Our Ever-Changing Backyard--Sailing with Scoots

06 May 2019 | Paradise Taveuni Resort
04 March 2019 | Koro Island
05 December 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
01 December 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
30 November 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
29 November 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
28 November 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
26 November 2018 | Port Denarau Marina, near Nadi, Fiji
18 November 2018 | Makogai Island, Fiji
27 October 2018 | Rukuruku, Fiji
22 October 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
21 September 2018 | Leleuvia Island, Fiji
23 August 2018 | Levuka, Ovalau Island, Fiji
20 August 2018 | Nukobuco Island, Fiji

Paradise Found

06 May 2019 | Paradise Taveuni Resort
Vandy Shrader
After leaving Koro Island, in early September, we sailed north and found Paradise. Actually, it was pretty easy to find: it was marked on our charts.

Tucked into a nook in the western coastline near the southern end of the island of Taveuni, Paradise Taveuni Resort truly lives up to its name.


Taveuni Island in Fiji


Paradise Taveuni Resort

Severely damaged by the same cyclone that ravaged nearby Koro Island, Paradise Taveuni Resort has rebounded, rebuilt through the hard work and dedication of its owners and staff. (Link to Paradise Resort.)

The first hint that we were really going to like this place was when Alan, one of the resort's co-owners, answered our call on the radio as SCOOTS approached the resort. Things began well and just kept getting better.

"Good afternoon," I said. "Do you have any moorings available?"

"Let me check...." a pause. "I have two."

"Great! We'll take one. How much do you charge for a mooring?"

"They're free."

"Free?! Cool!"

"I'll send someone out with a kayak, to hand you the mooring line. See you soon."

This was the first time - ever - that we had had someone hand us the mooring line. Usually it was just one of us on the bow, hanging over the lifelines, swiping at the loop on the mooring line with a boat hook, and then pulling it up on deck to tie it.

We were going to like this place.

After SCOOTS was secured, we took our dinghy to the small rock-and-cement platform where the resort's dive boats load and unload guests, and which serves as a dinghy dock. Following the footpath up the hill, we emerged onto an expansive grassy lawn, planted with a profusion of tropical plants. Palm fronds rustled in the light breeze. Collared lories, a kind of multicolored parrot, squawked in the lofty flame tree, and swung upside-down on the branches. The sun was shining, and the air was a pleasant 85F. Around the lawn, tucked into small jungles of greenery, stood several bures (huts), accommodations for the resort's guests.



Covered patios perched near the cliff edge, overlooking the boats in the mooring field, and the Somosomo Strait beyond. What a gorgeous place!


SCOOTS in Paradise

We walked through the large, covered outdoor restaurant and entered the main building to a chorus of "Bula!"s from the resort staff, and introduced ourselves. Mags, the manager on duty, told us that the crews of boats moored at the resort are treated as resort guests. Which meant that we ran a tab the whole time we were there, and were able to use the resort facilities as if we were staying in one of the bures. The staff learned our names and knew which boat we were on. It was such a friendly and welcoming place!

During the two weeks that we stayed at Paradise, we had a truly fabulous time.

We enjoyed birdwatching,

A red shining-parrot

bass playing,


Eric and our friend, Martin, from s/v Acapella, playing bass on SCOOTS

walks along the coastal dirt road, usually accompanied by the resort's two dogs, Brownie and Beethoven, who both like to chase cars - yikes!


Walking with the boys

snorkeling, including a ride on the resort's dive boat out to the world-famous diving spot, Rainbow Reef, where we snorkeled with our own guide,

exploring around the village

We encountered an LDS church with just the essentials: a sign, a meeting hall, and an outhouse

celebrating 31derful years of marriage,


helping our friend, Karen, distribute free reading glasses to some of the local residents,



lots of tasty meals in the outdoor restaurant, where we socialized with other visiting yachties and interesting land-based guests from all over the world.

One day, we made a visit to Bobby's Farm - also known as Nabogiorno Farm - an ecological reserve just up the road from Paradise Resort. Besides learning about some of Fiji's native flora and fauna, I was really hoping to see an orange dove, a shy and seldom-seen bird that inhabits some of Fiji's northeastern islands and has been seen on Bobby's Farm.


Here is a photo of an orange dove taken by our friend, Alison, who has seen one. I haven't seen one yet.

We saw a lot of birds at Bobby's Farm - many-colored fruit doves, vanikoro flycatchers, kingfishers, orange-breasted honeyeaters, black-faced shrikebills, slaty flycatchers, spotted doves, and a dozen red shining-parrots - but not any orange doves. Cyclone Winston had devastated much of his property, Bobby said, felling trees, stripping vegetation down to the bare earth, flooding, and spraying salt water all over everything. Prior to Cyclone Winston, there had been two orange doves living on his property, a mated pair. They survived Winston, but perished at the claws of feral cats a few days later. Oh well. Clearly I wasn't going to see an orange dove today.

Bobby spent several hours showing us around his property, sharing his love for and knowledge of the local flora and fauna. He told us that he had been practicing conservation and natural farming on his property for 37 years, where his family has resided for several generations. He is hoping to raise funding that would allow him to reach out to local students and residents, to invite them to his properties for ecological programs and to teach them about the natural world around them.

On our walk, which took a couple of hours, Bobby showed us lots of interesting things...

...a grove of fruit trees (mainly citrus), where he's employed a system of propagation known as "air rooting," which we'd never heard of. Here is what he does:
(1) Cuts a ring around a stem and removes the strip of bark.
(2) Puts some soil close underneath the barkless ring on the stem. (I don't know how he does this.)
(3) Waits.
According to Bobby, the plant will sense that the end of one of its twigs is no longer receiving nourishment. Sensing soil nearby, the twig will grow roots down toward the soil.
(4) When the roots have grown a bit, Bobby cuts the branch off below them and plants the rooted twig in the ground.

Bobby also told us than when he strips the twig while the plant is fruiting, the fruiting hormones are already present in the twig, so when the twig is planted, it will produce fruit the first year.

...quite a few huge, old-growth hardwood trees that had fallen during the cyclone which he was in the process of converting into lumber, for use as building materials on the island. This was a tough job, as many of the trees had fallen in areas of dense jungle

...how to sip coconut water through natural straws - hollow sticks broken from a nearby bush - from some green coconuts that Bobby had hacked open with a machete. While we sat there, several red shining-parrots came around, hoping for some crackers. Bobby obliged



...that the middle of a sprouting coconut contains a spongy material that he calls "natural birthday cake." It does actually taste a bit like cake!

...how quickly termites can repair a breach to their home: Walking by a termite mound, Bobby pierced it with a small stick, creating a hole. Termites rushed out and swarmed all over the mound. Later on our walk, when we passed by the termite mound again, the hole was gone, the termites having repaired it so well that we couldn't even see where it had been

...what a cacao tree and pods look like. Bobby cut open one of the pods and gave us some cacao seeds to suck on: The flavor was sweet and slightly sour; and nothing like chocolate

...a tree that produces a sweet/sour fruit right from its trunk, rather than on its limbs, and

...several large species of fern that seem to be growing upside-down, with their supports on top of the fronds, rather than underneath.



When we got back to Bobby's house, his wife had made us a lovely Indo-Fijian lunch, many of the dishes containing fruit and vegetables grown on their property. We had enjoyed a very educational and pleasant morning, even without seeing orange doves.

The mooring field at Paradise is usually flat calm, nicely sheltered from the tradewinds from the southeast or east, which tend to blow most of the time. There's only one thing that turns Paradise into Hell: a northerly wind.

When we had been at Paradise for about a week, the wind shifted and began to blow from the NE, funneling along the western shore of Taveuni, kicking up a considerable amount of chop. When the chop reached the mooring field, the dinghy dock became too treacherous to use, as the area around it became a washing machine, and the moored boats began to hobby-horse on their moorings, which was not only very uncomfortable, but also threatened to rip the mooring anchors from the bottom.

Clearly it was time to take SCOOTS somewhere else. "Somewhere else" was Viani Bay, about eight miles away, across the Somosomo Strait, where the anchorage offered shelter from the strong northeast wind. We called Alan on the radio and told him that we were heading across to Viani Bay and would be back in a few days, when the wind switched back to southeast.

We enjoyed five days in Viani Bay, a lovely place worthy of a blog entry of its own. Sadly, I probably won't write one, so I've included some photos as a poor substitute. But you'll get a flavor for the place.


SCOOTS in Viani Bay


Banyans near shore where I went kayaking


Some boys who helped me launch my kayak off the beac
I went looking for an orange dove there, too, but didn't see one.

When the wind blew from the southeast again, we sailed back to Paradise, where we enjoyed another week of bliss.


SCOOTS holding up the rainbow

Paradise Lost

04 March 2019 | Koro Island
Vandy Shrader
*Though SCOOTS and her crew are hanging out in New Zealand until May or June, I've posted a blog about the time we spent at Koro Island, Fiji, from last September. Enjoy!*


We'd decided to visit Koro Island next, exiting the reef through Makogai's nebulous NE pass, rather than its main pass, to the west. The morning was calm and sunny as we pulled up SCOOTS' anchor and motored toward the pass, Eric at the helm and I at my usual post on the bow, both of us with handheld radios. Visibility was superb, and as we passed the first waypoint I was able to see the coral heads lurking nearby. Eric kindly told me when we were going to be making a turn, because it's kind of nerve-wracking to be heading straight for a reef. The waypoints were spot-on, and though I was holding my breath, we transited the pass without any drama. Hooray for accurate navigation!

I was really excited as we approached Koro Island about six hours later. Having read about Koro's verdant jungles, vibrant bird life, the eco-conscious Koro Seaview settlement, and the inviting Dere Bay Resort, and seen them in so many beautiful photos online, I couldn't wait to experience them. Maybe the resort would even arrange a birdwatching trip!


Makogai and Koro Islands

As we neared Koro, I called Dere Bay Resort on the phone number listed on their website, to inquire about tying up to one of the mooring buoys they manage in the bay. No answer. A little while later, I tried again, with the same result. No problem; we'd just tie up to a mooring buoy and sort it out with them later when we dinghied in. I grabbed our binoculars, and scanned the bay for mooring buoys and found two: one with a boat already tied to it, and another floating unoccupied nearby. As we made for the unoccupied mooring, we realized that the boat was Pilgrim, whose crew of Sheryl and Ron we hadn't seen since last year. It would be fun to get reacquainted with them.


Where SCOOTS anchored in Dere Bay

As we approached Dere Bay, on the northwest corner of the island, the hillsides and the resort's dock – a long, elegant structure that features prominently in photos on the resort website – began to come into focus, I realized that something was off. None of it was like the pictures I'd seen. Though there were some areas of jungle on the hillsides, there were also large grassy patches where trees had been ripped out, and large swaths of brown, composed of dead and defoliated trees and denuded soil.


Swatches of brown and green

The dock was neither long, nor elegant, but instead had been severed into two shorter docks – and these canted at alarming angles – with both the thatch-roofed palapa at the end, and a long middle section missing completely.


The dock from the Dere Bay Resort website


The dock as it now is

A few of the homes comprising the eco-conscious settlement stood intact on the hillsides, but all that remained of many others were foundations or a few cement support beams or just an empty, roofless, windowless husk. Though some homes were being repaired, many were in various stages of being reclaimed by the jungle and the weather, after being ruthlessly ravaged by Cyclone Winston two years earlier. In fact, I learned later that the villages at the north end of the island had been especially hard-hit.

Clearly, the storm had done more damage to Koro than I'd realized; none of it is reflected in the websites for either the resort or for Koro Seaview Estates.

After SCOOTS was secured to the mooring, I took advantage of the settled conditions; I floated our kayak and paddled around the shallow lagoon, peering down through the clear water to look at the extensive coral reefs below.


Some parts of the beach were bouncing back

Eventually I paddled toward shore, hoping to see some of the birds behind the tantalizing calls I'd been hearing. Homing in on the raucous sounds, I floated in the calm shallows near shore, scanning the trees with my binoculars. I was soon rewarded with a flash of maroon, and then a tease of blue, which soon revealed themselves to be a parrot! And then another. And another. I had some great views of the birds, which were red shining-parrots, large birds with green and blue wings and tail, and – in the variety that lives here on Koro – a deep maroon throat and chest. A stunning contrast – made even more spectacular by the bright sheen of the blue and green feathers. No wonder they're called shining parrots!


A shining parrot!

The main resort building itself looked intact, from our vantage point in the bay, but the true test came when we dinghied ashore, later in the afternoon. After swinging by Pilgrim to say hello, we tied our dinghy to the remaining section of dock near shore, and waded to the beach through knee-deep water. (The reason why the resort dock was so long is because the water is very shallow – much of it even dries out at low tide – for a long way out.)

The main resort building didn't look too bad, having either withstood much of Winston's wrath, or been repaired. Inside, we encountered a group of about a dozen ex-pats who live on Koro. Through no planning of our own, we'd managed to arrive during their weekly happy hour. Good timing! For the next couple of hours, the few employees who still worked at the resort were kept busy serving beer and wine, while we enjoyed chatting with the islanders. Some regaled us with harrowing stories of their experiences on Koro during Cyclone Winston, others reminisced about the days when they'd explored the South Pacific aboard their own cruising boats. As far as I could tell, the resort is now just a meeting place for locals; I didn't see any paying guests. No birdwatching trip was going to be booked. And I've since learned that the property is up for sale.

After happy hour, we stood on the dark beach pondering the state of the tide (it had gone out) and how best to get our dinghy back to SCOOTS (across several hundred yards of ankle-deep water). By now, the wind had come up and so we had the added luxury of being slapped with choppy waves as we slogged through the shallow water pulling our dinghy behind us, occasionally tripping or banging our shins on big chunks of debris that were hidden beneath the surface. At least the water was warm. When it was finally deep enough for us to use our dinghy, we flopped our drenched selves in and took off across the black water toward SCOOTS.

The next day, Eric and I went ashore to explore a bit on foot. As we walked on sandy paths and cracked concrete roads, we encountered several dwellings that had clearly once been quite posh, but which now had been abandoned to the insects, vines, and elements after being severely damaged by the cyclone.


A house left in shambles

We also happened upon a row of cute beachside huts, most of which were in good condition, all sitting empty as though they were waiting for tourists to return.


Cute little huts

That night we enjoyed dinner at the resort (prearranged the day before, to make sure they had enough food) with the crew of Pilgrim. We tied our dinghies to the cross-members of the dock pretty far out, hoping that there would still be enough water to float them when the tide went out during dinner, and then clambered up the wooden cross-members to the dock planks for our walk to shore. After dinner, we were happy to see water under the dinghies; not enough for us to use our outboards, but enough for us to row into the wind and chop, until we reached deeper water, farther out.

The wind blew hard for most of the time that we were at Koro, which unnerved us a bit, as, not being scuba divers, we had no way of assessing the condition of the mooring to which SCOOTS was tied. For this reason, we're always more apprehensive when SCOOTS is tied to a mooring, than when we're anchored. But this time, we were especially on edge because the two remaining moorings had been through a major cyclone and were no longer being maintained by the resort. And no matter which way the wind blew, SCOOTS always seemed to have her stern pointed to a coral reef.

After two days, we were ready to say goodbye to Koro. We slipped our line from the mooring, motored out of Dere Bay, and set our sails for the island of Taveuni, Fiji's Garden Island.








Fast Forward

26 November 2018 | Port Denarau Marina, near Nadi, Fiji
Vandy
During the time that I was sharing stories about our fun times in Makogai and Rukuruku, SCOOTS was berthed in the Port Denarau Marina, near Nadi, while we waited (and waited and waited...) for a good weather window to sail to New Zealand.

Having passed on a so-so opportunity at the beginning of November – thinking that we could get a better passage if we waited another week or maybe two– we've been here for three more weeks, waiting, as the weather between here and New Zealand went completely off the rails.

For much of that time, I was consumed by all manner of meteorological forecasting models, poring over them several times a day, sniffing for even a hint of a weather window. A few times, I thought I saw one developing, waaaaaay down the pike, in the “imaginary” part of the long-range forecast, just to have it slam shut a few days before it was to arrive. I wasn't the only person obsessing about the weather though; pre-passage planning brings out the weather geeks in the fleet. You can be sure that whenever two cruisers meet, the subject of weather will come up. We even convened a few “weather confabs” (a term suggested by our friend, Randy, on the sailboat Velic), to share forecasting tools and meteorological websites. It gave us a chance to obsess about the weather as a group, instead of by ourselves on our own boats.


The confab of weather geeks: (from left) Ron from Duet, Randy from Velic, Vandy from SCOOTS, Douglas from Tumbleweed

I have to say, though, staying here the extra three weeks was not all bad. In fact, in hindsight, it was a really positive experience. We met some new cruisers, reunited with some old friends, and had fun with all of them; we saw our Fijian friend, Sam, from Rukuruku, a couple of times, as he had relocated to Nadi; we enjoyed a small potluck celebration of American Thanksgiving with some of the other cruisers who were also waiting to leave; we visited the lovely orchid-draped Garden of the Sleeping Giant near Nadi; we enjoyed the restaurants at Denarau; we had SCOOTS washed and waxed, and her hull cleaned below the water line; Eric had the time to learn and practice some new songs on his bass.


Our friend, Moses, translating the words to the songs in Vandy's Fijian music video collection.

As if to reward us for remaining, the weather here in Fiji during the entire time has been spectacular: blue skies and lots of sun; meanwhile, down in New Zealand, the weather was awful: cold and rainy, with storm after storm after storm.

To poke fun at me, every morning, as he walked through the main cabin past where I was obsessing about weather at my computer, and had been for awhile before he got up, Eric would say, grinning, “So, are we getting out of this hell hole today?”

Well, I'm happy to say that it now looks like we will. We just cleared out from Fiji and will be underway in a little while.

Lepers, giant clams, a small mystery, and a Fun Fact

18 November 2018 | Makogai Island, Fiji
Vandy
The next stop on our Koro Sea expedition was the island of Makogai: former home of a leper colony and current home of the Fiji Department of Fisheries Research Station with its giant clam nursery. That would be a nursery for giant clams, not a giant nursery for clams.



After a lovely three-hour sail from Rukuruku, we neared the "pass" to the west of Makogai. I put "pass" in quotes because usually we expect (or at least hope) a pass will be a clear slot through a reef, that's easily seen on a chart or with our eyes. This one - and it's the main one into the reef around Makogai - is actually just a place that a boat can slip through among uncharted coral pinnacles (blue with + in the chart).


Makogai Pass on Open CPN

The channel marker shown on the chart isn't actually there, a common occurrence in Fiji. We were confident that we'd be able to navigate through safely: we could easily see a few landmarks - big coral reefs with waves breaking on them (green in the chart), we had satellite photos of the area, and we had a track of another boat's successful transit of the pass, which we were following closely.


Makogai Pass on Google Earth

As usual, I was up on the bow with my radio, looking for submerged coral heads, as we slowly went through, and as expected, everything went fine.

As we entered the anchorage on the northwest corner of Makogai, we saw that two other boats were already anchored there; boats with whom we'd shared anchorages before. It's always fun to come into an anchorage populated with friends! Before we left Makogai, ten days later, we'd spent lots of fun times with old friends and made some new ones.

We set our anchor, put our dinghy in the water, and buzzed to shore to do sevusevu. After steering around several red and orange floats in the shallows near shore, Eric then drove the dinghy onto the beach, where we pulled it up and tied it to a nearby coconut palm. Further away on shore, and on a damaged and crumbling cement wharf nearby, a dozen or so men were busily working: some welding, some making concrete to repair the troughs of the clam nursery, some constructing buildings, some doing a job that required hammering loudly on metal.

As we walked up from the beach, a middle-aged Fijian man left a group of workers and approached us. He welcomed us, told us his name was Enochi, and said he would represent the village for our sevusevu, the village being situated on the south side of the island, several miles from the anchorage. Enochi led us over to a shade structure, where we sat on the ground and presented him with our kava bundle. Enochi recited the traditional Fijian statement (I have no idea what's actually being said), and then welcomed us to Makogai. Sevusevu being completed, Enochi told us that he'd like to take us on a tour, but that he was very busy at the moment. Could we come back tomorrow?

The next day, when we went back for our tour, we encountered a group of the workers butchering a three-foot-long tuna on the beach. "Sashimi!" one of them shouted to us, with a thumbs-up, when we walked past.

On shore, we were joined by the crews of the boats Barefoot, Blithe Spirit, and Troubadour, who had come ashore to present sevusevu to Enochi.


The Makogai explorers

After accepting their sevusevu, Enochi took all of us on a fascinating tour of the of the ruins and cemetery of the former leper colony, and the tanks of the giant clam nursery.


Eric exploring the leper colony cemetery, whose graves were mostly those of the European clergy who tended the lepers.



