Sunday, June 30, 2013

Part of the Village

We are officially part of this village. Or at least that's what they said this morning when we went to Sunday Church service. At the 21st Birthday Party we attended on Friday afternoon, the Methodist minister invited us all to attend the service at 10 am. We said we would and luckily we did. Here, we have discovered, as in most places, when you say you'll do something – they expect you to keep your word. It was a bit windier this morning and we got picked up by JanBart along with Matt, Jean and Monique to head to shore. We hiked over the hill and heard the "church bells" - in this case, wooden drums, beating. We found the church and the minister met us outside and greeted us warmly and led us into the church. We arrived early and were seated in a special pew that was decorated with a special purple cloth for us. We sat and listened as some women in the church were singing/praying in Fijian. It was quite warm so we did bring hand fans along (a tradition in most churches here). The church was a simple building with the altar section decorated in bright green coverings and fresh flowers and leaves were arranged on the pillars and clothes. People started to come in and many children arrived – and it was obvious they each had assigned seats. The girls all sat on one side, directly in front of us but with pews facing inward and we were in the front pew to one side. The boys were all on the other side of the church facing inward as well. The boys were all dressed in the appropriate sulus (skirts) and the girls had on long dresses. All were quite colorful.

The service began with some singing – to the accompaniment of a "triangle" which had a bell like sound. It was all in Fijian but Michael got a play by play from the woman sitting next to him. She'd tell him things like this is the "Lord's Prayer." She also held the hymnal and with her finger followed the Fijian words so Michael could sing along should he so choose. The minister would point to the numbers on the board and tell us where to find the songs in the hymnal and at one point even brought us an English bible so we could follow along the readings. Very considerate. At one point, he then spoke English and welcomed us to their village and their church. He said we were now part of the village family. The singing was very interesting – several very loud voices but the men and women sang different parts and harmonies and then would come together. It was a pleasure to hear. The children then did some recitation, by age groups, of different bible verses they had learned that week. Then the entire group of children sang "Kumbaya" a song they had learned two days prior and it was very beautifully done. At the end of the service many people came to us to shake our hands and greet us and then the minister invited us to his home for lunch.

First we went to his house and were seated in chairs while they all sat on the mats. Then we chatted for a long time learning a lot more about the island, the culture, the minister and his training. We enjoyed this time with he, his mother, the school master, an Indian nurse and the six of us.

The lunch was quite a feast – similar in fare to the birthday celebration. The men and guests ate first and the three women would eat after we were all done. When done we left to get back to the boats though we were invited to come back later in the afternoon. We declined that invite. But we did promise to come back on Monday morning to visit the school and give them some books. We were told to come at 8 am for school assembly. We will also bring a small thank you basket of food and gifts for the women who cooked out lunch. It was another great experience here in Komo.

Yesterday, we enjoyed a more traditional boat day! That means boat projects and some snorkeling. The boat project was the unanticipated leak in the dinghy. After we got it in the water, Michael noticed it needed more air. After pumping it up there was that horrible hissing noise that comes from air escaping into the water. There was a leak and it sounded quite big. So we re-loaded the dinghy on deck and looked for the leak. Once found, the process of patching started. This is not as easy as it sounds. It required cleaning, sanding, cleaning again with acetone, measuring, cutting patches, mixing glue, applying two coats, and getting it all put on a floppy dinghy. Then it would take time to set.

Once the patches were on, our friends from "Superted V" invited us to go out to the reef as it was a perfectly flat day for some snorkeling on the outside reef. This was probably the best snorkel we've had in more than a year as the water was clear to 50 feet and we drifted through some large cuts in the reef. We saw an enormous amount and variety of fish of every size, shape and color. There were some big ones out there as well – and a few pesky sharks that seemed to take a liking to Michael. We saw a wonderfully designed "Clown Triggerfish" which is polka dotted and yellow lipped and quite a character! Several new varieties were also spotted. It was a great afternoon in the water.

We have another village visit planned for the morning – weather permitting.

Sorry about not putting up pictures yet. We have not had any, let alone speedy, internet and probably won't for another couple of weeks.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

BIG Fish and Birthday Party

We continue to travel around the Lau Group of Fiji and every spot seems to be a place where we could stay for a long time. But the weather here is changing and soon the "trades" will kick in full time and traveling to various locations will become more difficult. So when we have a "weather window" we have taken advantage and moved on. We spent a few days in Batavu Harbour – the privately owned area and took advantage of a great hike one morning. It was a steep and slippery incline but we were rewarded with unbelievable views of the Bay of Islands on the other side. It was a great vantage point to see all the lovely colored water and rock strewn bays.

That evening we enjoyed use of the Royal Exploring Island Squadron clubhouse to do a potluck / barbecue with the other boats in the bay including "Victory", "Superted", "Gaku", "StreetCar", and "Miss Goodnight." It was quite the international gathering with Holland, Britain (2 boats), Germany, Japan and the US represented.

The next day "Victory" and "Superted" left for Komo island at 1500 and we decided to wait one more day. The seas still seemed too big and the wind was also predicted to be big and gusty. It was a good move for us as we had a less boisterous trip the next day when we actually left. We sailed the entire 90 or so miles from reef to reef. At times we drifted slowly at 2.5 knots – but at least we didn't burn any fossil fuel.

On the first day of our trip to Komo, going only 3.5 knots under sail (and after Michael just went below for a nap), FISH ON and it was taking the line off the reel very fast! Then it flew out of the water dancing on its tail. It was a giant bill fish of some type and it was just about pulling the boat backwards! We were able to stop the reel every so often to keep some line on it and then slowly started to get some line back as we fought him in. He continued to leap out of the water but we slowly got him to the side of the boat. He was easily 7 feet long and we wanted to release him as he was a beauty! We believe he was a sailfish. We did manage to get him close enough to the boat to cut him free and low enough that hopefully the lure and weight would slide off the leader to free the fish of the burden. He would have a hook as a memento for awhile. But we do think he was still strong enough to make it. But it was exciting and we never got anything that big that close to the boat. So to all those fishermen friends out there – we didn't even have to back down to get him to the boat!

About 1.5 miles off the reef entrance to Komo island, FISH ON! We landed another good sized mahi (not as big as the 57 inch one) but a good one. We were close to the island and the day was wearing on so we just got it aboard and continued our way through the reef entrance and to anchor. "Victory" and "Superted" arrived the day before and had already done their "sevusevu" that morning. The island's "headman" (not the chief) invited them to a big birthday party that evening. His son was turning 21 and the entire village was invited. Our friends mentioned to the host that we would be arriving as well, so we also got invited.

We decided we would take the freshly caught mahi into the village and the islanders seem to like the whole fish so instead of filleting it, Michael simply gutted it and we brought it along. We also brought our kava gift along to do our sevusevu. The entire insland's population (and people from surrounding islands) were gathered under a canopy with lots of hand made mats on the ground. The men to one side, the women and children on the other and one area rather empty. The six of us were seated in a place of honor in the "empty" area in front of Jone (the birthday boy). Our sevusevu was done rather quickly and then the celebration started.

A minister in a white suit was seated at the front next to Jone and there was a beautiful hand made tapas cloth behind them. This is cloth that is made from the bark of a tree and pounded until it is soft then hand dyed. It is an incredible amount of hard work and very traditional art. Then there was a song or hymn that was very moving sung by many of the people sitting around us – but with bass, alto and soprano parts and it brought goosebumps to the skin. Then the minister spoke some more and then spoke in english for us – welcoming the foreign guests. He then invited Matt to stand up and say something for "our" group and Matt did us proud. He thanked our hosts and said we were all honored to be invited and said something about some higher being must have guided us here to be here at this time to be able to participate in this special occasion. After that, the minister said some more words and then Jone knelt and the minister put a bible on his shoulder. Then the father knelt before his son and gave what was obviously a very emotional talk to his son and handed him a wrapped bible. Both the father and son were very moved and though we couldn't understand the language – it was a powerful moment. A birthday cake was lit and the "2-1" candles blown out. The group then sang (not sure if it was for our benefit or not) "Happy Birthday" but with several additional verses. We could at least participate in that song though our voices weren't as exacting and pure as their singing.

It seems when a boy, actually a man, turns 21 it is a very special time in their life. It is something of a manhood ritual. The family had invited the entire village and even folks from some of the surrounding islands to the event. The family then hosted breakfast lunch and dinner for all the guests. This is not always the case, as some families have smaller functions.

Jone, the 21st birthday "boy" is also the school's pre-school teacher. All his students were seated around the mat as well, dressed in their colorful outfits and each presented him with a gift and kiss. We (the foreigners) also had brought some small wrapped gifts which we presented to Jone. After all the gift giving, the kava drinking and dinner started. Then men who planned on drinking "grog" (as kava is called) sat facing the "tanoa." This is the traditional hand carved bowl which the kava is served from. It is made from a single piece of local hardwood and many of them are hundreds of years old. The smaller bowl, bilo, is passed out to the participants who drink from it and return it when empty. At this occasion, men were invited to sit in the area and drink kava, so Matt, JanBart and Michael joined the men's mat area. Michael said it tasted a bit "earthy" and much like the smell the "yaqona" gives off. (We still have two more bundles on board). It also makes your tongue numb. If he had had more than one bowl, we are not sure how long the numbing effect would last. Luckily, with just one bowl, he was able to enjoy the feast.

Monique, Jean and Barbara were directed to the food mat where a display of prepared food had been uncovered. Bowls and bowls and bowls of local food had been beautifully prepared and laid out along a colorful cloth. It went at least 30 feet and could seat at least 15 people per side. Everyone got a plate and a few serving spoons were provided. The meat (whole roasted chickens and large chunks of roasted pork) you just tore into and grabbed off hunks with your hands. There were whole fish, a beef chow mein type dish, potatoes in a curry sauce, taro leaves boiled with some spices and corned beef, roasted casava and baked taro, pork dishes and chicken dishes, a goat stew, a carrot and chicken dish, breadfruit and so many more items. All were tasty and plentiful. People sat around cross- legged on the mats and chowed down. A woman did bring us "foreigners" a few forks to use as we weren't quite used to eating with our hands the way the locals did. Much of the food we had learned had to be brought in from the bigger islands as some of he items are not raised or grown on Komo. The women commented that the carrots for example were a treat!

After the dinner, the band started. Someone walked in with about four guitars and a ukelele. The men sat in a circle and played and sang with wonderful voices. It filled the night air with a great sound and the pounding of the yaqona kept in time. They pounded the "sticks" the entire time we were there and kept making more and more kava.

Ice cream was being served in one area – another huge treat for these folks – but you needed to bring your own bowl and we were without. Though if you even seemed interested, the folks would gladly give you their own bowl and forsake their share of ice cream – that is how generous and warm they are. We ultimately declined and let them have the very special treat (but it was admittedly quite hard!).

We decided as it got darker to head back over the trail and hill back to the boats. One of the local teachers offered to walk us across but we were confident that we had brought enough flashlights and headlamps to make our own way. That and no one drank too much kava! He did lead us past the village and to the trail head. Under moonlight and brilliant stars, we made our way back commenting that this is why we do what we do!
It was one of those memorable and magical nights in cruising. Though we were tired from an all-night passage, we were grateful to get here in time for Jone's 21st celebration.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

At the Plantation

Vanua Balavu is the largest of the Northern Lau Group islands and we have enjoyed exploring a few different anchorages. After leaving the anchorage near the small village of Daliconi, we made our way about eight miles around the corner to an area called "The Bay of Islands." It is a very scenic area with various sized "rock" islands strewn about. Most of these islands have been carved out at the bottom by the sea and so they all look like inverted pyramids or blocks sitting on tippy bottoms. It makes for a very picturesque site as you turn one corner and see another beautiful blue lagoon with lots of varied sized rocks growing out of the water.

We found a spot to drop the anchor and though deep, 15 meters or so, it was quite calm and we were surrounded by cliffs, trees and the barking of the pigeons! At dusk, it was one of those "National Geographic" moments as hundreds and hundreds of giant fruit bats(flying foxes) left their spots in the nearby trees and flew by the full moon to go looking for dinner. There were so many of them and they squeak and squeal as they fly by. The next day we went exploring by dinghy and found the trees where they "hang out" in the daytime and managed to stir them up a bit. When we get internet again, hopefully there will be a few good shots of these flying critters.

Michael and Matt (from Superted) went and explored a cave one afternoon (we all went back the next morning to see it). At high tide, you probably wouldn't even know it was there – but we went in at mid- low tide and swam into this huge cathedral like cave. There were a different variety of bat swarming along the top of the cave. They were much smaller and living in caves as proper bats should!

Today, Monday, we headed out of the Bay of Islands to come to Bavatu Harbour. When we started it was sunny but then a lot of clouds and some rain came through. This is not a good thing when you have to watch for reefs and rocks and shallows in badly charted waters. You see our electronic charts aren't quite as accurate as you'd hope – in fact most times they have us anchored on land! But luckily when we really needed it to clear, it did. There is one area where we heard just the last week or so, three boats hit some rocks! We could luckily see them just sticking out of the water.

We are now anchored in a very pretty protected bay that is privately owned and known as the Plantation. It was an old plantation and someone is trying to develop it as a small boating area. There is a small clubhouse and lots of trails here to walk. So tomorrow, we'll start out early and take a long walk along one of the paths. Then we'll probably head out to the reef for a swim. We continue to look at charts and try to plan where we will head next. This week's plan is to continue down the Lau chain and hit a few more islands in the chain before heading back towards the other Fijian island groups. But we tend to change our minds like the tides. The international date line crosses through the island of Taveuni – so we are popping back and forth between eastern and western longitudes. It doesn't change the date as that has been adjusted to be countrywide decisions as to what "time zone" they are in.

Boat projects continue to pop up – the outboard needed some tender loving care as did the windlass. The cockpit winches (three of the four anyway) have all been serviced and cleaned and what a difference that is making! The watermaker is all fixed with the part we picked up in Savusavu and is running well so we have full water tanks again.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013


The essence of the Fijian culture is captured in a ceremony called "sevusevu." It is the name used for most ceremonies in Fiji from life cycle rituals, community gatherings, socials and healing services. For us however, it is the name used when we as visitors to a village, ask permission to enter and acceptance into the village. It is often combined with the making and drinking of "kava" (locally called "grog.") However, if the sevusevu is done early in the day, the kava drinking portion is often either postponed or not part of the sevusevu. Ours, being at 2 pm, did not include the making and drinking of "kava," though we hope at one point we will have the opportunity to participate in that particular ceremony.

You must be properly attired when attending to sevusevu. Women must wear something that covers their shoulders and a skirt long enough to cover the knees and calves. Men should wear the traditional "sulu" or skirt that also covers the knees. For formal ceremonies a long sleeve shirt and tie will get you extra points! However, a colored shirt will do. Michael bought a sulu in Savusavu, so he was properly dressed and the woman who met us commented on it in a very pleased fashion. Hats and sunglasses must be removed. This is actually the polite thing to do whenever you are in the village as is dressing in a modest fashion.

"Turaga ni Koro" is what we must ask as we enter the village. This is the request to see the "headman," an appointed village spokesperson who's job it is to meet you, greet you and ascertain your intentions for visiting the village and then present you to the chief of the village. We met Aaron in Daliconi, the "Koro" of the village. His wife actually met us on the beach and then presented us to Aaron. We had with us the required "yaqona" or "waka" - the plant from which the kava drink is made – about a half kilo worth. Aaron spent a little time with us learning our names and where we are from. He also asked what we planned to do while in the village and area. Then it was time to walk up the hill to meet the chief. A small chant was sung at the door announcing our arrival and asking the chief's permission for our entry. A chant is sung in response that allows us to enter. We took off our shoes as we entered the room and the chief was there already seated. Then Aaron sat and we were invited to sit on the mats. Men should sit cross-legged with their sulu covering the knees. Women can sit with their legs to either side, again knees covered. Silence from us at this point is key. Then Aaron, claps with cupped hands, three times which is called the "cobo." This means "I am about to speak, thank you for listening." in Fijian, he does a traditional monologue which ends in three more claps. Then our gift of "yaqona" is passed to the chief who can either accept or reject it. He accepted ours with a few claps, and then Aaron continued with some more Fijian which were the introductions and our intentions. We heard words like America, Florida, our names. The chief then accepted us into the village and Aaron translated that we were welcome to be here and stay in the area called the "Bay of Islands" and enjoy anchoring, snorkeling, fishing and walking around the village.

Then we left and said we would return to the village the next day for a visit. This particular village also asks for a donation of $30 per person and they have a sheet of paper that indicates what the money is being used for including the school, solar power, computers for the school, improved buildings and roads. They are quite organized and the village is very tidy.

That night, we slept well after the all night trip. The next morning, we went to the village to drop off our laundry and some garbage (part of the fee you pay includes the proper disposal of garbage which is a real benefit!) They also do laundry for a small $10 fee. When we returned that afternoon to the village for a short walk around, there were our sheets, t-shirts and underwear hanging from clothes lines all around the village!

We walked up to the school with the chief's daughter who is the kindergarten teacher. The school is a two building compound with several classrooms. There are 30 students from 4 to 14 years old. Because it was Friday, the students are allowed to wear "Bula" shirts (Hawaiian shirts and dresses) instead of the traditional uniform (sulus for the boys and dresses for the girls). When we arrived the students were practicing singing for Sunday church – it was very charming. It was also "garden" day and after choir practice was over the students changed into work clothes and started digging and planting and clearing an area that was to be the school's garden. Three schools in the area would have a competition for the best garden and the students seemed very into the process. The teacher explained that the garden was also a great lesson including all disciplines – english, science, math and biology. They were bringing seedlings from their parents gardens and plantations to help plant the garden.

We watched them work awhile and then signed the guest book. We had brought some books from NZ to give to the students and the teacher was grateful.

After our school visit, we walked back to the village and visited some women who were weaving mats and purses. We admired some orchids growing in the yard and they told us to pick the flowers – they are so generous – if you say you like something, they'll give it to you. We thanked them and told them the flowers look best on the plant for all to enjoy.

Everyone in the village is very friendly coming up to you to say "bula" and introduce themselves with a a handshake. They seem genuinely interested in meeting you and have warm smiles.

A lovely sevusevu and a wonderful village.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Lau Island Group

The easternmost islands of Fiji are a group of islands called the Lau Group. This is a remote group that has only been opened to cruising boats for about one year. Prior to that, you needed special permission to visit – a process that would take weeks – if at all! It is the group that we most wanted to see during our Fiji adventure. Partly because it is the least traveled route by sailing boats but mostly because the villages retain much of the traditional values. Coming from the other Fijian islands, it is an "upwind" trip so you have to wait for the best weather window to make the trip. We lucked out when we left on Thursday morning from Buca Bay. The 100 mile trip started at 0900 and we wound our way out of Buca Bay, past coral reefs and into the Somosomo Strait alongside Taveuni Island. We sailed almost the entire way – just motoring out of Buca and into Vanua Balavu.

The winds were predicted to start coming more from the north as the day wore on – and so Michael chose to go out the southern side of Taveuni. This proved to be good for several reasons - but the most important was that as we exited the south side, we caught not one, but TWO mahi mahi. Combined, the two were not as large as the one we grabbed a week or so ago! But we had fish in the fridge!

We couldn't quite stay on our rhumb line for most of the night and around midnight we needed to tack to get back on course and also avoid a fishing boat. Right after that, we were able to stay on the course line which was good as there were islands, atolls and reefs around and we didn't want to stray too far off the course line in the dark. We made great time as the wind was stronger than predicted and never died after midnight as predicted. We actually had to pull in a lot of sail to slow down so we wouldn't arrive too early. We wanted good light to get through the giant reef that surrounds Vanua Balavu.

We arrived at a good time and slowly made our way through the reef at Qilaqila which is pretty well marked with range markers to get you safely through. Then we weaved our way around the island on the inside of the reef and arrived at the anchorage near the village of Daliconi. Even before the anchor was set, the village was calling on the radio to remind us we needed to come in for Sevusevu. We arranged to do that at 2 pm. Our friends on "Victory" and "SuperTed", who arrived the day before, and "Gaku" who arrived earlier that day, were in the village at that point doing their sevusevu. We would do ours at 2.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Buca Bay Adventure

We wound our way through the reefs from Viani Bay to Buca (pronounced Butha). This is where the little village of Loa is located and where you can catch a bus to Savusavu. We would settle here and make sure Astarte was well-anchored and wait for word that the part are in Savusavu. We knew it was in Fiji, but cryptic tracking messages made us wonder where exactly in Fiji it was. It was Saturday and we would have to wait until Monday for answers. On Monday, after several e-mails, texts and phone calls, we got the good word it was in Savusavu but the bad news: that in order to avoid paying "duty" the customs officer would have to place it on the boat. We had not intended to bring the boat back to Savusavu. Luckily, the DHL rep went to bat for us and got permission to release the part to Michael from the post office for a small service fee. The $4.50 (F$) was a lot cheaper than the $200 or so "duty." So we would plan to head to Savusavu on the 6:30 am bus from Loa.

On Monday, we did head into Loa to get permission to anchor in the bay, but sevusevu was not required. We met the "headman" Tom, and he was very friendly and we got permission to be there. We met lots of people from the village – everyone is exceedingly friendly – handshakes and introductions are constant. The women of the village get together daily and sell food at a booth – this includes meat pies, rotis, sweet "pies" (a pastry topped with a lemon or orange custard-like topping), curries and fish dinners. The prices are very cheap (almost everything is $1 F). The fresh squeezed fruit juice was $1.50 for a bottle.

We also took a hike around the village and into the outskirts. People would come out of their homes and invite you inside. Everyone stops and chats.
On Tuesday, we got an early start to catch the bus. This means loading our stuff into the dinghy and getting to shore (dragging the dinghy through the mud because tide is way low) and tying it securely to some mangroves. Then we had to walk into the town to the bus stop. We loaded on a bus with no windows (curtains could be rolled down if rains) and we were grateful the seats were at least slightly padded. We headed into Savusavu – an almost three hour ride over roads that were both muddy and potholed, as well as roads that were nicely paved. Lots of road construction was going on – all run by Chinese companies. The bus got quite crowded with lots of stops at small villages as well as just folks standing by the side of the road. We got to Savusavu around 9:45 am and started on our list of projects (propane tank fill; part pick-up at the post office (had to wait until 11 for the customs official and then they had a hard time finding the part as it was misplaced in the wrong number bin); some groceries and fruits and veggies; beer purchase; and then back to catch the bus again at 1 pm for the return trip. Loading the bus is a trip – as everyone rushes to it when it arrives to get their many, many packages and boxes on board. We joined the mad rush with all our stuff! We got seats. The bus driver (a different one than we had in the morning) knew we were off the "yacht" in the harbor. So did almost everyone else on the bus and they even knew where we parked the dinghy. At the end of the trip, the driver dropped us off at the dinghy, and like everyone else, we offloaded our stuff out the windows! Along the way, the bus stopped to drop off boxes and packages at different locations and would often just honk the horn and someone would hand off a package through the window to someone. You also get to stop at lots of roadside booths, run by the local women's groups, to buy snacks – just like the ladies sold in Loa. In fact, in Loa, those ladies as well would come aboard the bus with their trays of food to peddle their treats. It was quite an adventure. We finally got back to the bus around 5:30 pm – it was a long day. We both woke up quite sore the next day from the bumpy ride.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fiji Water

Water has been the highlight of our last several days here in Viani Bay. We have been snorkeling a lot at various reefs around the bay and continually seeing new fish. Some days the visibility is much better than others – but even with mediocre viz – the underwater landscape is beautiful. Lots of pictures (including some by Barbara from her first photo expedition) are on the new photo page – they are labeled Fiji (#).
Water aboard Astarte has also been the main priority – it seems the "water department" has gone on strike! We had a fair amount of water in our bilge and were trying to locate where it was coming from. At first, we thought it was water crashing over the bow during passages and coming down through the anchor locker. Then we had water below when we hadn't been "on passage." Hmmm. So then we determined it was from rain sneaking in somehow, somewhere. But we had water when we had no rain! Hmmmmm. Then we figured it was when we ran the watermaker that we got water in the bilge and sure enough that was the cause. Michael discovered a stream of water pouring out of the end cap of the membrane housing. It had a major crack in it (the end cap not the housing!) We could still make water and bail the bilge – but we knew at one point there would be a more catastrophic failure and this was a high pressure cap. So we decided to order a new part to do the repair while we were still in a place we could get parts (well not exactly HERE – but a few hours away by bus!). So after checking a few sources – we are having a part shipped in from NZ and it should be here within the week. We hope. Our plan is to go to Buta Bay nearby, anchor and catch the 6am bus to Savusavu, pick up the part and get back on the 1 pm bus to get back before dark. That is at least the plan now.
The other water issue aboard was the water pump that feeds the fresh water system was running when we weren't running the water. There had to be a leak somewhere. So Michael checked all the lines, tightened all the hose clamps and looked for leaks. Nothing. Hmmm. We would let the system sit and it would run and he would recheck for any water anywhere. Nothing. Hmmm. So he took apart the water pump (after locating the spare aboard – just in case!) and cleaned it up; greased it up; and, put it back together. It worked! So far, the pump is only working when we want it to run the water!
Because we don't want to run the water maker too often, we hope for rain collecting (now that both new "gutters" are made). We have collected a few gallons here and there and it seems to keep us in fresh water. We are using more now that we are in the water so much snorkeling – we always take at least a fresh water rinse. We seem to get a short rain shower overnight on most nights. Weather wise it is a bit hot and sticky during the day – sometimes quite sunny and on other days a bit cloudy. But we are in a pretty place. We are now all alone on "this side" of Viani Bay – there are four boats on the other side near Jack's place. We like the quiet and the views here. We can also swim right off the boat and get to some nice coral areas for good fish viewing. Saw some cool pipefish the other day – one that looks like a floating leaf! Very good disguise. Also saw our first ray here – we think it was a "Thorny ray" - but it swam away really quickly so it was hard to get a good look.
We will head to Buta to stage for our bus adventure when the weather is clear enough to make it through the reefs. For now, we hope for a few rain showers to fill the water tanks and hope the water pump is fixed! Its baking day aboard Astarte – we had "too ripe" bananas – so we had to use them in a cranberry banana nut bread and black bottom banana bars!

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Taveuni Adventure

We remain anchored in Viani Bay and have used this protected and lovely anchorage as a base for lots of activities. We have snorkeled around the little island nearby and have seen some incredible fish and critters. The water is a wonderful temperature that allows you to stay in for a few hours to really explore the underwater gardens of soft and hard corals, anemones and colorful fish of various sizes and shapes.
On Thursday, eight of us, along with local guide Jack Fisher, a legend around these parts, loaded onto the sailboat "Victory" for a trip across Somosomo Strait to the island of Taveuni. This is one of the taller islands in the Fiji chain, claiming the second tallest peak in Fiji Mt.Uluigalau at 1241m. The island has a volcanic past with rich soil and abundant rainfall making it an agricultural based economy. It is small with only a few towns made up of mostly indigenous Fijians with a smattering of Indo-Fijians and some ex-pat North Americans.
We left at 0730 for the adventure and motored across the current-ridden straits with Jack's expert pilotage to his special anchor spot. In the dinghy, we ferried around coral heads to a small rocky and shell beach. After all were offloaded from the mothership, we proceeded to a small restaurant to buy lunch and order bread. The group gathered 13 chicken rotis (an Indian curry wrapped in a chickpea based "tortilla" wrap) a few slices of lemon or orange cake. All were very inexpensive (our portion of three rotis and two slices of cake came to $8 Fijian (or about $5US). Gasoline jugs were ferried off to the filling station for later pick-up. We then loaded into a van (designed for six people but there were eight of us plus the driver, Sami) along with three scuba tanks, a propane tank and all our bags and stuff. The back door wouldn't open, so all was handed across to load behind the back seat. We were packed in!
Off we went for our day of exploration. Once out of "town" and past the airport, the roads aren't paved and are filled with lots and lots of potholes – some very deep. We crossed many bridges that didn't look like they could handle a van filled to capacity! We dropped the scuba tanks off at a dive shop for later pick-up, and tried to get the propane tank filled with no joy. Then off we continued towards the waterfalls. The island, thanks to its height and abundant rain (it seems to always be shrouded in clouds), has lots of waterfalls on the eastern side. We got to the Bouma National Heritage Park and negotiated a group discount to get to the falls. We only had two hours here – so not enough time to hike to the top two falls. We only could get to the first falls. Along the way, (in the rain), we saw lots of frogs amongst the pretty flowers and greenery. At the falls, we all got into the fresh water and the more daring (Michael included), went under the powerful falls and managed not to get drowned or knocked unconscious. It was chilly water, but fresh which is always a treat for us saltwater infused folks. We splashed around a bit (sorry we didn't bring shampoo!).
Then off we trekked again back to the van and bumpy roads. Along the way back, we spotted lots and lots of lizards with long tails along the path. They were tiny but quite pretty with a stripe on their back and some had colorful tails. They did refuse to sit around for any length of time and pose for pictures.
We loaded back in the van and went through a few villages and everyone along the road was very friendly, waving and yelling "bula"! We stopped for groceries, then another stop for eggs, and another for fruit and veggies at stands along a street. Then we went for the scuba tanks which weren't yet filled so we opened some of the beers we just bought and sat at the dive shop and enjoyed an incredible view.
Then with everything loaded back in the van and us all crammed in we headed back to the dinghy and Jack (who stayed with the big boat and dinghy). While some loaded the dinghy with all the stuff and a few folks, others headed for the bread pick up and still others went to get the gasoline. With three trips we managed to get all nine people, three gas cans, three scuba tanks, two cases of big bottles of beers, a propane tank (still unfilled), several bags of veggies, eggs, groceries, 13 breads, and all our clothes/towels and gear, back to "SY Victory" - it was a victory!
Then we headed back across the straits to Viani Bay with three fishing lines in the water. No joy! That evening around 2030 (8:30 pm), we heard a large bang followed by hissing air. We thought our dinghy had exploded. All five boats in the anchorage thought the same thing – all except "Superted V." They knew what happened because on their boat, one of the freshly filled scuba tanks had popped its safety release valve and sent the tank flying across their deck and down the aft stairwell. It was a scary sound and Jean and Matt had to be scared witless. Everyone was on deck with flashlights. All was okay though we did think how grateful we were that it happened in a relatively safe place, not in the packed van just hours before or worse yet on someone's back while diving!
On Friday morning, we planned another adventure with Jack, this time a snorkeling trip on one of the famous reefs in the straits. "S/Y Chapter 2" would host the group (Pippa and Dee from "Sula", JanBart from "Victory", us, and Mike and Karen from "Chapter 2" and our guide Jack) and take their sailboat out to the reef. Jack steered us to an underwater mooring, without a GPS, and JanBart dove down to tie the yacht to the mooring. We were very close to the crashing waves over a reef. We all got in the water, but the current was still very, very strong and after about 40 minutes of struggling to stay in one place, we got back on board to wait for the current to diminish a bit. We waited and waited and waited. Karen and Mike were gracious hosts and Jack told some good tales of Fiji and fishing. After quite awhile, he looked at the water and said it was okay now. He would take one group in the dinghy, drop them in the water and come back for the next. Then we would all drift towards the edge of the crashing waves and make our way around the outer edge of the reef. The current was still pretty strong but we were floating with it. Once around the corner it settled a bit and you could start to really enjoy the lovely reef below. Again, the corals and fish were wonderful and the visibility was quite good. We saw all kinds of new fish and a few big sharks. After a few hours we went back to Chapter 2 and back to Viani Bay, with two fish lines in the water – no joy!
Upon return, we noticed our Japanese friends Yoshi and Mayumi onboard "Gaku" had arrived and anchored nearby so it was nice to see them.
We will probably stay here a few days and wait for "Gypsea Heart" who now has our chart chip with them (having received it from "Radiance" who brought it up from Opua, NZ). They just left Savusavu yesterday and should be here within a few days. This is a nice place so we are happy to stay and continue to go for snorkels and get a few boat projects completed.
Keep checking the picture page as we keep adding more and more because we have decent internet here. Also skype users, keep your skype on.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Winding Through the Reef

We had planned to leave Dakanubu on Sunday morning, but one of the local fishermen came out to the boats to ask for help repairing one of his "tin" fishing boats. It had a rather large crack in a seam. So Matt from Superted, Mike from Option One, Mike from Chapter 2 and Michael from Astarte all went ashore with various bits and tools to figure out what they could do. That's an awful lot of supervisors! The repair was made and we felt it was then too late to leave as it started to get cloudy.
We left Dakanuba on Monday and decided the weather was clear enough to take the inside passage towards Viani Bay. This was a bit tricky with lots of deep water mixed with shallow coral patches. But the sun was relatively high and with Barbara on the bow and Michael at the wheel we wound our way through the patches safely. One area was a bit narrow and we had to do a couple of quick turns looking like a "crazy Ivan." Once past the "scary" part, we had a smooth motor into Viani Bay. Here we anchored near our already anchored friends on Superted, Victory and Option One. Chapter 2 was just ahead of us through the inside passage.
We all found a home amongst coral bommies in relatively deep water. After a quick lunch, we headed to shore to get permission from the people on the island to anchor here. Everything in Fiji is owned by someone – and anchoring in a bay is like setting up a tent in someone's front yard – so you must ask permission. In some cases this is a more formal process (we'll explain when we go through that!) and in other cases like this one, its simply going ashore and requesting permission. We were invited inside the home and met the entire family including the visiting grandmother "Francis." We took our shoes off before entering the home and were all invited to sit and have a lovely get to know you conversation. We left some tea bags and "breakfast biscuits" (a type of cracker) as a thank you gift.
We have explored the reef near the boat and near the island on a few snorkel expeditions. Today , we'll do another area. The fish here are very colorful and quite plentiful and on every snorkel we see something new and interesting. The last reef unfortunately had quite a few "crown of thorns" - a very dangerous star fish that if touched is very painful. JanBart who tried to bury one is still nursing a badly hurt hand.
There are more pictures posted on web page (new photos) and lots of underwater critters for those that like them. Michael is enjoying shooting fish (if he can't do it with spear gun!) He would prefer not to post as many photos, not being up to his standards, but Barbara makes him post almost everything.
Tomorrow we're going on a big adventure! We'll report later.

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