June 1 - September 19, 2012


* Getting Scared In Savusavu

* A Dangerous Scuba Catastrophe!

* Tropical Infections

* Finding Complex Solutions To Simple Problems

* Playing Robinson Crusoe

* Playing "Doctor"

* Solving Fiji's Economic Problems

* Running Out Of Water!


June 1 - June 16, 2012

Curley Tells Us About The Dangers Of Cruising In Fiji

Curley is kind of famous around Savusavu -- he looks (and sounds) like Santa Claus, and he's been sailing around here for 39 years.

He gives seminars on cruising in Fiji (for ten dollars a head -- about $5 US), and we decided to sit in on a session, even though we've been around Fiji for a few years ourselves.

Basically he scared the pants off everybody. Man, this is some tough cruising out here, with bad charts and tricky passes full of uncharted reefs. Some people who take Curley's seminars talk about just packing up and leaving.

We resolved to be very careful.

Here's part of the problem -- as you can see from this chart excerpt, the underlying work for this chart was done by the British surveying schooner "Alacrity" in 1878-1880. More than 100 years ago! With lead lines! And sextants!

Parts of it have been updated. Which parts?

Most of our charts use different sources for different parts of the chart, so some areas may be spot on and others completely wrong.

And so here's what happens -- this is a chart of Viani Bay, and the red line shows our track from our visit this year. The dark green stuff is where the chart thinks the reef is. But you can see that we came in, motored right over the "reef" and anchored on top of it. Because it wasn't there! It was in the bay, alright, but not where the chart showed it.

Curley stressed a key rule -- only move around in the reefs between 10 am and 3 pm, on nice sunny days, so you can see the reefs. As we already knew, the reefs just disappear as soon as the sun goes under a cloud. It's like they aren't there. Until you hit one...

But what happens if it clouds up after you're committed to moving?

Here's a partial solution. People have started using Google Earth to look at satellite pictures of reefs.

For example, on the left we have a chart picture of a reef that we anchored in this year, with our track, running right on top of the "reef." The area where we were anchored was charted in 1895. Whereas the Google Earth satellite image on the right shows a much more accurate version of the reef.

Unfortunately, the quality of these satellite images varies hugely from reef to reef, and you can't always see all the rocks from outer space. But it's a big step forward.

Anyway, we live by the motto "A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for." (Shedd) So we set out along the east side of Vanua Levu.

June 17 - June 28, 2012

Fawn Harbor

We arrived offshore of Fawn Harbor in the early afternoon and in normal conditions we should have been able to go right in. But we had never been there before and the skies were overcast and we'd just had Curely's seminar. So we hove to, hoping for better conditions the next day.

Fortunately, the weather did clear up next morning, and we had got safely into the very well protected Fawn Harbor.

Our first visitor in Fawn Harbor -- Eagle's Wings' transom is always popular with the slithering population. This is a banded sea snake -- one of the most poisonous creatures in the world!

But we're not scared anymore -- these guys aren't aggressive, and they have very small mouths with the fangs way in the back. Basically they could only bite you on the web of skin between your fingers.

Sea snakes are air breathers, and this guy just wanted to sleep on our transom.

Ken chased him off, although he came back twice before he got the idea.

Shortly after we arrived in Fawn, we saw a family on a "bilibili" -- a Fijian name for a bamboo log raft. They were making their way to a nearby island, loaded down with camping gear.

This is a picture of a typical bilibili (taken in Savusavu).

These folks are fishing with hand lines.

We struck up a conversation, and they invited us over to the island for a picnic. This hospitality is typical in Fiji. People often invite you over for a meal and conversation even though they only met you 5 minutes ago.

Basically, most Fijians seem relaxed and happy, and they have time for strangers. If you meet someone on a walk, they always want to shake hands, introduce themselves, and chat.

There's enough land to go around, food is easy to grow, you don't need a lot of money and nobody has to worry much. People do some hard physical labor in their gardens, but not all the time. "Summertime, and the living is easy."

The Fijian Indians, by contrast, are much more like Americans and Europeans. These people are descended from Indians brought in by the British as indentured servants to work on the sugar plantations. (Since the Fijians weren't interested.) The Indians tend to be entrepreneurial, focused on making money, competitive. And somewhat stressed out by it all. Different strokes...

Beth with Rosalia and Sisilia.
Ken with Jone, Ilimo, Eneriko, and Sosicenia.
Sosicenia and Rosalia are a very cute married couple. Rosalia helps her mother, Sisilia, minister to the health needs of the people near their home over the mountains.

We repaid our visit with a gift of petrol and some portraits from our on-board printer.

Slugs And Worms

We did some diving and snorkeling during our stay. Fawn Harbor isn't known as a prime diving/snorkeling destination, but we identified over 50 species of fish and other creatures during one snorkeling session.

Our two favorite creatures were a nudibranch and flat worm.

Nudibranchs are seagoing slugs, but they're far more colorful and interesting than their land-based cousins. There are over 3000 species.

This stunning nudibranch was huge -- at least 9 inches long.


We also found this graceful six or seven inch flat worm.

Look at how this guy changed his shape when he started swimming.

He looked like a magic carpet!


On the left we have a sea cucumber -- basically a marine vacuum cleaner. These things have sparked a mini gold rush in the Pacific Islands, and we'll talk more about them later.

It's always good to see a few of these beautiful animals still alive.

This giant cabbage coral was almost two meters across.

Fawn Harbor also turned out to be a great place to try out our new Incept inflatable kayak.

We bought the Incept last year in New Zealand. Although we really loved our old Feathercraft (skin over frame), it was too difficult to set up on Eagle's Wings, so we didn't use it much. The Incept sets up in about ten minutes, and paddles very well. (We can make the Incept go into a twenty knot wind, although the Feathercraft was a bit better in those conditions.)

This picture shows us taking the boat for a test run near Taihape on the North Island of New Zealand late last year.

The Incept also makes a great alternative to the dinghy for transport to/from shore when a low tide could leave you high and dry.

Even though it was a messy proposition, the kayak made traveling between the boat and shore possible at low tide.

No way we could have hauled our dinghy up this creek.


We loved exploring up the mangrove river in the kayak. It was so overwhelmingly quiet and peaceful.

A Pig's Life

...quiet, that is, until we came across this lonely pig in his pen on the shore.


He wasn't a happy camper. He really wanted out of this cage.

Pigs have it better in Tonga, where people build fences around their houses to keep the pigs OUT. (And around graveyards, also. Yikes!)

Here are some free range pigs that we saw a few years ago in Niuatoputapu, in Tonga.


Of course a pig's life has its drawbacks no matter where you live (Tonga at left, in American Samoa at right).

A Real Cottage Industry

Bebi Electronics builds marine LED lights which are sold all around the world. We have about 20 Bebi lights on our boat -- anchor lights, cockpit lights, dome lights, dimmer lights, and other interior lights. They are far more durable than normal LED lights, and are very energy efficient.

Kendra and Michael of Waitui Marina in Savusavu started Bebi Electronics and they worked with the village of Bagasau to set up the factory.

Bagasau is right near Fawn Harbor, so we decided to visit the factory.

The "factory" actually operates on the back porch of a local family (Jo and Sia). Michael and Kendra set up a power system with a solar array, batteries, and an AC inverter to generate power for electric tools (drills and soldering irons). Bebi uses readily available materials (like pvc caps or wood) for the housings containing the LED's, although the sensitive bits are always potted in epoxy.

Bebi's team create the lights using their hands and simple tools.

Sia (left) drills holes in a pvc housing to make one of the popular "Owl" lights. At right, another worker does some intricate soldering.

The factory operates when they have an order to fill, and every light gets thoroughly tested before it goes out. And Michael's engineering designs are overbuilt and bullet proof. Their lights really stand up to a marine environment, unlike most boat products.

A true cottage industry using the original "just in time" production approach.

Here is a finished owl anchor light that we hoist at anchor just above our pilothouse.


On another day we hiked to Nakobo, a neighboring village located on the south-facing side of Vanua Levu.
We were delighted to meet Ben, a Peace Corps volunteer, who had been living in Nakobo for the last two years. His sister, Amanda, was also visiting at the time. Ben was scheduled to return to the U.S. in two weeks.

Ben is a biologist and worked with the villagers on several conservation projects. He helped them maintain a reserve on the reef to preserve their fish stock. Reefs near villages are over-fished throughout Fiji and local communities are starting to realize they need to declare certain areas "tabu" to allow nature to replenish the fish stock. But it is hard to communicate a long term outlook to people who traditionally live just day to day.

June 29 - July 7, 2012

Spectacular Diving in Somosomo Straits

We moved on to Viani Bay and had our first reef scare of the season. As we mentioned earlier, Viani Bay LOOKS well charted -- it is anything but. Fortunately we were able to follow another boat into the bay and to the anchorage area, as it had gotten overcast and hard to see the reef.

The bay is beautiful, but local farmers periodically burn their fields in preparation for planting a new crop.

We watched with some alarm as the fire burned quickly over the course of an hour.


The fires burned late into the night. Many Fijians suffer from asthma -- no surprise, given all the smoke.


Viani Bay opens onto the fabulous Somosomo Straits, one of the best dive spots in the world. But the currents are tricky and it pays to have a guide with local knowledge. Several dive operators run boats in the area, but these get expensive -- about $100 US per dive per person.

Cruisers want to sit in one place and dive over and over again, and we're all waaaay too cheap to pay that kind of money very often.

The alternative is Jack Fischer.

Jack has mixed Fijian, Samoan and Scottish ancestry, and worked as a professional diver many years ago. While he no longer dives, he offers his services as a surface guide to cruisers who visit Viani Bay. He charges $10 FJ (about $5.60 US) per person per dive/snorkel session -- an incredible deal.

(You also have to feed him lunch.)

Of course Jack has low overhead, because his boat is ten feet long and doesn't have an engine.

So Jack takes you out to the reef (several miles away) in YOUR BOAT. Yes, he actually drives your boat (he's VERY cautious) and positions it in a safe place for anchoring. Then you all hop in your dinghy and Jack drives the dinghy to a nearby dive or snorkeling spot. He stays in the dinghy while you get in the water. He follows your bubbles around and picks you up from wherever the current takes you.

This probably sounds dicey, but Jack has been doing this for years, and is very highly regarded in the cruising community. We went out with him on other people's boats a few times before we relaxed enough to volunteer EW for the duty.

Mother Ship For A Day

If there are other boats in the harbor, one boat becomes the "mother ship" for the day and all the cruisers pile onboard to go out on the reef. The mother ship tows all of the dinghies out to the reef. Dive gear typically stays in the dinghies.

We volunteered to be the mother ship on two of the dives while were in the harbor. We were nervous at first, but it worked out pretty well.

Jack does not have a dive compressor, so the cruisers have to come up with a way to charge tanks. Fortunately, some boats had dive compressors, including EW. We pressed ours into service to help fill tanks.

Ken gets the dive compressor ready to run. Our compressor lives on the stern rail, and can be in action in five minutes.

In its previous life, our Pro-Tec compressor filled flame thrower bottles for the army. (The manual includes a section on how to destroy it to prevent capture by the enemy.)

We suspend the tank in the water for cooling while it fills. This makes for faster fills.

We Dodge A Bullet

We had spectacular diving, but some of the sites were deep (at least deep compared to what we were used to). Beth ran into trouble on our first dive.

We were supposed to drop down very fast to about 100 feet to get to the wall. We had been in the water for just a few minutes and had reached 84 feet when Beth felt she was going to black out. She decided to abort the dive and started going up. Ascending too fast from depth is extremely dangerous and Ken desperately tried to hold her down. But Beth was on a mission.

We struggled all the way to the surface. Fortunately we weren't down long enough to get "bent". So no bad effects, other than some mental anguish.

(One of our acquaintances got badly bent this season, and ended up in a hospital/decompression chamber, because he came up too quickly from about 80 feet. But he had been down for longer, and had more nitrogen built up in his blood.)

After much (heated) discussion, we realized that Beth was breathing improperly. She was taking shallow breaths, trying to conserve air. That's wrong -- you are supposed to breath deeply and fill the lower part of your lungs. With shallow breathing she was basically starving herself of air, causing the black out sensation. She'd developed this habit somewhere over our years of diving, but the consequences had never really shown up with this intensity before.

Once we realized the problem she was able to adjust her breathing technique. All subsequent dives (even to depths in excess of 100 feet) have been problem-free.

Getting The Hang Of Underwater Photography

This year we both have underwater cameras. Our cameras are actually the same size, but Ken is hoping the big strobes will produce better pictures

But shooting with this rig has some issues. Ken compares it to trying to control yourself in a space suit, in zero gravity, but with a current pushing you around.

She may not get the best pictures, but Beth (left) likes her small, manageable setup. Ken (right) definitely has some practicing to do.

(Actually, Ken thinks that Beth's pictures have been just as good as his -- though Beth vigorously disagrees.)

Beautiful Coral and Fish

We did manage to get some nice shots. Here's a sampling from some of our dives in the Somosomo Straits:






















If you hit the conditions just right in Somosomo Straight, you will experience truly stunning fields of brilliant white, purple, and orange soft coral. We've never seen anything like it.

July 8 - July 18, 2012

An Infection Scare

We left Viani Bay in a rush after only a week, because we heard through the grapevine that one of our good friends -- Dave, of Sidewinder -- was seriously ill with a bad leg infection which was causing high fevers.

Infections go bad fast in the tropics, especially around salt water. This season alone, we know of five cruisers in Fiji who have had serious infections that required medical attention. Without antibiotics, any of these problems could have been fatal. We treat every little cut with antibiotic ointment, and everybody out here carries oral antibiotics.

Here's an example of one of the infections we saw this year (this foot belongs to a different friend, not Dave). This thing started as a minor little pimple -- probably an infected hair follicle. It ended up requiring a trip to the hospital.
The same friend who had the toe infection also got hit by a stingray on the heel of his other foot. So he was really laid up.

Administering Follow-Up Medical Care

As it turned out, by the time we got there, Dave and Suzi had gotten Dave's infection under control with antibiotics, although Dave still wasn't 100 percent.

So we administered follow-up medical care with food and wine.

Hey -- morale is important!

We hung around with the Sidewinders for a couple of weeks, exploring the island of Taveuni.

Solving (And Not Solving) Cruising Problems

In these two little sections we discuss solutions to a couple of cruising issues. It might be mostly of interest to other cruisers.

On the other hand, our tendency to find complex solutions to simple problems is always kind of funny. Rube Goldberg had nothing on us!

Roll, Roll, Roll Your Boat

Waves wrapped around the top of Taveuni and came into our anchorage, which meant the wind wasn't coming from the same direction as the waves.

Since boats will face the wind, the swells from the side will make monohulls roll. With our long, narrow shape, EW doesn't mind chop on the bow, but we really don't do well in a side swell.

We can put up with rolling to a point, but it gets old when you can't keep your dishes on the table at dinner. So we decided to "fix" the problem.

Ken had read about a bridle system where you can pull the boat around while at anchor to face a different direction. In this case we wanted to face into the waves (rather than the wind) to reduce the rolling action.

The basic idea is to tie a line (we used a spinnaker sheet) to the anchor chain and lead the line to a winch at the stern of the boat. Then you let out some chain and crank in on the winch, hauling your stern toward the chain.

Here's a diagram to give you an idea...


You can see that the chain and snubber rope go off toward the side, rather than straight out the front of the boat.


And here's the reason. This line off the stern is pulling the stern toward the anchor. Notice how we're facing differently than the three masted charter boat off our bow.

The system worked great, until it didn't. As long as the wind blew, we were very comfortable. But then the second night, the wind died off. Which meant that the bridle ended up under the boat as the chain sagged down. Basically, since we were held by both the bow and stern, with the pivot point underneath the boat, we could pivot around the bridle. So we did.

And when the wind picked back up, we found ourselves perfectly stable, but facing the other way!

Worse still, the bridle line now ran under the boat, where it was busy scraping off our bottom paint, totally fouling our nice spinnaker line.

We both later spent hours scrubbing the bottom paint off the line (Beth is putting a positive face on an ugly job.)

We concluded that the bridle system wasn't ready for prime time in shifty wind conditions.

Dinghy Anchoring

Beach landings in dinghies are a pain. You have to pull the dinghy up the beach far enough to stay out of the high tide, and if you come back at low tide, you might have to haul the dinghy a long way to the water.


We have some dinghy wheels that clip on the stern. But even with those, hauling the dingy uphill in soft sand is very hard work, especially with a heavy engine and lots of fuel. And we didn't want Ken putting his back at risk.

So we rigged up a pulley system that allowed us to anchor the dinghy well away from shore, and then pull it up to the beach when we want to get in or out.

We attached a pulley to the end of the anchor chain, and ran a 150' line through it, with both ends fastened to the dingy's bow.

We drop the anchor about 50 feet from shore, and then paddle or motor the dinghy up to the beach, paying out the double line.


Here's a diagram...
Then we climb out, and pull on one of the lines, so that the dinghy moves back out over its anchor.
We tie the lines off to a tree on shore and the dinghy sits nicely off shore, awaiting our return.

Of course, 150 feet of line can be a bit of a pain to handle, and the line gets full of sand. But it's still better than the wheels.

Plus we can use the same rig to anchor the dinghy in up to 70 feet of water for diving. And the 2:1 tackle really helps when we pull up our heavy anchor and chain.

Indian Friends

We made friends with a local Indian family during our stay in Taveuni. Jas was a cab driver and he took us on several trips around the area. Suzi was keen to try some authentic home-cooked Indian cuisine and offered to pay Jas if he would arrange a home-cooked meal. Jas agreed, and his wife, Sarjana, prepared a delicious Indian feast a few days later.

