Monday, September 26, 2016

Cultural Excursion

We headed into the main village at Catherine Bay in the morning. We deduced it was called Buakonikai from the "school boat" that said "Buakonikai Primary School." I like the idea of a school boat—it goes around the bay gathering children, presumably, and bringing them to school. We anchored the dinghy in among the mangroves and yellow-clawed fiddler crabs and set off on the main road toward Nuku, the village on the N side of Rabi we had visited a few days ago. The houses were similar in style to those in Nuku, simple but fairly solid, and we passed some beautiful gardens. We also figured out where the music we heard broadcast all morning was coming from: very large sets of speakers at one of the houses! Maybe this is their antidote to the drumming of the church drums and bells.

We stopped to chat with a few folks who were drying the pandanus leaves they use to weave their traditional mats. They seem to use the mats as places to put out household goods to dry, and later we learned they serve as "furniture" too—a place to sit on the floor of the homes. On our way back, Barbara was eager to learn if there was a boat builder in town, as she and Michael had an old sail that they wanted to re-home with someone with a sailing canoe. So, after a few false starts, we landed on the home of one Mr. Brown, who was in fact at one time the builder of canoes. He was at home with his wife. Mrs. Brown—when Barbara asked her name, Mr. Brown replied matter-of-factly, "Mrs. Brown." Their daughter-in-law, Maryanna, and her son, Phillip were also there. We had a nice chat and it as agreed we would bring the sail by later in the afternoon in exchange for some bananas his son would cut for us! Mr. Brown was referred to as "the old man" by several, but still looked good at 72, although he said his seafaring days were over. He had built his house himself in 1976, taking 2 years to complete. It was nice to get a glimpse of life in the village.

After a nice snorkel on the fringing reef to Catherine Bay (which, when told that was my name, the locals had a good giggle about), we headed back into town, sail in tow. I can't just completely skip over the snorkel, so I will say this one had plenty of fish, but really awesome mollusks and shells also. We saw many cool (but alive, so no keeping) cowries, nudibranchs, and many others. Also some big snappers. Anyway, back to the cultural excursions...

We arrived at Mr. Brown's and he was having a bath or something so there was a bit of confusion, but when the sail landed in his living room, he had a big smile, gave it a once over, and said "very good quality." He excused himself to finish his bath but before doing so, asked if we'd like some grog—kava. We thought that would be nice, so said yes and he set a team of grog preparers in motion. We asked if we could watch the process and take photos and were told yes, so we made our way to the drying kava out back, watched another of Mr. Brown's daughter-in-laws select the proper bunch, and then proceed, with the help of a friend, to pound it. This is quite a process and Mark and I offered to help, which they seemed to delight in. Mr. Brown's son was supposed to be our grog preparer, but he and his family were out, so the others stepped in. After 15-20 minutes of pounding—using an old propeller shaft and what may have been a custom made metal vessel (think mortar and pestle, but very large), the kava had been reduced to something resembling the crumbs in the bottom of the bag of shredded wheat! We enjoyed getting to participate in the prep and were a curiosity to the local kids, for sure.

The next step was to bring the pulverized kava inside, were it was put in a cheese-cloth type bag and washed through fresh water. It ultimately created a muddy-looking beverage. Mr. Brown explained that since we were in Fiji, we would partake of the Fijian custom of grog-drinking. He dipped a small cup he had apparently just made that day into the bowl had a small sip to gauge its quality, and then dipped again and served it to Michael, who clapped, accepted it, and then Mr. Brown clapped, Michael drank, handed the cup back, clapped three times, and Mr. Brown clapped again. Here the process began again, with Mark next in line, then me, then Barbara, then finally, Mr. Brown served himself a full bowl. For the next round, Mrs. Brown's brother joined us—he resembled Mr. Miyagi, with kind of the zen persona of an elder surfer dude. Mr. Brown rolled him into the serving line and we repeated the process a few more times.

It was a nice small grog circle and the hosts were very welcoming. Apart from short-lived tingling lips and tongue, I can't say I felt many effects of the grog, but it was a fun cultural experience that I'm glad we were able to take part in. It was also a gracious way for Mr. Brown to say thanks for the sail, as kava is worth about $50FJ/kg right now, so not exactly a cheap cold beer.

After a dinner of leftovers and decent champagne, we called it a night. This morning we pulled anchor at Catherine Bay and are heading to Taveuni, as I type this. Seas are flat, which means no sailing, unfortunately, but also means we should have great water clarity for diving, if these conditions hold for the next few days. We will disembark this afternoon, but we'll all have a final dinner together tonight at the resort Mark and I are staying at for the final days of our stay in Fiji. Once again, we have had a fantastic time on Astarte, exploring places we never could have gone on our own, and seeing a side of Fiji most people don't get to explore. We have been fed extremely well, and probably did not lose a single ounce of blubber, despite hours spent in the water. The beers were always cold, the power and freshwater supplies maintained, and our accommodations very nice.
-----
At 9/26/2016 11:48 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°54.06'S 179°54.41'E

----------
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Snorkels and Fishes and More Fishes

We've been spending a lot of time in the water. Michael, Mark, and I set out on a brilliant morning snorkel along the reef cut. The variety of coral was amazing and we saw lots of interesting fish. Michael also saw a giant grouper, but it was not a confirmed sighting. In swimming toward Michael like he had found gold coins, Mark and I must have scared the big guy off. But, there were many larger fish and interesting ones we hadn't seen in the deeper sections of this reef—there was lots of topography, with depths ranging from 1m to 20m which made for good snorkeling. The visibility was pretty good and the current held off. The cute fish of the trip was the South Seas Devil, Chrysiptera taupou (I think—possibly the Blue Devil, C. cyanea though). At any rate, it's a bright cobalt blue 2" dude with bright-orange-y yellow along the dorsal fin. For those with the interwebs, maybe someone could sort the difference between the two? And for your efforts, I'll throw in a second cute fish of the trip: Clark's Anemonefish, Amphiprion clarkii. Yup, it's an orange anemonefish. But unlike the Fiji Anemonefish, A. Barberi, which we've seen plenty of, Clark's has 2 large white bars and another one right at the caudal peduncle (put that term in your fish biologist geek pipe and smoke it!). Cool to see another species of these now iconic fishes!

After rave reviews and a nice lunch to refuel we convinced Barbara to join us on a return trip in the afternoon. She was dutifully making baked beans for our dinner during the morning trip. The wind had picked up and it was a little more surge-y and not as clear, but the light was good and again we enjoyed exploring. The cute fish of the trip for me was a juvenile Chekerboard Wrasse, Halichoeres hortulanus. It was immediately recognizable as something I had not seen yet (unlike the myraid butterflyfishes which are gorgeous, but which I cannot keep straight!).

I would be remiss at this point if I didn't mention the Guardian Spadefish which have been keeping us company at anchor. They came up to the surface one of the first days, as we were tossing some moldy bread overboard. We have had some disagreements about their identity, but think they are Golden Spadefish, Platax boersii. The bottom line is, we enjoyed seeing them each morning and were glad for the piscine company. Although, as we pulled the anchor today, a shackle broke and a hook was lost and Barbara was convinced the mischievous side of the Guardian Spadefish was to blame. Oh well, some guardians are better than others, I suppose.

We got in one last snorkel at Elizabeth Cove before leaving the N side of Rabi. This reef was shallow and along shore and we swam along the outer edge. Barbara nominated the Regal Angelfish, Pygoplites diacanthus, as the cute fish of the day—although, as the name correctly implies, it may be more regal than cute. These are very cool yellow and blue-ish/purple fish that are often found in pairs and are really beautiful. Also notable on this trip were some really cool nudibranchs—black, orange, and, white, but in different color patterns. And lots of Crown of Thorns, which we kept our distance from! There were a lot of beautiful corals here and I'm glad we made the trek.

We got back to Astarte and began the tasks associated with prepping for a relocation. At this point we have our jobs down and we got rinses and showers and still managed a quick turnaround time. Aside from the lost snubber hook, all is well and we had a nice motor around to Catherine Bay on the S side of Rabi. Not surprisingly, we failed to catch dinner. But, we are anchored up in a new location and will explore the town tomorrow. This cove is a little more populated and while we really enjoyed the solitude, tranquility, and the amazing night sky of Albert Cove—probably the most remote place I have ever been—it will be nice to see another side of Rabi.
-----
At 9/25/2016 5:50 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°31.65'S 179°59.41'W

----------
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Seeing the Village

We got an early start this morning after a tasty French toast and fruit breakfast. The mission for the day was to go to the village of Nuku, drop some sports gear off at the school, and have a look around. We dinghied to Elizabeth Bay and made the walk from there. It was about a 40 minute dinghy ride followed by a walk of about the same. We got to the bay at the end of the road, anchored the dinghy, said hello to the locals, and began our walk. It was cool to see all the gardens at the small houses planted along the way: cassava/manioc, potatoes, taro, breadfruit, mango, eggplant, kava, noni, and probably a lot more I didn't recognize. And always a few chooks roaming around the yards, with perhaps a skinny dog or three, and a few pigs. It was hot, hot, hot but we got to the village as planned, saying hello ("mawrhi" or something like that in the Banaban language) along the way.

The first building we came to was the Fijian Ministry of Fisheries Rabi Island office! So, we went in, said, hello, asked "the boss" a bunch of questions, and told him we were his American counterparts. He was affable and pointed out to us which fish had ciguatera (useful info, although still a bit spotty). I complimented him on his cool t-shirt (official shirt) with a really neat fish design and he offered it to me! Thinking that he probably wouldn't want a girly white t-shirt in exchange, I declined, but it was funny...and it was a really cool shirt. They should sell them!

Next it was on to the authorities to check in, but no one was home. Fine with me, I typically try to avoid the police anyway. And then we were off to the school, where Barbara and Michael had promised some sporting goods during their last visit here. On our way, we passed the preschool, where the kids were being read to outside. Since we did stick out, all the kids got excited when they saw us walking down the street and the teacher made them say hello to us in unison! Then Barbara asked a question and they answered in unison again. And lastly they all said "Bye!" all together! It cracked us up and put some big smiles on our faces!

We made it to the primary school, found the head teacher and her counterpart and told them we had brought the sporting goods—several balls of various sorts. She was pleased and implored us to come back to the school with "more things." The kids were curious about the visitors, the head teacher explained that there were some students studying for their annual exams, and that it was Friday, which is sports day. We decided not to create much more disruption and went on our way, picking up some eggs and cold sodas at the village store.

It was super hot and I was ready for a swim, but we decided to hit the coconut oil "factory" before heading back. It was really cool! The woman showed us how they get the meat out of the coconuts, press it, and ferment it to get the oil and then showed us the products they make with it: virgin coconut oil, essential oil scented coconut oil, and two kinds of soap. We thought the enterprise was well run and seemed to be doing some good for the community, creating a market for local coconuts and employing the villagers. We made a few purchases to support the local effort and headed on our way making the hot slog back to the dinghy. All in all, a very successful, if hot, trip to Nuku, which gave us a solid look at life on Rabi and a lot of smiles from the local kids.

I'll spare the details of the afternoon snorkel to prevent from boring the non-fish-head readers, but will say the cute fish of the snorkel was the Fiji Fangblenny, Plagiotremus flavus. We saw it poking out of a little hole and then it swam out to say hi. It was a little less cute once we read that it eats the scales of other fishes, which it aggressively attacks...okay, cuteness de-merits, but it is a cool looking fish. We also saw an octopus hiding.

Dinner tonight was steaks, mashed potatoes, pumpkin sauteed with ginger, and red wine...life is good.
-----
At 9/23/2016 7:09 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°26.64'S 179°56.26'W

----------
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Friday, September 23, 2016

Fish, Fish, More Fish

No, we still haven't caught any, but we have seen a ton, underwater, swimming around their little coral refuges. Our first full day in Albert Bay, we got in 3 snorkels, a walk on the beach to look for nautilus shells, and a visit to John on the beach. Vacation is busy!

The first snorkel of the day was a long kick out to the reef cut we sailed through on our way in. Mark loves these because the big stuff lurks in the deep. I love them because I can stay more shallow. We made our way there, and the first coral head we saw on the reef cut was so laden with small colorful fishes, our goals were met right then and there. But we spent an hour or two swimming around and saw lots of fun stuff. There was only one shark (small kine) and more fish than I could identify. But the cute fish of the trip was the Scalefin Anthias (Pseudanthias squamipinnis). It is a beautiful purple and reddish number with a very long dorsal spine—easy to identify! We got hungry before we got cold and headed back for the next activity.

We made a quick change and were in to the beach to meet John and Pauline and their family. Pauline was in the town with two of the kids, but John and one of the kids was home and we had a nice chat, dropped off some food, and were offered pawpaw (papaya), of which we had plenty), and drinking coconuts, which we will need to go back and claim. There was also a little dog (whose name I think was Stanza, or something like it) who was happy and eager for attention, judging by the wagging tail. These guys have some prime real estate, but life is not easy—it's a boat ride and walk to the nearest village. But they have lots of coconut palms and we saw John and some friends fishing (with line, free-diving, and with a beach seine-like net) several times. So, they seem to get a lot of what they need.

After a quick but tasty lunch, we headed out for snorkel number two, which turned into snorkel number three. We wanted to check out the beach where Michael had previously found a nautilus shell. We also had to scout the lobster ledge. It was decided that Mark and I would get dropped out on the reef, have a look around for lobsters and swim to shore. So away we went, and within seconds we were on our way further away! The current was ripping, but we were already looking at the motor-end of the dinghy, so we made our lobster reconnaissance short and got a boogie on and headed to shore. We didn't get a great look at many fish, as we seemed to be just zooming by, but we did see a very long, skinny sea cucumber in the shallows that was notable—it must have been 10' long! We got to the beach and decided to do some shell hunting and tide pooling. No nautilus shells, but we did have a fun time finding some less dramatic ones and watching the local hermit crabs scurry up and down the beach with their hermit crab homes.

We headed back to the good ship Astarte, and on the way, Barbara, Mark, and I jumped off for another snorkel. The reef is kind of rubbly (same one as our first day here), but there was lots to see. One coral head had these really nifty bright-blue edged scallops embedded in it. We also saw a fish cleaning station with the cleaner wrasse hard at work, and a few live cowries. The cute fish of the snorkel was the Jewelled Blenny, Salarias fascitus. We found him and his bushy eyebrows hiding in a rock and thought he was pretty cool. Not the bright colors of the dasycllus and wrasses, but an interesting fish with a cute mug all the same.

And with that, our activities were done and Barbara set to work creating goat curry. It was delicious, especially with the local pumpkin and sweet potatoes in it. We could have added a few more of those spicy peppers we bought in Savusavu, but Barbara served them on the side!
-----
At 9/23/2016 7:08 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°26.64'S 179°56.26'W

----------
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Thursday, September 22, 2016

No Fish, Beautiful Anchorage, Fine Weather

We made the passage from Nasasobu to Rabi. Again, zero fish were caught. We saw fish, we heard fish, but neither Oreo Cookie Wrapper/Coke Bottle Cap, nor Mexican Flag, nor Zucchini caught anything. Blah. The passage was smooth, health was maintained, but with current and wind on the nose, the speed was slightly below prime fish-catching speed. At least that's our excuse. But tonight is goat curry night, so we won't starve.

We are anchored up in Albert Cove on the northwest side of Rabi (pronounced Ramby, see previous blog post from a few months ago about the history). The short version is that the people who live here are Banaban, from Kiribati—they were resettled after phosphate mining-related greed resulted in the loss of their native land. We have yet to go ashore, so that's about all I can write at this point, but we hope to meet the family who lives on this cove and go into town for a cultural excursion tomorrow.

Upon anchoring, Mark and I got in the water for our first swim here. The reef closest to the boat is along shore and seems to have suffered some storm damage from the cyclone, but it is great to see the corals bouncing back. And even though it wasn't the most picture perfect reef in the world (unlike the anchorage, which may just be the most picture perfect anchorage in the world), the variety of corals is amazing. We saw our first giant clams (Tridacna), cowries (alive), and lots of fish. The cute fish of the day was the Humbug Dascyllus (D. aruanus). I saw several branching corals just swarming with all sizes of these guys (from 1 cm-6 cm) and liked them. It looks like our waterproof camera gave up the ghost, so our collection of underwater photos may be a bit limited from this trip. Bummer. But we did get a few snaps from this reef.

Today is for exploring and we will snorkel a few places, have a walk on the beaches to look for shells, and do a little looking at the purported lobster hole. This place is gorgeous, we are the only boat here, and I am looking forward to a lot of time in the water!
-----
At 9/20/2016 4:08 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°45.04'S 179°51.09'E

----------
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Guests Aboard, Errands Done, Fishing Derby Has Commenced

I'll cut to the chase: After one day of fishing, the score stands as follows:
Team Nelcinski: 0
Team Hawkcinski: 0
Both teams had bites, but neither Zucchini, Mexican Flag, nor "the pretty one" (Team Nelcinski) caught anything; nor did Oreo cookie/bottle cap (Team Hawkcinski). We shall try again tomorrow, with the same batch of lures, but maybe slightly different pep rallies before they go in the water.

But back to the beginning...

We made it without much ado to Fiji. We completely lost Saturday with the dateline and overnight flight, but to make up for it, we had the longest Sunday in the history of Sundays waiting for our puddle jumper from Nadi (the major city on Viti Levu) to Savusavu (on Vanua Levu), the rendezvous point. Mark and I sat in the Nadi domestic terminal from about 0600 to 1430...we watched all the planes come and go and tried all of the fried items available at the cafe as well as some lamb curry and the two domestic brews and some samosas, and watched more vintage Bollywood than we ever thought we could watch. Finally, our Twin Otter headed out to Savusavu. The landing did not quite reach the eye-raising approach of the San Blas flight on the same aircraft, but it was exciting coming over the palm-dotted hilltop onto the landing strip. We did note that they actually mow the grass at the airstrip here rather than letting the props do that job—civilized.

We got to the Copra Shed Marina and settled on Astarte. This isn't our first rodeo, but we got the necessary refreshers and decided to head out for a walk to see a bit of Savusavu and stretch our legs/backs/brains. We passed a few shops and got to the hot pools, where only one burlap sack full of we-aren't-sure-what was cooking—unlike the Icelandic hot pools where you'll find people soaking, these were super hot and people use them for cooking. And they more resembled hot puddles than pools, but cool all the same. We passed some fields with lots of kids and adults playing rugby, soccer, and volleyball—nice to see the locals out and about on a pleasant Sunday. We passed chickens, dogs, and a few goats. The curry shop was about to close, so we decided to do dinner at the marina and enjoyed a much needed shower and a few beers while listening to a band and enjoying our dinner and some catching up.

Monday began early, with a long list of errands to run. This was part of the plan, as Mark and I wanted to see some of the town and we try to never miss a local vegetable market, as it's always a treat to see what's being grown and sold locally. We bought some school supplies and a variety of sports balls to hand out to some of the local schools once we get to more remote places. We also had to get Mark a sulu to wear should the need for sevusevu (the customary offering of kava to the local chiefs) arise. And we needed beer. The veggie market was fun—there were Fijians and Indo-Fijians selling a wide variety of produce and spices. We got some mystery hot peppers, some intriguing citrus, two types of curry powder, and a handful of very recognizable vegetables and fruits. All errands were completed and we were ready to roll by noon...anchors aweigh.

Our first destination was close by, so we were able to anchor up and then Mark and I took the dinghy to Split Rock. We didn't know it was Split Rock until we got nearby and a staff member from the Cousteau Resort who was taking a guest snorkeling told us and let us tie up to their mooring ball. We had a nice swim, saw tons of colorful fishes, and then got cold. Nice to be in the water though! We were treated to a yummy dinner and cashed in pretty early, knowing that today we had an early start.

And we were up at 0545 prepping for the long run to Nasasobu...with a few Sobos aboard. It was a pretty pleasant day for a motor-sail, with just a small but persistent roll. Most of us did okay, but one recent arrival who was keen to catch a fish decided he would chum for them to increase his odds. The seas settled and health was returned. The chumming didn't help. By the time we came through the cut in the reef here, it was flat calm and we managed that task with little drama. Because we have a short stay here, we decided sevusevu wasn't necessary and opted for a swim to a little reef a short distance from the boat and near the mangroves. Highlights included a pair of creamy nudibanchs, a blue spotted ribbontail ray, and a variety of very colorful fishes. We saw some electric blue chromis, lots of damselfish, Nemos, moorish idols, blue and yellow-lipped Picasso triggerfish, and lots of butterflyfish, which are amazingly difficult to tell apart. The camera was left behind...again. Ooops. The little reef suffered some damage from the cyclone last Feb., but the staghorn corals were beginning to bounce back, the soft corals were very active, and there were lots of fish!

We had to get back to the boat to prep for bats and rum drinks--we had plans to watch the fruit bats make their nightly migration while having our rum drinks, which I have decided should be called "Batsan' Rums". They did not disappoint, but have actually been pretty active all afternoon, so we've gotten a good bat show. Dinner was a delicious green bean and eggplant curry. And now we're calling it a night, as we have another long run tomorrow, before we sit still for a few days. The southeast end of Vanua Levu is beautiful and we can see hilly Taveuni across the strait. We'll continue a bit more east and then head north toward Rabi tomorrow. Off to a great start and enjoying being the only boat in this anchorage for the night!
-----
At 9/20/2016 4:08 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°45.04'S 179°51.09'E

----------
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Preps for Guests

Before the log entry – a few housekeeping notes on the pictures and website. No thanks to Google who have stopped supporting the picture posting/sorting program Picassa which we have used. So we must now find a new way to post our pictures. Michael is experimenting with a few new ways – and not having fun in the process. So please be patient if you can't find pictures on the site. Or if you have options or ideas, please let us know. He is now trying Flickr. Also he has (we think) updated the "where are we" links so they should take you to the YIT site where we post our positions. Let us know if you have ideas or issues...we want to make the site convenient.

We are excited about having visitors to Fiji in one week. It means showing them a small portion of a very beautiful group of islands. It also means that SV Astarte gets all spiffed up. Some folks do spring cleaning, we do "visitor cleaning." That process is underway. We are also re-provisioning the boat and in this case it means testing out some items in advance to see if they are "guest-worthy." We can eat just about anything! The boat has been re-fueled with diesel and we'll top up the gasoline just before they arrive. The water maker filters have been cleaned. Finding homes for all the stuff in their berth and head is the largest problem but we'll sort that a little closer to their arrival so we don't have to climb over stuff for quite as long.

We have a few options for places to go scoped out – but that will all depend on the weather. We hope that the sun will be shining for their visit and the winds will be in the right direction to get us to a few places. We want enough breeze to keep the comfort level high and the roll aboard low. The weather the last few days has been very windy offshore and quite cloudy and drizzly. It is that irritating rain that forces you to close the hatches and gives you a wet bottom in the dinghy but doesn't fill the water tanks.

Also check out the September issue of "Ocean Navigator" - Barbara has another article published.
-----
At 9/10/2016 10:00 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°46.64'S 179°19.93'E

----------
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com