local family, who shares their way of life with the "yachties". We were looking forward to this unique opportunity to interact with Fijians and to experience the "real" Fiji.
Falaga is truly an island paradise. Like Vanua Balavu, the island is composed of karst limestone, surrounded by islets with eroded bases that look like mushrooms dotted around the lagoon in the bluest turquoise water you can imagine. The trip through the pass and on into the lagoon to the village anchorage had been a tortuous path of dodging coral head bommies; but thank goodness we had the sun behind us - the best possible situation for spotting. We had good waypoints to follow from the Fiji Atlas and from our friends on Chara, but you still need to keep a good lookout from the bow. Our new Sena Bluetooth headsets have proven invaluable for communication when negotiating tight passes, bommies, anchoring and jobs on the foredeck and up the mast. We anchored in front of the path which goes across the island to the main village of Muana-I-Cake. There are two other villages on the island; one of which can be seen when you enter the pass. Tai called us on VHF to tell us that it was Constitution Day and most of the village had gone over to the Sandspit anchorage for a party. He asked us to come for sevusevu the following morning at 10 am. This suited us as we were tired from the overnight passage down from Vanua Balavu. The three boats that had been in Falaga departed the morning we arrived, including our friends Chuck and Lauri on Free Spirit, so we were the only "yachties" on the island.
Next morning we headed for shore, with our presentation kava in hand. When we arrived on the beach, we were met by Soki (the head man), Tai, Tui and a couple of the other village men. The men were on their way to work at one of the community gardens. Gardens are dotted around the islands in the few locations where it is flat and with enough soil to grow. The karst limestone is so sharp and jagged that walking is almost impossible unless a path has been made. Soki told us to take the path to the village, about a 20 minute brisk walk, and that someone would meet us there. It was a lovely walk over the saddle to the other side of the island. As we neared the village the boys donned their sulus (Fijian skirts) and Jan and I put on our colourful wraps. Two men were waiting for us at the entrance to the village; one was Sikeli, the husband of the nurse, Sera, and the other was a tall, handsome Fijian named Joe (they often adopt English names). Joe described points of interest about the village as we walked to the chief's house. We were surprised to see how tidy and neatly organized it was - obviously the villagers have a lot of pride. When we reached the chief's house, Joe approached the door to do a small chant, telling the chief of our intentions and gifts. The chief then invited us into his house, where we sat on woven mats at his feet. The chief is quite old and uses a cane. He has a young man from the village to assist him. Once all were seated the ritual chants began, first with the cobo - three sharp cupped hand claps, which signify "thank you, I am about to speak, thank you for listening". After each chant which Joe spoke on our behalf, the chief nodded and said "Vanaka", which means "thank you or I agree". Once the formalities with the kava presentation were over, I presented some fresh baked cookies to the chief and he was very pleased. We were now considered honorary Fulagans and given permission to travel freely anywhere on the island. Then the chief asked for "the book" and assigned our host families. Sequoia was assigned to George and Ma. George is the head school teacher and has been the hosts of several of our friends, including Whistler and Code Blue. We were assigned to Joanna and Bis, a lovely young couple, both with Business degrees from University of the South Pacific in Suva! The assigning of host families is taken very seriously here. Those families that want to participate do so on a regular rotation that goes up one side of the village and back down the other. We were told that more families would like to participate, but language is a barrier. All Fijians learn English in school, but here on the remote islands, most have little opportunity to use it. Luckily for us, we were the only cruisers here, so we received lots of village attention during our visit. Additionally, our host families were good friends, and they had planned a number of joint activities, so the four couples got to know each other well. An interesting aside - the chief's daughter lives in Albequerque, New Mexico, which is where Lauri on Free Spirit was headed when she flies home in a couple of weeks time. She is taking gifts from the chief to his daughter, including a recorded greeting - how cool is that!
After the ceremony, Joe continued our tour of the village and took us to visit the wood carvers. We admired their work and told them we would return later. Then we continued on to meet our host families, and were invited into their respective homes for tea/lunch. Bis offered to take the four of us on a hike to the top of the island the following day. We, in turn, invited them to join us for supper on our boat the following evening.
We were told that the supply boat was not expected for at least another two weeks, the store had no supplies left and that the village was short on many things, as the boat had only brought a partial order of supplies on it's last trip. We offered to give our hosts whatever they needed in supplies, as we had come prepared with staples. It was obvious that they needed things, but felt uncomfortable asking us. Next day, we brought in a load of staples, several bags of clothing, children's books for the school and a few school supplies. George was thrilled with the books and we also made a generous donation to the school. We had also brought some soccer balls, which George said he would give as prizes at the end of term. Joana organized the clothing and invited the women of the village to come and select clothing for their children. It was fun to see kids proudly wearing some of their new clothes when we visited the village.
Next day, the four of us set off with Bis on our hike to the top of the island. From the village path, the trail climbed steeply up along a poorly defined track and then became a scramble up through razor sharp rocks and roots, where we had to watch every step and hand hold, so as not to fall or cut ourselves; however, the view was spectacular from the top. We could see the whole island, the three villages, the surrounding reef enclosing all the little islets and the beautiful shades of blue water, as well as the nearby islands of Ogea, Vagasa and Namuka. Many thanks to Bis for taking us up there.
