Cruising the South Pacific with Tackless II
Tackless II, along with her two captains, Don and Gwen, cruise from Fiji to Australia
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
30 July, 2007 – Safely Arrived at Leava, Futuna
In some ways, it was a very good passage. We wanted as little wind as possible on our nose as we backtracked eastward past Viani Bay, through the Somosomo straights, and northward out through the scattered garden of reefs and atolls that litter Fiji's northern reaches. The sky was crystal clear, and Uncle Bill was treated to his first green flash at sunset.

As night closed in and we were motoring anyway, we made a dogleg to the east below Naqelelevu atoll, to gain some easting should the trade winds ever return. But for the wind, conditions seemed idyllic, with a buttery full moon rising in the east. And when I came up at 0130 to relieve Bill of his watch and round onto our final NNE leg to Futuna, there was enough wind to set the genoa and shut down. I thought we might just sail this way the rest of the 153 miles. It lasted barely an hour.

Clouds rolled in along with rain showers, and the wind went away. This cycle repeated itself most of the rest of the night, although we had some pretty decent sailing and motor-sailing stints during the day Sunday.

Sunday night, however, the sky got more seriously overcast, and although the wind picked up, it picked up to 20+ and backed in the NE, too close for old T2 to sail on course. So on comes the engine yet again. Now, I know the sailors among are wondering why we don't tack our way upwind. Well, there's a reason this boat is called Tackless. She just doesn't sail close enough to the wind to make much headway without an engine. We end up sailing back and forth pretty near the same stretch of water.

So despite the wind blowing 15-20 all night, we had to motor, and the ride was pretty bouncy in the confused swell. To add insult to injury, a flat overcast hid our full moon (always the way!) Jetlagged, Uncle Bill had been having some trouble finding his sea legs, and the crappy conditions Sunday night kept him below. At 15 miles out, we picked up the bright lighthouse from Futuna, which, no matter how many fancy electronics you have, is a reassuring moment, the there's nothing to match the silhouettes of your destination -- in this case the islands of Futuna and its neighbor Alofi – when it appears on the horizon with dawn and breaking clouds behind it.

We followed our CMap right into the Leava Harbor, which is a very narrow "V" through the reef into the shoreline. The island is quite steep, so the village of Leava hugs the shoreline, and the anchorage is made even smaller by several hundred feet of fringing reef. Brand new red and green (French system—red left returning) beacons marked the edges of the reef around the tiny harbor, and a tall commercial wharf for container deliveries juts from the starboard. The beacons are a most welcome addition as the harbor was quite difficult to make out in the morning haze.

Already at anchor was Apogee, the boat we traveled up with ("with" being a relative term as they arrived eight hours before us!) and Curly's boat Stella Rosa. (Curly and his lady friend Barbara came up over a week ago and had a passage from hell with heavy weather and steering failures. They've been here since working on repairs.) We found a spot inside Apogee and got the hook down right at 0800.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007
July 28, 2007 – Underway to Futuna
Tackless II is underway again. We took off at three this morning, last night's wind long gone, but the seas still pretty rolly. We have sails up, but mostly to steady us, although as I type I feel a steady heel to starboard. Whether we are getting a land breeze or the wind has really shifted to the North I cannot tell. We are feeding into the funnel of the Somosomo straights, a pass choked down to about a mile by the reefs reaching out from Viani Bay and Taveuni. We are happy to be doing this in the daylight in calm conditions. However, we wouldn't mind some wind from a sailing direction for the rest of the trip!

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July 23-27, 2007 – Savusavu; The Uncle Bill rendezvous
With two new arriving boats on the horizon, we decided to drop our night's mooring and scoot into town before breakfast (but after coffee!) to ensure that WE'd get a mooring! Which we did, albeit one squeezed in among other boats at the far inner end of the harbor! Unlike when we left two months ago, Nakama Creek is packed full. Some are the same old boats that are based here, but most are new arrivals. It's amazing how many we know. There is a Kiwi boat we got to know last year in Tonga, an American boat we'd met in Zihuatenejo (on or northbound trip), and even a boat from Redhook in St. Thomas – Whimsey – whose new owners, Brian and Erin, we'd met in Trinidad in 2000 and who then built themselves a hardtop patterned on ours! What a small world cruising is!

