Our Ever-Changing Backyard--Sailing with Scoots

21 December 2016 | Whangarei Marina, NZ
28 November 2016 | Opua, NZ
25 November 2016 | Sailing south from Tonga to NZ
25 November 2016 | Sailing south from Tonga to NZ
23 November 2016 | Sailing south from Tonga to NZ
19 November 2016 | South from Tonga
13 November 2016 | Apia, Western Samoa
23 October 2016 | Pago Pago, American Samoa
13 October 2016 | Pago Pago, American Samoa
29 September 2016 | Pago Pago, American Samoa
05 September 2016 | Suwarrow Atoll
23 August 2016 | Bora Bora to Suwarrow
17 August 2016 | Bora Bora to Suwarrow

Full Masti! Family - Part 2: Wet dinghy rides and cruise bruises, looking for Wilson, chilling at Musket Cove, Now we are Seven

22 October 2019 | Mamanuca Islands, Fiji
Vandy Shrader
We'd told Tara, Peyton, and Vanilla Chief that if you're a cruiser, it's pretty much a given that anywhere you go in your dinghy, you'll arrive with a wet butt. The next day, when we took the dinghy around the corner to the beach at Castaway Resort, looking forward to a hike up the hill and lunch at the resort restaurant, wet butts would have been preferable to the complete soaking we received from slogging through the choppy waves. (Our dinghy doesn't plane with five people on board.)

“We would've been drier if we'd swum here!” Eric announced, as he guided our dinghy through the shallows toward the beach. Dripping from head to toe, as we all were, Tara, Peyton, and Vanilla Chief were good sports, taking their dousing in stride, with good humor. And why not? The weather was warm and sunny, the company friendly, the scenery spectacular. We were together in Fiji!

The Flying Piantanida Sisters in Fiji

Walking the meandering paths through the resort's grounds and the bush walk up the hill behind the resort, was a scenic way to stretch our legs. The trail included not just one but two vista points, each offering spectacular views from a different side of the island.

By the time we'd hiked up to the top of the hill and back down, our clothes were dry, and we were ready to enjoy lunch on the deck of the resort's beachside restaurant.

Our friends, Chuck and Lauri, anchored their boat, Free Spirit, near SCOOTS, and invited all of us over for drinks and snacks (“ginner”), giving Tara, Peyton, and Vanilla Chief their first opportunity to experience the fun and warmth of the cruising community.

Anchored off Castaway Island, Eric and I were happy to see Tara, Peyton, and Vanilla Chief slipping the yoke of their fast-paced life back home and relaxing into the slow tempo of cruising life and Fiji time: enjoying a slow pace, an unscheduled existence, and freedom from such nuisances as wearing shoes or makeup, shaving, and wearing a different outfit every day.

When we were ready for a change of scenery, we moved to the lagoon at Mana Island, about four miles away, where we received several more soakings in the dinghy on our way to and from shore. The next day, having learned that the extensive coral near shore made getting our dinghy to the beach at any time other than high tide nearly impossible, Eric dropped the rest of us off at the floating dock at the pier. Tara, Peyton, Vanilla Chief, and I enjoyed a day at the resort, lounging by the pool, visiting the turtle sanctuary, exploring the tide pools at low tide, and being charmed by the fruit bats who swooped in, late in the afternoon.

Lounging at Mana Island Resort

The next day, we motorsailed eight miles to Monuriki (AKA Tom Hanks Island), crossing, in the process, a stretch of water that wasn't protected by a barrier reef. Here, the ocean waves rolled through unobstructed. About a meter high on this day, they caught SCOOTS on her stern quarter, rolling her first one way, and then the other, in a corkscrew motion. Though we hadn't known beforehand whether Tara, Peyton, or Vanilla Chief were prone to seasickness, I'm happy to report that apparently they're not.

A visit to Monuriki is a must for anyone in the Mamanucas. This is the island where the movie Castaway was filmed. It's a stunningly beautiful place, with white sand, green palms, and water in every imaginable shade of blue. Though uninhabited, it's inundated with several boatloads of tourists for a few hours each day beginning at about 11:30 am. We arrived from Mana Island just as the Jolly Bula sailboat disgorged a couple dozen of them. As we pulled our dinghy up the beach, a Fijian man came by and told us that his village – “Over there, at Yanuya Island”– now requires a $10FJ per person “landing fee.” This was a new development since our visit two years ago. We wondered if it was actually the tour vendors who were extracting the fee, rather than the villagers. Tara graciously paid for all of us, since Eric and I hadn't brought any money to shore.

We explored the island's beaches and took a short walk through the jungle, looking for places that we'd seen in the movie.

Peyton shouted,“Wilson!” On a sandy hillside, the words “Help Me” were spelled out in coconuts. We laughed at how, had Tom Hanks looked out from the island in any other direction than the one he always did in the movie, he would've seen lots of other islands, many of them inhabited. After an hour or so, we returned to our dinghy, and, with careful timing and speedy execution by all, successfully boarded the dinghy and got out past the breakers. Successfully, but not without incident: Tara picked up a trio of “cruise bruises” in the process. Ouch. The marks of a true cruiser!

We sailed SCOOTS to the other side of Mana Island this time, dropping her anchor a few hundred yards off the long white sand beach, and enjoyed a couple days of snorkeling, swimming, and relaxing at this beautiful island paradise.

