Friday, September 27, 2013

We LOVE you Fiji!

After Koro, our next stop was the island of Ovalau, where we planned to check out and then head to New Caledonia. Unfortunately there was a big low pressure system brewing, which would have been directly in our path and resulted in some very high winds and rain, so we decided to delay our departure. What were we going to do for another 7-10 days? The snorkeling has been outstanding, but we were ready to do something different. We scoured the guides and decided to go on the hunt for some surfing. I had read on another cruiser's blog that they had good surfing around Tavarua and Namotu islands, so that's where we headed.

Note: If all these island names are confusing, you can always see where we are or where we've been on this map

It was an overnight sail to get to the "surf spot" with a pretty sunset in the evening, but it was still hard to stay awake during night watch…yikes!
Anne-Marie struggling to stay awake by taking pictures of herself

The surfing off of Namotu was epic and definitely worth the overnight sail to get there. I was extremely nervous to surf in Fiji, which is often known for it's challenging reef breaks. I felt like a big timid chicken as I entered Twinkle and we motored to the break. "Nerves are normal! You can do it!" was the soundtrack in my brain. I didn't catch the first two waves I tried for, but I didn't hit anything and survived getting tumbled around like clothes in a washing machine just fine. Attempt #3 was a wonderful long ride and I instantly felt transformed into a wave catching tiger. Grrrr…..!  From that point on I had the best surfing session of my life :) Chris and I both routinely say how happy we are for the low pressure system that delayed our departure….what a blessing in disguise.

We didn't get any pictures of us surfing, but here are some of our big smiles afterwards!
We did it!
Amazing surfing session in Fiji, just before the low pressure system arrived (Namotu Island in the background)

Check out the Namotu Island Resort website for some truly spectacular pictures!

Look at all the surf breaks we were anchored near! AMAZING!

We enjoyed surfing Namotu Lefts, Wilkes and Swimming Pools.

We stayed at Vuda Point Marina for a few nights to do all of the normal pre-departure type stuff…laundry, groceries, water, diesel etc…
No cleats near by? No problem!
Chris tying up our dock line to a palm tree!

We had a very nice taxi driver (Usman) who took us to the main city of Lautoka to do some shopping. Usman was very friendly and showed us the fresh veggie/fruit market, grocery store and pharmacy. He went into the shops with us, helped to carry our groceries and even bargained with the shop keepers to get us lower prices. And, he did all of this for no extra charge. I don't know if this is always the case, or if it was just a slow day for him, but it was a very interesting experience to spend so much time with Usman and learn his story. We of course gave him a good tip for all of his shopping help.
Amazing fruit and veggie market!
Shopping with taxi driver Usman

Fiji has definitely been our favorite stop on our Pacific Crossing.
Let me list the reasons why….
- beautiful snorkeling in crystal clear water
- epic surfing
- super friendly people
- secluded anchorages
- very affordable prices
….what more could you ask for?
WE LOVE you Fiji
I wish we could spend more time here, but alas it's time to continue west. Today we're heading off to New Caledonia, our second last passage!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Koro Island

From Fawn Harbour we had a lovely beam-reach sail to Koro Island, where we expected to just spend a night and then move onto Makogai Island. After taking in the beautiful surroundings and realizing that we were the only boat moored in the Koro bay, we decided to stay a little longer. There was actually another boat beside us, but it was unoccupied and belonged to one of the island's residents, so it doesn't count ;)

While exploring the next day we were very lucky to run into an Australian ex-pat who's lived on Koro for 6 years with her husband. She showed us some beautiful spots and recommended snorkeling at a spot called the Black Rock. The snorkeling was amazing! Our best since Fakarava South.

Our 'Koro Guide' also informed us that another resident (Marlin) takes care of giant clams in the waters by her house. The main reason I wanted to go to Makongai was to view giant clams, so I was really excited to learn that we might be able to snorkel with some on Koro.

The next day we loaded our snorkel gear into our backpacks and walked to Marlin's house. Marlin is super passionate about the waters and reefs around Koro Island. It was very interesting to learn about her work protecting the reefs from the crown-of-thorn invaders, how she gained possession of the giant clams and how she came to live on Koro in the first place. She was kind enough to let us snorkel with her giant clams and even let us use her fresh water shower afterwards….what a treat!

The giant clams were stunningly beautiful with striated florescent markings. I was amazed at their size and especially the size of their siphon holes. Marlin needs to keep the clams in cages in order to protect them from hungry locals because they are a good source of protein, some being up to 1m in length.
The colors are amazing, and they can change color to optimize the harvest of glucose from algae in its body tissue.
This isn't a martian landscape, it is the opening of a 1m giant clam!

Koro Island was a quiet spot to do some great snorkeling and hiking. I'm so glad that we didn't just stay a night. There are 8 free and well maintained moorings in the bay, making it very easy to stop in for a visit.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fond of Fawn Harbour

There's something special about being the only boat in an anchorage. We feel like we're the first ones to discover an area even though we know that many have come before us. With no cruisers to ask for help, we fumble our way around and have interesting adventures along the way. In Mexico we occasionally found ourselves in deserted anchorages and we were happy to relive that unique experience here in Fiji a few times, including at Fawn Harbour. 

In Fawn Harbour, the first adventure was … to get to shore? At first glance it looked like the shore was completely covered in thick mangroves, but Crystal's keen eyes found us a opening where other small boats were moored!

Depending on the tide, getting to shore involved some wading and/or mud trotting. I'm not sure if it's because we know that the "end is near", but we're enjoying these little cruising adventures more and more again. 

Once we got out of the mud, we climbed a hill to a clearing with numerous houses scattered on it. "Bula bula" (hello in Fijian) we started to yell.
After a few minutes of random wandering and "Bula" yelling, a smiling face emerged. She immediately invited us into her home, muddy feet and all, as a brief rain shower fell. Inside we inquired regarding the whereabouts of the "Turango Ne Koro", the village mayor who we are supposed to ask to act as our representative to the Chief. As it turned out, he was out fishing, but she said she could show us the way to the Chief herself. Although a bit unorthodox, they seemed pretty relaxed about things in this village. She showed us where we could wash our feet and then guided us to the Chief's house, at the top of a hill called "High House".

In Fiji, the waters surrounding a village are considered to be part of the village. To anchor in a village's waters without asking permission is like setting up a tent on somebody's front lawn without their consent. The proper way to ask permission is by presenting a bundle of yaqona (kava) to the Chief. If the yaqona is accepted, you may stay. Sometimes the Chief will invite you to participate in a sevusevu ceremony where kava is drank together. A sevusevu ceremony is something uniquely Fijian, so we happily accepted when the Chief (Arthur) asked us if we wanted to drink kava with him the following day. 

Since kava is mildly intoxicating, we were happy that Arthur always gave us small bowls for our first sevusevu. Before and after each sip, there was a back and forth between the Chief and drinker, followed by three enthusiastic claps by the drinker. Arthur was very laid back about the whole thing and didn't seem to mind when we often made mistakes.

Arthur: "Do you like the taste?"
Chris: "Ummm…."
Arthur: "I know. It tastes bad"
Chris: "Yeah. It's not the greatest."
Arthur: laughs…. "I know"
Chris: "Why do you drink it then?"
Arthur: "To bring the people together."

We enjoyed our little kava ceremony with Arthur and his sister a lot. It did bring us together and we learned a lot about their village and culture that we wouldn't have otherwise. They also generously gave us delicious ginger, limes, peppers and a pumpkin from their farm.
My view during the sevusevu
After the sevusevu, one of Arthur's friends guided us to a natural hot spring pool which belongs to the village. It was a beautiful thirty minute walk up the river and through the forest to get to the hot springs, with numerous stream crossings.

Finally we arrived at the pool, which drains down into a few smaller pools before joining the main river. Our guide left us to enjoy the hot springs in privacy, after we assured him we could find our way back on our own. I've been craving a warm bath for months now and this was even better. To sit in nature's hot tub while listening to the birds chirp and leaves rustle above was a little taste of heaven.
Sitting in the "almost too hot" hot springs
Chris cooling off in a nearby stream
Thanks for all the fond memories Fawn Harbour.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

30th Birthday Celebration + Viani Bay with Crystal

Finally we had our first "friend-guest" aboard Starship (not including Busby since he was a part of the crew, not a guest), Anne-Marie's friend from University, Crystal.
They loved their coconuts!
On the way to my birthday party
It was great that she was able to accommodate our schedule (or lack thereof), purchasing a ticket to Savusavu with only five days notice. Fortunately she currently lives in Australia, something we plan to take advantage of soon, so the flight was not too long.

Crystal was just in time to help us celebrate my 30th birthday with our good friends from Lolo. Anne-Marie really went crazy with the decorations, and made it a very special event! In fact it was a three day event, we had the party on Sept 6th, I got special treatment on the 7th, and then since we are across the international dateline, it was my birthday in Canada on the 8th. It was one birthday that I will certainly never forget! The only thing which could have made it even better is if our families had been there, but they sent along their warm wishes via email and Skype which was much appreciated.
Annie knows how to party
Lolo crew & Starship crew celebrating together
Anne-Marie's delicious cake
The day after my party, we parted ways with Lolo and headed for Viani Bay, about 45 miles to the east of Savusavu. A strong south wind allowed us to sail there at great speed and relative comfort. Crystal seemed to take pretty well to the sailing for her first time, enjoying some snuggle time in the lee cloth with Anne-Marie.
Doesn't that look cozy?
Stunning scenery with only a few other boats in the anchorage
Viani Bay is a beautiful, large bay. We found protection from the chop in the north east corner of the bay with several other yachts. The bottom was pretty dense with coral unfortunately, but I deployed our chain buoying system to keep us clear of it and swinging free.
Starships' buoyed chain, sometimes more trouble than it is worth
Viani Bay is famous for a local Fijian named Jack Fisher, who takes yachties on excursions around the bay for only ~5 USD/person. One day we teamed up with the other boats in Viani to go snorkeling with Jack at a place called "The Cabbage Patch" and a couple other stops. The vessel Seagoing was our platform for this excursion, being the biggest of the yachts in Viani Bay at the time. Thank you Seagoing! The snorkeling was really top notch, probably now second or third on our top snorkeling spots list, next to Fakarava South and Koro island.
Jack enjoying a photo op with the ladies
Some of the gang aboard Seagoing
The famous "Cabbage Patch" coral
The next day Jack guided us and another boat, Evergreen, on a spear fishing excursion with our dinghies. As we kept driving our dinghies further and further away from land towards the reef, we began to worry about our low fuel level. In our haste to depart we forgot to check, and the tank was now on empty! Luckily our outboard engine is a 4 stroke and sips gasoline very slowly, allowing us to make it back to the boat afterwards with plenty to spare. The spearfishing was a lot of fun, and the girls enjoyed the snorkeling, but alas it was not fruitful. Crystal finally had the turtle spotting she was hoping for though!
Think we have enough gas to make it back??
The guys head off hunting
For our last day in Viani we decided to take it easy. We played scrabble, and Crystal and I took a walk along the beach, allowing Anne-Marie to enjoy some yoga on the bow. It was very interesting to see the school in the village, where about 60 children attend. Nearly all of them seem to ride to school on a panga boat from somewhere else in the bay. What a different scene from your typical North American yellow school bus!
Scrabble is heating up
Beautiful walk along the beach
Just caught the end of the school day in Viani Bay
Off goes the school boat, loaded to the brim
While walking by one house, Crystal and I heard shouts of "Bula, come in!". Not being entirely certain of what was said, we replied "Bula" and kept walking. Moments later a Fijian man appeared at the door and once again urged us to come in for some tea. We accepted and found ourselves in the kitchen of a young couple who teaches at the school. The wife boiled some water for tea on an open fire, while the husband cut thick slices of white bread. As it turned out they had just finished their dinner, which was also buttered white bread with tea. It was very interesting to hear about their lives, difficulties and aspirations. They were incredibly kind and happy for two people who had so little, and shared it eagerly with Crystal and I.
We highly recommend Viani Bay as a great spot to view pristine coral and interact with very friendly locals. Thanks for visiting Crystal! We loved having you aboard and look forward to visiting you in your home soon. 

Special thanks to Crystal for taking most of these photos. To see some more photos of our time with Crystal, checkout our album here: