September 28, 2011

Fiji: Suva and a visit to The Kadavu Group

We departed Lavuka as soon as we cleared in for the 40 mile trip to Suva just before lunch with cloudy skies and brisk winds out of the SE.  Our course was SW and we were close hauled with the winds coming from 60 degrees off our port bow and averaging just over 7 knots.  It was a bumpy, wet ride and we were fighting the clock to make port before dark. We rounded the SE corner of Viti Levu just after 4:00 pm and and found ourselves quickly running out of daylight.  Luckily there was a bay that we could anchor in that we found on the charts and set our course for Luthala Island 7 miles closer across the bay from Suva. 

The outer reef into the bay was strewn with the rusty remains of several wrecks and I was more than a little nervous as we past Belcher Rocks and carefully made our way through the shallow cut in the reef.  When you watch the depth meter go from several hundred feet to the low 20’s in just a 100 yards you always wonder just how shallow will it get?  We saw the bottom rise in the clear blue water to just 16 feet before it dropped back to 80, the depth of the inside passage.  Whew!! we had a whole 10 feet to spare!

With the anchor buried in soft mud just before dark and Downtime safely in a protected bay we had a restful night sleep but woke the next day to still more stormy weather.  Our first mission in Suva was to restock the produce refrigerator and after a quick breakfast we set off in SD across the bay to the market.  Wouldn’t you know it, half way across the skies opened up as we made our way to the Yacht Club in pouring rain.  We left SD at the dingy dock and got into the cab with wet butts and off to the market we went.

The cabs here are easy to find and really cheap, it was only $2 US to get to the market a short 10 minute ride downtown.  The market is just short of amazing with hundreds of vendors peddling the local produce. One section is just water melons and pineapples and in other areas you can find most any thing your heart desires produce wise.  Upstairs is where they sell Kava and other dried goods.  Kava is the local nova cane tea drink that numbs your whole body as we would soon find out.  We bought a few kilos to be used as gifts to the chiefs at islands we would soon visit.  Then it was downstairs to do some serious produce shopping.  An hour later we had our Home Depot bags full of all we could carry for about $50 US.   Every vendor had the same prices and treated us nicely, but freshness was what we were looking for and there was plenty of really fresh stuff here.  We finally had to hire a guy with a wheel barrow to follow Daria around to haul all the vegetables she was buying.   Outside on our way to the taxi stand we walked through the flower vendors and there were giant birds of paradise, beautiful orchids  and many other colorful flowers on sale.

Another $2 got us a ride back to the Yacht Club where we were met by the manager with a message that Customs had called them and was wondering where we were at?  We told them we had weather problems and would be in shortly after lunch to clear in. With customs you learn to tell them what the want to hear not necessarily what is really going on.

It took us another 20 minutes to motor SD across the bay in 2 foot chop back to Downtime.  Daria put our market plunder into the refrigerator after a quick rinse/dry and packed it into green food saver bags, which really work by the way…

We weighed anchor and headed back to town with Downtime to meet the customs officials after lunch.   We called them on the radio like we were just clearing port and were directed to anchor in from of the Yacht Club.  When they asked us when we arrived? We said we just dropped the anchor, which we really did just do…that was good enough for them, and $45 later we were all cleared in.  I was told the $45 is for  Bio-Security and looking in just 3 lockers was sufficient for the required search?  They were not to concerned with our herb garden with soil from Roatan, Galapagos and Tahiti, go figure?

There were a few other things we needed to do while we were in Suva one was to get a new Passport for Capt. Pedro and the other a Visa for Daria to visit NZ, oh and some more spare parts!!   Apparently the water maker low pressure pump did not like the salt water bath it took on our way over and was making strange noises due to bearing failure.  We took the motor to Fiji Motor Winders and they cleaned, re-baked and put new bearing in for just under $100 US and had it ready the next morning!!  Unbelievable service!!  Thanks guys!!  To top it off the owner of this shop found a new seal for the pump, one I had already been to 4 shops to find and had all but given up on.  What service!!!

The next morning was my appointment at the embassy and I took a cab up the hill to the new embassy.  This place gives you just a glimpse why the USA has such a huge deficit.  If this building cost less than $100 million I will eat it! No questions asked… Of to the side of the path was a huge 100x200 foot tent that they used to have parties under.. hmm? Party at the embassy!!   The security left me wondering what is so important inside an embassy?  To get in first you must make an appointment and have proper identification.  Then you meet the first guard the guy who drew the short straw that morning and has to work outside on his feet in the heat all day and tell him your name and show ID.  This guy then radios to the three guys inside behind the bomb proof glass paneled room to open the 300 pound stainless bullet proof steel door which lets you into the scanner room where they the “Big Straw people with chairs and AC” check your ID again and scan you and your bag.  Then, once cleared you are buzzed out into the courtyard that is between this security building and the main structure which is a 200 foot walk down a concrete sidewalk.  Once there another short straw guy is there to recheck your name and ID.  If the waiting room inside is full you are asked to wait under a stainless steel shade along the path.  Once there is space inside you are buzzed into the outer door and scanned by 3 more people and then finally buzzed through a fourth door to a hall way and ultimately into a fifth very secure door to the waiting room where another guard “bigger straw guy AC but no chair” asks you to have a seat in front of a TV broadcasting  CNN from the states.  Inside there are 5 widows that looked to have VERY thick glass with agents talking though microphones helping applicants.  I was the only American in the waiting room and did not have to wait long and was taken to a special room and processed in about 15 minutes. $110 later I was on my way wondering how our government could spend so much and do so little….I bet it cost them over $1000 to process a passport here!, but to our amazement it was ready to pick up in just over a week!!  I went to pick it up the following Friday and was told to be there before noon.  When I arrived I was the only one there and went through the security and 5 doors in 10 minutes and on my way out saw the band show up under the tent and the catering truck.  Looks like everyone gets Friday afternoons off and parties at the embassy!

Daria’s Visa application was much simpler, go to the post office and mail the form across the street to the Reserve Bank Building where normal countries have embassies.  Hers visa was free and was also done in a week but we will have to renew it in 90 days…..

Later that afternoon we went to the museum and saw some really cool things.  It is hard to believe they were still eating people here just over 100 years ago on little man shaped plates with round 5 pronged forks!  They had an original outrigger canoe on display, a small 40 foot version of the 100 plus foot sailing crafts that used to carry goods between the islands.  There were lots of old clothes and costumes on display and an exhibition about global warming and the effects it is having on some of the low lying islands in the area done by local schools.

Amazingly we had all our chores done in three days and were ready to get out of Suva and find some better weather.  Suva is on the SE shore with mountains to the west and it seems to always be raining here? 

We left the next morning after a night of rain to go to Kanavu group, Dravani Island just 45 miles to the south.  On our way we sailed past a small island with a lighthouse inside, it was to rough to get inside and anchor so we continued on to Usborne Passage and into the main lagoon.  We anchored off of one of the many island, Dravani and a Dutch boat  “De Ware Jacob“ with Jaap and Renee aboard.  The next morning we took our Kava gift and other gifts for the kids and went to the village to meet the chief.  Well, the chief was not quite as impressive as the last and the whole meeting felt well rehearsed. He accepted our Kava like it was our duty to him and not a gift, and then said we were free to look around the village.  That was the last we saw of him but other in the village were very nice and asked us to church and lunch the next day which we gladly accepted since they were celebrating Fathers Day.

As we walked around the village we handed out toys, shirts and candy.  But to our amazement the simplest toys were the best.  I would blow up a beach ball and all the kids would just stare, wondering how something so big could come out of such a small package?  The other favorite is a small water filled toy that has a dolphin and small rings inside. When you push the buttons the rings float up and you have to get them on the dolphins nose.  For the 2 year olds we have small rubber balls with happy faces on them, just small enough for their little hands to grab a hold of and create another smile!!

The next morning was Sunday and church started at 10:30 with the pounding on a hollowed out log not the ringing of a bell.  Half the village was there but strangely not the chief?  The church was a simple building with open windows and pews made from 2X8 lumber and the floor was plain concrete.  Too bad the services have all been in the native language, but the hymns are still all the same as I grew up with and we had a translator that gave us the gist of the message sitting right next to us

After church we ere invited to lunch by EVERYONE!  There were two different gatherings and it was hard to figure out what the polite thing to do was?  So, we said we would do both!!  We went to the first gathering  that seemed to have all the small kids with their families attending.  The meal was laid out on a long table cloth set on the floor upon woven mats out side a home under a shade next to the cooking place. There were 40 or so people there and the kids had their own place to eat next to ours.  The meal was prepared in huge pots and served in many serving dishes spread in the middle of the table cloth served home style.  For lunch there was all you can eat fresh fish, shark, taro, yucka, cassava, breadfruit and seaweed all of which you loaded on your plate with and drowned it in coconut cream sauce. We brought a bowl of Caribbean style ceviche which most poured coconut cream into and a few bags of corn chips which the kids loved.  The locals ate with their fingers but gave us a set of silverware.  There were no beverages or napkins but at the end of the meal a bowl of water and towel was passed around to clean your fingers.  Man I should try to sit Indian style more often….

After lunch we took a 40 minute hike up to the highest point on the island.  What a view!  You could see at least 20 islands floating in the deep blue water surrounded by turquoise reefs.  Most of the islands here have beautiful white sand beaches just waiting to have their first set of footprints put into them.

This island is frequented by sailors and even has a cruise ship stop at it once or twice a month.  The locals are savy to this and have learned to ask for whatever they can talk you out of, we left them with extra gear oil, epoxy, a spear gun shaft and fishing lures off of Downtime

Later that afternoon we took SD to one of the close by island that had a halfway built resort built on it and had a walk around.  We parked at the dock that was 90% complete made of really nice hardwood and concrete piers.  The two room bungalows they were building were really fancy and some had their own swimming pools and Jacuzzi tubs and showers in a garden area outside.  This place was going to be REALLY fancy if it ever gets finished…We heard the investors bailed during the last coo and then the whole economy thing left it high and dry of funds and now it just sits here deteriorating.  So if anyone has an extra 10 or 20 million laying around  I know where you could get a great deal on a half way completed resort and a really nice island.

One of the guys we met in the village name was Kry who was a diver and knew the outer  reef.  We asked him to take us diving the next day and the next morning we loaded SD with all the gear and went out to the reef with the lighthouse in the middle of it.  Daria and I went down first and were greeted by the locals 1000’s of colorful fish and 5 very curious white tip sharks who checked us out before swimming off into the abyss. The outer reef was a a couple hundred feet across with a outer100 foot wall of coral that had  lots of bright colors, crystal clear water and showed no signs of bleaching.  It is always amazing to dive in remote areas where you are most likely the only diver that has ever been there and to see such beauty.  The reef fish here are all still alive and swimming around it staggering numbers unlike many of the places we dove.

Our second dive was on the reef on the main island and Kry and I hoped to spear a few fish for dinner.  Kry knew all the good spots and this one was loaded with Grouper and within 15 minutes I shot two nice fish.  Thank goodness there were no sharks around to steal them from us. The dive was deep and I almost ran out of air chasing my last fish.  Lucky for that fish my air gauge showed just 200 psi. but I was still 100 feet down and was a little freaked out.  I slowly ascended to the surface and ran out of air just as my head got above water, whew close one!!  Hunting fish really gets your blood pumping and you use a lot of air down there getting caught up in the excitement of it all.  While Kry and I were diving Daria was snorkeling the reef taking pictures of all the coral and took some really good shots with her underwater camera.

After our dives we went back to Downtime and cooked one of the fish on the grill stuffed with rice, peppers and ginger.  Nothing better than fresh grouper cooked on the grill this way!!   After lunch Kry wanted to show me how they collect sea cucumbers and we set off to see if we could find a few.  The dive was in the middle of the lagoon in 100 to 120 feet of water that was murky with only 30 feet of visibility.  We dove down to 100 feet and swam a big circle while scanning the bottom for our prey, a foot and a half long sea slug that is 5 inches in diameter.  We only found one slug and were soon out of air and swam back to SD on the surface.   The sea slugs are one of the main cash crops in the outer islands and a nice size one brings $50.  They usually free dive for these and are pulled to the bottom holding a big weight and then spear the slug before dropping the weight shooting back to the surface for air.  Selling these slugs is how they can afford to drive around in new boats with big outboards on them and feed their families.

Back on Downtime Kry showed us how to make Kava and we had a few cups of the nasty tasting stuff.  When drinking it you first notice your mouth going numb and I am told if you keep drinking it your whole body goes numb but we did not find that out and stopped with a just few cups.  Thanks for the adventure and for taking us diving Kry!!

Later that day we motored south in Downtime and met several other boats anchored next to Buliya Island.  One boat was “Super Mario” which we met the week before with Paolo and his crew from Brazil, but the other boats were new to us.  “Malikalalou” which means: “that moment when everyone quits talking at once and you feel a spirit pass by”  with Rolando and Sara a Lebanese couple on a Privilege 435 and Andre and Alexandra from Italy  on “Andrea” a 50 foot Catana cat.  We invited everyone over for a party the following night on Downtime and would soon have 5 different nationalities enjoying each others company.

The next day Andre, Rolando, Daria and myself took a local out fishing in SD for a few hours because his boat was broke down but we did not have any luck.. After fishing we went back to Downtime and were getting ready for the party and we noticed a fire had started on the island!  Soon huge flames were burning everything in site!  Later that evening when it reached the top of the mountains it looked like a huge volcano as it spewed embers into the air.  The fire burned through the night and nearly burned down the village on the far side of the island. Luckily the fire finally burned itself out but by morning left all our boats covered in a nasty layer of black ashes.

We found out later that one of the local was just trying to burn some branches when the fire got out of control.

 We were finally able to check our e-mail on Paolo’s laptop with a Vodafone air card and found out our passport and visa were ready and the next morning we sailed back to Suva after the boat washing party. Nice meeting everyone!! See you somewhere down the road, and watch you ash!!

On our way out of the lagoon we trolled a few lines and caught a nice mackerel which we gave to the locals when we arrived in Suva

Back in Suva we had just a few thing left to do, get the documents, fuel up Downtime and do some final provisioning for Tonga.  On our way over to the yacht club in SD just as we pulled into the marina I felt something strange crawling on my lap, I went to brush it away and jumped as it turned out to be a 2 foot poisonous water snake!!!  MAN I just about jumped out of the dink with it running!!  The snake hit the floor and my feet hit the air!!!  I was driving standing on the side of the boat and people were looking at me like I was crazy!!  Daria was up in the front of the boat taking pictures of our new crew…Man I hate snakes!!!  We tied up SD and found a stick to lift him out of the boat and back into the water where he swam off under the docks.  Now anything that brushes me I think SNAKE!!! Yikes!!

One last stop at the cafĂ© to get a espresso and piece of chocolate cake for Daria  and she was ready to sail.

We hauled 80 gallons of fuel back to Downtime 40 at a time and on our second trip I noticed I did not turn a valve the right way and there was 2 inches of fuel on the locker floor!!!  I was wondering how safe it would be but I sucked it all up in the shop vacuum and pumped it through the fuel scrubbing system and back into the tank and 3 hours later the locker was back to lemony fresh. But what a mess and a lot of extra work!!

With the refrigerator full of fresh veggies and fuel tanks full of diesel we cleared out of Suva and headed north for a overnight sail to  Savusavu  which would be our last stop in Fiji before heading to Tonga.

In our next adventure we will be making the dreaded 400 mile upwind journey to Tonga!!

Until then live your dreams!!

Peace!! Capt Pedro and Daria