Fiji Island-hopping


Date:Oct. 4, 2014, 11:08 p.m.
Position:17 26.00 S, 178 57.00 E

At Anchor: Makogai

We are resting up on Makogai Island, making putting Privateer into tip-top shape for her upcoming voyage to New Zealand. I've been studying the weather fax bulletins and familiarizing myself with the various weather and position-reporting nets. Privateer has never looked so good, after all her ocean voyaging.

Today we went snorkeling among the largest giant clams we've ever seen! Curled into a fetal position, one could easily fit inside these clams. I stuck my arm into one of them and the force of the water shooting out of its valve as it closed itself blew my arm right back out of the clam! The meat inside the clams is an iridescent rainbow of colors and patterns, each one a different hue of purple, turquoise, red, and electric blue, and lime green. They pulse as the water pumps through their massive valves.

There are also many turtles in the lagoon, and the islanders here maintain a turtle-breeding pond before releasing them into the lagoon. Makogai is a pretty unique place. Until 1969, the island was a giant leper colony. We got a tour of the leprosarium--vast ruins in the jungle. We saw the concrete remains of a movie theater, jail cells (the lepers were known to "misbehave badly") and a massive graveyard up the side of the mountain with thousands of concrete crosses. It reminded me of the big gold mine ruins in Alaska, but with a different twist.

Kelsey and I are enjoying our last few days in tropical paradise before the change to the temperate latitudes! Climbing coconut trees, watching the giant bats fly overhead at sunset, jumping off the boat into the beautiful crystal clear waters...

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Matuku to Levuka

Date:Sept. 25, 2014, 11:07 p.m.
Boat speed (kts):5.4
Position:18 9.00 S, 179 11.00 E

We're on a nice beam reach, 12-13 knots of easterlies, headed to Levuka. Just the jib rolled out and we're gliding along at 5-6 knots as the Monitor steers us through the gentle swells. We stripped down our primary winches and re-built them in Fulanga, and they are clicking smoothly again. They were packed with rock salt and dust after being at sea for so long!

The other night Kelsey got a surprise when she went to take a shower--out of the lazarette leapt our missing Coconut Crab! It had been in there for about 10 days and came out fighting. This morning we released him on the beach in Matuku, in a nice grove of Coconut trees. We knew he hadn't jumped ship and swam to shore...

Last night we had Indian curry dinner with our friends on Tuuletar after a day of snorkeling with the sea turtles. For the past two months we've been hanging out with 3 other boats, all with crews our age. It's been great to meet new friends from all over the world! Mark on Tuuletar has been showing us how to use the SSB radio and it has opened up a whole new aspect of cruising--and greatly increases our margin of safety!

The 100-mile passage tonight is a significant one for Kelsey and I--it is the last big sail we'll have together BB--before baby. Just the two of us on one last quiet night watch under a warm sky of stars.

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Skull Caves and missing Coconut Crabs

Date:Sept. 16, 2014, 11:06 p.m.
Boat speed (kts):5.8
Position:19 5.00 S, 178 41.00 W

We are under sail with jib alone, making way for Matuku Island, 100 miles distant. It should be a quick overnight sail, and the Monitor is easily steering us along, with 15 knots of wind at our backs. It was hard to say goodbye to Fulunga today! Last night we celebrated with music, Fijian dancing, and kava in the village. This morning our friend Teii hiked us up to a cave in the jungle behind the village. We crawled through a small hole in the volcanic rocks. Inside, the cave opened up into a chamber about the size of the Apollo 13--and it was stuffed with skulls and bones! I counted at least 40 skulls in the central heap, and many more stared down at us from the walls of the cave. Many were bashed in, like they had been clubbed. Interestingly, no one in the village knows who put the heads in the cave, or who they were. Some of the femur bones were pretty good size, and my guess is they were Tongans. The skulls still had their teeth, and can't have been that old... Teii says that Fiji is full of caves like this one--real remnants of the cannibal past!!

The other night our friends Michael and Sophie on the "Wanderlust" and I hunted for coconut crabs after it got dark. We found 5 or 6 under the palms, and took them back to the boats before they ripped eachother to pieces in the sack. We took two back to Privateer and Wanderlust took 3, and we put them into separate buckets. We were planning to eat them the following day. After dinner on Wanderlust, however, we found the coconut crabs had escaped Wanderlust's "chilly bin" (what Kiwis call a cooler) and had crawled up into the rigging! Kelsey and I returned to Privateer and one of our crabs had escaped too! It moved a whole pile of lead dive weights and pushed the lid back just enough to get out! We still can't find the crab and suspect it may be in some corner of the boat, lurking for us when we least suspect it. We didn't sleep very well, listening for any rustling sounds in the cabin. The villagers told us the crabs can swim, so it might have slipped overboard and made a break for it. They also tie a string to their bodies and hang them from the trees to prevent escape--something we learned the hard way... We decided that they were working pretty hard for their freedom, and so we returned them to their beach the following day--all except the one that is still at large...

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Fulunga Harvest

Date:Sept. 11, 2014, 11:01 p.m.

Still at anchor in the beautiful Fulunga lagoon. We've moved over to the "Sandspit" anchorage. There are a few other sailboats in here with us, and we had bonfire on the beach under the full moon. Toward the end of the night we were throwing dead palm fronds on the fire and the flames were huge!

We had a good snorkel today, in the crystal clear waters of the outer lagoon. We found giant clams the size of toilets. I dove down and stuck my arm in one, but it didn't trap me like in the movies. They just close a little bit... We saw some little yellow fish that looked like the submarine on the cover of the Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club album. And we also saw a few huge meaty sharks, which freaked us out! They were cruising in and out of caves and checking us out.

Tonight we hunted for the giant coconut crabs on the spit with our friends Michael & Sophie. It was a serious bushwhack and we managed to find four of the beasts, in the trees and on the rocks. Once we put them in the bucket they began tearing each other to pieces, so we had to separate them! We've been getting into the wild harvest here in Fiji--sunset dinner tonight was linguine pasta with cockles in a white wine sauce. We collected the cockles from the sandspit. All you have to do is rake your hands through the sand like a grizzly bear claw and they come up to the surface by the thousands. We soaked them in a bucket of seawater for a day and watched as they moved around (really weird) and blew water out of their valves. They are delicious in garlic and olive oil!

Our host family rowed out to the boat the other day and gifted us the most delicious coconuts a great stalk of bananas, which is now hanging from the arch on the back of the boat. They're ripening nicely in the sun! They also tried to give us a bit of sea turtle meat--the poor fellow was hacked up into pieces and lying in a bloody pile of flippers and tendons, sloshing around in the bottom of their boat. There is a moratorium on turtle harvesting here in Fiji, but it is ignored for lack of understanding the reasons for it. It would be hard for the villagers to see the point, because the turtles are everywhere in Fulunga! We insisted that they keep the meat for themselves...

We're meeting many great cruisers here. Several boats have people our age, and several more have families of kids who have crossed oceans since they were born. The kids do Steiner home school each day and get together to go wake-boarding and exploring in the afternoons, and are having a blast (obviously!) The parents are pretty inspiring. Yesterday we visited a sailboat and I saw a picture of a boat on the bulkhead that reminded me of Pine Island. I told him we had a boat like that on the St Lawrence River. It turns out that the guy grew up on Wellesley Island in a cottage that looks directly out onto the head of Pine Island! Hard to believe that we come all the way to Fulunga, and meet a fellow River Rat!

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Date:Sept. 5, 2014, 11 p.m.
Position:19 8.49 S, 178 33.52 W

At anchor: Fulunga

We sailed through the narrow coral-lined channel (barely a boat-length wide in some places) a few days ago, and are resting at anchor in Fulunga! It was a great beam reach and then close-hauled in 12-15 knots of steady E-SE winds all the way from Vanua Balavu, under full sail. Fulunga is an incredibly awesome island, easily one of the most beautiful and unusual places we've ever seen. Hundreds of volcanic pinnacle islands rise from the turquoise lagoon. All the shorelines are deeply undercut and the islands are literally airborn! Pictures can only describe this floating landscape.

