Friday, May 25, 2012

Yasawas, Mamanucas and Port Denarau

Sawa-I-Lau Island

One of the things high on the Must-Do list for the Yasawa Islands is to visit the caves at Sawa-I-Lau so we made our way north from the Blue Lagoon.  The bay was calm but the sky overcast and threatening when we arrived and after a little 'discussion', we had ourselves well-anchored.  As with the other villages we visited, we went ashore right away to present our yaqona (kava) to the chief for the sevusevu ceremony.  The chief of Nabukeru village was very pleasant but seemed to be eager to get the formalities out of the way and wasn't rude in any way.  I think he was somewhat preoccupied with the fact that his fishing boat had a hole in it and he was trying to figure out the best way to patch it.  "Let me see it," I said.  After a quick look, I told him that I'd go back to my boat for supplies and I'd repair it when I returned.  Ruthie stayed on shore and was surrounded by almost a dozen kids who acted as tour guides of the very small village.

Ruthie's Nine New Best Friends
I returned, armed with an arsenal of chemicals (epoxy resin, hardener, fiberglass cloth, colloidal filler, acetone, etc) and proceeded to repair the hole.  The sun was hot and I sweated profusely but in not too long a time the sticky goo was starting to harden and I was receiving multiple vinakas (thank yous) from everyone watching.  Later that afternoon as we were down below on the boat, we felt a disturbing jolt and heard a kind of crunch that we knew meant trouble.  I didn't think we had dragged anchor but a squall was passing by and we had swung into a coral pinnacle - even though we had more than 20' of water under the keel, this pinnacle had suddenly appeared and our rudder was banging into it.  We quickly sprang into our well-rehearsed Anchoring Drill but at the same time the skies let loose with a cloudburst of rain.  Fortunately, it was quite warm but it was so much water coming down so hard that even shouting Ruthie and I couldn't hear each other.  Anchored in deeper water, we felt more assured that none of those pesky coral pinnacles were going to creep up on us.
Inside the Cave

The following day we went to the famous caves at Sawa-I-Lai, landing the dink on a small scrap of beach.  It was raining lightly but it's pretty easy to ignore when the air temperature is 85 and the water temperature is 83.  The caves were less than spectacular although it was kind of a rush to dive down and swim under rock to reach the second pool.  After no more than 30 minutes, we were out of there, on our way back to  Rutea and pointing her bow southward.  We stopped for the night at the village of Somosomo, did the sevusevu ceremony with the woman chief and in the morning were underway again to the rolly anchorage of Navadra - although this time it wasn't nearly as rolly.  (There wasn’t much enthusiasm to visit the village of Soso as it sounded mediocre to us.)  We talked with Corie on the phone who had just finished a 10-day trip to the Lau Group, some of the most remote islands in the Fiji group, on The Shannon, a 36-foot sloop.

Mother's Day Dinner with Kevin
It was Mother's day when we reunited with Corie and Kevin, the owner of The Shannon, and in celebration we went out for dinner in Musket Cove.  Kevin left the next day as he had to get back to work in Hawaii while the three of us tackled the peeling varnish on Rutea's cap rail.  The decision that we needed to make was whether to paint Rutea's bottom before we left Fiji for California or waited until we returned.  Our decision to do it now was primarily based on anticipating our eagerness to get back to cruising when we returned rather than sit in a boatyard so we headed to Port Denarau.

At Our Hotel
Working on the Cap Rail

Once we negotiated the narrow channel that leads into Port Denarau, we could have been anywhere in Southern California.  A modern marina, tony restaurants and fashionable stores make the place look more like Newport Beach than Fiji but it was a nice change from the remote places we had just been.  We took things even a step further and checked into a hotel while Rutea was on the hard (the boatyard doesn't allow live-aboards) and our one-bedroom apartment was delightful - well appointed, a nicely equipped kitchen, big flat screen TV, a swimming pool right outside the double sliding glass doors and a washer and dryer!  We brought all our dirty laundry from the boat and kept those two machines working overtime.  Whereas I had planned to do all the work on Rutea myself, the labor rate at the yard is FJ$15.00 (US$8.50) per hour so I let the yard clean, sand and paint the bottom while the three of us persisted in getting the cap rail stripped, sanded and varnished.  Rutea's hull looks great and I could only find two 50-cent-sized blisters to repair - not bad for a 28-year old boat.  Four coats of hard antifouling paint and hopefully we won't have to do anything to the hull again 'til we reach Thailand.  We splashed her this afternoon, did still more sanding on the cap rail and scrubbed her down well - it feels good to be back in the water.

Just one week until we climb aboard a jet for San Diego and Caity and Danny’s wedding!  I had made the airline reservations last November and, at the time, this date seemed very far away.  All of us are very excited.  Our list of things to buy now covers three pages of notebook paper - Ruthie may have to look for a job to pay for all this stuff!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tales from The Blue Lagoon

Remember the Brooke Shields movie The Blue Lagoon? Well, we never saw it but thought that the Blue Lagoon would be a beautiful place to visit! Armed with our Garmin chart plotter, Navionix charts on the Ipad, two cruising books and one of us up on the bow we threaded our way from Waya Island through the reef strewn route to Nanuya Island and Nanuya Levu where they are still talking about Brooke Shields! There were reefs everywhere but none of the charts could agree on EXACTLY where so it ends up that eyeballing your way through them is just as good as following a chart..... It's just a bit difficult to eyeball depth (especially when heading into the sun) so one moment we were in 60 feet of water and the next moment we were in 6 feet!

We are finally in a very protected and calm anchorage! We have had our fair share of rolly anchorages and therefore sleepless nights! The Blue Lagoon is formed by four islands and is the most protected anchorage in the Yasawas. Upon arrival, we made our way ashore to make sevusevu and ask permission to anchor off of the village. The village has mostly disappeared as they have sold off most of the land to resorts, but the original landowner still living in her original home right on the beach and was happy to have us anchor in her front yard (so to speak). We are the first yacht of the season to visit the village and Lai, our hostess, made us feel very welcome and gave us the lowdown on where to snorkel, when to walk the reefs and who to visit. Since there is some SPCZ weather coming our way, we plan to spend a couple of days here.

Sunday afternoon we treated ourselves to lunch at the resort. Picture, if you will, a palm frond thatched roof covering a round, open-sided structure which is perched on a rocky spit of land overlooking turquoise water..... the breeze floats in cooling the 84 degree mid day heat, the palm trees sway and your server (a good looking, dark as night Fijian) brings you a beer (which is cheaper than a soft drink)! We did languish over that lunch- it was our first meal out in three weeks AND I ordered a salad, which was a treat because guess what we are out of! The Supermoon rose over Nanuya Sunday night and was huge and brilliant before disappearing into the SPCZ cloud band and as the wind had not yet picked up we were gently lulled to sleep.

Monday we returned to shore to visit some more with Lai. However she had left for the village on Matacawalevu to do some visiting (it's school break so everyone is on holiday) and we instead visited with Bill. Bill is probably our age (but looks older!) and is from the village on the other side of the island where there are still ten families living. Since Lai and her family were gone, Bill was taking care of and watching over their house. Crime on Nanuya? While we sat there, Neal helping Bill make a broom by stripping the leaves off of the palm fronds and collecting the spines, we chatted about the village, Fijian life, some local gossip and "oh, did we have any AA batteries that we could give him?". Since the tide was ebbing we next walked around the entire island of Nanyua-Sewa (it's small) to visit the village on the other side and visit the famous Lo's Tea House! Lo is very quick to tell you that ALL of the yachties visit her Tea House (she is very glad to hear that many more are on their way) and that the Tea House is in all of the tourist brochures including the Lonely Planet Guide to the South Pacific! Leaving our shoes at the door, we passed on the hot tea or hot coffee, and we ordered orange soda (no ice, served in very old pink plastic cups) and were talked into a piece of Lo's famous chocolate cake. I bought a coconut shell bracelet, oohed and ahhed over the other local handicrafts and we were once again on our way, promising to be good advertising ambassadors for the Tea House. Really, if you are ever in the area, do stop in!

The late afternoon finds us back on the boat overhauling the windlass- it's in a million pieces but no problem, we're only in 50 feet of water with 200 feet of chain out! It will be a two day project (at least) but there were no bearings left in it and it was a wonder that it worked at all. Got a bit of a lightening show in the early evening and then had to hail a power boat, that had just arrived an hour or two earlier, because he was dragging anchor and about to drag down right on top of us....... The clouds are thick tonight, no more Supermoon, but we could really use a good rain shower because Rutea is once again caked in salt!

Tomorrow? Who knows! Every day is different and something unexpected usually occurs! There are lots of nooks and crannies yet to be snorkeled in the Blue Lagoon, villages to visit, Scrabble to be played and the never ending list of boat projects to be attended to. I know we sound busy but we also have time to email you, so........

R of Rutea
At 5/7/2012 8:15 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°56.57'S 177°22.00'E

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Yasawa Group, Fiji

The first island we sailed to from Lautoka was Malolo Lailai, home of the famous Musket Cove Yacht Club, of which we're now life-time members. The tony resorts that surround the cove are a welcome respite of luxury to many cruisers who lay by the sparkling pools and sit at the bars. One of our favorite bars was out on a small islet, covered in coconut palms and was nothing more than a small circular thatched roof over the sand. La and Va were the barmaids and not only were they fast with bringing out the cold Fiji Bitter but they remembered everyone's name. Guests of the resort, mostly Kiwis and Aussies on vacation, would often strike up friendly conversations.

But after almost a week of decadent relaxation, we decided to move on. Corie took off on The Shannon, a Union 36 sloop, with it's owner, Kevin, in search of 'epic' surf, leaving Ruthie and me to crew Rutea. We picked an easy first destination, Mana Island, just 8 miles away and according to our charts, we'd have to anchor offshore. However, when we approached, we could see markers for the entrance to the lagoon - these markers were not on our charts. It was a narrow and winding route through a gap in the coral reef but we made our way close to shore, dropped the anchor and scoped out the shore with binoculars. There's one big resort and a couple of 'backpackers' - essentially youth hostels - on shore along with a restaurant, dive shop, a few souvenir stands and a small village. We took the dink in and it wasn't long after we had been wandering around when a young boy approached us. We exchanged greetings and he said, "Would you like to see our school?" We took him up on his offer and he led us through the village, where it seemed like everyone shouted "Bula!" to us. The school itself was a dilapidated 3-room building but I could tell that this very poor village was proud of it.

One of the backpackers was putting on a traditional dance show that evening so we took the dinghy back in. Our expectations weren't that high as it would be impossible for a resort as small and remote as this to attract superior talent but the dancers still put a lot of effort into their art and the small crowd was tolerant of their mistakes and seemed to appreciate the show. The final dance was a group participation number and the dancers ordered everyone out to the beach and formed two long lines - except for Ruthie and me - we were put out in front, probably because we were the oldest ones there by 30 years. They proceeded to teach us a Fijian version of the Macarena and I did an admirable job of providing the most entertainment with my inability to coordinate any of the moves.

As we had been talking with some of the locals about where to snorkel, we were directed to a small sand cay about a mile north of Mana Island. With all our gear in our dinghy, we headed out the pass, towards the cay but it was a lot different being out there in a 3-meter dinghy than a 15-meter sailboat. As we approached the cay, we could see waves breaking on all sides of it plus more waves breaking on the surround reefs. We finally found a spot to drop the dink's hook but the conditions were kind of rough and the snorkeling wasn't that great so we headed back to the boat after just a short time. This time as we were negotiating the pass the outboard died and it caused our hearts to skip a beat but after a few hearty pulls it started back up. That would have been a challenging row if it hadn't started!

The anchorage had become rolly that night and even into the morning so we were eager to move on to our next destination - Navadra Island (many of the consonants in Fijian have an 'n' sound before them so the name of the island is pronounced 'Navandra'). It looked like it formed a well-protected anchorage, especially with the large reef that almost completely covered the entrance. It also appealed to us as it's uninhabited and sure enough, we had the place to ourselves. But it was far from a calm place to stay - the waves wrapped around the end of the island and kept Rutea rolling from side to side. We did snorkel to shore and explored the beach some but headed back to our rockin' and rollin' boat before too long. It felt like we were really isolated and remote.

I was looking forward to going to a real Fijian village where we could present 'yaqona' ('n' sound before the 'q') or kava as is the custom for visitors when requesting permission to anchor in a village's bay. We made our way to the small village of Yalobi ('n' before the 'b') on the island of Waya and just as soon as we pulled the dink up on the beach, we were met by a man who introduced himself as Atu. He was wearing the remains of a tattered t-shirt and a bright red and very dirty sulu or type of skirt. He apologized that the village's chief wasn't around but he took us to some village elders instead. There were three old men sitting on a grassy knoll, just up from the beach. They put down a tarp for Ruthie and me to sit on (I have to learn how to sit cross-legged discreetly while wearing my sulu) and one of the elders accepted our gift of yaqona and began a chant. From time to time the other old men would offer a response, either verbally or by clapping. It was very interesting and we chatted for a short while afterwards, one of the elders inviting us to come back in the afternoon for a rugby match. The village was very poor and it appeared that many of the men were laying in hammocks, snoozing. As we'd walk by, some of them would manage a "Bula!" but many just ignored us.

We went back in the afternoon for the rugby match and joined some others who found a spot of shade created by a small house. We stood for a while not realizing that one of the women there had instructed her son to get us something to sit on. So we sat on a wooden bench while mothers with their babies sat on the grass. I couldn't believe how hard the teams played in that very hot midday sun. The second game was just beginning when one of the children came to us and said that our dinghy was filling up with water.

I thought we had pulled the dinghy high enough on the beach to keep it out of the water but the tide had come in and waves were breaking over it. Not only was it filled with water but it was almost full of sand, too. Quite a crowd had gathered around it and as soon as I pulled the drain plug, people started working on getting the sand out. It was a real mess and I was relieved when the engine started. Back on Rutea, we settled in for yet another night at a rolly anchorage and promised ourselves that the next place we stayed would have to be calm or we'd go nuts.

However, here we are, anchored between Naukacuvu and Nanuya Balavu Islands and it's still rolly. It's insanely beautiful, though, and we did some of the best snorkeling this afternoon since we've been in Fiji. While we were having lunch, I thought I heard someone say, "Bula" but it wasn't until I heard someone banging around on the aft deck that I popped out of the cabin to find a Fijian man sitting there. He had swam up to the boat and climbed aboard. "Do you want fish?" he asked, holding up a string of brightly colored small fish. We selected a couple of the larger ones, paid him and watched him pop the gills out of the fish. They made a terrific meal.

Tomorrow we're heading to the Blue Lagoon and if it's calm, we just might stay there a few days.
At 5/5/2012 8:36 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 17°11.67'S 177°10.59'E

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: