Our Ever-Changing Backyard--Sailing with Scoots

15 July 2019 | Viani Bay
23 June 2019 | En route to Savusavu, Fiji, from N. Minerva Reef
20 June 2019 | North Minerva Reef
17 June 2019 | In the ocean, NE of New Zealand
14 June 2019 | In the ocean, NE of New Zealand
13 June 2019 | In the ocean, NE of New Zealand
12 June 2019 | Marsden Cove Marina, Ruakaka, NZ
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

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.

A mechanical bull, scheming for arrival, lovely sailing weather

23 June 2019 | En route to Savusavu, Fiji, from N. Minerva Reef
Hello! We've been having a good passage from N Minerva. Time has a funny way of running all together, when we're on passage, and it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn't sent an update since we left. Sorry about that!

We expected strong winds and 2 meter high, beam-on seas when we left the pass at Minerva. In actuality, the wind had eased a bit and the seas were only about 1.5m and just aft of the beam....so better than expected. But oh! was it bumpy! In addition to those 1.5m swells, choppy waves from two or three other directions also vied for attention, which made the ride like one of those mechanical bulls you see in cowboy bars. Oy. Moving around required hanging on with both hands like being on monkey bars.

The entire fleet at N Minerva Reef - all 9 boats - emptied out on Friday the 21st. Some left in the morning, others in the afternoon. Some were heading to Fiji, others to Tonga. SCOOTS, Rewa, and Gone With the Wind all left at about 4 pm, having calculated that our boats would need about 2.5 days to cover the distance to arrive on Monday morning. And so we three partners in crime exited the pass within a few minutes of each other. GWTW, a 52-foot catamaran, and Rewa, a 65-foot monohull, eventually passed us during the first night out.

We - as well as the crew of Cetacea - having been keeping in touch on the China Net each morning and evening, as well as sporadically throughout the day and night over the VHF radio.

Our goal is to reach Savusavu early on Monday morning, June 24. To do this, we'll need to modulate SCOOTS' speed, an interesting exercise over 2.5 days and more than 400 miles. To this end, we've put one reef, or two reefs, in the mainsail; taken the reefs out; run the motor; adjusted the sails, repeated as needed. It's certainly been an interactive trip!

After the first bumpy night, the sea conditions moderated, the ride became more comfortable, and the sailing has been stupendous! The weather has been fantastic - the wind - though backing from the East to the NE, which made the sail a close reach rather than the hoped-for beam reach, was a pretty consistent 12-15 knots; and there was not a squall in sight! The days have been sunny and the nights starry. I got to see my buddy Scorpio again, with his sharp stinger and red heart. Eric saw a bright, blazing meteor. So it's been good.

This morning, the rising sun illuminated the southernmost Fijian islands along our path - Totoya and Manuku. Land ho! We've long since passed them by, as we sail north into the Koro Sea. Savusavu, the town where we'll clear in with Customs, is about another 100 miles distant. As of right now, it looks like we'll arrive at the entrance to Savusavu Bay at about 7 am.

Dave and his crew on Rewa are several miles to the east of us; Cetacea is within eyeshot, also to our east. Liam and Annie on Gone With the Wind, changed their plans and have diverted to the west side of Fiji, to Port Denarau, to clear in there instead. Tomorrow evening we, the crews of Rewa and Cetacea and Where II, and whomever would like to join us, will raise a Fiji Bitter or Fiji Gold or Fiji Vonu to celebrate our arrival in Savusavu.

Where we are right now: 18 20.58'S, 179 46.37'E

**Remember, you can follow our daily progress at Yachts in Transit www.yit.co.nz, where I post our position and details every day.

On our way again

20 June 2019 | North Minerva Reef
Hello! After three lovely days in North Minerva Reef, it's time for SCOOTS and her crew to move along. In a couple of hours, we'll pull our anchor up out of the sand, motorsail out of the pass, and head for Savusavu, Fiji. The trip should take about 2 1/2 days. I'll send reports along the way. Cheers, Vandy

Passage to the Tropics - Day 5: Arrival in Minerva Reef

18 June 2019 | North Minerva Reef
Hello! SCOOTS dropped her anchor in North Minerva Reef today at 420pm local time. All is well on board, but the crew is tired. I'll update tomorrow.

Position: 23 37.89S, 178 53.67W

Passage to the Tropics - Day 4: Happy Father's Day, the China Net

17 June 2019 | In the ocean, NE of New Zealand
Hello! We've had a lovely day and night here, since I last reported. The nearly-full moon was very bright last night. It turned a swath of sea into a golden road, sparkling with moon-shine, leading from the horizon to right where SCOOTS slid through the calm water, and lit up the rest of the sea over a vast distance. It backlit the towering cumulus clouds that loomed nearby, replacing their otherwise sinister presence with a soft, friendly glow.

The sea has been calm, and the wind very light, for the past day or so. That's nice for sightseeing, but not so good for sailing. A couple hundred miles from our destination of North Minerva Reef, we either had to slow down to arrive at the pass into Minerva at dawn in two days, or speed up to arrive before sunset in one day. Being no good at slowing down, we pressed Yanmar the Magnificent into service. He's been doing a great job of moving SCOOTS toward Minerva Reef at a speed that will allow us to enjoy sundowners there with our friends tomorrow evening.

This morning, Eric awoke to find Father's Day emails from both of our kids. Eric and I had forgotten that today is Father's Day in the States, but Kelly and Nick remembered. Well done, guys. You made your dad's day.

In addition to the usual long-range radio net that we participate in - The South Pacific Cruisers' Net - whose participants cover a few thousand miles, we have also set up an informal radio net among some of the fleet of us who left Marsden Cove last Thursday. Eric dubbed this the China Net, for reasons that I'll soon explain. Current participants include Liam & Annie on the boat, Gone With the Wind; Dave, on the boat Rewa; and Gail & Tony on the boat Cetacea. It's fun to chat with someone on another boat twice a day, to see how things are going with them.

As an aside, you may remember Dave and Rewa from my reports of our passage from Fiji to NZ last Nov/Dec, during which we and Rewa were in visual and VHF contact for the whole way. Well, once again, also by happenstance rather than by design, we're traveling in close proximity.

OK, so why the China Net? While we were all still in Town Basin Marina, in Whangarei, Liam - who, along with Annie, is Australian - began to amuse Eric with some Aussie rhyming slang. For example, the phrase "I'm gonna hit the frog," for an Aussie, means "I'm going to leave." Why? Well, it means to "hit the road." "Road" rhymes with "frog and toad." But instead of saying, "hit the frog and toad," it's just shortened to "hit the frog."

Another rhyming slang that Liam taught Eric was "china," as in "you're my china." This means "you're my best mate." Why? Well, "mate" rhymes with "china plate." But instead of saying, "you're my china plate," it's just shortened to "you're my china."

And so, because our informal net is composed of good friends, including the Aussie who shared taught us the rhyming slang, Eric calls it the China Net. Which I think is quite apropos.

Here are today's numbers... The Numbers at Noon: 6/17 Position: 26 32.11'S, 179 22.51'E Course: 026T Speed: 7 knots motorsailing Water temp: 73F Air temp: 74F Barometer: 1019 Wind: 7 knots SSW Seas: nearly calm Miles gone: 626.5 Miles to N Minerva Reef: 196.7 Miles last 24 hours: 168.3 (7 knots avg)
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.
SCOOTS's Photos - Preparing for the Puddle Jump
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