Musket Cove, on Malolo Lailai Island, was our next stop. With its large resort and cruiser-friendly atmosphere, as well as being a gorgeous spot, Musket Cove was another place we wanted to share with our family. Tara, Peyton, and Vanilla Chief loved relaxing by the resort pool,

Chillin' by the pool at Musket Cove

and hanging out with some of our cruiser friends at the nightly cruisers' potluck at the Island Bar. While at Musket Cove, we attended a kava ceremony put on by the resort. It was really well done! The man who acted as MC had a good sense of humor and also shared a lot of Fijian culture and history with us. As well as plenty of yaqona (the Fijian word for kava). As the eldest man present (by virtue of being one month older than Eric) Vanilla Chief was chosen to preside over the ceremony.

Vanilla Chief drinking kava

Mrs. Vanilla Chief enjoying kava

Peyton trying kava

Afterwards, we enjoyed a Fijian feast (complete with spit-roasted pig) and a meke (Fijian singing and dance). A full masti Fiji experience!

Now we are Seven

A couple of days later, we said goodbye to Musket Cove and motorsailed across to the “mainland” (the big island of Viti Levu), anchoring at Saweni Bay, just south of Lautoka, to await Kelly and Daniel's arrival the next morning.

Our taxi driver friend Raj picked Kelly and Daniel up at the airport and brought them to the beach at Saweni Bay, where Eric and I were waiting. After hugging Kelly and Daniel, we arranged for Raj and a friend to come back with two cars later in the day to transport all of us to Lautoka. We loaded Kelly and Daniel's bags into our dinghy, got in, and zipped back to SCOOTS, where Tara, Bob, and Peyton were waiting with more greetings and hugs.

In the afternoon, we all dinghied to shore, glad for the flat-calm water, as this was the first time our dinghy had transported seven people; had there been any texture to the water at all, it would have been a very, very wet ride. Raj and his cousin were waiting for us in matching Priuses, and after we split up into the two cars, they whisked us off to Lautoka.

We had two reasons for visiting Lautoka: first, we needed to do some more provisioning. Second, we wanted to show Kelly and Daniel a Fijian town. We accomplished both, and more, as Raj and his cousin acted as tour guides during our ride into town, pointing out such attractions as the tracks for the narrow-gauge sugar cane train; the rum distillery, its parking lot jammed with dozens of flatbed trucks piled high with bundles of sugar cane; the sugar mill; and the huge pile of pine chips that gets sent to China on ships and sold back to Fiji as particle board.

Our first stop was the public market. Walking along the aisles, between tables piled high with different local fruits, vegetables, or kava, Kelly and Daniel got to see how we typically shop for our produce. After the public market, we walked down the crowded sidewalk, stopping into Naginda's to check out their selection of Bula shirts, eventually ending up at the shiny Tappoo City mall, where we had lunch at the food court and shopped for groceries at Extra, the clean, modern supermarket. Waiting outside with our full shopping cart, we called Raj who, along with his cousin, turned up five minutes later, to take us back to Saweni Beach.

Enjoying a swim in Saweni Bay

The next morning, Kelly, who gets plenty of experience with mud and anchors for her job at the USGS, helped me pull up SCOOTS' anchor. She sprayed the cylinder of thick, gooey mud off the anchor chain, while I ran the windlass. Anchor up, we were off to our next destination: Cloud Nine.

P.S. If you're wondering about the term Full Masti!, I explain it in Part 1

Pumice Among Us

14 October 2019 | Savusavu, Fiji
Vandy Shrader
Every once in awhile, we get a clear reminder of the volcanic origin of the islands in this part of the world. A bay will be shaped suspiciously like a flooded caldera...or a mountain will look remarkably like a cinder cone...or a beach will be composed of jumbled lava rocks...or steaming hot springs will bubble up out of the ground.

Sometimes, it's more than just a reminder; it's in-your-face, such as when, in 2015 the island of Hunga Tonga – Hunga Ha'apai rose from the ocean, formed from a previously submerged volcano.Hunga Tonga

Or, as happened a couple months ago, some yachties sailing in northern Tonga found themselves surrounded by a massive pumice raft, about the size of Manhattan Island. Yachties encounter huge pumice raft at sea.

Accompanied by steam plumes and a sulfury smell, this pumice was the result of the eruption of a nearby underwater volcano.

Since then, the pumice raft has drifted west and broken up into smaller chunks, appearing first in the Lau Group of islands in far eastern Fiji. Later, following the path of Captain Bligh, pumice continued drifting west through the channel (aptly named Bligh Water) between Fiji's two largest islands – Viti Levu to the south and Vanua Levu to the north – and on to the Yasawa Islands of the western region.

This past week, as we traveled east along the northern coast of Viti Levu, we heard reports of pumice from other yachties in the area, but we didn't see any ourselves. Until we sailed across Bligh Water from northern Viti Levu to the southern Vanua Levu a couple days ago.

SCOOTS' track from Volivoli to Savusavu

As we entered the barrier reef around Vanua Levu, we began to see streamers and small rafts of pumice floating in the water.

Floating rocks...how cool is that?! That's not something you see every day.

Though mostly comprising rice-sized bits, there were also chunks about the size of marbles, golf balls, croquet balls, and bowling balls. Choose whatever sport you want; balls of that size were probably represented in the pumice rafts.

If a pumice raft is deep enough, it could cause problems for a boat, such as clogging the water intake of the engine (now you can't use your motor); fouling the rudder (now you can't steer); or abrading the hull (now you need a new paint job). The rafts we saw were less than an inch thick; SCOOTS' engine intake is two feet underwater, and covered with a grate to keep out all but the smallest bits, so we weren't especially worried. Though we did steer around the larger rafts when we could. Why ask for trouble?

