24 March 2021 | Western Fiji
28 February 2021 | LAUTOKA Fiji
22 January 2021 | Vuda Marina, our safe spot
03 January 2021 | Octopus Resort
03 January 2021 | Vuda Marina LAUTOKA Fiji
17 December 2020 | Vuda Marina, Lautoka Fiji
19 November 2020 | Suva, Fiji
19 November 2020 | Savusavu and sailing
21 October 2020 | Matei, Taveuni
21 October 2020 | Koro Island
21 October 2020 | Savusavu
Almost through another Cyclone Season
24 March 2021 | Western Fiji
Diane Brown | Rain and more Rain with gorgeous sunsets
24 March 2021
Second Cyclone Season Recap- Success
First Day of Fall just passed here in Fiji and already boats in the Vuda Marina basin are pulling their anchor chains from the base in the middle and cleaning them off in hopes of getting out cruising once gain. The hum of last minute projects or rush to finish procrastinated jobs is evident on most every boat. End of April is the official start of cruising season; so really we have five more weeks that could summon a major storm. The consistent easterlies are giving us maybe false confidence that we are back in the safe travel zone. NaDraki Weather is a local forecast service here in Fiji. Craig forwarded us advice from the NaDraki weather man when Ora asked for research about heading to Kadavu a bit early this year. It appears the La Nina conditions are easing (except the dateline still has cloudy water) but the MJO may still have some surprises for Australia and possibly Fiji. Irony is that many of the "famous" YouTube cruisers took off for the safety of Australia and ended up with some very bad storms and extreme flooding this season.
Tabu Soro has been out and about in the Yasawa's and running for cover as needed or just in to be spoiled by markets, people and restaurants on the mainland. We have our favorite island anchor spots that make living easy and entry less stressful. It is still necessary to try to arrive and anchor when sunlight is overhead or a bit behind you for visibility to avoid setting anchor over coral. Fortunately internet is mostly available out in the Yasawa's due to all the resorts so we monitor weather reports before making any moves. The Yaswa's also have fairly good electronic charts of the reefs but it would just be dumb to travel during rain or evening hours anywhere in Fiji.
The goal this last month has been familiarize myself with the underwater camera housing that arrived in February from BackScatter via our care/parts package from the United States. I was just beginning to feel pretty good with my free diving weights and scuba gear. This big buoyant blob of camera gear has humbled me. It took me over two hours to assemble everything the first time around with frequent YouTube checks and another two hours to dry, clean and disassemble. Finally I entered the water only to find myself totally discombobulated. The camera wants to stay up and I want to go down. I've stuck to snorkeling and some free diving through Manta Pass and can now manage to take some pictures that are in focus. Nothing spectacular nor any close-ups but I know it will get better. We added two more dive tanks to our little boat so the guest quarter berth is full up. We are headed back out to the close islands again and this time I will try to scuba dive and use a camera. John and his Mom warned me that sometimes the photography takes all the fun out of the dive.
John is happy to be out at anchor but then happy to come in when our parts/care packages arrive to get repairs done. It seems like he has rebuilt the BBQ and stove and now a replacement water heater element is coming soon. He just installed Tabu Soro's Christmas present - a new stack pack for the main sail! Our next big challenge is for us to catch up on the varnish work before we take off for Kadavu or the Lau Groups in April/May. There is a mighty fine timeline between rain squalls and 90 degree heat to get sanding done and varnish applied.
Maybe I should not risk jinxing us, but the irrational fear I had of staying through cyclone season has turned out to be some of the best sailing experiences. Despite the work to pull all the sails and canvas for each storm threat, we have gained a lot of skills and confidence on how to deal with this boat in crazy conditions. Tabu Soro can take more than I gave her credit for and she is built to withstand water and flooding-unlike the houses and roads in Fiji. The recent tsunami warning put some fear into me but despite an 8 point quake between Fiji and New Zealand, all open ocean, there was no actual tsunami wake. Probably due to all the surrounding protective reefs. We were out at anchor but on the lee side of any tsunami wave action. Still we found ourselves holding our breath and ready to go out to sea if we got a heads up that this was the real thing. Vuda Marina did a total evacuation of the marina to higher ground up by the oil tanks which also turned out to be just an excellent disaster drill.
The first year 2019/20 I had assumed we were covered by our JackLine insurance being in Vuda which is a recognized cyclone hole. Fortunately our agent, Rachel, was in touch to renew the policy for 2020/21 and began asking questions and updates to the policy and offered a cyclone storm endorsement for very reasonable amount. At first it was intimidating to provide her with our Tabu Soro cyclone "plan". Then I checked with Jacinta at Vuda Reception and she electronically sent us the Vuda Cyclone Guide Requirements Manual. This document/photos along with our first year of experience where we were locked out of Vuda and caught in Suva during Cyclone Harold, the plan was approved almost immediately by the Underwriter. Good thing too as Cyclone Yasa passed safely over us the very next day!
Fiji is still doing very well with no new local cases of Covid. About two flights a month leave as scheduled for Australia to US depending on what level of Covid Australia is facing. The Yacht Blue Lanes are already beginning to draw the Super Yachts back to Fiji. When we went to Port Denarau for the dive shop both "BOLD" and "Su Ri" had just finished quarantine and were offloading trash and on-loading pallets of supplies. We know several cruisers now that were approved by the Fiji Ministry of Health via Blue Lanes and flew back to their boats in Fiji. It has been a long painful year everywhere. For this lovely little country's sake, I hope they get a break soon.
Waiting on Weather 2021
28 February 2021 | LAUTOKA Fiji
Diane Brown | Squalls rolling through each week
Storms a Coming!
January 20 - February 21
Week after week the threat of tropical depressions turning into cyclones has kept us at Vuda Marina all tied snugly into the basin. Being Covid free and having a very large marina bubble there is plenty to do and see. The daily yoga and paddling has improved my core strength and social time at coffee afterwards has helped with cabin fever. Walking the plank has my complete concentration these days; especially with some extreme tides just recently.
Vuda Marina used to have a very good Outrigger team but after cyclone damage to all of the canoes was non-existent and Fijian competition due to Covid has been quiet for over a year. I kept asking about the canoes around the marina so was delighted when one six person boat got fixed just in time for the weekend racing at nearby Nadi off Waialoaloa Beach. We had one practice day on Friday afternoon as we took the boat over to Nadi. All went well until in sight of the beach we did a huli in the surf -right in front of everyone. At least the recovery was easy as we flipped it and walked it up onto the sand. Oh, except not so well for somebody who had a phone in his pocket. The next day was actually sunny and perfect for the Blessing of the Boats and racing. We were a mixed crew so first off the beach after the paddle boards- both doing a 7km course. Our start was way late so the entire time was trying to overtake any boat possible. We caught a break when another team did a huli as they rounded the second mark in the 7km race. I suspect the wake of the jet skis being used for chase safety boats was the cause. We managed to stay up for a next-to-last finish which felt just wonderful after two years of not paddling competitively. Organizers hope to have three more competitions the year. Only thing missing was my Dragon Max mates as the booming dance music would have been perfect for some Phyllis led DM dance warmup routines and would have been sooo appreciated by the wonderful teams readying for competition.
This last week John just had to try to escape and go sailing. It looked like maybe ten days of mild wind and rain. We got safely out of the marina after three boats beside us all had to remove their forward lines and due to the lateness only went around the corner to Saweni Bay which I call Jelly fish bay. There was too much chop and wind that evening to try the underwater lights but next morning it was flat calm and sunny! Craig and Karen had come in sometime the night before and anchored just in front of us. We have not seen them for over a month and they had officially changed the boat name from 'Optimist of London" to Ora while they were home in New Zealand. Except that all their Fijian documents and cruising permits had to stay in the original name to avoid a lot of red tape.
Meanwhile weather outlook has changed to a major wind event for the weekend- just two days away- so we headed to Malolo and Musket Cove where we have friends we had not seen in a long while. Several of the local resorts had social events planned for the weekend but with gusts to 45 knots plus rain, they will most likely cancel. Fiji is really trying to recover despite lack of tourism with local-rate weekend specials. The rain squalls and floods keeps wiping out their farm crops- except for the root crops like cassava. Fortunately it is growing season all year round here and they just keep re-planting.
All is good here and we hear better news from home that the hospitalization and death rates are finally going down and immunization rates going up. Fiji hopes to have vaccine by mid-year but first have a major IT project ahead to create an immunization database for their entire population.
We hope to get out wandering further in a few days.
Please stay well.
I FALL IN!
22 January 2021 | Vuda Marina, our safe spot
Diane Brown | Wind and Squalls
13 January 2021
I Fall In
And other humbling moments:
Monday morning without coffee and I swear, still nearly dark, I drug myself out of bed to get to 7 am yoga for the first time since returning to Vuda. Fortunately my neighbor boat also was getting off their boat as I not so gracefully stepped off the bow onto the wood steps which went forward right out from under me into the water. I tried to dance off the escaping steps but stepped too far back and went backwards into the foul water holding my sipee cup of coffee aloft. The criss-cross of lines, hoses and power cords softened my fall and I avoided hitting my head on either the concrete abutment or the wooden plank. I must report I am grateful; if a bit black and blue where every line broke my fall. Anders and Terry pulled down their stern dive step and hauled me aboard and I quickly exited to the shower.
Exit from Vuda I should never have bragged about how well we left Vuda last week. It bit us in the butt for sure as we slid to a stop as we backed out over what we thought was a clear spot in the criss cross of lines. I was at the bow holding on fast and felt the sudden lurch as John shoved the transmission into neutral. There is a science in just knowing lines and their proper usage, some float or sink, some stretch but none are very good for your prop! We finally cleared everything and left the circle a bit sheepish.
Back North in the Yasawa's, I spent several sunny and calm days paddling around the pass enjoying upwind paddles with the reward of down current snorkeling. John had noted a dive/snorkel spot with a buoy marker near the Eco Resort. One very calm day, I paddled across the bay to find the buoy with my gear bungee corded on the board. Crossing the current at the pass was the most difficult part but I was feeling pretty confident and getting a good workout. It took a bit to spot the buoy but I headed expectantly that direction looking forward to a new area of exploration. Until I spotted fins circling my exciting new buoy marker. After that I made a wide circle around the marker a couple times and the sharks disappeared from my sight. I just could not bring myself to put on fins and mask and get in that water. Once we get our outboard working again, I may try it with John at standby but not alone.
We returned to Vuda today, a week later, due to expected high winds and weather only to foul our prop while entering our assigned spot.
I can't tell you how sick in my gut it felt to feel the motor grind to an anguished halt and hear the engine stall button while your are not yet docked. The winds were enough that we just needed to get the boat tied up first then deal with the chaos below. John grabbed a spare long line and the workboat used that to secure us temporarily. Again our neighbor Anders and Terry came to the rescue with his dive tubing setup and was in the water within ten minutes starting to unwind 100 ft of rope. It took a while but he cleared it. Meanwhile John had opened up the shaft bilge compartment and was checking the damage. It sheared the lock-in bolts and pulled out some on the drive shaft but none of the engine mounts look torqued so we got off lucky. After the fact as we de-briefed what we could have done differently, John said in almost 30 years on the water he has never fouled his own prOP.
I should know better than to brag.
2021 The first Week
09 January 2021
Diane Brown | mostly rain and wind; some excellent days
The new year is off to a great start in Fiji with wet but delightful weather for sailing. It does seem more blustery than last year. We toured around the Southern Yasawa's staying a couple days at each anchorage. Because the winds are oddly from the North and West we are traveling the East side of this long chain for the first time finding safe harbors on the normally wind exposed sides of islands.
One afternoon we had a visitor from a spear fisherman and his friend to ask for a small piece of line to put his spear and rubber back together. John shared a good length of his precious spectra with them and tried to explain how strong and special and was used to lift boats. This little line was tested at 700 lb (350k). Tiki and Make just looked at him and shook their heads in a hurry to get back to fishing I think.
Manta Ray Pass was rainy for a couple days then one glorious morning it was flat and sunny. I ignored the breakfast dishes and took off on the paddle board for a couple hours to run to the pass while at slack tide. I saw incredible coral and fish life but not a single manta ray. By the time I made it to the West side of the pass, paddling against the wind, it was time for the tide to turn and I was able to drift snorkel most of the way back to the boat. Had to fight the current a bit not to be taken out past the boat.
