Tiffany and I had a great Thanksgiving dinner put on by the restaurant next door to the marina last night with about 20 other American cruisers. We’re about the last ones still here waiting for weather to head off to New Zealand. It hasn’t looked good for the last week and it doesn’t look good for the foreseeable future, so we might be stuck here in Vuda Point Marina for a little while. At least there are plenty of good folks here and there’s a pool at the resort next door, so life ain’t bad. I hope everyone is having a nice Thanksgiving back home.
After our 2 weeks trying to get my batteries replaced, we were definitely ready to get out and do some sailing. With a nice freshly painted bottom and clean prop, we easily made 6 knots motoring out of the marina. We had planned on going north up to the Yasawa Islands, but a fresh northeasterly wind dictated that we go back out to Musket Cove on Malolo Island. We spent a couple of days on Malolo waiting for the wind to turn out of the south, enjoying the water and sunshine in the rain shadow of Viti Levu.
After a couple of days a light southerly picked up and we got an early start heading north through the Mananutha Islands. Once clear of the reefs and shoals around Malolo we put up the spinnaker and had a nice run most of the way up to Navadra Island where we picked up a commercial dive mooring and had the entire island to ourselves with a building southerly blowing across the island. Unfortunately the reason that we had the bay to ourselves was the tendency for the ocean swell to wrap around the island and make for a rolly night. After the sun went down, we were minding our own business watching a movie on the laptop when I heard a boat pull up outside. It was a couple of locals from Waya Island 7 miles away who’d come over to spearfish in the dark of the new moon. When there’s no moon out, fish tend to just sit there even when you shine a dive light on them making them much easier to spear. The fellas were planning on staying out all night fishing, and wanted coffee and smokes to help them through. I didn’t have any tobacco, but I invited them aboard for a pot of coffee. They said that they’d bring us a lobster in the morning, but morning came and they were nowhere to be found. A lobster would have been nice, but I’m sure they got tired and went home. Due to the increasing wind and the ocean swell, we forewent a trip ashore. It was a shame, because the island has a beautiful beach and reportedly great snorkeling and wild goats running around on shore.
We abandoned our lovely but rolly anchorage at Navadra the next morning and took off for the north end of Waya Island. Waya is reminiscent of the Marquesas with dramatic volcanic spires jutting out of it’s lush hillsides. We had another good sail up, but my nerves got stretched a bit dodging reefs well off their reported location and not finding some reefs at all causing us to wonder where exactly they were. The charts of the Yasawa Islands have been made using aerial photography instead of the normal survey techniques, so there are no depth soundings and as it turns out some of the reefs on the chart are just shoal areas where the depth rises but there’s no visible indication of the spot when viewed from sea level. After a couple of weeks I made my peace with navigating here, but I’ll be very happy when we get down to NZ with modern charts and channel markers.
I was warned that most of the anchorages in the Yasawas were deep and rolly. I was pleasantly surprised when we found and anchorage off the north end Waya in about 30 feet of water. Surprisingly there was still swell wrapping around and finding it’s way into the anchorage. Still we stayed here two days. We really wanted to find a place out of the swell, and the wind was starting to shift more easterly as a big low was passing south of Fiji. We sailed across to Naviti and then motored around inside the reef system there until we reached the Korovou Eco Resort. In the past 20 years backpacker style tourism has reached the Yasawas. Naviti had 3 small resorts, Waya had 2. Accommodations are rustic and the crowd leans towards the active 20/30 something crowd. We dropped the hook and went in to check Korovou out and were immediately welcomed in and told to make ourselves at home which included taking a dip in their pool. We decided to stick around for dinner and the evening entertainment and got some time in hanging out with some not yachtie tourists.
It’d been cloudy and rainy for the better part of 3 days, but we took advantage of one sub break to go and snorkel a couple of reefs around Korovou on the second day. The morning of the third day had the wind shifting more northerly and sending swell right into our nice little bay. Once again it was time to move. With a good 25 knots of wind behind us we followed our GPS breadcrumb trail back south along Naviti as the dark clouds overhead prevented us from seeing reefs. Fortunately it lightened up when we split off from the path we’d already taken and cut though a shallow narrow bit north of Nanuya Island. In May you can swim with Giant Pacific Manta Rays in this passage measuring over 20′ across, but the aptly named Manta Ray resort here seemed a bit dead this time of year. Once past Nanuya we slogged against the wind until finding blissfully calm water off Somo Village at the head of Somo Bay.
Upon dropping the hook, we loaded a half kilo of kava in a pack and skiffed on into the shore to perform the sevusevu ceremony with the local chief. Traditionally whenever anyone arrives at a village in Fiji, a gift of kava is presented to the chief to ask permission to be in the village and use it’s resources. We met Melika on the beach with her children and she took us into the chiefs house. The chiefs house was one of the few masonry buildings in the village, but the floor was still covered with the traditional mats woven out of pedanus leaves. Interestingly he had a table that hung from a column extending down from the ceiling, but no chair to go around the table. Generally everyone sits cross legged all the time. After the sevusevu, Melika took us for a walk around the village eventually ending up at her father’s place where we had tea with her extended family. Actually everyone in the village is family. Male members of the village have to find wives in other villages around the islands while women leave the village when they marry to go to their husband’s village.
After tea, I took Melika and her father Solo out to Bodhran for a visit and to give him some fish hooks and diesel for his generator. Turns out he’s got a deep freeze, a TV and one of the only generators in the village. He stores fish and frozen meat for a number of his family members and wasn’t able to get any diesel on their last supply run into Lautoka.
We spent 3 days off Somo while the low passed and the winds blew strongly out of the north. A large powerboat with a seaplane and a helicopter came in and anchored behind us along with their jet skis and various other toys. Different villagers came out to say hi. I hooked up one with a bunch of music for a little mp3 he had and then the weekly Blue Lagoon Cruises ship came in. We were told that they’ed be putting on a Meke (lots of singing and dancing). So when we saw all the passengers getting lightered into the beach, we pulled in behind in the skiff and jumped in on the festivities. We missed the sevusevu, but got the tour of the church and lecture on the villages. This was followed by everyone getting flower leis and a kava ceremony. We were trying to hold back and remain inconspicuous, but when we came in the room was pretty full and the village spokesman signaled for us to sit up front next to him. This of course led to Tiffany and I getting 3 bowls of kava to everyone else’s one. Kava is the slightly narcotic root of a certain type of pepper plant. It’s ground up and put into a cotton bag. The bag is then soaked in a bowl of water and wrung out a number of time yielding what looks and tastes like muddy water. It’s slightly bitter, very earthy and leaves you with a numb tongue. Drink enough of it and you start to get drunk. It’s national drink of Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu.
After the kava ceremony the villagers sang and danced for half an hour or so before getting the whole crowd up and dancing with them. It’s always good to get up and dance immediately after sitting cross legged for 45 minutes or more. Fortunately I managed not to fall over immediately upon standing. Afterward the ladies of the village put out crafts to sell. Alas 70% of the wares were bought on Viti Levu to sell to the cruise ship passengers, but they did make a lot of their own stuff in the village too.
Once the festivities were over, the cruise ship headed out followed soon after by the yacht with all it’s toys and aircraft and we were left once again with Somo Bay all to ourselves. A local fella named Paul swam by on his way out to spearfish the reef and came aboard for some tea and a breather. We got to talking and decided to grab our snorkeling stuff and go fishing with him. I lent him my speargun while I used his surgical tube sling. I really should have hit some fish with it, but I just couldn’t get it down. I would certainly have had a few snapper with my own gun, but Paul was ecstatic to be using it. I spotted two white tip reef sharks while we were there, apparently they’re pretty rare around Fiji. Upon hearing this, Paul wanted to go shoot them and eat them for dinner. That’s probably why there aren’t many reef sharks around Fiji. The sharks didn’t come back, Tiffany was getting cold and Paul had 4 fish, so we called it quits.
We were having a good time with Paul and he wanted to know if we wanted to drink kava with him later. Naturally we did, so I gave him a little cash to pick up a quarter kilo and dropped him off at the beach. Back on the boat we cleaned up and cooked up some breadfruit fritters to go with the papaya ginger jelly I’d made the day before. I picked Paul up from the beach an hour later. He had 10 100gram packets of kava, a plastic tub and a cloth pouch with him. For the next three hours we each had a coconut bowl full of kava every 10 minutes or so until we finished our second tub and decided that maybe we should stop. Greg made kava in Tonga a few times and I could only down 2 or 3 bowls before my stomach protested and I had to stop. The Tongan kava instantly numbed my mouth, but never had any kind of mood altering effect. Maybe it was because Greg was using a french press instead of a cloth bag and too much root was getting through. As Paul was serving up kava from the tub, he’d stir up the settled bits at the bottom and then ask whether we wanted high tide or low tide. I’d say that Greg’s must have been a Spring Tide low. Paul’s kava on the other hand just mellowed me out nicely, barely numbed the mouth and left me with just a little stomach discomfort. Tiffany drank nearly on par with us and seemed super relaxed and a little silly. Paul on the other hand could barely get back into the skiff when it was time to go home. Apparently he drank kava for 3 more hours after he left us that night.
The next morning I met Pual on the beach and we went and picked a cassava root from his farm. I’d never cooked with cassava before and it rounded out nicely the bounty of breadfruit, papaya, and mangoes we’d gotten from the villagers. The northerlies had mellowed out and we motorsailed down to Waya Island for two more nights in one of the most stunning anchorages I’ve ever been in. The autopilot control head crapped out on the way down and I spent the better part of the next day diagnosing the problem and replacing the control head with a spare that I was lucky enough to have along.
We left from Waya yesterday morning. It was a 6 hour motor in 0 wind to get back to Vuda Point Marina. We sailed the last two hours in a freshening Northeasterly. We’d been watching all the rain over the main island of Viti Levu on our way back while we were in relative overcast. Then once we got in and tied up, all hell broke loose. Vuda Point Marina is a circular basin about 100 yards across. The wind was still calm where we had tied up on the landward side of the basin. I looked out and saw the palm trees practically horizontal over on the seaward side and heard the wind howling before it got to us. The squall hit with a 40 knot front that blew through in a few minutes. The rain and lightening lasted considerably longer. I sat and watched from the companionway as lightening struck 3 times within visual range of the marina before I saw that bolt strike the mast of a big steel ketch moored 200 feet away from us. An explosion of sparks rained down from the masthead, but the anemometer was still spinning and the windex was still swiveling with the gusty wind. I don’t know if they suffered any damage, but I think that it was an omen telling us it’s time to get on down to New Zealand. We’ve got a few days worth of projects and provisioning before we leave, but hopefully we’ll be catching the next weather window and getting down south away from all this tumultuous weather.
It’s been a month since my last post and much has gone on. Trojan put me in contact with a company in Suva that does solar and wind power installations and are the local distributor for Trojan batteries. While we were still out at Musket Cove with internet access, we arranged to meet back at Vuda Point Marina the following Saturday. So we made sure we were in the marina on the appointed date, waited all day in the blistering heat and……nothing. No one ever showed up. Turns out that they were doing a job up in Lautoka that ran late and couldn’t make it. They said that they had tried to come on Sunday, but the gate guard wouldn’t let them in. They would have called me, but I don’t have a phone over here and they didn’t have internet access on the weekend. So we set up another appointment for the following Sunday. Tiffany and I spent the entire week in the marina working on projects for most of the day and then retreating to the pool when things got too hot. First we hauled Bodhran, cleaned the bottom and got one coat of bottom paint on mixing a couple of old cans that I still had on the boat. We were back in the water in 24 hours and got on with some more cosmetic work. We painted the cabin top non-skid white in an effort to reduce heat. Tiffany made all new slip covers for the saloon cushions. I completely disassembled the leaky butterfly hatch, stripped it, varnished it and put it back together. We also met up with Ed and Ellen on Entr’acte, a couple of career musicians (drums and violin) who finished their Nor’sea 27 from a bare hull and have been sailing it for over 30 years. They were putting Entr’acte up on the hard and going back to Arizona for cyclone season, but we sure hope to meet back up with them somewhere down the road.
Sunday comes and goes and no sight of the guys from Suva. I send back and email Monday morning explaining my desperate situation and that I really don’t want to make the 1200 mile trip down to NZ with only 2 marginal batteries. Once again they tried to get in on Sunday, but the gate guard said I wasn’t around and wouldn’t let them in. Of course I was there and only 200 feet from the gate if I had known when to look for them. Clay Engineering suggested that I take pictures of my battery, charging and distribution setup and ship the batteries down to them. The prospect of sitting around the boat with no electricity for an indeterminate amount of time didn’t really appeal to either of us, so I took the pictures of the battery setup, rented a car and took off on the 3 hour drive down to Suva.
I set off on the 7:45 bus to Lautoka the next morning. Who knew that renting a car could be so difficult. I found 4 rental car places in Lautoka, 3 were closed and one kept giving me the run around. If I would come back in an hour, they’d have a car for me. After two hours, I decided to catch a bus to the airport. Of course that’s where I should have gone in the first place, but there’s no bus from the marina to the airport and it’s twice as far as Lautoka. So finally a bit after noon I get the car rented, get back to the marina, load up the batteries and we’re off. It’s almost 2:00 and it’s at least a 3 hour drive to Suva. Needless to say, we don’t do a lot of sightseeing along the way. It’s a two lane road with the occasional turning lane all the way and pot holes you could take a bath in. The speed limit was only 80km slowing to 50km through the villages with ample speed bumps to make sure you slowed down. We made it into Suva just about 5:00 and damned if we didn’t take a wrong turn and head right down town in the middle of horrendous traffic. The street instantly became one way and there didn’t look like there was any street heading back out of town. I almost got rear ended when I slammed on the brakes thinking two pedestrians were going to walk right out in front of me. It turns out that it is very difficult to cross the 3 lanes of traffic on this main road. So you cross the first lane when you get a chance, wait for another break between two streams of traffic, cross the second and repeat. Having all these pedestrians right next to the car as we drove along at 50km and were looking around for a chance to turn pushed my nerves to the limit. Thank god I rented the smallest car in the world. I think that it had a big turnkey in the back so you could wind it up if you ran out of gas. Eventually we got off the main road and found Clay Engineering. It was 5:20, but miraculously they’re still there. They take the batteries, suggest a cheap hotel and are just so amazingly friendly that I instantly relax and know that everything is going to work out fine.
On the recommendation from Clay Engineering, we go and check into the Tropic Tower Hotel. They said on the phone that it would be 77FJD (1USD=2FJD) a night, which seemed a bit high. When we got there it turns out that that was the rate for the air conditioned rooms. We elected to take one of the non air conditioned suites for a very reasonable 44FJD a night. Well you get what you pay for. Sleeping on that sagging vinyl covered mattress swatting mosquitoes and flicking off 4” roaches all night was quite an experience. I think the air conditioned rooms probably would have been sealed better and may have been bug free, but who knows? After settling into our room, we went to the front desk and asked where would be a good place to grab some dinner. Turns out that the receptionist lived in Lynnwood WA and her kids went to the same highschool as me. She recommended the food court above the MH downtown. Well MH, or Morris Headstrom, is a chain of grocery and homeware stores here in Fiji. The one I knew in Lautoka is a good store, but decidedly rustic. Turns out that old Morris went all out in Suva and built a 3 story western style shopping mall replete with upscale shops full of specialtiy items, a ground floor Gloria Jeans coffee shop and, two escalator rides up, a full food court with ethnic cuisine from around the world. We get the donnor kebabs and sit down to a meal that could have been served up anywhere in the world, but I wouldn’t have guessed Fiji. After dinner, we go across the street to the movie theater and complete our quintessential American style evening by watching “Red” in bone chilling air conditioning.
A cruise ship from Austrailia is in town and we spend the next day pushing our way through the masses at the museam, which I’m sure is empty on a normal day. Suva has a great museam with some preserved ocean sailing canoes, a piece of rudder from the Bounty, and a fork that was used to eat a methodist missionary that offend a converted chief by not holding a meeting in his village. We decided on chinese food rathar than methodist minister for our lunch, but I’m sure that it was our loss.
Our idea was to spend two nights in Suva. Hopefully that would be enough time for Clay to check the batteries and get word back from Trojan in the U.S.. We hadn’t been in contact, but we swung by and checked in on our way out of town and wouldn’t you know it, there were 4 brand new Trojan T105+ batteries sitting there waiting for me. Retail, the batteries would have gone for 1600FJD and the good folks at Clay Engineering weren’t going to get anything out of the deal. I noticed a crushed case of Fiji Gold beer on the warehouse floor, so I immediate ran down the street and left them a case of beer for thier troubles. I sure hope Trojan treats them well on their end of warrantee and that Clay Engineering isn’t out anything. We made a few stops on the way back to Vuda Point and gernally had a much mellower time of it than on the way to Suva, but we were both pretty worn out and no real adventures were had.