Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Earthquake and Tsunami in Samoa

September 30, 2009--As you may have heard, a severe earthquake measuring 8.3 on Richter Scale hit about 180 km southwest of Samoa/American Samoa at approximately 0600 local Fiji time this morning. Before long, Tsunami warnings were issued for most of the islands in the Pacific from New Zealand to French Polynesia in the south and Fiji to Kiribati in the north. We received the warning via high frequency radio from the New Zealand News Service and an alarm received via the Digital Selective Calling feature on our high frequency radio.

The epicenter of the earthquake was near the northern Tongan Island of Niutopotapu where we were last year. We are approximately 400 miles from the epicenter here in the northern islands of the Yasawa Group in Western Fiji. We did not feel the quake. At approximately 0630 local Fiji time we were listening to our morning radio net when the quake was reported. Over the course of the next few hours, we heard live reports from cruisers in Pago Pago, American Samoa, who reported water rushing out of the bay and then flooding back in washing many boats upon the beach. Severe damage to villages, industry, and the marine community was reported and a number of dead were reported also. Much of the damage was being attributed to the Tsunami, and the warning was changed to an imminent warning as far away as New Zealand - approximately 1500 miles.

We calculated that if the Tsunami moved at 100 mph then we would see the effects beginning around 1000 local time. Thankfully, we did not see any of the effects, and that was most likely due to the fact that we are well inside the Great Sea Reef which runs around the north and east of Fiji. Furthermore, the estimated time of arrival of the Tsunami here in Fiji corresponded to approximately a low tide. We have no way of getting local Fiji news so we do not know if Fiji was affected in other areas or to what magnitude it may have been affected. We just want to let you know that we DID NOT have any noticeable effects, and it appears that we will not. Unfortunately, that can not be said for other cruisers and Pacific Islands, and our prayers are with them!

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

North through the Yasawa Islands

September 27, 2009--On Monday Morning we had good weather, so we left Musket Cove and headed north to Vanua Levu Island--not the same Vanua Levu that we visited last month. I had to keep watch on the bow for the first hour or so until we were in deeper water. We passed through the Mamanuca Islands, which includes Monu Island which is where the movie Castaway was filmed.

We arrived in Vanua Levu around noon and had to anchor in 65 feet of water. The island is beautiful with a white sandy beach. Vanua Lailai Island is a very small island just west of Vanua Levu, and the two islands are connected by a sand spit that is covered with water at high tide. We went ashore just after low tide to walk the beach, and we found quite a few good shells. The sand was so soft, and the views to the south were really spectacular. We were returning to the dinghy when we stopped to talk with Mike, the owner, and Justin and Hazel, the crew, from the lovely yacht sv Cheshire Cat that had anchored soon after us.

The next morning we went to the other beach but found no shells so we decided to go snorkeling instead. We took our gear to the coral reef right in front of the main beach. The coral was in excellent condition, and there were quite a few fish, so we spent a good hour covering a fairly large area. After lunch we did another snorkel out toward the point. The visibility was not very good, and the coral was not nearly as pretty; however, we did get our exercise for the day.

Wednesday morning we left early to move up to the western anchorage on Waya Island. The trip was fairly easy except that when we turned east to go into the anchorage, the visibility was not good. We came close to a patch of coral, but, luckily, we saw it in time. We anchored and then went ashore to the Oyster Bay Resort for lunch. This resort is probably the nicest one we have seen. It is more remote and low key than Musket Cove, but the island is beautiful and peaceful. Cheshire Cat arrived in the afternoon, and we all ended up at the restaurant later on. We stayed for a curry dinner and ended up sitting at a table with a couple from Australia, a couple from Boston, and two guys from Australia. It was a very entertaining evening.

We snorkeled the next morning just off the beach; however, it was very murky with few fish. Mike had asked us to have dinner with them for Justin's birthday, so at seven o'clock we went ashore with our balloon bouquet for him. We joined them at the table, and a few minutes later a young couple, Gaspar and Samantha from sv Octobasso, joined us. We enjoyed a wonderful fish dinner topped off with chocolate cake. It was a great evening.

Thursday was our day to move up to Manta Ray Bay on the west coast of Drawaqa Island. The wind was blowing 20 knots--right on the nose, of course--and the seas were a bit rough; however, we motor sailed and tacked our way up. The entry to the anchorage was a bit tricky because we had to weave our way around a few small reefs and coral heads, but the sun was out, and we could clearly see everything. We anchored and sat for just a few minutes before we decided that we had to put our our "flopper-stopper." This is used to reduce the roll of the boat in an anchorage with swells coming in. We have not used it since Mexico, but it certainly helped make the motion of the boat more comfortable. This anchorage is called Manta Ray Bay because there is a pass between Drawaqa Island and the much larger Naviti Island where Manta Rays, some of which are quite large, come to feed. It was too late in the day for us to snorkel so we planned to go out early in the morning.

Around 8:30 the next morning we got our gear and headed to the pass. We went through the pass and then got into the water to drift with the tide. I held the dinghy line while Steve took the camera. The coral was beautiful and the fish were so abundant that there were large schools all the way through the pass. It was just amazing--so amazing that we decided to do it again. Unfortunately, we did not see any rays, and now it was time for lunch.

Right after lunch a local was fishing very close to our boat so Steve said hello and began talking with him. His name was Jay, and he is a caretaker at the Captain Cook Drawaqa Island Resort. He said that the rays would come to feed around two o'clock and that he would give us a call on the radio. Around 1:30 we returned to the pass, and about an hour later, a snorkeler spotted a large ray. We swam to the center of the pass and spotted a 5- or 6-foot Manta Ray. He swam by us headed west, and I followed him for a few minutes. When I lost him, I rested for a minute and looked down in the water. There he was right below me! I followed him again until I got back to Steve, an then I took the gear while Steve followed him taking pictures and movies. It was a fantastic experience, and I will post some pictures next week when I have Internet again.

After another rolly night, we left Drawaqa Island to go to Blue Lagoon on Matacawa Island. This route took us along the west coast of Naviti, which is in uncharted waters. We had pretty good light, but clouds were moving overhead. We were motor sailing again with light winds on the nose. About 45 minutes later, I was on the bow keeping watch, and Steve called out that the water was getting shallower. At 27 feet, he turned the boat 180 degrees and followed our track back toward deeper water. With the adrenalin pumping, we returned to our course line, only a little further west. The rest of the trip was through areas with reefs and one stretch where we were in about 25 feet of water, but this time everything was shown on the chart so we had no surprises.

We arrived in Blue Lagoon around 2 o'clock and anchored with three other sailboats. This large bay is filled with resorts so it is a bit too developed for us. We plan to stay only a short time before moving on. We have one week left before we return to Vuda Point, and we want to see a few more places.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Birthday at Musket Cove

September 20, 2009—The past week has been rather benign. We checked in with Pau, our favorite Customs officer in Lautoka , early Tuesday morning and then went into town to get some money and provisions. When we were returning to the boat, we stopped to talk with Darren and Melinda from sv Mischief. We had met them at Kawau Island in New Zealand in April, so it was good to see them again.

We left Lautoka and headed back out to Musket Cove, where we picked up a mooring ball, and then we went in to shore to barbeque for dinner. We were happy to see the cruisers from Argonaut, Scarlett O’Hara, Po’oino Roa, and Toketie, all of whom we had not seen for quite awhile.

On Wednesday I took care of the laundry, had my hair cut by Kathy on Po’oino Roa, and met Steve for pizza at the Musket Cove CafĂ©. Thursday brought a downpour of rain and wind up to 25 knots. We were able to fill our water tanks, collect water for laundry, and flush our holding tank three times with fresh water. The weather kept us on board all day, but we didn’t mind because the boat was getting a much needed bath.

Steve worked most of Friday morning getting computer problems worked out, and in the afternoon we met Dave and Linda from Toketie on shore so that we could enjoy a visit. The last time we really had a chance to talk with them was in Tonga last season.

Saturday morning we decided to take a walk around Malolo Lailai. We found a path that led up to the top ridge of the small island. From the top we had a beautiful 360-degree view. We had a light drizzle of rain a few times, but it actually felt good. We walked down to the beach on the other side of the island and continued along the beach, and I found a large top shell in pretty good condition. We then cut through the island at the runway for the airplanes and walked out to the point, where we enjoyed a chicken curry lunch at the Lumani Resort.

Today is Steve’s birthday. We took Renee from sv Scarlette O’Hara to breakfast and then returned to the boat so that I could bake a chocolate cake. I also made an applesauce coffee cake for the morning. At five o’clock we went in to the Island Bar, where the barbeques are held. The marina provides large barbeque pits that the cruisers can use. They also provide the plates and silverware, so all we have to do is take in the food. We decided to have steak and lobster for Steve’s special event. Toketie, Argonaut, and Patrick from Eagle Dancer joined us for the celebration.

We plan to leave for the Yasawa islands tomorrow to spend our remaining time there. The weather looks good for now, so we will keep our fingers crossed.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Finally Back at Viti Levu Island

September 14, 2009--After spending ten days at Yadua Island, we were finally able to get back over to Viti Levu. Most of those ten days we had winds from 25 to 30 with some gusts to 40 knots. The anchorage was rolly and there was quite a bit of chop on the water, which made snorkeling difficult. Getting ashore was even difficult because the water was so rough. Neither of us wanted to cross Bligh Waters in those conditions.

We spent time in the anchorage with Rick and Terry from sv Morning Star and Sigrid and Ben from sv Optimus. Steve went with Rick one afternoon out to the southern reef at the entrance to the anchorage. They had decent visibility, and Steve said that it was excellent snorkeling. He even saw a five-foot white-tip shark swimming around them. Terry and Rick went ashore with us one afternoon to look for a grapefruit tree that the locals had told Rick about so we hiked around for about two hours but never did find it. Steve and I did find a lemon tree so we gathered up six lemons, and then we added two papaya that we found. When we returned to the boat, I made a lemon meringue pie, which turned out to be very good.

One afternoon we went over to Optimus to enjoy afternoon tea with Sigrid and Ben, who are Danish, and then we invited them over the next evening for chili. Friday afternoon Sigrid went with us on a hike up the hill. We wanted to hike to the light at the top, but we never did find the path from the ridge over to the light. Still we got some good exercise.

This past Saturday we decided to go back and snorkel the reef that Steve had done. Sigrid joined us while Ben stayed in their dinghy to read. The sun was not out; however, it was bright enough that we were able to enjoy all the lovely coral on the reef. We did spot a lobster, but Steve was not able to get him out of his hiding place, and, luckily, we did not see the white-tip shark while we were there.

Finally on Sunday the weather looked pretty good to cross back over to Viti Levu. The wind was forecast to be around 10 knots for the northeast, which would be good for our crossing. The best part was that the seas were supposed to be low with a decent time period between waves. The stretch called Bligh Waters is notorious for having short, choppy seas, which make for a very uncomfortable crossing. We experienced those on our crossing from Viti Levu over to Yadua on our way to Savusavu. We did not want repeat those conditions on our crossing back over.

We got underway on Sunday morning just as soon as we had good light. Optimus left with us, and we both made it through the reef and out of the anchorage with no problems. We put up our sails and were able to turn off the engine soon after exiting the bay. The winds were light, but we made pretty good time. About half way across, we had to start the engine and motor because the wind had died to almost nothing, and the skies were getting dark so we wanted to get across before bad weather set in.

We made it across the bay and had just gone through Nananu Pass when the thunder, lightning, and rain started. We had low visibility because of the rain, but we were able to follow our previous track right back into Nananu-i-thake anchorage. Unfortunately, Steve had to go to the bow in the rain to drop the anchor, but it grabbed immediately so he did not get too wet. Optimus came in about two hours after us and anchored close by.

After saying goodbye to Sigrid and Ben this morning, we left in the rain and headed west. It had rained all night and looked as though it was going to continue, but we still had our previous track back to Lautoka so we were not too worried. The first two hours we had quite a bit of rain, but then it cleared a bit. Unfortunately, we had to motor because there was no wind. About half way to our stop at Vatia Wharf, we decided to just continue on to Lautoka. We made good time, but around two in the afternoon we had a huge rain shower go over us. The other showers along the way had no real wind in them, but this one did. The winds piped up to about 25 knots and the seas became very choppy. Our visibility was about 50 feet, and with no radar, we felt a bit uneasy. The cell stayed with us for about 15 minutes and then moved off. Luckily, that was the last of the rain.

We arrived in Lautoka at 5:30 in the afternoon and enjoyed a beautiful sunset. We will check in with Customs early tomorrow, do some shopping, and then head back over to Musket Cove.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Back at Yadua Island

September 7, 2009--On Tuesday, September 1, we left Savusavu around eight in the morning and headed back to the west. After about an hour, we were able to sail along at about five knots. The seas weren't too bad, and it turned out to be a good sail. We approached Nasonisoni Pass for the second time, but this time we were moving in the opposite direction. Our timing worked out very well because we were able to go through the pass right at low tide, which meant that we could clearly see the reef, and the tide was slack so we had no strong current.

We went through the pass easily, and then we pulled into the large bay on the west side of the pass and dropped our anchor in forty feet of water. The sv All the Colors pulled into the bay a few hours later and dropped its anchor to our starboard. It was a pretty relaxing evening with light winds so we slept very well.

The next morning we went to pull the anchor and discovered that, unfortunately, it was on top of a coral platform, but we were able to pull the anchor without a problem. We were following a track on our GPS and were doing just fine, moving at about four knots in 80 feet of water. We were both in the cockpit talking when Steve suddenly saw the depth go to 30 feet and then 24 feet. I jumped up and stepped to the port side deck. When I looked down, all I saw was coral. We immediately slowed down and waited. The depth never went below 24 feet, but the coral always looks closer to the surface than it is.

We motored on for a short time, but then the wind picked up, and we turned off the engine and were sailing on a nice broad reach. All the Colors had left just a bit ahead of us, so you sailors reading this know what happened. Whenever two sailboats are going in the same direction, it becomes a race. The winds were contrary so we ended up reefing and unreefing the main sail about eight times so Steve certainly got his workout for the week. We kept right up with All the Colors, which was good because it is a lighter boat with a longer waterline.

We moved around the southwest corner of Vanua Levu and then up the west coast. We decided to pull into Bua Bay for the evening because going on to Yadua Island would mean getting in late in the afternoon. We turned into the bay and went into the bay a little further this time because the weather indicated that the winds might pick up. This bay is a river delta, so the bottom is pure mud, which provides excellent holding.

On Thursday morning we left early to cross over to Yadua Island. The winds were between 10 and 12 knots, but we were able to sail along on another broad reach. The seas were pretty small so the crossing was not bad at all. As we came around the western side to enter the anchorage, the wind was gusting again but not nearly bad as it did the last time we were here. All the Colors was anchored on the left side of the bay so we dropped our anchor close to our old spot. We put out 180 feet of chain because the weather was again indicating some wind.

That afternoon a local fishing boat came by and offered us four lobsters--they were huge. We asked how much they wanted, but they couldn't seem to bring themselves to quote a price. After Steve talked with them for a few minutes, a price of $10 Fijian per kilo came up. Steve figured that the four of them weighed about 3 kilos, so we offered $30, and they countered with $40. We agreed, and they gave us the lobsters. We decided to give them some extra kava that we still had on board, and we gave the two small kids in their boat some watercolors and a balsa-wood airplane. We all seemed happy with the exchange.

The fishermen had already cooked the lobster so Steve went to work getting the meat from the shells. We planned to eat two of the tails, but after eating one and a few of the legs, we were so stuffed that we ended up freezing the remaining tails. The meal was delicious. Actually, it was so delicious that the next night Steve made a lobster chowder with the meat from the rest of the legs, and it, too, was wonderful.

Friday afternoon Steve and I went to shore to cut some wood for a beach fire with sv All The Colors; however, they planned to leave early the next morning and decided not to participate, and we agreed.

Saturday was a snorkel day for us. We had to stay in close to shore because of the wind, but we did find a nice shelf. Most of the coral was in good shape, and there were quite a few fish. On our way back to the dinghy, Steve spotted a white-tip shark that was about my size. I was more than happy to get back into the dinghy.

Sunday afternoon we went over to sv Morning Star to play a board game with Terry and Rick. It was a fun afternoon, and we enjoyed talking about our cruising experiences. When we left their boat, we stopped by sv All The Colors in order to drop off a birthday gift for Monica, who was celebrating her twelfth birthday. She wasn't on board, but she called us on the radio later to thank us for the gifts, especially the Snickerdoodles.

The weather has continued to be contrary, and we are becoming frustrated. We though that we would have too much time here; however, we have been held up quite a bit by bad weather and then end up traveling on the good days only to sit and not be able to do much when we get somewhere. Hopefully, we have some better weather over the next few weeks.

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