Archive for August, 2013


Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

After 3 days in Savusavu, Bodhran, Guava and Irie were all topped up on fuel, water and groceries. We were ready to go and even more impressive, we had a forecast for easterly winds turning northeasterly. We decided to capitalize on the unusual northerly and shoot for Fulanga 190 miles to the southeast.

Fulanga is in the southern Lau Group in Fiji. For many years the Lau was accessible to cruisers by special permit only along with a hefty daily fee. 3 years ago the Fijian government opened up the group for cruising, and it’s quickly becoming a favorite destination. The problem with the Lau is that you have pass it by check into Fiji and then work your way back against the prevailing tradewinds when you want to visit. Fulanga is about as far up against the trades as any point in the Lau and would make an excellent jumping off point if we could lay it.

Doris and Hannah had 3 weeks left before they we scheduled to fly back to the states. While in Savusavu they went to the Air Pacific Sun office and booked connecting flights out of Vanua Balavu in the Northern Lau and the only island in the Lau Group with air service. Hard schedules are anathema to the cruising sailor. They make for bad decisions and missed opportunities. Of course there’s no way to avoid them when a visitor comes on board, but if the wind didn’t cooperate we could have some problems making Vanua Balavu by the appointed hour.

Bodhran, Guava Jelly and Irie all left Savusavu in the afternoon and set a course for Point Reef where we’d then be able to make the turn southeast to Fulanga. Of course our forecasted east northeasterly 10-15 knot wind ended up being 15-20 knots directly from the southeast. Doris and I rounded the point shortly before the sun went down and proceeded to bash into a sloppy head sea. We only made 10 miles good towards our destination during our first 4 hours. After that we got tired of getting beat up and cranked up the iron genny and motor sailed for the lee of Taveuni which we layed about 3 in the morning. Not the most auspicious beginning for a passage, but we used the light winds behind Taveuni to regroup a bit from the night’s beating and were ready for the easterlies when the filled in with the rising sun.

Once we got the wind, we spent the next 36 hours close hauled on a port tack. The wind died again the second night out and I used the motor for a couple hours to make some more easting. When the wind filled back in we had a perfect line for the pass at Fulanga which we raised a little after noon.

The pass at Fulanga is narrow and has a lot of current. If you judge the tide wrong it can be treacherous. Guava had arrived 20 minutes before Bodhran and had judged that the pass looked pretty good. Riki had been in here last year, so I was happy to tuck in behind him. With Doris posted on the bow as lookout and we transited the pass fairly easily. The water clarity in Fulanga actually complicates matters. It’s hard to judge the depth of the coral heads. In the pass you can avoid most of them, but once you get through to Fulanga’s expansive lagoon, there are patches where you just have to cross your fingers and hope for luck.

The lagoon in Fulanga is a spectacular a spot as I’ve been in the Pacific. A barrier reef surrounds a large “U” shaped island with the opening pointed to the northeast. Inside, the lagoon has a few large islets, but the real distinctive feature are the hundreds of mushroom shape rocks strewn everywhere. With depths rarely getting deeper than 40′, the entire lagoon is an anchorage capable of handling many hundreds of boats. We followed Guava into Riki’s favorite anchorage behind a sand spit in about 15′ of water.

Irie overnighted in Numuka-I-Lau and hit the pass the next morning. Doris and I jumped on Guava and motored out to meet Irie and snorkel the pass. The current was running strong, so we skiffed to the outside and drifted the pass back in with our dinghies tied to our waists. The sky was overcast, so the colors in the coral were a bit muddled. Still we were rewarded with a huge school of mating coral trout at the pass entrance as well as a few good sized white tipped reef sharks. Afterwards we finished off the day with music and a fire on the beach along with Jamie and Lucy on Bamboozle.

After two days on the island it was high time that we went to the village and did our sevusevu. The main village is on windward side of the main island. There’s an anchorage off the lagoon on the leeward side. From there it’s a ¾ mile hike along a scenic, but mosquito infested path across the island. The village had nominated Tai as the yachtie liaison. Riki had met Tai the year before, so we went straight to his house.

It turns out that Riki was the fist kai palangi (white person) to ever return to the island for a second visit. Needless to say we received a warm welcome. We were escorted to the chief’s house, performed our sevusevu and paid our $50 per boat fee for visiting the island. Before lifting the permit process, Suva charged a daily fee to be in the Lau Group. A portion of this fee was supposed to go to the villages. In practice, it never tricked down to the islands. The free right to anchor is one of the tenets of maritime law the world over. Also once you perform sevusevu, you supposedly have the right to anchor, fish and generally go where ever you want in the territory controlled by the chief. Still we’re visitors here and if they want $50 a boat to visit one of the most fantastic anchorages in the world, then it’s a small price to pay.

We spent 2 weeks in Fulanga, alternating between the more remote anchorage and visiting the village. We went to church on Sunday and were treated to a big spread afterwards. The schoolteacher, George, and his wife Ma, pretty much adopted us with Ma baking and making food for us every time we came in. We played music and drank kava a few nights. The generosity of the people was overwhelming even by Fijian standards. The monthly supply ship was broken and months overdue. Resources were running low and we were still treated to the best that they had to offer. We tried to reciprocate in kind with whatever supplies we had on board, but how to you repay someone who has next to nothing and feels bad that they can’t offer more.

Subsistence living the order of the day in Fulanga. With plenty of arable land and fish in the sea, the population get’s by fairly well. Unfortunately they don’t grow kava or tobacco not to mention petrol, cooking oil and rice. They do have magnificent vesi trees. A tropical hardwood, the wood carvers are hard at work most days shaping it into rough kava bowls that are sold to Suva where they are sanded and finished. They do a little bit of finish work, mainly with the softer woods that they carve into masks, dolphins, turtles or whatever else catches their fancy. I ended up buying a rough kava bowl and took a picture of a design which I’ve tried to carve into it’s rim. It’s not done yet, but will be much nicer than the plastic mixing bowl that I’ve been using.

We had a big going away party a few days before we left Fulanga. It started out to with a hike up to a cave filled with bones up above the village. The stories differ on whose bones these were, but supposedly they belong to 19th century invaders from Tonga. A number of the skulls have large holes in them presumably where they’ve been bashed in by war clubs. From the cave we continued up to a high point with a good view of the village on once side and the lagoon on the other. On the way down we visited another much larger cave, this time devoid of human remains.

Upon returning to the village we were treated to a big lunch. The highlight of which was steamed clams in coconut milk with seaweed mixed in. From there we were late for a concert at the school. What you didn’t hear? The kids have never heard country music and Christian, Riki and I were slated to perform for them. It was news to us, but good fun. Especially when the Spanish couple from Caps Tres goaded the kids into clapping in time. They finished off by singing a song back to us. It was all very sweet and a good precursor to sitting down to a big bowl of ole locally preferred narcotic beverage, where we proceeded to swap songs back and forth with the Fulanga Band Boys. At one point there was even a conga line going. I’m not sure how that started, but a good time was had by all.

The wind had been out of the north for a few days. A very odd wind direction during the hight of the tradewind season. We were beginning to get a little worried about getting the girls up to Vanua Belavu for their flights home. With only 3 days left, we got a light southwester which eventually clocked around to the southeast and pushed us nicely up to Vanua Belavu covering the 120 miles in just over 24 hours.

Upon reaching Vanua Belavu and doing our sevusevu, we learned that they weekly flight to Suva was often cancelled. The runway is situated on a hillside. Planes land on a grass slope at about a 25 degree angle. Too much rain and the runway gets too muddy to land. Not enough visibility and it’s dangerous to come into the until airstrip. The village tourism commissioner, Sam, set us up with a 6 am 4×4 ride to the airport.

It was touch and go when we got there. Suva had tried to cancel the flight, but the dour fella that ran things in Vanua Belavu overrode them. So thankfully the girls got out, albeit a few hours late and Riki and I went back to being singlehanders again.

Heading East

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Riki and I spent a couple of weeks at Nananu-I-Ra. He was learning to kite board and I took my open water dive course. We were both waiting for boat guests to arrive. Doris was joining Bodhran and Hannah was going to be hopping on Guava Jelly. They’d coordinated their tickets to fly from the States to Fiji. Riki and I had been weighing different options as to where to meet the girls. We’d originally thought that Savusavu would be a good spot, but that would require a long layover in Nadi and another expensive plane ticket. We were having such a good time at Nananu-I-Ra that we decided to work with Warren at Safari to get the girls to meet us there. He was good enough to arrange the 2 and a half hour van ride from the airport as well as a panga to pick the girls up on the main island and bring them out to the boats. Everything went off without a hitch and just like that Riki and I weren’t singlehanders anymore.

Doris scored a screaming groupon deal on her dive certification over the winter in Seattle. So the first thing we did was spend a couple of days diving with the Safari Lodge. I’ve been snorkeling for years and honestly the best colors are in the first ten feet of water, but there’s something very special about being 60 feet under the surface, able to loiter as long as you want checking out the tiniest detail on the sea floor.

We did a 5 dives with Safari over 2 days. The weather was bad the first day, so we went to some close in spots with great sea fans and lots of fish. The second day we were able to take the maiden voyage out on Safari’s new dive boat to some spectacular bombies in the pass between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. We did three dives through deep canyons and along abyssal walls teeming with life.

Riki and I wanted to work our way East and get to the Lau Group. The Lau had been off limit to cruisers for years and had only opened up a couple of years ago. It’s filled with fantastic scenery and a remoteness beyond that of even the rest of the Fiji. After our dive days, the wind was favorable and Guava Jelly and Bodhran weighed anchor and set our sights East.

The first day we made it as far as Naigani. Naigani had a beautiful anchorage with good protection from the howling Southeast wind. Unfortunately our first encounter there was with a fella in a panga telling us not to land at the beach because it was taboo, instead of the customary Bula! So we got a good night’s sleep and took off for Makongai 20 miles to the Northeast.

Makongai was the sight of a large leper colony. The ruins are scattered all along the beach and even under the water. It’s also the site of a giant clam reserve and government clam/turtle hatchery. The hatchery staff and their families live on site in building left over from the leper colony. Technically it’s not a village and there’s no need to do sevusevu, but neither Riki or myself are big on technicalities, so we grabbed a couple bundles of yanqona and skiffed on in.

Camelli runs things on Makongai. He performed the sevusevu and we shared a few bilos before heading back to the vessels for the night. After a lazy morning, we all went in and got a tour of the facilities from Camelli.

The hatchery consists of a number of concrete basins covered with netting to keep the birds out. Each basin holds clams or turtles in varying developmental stages. We got to play with some 2 year old hawksbill turtles in one tank. The most interesting tank held mature specimens of the 7 different variety of giant clam endemic to Fiji.

Camelli then took us through the leper colony, explaining the history of the island and showing us the remains of different buildings. The tour ended at an overgrown cemetery where over 1000 graves were in various stages of being claimed by the local flora. I wanted to stick around and take pictures, but alas the mosquitoes were hungry and must have tasted like bacon. I was wearing repellant, but Fijian mosquitoes are of a strong stock and easily laugh off such countermeasures.

We spent that night drinking kava and playing music with the staff at the hatchery. Hanna is a Spanish teacher and soaks up languages like a sponge. She settled in writing down phrase after phrase and repeating them back until she got them right, while Doris picked up my camera and got some good shots of the evening.

Our last day on the Makongai was cloudy and windless. We didn’t expect much, but Doris and I decided to do a little snorkeling off the old leper colony wharf. We were rewarded with one of the most interesting snorkeling spots that I’ve been to. You normally see giant clams tucked in amongst the reef. The colorful mantle distinguishing them from the coral surrounding them. Here the clams were out in the open sand where you could see their full size and majesty. There were also large underwater lattices where clam spat was being incubated. Most interesting were the artifacts of the leper colony strew about. Barrels, bed frames and chunks of metal too deteriorated to tell their original purpose were being used by coral to spawn new reefs giving the terrain both a spooky ghost town feel while simultaneously teeming with life.

From Makongai we had an epic all day sail with the wind on the beam nearly the entire way. Doris and I squeezed our way through a narrow pass on the Nemena Barrier Reef and then out again in a wide pass on the north side. We caught a mahimahi near each of the passes. Just before sunset, we laid the light at Point Reef on the East end of Savusavu bay and glided into Savusavu itself. Asari, who’d looked after Bodhran for me a year earlier when I went home to work, was waiting in his panga with a mooring for us. Guava Jelly picked up a mooring behind us. We’d made our way to Savusavu to get a bit of easting in, to pick up some more provisions, but mainly to meet up with Christian on Irie. Upon settling into our mooring, I heard the haunting cry of a nautilus shell trumpet. It was then I noticed Irie three moorings upriver from us blowing on his horn and welcoming us in. Riki replied with his own nautilus. Damn! I got to get me one of those things.

We ended the day with a big mahimahi sashimi feed on Bodrhan with Christian and Veronique off Irie, Riki and Hannah on Guava Jelly and Doris and myself. We talked of cruising prospects and adventures to come for our three vessels. We still talked of the Lau Group, but the wind prevailing wind from Savusavu would make it difficult. We knew that we’d have fun wherever we went so we left the plans vague and settled into a couple of days of resupplying the boats, working on projects and waiting to see what the wind would bring.