Pacific Crossing 2010-12
June-Aug 2012 in Fiji Logs
August 8th, Vuda Point, Viti Levu, Fiji
It’s early August and we are tied up, in the rain, at Vuda Point Marina. This morning our new windlass motor arrived from California after only a SIX DAY TRIP. Miracle of miracles. The first windlass motor was declared lost after three weeks in transit.
Once the rain abates and the windlass can be installed the wait for a weather window to Vanuatu can commence.
Our stay in Fiji is drawing to a close which makes us sad. The Fijians are extremely outgoing and a joy to get to know. We have been fed, clothed, ministered, and educated by complete strangers who are only too happy to include us in their lives. At the same time, after two+ weeks in the Marina, one of them on the hard, we are ready to go sailing again. What we’ll encounter in Vanuatu we don’t know but we’re ready to find out.
For those of you who want to know what we’ve been doing for the last two months, keep on reading.
Rabi Island & Vanua Levu Northeast Coast, June 2nd – June 13th
From the Island of Taveuni we sailed across the Rabi Channel and through the south end of the Florida Reefs to the village of Buakonikai on Rabi Island. Two days previously a Kiwi boat was lost on a reef not too far from here so we were on high alert with the reminder that, although beautiful, the reefs could end our cruise if we weren’t careful.
We dropped our anchor in Katherine’s Bay in twenty feet with a mud bottom. We were almost completely surrounded by mangroves and high hills. It was a very comfortable anchorage after the wind and coral of Naselesele Point.
We went ashore after settling in, hoping to make a quick, polite introductory visit. Naturally the best laid plans go awry. We were greeted upon arrival by Muaad, a friendly young man who invited us to a small shack next to the main road where a women’s fundraising event was in progress. We were seated with the men and offered round after round of “grog”. I purchased a locally crafted doormat while Roger bought innumerable handfuls of homemade sweets which disappeared into the local children as fast as he could buy them. Only a complete sellout ended the fracas. Soon the kids were performing native dances and singing hymns. All the while we perched on the floor, resplendent in lovely floral crowns. After several hours and the suspicion that the event might continue into the evening we thanked our hosts profusely and explained that we had to get back to the boat.
There is no sevusevu performed on Rabi as the residents are not of Fijian descent. In the early 1940’s the entire population of the Kiribati Island of Banaba was resettled to Rabi after their Island was mined (not by them) to a point where it was no longer habitable. It’s a rather sad tale. To our eyes the Banabans seem to have adapted to their new home though I gather there are still discussions about reparations. It was not until recently that the Banabans voted to accept Fijian citizenship.
On Sunday we attended the local Methodist Church service which was followed by lunch in the church hall (on the floor, men and guests eat first.) We enjoyed talking with the Minister about the state of education in Fiji. Discipline is a growing problem here as it seems to be in many places. Interestingly we had had the same discussion with the Mayor of Daliconi just the week before. On our way back to the boat who should we encounter on their way to afternoon church service but the crew of Quicksilver who we hadn’t seen since they left Tonga for New Zealand. They couldn’t convince us to attend a second round with the Methodists but we did make plans to get together later.
On Monday the crews of Shango & Quicksilver decided to take the bus to the main village of Nuku. When I say bus I actually mean truck. Many locals hoisted themselves into the back of the flatbed which was equipped with two plank seats. There was a tarp thrown over the top to prevent an excess of dust and sun. Unfortunately the tarp may also have proved disorienting to the small tot sitting on his mother’s lap next to me. Before I knew what was happening junior was car sick. Roger’s eyes became quite wide but he managed to hang on to his breakfast. After our rather long drive we were glad to disembark at our destination. Another fine public transportation experience.
After three days in Buakonikai we sailed up the back side of Rabi to Albert’s Cove on the northwest corner of the island. The sail started out well but the more we curved around the island the tighter the angle became, ending with us having to make several tacks to get into the anchorage. We had passed Kite doing the same thing while headed south.
Albert’s cove is a beautiful anchorage fronted by a long white beach. There are several families who live on shore in fishing camps. We spent a beautiful day snorkeling the entry pass where the coral was healthy and there were lots of fish. Another day found us in a soaking rain so we lounged around on Quicksilver solving the world’s problems, eating incessantly and painting toenails (on selected feet). The next day Quicksilver headed north and rounded the tip of Vanua Levu while we turned back south to connect with Kite for a nice pair of dives on Rainbow Reef.
After two days in Viani Bay we made our way south to Nasasobu Bay where we finally reconnected with our friends on Spirare. We spent a nice evening, relating our adventures since parting in Tonga eight months ago. It was a brief get together since we had to return to Savusavu the next day to check in with Customs.
We spent all of a day and a half in Savusavu before heading out again. A front came through on our first night back, with the promise of a brief period of NW winds to follow. It just so happened that next on our cruising plan was to head south to visit the Island of Kadavu. To visit Kadavu you had to check in first in Suva. Suddenly the NW wind that was thrashing us at the edge of the mooring field had an appeal. Suva, usually a sail against the SE trades, was now only a broad reach away. After a quick pack-up and check out we were underway. The wind which was so strong in the anchorage slowly moderated overnight. The direction remained NW however which was great for our progress.
Suva, June 15th – June 27th
By the next morning, Friday, June 15th, we had lost our wind which was ok because we had rounded the SE corner of Viti Levu and it would have been a fairly tight sailing angle. We motored the last several hours into Suva and anchored off of the Royal Suva Yacht Club. It was a Friday afternoon and we were hoping to check in with Customs before the weekend but they had already closed. We sat at the YC bar and had a beer and watched as the wind began to pick up out of the South at an alarming rate. We saw Gail from Promise waiting to get a lift back to the boat, so offered her a ride. Things had become so ugly by this point that we all became soaked in the two minutes it took us to get to Promise.
What to do? After dropping Gail we looked at our position. We were anchored quite close to a mostly sunken fishing boat which was now directly astern. There was a three-masted schooner in front of us as well as several ferries. It was three in the afternoon and we understood that there was a protected anchorage 2.5 miles away on the other side of the harbor behind some small islands. Stay or go? Up came the anchor and in went some waypoints. We were moving to Tradewinds. Happily it was light and the visibility was good so we had no trouble finding our way to the new spot. There are free moorings available but we didn’t know their condition so we opted to anchor. We settled into our little duck pond of an anchorage, right in front of the Novotel Hotel and sipped sundowners while listening to a fellow playing the ukulele in the Hotel bar. The passage to Suva finally felt completed.
Sunday found us braving the RSYC anchorage once again. We wanted to be within striking distance of town for Customs and various errands on Monday. The Tradewinds anchorage sadly didn’t have a place to tie your dinghy ashore or we would have stayed there and commuted. There was no wind at the RSYC anchorage, so all was well with our world. Ashore for a bit of exploration we meandered south as far as Albert Park. We sat in the bleachers and listened to an SDA choir practice while watching a pick-up soccer game on the field below.
On Monday morning I discovered that Customs had changed its coastal check-in policy. You no longer had to check in and out at each port of entry and instead could just email or call weekly with your location. I could complain about the timing of this change but that would be ungracious. Going forward cruising around Fiji was going to be much easier.
Over the next several days we accomplished a lot. Suva is great for boat bits and provisioning. The vegetable market is amazing and I had a great time haunting the various stalls.
On Thursday, June 21st, we ran some errands then went to Daikoku, a Japanese restaurant, for lunch. It is definitely an oasis in the city. Sadly the afternoon degenerated. Not too long after we got back to the boat the wind picked up and shifted to the south once again, this time accompanied by rain. We managed to haul the dinghy up on deck and by then the seas had grown quite large and the fleet was starting to smash about. Do we move again? It was about four thirty and darkness would become a factor. Our anchor started to drag and that answered the question for us. We bashed our way back to Tradewinds, hearts in our mouths. Although we had a track this time it didn’t feel particularly adequate. The large, sloppy seas were slowing our progress across the Harbor and by the time we turned toward the reef entrance outside of Tradewinds it was dark. Roger was on the bow with the spot light pointing out wrecked fishing boats. I was clutching the wheel with white knuckles, following our track for all I was worth. Finally we made our way back into the Tradewinds anchorage unscathed. Even in there it was blowing 25+. We dropped the anchor and set it to within an inch of its life. At seven p.m., despite the cold wind we showered in the cockpit to remove all the salt spray we had been drenched by. The heat was turned on for the first time in a very long while and we called it a day.
After several more days, and back at RSYC we finished our various chores. After one more Daikoku lunch, we put the dinghy back on deck and plotted our escape to Kadavu.
Kadavu, June 28th – July 10th
On Thursday June 28th all signs pointed to departure. We had swung around with the shifting wind and could now smell the dump. It was time to go. We would miss the provisioning of Suva but we were happy to kiss the anchorage goodbye. By eight o’clock in the morning we had exited the reefs which protect Suva Harbor. The conditions were as advertised, 13-18, E/SE with a 2M swell. A 47 mile long port tack put us within two miles of our anchorage on the west side of Ono Island, inside the Astrolabe Reef. We dropped the anchor in Nabouwalu Bay by 3:30.
After several false starts the next day we managed to complete sevusevu. Our greeter, Melina, was friendly and helpful and provided us with papayas.
On Sunday we attended church (Methodist again) after which we had lunch with the Minister and his wife and son, as well as the Pastor. Happily, I had brought along a loaf of banana bread suspecting we might be dining out. After our meal (cassava, taro, oto, lolo, palusami and papaya) Steve the Pastor (as opposed to Netani, the Minister) came out to visit the boat with the Minister’s three year old son. In the afternoon we cleaned the bottom of the boat thereby dodging the afternoon church service.
