[100810; 2221 UTC, QilaQila, Vanua Balavu, Lau, Fiji; 17°10.57'S / 179°01.16'W]
We left off our last dispatch by telling of our arrival at Fawn Harbor on the south side of Vanua Levu, Fiji. Here we planned to wait for a break in the unusually strong trade winds that were blowing directly from our intended destination in the Lau Group of islands. The Koro Sea, which we would be crossing, is known for its short-period steep and confused seas and it was these seas that were our principal issue. We would wait nearly two weeks behind the protection of the massive reef to windward at Fawn Harbor (this after waiting one week at Lesiaceva Point) and here we would experience winds gusting to over 30 knots, sometimes for days and days without a break. Thankfully the holding was good and we worried little about dragging into the coral behind us.
Accessible from the bay at Fawn Harbor are two villages, Bagasau (BANG-ga-SOW) and Fawn Harbor. When we arrived there were two other yachts in the bay rafted together. These turned out to be Kyogle, a rugged steel Kiwi boat with Brian aboard, who we'd met in Tonga, and a badly damaged Hunter 41 that Brian is salvaging. The Hunter was never legally brought into Fiji, but its owner lived aboard at Tavenui island for over a year until cyclone Tomas drove the boat ashore. The owner has now died, some say at his own hand, and Brian has bought the wreck from the estate. Meanwhile, the radios and all the other instruments had been removed by locals who probably thought they were taking valuable items from a doomed vessel. In their haste, the thieves just cut the wires leading away from the electronics. When the elders learned what had happened they forced the people responsible to return the stolen goods; Brian has a box full of stuff that he has yet to sort through and has no idea what was actually returned.
The Hunter is in sad condition at this point, though certainly salvageable. The hull is cracked around where the keel attaches. At the time we arrived, water was pouring in faster than two bilge pumps could handle. Getting the Hunter, which Brian affectionately calls Viani (after the nearby bay), to Fawn Harbor had been a frightening and near disastrous experience, so Brian and his Fijian friend, Tuki, were taking their time waiting on calm weather in order to move Viani to Savusavu. Brian's fear in moving Viani was that the whole keel would separate and fall off leaving an enormous hole in the hull. If that happened, Viani would sink in less than a minute. In the meantime, Brian and Tuki were trying to patch the cracked hull to slow the ingress of water. Later to arrive in Fawn Harbor was Brian's good friend, Rita, who takes a long holiday each year and cruises aboard Kyogle. Rita took charge of making the boats habitable, a big chore in-and-of itself.
Tuki, a local, helped to introduce both Brian and Philip to the chief of the "vanua" (land) surrounding the bay. The chief, Maya, is a handsome man in his mid-sixties. Deeply religious, he neither drinks alcohol, smokes or drinks kava. Brian and Philip visited with Maya who performed a sevusevu, a customary ceremony to welcome visitors to the village (the bay in which sailboats anchor is considered part of the vanua of the village) and explain any rules or taboos imposed on visitors. At most sevusevu ceremonies, the visitor presents a small gift of kava root, which is pounded into powder then mixed with water and drunk out of large round bowl using a cup in the form of a half of coconut shell. Kava has a taste somewhat like peppery, dirty root (which is exactly what it is) and the effect of the drink is that is leaves the tongue and lips a little numb. A sense of euphoria is said to follow a period of continued drinking.
Since Maya drinks no kava, we presented gifts of tea and butter cookies. To get to his home from the anchorage required a dinghy ride through a narrow shallow channel that winds through overhanging mangroves, passable only at mid tide or higher. Maya ensured our welcome in the bay and its islands and gave us permission to fish, snorkel, explore, etc. Tuki also introduced us to the local Pickering family who, almost to the person, comprise the tiny neat settlement of Fawn Harbor on the hillside overlooking the bay and the reef.
The village of Fawn Harbor is accessed through another slough cut into the fringing mangroves, dry at many tides. Even at the best of tides (mid tide or higher) a dinghy is grounded well away from land and access to shore is by walking through the muck. This takes some getting used to and Leslie never seemed to rid herself of the feeling of "ewwww!" Local skiffs tie to the mangroves or anchor the length of the channel and someone is always tending boats and moving them to keep them afloat and out of trouble.
As you climb the path away from the slough, the first home you reach set amongst other small homes dotting the manicured slope, is that of Lima Pickering, a lovely petite 70 year-old woman with lots of energy and a quick smile. To her, we also offered a gift of tea as well as the novel, Cold Mountain, which we had found in a book exchange in Savusavu. We knew ahead of time she loved to read. As Lima chatted, pretty 5 year old Rita, her great grandchild, inspected us carefully with wide deep-brown eyes.
From Lima's home, we set off in search of Fawn Harbor's hot spring but quickly got lost in the jungle. Returning to the graded dirt road, we back-tracked toward town and came upon Michael, Lima's nephew, leading a bay stallion and walking beside his two boys who sat astride a walleyed grey stallion. The mellow work horse, used for hauling logs in the jungle, was tolerant of the boys as they tugged on his rope bridle (led through his mouth as a form of bit) while we chatted with Michael and snapped photos (we'll post these as soon as we get back within internet range).
Returning two days later with Brian's friend Rita, laundry bags bulging, we finally did find the hot spring due to the efforts of Lima's son, Tony, who guided us. The hot spring was a joy. Set in the jungle aside a mountain stream, the glorious, just-right-hot, sweet-water flows into the first rocky pool from a bamboo spigot stuck into the hillside. From this pool, water cascades into two additional pools before joining a cool, clear stream. We scrubbed our bodies and our laundry and returned, refreshed, to the bay to find we had to battle short, 1 meter breaking wind waves to reach Carina. Though it was difficult, we did manage to get our laundry aboard without an additional (seawater) rinse.
All the while at Fawn Harbor, tremendous waves continued to hit the fringing reef and the sound was like the booming of distant artillery. Finally, with the migration eastward of the last of a series of big high pressure systems in the subtropical Pacific, and the formation of a low pressure system near Australia, winds finally began to calm down. Those with experience advised us to wait at least until the second day of calm before venturing out to windward in the Koro Sea, so wait we did. Dawn of August 5 found us making final preparations for going to sea. By 8 am local, we had our anchor up and were slowly working our way out the dog-legged passage in the reef and into 2 meter seas. The tide was ebbing, so despite the seas, we made good time until we rounded Tavenui Island and lost its protection. Twenty hours later, diesel engine still rumbling and pushing us into the wind and short confused swell, we passed through the reef at Qilaqila (ng-eelah-ng-eelah) and inside the atoll surrounding Vanua Balavu, Lau province, three weeks to the day after we left Savusavu to travel 110 nautical miles to reach the Lau.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake