Cruising the South Pacific with Tackless II
Tackless II, along with her two captains, Don and Gwen, cruise from Fiji to Australia
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
June 20-25 – Palmlea – Part 5 – Varnish
This past week has been a domestic work week. It is something we'd planned since our first visit by car when we realized that the climate was so much drier on this side of Vanua Levu. We would have an ideal situation to tackle Tackless II's cockpit woodwork. And after getting in all our play we would have no excuses or distractions.

I say "we," but it is the royal "we." Varnishing is not one of my strong suits. Don's has done it all, from stripping to the final coat. He did borrow one of Joe's workers, an extremely shy man named Abeli, for a day of hand sanding help, but other than that it's been a one-man accomplishment. And an accomplishment it is. The cockpit looks gorgeous again.

Banished from getting anywhere near a wet surface, I spent the time below working on the computer writing emails, updating the Blog, and working on my column. The arrangement was productive all around.

Ironically, we also had a steady stream of visitors, mostly during the prep phase. Joe's foreman, Siti, turns out to be a sailor. He once had a trimaran he sailed all around Fiji, and his goal for retirement is to build his own monohull to take off in. So he was very keen to see Tackless, and very impressed once he had. His interest sparked curiosity in many of the other staff, from the guys who have been building the little dock in the mangroves to the gals working in the lodge. Don and I were particularly impressed at the approving take of one of the ladies. "You've gotta go and see everything in life that you can."

Plus Joe and Julie finally got out for a visit Sunday morning. We'd just done a massive clean-out of the forepeak, and had a pile of treasures (of the bilge), which they were happy to take from us.

In the evenings we've stayed home and watched videos. Joe has a huge collection, mostly from China at about fifty cents apiece. We've caught up on a lot of major flics we've missed these past years, but also found some unknown treasures in Aussie and Kiwi films.

Tomorrow, weather permitting (today we've had overcast, rain showers and wind), we plan to sail back down to Nukubati for a few days of diving. We'd been laboring under a misunderstanding that Joe had a dive operation lined up in the area they'd use for any guests who wanted to dive. It turns out that dive operation is Nukubati…the only dive operation on this side. We don't want to miss seeing a bit of the Great Sea Reef, so back we go.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007
19 June 2007 - Palmlea – Part 4 -- The Land Fantasy
Are you ready for this? Not one but both things we ordered Friday – the Yamaha propeller and the antenna for the cellular broadband card -- were actually in on Tuesday! I guess we should not be so surprised, because Fiji is not a country like America where businesses keep everything they sell in stock. In Fiji it's a regular thing to call Suva and have an order popped on the plane or ferry. Still we were both pleased as punch.

We rode around the rest of the morning with Joe and Julie as they did errands. Also more shopping. The one surprise Labasa held for us Tuesday was the sight of a red-hulled sailboat dropping their hook in Labasa River! We are not alone anymore! Unfortunately, they were too far away to hail and we couldn't see any name.

Back at Palmlea, low tide is now midday. This time we were prepared, and after lunch we donned our walking clothes and set out to explore "our"property. This property is about 15 acres to the east of Palmlea, on the other side of a ridge looking eastward over Labasa Bay. We had first heard about it over lunch with Joe and Julie in Savusavu last September the day before we flew back to the US, and we had first seen it on our May trip over by car, a brief handshake of a glimpse from the road. It is not in any real way "our" property, but it has gotten kind of convenient to think about it that way, and believe me, we have done plenty of thinking about it.

Do all cruisers, in the back of their minds, harbor the desire to find the perfect place to plant the anchor? I don't know, but some sure do. We have a number of cruising acquaintances who have put down new roots in one of the destinations they've traveled to by boat, among them Bonaire, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Tonga, New Zealand and Australia. In Fiji alone, four separate boat crews we've known have become dirt owners! It doesn't always happen on the first go round. Sometimes they backtrack. Others buy as an investment or hedge for the future, and sail on. Back home, in the US, land has gotten so expensive, cruisers can't help but feel they have missed the boat! Additionally, the American urban and suburban landscapes are so congested and built up with the repeating patterns of chain businesses and housing developments, that returning cruisers, after years in the third world, just don't feel comfortable.

We feel all these things, and when we see a place like "our" property here in Fiji, our imaginations instantly flesh it out with a house – Fijian-style, of course like Nukubti or Palmlea – situated to the fabulous view, with a garden full of tropical fruits and veggies to the side, great rural walks out the back door, and inexpensive help. But even more we extend the fantasy to include long "summer vacation' visits by the kids, with Kai growing up – at least part-time – in a place he can run free, splash in the creek, built forts in the sugar cane (Fiji has no dangerous land critters!), and know early on that there other cultures and other perspectives in the world than those of white suburban America.

But these are OUR fantasies, inside our heads, and not a reality any of the players necessarily subscribe to. The REALITY of "our property" is that it is a long way away from our families, it is on the side of the Vanua Levu where there aren't many other "gringos" (I can never remember the Fijian word; I think it is ko'palangi) to socialize with (present company of Joe & Julie and their neighbors excepted), and quite frankly it is in a country with no infrastructure, little immediate hope of getting one going, and, indeed, is in the midst of a political coup! Such a deal, huh!

Still, with reason weighing heavily on our enthusiasm, we figured we are here now, and we might as well scope it out.

It's a pleasant walk from Joe and Julie's over the ridge (now owned by our former cruising compadres Greg & Sujata, Maaji Re) down across a stream (now dry) and up along the top of the next hill. I think I've already mentioned that the view east is to die for. Below the road, the cane field is nearing maturity. It stands about eight feet high and rustles in the wind. As we approached the house we were startled to see the slight figure of a youngish Indian man in a long blue coat with a machete in hand. This turned out to be Hussein, the owner (with his uncle) of the property. Hussein wants to sell, because he wants to follow the rest of his family to the big city of Suva.

Hussein led us on a tramp up the hill to show us where the southern (uphill) boundary was. This was good news because, were we to buy this land and build a house, we would want it as high as possible to maximize the view and the breeze. One might have to move the road down to run along the top of the cane field, but around here, a bulldozer would make light work of that. A house on the hill would put us a tad close to our neighbor, a retired policeman from Suva, but it definitely has the best view.

The boundary Hussein showed us ran from "the pine tree down the hill to the cow," perhaps not legalese, although I bet the official Fijian wording of the deed is not altogether so different. A survey is an important first step in this part of the world. One of Joe and Julie's neighbors on the other side had to move their house when the survey revealed the land they'd built on wasn't theirs after all! The cow, however, revealed that there was more land than we'd originally thought on the eastern edge. Hussein also confirmed that the stream we attempted to paddle up is the outflow of the big mangrove estuary at the bottom of the hill. He told us that there is a unique species of tasty fish in that estuary, found nowhere else in Fiji!

He also explained to us a bit about the cane crop, an attractive investment feature as the return on the cane (split between the land owner and the sharecropper) would amount to an annual return on the property value of about 7-10%. Most Fijian cane farmers no longer burn the fields as we saw in El Salvador for example, because they have been persuaded the quality of the crop is better without it. In El Salvador one of the main reasons to burn the field was to get rid of pests hazardous to the cane cutters like snakes and scorpions! Fiji doesn't have these, and since cane is another product considered a potential biofuel, cane is not a bad crop to have on your land.