Don and I spent Monday and Tuesday in a flurry of chores readying the boat for the arrival of our friend Bill Wednesday morning. He came in right on schedule, traveling pretty much non-stop from Tampa (no LA layover for him), but fortunately got some sleep n the plane. Good thing because, after a welcome breakfast at Copra Shed's Captain's Table, we kept him hopping all day.

When Bill finally dropped at eight that night, Don and I huddled around the computer and watched the first of our home DVDs of our grandson Kai. How much he has grown in just three months!

Our schedule never let up over the next couple of days, with final preparations for our quickie passage to Futuna and back filling every hour…well, every hour that we weren't eating and socializing with friends. We also did take an overnight out to Lesiaceva Point, ostensibly to clean the boat's bottom, but at least in part to give Bill an chance to test out his snorkel gear on Split Rock!

Still, by 3:30 Friday afternoon, all the official paperwork was done, Bill was officially signed on as crew, and old Tacky Two was checked out of Fiji. By plying my winsome feminine ways, I persuaded the officials to grant us permission to spend the night out the point prior to our planned 3 am departure. We may have regretted that for a few hours when, after a great grilled lamb dinner (making the seasonal debut of the BBQ), the wind unexpectedly backed into the west, and blew like stink, piling up the seas on the lee shore behind us. I suppose the smart skipper would have cast off and made use of the westerlies, but in the dark of night after a long day, nobody was mentally ready…on our boat or on our friends Steve and Rachel's boat, Apogee, making the trip with us. The good news is that despite the rocking and bobbing, we all did get some rest.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007
July 20-22, 2007 – Closing the Circle
We had originally planned to dive again on Saturday, but when Wind Pony and Tokimata moved on, we had a reality check and decided to devote the day to cleaning the forward cabin for Bill who arrives Wednesday morning. This involved laundering sheets and airing bedding that has been packed away for YEARS! In the evening, a beach-side tête-à-tête with Ian and Lee of Steelheart and Jack about our departures led to his offering to guide us all out to the Dakuniba boat pass, a short cut through the inner lagoon that would save us an hour or so travel time.

So Sunday morning we were all up early, retrieving our anchors from the coral maze beneath us (which went surprisingly well). Steelheart with Jack aboard took the lead, and we followed a zigzag route more or less as it is laid out in the Calder cruising guide westward along the shore inside the main reef. Steelheart decided to linger another day in an anchorage near the pass, while Jack jumped in his tinny (an aluminum skiff) and took himself home. We exited the pass without incident and remembered to make the track into a route for a return visit.

Unfortunately the day kind of ran downhill after that. Here we were on the last leg, the home stretch, as it were, where, going west, we had every right to expect a good sail. The forecast was for 15-20 with gusts to 25 from the East, yet we had barely ten from dead astern. We gave up sailing as the boat rolled in the swell, the sky clouded over, and the GPS calculated that it would take us twelve hours at 2.5 knots. NOT! Don says he's going to calculate the number of engine hours used in our trip around, but I don't think I'll publicize it!

As we bore down on Point Passage off Lesiaceva Point, it started to rain. It was misty to start but got serious as we rounded the lighthouse, blotting out the boats at anchor off Cousteau. We'd hoped to pick up Curly's mooring from which we left almost two months ago, but it was taken by another boat. Ah well, close enough.

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July 18-20, 2007 – Diving from Viani Bay
The last stop on our circumnavigation of Vanua Levu is many people's first stop. Viani Bay is a large, multi-lobed bay right at the east "corner" of the south coast fronting directly onto the reefs of the Somosomo straights, the locations of Fiji's world famous scuba dives.

We picked our way through the reefs on our way in from Buca Bay, grateful for the full sun, because our CMap charts are still off. Conveniently, the NZ sloop Steelheart motored right past us, so, since they'd been to Viani before, we followed them in to the center anchorage right below the home of the Fisher family, who own much of the acreage here. Jack Fisher, a stout man of about sixty, is known for guiding visiting yachties whether on treks in the hills or to the delights of the reefs. Jack came by shortly after we got the hook down, and we made a plan to dive the next day.

However, within an hour, two more boats arrived in the anchorage. Another Kiwi boat called Tokimata and the American 44-foot Voyage catamaran Wind Pony. The Voyage cats' charter base is in Soper's Hole, Tortola, so every time one of these handsome craft sails by we enjoy a little nostalgia. The crew on Wind Pony, Dick and Lynn of St. Paul, MN, and their visiting friends Joe and Molly were also interested in a trip out to the reefs, so pretty soon the plan was modified for us ALL to go aboard Wind Pony.

For this kind of thing, cats just can't be beat. There we were, eleven people including Jack, with an absurd amount of space to enjoy the ride. And, in a way that wouldn't have happened easily otherwise, we all quickly got to know one another.

The good news from our point of view is they weren't all divers. On our first trip out, only three of us, Don, Peter of Tokimata, and I, dove the famous Purple Wall, while the others snorkeled the top of the reef. Jack gives a briefing on the site, and then he takes you out in your own dinghies, following your bubbles as you go with the current. For this service, he charges F$10pp. For experienced divers with their own equipment and an onboard compressor like us, this is a deal that is hard to beat! But for more novice divers or for people without gear, there is a professional dive operation at the east end on the bay called Dolphin Divers, so no one need miss out

The Purple Wall is one of the most beautiful dives I have ever done, and as you can guess, that is saying a lot. Ever since my trip to the Red Sea in 1984, I have had a soft spot for soft corals. Up until this dive, I have been disappointed that the soft corals we've been seeing have been the leather corals and other spongier sorts -- interesting, but usually drab. The soft corals I remember from the Red Sea were inflated bouquets of color – pinks, oranges and yellows.

Jack dropped us in up current, and we swam down the reef to about forty feet. For the first few minutes I was unimpressed. Then we rounded a bend and the wall exploded with a profusion of soft corals, which for some reason are all in purple hues! They were dark purple, lavender or white with purple trim! It was a spectacular display. Plus there were loads of fish, and lots of crinoids, relatives of feather starfish that filter feed at night but curl up in the day. Most eye-catching were the little orange basslets that mass around the corals providing quite the color contrast, and at one spot I saw a pair brilliant yellow goatfish against the purple. Talk about Nature's palette! We also saw two huge Napoleon wrasse, thousands of butterfly fish, and enough fish of "shootable size" to satisfy Don's meaty fancies. (It seems he doesn't need to actually be spear-fishing, he just likes to see something he could!) At the end of the dive was a swim-thru cavern, clad in every color soft and cup coral you can imagine, along with beautiful sea fans, wire corals, and gorgonians. Since this cave both ends the Purple Wall dive and begins the famous White Wall dive, you have seen it photographed in dozens of divemagazines.

Then, as if all this weren't enough, as we did our safety stop, what should swim up but a manta ray! He was not huge, probably about 10' wide, but he was deeply black and feeding at the surface. The snorkelers all jumped back in the water to see him.

The next day, we dived the Cabbage Patch. Relatively new divers, Dick and Lynn of Wind Pony had opted to snorkel yesterday, but encouraged by our great dive, they decided to give it a shot. Unfortunately, the current was much stronger here than we'd had yesterday, which made things a bit more challenging, but Jack put our dinghy anchor down so that Lynn would have a descent line. It was a good move for all of us. We crept up and over the edge of the wall and again enjoyed the profusion of soft corals, these of mixed colors, purples and yellows with lots of colorful fish. The soft coral wall was over too quickly thanks to the current, so the second half of the dive was up on the ledge going from bommie to bommie. A bommie is an isolated coral patch, often attaining significant height, each providing shelter for a huge range of fish. On this stretch, we saw many large fish between the bommies -- groupers and snappers and god knows what! We also had several sharks, including a 10' lemon shark resting on the bottom.

This dive ended a bit short when Lynn experienced some buoyancy problems. Her instructor back in Tobago had, for some reason, fitted her with a bit of belt carrying eight pounds of lead across the top part of her tank, "to help her swim more horizontally." I've never seen anything like it, and certainly saw no reason why she would need it. Apparently, she lost this weight during the dive, and of course, could not get back down. Once on the surface, she was caught up in the current, and had to be picked up by Jack. Before we found the explanation, Lynn was a little spooked that she had some incurable issues with buoyancy control. Jack kept saying she needed more weight, but on the dive itself I was fairly sure she was over-weighted. It turned out we were both right. When we got back to the anchorage, she and I got in the water and did buoyancy check. Discovering the missing weights, the mystery of her inability to get back down was solved, and after the buoyancy check, I was confirmed that she was carrying too much weight to start, hence many of her issues. We took several pounds off, and did a little tour under the boat, and she looked like a pro to me. It felt good to be back in the role of helpful instructor, however minor a lesson.

And it sure felt good to be diving again. Diving fabulous diving! Have I mentioned how much I love scuba diving?

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007
July 16-18, 2007 – Buca Bay
We sailed away from Albert Cove mid morning on Monday. Our route took us down along the west coast of Rabi Island, passing the principal village of Nuka, with light-colored reefs between us and shore. Things got a little dicey at the southernmost end as we crossed back into the eastern hemisphere again and the CMap charts failed to knit together. We had heard a lot of bad reports about CMap in this part of Fiji, but it was just hard to accept after I being so reliable all the way around Vanua Levu. As we sailed further and further along, past Kioa Island and approaching Buca Bay (pronounce Bu-tha), we must have been off by nearly a mile!

To add to our discomfort, the pass east between Kioa and the mainland refused to reveal itself. It looked like we were sailing into a closed bay, and our guidebook let us down with no detailed drawings or pix of it as to where would be best to anchor! Fortunately, we spied by binocs a sole sailboat with a triple spreader rig and red sail covers anchored dead ahead that stood good odds of being the yacht Red Sky. Like Sequester at Also Island, we had not previously met Red Sky, but we had communicated with them by radio and email, so wanted to meet them in person.

Red Sky was anchored in a dimple along the southern shoreline of the bay. Actually they turned out to be on a mooring, of which there was only one, so we had to drop the hook in 70' (16*40.443'S; 179*51.363'E), and the afternoon wind being nor'east we settled right back with the shore off our stern. Hmmm. Steve and Carol promptly paddled over in their two-man inflatable kayak, and we had one of those instant impromptu get-togethers that cruisers have.

Steve and Carol had found this place by walking down the road from their previous anchorage further up the bay. What had caught their eye was a house and garden with a painted gate saying Welcome to Valesia, so they had walked in. It turned out to be the home of an enterprising young Fijian couple – Joe and Sau -- who have recently moved back here from Savusavu. Joe has undertaken a new baking business, producing loaves of coconut bread (with wholemeal loaves planned to start production next week) from a wood-fired oven in their back yard that are distributed not just around the bay but to Rabi and Kioa by ferry. Sau, an experienced seamstress, makes clothing and takes on various sewing projects. Red Sky was taking advantage of her skills and having screens made for their hatches. Joe and Sau plan to build a couple of bures for backpackers and hope to draw more cruisers with the bread-baking, sewing and laundry services.

We met Joe and Sau in person the next morning when we took Red Sky's suggestion to checkout the new clinic being built up the coast. The clinic, a huge undertaking of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, is a pleasant mile or so walk up the road. It is a large, modern concrete structure in a broad lawn of tall red coconut palms. We are told it is funded by a couple of doctors who have been organizing medical missionary visits here overr the past ten years. Indeed a large group of physicians were here earlier in the month.

The managers of the project – Wayne and Lois -- live up a road just beyond the clinic, so we climbed it to see if we might meet them. It turned out they were gone to Savusavu for the day, but Wayne's 80-year-old parents, recently arrived from Colorado, were glad to welcome us. They showed us around their son and daughter-in-law's interesting living arrangements: a sort of pop-up geodesic tent known as a yurt! The yurt sat annexed to a concrete kitchen/shower/laundry annex and a shady porch where we sipped lemonade. The view was outstanding.

Upon our return to Valesia, Joe produced a couple of cool drinking coconuts to refresh us and before we knew it we were seated at their kitchen table enjoying a fish soup and sweet potato lunch. That led to checking out some of the Fijian outfits that Sau has produced,…which led to my taking one home with me, a great buy at just F$20. At last I have proper attire for church or funeral! If we just had more time to linger, Sau would take my measurements and sew an outfit specifically tailored for me. I am tempted to come back with fabric and get some lightweight tops made with just enough shoulder coverage – no more no less – to be acceptable to the village fashion police; my stateside tanks are too skimpy and my cotton T-shirts too hot!

Just beyond Joe and Sau's place is a complex belonging to an Indian family. Sonny, the patriarch, has built several boats in his yard, including the ferry Raja, that came in and dried out with the tide for some bottom work while we were there. More currently, he runs a major grocery distribution center, which services all of Buca Bay as well as Kioa and Rabi. We took a stroll down the aisles and were impressed with the volume of staples. In charge during our visit was one of Sonny's two sons who are home for a month-long break from the University of the South Pacific in Suva.

That evening, Steve and Carol reciprocated by inviting us aboard their boat for cocktails. These two condo captains don't often get to go aboard a REAL sailboat. Red Sky is a Santa Cruz 50, and inside everything is built to minimize weight. There are no bulkheads, the barest furniture, and the sole is slats rather than solid flooring. Carol tells me that they go twelve knots where we'd go five, and that the boat can do much faster. Yikes, I think I'd get a nosebleed from the speed.

In the morning, all four of us went ashore to say goodbye to Joe and Sau. They had made lemon leaf tea and fresh coconut bread for us, and the men left with gifts of Sau-made shirts. Well, if they learn not to give everything away, I think this couple could be the future of Fiji. I asked Sau what she thought made the two of them so motivated compared to typical Fijian villagers, and she attributes it to her "urban exposure" and to her father and brothers having businesses in Suva, essentially just being a few generations up the experiential curve. It's an indication that things can evolve here after all.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007
July 14-16, 2007 – Albert Cove
We had a nice stay at Albert Cove, largely due to getting to know Marjetka, the single-hander aboard the Little Mermaid. We had seen the Little Mermaid, a diminutive 28' sloop, regularly in Savusavu as she came and went from town to a spot a mile or so down the coast out towards Cousteau. Her skipper didn't come into the yacht club, and in town she wasmoored at the other end of the harbor. With the small cockpit shrouded with canvas, we knew little more than that the skipper was a woman and she had a dog. I suppose we jumped to a conclusion that she was some sort of reclusive eccentric.

Not by half! Marjetka rowed up to Tackless II the morning after our arrival with two gutted and scaled mackerel -- "a gift from the old man on the beach." Don's knee has been hurting him since it popped during the scrambling on the muddy hillside at Cawaro, so we had not even been sure we would bother to go ashore, especially since the cruising guides suggest that the Rabi people like their privacy. But Marjetka has been here for two weeks and is likely to stay another two weeks. She has gotten quite involved with the two local "families" (no young children here since the school is in Nuku), and rows them out fishing in her small patched dinghy, a big service since they have no working boat of their own.

In the afternoon Marjetka and her "Lady Tramp" dog Cherie came back, and we spent a most pleasant evening over wine and cheese learning their story. Marjetka hails from Slovenia (just east of Italy), and five years ago she gave up her job as a computer programmer and bought the Little Mermaid on Germany's Baltic coast. She thought she was embarking on a three-year circumnavigation, but like some other sailors we know, she is finding it is taking longer. The personable Cherie came into her life in Martinique, when Marjetka rescued the puppy by buying it off the owners who were carrying it by its hind leg. Having a dog aboard solved all Marjetka's problems of uninvited nighttime visitors who were sure they were doing her some favor, and once Cherie even woke her when she'd fallen asleep on watch and strayed too near a reef. Don and I were most taken with Cherie.

Marjetka has a Norwegian friend who flies in here and there to visit (har to imagine on the tiny boat!), but all in all she is content traveling solo. Alone she can spend whatever time she chooses in whatever place takes her fancy, and build whatever relationships there she wants. Clearly it brings her some special experiences. Don and I have been reading a collection of interviews of "travel writers" titled A Sense of Place, edited by Michael Shapiro and published by the Traveler's Tales folks. I say "travel writers" in quotes, because most of them see themselves less as "travel" writers than writers about place. However, a steady theme throughout the interviews was that when they are traveling for work, they travel alone, because when you are part of a couple, it changes the way you interact with people. Having been single for so many years, I think we both understand this intuitively, and while I for one sometimes miss that, I wouldn't trade back.

So Sunday morning I go ashore with Marjetka. Our first stop, after determining that "the old man is out fishing" is to feed our slop to two tethered pigs, who happily switch from munching coconut to chicken bones and mackerel heads! The "old man" paddles in from snorkeling with the bodies of three giant clams tethered to his belt. Lunch for his household, a son and another young man.

We enter the very low hut from the cooking area, the only eave I can get under. Inside I am surprised to see the complex "architecture" of the L-shaped abode, built of sticks lashed together, with open areas for windows, and complicated gables supporting a roof of thatch and corrugated mixed. It is a bit dark, but cool. After putting some pots to cook on the fire in the raised hearth in the cooking nook, the son opted for the hammock that swung a few inches off the ground and a newspaper from May, and we sat with Panea (the old man) on some comfy cushions over the ubiquitous mats.

Panea's English is pretty good, and he has a book he lends me for the evening telling the history and stories of the Banaban people of Rabi. However, Marjetka tells me Panea himself is actually of the Polynesian Ellis Island people that bought the next Fijian island south called Kioa to reduce population pressure on their own island. Panea definitely has a different look than Tina and her husband in the other hut down the beach who are of Micronesian stock and much darker and more angular. Panea keeps a log of the people who stop in Albert Cove to visit. There aren't so many, since it is slightly off the beaten track to Taveuni, but the boat signing the log ahead of Marjetka were the Swiss family, Andy and Marion we'd just met in Cawaro.

I stay and visit a bit with Panea, while Marjetka goes to put an epoxy patch on Tina's leaky canoe. Afterwards we pick up Don and go snorkeling on Albert Cove's inner reef. While Marjetka, Don and I are mostly sightseeing, it is all business for Panea. Over his shorts he dons a short-sleeve shirt over which he ties on a thin belt of twine. He's got mask and fins and is armed with a homemade Hawaiian sling made from a piece of 1/4-inch stainless-steel rod about five feet long fitted with a point at one end and strap, and an elastic arrangement I can't explain. From the pretty corals of the shoal, Panea sets off toward deeper water with Don working hard to keep up.

When Panea takes a shot at a fish, the whole spear goes flying free, dropping with or without fish wherever it may. Thus one must be careful about not shooting out into the deep! Don was impressed that Panea retrieves his spear on the same breath with which he shoots it! When he hits a fish, he runs a wire from his belt through the eyes before he slips it off the spear, so that he ends up wearing his catch around his middle. If he finds an edible shellfish on the bottom, he tucks that inside his belted shirt! Quite the system.

We'd already been in the water an hour when I realized I'd lost track of Don. Marjetka and I swam back to the anchored dinghy and still no sight of them. I had to swim back to Tackless, and climb up on the deck box with the binoculars to locate them in the glitter of the afternoon sun. By the time Don swam back to the boat, he'd been in the water two hours. As Marjetka rowed by with Panea (who had the decency to look frozen), he had added an octopus to his catch which he said he would cook up for our dinner!

All this, mind you, from a man who had a stroke a year ago and who still struggles to walk down the beach!

It is after dark when Marjetka rows back with the octopus in a blue plastic pail. It has been beaten tender and cooked in lolo (coconut milk). At first glance it appears intact, but, no, Marjetka says, Panea kept the head which is their favorite part. What we have is all eight legs attached to the throat! It was a big octopus! Marjetka, bless her, takes on the job of slicing him up into more manageable pieces, while I make rice and green beans. And afterwards we each have two legs left for another day!!!! We had a lovely dinner which only ended when, Cherie, taking a break in the dinghy, got overly excited about the fish jumping around the boat and plunged in after it. It took a little coordination of lights from T2 and Marjetka in the dinghy to fish her out of the dark.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007
13 July 2007 – Friday the Thirteenth – Off to Albert Cove
There are not many sailors who will sail on a Friday, and fewer who would even consider it on a Friday the 13th. But as Don was born on a Friday the thirteenth, he has a different relationship with the number than most people. And so we chose it to leave Lagi Bay and Also Island.

We could easily have stayed a lot longer. The outer reef here is a lot closer to the anchorage than anywhere else along the north side we stopped, and we were itching for a dive out there. Jim himself was interested in our professional take on it, but it just didn't work out where he was free to run us out. We did make an attempt Wednesday to check out the diving in our own dinghy, but it proved just a little too far to get all the way out to the outer reef. Instead we scoped out some of the inner reefs, finding if not a good dive site, a very nice mound to snorkel.

