Guava and Bodhran left Rabi Island on a questionable morning. There were scattered clouds that looked to be thickening. The weather forecast was for E-NE winds that would make it a beat to round Udu Point on the NW corner of Vanua Levu. We really liked the folks at Albert Cove, but we’ve got to keep moving. Cyclone season is a month away and we need to be out of here by then. So we motored out through the reef, and settled into a long close-hauled sail north. Fortunately the wind backed a bit when we were half way across to Vanua Levu and we didn’t have to tack.
Bodhran close-hauled sailing towards Uda Point
Riki caught a mahimahi on the way. He’d already filleted it by the time I got close enough to snap a pic:
Of course the wind died off a bit right when we needed it rounding Udu Point. The reef extends 3 miles out past the point and the tide rips created by the modest current were anything but. Bodhran was tossed around like a rag doll. It took a good 30 minutes to navigate the rips, turning into some of the larger breakers to keep them from rolling over the side.
After the point, I was able to fall off and run with the wind to the entrance to Vuruna Passage, a narrow unmarked pass through the reef that opens into a couple of small basins large enough for a few boats to anchor in. We normally navigate by looking at the colors of the water to tell the depth and see the various contours of Fiji’s many reefs. Charts are rarely accurate enough to navigate by GPS alone, so we normally try to time any tricky navigation with mid-day sun and a good pair of polarized sunglasses to ensure clear visibility of any hazards. It was a bit after 2pm when we reached the pass, normally a good time for navigation, but a combination of frequent squalls paired with a heavily overcast sky left the water over the reef a steely gray. With about a 2 foot swell breaking on the reef we could see the entrance, just go where there’s no breaking waves, but the route beyond was a mystery. Prudence would dictate that we wait for more favorable conditions or move on to another anchorage. There were a few more anchorages that we could try, but it’d be close to dark when we reached them and there was no guarantee that visibility would be any better when we got there.
Rain squall as we waited outside Vuruna Passage for our chance to enter:
So Riki gallantly went first, making it past the opening but he ended up hitting the reef not far inside. I was behind with Bodhran and had cleaned my best shades. When Riki hit, I was able to detect a faint difference in the water where Guava was and the deeper channel. By staying behind Guava I had a better angle to the water and was able to guide him the rest of the way into the channel. We moved painstakingly slow and squalls loomed on the horizon. We shouldn’t have been there, but after a tight dogleg, about 1 boat length wide, the reef opened up to a sandy basin where we were able to drop our hooks and relax.
Riki surveyed Guava’s hull and found a pea size dent where he’d hit. No big deal, but I mixed up a bit of underwater curing epoxy putty for Rick to squeeze into the damaged area and try to seal it up before any water seeps into the fiberglass. The tension and excitement entering Vuruna Passage under those conditions was exhausting. I can only describe my mood as giddy as Riki and I sat down to some well earned Fiji Gold and fresh mahimahi.
Double rainbow panorama after we dropped the hooks
One exhausted Rick Bailey:
Pic form the top of Bodhran’s mast a couple of days later under much better conditions
The next day found Riki and I dragging his skiff through 100 yards of mud trying to find a good place to leave it while me made the 1.5 mile hike down the beach to the Vunikodi village to offer up sevusevu. It was an incredibly hot day and I decided not to lug along my big camera. Well of course the scenes were spectacular and I don’t have any decent pics. We performed sevusevu with chief Emory and hung out in the village for a couple of hours. Unfortunately we’d left Riki’s skiff tied up to a mangrove tree well below the high tide line and we were anxious to get back to it while it was still accessible. The people in Vunikodi were very friendly and welcoming. I wish we could have hung out more, but it was just too far to hike from the anchorage.
Pic from Riki’s iPhone through a pair of shades of the beach
Riki with Chief Emory and his wife:
Riki’s skiff was almost afloat when we got back:
We were sun burnt and exhausted by the time that we got back, but decided that we needed to snorkel the pass. The water had been heated all day in the shallow lagoon. The first 3 feet was over 90 degrees, but it quickly cooled off as you dove down. The geography of the reef along the pass was spectacular. Large coral covered outcroppings, deep fissures and the occasional tunnel through the reef inspired awe as we swam through the murky water. Visibility was poor, but that just added to the eeriness which crescendo-ed with Riki spotting a nurse shark and the appearance shortly thereafter of a couple of white-tipped reef sharks. We swam with the sharks for a bit, but they were acting a bit aggressive and paired with the poor visibility, we decided that it’d be best for us to call it a day.
