Archive for December, 2013

Albert Cove a Year Later

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Mélanie and I took off from Dakuniba on a Saturday morning with light southerly winds. We’d delayed our departure by a couple of days while we waited for a trough of low pressure to pass. These lows are the price of sticking around during cyclone season. They’re filled with lots of rain and lightning, but so far haven’t been packing much wind. At least the water tanks are staying full.

We took the small boat pass out of Dakuniba towards Viani Bay and transited without problems. Our destination was Matei on Taveuni. The big northerly swell that we found once we rounded the eastern tip of Vanua Levu made us rethink our plans. So instead we scouted out the potential hurricane hole up Naqaiqai Creek and then settled into Buca Bay for the evening.

I’m sure that the village in Buca Bay would have been worth a visit, but the rumble of busses and trucks on the road turned us off. We didn’t even launch the skiff. Instead we got underway the next day and had a great sail north to Albert Cove on Rabi Island.

Riki and I visited Albert Cove last year and had an excellent time with Panea, Terry and Mariana. I was looking forward too seeing everyone again. I was surprised to an entirely new population to Albert Cove. I went to Panea’s house and found Keke sitting there. He lives on the other side of the island in Samale Bay. We’d met last year and we sat down and started catching up. Terry and Mariana were in the village for Christmas. No surprise there, but then Keke told us that Panea, at the age of 74, had gotten married and had a new born! He was still in his new bride’s village. Panea’s new brother-in-law, Peter, and family was staying in the house.

I brought in a couple hundred grams of kava, but that only filled two tanoas. They didn’t have any way to pound the kava at Albert Cove, so they made it up green instead. Basically you boil a bunch of newly harvested kava root. Once it’s nice and soft, you pour off the water and then pound that in a bowl with a piece of wood. With dry kava you normally pound it in a steel container with a long steel rod. Once the green kava was pounded, water was poured in until in formed a thick slurry. The slurry was then put in a cloth and water poured over it to create the final mix. The resulting drink was too strong for Mélanie and myself. We politely excused ourselves after two bilos and went back to the boat.

The next morning I noticed the overly ripe smell wafting down from the bananas. So it was time to make banana bread. I knew that you could use the pressure cooker to do it, but I’d never tried before and didn’t have a recipe. We just followed a normal recipe out of a cookbook and poured it all into a pot that we fit inside the pressure cooker on a trivet. We added a cup of water to the bottom of the pressure cooker and left the weight off. After 30 minutes cooking, the water was gone, so we added another cup. After an hour we had a perfectly cooked, moist loaf. I probably could have used the weight to make it cook faster, but I was afraid of it being too moist. Either way it sure came out better than using my temperature challenged oven.

While we were waiting for the banana bread to cook, a greatly overloaded boat of picnickers from Peter’s village 5 miles away showed up. The boat, Rise Again, was blaring music while they went by and hit the beach like an invading army. Rise Again beached herself at a sandy spot where the creek hits the beach and people piled off. A volleyball net was setup and the party started. Mélanie and I decided to go for a snorkel while we let the banana bread cool.

The snorkeling was great with warm water, medium visibility and lots of good fish. I spotted a lobster down underneath an overhang in the reef, but made sure not to tell anyone where he was. We ended up snorkeling all the way down to a beach at the south end of the bay, but the wind was up and it was too cold to stay out of the water for long, so we turned around and had another nice long snorkel back to the boat.

After enjoying a couple nice hunks of banana bread, we went for a walk down the beach and then joined the party. We brought in the guitar and uke. The battery for the stereo had gone flat. Peter used to be in a band that toured Fiji and was great on the guitar belting out boogie woogie rock and roll rhythms as well as singing a bunch of traditional Bonabin numbers.

I went out to the beach to take pics of the sunset as the party broke up and the boat left to go back to the village. Peter sat inside Panea’s house and provided the soundtrack as every left. I didn’t get any really good pics so I drained a couple of bilos and said goodnight. Peter hadn’t had a guitar to play in years, so I left him mine for the night.

The next morning, Mélanie and I were listening to the SSB radio when we heard about a tropical depression forming and heading our way just after Christmas. Albert Cove was no place to be during a cyclone, so we brought a bunch of Christmas presents in for Peter’s kids, picked up my guitar, said our goodbyes and took off.

As we sailed south past Nuka, we picked up internet and saw that the depression was going to pass right over the top of Vanua Levu. It was still a few days off, but I wanted to have time to get to a good cyclone hole. We intended to go back to Nasasobo, but the SE wind convinced me to stay on the other side of Kioa. We had a rockin good sail close reaching in 20 knots of wind, though Mélanie was a bit worried at times. We headed up the cyclone hole at Naqaiqai creek for the night.

This morning’s weather shows the depression strengthening into a full cyclone and passing north and east of Fiji. Nasasobo is still a better spot than this if we get any big seas from the north, so we’re making our way there for when the cyclone hits. We’ve still got a few days, so I think we’re going to hang out in Viani Bay where we can get some good snorkeling in and hopefully have internet so we can see how the storm progresses before we go into informational blackout in Nasasobo.

Parts Run to Taveuni

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Mélanie and I made it all the way from Nasasobo to Dakuniba (maybe half a mile). First we went out for some internet and a snorkel by the pass on the outer reef. The water was almost too warm to swim in. We had to refresh ourselves by constantly diving down below the top level thermocline. The anchorage was deep and we were a bit close to the coral. When the wind decided to shift around 180 degrees it was time to go.

Instead of heading back to Nasasobo, we anchored off the village in Dakuniba. The anchorage is much deeper and less protected, but we wanted to go in and have a kava session and didn’t feel like trying to negotiate the trail to the mangroves after dark.

Mélanie and I went in and met up and Sakini and Ruta’s house. We were a bit early for kava, so Ruta made us up some tea and a batch of panecakie. Afterwards we rolled out the woven mats on the grass outside and had a nice night drinking and playing music under a full moon.

The next morning we were all ready to take off for Kioa. We hauled up the hook, cleaned all the mud off the chain, and motored out past the reef. Then then engine died. We had just enough wind to sail back into Dakuniba topping out at 1.7 knots on the way in. Once the hook was down, I quickly diagnosed that the lift pump wasn’t working. Upon further inspection, it wasn’t an electrical problem, so I had to replace the pump with a spare.

I’d also noticed that I was leaking coolant. I had a pinhole leak in one of the heat exchanger hoses. Unfortunately I didn’t have any spare hose. I might have been able to make a patch, but instead I arranged for Mélanie and I to catch a ride into Taveuni with Sakini and Ruta the next day. Sakini is retiring as the principal of the secondary school there and had to go over for a meeting.

We took off at 7am and were pulling into the beach off the school around 8am. Right as we were getting off the boat, the bus came and we hopped on. We didn’t have time to get an orientation from Ruta, be we didn’t want to wait 90 minutes for another bus.

The bus dropped us off at Naqara where it promptly started to rain. We found the one little hole in the wall where we could have some coffee and roti while waiting for the heavy stuff to stop. The rain didn’t let off, so eventually we just hailed a cab to take us around to all the auto part stores to look for radiator hose. The cab took us 30 seconds up the road where we found the right size hose at the very first shop we tried. There were only 3 on this side of the island, but still it was impressive that I was able to find 1 3/8” hose on the first try.

The rain wasn’t letting up, so we went back for another round of Nescafé. Naqara had a number of fruit and veg stands on the side of the road, so we took advantage of a break in the weather to buy more pineapples and avocados which are pretty much the staples of Mélanie’s and my diet these days.

We still had hours to kill before it was time to meet up with Ruta and Sakini at the boat. The lady at the coffee and roti place recommended that we go to the slides. I knew that Taveuni had famous waterfalls that you could slide down in certain places, but I thought that they were on the other side of the island. In fact when I hired a cab, I still thought that we were going to the other side of the island. I was surprised when we were dropped off at a trailhead just 10 minutes out of town.

The trail to the falls wasn’t long. We passed a group from the Tui Tai who were just leaving when we arrived. One of them made an off-hand comment not to go down too far as they were leaving. We had the place to ourselves as we tried to find our way up to the top. The trail was treacherously slick. I’d busted up my knee the week before in Dakuniba and didn’t want to put in a repeat performance.

The lower parts of the slides indeed looked treacherous as we passed them by. If they were the fiberglass slides from back home, they’d be tame. Instead these were rock, polished smooth by countless gallons of water buy rough and jagged just off of the water’s normal path. The slides range from 5 – 40 feet long with deeper pools in between them. At the end of each slide, you had no idea what you’d find in the pool at the end. Indeed a couple of the slides ended abruptly with a submerged rock.

We eventually made our way to the very top. We had a swim and then worked up the courage to try a couple of the very tame slides. They were fun. We didn’t scrape our butts too much. So we gradually went bigger and bigger until we got to the two long slides at the end. We still had the nagging comment about not going too far down in our heads. It would have been easy enough if there was someone with us to tells what was safe. Not knowing added to the adventure. We pushed on through the last two slide, which were amazingly fun, though one had a little drop in it that bruised your butt pretty well.

We were down at the bottom very proud of our sliding when 4 local boys showed up. The ran down the entire sequence of pools, surfing down the slides standing up and then hopping across the slick rocks to get to the next one. We were thoroughly humbled by their performance. Then, instead of using the trail, they turned around and ran back up the slides to start all over again. These kids were Bad-Asses!

After an hour and a half, we left the slides and went down to the school to meet our boat. I ran into Ruven at the petrol station who I’d met in Qamea the year before. We caught up a little bit, but hopefully I’ll get back to Taveuni and see him sometime in the next few weeks.

The boat ride home was uneventful. The rain held off until the very end. The hose fit perfectly and now it’d be time to move on if there wasn’t a big low passing Fiji giving us some very dark weather. It’s never fun to navigate reefs under heavy clouds, so we’re sticking around until the sun comes out. I’m not sure where the next destination is, we’ll see which way the wind is blowing when we leave.

Bats and Quebecois

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Mélanie giving me her duck face

Mélanie giving me her duck face

Cyclone season is here. Bodhran has a new 18 month permit for Fiji as well as a new crew member. Back in September, I was planning on sticking around Fiji for all of cyclone season. Irie and Guava Jelly were taking off, so I thought that it might be nice to get a crew member to accompany me, especially if I were going to be in some of the more remote areas of the Lau Group like I had planned. To that end, I placed ads on FloatPlan, 7Knots and Couch Surfing. By October my mind had changed. I was planning to go up to the Marshalls and it wouldn’t be convenient to fly a crew member in and out. I turned down a number of responses apologizing for the fact that my plan had change. I hadn’t got a response in 3-4 weeks when I got a message from Mélanie from Montreal. At first I told her that I was heading north and that it wasn’t practical, but after a couple of days, I decided that the better route home was through Samoa and Hawaii and that it was actually a better idea to stay in Fiji until March. Coincidentally that was exactly how long Mélanie had off. Meeting a crew member over the internet is always risky business. It’d be horrible if she flew down here and we just didn’t get along. We skyped a few times. We seemed pretty compatible and Mélanie bought her tickets.

We spent a few days in Savusavu getting to know each other’s habits and tastes and letting Mélanie acclimatize with the help of lots of swimming in the 80 degree water. We got a test sail in, after which Mélanie began memorizing the names of everything on the boat. After a four days, it was time to get going. We were thinking of being gone for up to two months. So we loaded the lockers with as many groceries as Bodhran can carry. We then crammed in 5 cases of Fiji Gold and 2 cases of Broken Shackle Classic Red. We figured that we could last for a little while at least with all that.

Our forecast had been for two days of northerly winds. The plan was to head back to Fulanga. Then the forecast changed and our two days of wind became 6 hours. We figured that the weather would be best used by heading east. I wanted to check out the cyclone anchorage at Nasasobo 40 miles east of Savusavu so it worked out perfectly.

We got an early start on a dark and rainy morning. A tropical depression was passing to the south of Fiji and we were getting the effect on the fringe. We motored down to Point Reef where we were met by a large squall with south winds. I almost turned around in the face of winds 180 degrees opposite the forecast and a tropical depression off in the distance. Instead, we hove to under double reef main and waited for the wind to die. The decision was made to sail to Naidi bay a mere 9 miles to the east.

Coming into Naidi Bay

Coming into Naidi Bay

I hadn’t been to Naidi either. It’s a good idea to scout out all these anchorages and lay down track lines on the GPS in case of emergency. We tacked back and forth into a light headwind for 3 hours before we lost the wind completely and motored the last 3 miles into the bay. The entrance was wide and easily navigated even on such a gloomy day. After one soft grounding on a muddy bottom that looked nothing like the Navionic chart, we dropped the hook in 16 feet of water and settled in for the night. We still had the internet. Trucks bounced up and down a road right along the water’s edge. An incredibly fancy looking resort dominated one side of the bay while mangroves and a village took up the other. It was a good place to spend the night, but we might as well have still be in Savusavu.

We got a leisurely start the next morning, motoring for an hour or two before we caught the wind and sailed most of the remaining 25 miles to Nasasobo. Fish were boiling under flocks of sea birds, but our fridge was full and we didn’t trail a line. Instead we had sailing lessons, listened to podcasts and enjoyed the bright overcast day.

Navigating the reef was easy enough, but would be difficult in adverse conditions. I tried to keep Bodhran square in the middle of the pass to create as favorable a gps track as possible in case we need to navigate here with a cyclone breathing down our necks. It was too dark to see the shoals in the bay, so instead of exploring, we picked a good spot in the back corner near the mangroves, dropped the hook and cracked some beers. We were then treated to one of the most spectacular spectacles that I’ve ever witnessed. It started with a flurry of fruit bats over the mangroves. As the sun set, the bats came out in force. So too did the colors in the sky. At it’s apex, we were surrounded by thousands of 3 foot wide fruit bats under as dramatic a sunset as you could hope for. We sat out for hours mesmerized by the grandeur of it all.

The next day Mélanie and I took the skiff around to the next bay to do our sevusevu at Dakuniba village. Malaki came out from under an ancient banyan tree to meet us. He took us in to see chief George, where we presented our yanqona and talked about the area. We’d heard of the waterfalls and prehistoric petroglyphs above the village. Chief George wanted $10 a head to go and visit. This wasn’t very Fijian, but he said that he wants to develop the area by digging around the stones and making them more presentable. Hopefully the money goes to this, but who knows. Either way, we didn’t have any money with us and said that we’d come back in the morning.

On the way out, we chatted with Malaki on the beach when Sakini and Rota came back from Savusavu. Going to Savusavu from this village entails taking a boat through the reef and 5 miles west early enough to catch the bus at 6am from the next bay. If you miss the bus, you might as well come back as there is only one per day. Apparently you can also walk 5 miles up the “road” until you get to the main road and catch a bus from there. Of course then you’d have to carry all your supplies 5 miles back over the road with you. We chatted with Sakini and Rota for a while and decided that we’d meet them in the morning for the trip up to the waterfall.

We went back to Nasasobo and decided to scout the mangroves. We found the bat roost in the morning, but now we’d been told that there was a small pass near the anchorage where we could leave the skiff and walk to the village saving us from making the long wet dingy ride. After we found the dinghy landing, we scouted up the creek on the opposite shore for a while until we found William’s copra drier. We took a quick look around and then went back to the boat just in time to catch the evening’s bat show.

In the morning, we tried out the dinghy landing. Unfortunately the tide was out and we had to drag the skiff through the thick mangrove mud over a couple of roots before we reached the rocky haulout. From there we had to follow the uncertain trail until we found the road and walked down into the Dakuniba. We met Malaki and Sakini while they were changing the blades out on a weed whacker. Then Sakini and his entourage of children, nieces and nephews took off with us for the waterfalls.

The trail up was wet, but easy enough to follow. We first went to the petroglyphs where Sakini pointed out the different shapes. No one knows how old they are or what they mean. They’re quite large and it looks like the carvings were once all on one large flat stone. Now they’re spread across many stone fragments and are obscured by lichen and time, but they’re still interesting.

After the petroglyphs, it was time for a dip in the falls. Instead of a single large drop, the falls was made up of a series of pools with the overflows cascading one down to the next over a 100 feet of elevation. The top pool had a great “hair washing” fall that you could sit under and still breath easily while your head was pummeled with water.

Coming to the falls was the height of fun for the kids. They’re not allowed to come on their own for fear that they might hurt themselves. Indeed I slipped on the rocks myself and heartily cracked my knee while simultaneously splitting my elbow. The kids entertained themselves by jumping off small drops into the shallow pools and by sliding down the slippery surfaces on large leaves. It took a few extra leaves, but I was able to make it down the waterslide a few times myself.

Afterwards it was time for tea and scones under the banyan tree. Later Sakini and Rota came out to Bodhran with the kids. Alas, I was too busy showing them how to raise and lower the sails to take any pics. I should have never had told Malaki’s son that he could climb the ratlines or showed him how the folding mast steps worked. Within seconds he was up to the spreaders. I finally stopped him at the inner forestay. He came back down and then commenced to doing laps jumping off the ratlines, climbing back up on board and then starting over again.

Yesterday we took a hike up to find a good viewpoint looking out over Nasasobo. It was hot and there was not trail. Instead we pushed through grass taller than Mélanie earning some nice grass cuts for our effort. In the end we were rewarded with a good view of the bay as well as some nice shots of the village on the other side of the ridge. We didn’t dare stay long in the heat and quickly made our way back down to the shade of a tamarind tree to drink a couple cold Fiji Golds and re-coup. We went down to the village to say hi, but the morning church session was delayed to 5pm and we got there just in time for everyone to go to church.

Right now we’ve taken Bodhran out to the reef to do some snorkeling and get some internet. We’ll probably stay at least one more day here at Nasasobo and then take off for Kioa Island. Malaki has invited us to his village and there’s going to be a big wedding on Friday. As long as the winds allow it, I sure don’t see any reason to skip a party.