Sunday, 13 September 2015

Musket Cove to Manta Rays - 10 to 30 Aug 15

[Liz wrote this some time ago, 30 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]

Greetings from off the grid!

We have escaped the magnetic and gravitational fields of Musket Cove and Nadi and are anchored just off an island famous for its manta rays. Our friends on Exodus have already been here, and it was so lovely, they were glad to come back. As seems usual this season, I have some catching up to do! We seem to have internet while we are on passage between the islands, but it is hit and miss whether we have a signal once we are anchored (earlier this week, we could see the cell tower, but here there isn't much of a signal).

There have been a few stops since I last wrote - Namotu, Port Denarau, Vuda Point Marina, Navadra, Waya, and now we are here. Our weather has finally started to improve (we are no longer battening down the hatches and reaching for our fleeces in the evenings) and we are looking forward to spending all of September in the Yasawa Group before doing a couple of weeks of boat work in Vuda Point Marina in early October. This is a lovely area, because all the anchorages are easy day-sails apart, and aside from the reefs which keep us on our toes, it is a beautiful cruising grounds.

The last few weeks have been a period of change and adjustment for all of the kid boats: our dear friends on Nautilus and Caminante are already sending emails from Vanuatu; Nirvana and Lumbaz have left the pack and are either making final preparations or are underway out of Fiji; and we have joined Field Trip (who went home to the US for two months of summer holidays), Breeze (who arrived recently in Fiji from NZ), and Honey (who have made their way East from Vanuatu and the Solomons to cruise in Fiji). The lovely thing is that all the kids seem to be flowing naturally with the inevitable changes that cruising brings, welcoming new friends and making plans to rendez-vous with the others sometime down the road.

I'll fill you in on our various anchorages and activities shortly, but the news that I am most excited about is that we have found a new school! Towards the end of July, I did one of those desperate middle-of-the-night internet searches for other distance learning options, and I came across the blog of a BC-based mom whose family travels much of the year. As I read her glowing description of her kids' school, I was hooked. Between midnight and 2:00 AM, I read pretty much the school's whole website and downloaded their e-books; when I finally turned out the light, I could hardly sleep. Just two months before, as I was writing up our activities for the end of the last school year, I had written to one of my friends to complain that regular schools didn't fit learning as I wished it would be {... "Sometimes I wish I had more gumption to write a curriculum that describes what I really want adults to be like (resilient, able to plan their time, able to learn what they are interested in, able to find something to do when they are bored, able to resolve disputes with talking, able to care for those less able than they are, etc, etc) and then show how V&J are achieving this in their daily lives..."} Through my midnight search, it really does seem like I have found what I was looking for :) Now that it is official, I am happy to say that Victoria and Johnathan are registered with the SelfDesign Learning Community. We will have our first Skype meeting with our Learning Consultant (LC) this week, and Victoria and Johnathan's learning plans will evolve from there. All the LCs are certified BC teachers, who are assigned my mutual selection to work with each family. I think I will find myself doing more work this year than before, as we are obliged to send in weekly "Learning Reflections" describing our observations of each child's learning, but I am actually looking forward to this introspection and interaction, both for myself, and for the whole family. Yeah :)

Now back to the more movements and comings and goings of SV Fluenta ...

While we were in Musket Cove, we had the pleasure of spending several evenings with our friends on Estrellita, and a couple of evenings with our friend Rob from Shindig (Max raced the Banderas Bay Regatta with Shindig just before we left Mexico for French Polynesia last year and we did the Baja Ha Ha with them in 2012). Rob had flown out from California to spend some time kite-surfing here in Fiji.

It's funny how quickly cruising plans can evolve: when Carol & Livia (Estrellita) came over for dinner we discussed vaguely that soon they would be heading for Vanuatu; Carol came by the following morning to say the weather had changed for the better, and they were leaving immediately to clear out and would be underway for Vanuatu the next afternoon! We were so glad that we had already seized the moment to have a good visit!

While at Musket Cove, we also filed away some cozy family moments: bundled up under our Mexican rugs, sipping our hot chocolate, at the back of the deck out of the wind, we watched August shooting stars together. These are the moments mamas treasure, especially when all but one child has gone to bed, and the deep conversations happen in the quiet stillness of waiting and watching :)

We did an afternoon-turned-overnight stop at Namotu when we found out that Nirvana was on their way; Max had hoped to do a little surfing, but the weather turned for the worse (in fact Nirvana left in the late evening and Max spent much of the night on anchor watch) so we headed for Denerau in the early morning. The current by the island was pretty impressive - we were doing u-turns around a little boat that was on a mooring beside us. Some really impressive kite surfers were practicing off our stern all afternoon, so we were still glad we stopped there: we had quite a show, with front-row seats. We even saw some hydrofoiling boards, which were pretty amazing.

Port Denarau was our reprovisioning and Fijian visa renewal stop - each of these took about a day. Thankfully, we could renew our visas on the spot, which eliminated the need to do the $50 by taxi or 2 hrs by bus round trip a second time; we had been told that we might have to return a few days later to pick up the visas. For me, the highlight of our trip to Denarau was a visit to a hair salon, where both Victoria and I had 8" ponytails cut for donation to a wig-making charity. No more heavy, tangled tresses sticking to our backs. It is fun to have new looks!

We had a quick lunch-time stop at Vuda Point Marina, partly to see the canvas/sailmaking facilities, and partly to catch up with our friends on Rhapsody, whom we know from Mexico. We are trying to decide whether to get our rain enclosure made here in Fiji, or whether it would be better to do it in NZ. As soon as I make up my mind one way (we are *for sure* sewing it here...) I meet someone with a different view, and I lean the other way (maybe we would be better off with NZ workmanship on something we will rely on for creature comforts aboard...) We have heard mixed reviews from friends who have had work done here... more to follow!

I think you have already seen pictures from Navadra, but once we escaped the Nadi area, this was our first stop. We caught up with Exodus, Breeze, and Field Trip, and were able to spend a few days with Nirvana and Lumbaz before they headed back to the city to prepare for their departure from Fiji. Of course, the kids spent as much time camping ashore as possible. There was a surf dump on the beach, but they were able to spend a morning Stand-Up paddleboarding and boogie-boarding in perfect beginner waves. Brendan (Exodus) even took some of the smaller kids to ride with him as passengers.

Navadra was also the site of some tests of both diplomacy and seamanship: at one point another (local) yacht anchored quite close to us. Cruisers are pretty good about moving if you even suggest they are too close, but this skipper just told me, "don't worry, the wind is coming from over there for the next two days" and stayed put. I told him that I hoped he was right (knowing in my heart that I disagreed, as we had seen winds from all over the compass already) but left it at that. A short while later, I came back up on deck, and he had swung even closer to us. This time, I was more clear: "I can just about jump into your dinghy from my boat - please move". He finally complied and moved across the anchorage where there was loads of room. That night, the wind howled from the non-forecast direction and I was so grateful that I had stood firm! On the last day we were in the anchorage, we lived the "Tale of two cruise ships". It turns out that every Monday two cruise lines bring guests to Navadra. The first [Reef Endeavour of Captain Cook Cruise Lines] showed up at 0800, sent their rough aluminum panga to the anchorage and asked three boats to move so the cruise ship could anchor. We asked the driver why they couldn't anchor further back where there was space, and were told that they have to bring their guests to snorkel (not a good answer - they shuttle their guests to the beach, and another 200 m wouldn't have made a difference). The crew of one of the three boats was ashore, but the cruise ship ignored this and plowed into the anchorage before any of the three of us had moved. According to their skipper, they have paid "lots of money" to anchor in the very center of this bay (although there is nothing on the chart to this effect...) We had no choice but to weigh anchor and move, but by this time, they were in the way of pulling up our chain, so we had to ask them to maneuver so we could get out of their way. By this time, our friends had come back from checking on the campers on the beach, and had the same conversation with the cruise ship: I am trying to leave for you, but you are on top of my anchor. [We had to shift again when they left as they lost track of where they had put their anchor and had directed us to move from our where we recently reanchored for them to another spot which turned out to be where they had put their anchor. Pretty poor seamanship capped off by the fact we could not hail them on Ch16 nor raise them on DSC.] It was a frustrating start to the day, so say the least. On the other hand, in the afternoon, the second cruise ship [Fiji Princess] arrived, anchored a safe distance back from all the boats, and unloaded their guests without incident. Needless to say, we have notes prepared to follow up with a letter to the first cruise line!

All our kids were meanwhile camping ashore... I understand that they took another tack when they saw the cruise ship pull into the anchorage: they readied home-made bows and arrows, covered their faces with soot from their campfire, and prepared to advise any unsuspecting tourist who approached them that they were all contagious with impetigo! Thankfully, we didn't have to practice parental diplomacy, and they coexisted peacefully with the tourists who showed up on "their" beach :)

We stopped for a few days at the Waya (northernmost anchorage), where we did the quickest sevusevu yet: along with Exodus and Honey, we took our bundles of kava ashore, were led to the chief's house where he sat on his floor by the bed, he said a few words to bless the bundles, clapped his hands, and before we knew it we were on our way! We had a nice tour of the school, but it was driven home that we weren't in the Lau group anymore when we started talking about going up to the peak to see the view. At first, we were simply invited to come back in the morning at 0900 to hike with a villager, but then in another conversation, it became clear that the going rate was $30/person. At this point, we declined... Many of the villagers work in the local resort, and they bring the resort guests up the mountain, so it is understandable that there would be a fixed price, but we (cruisers) like to think that we are different from the average tourist. We would gladly have gone for a donation, or an offering of some item that they might have wanted, but in the end, we decided it was simpler to stay aboard. Oh well. It was a pretty village, and given a couple of weeks, we could likely have made some nice friendships, but we all decided to keep moving after a few days. Max had a pretty luxurious situation while we were there, however: there was a little reef in the bay right behind the anchorage where surfable waves would develop as the tide rose. It was kind of like staying in a chalet on a ski hill: he could just jump on his paddleboard and go play for an hour each evening in full view of the boat.

Sometimes I feel a bit like a tourist myself, especially when it comes to watching what Victoria and Johnathan come up with. Johnathan found a pair of 1" tiles at the pool in Musket Cove (ie a 1"x2" rectangle of two blue squares), and this led to an entire evening of planning how a similar small piece could be turned into a hand-held game (complete with sketches and descriptions of each of the controls); Johnathan figured that it would be just the right size for a small boy to use and would fit into his pocket. As for Victoria, shortly after we renewed our acquaintance with Laura (SV Pacific Highway), whom we last saw in Mexico in the spring of 2013, Victoria began crocheting with cut-up plastic bags as Laura had shown her. (I remember writing about Victoria helping Laura make measurements for her canvas enclosure rather than doing the assigned schoolwork that was on our agenda for that day ...). Victoria and I had been talking about the design of the Nautilus shell (some of the SelfDesign philosophy is based on Fibonacci numbers and the Golden Rectangle, etc). She decided that she would make one, so she cut some black and white plastic strips, did a bit of mental figuring, and went ahead and did it. As I said, I just sit back and watch their imagination unfold :)

Of course, Benjamin can't get left out of this letter. His one big claim to fame at the moment is that every day he is adding new words to his vocabulary. The cutest ones are the Fijian phrases he has picked up - he will happily greet people with a cheery "Bula!" and will say 'naka (for Vinaka) when it is time to say thank-you. He calls almost all the kids by some version of their name, and if one sibling (even from another boat) is mentioned in conversation, he will fill in the name of the other one. If someone says that they should get going, he will start waving and say "bye"... On the other hand, Benjamin's opposite claim to fame right now is that he is testing our resourcefulness in our non-childproof living environment. He is becoming an expert button-pusher, knob twirler, bottle opener, and iPad operator. I think he gets far more "screen time" than a child his age should; sometimes, we just need him to sit still and not touch anything. It is a good thing he is cute :)

Once we have internet again, I am sure you will see pictures of this anchorage, which is renowned for its manta rays. There are even more here than we saw last year in the Tuomotus, and they circle through the pass several times while they are feeding (something to do the high tide, the current, and the early morning) which makes them easy to see over an extended period of time. Manta rays are such majestic creatures; they are gentle giants, who completely ignore us as we swim near them. We'll likely go swimming with them again tomorrow morning, then head north about six miles to the next anchorage in the chain.

Love to everyone,
At 9/11/2015 11:57 PM (utc) SV Fluenta was 16°48.99'S 178°19.55'E

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