After parting ways with Hussein we continued on down the road, past small houses and tethered cows, goats and dogs and a lot more cane. Eventually, the road loops back around to join the "main" road to Joe and Julie's about halfway back to the paved highway. Hussein had told us that the next village was about two kilometers further on. We didn't get that far.

At a corner of two fields, we heard the most alien of sounds – a police siren. Also a roaring engine. Next thing we knew a car came hurtling around the bend with four guys in it. They grinned as they sped past us, gravel the size of golf balls flying! Several perplexed heartbeats later, here came the cops, siren blaring, after them. My, my, excitement in the burbs! We wondered whether they would turn off on any of the small lanes we'd passed, or whether they would keep on, cross the rickety log bridge and speed past Palmlea. (We later head that's exactly what they did, causing no end of excitement!)

It seemed a propitious time to turn around. We walked back to Hussein's, but before climbing back over the ridge to Joe and Julies, we turned off and followed a track through the cane down to the mangroves. We found the border of coconut palms, but the mangroves were pretty muddy from the recent new-moon tides, so we were unable to explore far enough to see the stream. One would have to cut a road through as Joe and Julie did to make any kind of water access feaasible.

Have I mentioned Joe is a hell of a cook. He had been promising a Mexican dinner for days now, and tonight was the night. We helped ourselves to a shower in Bure #1, enjoyed a cocktail for sunset (I'm sticking to club soda!), and then indulged in as Mexican a meal as you could possibly imagine in this hemisphere: great salsa and chips, hearty beef enchiladas, and spicy refried beans. Don and I positively groaned as we schlepped our shopping down the hill in the dark to the dock. Portion control, Joe, Please! We're gonna burst!

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16-18 June 2007 - Palmlea – Part 3 – The Queen’s Birthday Weekend
We woke to blue sky and a nice light breeze, the first pretty weather since our arrival. We decide today is the day to start stripping our cockpit teak. We have never been the most compulsive varnishers, (hence the mocha-colored paint on our caprails), and our abrupt departure from Savusavu last September interrupted any plans for a touch-up coat before cyclone season. So when we got back this year, our teak was looking pretty ratty. But it was too rainy in Savusavu to do anything about it. So I taped and Don scraped. Pretty much all day. I cooked up an authentic Rogan Josh curry, and we stayed up late watching "Bride and Prejudice," Jane Austen carried as a musical to India. Apropos to our location, and a real hoot! Go rent it!

Sunday was a rerun, except that about an hour after lunch we heard an ad on the radio for Father's Day! Ooops! We whip out the Iridium sat phone and call home to Morristown. It was, of course, Saturday in Indiana, but we hoped by our 'early' call we'd catch Don's brother visiting. We missed him by an hour. For some reason our connection wasn't the best, but the thought was registered!

Father's Day was apparently also overlooked up at Palmlea, where Joe put together another meal to tempt us off the boat – lamb chops on the grill, a different kind of Italian potato (Joe has a whole repertoire of neat potato recipes!), and a cabbage salad (not quite cole slaw!) I don't think any of their guests will ever starve. back aboard, we stayed up even later watching "The Devil Wears Prada," as far away from our setting as could be!

Fiji was a British colony from 1874 to 1970 (its flag still has the Union Jack in the corner), and there is still a nostalgia among some for the pre-independence days, so the Queen's birthday remains a holiday in these parts (in New Zealand and Australia, too!) After two days of hard work stripping the teak (mostly Don I confess), we decided to take a holiday too.

After a nice breakfast, we launched the inflatable kayaks and paddled eastward along the mangroves. I wasn't expecting much, except to admire the roots of a really mature mangrove forest, but we had some surprises. First we found the mouth of a stream that we could paddle up into. The stream wound like a tunnel through the trees, reminiscent of the river trip in Tenacatita, Mexico.

We went quite a ways before the current of the ebbing tide got too strong to paddle against. We imagine that this outflow comes from the estuary in front of the land we have been looking at to the west of Joe & Julie's.

Some way beyond the stream, we found a sand beach! Caramel colored, to be sure, but sand none-the less. A pretty spot, with tall trees and coconut palms behind it. Then, rounding the point that is giving Tackless her protection, the coast opens up to huge Labasa Bay. Off the point is a complex, triangular sand bar uncovered by the falling tide. We got out and walked around, sometimes sinking 6-8" into the soft sand, out to the tip where a small flock of shorebirds and actual terns (we haven't seen much in the way of sea birds here) chattered to each other about the pickings. We felt so incredibly special to be all alone on such a remote spot…and turned around to see a young Indian man picking up crabs and stuffing them into a gunny sack! Where he materialized from we can't guess, but it is the way of this place. Whenever you feel all alone, look twice. Someone will come walking by!

We were out paddling probably two hours, so we jumped in off the back for our first swim. The one flaw to this area is the water color. It is not especially inviting this close to the mangroves. It is not so much that the water is turbid, as the color of the bottom undermines any chance at blue. Still, it sure felt great.

Over lunch, just about the time I hung out a load of laundry on the line to dry, the clouds rolled in and the wind piped up and backed to the NE and North! Yikes, what's up? We have no protection on this side, so the boat started rocking and bobbing, to the point we picked up the dinghy and stowed stuff in case we had to make a run to hide behind one of the little offshore islets. Fortunately, by about five, the wind died down and went back E-ESE . The sky stayed threatening, even turning an ugly shade of purple, but that was as far as it went. The next morning, things went back to normal.

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15 June 2007 Palmlea – Part 2 – Intro to Labasa
I am foreswearing champagne. We both woke the next morning with headaches but hustled ashore after breakfast to catch a ride into Labasa with Joe and Julie.

Labasa is a very different town from Savusavu. It is bigger, with an actual downtown several streets deep. And it is livelier with barkers announcing store specials and crowds of people hurrying along shopping. And it is much more strongly Indian. Since Indo-Fijians own the lion's share of all "businesses" in Fiji (while the ethnic Fijians own the lion's share of the land), that may seem like it would be obvious. But in Labasa, most of the shoppers are Indians, too, the ladies scurrying along wrapped in their saris.

First stop was Asco Motors for a new propeller. Out of stock, but will have by Tuesday, after the upcoming three-day weekend. Same story at Vodaphone, where we ordered an external antenna for our Fijian cellular broadband card. (Sitting at anchor off Palmlea we are picking up a signal from Labasa. The antenna will just make it stronger!) Our next stop was the post office where we worked hard to post a thank-you note to James & Pearlie. The address on their card was not really a mailing address, but the workers knew who were they were, so the letter ended up posted on a bulletin board to be passed on when they saw them! Then we nipped in a store to look at a proper sulu for Don, but left without as they didn't have his size in a good color.

Next stop was the open market, which was also quite a bit bigger than Savusavu's. Julie was looking for fish, while we were looking for eggs, tomatoes and lettuce. The market was followed by a stop at the Labasa Morris & Hedstrom supermarket (M&H), which may have between twice the size of the market in Savusavu, but offered substantially less in "gringo" products. Still, we could restock on the basics.

