A couple of days after our kava and curry experience, we left the bustle of Denarau Marina and headed north across Nadi Bay toward Vuda Marina, about six miles away. Even though we'd cleared into Fiji, we were required to obtain a cruising permit if we intended to visit any of the islands in addition to the one we'd checked in at (Viti Levu). Since we certainly do intend to visit other islands, we'd obtained a cruising permit before leaving for the States, a few weeks earlier. This permit consisted of a one-page letter written entirely in Fijian that we were supposed to take to customs officials, along with some additional paperwork, to get finalized.
The customs officials will travel to the marina from their offices in the town of Lautoka, further north, if a boat wants to clear into or out of Fiji at Vuda. Once they've finished with their official business, they head back to Lautoka. They may be at the marina for less than an hour, if there's only one boat to process. You can call Vuda Marina to find out if they expect the officials that day, and how many boats are being processed, but they can't tell you how long the officials will be there. So it's imperative to get to Vuda quickly, once you know they're going to be there.
Our initial plan was to call Vuda Marina in the morning, hop in a taxi at Denarau for the thirty-minute drive, meet up with the officials, have our cruising permit finalized, and take a taxi or the bus back to Denarau. But when we learned that a taxi costs $80 FJ ($40 US) each way, we changed our minds. Compared with a $2 bus ride, this price was just too extravagant for us. Being cruisers, we tend to have more time than money, so we usually opt for the less expensive mode of travel, even if it takes longer. The problem with taking the bus to Vuda, though, is that it would take us a couple of hours to get to Vuda from Denarau, making it likely that the customs officials would already be gone by the time we showed up. And if we just went to Lautoka – an even longer bus ride – they might not be there, either.
Eric had the brilliant idea: “Hey, why don't we take SCOOTS to Vuda?” And so we did. Calling Vuda Marina as we were underway on the six-mile trip, we learned that the customs officials were currently at the marina, checking a boat into the country. We goosed the throttle and arrived at Vuda a little while later, dropping the anchor outside the marina entrance. We floated our dinghy and attached its outboard motor in record time, and buzzed into the marina, paperwork in hand, arriving just as the boat was pulling away from the customs dock.
We caught up with the customs officials, who told us we'd have to wait while they had lunch in the marina restaurant, before they'd deal with our paperwork. We cooled our heels for the next hour, chatting with some of our cruising friends whose boats were in the marina, until the officials were ready for us.
Our cruising permit finalized, we headed back out to SCOOTS, who was now bobbing vigorously in choppy waves, the wind having risen from almost nothing to 20 knots while we'd been ashore. The anchorage outside Vuda Marina is recommended for “settled weather”; this weather was no longer settled. Though we'd intended to spend the night there, and were hoping that the weather would settle again (it didn't), we changed our minds after a few hours of trying to function on the rocking and rolling SCOOTS. So, at about five in the afternoon, we pulled up her anchor and, as the sun was by now low in the sky, headed back across the bay toward Denarau.
Not wanting to join the gaggle of boats clustered just outside the Denarau channel, we dropped anchor, sheltered from the choppy waves, behind tiny Akuilau Island, about a mile closer. Akuilau is owned by Fijians, who offer day trips to the island from Denarau, in order to showcase elements of traditional Fijian living.
Akuilau Island 17 45.54'S, 177 22.26'E by day
And at sunset.
We spent two days there, while the wind howled, reacclimating to our slow-paced life. We did boat projects, enjoyed being back on our own schedule, and watched boats go by, shuttling tourists from the resorts to destinations in the islands for the day.
One morning, a huge cruise ship dropped anchor about a quarter mile from us. It disgorged about a dozen bright orange tenders that spent the rest of the day – bucking and rolling in the choppy seas – ferrying passengers back and forth between Denarau and the ship. I wondered if the passengers arrived at each place seasick.
At night, sounds of “Pop! Crackle, crackle, crackle. Pop! Crackle, crackle, crackle” brought us outside, where we enjoyed a brilliant fireworks display put on by one of the resorts.
It was good to be back on the water.