Sunday, September 22, 2013

It All Happens at the Runway

The Funafuti International Airport is THE center of Funafuti fun. Today (Saturday), we headed into the village because there was supposedly a ceremony to welcome home the national rugby team from the recent Pacific Games on Wallis Island. They have only had a team since 2008 and during this years games, they actually won their first international game (not the tournament – but a game!) So it was a big thing. It was a rainy day and the ceremony was supposed to take place at 10 am so we headed to the airport where the festivities would take place. On the runway (yes ON the runway) there was a cricket match in full swing. The white team and the blue team were playing – and the teams are co-ed with the women playing in skirts. They modify the rules a bit as women only pitch to women – so there are more "bowler" changes. Down the runway a bit, there was a volleyball game going on as well. Along the side of the runway, people were watching and cheering for their various teams. Plus, the motor scooters and cars were zipping about. Soon the fire engine came out with sirens blaring and the cricket pitch and volleyball net were taken down and the runway prepared for a special charter plane that was coming in. (Planes are normally only Tuesday and Thursday).

The festivities for the rugby team were taking place in the large meeting room on the side of the runway and there were lots of speeches in Tuvaluen, so we moved on (though the food being prepared looked pretty darn good). We walked all over the town, stopping into the library and many small shops. What is really fun is that if you met a person once, they seem to remember your names. A few young kids that we met earlier that day when they kayaked out to our boat and then we gave them a tow back to shore with our dinghy, were yelling "Michael" as we walked by. And another woman in a small store that we met earlier in the week, excitedly called out "Barbara," "Michael" as we approached again.

After three tries at the bakery, we finally got some bread and made our way, between downpours, back to the boat.

You have to love a place where the locals call the runway their playground!

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tales from Tuvalu

So what is Tuvalu? It is one of the smallest independent nations in the world - fourth smallest by some accounts. It is a remote island nation made up of nine islands/groups (though the name Tuvalu means "cluster of eight") - five are atolls and four islands. The atolls have clusters of smaller islands within their lagoons. Tuvalu, pronounced too-VAH-loo, is not the hotspot tourist destination. In fact they only get about 1000 visitors a year and only 10% of those are said to be tourists – so we are definitely in a minority. Located relatively close to the equator at 8 degrees, 31 minutes south and 179 degrees.11 minutes east, it is a very warm location. The sun is hot!

Funafuti Atoll, where we are anchored, is the largest and most populated of the Tuvaluen groups and the government center. It is a small chain of islets 24 kilometers long by 18 km wide. The sheltered lagoon sits in the center and the Pacific Ocean crashes around the outside. Fongafale is a boomerang shaped island in the atoll and is a is a mere 12 km long and at its widest point is only 400 meters. It sits at 2.5 meters above sea level. That's less than 9 feet! At very high tides or in storms, the runway for the Funafuti International Airport can sit under water. In fact, the biggest fear for this small island nation is that it may simply disappear – be eaten by the rising sea level. It has slowly lost more and more of its land and where people used to be able to play volleyball and games on the sandy beaches – the beaches are barely wide enough to walk.

Like most of these Pacific island nations, their cultures were changed by the coming of Europeans and the missionaries. Great Britain governed the islands, then known as the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Tuvalu was part of the Ellice group). It claimed its independence 35 years ago but still retains Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state, represented by a governor general. The country is now structured much like the British government with a Prime Minister and parliament. The country is dependent on foreign aid and it seems that most people work for the government in some capacity. Unfortunately for Tuvalu, they sell (or trade for aid) much of their fishing rights to foreign countries.

World War II changed the islands dramatically. The Japanese bombed parts of the islands, the US built an airstrip along the length of the island (taking the most fertile land), and many people were moved off Fongafale to a smaller island settlement nearby. Though most have returned to Fongafale, the small settlement remains with about 30 families. After the war, many people moved off the islands to Fiji, Kiribati or Tonga.

Two flights a week land at the international airport – the US built airstrip. The airport is the place where all the action happens – when planes arrive or even when there is no airline action. You can walk across the runway and motorbikes race up and down it. Games are played on the runway and the islands main road runs right alongside.

We have enjoyed exploring the island and have seen the comings and goings of several flights. Yesterday, some "donors" (a large Japanese contingent) was feted with dancing, singing and drumming before they left on their flight. They had arrived a few days earlier and the island got all spruced up for them. We understand that one of the dignitaries was the Minister of Energy for Japan (though we think he actually left on a special flight the day before – this was a big week with three planes!). We got to watch the festivities and see the beautiful traditional dancing and costumes.
The people here are quite friendly when you get to know them and they do all remember your names. It is quite funny to walk into a restaurant and have people call you by name. The meteorological station here is across from the airport, and yesterday, we stopped in to meet the weather guy. We hope to get some good insight from him before we start our trek north in a few weeks.

The map you get at the "tourist bureau" (a desk in one of the offices in the government building), has the headline "Take your wants off and put your happiness on." It goes on to say, "One of the smallest and most remote nations in the world, this unspoiled corner of the Pacific offers a peaceful, and non-commercialized environment that is ideal for escaping the globalization." Now that's an interesting marketing approach!

So far, we like Tuvalu!

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

“Talofa” from Tuvalu

We have left "Bula, Bula" (the Fijian greeting) behind and have entered into "Talofa" territory. But it is amazing how different the two countries are in the simple style of greetings. Where the Fijians are outgoing, gregarious and very open, the Tuvaluens are quiet, more reserved and perhaps even shy. However, once you have a bit of communication, they will remember your name and be very friendly and talkative.

We arrived late Saturday afternoon and couldn't clear in to the country until Monday. So we took advantage of catching up on some sleep and getting the boat cleaned up a bit. Barbara had attempted to bring additional fresh fruit and vegetables along from Fiji (as we knew we wouldn't see that stuff for quite some time). She came up with a new storage plan – using a hammock in the forward head. There were four green papayas (pawpaws, locally), a cabbage, and a big stalk of green bananas. They seemed secure. However, in all the pounding and heeling over of the five day passage – the forward head became a mess of mashed papaya jam and seeds (that instantly grew fuzzy mold), moldy cabbage and very bruised bananas. It was a mess. Of course the papaya mash got on all the clothes also hanging in the forward head. It took all day to clean this one small room (and we still need to launder the clothes and towels). Michael rebuilt the aft head as well. The weather was still squally – so we hung out, took in, hung out and took in wet clothes from the lifelines several times as well. We had hoped to get the clothes and towels and seat covers at least dried – even though they still needed to be washed.

On Monday, we headed into Fongafale and Vaiaku to take care of customs, quarantine and immigration. We had to dinghy quite away to Fongafale and the customs dock. Once there, we located the customs office but nobody was there. We waited. And waited. An waited. Finally, a man on a motorcycle arrived and he was the custom's guy, but it seems that today (Monday) was a semi-holiday. All government offices were closed as it was deemed "clean-up" day on the island. Everyone was supposed to be helping to get the island all cleaned up. Luckily, he was willing to complete our paperwork – which actually meant that we filled out a form, handed over our clearing-out papers from Fiji and that was it. We didn't get any paperwork nor did we have to hand over any money!

Then we were supposed to go to quarantine, but that was also closed. We then had to dinghy back to the other end of the island and Vaiaku to the government building for immigration (but we were warned by customs that it would also be closed). It was indeed closed. The bank was luckily open and we managed to exchange some US dollars for Australian dollars (the currency of Tuvalu). This was the first time in our four and a half years however, that we got back less than we gave. By the time the exchange rate was determined, the US dollar was worth less than the Aussie dollar. (For $300 US we got $291 Aus.)

We met some interesting folks in town and sat by the "runway" where all the action is for lunch. We enjoyed a great fish and chips meal while watching the folks of Tuvalu "clean-up" the runway. They were using weed-eaters to cut very large areas of grass! Others were literally sweeping the runway with brooms. And when we say runway – that's what it is - the Tuvalu International Airport's runway which runs down the center of the island. In fact, it takes up most of the island itself.

Next entry – a little history and information about Tuvalu, one of the smallest countries in the world.

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fiji to Tuvalu: The Passage

You probably noticed that there were no log entries during the passage aboard Astarte from Vuda Point in Fiji to Funafuti Atoll in Tuvalu! We departed Monday, September 9th around 1130 from Vuda Point Marina after doing the official clearing out with customs and immigration. With our clearance papers in hand, the marina bill settled and spending the last of the Fiji dollars on ice cream, we pulled out of our tight quarters in the berth and started on our passage. The first several hours we had to motor into the wind to get through a passage in the reef and out into the "big" water. As we made the turn northwest to get around the Yasawa group of Fiji, the wind simply died. That was not the forecast. This was not a stellar start to the trip. We turned the motor back on and motor sailed until around midnight when the wind picked up enough to shut down the "steel drum band."

The wind for the trip was predicted to be southeasterly in the 18 to 20 knot range. We knew it would be a bit boisterous, but we thought it would be a nice beam reach. Unfortunately, there was little to no south in the wind and, in fact, for the first few days a bit of east northeast winds were what we experienced. Because of this, we couldn't keep to our course line. Instead of a nice reach we were fairly hard on the wind, heeled over and taking water over the bow steadily. It was a wet ride...and unfortunately, we discovered it was also getting wet below decks as well. We realized that in all our cruising over the last several years, we have had downwind runs or at least wind aft of the beam. This was the first time we had five days of being upwind. Several of our overhead hatches have leaks as do some of the side windows. The cockpit floor also somehow drains water into the galley. And taking so much over the bow meant a lot was getting down the anchor locker and working its way into the shallow bilges of Astarte. This meant we had lots of drips, puddles and salt water in lockers, on walls and on the floor. Add to the dampness of the boat – we were getting soaked in the cockpit when the waves would decide to slap us on the hull and splash aboard. We were finding it difficult to stay in dry clothes and find places to hang the salty wet ones. This time it was Michael who was having the harder time. Barbara's new rain gear was doing a better job. We know what we'll be buying at the next opportunity!

Because the wind didn't quite have enough of a southern component, and there is a big western pushing current, we struggled to make the easting we needed to to stay away from some sea mounts. Now these are deep sea mounts – nothing we would "hit." But going near them or over them, does make the water "crazy." The seas get bigger and come from various directions. We hit a few of these areas on our way north. As it was, we had a good 2 meter sea the entire time and the swells were close together, often causing the boat to crash down one wave and get hit with next making a horrible noise. We tried everything from speeding up, slowing down and changing course to settle the boat into a more comfortable ride.

There was good news though! We were making pretty good time, covering more than 100 miles a day. On Friday morning we had 150 miles to go and had hoped we could make it in on Saturday afternoon and save an extra night at sea. We had to maintain 5 knots to do it and it became the challenge aboard. Luckily the wind finally went east-southeast and gave us a great beam reach. Astarte liked it and sped up, the ride became more comfortable and we were ticking off the miles through Friday night. We gave ourselves the time of "1430" to have to be at the pass to make it in with good enough light to see the reefs. We cheered with every ten minutes we gained when we sped up! We made it to the southwestern pass by 1230 – BUT the squalls started. We lost all visibility. We had several squalls over the last three days, and we learned that they did pass quickly. Some brought heavy rain – others just an increase in wind. But they went by quickly. This one didn't. We had a break and started to make our way to the pass and another squall hit – this one with 30 knots of wind. So we backed off again and circled. Time was ticking away. It started to clear again and we made another run for it and the third time was the charm. Unfortunately though, the tide was now running more strongly against us and the wind was still blowing a steady 20 knots on the nose. We made it through the pass, but Astarte had a hard time making headway through the narrow part – slowing to less than 2 knots. Waves were breaking over the bow and then we were inside the atoll. Whew. We made it on Saturday – we wouldn't have to spend another night out.

