In Fiji for the second time
It took us fourteen days to sail from New Zealand to Fiji and we are now anchored at the Suva Royal Yacht Club. The Yacht Club serves a delicious Fiji Bitter on draught and slowly but surely our sea legs are getting used to land again. We regularly go into town to check our email, to do some shopping or to enjoy a cheap but delicious meal. We also have our wind vane repaired. But after two weeks we are getting restless again, because we obviously want to see more of Fiji. We buy fresh vegetables and kava, the bunch of roots you offer as a gift when you arrive on an island. Our destination is the Great Astrolabe Reef, which includes the island of Dravuni.
We sail for a whole day and arrive on Dravuni after a turbulent trip. Electricity is rare on these small islands and we are surprised to see blue lights on the luxurious floating jetty. The next day we go ashore and the mystery is solved: every six weeks, a cruise ship visits this small island with just 200 inhabitants, at which point the island is flooded with 1000 to 2000 tourists. The floating jetty makes sure the tourists won't get their feet wet. The blue lights use solar energy. The inhabitants offer cool drinks and food they have bought in Suva. There are wooden shelters with signs such as "Massage 20 minutes, 10 dollars". When we ask who the masseur is, we are told "Oh, we can all do it". Apparently, it doesn't require special training.
We meet Sitere and her husband Moses. She is head teacher at the local school, which has two classrooms. We give them an inflatable globe and explain where we are from. Hans sings a song in both classes and the children dance and sing for us. Their singing is very loud, but very good.
On Sunday, Moses and Sitere invite us to a church service. We are being eaten alive by mosquitoes, but the congregation sings beautifully, in parts and without an organ. After the service, Sitere invites us to lunch, a traditional meal of fish, cassava and sea weed which tastes a bit like caviar. All of this is doused with a bit of coconut milk. It's delicious.
After we have promised Moses to visit his parents on Nairai, we leave for Suva, where we fill our gas cylinder, buy fuel and vegetables and check our email. After a week, we leave again, northward this time.
It's late in the evening on a pitch-dark moonless night and from far behind us lights are coming closer, and closer, and still closer. We call the ship by VHF and the ship turns out to be the "Sophie", a passenger ship offering a regular service between the islands of Fiji. They have spotted us and change their course slightly so we no longer have to worry, and we continue our nocturnal trip to Nairai. The sun is long up by the time we arrive in a village where we have trouble finding a good anchorage. We cannot anchor close to the village, where we are protected against the wind, because the sea is too deep there, but further out in the bay we find a suitable sandbank where we eventually drop our anchor. The ship rolls like crazy, and we can't leave a cup on the table, just like when we're on open sea. In the course of the day, Gail and David arrive on their catamaran "Fifth Season", and the next day we do a sevusevu in the village, a tradition in which sailors offer kava to the village chief. This is a way to ask permission to go ashore.
Now we have to visit Moses' parents, who live in a village around the corner, where there is no suitable anchorage for Happy Monster. Fortunately, Gail and David have a big dinghy with a fast engine, and they take us along. On the way there, we sail around all the reefs, a long and wet trip, but we find the village and are able to give Moses' parents a picture of their son. His mother is noticeably happy with the picture and keeps looking at it during our visit. We take a picture of the couple, which we will make into a postcard to send back to Dravuni. On the way back it's high tide and we take a shorter route. Unfortunately, the water isn't deep enough and halfway home we have to get out of the heavy dinghy and tow it. We wade through the shallow water, our feet sometimes deep in mud, and Dory almost loses her shoe. But the weather is beautiful, the sun is shining and fifteen minutes later the water is deep enough again to sail on without problems.
A few days later, Gail and David leave for Suva, but we stay a while longer. In our "Mini Monster" we sail to a small uninhabited island where we lie under the palm trees all day, reading a book, drinking coconut milk, eating snacks. It's a hard life... The island is teeming with little crabs using shells as their house, they love apple skin and the flesh of coconuts. But then the day arrives when there's a good wind from the south and it's time to sail to the island of Taveuni.
Taveuni and Rabi
The distance from Nairai to Taveuni is too long, so we won't arrive by daylight and have to sail during the night again. When we reach our destination, at the northernmost tip of the island, we don't see any other sailing boats and we try and find a good anchorage by ourselves. This turns out not to be too difficult and in the end we find a beautiful anchorage, near a touristy area and reasonably protected against the wind. At least our boat rolls a lot less than near Nairai. Three months ago this island was hit by hurricane Thomas and the damage is still visible.
There are trees on the ground and in some areas houses have been completely swept away. We are told that after the storm, the trees no longer had leaves, and it's unbelievable that everything is green again after just a couple of months. Unfortunately, there is no harvest yet, it will be another three months or so until vegetables and fruit will be available again.
We are no longer alone, because George and Cathy have joined us with their boat "Kalalau". We decide to visit the Bouma waterfalls together. That day, there's a strong wind and after a precarious trip in the dinghy with a lot of head wind and rain we reach the shore and wait for the bus. A clever taxi driver, who offers to drive us for one dollar more than the bus fare, first drives back and forth to pick up more tourists who are waiting for the bus. After a fast and reasonably comfortable trip we arrive at the park where the waterfalls are. We complete the fair walk uphill and are able to see two of the three waterfalls.
We understand that the third waterfall isn't that spectacular, so we probably didn't really miss anything. Since the weather is not as good as expected, we don't bother unpacking our swimming gear and after walking for another two hours or so we are back at the entrance of the park. We take the bus back to our boats.
We spend a day in the town of Somosomo and then it's time to sail again. We want to go to the island of Rabi (which is pronounced "Rambi"), because the people living there are originally from Banaba Island in Kiribati. During the Second World War, Banaba Island was destroyed and the population was temporarily moved to Rabi. They liked it there and decided to stay. We drop our anchor in a huge bay surrounded by mangroves and for the first time our boat is anchored in calm water. The people here are more distant and we're unable to catch the bus, because everybody tells us a different departure time. Instead, we sail through narrow channels between the mangroves with our "Mini Monster", usually until we reach a house and can't go any further. We only stay for a couple of days and as soon as the wind is right we go southward again, in the direction of Savusavu. We visit Viani Bay on our way there.
It's completely windless and we use our engine to chug to Viani Bay. It's an enormous bay which, according to our map, has options for anchoring. We drop the anchor near a catamaran, but unfortunately we soon hear the chain grazing over coral. We don't want that to happen, so we raise the anchor and try again a little further away. Despite the fact that the bottom seems to consist mostly of sand, we again hear lots of coral graze against the chain. Our last attempt is exactly on the spot where there's a little anchor drawn on our map, but again we have no luck. Even worse, Hans is unable to raise the anchor again. Whatever we try, it's completely stuck. The water is ten metres deep, too deep to dive to the anchor without dive gear. We already felt guilty about damaging the coral with our anchor chain, it seems as if we are now being punished for it. But the darkest hour is just before dawn and our lifesaver is the "Pacific Rose", a sailing boat which has just returned from a day of diving. All the dive gear is still on the deck! Brian, a friendly New Zealander, puts his dive gear back on and within thirty seconds our anchor is freed. Brian has anchored his "Pacific Rose" to a mooring and offers us another mooring. That is great: we only need to tie on a line, no more hassle with the anchor.
The moorings are owned by Jack Fischer, who takes us and Happy Monster to the most beautiful snorkelling spot in Fiji the next day. It's a beautiful sunny day and the coral sparkles in the sun.
The next day we go for a walk and end up in Korondongo, a village where we meet Solo, who lives there with his wife, five children, two mentally disabled nieces and a grandchild. They are extremely hospitable and tell us about how they survived the hurricane. The grandchild had just been born when they had to spend two days lying flat on the ground to await the end of the hurricane. Solo kept an axe close at hand to be able to cut a hole in the floor, so they could take shelter under their house built on poles in case the roof would be blown off. Fortunately, this wasn't necessary and their harvest was only slightly damaged because the village is in a valley. When we leave for our boat, we are given loads of vegetables and they keep telling us we're always welcome to visit them. We ended up visiting this beautiful family twice, and then it was time to leave again.
This is a meeting point of cruisers in Fiji, with dozens of sailing boats anchored to moorings. Here we are able to talk to other sailors again, such as the family sailing on the "Kallisto", and Marilyn and Russ from the "Zulu", who join us on a couple of trips: a day to Labasa on the other side of the island, a day away on Happy Monster to anchor somewhere where we can snorkel and a day out on the bus along the Hybiscus Highway along a beautiful coast.
Hans regularly plays the guitar in front of an audience and the new Happy Monster song we wrote has a very successful premiere.
We stay in Savusavu for almost three weeks, after which we use the right wind to sail to Tuvalu with a fully loaded boat.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)