|A reef seen from offshore - a good thing to avoid and there are lots of them in Fiji.|
I hope you have been enjoying all the photos Max has been posting on our blog - I have taken "a few nights off" from sending emails and all of a sudden more than three weeks and two anchorages have gone by !
When I last wrote we were in Gau (pronounced "Now") anchored by the pass with the opportunity to do some beautiful diving and snorkelling. We had an amazingly nice (rare this year) overnight passage to Yanuca (pronounced "Yanutha"), the small island in Beqa ("Mbenga") Lagoon, then for once we had a day passage from Yanuca to Likuri (aka Robinson Crusoe Island, home of the Robinson Crusoe Island Resort) where we pretended to be resort guests for a few days, then another day passage from Likuri to Musket Cove, where we are now. All of this occurred over about two weeks.
I'll go back and touch on some of the highlights, without giving the entire play-by-play :)
We generally try to do our sailing with a bit of a conservative approach: we leave in the daytime when we can; we follow our own tracks or use waypoints from reliable sources; we wait for good weather. These habits worked in our favour a few times in the last couple of weeks.
When we were ready to leave Gau (in convoy with our friends on Caminante who were heading to Suva), it was a beautiful, calm, late afternoon with a clear blue sky and glorious sunshine. Everything was lashed below, a triple batch of oatmeal pancakes was ready to be served as snacks, and we felt prepared for our night at sea. Max started to raise the anchor, and this is when we realized that it was good that we still had some sunshine left: our anchor chain had wrapped itself around not one, but two, coral bombies - it had effectively cleated itself onto the seabed! We were immediately reminded of the one conservative habit that we had relaxed a bit at Gau: because the diving was so beautiful, and we had friends with a compressor, Max had used both of his dive tanks; unfortunately, the dive compressor was the victim of a malfunctioning diesel generator, and our tanks were empty on the aft rail, waiting patiently for us to find a shop ashore to take them to. The only option was for Max to put his spear fishing skills to use and to dive on the anchor chain (approx 40 ft) to free it. In a complex series of maneuvers (Max in the water, Jesus on the bow, myself at the helm) he directed us in a figure of eight pattern and dove to wrestle the chain from each of the bombies in turn. We were so relieved (and proud!) when we finally had our anchor on board! The passage to the pass was beautiful - hardly any wind, and clear sunshine. Yet again, we were grateful for our daylight departure: the mainsail jammed as we were raising it, and Max had to sit on the boom easing the fabric gently through one of the rollers, while I drove and Johnathan and Jesus winched. We were still in the lagoon, so there was no sea-state, and we got it up before we went through the pass. We literally sailed off into the sunset (and a beautiful, cloudless one at that). Thankfully, the rest of the passage was reasonably peaceful, in fact, we had to reef several times just to keep the boat speed down so we could arrive after sunrise. The only excitement was our transit through a Chinese fishing fleet around . They were waiting to enter Suva harbour: the AIS was not happy as no matter which way we turned, we were on a collision course with one of them! We finally did a big turn to port, went a couple of miles out of our way, and didn't collide with anyone. We are conservative that way, after all :)
Yanuca was beautiful when we arrived - a tropical paradise in the sunshine. Exodus and Nautilus were already there, and Nirvana arrived that morning from Kadavu ("Kandavu"). We went with Julie and Gary to do a parents-only sevusevu while the kids played ashore (even Benjamin). It was a bit of a scramble over rocks and then a hike to get to the village. Benjamin had gone ashore with the kids to play on the beach, and even though I assumed I would bring him to the village, as we were going in in the dinghy, the kids were paddling out to Nautilus on a kayak, so we left him. The sevusevu was unique in that we were served tea and snacks afterwards rather than grog (kava); in fact, several of the villagers had gathered to eat together when we arrived, so they shared their buns and rotis rolled with sweetened coconut milk with us. It was a very friendly village set into the other side of the island (the trail goes up, up, up until it reaches a stone staircase that goes down, down, down to the village). This village was a bit bigger than some we have visited, and there was more of a rectilinear approach to laying out the houses than we have seen elsewhere.
Victoria, Gigi, and Fein took advantage of their co-location to sew together - they took photos of each other, drew dresses with "Doodle Buddy" (iPad app) on their photos, and then proceeded to sew the dresses they had designed. Our saloon was a hive of activity for several afternoons, and they did a beautiful job. Victoria was the main seamstress, and both Gigi and Fein were patient with the many hours of standing and being pinned that were required to complete the task. Meanwhile, Johnathan and the boys were scrambling on the rocky beach and climbing trees for papayas and coconuts.
Before long, we found ourselves alone in the anchorage: Exodus left to take their company to the airport, and both Nautilus and Nirvana left for the Nadi area. We wanted to take our time and stop at Likuri, but once we were ready to go, it was a test of cruiser patience to wait for good (or good enough) weather. With the dinghy already trussed up on the davits, we just stayed on Fluenta - but with their reports of winds forecast to be +/- 25 kts that ended up gusting above 40 kts, and news of a wind-shift that led to an accidental gybe for Nirvana (tearing their main and breaking their steering cable), and of a rogue wave that had dumped 100's of litres of water in Nautilus's cockpit and saloon (flooding their living space and keeping the bilge pumps going for hours) - we took the conditions pretty seriously. Perhaps cruising can also be described as practicing patience in exotic locations ...