October 31, 2010
Despite our previous attempt to sail from Tonga to Fiji and still unconcerned with the superstition that it is bad luck to depart on a Friday, we dropped our mooring line and headed away from Neiafu on Friday, October 15.
The journey to Savusavu on the picturesque northern island of Vanua Levu was an easy one. Light winds and slight to moderate seas had us motorsailing a good portion of the 438 mile passage which took 3 days, 19 hours.
As I came on watch one morning Jim mentioned that we had a visitor. He pointed up to the Navtex antenna where a black bird was barely visible in the faint light of the early morning. He had spent the night there and stayed with us until we met other birds of his type when he flew off to join them.
On our last evening out Jim was preparing to shower off the back of the boat. Completely unclothed, he glanced at the fishing line trailing in the water as he stepped over the lifeline and onto the back step anticipating the refreshing spray of cool water. The line was bouncing about.
We had caught a fish! Just in time for dinner! Back on went his shorts and we went to work bringing in the female mahi mahi. She put up quite a fight but in the end we had a delicious meal with smashed kamala (tongan sweet potatoes) and fresh fish for dinner. This was my favorite meal at The Aquarium in Neiafu and it was fun to recreate it aboard Tenaya.
Sailing slowly, we arrived at Savusavu early in the morning. We had already emailed the extensive paperwork needed for entering Fiji to Michael at the Waitui Marina. He organizes clearance for yachties staying with the marina.
As we entered the harbor, which is actually a creek separated from the large Savusavu Bay by a reef and a few small islands, Aseri led us to a mooring ball and helped me tie up. He said to stay on board until he brought all the officials out to us. In no time at all Edwina Raju, the Health Official, and her colleague, the MPI Quarantine were in the cockpit filling out forms. A little while later a woman from Customs came out. Then we were free to go ashore and explore the alluring town.
We arrived here in the nick of time. It was October 19, the day our friend, Marianne, was scheduled to arrive from Mammoth. As we dinghied to the dock I heard a shout and looked to see Marianne waving on shore. Yippee! Another friend to explore another group of islands with us.
Savusavu is a small town nestled at the foot of lush green hills sprinkled with palm trees. The diversity of the citizens is noticeable at once. Melanesian Fijians make up about 60% of the population while 37% trace their roots to India. Their ancestors arrived to work the cane fields when the British ruled the islands. Now they own and operate the majority of businesses. The gastronomic influence is palatable with delicious curries served everywhere.
The original inhabitants arrived about 1220 BC and called the islands Viti. While in Tonga Captain Cook asked the name of the islands to the west. He heard "feegee", the tongan pronunciation of Viti. It has been known as Fiji to english speakers ever since, or so the story goes.
Bula! This word (hello, cheers, welcome ...literally health or life) is spoken with a huge smile by Fijians each time they greet us. Their sincerity and heartfelt welcome is astounding.
Marianne and I wandered through the closely packed shops along the main street and eventually found ourselves surrounded by piles and rows of lovely fresh fruit and veggies in the vast and wonderfully stocked market.
We bought a bag of some sort of shredded fruit or vegetable, jackfruit I think it was called. Marianne cooked it with curry and turmeric and wrapped it in fresh, soft, warm rotis. Roti is just flour and water mixed and then rolled out and cooked like a tortilla. The meal was delicious! Another night she made lentil and pumpkin stew from Amanda's cookbook which was quite tasty.
We were not thrilled with the bitter melon but maybe we missed something in the cooking instructions from the kind and helpful woman who sold it to us. She invited us to her home to teach us how to prepare some local dishes but as we were leaving the next day we were unable to go. That is a good reason to return next year!
Marianne's cab driver from the airport, Sirah, seemed to always be around. One afternoon we asked him to show us a bit of the island. We drove along the southern coast on the sometimes well-maintained and other times rugged and dirt road in his brightly decorated taxi.
We drove through villages and past beautiful resorts to a salt water lake. On the way back the car suddenly began to bounce forcing Sirah to pull over. A flat tire. I guess this happens frequently as he had several spares. He cut open coconuts for us to enjoy the sweet, refreshing water and delicious, moist flesh as he quickly changed the tire.
We were scheduled to dive with L'Aventure at Jean-Michel Cousteau's Fiji Resort so we moved the short distance to anchor in front of the resort and enjoy the magnificent snorkeling nearby.
Going into the resort for dinner, we found we needed reservations which we did not have. We parked ourselves at the bar and were served the most delectable cocktails I have ever tasted! My Mai Tai was delicious and Jim and Marianne delighted in their Margaritas. They were expensive but well worth it. I don't drink much but I downed two of the colorful, flavorful concoctions.
Three local musicians were sitting on the floor nearby playing melodic tunes. When Jim showed his appreciation he was invited to join them. Probably happy to get away from the chatter of two women, he stayed with Sepo, Atu and Maku listening, talking and drinking kava. He was told that children sometimes join them but men rarely do. Jim enjoyed himself immensely.
Diving with L'Aventure is first rate. Their equipment is excellent as are the instructors and dive masters. On our third dive we were accompanied by a marine biologist. Fantastic! I would have never suspected that a large coral we passed was 800 years old!
Although we saw some lovely soft coral, much of the hard coral had been destroyed by the dreaded crown-of-thorns stars. These creatures were everywhere! I found them lurking in pictures I had taken of fish not even realizing they were there.
We had hoped to dive the breathtaking coral heads of Namena but the weather was too rough for the crossing. Although we stayed fairly close to base, two people still lost their breakfast on the bouncy ride back.
Regardless, we still enjoyed our dives at Alice in Wonderland among huge mushroom coral. Golden Nuggets are two huge coral heads covered in soft corals and surrounded by lots of fish. One Titan Triggerfish, defending its mate and nest, chased Marianne and bit her fin many times. When chased away, it came after me! I felt it biting my fin and signaled to the divemaster to make it go away. He did. Yikes, that was scarier than the shark we saw! Mystery Reef is an isolated reef with soft corals and more fish and David's Place was mostly sandy with small coral heads.
Once the winds died down and the rain ceased we headed west along the southern shore of Vanua Levu to the small village of Nabouwalu. It happened to be high water when we motored through the Nasonisoni Pass, a remarkable drift dive. The current pushed Tenaya around a bit but with Marianne watching for shallow water and me keeping an eye on the chart plotter we made it though with no problem.
The small village behind the wharf didn't look interesting enough to take the dinghy down so we left it tied to the coachroof ready to leave early the next morning. As the sun set the only other yacht in the anchorage motored by on its way out. A person aboard said that the chief was a fascinating woman 96 years old. Lesson learned: never pass up a chance to explore someplace new.
The pilot book said the anchorage was mud and when we anchored the light was flat so I could not see the bottom 10 meters below. The next morning an 8 inch chunk of coral came up on the chain and with a heavy heart I tossed it back into the sea. Soon we were on our way across Bligh Waters.
As if Mother Nature were punishing us for breaking off the coral, the sky darkened, the sea kicked up, and the wind blew 22-30 knots. Marianne felt fine on deck but I suggested she plant herself on the leeward settee downstairs and lie down. Later, for safe measure, I gave her a barf bowl which she did not need.
White caps were everywhere as I tried unsuccessfully to find the channel markers between wiping the saltwater from both our sunglasses and the binos. We had to hope the chart plotter and GPS were correct as the cloud cover made the usually multi-hued water a solid shade of gray. Again we we had reached the pass at high water so the reef was completely covered in very little water.
On approach to the pass Jim began to roll in the jib. Nothing. The power winch had died. I grabbed the handle and cranked until the sail wound tightly around the forestay. This is the second electric winch to die this month.
While Jim was rolling in the main, the line for the whisker pole blew into the mast and was rolled in with the sail. Quickly I ran to the mast and yanked as he rolled out the sail until the line was free. Whew, enough of the drama already, just let us get in the pass!
In a short time, that seemed like forever, we were safely inside the reef and heading for Nananu-i-Ra island. It was still blowing so we anchored in the shelter of Nananu-i-Cake nearby, only the second sailing yacht there.
Soon we had the dinghy off and were headed ashore to explore and check-in with Papoo Divers. I had called Papoo earlier about diving the following day.
Once Josh, Papoo's son, had fitted us for BCDs and Marianne's wetsuit, we walked along the sandy edge of the island until we found a nice place to stop and have a refreshing drink. How could we not stop at a place called Katie's Kitchen? Afterwards we crossed the island at a narrow section and walked along the rocky shore until we reached the dinghy.
Papoo and Josh arrived the next morning and took us to two magnificent dives outside the reef, Dream Maker and Golden Dream. The sites are awesome and Papoo and Josh are really fun and competent.
Amazingly beautiful soft corals, lots of colorful fish, a white-tipped reef shark and two Napoleon Wrasse where some of what we saw. Brilliant gorgonian fans swayed along the walls of the many swim throughs. What an amazing day we all had diving together!
It is 58 miles from Nananu-i-Ra to Lautoka where we checked in with customs for this region. Fiji is a bit tedious in this respect, requiring yachties to check in and out of every place with a customs office.
The route follows the deeper water between Viti Levu and the surrounding reef. Wide enough to be comfortable, it twists and turns so the chart plotter was filled with waypoints.
We stopped for the night about half way, at Vatia Bay. A magnificent sunset was our only companion in the quiet bay until it disappeared. Then swarms of flying ant-like bugs descended upon us flying through every open window. On went the mosquito netting and out came the flyswatter. Marianne was disillusioned to find that not every anchorage is paradise.
What nice days these two were, gliding close to shore taking in the many shades of blue water, majestic mountains and small villages. Marianne spent most of her time sitting at the bow admiring the gorgeous scenery. She laughed as I pointed out a sea snake floating next to the boat as I casually walked up to the bow where she had been searching for any signs of wildlife for hours.
Eventually we made our way to the anchorage at Lautoka where we went ashore just long enough to check in before heading to our final destination, Vuda Point Marina. We had read it is an easy place to take on fuel and it would be a convenient place for Marianne to get a taxi to the airport.
We had arranged to dive the following day. Subsurface diving has an office at First Landing Resort, right next to the marina, and shops at many of the islands in the nearby Mamanuca Islands.
We were able to do three dives! A boat took us along with several employees first to Treasure Island and then to Beachcomber's Island where we were fitted with our gear.
With another couple, the three of us were whisked out to Supermarket, an amazing dive along a wall filled with a multitude of soft corals. Brilliantly colored fish swam lazily between them.
At one point Kini, our friendly divemaster, pointed out a large white-tipped reef shark that passed by briefly and then disappeared. As there was some current we were able to hover effortlessly and float along the wall admiring the amazing beauty on the way back to the boat.
As we waited between dives munching on cookies and sipping water we were treated to a visit from dolphins. They burst out of the water spinning and leaping high. When Kini slapped the side of the boat several slapped their tails on the water creating the same sound. They swam so closely to the bow that he was able to pet one. It was absolutely thrilling to see these amazing creatures so energetic and playful!
Our second dive was at North Reef near Mana Island. More astonishingly beautiful coral and thousands of brilliantly colored fish had us wide-eyed in awe. Diving here is amazing!
Between our second and third dives we relaxed on Beachcomber's Island and joined the guests for their buffet lunch. We returned to Treasure Island at the end of the day to pick up the employees before coming back to the marina. What a fun day and fantastic way to spend our last time in the water together.
Our last dive was a B26 Bomber wreck. It went down in 1944 and the crew were not recovered until the mid 1960s. It broke up and rests mostly on sand in 25 meters. A wheel, wing, seat and the engine are the most recognizable pieces. How sad it was to float above the seat knowing that someone's life had ended there.
Marianne's trip came to an end way too quickly to suit any of us. We had such a good time together on our whirlwind trip through Fiji. Of more than 300 island we visited 5, not nearly enough. We hope she can return next year so we can explore more of this magical place both above water and below.
Tonight our boat is quiet and we are missing Marianne's infectious laugh and good nature. Her plane flew above the marina a short time ago and we hope the snow expected at home is not too much a shock for her. She lives in a beautiful place that I can only dream of these days. Spending time with her has made me homesick.
As soon as the weather permits we will leave for the 12 day passage to Opua, New Zealand. Storms in the Coral Sea are beginning earlier this year than usual. That coupled with the notoriously unpleasant winds from further south should make for an interesting time. We are happy to be putting our faith in Commander's Weather for routing and timing information.