Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sailing Through the Reefs in Fiji

June 28, 2009—We left last Tuesday from Wainaloka Bay on the southwest side of Ovalau Island. The sun finally came out, and while the winds were forecast to remain around 25 knots with gusts to 30, we decided to leave.

The trip through the channel to Viti Levu was rolly, but we had no problems. We continued up the east side of the island and arrived at Viti Levu Bay around two o’clock, but we decided not to go any further because we had not thoroughly studied Volivoli Passage through the reef, and the sun would now be in our eyes, so we found a nice spot in Viti Levu Bay and dropped the anchor.

That night we carefully went over our way points and compared two electronic charts in order to plot our course. At nine o’clock the next morning we left the bay. When you are going through these reef passages you should do it at low tide, have the sun overhead, and light winds. Well, we were barely at mid-tide, and the winds were 25 knots gusting to 30. Oh well, two out of three ain’t bad.

We had some trouble finding the first mark for the entrance to the passage. Steve told me that he would be turning to starboard in a few minutes, and when I told him that if he did he would hit the reef, we threw out the electronic course and went with eyeball navigation. I was up on the bow standing on the dinghy with the radio in my hand spotting the marks and giving Steve directions. We made it through the pass with a few more grey hairs than when we left but had no mishaps.

We continued around the channel between the island and the reef and arrived at Vatia Bay around 3 p.m. where we anchored for the night. The next morning we left early for Lautoka so that we could check in with Customs. We arrived in Lautoka around noon, so we called Vuda Point Marina and asked if we could just come on in rather than waiting until the next day.

We pulled into the marina at 1:30 and picked up the center mooring while they got a spot ready for us. This marina is set up in a circle, so we carefully pulled into our spot with fenders ready. The “finger” for the dock is all of four feet long so we have to climb up on our bow pulpit in order to get off the boat. We are becoming quite the acrobats especially at low tide. The first night we were here I was climbing back on board when I hit my glasses pulling them off the lanyard and sending them into the drink. Steve quickly reached down and was able to grab them but went a bit too far over and ended up on the water. Luckily it was high tide, and he was able to easily climb back out. That was our entertainment for the evening.

We spent the day Friday checking in with Customs and shopping in Lautoka. We did laundry and some chores on Saturday and will finish them up today. James arrives tomorrow morning very early, and we are excited to see him.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Holed up in Wainalola Bay

June 22, 2009--On Thursday we went back into town to pick up the laundry, grab a few veggies, and eat some Thai Curry at Kim's Paak Kum Lounge. Kim's is on the road across from the harbor, and we took a table out on the balcony overlooking the water. The meal was very good, and when we were done, the server brought us a book and asked us to sign it. It was interesting to look through it and see the entries made by people from all over the world. The laundry was not ready--I'll bet that it wasn't dry yet--so we went back to the dinghy. As we were about to leave the dock, Joe from Customs came out and asked Steve when we were planning to leave, so Steve told him that we needed to leave in the morning because some bad weather was coming through. Joe was upset because he had wanted to have Steve and I come by his house to drink kava, but Steve assured him that we would try very hard to stop back by here on our way to Savusavu.

On Friday morning we went in early, and while I picked up a few more last minute items at the grocery stores and the bakery, Steve went over to Customs to check out of Levuka. I went to pick up my laundry at Ovalau Water Sports and had to wait only about 30 minutes. When I found Steve at Customs, he was just finishing up with the clearance papers. It was a good thing that he got started early because all the paper work took much longer than he had expected. I then got the four Customs officers together for a very nice picture. We thanked them all and then returned to the boat, hoisted the dinghy up on the front deck, and pulled up the anchor.

Steve had located an anchorage up and around on the other side of Ovalau Island that would give us good protection from the 30 knot winds that were forecast for the next few days. The trip would be through the channel between the island and the barrier reef, which looked well marked and free of any coral heads. Still, I sat up on the bow to keep a lookout while Steve steered. We motored the 17 miles around the island since our batteries were low because of no sun for days. We arrived at Wainalola Bay around one o'clock and tucked back in a small bay where we dropped the anchor. The people at Customs asked that we let them know that we arrived here, so Steve sent them a quick email. I decided to bake a chocolate cake for a treat in the evening. Over night it rained and the winds picked up to the mid-twenties, but the anchor held with no problems.

