Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Great 30 Mile Sail

We enjoyed multiple days in the bay we learned was called Drata by the locals. It is a well protected and not very populated spot. We stayed to the front of the bay but found out you can go quite a way into the inlet where you get even better protection.

We met Nesu and his son who were setting nets from their canoe. He told us that at one point their were ten boats in the small bay – that would be a bit crowded. He told us we could have come in much further. We were fine where we anchored though every afternoon a sea breeze (or wind) picked up and blew into the bay. One night we had some squalls that lasted quite awhile and blew a good 20 plus for several hours. The holding was good for us (another boat that came in did drag – but they didn't put out much chain). We were in 20 or so feet.

Nesu and his son came to the boat for a visit – they always say the kids want to see the boat – but we know it's the adults! They say its a "Once in a lifetime experience." Later in the day, he came back with two boats – his canoe and a kayak and his five kids and wife! They all wanted to see the boat and take pictures. The baby was only 6 months (look for the picture of Michael holding a baby – a "once in a lifetime" capture!) Good baby though, never cried or threw up which is what we usually get! They had a cell phone and were taking tons of pictures aboard. They posed in every area of the boat – galley, bathroom, chart table, etc. What they take pictures of is funny to us – things like the small LED push on light in the walk through or the galley foot water pump and a box of Weetbix (a dry cereal popular in the islands and NZ).

We left on Wednesday as there was some bad weather expected starting on Thursday. The visibility was great so we took advantage of going through the reefs in good light. There are some pretty narrow areas with S-turns. We put our head sail up as soon as we got out of the bay and sailed the entire way. It took less than 7 hours to make the trip and we started pretty slowly but picked up speed as the wind built through the day. Sailing inside the reef is sometimes pretty scary but it is also terrific with good light. The seas are flat calm in the protected water so it is very smooth and comfortable. The wind was directly behind us so every time we had to turn 10 or 20 degrees we had to jibe.

We arrived in a crowded Saweni Bay – a popular anchorage near Lautoka and Vuda Point Marina. People stage here prior to checking out of the country from one of these two spots. There was one big problem though when we came in...all the boats were facing out of the bay with a lee shore and it was blowing a good 15-20 knots kicking up a big fetch. You could surf on the waves crashing in the bay. It looked incredibly rough – but we had no other options at this point and would have to drop the anchor and hope the wind subsided soon which would then make the waves disappear as well. A few hours – yes hours – later that happened but it was pretty uncomfortable until we turned to shore. Nothing like getting seasick at anchor. We have this great 30 mile smooth sail to come to an anchorage and get beat up!

It settled for the night. The anchorage is quite large and there are about 20 boats here now. We watched a Canadian boat come in at dusk and hit the reef in front of us. It is deceiving if you haven't done your homework as there is a reef about 200 meters from shore but some boats find the cut in the reef and do go close to shore. So you see these boats anchored close to shore and think you'll join them. And then, BANG you hit this reef you can't see because by now it is too dark. Luckily they weren't going to fast and a nearby boat sounded a horn trying to warn them.

We know a few boats in here so it will be nice to have some social times with yachties. We do enjoy village time, but sometimes it is a bit of work. There is also internet here so we can get some planning done as well as paperwork for our return to NZ. We will start looking for a good weather window in mid-October – earlier than we would normally go. We usually luck out with better weather later in November.

We'll have to make a trip into Lautoka at some point (a bus runs by here) and pick up some provisions. The last run was Ovalau, several weeks ago and there is a "Hot Bread Kitchen" in Lautoka so Michael can get his meat pie! Vuda Marine is totally booked up – so we'll try to get on a list to get in there at some point to fuel up and get laundry done before passage (and a much needed cook's night out!).
At 9/25/2017 3:27 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°23.36'S 177°47.65'E

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Nananu-i-Ra and Beyond

We spent almost a week near Verevere village in Toba Basaga Bay. It was a friendly village and Simi took us (along with Karen and Cheryl from SV Interlude) to a nearby waterfall and swimming hole. It was terrific to get a nice swim in cool fresh water. A little natural jacuzzi and massage was had thanks to the pools and waterfalls.

At one point there were three boats in the bay – Interlude, Del Viento and us. Interlude left after one day and we had the pleasure of meeting Del Viento aboard their boat the following evening. Windy, Michael and their two daughters Eleanor and Frances hosted us to sundowners. It was a fun evening getting to know new folks. We learned that Michael is the editor of the boating magazine "Good Old Boat" so that was fun to talk articles and ideas with him. Perhaps we'll be lucky enough to get something published in that magazine! They were nice folks and Frances, the younger daughter made some killer fried plantains. We had a visit from a local boat asking to check our cruising permit – something we heard from customs and immigration. They have asked the local villages to do more checking to make sure all boats in Fiji waters are there legally.

