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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