A boat coming the other way called us on the VHF to tell us that he'd just come through Nasonisoni Pass, which was “full of pumice.” He'd transited the pass under sail, downwind, with his engine off, to minimize the possibility of those problems I mentioned. Yikes, we thought. “Full of pumice.” That sounded intimidating.

We were scheduled to transit Nasonisoni Pass the next morning, going the opposite direction, straight upwind. Tacking up narrow Nasonisoni Pass into 10-15 knots of wind wasn't a particularly delightful proposition. Was there really that much pumice? we wondered.

Soon after our radio conversation, we dropped anchor in Nadi Bay, a lovely spot with beautiful green, jungle-draped hills that sweep right down to vibrant, mangrove-lined shores.

Mangroves with pumice rafts

It also had pumice. Lots of it.

We wondered if this was a preface of what was to come, as we continued farther east.

Just to be safe, we consulted with our old buddy, the Prudent Mariner, to get his take on the situation, and came up with some contingency plans....

IF, on reaching Nasonisoni Pass, we discovered it to be chocka (that's Kiwi for “really full”) with pumice, we'd wait awhile, to see if the tidal action cleared it out. If it didn't, we'd take a longer way around. Alternative routes added 10 miles and 17 miles to our 35-mile trip, so we weren't keen to do that unless we really had to.

IF, on reaching Nasonisoni Pass, we found a “reasonable” or “negligible” amount of pumice, we'd transit the pass under motor, as we normally would, avoiding as much of the pumice as we could.

IF, during our transit of Nasonisoni Pass, Yanmar the Magnificent stopped running, we'd do a quick U-turn, pull the staysail out (it's the easiest one to handle quickly), and sail back out the pass downwind.

So, with our backup plans in order, we pulled up SCOOTS' anchor at 7 am the next morning, and headed toward the pass. We'd scheduled our transit to be close to low tide, hoping that if there was a lot of pumice, it might be stranded on the exposed reefs that lined the pass, rather than floating in the pass itself.

Maybe we were right, or maybe there just wasn't that much pumice around. As we motored along toward the pass, we saw some thin pumice rafts, but nowhere near as much as we'd seen in Nadi Bay. Nearing the entrance to the pass, we peered ahead, and scanned with our binoculars...almost no pumice at all. The ebb current caught SCOOTS and began to sweep her through the pass, adding a knot or more to the speed provided by Y the M. In fifteen minutes, we were through the pass without incident. We're not sure why our yachting friend had found the pass full of pumice, but I'm happy to say that we didn't.

So, for us, the pumice among us was just a really interesting side note to our travels in the South Pacific.

Full Masti! Family - Part 1: Get Ready, Get Set, GO!, Now we are Five

02 October 2019 | Mamanuca Islands, Fiji
Vandy Shrader
First, a very brief Hindi lesson: the phrase "Full Masti" means "Full Fun" (masti being the Hindi word for "fun"), which the visit with our family in Fiji certainly was! Full Masti! appears on packages of Nam Keen, our favorite Fijian crackers. The full slogan is: "Thoda salty, thoda spicy, Full Masti!" Thoda means "a little," And so: "A little salty, a little spicy, Full Fun!" Now you know.

Get Ready...

We'd been excited for months, that some members of our family - my sister, Tara; brother-in-law, Bob; 17-year-old nephew, Peyton; daughter, Kelly; and her boyfriend, Daniel (whom I'll collectively call "The Fam") - would be coming to visit us on SCOOTS in August.

Except for Kelly, The Fam hadn't spent much time on a sailboat. Eric and I wanted to make sure their time with us was comfortable and memorable. We were looking forward to sharing the beautiful islands of Fiji with them; but more than that, we were excited to share our floating home with them, to show them how we live, and to introduce them to some of our cruising friends who are part of the worldwide floating community to which we belong.

Before The Fam came, we asked some of our friends who'd hosted liveaboard guests on their boats, what sorts of things they'd told - or wished they'd told - their guests in advance. We distilled these conversations into a "cheat sheet" about living on SCOOTS, and sent it to The Fam, to give them an idea what it would be like to live with us. This cheat sheet included such information as how SCOOTS makes her water and electricity (and a request to use them wisely), nautical names for parts of the boat, life on board, medical and safety info, a reminder to always have "one hand for the boat," and a suggested list of things to bring - and not bring - with them.

We asked The Fam about their food preferences: were there things they particularly liked or disliked? What would they like to drink during the day? From their responses, we put together a menu, and sent it to everyone for comments, before making our made provisioning runs.

To make everyone's life easier, and to help preserve the cold of our galley fridge, we purchased a 12v fridge/freezer, set it up in the cabin, and stocked it with drinks. This worked out great! No need for The Fam to dive into the depths of the galley fridge to get a soda, beer, or juice. With Peyton's teenage appetite in mind, we made up a big box of assorted snacks and left it within easy reach in the cabin.

Eric and I had spent some time thinking of the best places to take The Fam, based on the weather during their visit (sunny, but windy), and what they wanted to see and do. We'd decided to keep SCOOTS within the wind shadow on the west side of the large island of Viti Levu, and to anchor in places that had reefs around them, which would knock down any roll-inducing swell. The southern Mamanuca Islands, with their white sandy beaches, mix of resorts and uninhabited islands, and great snorkeling reefs, provided the perfect cruising ground. Also, since we'd spent an entire season exploring this part of Fiji two years ago, we knew our way around.

Get Set...

Two weeks before the first of The Fam were due to arrive, we sailed SCOOTS from the northeastern part of Fiji, where we'd been for the previous month, to the western part, where we'd meet up with The Fam. This trip of a couple hundred miles took about a week. Our first stop on the west side was Saweni Bay, just south of Lautoka, where our taxi driver friend, Raj, picked us up on the beach and drove us into Lautoka to do some provisioning.

Our next stop, a few days later, was Denarau Marina, where we'd reserved a slip for a few days prior to The Fam's arrival. These were the wettest, sloppiest, choppiest ten miles we'd experienced in quite awhile: the rain poured and the wind blew 25 knots right on SCOOTS' nose, whipping the water into pointy, frothy chop that she pounded into. We got soaked, getting our dock lines and fenders ready. Ugh. As we neared Denarau Marina, the rain let up and the wind mellowed. The chop laid down, the clouds parted, and sunlight shone through. I was expecting angels to sing. Apparently, it hadn't rained in Denarau at all! Nor would it rain in this part of Fiji for the next month. Timing.

Once we arrived at Denarau, the full-on preparations began.

We arranged to have our friend, Moses, wash and wax SCOOTS, to get her deck and hull all shiny and spiffy. While Moses worked on the outside, we worked on the inside. We cleaned SCOOTS from top to bottom. We found temporary homes (in the foc'sle, under the floorboards, in the engine room, in our cabin...) for all the items that we usually store in the aft cabin, and then we set up the newly-emptied aft cabin as a sleeping cabin. I polished the stainless fittings on deck. Eric polished our silverware. We changed the oil in the generator and Yanmar the Magnificent, emptied and cleaned the bilges and shower sump. We filled SCOOTS' water tanks and sent her empty propane tank to be filled.

We decided to do some proactive maintenance on our toilet, in the hope that this would fend off any malfunctions during The Fam's visit. Because SCOOTS has only one head (bathroom) and toilet (also called a head, just to be confusing), when the toilet breaks or clogs, we have to fix it right away, something we really don't like to do, especially with guests present. So, we took the toilet off, turned it upside down in the cockpit, lubed and checked the action of the mechanical parts; removed, cleaned, and reattached the outlet hose; and put it all back. Good to go.

To dispel the mystery surrounding the procedure for flushing our marine toilet (no, it's not just like a land toilet, and it's more finicky) Eric printed out instructions - complete with a picture of the toilet with the important parts labeled - and taped it to the wall in the head.

The next day, we walked to the Fresh Choice store in Denarau, where we bought another shopping cart's worth of groceries, and caught a taxi back to the marina. Our taxi driver, Joe, gave us his card and told us that we could call him if we had people who needed a ride from the airport. That was handy. We told him we would.

The day after that, we caught the Dollar Bus into Nadi to do the last bit of provisioning, including a trip to the public market to buy some fresh produce. Eric got a haircut from Kam, his favorite barber in Fiji. We caught a taxi outside the grocery store, and made two more stops at South Pacific Butcher for meat, and Flavio's Italian Deli (yes, there's a real Italian deli in Fiji!) to pick up some ricotta and parmesan for the lasagna I was planning to make; we also left with a bottle of limoncello and a nice hunk of Fontina that we couldn't say no to. Back on SCOOTS, we somehow managed to find places to put this new infusion of food we'd bought, the last of the provisions.

Though we worked hard while we were in Denarau - it was happy work, preparing for our loved ones' arrival - we also enjoyed some leisure time. Some mornings, before we dove into our tasks for the day, we took a walk around the development. We talked; I looked for birds. At the end of each day, we took showers, then walked into Denarau to choose a restaurant for dinner. All the restaurants are good, so it's just a matter of what kind of food you want to eat. It was nice to be back in Denarau again; it had a comfy familiarity for us, after spending a month there last year, waiting for a weather window to sail to New Zealand.


Now we are Five

Joe picked up Tara, Bob, and Peyton at the Nadi Airport and brought them to the marina. After we'd shared hugs all around, they stowed their luggage on SCOOTS, and we showed them around Denarau - including buying coconut rolls and other yummy baked goods for breakfast at the Hot Bread Kitchen. Bob and Peyton mentioned that they wanted haircuts. "No problem!" Eric said. "My favorite barber is in Nadi!"

So we all piled onto the Dollar Bus and rode to Nadi, glad for the opportunity to show Tara, Bob, and Peyton around a real Fijian town, since Denarau, the tourist hub of the west side of Fiji, is anything but. We walked through the public market, along some of the busy streets, and allowed ourselves to be coaxed into a couple of handicraft shops. In one of these shops, we participated in a short kava ceremony, in which Bob was given the title by which he was known for the rest of his time in Fiji (and maybe even beyond): Vanilla Chief. Boy, did we have fun with that!

As soon as we got back from Nadi, we untied SCOOTS' docklines and after a quick stop at the fuel barge to fill our diesel tanks, motorsailed from the big island of Viti Levu (the "mainland") to the north side of Castaway Island. Only eighteen miles from Denarau, it seemed a world apart. Tara and Peyton immediately jumped in for a swim, enjoying their first of many dips in Fiji's warm, turquoise water.

Waterfalls with friends

27 July 2019 | Tavoro Waterfalls, Taveuni Island, Fiji
Vandy Shrader
The other morning at 7am, Apex, one of the employees of Dive Academy Fiji, swung by in his longboat to pick us up.

Apex and Eric

After visiting SCOOTS, he swung by Rewa, Waianiwa, and Peregrine, picking up more passengers. Altogether, there were nine of us: Eric and I from SCOOTS; Dave, Tessa, Nick, and Heike from Rewa; Joe and Michelle from Peregrine, and 9-year-old Wilson from Waianiwa. Wilson had been a recent addition to our group, having been invited by Tessa after meeting him and his family at a beach function the previous evening. Wilson was a great addition to our group - smart, funny, comfortable around adults. He and Tessa chatted nonstop with each other for the entire day, while the rest of us took silent bets on who would wear out first. In the end, neither did.

The occasion? Our friend, Dave, perpetually optimistic and always looking for an adventure (you may remember him from our "Daventure" to and from Labasa a few weeks back) had arranged a trip for all of us across the Somosomo Strait to the nearby island of Taveuni, where we would combine a necessary trip to town to fill up our dinghy gas cans and buy some groceries, with a visit to a national park where we would hike to three waterfalls.

Though I fully expected a wet ride across the Strait, it was completely splash-free and beautiful: the water in the Strait was calm, dolphins surfaced lazily nearby, and a rainbow arced across to Taveuni.

It was a good start to what would be a great day.

Heike, Nick and Tessa

Nearing shore twenty minutes later, Apex navigated deftly between submerged coral bommies, tipped up the outboard, got out, pulled the boat across the ankle-deep water and threw an anchor out onto the wet sand.


The rest of us hopped out and sloshed across the shallows (cruisers never arrive anywhere completely dry) to the beach. Except for Wilson, who was wearing socks and sneakers: without a word, Apex hoisted Wilson onto his shoulder and carried him to the beach, where he deposited him on the dry sand.

The beach

Once on shore, we waited a few minutes for the van that had been hired to carry us to all our destinations on Taveuni, to arrive.

When it did, our driver, Samuel, greeted us and off we went, in air-conditioned comfort. Our first stop was the Total gas station, where Eric and Dave left their gas jugs, to be filled later on our return.

Dave and his gas can

Our next stop was half an hour later, at the Matei Airport, the only airport on Taveuni, where we stretched our legs and had a bathroom break. A bit farther along, we stopped at a surprisingly-well-stocked store that had things like Peter Pan peanut butter, those cumin/coriander wraps we like, and other kavalangi delights. They also had warm roti, stuffed with curried veggies, that many of us bought for breakfast. Knowing that we were going grocery shopping later on, I only bought a couple packages of the wraps. I should have bought more: this store was much better supplied than the supermarket we visited later.

Another thirty minutes down the road - the pavement having ended, it was now composed of rutted dirt and rocks- we entered the Bouma Heritage Park, a big tract of land (you fans of "Monty Python's Holy Grail" can do the corresponding hand motions if you'd like) that has been set aside as a nature reserve. Within the park were the Tavoro Waterfalls, a series of three scenic cascades, that we'd come to see.

We each paid our $36FJ entrance fee to the ranger, and after studying the colorful drawing depicting the trail and the waterfalls, we were on our way.

The trail map

Ten minutes down a well-manicured trail with pretty plantings alongside, we reached the first waterfall.

The first part of the trail

The waterfall was pretty,

but the water in the pool at the bottom was cold, definitely too cold for me to swim, and in fact none of us did, since we hadn't even broken a sweat yet. Though this was about to change.

The second waterfall, according to the drawing, could be reached after another 40-minute hike. This portion of the trail also began with a manicured pathway that stretched along a ridge, but soon added switchbacks and stairs as it began to climb up the side of the mountain. I stopped a few times to catch my breath and look around for birds.

Everyone stopped for a few minutes at a strategically-placed gazebo that was situated about a third of the way along the trail, in a beautiful spot, overlooking a green valley filled with jungle and fields, and the ocean beyond.

The view from the gazebo

Beyond the gazebo, the track quickly degraded into mud, roots, and rocks, with some dirt-filled stairs thrown in at the steepest parts.

I'm happy to report that here in Fiji, they space the steps at a more comfortable height and distance for someone with short legs, such as myself, than they do in New Zealand, where the average person must have longer legs. Still, I let everyone go on ahead, while I walked slowly, watching and listening for birds in the thick jungle.

I kept hearing a bird calling. It had a loud, clear whistle, with one tone, like the first note of a "wolf whistle." I couldn't see the bird, but its call was easy to mimic, so I did, whistling in the same tone and rhythm as it did, as I walked along the muddy trail.

Jungle trail

Soon a bird fluttered quickly across the trail behind me, and disappeared into a thick tangle of leaves and vines. It called; I called back. After a few more calls, it flashed back across the path in the other direction. This time, I caught a glimpse of a bird about the size of a mockingbird, with rusty-red plumage, as it streaked by into the foliage. We played the call-and-repeat game for a few more minutes before it stopped calling. I never got a good look at it, but from comparing pictures of the possible species, and listening to their calls on the internet, I was able to determine that it was a female black-faced shrikebill.

A female black-faced shrikebill (from eBird)

A little while later, sweaty, muddy, and tired, I arrived at the second waterfall. Everyone else was already there, having arrived quite a bit earlier.

Adventurers Heike and Nick had opted to take an alternate path that required two river crossings, and were in the process of sharing the tale of their harrowing experience. (They didn't take that path on the way back down the mountain.)

Eric said that he'd seen a really cool crab on the trail, and he'd called and whistled for me, hoping I was close enough to come see it. Apparently, I was too far away, and too engrossed in my conversation with the shrikebill, so it was gone by the time I got there.

Jungle trail

When I arrived at the second waterfall, everyone else was ready to move to the third, so after a quick glance at the waterfall,

I headed back onto the muddy trail and continued on. Once again, I let everyone go on ahead of me, so I could meander along more slowly, watching and listening. I don't know whether I'd become accustomed to the exercise or to the slippery unpredictability of the trail, or if it wasn't quite as steep, or if I was just buoyed from my interaction with the shrikebill, but this portion of the trail felt the most enjoyable to me. Even though it was every bit as muddy and slippery as the other part of the trail, just as strewn with gnarled and twisted tree roots and sharp, fist-sized rocks, and the humidity and heat just as sweat-inducing.

Jungle trail

A flash of dark blue and white caught my eye, as a pair of small birds flew across the path right in front of me. One landed in a fairly open area of vines, so I could get a really good look at it. They were silktails! Really pretty, strikingly-colored birds. I never expected to see a silktail, as they only inhabit the jungles of Taveuni and portions of Vanua Levu. But there they were!

A photo (not mine) of a silktail

Now I was feeling really stoked - but also really sweaty - so when I finally reached the third waterfall a few minutes later, I set down my backpack and walked into the water, without even slowing down. It wasn't warm. I didn't care. It felt great. Everyone else was also in the water, enjoying the cool respite after the hike. I sat in the waterfall pool, splashing cool water onto my face and hair, washing away the sweat.

But not the mud. This stuck tenaciously to my toes and ankles and calves, and no amount of rubbing with my wet fingers would remove it. It was no big deal, though...I'd probably collect some more on my hike back down the mountain.

Van and Eric at the third waterfall

After an hour or so enjoying the waterfall and its pool, we shouldered our packs again and began the trek down the mountain.

The purple crab that Eric had seen earlier made another appearance, standing his ground in the middle of the trail, turning to face each one of us who tiptoed carefully around him, white-tipped claws raised and ready to defend his patch of ground. I had to admire his courage and tenacity. Eric joked that it looked like the crab wanted to extract a toll from us.

Back at the visitor center, we took shelter from a sudden rainstorm and chattered about what a great time we'd had on the hike. Samuel and the van were waiting for us, so we piled in and began bumping along the dirt road, back to town. Most of an hour later, at about 3:00, we arrived in Somosomo, hungry for lunch. Our lunch options were limited to two small curry shops. We chose the one upstairs over the supermarket, and descended on the lunch counter ladies, who up until then were probably thinking that they could go home soon. They were out of almost everything, but they agreed to make a new batch of chicken curry if enough of us wanted some. Most of us did.

After lunch, we trooped downstairs to the supermarket, hoping to restock our boat larders. But...many of the shelves were empty. We learned, then, that the ferry that normally supplies Taveuni hadn't been running for several days, and so many items were in short or no supply. There was no flour, for instance, and so no bread in the bakeries. Fortunately, the store still had some of our favorite crackers - NamKeen cumin crackers - "Thoda salty, thoda spicy. Full Masti!" We bought several packs of these, along with some cans of tuna, and rolls of toilet paper and paper towels, and then headed down the street to find some fresh fruits and vegetables.

Rather than occupying a building, the produce market in Somosomo extends along the main street, comprising maybe a dozen plywood stalls, each piled high with papayas, citrus, cabbages, bananas, cassava roots, tomatoes, and those tiny little red and green nuclear chili peppers. We bought some papayas, tomatoes, Fijian limes (which are green on the outside but orange on the inside), and a cabbage, and then headed back to the van.

Samuel drove us back to the Total gas station, where Eric and Dave picked up their full gas cans, and then to the beach, where Apex's boat was again floating in ankle-deep water, the tide having come in and gone back out while we were away. We divvied up the cost of our van trip nine ways, paid Samuel, and then carried our groceries, gas cans, and backpacks across the shallows, and loaded them and ourselves into Apex's boat.

We enjoyed another smooth ride across the Somosomo Strait, arriving back in Viani Bay just after sunset. Apex stopped first at Waianiwa to reunite Wilson with his family, who were probably relieved to have him back, as we'd returned a few hours later than we'd predicted. Then he visited each boat in turn, dropping the rest of us off, tired, satisfied, and smeared with mud after another great Daventure.

Stars and stripes and planets

15 July 2019 | Viani Bay
Vandy Shrader
SCOOTS is anchored in lovely Viani Bay, on the eastern edge of the island of Vanua Levu.

About 50 miles from Savusavu, as the frigatebird flies,Viani Bay is the closest anchorage to the world-class diving sites Rainbow Reef, the White Wall, and others, which draw diving tourists from all over the world.

Many of whom book dives with Jone (“Johnny”) and Marina of Dive Academy Fiji, a resort and dive facility which is located on a beautiful beach here.

Some views from the resort

We arrived on July 2, and almost before our anchors had set, we received a call on the VHF radio from one of the dozen other boats in the bay, telling us about the Fourth of July festivities a couple of days later. There would be yoga on the beach in the morning, followed by a hike, followed by games on the beach, followed by a cookout (bring your own meat and drinks), followed by pyrotechnics. Whew, that was quite a busy schedule! The only thing missing was a greased pig race, but I imagine that we could have made that work, if we'd discussed it with the villagers who owned the pigs in the pen next to the resort.

But first, we had other plans.

Eric had a hankering to go stargazing: The moon was new, the bay very dark, and the sky had been cloud-free and painted with millions of dazzling stars the previous two nights. This seemed like a good time for Eric to bring out his telescope. IF we could find a suitable place to set it up.

In the five years that we've been living on SCOOTS, this would be only the second time that Eric used his telescope; the first one being at a friend's cabin in the hills in New Zealand, when SCOOTS was at the dock. The problem is that because we can't use the telescope on the boat (it moves way too much), we have to bring the telescope to land, which usually means a beach landing, and always means transporting it in a dinghy in the dark. All kind of nerve-wracking propositions when you're dealing with a one-of-a-kind, not-particularly-robust, definitely-not-waterproof telescope.

To this end, Eric, I, and Dave from the boat Rewa, dinghied around the bay, looking for a suitable beach for stargazing. After the first few beaches were unsuitable – they were too far away from SCOOTS, or they were too close to homes with lights, or they would submerge at high tide, Dave said he knew of a place that just might work for us. We beached the dinghy near the resort and Dave led us on a hike along the shore and through the woods until we came to a long, wide, white sand beach behind which was a large, modern home with a soft, grassy lawn pockmarked with land-crab holes. Hmm. This definitely had potential.

Dave asked around and discovered that the house was owned by a foreigner, but the caretakers – a local Fijian couple and their kids – lived in a small house near the back of the property. He and Eric approached them and got their permission for us to bring Eric's telescope ashore to do some stargazing. A bundle of kava sweetened the deal.

We moved SCOOTS and Rewa the following morning, anchoring off the beach by the house.

Telescope beach and bay

SCOOTS' anchor position...lots of coral around

Late in the afternoon, Eric and I loaded our dinghy with his telescope (wrapped in a big garbage bag), the eyepiece box, several stargazing guidebooks, red flashlights, drinks, snacks, folding chairs, and a small folding table, and headed for the beach. The landing was easy, and we soon had all the gear up on the lawn, where Eric was happy to find a path made of large round cement pavers, the perfect size to support his telescope.

Eric and his telescope

As dusk fell, the crew of Rewa dinghied to shore with dinner for all of us, and the Fijian caretakers came by to see the crazy kavalangis and their telescope. Jupiter was up early, and was easy to spot. It looked great through the telescope, with its multi-colored bands and even some moons making an appearance. It was especially fun because one of the moons disappeared behind Jupiter during the course of the evening. Everyone who saw it was suitably impressed.

For several hours, Eric had fun finding objects in the Southern sky, and showing them to us. We saw Omega Centauri, the largest globular cluster in the sky, the spectacular Eta Carina nebula, and other more obscure NGC objects near the Southern Cross. I enjoyed seeing my passage buddy, the constellation Scorpius, with its spiky stinger and red heart. Later we moved into more familiar territory and looked at some objects in Sagittarius.

The next day was July 4th, with its full schedule of events.

Eric and I opted not to attend the yoga session, but we wanted to do the hike. You may (or may not) recall my unrequited quest for the fabled and elusive orange dove last year. The forest surrounding Viani Bay is one of the places where this bird has been reliable spotted – by everyone, it seems, but me. There is even a particular tree, near a particular house in the woods, where it reliably roosts. I spent hours last year in these woods, scanning the canopies of all the trees by this house, with no orange dove to show for it. I was hoping for better luck this time around.

After the yoga participants finished their exertions, a whole troop of us set out on the hike. I won't string you along: I didn't see the dove on the hike. I did see a few other, non-orange-dove birds, and it was a fun time. The dozen or so of us tramped noisily for a couple of hours, found and picked some little hot peppers and ripe mandarins, got a little bit lost, found our way back to the trail, and enjoyed the view from the top of the hill.

The view from the top

The evening was a festive occasion of conversation, drinks, grilled sausages and fireworks. Well, the yachties' version of fireworks, anyway: a bunch of us had brought some of our expired signal flares to shore, and had a good time lighting them on the beach, and shooting them out over the bay. The exercise was informative, as well as impressive: we now know that flares that are almost a decade out of date will probably still work, AND we all decided that the parachute-type of flares is much better than the hand-held ones...the thought of having a hot flame near a rubber liferaft seems like a bad idea.

Tessa with a flare, Statue of Liberty style

Settling into Savusavu, a trip to Labasa, and a "minor road" adventure

03 July 2019 | Savusavu, Fiji
Vandy Shrader
We arrived in Savusavu, Fiji - which is a different place than Suva - last Monday. Savusavu is a small town on the southern coast of Vanua Levu, Fiji's second-largest island (Suva being a big city on the southern coast of Viti Levu, Fiji's largest island). Here's a map to help you out:

Map of Fiji

Since arriving in Savusavu, we've been readjusting to life in the tropics. From the moment we tied up to the mooring, it seems that we've been on the go. When you're a yachtie, there's always something to do...

There are ATMs to be visited, to get some of the local currency, Vodafone data and voice to be topped up, paperwork to be filled out at the marina, a cruising permit to apply for.

Lots of boats in the Savusavu mooring field

There are fresh, fragrant papayas and other produce to buy at the local market, and groceries to stock up on, in the grocery store.