"Del Viento" left the following day, leaving the bay all to us again. We took a nice walk along the road towards the point giving us a beautiful view of the bay and beyond. It was a great walk and on our way back through the village we met a nice family who offered us a piece of property to build a house on! They are generous here. Then going through the village there was a police officer who took a lot of information from us. That was a first for us. It really does seem Fiji is getting very conscious of checking on foreigners on their shores. They all do it in a very friendly, non-threatening way.

We finally left the comfortable bay and made a 20 mile trip to an offshore island, Nananu-i-Ra. It was through lots of reefs with s-curves and hard turns. We had no wind and good sun, so it was a great day to do it. We anchored near some pretty flash vacation homes against a sandy beach. It was a pretty deep anchorage surrounded by some reefs. It was certainly different scenery than the villages; with these large fancier homes with lots of solar, wind generators and landscaped property. Most looked empty except for the Fijian caretakers.

We went ashore near some of the smaller resorts and dock and learned there were not many guests on the island at the time. We took a long walk along the island's sandy beach and went around to the windward side as well. There were a few sunk boats there – sad to see. Winston did a fair amount of damage here as well. Though most of the vacation homes either suffered no damage or were already repaired.

We left on Saturday morning and aimed for a bay about 18 miles away. It was great sail with the heady only. Once we got there, the afternoon northerlies kicked in with a vengeance and the bay was very uncomfortable. It was only 1230 so we decided to up anchor and move on again. On leaving the bay, we went over an unmarked shallow spot (not on charts nor on google earth maps). We went from 50 feet to 4.5 feet ! Frightening! We moved another 17 miles west along Viti Levu's north coast. It was blowing about 15-20 knots so we sailed pretty quickly with a very reefed headsail negotiating carefully through the reefs. We were approached, when going through a very narrow cut in the reefs just past a sharp turn, by the New Zealand Royal Navy's black fast inflatable again. It was loaded with probably eight folks all geared up. Because we were sailing through the reef, we split duties – Michael would only pay attention to the boat and Barbara would deal with the authorities. As they got close, they were taking many pictures of the boat and us. We told them that they had boarded us already in Rukuruku a few weeks back. That it was Jordan and Frasier who came aboard. Frasier happened to also be aboard the inflatable and he gave us a big thumbs up. They told us to have a nice day and they moved on without reboarding us. They are checking everything!

We got to the new little bay that doesn't have a village nearby and anchored behind a nice sandbar near the mangroves in about 20 feet of water. It looks like good muddy holding and we are protected from everything but NNW or due W winds. That's good because last night just after dark the wind really picked up to 20 plus knots for a few hours. We let out a bit more chain and soon after we did that it settled down again and was a very flat night.

We met a fishing boat yesterday that stays in a house on a nearby hill on weekends. The three folks (Lani, Jim and Joshua) asked if we wanted a fish. They had a couple good sized sweet lips in the boat. Again their generosity always amazes us. We thanked them and passed on the offer.

Today, we'll do some dinghy exploring. Perhaps at the end of the bay there is a small stream with some laundry water! It is a breezy day but sunny and a comfortable temperature. We'll probably stay a few days here – though there is no internet. We are about 25 miles west of Latoka.
At 9/25/2017 3:23 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°23.36'S 177°47.65'E

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

North Coast of Viti Levu

After a fun evening watching some local guys play rugby in Rukuruku, we left the following morning for the 30 mile trip to the northern side of the "mainland" which is what the locals call the biggest of the Fijian islands – Viti Levu. This is an area we have never visited and thought it would be a fun new adventure for the last few months in Fiji. Like the northern coast of Vanua Levu that we visited earlier in the season, this is a coast few yachts visit or if they do, they pass through quickly. We had a very nice sail across with headsail only and doing about 5.5 knots on average. Very comfortable – and a small tuna caught along the way that we released. We were even able to sail once we got inside the reefs along the coast.

We settled into a place called Toba Basaga near the village of Verevere. The bay has a narrow entrance with long rocky spits that come out from the land on each side of the entrance. Then there is a large rocky "island" in the center of the bay. We nestled along the eastern side in about 35 feet of water. It looks like a good sandy/muddy bottom.

There are three villages around the bay – two near the shore and one quite a way up a hillside. We were surprised at how much damage there was here from cyclone Winston. There are still several tents and many homes being rebuilt. The sound of chainsaw competes with the roosters! We didn't think that Viti Levu was that hard hit – but it seems this northeast corner of the island certainly had a lot of damage.

We were visited by a fishing boat with Simi, Tom and young Tom and "boy" (that was his name). They came aboard and we learned about the villages and the area. We were invited ashore the next day to the village of Verevere which is a bit hidden from where we are anchored.

On Saturday, we went ashore and met Simi again, who happens to be the "Toronga ni koro" or headman. We did our "sevusevu" with him in his home. We learned lots more and got a nice tour of the village from Ben. There is much rebuilding still going on and still a lot of bare foundations left standing(albeit a little crooked) from the cyclone. This village was very lucky though because their water supply is from a deep spring and the dam remained intact and they were never without fresh water. They have lots of well built concrete sidewalks throughout the village and pretty gardens right in the village. In fact, there was even a horse and an few goats in the village. The horse looked like he was looking through one of the windows in a house. We were told of a waterfall nearby – so we may head there on Monday. We had hoped to do a snorkel today – but the wind has picked up again.

We will work our way along the north coast and slowly make our way around the northwestern corner to get towards Vuda Point where we will clear out of the country. Don't expect to see many boats along here, but you never know.

It is a pretty bay with lots of bird song in the morning. Many people (mostly women) fish from small rafts and boats in the afternoon. This is a nice spot and even with the wind there is little to no roll and good holding.
At 9/17/2017 2:14 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°32.56'S 178°22.75'E

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Monday, September 11, 2017

New Photos

Two new albums have been posted including an album of underwater pictures...including the giant clams.

Still in Rukuruku and enjoying our time here. We visited the school yesterday afternoon to bring them some books and a computer (from Sandy and Rankin). We got entertained by the children. They sang us some songs, asked some questions and just hung out with us. One of the books in our bag of books we brought was a Harry Potter...and it was one the kids were all eager to read. We had tried to select some newer books and reading material for various age levels and reading capabilities. Our timing was pretty good as it is "Literacy Week" here.

It is interesting how in all the schools we visit, the children have school chores at the end of the school day. This includes sweeping the classrooms, organizing the books, taking down the flag (to a drum beat and everyone respectfully stands up from whatever they are doing as the flag is lowered) and even includes cleaning the toilets.

Upon our return to the boat around 5 pm, we were visited by a large inflatable with five uniformed, helmeted men from the Royal New Zealand Navy and Fiji Customs. They were doing boat inspections. Two came aboard and checked our paperwork and passports and the Fijian Customs officer went below for a quick inspection. They were very polite but formal. The big Navy ship was just out of sight around the bend. They then went to the neighboring Kiwi boat for a quicker stop (they had already been checked out in Kioa a few weeks previously). They were checking local boats as well as foreign vessels.

It looks like we dodged Irma in St. Pete though we are still waiting to get word about our home. The folks in Rukuruku were praying for Irma to not harm our home – they really are nice folks. Also many thanks to the many friends who sent us hopeful thoughts and offers of assistance should they be don't know how much they are appreciated.
At 9/12/2017 3:31 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°38.35'S 178°45.16'E

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Rukuruku Re-Visit

First, the "what's wrong with this photo?" entry. Thanks for all the responses to the question – they entertained us. Of course, most got it right – the large stalk of bananas on board should have meant that we would never catch a fish. But we did!

We had a very "sporty" sail over to Ovalau Island from Makogai (sorry last entry said (Matangi- wrong island!) It was only about 20 miles but it meant crossing Bligh Waters and the seas were pretty big with 20 knots blowing. But we went fast and actually only about 10 miles was in the open water – the rest was at least calmed a bit by reefs. We did it in record time on a beam reach.

We are now on Ovalau Island and anchored off the village of Rukuruku in a protected bay. We came here last year which was post Super Cyclone Winston. The kids were sill having their classes in tents and the school and teachers' housing was pretty much destroyed. Things have improved a bit – though the school has yet to be fully repaired. The head teacher from last year, Mister Sefa has retired and Louisa is the new head teacher. We met her last year as well.

It was like coming back into our own community. When we did our sevusevu with the chief (Mateo -the same one as last year), he remembered us. When we went to the school to see Ms. Louisa, the kids remembered us – even our names, many yelling "Hello Michael." Taking all those pictures last year must have made an impact. We saw some people from the village we remembered as well – so it was very nice to be back.

On Friday, we took a tour with Bobo, of Bobo's Farm whom we met last year in the village. He runs a small ecotourism cabin. We were joined by Janet, David and Harry; kiwis from the sailboat Navire anchored in the bay as well. We were met by Bobo in the village and we hiked up to the waterfall and swimming hole on his property. It was a nice walk through the bush and a beautiful spot with no bugs – just nice cool, refreshing fresh water. From there we went through the farm and got lots of great info on various native plants. There were interesting plants that when you throw the leave against someone it velcro. Or the medicinal value of the mile a minute vine against mosquito bites. Plus lots of herbs and spices. The cyclone unfortunately wiped out a lot of the cocoa trees and vanilla orchids. They are slowly coming back. After our waterfall adventure and garden tour we had a really special lunch of all Fijian foods including fresh water prawns, taro in coconut cream, wild yams, sweet potato, a salad with ferns and fresh greens from their garden, kumquat juice...all incredibly tasty.

On Saturday, we took the "truck" transport into Levuka, the old capital. It is about an hour ride over very hilly, curvy roads. The truck was packed which always makes it fun and entertaining. People crowding the side benches and standing or sitting on propane tanks or whatever. Kids holding on to the railings above the cab and hanging on and even falling asleep while standing! You always learn a lot on the truck and meet new friends. Once in town we did some shopping for fresh fruit and vegetables and there was a good selection. Last season right after the cyclone, there was little to choose from as the gardens were all destroyed – so it was very nice to see such a good variety of tomatoes, cukes, cabbages, bok choy, pumpkins, bananas, plantains etc. A good choice with the nice friendly ladies all selling their produce with big smiles, laughs and hugs.

We also got some dinghy fuel as well as diesel and learned that we didn't have to carry it back to the truck this year – that the truck would come by the petrol station for pick-ups before it left town. We stopped by with our friends from SV Navire for a cold soda in the Hotel Royal – the first still operating hotel in the Pacific. It has a very colonial feel.

We have some things to bring to the school (books and a computer from our friends from Gypsea Heart) and will do that on Monday afternoon. For now it is interesting to be here after the big cyclone that hit them last year while watching as Hurricane Irma takes aim for our home in Florida. We are hoping for the best – but not much we can do about it. At least by being out here on Astarte – we are only worrying about a home and not a boat or ourselves. Our best hopes go to all our friends and neighbors and hope they are all safe.
At 9/3/2017 2:52 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°26.47'S 178°57.22'E

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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Leprosarium and Giant Clams

We are anchored in Delice Bay at Matagi Island in the Lomoviti Group. The island took a direct hit and was badly damaged by Super Cyclone Winston in 2016. Many of the residences on this side of the island were wiped off the face of the earth – with parts of some buildings on islands miles away.

The fisheries facility was nearly destroyed. 4500 baby clams that were in the hatchery during Winston were lost. Now only a few tanks remain intact – but the program to start the giant clams in a hatchery and then place them in safe locations is still in progress on a much smaller scale. We saw probably 300 tiny clams getting their start in some of the tanks. They sure are little fellas when they start! A snorkel in the bay took us over about ten really GIANT clams. The largest living ones we had ever seen. The kind that would grab Tarzan's foot in the old TV series! Giant! They are about 30 years old. They do seem to grow quite fast based on the size of the babies and the giants.

It is our understanding that the giant clams mate for life. But then again, they are so big and don't exactly move around – so that is probably inevitable. You can't escape from your partner very quickly in the clam world. The program here was probably quite impressive but the cyclone really did a number on the project.

The island was home to a very large leper colony started in 1911. There were 5000 residents in a well built "city." It is now a heritage site and we were taken on a walk by the ruins. There was a butcher, store, cinema, jail, school as well as lots of residences for the people living here. We went up to the cemetery in which there are 1500 buried. People from many Pacific Islands came here to be housed and it shut down after an effective treatment for the disease was finally found. The hospital in Suva is named after a French doctor who, according to our tour guide (the fisheries man), discovered one the treatments.

The earlier history of the island is equally interesting. Fiji has a history of tribal warfare. The Men of Matagi were renowned for their prowess on the battlefield and many big chiefs would try to get these warriors to serve on one side or another. One of the big chiefs back in the 1800's tricked the men into coming to fight and while they were gone sold half the island from under them to some Europeans. After they returned, word was that they were going to be attacked and the other half of the island sold to the same Europeans, but the islanders managed to sneak away in the night and moved to another island.

Our guide and Fiji "history" teacher is one the men in charge of the "clam" fisheries. He actually lives in Suva (where his family is located) and they rotate coming out to Matagi to work. He was particularly proud of the 100 year old Lister diesel engine which (until very recently) runs the fisheries generator. It is awaiting a new starter engine at the moment. There used to be three of these old engines on the island – this one was moved from the other side of the island here to use for the clam operation.

Yesterday after we completed sevusevu here, we went on a great snorkel. First to look at the giant clams just off the dock and then to a free standing coral patch. This was like diving into the most clear, beautifully stocked aquarium. There were so many varieties of fish of all sizes, colors, shapes and families. The coral was in good shape and varied. There were deep walls as well as shallower areas on top to really enjoy watching the changing scenery. You'll see some pictures when we get internet again. We decided to risk taking our camera in the water again!

The weather is supposed to be cloudy, rainy and "troughy" this weekend – so we'll sit here through that. We may stick around a few days when it gets nice again to get in a few more snorkels as the water here is very clear and because it is a marine reserve things look pretty healthy and bountiful.

There is one other boat here – a Belgium boat that just arrived in Fiji. We traded for some lovely pawpaws (papayas) from the folks on the island.
At 8/31/2017 7:13 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°26.49'S 178°57.21'E

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