Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

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.

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.


Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

I can’t believe that I’ve been in Savusavu for 2 weeks now. How can this happen? Whenever I come to scenic Savusavu on Fiji’s second largest island, I always stay at the luxurious Waitui Marina. By luxurious, I mean all the fresh water showers that you want to take. That’s where my bar stands. Waitui has a rickety dinghy dock off the end of an old pier, a covered little area to hang out, two bathrooms with shower stalls and a freezer where you can make ice overnight and take it out to the boats. The marina part consists of 20 or so moorings scattered throughout Nakama Creek where Asari will be waiting to help you tie up your lines as you come in. For USD$5 a night it’s a pretty good deal. There’s also the Copra Shed marina further up the creek, but it’s a bit more posh and Waitui suits my style.
With that kind of luxury, you could imagine me staying for a little while, but two weeks seems a bit excessive. Well the heavens opened up and it dumped constantly for the first 5 days I was in town. It was hard to get any projects done, but I did get around town and took some good pics. Riki and discussed the possibility of sailing up to Futuna to reset our import permits on our boats.

When you arrive in Fiji you get a permit allowing your boat to stay in Fiji for 18 months. If you exceed 18 months, then you have to pay tax amounting 30% the value of your boat. To reset this 18 months, all you have to do is check into another country and come back. The small French island Futuna is only 250 miles NE of Savusavu. Riki is leaving his boat here for cyclone season and needed to reset his time. I decided that visa wise it’d make more sense for me if I were to go in November, so I let Riki take off on his own while Christian and I stuck around.

With all the rain and the wind, it was hard to get many projects done, but I did pick up a 130 watt solar panel from the local hardware store and replaced the 60 watt panel in the middle of my array. Now I just sit back and smile as I watch the amps roll in. I also got a tip that there was a trail on the island across from town, so I went over and checked it out. It was mostly bushwhacking, but I got some good views, ran into a gnarly looking spider and met some local guys on the beach that turned into a party on Bodhran.

Once Riki took off, it was going to be at least 5 days before he got back, so Christian and I decided to stick around even though the weather had improved, but the real reason that I’ve been haning out in Savusavu so long is my good internet connection and sports. Many of you may not realize that I’m a huge sports fan. It’s one of the biggest things that I miss while I’m out cruising and wouldn’t you know it, I hit Savusavu just in time for the opening weekend of the NFL. I hadn’t found anyway to watch the first Seahawks game, but I followed it on ESPN’s gamecast. Of course it was played at 5am local time and the bars weren’t open. I did hit the bar for the afternoon and night games. Since then I’ve found European sites that allow me to pick up the games on board.

On top of all the great NFL action, I’ve also been able to watch all the America’s Cup races. This years cup has been the sensational. I’ve been captivated, watching 72 foot high speed catamarans match racing on San Francisco Bay at speeds of 45 knots. It’s been amazing.

Riki is back now and I should be moving on, but I sprained my ankle the other day when I was out taking pictures. I can probably hobble around enough right now to sail, but it’d be safer to wait a couple of days, but by then it’d be getting close to next weekends NFL action, so I might be stuck here even longer.

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.