Upon our return midday, the tide was out again, so J&J were "forced" to feed us lunch. Their kitchen gals whipped us up a round of cheeseburgers, while Joe plied us with his notebooks full of DVDs to watch while here (in exchange, of course, for ours!) Mid-afternoon we went back the boat to stow our groceries, before coming back in for another fine dinner of Basque chicken. Without other guests, we were much more prompt about getting back to the dinghy, about two hours after the 6pm high tide.

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14 June 2007 - Palmlea Farms, Vanua Levu – Part 1
Just as we dropped the anchor in ten feet of water (at dead low tide), our radio squawked "Tackless II, Tackless II…Palmlea Base." Glancing over their panoramic front railing, Joe and Julie Smelser had noticed the top of our mast sticking up above the mangroves. With plans made to hike up for dinner, we set to tidying up the boat and having lunch.

The shoreline here, mangrove cloaked every bit of the way, extends another mile or so off the bow to a point around which is the wide expanse of Labasa Bay (pronounce Lambasa). Farther east, large mountains pile up in layers on the horizon, with a few islands extending the line into an arc to the NE. To the north are several low-lying islets, above which pokes the silhouette of tall Kia Island that stands like a lone soldier about twelve miles away in the great oxbow loop of the Great Sea Reef. No houses are visible, not even the teal roofs of our friends' resort. It is a pretty spot to sit, if more of an open roadstead, than the comfortable nook we usually think of as an anchorage. Fortunately, the prevailing winds come from the SE to E, and the little upturned tip of a point off the bow seems to be enough to keep our water nice and quiet.

In mid-afternoon, we looked to have enough water to get the dinghy to Joe and Julie's dock. So we headed in and walked the nice road they've built through the mangroves and up through the fields to Palmlea Lodge. I described Joe and Julies new resort previously in the update of our road trip over from Savusavu (May 15), but in the month since our visit, they have finished construction of the third bungalow, the trellised garden, added a generator and new water tanks, and the bougainvillea is well on its way to making the front hedge Julie desires.

We had finished our tour and were toasting (with that devil champagne!) our debut as the first yacht to visit Palmlea, when the phone in the office rang. It was Jim Bandy, the voice we have listened to for three seasons every morning on his SSB radio net called "The Rag of the Air" (8173 mHz @ 1900 UTC). Jim lives on an island near the NE tip of this coast, and we plan a stop there before we turn the corner. Of course at the rate we are going, that is still weeks away. Anyway, Jim was in Labasa bringing a friend to the airport and wondered if Palmlea's restaurant was open for dinner. Although the resort was not quite officially open yet, Joe had planned some local fish for the four of us. Fortunately, Joe has a habit of over-apportioning, so there was plenty to expand dinner for four to dinner for six.

For cruisers, meeting a radio voice is a little like meeting a celebrity, but Jim in person was nothing like we had imagined from his voice. We had pictured a crusty codger well into his social security years (often the case with radio net controllers), retired from cruising to his tropical island. Instead he was a trim, tanned man about Don's age, as was his friend Kurt from San Diego. From what we've put together from comments on the net, Jim has a boat building operation as well as one of the nascent virgin coconut oil processing setups, endeavors that he has undertaken almost as much from a missionary-like zeal to help the Fijian villagers as much as to support himself. We'll no doubt learn a lot more about it all when we visit, but he has been having a tough time lately with government red tape and a lack of dependability in his workers.

For an architect and builder, Joe is a mighty fine cook. He has studied the cuisines of all the countries he has lived and worked in, and he will be the supervising chef, if not the actual hands-on cook, for Palmlea's resort operation. Our meal was superb, an outstanding baked fish, what they call hereabouts a "coral trout", with sides of an eggplant medley and Tuscan roast potatoes. Over the meal we learned that Jim had once been a race car driver, which of course led to talk of the Indianapolis 500 ("Greatest Spectacle in Racing") and from there to motorcycles. Jim was not a Harley man, and Kurt rides a Big Dog. (I've seen the T-shirts, but never knew it was a bike!)

The evening lasted a lot longer than we'd planned, and when we got away to go home (after a debut walk down the hill in the dark!), we found the dinghy high and dry. @#$%#$@!!! Shades of Naviqiri! High and dry simply doesn't capture the reality of the muddy ooze and rock mix it was grounded on with about 40-50' to get to the water! The bugs were biting furiously, so no option now to sit tight and wait. We dragged the damn thing out one glopping foot at a time, bumping over rocks and losing our shoes every other step. I hate to think how we may have gouged the dinghy bottom. I've been afraid to look!

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Saturday, June 16, 2007
11-13 June 2007 - Nukubati (…..or Interlopers in Paradise!) – Part 4 -- Jenny’s Hospitality

Beach Feast
On Sunday, as we were taking our leave from Nukubati resort after church, Jenny had invited us to come ashore Monday night for a "beach barbecue" she and her staff were putting together. "Very informal," she said, "we all eat together."

After a day on shore tramping through the woods, we were hot and sweaty and hurried back to the boat for a shower and change of clothes and arrived on the beach just in time for the sunset champagne (Yes, Uncle Bill, there was a great green flash!) and the gathering of beach chairs around a huge square fire Jenny's guys had built on the sand.

On top of the fire was a layer of black rocks, and, as the fire burned down and the rocks got hot, they threw on fish, clams, breadfruit, eggplants, cassava and who knows what else. While the tourists sipped fru-fru cocktails (by now we are pretty much one of the gang!), Jenny's girls laid out a long line of mats on the grass, and set the "table" for our meal.

The only thing informal about the feast we enjoyed that night was that the staff ate with us. When you consider that there were only six resort guests, we two interlopers, plus Jenny and her visiting daughter, the staff, ten or twelve in number, outnumbered us!

But what a meal! In addition to all the goodies cooked on the fire, there were several dishes all cooked in coconut milk, that came out from the kitchen: fresh water mussels, ferns, pumpkin and seaweed, all dishes from Jenny and the staff's roots and all really yummy. There was also a boiled taro to go with the roasted veggies and roots and a seafood soup in coconut bowls. Unlike the umus we went to in Samoa and Tonga, silverware and napkins had been provided, and although everybody sure used the heck out of the later, most were good sports and ate Fijian style with their fingers. This was far and away the best "traditional" meal we have enjoyed anywhere, and it was particularly special because we came as Jenny's guests.

Attempted Diving

About ten years ago, Jenny and Peter added diving to Nukubati's offerings. It's a natural for this, because the north side of Vanua Levu is framed by the sinuous Great Sea Reef, the third largest barrier reef in the world. The Great Sea Reef, in most places, is about ten miles from the main island, except where about halfway along it loops out in a horseshoe shape around the island of Kia. Nukubati is well positioned for its boats to scoot out to Ravi Ravi Pass for dives outside the Reef as well as inside.

Since the resort's signature is privacy and personal attention, their dive operation works pretty much the same way, so we did not assume we would be able to dive with them. And in fact, Jenny had left it up to the guests to decide. I'm glad to say we were voted in…but, as it turned out we never did dive with them. I woke up the morning after the barbecue with a pounding headache, which I attributed to the mix of the sunset champagne and an alcoholic concoction called a Nukubati Sunset. It was a helluva time to remember that after my bout of the bends, I am not supposed to drink before diving. How ironic that it was one of the few drinks I have had all season!

