110302; 2307 UTC Naiviivi Bay, Qamea, , Fiji; 16°45.85'S / 179°46.92'W
In our last dispatch, we had just arrived at Viani Bay, a popular in-season anchorage that faces the impressive cordillera of Taveuni, boasting the tallest mountain in all of Fiji - Mt. Des Voeux at 4,072'. Our anchorage, in front of "the" Fisher House, is recommended by Calder, the most comprehensive, if not dated, cruising guide of Fiji. Others had told us to find Jack Fisher who is known for bringing cruisers to Rainbow Reef for some incredible snorkeling. Unfortunately, Jack was away and his boat under repair, but when we did finally find his breezy home - around the point and the reef that extends well offshore from it - we were able to meet his friendly petite wife, Sophie. Having seen us arrive the previous day, they had gathered for us a large bunch of green bananas, a luscious ripe pineapple and two avocados.
As we sat on the porch which also happens to be the galley, we lamented we'd brought no gifts (other than a few lollies which we quickly distributed) until Sophie asked if we had an "onion" aboard for a wound on her leg. When we frowned in confusion, she realized she'd used the wrong English word and we all arrived at "ointment" together. She pulled back her sulu (pareo if you will) and were dismayed to see the wound on her leg. A huge boil, purple and as big around as a softball protruded from a long cut on her shin. Her tiny foot was swollen and she said it pained her all the way to her hip. Today was the first day for many that she could walk.
We told her, yes, we did have ointment but that we were sure she needed more than just topical antibiotics. After conferring with a doctor we know in Savusavu via a dubious cell phone signal, we returned to her home with a full course of antibiotics for her apparent Staphylococcus infection, disinfecting scrub and a tube of topical antibiotic. We tried to coach her to keep the wound clean (house flies kept landing on it), not touch it as she kept doing and to keep it covered with her cleanest bandages. We also left with her the telephone number for the doctor and urged her to contact him if the infection did not begin to get better immediately. Scary stuff.
Back aboard, we decided to push on the next day to Taveuni, though when the sun finally peaked up over the hills of Vanua Levu that morning and we began to crank in anchor chain, we found ourselves tightly wound around a coral head. So much so that when bouncing with a wake, the chain came up tight, Carina took a bow (literally) and the stainless steel winch handle was projected overboard. Philip just missed grabbing it before it went over the side and said a dirty word. Thankfully we have a very rusty spare handle and will try to get another made when we return to Savusavu.
We stopped first at Somosomo, an open roadstead half way up Taveuni's western shore where we planned to buy groceries. The anchorage was unusually bouncy and with deep water even though it is located at the mouth of the Somosomo river. Leslie stayed aboard and kept watch while Philip bobbed off through the chop to make an uneventful beach landing. Immediately a gaggle of children, the oldest no more than 10, descended on Philip and enthusiastically helped him pull the dinghy up to the high tide line.
Groceries finally aboard, we up-anchored with alacrity and headed off into the unusual northerly chop headed for Naselesele Point, at Taveuni's northern end. The "town" of Matei, formerly a private estate, sits here but the land was later sold off for vacation homes for "palangis". The Taveuni airport is here. Calder again guided us, though his chartlet was little better than the chart surveyed by the schooner Alacrity in 1880 and we were not sure whether the strange winds, chop and unusual NE swell would make the reef-studded anchorage untenable. We had a backup plan which included a route to another anchorage, 10 miles further. We edged our way through a pass and found a large enough patch of sand in which to set our anchor and lay out our chain. All around us were coral "bommies", brightly colored tropical fish filled the water column and waves crashing over reefs nearby. Though residual swell from multiple points of the compass bounced us back and forth, the anchorage proved to be comfortable as we had cooling breezes, few bugs and only the occasional speeding work boat zipping by, heading for a distant beach landing.
We spent a few idyllic days here puttering around, watching weather form on Taveuni to our south while waiting for waters to calm so we could get in and go snorkeling at "Honeymoon Island" a pile of rocks in the middle of the anchorage. We did get in one day and saw some colorful hard and soft corals and small fish; it seems as if all the reef fish of size on shallow reefs are captured for food and we see them frequently in the public markets. We only ventured to shore one day and encountered a boatload of locals arriving from the Ringgold Islands. We tried to donate a bunch of our excess bananas to them but, just like a surfeit of zucchini in mid-August in the states, they had enough of their own. They had a good laugh at our tiny dinghy but were very friendly and suggested we might want to visit their island but gave us few particulars, only that it was 18 miles north. Our chart suggests their island would be within the aegis of Budd Reef but that didn't give us confidence enough to venture there.
