Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Vunanui, Lekuri and Momi on Viti Levu

We enjoyed a few days nestled behind the reefs near Vunanui (pronounced Voo-Nah-New). The anchorage was very flat and quite comfortable and the views of the crashing waves on the outer reefs is always impressive and noisy.

On Saturday morning, we went into the village to do our sevusevu. We were met on the beach by a few young boys and Bill. Bill took us to the toronga ni koro (well actually the brother of the toronga ni koro). It seemed there was a going away party for some visitors so many of the men from the village were gathered in an open hut. We were brought in and introduced to a few folks and invited to sit on the mat. There was a huge tanoa bowl front and center with kava. The tanoa bowl is a lovely wooden bowl normally mounted on four legs carved out of a single piece of wood (bowl part and legs). This one was quite large with probably six legs on it and very lovely.

We presented our bundle of yaqona (the kava making plant roots) and a speech in Fijian was made followed by some chants and thombos (loud claps). Then the bundle was handed over to the chief (actually the brother of the chief) and he also did a small speech on Fijian with chants from the rest of the crowd and more thombos. It was the most formal sevusevu ceremony we had been to yet and it was very moving. We felt very welcomed. Then a few bowls of kava came our way with the traditional thombos and "matha" after the drink is completed. We stayed awhile, having a few bowls of the kava. Meanwhile, our package was taken by some young men and already opened and being pounded for the next bowl of kava. I guess we had good timing!

We then took a stroll around the village which was filled with friendly people and lots of kids playing volleyball and running around. We came by the hut before leaving and were invited in again for "one for the road or one for the ocean" - we passed on the temptation.

We stayed a few days and attempted a snorkel on the reef. There was a very strong current though and it was windy and choppy...so we ended up doing a drift snorkel – just holding on to the dinghy and floating behind it looking at the critters below.

We left early on Monday morning for a 45 mile trip to Lekuri. We sailed much of the way with just the headsail in a downwind run. Two lines in the water – going pretty good speed at times...no fish were caught...though at one point we had two bites – one on each line and Michael could actually look back and see what looked like four mahi checking out the lures – but not biting them again. Bummer.

We stayed one night in this anchorage – near the Robinson Crusoe resort. We were entertained from shore with lots of singing, drumming and fire dancing. It was pretty windy though and a long day and we decided to not head into the resort. We were working on a record of zero dollar days!

This morning, Tuesday, we left early to take advantage of the lighter winds and slack waters to get through the very narrow cut in the reef. It was pretty rocking and rolling coming in the day before. Once out of the cut, we killed the engine and put up the head sail and had a nice downwind run for the 15 or so miles. We were slower today – and again, two lines in the water, different lures...no fish.
We may stay here a few days – or move on...who knows! No more fresh vegetables or fruit on board. Beer supply is also pretty low. But it is a pretty and protected spot inside the reef on the southwestern corner of Viti Levu.

Latitude:17 55.06s
Longitude:177 16.07e
At 10/25/2016 7:07 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°55.05'S 177°16.06'E

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Snorkeling in Beqa and Moving On

We really enjoyed our week in Malumu Bay on Beqa (pronounced Ben-ga) Island. It was a good spot to sit out some inclement weather because it is protected from most directions and has a good muddy bottom for holding. Not so much fun when pulling up that muddy anchor chain! We had the place to ourselves for one night and then the boat "Pilgrim" returned because of the weather predictions.

We did a snorkel right in the bay – a reef that we saw many locals diving at night. The visibility wasn't terrific, but it was nice and shallow so we could really stay over a bommie and take a long look for the little stuff...and not so small critters. We saw two quite large eels that seemed to not be afraid of us, several different types of nudibranchs and lots and lots of small tropical fish – a few new ones. It was a treat. Day two we repeated the snorkel in a slightly different spot and Michael dared to bring the underwater camera. Good thing too, he spotted a quite large nudibranch that was different than ones we had seen before. Getting the photo would help us identify it (perhaps with the help of Kathryn).

We had a local boat stop by to visit on Thursday – they were from the village across the island and were heading to their gardens (they were yagona (kava) farmers!). They told us that there was a cut through the mangroves to get to their village. Wish we knew that sooner as we would have visited them. The cut isn't on any charts or even on google earth maps – ah, local knowledge!

On Friday morning, we thought it was time to move on and so we headed 26 miles to Vanunui on Viti Levu. We did manage to sail some of the miles, motor sailed some and motored some. The winds were either 2 knots or 12 and from varying directions. We put out two lines (I gave up on the coke bottle/oreo wrapper lure) and went back to the "Lance Lure" (made by our NZ charter fishing captain friend, Lance). Michael used "Pedro" from the Kathryn and Mark collection. We were moving well over 6 knots much of the time. We sailed or motor-sailed through cuts in the reefs. We have no bananas on board. We checked the lures regularly for weed or fouling. We changed distance from the boat of the lures. But did we catch a fish? NO. Still scoring zero.

We came through the reef hoping to beat a squall that looked like it was heading to the cut at the same time as us. We wanted good visibility – even though the cut is relatively wide. It is still a cut in the reef. The squall kept away and we made our way along the inside of the reef to a nice anchorage. It should be well protected from any swell – but not much wind protection. The forecast is for only 10-15 knots from the SE – so we should be fine here. There is a village nearby and if we stay more than one night, we'll go in and do our sevusevu. We are down to our last batch of kava – so this will have to be the last village until we can re-supply.

It is pretty here and when the sun shines, the reef around us is a variety of shades of blues. The crashing waves on the outer reef is impressive both visually and aurally. Pretty spot. We'll have to see if there are bats here. Last night's display in (anchorage) on Beqa was quite amazing – hundreds on bats flying overhead.

If we stay it does look like some good snorkeling around.

Latitude:18 15.7s
Longitude:177 52.12e
At 10/21/2016 4:09 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 18°15.69'S 177°52.11'E

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

From Lami to Beqa

We got through the tropical depression thing that formed near Fiji and saw at the most 28 knots of winds and lots of rain for a few days. Then it cleared and we remained safely moored in the same spot. During the storm, Sonny who manages the moorings told us we were on the "best" mooring as it had the biggest blocks holding it in place. That made us feel even more secure during the windy points.

On Tuesday, we took the bus into Suva and did some shopping at the butchers, fresh market (for fruit and veggie) and grocery. We found the dentist's office and reconfirmed our Wednesday appointments and found a locksmith for a new door lock. The old one wouldn't give up the key! The bus into town was easy and all of $1.10 each way (Fiji $). Can't beat the local bus service.

On Wednesday, we did a return trip to Suva for our dental appointments. First we stopped at the fresh market for another bundle of yagona (kava) for sevusevu. We knew we would need at least one more for stops before we left Fiji. Michael carrying around the kava bundle in his pack got lots of comments from passers by about "sevusevu" and "you drink grog?" Even the dentist comments on it (saying he too likes to drink grog.) We again were really pleased with Dr. Singh at Stewart Street Dental. We both got clean bills of health and x-rays and a good check-up. The x-rays were in our e-mail by the time we returned home!

After the dentist, we were roaming through some shops and someone stopped on us on the street saying, "Barbara." It was Thomas, the village "Toronga ni koro" from Navadamu, one of the places we stopped on the north coast of Vanua Levu. We wouldn't have recognized him in this setting, but he sure remembered us. He was a long way from home. He was with his chief whom we never met, and his brother who lives in Suva. We visited for some time on the street and it was so much fun to run into him. What a small country! He reminded us that his village was our village and we are welcome to come back anytime. They were in Suva to discuss the solar panel plan that the government is offering some small villages in outlying areas.

After our curry lunch (a tradition after the dentist visit in Suva), we headed back to Lami. On Thursday, we did some boat projects and took a walk into Lami for ice cream – only to get caught in a good rain shower.

On Friday, we left Lami Bay and headed about 28 miles to Beqa (pronounced ben-ga)Island just off the southeastern corner of Viti Levu. We had a great sail! Yes, we actually sailed with both sails and made great time. Skunked on fishing again...and we were doing 6 knots much of the time. We made our way through the reef that surrounds Beqa and into Malumu Bay which goes way back in. It is beautiful here amongst the mangroves and very secluded. One friend told us they didn't like Beqa because it was too touristy … they must have been someplace else because this is really lovely and not a tourist attraction in sight. Two other boats in the anchorage when we arrived and it was good to finally spend some time with Ron and Cheryl on "Pilgrim." They have since both left and we have the whole place to ourselves.

The nearby village is small and we went there on Saturday morning to do our sevusevu (after an enjoyable morning of coffee and conversation with the "Pilgrim" folks). It was a quick sevusevu as we only saw the son of the toronga ni koro Everyone else seemed to be in Suva.

The place is very protected (except if we have heavy northerlies), good holding, lots of swinging room, and pretty green hillside landscapes around us. We have a resident turtle who pops up regularly and the evening has a good bat display.

On Sunday (today), we did a good dinghy explore and headed up a nearby river. We got all the way to a culvert over the river and a path. There were loads of bats in some nearby pine trees – they looked like giant pine cones until you saw them open their wings. The bird sounds were really nice though the birds themselves remained hidden. Some cool orchid like plants as well hanging in the trees – we nicknamed them porcupine orchids (the pictures will tell you why).

We will stay here a few more days...there may be some winds the next few days – and then we'll move on. Nice spot though – and worth the stop. Tonights full moon and bats will be fun to see.

Latitude:18 23.05s
Longitude:178 09.14e
At 10/16/2016 5:42 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 18°23.03'S 178°09.12'E

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Ovalau, Leleuvia and Viti Levu

We left off in Rukuruku drinking kava...
A return visit to the village was made the next morning and our intention was to take photos of the various classes. Fijians love having their picture taken! They are happy even if they only get to look at it in the viewfinder of the camera. As we arrived, the head teacher, Mister Sefa met us to ask a big favor. Could we take some photos of all the damaged buildings from Severe Cyclone Winston for him, so he could give them with his report to some education ministery folks who would be coming the next day? So Michael put on his photojournalist hat and went to work. After those were taken we had our first tea break of the day. The four level 8 girls who were taking their exams still had their family on hand to make the cakes and goodies. The girls joined us, the examiner, the head teacher, a teacher assessor who was visiting and the parents/relatives for tea and lots of "fijian pie" (that is the bright yellow topped cake I described earlier). After tea, we managed to finally get the class photos.

We got a good idea from Carol (my sister) about taking the photos. Michael took a "straight" photo first and than a "silly" photo. The silly ones were much more natural with kids being kids. We went back to the boat to start the printing process. Luckily Kathryn and Mark brought us more photo paper as we have been burning through it! We went back to the school after school was over (otherwise they would have fed us yet again and more tea and cake!) I got a lovely necklace from Cara (one of the test taking girl's (Titianna) mother. So I brought her a few small gifts as well.

We found the four girls and gave them copies of special pictures for themselves and then gave the rest of the class photos, destruction photos, ID photos and family photos to Mister Sefa. We had e-mailed one to Bobo from the day before and we printed one for the Chief and one for Cara of her family. We went to say our goodbyes to Mateo, the headman an give him his photo...of course we were assigned a young boy to take us there. After many goodbyes and the pleading of Tema and others to stay longer, we went back to the boat to prep for leaving the next morning.

We left around 10 for a short 12 mile trip to the island of Leleuvia, also part of the Lomoviti Group. It is a small resort island with the classic white sandy beaches, reef strewn waters of various shades of blue. They provide free moorings to yachts and in fact, sent a boat out to meet us and get us through the reef to our assigned mooring. We went ashore and had a fancy resort lunch (buffet wraps). Michael did some bottom cleaning in the clear water and we got hot showers at the resort. We did go in for dinner as well and sat with an Ozzie couple there on holiday. We enjoyed the evening out and made it back to Astarte to prep for an early morning leave. Weather is predicted to come in late in the weekend and we want to be in a secure place.

At 0600 we were under way for a 55 mile trip to Lami Bay, just SW of Suva (the capital) on the big island of Viti Levu. We had to motor in no wind for a bit to get around some big reefs and then ran along the reef. We actually shut the engine off for awhile to sail! What a treat. But it didn't last long as we did have to maintain speed to make our destination before dark. We motor-sailed much of the way. We arrived in Lami Bay to some free moorings near Tony Phillips house. He owns lots of stuff in Fiji including Copra Shed and Vuda Point marinas, chandleries and fuel outlets and generously lets boats use the moorings for free. It is a very protected anchorage form just about any direction. Once we sorted out which mooring we could use and got permission from Sonny on the boat Tau, we were settled. We made it before dark and there was room at the inn! Fish count: ZERO! *we ran two lines the entire trip and we were close to reefs and we had no bananas on board!

The next morning during the normal array of radio nets, Michael, who was net controller for the "Southern Cross" net got a call from Northland Radio in Russell, New Zealand. There was an emergency for a boat called "Galena" with a single-hander aboard. He was well off the west coast of Viti Levu and had a medical emergency on board. Michael got the details and would spread the word to see if there was any boat in the vicinity (though unlikely based on his last known location). Suva Rescue Coordination Center was in charge and they were thinking about sending out a navy boat after the attempts to get some fishing boats in the area to respond failed. More radio time was spent on "Tony's Maritime Net" and the word was spread as much as we could do.

Then we headed into Lami for a reconnaissance mission. We took the dinghy to the police boat dock to tie-up. The dock was in sad shape. Michael let me off on the sea wall and then went to tie up as I went to ask permission. I met Herman and got permission to tie up right next to the police boat.

We walked to town (about a half hour walk). We couldn't remember if there was a bank here or if we had to go to Suva. We were prepared to continue to Suva if necessary to get some cash. But Lami is a nice small town with all the necessities – bank, gas station, small fresh market, groceries and most importantly, a Hot Bread Kitchen! We got some money, meat pies, bread and sweet rolls.

The Hot Bread Kitchen is a small chain in Fiji that makes great meat pies and breads of all sorts. Because Monday was "Fiji Day" the staff were all wearing these fun Fiji Day T-shirts with the slogan, "Fiji, we love you like a cream bun" on the back. Cream buns are a Fiji treat – a kind of dinner roll with a slab of sweet cream in the middle. The cream buns for Fiji Day had this aqua blue (Fiji flag color) cream in the middle. Michael wanted a t-shirt so we were sent to "world headquarters for the Hot Bread Kitchen (HBK)" which is located in Lami. Michael asked if we could walk there and they said yes. It ended up being the day's adventure. We walked and would ask directions and be pointed in one direction. Walk some more and ask again and get pointed elsewhere. One woman, Elizabeth walked with us for awhile (she worked at the HBK) and then pointed the way. We still went by it and had to ask yet again! Once there, we asked about the t-shirts and they said they could sell us them but they only had white ones left. We left with our silly shirts.

We walked back and enjoyed our meat pies and some cold water...it was a hot hike all over the industrial area of Lami! The next day we returned to Lami with four empty diesel jugs. We have burned through quite a bit of fuel over the last month with our guests and all the motoring we've done to get places. The lack of wind was great news for snorkeling and diving...bad news for sailing. So fueling up was that day's project. We did one load and cabbed back with fuel and some groceries. We loaded that fuel in the tank and then Michael went back for another four jugs. The tank is now filled and few full jugs on board. We should be good until we get around to Vuda Point and departure.

Today it is raining. Flooding is predicted for Fiji as this early season Tropical Depression is over the island chain. Luckily it isn't supposed to be packed with wind – just lots of rain, some squalls and thunderstorms. Not a nice day for all the planned Fiji Day celebrations. But the kids are all still playing the water. We'll fill the water tanks and start deciding where we go to from here. We have booked dentist appointments in Suva for Wednesday and will go into Suva on Tuesday as well (weather permitting) for some other errands (good butcher and huge fresh market and a locksmith).

For now, we'll do inside projects, read and write log entries! Happy Fiji Day!
At 10/9/2016 10:20 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 18°06.62'S 178°23.82'E

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Taveuni, Koro and Ovalau

We enjoyed two nights on the mooring at Paradise Dive Resort – they are a very "yachtie-friendly" place. We did get in a good snorkel and a lovely free, hot shower! We took off at 0615 to make our way to Koro Island about 42 miles away. We fished the entire way – using one of Mark's and Kathryn's lure and our "coke bottle and oreo" lure. The M&K lure (the pretty one) hooked one huge fish. It spun much of our reel off and as Michael was fighting to get it in, the line broke. So there is one huge fish in Fiji waters with a pretty lure and about 15 meters of yellow monofilament line hanging from its lips. No other fish to report.

We tied to a mooring in Dere Bay on Koro Island after a few attempts at anchoring. It is very coral strewn and rubbely as well as quite deep. Because Koro Island was one of the hardest hit (if not THE hardest) by Cyclone Winston, we weren't too sure of the condition of the moorings. But it was flat calm and we would only be there one night. We kept the anchor alarm on and the anchor ready to drop.