We had a wonderful time meeting Sarjana and their son, Pranov at their home. And we got some delicious recipes to try on our own.

But our dinner had one sour note. That evening we caught a ride with a Fijian cab driver. When we asked to go to Jas' house the driver said "why are you visiting that Indian con-man?"

We were shocked. The accusation wasn't true -- Jas had been nothing but fair in his dealings with us -- so this was just a sign of the lingering tension between the Indians and the Fijians in Fiji. Both groups are really nice to us, but they often don't like each other.

Exploring Taveuni

Taveuni has a lot of small resorts, so it also has a very nice roadside market and a local grocery store with a surprising variety of tasty treats.


We discovered this burial site on one of our walks. The families of the departed construct elaborate memorials for their loved ones.

A visit to Taveuni isn't complete unless you take the bus over to the east side to a wilderness area renowned for its beautiful waterfalls along the Tovoro Waterfalls Hike.

Local buses always provide an intimate experience.

Waterfall Hike

The Tovoro Waterfalls Hike wound its way through a beautiful rain forest, skirting around several waterfalls.

Taveuni gets lots of rain and has a dense profusion of tropical plants.




Ken punched a small hole in this four foot termite mound, and out came the termites!


We hiked several hours to get to the falls. It's a great swimming hole, but we stayed dry.  


These young Americans, were on an extreme sports expedition.

They were here to scuba dive, hang glide, kite surf, and do whatever else they could to put themselves in harm's way.

We felt old!

Artistic Talent

We also met a genuine artist during our stay in Taveuni.

We stumbled on a little art gallery "Yanuyanu Tatau", owned by Sonny, his wife Sheri, and their business partner, Robert. Sonny creates intricate designs which combine traditional images and symbols with modern elements. He'll also designs them as tattoos, if you want to be able to show them off wherever you go!

We really liked Sonny's work, and bought one of his creations. We preferred the kind that you hang on the wall, however! We invited Sonny and his family out to EW.

Sonny poses with his creation on EW.


Ken also bought Beth a beautiful necklace, designed by another local artist, that he spied at the shop. This is now the boldest necklace she owns.


In addition to painting and tattoo work, Sonny also does beautiful wood carving. Here Sonny's business partner, Robert, poses with an elaborate outdoor table which Sonny carved.

Not Your Average High School Pageant

Taveuni has strong Indian and Fijian communities and, despite their tensions, we saw many instances where the two groups interacted positively.

We saw an example of this cooperation at a high school fund-raising pageant. Sheri, Sonny, and their daughter, Christian, invited us to meet them at the high school for the event.

Sonny used his talents at the pageant to draw beautiful designs on people's faces. Suzi was lucky enough to get a Sonny creation.

The pageant was a really big deal -- with floats, costumes, speeches, singing, and dancing. The goal was to raise money so that the high school could buy computers for the students.

Each class of students decorated a float vehicle of some sort, which carried the class "queen".


The queens each carried some form of technology, like a laptop computer or a cell phone, to emphasize the theme of the pageant.


Some girls wore wedding dresses! Each girl was accompanied by an escort from their class.


An Indian girl with a Fijian escort.

This mixing of cultures didn't seem to bother anybody, and we noticed that many of the Indian queens had Fijian escorts. These groups rarely inter-marry, but we think they were trying to make a statement about unity for the pageant.

Most of the afternoon was taken up by Fijian and Indian dancing, as well as some entertaining skits. Even when a nasty weather system blew through bringing cold wind and rain, the performances went on -- the kids didn't even blink.









The crowd went wild when these Fijian guys performed a racy skit in drag.

The culmination of the day was the crowning of Miss Taveuni, along with several runner-ups (including Miss Personality).

But each of these titles were awarded strictly on the basis of which queens were able to raise the most donations for their class from the crowd! So basically the contest was an AUCTION, where girls' families bid against each other! All of the winners were Indian, since the Indians are more entrepreneurial and have more money than the Fijians.

This Indian couple won the event.

July 18 - July 27, 2012

Budd Reef

We had heard many positive things about Budd Reef, located a day sail away from Taveuni, so we joined the Sidewinders for a short trip north.

We had nice conditions for the trip and got to take pictures of each other underway.

Sidewinder punching through the waves.


EW spreading her wings.


We joined with crews from four other cruising boats for a traditional "sevusevu" ceremony with the local chief and his son, Wille.

Each boat presented the chief with a bundle of kava roots (which can be made into a slightly numbing drink). If the chief accepts your gift, then you get permission to anchor in the nearby waters, visit the village, hike around the area, and snorkel/dive.

It's a nice way to show some respect to the people who own the reefs we're visiting.

Crews from all five of the boats joined Wille for a day trip out to uninhabited Cobia Island, in the northern part of the reef complex.

  We hiked up a small mountain and got some beautiful views from the top.


When Yola (from the boat Challenger) tried her luck on a improvised vine swing, Ken found his own swing to test out.

After the hike, Wille took all 10 of us in the longboat out to the reef for some snorkeling. The topography was very interesting -- lots of crevices and caves -- but we were disappointed in the sparse fish population and lack of colorful coral.

Basically, any reef near a village will be picked clean of big fish unless the villagers have established a reserve.

By the time Wille took us back, the wind and waves had really picked and the ride back to our boats felt like an extreme sport. The boat was repeatedly hit by huge blasts of water and it was lucky we were all wearing wetsuits.
Ken finally decided to don his goggles. He looked like the lone ranger.

We spent the next week anchored in a spot along the west side of Yadua Island at Budd Reef. The place had been heavily fished, though we did see a huge cloud of long-jawed mackerel swimming around.

Unlike most mackerel, these are plankton feeders. They are such weird looking creatures, as they swim with their mouths open and jaws hyper-extended.

When viewed from the surface, the mackerel are very odd-looking, as they often swim in a school with just their eyes protruding above the surface.

Here is sample of the fish and other wonders underwater:

We particularly loved the giant clams...













July 27 - August 9, 2012


After a few days, all of our friends left to visit Vanua Balavu in the Lau Group. We had visited that area last year and were keen to explore a different place.

  So we headed north to Nagelelevu -- an atoll in the most northeastern part of Fiji.

We heard from a boat that visited this place a few weeks earlier that the village on the island had been abandoned, and that the place was uninhabited. Basically it was too remote to support a community, and the kids couldn't get to school. The villagers re-settled elsewhere in Fiji -- though most now live in Taveuni.

We left Budd Reef in unsettled conditions, though we were fortunate to have good sunlight when we exited the pass on the west side of Budd Reef.

We had expected to do alot of motoring, but were thrilled when the wind picked up to 15-20 knots. The sailing was glorious!  


  The reef at Nagelelevu is huge -- the lagoon stretches 12 miles from end to end.


As we approached Nagelelevu Island, we could see that it was a very low island with a sandy beach. We felt like intrepid explorers, visiting a place where we would likely be the only people around for miles.  

We had to drop our hook more than a mile from the island, because the reef extended far out into the lagoon.

  As we approached the island for the first time, we were greeted by the yelping of two dogs on shore. We had heard there were a few dogs left behind and we brought along some corned beef -- expecting them to be very hungry.


Looking back from the island back toward the anchorage. The waters were beautiful and the whole setting was what your dream of a deserted tropical island would look like. The place was stunning. We felt like Robinson Crusoe.




We explored the remnants of the abandoned village -- the atmosphere felt a little spooky.

Walking along the beach, spotting lots of feisty crabs and crab tracks:


This crab went into defensive mode when we got too close.

We have days like that!



Haunting vistas -- the place felt so desolate.  


  And then... we were startled to see a clear human footprint! So we WEREN'T alone after all. We felt like Robinson Crusoe when he discovered Friday's footprint.

We soon discovered the owner of that print and his friends.

These five young men were returning from a fishing expedition around the north west side of the island. (Sorry for the fog --Ken's polarizing filter got fogged up.)  

The guys (ranging in age from 17 to 29) greeted us with enthusiasm. Normally, meeting five young guys in a deserted location would be cause for alarm. Not so in Fiji. We are reminded over and over how genuinely friendly and helpful the Fijians are to visitors.

The guys were from the island village, which had relocated to Taveuni. A couple of them were planning to spend several months on the island fishing and catching "beche de mer" (more on that later). They also wanted a presence on the island to maintain their village's interest in the atoll. They had no communication to the outside world, and no way of knowing when a boat would arrive to take them home.

Although we were initially disappointed about losing our Robinson Crusoe fantasy, we really loved meeting and spending time with these bright young men. We will remember our visit with them as one of the absolute highlights of our 8-year trip.

Hunting For The Feast

The guys invited us to a feast of lobsters and coconut crabs for the next afternoon and asked if we wanted to join two of the guys (Jamie and Mac) lobster hunting at a nearby islet early the next morning. We jumped at the chance.

  The guys moved over razor sharp coral ledges and crevices in flip flops and t-shirts.

We wore our wetsuits and intended to help out with the hunt. But the boys were so much faster and proficient than we were -- so we just followed along behind them.

The water wasn't deep enough to run the outboard, so Ken hitched himself to the dinghy and made the slow slog around the islet to catch up with the guys. Beth got to sit in the dinghy when the water was deep enough -- she really had it made.  


Jamie and Mac had great success catching lobsters. They even gave us one of the lobsters and a fish they had speared to take back with us to EW.

The feast that evening was magic. They had set up a little area for the picnic at the SW tip of the island where a big sand spit uncovers at low tide. Getting away from the dense foliage of the island reduced the mosquito problem considerably.

  We had perfect conditions for the afternoon/evening.

While we had been hunting for lobsters earlier in the day with Jamie and Mac, the other three guys went into the bush and captured coconut crabs. Then they spent the early part of the afternoon cooking up the lobsters, crabs, and cassava. We brought popcorn, loads of chocolate brownies, and rice (cooked in chicken broth with cashews and raisins) when we returned to shore that afternoon.

We were totally stuffed. The supply of coconut crabs and lobster seemed endless.  


  The guys cracked open the crabs and lobsters, doling out huge chunks of meat to us. We were in danger of getting seriously spoiled.

We had never had coconut crabs before and they were absolutely delicious. We ended up preferring them to lobster. The crabs kind of look like a big spider. They have a soft abdomen that protrudes behind their hard shell and it contains processed coconut and coconut milk. It turns out that the liquid makes a delicious dipping sauce for the lobster and crab. We thought it was actually better than melted butter.

(Unfortunately, coconut crabs are endangered almost everywhere. They survive here only because the village is gone.)

A beautiful bonfire capped off a truly amazing evening,  

We quickly organized a reciprocal party on Eagle's Wings. We invited the guys over for pizza, popcorn, home-made cassava chips, and a movie (Last of the Mohicans). They said they had never had pizza before!

Ken preparing the cassava root for chip-making.

We told them that the day we would have them over depended on the weather and sea conditions. If it was too choppy, we wouldn't be able to easily get them all out to the boat without getting them soaked.

  So we agreed on a signal (since there is no telephone service on the island). We told them we'd fly our giant (9 feet long) American Flag from the mast in the morning of the day we would have them over. They could see the giant flag from shore even though we were over a mile away.


From shore, EW looks very far away.  

Ken made several trips to shore in the dinghy to ferry the guys to/from our boat. Our dinghy can't hold five guys plus Ken!

We had a great time spending the afternoon eating and watching movies.

During our stay, Ken ended up taking some wonderful portraits. Here is a photo medley in honor of the guys:

James (Jamie)

Bill (Billy)

Harry (Beky)

Paul (Pablo)

Michael (Mac)

Island Life

Life here seemed idyllic. You pretty much have all you need to survive (even without electricity and running water).

Days are filled with fishing...  


  ... and hunting coconut crabs.


Collecting coconuts, either from the ground or up in the air:


They drink a lot of coconut milk, as it may not rain for months at a time.

They also had bananas, papaya, cassava, and pumpkin.

While some of the guys genuinely enjoyed the solitude and independence provided by the island, most of them missed their friends back home, participation in sports (like rugby),... and GIRLS. Girls were a big issue.

We weren't much help in that department, but at least we provided a break from the monotony. Guess if you're desperate enough, even a couple of middle-aged Americans can be pretty exciting.

We really got a kick when Michael and Jamie pulled out an old celebrity tabloid magazine they had brought with them. Beth filled them in on all the latest gossip (like the break up of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher).

Ken found this scene completely surreal.

Beche de Mer -- A Gold Rush In Fiji

The guys also spent their time catching "beche de mer," which means "sea spade" in French. We call them sea cucumbers. These things have sparked a gold rush in Fiji.

Beche de mer are slow moving bottom feeders that filter sand, sifting out the nutrients. They aren't much except an intake at one end, an exhaust at the other end and some hose in between. They're kind of like self-propelled intestines.

And when attacked, they expel a gummy substance out their butts, which sticks to whatever it touches.


With that kind of description, you can understand why beche don't have any natural enemies. Nothing out here eats them, including the Pacific Islanders.

Enter The Chinese

But it figures that a culture which makes soup out of bird nests and shark fins will eat just about anything. So no surprise that beche are a favorite food in China and throughout much of SE Asia. And now that the Chinese have a lot of money, beche prices have gone through the roof.

These critters now are worth between $5 US and $10 US apiece, depending on the size and the species. Considering that the average Fijian wage in a city like Savusavu is maybe $50 US per week, you can understand why these prices get people's attention.

And it's not like beche are hard to catch -- they live in lagoons and near coastal reefs and move maybe two meters per hour. Catching them is kind of like picking $10 bills off the sidewalk.

  Here's a big pile of harvested ten dollar bills, on the beach at Nagelelevu.

Of course, no wild species can stand this kind of hunting pressure, so beche are disappearing everywhere around the world. In most places the shallow waters are picked clean, and dozens of young Fijian men now die every year going after the deep ones, trying to use scuba tanks without proper training.

But there are still lots of beche in Nagelelevu, because so few people come here.

Billy guts the day's catch.  
  It's a messy and gooey operation. The intestinal fluids are extremely sticky and hard to get off -- part of the reason fish won't eat beche.

But here's a little pearlfish who actually makes his home inside the anus of a beche de mer. Man, talk about the low rent district!

Looks like the Chinese appetite for beche is bad news for this guy, too.



  The beche are then salted and laid out to dry in the sun for a few weeks.

Jamie and Billy explained that they would harvest beche until they had enough to take to market in Suva. They would then use the proceeds to enjoy the nightlife in the big city, until they ran out of money. Then they would do it all again.

When we asked whether they liked the island or the city better, Jamie said "They're both nice. But the city is only nice if you have money. The island is always nice."  

A Strategic Plan For Fiji

So, anyway, here's the Eagle's Wings strategic plan for Fiji.

As the wild beche get wiped out, we think Fiji, and other Pacific Islands have to start farming these things. If people can farm salmon -- big, fast, open ocean swimmers which eat smaller fish -- then surely people can farm something that lives in shallow water, eats garbage, and moves two meters per hour!

The big issue is getting hatcheries going -- raising the larvae in captivity is complicated.

But we know that beche have been farmed in places like New Caledonia, the Maldives, and the Solomons, and we can really see the potential for Fiji. We see a bunch of advantages:

1) Unlike black pearls, which are commonly farmed out here, beche prices probably won't collapse because of farmed supply. Pearls depend on scarcity for their value -- so what happens when every village has a pearl farm? But beche are just food -- animal protein in a hungry world starved for the stuff. And they're popular in the some of the biggest, fastest growing economies in the world.

  Picture from last year showing villagers in Vanua Balavu installing infrastructure for a new pearl farm -- one approach to improving the local economy.

2) While beche breeding currently requires centralized facilities, the business of raising juvenile beche to commercial size can happen in small pens in shallow water.

3) Since the coastal villages in Fiji own the scarce resource -- clean, shallow lagoons -- they are in a good position to capture the profits from beche farming. (Unlike the valuable pelagic fishing rights, which are controlled by the central government.)

4) Beche farming makes a good fit with traditional life in coastal Fijian villages. People in Fijian villages seem generally relaxed, unstressed and happy right now. Definitely more so than most Americans or Europeans. Many thoughtful visitors end up wondering if the kind of development where people move to big cities and work in factories would really be such a great idea. If they want to do it on their own, fine, but it's not obvious that outsiders should promote factory life.

But the Fijians, like everybody else, want to live better, and beche farming seems like a natural fit, which might make people better off materially without also making them miserable. (Two conditions which often go hand in hand.)

5) Since beche can be dried and processed in the sun, don't need refrigeration, and can be stored for long periods, they're perfect exports for remote islands that may not see a trading vessel for months, assuming that the problem of getting larvae can be solved.

6) We understand that beche can reproduce before they get to commercial size. So beche farms might very well re-populate the lagoons. This is a good thing, since the beche perform an important function, vacuuming the sand.

Anyway, that's our two cents.

On Top Of The World (Locally)

We took a short hike one day to the lighthouse tower, where the guys told us we could get a 360 degree view of the island and surrounding reef.

Some of the beautiful plant life along the path to the lighthouse.  

When we got to the light, we realized that this thing is REALLY, REALLY tall. Probably approaching 200 feet, because it's on the lagoon side coast, but has to be visible to ships on the seaward side, over all the coconut palms. Coconut palms can get very tall.

  We figured these kinds of warnings don't apply to people who know what they're doing...
Beth loves heights and zipped up the tower lickety split.  

Ken is ok with heights, but let's just say that his fingers were a bit stiff from hanging on to the ladder rungs by the time he finally got to the top.


At the top, the view was breathtaking. A sea of coconut trees, followed by the real sea.

Keep in mind that those palm trees down there are fifty to ninety feet tall.

Ken unclenched his fingers long enough to take this picture of Beth, looking totally at ease.  

