After leaving Wallis Island, we had grand plans of sailing around the northern Fijian island of Vanua Levu, over to the Yasawa Islands , doing some kiteboarding at Musket Cove, and then making our way to New Caledonia before heading back to New Zealand to wait out the southern cyclone season. As always, we've met so many lovely people, and lingered in places for so much longer than originally intended, that rather than going to New Cal this year, we will instead head directly to New Zealand in a few weeks.
This year's visit to Fiji started, as it has both the previous two years, in SavuSavu, which does an excellent job of welcoming and catering to cruising yachts arriving from overseas.
We took advantage of the calm waters at the Copra Shed Marina to install our new cork flooring, which we had been carrying about on our guest bed ( much to Susan's chagrin ) since MaineCat delivered it to us whilst still in the Marshalls Islands. We are very much enjoying the classy look it has given our helm station ( not to mention the cushioning to our feet), and have had many positive comments from visitors. During our stay in town we met an expat American, Phil Snowden, who invited us up to his farm overlooking SavuSavu Bay, and got us thinking about perhaps buying property in Fiji. At the Cousteau anchorage just outside of SavuSavu, we again met up with Olga & Russ of Captain's Mistress for some diving and many pleasurable evening meals.
Then we headed out to one of our favorite stops in Fiji, Viani Bay, where we reunited with Frank & Luigi. Frank put on a wonderful Lovo for us.
This is the Fijian way of preparing meat and vegies underground, using banana leaves for moisture, palm fronds for structure, and lots of heated stones to do the actual cooking. The food is steamed and delicious.....as the local canines will also attest to!
From Viani Bay we headed to the north end of Taveniuni, since Colin had set himself a goal of kiteboarding on his 60th birthday. With a wide shallow area of over a mile leading us directly back to TC, the area at the north end of the island is absolutely perfect for those like us who are just mastering the basics of water starting, turning and long runs. His "coming of age" activity day was a great success, not least because it was followed by a vanilla/chocolate birthday cake masterpiece produced by Susan!
After a few days of splendid kiting, we were forced to move from the somewhat exposed anchorage due to the impending arrival of an out of season tropical storm to the north. So, reluctantly, we headed for Rabi Island about 10nm to the west. Before the storm arrived we had a delightful paddle board trip up the river, and through the mangroves, at the head of the bay. We managed to get about a mile upstream and there met a wonderful gent named Kautoa Biri. He and his family lived by the river, and he insisted on loading us down with a full bunch of bananas ( about 150 in total ) and numerous pawpaws ( papaya ). We reciprocated by having him out to the boat the next day and setting him up with fishing lures and line plus pens and paper for his kids. He then one upped us by presenting us with the largest and most beautiful triton shell either of us have ever seen!
Catherine Bay, at the south end of the island, proved to be an ideal anchorage in which to wait out the 3 day storm, and shelter from the 40+ knot winds. The downpour enabled us to fill our water tanks and give TC a good scrub. Once the winds subsided, we were off to visit Albert Cove on the NW side of the island, which our friends on Snufkin had reported as a delightful place. They were so right! As is often the case, it's the people that make a place special, and at Albert cove we met Joseph & Maria and their two young daughters Theresa and Johanna - whom we met & collected with their parents after a five mile trip together in TC. We enjoyed a lovely week of paddle boarding, snorkeling, island hikes, lazy dinners with sing-a-longs, culminated with an evening birthday party on the beach for 9 year old Norita from the cruising yacht Ganesh. People from seven different counties sang happy birthday in Spanish. English and Gilbertese ( the language spoken by the islanders on Rabi, who are actually not Fijian but Micronesians transplanted from Ocean Island, north of the equator in what is now Kiribati, after their homeland was devastated by phosphate mining )
Joseph is an accomplished self-taught musician, and can pick out tunes by ear, so he figured out how to play Feliz Cumpleanos on Susan's Psaltery. We also enjoyed a couple of musical evenings led by Brian & Hilary from the sailing vessel Taranui. (Brian plays a fantastic guitar and harmonica, whilst classically trained Hilary plays the clarinet.) Before leaving the island, we also repaired Joseph's fishing canoe, as it had sprung numerous leaks.
Our reward was seeing the smile on his face when he took daughter Theresa out for a mornings fishing..... and that Colin got to take it out for a spin!
After a delightful week in the company of our new friends, and having taken the children back to school with TC ( during which they enjoyed watching " The Sound of Music " with their mother ), we reluctantly sailed back to the main island of Vanua Levu to continue our journey west. We visited Palmlea Farms, but the owners seem to be retiring and the place was up for sale, so it was very quiet. No fresh farm veggies for sale, so we walked to the bus stop and went shopping in Lambasa, (the major town on Vanua Levu), with lots of shopping and a very large and well stocked market.
. Susan also managed to score herself a wonderful traditional Indian Diwali dress, greatly discounted on account of the upcoming festival ( the most important in the Hindu calendar ) on November 11th. The alterations to make it fit properly were done as we waited ...... and cost $5 Fijian, about $2 and 1/2 US!
From Palmlea we headed west across the top of Vanu Levu to Kia Island. Kia doesn't get many visits from cruisers because it's so out of the way, and doesn't have good internet access. But, as usual, the least visited places are often the most fun. There we met another island family with whom we shared meals. Johanas took our Sevusevu, and his son Ben took a real shine to Colin and would be at his side whenever possible. Javier of s/v Ganesh, ( Norita's father) took his turn at boat repair, and did a very professional fiberglass job on the bottom of Big Ben's fishing panga. Susan did some electrical repairs to Sevi's battery charger, and young Ben and his friends took us for a grueling hike up the mountain to see a canon that had been placed there a couple hundred years ago. The view, as one might expect, was spectacular. Early one morning, while Colin watched the rugby world cup with the locals, Susan caught a ride with Phillipe across the Bay and up the river to Lambasa. We had been running low on some essential groceries (wine and beer)¬, and she also wanted to get a few hours of high speed internet.
The next anchorage was a village near the Dreketi River, the longest in Fiji. Since we were buddy boating with Ganesh, we decided to go up the river in TabbyCat's larger dinghy. That turned out to be a good decision, since the river is quite large, even though our outboard could not reach full speed with 6 people on board. We have nominated the village at Dreketi as the "Best Kept Village" in Fiji. It's marvelously clean, they have running water in all of the houses, rolling grassy lawns, & flowers planted everywhere. We did SevuSevu here, which is the ritualized presenting of the kava root to the chief, and the sharing of the murky brown drink that results from the pulverizing of the same root. We were given a tour of the village by a very athletic 49 year old lady, who thought nothing of jumping up into a lime tree to get us some of its fruit. The people in the village were so willing to share the bounty of their farming, and asked nothing in return. They seemed to enjoy our company as much as we did theirs.
Continuing to buddy boat with Ganesh, we sailed to Nibaulalai Bay where the resident Indian family hosted us for a lovely lunch of curried lamb, chicken and vegetables complete with home-made roti's which Susan has been learning to make like the locals . Next up was Mbua bay, beating into winds of up to 31 knots, but also an internet connection with which Susan was able to assist Javier in the purchase of a new engine for Ganesh on TradeMe, the NZ equivalent of E-Bay. The next day we sailed across Bligh water, named after Capt Bligh of mutiny on the Bounty infamy. He sailed through these waters having been set adrift by Fletcher Christian and his mutinous comrades, but didn't stop on account of the fearsome reputation of Fijian cannibals! This is a notoriously nasty piece of water, on account of the funneling of trade winds between the two main Fijian islands, and is often the subject of local weather warnings. Our trip to Safari Lodge on Vitu Levu, was accompanied by 15 knot winds on the beam and just tiny ripples for waves! As we caught up with Ganesh at the pass entrance we hooked a large Barracuda whilst doing 8 knots. While Susan dragged dinner aboard, hooting and hollering the whole time, Colin steered TC through the pass. After anchoring, Javier came over to display his filleting and cooking skills, and all of us agreed that it was one of the best days sailing we'd ever had!
We're now awaiting the arrival of a new autopilot ( our old one having failed, terminally, about a month ago necessitating hand steering about the islands ), working on minor repairs, and hoping to leave for NZ in a couple of weeks.
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