Archive for 'Fiji'

Update from Vuda Point

We are still here at the marina in Vuda, but Dallas, Martin, and Ash are putting the rudder back on as we speak (I’m just staying out of the way!). The process of grinding and fairing the wood, glass, and epoxy into shape took Dallas several days, but I think he was pretty pleased with the results.

rudder Grinding down the wood

Aside from the rudder, we’ve been occupying our time doing odd jobs on the boat that there wasn’t time for in NZ: improving the reefing system, installing cockpit lighting, and polishing the rigging to name a few. Also, Dallas installed a new water pump that we are hoping will solve our perpetual issues with water pressure.

rigging2 Great view from up here

S/V Anima arrived late last week followed by our friends on S/V Matajusi and Simon from S/V Sedna One, so we’ve been hanging out with them in the evenings, making music and swapping stories. Last Saturday I had a chance to put my dancing shoes on at the Night Market here at the marina. A good time was had by all, especially Martin, Ash, and I who were the only ones on the dance floor most of the time and thus have celebrity status with the staff around here. During the days we have fit in a little recreation, too. We escape the heat by swimming at the pool next door and watching the NBA finals at the bar. It’s hard to believe that an entire year has passed since we were watching the finals in Panama. Time flies when you are traveling.

dance Risky moves from the fire dancers at the resort

I’ve enjoyed my trips into Lautoka to provision as well. There’s always plenty going on, and I recently discovered the kava tent where various groups of people congregate at various points throughout the day. I happened to stumble in there around 3:30, and several people had gathered for a bowl or two after work. They explained to me that anyone can sit at a table—Fijian, Indian, etc.—as long as they contribute $2 to fill the bowl, to be shared by everyone at the table.


Women like kava, too

We have yet another crew change to report. Shiroma had to leave S/V Anima since Martin has new crew (a German couple) arriving today, so she has been looking for another boat on which to make the passage to Vanuatu. She was starting to panic a little since she couldn’t find anyone needing crew, so we offered her a place on the settee for the short (450 miles–that’s short for us now!) passage. Some of you may recall that she is very comfortable there on the settee after spending most of the passage from NZ there, but it seems like she has developed some sealegs and should be able to be a little more mobile now.

Ash is less than enthused about the return of “the princess”, but he is dealing with it. Their relationship has improved as a result of her absence, though it would be a stretch to say that it made their hearts grow fonder. Colin, on the other hand, is a big Shiroma fan and is currently traveling with her around the island.

Dallas has been consulting with Martin about weather, and it was initially looking like we were going to be setting sail in 35 knots, but a better weather window is now forecast to open up after the low passes. We plan to set sail for Port Vila on Thursday morning in light winds.

And Then There Were Four

Island Night at the Octopus Resort was predictably touristy, but it was great that Ashley and James were feeling better and able to enjoy their last night in Fiji. We dressed appropriately in our sulus (yes, even the guys, except for Colin who says that, as the cameraman, he’s exempt) and joined the rest of the tourists for the Bula dance (the Fijian’s version of a conga line). Afterward, a few of us got a more authentic Fijian experience when we joined members of the staff for a few bowls of strong kava (brown color and instant tongue-numbing = strong). They are crazy about their kava here in Fiji. Several people (e.g., the school teacher) have told us that they drink it each day starting in the afternoon, and on the weekend, big groups of men of varying ages might sit around the bowl until early in the morning. At the sitting that we attended, they were joking about who was going to carry the oldest and most sedated man back to the village.



Sporting the sulus


  The resort staff double as entertainers on Friday nightskava Gathered round the kava bowl


We said good bye to Ashley and James Saturday morning and sailed away into fairly strong wind and current. Dallas predicted that they were going to have a wild ride back to the mainland on the little motorboat owned by the resort, and it sounds like it was a white knuckle ride. At least it was a short one, and they were able to relax and shower at a resort on the mainland before catching the long flight home.

Meanwhile, Pura Vida sailed over to the island of Naviti, known as a feeding ground for manta rays. We arrived in late afternoon, and Dallas and Colin dinghied over to another boat to get the scoop on what was happening there. Oddly enough, the 60-something Kiwi sailor and his 20-something Fijian girlfriend were completely unaware that there were manta rays in the area and that there was a resort there on the island. I guess they had other priorities, but we thought having a drink at the hilltop bar at sunset sounded pretty good and went ashore. I’ve been to more island resorts in the last two weeks than in my entire life, so I can say with some authority that the Manta Ray Resort has a lot going for it. It is smaller with a more rustic feel than the others, and the food and drinks were in our price range.

We met a really cool Hawaiian couple there who are planning to sail around the world in a year or two. He is a marine biologist and an avid fisherman, so we picked them up the next morning to dinghy over to the pass to look for rays and get some fresh fish for sushi. There were no rays to be found, but with Hawaii Mike’s help, we returned to the boat with a lantern fish, a small parrot fish (very good eating), and a cuttlefish (resembling a squid) that Dallas speared.

nina Nina with the catch of the day


Just as we were getting ready to head back to our anchorage, who should we see sailing in the distance but S/V Anima! I had never seen her under sail, and it was awesome. It was even better to see Martin and Shiroma again and to find that they have been having a wonderful time cruising around the northern Yasawas.

Back on the boat, I cleaned the fish and caught up with Martin and Shiroma while Colin began to work his sushi magic. The results were pretty impressive, and we are all looking forward to more. We just need to catch a big fish. Colin has been tossing a line out every chance he gets and had what we think was a large ono on the line on our previous passage, but in a flash, it was gone.

sushi mmmm, sushi


Monday we said farewell to the beautiful white sandy islands of the Yasawas and made our way back to the mainland to repair the rudder and do some provisioning. We motored into Vuda Point Marina where we were nestled closely in between two monohulls. It’s a tiny marina, and they pack them in tight. There is no wind here, so in the scorching heat and humidity, we wasted no time in checking out the nice pool at the resort next door. We topped off the day with some pizza and beer. I suppose we are getting spoiled here in Fiji with all the luxuries provided by the resorts, but I figure we should take advantage of them while we can.

We were hoping to be here no longer than a week, and since Dallas was able to pull the rudder off while in the water rather than having to arrange to have the boat hauled out somewhere, it’s looking like we will be able to stick to that plan. He grinded down the corner where he had applied the underwater epoxy and got a piece of mahogony from the guys in the shop that he epoxied into the void. Next he will grind that down into shape and glass over it.

rudder Pulling up the rudder with a rope harness


The rest of us have been taking advantage of the plentiful freshwater and laundry facilities here at the marina to get the boat in order and ready for the next passage. Today I will return to nearby Lautoka to get some provisons and do a bit of exploring. It doesn’t have much to offer in terms of tourist activities, but I like it. There is a large Indian population (not like in the islands, which are just inhabited by Fijians), and the Indian food is cheap as. It’s a great place to provision as well (e.g., $1 US for a large bag of namebrand chips). I just have to be less friendly than I normally would with the Indian men. I learned this lesson in Suva when my Indian taxi driver professed his love!

On Monday we plan to caravan to Vanuatu (only about 500 miles) with our friends from S/V Anima, S/V Matajusi, and S/V Imagine. We will be able to use our new SSB radio to keep in touch with them along the way, so that should add a bit of entertainment to the passage.

Bula from Busy Pura Vida

After another vigilant night of anchor watch in 100’ of water near Sand Key, we got around pretty slowly on Tuesday, but nothing that a cup or two of coffee couldn’t remedy. Everyone but the skipper (he had charts to review) piled into the dinghy with our two spearguns and one Hawaiian sling and headed over to the tiny sand island in the middle of nowhere to check it out. The first thing I noticed was that the kids from S/V Imagine had done an impressive job of writing their boat name in the sand with shells and bits of coral. (I asked the 11-year-old about it later, and she said it had taken a few hours.) Aside from that, there was no sign of life on the island except for a bit of driftwood.

We donned our snorkel gear and headed out to the surrounding reef to spear some fish for sushi. Colin was a sushi chef back home, and we are all anxious to see him in action, but it was not to be that day. Colin and Ash discovered that our new spearguns had to be reloaded on the beach, which is kind of annoying for beginners, but in time we should be able to learn to pick our targets very carefully. I showed Ashley how to use the Hawaiian sling (a long spear with a bungee used to shoot), and she seemed to enjoy it. It has been really fun to introduce her to new activities such as snorkeling and sailing. She’s not too comfortable with the heat of the tropics or the motion of the sea, but other than those minor details, she seems to be a fan of the salt life.

ashley Ashley x 2


From Sand Key we headed to the island of Wanuya to pay sevusevu to the chief and get permission to visit neighboring Manoriki, the island where Castaway was filmed. Not surprisingly, this is one of the most visited islands in the area, as was immediately apparent by the group of tourists waiting to be picked up. We found the chief sitting in a bure near the beach and presented our gift of kava to him. This guy could have performed the sevusevu ritual with his eyes closed and almost did. We walked through the village, and I did what has become my usual habit in these villages—exchanging shouts of “bula” and taking photos of just about every kid on the island. Dallas and Colin disappeared up the nearest mountain, and the rest of us got to know the chief’s family and checked out the handicrafts they were selling. When they returned, we shared some kava with the family and got a proper tour of their village, including the groundwater well (for cooking and washing only) and the school. It was definitely a wealthier village than the one in Yanuca, presumably because of the income they received from the two-month filming of Castaway and the $10/person that they have been collecting from tourists ever since.

bula Bula!


jewelry The chief’s daughter and her children


kids Too many photo-ops for such a small place!


classroom A sweet young girl gave Ashley and I a tour of the classroom


We visited the Castaway island early Wednesday morning. It really is a beautiful, rugged island, and I can see why it was chosen for the movie. There are no inhabitants bar a few wild goats and land iguanas, but we weren’t lucky enough to spot any. Instead the guys climbed palm trees and replenished our supply of coconuts (Ash and Colin had already managed to nab several at Musket Cove), and James got his Castaway photo-op, complete with volleyball and shaggy beard.




The rest of the day was spent motorsailing to the large island of Waya in the Yasawas. We arrived in time to anchor in plenty of daylight in a large but not-too-deep bay, the only other boat being our new friends on S/V Imagine. The six of us on Pura Vida (I’d say that’s our maximum capacity) quickly went ashore to present sevusevu to the chief. This one was very friendly, although he wasn’t too keen on Ash and Colin’s request to walk around to the Octopus Resort on the other side of the island. His rationale was that it was a 2 ½ hour walk if they took the beach route (longer by mountain), it was getting dark, and the tide was coming up. After three whole days without going to a shore party, Ash was not about to take no for an answer and eventually managed to get permission. We discovered later that the chief knew what he was talking about as their path was obstructed by slippery rocks, and after a couple hours of tramping through the bush, they found themselves back on the beach a short distance from where they left it. I guess they had their own private shore party before crashing out on the beach for the night!

Meanwhile, Dallas, Ashley, James, and I had a quiet night on the boat. Dallas and I hired a guide ($5 US/person) the next morning to traverse up the steep (1700 feet) cliff face of the mountain. It was a challenging climb, and 23-year-old “Radz” kept a quick but accommodating pace. He had to hack through the thick bush so much that I was pretty sure that people didn’t do this every day. Sure enough, he said that the last time he had gone up was last year. The view from the top was amazing, and while taking it in and catching our breath, we got to know our guide a little bit. He spoke English pretty well but was mostly interested in what we had on board in terms of electronics and music (“can you charge my phone?”). I think this is an unfortunate side effect of having so many tourists coming in and out of the traditional villages, something that sets western Fiji apart from some of the more remote places we have visited where they just seemed happy to meet foreigners and maybe trade a few things. With that said, Radz was pretty cool, and when we get back to the mainland, I will try to print off a photo of him at the summit to send to him.

mountain Piece of cake

radzOur guide “Radz”


We got back to the boat to find a very sick James, and after motoring around to Octopus to find the rest of our crew, we found out that Colin was pretty sick, too. There was a lot of speculation about what caused their symptoms (drinking kava in the village?), and I was starting to feel responsible since the common denominator between the two guys’ food intake was a meal I’d prepared on the boat, but we learned from the friendly Kiwi owner of the resort that it was probably a case of Fijian flu. The first person usually gets the worst of it (unpleasantness from both ends), whereas the others get one or the other. That sounds about right. Needless to say, it was a pretty uneventful night for the crew. I think we all crashed around 9, although with the intense gusts we were getting off the mountains, I was up frequently during the night to check on the anchor.

We decided to stick around the resort for another day to give people (now including Dallas and Ashley) a chance to recuperate. Of course there are other advantages of being at the resort as well. I had a really nice lunch of walu (white fish) seared in lime juice and served with coconut broth and rice (like the poisson cru in French Polynesia) and found some pretty large fish while snorkeling on the reef here (the Picasso triggerfish are my current favorite). I’ve also had a couple of local beers (Fiji Gold is not too bad for $2.50 US) while waiting for the chance to jump on one of the two computers with internet access here at the resort. Ash has been meeting people as usual. He used his medical skills to bandage up a tourist’s cut foot and got two boxes of wine as payment. Hopefully everyone will be able to rally by evening to check out the traditional island dance performance and imbibe a little more…

Reef Encounters

From Beachcomber, we headed towards the reef off of Mana Island. The reef is reputed to be one of the better dive spots in the area and we were anxious to give it a try even though finding and diving it sounded a bit challenging. On the way, we had yet another experience that confirmed charts of Fiji, especially our Navionics charts, aren’t to be trusted. The wind had been light nearly every day, so we’ve been doing a lot of motoring. While we were motoring toward Mana, I was busy filling our dive tanks and dishing up a plate of lunch. We were in the middle of a large region on the chart with no hazards marked, and I’d become a little lax about the constant watch for reefs I’d been keeping. When I came back up with a plate of food and looked around, we were headed straight for a large reef that was partially awash. The reef was probably a quarter mile across, awash with breakers, and nowhere to be seen on the chart. The next day I concluded that a mysteriously invisible island shown three quarters of a mile away on the chart was most likely meant to be the reef. Luckily our Maxsea and large-scale paper charts are a bit better. The dive shop at Musket Cove also gave us a color Google Earth printout with dive sites marked. That was actually more usefully than the Navionics charts as we were sailing in the Mamanucas.

The dive itself was a bit of adventure. There’s no mooring and it’s actually a drift dive due to the current. The dive starts off the corner of a fringing reef in an uncharted pass in the offshore reef. After visually finding what looked to be the pass, we jumped in and dropped down while Ash took the boat north of the reef to wait for us to surface. The reef below was pretty massive, and although we didn’t see quite the marine life that the dive shop was indicating we did cover a lot of ground and see quite a bit of coral and lots of smaller fish. It was a fairly challenging dive, but everyone did extremely well, and the compass navigation led us to our intended destination, the western tip of the reef, where we circled around to dive the drop-off on the north side of the reef and then surfaced in deeper water and signaled Ash to pick us up.

navigating Navigating through the “supermarket”

Everything was going smoothly except for the time of day. It was already past 4pm, and the sun was getting too low in the sky to visually read the water depths. Our plan for the night was to anchor in deep water off of an uninhabited sand island with a fringing reef where we could possibly build a bonfire ashore. We made it to the island and were about to drop the anchor safely off of the southwest side of the small island when we noticed a skiff from a nearby resort that had been visiting the island seemed to be having engine trouble. We motored up and asked if they needed help. The operator said they were fine, so we asked for some anchoring advice on the island and he motioned us around the north edge of the reef and over to the east side of the island. The reef to the north extends quite a ways, and as we were passing the northern tip, we saw a mooring float in the water. I made the dumb decision to approach it as a decent mooring would have been better than a deep water anchorage. When we got to the mooring float, the water depth changed from over 80 feet to about 5 feet in an instant. I was about to call for reverse, but we’d already run near the mooring line and had to idle then engine in neutral to avoid fouling the propeller. The wind and current took only a few seconds to push us up onto the reef and we were aground. We started a second engine to provide more maneuverability, and I jumped in with scuba booties and a mask and snorkel to check thing out. The situation wasn’t good. The port keel was aground on the coral and the wind was off of the starboard beam, pushing us up onto the reef with only a little bit of daylight left. We weren’t hard aground, but it quickly became clear that getting off wasn’t going to be easy. Twisting the boat too much risked damaging the rudders and allowing us to drive farther up onto the reef, and reversing also risked damaging the rudders and just wasn’t working. It seemed like forever, but after 10-15 minutes or so of maneuvering and pushing with Ash at the wheel and me in the water, we finally managed to free ourselves and reverse out over the reef with the last bits of daylight disappearing. As I swam out with the boat, I could see the reef deepen to about 5 or 6 feet and then disappear as the keels slid out into 100 feet of water.

A quick swim around the bottom in deep water showed that the keels were scraped up, but not severely damaged. The port rudder, however, had been gouged by the coral and had a chunk missing at the forward bottom part of the rudder. The outer layer of glass had been chewed away and the wood core was exposed. I guess the good news is that the rudder body gave way instead of the rudder stock or part of the steering system, but it wasn’t the prettiest sight to see.

After a less than jovial dinner, I put on scuba gear and Ash held Colin’s dive light underwater on a pole while I tried to seal up the damaged area with underwater epoxy. The patch seems to be holding for now, but I’ll be pulling the rudder for repairs when we get back to the mainland. The rudder is too critical to not have it properly sealed.

After that incident, we’ve been even more careful about keeping a reef watch and only travelling when the sun is high enough in the sky to spot the reefs. Coming in too late in the evening was the real cause of our problems as we would have easily seen the extent of the reef at midday.


With a young crew that includes single guys, nightlife is always appreciated and there’s not much of it on most islands. One notorious exception is the Beachcomber Resort on tiny Beachcomber Island. It’s apparently earned a bit of a reputation in Fiji and in the Pacific in general, so we decided to make a stop on our journey through the islands. We left Musket Cove, enjoyed a great dive just outside the entrance to the channel into Musket Cove, and then headed to Beachcomber. We arrived, contacted the island, and then tied up to a mooring as they had recommended. The mooring had a float so big that it looked like it was designed for a supertanker mooring. We finally managed to find a loop of line that we could slip one of our lines through and enjoyed a swim, a cool breeze, and the setting sun while we watched a couple of catamaran ferries stop near the island to pick up and drop off backpackers. The island is very small (a walk around it takes about 5 minutes) and the nearby water is too shallow for the large cats to land, so smaller launches ferry passengers between the island and the waiting boats.

beachcomber Not a bad place to spend a day

The place didn’t quite live up to its reputation, but we did have a good time, made some friends, and survived another late night. Colin kept his camera out all night, so the next morning we were able to confirm that Colin had stooped from photojournalist to party photographer, Ash had managed to dance with nearly every woman present, and it was a rare moment when Lauren wasn’t on the dance floor.

The next day we went in to the dive shop to get a couple of our tanks repaired. We had one tank leaking after our first dive and fixed it at the Musket Cove dive shop by replacing the neck O-ring. Two other tanks that were new when we left the US showed the same problem on our second dive and we were able to fix them at the Beachcomber dive shop. After chatting with the guys at both shops and watching/helping with the work I was able to get all three fixed for essentially the cost of the tank fills we needed to test the fixes and get three spare O-rings as well.