Archive for the ‘Fiji 2012’ Category

Photos from Vanua Levu

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

I just put a couple of photo galleries up with the pics from our week on Kia and our transit of Northern Vanua Levu:

Kia Island Fiji, Oct-Nov 2012

Photos from Riki and my week long visit to Kia Island north of Vanua Levu Fiji.

North Vanua Levu, Fiji Oct-Nov 2012

Photos from Guava Jelly and Bodhran’s transit of the north coast of Vanua Levu

Kia Part I

Monday, November 5th, 2012


Guava Jelly motoring past Mali Island just outside Malau

We knew that we were in the wrong as we arrived at Kia, a jewel of an island 15 miles north of Labassa along the Great Sea Reef. In Fiji, Sunday is the lord’s day and is spent going to church and doing little else. Swimming, fishing, and traveling are all forbidden. The church bells, actually huge wooden drums, were ringing out was we poked our way around Yaro Village trying to find a break in the coral so we could drop our anchors. The village kids were all waving and screaming for us to come in, but after a 3 hour motor on a windless, blazing hot day I decided that I needed a swim first. I hoped that God would understand.

Motoring into Kia Island on a windless afternoon

Riki helping me find a coral free spot to anchor

Riki caught a 3 foot long barracuda on the way in. We still had plenty of trevally and wahoo filling up our little refrigerators. So Riki decided to offer it up with the kava for sevusevu. We didn’t think too much about the fact that it proved that we’d broken yet another of the Sunday prohibitions.

Riki with his Barracuda

When we did make it into the village, we were greeted by the usual swarm of curious kids, but the adults seemed a bit off. There wasn’t time for sevusevu before church started, so we met with the village spokesman for a few minutes and then were whisked off to the Methodist church. The church was sweltering hot, the service was long and all in Fijian and Riki and I were both tired even before it started. Sweating, thirsty and with a hurting back I tried to put on my best face and enjoy the occasional singing with the usual soaring harmonies, but my relief was palpable when the doors were swung open and we were ushered out.

The whole island was in Yaro for the monthly fund raising service. The women brewed tea, rolled out pandanus mats and set out plates of fresh baked confections while we were introduced to Chief George and taken to the community hall to present our sevusevu offering. The ceremony was short and sweet. We chatted a bit, met some of the other village men and then were swept outside for afternoon tea with the rest of the island.

The whole afternoon seemed strange. Everyone seemed a bit off, probably due to our blatant disregard for the holiness of the day. We’d talked earlier about coming back in for kava after sunset, but when the clouds opened up and sent everyone scurrying to clean up and get inside, we were happy to take our leave for the night.

We came back into Yaro the next morning. We’d been told of a footpath to the peak some 800 feet above the bay. Normally we always get a guide whenever we want to go anywhere, but instead we were pointed to the trail and left to our own devices. It seemed odd, but after our Sunday experience we were beginning to expect odd from Yaro.

We hiked up to the ridge above the village and then back down the other side to Ligau Village. Our reception on the west side of the island was what we’d come to expect in Fiji. Sam, the first person we met on the way into town, stopped what he was doing and offered to guide us to the top of the island. It turns out that the path starts at Ligau and it wouldn’t have been right for someone from Yaro to guide us.

Hiking across the island from Yaro to Ligau

The school playfield in Lingau. I loved the chains of painted soda bottles lining the field:

After chatting in the shade with some of the village men, Sam started us up a well worn track through cassava and banana fields. The path quickly disappeared and again we were glad for our guide. Sam had told us that the climb was not straight up and that the path switched back to make it easier, but Fijian switchbacks and American ones differ wildly.

Sam and Riki towards the beginning of the hike

Sam and Riki ahead of me scrambling up the steep trail

The path was covered with loose rocks. Underneath was damp earth that did little to hold the rocks in place. There were few trees on the path. Instead sharp, wet grass lined the sides of the trail. Sam kept telling us to use 4 wheel drive, grasping clumps of grass with our hands as well as trying to dig in with our feet to keep from sliding down the steep grade. Sam used his cane knife to cut steps in the dirt, just like Delaware Johnny used to do with his ice axe down in Franz Josef. Periodically the path went into a shady patch where we could escape the punishing late morning sun. Still I was near heat exhaustion by the time we reached the top. Rivers of water were pouring off me, my shirt looked like it had been dunked in the sea while Sam, 2 years my younger, had barely broken a sweat. It was pretty obvious which one of us had grown up sitting on a couch playing video games.

Looking back to the reef outside Ligau from the trail

Just below the peak, there was an old cannon pointed out over one of the protected bays to the east. The story I’d heard before was that it was placed there to celebrate the end of cannibalism and the tribal wars over one hundred years ago. Listening to Sams comments, it’s more likely that it was placed there after it was stolen from a British Blackbirding ship. In the 1800s, foreign powers regularly raided Fiji, especially the remote villages and took the men as slaves. When the ships came, the natives had little recourse but to run and hide in the mountains. Sometimes the ships would fire into the hills. It looks like Kia Island obtained the ability to fire back.

