July 8 to 15, 2015: Flight to Fiji and the Westin Denarau
Our flight from Lax to Nandi, Fiji was about 11 hours. The Fijian Airline isn’t as fancy as other airlines, but it was adequate. The nice thing is that it leaves LA at 10 PM and arrives in Fiji at 9 AM the next morning. You can get a reasonably good night’s sleep on this flight. Because I had to be back in Ann Arbor in five weeks for more cancer treatments, we decided to have a hired captain bring Argo up to Fiji from Auckland. Unfortunately she was delayed in her departure from Gulf Harbor because of weather, so we stayed at the Westin Resort at Denarau while we waited for her arrival. Fiji is a major vacation destination for Kiwis and Aussies and it was booked solid because of school holidays in New Zealand and Australia. Unfortunately the weather was cool and windy, so we arranged tours of the area and went to a Fijian cultural night at the hotel. The main feature of the cultural night were the “Firewalkers”. The evening began with a presentation of historical warrior dances followed by a dinner cooked Fijian style. Rocks were heated by a large fire, a pit is dug, food is wrapped in leaves or foil and placed in the pit and covered first with banana leaves and then with the heated rocks. The feast includes a variety of meat and fish along with taro, cassava and other vegetables. Despite all the festivities, the food really isn’t very good. Once dinner was over the rocks were rearranged and the warriors walked barefoot on them. This is called “fire-walking” and is quite a spectacle. Historically the Fijians were a war-like people who avidly practiced cannibalism and their cultural shows recall some of this heritage. One can only speculate that after barbequing their victim, warriors “fire-walked” in a final triumphant act.
The next day we toured Nandi, the largest town in the area. The town supports the international airport that was built during WWII by the U.S. to accommodate large airplanes; now it is the only airport capable of handling jet airliners. Nandi offers two “sights”; the Hindu Temple and the Farmers’ Market. The impressive Hindu Temple was very colorful and quite interesting. One thing that caught our attention us was the number of religions that are practiced here including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhists and of course a variety of Christian denominations.
When Argo arrived at Port Denarau (Nandi’s embarkation port for many tourists going to resorts by ferry) she was quite a sight, especially since it was the first time we had ever seen her come into port. Denarau is a very nice new development with shops, restaurants and a yacht club.
Fijian entry formalities were handled for us by an agent. Trying to figure out entry formalities can be very time consuming, confusing, and frustrating so we hired an agent to sort it all out for us. Total costs and fees for entering Fiji were about $325 USD. Almost all countries seem fixated with taxing alcohol; Canada is particularly obnoxious, but Fiji gets special mention. Here they reserve the right to mark each bottle of booze aboard a yacht and tax the owner on what has been consumed while in Fijian waters!
July 16: Under way from Denarau
We left Denarau Marina the next morning and headed for Waya Island and the Octopus resort. It was a glorious day. Paul Mabee, our captain from N.Z. was staying aboard for a few days as our guest. The first 20 miles or so were just beautiful, then the wind and waves picked up. By the time we got to Waya Island both Rebecca and I were a little sea sick, having been on land for about eight months. The bay at Waya was too rough to anchor, so we decided to head north to Naviti Island in the Yasawa Group.
The Fijian Islands are difficult to navigate because the charts are poor and the islands are surrounded by reefs and coral heads. Passages here should only be attempted during daylight hours and then only between 10 AM and 4 PM when the sun is high overhead and obstacles in the water can be clearly seen. From a seafarer’s standpoint, it is difficult sailing. The trade winds blow relentlessly around 18 – 25 knots, so the seas are rough and choppy. It was sunset when we finally anchored at Soso V Bay, a protected anchorage on Naviti Island. The bay was surrounded by mountains covered by tall brown grass like the rest of western Fiji. There was a small village at the end of the bay nestled in a coconut grove along the beach. Locals passed us waving and yelling “ BULA” as they returned from work aboard their outboard driven skiffs. Along the beach we could see campfires burning as the sun set. We anchored in about 60 feet of water with the wind blowing around 25 – 30 knots. Katabatic winds were a concern in this anchorage. Later in the evening a cruise ship anchored at the outer edge of the bay, probably seeking refuge in smooth water for its passengers.
Rebecca made a lovely dinner despite not feeling 100%: Chicken Cacciatore along with local French green beans, a vegan chocolate cake with a hint of cayenne pepper, all served up with a lovely red Saumur. It was delicious and perfect for a tired crew.
July 17: Soso V Bay to Turtle Island
The next morning brought brilliant sunshine. The wind was still up, so a choppy ride was in store for us as we weighed the anchored and started the 22 mile passage to the Blue Lagoon near Turtle Island. This is the place made famous by Brook Shields and the movie of the same name. We picked our way past the reefs and coral heads and found a nice anchorage near the beach amongst a few sailboats. We dropped the tender and made our way to the resort’s iconic tropical beach restaurant for lunch. During the afternoon we tidied things up aboard Argo and then relaxed. We grilled New Zealand lamb chops for dinner served with couscous and a wonderful fresh fruit salad.
July 18: Blue Lagoon
This is a beautiful spot, not really a lagoon in the sense that we discovered in the Tuamotus, but actually a widened passage between several islands. These islands rise out of the cerulean blue water as big, steep hills perhaps 2,000 feet high, covered in tall brown grass this time of year, with palm trees growing along the shores and in valleys. There were three villages on the beaches of different islands. We were anchored just off a very long gold sand beach with reefs all about. After breakfast, Rebecca and I went ashore and walked a few miles on the beach, then returned to the resort around noon for lunch. It took almost an hour to get our order, which was just a couple of sandwiches, and when I inquired as to when we might get them we were offered an apology and told it would be soon: the cook had gone to lunch!
All of us exercised in one way or another that afternoon. Around 5 PM we went ashore for Happy Hour at the Tikka Bar and talked with several sailors who had made the Pacific crossing at the same time we did. We hadn’t met them before, but they recognized Argo. Among them were Craig and Carol who hailed from Seattle. They had summered over in Fiji and didn’t go to New Zealand as many sailors do to avoid the cyclone season. They said they don’t want to take that risk again. It was great fun to share stories and learn from their experiences.
July 19: Crossing Bligh Water to Volivoli
It was a crystal clear day with a very comfortable weather forecast of light winds and moderate seas so we decided to weigh anchor and cross Bligh Water to Volivoli on the northwest coast of Viti Levu. It was a 50 mile crossing that would take about six hours. Bligh Water is named after Captain William Bligh (later Vice Admiral) of the H.M.S Bounty (which was a Cutter and Bligh a lieutenant and its only officer). He and eighteen loyal crew members were cast adrift in a small launch (by mutinous members of his crew) in 1789. In one of the all-time greatest feats of seamanship (Bligh learned navigation from Captain Cook) he sailed the boat 3,618 miles across an open, hostile ocean from Tahiti to Timor. He passed right through this Fijian channel, which the British named after him. Apparently he didn’t stop at Fiji because of the fierceness of the Fijians and their reputation for cannibalism. Local Fijians anecdotally claim that their ancestors chased him at sea, but failed to catch him.
Our course from Turtle Island to Viti Levu was almost a straight rhumbline, save for picking our way around a few reefs and coral heads. Although navigation is very hazardous, we found our MaxSea chart software to be almost accurate, so a sharp eye was always needed for the possibility of unmarked hazards. We traveled only between the hours of 10:00 and 16:00 when the sun is high and the reefs can be seen. We arrived at the channel through the reef at Viti Levu at 16:30. The chart was a little off and we needed to correct our course to port to avoid hitting the reef, so in this case traveling only when the sun was high was a safety essential. Once inside the passage between the reefs we turned to port and followed the channel inside the reef a few miles past Malakai Island to Volivoli Point and the protected bay where we anchored. Once settled, we had the chance to sit outside around our table in the cockpit and enjoy a libation and a glorious sunset.
Rebecca cooked up wonderful steaks and vegetables, topped off with a vegan fruit and coconut cake. Delicious!
July 20: Volivoli Beach
It was a beautiful day with the trades generously blowing from the east. Volivoli Beach is located on the northwest coast of the big island of Viti Levu. We went ashore to reconnoiter the little resort; Paul wanted to make travel arrangements to Denarau and we wanted to know about dinner reservations and local sights. We spent most of the day cleaning the salt off Argo and making minor adjustments and repairs. Paul was very generous with his knowledge of boats and helped with some maintenance items. Tinkering took all day and that evening we all got aboard our dingy and went to the resort’s restaurant for a night out. One cannot be too dressed up for these affairs as you have to climb out of the tender into knee deep water and walk on the beach to the resort. It was a lot of fun.
July 21: Diving on Golden Dream Reef and good-bye to Captain Paul.
At 08:15 we boarded the dive boat and headed off to scuba dive on Golden Dream Reef. Golden Dream is a series of coral heads on a much larger reef, which is at least a square mile in size. We dove about five miles off shore. The tide was incoming, which is apparently when the coral blooms and Golden Dream is all about the beautiful yellow flowering corals. It was windy, a little cold, and choppy waves made it a difficult dive. Nevertheless, we stepped off the dive boat into the sea, got our bearings, and then descended to a depth of about 100 feet. Immediately we could see the coral cliffs covered in golden fan corals. Swimming between bommies or coral heads was much like being in a labyrinth of flowering columns. It certainly was truly a golden dream.
July 22: Rakiraki Town
The wind was blowing and it looked like poor cruising weather for the next few days so we arranged for a taxi and went to the market in to Rakiraki Town. It was about a twenty minute trip along the Kings Hwy that circles the island and then over very rough gravel to the heart of town. The island is clearly volcanic: in the distance were huge mountains that were once part of a volcano’s cone. The foothills in the foreground were either formed when the caldera collapsed or originated when lava flowed. Now the hills are home to subsistence farms with fields of sugar cane. The farm houses are neatly painted and well maintained masonry structures, with goats and cattle milling about. Near Rakiraki Town is the sugar mill. The town itself looks like most third world small towns: masonry block two story buildings brightly painted with very high sidewalks of differing elevations. We were looking for the market, which we found located on one side of the square with the town occupying the other three sides. Most businesses, including the markets, are run by Indians. Fiji’s climate and fertile volcanic soil can grow almost anything, so we found all kinds of things that we were looking for including their delicious pineapples. There was a bakery offering hot bread, so we stopped by for a loaf. There was all kinds of activity around the square including busy pedestrians in colorful clothing, particularly the Indian women with their beautiful exotic saris, men conducting business, buses picking up passengers for trips to other towns, shoppers moving in and out of the storefronts. It was exciting to be in the middle of such vibrant and colorful life activity once again.
July 23: Day tour to the Village of Navala
The Volivoli Resort helped us make arrangements for a guide and driver for a tour of the broader area. The next day we were picked up at 0830 in front of the hotel along with our four bags of trash. Getting rid of trash can sometimes be an issue on a boat, so our first order of business was for our guide, Sunny, to take us to the dump. Unlike our dumps, third world trash heaps don’t have anything useful in them. Our touring objective was the Village of Navala located high in the mountains above the city of Ba. It took about three, mostly tortuous, hours to get there as many of the roads were gravel and in poor repair. Our route took us south on the King’s Hwy past many small villages and thousands of acres of sugar cane fields. Local tribes own the land and the cane fields, which are tended by the village men. Field workers retain half the earnings from the sale of the cane and the other half goes to the village. From what I could tell, a worker keeps about $50 USD/day per worker if things are good. Cutting sugar cane looks like such hard and thankless work that I wanted to experience what an average person does, so I got out of the car and went into a field to ask if I they would teach me to cut sugar cane. The field hands were delighted to talk with us and allowed me a privileged glimpse into their world. My impressions were correct: it is tough work!
We moved along past the sugar cane mill at Rakiraki and numerous little villages until we turned onto the gravel mountain road leading to the Village of Navala, which is famous for its traditional thatched roof, bamboo and palm leaf huts. It is the only historic place of its kind left in the islands; every other village makes their domiciles of modern materials like clap wood, corrugated steel, or concrete block. Navala lies in a little valley high in the mountains surrounded by steep hillsides covered with tall brown grasses punctuated with black volcanic rock outcroppings. Here and there were green shrubs and an occasional mango or other tropical tree. Navala is laid out in the shape of a Christian Cross with 125 huts housing 850 residents. They have an elementary school with a dorm where the children sleep when school is in session, but they come back home each day for meals. I guess this gives the parents the opportunity to make more kids! The village also has a new Catholic Church, as religion is a key aspect of village life. Drinking water comes from an artesian well up high in the mountains, but bathing is done in the nearby rivers. The men go to the sugar cane fields around 0630 each morning except Sunday; the women prepare the noon meal at a house located in the cane fields each day and the men return home around 1600 in the afternoon. The cane fields are part of over 19,000 acres owned by the chief (village). When speaking on official matters, the chief often speaks though a spokesman or assistant chief, who is the person we met. The assistant chief sits at the chief’s right hand during council meetings. When visiting we had to obtain permission to enter the village in advance. We were met by the assistant chief who conducted the Kava Ceremony in his hut next to the Chief’s hut and collected the F $25 per person fee plus a F $25 touring fee. The ceremony involves the presentation of gift of kava, the recitation of ritual words and cupped hand clapping by the men in attendance, and the sharing of a bowl of kava. Women sit behind the men and must be fully covered. Several village women were in the room with us, and little children peeked in from the doorway to see what was going on, but were shewed away as soon as the adults saw them.
The kava ceremony is a ritual that formally welcomes guests into the village as a members of the village family. Guests are extended the privileges and protection of the village and may anchor in the bay, fish, swim, come ashore, and hike about so long as they observe the courtesies of Fijian life. Kava is a drink made from the root of the yaqona, a type of pepper plant. Fijians harvest the root, crush it, and place it in a cloth. It is then immersed in water and squeezed until a magenta colored, muddy liquid is produced. They drink the liquid by downing a full cup at a time. Kava numbs the tongue and lips and is said to cause drowsiness and laziness when consumed in larger quantities. After the ceremony, Michael gave us a tour of the village and then we returned to his hut where the ladies had spread out a cloth and offered trinkets for sale.
While in Navala we learned that the Fijian Health Ministry is promoting tooth brushing, two children per family (down from double digit procreation), and the wearing of flip flops. It turns out that many people in the islands traditionally go barefoot. Unfortunately there is a parasitic worm that often burrows into people’s feet from the soil causing them to become disabled. Flip flops can put a stop to this condition.
On our way back to Volivoli Resort we stopped at the grave of the “Cannibal King” Chief Udre Udre who holds the Guinness Book of World Records for eating the most people. He kept a stone for each corpse he ate, and these stones were placed under and around his sarcophagus in Rakiraki. At his death in 1840 the pile added up to 999. He apparently believed that if he ate 1,000 corpses he would gain immortality. Who knows, perhaps he achieved it anyway.
July 24: Crossing Vatu-I-Ra Channel to Savusavu
Since our arrival two weeks before the winds in Fiji had been fierce. This was disappointing as we had hoped to visit the Lao Island Group during this cruise, but the waves were 8 feet +/- at a 6-8 second moment, very steep and box like. If we went to the Laos, it would require beating into these uncomfortable head seas for almost 200 miles, so we changed our plans and decided to head eighty-two miles northeast across Vatu-I-Ra Channel to Vanua Levu Island and the little port of Savusavu. This is a ten or twelve hour journey from Volivoli for Argo. The Vatu-I-Ra Channel has got to be one of the all-time worst channels to cross. It separates the two biggest Fijian islands of Viti Levu and Vanau Levu by a narrow gorge in the sea bottom through which pass the trade winds and the ocean swell that has developed across the southern ocean all the way from Antarctica. Winds average 35 knots with gusts to 47 knots, and they gain velocity on the lee side after having been compressed as they pass through the channel. As we passed through it the seas were high and very steep, but fortunately the main channel is only about 15 miles (2 ½ hours) across before coral reefs provide a little protection. We had some trepidation about the passage inside the reef given the accuracy of our charts and the experience of many sailors who found uncharted coral heads the hard way, with their boat! A week before a 70 foot sailing yacht with a crew of six onboard went down not far from here. As we progressed along our course we used our Furuno CH-250 directional sonar to search the depths in front of us, which gave us some confidence. However, keeping a sharp eye is always important as I spotted a patch of unsettled water that turned out to be a very large uncharted rock just slightly off our course to starboard. Lucky for us I saw it! There were three narrow passages through various parts of the reef. One of them, Nasonisani Passage, was particularly difficult. The surf was rolling into the passage from the south pushed by forty knot winds and when the waves hit the reef they exploded high in the air. As we neared the channel we could see monster rollers boiling in, but by then we were committed and there was nothing to do except to push through. Argo rose at least ten feet on the first wave and then fell off in seconds, plowing the bow under the next wave and causing green water to roll up to the pilot house windows. Then she rose again, only to fall in to the next wave. It was quite a violent few minutes, all the time we were praying that nothing went wrong with the boat or that we wouldn’t encounter an uncharted coral head. Eventually we went through the pass and made Savusavu harbor at sunset in 25 knots of wind; we anchored at the head of the bay in 75 feet of water. The harbor was completely filled with sailboats waiting out the heavy weather. After settling in, we enjoyed a couple of rums and a nice dinner.
Anchoring is a necessary skill when you’re doing the kind of cruising we’re doing. The first thing you need is a good anchor. We have a 350 lb. plow type anchor fixed to 600 feet of ½ inch high strength steel chain, which weighs about 3 lbs. per foot. We generally let out chain equal to five or six times the distance from the bow to the bottom. For example, in calm weather and with a depth of 50 feet, we would let out 250 +/- feet of chain. In that case we would have a total weight at the bottom of about 1,100 lbs. When we anchor we lay out the chain, then put Argo in reverse until the anchor digs in. Once it bites, we are hooked and she doesn’t move even when the wind comes up.
July 25: Savusavu
Savusavu is a one street little town built on a creek with a bay on one side and steep, verdant hillsides on the other. It was Saturday and the town was filled with people shopping in the stores and the farmers’ market. We started the day with a trip to the farmers’ market, then the supermarkets, then the various stores to entertain ourselves. In the late afternoon we joined some other sailors for a trip to the Planters’ Club for drinks. Our sailor comrades told us about Curly and his seminars on Fijian waters held Sunday afternoon at a local restaurant
July 26: Curly Carswell
Curly is a salty old mariner of New Zealand extraction who has lived in Fiji on a houseboat in the Savusavu Creek for over 40 years. He is a silvered haired, bearded fellow who knows the ins and outs of these reefs like nobody else. He conducts a seminar ($10 USD) once a week for arriving boaters and tells tales of the islands and provides way-points through the reefs to places we all want to see. He sprinkles his lecture with stories of boats that have gone aground or yachts that have been totally lost on the hazardous reefs. Curly reported that so far this year four boats have gone hard aground. He is a very knowledgeable and charming character indeed. We spent four hours listening to his tales and getting his way-points and he helped us plan our trip to Taveuni Island and Viani Bay.
July 27: Market Day in Savusavu
We spent the next day preparing and provisioning for our trip to Viani Bay, home to one of the best dive sites in the world the famous Rainbow Reef. We needed to freshen our stores and get last minute waypoints from Curly, otherwise it was a lazy day that seemed to evaporate like a dream.
July 28: Passage to Viani Bay
It was a rough start after we weighed anchor at 0830. The short passage out of Savusavu Bay was pleasant enough, particularly as we passed the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort near the point separating Savusavu Bay from the Koro Sea. As we passed through Point Passage things deteriorated quickly. Large rollers were boiling into the bay across the reef; Argo plowed through with her customary power and stability. Once out into the sea the waves soldiered in from the east in 5-6 second intervals and were about 6 feet in height. The wind blew at a steady 25 knots: it was unpleasant indeed. As we progressed up the coast toward Viani Bay and Tavenui Island we could see the lush, green forested hillsides of both Vanau Levu and Tavenui Islands. This is the windward side of Fiji, so it experiences more rain and thus has more vegetation. It was a picturesque sight to see the green and brown hills rise out of the blue ocean. As the day wore on, we eventually gained some shelter from the lee of Tavenui and life became more pleasant. Around 1500 we approached Viani Pass to make our way through the reef. This is a very dangerous time during any passage: reefs are coral and rock outcroppings that pose the potential of poking a hole in the bottom of any boat. One can expect to encounter strong currents (from the ocean rushing in and out with the tides) and waves of substantial size and power can develop. From the pilot house we could see the reef’s beautiful blue and green waters in the distance along with breaking waves. The desire to get to the safety inside the pass can be very beguiling, but there was more danger to come as we couldn’t tell precisely how the boat would handle in these circumstances or if there was an uncharted rock or coral head on our course. At any rate, we entered the pass without difficulty and soon passed the reef and entered the placid waters leading to Viani Bay. The bay was quite large with several boats at anchor in various places. Only a couple of Fijian dwellings were visible. The hills surrounding the bay were high and steep, some with green foliage, some with tall brown grass, and some turned black from the burning of grass by the locals.
After settling in we went on the internet to find a dive resort and make arrangements to dive on the reef the next morning. Then cocktails, dinner, and a movie.
July 29: Rainbow Reef
The next morning a boat picked us at our anchorage at 0700 and took us to Dolphin Bay a few miles around the point near where we entered the pass. We wanted to dive the famous Rainbow Reef, one of the top ten dive spots in the world. The boat took us to a little dive resort located on the bay; it was a shabby little place, but very iconic South Seas in appearance. Guests live in tents and shower using a bucket of water. Every building has a sand floor, but the food and service were superb. All of the guests were either European or American and were among the most traveled and well informed people we have ever encountered. The owner, Roland (a German), was reputed to be the best dive operator in the region, and our dive-master Susan (also German) was excellent. Once we got our gear organized we headed to the dive boat and met our boatman, a colossal Fijian named Apex. We were glad to see him; he could pull anyone out of the water with one hand! After a fifteen minute boat ride we arrived at the first dive site. We dove in 100 feet of water, first on the channel side then on the lagoon side. Corals flourish in areas of swift current, and there is such a variety of corals here all having different shapes and color that it is called the “Rainbow Reef”.
The reef was spectacular. After jumping off the dive boat and descending to depth, the current pushed us along at about three miles per hour. Looking about the ledge we saw countless schools of fish, fantastic colors, and shapes in a world parallel to ours but much different. There are the familiar Elk Horn, Brain, Mushroom, Fan and other types of corals, and of course there were many different types of fish, many with the most amazing and dazzling indigo, red, green, olive, white and brown. As we “flew” along the reef enjoying the spectacular scenery, all of sudden we felt a current from above pushing us toward the dark blue infinity 1,300 feet below, but we moved past it.
We returned to the dive resort around 1400 and enjoyed lunch with our fellow divers. The cook had prepared a watercress salad, pumpkin squash fritters, and a chocolate crepe dessert. It was delicious. We were back on Argo around 1600.
July 30: Tour of Tavenui Island
At 0700 Apex picked us up for our trip to Tavenui Island across the Somosomo Channel. Tavenui is known as the “Garden Isle”, and indeed it was as verdant and beautiful as any island we have seen. The island seemed to be one huge mountain perhaps 50 miles long, 4,000 feet high and 25 miles wide. It doesn’t have a peak per se, but rather almost the whole island is a ridge of the same height. The lower third shows the patchwork signs of agricultural activity, but the upper two-thirds is all rain forest. Aside from enjoying the beauty of the island, we were scheduled for three stops: Tavoro Falls at the north end the island, the International Dateline Marker, and the little villages that dot the coastline. Our guide was Kamal, a farmer and part time guide for the Dolphin Bay Divers. Kamal is the third generation of his family in Fiji; his grandfather was a laborer brought here by the British to work in the sugar cane fields. His father was a laborer in the coconut plantations. Somehow Kamal was able to acquire a freehold of land, build a farm, and raise three children who are now all college educated. Quite an achievement. He now grows Kava, which is a four year cop and very profitable. He is in the process of planting 1,000 Sandalwood trees. It takes twenty-five years for a tree to mature, and if they are of good quality can be sold for $100,000 each. Kamal apparently has patience, foresight, and big dreams! On our drive Kamal stopped by the home of the grower of the saplings he wishes to buy to complete his 1,000 tree inventory. When we arrived at the home of the grower we had to wake him from his afternoon nap, which is customary for Fijians. When I was introduced to him the first thing he told me was he was the Pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. I congratulated him as he seemed very proud of this accomplishment, and then I notice that he was wearing a “T” shirt that read “Love Your Bank”. Although practical, you can’t make this sort of thing up! He showed us about his little yard. He has one Sandalwood tree growing in the yard, and from this tree he grows saplings that he has planted on his farm and also sold to other people. I asked how he got in the Sandalwood business. Apparently he learned about the business from his brother who had researched it on the internet. They learned what a Sandalwood tree was worth in India, which inspired them to start growing it for themselves in Fiji. Sandalwood is used in making soap and fragrances.
Kamal told us how the average Tavenui Fijian lives. Basically they go to their fields in the morning and tend their crops until lunchtime. They return home for lunch, a nap and that’s it. After dinner the men sit around and drink kava, a drink that is nonalcoholic but nevertheless has a numbing effect on the mind and body. The men stay up past midnight and then fall asleep only to repeat this routine day-after-day. Women do the wash by hand, clean the dwelling, and tend to the children. Men often do the cooking. From what we could see, the Fijians live an impoverished life by our standards, but they are clearly a happy lot. They basically live off the land, own a few animals for food, and collect the income that the tribe earns for renting its land to other people like the industrious Indians, who run and own most of the businesses in Fiji. Fijians, however, own 90% of all the land in Fiji.
As far as tourist sights are concerned, the waterfall was perhaps the most beautiful I have ever seen. Long, slender, cascading sheets of water falling 100 feet or more to a beautiful blue pool, surrounded by red rocks and lush, tropical plants; it was idyllic.
The Rotary Club in Tavenui has constructed an attractive and informative site to illustrate the International Dateline, which passes through Tavenui. You can stand on one side of the line and half your body will be in ‘today” and half in “yesterday”. Very interesting. We traveled on a two lane cow path for a mile to find it.
July 31: Viani Bay to the Blue Lagoon
El Nino is apparently causing comparatively poor weather conditions here. The winds are higher than normal making the seas rough and unpleasant. Because of the islands, wind is focused and compressed between the island channels and then accelerates out the other side turning normal 18-25 knot trade winds into 40- 45 knot blows. The trades are one thing, but katabatic winds add to the mix. Today a tropical low pressure formed over Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands and is moving toward Fiji bringing high winds and heavy rain Sunday through most of the week. For that reason we decided to move again to the Yasawa Islands and the Blue Lagoon to wait out the weather. It has a protected harbor usually with other boaters for company and a resort, beach bar and restaurant on shore. It is a nice spot. Getting there required a one and one half day trip around the lee or western side of Vanau Levu and across the Vatu-I-Ra channel once again. The trip on the lee side of Vanua Levu was pleasant and relatively calm as we suspected, but by the time we got to the channel it was a mess, with very high winds and big seas. Luckily the crossing was only a two hour ordeal and we made the Blue Lagoon 29 hours after we departed Viani Bay. Once again we found Argo to be simply the best: she powered though the seas giving us a relatively good ride in spite of ten foot beam seas on an 8 second moment.
August 1: Arrival at the Blue Lagoon
After an all-night run from Viani Bay we arrived and dropped anchor in 50 feet of water. Salty and tired, we lowered the tender and made for the beach for cocktails and dinner. The resort was small and intimate. Only three couples showed up for dinner that night, but the resort scheduled a men’s singing group to perform Fijian music accompanied by guitar, ukulele, and a homemade bass composed of a stick and string pressed on a large wooden box for amplification. It all sounded very good. Dinner was great too, particularly the banana cream pie made with the special coconut cream and sweet little finger sized bananas that you can only get in these islands.
August 2 -6: The Blue Lagoon
We were at anchor in the wind and rain for several days. The wind was up to 45 knots in the anchorage, and Argo was moving around accordingly. On occasion we go into the resort for dinner, and the furious conditions were rather unsettling as we headed to shore in our tender. One day we decided to venture out in the dingy across the bay to another island and a small subsistence farm that sometimes sells fruits and vegetables to yachters. Salie, a local village woman, guided us to the farm. We crossed the bay that was wind whipped and turbulent and then rounded a point and preceded into second bay. Altogether it was an uncomfortable, wet, 30 minute ordeal. We were looking for a small mangrove area at the shoreline inside of which was a small river. We took the river to its end and anchored the boat to the shore, climbed the mud foot path up a hill to a place where three small buildings, a couple of goats, and a flock of chickens were located. Mattie, Salie’s auntie, met us with a handshake and “Bula” and agreed to sell us some food. She led us down the other side of the hill along a well-worn footpath through the jungle about a quarter mile to her hand cultivated fields. Along the footpath was a three inch rubber irrigation line that fed water to her gardens. The cultivated fields were small, perhaps a quarter acre each. She grew melons, beans, carrots, spinach, lettuce, cassava, taro, bananas, papaya, cucumbers, tomatoes and squash. She also raised goats, chickens, and a steer. As we placed our order she went about the gardens with a knife harvesting. It was great fun to see how native Fijians live, but we had to deal with the boat ride back!
