After a round about journey for Susan and Colin from the wedding in the US, they arrived back to the Vuda Point Marina, Fiji on Saturday 4th October, keen to rest on the cat.
Good friend Mike arrived 1st October at the marina too, and quickly got into the cruising fraternity and world wanderers - volunteering to work a day on Tom and Jenna mono hull (Trade Winds) rusting rub bar and making friends with Paul the Frenchman - TabbyCat's neighbor - also sailing the pacific and living on a catamaran in the marina, until a fresh crew could be taken on
After a welcome home meal, plans were made for the Mamanuka Islands and Yasawa Group - laying to the West of Fiji's Viti Levu. Unfortunately the upholsterers had to show up and do their bit for the new seat covers and return to agree the appropriate foam cushions!! After a crazy boys re-supply run into Lautoka, we were ready for off and left the Marina, pleased to be on the road /sea again.
Light winds, fine weather and clear skies we swiftly cruised into Musket Cove on the island of Malolo Lailail - to sit out the evening with a brief squall and heavy rain!! Oh so cool. After a dull, grey day and a run ashore to resort and marina, we had pleasant time on board catching up on family and friends matters.
Next morning we awoke at 6am to a classic Pacific island day - cloudless blue skies, and time for a 2 hour paddle board adventure, engaging the locals with questions about digging for worms and searching for clams on the low tide coral and an invitation to share Fiji's Independence day with a family, the following day concluding the paddle with the obligatory swim and scrub of the TabbyCat's hulls.
Mooring off the village of Yalobi on Waya Island we prepared the Calva root pepper plant, by cleaning it, drying it in the galley oven and re-wrapping it in a recent newspaper, all in preparation for presenting to Chief Tom the following morning - after a brief ceremony - in local tongue - we had the key to the city and enjoyed the welcome and engaging with the residents, as we wondered round the village and took a peek at the local school. The following day we managed to fight our way (lost the path) to a false summit and took an another amazing view of the Pacific landscape - which Mike missed as he wimped out of the entangled fight to the top.
Armed with fresh vegetables and some shell necklaces from Sarah, we manned the boats, as a squall had blown up and the mooring looked very vulnerable - sailing out of the bay into a strong southerly.
Searching for the best snorkeling since Fakarava's we moored inside the lagoon and explored the reef for a closer look the following day. Distracted by the tin roof kayaks we discussed the potential of sea kayak trips around the Yasawa's and low and behold, round the headland arrived a group of sea kayakers - an Australian outfit called South Seas Adventures. After much kayak discussions we continued on with the snorkeling, but left disappointed for our next destination - The Blue lagoon.
Now safely in the Blue Lagoon - with a number of light weight sailors, we have not seen out on the windy water today - over 30 knots of wind and 12.5 knots max boat speed!! adventure sailing. The morning was spent productively with Mike exploring the bay in Alfie (the kayak) and Col and Susan off on a romantic swim and walk on a deserted beach - finishing off with a snorkel.
To complete the day Mike returned with a collection of wildlife encounters - a young surface swimming Turtle!!, some diving gannets (Boobies to the sailing fraternity, but not appropriately named!) some black heron and some shoals of needle fish - not known in the Hebrides. Once safely moored we celebrated with a cool glass of beer, Tuna melt and a beer - another great day off Fiji on the pacific.
The morning broke with an important date announced to us all - November 10th, Col's B'day!! - not a significant one, I might add, but just a year away!! With this announcement Susan and Mike were rushing round suggesting special things to do to celebrate the old mans event!! We snorkelled off Manna island, selected a restaurant for the evening celebration and walked to the top of the island at dusk - all in preparation for the big event. Mike went walk about, at the mountain top cross, as Colin engaged the island owner clutching her bible! Again mike reported more wildlife encounters this time a resting peregrine, a giant bat swopping around the banana trees and some small mice rushing round the burnt out mountain side. After a period of confusion and "where the fxxxx is mike" we met up at the backpackers and had a very pleasant evening, drinking beers, eating Fiji food and watching/listening to some random dancing, singing and machete wielding - a good night was had by all.
Today was an eventful sail, as we spotted and played with a pod of Spinner Dolphins - diving, darting and jumping between the two hulls at the bow of TabbyCat. Just as quickly they arrived and after 15 minutes of intense observing they vanished - with NO photographic evidence, but clarification that they really did, briefly, sail with us.
An exciting mornings sail brought us to the infamous "Blue lagoon" where we joined a small fleet of fellow cruisers - settling for a calm night. The morning broke early (for some!) and the pang for fresh food and vegies - we want vegies!!, spread through the crew, with a concern for scurvy taking hold. Previously spotting an advert at Vauda Point Marina, we maned the boats and headed out of the bay in search of the said farm. Arriving wet, wind blown and bounced, we found the small mango grove creek and moored by a Cater Marine (Opua Marina, NZ) sail boat, gafrigg, small outboard and painted in bright colours - this was the spot. We were welcomed by the young husband and wife team of vegie farmers and had a full tour of the raised beds, sheltered tomato plants, chickens and fruit trees, as we discussed vegie growing and what would be in season for a scurvy crew. In addition we were introduced to the Ministry of Agriculture team who were advising the farm on Pinapple growing techneques to extend their range and crop portfolio - mainly to supply the scattered resorts with fresh fruit and veg. We could have stayed the day in this beautiful, elevated and well watered garden, but hunger and aching teeth took hold and off to the TabbyCat we headed with our spoils - eggs, 4 bags of vegies and fruit for F$15 - such genuine and welcoming farmers, earning an honest living.
Early next morning we were invited to a genuine cultural evening and Fijian fest at a small resort, with a water taxi pick-up and delivery home - so that was our evening sorted, so as Susan caught up on her work Colin and Mike explored the bay on paddle board and checked out the disappointing snorkelling. Showered up and dressed up we were collected as planned and joined the crew of 70' Oyster, True Blue and a couple from a resort. Dispite our concerns about a tourist evening it turned out to be an outstanding example of traditionally cooked Fijian food, hospitality and live dancing - the lads (barmen, cooks, boatmen, gardeners) excelling in the knife and fire dancing, which could hit the west end of London with great success - sadly they turned down the suggestion and would not sign the contract that mike had drawn up!
A late night and almost too many beers saw us back on the TabbyCat - safe and sound, despite the taxi without any lights, other than that of a cell phone!
Today we are heading back to Denarau for the final fitting of the new cushions and covers. - with a planned stop at Nevarda Lagoon with its tombola beach and deserted island of goats. The wind has dropped to an acceptable and comfortable level, but could do with picking up slightly for a timely entrance to the mooring. A calm and relaxing journey, uneventful so far!
Mike asked about fishing and 2 lines were soon out with just a single bite from the small white spinner, bouncing off the surface. Pulling on his experience as a school boy fisherman, he suggested some weights, to drop the lure below the surface, which he convinced Susan could be an improved technique! An hour later all hell let loose as the winch started to run and the line came alive with a fish!! We landed a giant Mackerel but of the Wahoo variety - 4' long, and weighing over 25lbs!! - photograph attached.
With blood everywhere Susan jumped into action and island girl had it instantly dead with vodka in the gills, decapitated, filleted and portioned in the deep freeze before you could say "weighted lure" - scary stuff for both Colin and Mike - suddenly a great day was had by all and a magnificent fresh fish meal consumed that evening - "thank you Susan said a beaming Mike, I am quite replete!
Denarau was back to reality or was it opulence as we moored up alongside the super yachts and watched the slaves scrub, scrub, scrub, scrub, polish, polish, polish, polish as the owners we coming for a short cruise. We re-stocked, negotiated further fittings and entered into deep discussions with the upholsterers, as Susan and Colin meticulously worked out what was required for the new cushions with the top of the range "Ultra Suede" coverings. While the crew of the yachts partied we explored up river on the paddle boards and kayak, with the hope of finding town and an affordable supermarket - alas it got dark and we returned empty handed. We cooked our humble meal - fresh bread from Susan - and got blasted out by the pre-Dewali firework displays.
Mooring off the marina the following evening, we watched 5 hours of celebratory fireworks - some better than others - before the 2am curfew took over and all went quiet. After further paddle board circumnavigation we watched as the Fruit Bats (hundreds of them) move from one island to another in menacing groups, silhouetted as a Dracula movie would have filmed and suddenly they were gone!!
An early start (Colin having a lie in) motivated Susan and Mike to head South then North in search of the inside passage and the old capital of Levuka, where it all began over 100 yrs ago, as the British set up their first port and settlement off Fiji - now a World heritage site. After a pleasant sail we moored and spent the following days motoring into a headwind, before abandoning the idea and returning with the wind in our sails on a fresh tack with a new plan!!