John enjoyed his alone time and was ready for a swim to the beach when I returned. After three and four days of rain, our 38ft boat gets smaller and smaller. We have made up rain and shade screens for the cockpit but once the wind picks up there is just no dry outside seating. Inside the boat is just steamy and hot as all the hatches and ports are closed. We end up at opposite ends of the cabin or in the v-berth to get some space. When we lived aboard at Richmond it never seemed so small?
Since the forecast was for several days of mostly sunny we headed further North to Navadra to see if the black-tip sharks were still in residence. On the way we caught a good sized tuna and bled and cooled it to skin and fillet later. We hadn't even set anchor yet and the sharks were surrounding us. John finished cleaning the fish and fed them the scraps which is the video shown.
We had one great day there before the winds and swell had us hobby chair rocking enough I was feeling green. In order to get the anchor up, I drove slowly into the wind and just as soon as the anchor was off the bottom, put engine into forward to prevent going back onto the shore. We spend over eight hours in 25-35 knot winds trying to find a secure anchorage. Even the entry to Mana Island which we have done so many times was too much swell to attempt. We could not make headway bashing toward Vuda so had a fun downwind run in mid 20's to hide out at Momi Bay for the night. At one point our heavy girl surfed down the swells reaching 9.0 knots.
We had just enough wifi the last two days to hear the nightmare Covid numbers and Capitol storming by Trumpers. It is chilling and embarrassing and I am sure very scary for you who are stuck in place. Please stay safe and keep hope alive; there will be better days to come.
New Years Finale
03 January 2021 | Octopus Resort
Diane Brown | Partly Sunny
A Break from Vuda
27 December 2020
The next day we filled our fuel tanks and the outboard back up, purchased some more data for John's iPad and made a graceful exit from Vuda. At lease the final exit was graceful. First we had ten lines and chains to untie and secure either back behind the sidewalk or on deck to be cleaned once at sea. The Vuda staff are amazing as at the bow they first unweave us from four boats on either side of us. We had been unhooked from the anchor in the center a couple days before. Finally they remove our bow lines with the workboat from the small intermediate buoys and we motor through the maze of buoys and lines to the exit. So for us to leave early that morning we had to wake up four other boats, some still hung over, and staff on the water and sidewalk. John really needed to go sailing so it was hilarious but well worth it.
We sailed out to Malolo Barrier Reef to the South of Musket Cove. We had hoped to go to Tavaua Island by the surf break but the winds and chop were still too disruptive for a good nights sleep. The fresh breeze of 15 knots was delightful after the stagnant air inside our safe cyclone hole. It was even more lovely to swim in the turquoise shallow waters behind the reef. Winds are a bit squirrelly and swung us 360 degrees around the anchor chain and back again; so we had to loop our anchor chain around a bit to pull it after a couple days to leave. Winds are predicted up to 25 knots and this anchorage is more of a day spot. We just wanted to be out there alone for bit.
We went into Denarau to chase down a mechanic there and a possible shipment of new Yamaha outboards John had sleuthed out. I was getting grumpy as we had run out of pineapples, bananas and papayas for breakfast. On the way in we caught a good sized Walu so Kokoda for lunch!
With New Years only two days away we would have to provision efficiently before the holiday shutdowns, so we splurged for a berth rather than row the dinghy back and forth to a mooring. Mission accomplished and one day later we sailed out of Denarau and put up spinnaker for a run down to try Tavaua Island again. Our neighbor in Vuda had told us of some good snorkel and dive spots with giant clams by Tavaua. Plus John just wanted to run the spinnaker. If you haven't seen our custom turtle sail, check out Latuitude 38 for Ullman Sail's half page add this month! There were too many boats anchored out at the island already so we headed back the to Malolo Reef thinking maybe go into Musket Cove for New Years the next day. Everyone else apparently had the same idea as Musket Cove had announced a big party. We watched new arrivals all day and looked at the weather and decided to leave entirely and head up North toward the Yasawa's before the predicted wind event for a New Year's Eve under an almost full moon. We are getting so anti-social here...
