Saturday, September 16, 2017

North Coast of Viti Levu

After a fun evening watching some local guys play rugby in Rukuruku, we left the following morning for the 30 mile trip to the northern side of the "mainland" which is what the locals call the biggest of the Fijian islands – Viti Levu. This is an area we have never visited and thought it would be a fun new adventure for the last few months in Fiji. Like the northern coast of Vanua Levu that we visited earlier in the season, this is a coast few yachts visit or if they do, they pass through quickly. We had a very nice sail across with headsail only and doing about 5.5 knots on average. Very comfortable – and a small tuna caught along the way that we released. We were even able to sail once we got inside the reefs along the coast.

We settled into a place called Toba Basaga near the village of Verevere. The bay has a narrow entrance with long rocky spits that come out from the land on each side of the entrance. Then there is a large rocky "island" in the center of the bay. We nestled along the eastern side in about 35 feet of water. It looks like a good sandy/muddy bottom.

There are three villages around the bay – two near the shore and one quite a way up a hillside. We were surprised at how much damage there was here from cyclone Winston. There are still several tents and many homes being rebuilt. The sound of chainsaw competes with the roosters! We didn't think that Viti Levu was that hard hit – but it seems this northeast corner of the island certainly had a lot of damage.

We were visited by a fishing boat with Simi, Tom and young Tom and "boy" (that was his name). They came aboard and we learned about the villages and the area. We were invited ashore the next day to the village of Verevere which is a bit hidden from where we are anchored.

On Saturday, we went ashore and met Simi again, who happens to be the "Toronga ni koro" or headman. We did our "sevusevu" with him in his home. We learned lots more and got a nice tour of the village from Ben. There is much rebuilding still going on and still a lot of bare foundations left standing(albeit a little crooked) from the cyclone. This village was very lucky though because their water supply is from a deep spring and the dam remained intact and they were never without fresh water. They have lots of well built concrete sidewalks throughout the village and pretty gardens right in the village. In fact, there was even a horse and an few goats in the village. The horse looked like he was looking through one of the windows in a house. We were told of a waterfall nearby – so we may head there on Monday. We had hoped to do a snorkel today – but the wind has picked up again.

We will work our way along the north coast and slowly make our way around the northwestern corner to get towards Vuda Point where we will clear out of the country. Don't expect to see many boats along here, but you never know.

It is a pretty bay with lots of bird song in the morning. Many people (mostly women) fish from small rafts and boats in the afternoon. This is a nice spot and even with the wind there is little to no roll and good holding.
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At 9/17/2017 2:14 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°32.56'S 178°22.75'E

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Monday, September 11, 2017

New Photos

Two new albums have been posted including an album of underwater pictures...including the giant clams.

Still in Rukuruku and enjoying our time here. We visited the school yesterday afternoon to bring them some books and a computer (from Sandy and Rankin). We got entertained by the children. They sang us some songs, asked some questions and just hung out with us. One of the books in our bag of books we brought was a Harry Potter...and it was one the kids were all eager to read. We had tried to select some newer books and reading material for various age levels and reading capabilities. Our timing was pretty good as it is "Literacy Week" here.

It is interesting how in all the schools we visit, the children have school chores at the end of the school day. This includes sweeping the classrooms, organizing the books, taking down the flag (to a drum beat and everyone respectfully stands up from whatever they are doing as the flag is lowered) and even includes cleaning the toilets.

Upon our return to the boat around 5 pm, we were visited by a large inflatable with five uniformed, helmeted men from the Royal New Zealand Navy and Fiji Customs. They were doing boat inspections. Two came aboard and checked our paperwork and passports and the Fijian Customs officer went below for a quick inspection. They were very polite but formal. The big Navy ship was just out of sight around the bend. They then went to the neighboring Kiwi boat for a quicker stop (they had already been checked out in Kioa a few weeks previously). They were checking local boats as well as foreign vessels.

It looks like we dodged Irma in St. Pete though we are still waiting to get word about our home. The folks in Rukuruku were praying for Irma to not harm our home – they really are nice folks. Also many thanks to the many friends who sent us hopeful thoughts and offers of assistance should they be needed...you don't know how much they are appreciated.
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At 9/12/2017 3:31 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°38.35'S 178°45.16'E

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Rukuruku Re-Visit

First, the "what's wrong with this photo?" entry. Thanks for all the responses to the question – they entertained us. Of course, most got it right – the large stalk of bananas on board should have meant that we would never catch a fish. But we did!

We had a very "sporty" sail over to Ovalau Island from Makogai (sorry last entry said (Matangi- wrong island!) It was only about 20 miles but it meant crossing Bligh Waters and the seas were pretty big with 20 knots blowing. But we went fast and actually only about 10 miles was in the open water – the rest was at least calmed a bit by reefs. We did it in record time on a beam reach.

We are now on Ovalau Island and anchored off the village of Rukuruku in a protected bay. We came here last year which was post Super Cyclone Winston. The kids were sill having their classes in tents and the school and teachers' housing was pretty much destroyed. Things have improved a bit – though the school has yet to be fully repaired. The head teacher from last year, Mister Sefa has retired and Louisa is the new head teacher. We met her last year as well.

It was like coming back into our own community. When we did our sevusevu with the chief (Mateo -the same one as last year), he remembered us. When we went to the school to see Ms. Louisa, the kids remembered us – even our names, many yelling "Hello Michael." Taking all those pictures last year must have made an impact. We saw some people from the village we remembered as well – so it was very nice to be back.

On Friday, we took a tour with Bobo, of Bobo's Farm whom we met last year in the village. He runs a small ecotourism cabin. We were joined by Janet, David and Harry; kiwis from the sailboat Navire anchored in the bay as well. We were met by Bobo in the village and we hiked up to the waterfall and swimming hole on his property. It was a nice walk through the bush and a beautiful spot with no bugs – just nice cool, refreshing fresh water. From there we went through the farm and got lots of great info on various native plants. There were interesting plants that when you throw the leave against someone it sticks...like velcro. Or the medicinal value of the mile a minute vine against mosquito bites. Plus lots of herbs and spices. The cyclone unfortunately wiped out a lot of the cocoa trees and vanilla orchids. They are slowly coming back. After our waterfall adventure and garden tour we had a really special lunch of all Fijian foods including fresh water prawns, taro in coconut cream, wild yams, sweet potato, a salad with ferns and fresh greens from their garden, kumquat juice...all incredibly tasty.

On Saturday, we took the "truck" transport into Levuka, the old capital. It is about an hour ride over very hilly, curvy roads. The truck was packed which always makes it fun and entertaining. People crowding the side benches and standing or sitting on propane tanks or whatever. Kids holding on to the railings above the cab and hanging on and even falling asleep while standing! You always learn a lot on the truck and meet new friends. Once in town we did some shopping for fresh fruit and vegetables and there was a good selection. Last season right after the cyclone, there was little to choose from as the gardens were all destroyed – so it was very nice to see such a good variety of tomatoes, cukes, cabbages, bok choy, pumpkins, bananas, plantains etc. A good choice with the nice friendly ladies all selling their produce with big smiles, laughs and hugs.

We also got some dinghy fuel as well as diesel and learned that we didn't have to carry it back to the truck this year – that the truck would come by the petrol station for pick-ups before it left town. We stopped by with our friends from SV Navire for a cold soda in the Hotel Royal – the first still operating hotel in the Pacific. It has a very colonial feel.

We have some things to bring to the school (books and a computer from our friends from Gypsea Heart) and will do that on Monday afternoon. For now it is interesting to be here after the big cyclone that hit them last year while watching as Hurricane Irma takes aim for our home in Florida. We are hoping for the best – but not much we can do about it. At least by being out here on Astarte – we are only worrying about a home and not a boat or ourselves. Our best hopes go to all our friends and neighbors and hope they are all safe.
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At 9/3/2017 2:52 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°26.47'S 178°57.22'E

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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Leprosarium and Giant Clams

We are anchored in Delice Bay at Matagi Island in the Lomoviti Group. The island took a direct hit and was badly damaged by Super Cyclone Winston in 2016. Many of the residences on this side of the island were wiped off the face of the earth – with parts of some buildings on islands miles away.

The fisheries facility was nearly destroyed. 4500 baby clams that were in the hatchery during Winston were lost. Now only a few tanks remain intact – but the program to start the giant clams in a hatchery and then place them in safe locations is still in progress on a much smaller scale. We saw probably 300 tiny clams getting their start in some of the tanks. They sure are little fellas when they start! A snorkel in the bay took us over about ten really GIANT clams. The largest living ones we had ever seen. The kind that would grab Tarzan's foot in the old TV series! Giant! They are about 30 years old. They do seem to grow quite fast based on the size of the babies and the giants.

It is our understanding that the giant clams mate for life. But then again, they are so big and don't exactly move around – so that is probably inevitable. You can't escape from your partner very quickly in the clam world. The program here was probably quite impressive but the cyclone really did a number on the project.

The island was home to a very large leper colony started in 1911. There were 5000 residents in a well built "city." It is now a heritage site and we were taken on a walk by the ruins. There was a butcher, store, cinema, jail, school as well as lots of residences for the people living here. We went up to the cemetery in which there are 1500 buried. People from many Pacific Islands came here to be housed and it shut down after an effective treatment for the disease was finally found. The hospital in Suva is named after a French doctor who, according to our tour guide (the fisheries man), discovered one the treatments.

The earlier history of the island is equally interesting. Fiji has a history of tribal warfare. The Men of Matagi were renowned for their prowess on the battlefield and many big chiefs would try to get these warriors to serve on one side or another. One of the big chiefs back in the 1800's tricked the men into coming to fight and while they were gone sold half the island from under them to some Europeans. After they returned, word was that they were going to be attacked and the other half of the island sold to the same Europeans, but the islanders managed to sneak away in the night and moved to another island.

Our guide and Fiji "history" teacher is one the men in charge of the "clam" fisheries. He actually lives in Suva (where his family is located) and they rotate coming out to Matagi to work. He was particularly proud of the 100 year old Lister diesel engine which (until very recently) runs the fisheries generator. It is awaiting a new starter engine at the moment. There used to be three of these old engines on the island – this one was moved from the other side of the island here to use for the clam operation.

Yesterday after we completed sevusevu here, we went on a great snorkel. First to look at the giant clams just off the dock and then to a free standing coral patch. This was like diving into the most clear, beautifully stocked aquarium. There were so many varieties of fish of all sizes, colors, shapes and families. The coral was in good shape and varied. There were deep walls as well as shallower areas on top to really enjoy watching the changing scenery. You'll see some pictures when we get internet again. We decided to risk taking our camera in the water again!

The weather is supposed to be cloudy, rainy and "troughy" this weekend – so we'll sit here through that. We may stick around a few days when it gets nice again to get in a few more snorkels as the water here is very clear and because it is a marine reserve things look pretty healthy and bountiful.

There is one other boat here – a Belgium boat that just arrived in Fiji. We traded for some lovely pawpaws (papayas) from the folks on the island.
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At 8/31/2017 7:13 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°26.49'S 178°57.21'E

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Back to Savusavu and Out Again

Left Nasasobo in blustery conditions – but had a rip-snorting sail all the way to Savusavu in record time. It was too rocking and rolling to even put out the fishing line so we didn't test the dual stalks of bananas against fish.

Had a nice week in Savusavu. We went to an event on Friday night at the Cousteau Resort. It is a very impressive resort. The event was put on by the Savusavu Tourism Group and included a great meal and music. The food was spectacular with serving stations for various make it yourself salads; a stir fry station and dessert columns. Plus servers were walking around with satay chicken, fried prawns, fish, calamari and other treats. The music was a good live band and of course, some people went into the pool! It was a great excuse to get into this exclusive resort and it was well worth it! We were grateful to Preeti at Copra Shed for scoring us a few tickets to the sold out event!

We did lots of reprovisioning, giving away bananas to everyone we could, and generally enjoying some social time with other yachties after our few months of seeing very few boats. We had lots of cook's nights off and a few ice creams!

On Thursday (yesterday), we left Savusavu to make a 48 mile run to Makogi Island. This is a fisheries reserve island and owned by the Fiji Government. They are trying to repopulate the giant clams and turtles. More on that later when we get ashore.

We left because the winds were predicted to be 15-20 from the northeast – a great direction for our sail SSW. However, the wind never quite materialized and we ended up sailing just a short while and had to motor sail most of the way. We did score another mahi though – again this one with loads of bananas aboard. We managed to land it as well and hope to give some of it away to the fisheries people here. We enjoyed a nice meal of it last night (plus lunch and dinner today!)

This is a new stop for us – and we hope to be here several days. Unfortunately there is some bad weather coming this weekend – so not much hiking ashore. Hope to get a snorkel in today to see the giant clams.

Nice to be in a new spot.
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At 8/31/2017 7:13 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°26.49'S 178°57.21'E

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

FISH ON!

What's wrong with this picture??????

Monday, August 21, 2017

Rabi and Beyond

We spent a few lovely days in Albert Cove on Rabi by ourselves and then had four boats arrive. We did a nice beach walk but no chambered nautilus to be found. Then we did a nice snorkel at the cut and saw lots of big fish, little fish and colorful things. The wind was predicted to pick up and the anchorage was a tad crowded and we were in deep water, so we decided to make our way south to Katherine Bay.

It was a boisterous sail then slow motor sail with one mahi caught along the way. We made our way into the bay and had the place to ourselves. We set out a good 175 feet of chain in a good muddy bottom for the upcoming weather. Because we caught another mahi we were hoping to give it away (or trade for vegetables). But it was Sunday, so the bay was lacking in fishing boats. The next day we finally got someone's attention – and gave him some mahi fillets but he told us he grew grog (kava) not vegetables. But promised us some drinking coconuts. On Monday, we went ashore to find Mr. Brown whom we met the year before and gifted our old genoa. Unfortunately he was out of town in Suva. We had a young boy as our escort on our walk showing us every small store in the town. We were in search of eggs.

The next day, we were joined by a few boats. Peter and Junior came out to the boat in a kayak and gifted us a HUGE bunch of tiny bananas...unfortunately we aren't sure if they will ever ripen as they were picked pretty green. But it's the thought that counts. They wanted a tour of the boat. Peter is Mr. Brown's grandson – so we were at least able to get a message to him. The next day these boys brought out a bag of papayas – but the fisherman we gave the mahi to had already brought us three lovely papayas and the coconuts so we didn't need more paw-paws (that's what locals call papayas).

We were stuck in Katherine for several days – a few were pretty lumpy when the wind came from the south-southwest. We had an anchor drill at night during the worst of the weather. Though we were first here, a boat anchored too close to us and when we turned and stretched our anchor chain, we were way too close to them and they looked like they had no intention of moving – so we did. It took two tries, but all was good. It just made us mad that we were first in and the ones that had to move...that's wrong! We weren't dragging – just finally stretched out! Oh well, good practice.

From Rabi, we left for the south coast of Vanua Levu and Nasasobo Bay. We sailed a short time, but the wind died or was on the nose. We settled into this very protected bay and with the winds from the north or northeast we were snug as can be. David and his grandson Robert came by to say hello and we gifted him with some mahi...oh, did we forget to mention we caught another one on the passage here! Same lure. He invited us to come ashore and he'd get us some fruit – not impressed with the very green bananas we had! We went for a nice snorkel way out towards the big reef at the entrance because it was a calm day. Later we went ashore to find the group of men all around a kava bowl (or a float cut in half to make a kava bowl) Michael enjoyed a few bilos (cups) of the grog and we got lots of grapefruit off the tree and some lemons. Then delivered to the boat, we got anther huge stalk of bananas (these already turning yellow) and pawpaws...so we have plenty of fruit.

We were planning to leave today, but it is a bit blustery and stormy looking and B doesn't feel great. So we decided to sit here another day and then make the run to Savusavu.
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At 8/20/2017 7:00 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°45.07'S 179°51.06'E

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