Thursday, October 27, 2016

Goodbye Fiji
By Michael

An evening dancer on Taveuni Island.
Did you catch the byline? We left Fiji! We left yesterday, by plane. Del Viento remains, tucked away on a Savusavu mooring, stripped bare as she was in Tonga last year. We’re returning to the States for most of the Southern Hemisphere cyclone season because we’ve got some work to do (more on that in a future post). But when we return to Del Viento in March or April (we don’t yet have return flights booked), we’ll haul the old girl (she’ll be 40 in two short years!), paint her bottom, replace some hard-to-get-to thru-hull valves, relaunch, and head….north-ish.

Unless something comes up (like this project in the States) to thwart our plans, we’ll point our bow towards Japan, arriving around April 2018. Of course, that’s looking way far ahead in cruising time, so we’ll see.

Besides our big State-side adventure, another reason for staying another year in the South Pacific is Fiji. Not since leaving Mexico have we felt more at-home in a country. Fiji is filled with a diverse population that must be among the friendliest on earth. I know that’s quite a superlative, and I’ve not been to that many places in this world, but the warmth and acts of kindness we receive from the Fijians on a daily basis is inspiring and such a pleasure. And yet, it’s the most populous and developed island among the thousands in the South Pacific. It’s also a very big country (relatively), comprised of 332 islands (106 are inhabited), and we look forward to exploring more of them when we return.

Over the next few months, this blog will continue uninterrupted; I’ve got lots to say.


Sweet Fijian kids waiting for their Vishnu bus to pull
out of the station at Nadi Town.

This woman works for the butcher at the south end of
Taveuni. Not pictured are the discarded parts and pieces
of large animals at the shoreline just outside the frame.

This Paradise Resort employee took Windy and the girls
and the Oniva family on a walk, during which he found this
injured bird and brought it back. 

One of many young Fijians engaged in daring-do
at Colo-I-Suva nature park, near Suva.

Fiji's diversity is in refreshing contrast to other island populations,
familiar to us. In today's political climate (which we feel blissfully removed
from on a day-to-day basis) it's affirming to see this Muslim woman, covered
head-to-toe, giving encouraging advice to the Kiwi woman in Bikini
bottoms and a wet tank top about to swing on the rope.

See my smiling Nadi Town veggie market friend in the middle?
Note the signs above him. Fiji won it's first gold medal ever in
this summer's Olympic games--in rugby. We were in Savusavu
that morning and nobody wasn't watching a television for
the 15-minute event and everyone acted as though everyone
had just won the lottery. It was a joyous time, an amazing vibe.

Windy and Eleanor at a Port Denarau café.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Anchoring Grace
By Michael

The runway was between us and that bouncy
contraption off the Plantation Resort on
Malololailai Island. Katherine and my
girls owned this thing after a week, and
spent countless hours in the resort's
pools. This is a family resort, so there
were hundreds of playmates around.
Many years ago, I heard John Otterbacher speak at the Annapolis Sailboat Show. John is the author of Sailing Grace (a riveting memoir about overcoming heart disease to go cruising) and one of the things he said during his slide presentation stuck with me. John mentioned an interesting aspect of his family’s cruising adventures: anchoring off resort properties. What made dropping the hook at these places interesting was the stark contrast between what he and the guests ashore paid per night to enjoy the same stunning view of the sunset.

It’s true. We are privileged to be able to live and travel the way we do and most places (Florida being an exception) haven’t come up with a reason or a means to charge us for being. We literally couldn’t be living and traveling the way we are, where we are, if they did come up with a way to make us pay.

But our good fortune is even magnified. Not only are we free to be wherever we are, but we’re almost always welcomed ashore to enjoy resort amenities alongside paying guests. Ironically, this is even sometimes the case at resorts where shore side access is restricted to guests. Yet, we row ashore in our dink, land in the backyard, and we’re welcomed into the fold of clean-smelling, well-attired shore people. (“Girls, remember to keep a low profile, we’re not paying guests and management was really nice to let us use the pool all day.”) And while the girls swim, we get to chatting with a guest who has barely recovered from arrival jetlag and they’re on a plane headed back home. (“It’s a shame that honeymooning couple we met last week can’t be here this week, now that the rain has stopped.”) These encounters definitely help check perspective in a way that anchoring off a city or in a deserted bay, do not.

Nowhere have we confronted this juxtaposition more than in Fiji—a nation that must have more resorts per capita than any other. And when the girls’ niece, Katherine, flew in for a short stay before school started back home, we focused our time at a few of them near Nadi.


We were treated like family at the Paradise resort on Taveuni Island.
This employee gave us (and the Swiss family aboard Oniva) impromptu
lessons in basket weaving.
And in case said employee reads this, I want to assure him that
this photo was just for laughs, the baskets are actually in use,
hanging from the grab rails in our cabin and keeping our
fruits and veggies fresh and accessible.

Katherine, Tyrii (from Rehua), and Frances loving
the pizza at the Musket Cove resort bar.

Watching the food prep at the Paradise Resort.

Guests at the Robinson Crusoe Island resort enjoying the sunset;
Del Viento is anchored just outside the frame.

Anchored off Namotu Island resort, Katherine and Frances looking on.

Rehua and Del Viento kids at Musket Cove.
(courtesy Audrie Vueghs)

A very touristy, and very fun, show at the Robinson Crusoe resort.

At the Robinson Crusoe resort.

Still at the Robinson Crusoe resort.

You guessed it

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Night Out
By Michael

The thing looked off-kilter to CB and I.
Nobody in our party rode the wheel
that night.
“People shouldn’t be screaming on a Ferris wheel.” I said to my friend CB of Palarran. Along with Windy, Tawn, and the girls, we had swung by the opening festivities of the Savusavu (pop. 4,000) fair. The Ferris wheel was the star attraction and its rotating lights were visible from boats moored a mile up the creek.

“It’s turning about 10 RPM; that looks pretty fast for a Ferris wheel.”

“Yeah, look how the baskets of people are nearly flipping as they swing off the apex. I’m going to go check it out.”

It wasn’t an OSHA-approved amusement ride. It was a small gasoline motor connected to the differential of the axle of a Ford F-150 and turning both wheels. One wheel was superfluous and the other was connected to belts that wrapped around the entire circumference of the Ferris wheel, flapping and loose as they turned the giant homemade contraption.

“You know, anyone who sticks their arm out to the side is going to lose it on those supports—and those side braces don’t seem broad enough to offer much lateral stability.”

Explosions turned our attention as fireworks burst 200 feet above our heads. They were launched 20 feet from a rope barrier and some errant rockets shot off sideways into the crowd pushed up against it. People scattered and shrieked in puffs of smoke and bright flashes, but otherwise took it in stride. We tiny group of cruiser bystanders glanced at each other wide-eyed.

Cotton candy and popcorn vendors hawked from the perimeter of the rugby-field-turned-into-fairgrounds.

“It’s the most developed nation in the South Pacific, but they don’t yet have deep-fried Snicker bars.”

The fair came on the heels of Fiji Day, a national holiday that marks two dates nearly 100 years apart: October 10, 1874, when King Seru Epenisa Cakobau ceded Fiji to the United Kingdom, and October 10, 1970, when Fiji regained its independence.

For a full week, the focus in Fiji is celebrating its diversity. Unlike every other South Pacific nation we’ve spent time in thus far, Fiji has a diverse population, comprised primarily of indigenous Melanesian Fijians, Indian Fijians, and some ex-pats from New Zealand and Australia. These populations are comprised of Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. Nobody seems threatened by anyone else. When I hear “As-salaam-alaikum” exchanged in greeting between people in a shop, nobody around me calls the police fearing a terrorist act.

Last night, on the fair’s main stage (okay, only stage), an emcee introduced young women vying for a crown (“One of these Savusavu girls might be the next Miss Fiji!”). In turn, a half dozen women aged 18-30 introduced themselves before walking the catwalk in a sarong while the emcee announced the symbolism of their garment. The beauty of Fiji and the value of its diversity were reoccurring themes. The following video is of one of the contestants, a young woman sponsored by the Public Service Commission.


Like stealing candy from a baby.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sugar Cane Express
By Michael

Children of the cane.
Most of the cruisers and cruising families we’ve ever met hail from one of the big six: the United States, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. It’s not unusual to come across a boat from Sweden, Spain, or Holland, but a boat from anyplace else is unusual. Since leaving Mexico, we’ve met the crews of cruising boats hailing from countries that don’t spawn a lot of cruising boats. In the Marquesas we met a family from Monaco (I think you’d have to meet a cruising family from the Vatican or Lichtenstein to beat that) and a couple from Cape Verde. The other night we met a family from Israel. And since arriving in Fiji, we’ve made friends with two families from Switzerland.

Our encounters with the two Swiss families were just days apart and I was surprised neither knew of the other, Elas just a day sail away from Oniva, halfway around the world from home. Then I learned that tiny Switzerland—and Windy says everyone already knows this, but she’s a geographer—is essentially divided by language and culture into German-Swiss, French-Swiss, Italian-Swiss, and Romansh-Swiss. So our new German-Swiss friends (Elas) weren’t aware of our new French-Swiss friends (Oniva) and they each speak and blog in a different language (besides, one sails a monohull, the other a multihull—how well would they get along anyway?). The things you learn cruising.

Weeks after my Swiss geography lesson, we tied up in Port Denarau to pick up the girls’ cousin, Kat, visiting from Washington State. Down the docks come the Elas family with a tale of woe.

We knew they had decided to haul out in Fiji’s Vuda Point Marina, for a quick repair before their passage to Australia. A sleeve on their rudder shaft was worn. The play that resulted wasn’t too bad, but neither was the fix going to be a big deal; there was a machinist near the marina that could turn a new sleeve in his sleep.

But halfway through the job, Elas on the hard, the machinist requested they bring in their rudder, explaining that it would help him to fabricate a part with closer tolerances. That was music to Swiss ears. Kim and Claudia delivered Elas’s rudder, the machine shop accidentally destroyed it.

“It’s not my problem,” the shop owner told our friends, “go after my employee.”

That’s the flip side of the joys of living and doing business in a less-regulated, less litigious place.

Kim shakes his head, a self-deprecating lament of his decision to address the problem in the first place. “We are Swiss and so everything must be perfect, no wobble, no tiny wobble...”

The rudder might be reparable, but they reckon it’s too critical a part to rely on an iffy repair. It’s going to take Beneteau at least 6 weeks to fabricate a replacement in France and get it to Fiji. It’s going to cost the family thousands of dollars. (They talk all about it here, in Swiss-German.)

After the girls’ cousin departed, we sailed north to Saweni Bay to visit our rudderless friends in Vuda Point and cheer them up. We walked 2 hours each way from Saweni Bay to Vuda Point Marina. Elas was there, but the family had found a cheap flight to New Zealand and went exploring. It was a good day anyway.


Saweni Bay, where we left Pudgy to begin our trek to Vuda Point.

Dry dirt roads all the way.

We followed these tracks nearly the entire way. This is sugar cane
growing land and these tracks are used to transport harvested cane
to the refinery in Lautoka.

About 30 minutes in.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was the
bar at Vuda Point.

Vuda Point Marina is famous, it's where boats are hauled
for cyclone season and their keels lowered into pits that
surround this enclosed basin. Boats within the basin are
rafted together in a big circle.

Starting home, the engines were positioning to pull
the cars loaded with cane.

Goat herder.

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