As was to become a trend throughout our explorations of the islands of the Koro Sea, Makogai had suffered greatly when Cyclone Winston roared through the area in 2016. Much of its vegetation had been stripped away, trees had been toppled, the concrete wharf had been damaged, buildings - some that had been standing for more than a hundred years, other newer structures, including homes of the workers - had been destroyed or blown away. Even the turtle farm was wiped out, though Google Maps still indicates that it's there. Over and over again during our tour, Enochi would gesture toward an open area and say, "Before Cyclone Winston, here used to stand...." Much of the work currently taking place at the research station involved the building of new homes for the workers.


Enochi with the Lister diesel, which has been supplying power to this part of Makogai for more than a century.


The new buildings are constructed of metal.

The giant clam nursery, which is home to thousands of adolescent giant clams, consisted of about twenty long, shallow concrete troughs, shaded from the tropical sun, with seawater running continuously through them.



The baby giant clams are so cute: yearlings are about a half inch long.


These baby clams are about an inch long.

Collected as tiny fertilized eggs, the baby clams are nurtured in these tanks for several years until they reach a few inches long, at which time they're transferred to local resorts, who incorporate them into their reefs. The nursery was begun by the Fisheries Department as a way to prevent the giant clams - which grow very slowly and are a delicacy among Fijians - from being extirpated. Enochi told us that it takes 50 or 60 years for a giant clam to reach its full size; full size being about four feet long.

During our tour, Enochi told us that the red and orange markers near the beach, and a couple of others scattered around the anchorage, indicated the locations of adult giant clams. As soon as we got back to SCOOTS, Eric and I changed into our bathing suits, grabbed our snorkeling gear, and headed over to the markers. As soon as we were in the water, we saw them: huge clams, their inches-thick, four-foot-long shells gaping more than two feet wide, their bodies sucking seawater in through a six-inch-diameter siphon and releasing it through a twelve-inch-long slit. Seriously giant clams, the kind that you see in cartoons, the kind that could close on your leg and keep you there if they wanted to. We were awestruck and amazed. When we got back in the dinghy, Eric said, "My life is now more complete." Wow, who knew that's all that was missing?

We checked out the other clams in the shallows, then spent the next hour exploring the fantastic reefs marked by the other floats in the anchorage. Makogai's vibrant and colorful reefs were some of the best we've snorkeled. And to top it off, each boasted at least one massive giant clam.

Fun Fact: In the 1980s Makogai was the site of a project to breed a new variety of sheep that could thrive in the tropics. The program was successful, eventually giving rise to the Fiji Fantastic sheep breed.

Another day, as we were dinghying to shore for a walk, we encountered a young couple who were rowing their dinghy to shore against the wind. We offered them a tow, which they accepted. As they went to find Enochi, to do sevusevu, Eric and I walked up the road toward the high spot on the hill that Enochi had indicated was the only place on the island that had cell phone reception. We would know the spot, he said, because it had a bench. As we were sitting on the bench, enjoying the expansive view and the opportunity to check our email, the young couple came by and clambered up the rocky outcrop to join us.


Eric on the cell phone bench on the hill

Rekka and Devine, from the sailboat Pino, accompanied us on the rest of our walk along the dirt road, during which we enjoyed some spectacular vistas and fun conversations.


Trans-island transportation

Unfortunately, as we were towing them back to their boat, their dinghy popped a seam, which required them to spend the rest of the day, and the next day as well, attempting to adequately patch it. Since they couldn't come to SCOOTS, we picked them up in our dinghy at sunset. By then, they really appreciated a cold gin and tonic.


Before the pop

While at Makogai, I spent many pleasant hours kayaking, stalking wild (well, probably feral) papayas, birdwatching, and birdlistening. There were so many birds on Makogai! As soon as we arrived in the anchorage, in fact while we were still anchoring, I heard a bird call that I hadn't heard before. "Cool!" I thought, "A new bird to chase!" Chase it I did, because even though I heard that call a hundred times during the ten days we were anchored at Makogai, and was sometimes able to train my binoculars into the dense foliage whence it came, I was never able to actually see a bird making the sound. A few times, I saw vanikoro flycatchers in the vicinity of the call, and while I suspect that they were the source, I can't be sure. To muddy the waters further, when I had access to the Internet again, I listened to all the vanikoro flycatcher recordings I could find: none of them included that call. I've never heard it anywhere other than Makogai. And so it remains a mystery.

One day, while I was stalking feral papayas, I ran into one of the workers, who was collecting coconuts. I asked him where everyone else was, as work on all the projects seemed to have stopped. "They are at hospital in Levuka," he said. "They got sick, ciguatera poison, from eating the big fish. They ate the intestines."

"How is it that you didn't get sick?" I asked.

"I got there too late," he said with a rueful smile. "And it was already eaten."



So many washing machines!

27 October 2018 | Rukuruku, Fiji
Vandy
When we left Levuka, the forecast for the next few days called for strong SE winds, so we looked for an anchorage that would be sheltered from wind and waves from that direction. We found it in the small bay in front of the village of Rukuruku, tucked into the northwest corner of Ovalau.


Fiji with Rukuruku

Rukuruku is a fun word. Say it and you'll see what I mean.


Rukuruku and Levuka on Ovalau Island

Motoring north from Levuka, inside Ovalau's barrier reef, enjoying the sunshine and calm water, we glimpsed reminders of Cyclone Winston's power, such as this grounded ferry, which was deposited on the shore by heavy surf - inside the reef! - two years ago, and will probably remain there until it rusts away.


Beached ferry

A few hours later, after the tide had risen a bit, we put on our "village" clothes - for me, a shirt that covered my shoulders, and a skirt that covered my knees, worn over my shorts ; for Eric, a bula shirt and shorts (men's knees apparently aren't risque) - grabbed a ceremonial bundle of kava, put the dinghy in the water, and headed to shore. We'd watched the routes of a couple of pangas that had made their way to the village when the water had risen a bit, and we tried to follow in their paths. Still, giant coral fans and branches loomed up on either side of our dinghy, at prop depth.


Rukuruku village

As we coasted into the shallows, we were met by an energetic bunch of swimming kids, all eager to help haul the "kavalangis" (Europeans) to shore. They grabbed onto the dinghy's handles and the painter, and pulled us to shore. Once we were on shore, a man directed us to the village's community hall, where the chief was drinking kava with about a dozen other people, all of them seated in a loose circle around a large carved tanoa (kava bowl), on a large woven pandanus mat.

Usually, when we prevent sevusevu, it's just us and the chief, who says a few words in Fijian, welcomes us to the village in English, and sends us on our way. We don't drink kava with him. But this time, after presenting our sevusevu, we were invited to stay and join the party, which we did. The people enjoying kava with the chief were members of his extended family who were visiting from a nearby town. I spoke with some of the women, and Eric spoke with some of the men, while all of us sat cross-legged on the floor, taking our turns drinking kava from coconut shells.

The conversations among the villagers was in Fijian, so we didn't catch what they were saying, but it became apparent after awhile from their glances and smiles that they were talking about us. The woman I was talking with told me that the young men were wondering if Eric and I would get drunk on "grog" (slang for kava) and not be able to get back to our boat. This wasn't a danger, as kava doesn't have an intoxicating effect on us, though it does make our lips and tongues a little tingly. We all had a good laugh about it.

Some of the men examined the kava bundle that we'd brought, and sniffed it. They asked us where we'd gotten it. "In the market in Suva. It's from Kadavu." Villages on Kadavu, along with those on the islands of Taveuni and Ovalau - including Rukuruku - are major producers of kava. These local guys were comparing our offering with the kava they grow themselves. I don't know how well it fared.


Our kava bundle. It's about 16 inches long. When you purchase a sevusevu bundle in the market, the roots are wound together, wrapped in paper (often newspaper), and tied with a ribbon.

After a few rounds of kava, a bag of lollipops was passed around - "grog chasers" the woman told me. Each person took a sucker or two, and sucked on it between drinks of kava. It made for an interesting blend of flavors...kind of like a lollipop that had fallen into some dirt.

A while later, using the excuse of being kavalangi who apparently didn't know that good manners required that we stay until all the kava had been consumed (we did know, and we also knew that this would be another few hours), we stood and said "sota tale" (see you later) and made our way back to our dinghy. The kids were still swimming, and with big smiles, they eagerly untied and pushed our dinghy out away from shore. A few of them hopped on, hoping for a ride out to SCOOTS, but we gently suggested that they instead use the dinghy as a diving platform, and so they leapt exuberantly back into the water and swam the short distance to shore, laughing and waving at us.


SCOOTS in the anchorage

During my conversation with the village women, I had mentioned that Eric was good at fixing things. In fact, whenever we anchor off a village, he makes a point of finding out what needs fixing, and then does what he can to remedy the situation. One woman, whose name was Doh, had asked if Eric could fix her washing machine. He said he'd take a look at it. So the following morning, Eric grabbed his tool bag and we dinghied to shore. We'd been informed that the safe route to shore was to line up on a mango tree that grew beside the house on shore, so we did that and threaded our way nicely through the coral.

Once on shore, we asked where Doh lived, and were led through the village to one of the houses. Doh met us at the door and welcomed us into her home, which like many village houses, was constructed of cinder blocks, plywood, and corrugated metal. The floor of the main room was covered with linolea (if this isn't the plural of linoleum, it should be) of various competing patterns, with a large woven pandanus mat in the center. A small bed was tucked against one wall, a television on a small stand was against another, and the ailing washing machine - a small molded-plastic model of Korean provenance - stood near another wall. As in most village homes, there were no table or chairs; I sat cross-legged on the floor, chatting with Doh, her teenage daughter, and her mother, while Eric diagnosed the washing machine.

"It makes a noise," Doh had told Eric. Not a very detailed starting point, but he dove right in. When the washing machine was plugged in (Rukuruku, unlike most of the villages we've visited, has continuous electricity), and the small agitator began to move, it slipped, and made a grinding noise when it rotated in one direction but not the other. Eric spent some time disassembling the washing machine, looking for the source of the grinding noise, eventually extracting a small plastic gear with most of its teeth worn away.

"I think I can fix this," he told Doh, "but I'll have to take it to my boat and do some work on it, and bring it back in a couple of days." Doh agreed, and we arranged to come back again another day.

While Eric was working on Doh's washing machine, a young man in his twenties came and sat quietly against one of the walls. When Eric and I were ready to leave, he stood up and asked us diffidently if we could please take a look at his washing machine, too. Sure, no problem. Turns out, he lived next door, so it was a short walk.

As Eric diagnosed the washing machine, we chatted with the young man, who introduced himself as Sam. We had a nice conversation with him, and became quite good friends during our time in Rukuruku. A little boy of about three years old, named Sivone, hung around, smiling and giggling, keenly interested in Eric's work on the washing machine. Sam's washing machine had a bad controller. Eric thought he could fix it, so he put it in his tool bag to take back to SCOOTS.

While we were there, Sam asked us if we could also take a look at his fridge ("It stopped making cold.") and his television ("It hasn't worked right since it got wet during Cyclone Winston.") Eric took a look at both, but sadly, there was nothing he could do for them.

Back at the dinghy, Sivone made rapid work of the knot tying the painter to a rock wall, and then he helped push it out from shore. What a cute kid!


Sivone untying our dinghy painter

Back on SCOOTS, Eric got out some epoxy and got to work rebuilding the gear teeth for Doh's washing machine, and cleaned up the contacts for the controller to Sam's washing machine.


Doh's washing maching gear before Eric worked on it...


And after

The next day was Sunday. As this is Fiji, no work was done, and as Sam had invited us to attend church with him, Eric and I dressed up in our Sunday skirts - "sulus" in Fijian - black pinstripes for him, and a floral pattern for me - and dinghied ashore to attend the Methodist service. We were surprised to learn that Rukuruku has several churches, catering to devotees of different religions, including Catholics and Seventh Day Adventists, in addition to Methodists. In all the other villages where we've spent time, there was only one church, which all the villagers attended. The minister preached a spirited sermon taken from Revelations; even though the sermon was completely in Fijian - as was the entire service, save for a short greeting for Eric and me - the message was quite clear: fire and brimstone apparently translates into all languages.

After church, we spent a quiet afternoon: Eric worked on Doh's gear and played bass; I paddled our kayak around the bay.

On a hill overlooking the bay where SCOOTS was anchored, I saw a couple of trees that looked (to me) like the heads of an elephant and a giraffe. Can you see them in the picture?



News travels fast. The next day, Sam texted us to ask if Eric could take a look at some other villagers' washing machines when we came to shore that day. Eric agreed, of course. Sam and Sivone met us at the shore, and accompanied us to Doh's house, where Eric installed the retoothed gear in her washing machine. When Doh turned the washing machine on, the agitator turned quietly. She was thrilled!

Then she asked Eric if he could take a look at the attached spin-dry basket, which also "made a noise," and her television, which didn't do anything at all. He was able to fix the dryer by adding some water to lubricate a couple of surfaces, but the TV needed a new flyback transformer, which Eric couldn't fix.

Next, we went to Sam's house, where Eric installed the washing machine controller. After that, for the next few hours, Sam and Sivone led us all over the village, from one house to another.


Eric and Sivone tending to an ailing washing machine

Along the way, four giggly little girls joined our group, accompanying us on our mobile repair mission, and tutoring me in the local version of Pat-a-cake. By the end of the day, Eric had diagnosed six washing machines, three televisions, and a couple of DVD players. Some he was able to repair; others he was not. Almost all of the washing machines had the same bad part - a motor-run capacitor. (When he got back to SCOOTS, Eric ordered several of these inexpensive parts so that he would have them on hand in the future.)

The next day, done with our repair mission and needing to find an anchorage that would shelter us from the strong North winds that were coming in the next day or so, we said goodbye to Sam and Sivone and, pulling up our anchor, set sail for the island of Makogai, home of the (truly) giant clams.


Eric and Sam










Old buildings, a gorilla in the mountains, 199 steps, a strong Fijian dude

01 October 2018 | Levuka, Ovalau Island, Fiji
Vandy
Every yachtie who'd ever been to Levuka told us the same three things about it:
(1) “It's such a charming little colonial town!”
(2) “The anchorage is rolly as hell!”
(3) “You GOTTA go there.”

So we decided to go to Levuka, to see what all the fuss was about.


Levuka is here

A three hour motoring trip from Leleuvia Island, in almost no wind, brought us to the passage through the reef. We slipped through and dropped our anchor just off the town, in clear, flat-calm water that was undisturbed by even a hint of a wave. Though I could see how this anchorage could be rolly in many weather conditions, we seemed to have hit it just right, and the water was as smooth as glass.


The reef pass and the anchorage

Looking up at the green hills behind the town – which reminded me quite a bit of the bright green mountains of the Marquesas – I saw a huge outcropping that I thought looked like a gorilla.


Can you see the gorilla?

After enjoying lunch and our arrival beer, all the while serenaded by the continuous drone of the town's diesel generator, I put on my backpack, we put the dinghy in the water, and headed to the concrete wharf at one end of the harbor, near the Customs building and the fish cannery, ready to do some exploring. I climbed up onto the wharf by scrambling up a pair of old tires that were lashed together, and were hanging down, acting as fenders for some large boat that apparently tied up there occasionally. (Remember these tires, you'll hear about them again.) We tied up our dinghy and eagerly began walking through this town that we'd heard so much about.


Even the supermarkets in Fiji know that Global Warming is real.

An UNESCO World Heritage Site, Levuka, on the island of Ovalau, is the former capital of Fiji. (The current capital is Suva.) Many of the town's colonial-style buildings are still standing, which is pretty amazing when you consider all the termites that live here, and all the cyclones that have whacked Levuka over the past hundred years.





Some of them could be described as “charming,” but overall, I thought that the town seemed “tired,” as if the citizens – and even the buildings themselves – were exhausted from trying to keep up appearances for so long.

We wandered through town, and up the “199 Steps” to the top of a hill, which provided a lovely view of the harbor and the reef beyond.


A pretty view from the top of the 199 Steps, of SCOOTS in the anchorage

The day being warm and windless, we spent a while enjoying the shade of a huge mango tree at the top of the stairs, while flocks of birds sang from perches up in the canopy. One hundred ninety-nine steps later, we were back down at the main street. We wandered around through some residential areas,


Eric in the 'burbs

where we saw collared lories (smallish parrots decked out in large swathes of purple, red, and bright green),


Collared lory photo from flickr (Standardwing)

and past a school whose motto was “Lest We Forget,” which we thought was amusing. "Lest we forget what ?" we wondered.


Also note that the school logo is made up of an interesting combination of items: a big fish, a big snake, a cross, and a kava bowl (tanoa)

Later, we stopped into the town's tiny but well-stocked and interesting museum to learn more about the history and culture of Levuka in bygone days.

We thought we might have dinner out, but after peeking into the couple of restaurants that were on the main drag, we were unimpressed, so we returned to SCOOTS, where we enjoyed a sunny and quiet (except for the generator) afternoon and evening in the flat-calm anchorage. Looking over my notes, I see that Eric won all five games of Spite & Malice that day (it's a card game that we play almost daily). Since he'd won at least three out of five games, according to our quirky rules (we spend a lot of time together), I was required to call him “Captain Awesome,” something that I despise doing, which makes it all the sweeter for him. Ugh.

The next morning, we decided to go back into town to get a few essential groceries – eggs being at the top of the list – before setting sail for our next destination. I put on my backpack, we floated the dinghy, and off we went to the concrete wharf. The tide was a bit lower this morning, than it had been when we'd arrived at the wharf the previous day. A panga was tied up near the pair of tires I'd climbed out on the previous day, and four Fijian men were loading large bags of something heavy into it. Eric brought our dinghy in beside the panga, near another hanging tire, this one a single tire. One of the men, a sturdily-built man in his late twenties, came near and offered to take the dinghy painter (the rope that we use to tie it to things) and hold it while we climbed up onto the wharf, a distance of almost five feet (I'm just over five feet tall). As he stood there with the rope, I stood up on the dinghy, grasped the chain holding the tire with my left hand, and with my right hand and forearm bracing myself on the rough concrete of the wharf, swung one foot up and over to the tire, intending to climb up on it as I had the day before.

Let's stop here for a moment and consider the folly of my actions. First, I hadn't considered that one tire hanging from a chain might move more freely than two tires tied together, one on top of the other, hanging from a chain. Second, I hadn't considered the differences in height (the tires were higher today) and position (I was off to the side of the tire today, rather than facing the hole in the middle) between the tire and the dinghy today, versus the previous day. Can you see where this is going?

Okay, let's move along again. As soon as my left foot touched the tire, it swung away from me. My right foot, which was still on the dinghy, pushed it away from me (thanks to Mr. Newton's laws), so that now I was suspended over the water by my left hand (which had a death grip on the rusty chain holding the tire) and my right hand and forearm, which I had pressed down against the rough concrete top of the wharf, hoping that the friction generated as it slowly abraded my skin would keep me hanging there just long enough for Eric to get the dinghy back underneath me, as he was scrambling to do. Meanwhile, my legs were just hanging down over the water, probably thrashing about, because that seems to be what legs do in these situations. I don't know for sure; I wasn't paying attention to them.

“Why not just drop into the water and be done with it, and swim to the stairs at the head of the wharf?” you might ask. “The water was warm, and it was only a few feet below you.” These things are of course true, and I might have done that, had it not been for my backpack, which is not waterproof, and was loaded with all sorts of things that are also not waterproof and would suffer greatly if they got wet. Which they certainly would have, had I fallen into the water.

So do you remember the Fijian guy holding the dinghy painter? He was still there, and instead of just stepping back and enjoying the hilarious situation unfolding in front of him (as some people would have), he put the painter down, and stepped over to where I was dangling off the side of the wharf. Leaning over, he offered me first one hand, which I took with my left hand that had been grasping the tire chain, and then the other, which I took with my right hand, which, along with my forearm, was currently leaving a monolayer of skin cells on the concrete as I slowly slid toward the water. Then, holding both of my hands, and supporting all of my weight, he just stood up, pulling me up and over the side of the wharf, and set me down on my feet. Whoa. That's a strong dude.

(I'm sorry I don't have any photos of this. They would have been great.)

As Eric tied the dinghy to the wharf, I thanked this man profusely, both in Fijian, “Vinaka vaka levu!” and in English, “Thank you so much!” His buddies, who had watched the whole thing from the panga, were laughing uproariously – as well they should have – and we joined in. Then we said our goodbyes and the man climbed into the panga, and Eric and I walked into town to buy those eggs. And maybe also some antiseptic cream.

Vessel Name: SCOOTS
Vessel Make/Model: Able Apogee 50
Hailing Port: San Francisco, CA
Crew: Eric and Vandy Shrader
About: We've been living aboard full time since September 2014. We sailed to Mexico with the 2014 Baja Haha and had fun exploring Mexico until April 2016, when we turned SCOOTS west and headed to the South Pacific. As of late Nov. 2016, SCOOTS and her crew are exploring New Zealand.
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