July 19 - October 14, 2010

HIGHLIGHTS

* Fiji -- Our New Favorite Place

* Life In A Dictatorship

* The Snake Temple

* Dancing With Whales

* The Bug Whisperer

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July 19 - July 22, 2010

Another Fast Passage

We've been pushing EW harder this year, and she seems to like it. On our latest passage, from Niuatoputapu (Tonga) to Savusavu (Fiji), we averaged a 200+ mile per day speed for the whole 470 mile trip. With just working sails.

Even with the wind at 25+ knots, Ken was determined to catch a fish. (We hadn't been able to fish the whole year so far, because our passages were too rough and windy.) Within an hour of putting out a line, we snagged a giant (53" long) mahi mahi. This was the biggest mahi we'd landed yet.

And even after stopping to land the fish, we still had a 200 mile day!

Beth whipped up a batch of sushi and froze the rest.

(Actually, we're still eating this fish three months later. If you vacuum bag a fish, it stays good for months in the freezer.)

Landfall. Fiji looked very rugged and substantial. We'd gotten used to visiting small islands -- this would be the largest landmass we'd sailed to (outside of New Zealand) since our last trip here in 2006.

Unfortunately, our Monitor broke down again just as we got close to Savusavu. Twenty-eight thousand miles of sailing just takes a toll on stuff.

This bit we couldn't fix ourselves, but Scanmar (the manufacturer) was very helpful about getting a new one out to us.

Here's another recent casualty.

This beefy Forespar stainless sea strainer corroded to pieces after just a few years in service. Very scary, as this thing protects the main engine.

The previous one was plastic, and it fell apart also.

July 22 - August 19, 2010

Settling In At Savusavu

We picked up a Waitui Marina mooring in the Nakama Creek off the town of Savusavu and enjoyed a beautiful sunset.

The Fijians are delightful. We discovered this little girl (and nicknamed her "princess") at the marina on shore.

We fell in love with the open friendliness of the Fijian people.

Another bright-eyed girl, this time of Indian extraction.

Social life throughout the western South Pacific revolves around kava. People drink kava in the evenings, they give kava as gifts, and they grow kava as a cash crop. Kava vendors take up a fifth of the space in the Savusavu market.

 

And then there are kava saloons, like the one at right.

 

Kava is supposed to relax you and make your mouth numb, which may or may not sound like a great thing.

We gave it a try and didn't feel a thing. (Beth gave up immediately, but Ken drank about a gallon, determined to find out what this was all about.)

The kava tasted like chalk mixed with a little pepper and looked like dirty dishwater.

Upon reflection, Ken decided that the experience beat smoking cigarettes, which he used to do back in college.

The living is easy in Savusavu -- a wonderful fruit and vegetable market, outstanding shops with goods of every imaginable description, great, (and cheap) restaurants, and a vibrant cruiser community..

We met up again with Hans of "Happy Monster" (left) and Jim (right) of "Aguija" -- both talented musicians.

 

Cruiser kids playing rugby in the warm rain.

We took a walk along the coast near the marina.

Low tide dynamics.

 

Tranquil scenes.

 

Fishing boats (left) and cruisers (right) off Cousteau's Resort.

 

Kids playing. Outside.

No video games!

 

Stunning flowers.

There is one downside to Savusavu harbor, however.

Fijian farmers burn brush to clear their land for planting crops. When the wind blew over the hills, lots of ash floated down and made a mess on the boats.

How many cruisers does it take to change a light bulb?

Kendra (left with son, Gavin) and her husband Michael (right with Beth) are ex-cruisers and run the moorings at Waitui Marina.

Kendra and Michael also run Bebi Electronics on the side. Michael is like a modern day Renaissance man -- he combines eclectic interests and experience with creativity and resourcefulness. Bebi produces high quality LED lights for boats, using workers in one of the local villages. We bought twelve of Bebi's lights.

We like Michael's approach to business -- "that piece probably won't fail, because it's over-specified by a factor of ten." If other marine suppliers thought like that, maybe we wouldn't have to keep fixing things.

We asked Michael to install his LEDs in our Aqua Signal tricolor/anchor light.

LEDs don't burn out. Which matters, because the answer to "how many cruisers does it take..." depends on whether the light bulb sits on top of a 70 foot mast. And whether you're at sea when it burns out.

We wouldn't know the answer to that particular question, because we've never even attempted it.

LEDs also draw less than one tenth the power of an incandescent bulb (important when you make your own electricity).

Exploring Vanua Levu

Fiji covers a vast expanse of ocean and consists of over 300 islands. Vanua Levu, where we are now, is the second largest. We decided to spend a little time exploring.

We set off with our friends Lindsay and Steve of "Jemellie" for a day tour of the interior and north coast of Vanua Levu.

As usual, Savusavu was rainy and ominous, but once we crossed the mountain pass to the north side of the island, everything changed.

That's typical of high islands in the trade winds -- all the rain falls on the windy, southeast side.

Lindsay, enjoying the blue sky...
Fijian flowers.
Beth and Ken appreciating the view... and each other!

 

Fiji exports a lot of sugar.

Trucks laden with cane snake down the road toward the processing factory.

 

The countryside was open and quiet.

Few people have cars and farmers walk great distances to their tend their fields.

 

Children at a rural school.

We also made a brief stop at Labasa, the largest city on Vanua Levu. We found the town a thriving, energetic place, full of Indian entrepreneurs.

To discuss Fiji's Indian population, we need to stop for a paragraph and describe Fiji's ethnic and political troubles.

Trouble In Paradise

Unfortunately, ethnic conflicts really have legs.

Fiji has suffered a long history of tension between the native Fijians and the Indians, who were brought in by the British in the 1870's to work on the sugar plantations. The native Fijians own about 90 percent of the land -- primarily through tribal trusts which cannot be sold -- while the Indians own about 98 percent of the businesses. However most of the Indian population still work as tenant farmers on Fijian land.

An Indian family on the streets of Labasa.

A colorful sandal display in one of the many Indian stores in Labasa.

Indians used to comprise about 50 percent of the population, but they have been leaving for years to escape the conflict, and now probably number under 40 percent. When we were here last time (in 2006) there had been some violence against the Indians, and the New Zealand embassy was full of Indians trying to get visas.

These ethnic tensions have made Fiji's politics very unstable.

Life In A Military Dictatorship

A military government, led by Commodore Banimarama, has ruled Fiji since 2006. That coup took place one day after we sailed out of Fiji on our last visit.

(We had wanted to stay for the coup, but the army postponed it over the weekend to avoid interfering with a rugby match between the police and army teams. We had to leave, or miss our weather window!)

Australian and New Zealand have both condemned Banimarma's government (the Chinese, on the other hand, don't seem to mind, so they have a growing influence here). If you listen to the radio news, you can tell it's a dictatorship, because the newscasters are careful not to criticize the government for anything.

Soldiers on the streets of Suva in 2006.

That all sounds pretty bad.

But, when you dig in, it gets a little hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. The previous government was -- sort of -- democratically elected. But it was controlled by Fijian nationalists who were doing their best to drive the Indians out. Their motto was "Fiji for the Fijians."

Banimarama, who is an ethnic Fijian, has changed the motto to "we are all Fijians." Things seem much more settled than in 2006, when there was sporadic violence against Indian farmers and entrepreneurs all over the country.

And, at least in this part of the country, Banimarama seems to enjoy a lot of popular support -- from everybody -- not just the Indians. Basically, peace is good.

What can we say -- reality is complicated.

Labasa

Anyway, we enjoyed our brief visit to the ethnically mixed, peaceful, and apparently happy city of Labasa.

The people were curious and friendly.

 

And full of easy, self-confidence.

Labasa certainly isn't a tourist town, but it had a lot of energy and we wished we had more time to explore. Maybe next year...

Cruisers Putting Down Roots

We stopped at a little resort called Palmlea Lodge, on the north coast. We met Joe and Julie, ex-cruisers who built and run this eco-friendly facility. We had a terrific lunch there and enjoyed a long visit on their gorgeous veranda overlooking the north coast. Seems like many cruisers land in Fiji and never leave.

Julie (second from left) of Palmlea Lodge, with Beth, Lindsay, and Steve.

Joe and Julie have a herd of boer goats from South Africa which they cross breed with local goats to provide the locals with a hardier, more productive type of goat.

The Snake (Rock) Temple

Hindu theology isn't monotheistic -- meaning that people tend to see gds all over the place.

On our way back to Savusavu, we stopped at the famous Snake Temple, built around a large, roughly cobra-shaped rock.

The temple celebrates the Hindu snake god, Naag.

Our guide (who is Indian, but Muslim), told us that this rock has been growing, and that the temple roof has been raised several times to accommodate the beast.

OK...

Our tour confirmed our initial impressions of Fiji -- this is a very special place and deserves many more visits!

August 19 - August 26, 2010

Magical Namena: Whales and Underwater Delights

Unlike Tonga, Fiji has discovered the advantages of marine reserves. Many villages have now set aside all or part of their waters as no fishing zones.

The results are dramatic. After a year or two, places that had no fish bigger than a foot or so start to see big schools of really big fish. And those fish make lots of new fish, who then move out into the fishing areas and provide food for the villages.

Which also makes it great for divers and snorkelers, like us.

There are some nice reserves around Savusavu, with a lot of big fish. But we became intrigued by another, more remote reserve 20 miles to the southwest of Savusavu called Namena.

The reserve consists of a small island (Namenala), with a tiny resort (Moody's), and a fringing reef covering many square miles. And the whole thing is protected from fishing.

We spent a week at Namena with our friends Steve and Lindsay from "Jemellie."

Here are a few samples of the underwater delights off Namenala. (Unfortunately we didn't get any of the really big fish on camera.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

At left, Steve and Ken checking out the wreck holding one of the mooring buoys.

Ken (at right), having a leisurely look around.

While we were diving near the island and at the edge of the reef, we heard very peculiar sounds in the water. Almost like singing. Beth suggested there might be humpback whales nearby.

Sure enough, when we got back to EW we saw whales breaching several miles away inside the reef. We jumped in our dinghy and gave chase. Steve and Lindsay went along in their own dinghy.

We ended up covering 16 miles round trip, which is a long, long ride in a dingy.

Steve, and Lindsay, enjoying the ride.

 

But it was worth the ride.

First we were afraid we wouldn't get close enough, then all of a sudden we were scrambling out of their way!

 

The next morning a family group -- mother, calf, and young adult -- came cruising right through the anchorage. The Jemellie's really had ring side seats.

We also visited the resort on Namenala. Moody's caters to people who want an exclusive experience, so we were lucky to get a tour.

The resort consists of a half dozen attractive hexagonal cottages (like room at left), each located in a secluded spot. At right, a wall display in a common area.

The resort workers took the opportunity during the week of no guests to make some needed repairs on their boats.

With no electricity, the workers had to crank their heavy dive boat up onto the dry dock by hand.

 

During our stay, "Athena", a 289-foot mega-schooner dropped anchor nearby. Owned by the founder of Netscape, she is the largest private sailing yacht in the world. If you want, you can charter her for around $300,000 a week!

 

"Athena" against a gorgeous sunset in Namena Reserve.

August 27 - October 14, 2010

Beth Goes Home, Ken Goes Stir Crazy

We returned to Savusavu, as Beth was flying home to visit her Dad for a month.

So Ken spent a lonely month taking pictures, working on the boat, and hanging out with other cruisers. He says it's just not the same. We both agree that single-handing doesn't hold any charms for us.

The Fijians fish on the tidal flats right near our boat, sitting for hours on improvised rafts. Their take from the water seemed very meager.

 

These parents spent hours fishing with hand lines, while the kids just sat quietly in the middle.

These rafts are really just a few poles lashed together!

 

Every weekend the local kids raced Lasers and Optimists right through the mooring field.

Some of the cruiser kids joined the races. This French boy just blasted by everyone else..

The Bug Whisperer

While Beth was back in the States, Ken sat with Eagle's Wings for a month in one spot. Normally that wouldn't be a problem. This time, unfortunately, he attracted the attention of the local mud dauber wasps.

 

These 3 inch wasps made us very glad we weren't their favorite food. Look at the jaws on this creature.

And that's not even the dangerous end. Yikes.

Mud daubers build nests of dried mud. And they need to find nice sheltered places out of the rain, because, well, their house are built of mud.

Cruisers also like nice sheltered places out of the rain, so we all shared a common interest -- our pilothouse.

Ken killed the first three or four of these ladies to come on board. But then he decided this would make a good photo op, and he let one of them build her nest.

Over a period of days, the wasp constructed her tube nest tucked up in the roof of our pilothouse.

 

  After she built the tube, she began stuffing food for her larvae into the nest. You can see one of her victims at the entrance.

 

Completed tube -- just awaiting a mud cap to seal it off.

Ken's wasp built two more tubes right alongside this one.

After Beth returned, Ken reluctantly agreed that he'd had enough fun.

He dismantled the nest and then had to kill the wasp when she returned from a hunting expedition and got upset about things.

The three tubes held 13 spiders -- alive but paralyzed. Presumably the wasp's eggs were in here somewhere, but we couldn't see them.

Ken was sad about having to kill his pet wasp.

Beth thinks that she may have left Ken on his own for too long.

Upcoming Plans

The other thing Beth brought with her was a nasty flu. She figures she picked it up on the plane ride back. She is almost recovered, but Ken came down with it a few days ago and is still in its clutches. We're sitting tight until we're all better.

We hope to get back out sailing for a few weeks before we begin looking for a weather window back to New Zealand.