In the evening six visitors turned up at the boat including Netani the Minister who had never been on a sailboat before. Our visitors are always amazed by how much of our living space is “under the water”.
On Monday morning we headed off to Naigoro Bay on the northeast corner of the main island, Kadavu. The day started out clear but as we left Ono’s sphere of influence the weather became a bit misty. Misty is not what we wanted to wend our way through the reefs to our next destination. Roger spent a certain amount of time on the bow but the charts seemed surprisingly accurate. As we rounded the corner of the island near our destination we crossed paths with Promise as they made their way back from a village further southwest. Gordon claimed to have left us a trail of tofu to follow.
Our ten mile trip ended in sunshine and we were able to make our way into Naigoro Bay without incident. It was a pretty bay surrounded by mangroves and pretty hillsides. We managed to do a modern variation on sevusevu with a fellow named Setariki who said he’d pass the kava along to the Chief who was away at his plantation. He served us cocoa and told us we had seen his wife out fishing.
The next day we dove Naigoro Pass with Waisalima Dive. In addition to Tulala our Captain and Siewa our Dive master there was an Italian couple along for the outing. The first dive was very pretty with some good sized fish and several sharks. The second dive started well with several sharks but then the current got a little crazy and we were moving a bit fast to see much, alas. The next day we fared pretty well snorkeling the pass. There were lots of big pelagics and sharks.
From Naigoro Bay we had the option of continuing inside the reef to Kadavu village or going out Naigoro Pass to any of several villages further west. We opted to go out the pass and have a sail. As our destination we chose to enter Yauravu Bay and anchor in front of Muani village.
The pass was as advertised (by our Google Earth chart) and we entered the Bay without miss-step. We anchored off the village in EIGHTY-SEVEN FEET at low tide. We would not have considered this if the protection wasn’t so good and the forecast was not so benign. When we went ashore we were met by a woman named Mere. She was the Kindie (Kindergarten) teacher at the school. She introduced us to the head teacher then took us to see Chief Alivereti who, at age 78, had been Chief for 40 years. After the formalities were over we headed back to the boat with plans to visit Mere’s students in the morning.
At ten o’clock Friday morning we donned our village wear and headed ashore to visit the school. I managed to reach the kindie room but Roger was snared by the teacher-less(for the day) second graders as he walked by. He started quizzing the kids on the math problems which were on the blackboard. I finally had to go track him down and pry him from the clutches of the math whizzes. Back in the kindie room we had a mini geography lesson for the 3-5 year olds. We drew a (pathetic) map of Fiji on the blackboard and made a track of our voyage through their country. Amazingly enough the little tykes could actually name some of the places we pointed to despite their tender ages. We were then treated to several choral selections led by our friend Mere. The lung capacity of these children was awe inspiring. If I didn’t think it was rude I would have covered my ears to prevent damage to my eardrums. All in all we enjoyed our day in school.
Mere joined us on the boat in the afternoon and we discussed life and generally lazed around for several lovely hours.
Interestingly enough the village of Muani appears in one of the cruising books that we have onboard. We brought the book, Following Seas, ashore to show to the villagers and they were tickled to see and read about themselves in the book. Lela, one of the villagers who featured prominently in the story was not to be found until late Friday evening when she and her family turned up at the boat. Even for us it was like a reunion. Needless to say copies of the book are headed their way, courtesy of Beth Leonard, the author.
Bright and early Saturday morning, after only two days in Muani, we headed back out the pass. Strong trades were forecast and we didn’t want to attempt the pass with high winds. It was sad to leave so quickly but we were glad we had come.
Our last stop on Kadavu was at Bukalevu-Ira on the western-most tip of the Island. Despite its rather precarious looking placement it was purported to have good protection behind a reef and next to a small outlying Island. We had a nice sail and arrived at mid-day at the very pretty anchorage. Very pretty and a bit more corally than we had hoped. Down went the anchor in a wee spot of sand. We were joined shortly by two other boats which was a first for us in Kadavu where we had always been alone. American boats Pico and Britannia were soon anchored nearby. Before too long two local fishermen climbed aboard for a chat. Nathan & Kim were using spear guns to hunt reef fish. Into our (inflatable)dinghy went the spear guns and the dying fish while we chatted in the cockpit. Hmmmm. After they warmed up with cups of tea they were on their way for further fishing.
In the late afternoon we went ashore for sevusevu with Chief David. He invited us in for Sunday morning church service with, you guessed it, the Methodists.
The crew of all three boats turned up bright and early the next morning dressed for church. The service was very well attended by the members of this large village. The singing was terrific and the sermon was spirited if a bit long. I’m sure we’d have appreciated it a bit more if we had understood what was being said. Particularly entertaining to me was the tall, thin man with the bamboo rod who supervised the children’s section. After church we stopped by at Nathan’s house to give him some fishing line and were invited to lunch. We gladly accepted. It’s possible we irked certain villagers by our dining choice since we were soon to discover we were breaking bread with one of two non-Methodist families in the entire neighborhood. Oops.
After another few nights of strong wind and the sound of crunching anchor chain we decided that it was time to depart. With the now poor visibility added to the weather mix our continued exploration of Kadavu was untenable. At five o’clock Tuesday afternoon, July 10th, we picked up the anchor and headed northwest for an overnight passage to Navula Pass at the Southwest corner of Viti Levu.
Western Fiji, July 11th – July 22nd
The passage to western Viti Levu turned out to be quite pleasant. We thought it might be a bit boisterous but the wind turned out to be more astern than we anticipated so it was rather mellow despite winds to 30+ knots. We managed to miss Vatulele Island and by eight in the morning we were heading in through Navula Pass which is wide enough for ships. Our anchorage at Momi Bay, only a few miles inside the pass was lovely in a dry, desert-like way. The surrounding hills were covered with golden grass and few buildings. The weather was a world away from that on the east side of Fiji. The sun shone overhead with the occasional white puffy cloud drifting by. That, in combination with the windless, coral-free anchorage allowed our tense muscles to unwind to a point that activity was almost impossible. It felt like we were…ON VACATION.
After three days of lounging about we decided it was time to lounge about somewhere else. It was time to make our pilgrimage to the cruiser’s Mecca of Musket Cove. Started over forty years ago by a former yachtie, Musket Cove is now a combination of resort, time shares, private homes and a marina all on the lovely Island of Malololailai. Yachties love it because there are inexpensive moorings, access to the resort facilities, and a grocery store. At the “Island Bar” there are grills which are lit every evening so you may prepare whatever you bring in for dinner. The snorkeling is good. The walking trails are good. The showers are good. What’s not to love? Sadly, we’re told that Dick Smith, the founder, passed away several days after our visit.
After two days which included a barbeque with half the crew of Quicksilver (the other half being home in the UK for a graduation) we were ready for a little less excitement. Our next stop was Navadra Island. The anchorage is actually tucked amongst three islands, Navadra being the largest. This was a classically beautiful South Pacific anchorage. High, palm covered hills, white sand beaches, clear blue water with spectacular snorkeling and goats munching on the shrubbery. The beach walking was peaceful and only a handful of boats came and went. We were finally driven out by an irksome roll after several great days. Our ultimate destination was Port Denarau Marina for a rendezvous with our friends on Kite but we broke the trip into two days, catching our breath once again at Musket Cove.
The west coast of Fiji is the nation’s tourist destination. Given the weather and the spectacular, beach-fringed islands sprinkled liberally offshore it’s no wonder. The west coast was definitely not the Fiji we had grown to know. It was very pleasant but different. As we wended our way into the Port Denarau Marina, past the megayachts and the tourist adventure cruise boats we felt like we had entered a different world. A walk ashore revealed a mall with a dozen restaurants, including a Hard Rock Café, all filled with happy vacationers. In its defense the on-premises market sold tofu.
Our visit was intended as a bon voyage of sorts for the crew of Kite. We weren’t sure whether we’d catch up with them in Vanuatu so wanted to visit before they took off. We all bundled ourselves into a cab and headed to the Nadi branch of the Daikoku Restaurant which we had enjoyed with some regularity in Suva. Except for Jack’s horror at the lack of tuna we spent a fine evening.
Vuda Point Marina, July 23rd – August 13th
The”vacation” was coming to a close. Our next stop was Vuda Point Marina where we were going to get hauled and finally have our bottom painted. In addition to that task we had a list of repairs we needed to make before heading into the hinterland of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. At the head of the list was the windlass which had begun to make sinister noises in the last month. A replacement motor had been ordered while we were in Suva but had yet to turn up at Vuda Point. After much fancy footwork the first shipment was declared missing and a second motor was sent out, arriving in a timely fashion. One week was spent on the hard while the bottom was prepped and painted and the topsides were waxed. Life wasn’t all drudgery however. The First Landing Resort facilities were accessible through a gate built into the Marina fence. On several occasions we made our way, like Alice through the looking glass, through the Resort gate to dine in the land of the real vacationers. We also made a bold break from the Methodists to spend a Sunday with the Hare Krishnas. The very spirited sermon (in English) was followed by a vegetarian feast for all (no utensils provided.) It was a nice change of pace from the occasionally dour Methodists.
Now our “to-do” list is down to only final provisioning, fuel, checking out from Fiji, and waiting for weather. There is real hope that we may actually see open water again soon. Stay tuned for the next installment;
“Shango Goes to Vanuatu”
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