Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bumming with the Bums in Bums Bay

After 4 days in the Rivergate Marina the weather looked good to start heading to the Gold Coast.  We left on the outgoing tide of the Brisbane River with Zenitude following.  It seems that after a had blow, the winds don't have anything left so we motored 30 miles down the lower Moreton Bay. The southern part is not really a bay but more like a river delta except made of mangroves.  We anchored for the night and continued the rest of the way the following day.

Bum's Bay and the Queensland Gold Coast
Zenitude headed up the Coomera River to the Gold Coast City Marina and we kept heading south.  We are anchored in a man-made hole called Bum's Bay. It was Sunday and the Gold Coast 600 motorcar race was going on so the bay was packed full of Aussie party boats.  There is supposedly a 7 day limit to stay here but there are squatters that look like they have been here for years.  Some of these things aren't even boats.  There is even a tent pitched on a platform on 55 gallon drums.
A Packed Full Bum's Bay

We're going to get the bikes out and explore town tomorrow and head up to the Marina/Haul Out at the end of the week.  They have a boat show/vendor expo this weekend and it will be nice to see what deals they have.  We'll need 4-5 days to prep Tortuguita and then be heading home.  Hope to see you then.
Cheers, Dave and Booker

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Land of Oz

The day after we arrived in Australia, the weather took a turn for the worse.  Weather windows don’t last forever and it was nice to be in a marina slip when the High Wind and Sea Warnings were being broadcast.

Jellyfish in Moreton Bay
The Rivergate Marina is 6 miles up the Brisbane River fairly close to town.  It would have been a nice place to stay except for the $90/day price tag and that it is located in an industrial area. 

Oscar had been at the marina since his arrival from New Caledonia 4 days prior.  He had a rental car and took us to reprovision at the supermarket since we had eaten everything on the boat in anticipation of Customs and Quarantine taking it anyway.  I also bought an automotive battery charger and extension cable so that Tortuguita’s batteries could be charged from shore power.  Australia has 220 volt/50 cycle power.  Our US Charger/Inverter is 100 volt/60 cycle so even though the Aussie auto charger is only 20 Amps, compared to our 100 Amp US charger, that should be good enough when plugged in full time.

Australia is like the US.  1st world in all aspects.  Roads, infrastructure, shopping, and communication are just like the US.  Also, just like the US, there is no Australian culture.  Just like the US, we have no American Culture.  After experiencing so many traditional lifestyles crossing the South Pacific, we very much miss that.

Everything is expensive here.  Even more expensive than French Polynesia.  The supermarkets are well stocked and Booker did a good job looking for values.  A sandwich will cost $10, burger and fries $15, a beer $8, cup of coffee $5, and a dinner buffet $50.  Surprisingly, the Australian wine prices were of good value.  A bottle of nice white in the Bottle Shop will cost $7-$10.  They make good money here.  They have to!  We are looking forward to US prices again.

We will be leaving for the Gold Coast on Saturday.  Oscar will be single handing ZENITUDE so he will follow us through the winding rivers to make his navigation job easier.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Perfect Passage

Since Mexico, we have spent about 80 days sailing.  We are constantly watching the weather to find the next time period that would give us a safe and comfortable sail to our next destination.  Sometimes we’ve had to wait a week, other times, three weeks for this window of opportunity.

There is no such thing, at least so far, as the perfect weather window.  The models do not forecast very well past 3 days and you sometimes have to deal with what Mother Nature throws at you.  When evaluating the weather windows, I am willing to accept mostly good, some bad, but no ugly in the forecast.  You do not launch out knowing that you will hit bad weather.  That happens enough on it’s own.  The weather in the S. Pacific has been rough and people we have met have said this year is worse than any other.  It is not even an El Nino year.

Spinnaker and Main together
The latitudes between New Caledonia and Australia are not in the trade wind region like most of our trip.  Weather in the Coral Sea and south is determined by High and Low pressure areas and mostly Cold fronts pushing up from the high latitudes.  The Southern Ocean is where most of the weather is generated and the storms there have been causing a southerly component in the waves our entire time in the S. Pacific.

We had beam seas from Fiji and it was not comfortable but safe.  We wanted east wind and east swell since the heading to Brisbane was to the southwest.  Getting hit by waves from behind is better than getting hit from the side or front.

A beautiful day under spinnaker
Plenty of ships approaching Brisbane
Well, somehow the stars all aligned and we had the best weather ever in 8 years for a passage.  The only bad part was the first 18 hours when the seas were 10 feet with a primary swell on the beam and secondary wind waves from behind.  For the next 5 days we had east wind and east swell.  The winds were a perfect 15-20 knots except for an 18 hour period of light winds when we had to motor. There were no fronts or troughs to cross, no squalls, and not even any rain.   We even had to slow down a little to not arrive at the Moreton Bay Channel before sunrise but that also coincided with low tide and the changing tide gave us a nice push down toward and in to the Brisbane River.  We pulled up to the gated Quarantine Dock at the Rivergate Marina.  Customs/Immigration and Quarantine showed up within 30 minutes and we were cleared in by lunch.

We could not have asked for a better passage to finish up the South Pacific.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

New Caledonia

We made it to 'New Cal' in 5 days.  We were helped by 4 knots of current that was flowing in to the Havannah Pass.  The sun was setting and we still had 6 hours to go to Noumea so we picked up a mooring in quiet little Majic Bay and continued the next day.  Our friend Oscar, on ZENITUDE, was waiting for us when we came in to Marina Port Moselle.  He arranged for us to get a slip when all the other boats had to anchor out.  We hadn’t seen Oscar since Key West in Jan 2010 so it was a nice reunion.  He walked us through the clearing in process and we spent a lot of time with Oscar touring around, drinking great French red wine and eating smelly French cheeses.  The French really do know how to enjoy life.

New Caledonia was supposedly the setting for McHale’s Navy.  Not.  This place is nothing like what I expected because of that TV show.  It is a huge mountainous vegetated island.  Noumea has the feel of French St. Maarten only 10 times as big.  There is incredible wealth here because of the mining operations and the prices are just as incredible.  The lunch salad bar by the marina was $50 US for both of us.   The fruit and vegetable market was a convenient 100 meters from the marina.  Prices were like French Polynesia, expensive.

There is a large Melanesian population in New Cal but they seem to be living very much poverty level.  They don’t seem to have a cultural identity like the Fijians or Samoans so have gravitated toward Rastafarian.  Maybe the loss of culture was part of the French colonization process.  The French people here are the ones with the wealth and culture.  Just an observation.

Musket Cove

A Low was coming down from the tropics and it looked like heavy rain and winds were coming to Fiji so we headed a day early to Mololo Island where the Musket Cove Marina and Yacht Club is located.  They just finished up the 30th Annual Regatta the day before we arrived.  Musket Cove is a great place.  Lifetime Membership is $3 US but you must have sailed there from somewhere outside of Fiji.  We are member numbers 16,181 and 16,182.  Probably the largest Yacht Club membership in the world. This allows us to receive reciprocal privileges from other Yacht Clubs throughout the world.  Much cheaper than keeping a membership in Harvey Cedars for $1000 per year. We will need this in Australia.

We were on a mooring with LIGHTSPEED and CYNERGY nearby.
Every night the staff stocks a barbeque area with wood and everyone is welcome to bring and cook their own food or you can buy pre-made packs that you then cook on the grills.  It is a great idea and makes a wonderful time to meet others and socialize.  We made use of this every night, even the couple of nights that we had rain.

Initially we weren’t too concerned about the America’s Cup race.  However, every day when the race was on, the management set up an internet video feed to a big screen in the bar.  Even though it looked like the US was getting their butts kicked, we still went and watched.  Out of the 100+ people watching, almost all were Kiwis and Aussies.  There were probably 5 Americans in the whole place.  Well, after the Americans started to win, there were a lot of quiet pissed off people in that room.  I think they all are still in shock that they got beaten so badly.  They take their sailing very seriously down under.  We delayed our departure from Fiji so we could watch the final race and then sailed to Lautoka to clear out.  ELFRUN had been waiting there for 2 weeks so we joined up with them for the formalities.

We left Lautoka to anchor for the night behind the Cloudbreak Reef where there is one of the best surf spots in the world.  There is a floating restaurant called Cloud 9 where we were going to spend the remainder of our Fiji Dollars.  The wind was whooping and it wouldn’t have been a good night so we went back to Musket Cove with ELFRUN for another barbeque dinner.

We left at sunrise for the 700 mile trip to New Caledonia.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sevusevu 101

Half Kilo of Yaquona Kava
Sevusevu is a Fijian tradition thousands of years old.  The Fijians were ferocious and cannibals long ago.  When a visitor from another village came to visit, they presented a gift of Yaqona (Kava Root) to the chief.  If the chief accepted this, you were welcomed into the community for the duration of your stay.  If the chief did not accept your sevusevu, you were probably eaten.  Captain Bligh, after being set into a lifeboat by his mutineers, sailed through the waters of Fiji but never touched land and kept on going for fear of the Feegees.  He probably should have brought some Yanqona.

Yaquona is sold in the markets of the large cities.  We bought 4 half kilo bundles.  You do not show up and anchor in front of a village without presenting Sevusevu.  It would be like someone pitching a tent on your front yard in the US. 

Before you do anything, you go to the village, find the headman, called the Turaga ni Koro.  He is your representative.  You must be well dressed which in Fiji means wearing Sarongs and the women must have their sholders covered.  You tell him your story about where you are from and why you want to be at his village.  He then takes you to where the chief is.  He may be at his house but could be anywhere.  The chief will be sitting on a mat and already know you are coming.  You must not have your hat or sunglasses on anywhere around the chief.  It works best if your Turanga talks the chief’s representive.  In Yadua, the Turanga ni Koro had a stroke so wasn’t able to represent us, and in Soso, they only had a stand-in chief.  So we just went along with whatever.  After all, we weren’t going to be eaten.

When you go into wherever the chief is, you take off your shoes outside, crawl to him on your knees and place the bundle of Yaqona in front of him.  By placing it on the floor, this is to give him the option of accepting or rejecting it.  Your Turanga will tell your story.  The chief will clap three times which means “I am about to speak, please listen”, then place his hands on the bundle, recite the traditional monologue that has always been said for Sevusevu, and clap some more.  You will clap also and that’s it.  He will welcome you to the community.

This clapping thing is very important.  A clap is called a Cobo, pronounces Thombo.  It is a deep, loud, cupped hand clap.

If you are fortunate, the drinking of the Kava will follow.  The chiefs herald will have a village boy, the mixer, cut and grind the Kava root in a steel mortar and pestal. When it is to the chiefs satisfaction, the herald puts it in a silk cloth and squeezes water through it in a large bowl until it is acceptable to the chief.  Kava is a mild sedative and anesthetic.  It numbs your lips when you drink it and you may get a mild buzz.  The Fijians live to drink this stuff.  They can not handle alcohol so it is best.

It tastes like dirt and dishwater and is served in a coconut or wooden cup.  The mixer fills the cup and gives it to the chief.  He cobos once, takes the cup and chugs it down completely.  Then he and everybody cobo’s three times.  The cup is then refilled and the mixer presents it to the next person in order of seniority (importance).  They cobo once, drink, and cobo three times, and so on.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

To the Yasawas

There's an old guy in Savusavu named Curly that makes money giving a weekly seminar about navigation in the Fiji Islands.  Don't get me wrong, Fiji is a challenging place but in my opinion, he embellishes the difficulty and makes everybody scared to venture out of the well defined cruising paths that he has mapped out or places that he doesn’t like for one reason or another.  This 'scary factor' helps him sell more seats for his seminars.  Curly briefs about 250 cruisers every year.

Some of the charts for this area haven’t been surveyed for over 100 years.  Not that a million year old reef would up and move but now with the accuracy of GPS and our electronic charts, hazards aren’t where they put them on a century old chart.  So you do have to use your eyes and read the water to move around here.  9AM to 3PM is best with blue sunny skies.  Reefs are not seen well with an overcast.

The Yasawa Group is west of the main islands of Vanua Levu and Viti Levu.  The clouds are usually rained out by the time the tradewinds push them over the main islands.  The islands do cause gap winds in the 30 mile wide passage between them.  They act like a huge nozzle that accelerates the wind in and downwind of the pass.

From Yadua we could have waited for good winds to cross the pass to Viti Levu or gone more downwind and headed to the Yasawas.  Since Curly had everybody worried about the masses of uncharted reefs, we figured we would go where everybody else wasn’t. To the Yasawas.

We had a good track on the electronic chart of our arrival in to Watering Bay and there weren’t any really close passes to hazardous reefs if we went around the west side of Yadua.  So we left at 3AM in order to arrive at the first of the reefs to the east of the Yasawas before noon.  It would then be 3 more hours through the reefs to our first anchorage.

We had nice wind until the gap effect calmed down and then we had to motorsail.  We anchored at Blue Lagoon.  This is where the movie Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields was filmed in the ‘80s.  It was a well protected anchorage and we slept well but was more hype than Blue Lagoon.

Soso Village
Initially we were going to stay another day but knew there were better places so we headed out to the bay in front of Somosomo village on Naviti Island.  We went around the west side of the islands and on arrival, the north swell that had been with us outside the reef, hadn’t calmed down and was pushing right in to Somosomo Bay.  We made a 180 and headed to the bay on the south side of Naviti by the village of Soso.

The Kids
Don't know what this says but it was neat
In Soso we presented Sevusevu to the acting chief.  We were welcomed as members of the village as we had in Yadua.  They haven’t had a chief for 3 years since the last one died.  It has taken so long to pick one because of the infighting between the old chief’s family members.   The new chief will be inaugurated on October 10th.  We were invited to stay for the festivities but there is no way.
Moonrise over Soso Bay

Soso Church
The ladies that had taken us to the chief’s Bure (house) asked us to come back when we were done and look at some things they were selling.  They didn’t have much but we felt obliged to buy something.  However, one lady was selling small mats made of Pandamus leaves.  We had wanted something to mount the Tapa on that we bought in Samoa so we went back to the boat, brought the Tapa, and contracted for the lady to make us a custom mat.

Lunch with Joe and Lady
Booker and Emily
Instead of buying some tourist junk that we didn’t want, we asked the last lady that we hadn’t bought anything from if she would make us lunch when we came back the next day for the mat.  She initially didn’t understand but finally she understood that she was going to be ‘like a restaurant’.  She was overjoyed and made a nice meal of root crops with curried pumpkin and rice the next day.

Big winds pushing us toward the reef
The wind had switched more south and was blowing hard in to the bay so we had to find a new place.  This one was getting risky so we said our good byes and headed 5 miles south to a small group of islands that had a few resorts on them.  A helicopter had landed on the beach to pick up people when we were anchoring.  Things were nice there until sunset when the winds strengthened and switched even more south.  We had every alarm set to detect if the anchor was dragging and didn’t sleep very well. 
Monuriki Island - Castaway (Tom Hanks)

We met up with Lightspeed in Musket Cove
Swell from the north, winds from the south.  None of the anchorages were going to work out well here.  The next day we skipped going to Navadra and headed directly to the Musket Cove.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Denimanu Village, Yadua - Our New Family

We sailed from from Savusavu in the early morning rain with ELFRUN and the sun was out by the time we had to pass in to the reef surrounding the south shore of Vanua Levu.  We anchored at Coconut Point ( Nabouwalu) where John and Cyndi on CYNERGY had been anchored from the day prior.  We had nice Sundowners onboard TORTUGUITA and had a nice peaceful night.

Denimanu Village

Main Street Yadua

Mike Kelly's House
The next morning, ELFRUN stayed to wait for good winds to cross to Viti Levu and we went with CYNERGY to Yadua.  We anchored behind Motuba Island and dinghyed to the village of Denimanu and presented Sevusevu to Chief Johnny.  The island has a Kava drinking the first 15 days of the month so we did not have a proper Sevusevu but Johnny welcomed us as members of the village for the duration of our stay.  The tide had gone out while we were there and the dinghy was about 40 yards to the water.  It was going to be a long hard, scraping pull until about 15 guys and kids showed up, everyone lifted the dinghy and carried it to the water.  This has NEVER happened to us anywhere.

Yadua was pretty much destroyed by Cyclone Evan last December so many of the houses are just pieced together temporarily.  The government is building 19 new houses for the displaced families.

Katea cooking fish
The wind was strong and some chop was getting in to the anchorage at high tide so on Sunday we moved the boat to Watering Bay.  CYNERGY went on to Cukova Bay for an early morning departure. 

Dave and 'Mike Kelly'
Lunch at Pita's
We met the village headman during our first visit to town.  We thought his name was Mike Kelly but it was probably more like Michaeli.  He had a stroke 6 years ago and wasn’t able to walk so well, otherwise he would have been our representative for Sevusevu.  He invited us to come to lunch and then church on Sunday. 
Another Lunch at Pita's
So, on Sunday, we dinghied about 20 minutes from Watering Bay to town and left the dinghy on the beach.  We had a nice lunch, then tea and talked for a long time with the family.  We also met with Pita the Ranger before and after church.  He works for the Fiji National Trust and cares for the National Park on Yadua Taba, a small protected island on the southwest coast of Yadua.  He had just arrived back from Suva asked me to help replace his engine cables and throttle control.
The Dive Guys
On the mooring in Watering Bay
The 3PM church service was entirely in Fijian except about 10 words in English.  The singing was incredible and the preacher was boring.  It was now getting late so we headed back to Watering Bay.  There is a diving operation that that leases this bay.  They dive for Sea Cucumbers that are sent to Aisa for making sushi or whatever.  They invited us to use their mooring which we gladly accepted since our chain was getting wrapped around a coral head.

Katea on Tortuguita for tea
Working on Pita's boat
The next morning we decided to try the overland route to town.  Katea, who is married to Michaeli’s nephew, met us on the beach.  We had tea and biscuits on TORTUGUITA and then headed out.  We left the dinghy anchored in front of the dive compound.   The hike was an hour, up and over the hill, through lava flows, forests, and fields.   Booker and blew out our flip flops on that trek.

I started out working with Pita on his engine and when we finished, had a late lunch.  The church warden asked me to look at the church’s solar panels.  The panels were washed away by Cyclone Evan last December but found under the sand.  They were in surprisingly good condition except for the sand in the connection boxes.  A testimony to Kyocera.  However, all they have is the panels.  For a proper system they need batteries, a controller, and inverter.  Cost, about $2000 US which they don’t have.

Sisters - Pita's wife and aunt
By now, we had so many invitations to lunch and teas that we would have to stay a week but had to start thinking about leaving.  One more day should do it or we will never leave.  We got lost on our walk back to Watering Bay.  The dive guys had moved the dinghy to the beach when the tide came in.  Tides here are about 8 feet and the anchor would probably have pulled out.

I was invited to a grog (Kava) drinking party at the compound.  They came out in their boat to pick me up but I knew better to have control of my own transportation.  I went with them to a hut where about 15  guys were doing the grog thing.  They had a steel pot that the Kava was crushed in by a big steel bar.  The Kava is then put in a cloth strainer, in a big bowl, and mixed.  The cup is filled and passed.  You make one clap before drinking and 3 after you are done.  The claps should be deep, loud claps or you kind of get laughed at.  We went round and round like this, talking, etc for over 2 hours.  Quite fun, and Fijian.

The next day, we took the dinghy to town. Chief Johnny wanted me to look at his generator which was beyond repair.  We had tea and lunch with Pita and the family.

Fixing the town generator
The village has a diesel generator that runs from 6:00PM to 8:30PM that runs the well pump to fill the smaller house tanks and powers the town.  The guy in charge of starting it had been hearing a strange noise for the past month so I was asked to take a look at it.  After over an hour of listening, disassembly, and head scratching, I concluded that since the generator was sitting on it’s little wheels, they had dug in to the dirt and it wasn’t sitting level and the oil dipstick was on the downhill side of the engine, that the oil was in reality low and the crankshaft bushing was running dry and making the noise.  When I tilted it maybe 45 degrees toward that side, the noise went away.  So I told the guy that he needs to get some wood or a pallet and shovel and make a perfectly level pad and fill the oil full full full.
Drinking grog at Pita's
Went back to Pita’s for tea, said our good byes to everyone and headed back to Watering Bay.  We found out that Zak, Suzie, and Ronan are arriving the next day but we will be gone.  We are leaving at 3AM from the bay in full moonlight for the 11 hour sail to the Yasawa Group. 


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fiji, Mexico of the South Pacific

We are on a mooring at the Copra Shed Marina and Yacht Club in Savusavu.  Our friends on ELFRUN helped with the inbound reservations and had us over for dinner our first night so that Booker didn’t have to cook.  Clearing in was efficient and Customs, Immigration, Health, and Biosecurity all came to the boat.  The front that we sailed through has now moved over Northern Fiji so we are getting drenched.

Copra Shed Marina Yacht Club

Inside the Copra Shed
Savusavu is nothing like we expected.  It’s not a commercial port, it’s not a tourist village.  It kind of reminds me of a small Central American coast town.  Town is a main road about 8 blocks long.  The population is Fijian and Indian.  We walked town in the rain and explored the shops.  Very well stocked stores.

We hit the ATM, bought a $2 Vodaphone SIM chip and a 2G data package for $12 to get us connected to the internet, and had a great Indian curry lunch for $2.50 each.

The Waitui Marina has a Fijian Buffet on Wednesday and an Indian Buffet on Sunday for dinner.  We went there for an incredible meal for $5 each.  A liter of beer is $2.50.  The prices here are as good as Mexico and the food also has such good flavors and spices.  It is so nice to be back to a 3rd world country that doesn’t have 1st world prices.

I hired 2 guys, Sam and Richard, to polish stainless.  They are slow but at $5 per hour I didn’t expect too much.

Savusavu Market

Buying Yangon (Kava) for Sevusevu

Booker's favorite Market Lady

Mum's Country Kitchen Indian Restaurant

Dinner Party on Tortuguita