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Monday, April 30, 2012
I love Fiji. Let me tell you why. It is accessible: there is great tourist infrastructure, most locals speak perfect English and anywhere you want to go is relatively close; it is cheap: you can get the best Indian meal you have ever had for $5 (FJ), a beer at the bar is $3 (FJ) and a bunch of bananas is 50 cents (FJ); the people here are awesome: both locals and yachtie friends are loads of fun to hang out with; and of course, there is incredible surf.
I have taken advantage of all these aspects of Fiji in the past week. After making landfall we had to check in with customs, immigration and bio-security in the city of Lautoka. Lautoka is not a tourist destination per se, but it isn't that bad either. After finishing the check in process (which is lengthy), we provisioned a bit (bought heaps of beer), did laundry and headed out to Musket Cove where my good friends on Slow Dance were anchored for the weekend.
One can always count on having a good time with the Slow Dance crew. Shortly after dropping anchor Ron and the girls came and swooped me away, and I pretty much did not come home to Rutea for three days. Although it was not all play - I helped BJ clean the bottom of the boat - our days were filled with swimming, jam sessions, tequila shots, great meals, trips to the bar and other outrageous behavior. Unfortunately, in order to keep such a flash boat in prime condition they had to head back to Port Denarau to continue working, as well as to send off guests and restock the beer supplies.
During this whirlwind of a weekend I got an email from a guy who I met on the docks in New Zealand. His name is Kevin and his crew is (was) Ed, two young surfers from Hawaii. Back in Whangarei we had chatted for a bit and talked about surf in Fiji - where we were both headed. Anyway, Friday morning I got an email from Kevin saying that on the passage up here Ed took a nasty fall and broke two ribs, had to fly back to Hawaii, and would I like to join him (Kevin) in Suva as crew to go look for waves in the Lau group.
Generally when somebody asks me if I want to go surf I say "yes" immediately, but the Lau group is an extremely remote island group in eastern Fiji, and I met Kevin once - for about an hour - so you can understand my hesitation to accept. Plus, I am in Musket Cove, 5 miles from some of the best waves in all of Fiji and there is swell filling in, so I am hesitant to leave. But I do want to go to Lau! I expressed these concerns to Kevin and he said: Ok, I will come up to Musket Cove, we can hang out and make sure we get along, then we can take my boat out to Tavarua and get some waves, and see how things go from there. SCORE.
Sure enough, yesterday evening Kevin showed up on his boat S/V Shannon. Granted, Shannon is not quite as flash as Slow Dance - in fact Shannon is a bit rustic in comparison to Rutea. However, I think that a few weeks on a boat with fewer amenities will help me to appreciate Rutea that much more. And Kevin and I are looking for the same things - good waves, cool dive spots, meeting locals and enjoying all Fiji has to offer in general.
Today he and I took Shannon out and anchored off Tavarua island, home of the infamous Cloudbreak. You can imagine how smug we felt as we jumped off the boat with our surfboards, laughing at the people who pay $4000/week to stay at the Tavarua Island Resort. Suckers (not that I wouldn't if I could afford it). We got some fun waves at the break inside Restaurants, but no barrels - yet. Maybe in Lau. Or maybe not, but I am up for the adventure!
The only thing I am not looking forward to is that in order to get to the Lau group one has to sail up wind for about 200 miles. This is not fun. This is not fun especially after the last passage we did only one week ago. To be completely honest it makes my stomach churn a bit even thinking about going back out in the ocean, but opportunity has knocked and I must answer.
Monday, April 23, 2012
I left you at Day 3, during which the weather went from light winds and fairly calm seas to heavy winds and BIG seas. It is one thing to sit through a day or two of consistent 30 knot winds and 15 foot seas, but it is a whole other ball game to deal with it for 7 days straight.
The morning of Day 3 I did my usual watch from 00:00 to 03:00 (midnight to 3 AM). The winds were blustery and the seas had picked up a bit, but it was nothing significant. (Hey - we are passing Tavarua RIGHT now!! I love Fiji!) After my watch I went back to bed but when I awoke a few hours later things had changed. Down below I could hear the wind shrieking through the halyards, sounding eerily similar to the screams of the Ringwraiths from Lord of the Rings. It also felt like we were on a roller coaster. Up and down, side to side, plunging and soaring off swells. Yuck. Then I went up into the cockpit.
Although this is not the nastiest weather we have ever been in, I have never seen the ocean like it was that morning. The swells were massive, towering 20 feet above the boat. The tops of the waves were blown off and water was whipped across the surface of the ocean. It looked similar to snow being blown off a mountain peak, except that the mountains were rolling right at us. Most of the time the Rutea just rolled over the tops of these giant swells, but every once in a while we would hit one just right and it would break over the deck, covering the deck with water and dumping buckets of water into the cockpit.
Fortunately we had the cockpit enclosure up which kept much of the water out, as if we didn't, even up until this morning the cockpit would have been completely flooded, oh, every two hours or so. Still, more than once as I was snoozing in the cockpit I would wake up with a huge splash of salt water drenching me. It's ok, I needed a shower anyway. However, at one point we were so concerned with the size of the waves we were taking on the beam (side of the boat) that we decided to change our course so that the swells were more to our stern. This meant we were heading more towards Vanuatu - where I want to go - just not yet. It was very discouraging not to be heading in the right direction, but better than hitting a swell that could have capsized us.
By this point we were about 300 miles out to sea. The forecast said we were supposed to have this weather for the next four days, and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. There is no place to run, no place to hide. When I looked at those swells towering above me I couldn't help but stare in awe of their beauty, but not without a knot of fear in my stomach. It was almost better at night when I couldn't see the really giant ones coming, but then again I had no warning before Rutea was thrown on her side.
When the winds hit 35 knots Dad decided we should put the storm sail up. This involved going out on deck and dealing with huge sails with winds howling and waves pouring over the bow. It is really the last thing any of us wanted to do, but it had to be done. Mom and I kept our eyes on Dad while furling sails and keeping the boat into the wind and waves while the mainsail was lowered and the storm sail hoisted. We ended up sailing with that little orange handkerchief of a sail all the way here, and just now put it away.
For the next four days we had pretty constant 30 knots of wind and solid 10-15 foot seas. It was like living on a roller coaster, which makes everything hard - and I mean EVERYTHING. Eating, sleeping, using the toilet, cooking... it was all nearly impossible. I couldn't read, watch movies or play games because I was too seasick. The only thing I did was listen to three of the Harry Potter books which I downloaded on my Ipod before I left NZ. Thanks Evan - that saved me! Of course now I am thinking of things in terms of muggles and wizards, but after 8 nasty days at sea things could be worse.
The only thing that couldn't be worse is how gross I feel - I can't remember the last time I went 8 days without showering and I feel absolutely disgusting. Not only am I ridiculously dirty, but the entire boat is. Everything is covered with salt, inside and out. The hatches leaked (not surprising considering the amount of time they were under water) and all the couches and beds are damp and salty. The floor boards are covered with everything from food to books to pillows and water because, when it is a monumental task just to get some crackers, who cares if you spill a few on the floor? Needless to say, we have some serious clean up to do before we start partying.
And party we shall! This has been the most difficult passage I have ever done and now I feel like I worked hard to get here - dare I say I deserve to be here, goddammit! For the next month and a half you can expect stories of shark encounters, perfect barrels, kava sessions and boat loads of good times. Bula Bula!
At 4/22/2012 9:27 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 20°13.00'S 176°42.16'E
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012
At 4/17/2012 10:25 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 33°00.95'S 174°53.50'E
radio email processed by SailMail
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Monday, April 16, 2012
We're outta here! After nearly six months in New Zealand, we are finally on our way back up to the tropics. All that stands in they way between me and my beloved tropical islands is 1,100 miles of open ocean. No problem.
I do not think I have ever been so excited to do a passage. I usually dread the prospect of spending seven days at sea, but this passage is different. This will be our second season in the tropics and while I am by no means an expert on the South Pacific, it is no longer a total unknown. I know what I am getting myself in to, and am keen as.
This trip to Fiji is also special because I already spent one month there and now have an idea of the places I would like to spend more time. I also have a few friends I am looking forward to meeting up with. To be completely honest it feels pretty cool to be going someplace as exotic as Fiji and already have a good idea of people and things I want to see and do.
In spite of my excitement to get to Fiji, I am also feeling pangs of sadness to leave New Zealand. There are aspects of New Zealand that I absolutely love: the friendliness of Kiwis (the people - not the bird which I never actually saw), the sub-tropical rain forest (nicer to hike in than tropical rain forest), the fact that you can take a hot shower and the cool off by stepping outside (not feasible in the tropics), Surf Lifesaving New Zealand, and of course, the surf (which I could still go on and on about but will spare you).
Of course I couldn't help but winge about the weather this summer (winter? summer.), but in the five months I was here that uncontrollable force was my biggest bane. Other than that, I had a pretty damn good time. I made friends, got involved in a community, and surf-surf-surfed. In other words, I got exactly what I wanted out of New Zealand. I even got a job - crewing on Slow Dance - but that was in Fiji so I guess it doesn't count. But because I worked on Slow Dance for a month and just got a little taste of Fiji, I am hungrier than ever for more.
The weather forecast looks good. The winds will be a bit light heading out of the Bay of Islands, but will fill in to 20-25 knots on the beam for the next five days. I am guessing it will take us about seven days to get to our destination, and in the meantime I will write really boring blogs and how much I dislike being at sea. Or who knows, maybe after 10,000 miles at sea this whole sailing thing has grown on me and I will wax poetic like Bernard Moitessier. But that is doubtful.
In conclusion, living in New Zealand for the past six months (minus one month in Fiji) has been an experience. It was not all fun and games and blue skies and epic waves, but when the sun came out and the swell turned on, there was no place in the world I could think of that I would rather be. Now winter is coming and, much like my friends the humpback whales, I am migrating north to the warm blue waters of the tropics.
And so, thank you New Zealand - stay sweet as. And bula vinaka Fiji!