On Saturday it rained heavily and blew close to 30 knots most of the day. There wasn't much for us to do so we read most of the day. We checked the weather again on this morning, and it still looked pretty unsettled, so we decided to stay here one more day. Hopefully, tomorrow the rain will be gone so that we can travel when there is some sunlight overhead, which will make it easier to see any coral heads. We discussed the fact that we were glad we crossed from Tonga to Fiji when we did, otherwise we would have had to cross in this nasty weather. We have had one day of sunshine since we arrived in Fiji, which the locals all say is unusual. Right now the weather shows two lows crossing just north of Fiji, and that is what is causing this weather system.

Last night when we went to bed the stars were out, and the water was like a lake, so we were hopeful to leave today. Unfortunately, at one o'clock in the morning, the winds and rain returned with gusto. The wind had shifted to the southwest, so we watched for awhile to make sure that our anchor had held. We spent most of the night on the settees and did not get much sleep. Hopefully, this is the second low passing over us, which means that we may be able to leave soon.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Levuka, Ovalau Island

June 17, 2009—I wanted to share some of the pictures from our visit to the Ha'api.

The picture at the left is of a "talavala" or waist mat. The picture at the right is of the beach at Uoleva Island.

The two pictures above are of Emelina and her family.

This was the biggest fish that we have caught. Steve said that it was about the maximum weight that he could pull in with his hand line. It gave a good fight, but we won out in the end. Unfortunately, the line did some damage to our new varnish on the caprail, but it was worth it. The damage from the gaff wasn't too bad either. Now we have enough fish for quite awhile--the freezer is full.

We are at anchor in Levuka Harbor and rocking gently with the waves. We anchored by noon on the 13th and tried to pick up the boat just a bit. We called the Port Control about four times trying to get checked in; however, no one answered us. We found out later that we could have gone ashore in the dinghy to check in with Customs. Oh well, we were very tired so we just slept instead.

The next day was Sunday, which meant that everything was low key, and very few people are out except those going to church. We found out a bit late that Monday was the Queen’s birthday, so it was a holiday. That meant another day on the boat, but we used it to get some things done and didn’t really mind staying on the boat for another day.

Tuesday morning Steve went ashore and began the process of checking in. About an hour later he began shuttling officials out to the boat. They were not too keen on riding in our dinghy. Customs, Immigration, and Health all came aboard, and I served them lemonade and Snicker doodles, which disappeared very quickly. They were all very friendly. Unfortunately, Joe forgot his carbon paper (yes, some people still use carbon paper) so we had to fill out the same form multiple times. Our hands were cramping by the time we were done, but now we were official, which meant that we could go ashore.

As soon as Steve had shuttled everyone back to shore, we got dressed and took off for the dock. Levuka is the old capital of Fiji, and the main street looks similar to a frontier town in the states. The stores have false fronts, and the buildings are all wood. The people are so friendly and stop to talk with us as we pass them on the street. We are the only sailboat in the harbor, so we are the novelty here.

On our first day ashore we had a delicious pizza for lunch and then walked through town. We bought a few things at the grocery store and checked into tours at the dive shop. It rained pretty heavily all day long and through the evening, but that was good because it washed all the salt off the boat. Today we went in to pick up our cruising permit from the Lomaiviti Provincial Council. This allows us to go ashore anywhere in this province. We took a walk up the hillside where the sidewalk took us by many homes. The people all greeted us with “bula” for hello, and we responded in kind. We got a wonderful view of the harbor and “Linda” resting at anchor. We stopped for some Chinese food for lunch and then dropped off some laundry mainly the heavier items that are hard to hand wash.

It is quite humid today, so we were more than ready to return to the boat. Then Steve decided to go to town to get diesel and gasoline. The prices here are cheaper than in Tonga, which was a nice surprise. The exchange rate is very good—about 50 cents U.S. to the Fijian dollar. Our lunches have been inexpensive but large in portions. So far we are thoroughly enjoying Fiji and are anxious to get out and see more of it.

Tonight we went ashore to have dinner at the Whale’s Tale Restaurant. As we were pulling up to the dock, and I had my hand out to stop the dinghy from hitting the concrete, I happened to notice a sea snake on the wall just about where I was going to put my hand. Needless-to-say, I pulled my hand back, and we waited for it to slither away. When we returned to the dinghy after a very nice dinner, I was very careful to check for anything crawling around or in the dinghy.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tonga to Fiji and Surviving a Water Spout

June 13, 2009--On Monday, June 8, we returned to Emelina's home to give some gifts to the family, and we had a chance to meet her husband George, who is a fisherman. We took some pictures of the family and said our goodbyes, but before we left, they gave us four coconuts all cleaned and ready to use. John then drove up on his motorcycle and took us to his "farm," which is a plot of land where he has pineapple, banana, and papaya growing. He took a long stick to knock down three papayas for us, as well as a bunch of bananas. We thanked him for the generous gift and then left to return to the boat.

On our way back to the northern anchorage, we stopped at Luangahu Island, where we entered the lagoon anchorage through the coral reef and dropped the hook in 15 feet of beautiful, clear water. The small island is beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed our walk around it. We also saw bats flying over the interior of the island. We pulled the anchor and motored back to Uoleva Island to anchor for the night.

On Tuesday we returned to Pangai in order to check out of Tonga. We got some diesel, picked up a few vegetables, and then went to Customs and Immigration. The process went very smoothly, and when we were done, we went to have lunch at the Mariner's Cafe. We returned to Uoleva Island to check the weather forecasts for a passage to Fiji.

Wednesday morning we got the latest weather reports, and everything looked good. The only problem was that a small, intense low was supposed to form in an area close to where we would be passing. After analyzing all the information, we decided to go ahead and leave, so we quickly prepped the boat for the passage and were able to get underway by 11 o'clock. We had brisk winds to take us out through the few islands to the west, and we passed close by the volcano that Steve had been admiring for the past week. By the time dusk came, we were clear of all the obstacles and back out in open ocean.

The trip was 420 miles, which would be a three-day passage. We had 20 knots of wind and triple-reefed sails but were moving along nicely at about 6.5 to 7 knots. The seas were big and lumpy and that created a rolly ride, but everything else was excellent for the passage. The first day and night were uneventful. The second day was great because we caught a 53-inch Dorado--the biggest one yet! He gave Steve a pretty good fight and gaffing him turned out to be a real challenge, but we finally got him on board. I can't wait to post the picture of Steve holding this fish--it was beautiful. We enjoyed a dinner of mahi mahi in garlic butter that evening. We will be eating Dorado for quite some time, so it is a good thing that our freezer was almost empty. The last day proved to be the hardest as the seas were building, and we were having trouble staying on our course. Normally this would not worry us; however, there are dangerous areas on this route so we had to be extremely cautious. Every sail configuration we tried didn't quite work for our course, but we finally got one that worked well enough. By late afternoon we were making a turn at Toyota Island--the first Fijian island we saw. Now we were again in waters that had shoals and reefs, so we had to pay close attention to where we were. To make it even more exciting, our radar decided to quit on us a few days ago, but luckily we did have a 3/4 moon that helped us to see the islands. Now the squalls began (perhaps part of the low that was forecast); however, most of them created rain but, thankfully, no high winds. Steve ended up staying up all night, and I got very little sleep myself. We arrived at Ovalau Island around noon, which meant that we completed the passage in 73 hours. We were very pleased with our passage.

As we were approaching the island, Steve spotted a water spout--not a good thing--in the distance. We watched it for a few minutes and then turned our attention back to the island. Suddenly, Steve yelled that the spout was heading right for us, so we quickly dropped the main sail, and he tied it down as best as he could. We watched as the spout came right at the boat and then passed our starboard side not more than 10 feet away. The water was swirling with water particles circling up about six feet off the water, and the center of the vortex looked like a flushing toilet bowl. Steve was able to get some of the action on video. It was the most amazing thing that we have ever seen and the scariest. We were so thankful it missed going directly over the boat. Once our pulses quieted down, we continued in to Levuka passing through the coral reef and anchoring off the breakwater in 40 feet of water. We picked up the boat, celebrated our arrival, and then we both fell asleep for several hours.

After showering and eating a simple dinner, we went to bed still tired but happy that we chose to check in at Levuka. We are the only sailboat here as most boats go to Lautoka or Savusavu. We did not realize that Monday is a holiday for the Queen's birthday, so we will be on board until Tuesday when we can check in. Since we have so many things to work on--our course to Vuda Point, laundry, cleaning, etc.--we really don't mind.

The country of Fiji is larger and comprised of more islands than we realized so it provides a very large cruising area. We are looking forward to seeing this lush and beautiful Pacific island group.

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Adventures in the Ha'api

June 7, 2009--The last week has been a full one. On the second, we decided to leave the harbor, which was no small feat. The private boat on the mooring ball right in front of us was creating major problems. We ended up having to put a kedge anchor off the port side to keep us from swinging into the boat. We then let out the rode on the kedge as we pulled up the anchor, which was just behind the other boat. Once our anchor was up, we pulled back on the kedge rode to pull us away from the other boat and enabled us to pull up that anchor as well. We were not sorry to leave this harbor.

We traveled just a short distance to the south to anchor at Uoleva Island. Our outboard was not fixed at this point, so we stayed on board for the afternoon. The next morning Steve found the problem with the outboard and was able to fix it easily. We got our stuff together and took off to the island. We decided to walk across the island and then around the northern point. The beaches were nice white sand, and we found some good shells. We were very hot and tired when we returned to the boat so we took a quick swim and showered off. We had met Bob and Kim on sv Northern Winds in Pangai a few days earlier, and they invited us over at five o'clock for cocktails. We had a lovely evening with them and watched a spectacular sunset behind the volcano to the west.

The next day we moved to the more southern anchorage on Uoleva Island and walked along the beach. When we came upon the Serenity Beach Resort, Patty the owner invited us in for tea. Patty is a former cruiser and always makes them feel welcome. She is just getting the resort started, but it looks like a very nice place to stay in lovely little fales with a great view of the ocean. At the resort we cut through the island again and then walked around the southern tip of the island, where we found many more beautiful shells. It was another good day. We only wish that the sun would come out so that it would warm up, and we could do some snorkeling.

On the fifth we sailed about 12 miles south and west to Uiha Island. On our way past Luangahu Island, our depth sounder suddenly shallowed dramatically. Steve had been on the bow on watch for coral heads but had just come back to tell me something. He ran back up to the bow and signaled me to turn hard to starboard. Once we passed it, we continued on our course. We now have that spot charted on our GPS. We came into the northern anchorage at Uiha Village, but the current from the pass to the north was affecting the boat too much so we moved south to Felemer Village to anchor. On our way there, again the depth sounder suddenly went from 15 feet to 10 feet to 8 feet. When I saw 10 feet, I immediately slowed down and then put the boat in reverse. We backed away from the coral head but not before seeing 7 feet 6 inches--our boat draws 6 feet. We finally found a good spot to drop the anchor and get settled in.

That evening several squalls came through, but the one at three o'clock in the morning got our attention. The winds gusted to 40 knots, and the boat was heeled over about 15 degrees. It also dropped heavy rain. It brought to mind our anchor drag in Vava'u last season. I knew that the anchor had dug in well when we backed down on it, and it did hold just fine for the 30 to 45 minutes that the squall lasted, but it was still a little nerve racking.

Yesterday we went ashore at Felemer Village and then walked on a dirt road north to Uiha Village. On our way we came upon many groups of pigs some of whom were rolling in the ponds of water left from the night before. Many of these pigs were as big as small cows. I got some great pictures, which I will post as soon as I have internet again. When we got to Uiha Village we met Naomi, the school principal, and she asked us if we might have some supplies for the school. We said that we would be glad to drop some by. We then walked on to the wharf where we met John, who is the mayor of the village. He invited us to church in the morning and then to lunch. We returned to the boat by way of the beach and were pleased to find several Spider Conch shells.

Sunday morning I baked Snickerdoodle cookies, and we went ashore just before ten. The Tongan Free Church building was built in 1885, and even though it is need of repairs, it was still lovely inside. The whole service was in Tongan, but the singing is amazing (these people sing very well and very loudly), and we really enjoyed the experience. Some of the children that we had met the day before were in church with us, and they would look at us and smile throughout the service. After the service, we did not see John anywhere, but another family invited us to eat with them, so we agreed. We walked to their home and went inside. There was a small sitting room with two bedrooms off to one side. The bathroom and cooking facilities were both outside. We met Emelina the mother, who is expecting a baby in August. The older son David is 23, a younger son David (yes, two Davids) who is about 12, and the youngest son John who is 2. The older daughter Lina is 16, and the younger daughter Molay is around 6. An oldest sister is attending school in Nuku'alofa. George the father is a fisherman but was drinking kava with the men in the church so we did not have a chance to meet him. We gave them our cookies, which they absolutely loved, and we joined them for a dinner of lamb and taro leaves in butter, shellfish with onion in coconut milk and butter, and baked manioke or tapioca root. It was a wonderful meal, and we talked all through it. They had as many questions for us as we had for them, and I believe that we all benefited greatly from the experience. Emelina gave me a beautifully woven colorful talavala as a gift, and I absolutely love it. Tomorrow we will go back to visit the family and take some gifts for them.

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