Monthly Archives: August 2016

Tradition and open hearts

It’s customary to present kava to the chief of a village in a ceremony called sevusevu. The visitor offers the kava, introduces himself and his party and asks permission to anchor in their waters, and fish or swim or snorkel in their territory. If the chief accepts the gift — I haven’t heard of anyone refusing — he welcomes the party to the village and grants access to use their resources. It’s an old tradition, but this is a traditional society and it’s impressed on all visitors that following the customs shows respect for their way of life. 

We were already in the Bay of Islands for a day before two other boats came in and we overheard an old hand on the VHF radio caution that we should have presented sevusevu at the village of Daliconi, six miles south, before we anchored here. Oops. It was too far to dinghy, so we offered to run the whole crew in Escape Velocity and do the ceremony together. 

We arrived at lunchtime to a village that looked deserted. Damage from Cyclone Winston was still very much in evidence, but the rubble had been cleared away and the whole place was clean and tidy. Turns out most people were indoors eating lunch but someone called for the official welcomer, a woman named Buya — I may have got that wrong — and she beckoned us to follow her as she had a few animated discussions with several people. Turns out the chief was in Suva. His son was off cutting timber to rebuild houses, and that left no one to accept our offering of kava and grant us permission to stay. 

Eventually our hostess enlisted the aid of the chief’s daughter-in-law who finally led us to a man who would accept our sevusevu. We sat on a mat on his porch enjoying the view while the two ladies searched for the guest book. 

Modesty is the guiding principle in these remote islands. Shoulders and knees must be covered. You are not to wear hats or sunglasses, and even men are required to wear the traditional skirt, a sulu, or wrap a sarong over shorts.

Jack introduced us and pointed out our boat anchored off the village and the kava bundles were placed in front of the stand-in. We never learned his name or position, but he spoke to us for a good while in Fijian. When he was finished our hostesses translated the welcome and permissions granted. And then we just chatted for a while, asking questions about village, the cyclone, and so on. We asked how many people live in Daliconi. The chief’s daughter-in-law thought for a moment, then said, “It’s about …” more thinking, then finally, “one hundred four.” She told us all but one resident survived the cyclone. Most of the houses lost their roofs, many houses were completely destroyed. 

Jack needs to practice sitting in a skirt. Whenever he changed position he flashed the two ladies who brought us here, causing them much merriment. We figure next time we need to rig a modesty panel.

We all signed the guest book, then took a walk over the hill past the village generator (runs only at night unless someone requests it during the day, for which they pay extra for the fuel) and eventually to the garden, tended by the women. They sell the vegetables to the villagers to keep the garden going and told us many cruisers had brought them seeds. We wish we’d known because seeds are easy to carry and so needed after the destruction of all vegetation and fruit trees during the storm. Every single leaf was blown away by Winston, they said, so that all you could see on the hillsides were rocks. Knowing that, it’s amazing how much has grown back in the five months since. 

Immediately after the storm the New Zealand Army came in and cleared the rubble and buried it on the hillside, then erected a new school building to replace one of the three that was destroyed. They rebuilt the community center and helped replace some of the roofs that blew away. International aid organizations brought food, water and temporary shelter, and people are still donating much needed goods. One lady told me a boat had just delivered bags of bras for the village women, and she confided that she hoped next time they’d bring panties. Think about it. How would you cope if everything you owned was blown away in the space of a few hours? Not only do these beautiful people cope, but they continue to smile and welcome all comers, even as they struggle to rebuild the life they had. 

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The view from the back porch

At Naigani Island, Fiji

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Truth and beauty in Fiji

Until recently it’s taken special permission just to enter the Lau Island group in Fiji. This group of Islands is east of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, the two main islands, and when heading west from Tonga you have to zig-zag through all the reef strewn waters and islets to clear in to Fiji. We avoided this scary scenario by entering Fijian waters from the south, north from New Zealand. Not that there wasn’t plenty to run into, it’s just that most of the obstructions are at least marked on the decidedly sketchy charts. Traveling east from Tonga, not so much. 

Once again we had to steel ourselves to break away from Jolene at Waitui Marina, up the creek in Savusavu. It seemed a weather window would never come right for us so the best we could come up with was two days that were not too bad. One last listen to Gulf Harbor Radio for weather, which we hear streaming on the Internet since our radio went DOA, and we eased the mooring lines ready for, with any luck at all, 111 miles of diesel drone. This will put us over 20,000 miles traveled so far on Escape Velocity. 

We turned the corner at the luckless JM Cousteau resort and found, as expected, light winds OTN (on the nose). With a little fine tuning we realized that we could fly our jib and at least look like a sailboat. Eventually the wind clocked around a few degrees and we were able to actually raise the main and sail for a few hours. We dropped just the mainsail before dark and headed into heavy rain squalls. No stars tonight. 

Morning never really dawned, the overcast and fog just lightened slightly and we heard two boats on VHF radio behind us discussing the tricky Bay of Islands pass through the rocks and the reefs. This is the big leagues of piloting folks. Our Raymarine chart plotter has ten year old charts that are off about a mile in parts of Fiji. The GPS isn’t off, just where they positioned land on the chart is off. This is one of those parts.  

Several guide beacons are missing on the approach to the narrow pass which requires the pilot to line up twin white poles on shore, quickly correcting any slides caused by the swirling currents. The only problem is that the entire Island of Vanuabalavu is enshrouded in fog and rain. We notice that the IPad is less lost than the built in chart plotter but we can’t go in until it clears up a bit. We’re a little early anyway so we drop the jib and bob around waiting at our waypoint outside the pass. 

Thirty minutes later a large white ketch appears out of the fog heading towards the pass and it’s one of the boats we’d heard on the radio last night. Turns out he’d been through here before and graciously didn’t mind being the guinea pig. Finally it clears enough to see the twin range poles and we tiptoe into the pass which has little rock indications scattered all over the chart looking like someone has been eating crunchy cookies over it. It’s not a good visual sun day to be doing this but this is the day we have so we do the best we can. 

There are many little coves in this Bay of Islands and after sniffing around awhile, in true Escapee fashion, we wiggled into a pretty little cul du sac that has a white sand bottom in 15 feet of water so clear I could see our anchor digging into the sand.

It didn’t take long before the kayaks, Jean & Frank, were launched and the exploring began. This place is mysteriously beautiful. I had no preconceived notion of what the Bay of Islands was all about. It’s the kind of place that draws you in because around every turn it just takes your breath away and we’ve seen some amazing places. This is all that and more. We may have to revise our schedule. 

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West to go east

We keep watching the weather hoping for an opportunity to get east to the Lau group and especially southeast to Fulaga. But the wind is relentlessly southeast and too strong to be able to punch through by motor. Besides, we’re running out of fresh food and need to resupply, something not easily done in the outer islands. We knew we’d have to return to Savusavu for food and fuel, and at least it’s a comfy place to wait for the right weather. It’s not far, but with few anchorages along the way and contrary winds, the trip would take three days. Our first overnight was a return to the bosom of comfort, Sau Bay Fiji Retreat. The place was quiet with few guests but we enjoyed a beer on the welcoming deck and Jack bought a cap, a fitting souvenir from a favorite destination.

A cheerful welcome, good conversation, a warm send-off and we were on our way, once more past rainbow reef to Paradise Resort on Taveuni Island where we hoped for an easy overnight before the final stretch back to Savusavu. 

You can tell by the damaged trees that this place suffered from the forces of Cyclone Winston but they are up and running, and judging by the many children running around and filling the pool, enjoying a good season. The resort provides a couple of moorings free to yachts who want to visit, but there’s a hidden cost. Instead of being able to pop in and indulge in a quiet drink and dinner, we had to endure a services hustle not unlike a time-share pitch, and during dinner our waitress wondered if we wouldn’t rather have one of their signature cocktails ($18) instead of the beer we ordered ($5.) Between that, mediocre food and the many noisy babies and unsupervised children in the dining area, we soon retreated back to Escape Velocity and made it an early night. 

The next day made up for the disappointing resort dinner as we enjoyed a near-perfect downwind sail to Savusavu and an enthusiastic welcome from Jolene at Waitui Marina. We picked up a mooring, tidied up and went ashore in time for a violin and ukulele concert by Nancy and Art from Second Wind. The audience filled the tiny Waitui bar and spilled out onto the balcony. 

We spent the next few days watching the weather again for an opportunity to get to the Lau Group. Jack finally got to try out the paddleboard and I think with a little practice he might even come to enjoy it.

We provisioned, fueled up, ate pizza with friends and generally stayed poised and ready for action. In all our cruise planning, we often fail to factor in how much time we spend waiting for the right wind to take us where we want to go. It’s a lesson we learn time and time again. Be Here Now. 

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