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Monday, January 30, 2012
Slow Dance is currently moored back in Savusavu harbor, an excellent cyclone hole for this area. The boats around us are no more than 50 feet away, which is a little nerve racking, but we spent the afternoon in the bar talking with local ex-pats about their experiences with cyclones here, who said it is a good place to be in the event.
Unfortunately our trip to the Lau group was cancelled by this weather, but we managed to cruise through a lot of the northern islands and see quite a bit of Fiji. Plus, I am coming back up this way at the end of cyclone season (either on Rutea or another boat) and can get to the Lau group then, so I am not too torn up about it.
I am a bit torn up about leaving Slow Dance, although if I manage to make it out of here before this weather moves in I will have timed it perfectly. Cruising on Slow Dance is always an adventure of a unique sort, for example:
The other day we tried to go see a waterfall on the island of Taveuni. It didn't work out, but as we were walking down the street a guy came up to us and asked us if we wanted to see the international date line. We said sure, and he took us through his backyard, introduced us to his family, and showed us a small plaque indicating that one side of it was Monday and the other Sunday, or something like that.
After oohing and ahhing over the plaque, he took us to meet the chief of the village. We walked into his house and sat around his feet on woven mats with the rest of his family. Aside from the chair the chief sat on there was no furniture in the house, just some odd decorations on the dilapidated, blue-green walls and what looked like a noose hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room. I am pretty sure the chief and his whole family - anywhere from 10-15 people - sleep on the floor in this one room house every night.
The chief was a huge man with a lazy eye and a scowl on his face, and spoke no English so we had no idea if he was offended when we offered him kava and tobacco. He chanted in Fijian and everybody took the ceremony very seriously. I asked his daughter what he was saying and she asked me, "Is the kava for him?" Um… yes… if that is proper? And she said, "This is OK. He will accept this gift." I got the feeling we had royally pissed him off or something, but it is hard to tell with these people.
After doing a bit of business with the chief, Sean got us out of there, although I think they would have liked to keep the palangis a little longer. We headed back to the boat, pulled up anchor, and headed back to Viani bay, just across the Somosomo channel.
The next morning was calm and sunny so we hired a local dive guide to take us to Rainbow Reef. After not having dived for a few months I was a bit nervous, but once I got in the water I felt totally at ease. While the water is not as clear as Tonga, I dived in only a rashie and boarshorts, and was not cold at all. The coral was bright and beautiful, I saw my favorite fish (the clown triggerfish - i.e. gangster), and although there were no sharks around I did spot a barracuda eyeing us.
And now my trip with Slow Dance is coming to an end. One month in Fiji is nowhere near enough to fully appreciate this country, and I am stoked and excited to be sailing back up here once cyclone season ends (around April). But I am not out yet, and the next couple of days could prove to be very interesting. I'll try to keep you posted.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Unfortunately there are no good anchorages around the town of Somosomo, where the M & H market is, and it was too rough to launch the tender. Ron did not think replenishing our supplies was worth the potential damage to the tender, which was probably a good call. So we hauled up the anchor for the second time and aimed for Kioa Island, about ten miles away.
Kioa Island is a very interesting place. It is not actually part of Fiji, although it is right in the middle of the Fijian islands. All of the inhabitants of Kioa are from the nation of Tuvalu in Micronesia. Just after World War II, when their atolls were ravaged by the war in the Pacific, the Tuvaluians purchased Kioa and moved there. Although they are Fijian citizens, they have their own government, language and customs. They also have retained their Polynesian features of straight black hair and lighter skin - and as there are only about 500 people on the island, there are hints of inbreeding as well.
We dropped anchor inside the reef and headed ashore, all of us including Trinny (the Beverly Hills poodle). Victoria and I went with a woman and presented a bundle of kava to the chief of the village. When I gave it to him he said, "You should present it the Fijian way!" I asked, "How is that?" And he said, "I don't know! We are not Fijian!" It was a bit confusing but funny in a way.
After we paid our respects to the chief we hung out in the village. Kioa is known for its unique handicrafts, and while I did not think they were too different from the woven baskets and placemats we have seen along the way, we bought a few baskets and little trinkets. Sean and BJ shared beers and cigarettes with the men while I played ball with the little kids. Whenever they wanted my attention they shouted "Palangi! Palangi!" It reminded me of being in Samoa - as did the fact that "Hello" is "Talofa" - the same in Samoan.
The village was small and poor, the kids skinny and the dogs mangy. Nobody seemed to be concerned with dental care, most of the adults were missing teeth and the kids had rotting milk teeth. But they were kind and open, and invited us to come drink "coconut kava" (i.e. coconut alcohol) with them this evening. We said we would try to, and headed back to the boat.
After a lunch of sandwiches and cocktails, Sean noticed that we were dragging anchor in an anchorage where there is not much room to drag, as it is surrounded by reef on 3 sides. So, for the third time today, we pulled up anchor. Ron wanted to head to Rabi Island so Sean set us on course, BJ poured another round, and we headed out to Rabi Island - our fourth island in the day - another ten miles away.
This evening we are anchored in a very calm and protected bay on Rabi Island, and a man just paddled by in a little canoe that looks like it is about to sink. It is hot outside but I am sitting under the airconditioning vent in my cabin, quite comfortably. All in all, a good day.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Yes, the weather has been a bit shitty the past few days, but we are in a well protected anchorage in Viani Bay. We had gusts to 35 knots yesterday along with heavy showers and although we were all confined to the inside of the boat all day, it was relatively comfortable. But even a 90 foot boat can feel small on a day like that.
We left Savusavu a few days ago - not to be confused with Suva or Somosomo - which was a cool experience. Although Savusavu is the biggest town on Vanua Levu it is quite tiny, in a little bay hidden by lush hills. The provisioning was good and we stocked up on more beer, produce and cartons of cigarettes for the boys (yuck).
Now we are waiting for the sun, and we could be waiting for a long time seeing as how this is the monsoon/rainy season. Oh well, I will still go swimming and snorkeling. It seems like I am always wet anyway. But now I get to go clean the bathrooms. Score.
Monday, January 16, 2012
The wind is howling at 20-25 knots this afternoon, which makes sitting in the shade very pleasant. Even in the sun it is not bad with the breeze, but I am sufficiently sunburned and am trying to avoid the sun.
Three days ago we left Port Denerau (gracias adios!) in the afternoon after busting ass to get the final painting and sanding done, as well as packing up the boat. That afternoon we did not go too far, but found a calm anchorage to spend the night in. We were all so exhausted nobody bothered to get off the boat.
The next morning we pulled up anchor and headed to the north side of Viti Levu through the inside passage of the costal reef systems. It was a beautiful morning with sheet glass water and bright blue sky. The inside passage can be a bit intimidating because there are tons of reefs - most of which do not stick up above the water - and can be very hard to see. The charts are also notoriously bad for Fiji.
For the first part of the morning BJ was on the bow watching for reefs while Sean was at the helm. Victoria made a breakfast of French toast, bacon and fruit salsa, while I enjoyed the ride. It is really something to cruise through the ocean on a boat like Slow Dance. There is quite a difference between cruising on 40-50 foot boat and a 80-90 foot boat. Not to say that it is easier on Slow Dance - it is tricky in its own way - but damn, it is comfortable.
By the afternoon everybody had their confidence up and we cracked open the first beers, rocked out to some good music, and enjoyed. It was always hard for me to understand my dad's love for the sport of sailing; he always says going sailing "clears the cobwebs out," and I never really got it. But yesterday, even though we were only motoring, I understood. It felt amazing to be back on the water, away from the dock and marina and town, in the cool breeze surrounded by water and islands and reefs.
In the afternoon we dropped anchor in a nicely protected bay off the island of Nananu-I-Ra. We all packed into the tender and went to shore - Trinny the dog included. Once on shore we found a cute little resort to get a drink at. It looked like there might be some good coral to check out, but by this time it was late in the day. We took a walk down the beach and picked some mangoes off a tree. They taste like candy.
Today was our first full day of rest and relaxation. I got to sleep in until 9:30, went for a swim and had a berry smoothie before we headed out to check out a resort that Rob (Noble House) recommended. The resort was very nice with a pool and swim up bar. We ate brunch and had drinks by the pool, went for a swim and took a little walk before heading back to the boat. Another quick swim, a little siesta, and life is good.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Last night we had one last hurrah at Cardo's, saying our goodbyes to all the friends we have made. It was actually pretty easy to say adios to everybody because after a few weeks in the islands we are coming back here, for better or for worse.
I am super stoked to get out to the islands - particularly the Lau group. In all honesty I do not know that much about the group yet, only that it is an extremely remote and pristine part of Fiji. I doubt there will be much in the way of internet out there, but I will try to keep you updated as much as possible.
One minor update: we have had a slight change of crew as Diane left the boat a few days ago. Now it will just be the five of us cruising around which, in all honesty, will make things a lot more relaxed.
Last night Rob went over the charts with Sean and pointed out all sorts of cool surf spots with good anchorages. From what it sounds like, this is going to be an epic trip.
Not that I want to jinx us or anything, but I hope this beautiful weather holds. Not only is it the rainy season but also cyclone season, and last night when I was talking with Cardo about the Lau group he told me that the Lau group is always hit the hardest by cyclones. But, he said, there has not been a major cyclone in over eight years, so "the water will be bluer than blue and the mountains will be greener than green." I can't wait. And with modern technology we will not be surprised by any weather.
Ok! I have to get back to work. The painters are touching up the job they did yesterday as we pack up all the crap that has been laying around on the dock for the past few months. It is no easy feat to get this boat prepped for passage, but I'm on it.
'Til next time: peace!
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
What was not fun, however, was getting up after four hours of sleep to go provision with Victoria at the downtown Nadi market in the hot hot heat. Don't get me wrong - I love going to the market - just not under those circumstances.
We arrived at the market around 8:00AM and walked through the kava section first. It was filled with men who stared, smiled, or said "Bula! You want to buy kava?" We did want to buy kava but were saving that for last, as we had a ton of produce to buy.
The downtown market is huge, covering a space well over the size of a football field. Vendors sell all sorts of produce, ranging from breadfruit to coconuts to eggplant to pineapples. We bought 20 eggplant for 4 dollars (Fijian) and a huge chunk of pineapple on a stick for $1. Delicious.
After buying over 50 lbs of produce, we went back to the kava section of the market. It is not that we are kava heads or anything - in fact I have yet to try kava - but the fact is that we are traveling to the Lau group, and when you stay in an anchorage where there is a village, it is custom to present a bundle of kava to the chief. So we decided to stalk up on kava as well as Fijian tobacco. There's no way to make friends like by giving away mild narcotics.
After our trip to the market Victoria and I stopped by the awesome Italian market that is on the way to Port Denarau. Blink and you could miss it, but this place sells delicious foods that you cannot find anywhere else for thousands of miles. French champagnes, Italian cheeses, antipastos... so good! And whenever we go in there the women who work there always give us a sample of cheese and a taste of champagne - even though it was 10:00AM and I was hung over.
By the time we got back to the boat I was hot, exhausted, dehydrated, and hungry. After unloading all the food I took a few minute break before Sean came in: "Corie, today you are going to help BJ." Shit. BJ has been sanding blisters out of the gelcoat for a solid week now, covering himself and the entire boat in white (and probably very toxic) dust. Today it was my job to (first clean up the BBQ from last night) and then tape up all the teak so that when the painters come they won't get paint all over the boat. Keep in mind that it was the plan all week to leave tomorrow. You generally don't prepare to head out to sea by painting the gelcoat.
As I was getting started on my first job Rob came up to me and said, "Surf's up. We're going out to Tavarua at 5." Shit. There was no way I would finish my job before 5, but I thought if I worked really hard and got as much done as possible then I could sneak away... albeit unlikely.
The opportunity to go surf is a great work incentive for me, and I worked hard all day in the blazing sun. Unfortunately at 5 there was still a ton of work to do and the wind had picked up, so nobody ended up going. So close yet so far. But I promise you someday I will surf Tavarua or Namotu or thereabouts. And I will take pictures of Cloudbreak and post them.
Until then, its back to work. Tonight I am taking it easy because we will all be back at it early in the morning (doesn't mean anybody else is). Hopefully we will get everything done so we can leave the next day!
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Today the sky is bright blue and the humid heat is nearly oppressive. Fortunately there is a cool breeze blowing form the northwest that makes sitting in the shade quite pleasant. Ron's guest arrived this morning and we (the crew of Slow Dance) greeted her with our white "Slow Dance" polo shirts on. Quite cute, really. We are still working on a few last minute issues before we head out to the islands, which should be in a few days. I can't wait to get out there.
Actually, I did get out! As you know we have become good friends with the crew of Noble House, particularly with the first mate, Rob, who also surfs. Two nights ago we were talking about surfing Tavarua and he was telling me about all the breaks and local information. I told him it is a dream of mine to surf the reefs out there, and he said, "Ok, lets go tomorrow. We'll take the Sportfisher."
SCORE! I could hardly sleep I was so excited. I was hoping that it wouldn't be a problem if I snuck away for a day - it was Sunday after all - but Diane (the guest) was coming today so I didn't know if I could swing it. Sean is totally easy going and had no problem with me going on a surf mission. Ron and Victoria both agreed that I could go, but first BJ and I unloaded 8 cases of wine and beer onto the boat. Gotta stock up.
Before we headed out to Tavarua, Rob gave me a tour of Noble House. It is something like a 53 meter mega yacht, complete with Sportfisher tender, cruising tender, jet skis, a gym, movie theater, a baby grand piano and so on. It didn't really feel like a boat, and walking around I could see the insane amount of work it requires to keep this boat in the pristine condition it is.
We were hoping to head out to Tavarua or Namotu to get some surf, but Rob had stowed his surfboards under the jet skis and they were impossible to access. The wakeboard was inaccessible as well so we decided on a booze cruise - loaded up the Sportfisher with drinks and headed out.
Fiji consists of two major islands surrounded by fringe reef and hundreds of little islands (motus). Cloudbreak, the most famous wave in Fiji, is on a reef just off Tavarua island. The island is about 10 miles out of Port Denarau (where we are in the marina), and it took us about a half hour cruising at 20 knots to make it out there.
It was pretty exciting coming up on a wave that I have seen in so many surf flicks and mags. Unfortunately the waves were not good, the swell was funky and small, but it was super cool to be out there and I could easily see the potential of the waves. Actually, it is kind of good that the waves were crap because I would have flipped out if I couldn't surf it because I didn't have my board.
We put a few lines in the water and trolled through the passes for a bit, Rob pointing out all the waves and take off spots, the judges tower at Cloudbreak and telling crazy stories about the pro surfers and their shenanigans. I expected the water to be crystal clear and blue, but it was not. Apparently the water in Fiji is not super clear because the land is so fertile and it rains so much, the run-off makes the water murky.
What the water lacks in clarity it makes up for with warmth. In fact it is too warm. After cruising through the reefs we headed to Musket cove, where we tied up to the dock and hit the bar. After a few cocktails I went for a swim and a snorkel (my first!) which was awesome, in spite of the fact that the water wasn't clear, the reef was dead and the fish were few and far between. No worries, we will get to more pristine places soon enough.
We headed back to Port Denarau in the early evening. Rob told me all sorts of stories about exotic places - including the Lau group of Eastern Fiji, where we are going to go. He is going to come over and chart out all the places we should hit -- particularly the places with good surf. You can see why I like him.
When I got back to the boat it was nicely cleaned and tidied up, so I did a quick vacuum and promptly fell asleep before I was awakened to go up to the bar for drinks and dinner. I know, its a rough life.
There have been a few new developments, however. It appears that we are no longer going to sail to Australia. Another of the Noble House crew talked Ron out of it by telling him how prohibitively expensive it is. So I think the plan has changed back to just cruising Fiji and then coming back to the marina here. But who the hell knows. I'm just going with the flow. And the flow is good.
Thursday, January 5, 2012
First of all, I was blown away at how easy it was to get from Auckland, New Zealand to Nandi, Fiji. No weather reports, no provisioning, no seasickness, no days upon days of tedium on the open ocean. Man, it was awesome. Granted, Dad and I did leave for the airport at 3:00 AM, but I hopped on that flight I sat back, relaxed, and arrived at my destination three hours later.
As I walked off the plane I was greeted with a blast of hot, humid air. It put a huge smile on my face. Ah yes, tropics, I have missed you. I have not missed dealing with airport customs officials though, who were not happy with the fact that I was importing ten pounds of coffee into their country. They tried to charge me $400 (Fijian) but I managed to charm my way out of it by offering to serve the officials coffee on the boat some time. I gave them my email address but have not heard from them yet.
Sean picked me up from the airport and gave me a debriefing on the Slow Dance situation. Ron's (the owner) girlfriend is flying into Nandi on Wednesday, and we have to have the boat ready to go on charter by then. The plan is to head to the outer islands after she arrives, but the boat is having some serious maintenance done to it and it is going to be a race to see if we can finish everything in time.
Which leads me to what I have been doing for the past few days: cleaning, organizing, dusting, washing… and drinking. A normal day starts sometime around 8:0 AM when we get up, drink coffee, and talk about what we are working on for the day. By 9 everybody is at work. My first task was organizing the engine room which, for the past few months, has been thrashed. The actual job was not so bad, but it is hot outside and the engine room is even hotter - a stuffy 95 degrees or so. The only god thing about working in the engine room is that it makes everywhere else seem cooler.
Everybody drips sweat all day. I drink three or four liters of water per day and hardly pee at all. Gross, I know. Fortunately Slow Dance has air-conditioning that is turned on at night, so sleeping is possible. Otherwise, during the day you have to sit totally still with a fan pointed on you not to sweat.
But nobody is sitting still for too long around here. Sean, BJ, Victoria and I are busting our asses so we can get out of here on time. Victoria and I are cleaning the shit out of the boat, BJ is finishing sanding blisters out of the deck, and Sean is running around fixing things like he always does.
By the end of the day everybody is extremely thirsty and heads up to the bars at the head of the marina for a beer. Sean and BJ have made good friends with the crew of the mega yacht Noble House tied up next to us, so we share beers with them most nights. It is funny to see the differences between paid crew and cruisers - paid crew work hard every day and play hard every night, while cruisers are much more relaxed. The other night a bunch of us were drinking at Cardo's and our tab came to over $2,000. Glad I was not paying.
I would love to tell you that I have surfed Tavarua, gone for a dive, or even gotten in the water for a swim, but I have not - YET. This week is all about working and preparing the boat so we can get the hell out of here. I understand that, although I am going a little crazy not being able to get in the water. Breathe.
I was very excited because the guys on Noble House surf and offered to take me out to Tavarua with them (Google "Cloudbreak") on the mega yacht's Sportfisher tender. Unfortunately it does not look like the surf or the weather are going to be very good this weekend. I am not too bummed though, I will get plenty of time in the water. We are going to be here for a while.
Speaking for being here for a while, it looks like I might be on Slow Dance a little while longer than I anticipated. Sean said "a month", but a month in Fiji and then a delivery to Australia takes a little time more than that. And you can't forget Vanuatu. Just gotta go with the flow.
One more thing before I go - I will try to update here as much as possible, but tropical internet is slow and difficult. As for pictures… well… maybe someday.