Feb 202014
 

We stuck around Namena a day longer than zee Germans. There was a northerly wind forecasted so they bugged out to get back up to Cousteau before they had to bash the whole way. We decided to go with the flow and head south to Makogai.

We had a forecast for 10 knots out of the north for our trip south, but it never materialized. Instead we motored in flat calm seas pulling two fishing lines behind us. Mélanie spotted a bunch of boobies going crazy over a bait ball and we abruptly changed course. The first hit came fast on the rod. Mélanie worked hard to try to get it in, but it was too strong and nearly spooled all the line off the reel before it shook the hook. It did create a knot which we didn’t get fully worked out before we got another strike. This one too through the hook as we didn’t have any drag setup because of the knotted line. I worked out the knot and got the reel ready to go again for the 3rd hit, but even with maximum drag, the fish spooled me. These guys were just too big for my rod and reel setup.

Instead we turned to the handline. We switched out the blue squid, which the tuna had been ignoring, for a blue rapalla. Fortunately the fish were still in a feeding frenzy as we circled around for another pass. The handline went taught and Mélanie started dragging it in. Unfortunately the fish spooked when he saw the boat and she wasn’t able to handle the line. We lost another one.

We came up with a new plan for fish number 5. When the handline went taught again, we kept motoring along for 5 minutes to tire the fish out. This tactic worked like a champ. Mélanie wrestled the fish alongside the boat and I hit it with the gaff. I don’t know how big the other fish were, but this beautiful yellowfin tuna was 30lbs and nearly destroyed my port visor above the nav desk during his death throws. It took us an hour, but we finally had our fish. We set off for Makogai.

We anchored off the old leper colony and took in the yellowfin carcass and ¼ of the meat for Camelli and the crew. It turns out that the Minister of Fisheries for the Eastern Division of Fiji was visiting the research station. Camelli didn’t have much time for us, but was appreciative of the tuna.

We went back out to the boat for a nice sashimi dinner including some ginger that we’d picked ourselves over a month ago for just this occasion. Afterward I went in for a music/kava session with the fellas at the research station. It was interesting chatting with the Minister of Fisheries. He was by far the most worldly, educated Fijian that I’d ever met.

Unfortunately the wind picked up out of the NW and gave us quite the rolly night. We had to bail on Makongai. The waves were wrapping around any protection, so we decided to take advantage of the northly to head down to Ovalau 25 miles to the south.

We had a great sail in 15-20 knots of wind. The highlight of the day was passing through a pod of pilot whales. They were holding on station and we got a good look at lots of them, but it was too rough and I didn’t have my camera out.

The pass into Ovalau was easy to navigate in the clouds and we continued our boisterous sail down the west side of the island to Wainaloka bay. Wainaloka is listed as a hurricane hole. It’s certainly a beautifully protected anchorage with great holding, but it’s a bit big to use as a hurricane hole. Still if you’re caught in the area, this is the place to go.

We were running a bit low on supplies, so we took the skiff in through the mangroves to the village and started walking towards Levuka, the old capitol of Fiji. Unfortunately we missed the 8:30am truck and there was no traffic of any kind on the road. After a couple of km we ran into a fisherman who’d also missed the truck, though he didn’t know it. Eventually we were able to call a taxi to take all 3 of us into town.

The cession of Fiji to the British took place in Levuka back in the 1860s and the town hasn’t changed much since. Walking the streets, you’d think you were in an old west town, as long as you didn’t look to the east towards the Koro Sea.

Mélanie and I walked around town and checked out the sites, poking our heads in and out of the various shops containing lots of things we didn’t need. We visited the small museum and saw a good shell collection and some of the history of the place. In the end Levuka was a poor provisioning stop. Fresh veggies are hard to come by except on Saturday. We ended up with some apples, carrots and beer from the MH and that’s about it.