Sam and Riki by the cannon:

View of the harbor from the cannon:

From the cannon is was a short hike up along a knife’s edge ridge with 100ft drops down each side. Riki took a pic of Sam and I on a little pinnacle that had my heart racing as I tried to not let me knees collapse and send me tumbling to certain death. The Sam edged out onto an even narrower little ridge that jut out to an even more exposed locale where Riki joined him for another photo op.

Sam and me atop a little pinnacle that turned my guts to stand on

Ligau village from the top

Sam and I sitting on the little knife edge jutting out from the top

Riki standing on that same ridge that Sam and I were barely comfortable sitting on

The heat was really getting to me and the noonday sun was being amplified by the black rocks. I had to bail on Sam and Riki and get back into the shade and drink water. The way back down was more of a controlled slide than a hike. When we got down to the village, the tide was out. Instead of climbing over a saddle back to Yaro, we hiked along the shoreline where I ran into some spectacular scenes and a sea snake hiding in the rocks.

Hiking around the point:

Riki hiking around the point

Sea snake hiding in the rocks

another great vista on the beach walk

When we reached Yaro, Riki and I were both pretty exhausted, but Sam really wanted to see our yachts. After climbing to the top of the island with us, it was the least we could do. As we were pulling my skiff down to the surf, Pastor Joseph came running down wanting to come for a visit as well. I dumped the whole party off at Guava Jelly, drank 2 bottles of water and went for a swim to revitalize myself.

For the rest of the afternoon we had one boat after another coming out and visiting. It was quite a different scene than we encountered on Sunday. We finished off the night with a beach party where Riki and I played music by a fire on the beach, drinking kava with the men and surrounded by tons of interested kids and the womenfolk in the shadows just beyond the firelight.


Monday, November 5th, 2012


We left Verevere with reports of a trough that was supposed to bring heavy wind and rain. It never did materialize, but we did find a great hurricane hole to the east of Tivi Island. We spent two days there before deciding to motor on to Malau.


I caught 2 wahoo on the way, the first was bigger, but he got away when I didn’t have the gaff ready

We were running low on groceries. By now it’d been over 5 weeks since we’d last been to a vegetable market, so we decided to make our way to Labassa, the main city on Vanua Levu. Labassa lies 4 miles up a shallow river, so it wasn’t possible to get the boats there. Instead we anchored off the sugar terminal at Malau and took a 5 mile bus ride into town.

The big sugar wharehouse and molasses tanks at the terminal at Malau

Our trip into Labassa was a bit of a whirlwind. I didn’t have any sandals after forgetting my Chacos on Avnils boat. So I ducked into a Chinese store and bought some $2 flip flops. From there we walked the strip looking for a place to eat before finally deciding on some delicious Chinese food with lots of veggies. Labassa is mainly populated by Indo-Fijians, but it seems like you can find Chinese food pretty much everywhere in the world.

Riki on the main drag in Labassa

We found the North Pole Hotel a bit humorous. It’s far north for Fiji, but it’s pretty damn far from the North Pole.

The big veggie market was our primary target. Riki and I split up and made our rounds wandering the stalls and looking for the best produce. For the most part it all looked the same. Generally we just share the wealth and buy a couple of things each from lots of different vendors. After a couple of loops we were loaded up on cabbages, okra, green beans, chilies, mangoes, pineapples, ginger, tomatoes, cucumbers, bok choi, and eggs. From there we hit the supermarket for our dry stuff and carrots, onions, potatoes and beer.

The bus station and public market

Riki with his plunder form the market

It was Saturday and everything was beginning to shut down by the time we left. We picked up a cab for the ride back to Manau making it back to the skiff less than 4 hours after we left. Malau didn’t hold a lot of charm as an anchorage, but it was a damn good spot for resupplying.

Verevere Bay

Sunday, November 4th, 2012


I’ve taken too long to get around to writing up our experience in Verevere Bay. Guava Jelly and I pulled into the nearest anchorage we could find after a phenomenal day of sailing through the reefs of NE Vanua Levu. The bay we found was scenic, protected, and had a 3G signal. Who could ask for anything more.

The next morning a panga came by with a native Fijian and 2 Indo-Fijians. They’d been out on the reef fishing all night, so I invited them up for a cup of coffee. After the normal chit chat with me describing Bodhran’s amenities and then asking questions about their fishing and respective villages talk quickly turned to whether or not I’d seen the film “Survivor Fiji.” It seems that the 2007 season of Survivor was filmed in the bay that Riki and I had selected to anchor in.

Rash, Bewon and Avnil ended up sticking around all day. Avnil is a certified diesel mechanic and was dead set on getting my outboard running. Rash, Bewon and I sat around watching and handing down tools for the first hour or so, but then decided that it’d be better to get some coconuts from shore and mix them with rum to help pass the time. Avnil spent a good 4 hours working on the outboard. He did get it running and in the right direction, but starting it required about 5 minutes of constant pulling. In the end he decided that the pulse sensor was faulty. Too bad there’s no distributor of Tohatsu parts in Fiji. Still he did get my motor running and solved the running in the wrong direction problem.

Avnil testing my outboard

Avnil needed money for fuel to be able to go back out fishing. I’d already planned on paying him for his time working on my motor. He refused twice before finally accepting the equivalent of 25USD. This was more than enough to buy gas. I was curious to see the village, and asked if I could ride into the shop with them. They figured that it’d take too long to take all 4 of us into the shop, so we left Bewon on board to enjoy the luxury of the “yacht” while Rash, Avnil and I took off to the river mouth a couple of miles away. We never got to the village which was many miles up the river. It was a couple of miles up river just to get to the shop at the junction of a railroad bridge and the road to Labassa. I was disappointed to not see the village, but was happy to buy some eggs and sausages. We’d been out of Savusavu for 5 weeks and were getting a bit low on provisions. Unfortunately the shop didn’t sell any veggies. People grow their own produce in Fiji and it’s rare to find it for sale outside of the cities.

Bewon hanging out on Bodhran as we took off to buy gas:

Rash and Avnil taking me up river

Some locals gillnetting on the reef at the mouth of the river

Heading upriver

Railroad bridge where we pulled off to get gas

When we got back to Bodhran, Riki and Bewon were drinking beer and chatting the night away. The 3 Fijians took all claimed to have never been on a yacht before. As they took off for another nigh fishing the reef, they promised to bring us a fish, but we never saw them again.

We spent the next day exploring the shore where Survivor was filmed. At first I thought that it was a little funny how the “remote” beach was less than 10 miles away from 2 different villages. Upon further exploration, the shore turned out to mosquito ridden and the vegetation thick. Locals had been paid to cut down all the coconuts and the fishing was poor. I certainly wouldn’t have liked to be marooned on that particular beach. Riki and I bushwhacked our way to the other side of the peninsula and back and found little more of redeeming quality.

Riki climbing for cocos

Bushwhacking through the survivor site

The next morning while I was re-anchoring to a spot a little further from the reef, a older Fijian man, a teenage boy and young girl were making their way afoot, around the point. The rocky shore came to an end and the three ended up jumping in the water and swimming a good ways before picking up the shoreline again. I felt bad watching them swim, so when another younger Fijian guy and a teenage girl came around the point, I rowed over and offered them a ride into the beach to reach the others.

Peter and Lucy jumped into the skiff and peppered me with questions as I rowed them ashore. On the beach I met Suli who quickly dispatched Peter to go and collect coconuts. I sat on the beach with Suli while we talked of the world. His village didn’t have a school He was taking the kids back to the village up the river at the head of the bay that did have a school. They were going to be picked up by a boat currently out fishing, but wanted to hang out on the beach and play in the water in the interim. They were interested in me and Bodhran, so I suggested that they wait for their boat aboard Bodhran. We couldn’t all fit in the skiff, so Suli offered to swim out while I ferry the rest across. It certainly wouldn’t have done to have the elder man swim across, so I after depositing most of my passengers on Bodhran, I gave Peter a quick lesson on the use of oars and sent him off with a grin like the Chesire cat to row over an pick up Suli from the rocks.

Everyone was fascinated with Bodhran. After the grand tour, I sat the kids down in front of the tablet to watch Mythbusters while Peter, Suli and I went outside to mix up some kava. Peter mentioned how he and Suli were from the chiefly family of the village. Riki and I felt bad about not being able to make it around to the village to do sevusevu. Neither of our outboards were running properly and we just couldn’t make it the 8 miles up to the village. When I brought the first two 50 gram packets of pre-ground kava up, Suli said the prayers just like it was a proper sevusevu. I didn’t learn until the next day that Suli was actually the chief for the region. Instead we spent the next few hours drinking kava and passing the guitar around until the boat came just before sunset to take them all away.

Hanna, Suli and Peter mixing kava

Peter taking the kids out for a row

Peter picking a tune over my plastic blue kava basin

Riki and I spent a few more days at Verevere bay before a forecast for some pretty bad weather made us move on. I spent one day carving a new cribbage board out of a purple heart scrap that I salavage down in NZ. We went out to Sau Sau Pass for some snorkeling one day, but it was mediocre at best. Rick did catch a nice trevally on the way back in.

Guava Jelly’s new cribbage board

Anchoring out at Sau Sau Pass:

Riki and his trevally

Vuruna Passage

Saturday, October 20th, 2012


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

More reef

Riki dove down in this hole and ended up finding a nurse shark down there:

White tips:

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.

Pano of Verevere Bay