Monday, August 29, 2016

Circumnavigation of Vanua Levu Complete

New pictures are up.

We enjoyed another few days in Nabouwalu watching the ferries come and go – several times a day. We did get up to the police station on the hill where Mikeli, whom we met at the Prime Minister event, gave us a tour. They have a pretty remarkable ocean view and breeze. After visiting there for awhile, he took us to his home to meet his family. The house was nearby and he had a great family – five kids aged one and a half to about sixteen. Very nice kids. They gave us some freshly cut green coconuts to drink and we visited. Michael got a Fiji Police hat from Mikeli, his namesake. Next stop was to go to another house with him to see and hear a band. The band is from Suva but were on Vanua Levu to raise some money for their first album release. They are called, "Tauvu Tribute" and they performed a few songs for us sitting on the veranda. Of course there was the obligatory bowl of kava made and being drunk – so Michael had a few low tide"bilos" (half coconut shell cups). Mikeli and Barbara danced to one of the songs and it was all great fun and very entertaining.

The next day, we took a nice walk along the shore road. It was Sunday, so a very quiet day in the village – just about everything is closed. The ferries were still running though and we saw the band again as they were boarding the ferry back to Suva. Michael delivered some photos up to Mikeli and then his kids came down to the boat for a tour.

Nabouwalu was getting busy we cruising boats. A British flagged boat, Chiquita arrived followed by a boat from Hawaii, "Jambalaya" who gave us some mahi for helping them locate a spot to drop their anchor. Then a large square rigger, "WindBorn" came into the tiny anchorage. We hadn't seen this many cruising boats in one place for six weeks!

On Monday morning, the weather seemed to settle through the night, so we decided to leave early and get to Nasonisoni about 20 miles away. This we knew we would be a hard leg unless we could time the wind and seas. We thought we'd take our chance and leave at sunrise. We made our way out and through the reefs carefully. Behind the reefs we didn't have much swell and tide was really quite low so we could see a lot of the rocks. We were making good time so we thought we'd just keep going and try to get to the Cousteau resort, just outside of the Savusavu town moorings. It was about a 50 mile trip. We thought that it would be safer and easier to get through the very narrow Nasonisoni pass in good light and we would hit the tides right – close to slack water. It worked great and though we slowed once outside the protection of the reefs, we still made good time. We arrived around 1400 – motor-sailing the whole way. We did manage to catch two fish – one a "tuni" (not our favorite) so we released him. The next was a lovely mahi mahi – but he managed to wriggle off the hook as we got him to the back of the boat – big bummer. The good news is the fish are out here. The bad news they are still swimming in the sea!

We will eat mahi tonight though, thanks to the generosity of another boater.

We will now start the preparations for our forthcoming guests who arrive in a few weeks. Lots of organizing, cleaning and provisioning before they get here. We have to get the boat all fueled up and find places for all the stuff. This gives us plenty of time to get it done.

We have completed what we wanted to do this season in Fiji before Kathryn and Mark's visit. We set out to circumnavigate the island of Vanua Levu. This would take us to the north side of the island which we had never seen and where very few boaters go. It is along the third largest barrier reef in the world – the Great Sea Reef. We had a blast – and enjoyed our time in these locations. The anchorages were all interesting, the villages lovely and welcoming and we had some great experiences. Navigating through the reefs has become easier thanks to Google Earth charts and Open CPN and shared waypoints from other cruising yachts. We met some really wonderful people and saw and learned a lot. It may not be for everyone – but we were glad we did it.
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At 8/26/2016 3:36 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°59.55'S 178°41.12'E

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Nice to meet you, Mr. Prime Minister


This may be a village, but it sure gets lots of activity. We are still in Nabouwalu waiting for the winds to lighten to make our way around the point. We have two more legs (about 50 miles) to get to Savusavu and complete our circumnavigation of Vanua Levu. But these will be the two toughest passages based on the normal trade winds. So we need them as light as possible. While we wait, we are in a relatively comfortable anchorage near the village of Nabouwalu.

