Posts Tagged ‘fishing’

Makogai, Ovalau and a Big Ole Yellowfin

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

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.

Not so Superbowl and more Quebecois

Friday, February 7th, 2014

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.

Happy New Year from Viani Bay!

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

We pulled into Viani Bay on Christmas Day thinking that we’d celebrate the holiday with a snorkel and maybe some Fiji Gold. I’d picked an anchorage that looked like it had pretty good shelter from the south easterly winds. I couldn’t tell from the chart that there was a house right there, nor that the only place to drop the hook was about 150 feet from the beach right in front of that house. Indeed while we were looking for a place to drop the hook a respectable distance away, a very European looking Fijian man came out to the beach and directed us to the one good spot to anchor. Mélanie and I immediately dropped the skiff into the water and went ashore to say hi.

The man on the beach turned out to be Jack Fisher. I’d heard of Jack, as he is well know in the cruising community. He takes yachties out diving to all the good spots in the area at a dramatic discount over the local dive companies. The house belongs to his Aunt Francis and the whole Fisher and Evans clan was over for Christmas. Lunch was just about ready to be served. Our timing was impeccable and naturally we were invited.

I didn’t have my camera around for lunch. It consisted of an overwhelming spread of fish and curry dishes, boiled crabs, salads and of course cassava. I think that we each had 3 plates. Then it was time for desert and kava. Mélanie and I excused ourselves and went back to Bodhran to change out of our grubby sailing clothes and to grab the camera and instruments. We got back just in time to sit under the mango tree and get the party going.

I brought in a bunch of “pop-its” that I had left over from Diwali. The kids found it to be great fun exploding these on the back of their Uncle Johnny. Johnny is the definite black sheep of the family. Very entertaining, but he doesn’t work and spends a lot of his time scamming off everyone in the bay, so even Jack’s wife Sofie got into the game of blasting him with “pop-its.”

Went the sun got too low, we shifted from the mango tree to the almond tree for shade, but the grog party went on all night. We pulled into Viani Bay without expectation and ended up having a Christmas celebration that I’ll never forget and making lots of friends that we’ve been hanging out with for a week now.

We stayed in the anchorage off Francis’ house for 3 days. We’d go in for tea from time to time, but mostly we hung out on the boat with Jack and Sofie’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband Tukana. Tukes is the family’s singer and guitar player who takes Fijian culture very seriously. I left my spare guitar on the beach for him for the three days and you could hear it being played all day long. Naturally Tukana and I hit it off, but it was Elizabeth who adopted us. She came out and spent the better part of two days hanging out on Bodhran snorkeling, fishing and carrying on. She brought us out buckets full of hermit crabs for bait and even baited our hooks for us. Of course all the catch ended up going back to the house.

On the 4th morning, Tukana and Elizabeth were heading back across the bay to Jack’s house. Jack has a couple of moorings that he put in for yachties. We figured that would be a better place to hang out, so Tukes and Elizabeth came on board and drove us over. The next day we had a pizza party and then decided to go out trolling on the outer reef. Jack joined us on Bodhran and took the helm. We had three lines out, but didn’t get a single bite.

The next day we had Jack’s whole family out for a shopping run over to Taveuni. We were running a bit low on fresh stuff and wanted another try at a fish. The morning was flat calm. Jack took the helm and steered close to a number of bombies, but we still didn’t have any luck. We anchored off Waiyevo and took a cab to the MH in Somosomo to buy groceries. We had quite an entourage with us for whole shopping trip.

It took 3 trips in the dinghy to get the groceries and Fisher’s back on the boat. The wind was up and we sailed off the anchor. We had a rousing good sail with Jack steering the whole way back. The wind was blowing 15-20 knots slightly ahead of the beam as we blasted across Somosome Strait at almost 7 knots. Sofie would whoop with glee every time the boat heeled over. Still we had no bites until Mélanie pulled in the handline and found a small barracuda on the end. Once we were off Jack’s place we finally started the motor and picked up a mooring.

That was New Years Eve. Both Mélanie and I had been feeling sick for a few days. We wrestled with going into the village for New Years or not. Reluctantly I took the skiff in to tell Elizabeth that we were going to bail. She met me on the beach and immediately asked if we wanted to have Tukes and her back out on the boat for a tanoa or two. This seemed like a much better plan. As it turned out, the village New Years Eve celebration consisted of 2 hours of church until midnight. Mélanie and I were both pretty happy we missed that one.

The real party was on New Years Day. The tradition is to douse people with water or even better pick them up and throw them in the water. This helps wash away the old year and bring in the new. We missed the morning mass dunking of people on the beach, but went in for lunch. The massive lunch was followed with a procession from the neighboring village women. They came marching through the village wearing makeup and their sunday finest, banging on pots and pans. The women from this village then proceeded to douse them with buckets and pans of water, including one filled with curry stained dirty dishwater. Waste not, want not.

We then settled into the familiar kava/music session under a mango tree. Like so many other places that I go in Fiji, there were plenty of musicians, but no instruments. So my uke and two guitars were passed around until it was time for the women to all leave for their own wetting at the other village. A bunch set out on foot for the 2 mile walk. Mélanie joined the crew that went by boat a short time later. I thought it best to leave the women to their business and stick around the village with the fellas.

I moved from the kava session to the volleyball court. I got in 4 good games, winning two and losing two, but burned the crap out of my feet on the black sand. It was hot enough to give me blisters on both feet. I had to bow out of the volleyball game. It was OK, the fellas were more impressed with my camera skills than my skills on the court.

We left at sunset after a nice swim and freshwater shower. The forecast is for no wind for the foreseeable future, so my next blog post might be from Viani Bay as well.

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.

Vanua Balavu

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Bats noisily chirping to each other as they suck the nectar from the flowering trees behind us, Irie, Guava Jelly and Bodhran lie rafted together in a sweet little anchorage while a low pressure system rolls overhead. Doris, Hannah, Riki and I had skiffed through this little hole 3 weeks ago. Awed by the steep walls, clear water and beautiful coral, we idly chatted about trying to squeeze one of the big boats back in here. The arrival of Christian and V on Irie turned idyl chat into a mission.

Shallow, clear water combined with dramatic rock formations and caves make the Bay of Islands in Vanua Balavu one of the top anchorages that I’ve visited. Irie had taken a detour to Namuka-I-Lau when Guava and I sailed up here, so Riki and I had a week to explore the bay and get to know the good people of the head village on the island, Dalaconi, before he got here.

Riki had been here last year and we warmly welcomed into the village. Not that we aren’t always warmly welcomed into Fijian villages, but it’s special when the people already know you. Few cruisers go back and retrace their steps. We didn’t spend too much time in town, but we did make the trip to Loma Loma to pick up some meager groceries. Of course we also spent a few nights drinking kava and playing music and we came back to the village again when Irie came in to do their sevusevu. I’m afraid that I’m going to give Dalaconi short shrift here. I did get some great pics and had some good times there, but we’ve got to get back to that mission.

The three boats made their way back up to the Bay of Islands 5 miles to the north. The next day Christian, V and I went out fishing/dinghy exploring. We went through that same little hole that Doris, Hannah, Riki and I had gone through a week before. This time Christian pretty much decided that he was going to get Irie in there. I’ve been thinking about staying in Fiji during cyclone season this year and it’d be valuable to scout this place out as a hurricane hole.

The next day at high tide, we made it happen. Armed with a hand held depth sounder and my camera, V and I took off in the skiff to scout/document the way in. Riki climbed aboard Irie and started playing guitar. For some reason that didn’t seem to help, so he climbed up Irie’s mast to help spot coarl heads.

It should be mentioned here that Irie is not a particularly maneuverable vessel. She’s a 33′ steel bath tub with a big keel running her entire length. She draws a moderate 5′, but if we needed to turn sharply, it’d be all over. Prior planning was the key. Too bad I was busy taking pictures instead of measuring depths. Actually we’d scouted the route ahead of time. It all looks very tight, but there were only two spots where the passage underwater was really cramped. Christian has been at sea for many years now and calmly navigated these constrictions like they were wide channels.

Christian decided on a nice sandy patch after the second constriction to drop the anchor. Once it was set, Riki looped a stern line around a tree and brought it back to Irie. The anchor wasn’t quite in the right place, so Christian and Riki worked as a team snorkeling down the 15 feet to the bottom to shift the anchor and chain to just the right spot. This was the first time I’ve ever seen a 45lb anchor set by hand! Once everything was set and a few celebratory beers were drunk, it was Guava’s turn to come over.

There’s no pics of Guava or Bodhran coming in, but we scouted a shorter route to the anchorage for the other boats. It looked like there was more coral on this route, but it was deeper and much shorter. I climbed Guava’s ratlines while Christian hung out in the water with his mask to mark the shallow points. Just like that Guava was in and rafted up along Irie. The tide had come in, so Bodhran anchored outside for the night. The next morning Riki came out to help me in. The wind was blowing and it was pouring rain, but by now this was old hat. All three boats came in without incident and no coral was harmed in the making of our raft.

We spent a week rafted up in that sweet little anchorage. Bodhran was only 10 feet off the rocks, but we were surrounded by hill on all 4 sides and the wind barely touched us. Derrick and Allison off Kalida and Geza and Eva off Rotor were still anchored outside, but came over for a potluck. We all went snorkeling together through a cave in one of the islets that had a large air pocket in it. Geza and Eva donated their longboard so we could tow it behind Christian’s dinghy. I can’t believe that I didn’t get any “skurfing” (skiff surfing) pics, but good fun was had by all.

One day we decided to bushwhack up the hill behind us. The rock all along the bay is very sharp and jagged and the jungle is dense and foreboding, but Christian thought that he spied a mango tree up there. If one of us was going to be here during cyclone season, it’d be valuable to know if there was fruit in the neighborhood. So V dropped us off on the shore at the head of our little bay and Riki, Christian and I set off with our machetes and cane knife to scout the hillside.

We immediately found a sweet little cave on shore, so I had to climb in and take pictures from it. From there we ascended up to the base of the “mango” tree. The consensus is that it’s not a mango tree, but looks like a mango tree and still could be a mango tree. By this time we were already ¾ of the way to the top, so we pushed on and were rewarded by a view looking out over the outside lagoon with a distinctly good looking wall for snorkeling.

So the next day was snorkeling outside on that wall, which was indeed pretty spectacular. In total Riki and I spent over three weeks in Vanua Balavu. The fishing was good. The scenery was great. The people are as good as anywhere in Fiji. Huge fruit bats greeted us at the end of each day and chirped us to sleep at night. All that would have been great on it’s own, but a big thanks to Christian for having the drive to try and get us back into that spot. Finding a spot like that made Vanua Balavu truly special.