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Sunday, August 20, 2000

August 20, 2000-The Tough Go Shopping

Heading West

As they say, "When the going gets tough..."

All this cruising is too tough for us, so we are heading off to Nandi to do some shopping. At this moment WINGS is anchored in Port Denerau, Fiji. Port Denerau is a large inland basin dredged out of the muddy delta of the Nandi River. It is sheltered and calm here and quiet since it is primarily a base for tourist boats and there are few tourists this year. Lined up on the pier are rows idle cruise boats, tour boats, and day trippers, sitting still and empty. We came here due to its proximity to Nandi town where some of the best shopping deals exist in Fiji for provisions and consumer electronics (we need a new VCR), but we find the peace enjoyable. Between shopping trips we sit on WINGS listening to soft music and reading, enjoying our rest after the energetic sail here.

Port Denerau, with its warmth and stillness, is a far cry from our last anchorage out east. On Thursday, after leaving Savusavu we stopped behind a reef in Savusavu Bay for the night. A few miles from the nearest land, anchored behind a submerged outer coral reef, we were protected from the waves but wide open to the wind off the Pacific. We knew that in that place, we were really "out there". Looking to leeward we could see the shoreline in the distance...more coral and breakers along a lee shore, and then nothing but jungle. Behind it the ridges disappeared in the smokey haze of sunlight shining down through the clouds. The wind moaned in rigging, sometimes raised to a howl, and we bobbed in the short chop there. We were hanging off the edge of the reef, anchored in 40 feet but with about 100 feet under our keel. If the anchor dragged we'd go into deep water fast. Even if that happened we would still be a safe distance from the distant shoreline, nevertheless, we felt exposed. The anchor seemed to hold well, but we slept fitfully. Getting up the next morning to go sailing was a relief.

Then we completed a mad dash around Fiji. We sailed 220 miles in little more than 24 hours, sailing around Viti Levu from the Eastern Division to the Western Division in perfect, if boisterous, conditions. We started out from Savusavu Bay close reaching with 24 knots, then as we rounded reefs and islands, we cracked off onto a beam reach, then a broad reach, then a run, and finally we jibed and turned the corner into Nandi waters, where Denerau is. We were hitting 7.5 to 8.5 knots most of the way and saw 10+ once or twice. The wind vane steered us and we never changed sail. That is as good as it gets.

We expect to go leave for Port Villa, Vanuatu, in a few days. We'll write to you from there.

Fred & Judy, S/V Wings, Port Denerau, Fiji

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Tuesday, August 15, 2000

August 15, 2000-More Cruising in Fiji

Albert Cove, Rambi Island

Anchored. Stillness all around, 360 degrees of nothing moving, nothing seen. Flat calm and featureless gray low cloud sky. We are in a different bay, a hidden one on Kioa Island. This bay is on the chart but not in the guide book. Doesn't even have a name. A big sea turtle lives here, plus quite a few herons. The shoreline is all mangrove. No people or sign of them. The main island is a gray mass 10 miles off. A solitary piling stands in the distance, a Fijian navigation aid, marking a reef. Why this one reef when so many others hide unmarked? There is open ocean just outside this bay, and it is usually rough but today it sleeps, WINGS hardly moves. It was rainy last night and we dropped the hook just before the mist closed in. Today the rain had stopped and we went ashore to burn trash. A pig family came to visit, 12 of them surprised us by wandering unannounced out of the bush. Judy ran to the shore, prepared to head out in the dingy in case they were unfriendly but they just snorted and plopped down in the sand around our fire. We figured they liked our company; we liked theirs.

The next day the wind came back up. Outside our little bay the world was turbulent. We had shelter but it was tenuous, the wind whistled overhead and we looked worriedly at the weather fax. When the wind swirled overhead WINGS drifted around, pulling the anchor chain over rocks and coral. For two nights we listened to the rumbling of the chain. Finally we had enough and headed for Albert Cove, on Rambi Island, 13 miles away. We waved goodbye to the pigs and sailed out into the windstorm, into the rain, into the whiteout. With a reefed main and no jib we still did 7.5 knots. One of us was on deck and one was below watching the GPS and charting our position every few moments, threading WINGS through the reef system. Stress...cusswords...but we made it, one more gamble beaten. Now the wind whistles in a new place; Judy liked the last one better; they call this cruising?

A Week Later

Albert Cove is another remote spot on another remote island but there are six yachts anchored here. A few families live in Albert Cove, living off the land mostly. At midnight I go on deck. Nearby I see a fisherman. He is in a small canoe, he works a hand line with the light of a Coleman lantern...I can see the mantle glowing. He is hunched over and works his line silently, the light of the lantern lets me see his face: cragged and dark. He is wearing a heavy hooded coat. I hear his cough and I wonder if he can hear my stereo. Surely he can. Maybe that is why he fishes so close to my boat. Then a shadow passes between us, a second fisherman. They must be sharing the light.

We spent over a week at Rambi Island, in various anchorages. This island is rugged and jungle covered, the people are not Fijians but Banabans from the island of Bananba, in the Gilberts. The British resettled them on Rambi after the war. Their own island had been ravaged by years of phosphate mining was no longer a suitable home for the Banabans. Or maybe the British just felt it was going to be easier to get the rest of the phosphate without the people being in the way. The Banabans got a pretty nice place for a new home however, at least we thought it was beautiful, and they seem to have adjusted to it OK. None of the Banabans we talked to had much interest in going back to Banaba and unlike the Indians they don't seem to have any conflict with the Fijians. Of course they haven't posed any economic or political threat to the Fijians either. The families live at Albert Cove are there mainly to maintain a presence when the yachts come. Albert Cove is a popular anchorage for visiting cruisers and the people of Rambi recognized both that there is the need to keep an eye on the place and that there is some potential to make some money off the yachts by giving dance exhibitions and trading. When we were there they put on a dance program for 13 of us yachties and we enjoyed the nice music and great dancing. They asked for a donation that we were happy to give.

We also spent several days at Katherine Cove at the other end of Rambi Island where we visited the primary school on exam day. On a walk in the jungle we were attracted by the sound of a band playing military marches. We followed the sound and came to the school, where they were having a big event. We met the head master and some parents, and saw a hundred or so school kids dressed in colorful and clean school uniforms taking tests in five subjects. The parents were fixing a big lunch and the boy's brass band which we had heard was playing during the lunch break. There was a big feast planned for later in the afternoon. The activity, sounds and color of this school in the middle of the steaming green jungle left us with strong images.

Next we anchored in the roadstead off SomoSomo on Taveuni Island, our last stop on this cruise before pointing WINGS back toward the civilization of SavuSavu. The high backbone of mountainous Taveuni blocks most of the trade wind but a few strong gusts and some of the ocean's swells were present in our anchorage. We were not complaining, the holding was good and being open, at least we could get out quickly if we had to in a weather change. The same mountain which blocks the wind causes a lot of rain to fall and SomoSomo is a drizzly, wet place. Rainbows are common on the hills over the town. There is a fast running river in town and the local kids play in the rapids under the bridge on the main road. We walked to an Indian store and bought fresh bread, frozen meat, wine, and fresh veggies. We didn't see any way to get water onboard however and our water tanks are low, so we were reduced to the water we could make with the watermaker. Time to turn to the southwest.

Another day’s sail found us on the way back in Nasasobu Bay. This is another treasure not in the cruising guide with 360 degree protection and good holding for the anchor. There are two other boats here who have been here for weeks. They have made friends with the four local families who own 800 acres here including the entire bay. This is not a Fijian village, it is a plantation owned by black Fijian citizens who immigrated here some generations ago, from where we are not sure. They have trimmed lawns and cultivated gardens. The land is fenced and they have cattle. It has a different feel from a traditional Fijian village. The other cruisers are adventuresome divers and we went with them on a dive on the outer reef, looking for game fish and sharks. We shot one big wahoo that unfortuately got away with the spear, and we saw three white tip sharks who left us alone, but mostly is was an uneventful dive and the others were disappointed. We learned quite a bit about free-diving however and were glad we made the trip. Later we went on a hike around the bay and picked a bag of wild lemons.

Fred & Judy, S/V Wings, Nasasobu Bay, Fiji

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Thursday, August 10, 2000

August 10, 2000-Sailing East in Fiji

Good Bye Jim and Jim's Family

At dawn we set the spinnaker. WINGS is heading to Fiji's eastern cruising grounds of Viani, Rabi, and Taveuni. Mostly the trade winds make this trip a beat, often a wet one, but we are lucky, the wind is from the NW. We take it to our best advantage beam reaching in flat seas. We haven't waited for a favorable wind on purpose but we spent a couple of days with a Fijian family and then had a day relaxing on a mooring off Cousteau's Resort so we left a few days later than planned. With this weather it is turning out to be good luck. Now we see to the south of us that there is a cloud line and rainsqualls but our course is easterly and we have clear skies ahead. Sea birds circle in our wake eyeing the two fishing lures skipping happily astern, which they are smart enough to leave alone. So are the fish apparently, we aren't catching anything.

The best part of our two days with a Fijian family was also the sailing we had with them on board. A six-mile fetch close hauled on port tack with the number four and a full main, and it was a great sail, fast and easy. Many of our cruiser friends have described wonderful experiences with local people in the native villages around the Pacific but we have been shy about these kinds of interactions. We are not opposed to it, its just not our style to seek them out. So when Jim, the Fijian man we'd met, brought his wife and the chief of his village over to see our boat at the Copra Shed Marina and virtually insisted that we visit their village, we agreed, but we were unsure if we'd enjoy it completely. We did thoroughly enjoy it. After we toured the village they served us with a wonderful, and wonderfully filling, lunch of Taro and Cassava, about six platters of delicious varieties of local Fijian cooking. Then we settled down with several elders to drink grog, (the Kava mixed with water which is a ritualistic drink of Fijians and other Pacific Islanders). They tried the Tongan kava powder we brought, and while it tasted the same to us as Fijian grog, it was evident by the faces they made that they could hardly stand the stuff. We talked about the boat and our lives and it seemed like a natural follow up to take Jim and his family on a two-day sail around the bay. By mid afternoon we had five of them in the dingy with us and we were heading out through the surf to board WINGS, waiting at anchor in the roads off their village.

Once onboard they were interested and observant and there were giggles when they had a try at steering or sat on the high side with their feet over the side, hiking like racers. They were intriqued when they realized we were sailing towards the wind. I liked it of course, it was sailing, but there were other great moments too, such as at anchor that night, when the husband, Jim, and I sat in the cockpit drinking gin while the kids slept and Judy and his wife, Kini, worked in the galley squeezing coconut and cooking dalo and taro and other Fijian goodies. Jim and I mashed a big pot of boiled taro outside in the cockpit. Or possibly the best was when we stopped at beautiful Matuku Bay and visited the workers building the traditional Fijian burre there while the worker's wives and kids set up camp nearby. Actually the whole two-day trip was fun, even when all seven of us queued up at the head to wash our faces and brush our teeth in the morning anchored off Cousteau.

By ten o'clock the wind has backed to SW and is building, plus there are rain squalls ahead of us, so we jibe the main and get ready to get the kite off. Just as the first rain drops started to fall we do a windward takedown-the first shorthanded one of these on WINGS, and it goes well enough. After the rain passes we set the number four, a bit short of sail area but enough for squally conditions. It looks like we'll be in Viani by 2:30.

We had to admit that after the coup in Fiji and the renewed repression of the Indian population by the Fijians we were not favorably disposed to the Fijian culture. It had seemed to us that the coup was an attempt to take back from the Indians some of what they had lost through their own lack of industriousness. But perhaps we gained some insight during the short time we spent in their village. The village Fijians live in a communal agrarian society. The houses are clustered together in a park like setting, and most of the food is grown in community gardens. They share cooked meals between households. The chief is the authority figure and considers the village to be part of his family. Except for TV and refrigeration this could have been the same village life they had 1000 years ago. It is possible that the people in these villages lack the drive and ambition of the Indian community but it was hard for us to judge them harshly for wanting to retain their traditional lifestyle. That makes the social problems of sharing their country with the 45% Indians even more difficult to solve.

As the morning wears on we reach comfortably on starboard up the coast. The wind continues to back and Judy gradually trims the sails in while, she watches the reef system on the Fijian coastline pass by to leeward. We are glad we have Nigel Caulder's sailing directions to use entering Viani because the overcast skies are going to make the pass difficult to spot.

Now the wind has settled solidly into a 25 knot Southwesterly and has turned the entire Viani Bay into a lee shore but the sky has cleared and the sun allows us to see the reefs and coral heads, which are everywhere. We can't imagine doing this if it was still overcast. We make one exploring circuit then decide to move on. It is just too rough here with the SW wind and there are too many reefs. Around the end of the island we find Milamila Bay and anchor in its welcoming shelter. There are reefs here too but at least the island stands between the sea breeze and us. It has been a long day but a good one as quite a lot of water and ever so many rocky hazards have passed under our keel without incident. Actually the whole week has been good, the sailing, the Fijian cultural experience, the whole thing. We are thankful.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Vanua Levu, Fiji

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