The back side of the public market, from the vantage point of our mooring

There are boat jobs to do: cleaning up after the passage, an unexpected alternator-ectomy and surgery to repair a snapped wire connector, washing the salt and bird poop off the deck, reclaiming the forward cabin as our sleeping quarters and re-Tetrising all our storage items in the aft cabin (where we sleep on passage), arranging to have two weeks' worth of laundry - including all those heavy winter items that were necessary when we left New Zealand but which would now reduce us to puddles of perspiration - washed by the local lady at the marina, re-routing the hose that carries the raw (cooling) water to Yanmar the Magnificent to make it less prone to draining out through the seacock when we're underway sailing.

There are jerry cans to fill with diesel at the gas station in town, and shuttle back to SCOOTS several times, to fill her tanks.

There are music sessions to attend,

drinks and snacks and dinners to be shared with friends,

trips across the island to explore the big town of Labasa. Let me tell you about our trip to Labasa.

Dave, our friend and the captain of the boat Rewa, needed to drive to Labasa to replace one of Rewa's batteries. So, being the kind of guy he is, he asked us along to make into a fun day of exploring. Because there were six of us, and all the rental cars only held five people, Dave rented a four-door pickup truck, after being assured by the rental guy that it's legal to carry people in the back of the truck in Fiji. (Spoiler: it's not.)

On the morning of our trip, Dave brought the truck around; Dave's daughter Tessa, her friend Heike, Dave (who drove), and I climbed into the cab; Eric, and Tessa's husband Nick, set themselves up very comfortably on lawn chairs in the back. Off we went...down the street about a half a block to the Hot Bread Kitchen, where we picked up some warm coconut rolls...and then off we went again, this time setting out across the island toward Labasa.

The road initially wound through the vibrant jungly terrain of the windward side of the island; like a green shag carpet it draped the mountains and piled up in the valleys. As we approached the leeward side of the island, the terrain changed dramatically, the jungle being replaced with spindly pine trees, scrubby deciduous trees, and yellow grasslands. All along the way, friendly Fijians smiled and waved, and shouted, "Bula!" to us

Suddenly there was a police officer, standing by his car on the side of the road, who did not smile, did not shout "Bula!" at us, and when he waved, waved Dave to the shoulder. Uh oh. After a brief discussion about how it is NOT legal for people to ride in the back of trucks in Fiji - despite what the rental guy had told Dave - Dave was handed a $50FJ ticket and Eric and Nick had to squeeze into the cab with the rest of us. Off we went to Labasa, with Eric in the passenger seat, Dave driving, and the rest of us squished, hip to hip to hip to hip, in the back seat. I became quite familiar with the left-hand door during the duration of our drive.

In Labasa, Dave found a parking spot near the public market, and we set out for the LTA (Land Transit Authority) office, where he was to pay his ticket.

Eric ready for Labasa

After paying his ticket, we wandered through town, looking for lunch. Labasa is pretty much like most second- or third-world big towns: lots of small shops crammed together, pigeons flapping everywhere, people walking everywhere, cars moving along the street dodging jaywalkers. Change the language on the signs and in the conversations, and it could be a town in Latin America. Add motorbikes and it could be a town in Asia. I don't mean this as a slight; in fact quite the opposite:

It fascinates me how similar places - and people - can be, though they may be separated by hundreds or thousands of miles. This, I know, will be one of the lasting legacies of my nomadic travels: the firsthand knowledge of how we - the people sharing this planet - are more alike, than we are different. A fact that becomes even more pronounced, when you take the time to talk with people, and get to know them a little bit.

After lunch, we wandered back through the public market, where we purchased some kava bundles for sevusevu ceremonies that we'll do with village chiefs during our stay in Fiji. In case you're interested, the price for a kg of kava in Labasa ranges from $100-150FJ, depending on the grade of the root.

Dave sorted his new battery, and then we left Labasa, strategically avoiding the turnoff for the Trans-Island Road that would take us directly back to Savusavu, opting instead for a bit of a scenic route, to see some more of the island. Scenic, we definitely got...

The paper map that Eric had access to showed three kinds of roads: major roads, minor roads, and tracks. Tessa, having spent a very long afternoon in a rental truck bouncing along a track with Dave when they were here previously, wisely recommended that we stay off of tracks. So it was that we turned onto a minor road which, according to both Eric's paper map and Tessa's phone map, would take us from the middle of the island back to the southern coast.

And so it did. But not before subjecting us to three hours of creek crossings; bumpy, kidney-jarring rocks; games of chicken with buses whose drivers fully subscribed to the gross tonnage rule (yeah, Dave opted for the weeds rather than a gnarly death); slippery mud after it rained, and some educated guesses about which fork to take (fortunately, both Eric and Tessa had GPS working on their phones). With Dave doing a great job of keeping us on the road and out of the grills of buses, Eric and Nick helped him out by spotting potential obstacles - "Bus! Bus!", "Cow!" "Horse!" "Fijians!" "Bridge!" - and I helped out, from my strategic vantage point up against the left-hand door, by letting Dave know when a dive to the side of the road might not be a good idea - "Ditch!" "Drop-off!" "Boulders!" "Creek!"

One of the creek crossings

But it was also fun to see lots of local Fijians, who offered us more smiles, "Bula!"s and waves as we passed through their remote villages, though they were probably thinking, "What the heck are those crazy kavalangis doing here?!" and to see lots of scenery and birds and people who we wouldn't have, had we stuck to the major roads.

Eventually, well after dark, we hit the paved road again. To the sound of relieved cheering, Dave turned right and drove us the rest of the way to Savusavu - on a major road. Another adventure in the books.

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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