We left Koro at 0600 to get to Ovalau and Rukuruku Bay. This was a 53 mile trip. No wind at all – so it was yet another motoring trip. The two lines were put in the water as soon as the mooring was dropped. W made our way through the reef and went by a few islands making our way to the former capital of Fiji and one of the first settlements in the country. Along the way we saw a a very large pod of pilot whales – perhaps as many as 30 of them. They were simply basking on the surface – fins showing and every so often they would do what is known as the "spy hop" - the large whale head coming straight out of the water from a vertical position – sort of like a giant periscope. It was amazing to see and they were less than 100 feet from the boat at times. Kathryn and Mark had the chance to swim with a pod of pilot whales on their first day of diving and were really thrilled with the experience. Seeing so many of them and so close was pretty special as well.

We entered the reef passage near the town of Levuka – the former capital and now also a world heritage site (made one last year). The leading marks were a bit hard to spot – one is on the clock tower – an orange triangle just over the clock and the other is on the hill above. It was so calm – you couldn't really see the water breaking on the reef...that's both good and bad. We read in a few places that the anchorage near the town was pretty rolly, noisy (a large generator that powers the entire island) and smelly (tuna processing plant – owned by bumblebee brand). So thanks to some info from another boater (thanks Russ from "A-train") we made our way about ten miles around the island to the village of Rukuruku.

Ovalau was also pretty badly hit by Cyclone Winston and as we made our way inside the reef around the island, you could clearly see some of the damage. Many large trees were down, houses destroyed or damaged, sunk boats and one very large ship that ended up high and dry on the shore. The village of Rukuruku was also pretty damaged – though they are Fijian and remain upbeat. The school was damaged and several of the teachers' houses were destroyed. Tents are set up in many places – and school classes are held in some of the tents. There are areas where you can see missing homes – simply piles of broken concrete and tin roofs remain. Large piles of bent and broken tin roofs are along the roadside.

We went in right after we arrived to do our sevusevu with the chief. We were met ashore by a group of kids who would lead up to the Chief's home. We met Mateo, the chief and were given permission to stay. We chatted quite awhile with him about Winston and learned more about the damage in the village. They mostly grow Yaqona here and that is a crop that takes more than three years to grow. Most of the crop was destroyed. The coconuts for copra were also badly damaged – again a long process to get copra quality nuts to grow. They continue to rebuild homes and the school is scheduled to be repaired in the next few weeks (but who knows with Fiji time).

On Saturday morning, we headed to the city of Levuka. We went on the local transport which is a big covered truck with benches along the inside (think troop carriers). Together with about 35 other folks we loaded in. Michael had to stand. The trip took about 45 minutes along a decent road with lots of hills. The kids stand in the front of the bed with their heads over the cab of the truck – kind of like happy dogs with the wind blowing in their hair.

Levuka is an interesting town – though it looks less British colonial and more old western town. The main street is lined with shops and restaurants. A small fresh market takes place in the park along the waterfront on Saturday mornings and the folks were selling fresh vegetables along with lots of seafood offerings like octopus, clams and "sea grape" (a type of seaweed berry). We enjoyed an ice cream and did some errands (fuel, veg, bread, rugby ball). The truck return was 12:30. We waited in the shade along with many of the other riders. We met the head teacher from the school, Sefa who was also on the trip and became our guide. He shared the history of the Levuka and Ovalau as well as stories about Fiji. The trip back was even more interesting – the truck now not only had the 35 or so people, it had jugs of every variety of diesel, petrol and kerosene. There were several 20 pound tanks of propane (actually butane here). Plus boxes and boxes and boxes of food supplies for families. At least 30 loaves of bread, many vegetables, bags of toilet paper and diapers. Amongst all this was now sleeping children, babies getting breast fed and adults dozing off while sitting on the benches. There was one small child who fell asleep while holding on to the rail in the front of the truck. One older gentleman tried to wake him so he wouldn't fall or hurt himself. It was quite the experience. We do love local transport.

We got back to the boat with the help of the many children that follow us to the beach to help us launch our dinghy. Our dinghy (named Pukupuku) seemed to have quite a few small visitors while on the beach at Rukuruku The boat was loaded with sand!

Tomorrow boat projects. Monday, a visit to the school.
At 10/1/2016 7:01 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°38.38'S 178°45.24'E

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