Archive for October, 2013

The Yasawas

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

The Yasawas are a chain of islands 20 miles northwest of Fiji’s main isalnd, Viti Levu. Much like the San Juan Islands back home, they’re in a rain shadow from Viti Levu’s high mountains and enjoy a drier climate than most of Fiji. The fine weather and beauty of the islands make it a natural spot in tourism. Resorts and backpackers lodges are sprinkled throughout the chain. Normally I shy away from “tourist” areas when I’m out cruising, but I’d done the passage along the north end of Viti Levu 3 times now and figured it’d be nice to sail across Bligh Water and down the Yasawa chain on my way back around to Vuda Point to do some work on the boat before cyclone season.

Christian and I anchored off Sawa-I-Lau after a roaring good sail across from Yandua. We went into the village and did our sevusevu. We learned about the caves on the island and asked about trails to the top of the mountain. Sawa-I-Lau has two water filled caves that they run tours through. To get from the first to the second, you have to swim underwater through a short passage. There aren’t any resorts in the bay, but lodges send pangas full of tourists up from the Blue Lagoon 10 miles south. We were told to get to the caves early to beat the crowds, but alas we didn’t listen and ended up in a group of about 40 people. Most of them were honeymooners and young backpackers and it was kinda nice to get away from the cruiser crowd for a bit.

After the caves, all the boats cleared out and Christian and I were the only ones left. We wanted to hike the “trail” to the top of the mountain. We asked one of the locals about the way and he immediately offered to guide us. Generally Fijians figure that us soft cruisers can’t walk down the beach without a guide to keep us out of trouble. If we’re looking for company, we’ll accept the guide and then give them a present at the end for their trouble. On this day, we could tell the “Guide” didn’t really want to go, so we asked him to just show us where the trail started. We had to take our dinghy down the island 100 meters from the cave site, land on a small beach and were told to follow the crack all the way to the top.

Christian and I set out scrambling up the crack expecting to find a trail a short distance from the beach. The trail never did materialize. Instead we alternated between scrambling up loose rock through the bush and climbing up short rock pitches. The last hundred feet of elevation had a couple of pitches that I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to climb back down, but the view from the top made it worth the effort.

After watching the Seahawks come from behind to beat the Texans on the surprisingly good internet connection, we left the next day for the Blue Lagoon. Made famous by the very mediocre Brook Shields moving back in the 80s, the Blue Lagoon is the heart of the Yasawa tourist scene. We anchored off the Blue Lagoon Beach resort and decided to see what the place had to offer.

It turns out that the best thing it had to offer was good protection from the 20-25 knot winds blowing from the other side of the island. They run on a cashless system there and we weren’t allowed to buy drinks at the bar or to have dinner. Still there was some great snorkeling there. In fact a number of snorkelers from the lodge swung by to check out Bodhran. I had a number of them up on the boat, including a Kiwi fellow who swung by with his daughter then had to come again the next day with his son because his daughter was bragging about it too much.

We did have one good night in at the lodge. Christian I walked down the beach to take some sunset photos. On the way back we stopped in and drank kava with the band for a few hours. It was an interesting scene, sitting the floor with the boys under the bar while the guests all ate sitting at tables above us.

From the Blue Lagoon Beach resort, we made our way down to the very fancey Nanuya Lodge, but were unimpressed with the scene. We sailed further on down to Korovo Eco Lodge and spent a couple of days waiting for poor weather to pass and watching the Seahawks lose a heartbreaker to the Colts. Again we set sail and ended up anchoring in front of Octopus Lodge on Waya Island.

I’d heard good things about Octopus, but the anchorage out front was untennable. Coral covered most of the bottom with just a few small patches of sand to try and drop the hook into. The wind was forecast at 5 knots out of the southeast, but it still was kicking up a big swell causing the boats to pitch wildly. We went into the resort and were welcomed to come in and use the facilities. After a couple of Fiji Golds and a swim in the pool, we decided that we needed to move the boats before dark.

We pulled into the anchorage on the north end of Waya and anchored off a beach with a path across the ridge to Octopus Resort. We’d been out in remote Fiji and decided that it’d be nice to enjoy the hospitality of this beautiful resort. We settled in and spent a week splitting our time between the villagers and the resort. The highlight of which was Fiji Day.

Fiji Day celebrates the day they gained independence from Britain. The whole village was over at the resort celbrating with a joy that’s so typically Fijian. The volleyball tournement was surprisingly intense with teams fielded by each of the departments at the resort along with one for the villagers who don’t work at Octopus. The day ended with 3 kava circles and music late into the night.

From Waya, Irie and Bodhran set sail for Vuda Point. We had to motor most of the way, but had a nice, mellow sail for the last hour in, but alas the marina was full. It seems that the whole cruising fleet is backed up here in western Fiji getting ready to escape the coming cyclone season. We had to divert 5 miles north to Saweni Bay and wait. I’d never seen more than 3 boats in Saweni Bay. When we dropped our hooks there were close to 20. Very crowded, but it’s a good spot and there’s a good intnet connection.

So here I sit in Saweni, waiting to get into Vuda Marina. I’ve got part for my broken windlass on order as well as a new autopilot. I’ve been changing my mind on a daily basis, trying to figure out what I’m going to do next. I’ll probably change it 10 more times before I leave Fiji. I guess that I’ll let you all know where I’m going once I leave.

Savusavu to the Yasawas

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

After 3 long weeks in Savusavu it was high time to get out of there. I had to stick around the last few days waiting on my visa extension to be approved. Now that it had come in, it was time to go, so Christian and I slipped our moorings and took off across Savusavu Bay. There wasn’t any wind, so we motored 20 miles to an anchorage on the other side of the bay where we were treated to an amazing sunset.

The next morning wasn’t a particularly good one for me. My windlass stopped working on me. The pull would only work in one direction, in the other it just let the chain back out. On top of that my autopilot stopped working on me. So after pulling the anchor up by hand I had to hand steer around to Coconut Pt on the West side of Vanua Levu.

We got a little bit of sailing in, but it was mostly a full day of motoring. Once I got the hook down, it was time to tear into my windlass and see what the problem was. It turns out that one of the springs on the idler gear was broken. There wasn’t much that I could do about it, but I cleaned everything up and greased all the gears. It helped a bit, but the windlass still wasn’t working properly.

It was blasting 25 knots out of the Southeast when we left Coconut Point the next morning. Christian and I wove our way through the reefs under jib alone and then hoisted our mains and had were treated to a sleigh ride across to the island of Yandu 10 miles off the West coast of Vaunu Levu.

We dropped our hooks in a bay on the West side were the wind funnel through the hill and accelerated. It was gusting in the high 30s. We were able to anchor close to the reef and the waves were minimal, so it was a good anchorage, but we stayed on the boats for 2 days waiting for the wind to come down before putting our skiffs in the water.

We had a few visits from the locals. The ranger responsible for the Crested Iguana reserve on nearby Yandua Tabu Island came over for coffee and checked my cruising permit. I also had a visit from the chief of the village on the north side of the island who was out fishing with some of the village boys. I had them all up for coffee. Both the ranger and the villagers agreed that it wasn’t smart to leave the boat under these conditions and I apologized for not being able to come to the village for sevusevu.

On the third day, the wind died enough to launch the skiff. I picked up Christian and we went into explore the beach. We’d heard about a possible trail up the ridge. We couldn’t find the trail, so we climbed the rocks and bushwhacked for a bit. Eventually we gave up and tried the other end of the bay. Again there was no trail, so we just settled in to drink some beers and watch the sun go down on the beach.

It’s 55 miles from Yandu to Sawi-I-Lau, the nearest anchorage in the Yasawas. That’s a long day if the weather isn’t perfect, so we hauled up our hooks at 5am to give us time to make the crossing. We had to use our track lines on the gps to navigate the 150′ wide entrance through the reef total darkness. Once we cleared the reef and got the sails up we were treated to another amazing day of sailing broad reaching in 20-25 knots of wind. I caught a mahi mahi and 2 barracuda on the way and we ended up gettnig into the anchorage at 3pm with plenty of time to spare and all the Yasawa Islands before us.