Coral along the pass
Riki dove down in this hole and ended up finding a nurse shark down there:
and a couple of Riki with the white tips
The next day, I spent recovering from my sunburn. We did get in another snorkel with the white tips, but for the most part it was a lazy day. The morning after’s weather forecast predicted a trough of low pressure descending over Fiji for 3 days. Riki and I agreed that Vuruna was not the place to be in poor weather, so we pulled up anchor and left having only scratched the surface of what the place had to offer.
We set out wing on wing sailing downwind to the west towards Labassa. The goal was to find someplace protected with 3G internet access to wait out the trough. After a couple of squalls, the weather cleared up and we decided it’s be a good idea to enter the barrier reef system at Tilagica Pass. Weaving our way through the reefs under headsail alone, with the bright sun overhead and the wind on my stern was one of the most technically demanding and enjoyable sailing experiences that I’ve ever had.
Our route to Verevere
Riki cutting up a paw paw for breakfast sailing outside the reef
Guava sailing inside the reef
The Great Sea Reef along the north coast of Vanua Levu is the 3rd largest reef in the world. We sailed for 15 miles of almost uninhabited coastline before we discovered a 3G signal. From there we sailed on another 5 miles around a good point and dropped our hooks in 15 feet of water off a pretty sand beach in Verevere Bay. The rain has been falling pretty much constantly all morning, but the sea is calm and we’ve got internet. Soon the water tanks will be full and I’ll be up to date with blog posts, pictures and podcasts. Who knows? I might even get some boat projects down while we’re here.
After 11 days on Qamea waiting for the weather to lie down enough for us to bash our way out to the Lau Group we suffered a moment of inspired reasonableness and decided to sail 25 miles downwind to Rabi (pronounced rom-bee) Island. Rabi is mainly populated by Micronesian Banaban people who were moved to Fiji from Banaba Island some 1100 nautical miles to the Northwest after some horrific treatment by the Japanese in WWII and phosphate mining ruined much of their land. The Banaban’s have a much greater connection with the sea than the Melanesian Fijian people. All around Rabi you see people paddling traditional outrigger canoes. You even see many with traditional crab claw sailing rigs venturing many miles out into the open ocean.
Traditional outrigger sailing canoe off Rabi:
Guava and Bodhran sailing into Katherine Bay
We spent the night at Katherine bay at the south end of Rabi for one night and then pushed on around to the reef riddled leeward side. First we tried anchoring in Elizabeth Cove, but didn’t like the deep water and strong winds blowing off the hill. Instead we hauled anchor and went around the corner to Albert Cove. Ricki had been here before, but had a nasty leg infection and didn’t go ashore. We knew that there wasn’t a village here and didn’t have to do sevusevu, so we went snorkeling at the pass into the cove and called it an early night.
Lots of canoes out fishing early in the morning in Katherine Bay:
Our route from Katherine Bay to Albert Cove:
Bodhran and Guava got some close order sailing in on the way to Albert Cove:
Ricki climbed up in his rig to shoot some pics
Here’s Bodhran sailing along under jib alone, of course that lazy jib sheet almost always ends up in the water:
The next day we went in to one of the huts on the beach where we met Panea and Terry. Panea is an interesting character. He had a stroke when he was 58 and moved to Albert Cove from Kioa to swim every day and get his strength back. He’s now 70 and, despite a bad leg infection that Rick gave him a round of antibiotics for, he’s still sprightly and full of energy. Not to mention the fact that he’s got biceps that would make many a pro wrestler jealous.
Panea, Ricki and Terry at Panea’s house:
Ricki and Panea’s turtle shell
Terry only moved to the cove a few years ago. My impression is that he grew tired of village life in Nuku, 4 miles to the south, and when his kids moved out he and his wife Mariana moved to Albert Cove to live a simpler life. Terry had built a trail up to a viewpoint high above the bay and offered to take Ricki and I up.
Terry’s trail was steep and rough. I don’t think that he’s familiar with the concept of a switchback. Many of the pitches left us grasping at vines and trees to keep from sliding backwards. Without Terry’s guidance, we would have never found our way to the top, the view from which was breathtaking.
View from the top
Ricki and I atop the hill:
Terry and Ricki on the trail back down:
On the way back down, we stopped off and met Mariana and got a tour of Terry’s house. We lazed about in hammocks and sipped on drinking coconuts. I don’t think that many people could live there for long, but Terry and Mariana have that stereotypical paradise that westerners fantasize of quitting life and moving to. They’ve got a two room thatch hut with separate kitchen and seating area. They’ve cultivate taro, bananas, cassava, papayas, breadfruit and a bunch of greens that I always forget the names of. They raise pigs and chickens for meat. There are coconuts everywhere for drinking, making coconut milk and for copra which they sell and make a little money off of. Of course during cyclones, they can lose everything and have to go stay in a cave up on the hill, but there’s always a price to pay for paradise otherwise everyone would live there.
Terry and Mariana’s house:
Terry’s very Gilligan’s Island bamboo battery holder for his LED light:
Terry getting us some drinking coconuts
Relaxing in one of Terry’s hammocks
We heard the pounding of kava coming from Panea’s hut down the beach and knew what was to come. We spent the rest of that day sitting around Panea’s drinking kava and playing music. Panea’s vibrancy and enthusiasm put a smile on my face a mile wide. Panea’s hut is like something out of a story. It’s thatch is well maintained, but looks tattered. Chickens poke around on his bed trying to make a nest while a rooster stares us down and makes guttural,threatening sounds, warning us that we shouldn’t be there. He’s got a little shrine with some beautiful shells and a couple of religious artifacts. A speargun sits in a place of honor in the corner and a little Sony am/fm radio hangs from the ceiling providing a an 20th century soundtrack to a centuries older scene.
HDR of Panea’s house
HDR inside looking back to the kitchen:
Keke and his son had to go to the village, but he wanted a picture of him and his canoe to send to his daughter who’s a nun in the Czech Republic:
Keke and his son paddling off to the village 5 miles down the coast
Terry, an energetic Panea on shakers and Ricki playing music in Panea’s hut
Quick video of Panea trying to teach Ricki the Fijian Farewell Song:
The next day was Sunday. Normally that means church and a very boring day of sitting around with no music, no work, no kava and basically no fun. Ricky and I went for a snorkel on the outer reef and then came in to the beach early afternoon not knowing what to expect. Andrea and Andreas, a German couple off Akka were already there before us. It turns out that they slaughtered a pig in our honor and had a full Sunday lunch set up. Bill and his son, the other neighbors in the bay were also there. We’d brought in some kava we all set down to drinking a basin before lunch.
The guys borrowed our guitars and hung out outside while the yachties ate first:
This guy got a reprieve this Sunday but his luck won’t hold out forever:
The folks off Akka left right after lunch while the rest of us fired up another basin of kava and passed around the guitars. When the kava was all drunk, Bill brought over some coconut beer that had been fermenting for the last week. I remembered the hangover that I got off coconut beer in the Tuamotus, and declined after the first shell full. It was interesting that the coconut beer was served up the same way as kava. A coconut shell was filled and passed around for each person in the circle. When the coco-beer was gone, we mixed a some white rum that I’d brought in with some coconut juice. Again, the shell filled with coconut cocktail was passed around to each person in order until it was gone and another bottle was made up with the dark rum Ricki had brought in.
Panea in true form with the shakers:
Terry smiles all the time, except when he’s taking pictures. Ricki tried to trick him into smiling, but Terry wiped it off his face just in time for the pic:
After a delightful afternoon, Ricki and I were given the leftover pork to take out to the boats with us. We tried to hook Panea up, but it’s really hard to tell how much that pig was worth to him. Of course he asked for nothing and offered up whatever he had in classic Fijian hospitality.
Mariana wove up a couple quick baskets out of a palm fronds, and sent us each home with a helping of pork:
We were thinking of leaving on Monday, but the weather was not looking good. We decided instead to have a low key day. We were going to take a hike across the island to Smale Bay on our own, but instead Terry guided us across. Again we probably would have lost the track without him. On our way across Terry regaled us with tales of all the evil spirits that lived on this side of the island and how there used to be more people there, but now only Keke and one of his sons lived there. Terry was showing us signs of wild pigs rooting through his crops on the way over. He got very excited when the 4 month old puppy that was shadowing us on the trail dashed ahead and we heard squealing as 2 pigs dashed off into the bush. Terry ran after them in pursuit. I think that he was going to try and catch them with his bare hands, but they got away. He made a plan to come back the next day with the adult dog, Panea’s spear gun and a cane knife.
Terry showing us a kava plant growing on the hill
Keke’s copra drier with his house in the background in Smale Bay:
Ricki and I had planned on a light day without any kava or booze, but when we got back to Albert Cove Terry suggested that we all get together at Panea’s for some fresh kava. It would have been rude to say no and we’d never tried fresh kava, so we went out and got our guitars and met with all the residents of Albert Cove at Panea’s hut.
They had pulled up some a kava plant that day and par boiled the roots. Then Panea pounded the softened roots with a larges stick and half an old fishing float that he used as a mortar and pestle. The resulting product still contained large chunks of root and stem and was nothing like the dried powder that you normally mix with water. The resulting brew was more red than usual and a bit more of a bitter salad green taste to it than normal. Terry kept re-using the roots and refreshing the basin, so I’ve no idea how much we drunk, but we stayed till well after dark. Ricki and I had to excuse ourselves and take off lest we succumb to the mellowing agents in the kava and pass out on the beach.
I could have spent weeks hanging out in Albert Cove with all the good people there, but I need to get around to Vuda Point and get a haulout in. So after 3 short days in was time to bid farewell to another set of new friends and push on to the north side of Vanua Levu.
This is how the kids get to and from the school at Naiviivi Village:
Life starts early in Fiji. Once the sun comes up, boats start transiting the bay from one village to another. The kids even go to school by bus. I was on deck drinking my morning cuppa when one of the villagers, Levi, hailed me from La’venture, a dive boat that was moored between Guava Jelly and myself. I didn’t feel much like yelling across the anchorage, so I rowed on over for a morning chat.
La’venture was dive boat from the Cousteau resort outside Savasavu. It had a blown motor and was getting a bit long in the tooth for resort standards so it was sold to a Fijian fellow a year ago. The owner was gone, but Naidu, the full time engineer, was left behind. Naidu is a very interesting guy. He’s Indo-Fijian, has a marine engineering certificate from New Zealand, spent years in the US and Canada working on logging machinery and is the most worldly Fijian that I’ve met.
Levi was out to talk to Naidu about fixing the village outboard which he was planning on doing later in the day. Right now he had plans to head out fishing with Vijen, a younger Indo-Fijian guy who’s looking after an American’s private land across the bay from the villages. Ricki and Vijen knew each other from earlier in the year. We grabbed a little bit of stir-fry beef from Bodhran to try and catch some bait and headed out in Vijen’s panga. Fishing was a bust. Vijen caught a couple of bait fish, but the wind and current were up and it was a difficult day for line fishing. Still, the day was sunny and I’d brought cold beers for everyone and it was a very pleasant way to while away the day.
Taking VJ’s panga into the village to get some sooke (Fijian tobacco) before heading out fishing:
Ricki and I had dinner that night with VJ, his wife, 2 year old son and his brother Ruven at the caretakers house behind the big American house. As we had discussed earlier in the day you’re now no longer supposed to call them “Indo-Fijian.” Eveyone is just Fijian, but I’m afraid that I still need the term “Indo-Fijian” as their culture is very different from the “Native” Fijians. For one, they speak Hindi at home, though they do know a bit of Fijian. They go to Hindu Temple over on Taveuni. They make lot’s of curries and have many other wonderful qualities that differentiate them from the native Fijians.
This is the property that VJ caretakes with the big house on the left and the caretaker’s cabin on the right:
The heaven’s opened up for the next 3 days as Ricki and I topped off our water tanks and sat below reading and watching movies much of the time. We spent the second day of rain working on our outboards over on La’venture. Sam, La’venture’s owner had come back to the boat. He and Naidu spent a few hours going over my motor, but to no success. Ricki did some work on his outboard as well but was unable to make much progress. So between us we’ve still only got one half working outboard. Ricki and I brought over a bunch of beers which we shared in payment for looking at the motors and using their spacious covered deck as a workspace.
I didn’t get any pics on La’venture, but here’s some rainy day activity pics:
Village kids playing on chunks of foam:
Ricki and Dan Lulu coming back with the day’s catch:
It was gettng dark and the La’venture crew invited us over for dinner. First they needed some kava. La’venture doesn’t have a skiff, so they asked Ricki for a ride to Hiram’s place. Hiram lives on some freehold land at the head of the bay and grows all the kava for the area. It was getting dark as Ricki drove Naidu and I back into a barely discernible path through the mangroves. Unlike the route to the village, the mangroves here grew together over the top of the channel creating a very spooky and magical living tunnel of vegetation.
After a couple of gentle groundings, we arrived at the head of the channel and then had to navigate the footpath to Hiram’s place. Of course Hiram had sold all his kava to the villagers. The last vestiges of daylight cast just enough shadow to stumble down to path without breaking one’s neck. Of course the venerable 64 year old Hiram had no problems. He was going to take us back to Waibulu village to by kava.
It was truly dark with almost no moon as we navigated back out through the mangroves. Hiram’s subtle hand gestures serving as directions to Ricki who admirably got us back out into the main bay without poking a hole in his skiff. My words fail me. I’ve no way to describe the magical experience of transiting these hidden jungle passages in the failing light with the irregular firing of a 26 year old Nissan 8 hp complaining about being run too slow the only sound.
Once in the bay, we knew the way to Waibulu village quite well and had no problem procuring kava and getting back to La’venture. Hiram took the seat of honor as kava was passed around and Naidu started making dinner. I took off to make some curry rice in the pressure cooker while Rick made a quick cabbage salad. We hurried back expecting dinner to be forthcoming. I’ve been eating meals at 9am and 3:30pm pretty much every day and like my routine. It was now after 7 and my stomach was complaining mightily. Naidu was making pumpkin curry and it was almost done. It smelled delicious. He then proceeded to start making roti (Indian flour tortillas.) Kava was being passed around at regular intervals as I sat with Naidu and learned about making roti as well as hearing about his kids in Sydney and his time working in Australia, the US and Canada. I got to know Sam, who had spent 10 years working in Whangarei, my home away from home in New Zealand. I talked with Hiram about his plantation and life as a freeholder living next to the villagers. Hours passed. The kava was filling my stomach, but my blood sugar was getting low. I felt like I was going to pass out. Naidu was making enough roti for a week and it took hours. Finally I said something and learned that you don’t eat while you’re drinking kava. If I was done with kava then by all means I should make up a plate. I felt bad eating in front of everyone else, but Rick joined me for our 10pm meal. We left about 10:30 and no one else had made a plate yet.
That next 5 days at Naiviivi Bay passed similarly to the first 5. We went snorkeling, we went fishing, went to church, and we took VJ and Ruven sailing on Guava Jelly to do some provisioning on Taveuni. Qamea is a special place with wonderful people. It was hard to leave, but cyclone season is on it’s way and I need to get over to Vuda Point for a haulout before it gets here. So Ricki and I took off yesterday morning and sailed to Catherine Bay on Rabi Island. We’ll probably hang out on Rabi for a few days before making our way up around the north end of Vanua Levu and eventually down to the west side of Viti Levu.
Here’s some more pics of village life at Qamea:
Hanging out with Seta, the Assembly of God pastor after church on Sunday:
The pastor’s house/church
Me on the hill overlooking NaiviiviBay
VJ and Ruven sailing on Guava Jelly
Here’s a time lapse video of Ricki and my 25 miles sail from Qamea to Rabi compressed down to 3 mintues:
Panorama taken with my Asus tablet our first morning in Qamea:
The sun rose over a glorious morning our second day in Naiviivi Bay. I drank my coffee and took pics in the soft morning light. Late morning, Dan Lulu came over with his son Chino, daughter Rosemary and a load of pumpkins and drinking coconuts for me. I’d asked him to bring over the village guitar to see if I could get all 6 strings playing. The guitar was missing a tuner and 3 bridge pins. I’ve got two spare sets of tuners on the boat and I thought that I had a bunch of bridge pins. Dan replaced the rusted out remains of the tuner with one of mine while I looked for bridge pin. Fortunately Rick had a couple as I was only able to find one. I also hooked him up with a new set of strings. I wanted him to string it up there and get it going, but instead I pulled out my Taylor and Dan picked along to Willie Nelson trying to teach me how to play a proper baseline.
It was a beautiful day and we decided it’s be best to go out for a snorkel on the outer reef. Dan dropped off Rosemary at the village and picked up his snorkeling gear and spear gun. Both Dan and Rick’s outboards were “sick.” Well for that matter, mine was sickest of all, but it was decided that we’d take Dan’s panga, but with my gas. Chino watched the boat. Ricki and I grabbed our cameras and Dan borrowed my spear. We spent a couple of hours in the water, off and off fighting a pretty good current. The vis wasn’t as good as it was on the outer reef, but there was some great coral. In the end Dan bagged 6 parrot fish.
Bodhran anchored in Naiviivi Bay:
Heading out in Dan’s panga for some snorkeling and fishing on the outer reef
Dan fishing with my gun:
Coral outside NaiviiviBay:
Dan coming back with a parrot fish:
Ricki posing in front of an impressive coral:
More of the reef outside NaiviiviBay:
Shot of the reef from the panga:
Poor Chino didn’t get to go fishing, he had to pole the boat back along the reef as we were snorkeling down current:
That night we went back into the village for kava sundowners. This time Moses, the chief from the next village, and some amazing guitar playing 20 somethings we there. I’d brought my spare guitar this time as we all passed around the 3 ½ guitars and a 3 string uke so that everyone got a chance. I’d brought my tablet in this time and was able to get a few decent recordings and some less blurry pics. It just didn’t feel right bringing a camera either the night before or this night, though I really wish that I had some pics to remember two amazing evenings by.
Ricki drinking kava on night 2 at the community hall:
All the kids loved my tablet when I brought it in. I didn’t dare show them angry birds:
Me and the elder men in the hall:
And here’s some recordings of the Band Boys. I wish I knew the names of the songs: