Love from Salt Spring
15 September 2018 | Salt Spring Island
Jane fall is beginning
How time flies by. Face Book keeps reminding me how different my life was this time last year, and even more so the year before. So I am not surprised it has taken me since December to update our blog for which I apologise.
We started the year trying to come to grips with how cold winter is when not sailing in the Pacific. Our home is poorly insulated (among other interesting quirks) and however much wood we burnt most of the heat went staight up the chimney. Our hydro bill was wild. Russell bless his heart managed to organise my Christmas present of a beautiful Hot Tub in December, so you can imagine where I spent a lot of my time.
Luckily come February we were up in Sun Peaks for a months ski-ing. Our friends there, who do not ski, wanted to do a house swap and we gladly agreed. It was wonderful to be back up in the mountains and we had excellent conditions. Edwin and friends, Adrian from Vancouver, and my brother from England all came to stay and we had a ton of fun together. We managed to reconnect with lots of old friends from our racing season and had a fantastic month.
Spring soon came to Salt Spring Island, a season we have not seen for many years and it was glorious. Watching everything start to bloom, planting a little vegetable garden, clearing our wooded area and sorting pots for our deck kept us busy. We also began to work on plans for our new home; which has kept Russell out of trouble (well kind of).
My job was to look for a new boat. We knew what we wanted, but looked at a few other boats to make sure we were on the right track. Eventually; with an introduction from a friend, we found a 42 foot Grand Banks Classic trawler locally. Luckily the owner liked us and agreed to sell her at a price that was within our budget. It is obvious that she has been very loved as she is in excellent condition and beautiful. We already love her dearly and are renaming her “Madrona” after all the Arbutus trees and the Bay close to us on Salt Spring Island. Sadly there are 125 boats with her old name, so we decided a new name was needed for safety.
The spring saw many friends visiting and the months went quickly until the end of May when I was forced to slow down. I somehow, whilst getting fit, herniated my disc. It knocked me sideways and I have only been able to walk, without the fear of tripping over my slightly dropped foot, for the last two weeks. The Doctor today has confirmed (phew) that I can start yoga again, and with physio and training help I hope to be back to ski-ing next year. I was able to keep myself fairly busy however as we decided to offer up our suite for AirBnb for a few months. We have had some delightful guests and the extra $$s will certainly come in useful.
Once back on my feet, with the boat sitting ready for us on our newly planked dock, we set off for ten days cruising. We have had fabulous weather since the start of summer and as we set off we had a perfect trip up to Tug Boat island where we met numerous boating friends of ours. Happy days to rediscover one of our favourite islands, play Bocci over drinks with friends, social dinners and slowly getting to know Madrona. We had an excellent trip across the strait to Jerricho Marina in Vancouver to see the kids, and found Madrona to be quick and great in rough seas. However, the 600 fires around BC were taking their toll and the smoke was effecting everywhere, even the Gulf Islands. We stayed out for another few nights, but eventually gave up and headed for home through the haze.
It has been a difficult year in many ways. Sadly we have many friends battling cancer with our best man Foxy dying last month. It was very sudden as he had been ski-ing only a week before. He was very active, a special guy and we are still in shock. Several friends have also had other serious health issues, reinforcing how important it is to seize the day; which we always try to do.
Amy and Edwin are both well and we have been able to spend lots of time with them and their partners. Amy moved into a new flat with Luke in May. It is near Commercial and is delightful. She has been promoted several times by her company and is now their copywriter and involved in production. She just got back from a business trip to Shangai. Edwin and Iva live at 25 and Cambie and are both very busy with their jobs. Iva is into accounting and is doing her CPA and Edwin is working management for Aquabus. He has just been away on a 3.5 week photo shot for Cardrona ski resort in New Zealand. His two passions are boarding and photography.
September is going to be a month of memories. We have 23 relatives visiting us from all over the world to help celebrate Russell’s 70th and Amy and Edwin’s 30th birthdays on 29 September. The first have arrived and will be with us for a month. What fun we will have, what memories we will make. The next blog will probably be full of photos, beware. In the meantime I will post this so you are up to date with our lives. Love to hear from all of you near and far, just keep those emails coming. Much love from both of us on Salt Spring Island.
Back on Land on Salt Spring Island
23 December 2017 | Salt Spring Island
Jane, sunny although .... cold
Season’s Greetings to everyone, may you enjoy lots of time with your friends and family at this magical time of year. Being with loved ones, for us, is what Christmas is all about. This year we are blessed to be spending the day with dear friends, their kids and ours in North Vancouver. It seems sureal that last year we were in Australia with Amy and Edwin, and Russell’s extended family. Hot and sunny to cold and sunny. The snow may even stay to give us a white Christmas. The first in many years.
Life on land is treating us well, and we are quickly settling into the wonderful small island community that Salt Spring offers. We have managed to see a great number of friends since our return, and hope to see many more in the coming months. It is wonderful to reconnect with so many friends. Our home is taking shape and with some second hand items from the Salt Spring Exchange, and some new furniture that Amy got us for free, the place is becoming quite cozy. We managed to get a king sized bed delivered, although it arrived ten days late. Luckily we only had to sleep on the blow up mattress that we bought for one night – phew. We also picked up a UHaul truck load of furniture and two new queen beds on Wednesday. So are now set up for guests.
Our new home could do with a lot of work. Sadly it would cost the same to renovate as it would to rebuild. So our focus is to leave everything as it is and to build ourselves a new home during the summer of 2019. That being said we will probably leave buying any more new furniture until it is finished. We are used to camping and we have all that we need until then ☺
Russell had a great trip down from the north island in New Zealand to his home town Timaru, in the south island, in November. He took all our goodies from the boat, and items stored at his sister’s in Auckland, and spent about a week visiting family and friends on the way. Once in Timaru he organised the freighting of his beloved classic car (in bits) and families artwork, plus a full van load of boxes, to Vancouver. While Russ was busy in New Zealand I organised setting up house back on Salt Spring. This included unpacking a huge amount of boxes that had been in storage. We gave all our furniture, etc.. to the kids when we left ten years ago, but we still saved a lot of “stuff”.
It was certainly a trip down memory lane for me, some of the items I unearthed were classic and several brought a tear to my eye. Where had the years gone? What memories we are so lucky to have.
We have several friends living on the island and I was certainly well looked after on my arrival. It is a terrific community, similar in a lot of ways to the cruising community that we enjoyed offshore. We have already been invited to a couple of Christmas parties and have meet lots of our wonderful neighbours. We know that we have found the right place to live are going to love it here.
I have joined a lovely yoga group and am starting tennis and a “nine and dine” girl’s golf group in the New Year. There is a delightful movie (theatre) venue close by that has weekly shows of current films, a theatre (plays) and lots of restaurants/pubs and music venues to keep us entertained.
The community is very diverse, relaxed and friendly with lots of interesting people to meet and get to know. We have enjoyed some of the gorgeous hikes around the island and hope to join up with a weekly hiking group in January. The Saturday market is still running and there are some very talented artists around the island who have stalls and in the summer open up their studios. The island is known for its fairy houses, so far I have only found one, so the challenge is to find them all. I am looking forward to creating one next summer to add to the list.
I could go on, but want to get this out before Christmas. Not sure when our next blog will be, probably before the summer, but from now on I will be posting only occasionally. As many friends have asked that I keep the blog going, and as it is a great way to keep in touch it will continue.
May you have a Great New Year. Please stay happy, healthy and have a ton of fun in 2018.
Cheers and beers
Jane and Russell
Last few months in Fiji on Ta-b
23 November 2017 | Back in Canada
Jane cold, but at last sunny
Our last sunset at anchor on Ta-b was in the Mamanuca Islands of Fiji a few weeks ago. It was, as many sunsets are at sea, spectacular. The last month for us has been an emotional roller coaster. After ten incredible years, moving off our "beloved" Ta-b was tough. However we found her the perfect new owners, Steve and Karin, who have become good friends. It helps to know that she is in such great hands. Ta-b is now in Australia. It sounds like Steve and his two friends had a fabulous sail from Fiji.
Amy and her boyfriend Luke arrived to spend two weeks on board with us during the annual Musket Cove Regatta. We did not race, we never do as Ta-b is/was our home and is a cruising boat, but we enjoyed many of the social activities before heading to Robinson Crusoe Island. There we celebrated Amy's birthday enjoying the fabulous cultural evening they put on. On arriving we found out the event was only on Saturday nights, so we spent a couple of days exploring the area. A river trip on the tender through the mangroves had been recommended and with a walk over the spit we found the Radisson Hotel, a culture shock for sure, but the kids loved it.
From there we had a great sail up to Monuriki (an island that was used while filming Castaway with Tom Hanks) and very beautiful. It is a popular spot during the day, but was all ours from late afternoon. We carried on up to Manta Ray, where we tried to swim with the rays. Sadly we did not see any, but the snorkeling was incredible through the pass. We also stopped in Nalauwaki and walked over to the popular Octopus resort with the help of Sam a delightful kid from the village. The few boats in the bay were really tossing and turning, but where we were there was no swell at all, an anchorage we would recommend. Whilst at Waya Island we also visited Yalobi village. The school was so thrilled with all the "goodies" we had for them that we were treated to a private half hour of dancing and singing by all the school children. It was very special.
In Fiji the children quite often board at the larger island schools during the week. We were taken by the hand and shown all the classrooms, dormitories, dining area, etc. The kids were delightful and so well mannered; we were very impressed. Once they are ready for High School the kids all go to Suva on the main large island and join their parents. On the smaller islands the grand parents tend to look after their grand children, while their parents work.
Amy and Luke left us at Musket Cove after some well deserved R&R. It is an easy place to get to by fast ferry from the mainland, so worked well. It was very special to have them both on board, as Amy says it is "her happy place".
After about a week "Home Alone" next up was Edwin his girlfriend Iva's visit. What a trouper Iva was as sadly she suffered quite a bit of "Mal de Mer". So we ended up anchored off Musket Cove for the last part of their visit. Musket Cove is a great spot and very friendly to cruisers with their own Happy Island Bar by the dock. There were three resorts that the kids could use and with our tender to take to the reefs for snorkeling they had a great time. We even got to anchor off the famous "Cloud Nine" bar although when we tendered in, after snorkeling the reefs, we were told, "sorry we are having a private party".
We sailed up to Blue Lagoon; which was gorgeous. We had some fabulous snorkeling off the anchorage on Nanuya resort's reef. Would have loved more time just exploring the area by tender. Lots of resorts, lovely walks, diving, fishing, etc. to be had, possibly a place to revisit one day. We shared some of our other favourite spots with the kids and Iva even managed to spot a Manta Ray; which was fun.
Yolandi village were thrilled to see us again and we enjoyed presenting Kava to Chief Tom and giving him more gifts from Ta-b. The villages are very poor and although presenting Kava to the Chief is expected, we always found more gifts on board and had bought lots of school supplies to share.
The kids were as delightful as ever and we were able to give some of the boys a spin on their paddle board behind our tender and one of the girls that Iva became friends with came back to the boat. She had never swum in deep water and so was thrilled, when eventually holding Iva's hand; she jumped off the side of Ta-b.
After Edwin and Iva left it was time to sort out Ta-b. We spent time at Denerau marina getting her up to scratch for viewing and selling, before taking her off for a few days before we packed up our boxes and stepped off her. It still seems a bit surreal that we have closed one chapter and opened another. Over ten years we sailed more than 50,000 nm on Ta-b (more than a circumnavigation) and visited 66 countries, she was a truly wonderful home. We now have the most amazing memories to see us through the years ahead and feel blessed that we were able to "Live the Dream" of cruising offshore.
What now? We look forward to living on Salt Spring Island, enjoying our new home and getting to know the lovely community. The plan is to live in the house for a year or two and then rebuild. Russell has a Classic car to restore to keep him busy and I am going to get into gardening (especially vegetables). We have already organised a house swap for February with friends up in Sun Peaks, so ski-ing is in the works and come the Spring we will be looking for a trawler to once again enjoy BC waters.
Will update blog occasionally to update friends as to what we are up to and hope that you have enjoyed our travels with us.
Looking forward to seeing you again soon. We will have an open door for everyone at 310 Old Scott Road, Salt Spring. Just call us on 250 537 6155
14 September 2017
Jane warm and sunny
We had lovely two day sail from Vanuatu to New Caledonia in company with two other buddy boats "Jams" and "Blue Bie" we became great friends. Noumea the Capital is the only port of entry for cruising boats. It is on Grand Terre, the main island, on the southwest side. Grand Terre is 400 km long by 50 km wide. Encircled by a barrier reef almost 1,600km long.
We stopped a couple of times on our way to Noumea as we had to navigate the reef and passes at slack tide. Our first anchorage was Port Boise where we caught a large tuna to share on the way in, a lovely protected spot with ochre-coloured mountains and cliffs. Next spot was Boone Anse, also protected, but the view of the nickel factory was a bit of an eyesore. New Caledonia is the third largest nickel producer after Canada and Russia. Their other exports are prawns and coffee.
New Caledonia is divided into three Provinces, north, south and the Loyalties. The Loyalty Islands run down the east coast, the famous Isle de Pines is part of the southern province, with the Belep Islands being in the northern province. As we did not have much time we stayed in the southern area where they are protecting the inland lagoon reserves. Just stunning.
The Kanak people, part of the Melanesian group, are indigenous to New Caledonia. The country has two national flags, one for the French and one for the Kanaks. The Kanak social organization is traditionally based around clans, which identify as either "land" or "sea" clans. 94% of the Loyalties consist of Kanaks. One day we would like to visit these islands as they are supposed to be delightful. It is easy to charter a boat in the city, so they are on the potential "to do in the future" list.
Arriving in Noumea felt like being in France. We were back in a French Colony where the majority of the people speak French, although there are 28 Kanak languages, with four main ones. Lots of cigarette smokers and the usual smell of toilets gave the air that added French "je ne sais que".
We had a lot of fun in Noumea where we managed to get space on the dock at a very reasonable rate. Evenings were spent drinking lovely French wine (the rose wine even had pink corks) and indulging in wonderful food that the French are so well known for. One wonders how they keep so slim; we certainly put on a few pounds when we were there. The city and the people were charming and elegant. It was lucky we did not spend too much time in the country as the French Pacific Franc does not go far, however it was good to be able to fill up our freezer with lots of yummy goodies (including cheese, cheese, cheese) that we will be able to share with the kids when they arrive in Fiji.
The weather was cooler as we were there in their winter, however most days were sunny with the temperature around 23-24 degrees. The seawater was a bit nippy and with suckerfish taking a liking to our boat I did not swim as much as normal. The fishing was excellent in the areas allowed and we caught tuna to fill our freezer and had to stop fishing. We also saw a lot of whales in the Lagoon.
Our aim was to spend time in the Isle de Pines. So we checked out and moved a few miles south to Isle Mitre where our friends were kite boarding. Seemed rude not to bring ours out so stayed a day to enjoy playing with them before we moved onto Isle Mato. Isle Mitre is lovely with a delightful resort and a huge shallow grassy reef on the eastern side, where kiters and turtles happily spend time together. Isle Mato is uninhabited and gorgeous, a recommended spot. Then it was down to the Isle of Pines for four days where we linked in with our friends "Free Spirit". We had a couple of excellent last French meals ashore and waited for the perfect weather window to head back to Fiji. Luckily the French are pretty relaxed on people leaving.
The Europeans first settled in New Caledonia when the French established a penal colony on the archipelago. 22,000 criminals and political prisoners were sent to the islands and once they had completed their sentences they were given land to settle. The Isle de Pines was one of the islands and parts the prison can still be seen. There were a couple of resorts on the island, but they were low key, as is most of the accommodation in New Caledonia. Their infrastructure is excellent with fabulous interisland ferries, flights and internal transport. Think the French are keeping quiet about what a great tourist destination New Caledonia is.
Having moved south we had an excellent, fast sail back to Fiji in less than four days, Ta-b in her usual fashion did us proud. Now it is time to enjoy the Musket Cove Regatta and our kid's visits. Amy and Luke arrive 18 September for two weeks and Edwin and Iva 8 October for two weeks. We are getting very excited about seeing them and sharing our last few months on board. Ta-b is on the market and we have had a lot of interest. We are hoping that she will soon be with loving new owners, who will enjoy her as much as we have.
Live, love and laugh says it all
22 August 2017 | Vanuatu
Jane warm and sunny
Before sailing to Vanuatu from Fiji we spent about a week in Musket Cove. It was a great place to chill out, catch up with friends and set up Ta-b’s “for sale” website. Really looking forward to returning there when Amy and Luke come to visit, and also to enjoy their famous Regatta in the middle of September.
We went to Vuda Point to check out. Whilst there we had a couple of very entertaining evenings with fellow cruising friends before provisioning and setting sail. It was an excellent four-day sail, with our parasail “big red” out for a far amount of the trip, always a bonus.
Vanuatu is an archipelago consisting of 83 beautiful islands, over 300 nautical miles, and spaced within easy day sails. Having gained independence in 1980 Vanuatu is a developing as a holiday destination for tourists. The friendliness of the people and the abundance of cultural diversity boasting coral seas, tropical islands, abundant marine life, volcanoes and rainforests offer something for everyone. Snorkeling, scuba diving and game fishing are very popular. It has a colourful history has been voted twice as the“World’s happiest Place” in the Lonely Planet’s Happy index.
Thankfully there are very few big resorts and these are on the main islands of Santo or Efate. Visiting cruisers are fortunate to be able to access the more remote islands, each unique with their own dialects, traditions, culture and rhythm, with Kava, like Fiji, being drunk at the end of the day. We were always welcomed with open arms into the local life that is still simple and uncomplicated. As there are currently no large charter companies we felt like we had the place to ourselves. The people always have huge smiles and the laughing children “pikininis” are delightful with their open warmth and inquisitiveness.
The local language is Bislama, like pigeon English although each island, like Fiji, has their own dialect. It is impossible to understand when they speak, but lots of words understandable like “Yu wantem tok tok Bislama?” Tankyu Tumas (Thank you so much).
We sailed into Luganville on Santo and took a mooring as suggested opposite at the Aore Resort. What a lovely location, great snorkeling, wonderful ambience and we splashed out and had a few meals out at their terrific restaurant.
While there we also managed to organise a dive on the famous SS President Coolidge with Allan Powers. He knows the Coolidge well; apparently he has spent a year on her with over 25,000 dives. There were all kinds of memorabilia in his home and the boat has a fascinating history. The Americans got too close to their mines coming back into harbour and managed to hit one, luckily the Captain was able to beach the ship and all, apart from 2 of the crew, were saved. Lots of wrecks from WW2 in and around Vanuatu, there was a plane by our boat, but sadly only in pieces around the reefs. There is a site nearby called Million Dollar point where the Americans threw all their unwanted “stuff” into the water after the war rather than give it to the islanders for nothing. Interesting place, but what a waste we felt.
We moved on after getting happily stuck for a little longer than planned the weather being a bit of a factor as always. The trades are southeast, but the guide we had advised that it was possible to go from the north to the south if you followed their route. It worked for us and saved us many miles of sailing and meant that we were able to visit some of the outer, more remote, islands.
We had an interesting sail to Ambae Island, fast and bumpy for the first half and then when we got into the lee of the island flat and we had to motor sail. From there we went down to Pentecote. We had to motor sail most of the way, but it was a good trip and we enjoyed the few days we had in Londot. Sadly the land diving towers had fallen down; which was a disappointment, but the village was delightful. Pentecote is known for its land diving, where the bungy diving idea originated. The young men from April-June climb, up to 30 meters, up a tower made of branches (as you get better you go higher) and then they jump off with only vines tied to their ankles. One man we met had been doing it since he was five, but once he got married stopped. We asked him if anyone ever died, he said "yes, my brother died doing it in 2010" one had to wonder whether that was when he decided to stop.
We had a great sail to Ambryn and were going to stay at the hot springs anchorage, but when we got there the flies chased us out and we ended up in Craig Cove. What a lovely place, made even more perfect when we met Victoria and Elsie who came to our boat in their dug out. They were 13-year-old cousins and wanted to chat. We found out that one of their fathers was the local baker so ordered some bread; which they delivered warm early the next morning. What a treat. He must make quite a good living, as his home was the best in the village. We are talking about a shack, but there were five of them, including one with his oven and one for stores. Victoria gave us buk choy and paw paw and I emptied the boat of more clothes and anything else I could find that the girls may like.
Then it was off again to the Maskelyne Islands and another excellent sail. The anchorage off Lokienuen felt crowded with three other boats as we had anchorages to ourselves most of the time cruising the islands. In the Maskelyne Islands there are three wonderfully friendly villages totaling approx.300 people. In Lutes where we anchored the large school dominates the village. There are around three hundred students and ten teachers, with a lot of children coming from nearby islands with some boarding.
June to August are busy months for festivals in Vanuatu, with the renowned land diving in Pentecost from April to June. Some friends of ours went to the famous ROM festival in July held in Ambrym. It sounded a bit gory with male teenagers coming into manhood by clubbing pigs to death, however the masks and dancing sounded fantastic. Ambrym also have a Yam and Magic Festival in the same month. Sadly we just missed the Arts and Crafts festival at Port Sandwich, but while in Lupe we were invited to the men’s nassara up in the bush behind the village. They performed the Smol Nambas Dance; which involved over a dozen fit young men from the village dressed in traditional nambas, or penis sheath, with Navake nut pods strapped to their ankles. Their dancing tells traditional stories of village life and can only be performed by men who have ceremonially killed a pig. Local females are definitely not allowed to see the dance performed – I wonder why ☺. A tamtam was beaten for timing and as the men stamp their feet the seedpods on around their ankles rattle. The performance was very moving and rhythmical. Lets hope that the young men continue to learn these traditions so that they are not lost forever.
We were there on a Sunday and so I went to church with some friends. First time I have been to church where it was held outside, everyone wearing his or her finest (the women in their Mother Hubbard dresses of bright colours). One of the locals had recently died and we became the guests of honour, at the wake/feast they put on after, it was quite the experience. We got to meet the “Translator family” who have lived on the island for 20 years, they are in the process of translating the bible into the local dialect – what a job. Sadly I did not take my camera so have no pictures.
We also visited the Giant Clam Sanctuary; which the local Chief and Headmaster established in 1991 after noticing that the clam population was disappearing. We were most impressed that this was instigated without foreign or government backing. The locals made a small manmade island; which is only accessible at high tide and is surrounded by the sanctuary. A local took us out in an outrigger and guided us snorkeling around the shallow waters where over a thousand Giant Clams of different species live happily together. They are up to a meter across in a large variety of colours. Sadly I did see a couple of Crown of Thorns Starfish; which are eating out coral reefs right across the South & North Pacific oceans, from the Cook Islands to the Great Barrier Reef. In Vanuatu they are working hard on killing these Starfish naturally for the marine life to eat to protect their reefs.
We felt we had hit the big smoke when we got to Port Vila the main city of Vanuatu on Efate. There were a lot of cruisers there, some who we had not seen since crossing the Pacific so it was good to catch up and share “tall tales” together. Some friends who we had not seen since Marmaris now live permanently on the island, like a lot of New Zealanders, and it was great to get to know the island from a locals perspective.
We wanted to visit Mount Yasur on Tanna. The volcano there has been erupting nearly continuously for the past 800 years and the glow from the strombolian eruptions is what apparently attracted Captain JamesCook to these shores in 1774, earning this fiery volcano the name of the “Lighthouse of the Pacific”. It is one of the most accessible active volcanoes in the world and was very much on my bucket list. Only downfall for sailing into Tanna is the fine layer of fine ash that apparently falls continuously onto the boat. A small price to pay I would think, however with the weather sailing down was not going to be possible, so we booked an overnight tour from Efate instead. We though it would be great to fly in a small six seater plane over the volcano before visiting it at sunset and having the luxury of a night on land., the tour had been recommended by various friends. Sadly however the tour was canceled at the last minute and we were unable to book another before we had to leave due to lack of numbers. No problem said our friends, you will have to come back to Vanuatu and stay with us and do another day. What a wonderful thing to look forward to in a few years time.
Time to move onto New Caledonia for a few weeks before returning to Fiji, will update blog next month, but until then, stay happy and healthy. Carpe Diem
16 July 2017 | Musket Cove
Jane warm and sunny
Bula from Fiji. Everywhere we are greeted with a big smile and Bula (Hello) in this wonderfully friendly country. The people are delightful. Please go to gallery at the top of this page for photos with descriptions.
Our sail from New Zealand to Fiji was challenging, the hardest leg since we started cruising offshore. We knew it was going to be tough and it was. Several other boats left with us and stayed on the rum line, but we eased off to the west to avoid the worst of the wind. More miles, but easier conditions, even so we had a rollicking ride with big, confused, seas and high winds, a lot of the time a steady 40 knots. Still Ta-b did us proud, as she always does, and got us to Savu Savu safely and in good time.
Fiji has 333 islands, but for us the big draw was the Lau Group on the eastern side. Only recently have the 57 islands allowed cruising permits. They are off the beaten track being difficult to sail to after checking into Fiji, but their allure of isolation, lack of facilities for tourists, simple life of villages and beauty; was what we were looking for.
We were not disappointed and so far the islands have been a highlight of our trip. We could have spent months exploring the area, although the lack of fresh produce, in fact of any produce, would have been hard.
The few Indigenous Fijians who live in the remote villages do so in extended family groups and acknowledge a hereditary chief who is usually male. When arriving in each island we were expected to visit the chief with a present of Kava Root. The tradition of sevusevu (a gift of Kava) is still expected. Drinking Kava and feasts are a highlight of village life. Each family is allocated land for farming and has communal obligations. Gender roles are adhered to and the villagers are quite conservative and happy to continue to live their simple lives. They mostly live off what the ocean and land provides. We were surprised that farming consisted of only a couple of root crops, but there were plenty of wild paw paws (papaya), bananas and coconuts to be had. Cooking is usually done over open fires or lovos (where food is wrapped in banana leaves and slow cooked underground).
We started our trip in Savu Savu, where we checked in and stocked up on fresh produce (and a lot of Kava Root), whilst enjoying the character of the laid back town. We waited anchored off Jean Michael Cousteau's resort, just inside the large bay, for a weather window to head to the Lau Islands. We ended up sailing to Koro Island south and then back up to Vianni Bay to get east.
We have found there is a lot more wind in Fiji then we were expecting and as always we are dictated to by the weather. No problem as Vianni was delightful and we enjoyed our few days there, although going diving or snorkeling on the famous rainbow reef was a challenge with the wind. We went over to Taveuni to stock up with last minute fresh produce and fuel before having a magical trip down to Vanua Balavu in the northern Lau group. Flat glass seas, a full moon and gentle winds gave us a wonderful overnight sail.
Vanua Balavu is known for its Bay of Islands. On our arrival we visited Daliconi village with friends to offer our Kava to the chief. Cyclone Winston seriously damaged this part of Fiji last year, people were killed and they are still rebuilding what was destroyed. It was sad to hear how the area suffered. We spent most of our time in a delightful anchorage called Shoal pass. The sea has undercut the limestone coast making beautiful mushroom islets in the breathtaking aqua water, a magical place.
We also went to Bavatu Harbour where there is a coconut plantation with stunning views over the Bay. Sadly Winston destroyed all of the village, and most of the trees; thankfully no one was hurt due to a large tree that they tied themselves to for 12 hours. The village now consists of four homes and a store called the "Sometime Store" as it only occasionally has items to sell. When we were there they had ... onions. The family living there is currently clearing the land and will replant the trees. The harbour was a very protected anchorage; thankfully, as yet again we had quite a bit of wind while we were there.
We made great friends with the few boats that were in the area, but suddenly a rally arrived from Tonga and we were surrounded. Luckily it was the World ARC and they only stayed two days before leaving the Lau Islands as they travel very quickly. However when the next rally arrived, we were about to leave, good timing we thought. Waiting the extra few days for the wind to drop certainly made for another excellent 24-hour sail down to Fulaga.
Fulaga is a little piece of paradise. Lots of lovely anchorages, deserted beaches, limestone mushrooms and coral bommies to snorkel and then there is the pass; which at slack tide is a divers heaven. We were the 20th boat to arrive this year, so a novelty and a link to the outside world. There are four villages, with no cars, just a wheelbarrow. The main one where we presented Kava to the 95-year-old chief organises a family to host each cruising boat. Our hosts were the headman and his wife, who were charming and spoke good English. We were now family. Socci and Ba taught us how to fish, catching three HUGE fish off the back of Ta-b within ten minutes one day. The smallest was enough to feed six; we were most impressed. The population of the main village is 102 and we felt we got to know them well as everyone is so friendly. We visited the school that has boarding for 15 children from outer villages and learnt that English is their third language. Fulaga has a local dialect; at school the kids learn to speak Fijian with English being one of the subjects. Although the elders did not speak English most hosts and many of the kids luckily did as we are still struggling to learn more than a few words of yet another language.
Socci our host organised a "picnic" one day on one of the islands for all of the cruisers and about half of the village. We ended up having 30+ Fijians on our boat, plus ... a live pig to take to the island. As you can imagine it was quite the experience. We had a fantastic day. A wonderful insight to see how quickly they make tables, bowls, fires and underground ovens for cooking, collect coconuts for drinking and bread, etc. Everyone bought food to add to the feast and we drank kava, they do not drink alcohol. It is infused with water (in a dirty looking rag) and tastes of mud, obviously an acquired taste. I don't think they made it very strong as it only gave us a slightly numb tongue for a minute of two. We sang and danced the afternoon away and only just got the villagers home before dark. The happy kids were all so well behaved it was impressive. A very special memory we will never forget.
Sunday is for church, beautiful singing, and lunch with one's host. Wow they know how to cook and Ba our host's wife made eight different dishes for us. They eat with their hands, but laid out knife, fork and napkins for us, we felt very honored. The stuffed clams and razor clam salad were probably my favourite, plus a spinach type vegetable served with fish. Our hosts had huge appetites (and are large too) and because we did not eat enough sent us away with takeaway. Each day we were given food and as the Fijians love sweet things, I made cakes, tarts, etc. for them to enjoy. We managed to unload Ta-b of many items they needed as the supply ship only visits every 4-6 weeks.
Another highlight while we were in Fulaga was the America's Cup. We had been following the Racing, difficult without wifi, but possible with our Ham Radio and helpful feedback. So when New Zealand won it was a day of celebration. We started on a friend's boat with a champagne BBQ at 8am and ended up with 25+ people on Ta-b for a potluck evening party. A terrific day, we certainly know where we will be in four years time ☺
Before we left Fulaga we bought some carvings from the village. One of the main ways they earn money is from selling the wood from a nearby island to Suva for carving. About seven of the village men carve, with one being an expert at the intricate native designs. We bought a traditional Kava bowl and hunting club to remind us of our time in Fulaga. It is interesting to learn that the children leave the island to go to school in Suva at the age of 14 and many do not return to live until they retire. Often the grandparents are sent their grandchildren to bring up, an interesting and not unusual concept. Certainly it is a wonderful community with everyone looking after everyone else, a simple relaxed life with no crime, and no internet/cellphones ☺ .
As I write we are having a lovely sail west to Fiji's main island of Viti Levu. The cruising life is being kind to us, although we do have an urgent "to do" job on Ta-b as our freezer is suddenly not working. But that is for tomorrow, for tonight with the moon out, the seas calm and the wind gentle, life is truly peaceful on Ta-b.