[Liz wrote this some time ago, 9 Aug 15, and I had great intentions of taking the letter and adding photos before turning them into blog posts .. this did not happen and now we are "off-grid" again so I am posting them as text only blog posts. Max]
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 midnight. 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 ...
After two days of waiting, we decided that the winds and the sea-state had come down enough to venture out of the lagoon, and set sail for Likuri. The main was deeply reefed, and we adjusted the genoa based on the conditions. During the early part of the day, it was lovely: the lagoon south of us dampened the seastate, and the wind was a steady 20 kts - in fact, it almost seemed that we were under-canvased, but we kept the sailplan as it was, and were soon glad we did - we had sustained winds over 30 kts for the last part of the trip. With the rolly following seas, our autopilot kept cutting out, so Max hand-steered for most of the afternoon. The wind increased (cape effect?) when we got near to Likuri, and it was quite a sight to see the resort boat come out of the pass to meet us: it was blowing sideways when it slowed down. One of their services is sending their boat to lead yachties into the lagoon, regardless of the weather.
Robinson Crusoe Resort is owned by a former sailor, and they welcome cruisers, so after weeks of rationing, we were looking forward to resort-style hot showers and plentiful water. In fact, they make subtle mention on their website of an ecotourism focus, which turned out to mean no running water, no hot showers, no laundry, and no place to fill jerry cans, for us or their guests (some of whom were as surprised as we were!) Thankfully, we had not counted our chickens before they hatched, so we had enough water to last until we got to Musket Cove. Water issues aside, it was fun to be at a little, laid-back resort with friendly staff, and few enough guests that we felt like part of the community - we were the only boat in the anchorage for most of the time we were there. I treated myself to a pedicure (first one since Mexico) and afterwards while I was sitting and admiring the view from the deck, the kids came running to tell me that I needed to go back to the spa hut. I was puzzled, wondering what paperwork I could have forgotten, but when I arrived, I discovered that Victoria and Johnathan had pooled their money and treated me to an early birthday massage. What a lovely surprise!
We ate ashore at the resort buffet every evening, and it was nice to have someone else doing the cooking. The food was simple but tasty, and I enjoyed visiting with the other guests - one family in particular had come with two smaller kids, and the mom and I hit it off. The highlight of our stay was the "Fire Dance" show on Wednesday evening - it was unlike anything I have seen before, with swirling fire sticks, Polynesian dancing, and traditional music. All the dancers were staff members (my spa girl was the lead female dancer). During the grand finale, all the dancers went to the beach, where both the men and the ladies participated in an amazing display, including one man riding the jet ski "Fly Board" some 20 feet in the air. When this same man (Gus) saw how much Johnathan loved the fire sticks, he even gave him one and showed him how to spin it (no fire yet!).
With only a short downwind run from Likuri to Musket Cove, we tried an experiment with our sails the following day - we sailed under our genoa alone. It was easy to control in the conditions, and it meant that we didn't have to bother raising and lowering our main for the short trip (even when we do a trip with a reef in the sail the whole way, we need to hoist the main all the way up (with a winch) before we bring it down to stow it (also with a (smaller) winch). It is quite a workout, and it is nice to avoid it once in a while - especially because we sailed so well with just the genoa :) After a couple of hours, we went through the pass into the calm waters around Nadi, and sailed in ideal conditions (just the right amount of wind and no sea state). We had been planning to go to Port Denerau to pick up our water maker pump and investigate getting some work done on the boat, but after a week in our own company, we were going into kid-boat withdrawal, so we turned left at the pass and headed to Musket Cove instead. What a shock it was to come around the corner into the anchorage and count about three dozen boats!
Some cruisers spend entire seasons at Musket Cove and the nearby anchorages - especially the ones who love surfing or kite surfing. There is a little bit of everything here - a big resort with all its amenities, a yachtclub (we are now life-time members for a total cost of $15), a BBQ at the yachtclub where we pay $2/token to cook our dinner (they supply plates & cutlery), laundry machines, unlimited hot showers, and a little store with bread, fruit/veg, eggs, dairy, and canned goods.
As for us, we enjoyed a kid-boat reunion with Exodus, Nirvana, and Nautilus, met SY Honey (another kid boat who has just arrived in Fiji after cruising the end of our potential route backwards through Indonesia and Asia), and anchored for the first time with SV Estrellita, with whom we had a quick visit in Auckland, but otherwise have hardly seen since they left Victoria in 2011 :) They are sponsored kite surfers, and Max was able to spend some time getting a few pointers from them this week.
Victoria and some of the kids discovered some time ago that four of them were born within three days of each other in September. Two were even born in the same year on the same day. This, of course, meant that they needed to celebrate together with cake, so they finally held their long awaited "September Birthdays" party this week. The party coincided with Alex's 14th birthday (Exodus), so five of the eight kids in attendance were exchanging presents that they had made. Musket Cove was also the site of a group fitness test: Julie (Nirvana) had the US standards for kids in each age group, so they ran a mile, did pushups and situps, and completed a couple of other tests together. All the children were well into the Healthy or Presidential range. It was fun to see these kids who don't necessarily do regular sports doing just fine on the standardized tests.
You may notice that I haven't mentioned Jesus much in this email ... this is because he has gone onto the next stage of his own world travels. While we were in Yanuca, he was able to arrange a ride to Suva in an open fiberglass (Fijian) boat, and from there he took a five-hour ferry to Koro Island, where the Alternative Sailing Community folks have some land. He spent his last week in Fiji with them before coming to Nadi to fly back to NZ. We had hoped to see him while he was here, but none of us had realized how pricey the ferry would be out to this island, so we have taken a raincheck on our visit, and will try to connect in NZ. We feel really blessed to have had him with us for the first part of our season :)
The other interesting aspect of the last two weeks has been a mystery rash that sprang out of Benjamin's skin the Saturday before we left Yanuca. At nap time, I noticed a tiny blister that I rubbed away absentmindedly with my finger. By the end of his nap, it had grown to about 1/2", and he also had one developing on his nose and a couple on his neck. Over the next few days, he grew to look more and more like some kind of leper: the blisters were kind of like Chicken Pox, but there was no fever and no listlessness. No one at Likuri had any idea what we were dealing with, so we just kept him comfortable (he was cranky, but full of energy and running around) and put as much ointment on his spots as we could manage. The nurse here at Musket Cove told us that she thought it was chicken pox, but it wasn't until we ran into a Canadian retired doctor in the grocery store (a friend of our friends on SV Red), that we found out that he had Bullous Impetigo, which of course is quite contagious. Yikes! Thankfully, twice-daily baths and regular applications of ointments, lotions, and essential oils seem to have knocked it back, and he looks better each day. We are able to take him out in public now without stopping traffic :) We have generally been keeping him on the boat until after his nap, and then taking him ashore in the dark and keeping him away from other kids as much as possible.
As you know, the maintenance cycle never ends. This week, Max had helpers as he completed his jobs - Victoria, especially, loves electrical work, so she did the splices and heat shrink when they were fixing a corroded connection to our malfunctioning grey-water sump pump. Once they finished the repair, she drew a schematic of it, and then built her own functioning "bilge alarm" system with components from a Christmas gift set. When she is not doing electrical work, she is helping with plumbing by applying and tightening hose clamps ("My arms are smaller than yours, Dad" ... this was to fix a leak in our salt water pump) or drawing the 27' boat she will one day build and sail. While Victoria was building her bilge alarm, Johnathan took a package of Popsicle sticks and built a model bow & arrow. I am learning a lot about weaponry these days... As for Max, he has also painted our transmission (which did not appreciate the salt water leaking into the engine compartment) and touched up the engine paint, a smelly, but necessary job.
Finally, I have saved the best news for last -- our water maker is back in service!!! You may remember the struggle we had with the company in NZ, and that we finally mailed our Clark pump back to the US for a manufacturers overhaul. Well, when Spectra learned of our situation and the frustrations to date, they overhauled and returned our pump at no further cost to us. They even expedited the work, because they knew we had a baby in cloth diapers on board. We can't say enough good things about them (and in fact, Max will write something about them and his experience separately). Max rode with our friend Dave on SV Rewa to Denerau, where he picked up the pump last Monday, and he was able to install it and our brand new feed pump on Tuesday. By Tuesday evening, we were making water - at a higher capacity and better quality than we have ever seen. Yeah Spectra! Yeah Max!
The weather in Musket Cove has had winds from all directions since we arrived. When we got here, the anchorage was really crowded as the NZ-based Island Cruising Association rally was here waiting for a weather window for their trip to Vanuatu. With a low/tropical depression sitting north of Fiji, this took a while, so we had close quarters anchoring and crazy winds for the first few days. Things seem to have settled out a bit now, but there is still a bit of a daily dance around the anchor when the strong SE trade winds slack off in the afternoon to be replaced by light northerly breezes for a couple of hours before the trades fill in again. We have enjoyed watching the 73.3m superyacht Dragonfly sharing the same bay as Fluenta (although they are much closer to the pass than we are!) We will stay in this area for another week or so (Nautilus and Nirvana are gearing up for Vanuatu soon) and then we will see where the wind takes us next :)
Love to all,
At 7/30/2015 6:03 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 17°46.56'S 177°11.00'E
At 9/11/2015 11:57 PM (utc) SV Fluenta was 16°48.99'S 178°19.55'E
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