Foraging, Fijian Style

  On another day we took an expedition to the SE side of the island where the guys fished in tide pools at low tide.


They took quite a haul for a few hours effort.


As we tromped our way through the thick undergrowth, the guys kept a sharp lookout for coconut crab burrows, as we had asked them to show us how they spot and capture the creatures.



Paulo spied a burrow and expertly extracted the crab without getting his fingers crushed by its powerful claws.

Remember that these crabs open coconuts with those claws -- something that's hard for us to accomplish with a machete!


Jamie cut a very long creeper vine and used it to truss up the crab.

Then he gave it to us, assuring us that it would stay alive for up to a week if we kept it in a cool place. This is about the only form of meat storage in Fijian culture, as there's no refrigeration.

In a moment of inspiration, Jamie expertly carved Beth's name into a nearby tree.


He didn't quite have the spelling right, but Beth was thrilled.

Not everyone has a picture like this -- posing with your pet coconut crab under a coconut palm with your name misspelled on it!


The crab was scrumptious -- but the shell was very hard and difficult to crack. The crab barely fit in our pot.

We also ate a big lobster that the guys had given us.


  Before we cooked the crab, Ken also had a moment of inspiration and created a unique photographic masterpiece, called "Tropical Still Life: Fruit and Coconut Crab".

Snorkeling In The Lagoon

One of the main reasons we went to Nagelelevu was to dive and snorkel. While we did some snorkeling, we found the conditions too rough to dive on the outer reef.

But we discovered a large coral head near our anchorage spot inside the lagoon that teemed with big fish, including this weird humpnose unicornfish.  

We don't kill reef fish -- we just like to look. These big fish survive here mainly because the village didn't.

This is a lined surgeonfish.

Ken spotted this very well camouflaged flounder hiding in the sand...


Playing Doctor, And Getting It Wrong

We had a humbling medical experience in Nagelelevu. One day a longboat arrived with some visitors from another island, who went ashore to visit the guys for a few days and gather some supplies . A couple of days after they arrived, Jamie came out in the longboat and said that one of the visitors had stepped on something, and his foot was all swollen up. He said it really hurt, and asked if we could help.

We asked how big the swelling was, and Jamie gestured like the size of a grapefruit. We asked if it was hot and red, and he said "yes." After all our recent experience with tropical infections, we were very concerned. So we rummaged around in our medical kit, and gave Jamie a course of augmentin (a broad spectrum antibiotic) for his friend. We explained that his friend had to take all the pills over about four days.

Then just as Jamie was leaving, we asked when the accident had happened. Jamie said "about three hours ago!"

So, of course, we realized that this couldn't be an infection, since it would take a couple of days for an infection to set in like that. It had to be a poisonous injury -- maybe from a Stonefish. The antibiotics weren't going to help.


Here is a picture we got from the web of a stonefish. Pretty good camouflage.

No surprise that someone could step on one by accident.

We tried to explain to Jamie, but he was in a hurry to get back, and we didn't really know what the answer was, so we let him go and said we would do some research and then come ashore.

Our research suggested that the best answer for marine venom was usually moist heat, since that breaks down the venom. So we headed for shore, taking along tylenol and some stronger medication for the pain.

But when we got to shore, the patient was doing much better. We asked the guys how they had treated the wound, and they said they had steamed it over very hot water.

And, they said, as soon as their friend took our pill (the antibiotic), his pain went away!

What could we say? The guys had known what to do before we did, and all we supplied was a placebo.

We gave the patient the tylenol, kept the stronger stuff in our pockets, expressed our relief, and went back to the boat. We're sure that the rest of those antibiotics are now stored away, awaiting the next case of severe pain....

This is probably why the AMA hasn't given us honorary medical degrees yet!

Back To Reality

If you have followed our website in the past, you know that we rarely post an update that doesn't contain some boat issues. We had escaped any major technical/maintenance issues for two months and Ken made a mental note of this very unusual phenomenon -- but he didn't want to say anything out loud for fear of jinxing our good luck. Sailors get very superstitious, because so much is out of our control, and Poseidon is very, very touchy. ; - )

Well, it turns out that just THINKING about our good luck was enough to bring it to an end. Within 12 hours of Ken having that thought, the following things happened:

(1) Our water tank level sensor failed and started leaking, dumping loads of fresh water into the bilge.

(2) One of the running backs (which help support the mast) snapped.

(3) The shower started leaking.

Within another week

(4) The other running back snapped.

(5) And most ominously of all, our watermaker failed. This was a very big deal.

Ken was able to fix problems (1) and (3) pretty quickly.

Close up picture of the failed watermaker sensor...  

The part of the running back assembly that broke was a spectra line. This was the one part of our running rigging that was still original (probably 17 years old) and had been out in the UV all that time. We'd replaced all our other running rigging (several times) but we just hadn't focused on the running backs. And Spectra line is so tough...

  Ken with the broken running back.

The other end of the broken line was left dangling up near the top of the mast.

  Ken sent Beth up the mast to jury-rig the broken running back (basically she just tied the broken ends back together). The lines were obviously toast, but they had broken at a chafe point, so we could probably tie them together long enough to limp back to Savusavu, where we could order new ones.

We could have made a better jury-rig with other spare lines, but didn't want to cut lines for temporary use. The mast can stand up without the running backs if we're careful.

The wind kicked up and the seas were a bit choppy so the boat was moving around quite a bit when she went up. Beth almost lost her cookies up there and got lots of bruises from getting bashed into the mast.  

Beth went back up the mast when the other line broke a few days later.

The watermaker failure was completely baffling. Ken made water one day and everything tested out perfectly when he started the system. Water quality was about 300 ppm (you shouldn't drink water much over 750 ppm).


But the next morning when he turned the system on again, the readings had sky-rocketed to 4000 ppm! We were shocked.

This is a picture of our Spectra watermaker.

We quickly tested the quality of the water in our tanks and found it was 1500 ppm. Sometime during the previous day's watermaking run, the system had failed, allowing salt water to enter our tanks. Since we already had a decent supply of fresh water in the tanks, the total salt content had been diluted -- but it was still too salty to drink.

Drinking mildly salty water can cause kidney failure. Drinking straight seawater -- at 20,000 ppm -- will suck the moisture out of your cells and kill you pretty quickly.

Ken determined that we couldn't solve the watermaker problem here.

In our eight years of sailing, this was the first failure of our Spectra system that prevented us from making water. We now had a serious water problem.

While we had plenty of water in the tanks for showering and dishes, we didn't have more than a gallon or two of drinkable water in bottles, plus a few gallons in our abandon ship supplies.

We vowed we would never get caught again without two jerry jugs (ten gallons total) for use as a backup. We even already had the jugs -- we just hadn't bothered to fill them.  
  However, we had three gallons of distilled water for our batteries.

Beth suggested that we could mix the distilled water with our tank water to produce drinking water at about 750 ppm. With this approach we'd have almost a week's supply of drinking water, if we allowed ourselves around three liters per day per person.

We aimed for a 650 ppm reading on the mixture. Here Beth fine tunes the levels using a salinity meter.  

We couldn't count on rain to replenish our water tanks in this dry area so we reluctantly decided to return to Savusavu, where we could count on rain! And of course we could repair the watermaker and order new running backs.

August 10 - August 12, 2012

We left Nagelelevu in beautiful conditions and it killed us to sail right by the entrance without stopping to dive there. We had fully intended to stop at the pass before we left the reef. But with our dire water situation, we had to push on.

However, we did make an overnight stop in a nearby atoll called Cakau Vucovuco just to check it out for future reference.

  The atoll looked very enticing on the chart -- it was totally enclosed except for a small pass on the western side. We thought it might be well protected and, since it was so out of the way, might not be over-fished.

On paper, the reef reminded us of Beveridge Reef, where we'd spent a delightful 3 weeks in 2007.

We arrived in light conditions (wind less than 10 knots) but we quickly discovered that the edge of the reef was too deeply submerged to offer much protection. We had a big swell (of at least four to five feet) in the lagoon and the boat rolled so vigorously that we had to keep everything tied down. We practically had to wear life jackets just to move around on deck at anchor! We hate to think what the conditions would have been like in more than 10 knots of breeze!

We left early the next day for the two-day trip to Savusavu. The boat was so much more comfortable underway than at anchor in Vucovuco! What a treat to be able to sit down without getting thrown about. It was a glorious, leisurely sail.




  After losing two mahi, we finally landed our obligatory fish.

August 13 - September 19, 2012

Back In Savusavu For Repairs

When we arrived in Savusavu, we fully expected to collect rainwater. Unfortunately we waited almost another week before the rains started! So we had to get drinking water from shore to tide us over. This is the first time we've used water from shore (other than in the United Stated and New Zealand) since we started the trip 8 years ago!

Ken quickly got to work on our watermaker issue.  

After much testing, Ken concluded that the pumps were all working fine, the "o" rings were all good and the membrane was in excellent condition. He also visually inspected the end caps and looked for signs of leaks that would point to a cracked housing.

But Spectra's great customer service technicians suggested that there might be an internal failure of one of the end caps to the membrane housing.

We ordered new parts and received them in less than two weeks. After Ken installed a new end cap, the system worked flawlessly.

  Here is the damaged end cap-- the internal crack is invisible.

We have enough spares to get the system running if this problem happens again.

We stayed in Savusavu a few more weeks to make repairs to our water tank sensors and running backs.

And other issues cropped up.

The chocks which hold our mast in place had slipped out during the trip over from Nagelelevu. Without the chocks the mast can move around, damaging both the mast and deck. Ken jury-rigged a fix by pounding rope into the space between the mast and deck.  

Here in Savusavu, Ken de-tensioned the rig and replaced the old chocks, securing them in place with line and large hose clamps. We're hoping this fix will get us back to New Zealand, where we plan to redo the whole setup with new mast blocks.

Physical ailments cropped up, too.

  Beth woke up with a bad eye abrasion. She couldn't tolerate any light for about 4 days and was pretty useless during that time. Fortunately we had some eye anesthetic.

But mostly she just had to wait it out, spending most of her time in bed with pillows over her head or walking around with a towel and mask wrapped around her eyes. It sure was boring! Beth's sister, Kay, suggested some wonderful audio book recommendations -- including Brandon Sanderson's "The Way of Kings".

Next, Ken developed a skin infection near his achilles tendon which took several weeks using antibiotics to get under control. The infection never broke the skin -- but it was red and there was a big lump. We were relieved that it never got any bigger. It finally did go away.

Being stuck in Savusavu isn't so bad. We love the town and enjoy the steady stream of new cruisers. And there are some interesting hikes nearby.




Expanding Gavin's World

And one day we rented a taxi and took our friends from Waitui Marina (Kendra and Gavin, her 4 year old son) on a trip to the big city of Labasa. Gavin had never been outside of Savusavu in his whole life, so this trip increased the size of his world a lot!

Gavin enjoying the view at the Waisali Nature Reserve on the way to Labasa.  
  The busy town of Labasa services the local sugar cane industry. We can't imagine how these new sights and sounds must have hit a 4 year old. But Gavin took everything in stride.
An Indian beggar on the street in Labasa. It would be very unusual to see a Fijian beggar, because the large, extended Fijian families care for their own. Like westerners, the Fijian Indians are less encumbered by family demands, and also less protected.  
  We met some friendly merchants at the bustling riverside market.

And we had a nice visit at Palmlea Lodge on our way back to Savusavu. The Lodge is nestled in the hills overlooking the Great Sea Reef along the northern side of Vanua Levu.

Julie and her husband Joe run Palmlea Lodge, a beautiful eco-lodge, not far from Labasa.  

Gavin liked the chickens at the Lodge. Ken's proud of this next picture -- which he photoshopped to put a hole in the chicken coop. Not easy, since he had to rebuild the chicken's face!

Before. After.

Anyway, that's it for now. We'll spend a few more weeks in Fiji before heading back to New Zealand again. And after that, who knows...