August 21, 2012

Our last weeks in Fiji

We found ourselves waiting for a package that was sent from the states over a month ago…We addressed the package to Port Denareau Post Office and assumed that is where it would be delivered. After several calls during the week it was finally located at the airport terminal and would have to be collected there after paying a $3 Fiji duty ($1.60 US) and a $25 cab ride.

We had a few other things to wrap up before we left Fiji, getting an alternator rewound and a sail re-cut. They were both going to be ready on "Friday" but which Friday was yet to be determined…. The first attempt for pickup was a bust with no package, alternator or sail ready so we sailed back to Monuriki Island, one of our favorite spots in Fiji for a few days.

The weather was perfect and we were relaxing anchored off the island when I came up with the idea to do the shark dive in Pacific Harbor 70 just miles away. This was one of the few days that the wind was calm and we motored 10 hours to get to Pacific Harbor on the south side of Venu Levu. We arrived at midnight and navigated through the 1000 foot wide pass on a dark moonless night with the sound of waves crashing on the reef on either side of us. Luckily this was one time both sets of electronic charts agreed with each other and we anchored in a calm bay in 40 feet of water and feeding fish dancing on the surface all around us.

We woke to a clear calm morning perfect for diving and drove SD in and met with Aquatrek Divers for the world famous shark dive. They have been feeding sharks here for over 14 years and have created a sanctuary for the sharks and fish. They have seven varieties of sharks and over seventy varieties of fish living here all protected from the local fishing industry.

The dive was in your face action with fish and sharks feeding just a few feet in front of you. The guides would bring down 50 gallon trash cans full of fish parts and the feed was on. The guide and trash can would disappear in a cloud of feeding fish that included Jacks, Travails, Walloo, Remoras. and Goliath Groupers that were over 7 feet long and 500 pounds to name just a few. Then out of the blue abyss would swim a huge shark and glide right through the middle of it all and calmly gobble up whatever he pleased. We saw several Bull Sharks, a Lemon Shark (No they are not yellow!) White tips, Black Tips, and Nurse Sharks! Any of these bad boys would have no trouble snacking on an arm or leg! The Giant Groupers would calmly swim up to the guide holding the sack full of Tuna heads and gently take the bowling ball sized head out of his hand and swallow it whole and let him pet her as she swam off. The sharks would do the same just a little more slyly and the guide was sure to not lets his hands get quite so far away from his body.
Luckily these sharks were kept fat and happy and were being fed three times a week. Bull sharks are very territorial and one must have had a been in the wrong place recently and was sporting a 16 inch bite mark on his side obviously inflicted by a much bigger shark than himself. I found myself thinking that I would hate find myself in the wrong neighborhood down here at night!

The dive itself was easy and enjoyed by 30 other divers at the same time. They had a line tied across for everyone to hold on to at 70 feet deep and we all had front row seats for the action. One shark in particular will forever be etched in my mind when he a 10 foot Bull shark swam out of the feed strait toward me and turned just a few feet in front of my face leaving me with no doubt I was in his world.
Somehow your brain lets you relax when there are 30 other people down there…But I don't think I would be so calm being the last diver down and holding the last fish head…..

After the dive we headed back to Downtime for some lunch and a relaxing afternoon. In the morning we made a 5 hour sail to Notadola Bay to anchor for the night. The Intercontinental Hotel is located in this bay and we called ashore for dinner reservations and were warmly welcomed to dine at Navo Restaurant. Daria went ashore to sit by the pool while I tried unsuccessfully to ride wave break on the paddle board. Around 5:00 I headed in and a few staff offered to moor out SD while Daria and I headed in for happy hour.

The resort was one of the nicest we had been to in Fiji and it was also nice to get off the boat for an evening ashore. Happy hour ended with a fire show and then it was off to dinner. The restaurant was one of the best we had eaten at in Fiji and had very reasonable prices with great service.

I was kicking around the idea of playing another round of golf but morning rain showers encouraged us to get moving so we set sail for Denareau to pick up our package and the parts that were finally ready.

Daria hit the produce market while I made the journey to the airport post office with my Indian taxi driver. Our driver was a third generation migrant who's grand father was brought over in the 40's to harvest sugar cane. The Fiji government would offer 5 year contracts to Indians to harvest cane and after 5 years they had the option of staying in Fiji or to go back home. Most stayed and now Indians make up of over 50% of the population of Fiji. The land however is all still owned by Fiji natives and it is hard for Indians to even obtain a lease to farm nowadays. Many have left the farming lifestyle and have found work in blue collar jobs like taxi drivers, mechanics and shop owners.

With Downtime full of provisions and the tanks full of diesel and water (and no water in the diesel we hope) we said farewell to Denareau and sailed to Lautoka 12 miles to the north to clear out of Fiji. The clearing out process involved filling out the same forms that we cleared in on….5 pages in duplicate which you think should already be on a data base somewhere at this point? Oh well….within 30 minutes we were cleared for Vanuatu.

On way out of the country we stopped one last time in Musket cove to bid farewell to our friends Brian and Linda on Malakite and set sail early the next morning for the 440 mile trip to Vanuatu.
 One thing we have found is that guessing the wind strength during a passage is pointless and we decided to get a good night rest before we set sail for Vanuatu It is what IT is after all! The projected winds of 20 to 25 knots in reality were 10 to 15 knots making he trip 72 hours not 48 so why bother setting sail in the middle of the night? One thing about light winds is the fact they push Downtime the perfect speed for trolling which is 6 to 7 knots and any faster than that it becomes difficult slowing the boat down to land fish.

The first day we ere blasting along at 9 to 10 knots with 25 knots of wind and lost two fish while taking in the sail but the second day the winds lightened and we landed two nice 35 pound Mahi's and one 4 foot Wahoo! The last day we found ourselves 110 miles out with light winds struggling to do the 5 knot average that would get us there in daylight hours and going too slow to attract any fish to our lour's.

It was nice to land a few nice fish and finally have more than enough to give away again. The sail has been calm and the seas kind, so much kinder to us than a friend who left last week and wound up giving his mast and sails to Poseidon after a cable fitting failed causing the mast to fall over and had to be cut away to save the boat.

Our next adventure will be exploring Vanuatu!!

Peace, until then!! And always live your dreams!!

Capt. Pete and Daria

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August 8, 2012

The West side of Fiji

The west coast of Fiji is a series of outer reefs and island chains. To the south is the Mamanuca Reefs and the Mamanuka Group of islands and a further north are the Ethel Reefs protecting the Yasawa Group. The furthest north is the Great Sea Reef which stretches over 100 miles along the entire western shore of Vanua Levu, the north island of Fiji.
The Yasawa Group is a tropical paradise where many film have been made over the years. Two of the most famous were The Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields and Castaway staring Tom Hanks. In reality the Castaway island is just 30 miles from an international airport and not surrounded by all the reefs you see in the movie. We were fortunate to have calm weather and anchored 100 feet off the Island in crystal clear water. But as usual the night we planed for a huge bonfire the surf came up and made landing the dink impossible. The Blue Lagoon is located on the northern end of the chain and looks nothing like the movie did? We are still in search of Gilligan’s Island……These group of islands lie about 25 miles of the west coast of Viti Levu the southern island of Fiji. The waters between are described on the charts as “full of coral patches” and are tricky to navigate.

We continued our adventure with a few days of kiting in Musket Cove and then it was time to pick up Daria’s best friend Katia in Port Denarau.. Katia’s plane arrived on time and she even had all her luggage! Pert Denarau is a recently built American style shopping/ restaurant center built next to the marina with famous named restaurants like the Bone Fish Grill and the Hard Rock CafĂ©. 

We chose the first for our dinner and were sorely disappointed with the quality of the crab special which turned into a expensive scavenger hunt to find any meat in those poor creatures. After sending 4 of them back we gave up any hope of getting a meal there and finished our wine and moved on to snack on some Indian Cuisine.

We set sail early the next morning for a quick stop at Robinson Crusoe Island to spent a evening enjoying the show they put on with fire walking, fire dancing, a hula girls shaking their booty in grass skirts. The dinner was cooked in the ground Fijian style and followed with a kava ceremony. This show is one of the best we have seen and we would highly recommend it if you are in the area.

With Downtime securely anchored behind the island the next morning we took SD up the river to a hidden lagoon that was connected to one of the most beautiful beaches in Fiji surrounding Natadola Bay with miles of white sand. The girls went for a walk to one of the resorts while I enjoyed the view and kept and eye on SD.

Our next stop was back to Musket Cove for few days where we went for a dive, snorkel and had a nice Bar B Q with our cruising friends. Girls did some land adventure and shopping...

As usual the tides or the winds were not favorable for kite surfing so we continued up the Mamanuka Island chain to our first stop at Monuriki Island where they filmed Castaway.

We had perfect weather and we met up with Paolo on Super Mario who had water skis aboard and we all skied in the calm waters. Daria had never skied before and got up on her second try! Amazing! We planed to have a huge bonfire but the winds and waves had their own plans….

We wound up pulling anchor to find a more secure place to stay the next morning and sailed to a nice anchorage in Vanua Levu Island 15 miles to the north. This island was not much friendlier and was surrounded by a jagged reef and only accessible at high tide.

A little farther to the north is Waya Island that had a very secure anchorage and a small village were we met the chief and presented our gift of Kava for his hospitality of letting us anchor there. The village is like many of the other small villages in Fiji with roughly 200 people living in it. A lot of these larger villages are supported by the tourism industry and have at least one tour boat a month visiting them. The village life is one where everyone contributes and everything is shared equally. The village has a plantation where they grow cassava and taro and raise a few pigs. There are also wild goats roaming the islands which are caught for special occasions. I find it strange in today’s day and age that they do not have cattle to consume the endless amount of forage available and provide milk for the kids?

The calm anchorage gave us another opportunity to water ski and to practice the paddle boards and after some time we all were able to get the hang of riding them, But it is definitely harder than it looks!!!

The next stop was Natuvalo Island where we swam with Manta Rays and spent an evening ashore having dinner at a back packer resort which turned out to be another culinary disappointment. The Manta’s return to the same spot a few times a week and a team of cleaner fish get to work removing any parasites from the Rays. These rays were five feet across, much smaller than the ones we saw last season in the Marquesas.

Bob on Braveheart met us in the anchorage and that afternoon we loaded up SD and went trolling and landed one Travalli, which made a nice dinner.

We woke the next morning to 35 knot winds and pouring rain squalls out of the east and found ourselves on the wrong side of the island for any protection. We were able to get through the pass between the islands to safety at first light and decided to continue up to the next stop at the Blue Lagoon (Yasawa Island) using wind instead of diesel to get us to our destination for a change.
The Blue Lagoon has become a tourist magnet and tourist laden boats arrive daily with their loads of snapshot taking travelers. I guess we have become spoiled on Downtime and do not get excited with a beach full of people. 

The winds clocked around to the north and I took the opportunity to sail the 50 miles back to Port Denarau. Along the way we finally caught a few fish when I spotted a school of feeding Skipjack. I drove the boat right through the middle a hooked two fish, one of which we kept to make ceviche.
The next week The girls went off for a mainland adventure while I stayed and repaired a few things on Downtime.

I did find time to play two golf courses with Bob off Braveheart, one in Denarau and the other a amazing course in Natadola Bay a course that was one of the top ten in my life. The course was maintained perfectly and the fairways became narrower as we played with three foot tall grass rough vaporizing any shot that did not land in the fairway. Luckily there were people selling used balls all around the course! My second game in two years left me with one thought…”I need Practice!”

Later in the week the girls -pick up Daria’s passport with visa for New Caledonia enduring a 3 hour bus trip to Suva. We will spend the next week in Musket Cove waiting for a sail to be repaired and for a package that was mailed three weeks ago from the states that is somewhere in transit?

Spending out last weeks in Fiji and then off to New Caledonia!
Peace! Pete & Daria & Katia