The next day we talked with Ivan, the owner of the resort. He is a 73 year old Australian ex-truck driver who bought the Nanuya Resort three years ago. Education is wonderful, but when you see what a practical, industrious person can do for himself and other people it is simply amazing! For fifteen years he and his wife had been active in charitable work to aid the Fijian’s. When this resort became available for purchase they decided to buy it, in part to help the three villages in this area. For three years he and his Fijian workers have been renovating it. The resort needs a lot of power not only to run the desalination plant, but also to run hair dryers, the laundry, cooking appliances, lights, TVs, …the works. It’s a lot of electricity. One of the most interesting things we discovered was that Ivan had installed an American made solar power system to provide power for the whole resort, including making fresh water. High on the hillside overlooking the resort was a vast array of solar panels that replaced a generator that used to provide power. The generator burned almost $130,000 a year in fuel, whereas the solar power system cost about $800,000 to construct. Ivan figured it had a nine year payback period when all costs were considered. Next to the solar arrays were newly cultivated and irrigated fields of pineapple and other vegetables. Now the resort grows some of its food, makes its own water, and generates all its own electricity – all without paying for oil or incurring any costs other than maintenance. From what I could see, solar power is going to make a tremendous difference worldwide in terms of reducing pollution and also the demand for oil.
The way of life in Fiji is changing. Most of the people live in villages. They have lived for a millennium or more in a non-cash economy. They didn’t need money because they could literally catch a fish or grab a piece of fruit off a tree when they were hungry. Their clothes were made of easily obtainable materials. They wanted for nothing. Then came the cell phone and now the internet. Now they need cash to pay their phone bill. One night we were returning to Argo and walked down the beach to our dingy. It was a beautiful starry night. I noticed a Fijian man sitting on a coconut tree log on the beach at the water’s edge in the moonlight. It seemed idyllic; an isolated Garden of Eden far from the cares and hustle-bustle of the developed world. Then I noticed; he was talking on his cell phone. There is no escape, there are no corners of the earth any longer, not even in Fiji.
The next day was beautiful and calm. Rebecca and I packed up the tender with beach chairs, books, and snorkel gear and headed for the beach. It was a rare and beautiful time for us. In all the cruising we have done we rarely get a moment like that.
August 7 -9: Denarau
Tuesday morning we awoke to a dysfunctional watermaker. We were at anchor far from a water supply, so we had only three days or so to get the thing fixed. We tried all the simple things that knew how to do, but a fifty mile trip to Denarau was in the cards. We called our agent, Eli, to see if she could line up a slip and a technician in Denarau for us. Luckily she found a two day berth for us and she scheduled a technician to meet us at 1500 on the dock. In the meantime we called the factory in the U.S. to sort out the possibilities. Fortunately, we had all the parts we needed on board. We took the machine completely apart after we docked, and examined its innards. The high pressure pump needed a rebuild, and after completing that job with an engineer, everything was up and running again. It is always a great feeling to actually fix something.
Across the dock from us was berthed our Swedish friend, Kaj Liljebladh, on S/Y Amelit. We first met Kaj in Panama, then again in Fatu Hiva, Papeete, and Gulf Harbor. During our last night in port we enjoyed a lovely cookout on Argo with Kaj talking about our various ports of call and the experiences we have shared.
August 9 -14: Musket Cove
We moved 12 miles south of Denarau the next morning to Musket Cove Marina on Malolo Lailai Island. Getting into the bay was a little tricky with all the reefs about, but we knew we were on the right track when we passed Dragonfly (Google’s Yacht) on the way in. It was windy as heck, so we anchored until the next morning when we moved to the little marina. It’s a cool little spot with cottages, a beach, restaurants and golf course. We played the golf course one morning; it cost $10 USD for nine holes. Although it wasn’t the best golf course I ever played, it certainly was picturesque and the cheapest. Argo is stern tied to a dock that was constructed between the main island and a little island a few hundred yards off shore. Argo is right beside a genuine thatched roofed Tikki with a classic beach sand floor and built on the little island. We spent a few days here before returning to Ann Arbor for a medical appointment. Argo is now lying at Musket Cove with Tyler aboard until we determine our cruising time line.
I have uploaded new pictures on www.tischtravels.com
Thank you for looking in on us.
Randy and Rebecca