Monday, July 30, 2007

Beyond Fiji

We're making final preparations to depart Fiji in the next few days (we hope) and make the three and half day passage to Vanuatu.

Vanuatu promises a great adventure and our first stop should be at the island of Tanna which boasts an active volcano to which you can hike to the erupting crater. The other major attractions are the annual Toka Festival every August and witnessing first hand the John Frum cargo cult.

"The three day Toka Festival on Vanuatu’s Tanna Island is one of Vanuatu’s major cultural events. This gift-exchanging ceremony makes a magnificent sight, as up to 2000 participants attempt to out-do each other with their lavish gifts, dancing skills and ornate makeup. This festival is a symbol of alliance between different tribal groups and the more one gives, the larger status they acquire.

The ceremony begins with women dancing all night, surrounded by men who are waiting for dawn to come so they can take their place. At sunrise, the Toka dance begins and the men mime scenes of daily life. A group of the host village then carries out a dance in reply to the Toka, stamping the ground rhythmically. There is also a pig killing ceremony, food exchange and visits to various Nakamals."

After Tanna island we'll make our way north through the Vanuatu island chain and at the end of September it will be off to the Solomon Islands where we plan to spend the cyclone season and leave the boat near Gizo Island in the northern part of the country while we return stateside for the holidays. By staying in the tropics as opposed to heading to NZ or AU we'll extend our cruising season and be well positioned to head to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand in 2008. The only downside will be hot weather with high humidity and the upside amazing cultural experiences in the wilds of the Solomon’s.

Latoka Market (read more below)

Latoka Market

Shopping for fresh foods at the daily market in Latoka, Fiji is a real treat. Fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish and spices abound. On each visit we load ourselves down with full back packs and stuffed grocery bags in each hand. If we splurge on the expensive items like a few dozen fresh eggs at $3.30FJD a dozen then we’ll rack up a bill of around $20FJD or about $14USD for all the food we can carry. The spices are amazing and our new found interest in Indian food has the spice cabinet bulging with exotic spices, curries and peppers. Some of the spices are pictured in a ray of sunlight flowing in from a window above.

Latoka, FIJI

Shopping around town and at the market.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Monday, July 16, 2007

Yandua Island, Fiji

Yadua island (pronounced Yan-do-ah) offers an idyllic anchorage in Cukuvou Harbor on the west side of the island. The coral fringed island offers spectacularly clear waters for excellent snorkeling, picturesque white sand beaches and isolation from villages with their barking dogs and crowing roosters.

When we first arrived eight days ago we were lucky enough to share the bay with only sailing vessel "Miami". "Miami" is a beautiful Swiss flagged fifty four foot custom aluminum sloop. Sailing west from Thailand about eight years ago they have nearly circled the globe. George and Ute always seem to be on the move pursuing some activity from dawn to dusk. Beach bonfires are a frequent occurrence with much good conversation late into the night.

Both the snorkeling and fishing are excellent in the bay. The reefs to the south west of the bay boast vertical walls plunging into the depths, underwater canyons and overhangs adorned with bright purple and pink soft corals, crimson sea fans to name a few of the innumerable colors and varieties. Diving to view the corals one is surrounded by thousands of tiny fishes a few inches long in florescent blue and greens. Deeper down huge Napoleon fish or Wrasse swim curiously around at a tilt to better eye the new visitors. Parrot, Angel, Surgeon and Snapper fish of all sizes and colors are prolific.

Trolling a lure behind the dinghy around the bay has yielded a nice Giant Trevaly and several other fishes of indeterminate variety. Generally, a half an hour prior to sunset we head out to troll for dinner as fresh supplies are running low and we're dependant on fresh fish. The next opportunity to reprovision will take us back to the main island of Viti Levu and we are in no hurry to leave this paradise.

The cruising community is incredibly generous and a mere mention of need, offers of support pour forth. For example we mentioned to another yacht that we would need to leave as we were running out of essentials such as butter, eggs and gasoline for our outboard dinghy engine. Immediately, offers to borrow fuel and provisions came from all directions. Mark & Judy on Windbird supplied three plus gallons of fuel and Joe and Cindy on Maggies Drum stopped by with a jug of gas, tin of butter and half a dozen eggs. What a great community.

I'm the self proclaimed computer expert in the fleet and offer my services freely to all in need. I also advocate the use of electronic navigation as an additional tool to bolster traditional methods. I really enjoy teaching and spend many hours a week tutoring those hoping to improve their skills. It's tempting to start a consulting business, but that's not in keeping with the endless generosity of the cruising community.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

True Fish Story

Each day my back has been feeling a little better and after a few days anchored out at the point we decided to head back in to Savusavu. Kathy suggested we put out the fishing line and instead of head strait back to town do a loop out past the reef. I seconded the idea as a friend had recently caught a nice fifteen pound tuna from his dingy a few days earlier.

It was raining lightly and fully overcast as we trolled around just outside the reef. After a half an hour it looked like more rain and so we turned back toward Savusavu. Cutting close to the light house off the Jean Cousteau resort Kathy noticed the pole tipped dip a few times and then a few more. I picked up the rod and looking back saw a large fin. More taps on the line so I let some line out then quickly retrieved to tease the fish in to striking. This old Pacific Northwest salmon fishing trick worked and instantly the rod was doubled over and the reel screaming.

The large fin made me think we had a large shark, given the steady pull of line rocketing off the reel. Moments later that idea was busted when a seven to eight foot marlin broke through the surface with it's huge sword thrashing madly in the air as it mightily tried to spit the hook. Needless to say my excitement level was pegged in the red zone. Kathy took the helm to chase after the fish and a memorable battle ensued with the fish jumping clear of the water at times and repeatedly stripping line off the reel at an amazing pace. With arms burning from the incredible pressure we traded off fighting the fish and ever so slowly the battle turned and we started to gain ground and after about thirty minutes we had the fish within two boat lengths. Again, it charged away with renewed vigor taking several hundred yards of line. Each time it would burst out of the water I was sure the hook would be thrown free, but it held on tenaciously. Another fifteen or twenty minutes went by before we again had the fish close. My arms were so tired I could barely hold the rod and reel and wondered who would ultimately win the battle. Now we had the fish within about forty feet and had our gaff hook and a large noose ready (we intended to lasso the tail of the fish with the noose to secure the fish from escape and to assist in lifting it into the boat) as I was concerned that the fish outweighed me considerably and that it might pull me in the water once I sunk the sharp tip of the gaff into it's head. We'd been fighting the fish off the starboard side and intended to land it there as well. With lasso and gaff at the ready the fish decided to swim around the bow of the boat. Kathy deftly maneuvered the boat in reverse to keep the fish from fouling the line on the underside of the boat. Unfortunately, the dinghy that was tied amidships on the port side swung around the bow and the fishing line broke as it rubbed on the dinghy.

Damn! We were so close to landing this monster. I'd already pictured myself proudly standing next to the fish in front of the Savusavu yacht club as yachties and townspeople gathered around marveling at the size of the beast. Meanwhile the local newspaper reporters peppered us with questions as cameras clicked and flash bulbs filled the air in preparation for the front page story in tomorrows Fiji Times. Then slicing up the one hundred and eighty pounds of fish so the whole town would enjoy marlin steaks for dinner. Oh well, the battle was memorable and I have a few more days of fishing in my future.

Today we sailed out of Savusavu and will slowly make our way to Yadua Island only seventy miles or so away, but the route will traverse many reefs so we plan to break the trip up into three segments. We covered twenty five miles today and even managed to catch a nice yellow fin tuna along the way and once anchored prepared some beautiful lightly seared pepper crusted tuna steaks. Fish so fresh it nearly melts in your mouth.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Back injury in Savusavu

Almost 2 weeks ago we had the boat provisioned, officially checked out with the customs officers of Savusavu (a nice little town on Vanua Levu, Fiji) and then on our way out of the harbor we went alongside the "Copra Shed" wharf to fill up the water tanks. I'd had a bit of a kink in my back that morning, but chose to ignore it instead of taking a few minutes to stretch. So we came alongside the wharf and I stepped off the boat to tie it up and pulling on a line I felt a crunch in my lower back and then some breath taking pain that almost made my legs give out. I hand the line to Kathy and hunched over immediately to go aboard the boat and lie down on my back. The pain is like nothing I've ever experienced as I lay flat on my back. Kathy proceeds to fill the tanks and then we call a friend Steve from s/v Red Sky over to help pilot the boat back to a mooring. At one point I try to stand up to go the bathroom and it's a no go to walk so I crawl to the bathroom under extreme duress.

The next five days I spent flat on my back going absolutely stir crazy. Fortunately, Kathy did a great job of keeping me company and nursing me back to health. The first few days I was just hoping that whatever I did would eventually heal enough that I'd be able to walk without my legs buckling from the electric pain radiating from my lower back. The self diagnosis is a herniated disk, but since there are no medical facilities equipped with MIR or CAT scan machines nearby I'll need to wait for an official diagnosis. Kathy has a good story about going to the hospital on my behalf that we'll post here on the blog as well.

Anyway, on the fifth day I ventured on deck albeit in extreme pain. On the Sixth day I went for a short very very very slow walk. The good news is everyday I get a little better, although I expect the recovery to take many more weeks to come. In the interim we'll continue to take it easy. Just today we moved the boat to an anchorage about thirty minutes from town and I went for a swim which felt good. It's nice to be out of the Savusavu harbor for a change.

I'm very thankful to have had this incident occur in a nice protected harbor where we had a mooring to tie up to, great shopping and a ever helpful cruising community providing support and well wishes. Should it have happened on passage or in a remote area it would have been a bit more stressful.

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