So we cancelled, which worked out okay because Jenny had forgotten to tell the dive staff to prep for us! Clearly it wasn't meant to be. I stayed low all day, and we decided to skip happy hour ashore, because we'd been told a kava party was scheduled, the last thing my head needed.. What we didn't realize was that the kava party came complete with an evening of traditional music by the staff. We could hear just enough of it wafting over the water to make me pout at missing it. If our dinghy hadn't already been up, I'm sure we would have scooted in and lurked!

Attempted Departure

Wednesday morning we decided that it was probably time to move on. It would be easy to grow roots here, and while I believe we were welcome to stay, there were things on our To Do List that we couldn't tackle here. For one we needed to get to Labasa and get a new prop for the dinghy. For another we still had to strip the cockpit teak, sand and re-Cetol it, not an activity we thought the resort would appreciate. Plus we had called our friends Joe and Julie to tell them we were on our way. So we probably should be on our way.

We went ashore to pay our bar bill, and to take our leave, which we did over tea and pineapple muffins, plus a chance to help sample a new appetizer-- of smoked wahoo, watercress and sprouted coconut heart in chili vinaigrette – destined for the night's dinner menu.. Before taking off, Jenny gave us the 25-cent tour of the parts of the resort we hadn't seen: her extensive gardens, fruit trees, dive shop, power plant, watermaker set up, tennis court (!), and one of the honeymoon bures being readied for a new arrival. The bure was handsome, with a large sitting area, king-sized bed, two person shower, and even an enclosed sunbathing area where "Europeans can sunbathe topless." Each bure also has a thatched outside sitting area and its' own two beach chairs.

All in all, Nukubati Island Resort is an awesome operation, one that takes constant attention by a huge staff, a fact we respect even more after seeing at James and Pealie's how the environment makes it so much work. In a way, Nukubati is a modern version of what James' great-grandfather's estate was in its heyday, self-sufficient and catering to many. But, as beautiful and well-conceived as the resort is, it was the graciousness with which we were received and included that made our stay in the anchorage so special – all the sweeter because they had no obligation to extend it to us.

Back on the boat, we hoisted the outboard and made ready to leave. Only then did we notice the increasing overcast and an odd wind springing up from an unusual direction. On this side of the island, our reception of the radio weather forecast is unreliable, and we hadn't stressed when we couldn't copy it that morning. Every day we'd been here had been sunny and cleaand. What was afoot? We decided to sit tight through lunch, and then, when there was still no improvement, hang in one more night. If there was something brewing, there is little better place on this whole coast to be than this bay, where we could, if necessary pick up the anchor and tuck way back in under James & Pearlie's place.

The next morning we were socked in! Not just overcast, but low clouds rolling down the mountains and wiping out the visibility with misty showers. Yet the morning radio forecast insisted on the usual "Fine" weather for the area?! So…we waited, and sure enough, after breakfast, the rain rolled back, the clouds parted, and the dive boats from Nukubati left. Business as usual. Fortified by the forecast, we picked up our anchor and motored out.

We weren't more than a few miles along, when the clouds and showers rolled back in, and the wind came around on our nose! Wouldn't you know? Fortunately, our route was entirely along the well beaconed channel, so between that and CMap, and the comforting reality that the depth on this stretch was such we could drop anchor anywhere if we had to, we were able to continue the thirteen miles to the waypoint we had off our friends Joe and Julie's resort outside of Labasa.

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11 June 2007 - Nukubati (…..or Interlopers in Paradise!) – Part 3 -- Seva Plantation
James and Pearlie's estate at Nukubati Bay stretches from the mangroves at the water's edge to the ridgecrest of the mountains in a broad swath between two local villages…some 800+ acres! We drove the dinghy across the bay, found the post indicating their access channel, and rowed in up a thin channel cut through the mangroves. Having seen us coming, our hosts were waiting to greet us on the muddy bank created by a fresh water stream and the tide. After anchoring the dinghy where we hoped it would be floating by the time we were ready to leave, we followed them up a path into the woods.

We really had no idea what to expect. The word "plantation" to Americans conjures images of the old south, of grand houses with white columns – the Tara of "Gone with the Wind." But rural Fiji is much more rustic than the South has been in a century. These plantations and farms are still in the mold of those pioneers who forged the American West or the Australian Outback. In Vanua Levu, outside of the two main towns, there is little modern infrastructure. The roads are dirt; electricity, when it exists, comes from private or shared generators; and the phones (maybe one per village) are radio telephones.

On top of that, the main house on James plantation has been closed up for years, and what caretaker there was seems to have drifted away. In Fiji "abandonment" means fair game, so not only has the house been scavenged for furniture and utensils, but somebody made fair headway dismantling structural beams! James and Pearlie had warned us they were "camping out."

The house at the top of the hill had that square shape common to farmhouses world around, but no second story as we'd see in American, and its exterior was clad in what James called "cement tiles", big squares of gray siding made out of concrete and chicken wire. It has once boasted a bathhouse with running water which had been completely dismantled and carted away, as had the outside kitchen. But inside was a surprise. It was much bigger than it seemed, with a far more complex architecture than we'd seen in village homes. When James had grown up here it had five large bedrooms, and had been the center of a completely self-sufficient estate, where everything consumed by its residents was grown or made on site. James and Pearlie had put together a nice galley plus a bed room for themselves (on air mattresses!), and despite the ravages of the scavengers, it still had a solid homey feel to it.

Pearlie served us a nice lunch of curry, rice and roti, over which James told us a lot about Fijian history and how it led to the situation Fiji finds itself in today, a country hugging to itself the traditions of its ethnic identity, where people like James and Jenny, of mixed ethnicities, not to mention Fiji's huge Indian population, will never be considered real Fijians. And, and you might expect, we talked a lot about coconuts, their past and their future.

After lunch James led us all on a hike through the woods to show us the plantation's second house. When another family member had the plantation house, James and Pearlie had some years back fixed this secondary house up for themselves. Now his current caretaker and his family live there while they cope with restoring the big house. The woods we tramped through held a mix of full-grown tree species, the more amazing in that they grew in what was once the plantation's rice field. The coconut groves are similarly overgrown, and James is trying to come up with ways to sell the trees for wood while recovering and replanting the coconut groves.

Obviously, it is very hard to capture here all the things we learned about Fiji from our afternoon with James (not to mention our stay with Jenny at Nukubati). It is a complex country, with tasks both physical, technological and social to master.

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10 June 2007 - Nukubati (…..or Interlopers in Paradise!) – Part 2
Over the port Saturday night, Jenny asked if we might like to join her for church in the nearby village of Nuqumu (Nung-goo-moo), which is how we came to be dressed in our church duds and waiting to be picked up the next morning at 0930. We felt just a tad shanghaied when the boat finally arrived to pick us up at 1000 and Jenny wasn't in it. However, John and Leanne, the couple from Perth, and two staff members we'd met, Salote and Rajeli (Rrray-chell-li) , were. Apparently, Jenny had had some unexpected friends arrive for a visit.

Nuqumu is one of three villages on the shores of Nukubati Bay and is the home village for Salote and Rajeli. Set on level lawn in the midst of coconuts and breadfruit trees, the small houses were more squarely aligned around the church and a playing field than they had been in hilly Naviquiri.

Nuqumu's church, also Methodist, was much smaller than the one we'd attended the previous Sunday, and from the outside it appeared so decrepit as to give us pause over the addition of four large-sized foreigners! Inside, however, was charming if a bit shabby. To my surprise, I realized that despite being a closed-in building, its underlying shape was the eight-sided lozenge of Samoan fales. Equally surprising were the tall windows all around, which had actual glass in sashes that stood open like French doors to the breeze and rustle of the trees. The walls were a soothing blue, with the altar and pulpit dressed out in lavender satin and lace, and these were topped by three flower arrangements (that may well have been plastic!) The pews were old and handmade, if not actually hand-hewn, with tall backs and narrow benches. The five rowssqueezed in on the left, as last week, were packed with kids, but this time the pews on the right were given over to the choir. This left two banks of five pews each in the main nave for the balance of the congregation…of which there were about ten people until our party of six arrived!

We were late, about twenty minutes after the "bell" (drum beat) for the ten o'clock service, and had to wait for a prayer to finish to slip into our seats -- front row, of course, for the honored guests! Despite our tardiness, shortly after our arrival, a handsome young man in the choir (Rajeli's brother, we later learned) stood up and made us a formal speech of welcome in English. And that, except for the collection, was about it for anything we visitors could understand. Fortunately, this service was shorter than the Naviqiri one (shortened further by our late arrival), and, while the choir did its best, its smaller number made for a less vigorous performance. The highlight of the service for us came at the end, when the children, being dismissed, came each and every one to shake our hands!

Back at the resort we met the friends that had waylaid Jenny. Like Jenny, James and his wife Pearlie, divide their time between Australia and this part of Fiji, and, again like Jenny, James, grew up in this area. The difference is that James is almost the last trustee of his Scottish great-grandfather's estate which contains over a thousand acres of copra plantations in this part of Vanua Levu. Copra is the dried meat of the coconut, which in the past was in high demand for many oils and products, and the copra industry was once the economic mainstay of many tropical nations. Copra fell out of favor when substitutes were found with less cholesterol and saturated fat, and thereby the financial underpinnings of many island peoples went down the drain. We've seen the impact over and over in our travels, for example the Kuna Indians of Panama's San Blas Islands or the Marquesans in French Polynesia, where many landowners we met were cutting down their coconut trees and putting in Nonni. (Nonni is a tree which produces a fruit that appears to have some great health benefits when fermented. Here in Fiji, Nonni is called Kura, and we are taking a dose of it every morning. It tastes horrid!)

A new wind is blowing through the coconut plantations, however. Research has revealed that the historic way of extracting coconut oil – where the oil from pressed coconut is allowed to naturally separate – as opposed to the technological system of heating it that overtook the old way – actually produces a better product. Now known as "virgin coconut oil", it may in fact be the most healthful oil of all! New interest is also burgeoning in coconut as a crop for biofuels as well as for virgin coconut oil, and entrepreneurs are setting up plants here to produce it. The problem is that many old plantations, like the ones in James' family, have been neglected in recent generations, and the task of overhauling things and restoring them to productive status is monumental.

So James and Pearlie are here trying to get a grip on things, and they invited us to come visit.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007
8-9 June 2007 - Nukubati (...or Interlopers in Paradise!) – Part 1
"Nukubati is a small luxury private island, secluded with an untouched natural splendor, a remote haven surrounded by white sand, lush rainforest and crystalline coral reefs." So goes the text in the eight-page color brochure for Nukubati Island Resort, the laid-back luxury resort tucked into a perfect alcove of a bay about five miles beyond our last anchorage. We didn't know much about it as we approached, except that it was an exclusive sort of place, and as we dropped our hook in the bay we weren't sure what kind of reception we would receive.

It is a striking setting. The resort occupies one of the two Nukubati (pronounced Nook-oom-Ba-Tee) islets that are joined together like Siamese twins by a mangrove bank. On the mainland behind the resort rise the crests of a multi-peaked mountain ridge, densely clothed in rainforest and old coconut plantations, while in front is an apron of white sand (from which the island gets its name, as "nuku" means sand), a rarity in these parts. An assortment of dive boats and runabouts are moored in the shallows, handsome squares of red umbrella shade private beach chairs, and roofs of thatch peek out from under coconut palms.

Nobody came out to run us off, so we tentatively made our way ashore around happy hour, to introduce ourselves and see if we'd be allowed to buy a drink. The main pavilion, of similar concept to Joe and Julie's new place up the coast, is a large open-fronted building with high ceilings, thatched roof, and the same style of plaited wall covering, in this case bamboo.

But while Joe and Julie's place is raw and new, the décor of this space had the mellowed maturity of years of careful nurturing. In the back of the room to the right is a bamboo bar while to the left is a cozy reading nook and 3,000 book library. Comfortable chairs and sofas cluster in conversational groupings in the middle, and across the front are seven red-clothed dining tables. Plants and flowers augment the view, and I immediately recognized the maqimaqi (mangheemanghee), a traditional Fijian rope art that Julie had described to me, adorning the junction of every post and joist.

Two lovely young ladies in flowered dresses met us, tittered when we asked the price of a cocktail, and went to find the owner – Jenny Leewai Bourke.

Jenny is a handsome woman of Fijian and Chinese extraction who, with an elegant graciousness, made us welcome to have a drink or dinner should we choose. Let me say up front, that thanks to our background in the charter business, we were sensitive to the private nature of the resort and understood that anything we might do here would be a privilege not a right. Our discretion in this more than anything paved the way for a very enjoyable stay that ended up lasting a week.

A small plate of canapés came with the drinks, followed shortly by dishes of peanuts, roasted coconut, and an Indian version of wasabi peas. Jenny sat with us and told of the history of the resort, an effort she and her Australian husband Peter started sixteen years ago, and sighed over the impact of the December coup on the country's tourism industry. Indeed, that first evening, at a time of year when she might expect to be full, there was only one honeymoon couple at the resort, who kept to themselves, playing Scrabble by the beach until they couldn't see any more! Seduced by the ambience, we made reservations for dinner the next night.

Saturday dawned crisp and clear. Feeling motivated, we pumped up our two inflatable kayaks and set out for a paddle, which eventually carried us all the way around the Siamese-twin islands. The second island is not part of the resort and has several nice homes. Kids called, "Bula!" as Don paddled near, while I hung back to enjoy the aesthetic of the mountain peak thrusting up from behind. Thick mangroves clothed the south, east and north faces of the pair, and they are girdled by a shoal of sand, weed and coral all the way around. Had we made our paddle circumnavigation at low tide, we would have had to cover twice the distance at least, but as it was it felt like a pretty good workout. We topped it off with a refreshing swim off the back of the boat.

In the afternoon, we watched new arrivals zoom past Tackless from the resort's dock on the mainland. For new arrivals, the staff assembles on the beach and meets them with music and flowers leis, and when we came ashore for dinner, we found there were now six guests, two American couples and one from Australia. Sunset is a big deal at Nukubati, and rightly so. The view west to the horizon is uninterrupted making it perfect for green flashes. Jenny celebrates sunset every evening with complimentary champagne. Since we didn't know, this left us with cocktails in one-hand and champagne in the other! Probably not the best mix.

Nukubati makes a big deal about the guests' right to privacy and rightly so. The honeymooners we'd seen the first night certainly liked to exercise that right. However, since we two captains have all the privacy we need onboard, when we come ashore we hope for a little socialization. Fortunately, this evening four of the guests joined us and Jenny around the hors d'oeuvres. We introduced ourselves as the couple with the bure in the bay!

Dinner was served at individual tables as the mood took. Every evening Nukubati's kitchen offers two choices and Don and I split the menu down the middle. For appetizer, he had their version of poisson cru (raw fish salad in coconut cream) while I had a plate of eggplant caponata; for the entree, Don selected the lobster mornay while I had filet of local beef in rocket sauce (rocket is the name of arugula in this part of the word!) Dessert was Nukubati Pie, a coconut custard cream, with a scoop of ice cream. Afterwards, as the other guests had escaped to their bures, Jenny invited us to linger for a glass of port.

Ah, the good life. It seemed a long, long way from village life in Navigiri, and yet, in its own way, equally Fijian. Maybe even more so, preserving and celebrating as it does the finer traditions of architecture, style, and art, of which there is little sign left in the villages.

By the time we left, the tide was low and the sky lit only by stars. Our nightly view of the resort – the shrouding palm trees just slightly spot-lit against the night sky, (as we paddled our way out to water deep enough for the outboard)– is one Nukubati's guests never see. Views from the water are always the sweetest.

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Thursday, June 7, 2007
6 June 2007 – Moving On Up the Coast
6 June 2007 – Moving On Up the Coast

The morning after our low-tide struggle, we moved T2 about two-thirds of the way across the bay to be nearer to the village. Originally we had been anchored at least a mile and half away behind the protection of a sand bar. The thought was to save the strain on the dinghy (our prop is still slipping) of making the two round trips to bring Sera and Freddie out for their visit to Tackless. Tuned in now to how these things are done, I had coffee or tea ready along with biscuits and jam and the ever popular banana bread muffinettes. Sera and Freddy got the tour of the boat, and then we all watched Don's video from the previous day.

Sera and Freddie were leaving that afternoon to go to another village to pick oranges. Since they would be gone until the next afternoon, this seemed to provide the most painless time to move on. Even in such a short time, even despite less than perfect communication, these friendships become intense. Sera keeps in touch with her several foreign friends, so we exchanged mailing addresses (to which, of course, I have a lot of photos to send once I can can prints!)

Afterwards, we spent the afternoon where we were and took the opportunity to do several loads of sweaty laundry! Mother Nature smiled on us by reserving her usual afternoon showers.

The next morning we were underway as soon as the sun was high enough to see the reefs. We had no real firm destination in mind, just the waypoints of several possibilities. There wasn't a lick of breeze, so it was definitely a motorboat ride, but at least this gave us the chance to really top up the new batteries.

Landward the striking rock outcrops of the Monkey Face peninsula gave way to an even ridgeline behind a fairly smooth foreground. Here and there we saw a roofline or a column of smoke to suggest a village that might or might not be indicated on the chart, but most the noticeable difference was that these hillsides were thickly forested.

We motored most of the day generally northeastward through clumps of islands and reefs, impressed with both the accuracy of CMap and the Fijian nav aids, although in most cases the topmarks had been replaced by birds!

Near the outflow of the Dreketi river we crossed paths with two men in a fishing boat. The boat was piled high with net, and a reasonable pile of fish lay in the shade in the bottom of the boat. In the heat of the windless day, the men wore several layers of clothing, including shirts wrapped around their heads. When they pulled up to chat, we gave them some cold water to drink.

We had been thinking we might explore the Dreketi River by dinghy, a trip that probably would have been really interesting. But given the feeble condition of our outboard, it didn't seem the wisest idea. Alternatively, we considered dropping the hook in the lee of one of the little offshore islands, but the bottom stayed stubbornly at 65'. So in the end we continued on up to Ravi Ravi Point. Once again the mountains, both inland and along the coast, turned lumpy and craggy. making a more interesting landscape. Two possible anchorages were noted in the fourteen-year-old cruising guide. The first turned out to now be a pearl farm, so we gave that a miss, but the bay on the east side appeared open and uninhabited. As much as we enjoyed our village stay at Navigiri, we were ready for a stop with no sevusevu and no dress code. Vunisinu Bay fit the bill.

However, as placid and inviting as it appeared, we came near to disaster on our approach. Being out of the way, there were no handy beacons marking the reef, and of course now the sun suddenly slipped behind a cloud. Don passed the wheel to me and jumped up to the ratlines to keep a lookout. He didn't make the first rung before he shouted, "Left, Left. LEFT!!!!" I swung the wheel to the left and looked right. Bright green corals that looked like they must only be just below the surface slid past the beam and then dropped away with the turn. It took several minutes for our hearts to start beating again. Needless to say Don stayed up in the rigging until we'd found our anchorage in the center of the reefs.

It really is amazing the thin line between good luck and bad. What in fact was a very lucky thing continues to sober us with its nearness to what could have been a major mishap! Of course, they don't call these old CSYs "reef-wreckers" for nothing. The hull would have come out it alright, but we can't be so sure of the rudder and prop not to mention the living reef, that, at a quick glance, seemed pretty healthy!

But this is what being explorers is all about. We are hardly the first cruisers to explore this part of Fiji, but it is off the beaten path. We do have surprisingly good charts to depend on, yet when we "pull off the highway", we are on our own. On the other hand, the rewards of these out-of-the-way places are what it's all about. The sunset and the stars in a sky untainted by civilization is incredible.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007
5 June 2007 – The 2Cs Go to School…and to Tea!
(Note: I have been spelling the name of this village as it sounds (since it is not on the chart!); however, the correct spelling turns out to be Naviqiri. "Qs" are pronounced like hard "Gs", and an "ng" sound always precedes, so it is still pronounced Navingiri I have also been spelling my hostess's name wrong; it is Sera, not Sara.)

At ten o'clock the next morning Sera led us through the village and out the back side where we found a real road. Well, a real dirt road, down which a carrier truck travels at least once a week. (There are no cars in Naviqiri, but there are a number of horses!) This road led out of town through a stretch of garden allotments (for the people on this side of the village), up a hill, through some piney woods and down the hill to the school shared with the nearby village of Nasau (Na-sow).

The school, which serves all the elementary grades, was sited in a huge open area, its buildings wrapping around three sides of playing field (rugby is the lead sport.) In front are the houses the teachers live in. Behind them is the cookhouse, then the "cafeteria," next boys and girls dormitories, and then, across the back, the classrooms. Although most of the children walk the mile or so from home to the school, others who live a bit farther out, board during the week.

The school currently has 98 students, and they were all assembled in one classroom, cross-legged on the floor, boys on the right and girls on the left, for us to do our thing! I don't know what exactly we were thinking…well, yes I do! We thought we'd just stand in the back and watch a lesson. But NO! We were the first white visitors to the school (that the teachers knew about…actually, we're fairly sure our friends on Billabong visited a couple of years ago!), so next thing we know we are front and center. What a sea of eyes and smiles!