This is a busy ferry port because it is the closest one between the largest and most populated island of Viti Levu (Suva the capital is there, as well as Nadi the international airport). We have had at least two ships a day – one smaller ferry "The Spirit of Love" and the larger one "Spirit of Harmony" have each arrived daily. On one day, "The Spirit of Love" arrived two times. The second time was in the dark which was a bit frightening (we are anchored quite close to the ferry dock – not much room to anchor elsewhere as it is a reef ridden and shallow port. The dock has taken up much of the "good" water. Trucks and buses line up throughout the day to catch the ferry. The trucks are laden with logs, cattle, and lots of stuff under big blue or green tarps. Plus there are the buses that this ferry company (Searoad) also run. People can get on a bus in Suva and be taken on the ferry and then driven off the ferry to Labasa or Savusavu when they arrive at this end and it is repeated for the return trip. A clever business in islands that have populations spread out.

Watching the ferries arrive, unload, reload and depart has been good entertainment. It is quite organized and they turn these old boats around quite quickly. The boats could use a paint job as they are quite rusty and have had passed lives as you can still see the asian characters on one and the name "Havannah" on the other.

The late ferry was exciting not just because the arrived in the dark. We called them to make sure they knew we were here and we turned on more lights. They spotlighted us as they came by and made it to the dock. What unloaded, was lots and lots of police personnel and a giant bus that said Fiji Police." We wondered what was going on – riots on Vanua Levu? Another coup? No one seemed stressed. There was nothing in the news. Hmmm.

The next morning, the larger ferry arrived earlier than normal. There was a large tent set up on the top deck. Off came lots of the normal trucks and vehicles. There were some homemade banners hanging around the road leading to the ferry. Lots of Fiji flags were hanging as well, including one on one of the small fiberglass boats that help the ferry tie up. Two flash black SUVs also came off the ferry. One of the Searoad buses had two large Fiji flags flying from the corners. Something was definitely happening here. Then we started to hear that perhaps it was the lauded Fiji Seven rugby team. The gold medal winners in Rio and pride of their country! We called the fiberglass boat over and asked him. He told us it was the prime minister of the country aboard going to Labasa to meet the team. The team had flown in that morning. Interesting that team flies and the prime minister has to take the two hour ferry. But perhaps its because he has such a large entourage and vehicles etc.

We were then told that later in the day, another ferry would come to take the team and the prime minister back. Well, we would ready for that!

The ferry arrived early so that they could re-set the fancy tent and the catering team could get aboard for preparations. The tent, chairs and flower arrangements came off the earlier ferry and would now be reloaded on this one. Just as we were getting ready to go ashore, thinking we had plenty of time, the flash black SUVs were heading up the road. We would have to scramble to get there in time. Luckily we got all dressed up for the event already – Michael in his sulu (traditional Fijian men's dress wear) and Barbara in a new skirt. We made it in and were met by the Prime Minister's secret service. You gotta love these secret service – they are in bright blue short sleeved flowered shirts and dark sulus. They immediately commented on Michael's sulu and Michael said, "we thought we should dress for the occasion, we heard there might be some important people here." They laughed and then told us to go meet the Prime Minister and get a picture taken. We proceeded to go where Prime Minister Bainimarama was standing, getting his photo taken with lots of the local folks on their cell phones. We then had a chance to visit with him for awhile, chatting with him about the country, the rugby team and yachting in the area. He was personable and pleasant also dressed in a sulu and blue shirt. Then we met lots of other folks including the police chief in Nabouwalu who invited us to come up to the station the next day. His name is Mikeli (Michael in Fijian). It was an eventful afternoon. The only disappointment was the Fiji gold medal rugby seven team flew back, So Barbara didn't get to see the good looking young men! The crowds would have been much larger had the team been here rather than just the Prime Minister!

Michael spent some time chatting with Willie, the first mate of the ferry. We confirmed we were in an okay location for anchoring.

It's Saturday morning and the dock road is loaded with trucks, cars and buses. The Fiji Police bus and the motorcycle police for the Prime Minister are here waiting to load. Plus lots of other vehicles. It is definitely a two ferry morning here.

We did get a little walk around the town as well. They have bread here (yippee) and we even had lunch at the "Tea Room" (sounds much fancier than it is). Ice cream is also available and Michael scored with a tasty chocolate cone. Today, we'll do a longer walk probably up the hill to the police station and what looks like a good view.

For now, its watching the ferries come ad go, unload and load.
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At 8/26/2016 3:36 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°59.55'S 178°41.12'E

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Baulailai, Bua and Nabouwalu

We enjoyed our day at beautiful and protected Baulailai. We explored the river by dinghy. Walked the pretty beach. Snorkeled the reef nearby. Normally that would be three days of activities for us...but we had a busy day and did them all. The reef was pretty, though visibility wasn't terrific. There was a nice drop-ff so there were lots of variety of fish including a few new ones we hadn't seen. A new anenome fish (clownfish or "nemo") and several others were spotted. Unfortunately, we also saw a few crown of thorns starfish (painful, reef destroyers) and they were big ones.

The next day we moved on to Bua Bay or Mbua as some charts call it (closer the pronunciation). We anchored quite a way into the bay (almost two miles) but that got us out of the swell. The winds picked up as the day went on and the low mangroves didn't give much protection from them. Another boat was anchored towards the entrance of the bay and the next morning they came in telling us they got no sleep out there. We didn't do much there other than listen to the wind which was hooting pretty good all day.

This morning (Thursday) it felt liked it calmed and certainly the skies were bright blue with very few clouds. So we made the call to leave around 0630. Once out of the protection of Bua though, it was blowing and the short steep waves had us moving under motor at 2.5 knots! Luckily our destination was about 10 miles away...but it still took almost four hours. We anchored at a suggested place in one of the guides and a ferry was just leaving the dock as we dropped the anchor. They got mighty close! There was another ferry coming as well – didn't think there would be two the same day! They honked at us as they came in and told us we were too close to their turning radius. So after they had safely docked without hitting us, we moved to the other side of the dock where the captain of the ferry suggested. The water here was much more shallow and the visibility in the murky water was non-existant. So we depended on our depth sounder and one of the ferry's crew directions (he was standing on the top deck telling us where to go.) We dropped the anchor in the designated spot with only 10 feet under the keel (it was high tide!).

A policeman in a boat came by and told us we were good where we were – though still close to the ship. The wind is a little less on this side as there is a bigger hill protecting us and we hope that we'll have enough protection from the swell. It is supposed to be pretty windy the next few days. We saw 30 knots as we were approaching the anchorage.

The good news is there should be internet here and Michael went ashore to buy some internet time. So perhaps there will be some new pictures soon.

Nabouwalu Anchorage:
Latitude: 16 59.59.55s
Longitude: 178 41.13e
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At 8/24/2016 9:00 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°58.07'S 178°38.02'E

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Made the Turn

Naviqiri was a really nice village and though the weather wasn't perfect for our stay in Naurore Bay, it was a good place to spend most of the week. On Friday, with a break in the rain, we went up the nearby river in the dinghy to explore. We saw a small colony of flying foxes (large fruit eating bats). We also visited the village but there was a big meeting taking place at 4:30 pm, so some kids took us for a walk to their school. Our seven small tour guides were fun and full of stories. They spoke pretty good english and when they couldn't understand us, they simply say "yes" as an answer to our questions. It was quite a walk along a muddy road. At one hilltop stop, we could hear lots of people talking. This is cellphone hill – the only place to get a signal so everyone comes here to make their calls. It was like the woods were talking!

On Saturday, it was cloudy but not raining, so we invited Sara and Freddy to the boat for morning tea and cake. They came out and we had a nice visit. She brought along a Fijian broom which she had made for us – a lovely gift. Later in the day we went to the village and as usual were met on the beach by a dozen kids. We had promised to bring in some balloons for the seven kids who had given us the tour to their school. School has been out all week after the exams of the previous week.

We brought in the photos Michael had taken and printed up from the walk as well as Sara and Freddy's visit. We had asked Sara to give them to the kids and parents. She also mediated for us in handing out the coveted balloons making sure our seven tour guides got their gifts first. Then the remainder would go to others. We walked around the village more and it is a fascinating experience. People come outside to meet and greet you and the kids are constant companions chattering non-stop. When we said we were leaving the next day, they all shouted "you no go." That was nice – after all who else would pay so much attention to them, take their photos (which they want taken constantly and they love to pose) and bring in balloons and pencils! On our walk around the village we met many people and were brought into one home to see the new baby twin boys. The village had 42 homes and we probably met half the people there!

This is what we wanted from the visit to the north coast of Vanua Levu – a chance to meet more locals not jaded by too many cruising boats. We were certainly getting that. We now have villages that people have told us "this is now your village – you are part of our village."

This morning (Sunday), we headed off and would make our way around the northwest corner of the island and be on the west side of the island. We had to go through "Monkey Face" pass. There is supposedly a monkey's face in the rocks on the side of the hilly spot. But we couldn't see it though we tried from three different angles. Guess we needed better directions of where to look.

We left the calm waters and headed into the wind and some waves and swell. But it was a short hop – just 16 miles. We are now anchored in a pretty bay, Baulailai. Like most places, we have the place to ourselves. We came in through a very narrow pass through the reefs and are anchored in about 5 meters (16. 5 feet) of water, Hills surround us on three sides and a beautiful white sand beach surrounded by mangroves is at the foot of the bay,

This is not a place with a village so no sevusevu is necessary. Depending on weather, we may stay a few days and try to find the river and do some snorkeling on the reefs at the entrance.

New location Baulailai anchorage:
Latitude: 16 44.91e
Longitude: 178 29.06e
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At 8/21/2016 2:58 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°44.90'S 178°29.05'E

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Rain, Rain, Rain.

And more rain. It has been several days of non-stop rain. A steady filling of water jugs and the water tank, cleaning of hoses, decks, dinghy and being boat bound has been the order of the day for the last several days. We are in a lovely spot and the scenery is nice even though we sit aboard and watch the rain. We did explore the small island nearby prior to the rain starting. It was a good exploration as tide was low and we could make it to two different islands off the bay here. We saw a new variety of eel/sea snake that was very interesting, some strange bright yellow-clawed hermit crabs, aggressive red crabs and a few beautiful shells (a murex that is a definite keeper!)

After we returned to the boat the rain started. During one break, Michael went to the village to try to find our "hosts" Freddy and Sara to invite them out to the boat. He was met by all the kids playing in the water and ended up ferrying a few of the boys out to a great bamboo "Huck Finn" raft. They would swim out to the raft dive off, paddle it around and just enjoy playing. These kids love to laugh and are very curious about us. Whenever we go in, by the time we return to the dinghy, they have pulled the anchor up and repacked it and have the dinghy all ready for us to simply hop in and then they pull us out over the shallows. Michael couldn't find our hosts, so we didn't have company (which was probably good as it soon started to rain non stop and it would have been too wet to sit outside and too hot below!)

We will be here until the clouds lift as we do need decent visibility to get through the reefs and around the top of Vanua Levu. We are in the northwest corner of the island and will soon start making our way south along the western side. Then it will be the tough trip around the corner and dead into the trades and currents as we head back to Savusavu.

For now, we will simply enjoy this bay and hope that all the wet stuff starts to dry out!
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At 8/18/2016 8:09 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°39.37'S 178°35.73'E

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Nakalou, Navidamu, Naurore and Naviqiri

Lots of stops with "Ns" along this coast and we are certainly getting them confused! We were anchored in Nakalou Bay near the village of Navidamu for several days. We finally went into the village on Sunday afternoon to do our sevusevu with the "taronga ni koru" who's name was Thomas. He was the youngest son of the village elder and had been "headman" for several years. He gave us a great tour of the village which was a very pretty village. They had a village project to plant 50 sandlewood trees for each home in the village (and there were 40 or 50 homes!). We could see the small trees planted near the homes. Like most of these villages that we go to, we are the "attraction." We always are like the pied piper with a lot of children following us around. When we sit in a home visiting someone who was kind enough to invite us in, there are lots of little faces staring at us through the doorways and windows. We were given some lovely lemon tea and fried "pancakes" at Thomas' home before leaving.

On Monday, it was still quite windy but we attempted to make the trip up the Draketi River in the dinghy. Correction: the Draketi, according to Thomas' sister-in-law, is NOT the longest river in Fiji but rather the DEEPEST river. With political season in full swing, we want to keep OUR facts correct (unlike the politicians!) We were close to shore looking for the river entrance and hit the mud banks. A fishing boat with Benny and Namena came by and gave us directions (and offered us some of the fish they caught). The river was a lot further than we thought, but we made it. The river was very wide and with the wind, it was a very wet trip. So we didn't make it too far up the river – as it was not the pretty narrow, protected river we had hoped.

We went back to the village that afternoon, to bring a few photos Michael had taken and deliver a thank you gift for their hospitality. The next morning, we took off for another 25 mile trip west to make some more progress around. This time we were heading for Naurore Bay with the village of Naviqiri. It is a very protected bay in pretty much all conditions which was a good stop as there is some weather systems around for the rest of the week.

Upon arrival here, we were greeted by yelling children on shore who were all swimming and playing in the water near the village. We waited until after lunch to go into the village to make our sevusevu. Here we were met by all the kids who helped us with dragging the dinghy towards shore. Then one of them led us to the "taronga ni koro" who is Freddy. Freddy was up on the hill trying to get a cell phone signal, but his wife Sara was in the home and greeted us. We had woken her from a nap!

We chatted awhile and presented our sevusevu and then left back to the boat. Another boat, the French boat we met in Rabi, was coming into the bay. It is amazing, these villages maybe get one or two boats a year and in one day they have two! The French boat had caught some fish, a shark and a walu plus some others. They were generous and gave a local fishing boat half of each of the fish. The fishing boat came by our boat and we gave them some hooks and weights – no fish to share!

Today, we are going to explore a small island with a pretty beach and a large cave. Then we'll head to the village as Freddy and Sara invited themselves aboard Astarte and we'll bring them out here for some tea and cake.

It has been a great trip so far – though the weather right now is rainy and cloudy.

Naurore/Naviqiri anchorage:
Latitude: 16 39.37s
Longitude: 178 35.74e
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At 8/16/2016 7:02 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°39.37'S 178°35.73'E

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Moving Around

First of all, Happy 95th Birthday to our mother/mother-in-law. A big one – sorry we aren't with you to celebrate.

We left Kia on the Sunday in pretty rough weather. Getting the anchor up was a challenge and we were rolling bad enough that getting seasick at anchor was not what we wanted We headed back to Malau because we had our route to follow through the reefs in the not so good visibility. We had several squalls and lots of wind and rain. We made it back to the anchorage at the same time a tanker was leaving the large ship moorings and another one was coming in. The one coming in was a LPG tanker – and looked like it was heading right for us! We kept our motor running in case we had to quickly get our anchor up and move. But they managed to maneuver the huge vessel unto the ships' moorings in the bay and get tied off. It was interesting to watch as a small boat grabbed their huge lines and tied them to the four moorings. The next day they ran a long hose/pipe to fill the large propane tank on shore.

We sat out a few days of bad weather here – again not the prettiest, but certainly interesting. Their was a huge Chinese ship at the sugar loading platform as well. This was the first load of sugar leaving Fiji this season. It was another step in the process as we learned about sugar cane to ship.

Another barge, loaded to the point where the name of the vessel was underwater, came into the bay as well and maneuvered around us. It was loaded with bags of manure...for the harvested cane fields!

Michael making one trip into Labasa by bus to pay for propane. He filled it at the propane station right near the anchorage (that just got filled by the ship) but had to go to town to pay for the fill – crazy!

We left after a few days and headed to Palmlea Farms just eight miles away. This is a resort owned by former cruising sailors Julie and John. We were also going to meet Lance and Michelle from the NZ sailboat "Sweetwaters" at the resort. We met them last year in Vanuatua at the Lakona Bay Kustom Festival. It was fun to see them again. We had a great dinner at the resort and enjoyed the company of John, Julie and their Aussie guest Phil (also a cruiser). The next day, Michelle, Lance and Michael went to Labasa with Julie for some provisioning (and ice cream). We had another great dinner – pizza from the wood stove at the resort. We took a nice walk around the area, saw another green flash and checked out the Boer goats that the "farm" raises.

After an enjoyable time reconnecting with the "Sweetwaters" and enjoying cook's nights off, we moved on. We headed 25 miles further on our trek to a place called Nakalou. When we arrived and anchored in 4 meters of water (14 feet), the wind was hooting off the hills. Though anchored in rather shallow water, we were still some distance from the village. Our intention was to go in and do sevusevu at the village that afternoon because it was Saturday and that would mean we couldn't do it on Sunday until after the church day activities were completed. But the wind was so bad we would get soaked going to shore and it would be challenging getting the dinghy up on the beach. So we hung out on the boat and hoped the wind would die for the night.
Like a light switch being turned off, the wind died around 8 pm and it was a flat calm night. We will head into the village later today for sevusevu and then hopefully tomorrow make a long dinghy ride up the Draketi River. This is the longest river in Fiji and is according to one guide "a must see." The problem is it is about two miles from where we are anchored over lots of mud banks. So just to get to the mouth will be part of the adventure. If the wind starts to hoot again though, we will reconsider our plans.

Nakalou Anchorage:
Latitude: 16 31.33s
Longitude:178 53.71e
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At 8/13/2016 8:11 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°31.33'S 178°53.70'E

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