We sailed North for eight hours to Waya Island, Nalauwaki or just off Octopus Resort and anchored mid afternoon just before squalls arrived. After a nap we went for a swim and watched for activity on the resort beach. Seemed like some volley ball going on but as the night wore on the music began and went after the midnight fire works. We had been told that there were no fireworks available at Denaurau due to some shipping troubles between China and Fiji. New Years day we met some pre teens that paddled out to visit that were local guests at the resort for their holiday. The resorts are running some terrific deals so that local families can enjoy the mostly empty resorts during this demented time.
Happy New Year!
Island Tally for 2020
End of 2019 we had a tally of 47 islands. In 2020 we only added about 18 new islands of the over 300 islands in Fiji. As you can see on our map tracker, many of the islands and spots have been re-visted in 2020.
. We put on about 2,000 nautical miles and now show at 15,252 total miles sailed since we left SF Bay.
. Max speed was 10.8 knots, Average speed 5.33 kn
. Max wind was 48.4 during the cyclone
. Engine hours was about 500 hours for 2020; oddly about the same as 2019 where we visited 10 countries and did 13,000 nm. Likely due to the reefs and dangers in Fiji waters that require control of the boat rather than full sails.
May 2021 bring you all back the ability to travel again!
Christmas in the Tropics
03 January 2021 | Vuda Marina LAUTOKA Fiji
Diane Brown | Blustery post Cyclone Yasa
Christmas at Vuda & Cyclone Recovery
News of the damage at Vanua Levu to yachts, villages, and schools used for evacuation shelters filters in mostly via media like Facebook and Instagram. The Fijian Government is responding much quicker than last year with Harold and has already flown over Vanua Levu taking arial photos for their Disaster Command Center to evaluate and stage immediate needs. Australia is sending their Navy Ship Adelaide with equipment to meet health and building needs. Essential supply bags are on the way to spots with normal barge services but the "state of disaster" allows no vessel traffic without specific approval for relief efforts. Sea Mercy works with the Disaster Command Center and has loaded and trained about a dozen boats to go out in groups with water catchment and items from government to the smaller more remote villages. Cyclone Yasa had downgraded to a four by the time it hit the Lau Group and Kadavu but still took out crops and many roofs. Only four deaths so far but one was a 3 month old that was sheltered in a school building with her mother for safety and the roof fell in on them-so very sad.
Meanwhile John is busy putting all the sails, sun shades and canvas back on the boat. Originally we had thought to join the Sea Mercy effort but with our board motor not reliable it did not make sense. Here in Vuda the sailors and locals just keep saying "we are so grateful to be spared". John spent time trouble shooting then going into Lautoka looking for Yamaha Enduro parts. A local mechanic was called out but with all the drama, there are other priorities and he told us what we got from other parts places. The orders from Japan and China never seem to show up and it take three and four months to get items due to the pandemic. John is just sure there is some little shop that has a used coil just sitting there. Yup, we are in exotic places doing repairs!
The Boat Shed Restaurant at Vuda decided to do a Christmas Buffet since they have a captive audience. However most of the cruisers had already organized a potluck offsite. We decided to stay and do the buffet along with Anneka and Hank on Nok. The staff had gone all out creating a long Christmas buffet table surrounded by the enormous red/orange flame tree flowers. Tropical table runners and full settings at the communal picnic tables (five ganged together) made it seem more like Christmas. We sat at one end of the long table in our own little bubble and I noticed other groups did the same. The news of the new virus strain just caused the government to again shut down the one Fiji Air flight a week until further evaluation is done. They are a bit busy now with disaster relief so it may be a while.
Boxing Day is an official holiday in Fiji. We plan to leave as soon as vessel traffic is allowed again so were surprised to find a well dressed Fijian man in green/yellow plaid shorts and a Panama hat hailing us from the circular sidewalk at our stern. He asked if he could please buy whatever liters of fuel we had in our jerry can which was tied to the stern by the sidewalk to get keep his boat going . The fuel dock was closed and he had his extended family loaded with their ice chests of food headed to the family village north in Ba. So that was our contribution to Boxing Day: