Friday, 5 June 2015

Kid boat reunion in Fulaga (Southern Lau Group)

Bula! Bula!

Hello from very nearly the south east corner of Fiji. This would be the same south east corner of Fiji that we sailed by last week on our way from NZ to Savusavu to clear in. (There are only a few ports of entry into Fiji, and the government (we think) is purposeful in not making this one of them, in order to keep visitors and outside influences to a minimum.) So we had a two-day down-wind sail past these islands to get to Savusavu, and a two-day up-wind sail to come back (200+ nm).

I will back up a bit ... the last few days were a bit of a flurry. After our 11-day passage from NZ to Fiji, we cleared into Fiji (Customs, Immigration, Health and Biosecurity), applied for a cruising permit, had our laundry washed (clean sheets, yeah!), stocked up on fresh fruit & veg (fingers crossed that any of it will still be good now that we are here), celebrated our anniversary (yummy dinner prepared by the kids and Jesus), bought traditional Fijian outfits (2-piece dresses for myself and Victoria; black sulus and "bula shirts" for the boys), reconnected with friends to see who was going where, and even managed to go out to dinner at the Surf & Turf (as recommended by Max's parents - the lady there remembered them and knew what they ordered each time!). We spent a very interesting afternoon with a local ex-pat Fijian called Curly, who has been here 40+ years, has single-handedly sailed throughout Fiji, and offers cruisers a very reasonable consulting and chart-marking service. We went for a three-hour seminar that took nearly four hours, and he hardly stopped for breath, let alone a break, so we have many pages of notes :)

There is rarely good weather for a passage all the way from Savusavu to Fulaga (pronounced Fulanga and spelled any number of ways...), there are just less-worse periods when the prevailing strong S/SE trade winds either lighten or switch to the north for a brief time. Such was our weather window this week. All our friends had already left Savusavu by the weekend, and we had all talked about coming here, so we just had to hope that we would all grab this weather window and go for it!

We did a really good job of stowing for sea before we left NZ. I hadn't stocked up too much on fruit & veg because I was pretty sure we couldn't bring any into the islands, so we just had enough for the passage and a possible stop in Minerva Reef. On the appointed day, we met with customs, did a couple of last minute things, and left. Nothing much jumped to the floor on that entire passage, and once I stuffed them with tea towels, the pots & glasses didn't even make much noise in the cupboards. Such was not the case leaving Savusavu! Under the impression that very little would grow in Fulaga, I had bags & bags of fruit & veg from the Savusavu Market that I hoped would make it through the passage (pineapples, papayas, oranges, tomatoes, eggplant, sweet potatoes, green beans, and two big stalks of bananas ...) Since it was only two days at sea, and I knew that no one would feel much like eating for the first 24 hours (so much for the sea legs we developed on our way here!) I just stowed the items as well as possible and hoped for the best. Even though we had originally planned to do all our admin on Monday (Customs, Immigration, marina, shopping, and a second session with Curly) in order to be ready at first light on Tuesday, we ended up doing all the shopping on Tuesday morning. This meant that I was still stowing items as we were leaving the harbour. It was not my calmest departure ever, and the sea quickly highlighted any items that I had overlooked in my haste. The worst was the egg bin that I had directed eggs and bread to be stored in, but for which I had neglected to mention the retaining ties ... we took a couple of big rolly waves on the beam just outside the harbour, and eggs, bin, and bread smashed to the floor. Jesus was a trooper and cleaned it up while I tackled the basket of less messy but more numerous items that had crashed to the floor on the other side of the cabin. Our styrofoam cartons earned their keep - less than a dozen eggs actually broke out of four dozen. We had scrambled eggs for dinner last night with the cracked ones, and the floor needed wiping anyway.

After a few miles of bashing into steep/short waves (I found myself thinking "whose dumb idea was this anyway??" and of course had to answer to myself that it was mine!), we were clear enough from the land to put our sails up and set a course to windward. The funny thing (but not surprising to sailors) is that the motion (although still uncomfortable) was much nicer once we were sailing. We sailed all night with winds of 15-20 pretty much on the nose, motoring briefly at one point as the easiest way to avoid an island. Unfortunately, our autopilot did not think much of the conditions, and it stopped working (for those who are interested, we had a "rudder response failure", which I think means that the computer was telling the hydraulic driver to move the rudder, but the drive wasn't cooperating). Jesus and I were already on watch taking turns steering (we have had this error from time to time, but it usually goes away if we let everything cool down, and then turn the computer off and on again) but this time, even after a long cool-down period, it would not cooperate. As ever, we have to look at the bright side - we had enough hands to drive, and it didn't fail on our long passage from NZ to Fiji (or worse, from Mexico to the Marquesas last year - we heard many stories of couples whose autopilots or wind-vanes stopped working a few days out of Mexico, and they had to hand steer for up to 40 more days at sea.)

In our case, losing our autopilot on this passage meant that Jesus and both kids got to do way more driving than usual. All three were rock-solid whether they were asked to steer a compass course or hold an apparent wind angle. We spent much of yesterday close-hauled with the wind at 37 deg and the boat doing over 7 kts through the water. Fluenta sails really well to windward, especially for a heavily laden (full fuel, full water, and full food) cruising boat. I was off-watch, but Max was really proud as he watched both Victoria and Johnathan handling the boat. Jesus was often on watch with me, and he was super steady at the wheel as well. He drove for hours both nights so we could get some sleep, and after his watch last night, he slept in the cockpit so he could drive whenever Benjamin woke up, which meant that Max could get much-needed rest before the lagoon entrance. Hand-steering is not so bad when there are five pairs of hands to share the load!

I had a lovely night watch last night. Max and then Jesus had been helming since dinner time, so they woke me shortly before 1am. The moon was full and bright, the winds had come down to 6-10 kts, we had already passed most of the islands we had to avoid, and all I needed to do was sail the boat as close to the wind as possible until daylight. It was beautiful. The moon was so bright that there were shadows in the cockpit, the sea state had come down to almost nothing, and even though I was hand-steering (or in fact, foot-steering) the boat needed hardly any adjustments to hold a steady course. As the light was increasing this morning, I was even able to read a magazine on my iPad :) For a passage where we were told we would likely have to motor a significant portion, it was pretty nice! What a difference 24 hrs can make to one's thinking - this was not such a "dumb idea" after all!

We arrived at the pass this morning just after 8:30. We used our new "marriage saver" headsets (snazzy bluetooth ones, so-called because they keep married people from shouting at each other when one is on the helm and the other is at the bow) and navigated the entrance without mishap. When we arrived in the anchorage, we were met by not one, but three other kid boats, and a fourth arrived just before dark. The scenery in the lagoon was so lovely that it was hard to remember to keep concentrating on the coral bombies and other obstacles. It is a bigger lagoon than we are used to, and the island itself is higher and more fertile than the Tuomotan islands that were similar. The lagoon is dotted with free-standing islets which make for picturesque vistas!

We found out that the others were planning to move to the entrance of the pass this afternoon to spend a couple of days snorkelling before the weather turns windy again, so we hastily donned the Fijian finery we had purchased in Savusavu, and our friend Hans (Nautilus) drove us ashore in his dingy since he was going to the village anyway. We have brought bundles of "Yaqona", or the dried root of a pepper plant, which will be pounded to powder to make "kava", and Fijian tradition is that visitors to any village present a bundle to the Chief in a "Sevusevu" ceremony. This is an important ritual which is still practiced when Fijians from one village visit another village. We were met at the shore by a young man called Tui, and he walked with us to the village where another man took us to the house of the chief. The Sevusevu ceremony was all in Fijian, so we don't really know what went on, but both the man who brought us to the chief and the son of the chief spoke at length, and it marked our acceptance into the village. Afterwards, the chief's son explained some of the local rules, invited us to church, and told us that we were welcomed. He also told us that the $50 donation that each yacht is expected to contribute has been used to expand the amount of solar energy available to the island's four villages.

Each yacht has been assigned to a host family, and we were led to our family afterwards, where we visited for a bit, watched some wood carving, and shared tea and bread. In true maritime style, we were not sent home empty-handed: as we were leaving, we were given some cassava, fish, and the rest of the bread we had been enjoying. We will return their container with a treat from Fluenta when we next visit the village :)

Having gone to the village in the late morning, there was still enough light left to cross the lagoon when we got back to the boat - so, off with the finery, on with the sailing clothes, and up with the anchor. The tide was much lower, so we were relieved to retrace our steps without incident. The lagoon bottom is mostly sandy with some coral, but we were able to transit across without any pinnacles in our way. We had hardly set our anchor when some of the other kids came by to see Benjamin, and to collect Johnathan and Victoria to swim and play. Now, this is why we came here! Even as the grownups were sweating aboard Fluenta while launching the dingy, we could hear shrieks and shouts of laughter ringing across the lagoon as the kids jumped and swam from one of the other boats. Outside fun was followed by inside, as they gathered and played Monopoly once everyone had changed into dry clothes. As far as I know, all the families are planning to be here for a good while, so we should have made many together memories by the time we do our next passage.

Love to all,
PS - Fulaga is off the internet/cellular grid, so pictures and phone calls will have to wait until another spot.
At 6/4/2015 7:40 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 19°07.93'S 178°32.51'W
At 6/4/2015 7:40 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 19°07.93'S 178°32.51'W

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