110301; 0220 UTC Naiviivi Bay, Qamea, , Fiji; 16°45.85'S / 179°46.92'W
When we last wrote we were hoping to leave Savusavu to explore the southeastern side of Vanua Levu as well as Tavenui Island off Vanua Levu's coast. Eventually, a weather window opened for us when cyclone Yasi, which had formed to Fiji's northwest, decided to head west and disrupt life in Australia rather than our own. It was believed that this would be the end to cyclones for awhile, though our first week out and while in Nasasobu, a great hurricane hole, Vanuatu was the lucky recipient of the biggest and nastiest one of the year (so far), Atu.
Our first stop on our little cruise was the anchorage off the very expensive Cousteau Resort where we stayed a couple of days to get Carina shipshape. A few weeks ago, while putting our mainsail back on, Les was flaking the sail and her slight tug on the sail resulted in a big rip near the leech (back edge). When we inspected further we found the sun damage extended quite away up the leech. We hauled our sewing machine (70 lbs.) out of the depths of the lazarette and repaired the damage sewing the sail on the deck under the boom while dodging rain squalls. That repair was behind us (as well as a few dozen other small sewing jobs), but we also wanted to inspect our other systems before heading out for an extensive cruise.
On Sunday morning at 0705 am local we poked our head out around the lighthouse and headed east into noserly winds (5-7 knots) heading towards Fawn Harbor. Carina seemed like a filly out for an early spring run, she bounced along smartly under auxiliary power as the sun rose steadily upward, warming the air and generating puffy rain clouds over the mountains of Taveuni forty miles NE of us. The light wind continued and we had to motor the whole way. The reef-enclosed pass to Fawn Harbor is deep but has a couple of doglegs; regardless, it's relatively easy to navigate, made more so by the knowledge we gained when we were here 7 months ago. Good thing, too, because just as we turned to head at the gap in the reef for Fawn Harbor, the storm clouds over Vanua Levu darkened and moved south and drenched us in rain. It's hard to imagine how warm tropical rain and a few knots of breeze can feel so COLD. We actually celebrated our arrival (without bumping into anything) with the grateful warmth of a cup of tea. From the village, Bagasau (bang-a-sow), we could hear the drums calling the faithful to church.
The next morning was bright and sunny with a light wind that promised some sailing to our next anchorage, Nasasobu Bay, just 10 miles away. A half mile from the Fawn Harbor pass, Philip decided to put our a the new (fancy Rapala diving) lure he bought in Savusavu to see if we could catch some supper. After deploying the lure, he moved to hoist the mainsail. Before he could touch the sail the drag on the fishing reel screamed and the fishing pole started bucking violently in its holder.
In the short time he needed to lift the rod and reel out of the holder, the fish had nearly stripped all of the 50 lb. test line off the reel. He tightened the drag on the reel and began the hour long struggle to bring the fish to the side of the boat. We were amazed when we were finally able to bring the 5' wahoo to Carina's side. Philip handed the rod to Les, gaffed the fish and threw some rot-gut gin into the fish's gaping mouth to kill it. He grunted and strained to lift the heavy fish over the lifelines and to lay it on the side deck. Wahoo are silvery-blue, torpedo-shaped members of the mackerel family with a long snout and sharp teeth. For large specimens like this one (and we've seen none larger), a rule of thumb (according to our friend Randy on the PacSea Net) is one pound of weight for every inch of length. We estimated he weighed between 55 and 60 pounds! (see a photo on our website.) The flesh is white and sweet, almost tuna-like, and freezes well, though we have very limited freezer space.
We decided to clean the fish on land once we arrived in Nasasobu Bay. Sailing would be difficult with the fish taking up so much space on the side deck so we decided to motor the remainder of the distance as Philip continued to wash the fish with fresh seawater. Arriving in Nasasobu Bay, we quickly dropped our anchor, launched the dinghy and motored over to a small beach where three houses overlooked the water. On going to shore, we were greeted by Charlie Rounds, who lives in one of the hillside houses. Charlie helped us gut and steak the fish. In exchange, we gave him enough fish steaks for all the residents in the houses above. We kept two huge 3 inch thick steaks for ourselves (one for supper and one for the freezer) and placed the remainder in Zip-Loc bags to be used as gifts to George, the chief of Dakuniba village which was in the bay to our north.
It is traditional in Fiji to attend a sevusevu (welcoming) ceremony when you anchor near a village, during which you introduce yourself, present a gift (kava root) and ask permission to stay in the anchorage and visit the village and surrounding mountains and waters. Not wishing for the fish to spoil, we dinghied the 1/2 mile to the village and were met by Semici who brought us to George's house. George is a muscular, physically fit 75 year old who is, shall we say, dentally impaired. He was quite happy to receive the gift of kava we had brought but was amazed at the amount we gave him: ~35 lbs. of wahoo. George and Semici did the usual prayer over the kava but during our interview he kept lifting up the bags of fish and smiling. It was a lot of fish and would feed many people.
The following morning dawned bright though dark swatches of clouds dotted the horizon over the island to the north and about 1000 the sky darkened and the sound of tropical rain in the forest crept in with the rise in wind. After our deck was washed, we dinghied over to Dakinuba and met on the beach Farasiko (known to some as Sautini), who walked us through the immaculately clean village of tiny homes set around a large central grassy field where a dark blue, and humble, wooden, Catholic church dominated the scene. A "lali" or a hollowed out log drum sits beside the church and is drum which for generations has called villagers to prayer, announced births, wars, etc.
We crossed a stream and began to climb through plantings of cassava and bananas and soon heard the stream cascading through the thick wet vegetation. Almost immediately we came to a waterfall or a series of waterfalls as the stream wandered around house-sized boulders and crashed down into hollows carved out of the rock over millennia. Hand to hand we climbed and crossed the stream and followed our guide on a faint path to the site of "vatuvola" or written stones. No one knows how old they are, or what they mean but they are widely believed to have been carved by the earliest settlers to Fiji.
Back in the village, we were invited to sit and rest under the ancient banyan trees (called "buka" in Fijian) at the landing and were soon joined by other villagers including Peter, the "turago ni koro" (or hereditary chief). In typical village style we sat for a couple of hours while we helped to strip pandanus leaves of thorns in preparation for weaving, took lots of photos and answered dozens of questions. The highlight of our visit (or so it seemed) was when we brought out lollies...the kids eyes got huge and their tongues told of their want for the sweets and even the adults were scrambling. Such a simple thing to us but a thrill to these isolated islanders.
Back over in "our" bay, we explored ashore a bit, meeting eventually everyone living in the three homes made of a hard wood called vesi: David & Margaret, Bertha and George, adopted beauty Neomi (ñOH my); George's brother Charlie; Enid and Ella. Bertha and George's other children were in school at Taveuni. The homes were not by any stretch pretty, with flat tin roofs and ells extending in all directions but once you got your shoes off and got inside they were dry and comfortable and immaculately clean. Power in generated on site by solar panels or a small generator. Electronic gadgets were few (Margaret's sewing machine is driven by a treadle) but photos fill the walls and lovely hand crocheted covers graced the furniture. Ella's home was filled with historic photos of large wooden merchant sailing ships built by her late husband Arthur which were used for transporting passengers and copra during the days of prosperity for copra plantations. Still, the estate has 400 cattle ranging free in the mountains, and although the homes appear modest and we are SURE the men work very hard, life seems comfortable. Too, they have a gorgeous view of the bay, the reef and the surrounded mountains, as breezes tickle the curtains.
We also ventured into the creeks on the north of the bay, which were difficult to visualize from afar as their entrances were mere divots in the mangrove boundary. When the tide was high we had enough water to cross the muddy entrances and once inside both creeks we found they were lovely calm waterways about 15' wide that wound this way and that and intermingled with the surrounding mangrove forests. Unknown avian inhabitants called out our presence but we saw few amongst the orchid-dotted (and spider webbed) trees. A pollen (red and unidentified) floated slowly with us as we pushed inside with the last of the rising tide. We half expected a howler monkey to begin his roar or a crocodile to slither off the bank...but then remembered this was Fiji.
While ashore one day we received permission to burn our trash in the inter-tidal zone of the beach. This may seem odd to folks back home but be assured this is the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of non biodegradable waste and we leave no trace when we are done; what does not burn completely is hauled away for later disposal. This produced some fireworks - literally - as Philip was a BAD BOY and carelessly mixed water-soaked signal flares (from a ditch bag mishap) with the consolidated garbage. Luckily Leslie noticed a flare just as she was tossing a bag onto the fire (started with driftwood). She ran and reached a safe distance (all the while muttering expletives that should never be uttered by a lady) about the time the first flare exploded. You may or may not know that Fiji is still under military governance since the last coup and firearms owned by the citizens were confiscated. In short, Fiji is not the place you want to be exploding 25 mm flares that sound amazingly like gunshots. The good news is that no one got hurt and both of us still have ten fingers. (Philip thought it was "exciting" but it was just the little devil in him.]
One feature of Nasasobu bay was the flying fox colony on the point to our west. We are not sure yet if these are the endangered monkey faced bats of the Mirimiri genus but these bats certainly did NOT seem endangered; there were thousands of them lined up like clothes hanging out to dry. These bats are relatively small but with large wings and an finger-like protuberances projecting from the middle of each wing. At dusk they fill the sky in the bay and even swoop down and seem to take sips of water. We've never had them come so close to us at anchor and we just sat quietly and enjoyed the show.
Our interactions with the locals were warm and wonderful. We took lots of photos and printed what we could as souvenirs, dispensed lollies to kids and adults alike, dispensed a bit of disinfecting scrub and antibiotic ointment to treat a festering wound, and bought a mangrove bark tapa from a lovely woman, Paulini, who generates money to care for her grandchildren and her disabled husband this way. Philip gave multiple "tours" of our nesting dinghy, of interest to these islanders who seem to be looking for alternatives to large vessels that suck expensive fuel (kayaks have become common for fishing or traveling about).
In return we received gifts of bananas, pineapples, pawpaw, passion fruit and dozens of glorious lemons. In fact one morning we woke to find a large 10 liter bucket in our dinghy filled to overflowing with lemons and passion fruit. We later found out this was a gift from David, Margaret's husband, but probably in thanks from the settlement for the antibiotics and disinfecting scrub we donated. What a nice surprise...and we're still using these lemons to make tonic bottles full of full strength juice, which we dilute and then add a bit of fructose to make a lovely lemonade. Some of the lemons are a soft reddish orange inside and this makes our lemonade a beautiful color.
One fine day we headed for the village intent on hiking the "highway" which we understood traveled high into the hills and offered views. It was Monday but the village was bustling and everyone was dressed in their best as this was the day of the monthly visit from the priest; and mass had been said mid-morning. Directed to the road by Sia and her husband Mika, we crossed the stream and started up the terminus of the Hibiscus "Highway". Here, it's merely a grassy double track that looks as if vehicle traffic is rare. A mountain bike or a horse (common here) seem like the better vehicles on this road. The climb was gradual, though significant, and the views were fabulous of both Nasasobu and Dakuniba bays and the barrier reef beyond, plus the village nestled into the valley.
When it was time to say good-bye, we went first to the village of Dakuniba and found Chief George gone out. Someone told us he'd gone into the bush and someone else told us he'd borrowed Margaret's kayak and gone fishing on the reef. We walked through the village and found it quiet but did see Sia and Mac and met Maria and were able to say goodbye and thank you. We dinghied off and could see the bright red kayak with the chief aboard paddling towards the reef but realized he was moving so fast we would never catch him. Around the point we stopped in at the settlement in Nasasobu and sat awhile with Bertha talking of the tragedies of the day - the earthquake in Christchurch, NZ and the death of the American yachties at the ruthless hands of the Somali pirates - and also expressed our thanks for their warmth and kindness and hospitality. To our surprise, Charlie, the handsome young man who met us when we first landed here 10 days ago, offered to pilot us inside the reef down to Viani Bay. Thrilled by this offer, we quickly accepted.
Our trip to Viani Bay in the company of Charlie from Nasasobu was an uneventful trip. Charlie had never actually been aboard a sailboat so we were able to show him our layout and our systems and he was filled with questions. It was great to have him aboard as we had to navigate through narrow corridors lined with reef all the way to Benauiwai Island, difficult to do without local knowledge. To thank him, we sent him back (in his kayak) with a bottle of lemonade, a ham sandwich and a fishing lure we've used to catch mahimahi.
We'll pick up the thread at Viani Bay in our next passage note...
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake