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

A Rough Passage

We left Tin Can Island and had a nice sail for about 4 hours.  We had a picture perfect frontal passage as the winds went from Northwest to West to South, we had to start turning more to the East.  The winds followed us to the East, we tacked, and were heading directly for Fiji.  This all happened in about a half hour.

One problem was that we were now being pressed toward 2 underwater mountains covering 500 square miles, the Zephyr Reef and the Rochambeau Seamount that rise to within 50 feet of the surface.  There is no danger of us hitting one but there would be breaking waves.  We had no moon on this passage so the night time scary factor was amplified.

The seas were very uncomfortable.  Short period, 6-9 feet, hitting the side of Tortuguita.  Normally we would turn more downwind to make it more comfortable at night but couldn’t because of the seamounts.  Neither of us slept.  By morning we passed them and eased a little to the west.  That put the pounding seas on our beam but at lease we were moving.  That afternoon we entered the trough, at least that’s what the weather service called it.  This is the same one that gave us a day of rain in Savaii.  However, it wasn’t a trough, it was a front with a good 15 degree temperature difference.  So in addition to a day of rain, we had near gale force winds that just kept on.

By that night we had had it.  No sleep, slamming waves, pitching boat.  Probably out 2nd worse passage ever.   The 1st being Bahamas to Hatteras in 2009.  Booker was ready to mutiny.  So we heaved-to, essentially parking the boat, and slept.  While hove-to, the boat drifts 1 Nautical Mile per hour.  The next morning, we were 12 miles further west and the conditions hadn’t changed.  So we pressed on hoping for things to calm down. 

Something interesting was that there were streams of cold and warm air as we sailed.  We would get 2-3 minutes of warm air and the wind and seas would be gentle.  Then a cold blast for 2-3 minutes would give us cranking winds and smashing waves.  Then it would get warm again.

We reached the Nanuk Passage that evening and saw the mountains of Taveuni at sunset.  It was calming down, finally.  By morning we were south of Taveuni and made our turn toward Savusavu.  By 1 PM we were in calm water on a mooring ball.  What a difference a day can make.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Niuafo'ou (Tin Can Island), Tonga

UPDATE:   For some reason, this post has the all time high views out of all the posts.
I my feeling is that there is not too much information available about Tin Can Island.

In order to help future visitors, I have looked back and found the location where we anchored.
If you drop anchor at   15° 35.520'S  175° 40.560'W there will be nice black sand at 50'.
On the way out, when heading for Fiji, watch out for the Zephyr Reef.


We had a fairly nice 2 days sail out of Savaii with the usual rainshowers.  The wind did as forecast and dies so instead of motoring for 4 days we went to an isolated tip of an active volcano of an island just a little southeast of our course to Fiji.  The last eruption was 1947 and the crater is filled with water.

There is no bay to anchor in but there is a little point of black lava sand 50 feet down that the anchor will hold.  You really only want to be here when there is no wind or seas and that is exactly what we had.  Sometimes luck is in our favor.  This place is rarely visited by cruisers and the supply ship comes on a very irregular schedule.

It rained for an entire day and we watched a few TV shows and a movie.  The next day we ventured to shore, pulled the dinghy up on the black sand and walked to town (about 2 hours).  Town was deserted, we met the pastor of the Church and walked back.

The winds had started to pick up and when we got back, poor Tortuguita was pitching in 1 meter seas and lucky to have not dragged the anchor.

We got the dinghy aboard and left in a hurry.