We spent the last two days hanging out at a sandbar between the anchorage and Moturiki. It’s completely covered at high tide, but has a wonderfully sandy beach that appears at mid tide. Of course we had another photo shoot, played crib and generally had a very mellow time. From here it looks like we’ll be heading south to Leluvia and eventually Suva. The wind is looking light for the rest of the time that Mélanie is going to be here, so there’s probably going to be lots of motoring in our future.

Feb 132014
 
Bodhran , Odin and Suvarov

Bodhran , Odin and Suvarov


The first time Mélanie and I snorkeled out on Point Reef at Cousteau, David from Suvarov sailed by us in his little Walker Bay sailing dinghy. We figured that he was coming out to say hi, but instead he was just out for a day sail. On our way back from snorkeling, we stopped by Suvarov to introduce ourselves. Within a minute, David was asking if we’d been to Namena. I’d sailed through Namena en route from Makogai to Savusavu, but had never stopped. We tentatively made plans to head out there when the weather permitted.

Namena is a marine reserve, famous for it’s diving. Unfortunately there’s no protected anchorage. The water is deep and full of coral. It’s really only tenable in light winds. It took two weeks, but Suvarov, Odin and Bodhran all jumped on a good looking weather window and left Cousteau for the 25 mile sail down to Namena.

David from Suvarov is an Austrian married to an Argentinian. His family left for the cyclone season while David stayed back to tend the boat. Bertel on Odin is German and in much the same boat with his girlfriend gone for the season. They’d both been jumping back and forth between Savusavu and Cousteau and were ready for a break in the cyclone season monotony.

We had fantastic wind for the sail south close reaching in a 15 knot Southeasterly. I’d been through the pass before and had no problem pulling into the anchorage and picking up the one mooring. It was actually a dive mooring for a wreck, but upon inspection looked plenty strong enough for Bodhran. Odin and Suvarov came in an hour later and anchored in 70 feet of water. I was very happy to have picked up the mooring.

Mélanie and I then went to the resort on the island to pay our $30FJD fee for snorkeling/diving in the marine reserve. The resort folk were friendly, but wanted an additional $50FJD per person for each day you wanted to land on the island. We decided to forego land and go for a snorkel.

The snorkeling right off the resort dock was fantastic with 4 giant clams right there in 10 feet of water. We then snorkeled the mile or so back to Bodhran and were treated to white tipped reef sharks, a hawksbill turtle, a sting ray and the healthiest coral that I’d seen in Fiji. Namena was looking like a very good stop.

The next morning we went back to the resort for information on the different dive sites. We didn’t get too much, but found out that slack water in the passes was 1 hour later than the stated times on the tide table and that the south reef was better on an incoming tide and the north reef better on an outgoing tide.

Mélanie went for another snorkel off the dock and saw a huge grouper. She’s turning into quite the fish these days and on the way back I dropped her off at another coral head near the boats while I went back to make breakfast. About 2 minutes later I heard screaming and popped my head out of the boat to see Mélanie waving me down. I quickly hopped in the skiff and pulled her out of the water thinking that she’d been stung by one of the huge jellyfish (Grape Jellos) that we’d been seeing around the area. Instead she’d had an encounter with a particularly neurotic barracuda that we’ve nicknamed Barry. Barry started out by staring Mélanie down with his big menacing underbite. He then proceeded to nip at her fins testing to see if she was food or not. It was about then that Mélanie decided she needed to get out of the water. For the three days that we’ve been in Namena, Barry has been a regular fixture patrolling around the boat, waiting for Mélanie to get back in the water.

Odin has a dive compressor on board which was really the impetus for this trip. David and Bertel brought their skiff and dive gear over to Bodhran a bit after noon and we took off to find the mooring just inside the north pass of the reef. We had the waypoints for a number of dive moorings around Namena, but this proved to be the only one that actually existed. Once Bodhran was moored, we took to the skiffs and went to a dive site called Grand Canyon. It turned out that the current was too strong and I was forced to keep the skiff tied to me while Mélanie and I snorkeled. The visibility wasn’t great and we couldn’t stay in one place due to the strong current, but it was still a fantastic snorkel drifting along a drop-off into a seemingly endless abyss.

We went back to Bodhran for water and snacks and then proceed to Kansas where David and Mélanie snorkeled while Bertel and I dove. The site is presumably named Kansas due to a great patch of soft coral on top that looked like a wheat field blowing in the wind. Kansas was very, very fishy. The highlight were two big trevally that kept swimming in circles around us, but down lower where 1000s of aquarium sized fish that stretched as far as the eye could see.

For the next 2 days we repeated this pattern. Everyone would come to Bodhran with their gear, then we’d head out to a different dive spot where we’d look for a mooring, not find one and then anchor the boat before taking to the skiffs. I dove on Chimneys and Fantasea and snorkeled Mushrooms (dive sites really do have colorful names.) After diving each day, we’d climb on Bodhran, crack some beers and head back to the “anchorage”.

This morning David and Bertel took off due to an impending northly wind. They didn’t want to get trapped down and forced to bash their way back to Savusavu. Mélanie and I are planning on heading down to Makogai 22 miles to the south, so a north wind would work nicely for us. We’ve made our way out to where we can pick up internet from Koro island. Hopefully the next blog post will find us having spent one more good day in Namena and then having a fantastic time down at Makogai.

Feb 072014
 

As I mentioned in the last blog post, Mélanie met Richard and Denyse along the beach by Cousteau Resort. They’d rented a house on the beach for 3 weeks as part of their year long trip around the world (flying not sailing). They left for Nadi this morning, but we’ve all been hanging out exploring the area together for the last few weeks.

I hadn’t spent any time in the interior of Vanua Levu, so when Richard and Denyse rented a car and offered to take us along, Mélanie and I jumped at the opportunity. Savusavu was a madhouse with a Princess cruise ship in town, so we figured that a trip up to the national park for a nature hike seemed like a good plan.

It only took 45 minutes to drive up to Waisali National Park with it’s one trail. We pulled into the parking lot right behind a bus from the cruise ship….Doh! We quickly scurried in front of them to the ranger station to pay our fee and get on the trail.

The trail was in good shape even after the recent rain. The signs pointing out various local flora and fauna were badly sun damaged and mostly illegible. The highlight of the trip was the creek at the valley floor with multiple waterfalls and a nice pool to go swimming in, after doing the obligatory cannonball of course.

After the park, we were supposed to meet up with Tia at the Copra Shed to go up to a waterfall. Tia never showed, but we all enjoyed all the cruise ship people watching and the band while we sat on the grass and played cribbage.

The next day we set out towards the western tip of Vanua Levu. After about an hour we ran into road construction. After 20km we saw a construction worked eating lunch and asked how much longer the road was torn up. He said that we had another 60km to go to the beach and that the road was under construction the entire way…..we turned around. We then tried going out the Hibiscus Highway towards Viani Bay to the East, but were again turned around by road construction. Oh well, some things just aren’t meant to be.

Then the big day finally came. Superbowl Monday. I’d been waiting around Savusavu ever since the 49er’s game to make sure I’d be able to watch. Richard and Denyse met us at the Yacht Club where we joined a spattering of other Seattle fans and one lone Bronco who had just quit her job and flown to Fiji. I remember mentioning during the pregame show how much more nervous I’d been about the San Francisco game 2 weeks earlier. As everyone now knows, I had nothing to worry about as Denver didn’t show up to play.

With the game being over and my life/schedule being my own again, I took Richard and Denyse out for a sail towards Koro island. It was a good opportunity to test my compression post reinforcement in a 15-20 knot breeze. The post didn’t flex a bit as we bashed into 3-5 seas with a reef in the main. It definitely gives me confidence as I start making my way back home.

We got one good strike on the fishing line while we were out past the point. Mélanie wore herself down to the nub reeling it in, but the fish spat out the hook when it caught sight of the boat. Our fishing record during cyclone season continues to be abysmal.

After our day sail, we anchored off Richard and Denyse’s house where we’ve spent a few days snorkeling and enjoying being out of town. Yesterday we borrowed a couple of kayaks and paddled out to Cousteau Resort’s private island a half mile past the point. It was a beautiful sunny day and I had my camera along, so we spent a lot of time playing in the water and doing some gymnastics on the beach. Fun, but my back is killing me from a pretty good tumble. I think I need to practice a bit more.

We’ll be off to Namena tomorrow, hopefully with a couple of German boats that we’ve also been hanging out with in tow. It should prove for some epic snorkeling and diving as long as the weather cooperates.

Feb 012014
 
Hobie passing Cousteau Resort while we were heading to the snorkeling spot

Hobie passing Cousteau Resort while we were heading to the snorkeling spot

Mélanie and I spent the better part of a week down at Cousteau. She needed to be in internet range for work and there wasn’t much wind, so we figured that it was as good a place as any to hang out. I’d only stopped at Cousteau once before. It was just for the night when I came back from Futuna to get a little sleep before checking in with Customs.

I’d been told by a few jaded cruisers that there wasn’t much to see down there. Just a few raggedy coral heads with poor visibility. What Mélanie and I found was some great snorkeling, but the visibility was pretty bad. We settled into a routine of her skyping with Montreal every morning until COB while I sat around reading and drinking coffee. Then we’d head out for a snorkel at a different spot each day and saw tons of big fish a white tip and 3 black tip reef sharks as well as a few turtles.

After seeing one other cruising boat in 6 weeks, it was a bit different to be anchored among a fleet. The fleet consisted entirely of German and Austrian boats escaping the heat and noise of Savusavu. Mélanie and I spent some time hanging out with the good folks on Tamora and Suvarov enjoying the usual cruiser sundowner sessions.

Mélanie swam to the beach one day and went for a little walk. She ran into Richard and Denise, a couple from Quebec, who were renting a house near Cousteau for a month during their one year, round the world trip. We invited them out to the boat for a little kava session and did some hiking with them.

Tia, the activities coordinator for Cousteau came out for the kava session as well. He did the mix and we traded off playing guitar. After I dropped Richard and Denise on the beach, Tia stuck around for a little night fishing. We used flour and canned tuna to make little bait dumplings to catch mackerel. Then Tia put a hook through the live mackerel’s back and let it swim around below the boat to catch a great big barracuda. He wanted to fish all night but I had to call it quits at midnight.

Every afternoon a squall would come through kicking up big waves and putting the reef to the lee of the fleet. The squalls weren’t pleasant, but they were no big deal. Then the forecast called for a trough of low pressure to come through packing gale force winds. We decided it was best to head back to Savusavu to seek shelter.

We pulled into Waitui and took the best mooring available, but it was still too exposed to the northwesterly winds that were driving big swells into the bay. Fortunately Deviant was in Vuda Point for a haulout and I knew that he had good cyclone mooring available up the creek. So after a mostly sleepless night, Mélanie and I headed up the creek in search of a better neighborhood.

We were lucky we moved. The combination of an extreme high tide and gale force winds coming from exactly the wrong direction wreaked havoc on Waitui. The waves destroyed the floats and lower section of dock. They even popped a lot of the decking off the upper dock and tore down the rails. We could see a bit of the mayhem from our mooring, but didn’t have too much wave action, just lots of rain and wind.

One unfortunate boat did end up on the beach after the mooring line wrapped around it’s fin keel and chafed through. They were able to pull it off last night with minimal damage suffered.

It’s two days until the big game. Richard and Denise have rented a car, so we’re heading out with them to do some hiking today. It’ll be nice to get off the boat for a bit. We’ll stick around Savusavu at least until the Seahawks win the Superbowl. Then it’ll be time to shove off for the next adventure.

 Posted by at 4:06 am