We made our way across the atoll which is about 10 miles towards the main town where we would have to clear in. The good news is that the government offices close down at 4 pm on Friday and re-open Monday morning. We would have a few days to get the boat in shape and rest up. Another boat we had chatted with on the radio net, "Barefoot" was already here. They were very nice about contacting us on VHF radio and giving us some great info. We joked with them asking if there was room in the anchorage. This is not exactly a hot spot and the atoll is very large. We arrived at the anchorage around 1530 on Saturday, September 14 making the passage in 124 hours. After anchoring in 45 feet of water, another squall hit giving us a great fresh water rinse. Roz and David from "Barefoot" came by after the squall and brought treats from the local bakery – very nice welcoming! A few hours later, another bigger squall hit – this one with torrential rain and 35 knot winds (Barefoot says it recorded a 45 knot gust). Astarte started to drift a bit at anchor so we had to let out more scope which was challenging with two tired people in heavy wind. But we managed and now feel well anchored.

We made it to Tuvalu. More on this interesting, small island nation later. We are glad to be settled in a nice place with good protection as long as the wind doesn't come out of the west.

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Farewell Friendly Fiji

Monday, September 9, 2013 – we will depart Fiji once we clear out of the country when the customs and immigration officials arrive. Then we will make the 630 mile trek to the small island nation of Tuvalu. It is a nation of eight small islands known for its .tv designation (that it sold for 45 million to a company who resold the .tv designation to various television stations and networks around the world.) It is a country not used to a lot of tourists or yachts – so it should be both interesting and more challenging. But, we are excited about getting into new territory.
We will be without internet and phone now for probably at least two months. So...the best way to reach us is through our sailmail e-mail address which, if everything works properly, we'll check daily and also update our position report so you can see our progress. We'll also try to update the log if the seas aren't too big and nasty.
It looks like a good weather window so far – but it is a six day trip – so it's hard to predict for the whole trip. The boat is ready – or so we hope. The dinghy is all rolled-up and tied on; the decks are cleared and below decks the shells are put away and the ditch bag with EPIRB is easy to grab.
Now let's hope the two of us are ready!

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Still in Fiji

Thursday came and went and we did NOT depart. We are still squeezed into a spot at Vuda Point Marina. We managed to wash our bimini and dodger canvas on Monday, thanks to the fresh water at the dock. But then it rained on both Tuesday and Wednesday so we could not re-treat it with water-proofing so we decided to wait. We did make a run into Lautoka on the local bus which is always an interesting way to see an area. We did some last minute provisioning and picked up some fresh fruit and vegetables at the produce market. But knowing we weren't leaving on Thursday, we held off on the BIG fresh purchase. Now it looks like Monday will be the planned departure. It did clear off on Thursday – or at least with no rain – so we retreated the canvas.

This extra time is allowing us to do some other projects and get the boat in good order for the big passage. Our route will take us from here directly to Tuvalu. Its about 640 miles. We'll spend approximately one month there and then continue north towards the equator to get to Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas). After about a month there, we will make it to the Marshall Islands. That is the plan and we hope it will be a good trip. Michael is learning a lot about the various "convergence zones" that create the weather patterns for this part of the world. There is the ITCZ and the SPCZ – and both create either big, bad weather or no wind. So learning to read where these things sit is helpful in picking weather windows to make the passages.
We have enjoyed our time in Vuda Marina. This place does a great job at providing services and "entertainment" for the boats. There are three movie nights (the movies played on an outdoor screen after dark – weather permitting); two nights of live music – reggae on Friday nights and a good band on Sunday afternoons/evenings; Thursday night is $2 beer hour followed by "prop night" (we came in second with team "Dragonfly"). The staff is very friendly here and the facilities are great. So it has been a nice stop for us before passage. We are making up for the lack of "cook's night off" while in Fiji and doing the whole four months worth in one week here. But the prices are certainly reasonable.

Once we clear out on Monday – we won't have access to phones or internet for quite some time.

But we have posted the last of the pictures from Fiji. So check them out.

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Nadi, Port Denarau, Vuda Point...