Our host families came to our respective boats for dinner that evening. I had made lasagna and Joanna brought tuna roti - very cross-cultural, but delicious. We spent a most interesting evening discussing village life, traditions and politics, as well as sharing some of our adventures. Bis and Joana have a unique perspective - being University educated and having experienced both big-city life in Suva and growing up in the Lau, they can see the advantages and disadvantages of both ways of life. Their main concern is with the education of the children, to prepare them for life off the islands. There is extremely limited wifi anywhere in the Lau, yet without computer skills, the children are so far behind their peers on the main islands and the rest of the world. We were interested in future development within the islands. Bis described the very democratic method used in the Lau to make decisions on any matter which affects the community, beginning with discussions and proposals at the village level, then on to the rest of the island, the Lau Group and then the final presentation to central government. He is such a knowledgeable and caring person, capable of seeing the big picture, that we hope he goes into politics; he would be a great asset to the country. Bis and Joana returned to Falaga to live several years ago, following the death of Joana's parents. They admit that they have enjoyed island life, but there is no opportunity for them to make a living here and we have the impression that they will move on in the near future. Having international cruisers come to visit Falaga is certainly a highlight for them. We spent a most enjoyable and interesting evening with them.
On Saturday, the four couples headed out to the islets to go clamming. Clams are not gathered using the shovel and pail method we are familiar with, but instead we went snorkel clamming. One floats along in waist deep water, with a table knife in hand. When you spot a tiny slit in the sand you plunge the knife in, the clam clamps down on it and you pull it out...presto! We gathered a huge basket of clams and shelled them on the beach. Joana and Ma used sturdy pieces of metal (bed brackets?) to crack the shells at the hinge and then the rest of us removed the clams from their shells and washed them in seawater. Joana wove a basket from a palm frond and we filled it to the top with shelled clams! They gave us a large container of clams and the rest were to be served at the birthday feast next day. I made a beautiful clam chowder for supper and the rest went into a Paella the next day as I had some chicken and chorizo sausage....delicious.
We attended church on Sunday. It was a simple service, all in Fijian, with lovely singing by the congregation and the young people. We were told afterwards that we had been thanked for coming to Falaga. Bis and Joana apologized for not serving us lunch at their home, which is traditionally done after church; but said we would be attending a birthday party instead. The father of one of the villagers was turning 70. Much to our surprise, however, we discovered that he was in Suva...nevertheless, as he had family here, the villagers were going to celebrate his birthday on Fulaga! Well...any opportunity for a village feast and feast it was. The feast was held in an open shed; we sat on mats with a colourful tablecloth laid out full length with the most glorious array of Fijian dishes you can imagine - grilled mullet steaks, many kinds of sweet potato and cassava, spinach and fish, pork stew, grilled papayas, grated cassava and coconut balls, and the delicious clams we had gathered. Many things had been cooked in the lovo (a pit in the ground using hot rocks to cook the meat and root crops which are wrapped in leaves). We really felt it was an honour to be included in these celebrations. It is the Fijian custom for the men to eat first, then the women join the table after the men have their first helpings. Children are fed first and separately. As guests, we were allowed to eat first with the men.
On Monday, Ma and Joanna had arranged to give us weaving lessons, so Jan and I walked to the village around noon. The pre-preparation of the pandanus leaves requires days of work, but fortunately this seems to be an ongoing process, so they had the leaves ready for us to weave. We were joined by Solate, whom Joe had introduced to us as "his girl". She is quite a character with a real sense of humour. It was a real "sisterhood" bonding experience. We wove mats, shared stories and jokes and laughed a lot. The mats would be finished by Ma and Solate for Jan and I and presented at our farewell party. Ma and Joana made us a delicious lunch of their staple foods - pumpkin, spinach and fish. Maggi Ramen noodle soup is added to many dishes to give them flavour. Jan and I had been puzzled when we observed Fijians buying huge quantities of Maggi soup in the stores in Savusavu - now we understood!
On Tuesday, we moved over to the Sandspit anchorage. It was a challenge moving through all the reefs and bommies, but worth it for this lovely bay dotted with mushroom islets and multiple white sand beaches. Thank goodness for the Google Earth images we had downloaded and the Waypoints. The trade winds were blowing at full strength, averaging over 15 kt with regular gusts into the mid-20's; however, we were well anchored in sand in only 20 feet of water. Our wind generator had the batteries at 100% most of the time with help from the solar panels! A big improvement over their condition in Savusavu with all the clouds there. We attempted to go snorkelling in the pass, but the winds and currents were too strong, so we explored the islets by dinghy instead. There are several breaks in the island chain that surrounds the bay and the sea rushes through these channels. We thought there might be good snorkelling there. Next day, we headed out at low tide and walked across the sand spit to the channels. The currents were very strong, even at low tide, but the water was crystal clear and there were lots of fish and sharks....yikes!! We saw some interesting corals, different from what we have seen to date. For four days, we explored the islets by dinghy, walked the beaches looking for shells, snorkelled and swam in the beautiful clear turquoise water and just enjoyed being in such a beautiful location with Sequoia.
Having been out in the Lau for almost a month now - we were out of wine, had only a few beer left and just cabbage, carrots, potatoes and onions left in the veggie larder, so it was time to return to civilization. There was a weather window to head for Suva on Sunday, so on Saturday we headed back to the village. We needed to thank our hosts and say goodbye and they planned to have a farewell party for us. Our host families were disappointed that we were leaving so soon. They did not have time to prepare a feast, but insisted that we must join them in a bowl of kava. In short order, the Tanoa (the bowl in which kava is prepared and served, made from a single piece of Vesi wood) was set out and Bis presided over the preparation of the kava. Fortunately, a few days earlier, some of the men had made a special trip to the nearby island of Ogea to purchase kava, because the village had run out. Friends soon started drifting in - George and Kinni arrived once school was out, Tui, Joe, Salote and others. As this was the first time we had tasted kava, Bis explained the whole procedure to us (see photo gallery). We enjoyed sharing this time of camaraderie with our new friends. We will never forget our experience in Falaga and the wonderful friends we have made there. Our visit to the Lau has certainly been the highlight of our cruising season.