Monday, 13 June 2016

A week in Savusavu, and now a few days in Makogai


The danger in not writing every day is that a lot will happen between letters. Such is the case this week!

We anchored in Savusavu on Tuesday, 31 May (18 years and a Fiji date-line day after we got married in Halifax). Rather than going onto the tiny Q dock, where we cleared last year, we were able to piggy-back with Fluenta's much larger friend Rewa, and all the officials came to visit both boats in the anchorage. Dave was kind enough to do all the dinghy shuttling. It was a good feeling to be back in Fiji, where even the officials are friendly :)

Victoria, Johnathan, and Miriam continued the tradition started by the kids in 2014 in French Polynesia, and repeated with Jesus's help in Savusavu in 2015, with a lovely three-course meal aboard Fluenta that evening. When I tried to suggest getting together with some folks for dinner (thinking that the little cakes Victoria had made on passage on the Fijian 30th were sufficient celebration) she quickly made me see the error of my ways, so we elected to have drinks at the Copra Shed Marina instead. This fit with Victoria's plan, as it gave her the time and space needed to turn our boat into a posh waterfront restaurant. I had no idea what would be on the menu, but I had strict instructions to return from the market with sugar, eggs, lettuce, tomatoes, limes, and ice. At the appointed time, we returned to find a white tablecloth on the cockpit table, hand-made (parchment paper and pipe-cleaner) flowers in a vase, fancy rum drinks complete with straws, muddled limes, and ice, and a plate of choux-pastry cheese puffs all waiting for us. These were followed by hamburgers (with hand-made buns and all the trimmings) and a decorated cake for dessert. It turned out that Victoria had been poring over cookbooks for the last several days of our passage, and had been working on the meal since the day before (the tiny anniversary mini-cakes were a cover for the batter for the main cake, and she had set the buns to rise when the rest of us went to sleep after our 0400 anchoring. It was delicious, and the evening was a nice progression that reminded me of married life in general - a drinks party with grownups, some time to ourselves after they went into town, a first course in our own company, and the gradual addition of children to the table as they were all drawn to the family meal. By the time we were enjoying our dessert, the whole family, including Miriam, was in the cockpit, and Benjamin was (in typical third-child, free-range fashion) ignoring the piece we had cut for him and using his finger to eat the icing directly from the cake!

It turned out that our first night in Savusavu was indicative of the good things to come, at least in a culinary sense: I never did cook an evening meal on board in the entire week that we stayed there! The following evening, we were invited to sample "St Helena Fish Cakes" with old-but-new friends on Carpe Diem - we had met them briefly in Bora Bora in 2014 during our Pacific Puddle Jump, but we hadn't seen them since, as they had spent the last year living near family in Wellington, NZ. They also have three kids (one big one and two smaller ones), and it didn't take the group of them very long to find common ground (Lego, hair decorations, and Minecraft form a shared international language). We were soon joined by Moana (Swiss family with three young boys whom we had met in Auckland) and Hotspur (friends for many years who spent the cyclone season in Savusavu). Their delightful daughter, Caroline (16) was soon like the pied piper
with a trail of children following behind her.

The usual arrival administration and logistics easily filled the rest of our week. Having spent about a month in Savusavu last year at the end of the season, it was a bit like "coming home" to return to the fruit and veg market and be recognized by the vendors. I made the mistake of walking over during nap time, however, and they were a bit insulted that I hadn't brought the baby to see them :) There are enough tasty, budget-friendly restaurants in Savusavu that we could eat out every night at a different place. (For anyone following in our footsteps, our favourites are Hidden Paradise for curry, Waitui marina for buffets, fish & chips (first time we have ever seen yellow-fin tuna used in fish & chips!), and chow mein/chop suey, Hong Kong Seafood for "Bird's Nest" Stirfries, and Grace Road for Korean). Ever since last fall, we had been compiling an "Ahmed" list, and soon after we arrived, we brought our tired and torn fabric to his shop across from the Copra Shed for repairs. He was really busy this week with a six-month job to replace 700 seat cushions for one of the passenger vessels that comes through Savusavu, but he made time to fix three cushions and our life-sling cover. We will likely ask him to replace the tops of our cockpit cushions when we return in October. It is nice to look at the leather cushion in our saloon without cringing to see that one of the seams is not only tearing but getting progressively worse!

The highlight of the week was our reunion with Exodus (Deanne, Tim, Alex, and Brenden) and Breeze (Per, Sabina, and Ella), both of whom showed up from different directions three days after we arrived. As I lay peacefully in Savasana under the palm trees at the Copra Shed on Friday morning, two very excited kids came bounding up to say that Exodus had arrived. As I walked down the dock to Fluenta, Exodus was gliding by our stern with Brenden waving from high up in the rigging. As they passed, I wondered absentmindedly where Johnathan was, only to look up to see him also descending on a line from the level of our spreaders! The two boys were of one mind and were mirror images of each other. Johnathan had been sitting on our boom looking out to sea since first light.

A focus for many yachts this year is to assist with Sea Mercy, a charitable organization that enables yachts to offer help with disaster relief, either by delivering supplies or personnel to remote islands or by directly working on rebuilding projects. A shipment of pallets arrived in Savusavu on Saturday morning, so Max, Victoria, and Johnathan went along to help unload it. When they arrived, there was a bit of confusion, because Dave (our friend from Rewa, and then the current "Savusavu Commodore") was expecting five pallets, and there were only three on the dock. Max's first thought was a sinking "oh no" feeling that somehow two pallets of goods had walked away by themselves. There are many countries in the world where this might have been the case, but in Fiji, it turned out that the pallets hadn't walked away, they had been broken them down and delivered directly into the warehouse down the road by the local taxi drivers! Once again, it was nice to be in Fiji :) Dave and the group of cruisers made quick work of the remaining three pallets, and Victoria further helped by setting up the clipboard with the chart of information that the organizers needed to track supplies that were leaving the warehouse (vessel, items, destination). The other grownups were quite impressed that she even put the pen on a string so that it wouldn't walk away.

In addition to this minor assistance in Savusavu, we also wanted to help Sea Mercy during the month of June before our flights to Canada. At first, we thought we would go to a tiny island called Batiki to help with the construction of a dam, but when we looked at the pass and the anchorage, we decided this would be untenable for Fluenta (given our draft and maneuverability) so we chose to come to Makogai to help rebuild a school instead.

It wouldn't be a gathering of kid boats without at least one potluck. This time, Moana, a 59-foot catamaran, kindly invited us all aboard. We were 10 parents, 13 kids, three crew, a lot of delicious food, and some great visiting :) Unfortunately we also got an expensive lesson in knot-tying that night when our paddle board slipped its line and slipped away into the dark. Three dinghies went out on a search, but it was a dark evening, the tide was ebbing, the wind was howling, and the distance around the bay was over 25 nm, so it was a long shot. Thankfully, it was our oldest board, and it was a thing, not a child, that was lost. We just hope that it has washed up on a beach where a local family can enjoy it :) (Once again, it was a change of habit that taught us our lesson - it is usually Max who inflates and prepares the boards, but this time he was working on the boat when the kids wanted to use it, so they inflated it and tied a small line to it just to keep it by the dock. It was this line that Miriam used to tie the board to Moana, not knowing that it wasn't really intended to be used in anything but benign, dockside conditions. Unfortunately, as ever, this sequence of errors/changes led to us having one less thing to store onboard).

Ever since I have known Deanne on Exodus, she has been a dedicated runner (in fact, she keeps her own running/cruising blog at By the end of last season, my former running legs were starting to think that she was onto a good thing, but I didn't take any action the entire time we were in NZ. When Deanne mentioned one morning that she would be running that afternoon, I asked if I could tag along, and she agreed. Over the next three days, we made a daily habit of running down the coast from the Marina just as the sun was about to set (one day we hiked to the ridge near town), and I was instantly transported back to days in Halifax running with my friend Lucie, where the miles disappeared as we chatted, caught up, and "solved the world's problems". I can't guarantee that I will maintain this new habit, but I do know that I will be reminded of these marvelous runs with Deanne even when our journeys have taken us in different directions. In a similar way, I am connected to my yoga friends each time I roll out my mat and turn on my Eoin Finn podcast - I am instantly brought back to other practices in other places with other people. Somehow, we are far apart geographically but close in spirit; this is what helps to keep me sane :)

The beginning of June brought with it the requirement to submit my 39th, and last, set of school updates (a.k.a. Learning Reflections). As the kids get older, they will have more of a hand in preparing these, but so far, I have submitted "reflections" on their week of learning every Sunday night (or thereabouts!) since September. I love the concept of "observing for learning" that SelfDesign practices, and I will continue my habit of making notes every day or so on what I see happening within the boat for my own selfish reasons, but I must say that there is a certain relief in not being obliged to prepare them for submission again until the end of August. {For anyone who cares, we are loving "Life of Fred" for Math and "Brave Writer" for Language Arts...}

After much deliberation, both on destination and day of travel, we departed Savusavu in the dark on the morning of Wednesday, 8 Jun, for the island of Makogai. This island used to have a couple of villages and a government research station specializing in giant clams and sea turtles, but it was devastated by Cyclone Winston. It turned out to be a good thing that we were exiting the reef in the wee hours of the morning (daylight was still a hope on the eastern sky), because as we approached the end of the sheltered waters of the bay, we heard a sort of distress call from a vessel entering from the open sea. His engine had stopped working, he was passing near the reef under mainsail only, and he was hoping for a tow. We, along with two other vessels (another Canadian boat called "Q" and the kid-boat "Carpe Diem"), stood by to make sure that he stayed in safe waters, and eventually a local power boat came to tow him to a nearby anchorage. After this delayed start, we had a fast, bumpy ride (one of my least favourites - close hauled in short sharp seas) and arrived shortly after mid-day. We had planned to "stand watches", but it turned out that the autopilot wasn't happy with the conditions, Max was more comfortable at the wheel, and I was more comfortable downstairs with Benjamin, so his watch was the departure until 1400 watch, and mine was the 1400 til dinner watch (ie his watch was the on-passage one and mine was the at-anchor one!) There are many ways to be a team... As for Miriam, she loved the more exciting conditions, and I think it was more like what she had been expecting from our off-shore journey from NZ, which had turned out to be generally more benign. For those who love lumpy seas, it was a fun daysail, as we were within visual range of Q and Carpe Diem most of the way.

Thursday morning saw us travelling in a local "long boat" (in Mexico, it would have been a panga) to the village, where Sea Mercy is rebuilding the school, and through their ongoing physical presence, helping the 14 families to know that the outside world cares about them. Throughout the day, Max and Miriam hammered salvaged boards onto a damaged floor, Victoria and Johnathan helped to sweep up concrete and deposit it at the back of the building where it will be used to form a drainage ditch, Victoria helped make flatbreads for lunch, both kids painted signs for the toilet doors ("toilet" or "shower" in both English and Fijian, with "out of order" on the other side), and Victoria, Johnathan, Benjamin and I helped to hand-carry boards from where a roof had flown about a km up into the hills down to the work site. There were about 20 people from four boats, and everyone pitched in to do what was necessary. The lead volunteers (Ian and Wendy from "Outsider") have made several trips between here and Denerau since Winston (in fact, they first arrived within a week of the Cyclone), and will stay now for about three months; Ian used to be in construction, so he has a good sense for what needs to be done. After we arrived home that evening, Miriam was surprised to hear that we had probably spent more time in the sun that day than on any other in our four years in the tropics, as we usually seek out roofs and shade during the hottest parts of the day; we have often commented that this is the difference between tourists and cruisers!

The wind came up and a trough passed on Thursday night, so we stayed aboard doing chores on Friday as the worksite would have been a mess. Exodus had made a last-minute decision (yeah!!) to join us in Makogai, so Tim, Max, Victoria, Johnathan, Miriam, and Brenden all took advantage of the slow day to go spearfishing. Brenden caught a big fish, but unfortunately a nearby shark was quick to steal it as a snack so they came back empty-handed (but thankfully, all intact!!)

Saturday almost deserves its own email, but I will try to be succinct here, given how far you have already read!! Ian announced on the evening "net" that we would be going in our own dinghies to the village in the morning for a short work session, a shared lunch with the village, sevusevu, and a games afternoon. The wind had come down, so we were able to travel all the way to the village beach in our dinghies (rather than bringing them part-way and hiking cross-country on a new path that a recently-departed Sea Mercy boat had just cut through the jungle). We were met at the beach by a little girl, who seemed a bit too shy to say much to us in English, but who had a beautiful smile that lit up her whole face whenever I looked at her. I would look, and she would smile. I would look away and back again, and she would smile more broadly. I would look away and back once more, and she would laugh. It turned out that we had a common language - and we didn't need words :)

In addition to the Thursday floor-installation crew, Max found himself surrounded on Saturday by junior carpenters, both boat-kids and Fijians. Joined by Tim (Exodus), who had actually done this kind of work before, he patiently lined up boards, started nails, and passed off the hammer to the nearest small hands that wanted to have a go. At any one time, they probably had upwards of a dozen helpers. All the kids gained some practical skills both with hammers and saws (this is where you hold it, put your arm like this, your elbow like that, saw like this, hammer like that, etc), as well as developed a bit of camaraderie. Construction, as well as team sports (soccer, cricket - who knew that you could fit five people, a big tent, and a cricket set on a 41-foot boat, but Carpe Diem has done it - rugby, and volleyball) and eating (a nice variety of breads, watermelon, and one-pot meals) filled the day.

For me, the highlight was listening to their spokesman, both before the grace at lunch time, and before the official "Fijian" part of the sevusevu, as he spoke about the effect of the Cyclone on his village and the effect of Sea Mercy coming to "give them back their hearts". Even writing about this brings tears back to my eyes as I think about our abundance and the rare opportunity to share and interact directly. As ever, sharing a meal offers the chance to share stories: I met a woman with eight children and 31 grandchildren, a woman nursing a three-week old baby (when I asked if it was her first, she laughed - it was her sixth: the previous five were all at least ten years old, so like ourselves, she was delighted to be starting again).

When finally Benjamin nursed to sleep just before the sevusevu, I laid him on the mat while I ran for my skirt. When I came back, the ladies had covered him with a floral cloth. When the sun came out, the "grandma" of the village passed me her umbrella so that I could shade him. As the afternoon was winding down, Carpe Diem pulled out yet another toy - this time a trainer kite, and Max and I both got to brush off some of the skills we had begun to learn in Auckland. It turns out that one of the other volunteers is a kiting instructor, so that may be a connection we will encourage as well :)

You might have noticed that I didn't mention Miriam on Saturday. This is because she was able to arrange transport in an open-but-roofed boat all the way to Suva for that morning. Her flight is later this week, and she was glad to get away before timings became critical. We enjoyed having her with us, and having a glimpse of German culture, and we wish her well as she continues her year of work/travel before going back to school in Germany. She is back to NZ for a few months, then on to South America and Canada. It was fun to talk with her about possible itineraries / destinations between her inbound flight to Toronto and her outbound flight five weeks later from Vancouver :)

Finally, I have caught up to today - Sunday, a day of quiet rest both for ourselves and the villagers. We didn't have to go to church this morning, as church came to us, in the form of an evangelical/country service played at great volume over a radio speaker ashore :) This afternoon, Max, Victoria, and Johnathan have gone spearfishing with Tim and Brenden, Benjamin is hanging out with me, (watching videos, building stuff in Minecraft, moving things around in "Scratch", and generally proving the theory that iPads are so intuitive that even a toddler can use them), and I am enjoying the peace and quiet to write, as this is usually an activity that can only happen in the late evening when the rest of the family is asleep. In fact, I started writing last evening after we came back from the village, realized that I was so tired that I was falling asleep at the keyboard, noticed (Byron Katie-style) that I didn't have to believe the thought that "if I don't do this now, I will never have the chance to do it", and went to bed. Now, this next day has presented me with the opportunity to finish - lovely.

The sun is shining, the spinnakers are drying on the foredeck after their month outside in the wet, we will go to Exodus for sunset socializing this evening, and in general it is as good a day as I could imagine at anchor. I even used some of our Iridium GO minutes (of which we have 150/month) to call my Dad to wish him a happy early (vice my usual belated) birthday this week. Now if only those dishes and laundry would wash themselves ...

Sending love and hugs wherever you may be,


PS we are counting down the days until we visit Canada - we arrive in BC on 5 Jul and in NS on 27 Jul. We come "home" to Fiji on 1 Sep.
At 2016-06-12 11:33 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 17°26.43'S 178°57.11'E
At 2016-06-12 7:07 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 17°26.43'S 178°57.11'E

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