After the big birthday bash in Musket Cove, we headed to what in Fiji is called the "mainland." This is the largest island, Viti Levu. We had hoped to immediately get into Vuda Point Marina (pronounced Boonda Point) to do some of the last provisioning and boat projects...but they were "chock-a-block." That means full. So we headed to a nearby bay near the town of Nadi (pronounced Nandi). This ended up being a terrific spot for a number of reasons. The holding was terrific in less than 20 feet of water (shallow by recent standards); it was free; and, most importantly, we had lots of company. The folks we thought we said our "final" goodbyes to – were here! Superted, Chapter 2 and Gypsea Heart were all at anchor when we arrived. That meant more fun...and it was definitely that! We enjoyed an evening of shoretime fun at the local beach resorts (backpacker style resorts – so not quite as "upmarket" as Musket Cove – and better prices!). It was quite an entertaining evening – thanks in part to Villy, the waiter at one of the beach bars.

The girls all went into Nadi Town for a day's outing on Saturday which included: visiting the impressive and colorful Hindu Temple, hitting the giant fresh produce market, buying some handicrafts (which did include drinking a bit of kava!) and doing some grocery shopping. A few beers at the beach bar on the return was also on the agenda. Meanwhile, the guys got together after their individual boat projects (Michael changed the oil and filters – hurting his back in the process) then they gathered on Gypsy Heart to watch the Louis Vitton Cup (pre-America's Cup) sailboat races. The sad part was having to say goodbye yet again to Jean and Matt on Superted and Mike and Karen on Chapter 2.

The next day, Chrissy and Dave on Chrisandaver Dream (CD for short), joined the Nadi anchorage and we enjoyed a dinner out with them and Rankin and Sandy on Gypsea Heart and another evening of dominoes.

We then moved out to another anchorage so we would be closer to Port Denarau. This is a Super Yacht, cruise ship and sailboat marina and hotel complex with tons of high end shops. We fueled up here (by dinghy) and took advantage of the good local bus system to get to the local butcher to order meat and do some more shopping for engine oil, transmission fluid, groceries and fishing gear (as gifts for the islands ahead). We stayed out at this anchorage a few nights and then headed into the Vuda (boondah) Point Marina.

We had to stay on a mooring ball in the center of the marina for a two nights until a spot opened up. Another boat was already there, so we rafted up to it and tied to the mooring. This is an interesting marina. It is an old quarry and in the center, there is a sunk heavy object to which many mooring floats are attached. You tie up to a concrete wall and then stern anchor to two of these floats (or some boats do it opposite – stern to the wall and bow attached to the floats). They keep putting more and more boats into the circle of boats – all with as many fenders as possible on each side. They are jammed in and getting in and out is amazing. You don't think you'll fit – but like dominoes – the boats just tighten up – bumping into each other to make room for just one more.

We got a spot on the wall, squeezed in and were able to have a good water supply top wash all our canvas so we could re-treat it with waterproofing before the trip. After it all got nice and clean, we'd let it dry and treat it. Of course, it rained the next day (we hadn't seen rain in weeks!). We have to be out of the spot by Friday – and hope to clear out of the marina on Thursday.

On Tuesday afternoon, the marina had a ceremony to establish the location as an official clearing in and out port of Fiji. This is a big thing and it means that now, we can actually clear out of the marina instead of making the trek to Lautoka which is a main commercial port. The ceremony was quite the occasion with many officials on hand for the signing ceremony. The "number two" of the country – the attorney general and minister of tourism, trade, immigration etc. (a three line title) was on hand along with all the chiefs from the surrounding villages. There was a formal kava ceremony (the most formal one we had seen) along with speeches and a signing ceremony. Not many of the boaters at the marina came – and we were certainly glad we did to support the marina's efforts on behalf of the cruising community. We also did get a chance to talk with the Attorney General about our Fijian experience. Many of the police on hand had the official sulu (skirt) on – it has a series of points on the hem of the skirt and is quite impressive. And the best part, the owner of the marina then opened the bar for a few free rounds for the few cruisers that did show up for the ceremony. Bula!

We are waiting on weather to depart – it looks like we may leave on this Thursday.

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