A couple of days ago, we decided to press onto Qamea Island (pronounced Nggamea) and Naiviiri Bay. The bay indents Qamea from west to east for about a mile and is protected by extensive reefs. As usual, we had a stiff noserly breeze. Just as we were rounding the northern extreme of Taveuni's reef and with it as a lee shore, our engine faltered and nearly stalled. Les was at the helm and was going to turn west toward clear water in preparation for putting up our sails for a hasty retreat when the engine's RPMs began to settle down to normal. The area we were traveling is called the Tasman Strait and it is filled with shoals and reefs. Too, the light winds were easterly and sailing would require tacking through a dangerous maze, so we motored on. As we neared the reefs guarding Naiviiri Bay, Carina's engine faltered once again but continued to run. After we were finally safely anchored, we decided it would be best to wait until the following day when the engine was cool to diagnose our problem. We suspected the problem was air in our fuel lines and this theory was borne out the next day when we found the secondary fuel filter canister nearly empty of fuel.
Naiviiri Bay is abuzz with boats servicing the three local villages as well as one posh resort. The people in the different speeding skiffs wave enthusiastically and yell "Bula! as they zoom by. Just as we were finishing supper our first night here, a boat slowed and stopped and we were greeted by Jerry and Raphael, two thirty-something aged men coming back to the middle village (Vatusogusogu or "VAH two songu songu"). In their skiff they had a huge bouquet of edible greens, probably what Fijians call "spinach". When we inquired if there was a village chief with whom we would do a sevusevu ceremony they advised that we should come ashore the next day to see Chief Moses, the chief in the village closest to where we were anchored. Moses' house is one among a cascade of neat but tiny homes and they advised we could easily find his house from the landing.
The following morning we arrived at the landing to find that the receding tide left only a quagmire of foot-thick, sticky black mud and getting ashore was difficult. Leslie stayed with the dinghy to keep it afloat hanging onto the oyster-encrusted remains of a long dock, while Philip struggled ashore with the bunch of kava roots for sevusevu.
Walking around and calling "bula" at the first house near the landing, Philip was greeted by Mariah, an extremely attractive Fijian lady in a bright red dress. As is typical, Mariah was full of questions about us which she delivered in rapid succession from her elevated porch. Learning we were trying to find Moses, she asked her daughter, Luci, to be Philip's guide. Slightly plump and shy, Luci displayed the striking features of mixed blood you sometimes see in Fiji: light skin, kinky blond hair but with Fijian features.
After a short walk, Luci pointed to particular house and urged Philip on. Philip was greeted at the door by Anna, Chief Moses's willowy and pretty daughter-in-law who offered to rinse his feet with fresh water prior to entering the house. The chief's home is modest with rooms partitioned off with thin plywood. Philip was directed to sit on the floor as Fijians do: legs crossed at the ankle with elbows resting on your knees, a position not easily assumed by palangis used to sitting in chairs. As per custom, Philip placed the gift of kava in front of the chief and asked that the gift be accepted and that Carina be allowed to anchor for a day or two off the village where we would be allowed access to shore. Moses laughed and invited Philip to stay as long as we wanted ("stay six months!" he said) and urged us to come to the village for dancing and kava later in the day. Moses also provided Philip with a "good pole" of mangrove to allow us to pole our way back out over the mud and coral and asked the beautiful Anna to guide him back to the landing. Dismayed by the muddy landing herself, Anna suggested next time we land further down the bay at the beach and walk to the village. We did try to attend the dancing ceremony but the path from the beach landing included a short but deep crossing of the lagoon which would only get deeper with the incoming tide. In addition, black clouds of an approaching squall began to fill the sky and we decided to cancel our trip.
Today, it's still raining and there are occasional lightning strikes on Qamea and Taveuni, visible across the Tasman Strait. So, we'll wait until the trough goes by, keep bailing the dink and stay perhaps another day or two before pushing onto Vurevure Bay on Taveuni's eastern shore.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake