I have created this blog with the hopes that you, my friend, will follow me as I sail around the world (figuratively or literally, not sure yet) with my parents on their Contest 48. Whereas I hope to keep you updated with exciting adventures of exotic ports and epic waves, keep in mind that cruising - that is, traveling by boat in a leisurely fashion - tends to be filled with days of intense boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Please keep this in mind as you read these entries, for this platform will be just as much an attempt for me to maintain my sanity (and connection to the California-based world), as entertainment and reassurance for you. And so, follow me as I sail the world.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lau Group 1: Surf, Passage, Arrival

S/V Shannon anchored at Tavarua island for a pre-passage surf.

Bula Vinaka from one of the most remote corners of the Earth.  Perhaps geographically the village of Lomati on the island of Matuku is not one of the most remote places on Earth, but considering what we went through to get here, I would think it to be.

Rewind.  I moved onto S/V Shannon as crew for Kevin, a 28 year old guy from Hawaii, on Tuesday (I think).  We were based in Musket Cove which, if I had to make a comparison I would compare Musket Cove as the Las Vegas of Fiji,  essentially being tourist central.  But not without good reason.  Musket Cove is five miles from the infamous Tavarua and Namotu Islands, where the best waves in all of Fiji break on the fringing reefs.  I talked Kevin into sailing up from Suva to pick me up and get a few waves before heading out to the Lau group.  If I had to make a comparison I would compare the Lau group to the outback of Alaska where you have to travel for days to get to.  It is fairly easy to get to Musket Cove and hang out in the bars and resorts, but it takes a bit more time, effort and desire to get out to Lau.  We will get there in a minute.

Kevin and I managed to score ourselves some sweet as waves at both Tavarua and Namotu islands the two days we were anchored out there.  Our second day we surfed Swimming Pools, a nice right hander on Namotu with a relatively soft break considering the shallow reef it breaks over.  I remember dropping into my best wave, looking at the wave walling up and sucking over the reef, deciding to charge across the face and screaming "Waahhhhhhh!!!" all the way down the line, only to have my knees shaking as I popped out the back at the end of it.  It was just so... good.

You can imagine what a tough decision it was to leave the easy life of Musket Cove and the perfect surf behind, to head out into the ocean for a 3 day, 200 mile, upwind passage to the unknown and relatively uncharted corners of Fiji.  The reason the Lau group is considered so remote is that it is upwind of the main islands of Fiji - between Fiji and Tonga - and boats have to check in on one of the main islands before going back to Lau.  Sailing upwind is most unpleasant - unpleasant enough to deter most yachties from ever going back up that way.  There is also almost zero tourist infrastructure so traditional Fijian way of life remains relatively intact. 

As Kevin and I prepared to head out into the ocean after surfing Namotu all day my stomach was churning with anxiety.  For one, I had just come off a gnarly seven day passage and had no desire for a repeat experience.  Two, Kevin's boat Shannon is a bit, um, rustic.  Three, it was damn near dark by the time we were ready to head out the pass and anybody who has done it knows that sailing a boat through a reef pass in the dark is no fun. 

Not to be deterred, we sailed out Wilkes Pass (also a gnarly/epic wave) under a waxing moon and clear, star-filled skies.  The weather was calm with a nice breeze and smooth seas.  I felt the tension in my stomach ease as I remembered that the ocean is not always rough, choppy, and wind swept. 

Our nice weather lasted about 36 hours.  As the direction we wanted to go is Southeast and, coincidentally, right into the teeth of the Southeast trades, we had to go wayyy off course so that we could sail.  We ended up sailing about sixty miles south of Kadavu and then cutting across, bashing into 2-3 meter seas and 25 knot winds for another 36 hours before we finally caught sight of our desired destination: Matuku Island of the Lau group. 

Whereas that three day passage was not nearly as bad as the passage from New Zealand to Fiji, it was difficult in that there were only two of us to share watches, Shannon leaks like crazy, and straight up is not nearly as comfortable or luxurious as Rutea.  Kevin, however, is a top quality sailor and got us to our destination as comfortably and quickly as possible.  He is also super laid back - at one point we got hit by a wave that broke into the cockpit and about three gallons of water poured into the cabin.  I looked to him to see his reaction and, as he had been sleeping, he poked his head up, laughed, and went back to sleep.  Gotta love the guy.

We finally arrived at the reef pass and went from bucking 9 foot seas to being in flat calm waters instantly.  What a relief.  Now to navigate through all the coral heads and find a safe place to anchor.  Fortunately just as we came through the pass a small fishing boat came out to greet us.  "Bula bula!" Kevin and I yelled.  The man told us to follow him an led us expertly through the coral to the bay in front of a tiny village called Lomati. 

Kevin with our bundles of kava for the sevu-sevu.

After anchoring we invited the man aboard.  We learned his name is Koli and he has since become our guide/ambassador/adopted father on the island.  After sharing a cup of Coca Cola with him he told us he would come back and pick us up in a few hours so we could go to the village and present the sevu sevu - a gift of kava - to the chief of the village.  After the first shower (jumping in the bay, soaping up, jumping back in the bay, then rinsing off with a liter of fresh water) and the first real meal we had both eaten in a few days, Kevin and I felt ready to jump into traditional Fijian culture.  We doused ourselves with bug spray, got out a bundle of kava and waited for Koli to come pick us up.

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