At the teacher's suggestion, I told them a little about our travels, improvising a map of the Americas on the blackboard. Then we took questions which ran the gamut from President Bush (Help!!!!!) to climates in the United States to how we deal with storms on the boat. Don stood in the corner videotaping the whole thing and adding his comments here and there.

Now understand, while all these kids study English in school, they were all pretty shy about actually speaking it out loud. There was a lot of mediation by the teachers. But when the questions ran out, it was the kids turn to perform for us. With no conductor required, the kids launched into their school song, a rousing multi-verse song in multi-part harmony. Like the adults in church, the kids' singing voices were strong and confident. Song is obviously a big part of their culture.

Up to our departure, the kids were awesomely well behaved, but as we exchanged thankyous with the teaching staff outside the classroom and the assembly broke up to return to their own rooms, the kids launched themselves into another series of songs while crowding about the windows and doorways trying to get into the background of the inevitable round of photographs Sera had me snapping! It was quite comforting that kids are kids the world around.

Tea with Mr & Mrs Sunaki

On our way back through Naviqiri to the dinghy, we diverted to the outermost house in the village. Perched on a hilltop, #45 is one of the few houses to command a view of the bay and is the home of Mr. & Mrs. Sunaki. Mr. Sunaki had approached Don after church the previous day, and invited us to stop by.

Mr. Sunaki is a retired policeman from Suva, which definitely gives him and his home a more cosmopolitan air than most of the other houses in the village. In addition to the mats in the main room, they had two beds, as well as two more beds and a table and chairs in the kitchen area. Around the "rim" of the room were hung framed photographs from his career in uniform, as well as shots of his children and grandchildren in their careers (also uniformed!—police and military.)

Mrs. Sunaki put on a nice tea for us, with cups on a silver tray and biscuits with butter and jam. We talked about retirement, the building of his house here, and like all parents, about what our kids are doing. Mr. Sunaki told us many people thought he should start a business in Labasa upon his retirement, but he didn't see why. He is perfectly happy puttering in his garden, growing the things they need to eat. Still, Navigiri must be a big change from the capital city.


The tides have not been with us during our time in Naviqiri. With the high tide coming in the morning, all our arrivals had been a piece of cake. Departures, however, have invariably happened at low tide. After the first day, when Sera and Villie had had to help us lug the dinghy to the water, Don had dug out our "Happy Wheels", in storage since Mexico, and mounted them back on the transom. It still wasn't fun, but at least they made low tide departures doable.

On that Monday afternoon, when we straggled hot and tired to the beach, the tide presented us with one of the bleakest prospects we have ever faced. It must have been dead DEAD low, the water 150-200' from the beached dinghy. I'm sure Sera thought we were nuts, but by this time, as usual, all we could think about was getting back to the coolness of T2 at anchor.

Sera was right. We were nuts. The 200 feet across which we had to drag the dinghy, was not nice hard-packed sand, but glutinous, sucking mud, pocked with rocks. Don pulled and I pushed. Believe me, the "Happy wheels" were not remotely happy…and neither were our Crocs! And then, once we were finally afloat, we still had to paddle another 200 feet before we could get the outboard down.

But, oh when you need a swim, you need a swim! How do people live on land?

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007
04 June 2007 – The 2Cs Go To Church
Our second day in Navigiri was a Sunday, and because church is the keystone of life in Fijian communities, Don and I accepted Sara and Freddy's invitation to spend the day with them. We got ourselves as properly dressed as we could manage (Don in long pants and collared shirt and me in a dress!), and dinghied ashore at about 9:30am, beaching the dinghy in the mud to the amusement of a gang of kids all properly dressed in sulus and crisp white shirts.

The dominant building in Navigiri is the big yellow Methodist church. Its members come not just from Navigiri but from several other nearby villages, by foot or by boat, just as residents of this village who attend a different denomination church travel to it. Everybody was dressed to the nines. The women and girls mostly wore the traditional Fijian outfit of a cap-sleeved dress over a color-coordinated sulu beneath. The men and boys wore western-style dress shirts and ties over their formal sulus, and almost every elder man wore a sport coat! This in heat that had me utterly wilting because I had to wear a linen top over my calf-length dress because it was sleeveless! (In Fiji a woman's shoulders should be covered.)

Sara led us to the pews on the right, where we were joined by most of the old ladies of the congregation. Across from us on the left, sat all but the littlest kids. In the main nave of the church, the choir sat on the right, the women in front, the men behind them. The balance of the congregation also split themselves by sex, with the women filling the left hand pews, and the men behind the choir on the right. The only exception to this was the chief and his wife, who sat together in the front pew on the left.

The service was two long hours, of which we understood not a word….except "Jisu" and "Amen." There was not even a single sentence in English to give us the gist of things, as we'd gotten at the Catholic church in Tonga. Still there were several aspects of the service that made it well worth our while. First, the singing of Pacific peoples is invariably impressive, with powerful voices and beautiful harmonies (although the tunes here seemed more westernized than they had in Tonga or Easter Island). Sara thrust a hymnal in my hands, and to please her I made an effort to sing along, despite not understanding the words. According to Don, this caught the attentions of a lot of the choir and apparently bought me a lot of brownie points, which came back to me all afternoon… "You sing in Fijian!)

The other aspect that delighted us was the people watching. It seems there is a universal human-ness about people in church, the little kids in their Sunday outfits being distracted by their mothers, the older kids fidgeting and punching each other in the far pews as the service wore on, but best of all the sisterhood of the ladies as they goosed and batted one another with their fans. (And have I said a special prayer for the old woman who pressed up me her feather edged fan for the duration?)

Sara kept whispering to me, as the service inched along to its end, that soon we would leave and go home and lie down, and sure enough, after we waded through all the post-service handshaking, we went back to Sara and Freddy's and, provided with pillows stretched out on the floor with Freddy and the kids.

Meanwhile Sara laid the tablecloth in the center of the floor, …with silverware AND cloth napkins provided for the ka'palangi (foreigners)… and set up upon it the big Sunday meal that she had cooked earlier.

The meal was superb: tender chunks of octopus in coconut milk, palusami (taro leaf in coconut milk), and huge chunks of boiled cassava and yam, along with my loaf of banana bread which was a huge hit. Like Tongans and Samoans, Fijians eat mostly with their fingers with a fingerbowl of water at each end of the table for cleaning up. To our relief, unlike in Tonga, we all – men, women, kids and guests – ate together at the same time.

In all the houses around us, all the other families were doing the same, and afterward, everyone retired to cool shady spots outside to rest and visit.

During none of these events (church included) was the digital camera allowed to sit idle. Like a movie director, Sara told me what pictures to take of whom, and amazingly everybody seemed thrilled to pose, pose again, and yet again.

I was sent running up hill and down to catch this group or that, these adorable children or that grandmother, the old folks sitting around the kava bowl, or the men watching the rugby finals on TV through the chief's window. Everybody was happy to pose, singly and in groups, and this with absolutely no indication they thought they would ever see the prints. Just a glance at the little screen on the back was enough. I wish we'd had a second camera to take pictures of the picture-taking.

Finally as the tide began to come back in, we took our leave, and once back on the boat peeled off our dress clothes sodden with sweat and dove into the water to cool down..........Aaaahhhhhh ...... It's a good thing we anchored on the far side of the bay.

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Saturday, June 2, 2007
2 June 2007 – Navigating to Navigiri
We woke Friday morning to thick overcast, gusty winds and showers in the mountains, so we took the early morning easy while we waited to see how the day would shake out. Our buddies over on Seeker, anchored about quarter mile away (no reason to crowd together!), got underway after the morning radio nets bound for Yadua (pronounce Yan-doo-ah). We were undecided.

Yadua is an island about fifteen miles from Bua Bay that many cruisers use as a jump off point from Vanua Levu for the west side of Viti Levu or, as Seeker planned, across a stretch of sea known as Bligh Water to the Yasawa Island Group, Fiji's westernmost strand of islands. Yadua is said to have some very nice snorkeling, which was sorely tempting, but it is also known as a place where yachts get pinned down by the winds accelerating through the 35-mile gap between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. To get to Yadua would have been another nice brisk sail. To get back to continue our clockwise circumnavigation of Vanua Levu could be another thing altogether.

We had both courses laid in the chartplotter, but at the last minutes, prudence prevailed and we bore away on our own up the channel through the reefs around Vanua Levu's northwest corner. This brought more easy sailing with plenty of wind over absolutely flat seas. The landscape was gorgeous around a huge nob of land fisted around a mountain called Seseleka, which then opened into the rather dramatic Rukuruku Bay. Suddenly the wind shifted forward and accelerated down the valleys, giving Don quite the handful as we heeled over and close-reached through a stretch named appropriately "Wilson Patch." (I don't know who Wilson was, but wthere are several "Patches" named for him around these parts!) (Addendum: I later learned that "Wilson" is James Wilson, an early missionary explorer to Fiji...surely a relative!)

The winds dropped right off and skies cleared as we entered the channel called Monkey Face Passage. The channel gets its name from a rock formation on the top of Uluinasiva mountain. If Seseleka looks like a fist on the chart, than Uluinasiva is the cocked thumb. The rock formations on top were eye-catching from every angle, but neither of us saw a monkey's face. Perhaps it's better coming the other way?

This channel delivered us officially onto Vanua Levu's north side. Even as the sky turned blue and the clouds thinned, the landscape altered to the same grassy slopes, broken by clump of trees and magnificent rocky outcrops, that's we'd seen in our road trip to Joe & Julie's. On the port side, a very striking island named Yaqaga (I would guess pronounced Yanganga) rose up, setting the stage for a horizon filled with small islands and craggy mountain peaks.

Don steered Tackless along the line of seven beacons (nautical name for a pole with a mark on top), that kept us clear of the reef line, even as we furled the sails and engaged the engine to motor us into the teeth of a rising wind, as we pushed hard the last few miles to our planned anchorage in Naurore Bay. We rounded into it and nosed into a spot behind a small islet off Wairagia Point, getting the anchor down moments before the rain squall blew through, whiting out everything around us.

We could see the village of Navigiri (pronounced Na-ving-giri) on a saddle between the peak of Monkey Face and another humungous vertical rock bluff. We had chosen this as our first village to visit because several people had described it as an especially nice village. Although proper protocol is to go ashore promptly and introduce yourselves to the village chief, the unsettled weather and the fact we had the dinghy on deck persuaded us to wait til morning. As dusk, however, a panga with four men approached without a light. Only one spoke English and we understood they were coming from a day cutting firewood on Yaqaga Island. We apologized for not coming ashore right away, and asked them to inform the chief that we would come in to make our sevusevu (pronounced: servuservu) first thing. He reminded us of the tide issue, and suggested earlier would be better than later, an observation we would appreciate the next day. I, of course, fretted all night that we had started off on the wrong foot.

The next morning we launched the dinghy and headed for shore. Before leaving the boat we had dressed ourselves properly (no knees, no shoulders, no sunglasses, no hats!), practiced our basic spiel ("Bula! My name is Gwen. My name is Don. Could you please take us to the toranga ni koro so we can make our sevusevu."), and extracted the first bundle of yagona (kava) from the stash we purchased at the Savusavu market. Fiji fiercely protects the traditions of its people, and while visitors are welcome, proper behavior is expected. I don't think either of us has been so self-conscious in decades!

We were met on the muddy beach by the usual passel of children, only these youngsters were wielding child-sized machetes! (Eek, were we in trouble already?!) An older boy was brave enough to try his school English, and we ventured our prepared spiel in Fijian, and in no time we were led to a couple named Sara and Freddy.

Sara and Freddy, both of whom spoke confident English, were neither of them the official toranga ni koro, but they seemed to be the designated ambassadors to visiting yachties of which there have been several over the past couple of years. In fact, the first thing they did was sit us down on a mat in their house and share with us photos of their favorite yachties, who turned out to be cruisers we knew – Chris and Katie of Billabong (from our first year in the Pacific) and the Repass family of Convergence.

Sara and Freddie led us to the chief's house at the top of the hill. Along the way we introduced ourselves and shook hands with every adult we passed (including the toranga ni koro!). The chief's house looked little different from the others on the outside (except for a padlock on the outside of the door!), but inside he had a bookshelf with a TV, DVD player and a telephone! We slipped off our shoes and sat where directed on the woven pandanus mat, while Freddy made our introduction, a formalized speech in soft-spoken Fijian, of which I only understood the word "America." He placed our bundle of yagona on the floor between them, and when the chief picked it up and the men clapped, we were in. We'd been advised that often the chief never speaks with you, but this one did exchange a few words with us about life in the United States, before we were ushered on our way. Sara was walked us around the extent of the village and we shook more hands and snapped more pix.

How one ever went cruising in the days before digital cameras, I cannot imagine. Everybody we met wanted their picture taken, and then to see it on the little screen. This was a wonderful development for me, because I am often too shy to ask to take pictures of people, and therefore never have them. Not so in Navigiri. I have dozens, and because the people are not self-conscious, every photo is beautiful.

We met men building a house, people preparing pandanus for mat weaving, ladies doing the laundry under the shared spigot, and a couple peeling and cutting cassava for the big Sunday meal.

There were toddlers playing naked in a tub, and grandmothers sweeping the church. It was a busy place, but everybody took time for us! And, so, as you might expect, we will go back tomorrow for church. We said yes to the invitation once Don saw that the church had pews. He's not much for extended floor sitting.

When it was time to head back to the boat, we found that the outgoing tide had left the dinghy high and dry on the beach. We have a very heavy dinghy, I'm sorry to say, and the nifty wheels we were accustomed to using in Mexico, were back in a locker on the boat. Sara and a young boy each took a corner and helped us carry it in four stages out to the water. Even then, we had to walk it a fair distance, and paddle even farther before we could get the motor down halfway. Sadly, even that was too soon, and the prop caught an unseen rock, to become Don's afternoon project. I'm making banana bread to bring to the Sunday meal.

Katie and Chris of Billabong stayed here in Navigiri a month and the Convergence crew a week. I'm not sure we have that luxury, thanks to our slow start and our ambitious schedule. But tomorrow is church, and Monday we will visit the school and learn a bit about weaving mats, so for now, home is Navigiri.

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