We dropped the hook in blissful coral-free sands in 20 feet. Sea turtles swam through the anchorage. After a few hours rest we put on Sulus and skirts and headed to shore, to present our Yangona roots to the chief of Fulunga. Several dugout outrigger canoes were pulled up on the beach. We began walking the path to the village. I got the distinct feeling that we had stepped back in time. Tiny bats flew around us as we walked through a dark grove of massive Mango trees, making peculiar clicking noises as they passed within inches of our faces. We walked quietly along the footpath as the wind sifted through the palms and pines (yes-they grow side-by-side here!) After 20 or 30 minutes we came to the village.

We arrived with perfect timing at the beginning of a huge celebration--the "illumination of the village". Every house had just been outfitted with a solar panel, and this night was the first time that the lights turned on! We were led to the village community house where everyone in the village was gathering, and presented our sevu-sevu (the kava roots). Kelsey and I were immediately welcomed into the village and introduced to our "host family" Joe and Tara, and their grandson Peter (a very popular name in Fiji).

The next 5 or 6 hours were like something out of a National Geographic video. The chief of 85 years presided over the Kava ceremony, in flower leis and giant white afro. The Kava pounding began and I was whisked into the circle of men, where we drank bowl after bowl after bowl of kava, from a coconut husk. When the husk is passed, it is either full to the brim "high tide" or has just an inch or so in the bottom "low tide". There were many high tides and soon my mouth and lips were numb. Everyone was cracking jokes and laughing, and the women began singing the most incredible melodies while the men accompanied on ukelele and guitars. Everyone began passing around cigarettes. There were only a few real cigarettes--the rest were strips of tobacco rolled up into long skinny lengths of newspaper. Kelsey went outside with the women and children for a parade, which happens only at the New Year, but today was the "New Year" because of the lights--the end of one era and into another. The women beat the drums (empty Jerry cans) and the corrugated metal roofing as they danced and sang their way through the village, and children ran around setting off firecrackers and sparklers.

After several hours of Kava drinking, Kelsey and I were led to a carpet on the ground and were presented with a huge, delicious meal of fish, dalo, cassava, clams, greens, etc...

I must admit that I was at first a bit sad to hear of the lights. I still remember the days before electricity came to Pine Island and the bitter loss of daily traditions that came with the power. This was the biggest project that the village had ever done, however, and they live with practically nothing. It's not like they'll be getting iPhones any time in the next few decades... We all sat around and waited for the three bare florescent bulbs in the room to turn on, when it got dark. One by one the kids flipped the switches, and looks of amazement and bewilderment swept across the room, as everyone stared up at the ceiling. We stayed a few more hours, but Kelsey and I were pretty tired because we had just sailed through the previous night to get here and were low on sleep.

We'll be here in Fulunga for the next few weeks or so, living the village life and exploring the extensive lagoon and miles of beaches. There are several "mountains" on the island and we hear that many of them have caves filled with skeletons and skulls. There is a small stunted variety of palm tree on the island which will make for easy coconut harvesting, and the villagers are looking forward to teaching us how to sail an outrigger canoe!

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Sailing to Fulunga

Date:Sept. 2, 2014, 10:59 p.m.
Boat speed (kts):6.1
Position:17 21.00 S, 179 1.00 W

We're under sail again, straddling the Eastern & Western hemispheres and making way for Fulunga, 125 miles distant. Fulunga is in the most remote corner of Fiji and we've heard amazing reports from the few who have visited before. It was hard to leave the Bay of Islands in Vanua Balavu behind. The leathery bats flying over the mast every evening looked like mini Draculas. Our friend Biu baked a pan of delicious rolls over the open fire for us, using flaming coconut husks atop a piece of sheet metal for the dutch oven effect.

It feels good to be under sail again, at ease with the Monitor making all the miles, and the solar panels powering our watermaker. Fiji is going through a big drought and we hear that Fulunga is entirely out of water, so we hope to make a surplus for the villagers. The trade winds are settling down for the season and we'll hopefully be on this easy beam reach through the night, unless the winds go light.

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Bay of Islands

Date:Aug. 28, 2014, 10:58 p.m.
Position:17 11.00 S, 179 1.00 W

At Anchor: Bay of Islands (Vanua Balavu)

We've been riding at anchor in an incredible maze of volcanic islands. The land is rugged and impossible to walk on, so we are enjoying exploration by dinghy. We did find one sandy Tombolo but got a creepy vibe from the place, like it was haunted... There are so many hidden passages that it's easy to get lost! The rock is similar to the rocks in my parent's backyard pond in MN--jagged and porous. It's like being in a giant pond universe... The bats come out at sunset, and we have the whole maze to ourselves... Underwater--soft corals, clownfish, and the most unusual blue fish. Yesterday we swam with a pod of miniature squid that changed color as they hovered in the water.

Kelsey's belly is getting big and the baby is thumping away every day! Enjoying the solitude and being just the two of us, before we are three :) Relaxing and working on various boat projects. Life is good!!

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En Route to the Lau Group

Date:Aug. 20, 2014, 10:56 p.m.
Boat speed (kts):5.0
Position:16 52.00 S, 179 45.00 W

We're motor-sailing in calm seas and light S-SE winds, toward the Lau Group! The Lau is the most isolated part of Fiji and was just "opened" to cruisers last year. We can't wait! We met back up with our friends Sophie & Michael, and both our boats are making the overnight passage tonight. We should arrive at the pass to the lagoon right at sunrise, for a safe entry.

Autopilot on and smooth enough to walk around the boat no problem. Beats bashing into the trades! We're lucky to have this weather window.

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Viani Bay still...

Date:Aug. 17, 2014, 10:55 p.m.

Bula! We are still in beautiful Viani Bay, and are about to get a great weather window to sail to the Lau group--the most isolated islands in Fiji. Today I went for another dive with some friends on the White Wall & through the caves, and we're going out to another site tomorrow. Miraculously, a dive shop on Taveuni Island had a new mask that fit me! Yesterday we took friend's sailboat over to Taveuni and hiked the rainforest on the wet SE side of the island. We went swimming in the plunge pools at the bases of some great waterfalls. The forest was mostly fern trees and a massive version of the bracken-ferns we have in Alaska. The stems were as thick as my arm and they grow over 20 feet tall!

We're very excited for the Lau group, and are carefully plotting our course, as it is basically uncharted waters. We use GPS coordinates that other cruisers have used without incident, punch them into our GPS, and connect the dots. No messing around or taking chances in Fiji--there are reefs everywhere!

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The Great White Wall

Date:Aug. 14, 2014, 10:53 p.m.

At Anchor: Viani Bay

Apex picked us up with the dive boat this morning, and today I dove the Great White Wall on the Rainbow Reef!! There was a moment of despair as I put my mask on right before the dive, and one of the lenses popped out! Turns out that yesterday's dive shattered the plastic casing all around the edges of my mask. Fortunately, the boat had a spare mask, but I am out of luck for snorkeling in Fiji now unless I can effect a repair with Sikaflex or Permagasket...

We descended 90 feet down along a sheer ledge that dropped into the abyss. It was like rock climbing a vertical cliff with no ropes! Massive coral fans reached out from the cliff wall, and thousands of fish swam vertically along the face. We came to an area thick with soft white corals that are unique in the world only to this particular spot! They gave the entire cliff the appearance of glowing in the dark.

Next we swam through a network of underwater caves, tunnels, and passages, some just 10 feet wide. Inside the tunnles intricate corals and sea fans grew from the walls and ceilings, every color of the rainbow. We spotted huge eels, sharks, tiny psychedelic nudibranchs, glowing clownfish peeking out from their anemone homes, a metallic ball-looking algae called "sailor's eyeball", and so many more of the most amazing fish and life forms the list could fill ten pages...It was species overload!!

After decompressing for an hour or so, we made our second dive on "The Ledge" which was a massive underwater coral "bommie". I will never forget the rainbow swarms of tiny fish of every shape and size, schooling and swirling in multi-colored comets and living streaks of pure magic. It was the most remarkable event. I stretched out my arms and flew with them. The sun filtered down through the water and reflected off the technicolor coral and the fish parade grew thicker and denser, a shower of confetti. Like being an ant in a bonsai garden during a ticker-tape parade...

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Viani Bay

Date:Aug. 13, 2014, 10:53 p.m.
Position:16 45.00 S, 179 54.00 E

At Anchor: Viani Bay

BULA! Friendly Fiji has rolled out the red carpet for s/y "Privateer"! We are having an awesome time and realize that you need several years here to do this place any justice. After stocking up on Kava root in Savusavu we set out for Fawn Harbor, where we were quickly taken in by the local family there. We spent days there with young Wayne (13) and his family, Indian dinner at Nana's house, fish fry at his parent's house, "pici-niki" on the island (totally sweet), fishing from the dinghy, harvesting sea grapes on the outer reef, and of course the daily trips to the HOT SPRING!!! The springs rank in our top 10 file, entered via a walk through dense bamboo forest and several stream crossings. Each morning Wayne paddled his sinking kayak out to the boat for breakfast, and we just let each day flow from there.

Wayne's cousin CC was visiting from the Big City of Suva, and you could tell the difference between the city slickers and the "bush people" as Wayne referred to himself as. While Wayne was teaching us how to knock fruit bats from the trees with a bamboo pole (I can eat 2 bats, but Nana can eat 4...) CC was busy washing the dog's mouth after the pici-niki :) and asking me if a marshmallow grew from a tree or a shrub! We had a wonderful time with these generous folks, and they showered us with fruit and when we left. "Come back to Fawn Harbor soon and come home!" they said. It was with heavy hearts that we sailed from Fawn Harbor. It made me decide that when we have a home and a foreigner visits the place, we will extend the same level of hospitality that Wayne and his wonderful family bestowed upon us!

Now, we are swinging at anchor in big wide Viani Bay, with it's world famous barrier reef (one of the top dive destinations in the world! We took the dinghy out to find the dive resort for a guided dive on the reef, and landed on a palm-clad beach with a resort which we thought might be the place. Turned out we were wrong, and Carl came down and welcomed us on his private resort. "Next bay down is the place you're looking for!" Carl turned out to be a super nice millionaire from California who took keen interest in our sailing voyage, and invited us for dinner that night! I won't go into details, but it was very cool. We zoomed home under the full moon after a first-class evening.

Today, I went on two dives with the Dolphin Bay outfit. First place was called "fish factory" and vast swarms of every kind of fish swirled around like debris in a tornado. Next place was the "coral garden" which was loaded with huge fans and trees of coral, each the size of the boat. Soft corals waved and pulsed while clown fish and nuzzled through the noodly stalks. It was a "National Geographic" moment for sure! I'm going again tomorrow! Unfortunately, Kelsey had to sit the day out on the beach while getting a free continental breakfast and a massage... for those of you who don't know, we've got a stowaway on board! He or she (it will be a surprise) has been exercising it's sea legs and the we can feel the thumping on Kelsey's growing belly at odd hours of the day and night. It's the greatest thing!

That's about all for flour for mangoes, snorkeling, exploring, reading good books, making friends with locals & Kiwis, and taking each day as it comes! Bula Vinaka Fiji!!!

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Savusavu to Viani Bay

Date:Aug. 12, 2014, 9:51 p.m.
Position:16 46.37 S, 179 19.44 E

Sailed from Savusavu to Viani Bay via Fawn Harbor...

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