Thursday, May 30, 2013

In the Water...FINALLY!

After six months in the cold waters of New Zealand and then a week in a busy bay, we finally donned the fins and masks and got in the water here in Dakanuba. It was a bit murky from all the big seas churning things up and rain (lots of rivers with silty run-off). But even though visibility wasn't crystal clear, it was a great snorkel with lots and lots of beautiful fish and coral to look at. We tried two different places and if the weather settles, we can't wait to get back to the last place we tried near the outside reef. That area was simply an aquarium with so many different and colorful fish it was hard to see everything. The water was warm enough to swim in light wetsuits or simply bathing suits.
We have been enjoying our mahi over the last several nights. Chapter 2 shared their caught mahi with us prepared in a tasty traditional Fijian way. The locals in this bay are very friendly and we have not had to do "sevusevu" here. One of the local men brought out a large bag of passion fruit, papaya and hot peppers for all the boats here to share.
It has been cloudy and rainy, so Michael took on a sewing project replacing his chart table seat cushion cover. Plus he made a cockpit pillow filled with "styro beads" so it will be water resistant. While he was busy with these projects, Barbara headed to Superted for a good game of Mahjong with Jean, Monique and Karen – so no "mini-me's" were needed as we had four players.
This is a nice bay but now we have to have the weather settle to move on.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Our last few days at Savusavu were busy and enjoyable. We enjoyed another great Indian feast for just a few dollars. We got the last minute errands done before trying to get away from the mooring ball and get out to start exploring the Fiji Islands. On Saturday we went to the large fresh market where you can get livestock, chickens, fish and all types of seafood and vegetables. We discovered some new foods like "sea grapes." These are not the sea grapes we knew in Florida – from a plant – but rather gathered from sea weed. They are small grape like clusters of liquid filled seaweed and quite tasty. They are sold on these large leaves and very pretty to see (you'll see a photo on the photo page). There were pens of chickens and tables of watermelon. We bought a tasty watermelon that we enjoyed. We did really enjoy our time in the town and the clearance procedure was smooth. We had to clear out of Savusavu as well and got permission to cruise "all the islands." The woman at customs where we checked out told us, "if the weather gets bad out there, you just come on back to Savusavu Bay!" They are really incredibly nice and thoughtful here.
On Monday, many of our friends arrived on yachts including the Gypsy Hearts, our Japanese friends on Gaku (who we were worried about because they left the same day we did from Opua!), Blue Rodeo and some new folks we met "on the radio net." We enjoyed beers and a Chinese meal with them before we departed.
We left the Copra Shed Marina mooring at Savusavu at 0630 on Tuesday. Some big winds and bad weather was predicted for Wednesday so we took the opportunity to escape or be stuck in the bay until Sunday. Our friends on Superted, Victory and Chapter 2 were already tucked in a bay about 40 miles away and we thought we could make that in a day. We did have to motor most of the way, but also sailed for a few hours and motor sailed for another few.
The good news was that while burning some diesel – Michael hooked and landed a mighty mahi! It was one of the largest fish we ever scored. It was a big fighter, leaping out of the water multiple times trying to shake its hook. It was a beautiful fish with its bright turquoise coloring and humped head. It was a 57 inch bull mahi who put up a good fight. We were lucky to get him onboard. Michael filleted him and we were able to pass out fish to all our friends upon arrival and enjoy a wonderful Mahi dinner ourselves (with more still to come!)
After our fish catching excitement, we arrived at the cut to Dakanuba (also called Nasasobu) at low tide and you could see the reef on both sides. Luckily visibility was good though it did cloud up quite a bit. The GPS started to do very strange things as we went through the narrow cut – so it was strictly by eyeball navigation. We made it through and negotiated our way back into the little protected bay. It was a mangrove surrounded bay with pretty deep water, but supposedly good holding. The snorkeling out at the reef is supposed to be fabulous but it doesn't look like we'll get to experience that over the next few days with this weather and wind coming. But we are in a protected anchorage with some good friends.
The evening sky filled up with bats – lots of big fruit bats. They were impressive to see – we could see them earlier hanging on some trees just beyond the mangroves. We decided with this many bats, we better close up the boat so our bananas would be safe! The sounds of Fiji are also very exotic and interesting. There is a "barking pigeon" that sounds just like a barking dog off in the distance. Plus, there are all kinds of pretty bird sounds – some very strange and others very melodic. Last night after a gathering on Superted, we enjoyed our first night at anchor in Fiji.

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Friday, May 24, 2013


Where do you start when you have 322 islands over 18,376 square kilometers of Pacific Ocean from which to choose? That is the challenge now that we are safely moored in Fiji after the 11 day passage from New Zealand. We are currently moored off the second largest island in Fiji, Vanua Levu in Savusavu Bay. The town of Savusavu is charming and has just about everything you could want with regards to food, supplies, restaurants, banks, hardware stores (though finding a coat hook is impossible!), and fuel. Everyone is very, very friendly and welcoming. The main street is lined with shop after shop plus a lovely six day a week fresh fruit and vegetable market. The market is loaded with new, interesting and exotic looking vegetables and piles and piles of fragrant leaves and spices. We will do a major shopping trip to the market on Saturday as we hear that is THE day to go.
Since arriving and clearing in, we have explored the town a bit and Barbara has two outfits being handmade by local tailors. All the women in Fiji wear skirts that cover the knees – something that is a bit of a shortage on Astarte. The price of making a skirt is $8 plus the fabric cost. That is $8 Fijian dollars (about $4.75 US). Fabric is about $5 Fijian a meter. The outfits are being made, custom fit, in less than three days!
Besides wearing shorts, other "no-no's" here are wearing sunglasses or hats, carrying anything over your shoulder like a backpack or purse, and not having your shoulders covered. However, these rules are more for the smaller villages than the larger towns. Getting the longer skirts is in preparation for when we get to the outlying islands. In fact, on the agenda, is getting Michael a "sulu."
We also purchased the yaqona (kava) for the required sevusevu at the outlying islands. That's a tease – we'll tell you more about that when we have to perform this ceremony. Suffice it to say that the kava look like sticks but are packaged in ribbon and newspaper for presentation. It is between $30 and $40 a kilo (Fijian $) and the appropriate "gift" is about a half kilo. We found Maria in the market to make up the packets for us at about $30 a kilo (though they are "light" kilos). She has become our lovely friend giving us extra passion fruit and "deals."
We have dined out as well while in town. We went to the Chinese Restaurant and had a great dinner and then had curry at an Indian Restaurant – both were great and inexpensive. The curry feast was about $4 US each! We can't cook on board for less.
Fiji has an interesting history and you can see it in the rich mix of cultures on the island. The native Fijians, the Indo-Fijians (many of whom have been in Fiji for generations having been indentured servants in sugar plantations in colonial times), ex-pat British, Chinese traders and many other Pacific Islanders. The most obvious mix is of Fijian and Indian cultures – you can see this in every store with the variety of food for sale, spices in the markets, clothing available for sale from sulus (the traditional Fijian men's skirts) to saris.
The country has been independent of British commonwealth rule since 1970 with a parliamentary democracy. But it has had some civil strife including at least three non-violent
coups since 1987. A new election is scheduled for 2014. Most of the main political tension is between the indigenous Fijians and the Indo-Fijians relating to land rights. Only indigenous Fijians are allowed to own land and the Indo - Fijians who run most of the farms and shops, must lease it. But walking down the street in Savusavu you certainly don't get a sense of any of this internal strife. Everyone is open and friendly. Simply say "bula" and you'll have an instant friend.
More "lessons" to follow!

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

BULA (hello, in Fijian)

Astarte and crew have arrived safely in Savusavu, Fiji. It took 11 days, almost to the hour, from the dock in Opua, New Zealand to a mooring ball in Savusavu, Fiji. We covered close to 1300 miles of the Pacific (with some tacking and a weather detour); sailed all but 20.5 hours, and had a variety of conditions. We had three hours of REALLY bad weather and the rest was either perfect sailing or drifting with no wind. The bad news: no fish on board (not counting the flopping fish on the bimini). We lost two lures and another has a big scar and no hook.
As far as a passage, it was a good one. We needed that or we may have given up on long passages. We are now at a dock, waiting for an available mooring ball, at the Copra Shed Marina. It is a pleasant, small place and it is season, so it is packed. As we came into the bay it was great to see some old friends and we felt honored with lots of hoots, hollers and hellos.
Upon arrival, the Copra Shed arranges for the various officials to come to the boat for the clearing into country process. First we had the health inspector on board. Then, soon after came customs and immigration. After he finished (lots of paperwork to fill out) we were officially allowed to take down the yellow Q flag, leave the boat and be in the country. We received a four month visitors' visa and the boat gets 18 months. Later in the day, the biosecurity officer came on board and a bit more paperwork and money and we were done. We just had to walk up to the hospital at some point to pay the health fee.
We were tired after the passage, but earned a hot shower (so very welcomed) and then cold beers with friends at the Savusavu Yacht Club. Our first Fijian beer – quite good! We called it a night and slept very soundly. It is hot here – and we'll be happy to get out of the harbour and into the water soon. We are awaiting a cruising permit.
Day two in Fiji:
After a really good night's rest, we hiked several miles to the hospital (after exchanging US and NZ dollars for Fiji dollars) to pay our health entry bill. It was nice to walk again, though hot. Then we roamed through the little town and checked out some of the stores, got hooked up for internet, and just spent the day relaxing and catching up. More cleaning and organizing is needed aboard, as we did get some salt water in the galley cabinets. A leaky hatch was the culprit and we have some water in the bilges to clean out. But we will give ourselves today to still rest. We will go out tonight for Chinese food with our friends Chris and Dave from Chrisandaver Dream (old friends from the Caribbean!).
We are still awaiting a mooring ball instead of the dock (cheaper and better breeze).
It is good to be in a new country. The people are incredibly friendly. Really, really friendly! Simply say "bula" to them and you'll end up in a conversation and get the most sincere smile. Everyone is helpful and it seems very safe and honest. We asked about cab fares and someone said, "you won't be ripped off here – people are fair."

More on Fiji as we get to know it and get away from the town. There are hundreds of islands to explore – we won't see them all but are looking forward to seeing a few in a few different groups.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

From Zero to Fifty to Fiji

We have started Day Nine of the passage to Fiji. We have NO wind. Yup, the wind meter actually said "0." In the storm we saw "46," but the last several days have yielded light zephyrs in the 1-10 knot range. The last few days, at least the wind was in an okay direction. We have sailed slowly, hard on the wind, in breezes of 5-8 knots and making about 3 to 4 knots of headway. But late last night/early this morning, the wind started to come more and more from the north – the direction we are headed. So we had to keep veering off to be able to stay sailing. Around 1230 today, we actually had no wind so we gave in and started the engine. We call it "Fishing." The two poles are out and we hope if we burn diesel, at least we'll snag dinner! The only fish we've had so far is one the bimini – scaring Barbara in the middle of the night flopping above her head on the canvas. How it got up there is still a mystery! At first we thought it was a bird that hit the rigging and fell to the bimini. But the next day, we saw fish scales everywhere on the solar panels and bimini!

The seas have been beautifully calm and the sun is shining. We have done a good check of the boat since the storm and everything looks good. As we've gotten closer to the equator, it has gotten progressively warmer. In fact, the other day we shed all the sweaters, caps, gloves and long underwear. They were all washed, sun dried and ready to store as we don't see needing them in the near future. That is good – but it is now quite warm.

The southern Pacific Ocean has not been very scenic with regards to sea life. We've seen a few flying fish but no dolphins, whales or other critters of the deep. There have been some sea birds and a hunk of pumice or two with a crab on it! We are about to resort to pulling in a bunch of seaweed just to see if we can find any interesting creatures of the deep.

Things are good aboard and we continue to post positions on the "where are we" page so you can follow our SLOW progress. We may be in on Tuesday. Our plan is to clear in to Savusavu, Fiji. We need to clear with customs, immigration, biosecurity and probably some other official types. We understand it is quite a lengthy progress. With the flatter seas it is quite a comfortable trip now and our bodies are getting used to the sleep patterns with the three hour watch system we do aboard. We broke into some tasty curry that Angelina on "La Fiesta" made for us before we departed. It was very tasty! Now perhaps fresh fish on tonight's menu???

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fiji Passage: The Lows and Highs

The weather lows and highs in the Southern Pacific Ocean and Tasman are what you watch for when planning the passage from NZ to Fiji. You wait until a low passes over NZ and ride it out – and then the high kicks in and gives you good sailing direction and you hope that another low won't get in your way! We had two good fast days to start. The seas were more raucous than we would have liked – but we made good speed in the right direction.

Day three was slow – 83 miles covered and we started the engine for two hours to charge batteries, make water and give us 12 miles forward! Then the wind picked up enough to sail, albeit slowly. Seas also remained very confused so we rolled back and forth and up and down.

Day four we noticed one of those nasty lows building – right on our track towards Fiji. It wasn't a low low (not below 1000 hectare pascals) but it looked to hold 30 knots of wind and 3 meter seas. We decided to make a detour and head more west to try catch the back end of this weather system instead of getting into smack in the middle. We thought this would limit the exposure time-wise we'd have in it, and the winds would be more favorable on that side of the storm. So we headed on a more westerly heading and we made good speed. We got 100 miles off our course line. But it wasn't quite enough to avoid the storm. It was cloudy, rainy and windy all day – but the direction was still okay.

We thought we had passed through the low – winds were in the mid 20 knot range and it was very squally – wind fluctuation, gusty and raining hard. But no...we were just getting the leading bands.

Day Five: Around midnight, we hit the big stuff (how come they never happen in daylight?) Winds grew to a steady 30 plus knots and gusts to 45. We had the boat ready – only flying a small handkerchief of a mainsail. We had pulled the reefed headsail in earlier when the winds hit 25. The rain was sideways and the waves were crashing and coming from all directions. But Astarte sailed smartly through it – hitting a speed of 8.6 at one point! Michael went below in the storm to download an updated weather file off the SSB to see which way we should head to get out of the system as quickly as possible. We headed north and three hours later we started to see starry sky ahead. The winds settled for awhile as we went through the center and then we we got the other side which was windy – but only in the low 20s. We made it through and everything held together – including us. We were tired but we were past it. The rest of the day we started to head back towards our course line – now heading northeast – but we had good winds to do that...and the skies were clear.

Day Six (today): It is lovely sunny day with a steady 10-15 knot southwesterly breeze and we continue to make our way back towards the course line. We are now passed latitude 24S and it is finally getting warmer (though we are still layer up). We covered 134nm in 24 hours noon to noon. The weather forecast has us heading right into a high with NO wind. We will ride the wind as long as we can and get as many miles under the keel towards our destination. We are more than halfway there – with less than 450 miles to go. If the seas are flat, we won't mind drifting for a day or so and we can do a good check on the decks, the rig and sails to make sure there was no damage. We also need to tidy up below decks as things did fly around a bit as we changed tacks and everything was battened down on one side of the boat … new loose stuff was discovered on the new tack.
The highs and lows of passage making – the weather systems are just one of them. As we heard on the radio net the other morning, some friends Mark and Ann on "Blue Rodeo" (also heading in the same direction as us at the same time – but a faster boat) said, "we just gave each other that look and then reminded ourselves that this is what we have to pay to get to see paradise." That's how we feel. The passage making has not been great for us for the last several trips...but we are getting to Fiji!

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Gettin' the ol' Sea Legs Back

Destination Fiji – Day Two.

After six months anchored in protected bays or tied up in marinas, it was time to head out again. Our NZ immigration was up on May 8th. The weather was changing daily with big systems showing up on the weather files one day and not being there the next. Weather was the topic of the marina with "pow-wows" regularly held on someone's boat to try to decipher the conditions. We had told customs we would leave on Wednesday the 8th because on the 7th it looked good. But the morning of the 8th provided a whole new weather picture with two systems connecting right on our path. We didn't want to be in another squash zone after last years Tonga to NZ experience. So we called immigration and got an additional 24 hours. We would look again in the morning. By afternoon, one of those two systems wasn't even on the charts! We told customs we would leave Thursday the 9th.

The 9th arrived and the weather charts still looked like it was a good day to go so we cleared out with customs and headed out just before noon. After 30 minutes to get away from the dock and past the car ferries, the sails went up and the engine went off. We were sailing!

The winds were 15 to 20 from the west-southwest and we were really trucking along. A clean bottom and a new mainsail probably helped us reach record speeds for Astarte. The sea was quite rolly though and so the "Astarte weight loss program" was in affect. No one was hungry – even with lots of prepared treats aboard. Moving around was difficult not having our sea legs quite yet and getting back into the three-hour watch system was tiring. It was difficult toy" sleep as the roll would send you from one side of the bunk to the other. The good news was the boat was much less "squeaky" after the rig got tuned up. Should have done that sooner! Also, with the extra time we had waiting for weather, Astarte was better prepared for offshore than ever. The fact that we've now done this enough also probably helps as we get things better stored and tied down now.

We were scooting along – averaging around 6.5 knots for the first 48 hours. Day one we did 153nm and day two 141nm noon to noon. The "Drifters" radio net is going so we check in twice daily and we have a few boats out here with us. Blue Rodeo, a speedy 50 foot Deerfoot is well ahead of us and Panta Rhei a 55 foot Roberts is also ahead though still in VHF radio distance. Our friends on Gypsea Heart decided to wait for the next weather window and we know Gaku, our Japanese friends are also out here but they do not have an SSB radio.

Yesterday, the Orion, a New Zealand Air Force plane buzzed us and then called us on the radio. They really do keep their borders patrolled. They probably had the list of boats that cleared out and were making sure we really did leave. They were very polite and it was nice to chat with an airplane above.

Today the winds have calmed, as did the seas – (thus a log entry) – and we've slowed to 4.5 knots. We hope we can maintain at least a 10 knot breeze to keep the sails filled.

We are a quarter of the way there – only 850 miles or so left!

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Watch this space for progress reports. We leave lovely NZ in about an hour and hope the weather holds for the 1150 mile passage to Savusavu, Fiji. Keep good thoughts going for us – we need a good passage!

We'll hopefully post "where are we updates" and log entries...if the radio and all the equipment continues to work.


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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Purr of the Perkins

The Perkins 4108 (known as "Carl" aboard Astarte), is purring like a contented kitten. It is back up and running, and after its first two hour test run, not leaking oil! That is great news and means we are now officially looking at a weather window to head to Fiji. The "solent" stay is also installed (this is a spare "moveable" stay so we can fly our storm jib). Now hopefully we will never need it! The mechanics bill was paid (ouch), the rigging bill is paid (ouch) and a last provisioning run was made. Now the wait for the best leave date (before our immigration expires).

Our friends of Superted V and Victory have had a rough passage – Matt and Jean had 50 knots of wind and big seas. They are getting close to Fiji and for their sake, we hope they arrive in a day or so. They did the trip in 8 days which is quite impressive – though because they are so fast, they hit a very low low that had formed near Tonga.

We are hoping for a Monday leave date. Chapter 2 left this past Monday and are having a good trip so far.

So now we wait for weather and continue to tidy, store stuff and get the boat (and us) ready for the passage to Fiji. Barbara is cooking and baking for offshore meals and snacks. Michael is completing all kinds of checks of wires, hatches etc. The "Drifters" radio net has already officially begun and Michael is net controller for several days. So we are getting in the passage mode.

Still to finish – laundry!

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