Barracuda's Blog

The adventures of Kate and Graham and their OVNI 395

25 July 2021 | Bay of Islands, Vanua Balavu, Lau, Fiji
25 July 2021 | Vanuna Balavu, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
23 July 2021 | Namuka, Lau, Fiji
22 July 2021 | Yagasa, Lau, Fiji
19 July 2021 | Yagasa Cluster, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
16 July 2021 | Yagasa Cluster, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
14 July 2021 | Ogea, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
13 July 2021 | Ogea, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
11 July 2021 | Ogea, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
08 July 2021 | Ogea, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
05 July 2021 | Vulaga, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
02 July 2021 | Vulaga, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
30 June 2021 | Vulaga, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
28 June 2021 | Paridise Resort, Taveuni, Fiji
25 June 2021 | Viani Bay, Vanua Levu, Fiji
22 June 2021 | on route for Viani Bay, Fiji
19 June 2021 | Savusavu, Fiji
16 June 2021 | Viani Bay, Vanua Levu, Fiji
15 June 2021 | Viani Bay, Vanua Levu, Fiji

Taking in the view

25 July 2021 | Bay of Islands, Vanua Balavu, Lau, Fiji
Graham Walker
Taken from the inside a limestone cave on the edge of the Bay of Islands.

Another hidden gem

25 July 2021 | Vanuna Balavu, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
Graham Walker
We left the Yagasa cluster a few days ago and headed for Namuka. One of our primary objectives was a protected anchorage having just spent the last three nights with some disturbance due to the swell coming over the reef at high tide. Namuka turned out to be a lovely little spot. Very sheltered and quiet. We were tucked between the west end of the island and another small island - know as goat island but we saw no goats. We swam, walked, paddle boarded and kayaked the bay until it was time to head north.

We sailed overnight for Vanua Balavu - a dreamy sail - very steady - slightly too fast so we had to slow down to time our arrival for better light. Charts here are iffy so we try to wait till 10am to go into anywhere new.

We are now anchored up in the Bay of Islands at the north end of Vanua Balavu. It is absolutely stunning. The bay is filled with tall limestone pillars and you find a place to anchor in-between them. It's calm, sheltered and quiet - we toured round it today by kayak which turned out to be the perfect way to see it. G also managed a tour on the paddle board. Think we will stay here for a while. Oh, and we have internet so we can get the blog pictures out.

Kayaking in Namuka

23 July 2021 | Namuka, Lau, Fiji
Graham Walker
This is a picture of Venture Lady, our travelling boat buddies, in Namuka with Alison and Andy out in the Kayak (Gnu).

Yagasa Squid

22 July 2021 | Yagasa, Lau, Fiji
Graham Walker
Never managed to get a good picture of a squid before.

Things we normally take for granted

19 July 2021 | Yagasa Cluster, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
We are currently enjoying a few days in the Yagasa Cluster of islands: a group of four islands surrounded by a fringing reef. When the tide is high the swell gets over the reef and causes it to become rolly inside the reef but when the tide is low the lagoon is beautiful and tranquil. Yesterday we carefully worked through a reef to get to an inner lagoon to enjoy a place rarely visited.

We have now been off grid for nearly four weeks. We were reflecting on things that we normally take for granted in our home life that have disappeared from our current lives for the time being.

1. Unlimited running fresh water. If it doesn't rain we need to make every drop with our water maker. If your water maker fails you are probably heading back to Savusavu, unless you have an understanding buddy boat with a good water maker, or unless it rains. Many boats here harvest rain, ourselves included.

2. All-you-can-eat internet. In fact, any internet. We can send short messages only by satellite, so those ‘ask Google' moments just don't happen. It does make for better conversation.

3. Social media. We are enjoying being disconnected from this for a while.

4. Easy access to shops for food. We need to carry weeks (months) of food, and just make do with what we have. The locals can live off the land and the sea; we have a lot to learn.

5. The idea that money has value. Here it is useful to have a little cash but the locals can clearly live pretty much without it. You can forget Mastercard - it's far more useful to have some spare petrol, spectacles or toiletries to trade.

6. Next day delivery. Next month, maybe, on the supply vessel - if weather (and Covid) permits.

7. Instant access to medical services. Communities have a local nurse and an occasional visit from a doctor who comes by longboat. We understand that average life expectancy is not that high here.

8. Phone a friend. There is no phone service down here in the islands. We are lucky to have a satellite phone but we keep it for emergency calls and downloading weather only.

9. 24-hour TV news coverage. We are happy to leave that behind. We get some regional news headlines on our SSB radio once a day.

Whale ho!

16 July 2021 | Yagasa Cluster, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
When we left lovely O(n)gea to return to Vula(n)ga, it was hard to tear ourselves away. It is rare to find such a quiet and remote part of the world and to be able to enjoy it undisturbed. Will we ever return there? Who knows.

As we pushed down the lagoon to get to the pass through the reef we were wondering what the disturbance in the water ahead of us was. Suddenly a big whale started breaching a few hundred yards ahead of the boat. It jumped about a dozen times, each time absolutely vertically, about half way out of the water: a totally amazing sight. We were trying to identify it and concluded it was probably a young humpback, from its black back, white front and prominent pectoral fins. Sorry, no photos: we just stopped and enjoyed the spectacle. We need to research whales in Fiji - when we get some internet.

Pumped up with excitement, we sailed over to Vulaga in strong winds and managed to time the narrow pass perfectly for a smooth (but fishless) entry. Our return to Vulaga was a chance to catch up with friends and restock a little, as well as deliver some fuel to a local friend. One of our buddy boats had been loaned a fishing net to use for a night which gave them a good haul in the morning so we all had fresh fish for dinner. We can confirm that barracuda is delicious! The rest of the fish was given to the village. Having been accepted into the community (after sevusevu) we are allowed to take fish from the lagoon and collect coconuts from the shores.

Kate and Marlene (from Trance) had given some shampoo, scent and reading glasses to some of the local ladies on our last trip. We discovered from another boat that they had dropped off a big bucket of fruit and vegetables for us as an unexpected thank you - that was most welcome, as our fresh supplies are getting low.

We have now moved 18 miles north to the uninhabited Ya(n)gasa cluster of islands. The weather is settled so it's a good time to be here. This morning, as we write, we are anchored off a steeply wooded island covered in various species of nesting boobies with chicks in many of the nests. There's a constant sound of birds and we can distinguish at least five different calls above the lapping of the waves on the cliffs. A very special place, if a little swelly.

A trip to the fuel station

14 July 2021 | Ogea, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
Today's highlight was buying petrol for the outboard engine. This may not seem very exciting, but let us explain.

Fuel of all kinds (petrol, diesel and zoom (premixed two stroke)) arrives on the monthly supply ship, and very few places down here have any to spare. Ogea is the only place in 100 miles that has a supply that is available for sale to outsiders.

The best way to get to the village is by dinghy through the channel that divides the island. The forest track is lovely, but takes about an hour - too far to walk back carrying 25 litres of petrol. The dinghy route takes about ten minutes but can only be done at high water, as the village lies at the head of a big, drying expanse of sand. High water today was around 0930, so we headed off at 0900, to make sure we didn't get stranded. The high speed route through the little islands and channels would be worthy of a Bond movie.

Once we arrived, we tied up to a small landing stage. In a nearby house we found two rugby-sized men sitting on a pandanus mat drinking tea from a pink thermos, and asked where we could buy petrol. œHmm - "Fio is out fishing right now". We gathered Fio was the man with the fuel, and if he was fishing probably wouldn't be back till the tide had turned. "Never mind - come with me."So off we went to a locked wooden hut at the water's edge, full of four-foot oil drums and petrol cans and gas bottles and containers of this and that. While we waited, children peeped round the door to see who we were. Our new friend hand-pumped the petrol from one of the big metal drums into a measuring jug five litres at a time and then poured it through a battered green funnel into our jerries. Once we were done, we totted up the balance and our friend was astonished that G had the money, rather than K "œAh, he's the boss!". K felt she had let the side down rather. The cash was given to one of the children - Dina, the nurse's daughter - who took us down to hand it her mother who also runs the village shop, and then to the medical centre (we'd been asked to give some hand sanitiser to the visiting doctor), then finally back up the other end of the village so we could give some empty wine bottles to a lady who makes coconut oil.

Then it was back to the dinghy with our fuel cans, and away back through the channels and islands to Barracuda before the tide turned. A successful trip - but not quite as simple as filling the car back home.

Good Bye SV Trance

13 July 2021 | Ogea, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
A couple of days ago we left the seclusion of the north Ogea anchorage to go and visit Ogea Driki - a small uninhabited island to the south, still within the same lagoon. The attraction for us was the lure of good snorkelling. Four of us boats went down together and anchored in the lee of the island. The snorkelling was pretty good - the best we have had since leaving the Rainbow Reef. The water was crystal clear and there were plenty of colourful fish. The reef looked like it had sustained some damage in the recent cyclones.

We four boats were anchored in clear shallow turquoise blue water, with the surf on the reef to one side and the wooded cliffs of the island on the other. We went exploring round the island in the dinghy and found an inlet forming an inner lagoon, surrounded by mangroves. We could get Barracuda in there (she would just fit between the rocks in the entrance) and it would be an idyllic setting… but we reckoned the mosquito factor would be severe, so decided to give it a miss.

We all had sundowners together later and said what could be our last goodbyes to Dan and Marlene of US SV Trance. They are heading for Indonesia soon and need to start heading north. We have been travelling with them since Tahiti. Fair Winds, Trance - it's been a lot of fun.

There is some strong weather coming in over the next couple of days so this morning we headed back to our super-protected anchorage on north Ogea. Just us and Venture Lady here now, loving the quiet and calm. G spent an afternoon paddle-boarding around the inlet enjoying the stunning wildlife that lives here, and got back to the boat just before the heavens opened.

Our First Sevusevu

11 July 2021 | Ogea, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
A few days ago we left Vulaga for Ogea, its sister island just eight miles away. Once we were through the pass it was a lovely sail over but, as we've come to expect, there was no success in fishing. The charts of this area are all a bit sketchy but the entrance to the lagoon was clear to see and easier than it was shown. We headed to the north side of the lagoon to enter an ‘inner sanctum' of an anchorage, negotiating our way between the mushroom-shaped limestone islets. We are now five boats anchored in a perfectly protected bay, surrounded by wooded hills and small islets.

There is quite a lot of wildlife to see, and much of it quite new to us. High in the trees there are fruit bats (flying foxes), swamp harriers and quarrelsome honey-eaters and darting around closer to shore are lots of white-rumped swiftlets. We took the inflatable kayak (known as Gnu) for an outing at low water, and on the sand flats there were hundreds of small fiddler crabs, with their one huge red claw held over their heads - all scurrying to hide themselves in sandholes before we got too close. The winding water channels provide plenty of small fish to feed the host of herons - white, mottled and black - and frigate birds.

Yesterday morning, we took an exploratory walk on the island along a track through the jungle for a look around. We knew the track led to the village but were being careful not to go too near; although we have to do sevusevu on arrival, we had been told to wait until we were approached. However, later on at low water we saw some people on the shore. The locals - Sera and Riki - had spotted us, and had come to find out about us. We masked up and went ashore to meet them; they told us that the chief was waiting for us to come to the village and do sevusevu. So an hour later, all ten of us from all five boats assembled at the track we'd found earlier, and made the hour-long walk to the village.

It's a clear and easy track, especially with a machete, through bushes, trees and palms. As we got closer to the village we passed heaps of copra. Soon we found ourselves passing some cleared areas where cassava, sweet potatoes and pandanus were planted, with bananas, papaya, breadfruit and mango trees; there was a pigsty under the trees. As we came into the village itself it was time to mask up, and for the ladies to hide their knees with sarongs. It's a large settlement with fairly scattered houses and at first we only met children, who either shouted ‘Bula' or hid and giggled. Then we were given directions to the chief's house -" but first, we had to present ourselves to the village nurse, who wanted to see our 'Blue Lanes' flags, showing that we had met the Fiji health protocols for visiting yachts. The nurse, along with Sera, then took us to the chief's house for our first sevusevu.

The chief, a middle-aged man in a blue t-shirt, ushered us into a large room where we sat in a circle on pandanus mats on the floor. We presented the chief with our offerings of kava roots and powder; he inspected them closely and then made us a speech in Fijian. No idea what he said, except that our sevusevu was accepted and we were now adopted as part of the community and free to roam the island.

Under a tree outside two men were sitting carving four-legged kava bowls. Just beyond them, the low tide showed a wide expanse of white sand, and four men pushing a fishing panga out to sea. Back in the village, there is a small but well organised shop selling petrol and diesel as well as basic supplies. There is a nurse's station, a primary school and a church. Houses are simple with corrugated iron roofs and either wood or iron walls, but bright paint and in some cases solar panels. Cooking generally is done over open fires, outside, and most houses have a water tank and an outhouse shack. The village has (satellite?) internet - everyone was excited about last night's Fiji vs All Blacks game - and there is a village phone and a radio.

As you can imagine we are in no rush to leave this beautiful place.

We usually gather on one of the boats in the evening for sundowners. There are ten of us here now, so we just about fit into a cockpit to relax and compare notes on the day. Yesterday's was one of the best we've had.

The Feast

08 July 2021 | Ogea, Lau Group of Islands, Fiji
A couple of our evenings in the lagoon have been spent sitting on the shore around a fire with fellow cruisers. There is a plentiful supply of wood and coconut husks for fuel in the trees. It makes for a fun evening.

Yesterday the wind dropped, and it was a great day all told. In the morning we had a trash burn on the beach. Burning trash is something that we have debated for a while, but the conclusion amongst cruisers is that it is the lesser of the trash-disposal evils. There is no recycling here. However, the locals will reuse many items including empty wine bottles, which they use for coconut oil. During the trash burn Kate did some haircuts on the beach - including Humberto the wandering Dutchman who we have befriended in the lagoon. Then before heading back to the boat we collected a pail-full of the small green clams from the seashore for our supper.

Then at lunchtime the local village had organised a feast for the visiting cruisers. It was a big pot luck lunch; each boat supplied a dish, as did many of the village ladies, who had cooked pumpkin and crabs and all sorts of other goodies. As the centrepiece, the villagers killed a pig and cooked it in a ‘lovo'. The menfolk dug a pit, lit a fire in it and placed stones on top of that. Once the fire had burned down the entire pig - tail to snout - was placed on the hot stones and covered in a thick layer of palm, taro and breadfruit leaves to keep in the moisture. This was followed by a layer of sack cloth, and then a thick insulating layer of sand and earth, and the pig was left to cook in the heat in the stones. About two hours later they opened up the lovo - brushing off the sand very carefully - and removed the cooked pig. A second lovo held baked sweet potatoes and a kind of damper bread, cooked in breadfruit leaves. The food was all laid on a table covered with woven palm leaves and the spread looked amazing. We ate it on plates made from woven palm leaves. It truly was a feast and we were honoured to have attended.

In the afternoon the musical instruments came out for some singing and dancing, and a lot of chat under the trees. It was one of the best afternoons we have enjoyed for a while. Altogether, a really lovely day.

Today we are preparing to leave for the neighbouring island to the east, Ogea (pronounced Ongea). We would be sad not to come back to this lovely place one day.
Vessel Name: Barracuda of Islay
Vessel Make/Model: OVNI 395
Crew: Graham and Kate
About: Learning as we go
Extra: One day at a time
Barracuda of Islay's Photos - Main
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