The resort of Safari Lodge, claims to be the windsurfing and kite boarding centre of Fiji, offering specialist holidays, and instructional courses , the website showing a team of 8 water sport instructors. Mike tracked them down and E-mailed Warren!! the owner and hot shot, inquiring about instruction. Unfortunately he was on leave and his kite board instructor (singular) was finished for the season. Susan convinced she could kite sail and Colin hesitant that his windsurfing days at the cutting edge were part of his distant past, we decided to visit anyway. After a fast boat ride, skippered by Mike in the dinghy we explored the possible location of Safari Lodge, to find out their was about 6 resorts of different types scattered round the island. We gate crashed a Sunday, after church Kava session, to be welcomed and told "it looks like shit, tastes like shit, but sends you to heaven", so forget about safari Lodge and drink with us!! After a brief encounter, witnessing the modern way the pepper roots are prepared - in a blender - and how to safely eat a meal when the Kava has taken hold, we escaped sober.
The island was empty of visitors and guests and Safari Lodge was very welcoming, meeting Sophie the marine biologists and dive instructor and Peter the relief manager for Warren. Peter hospitality could not extend to kite boarding but he was insistent that we returned early the following morning to support the 4 Kiwi ladies, who were on a windsurfing holiday and had struggled the previous day - shallow reef, on shore chop and heavy winds. We did return to find the ladies were more than competent, Colin had never sailed a short board of modern dimensions and handling qualities, quite unfamiliar to him. Credit where it is warranted, Colin did manage to master both board and sail,
while Mike stuck to what he is good at - the loan of Peters personal sea kayak. The rest of the morning was spent helping Susan windsurf, while the elements were not at all co-operative. We all successfully concluded the morning with a brief SUP with Safari Lodge's new boards, making it all look so easy compared with the wind surfing. On the positive side we had full use of the facilities and equipment, for free, and were treated like international water sport heroes!! thanks to Peters hospitality. Warren, we WILL be back?
Next day it rained and rained and rained and the next day it rained and rained and rained with low clouds, low temperatures, high winds and mist. The good thing about being "hunkered down" was Colin's impromptu invitation to a young English couple and 16 month yr old daughter, Rocket, moored in a mono-hull, close by. After much discussion and menu planning Mike asked to borrow (have!) an onion and the plans were set, for a really enjoyable, fun and enchanting evening with Rocket and her parents - James and Jess. Good luck with NZ.
Determined to overcome his mask anxiety, Mike asked to explore a new area for snorkeling, recommended by Sophie from the Lodge. Despite the lack of sunshine and breeze, we gave it a shot and snorkeled along the edge of the reef taking in such a fantastic variety of hard and soft coral and a selection of small fish. Susan always on hand to point out examples of different species and unusual features in the coral.
It was a great session, enjoyed by us all - Colin only slightly blue, as he had donned a wetsuit, Susan just one more dive down and Mike with a big smile on his face at the amazing snorkeling he had experienced. Unfortunately, sharing Colin's flippers - one on and a bare foot - and seconds before we pulled ourselves up into the dinghy, Mike turned over, misjudged the coral depth and slashed his foot on a razor sharp specimen, leaving a thin shark trail behind him!! What a pisser, he was heard to say, as Susan jumped into para-medic mode with the hydrogen peroxide and vet wrap - leaving nothing but a slight limp and clean wound - once again thank you Susan for looking after me.
Change of plan - the uphill slog with both motors on and a strong head wind seemed exhausting and very trying for both TabbyCat and crew, so we sensibly turned South and ran back to Vuda Point, running with the sea and the wind in our sails. Great sailing with speeds up to 10.5 knots, far too fast to catch a fish. Nestled into the island masking the picturesque port of Lautoka (with is wood mill and Cane factory!) we moored and took off on our final paddle board adventure - Mike's foot in a water proof (NOT) sock and the setting sun warming our faces and blocking the visibility. All was going well until the shallow reef route ground Mike to a head plant halt - no damage though, to board or body. This was Mike's 10th hour on a board which has convinced him to lead the way and introduce the art of paddle boarding to the Cumbria Canoeists. Empty of supplies Cabin Boy Mike produced a final galley meal from know where - eggs, tuna, a single potato, beans, Salsa and some cabbage!! Finishing off the evening with a movie "Gravity" real scary stuff.
Final destination, Vuda Point Marina, for a get together with Frenchman friend Paul and a final meal in the marina restaurant, before Mikes mid-night, taxi collection from Ali,for the timely 0005 flight to Hong Kong, to continue on with his retirement walk-about.
Thank you Colin and Susan for your hospitality and allowing me to share your journeying on TabbyCat - see you at the wedding God Father - April 11, 2015 in Yorkshire. to see the rest of the photos, click here