We have also been pushing our luck with the settled weather. After Thursdays rain, when Friday dawned clear with continued light winds, we just felt we couldn't gamble any longer. Should the trades finally fill back in to 15-20 out of the southeast, getting around Udu Point would be a real challenge.

So we were underway early Friday, picking our way gingerly east out the Nukusa Pass. The rising sun in our eyes made the water and reefs hard to read, and we had a few moments of anxiety when shoals loomed up unexpectedly under the bow. But once clear, we had a lovely motorsail along the peninsula, finally landing a beautiful mahi mahi.

Udu Peninsular sticks out about sixteen miles beyond Lagi Bay, but the reef off its tip continues yet another four miles! It is quite the sight, but almost impossible to capture with a camera. Another surprise of Udu Point is the fact that we cross back into the Western Hemisphere! Once we rounded the reef point, we made a sharp tack to the right to beat hard southward 26 miles to the nearest anchorage – Albert Cove on Rabi (Rambi) Island.

As was inevitable, the wind increased as the afternoon wore on, and the sky filled with cloud. We arrived at Rabi around four o'clock, but without the sun the reefs were hard to see. We found the opening in the outer reef easily from the intermittent curl of a wave on its edge, but the entrance through the inner reef was another thing. Without the sunlight we could barely see the reef, let alone the narrow entrance to the protected cove that our charts showed. One other boat was at anchor, but no one answered our radio call. So we crept in with Don high in the rigging talking me in via the handheld radio.

Once in, Albert Cove is a picturesque anchorage with a white sand beach and waving palms, a refreshing change from the dark water mangrove coastline of the north side. A few simple thatch huts are visible ashore, and the fishermen on the reef are in canoes, not the punts or rafts typical to Fiji. That's because the residents of this island are not Fijian. They are Micronesians transplanted here from Banaba Island (also known as Ocean Island) in Kiribati.

The Banaban islanders had a rough time of it in the 20th century. First the island's rich phosphate reserves were discovered and mined by the British until World War II when the Japanese occupied the island and deported most of its residents. The deportees turned out to be the lucky ones, because the few that remained were exterminated by the hard-hearted occupying force! After the war, the island was so damaged that the displaced Banabans were offered resettlement on Rabi by a British company that had purchased the island. They are now Fijian citizens but mostly keep to themselves, still speaking a Kiribati dialect The main village of Rabi is Nuka about four miles down the coast. Only a few people live permanently along the narrow beach fof Albert Cove

Our cruising guide painted a charming picture of the anchorage but made one serious error. It described the anchoring depths at 10 meters, where the reality is more like 20-30 meters with lots of coral. The other boat here, the diminutive "Little Mermaid" which we recognized from Savusavu as the boat belonging to single-handing woman, was sitting over 90 feet of water as we passed her! Yikes. After much careful circling, we finally found a spot about half that depth to put the hook down, but we are hanging back over much deeper water.

A days travel is hardly a major passage in this part of the world, especially one with as easy conditions as we had today, but there is always something special about the first evening in a totally new place. And the dinner of fresh mahi in salsa Veracruz didn't hurt either.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007
9-12 July 2007 –Cawaro Village
Sevusevu at Cawaro
On Tuesday afternoon, weand the crew of Sequester finally got organized to make a trip into Cawaro Village to do sevusevu. Cawaro (pronounced Thawaro) is one of three villages fronting onto Lagi Bay, and of all of them it is the least obvious, tucked way back in a mangrove dogleg to the east of Also Island. Cawaro is the village to which Jim and Kyoko and the island itself belong, and it was Cawaro's broken village boat that precipitated their initial stopover in January 2002. Most, if not all, of the people who work at Also Island come from Cawaro.

With our bundles of yangona in hand, we climbed the path from the stone jetty to the village center on the ridge. In a grassy area south of the church, some men were assembling a "pavilion" with lashed bamboo posts and "rafters," topped by sheets of corrugated roofing clamped down with more bamboo poles. Beneath the finished part, a group of men were sitting around the tanoa (the kava bowl), and as we appeared someone ran for mats for us to sit on.

We'd arrived at the beginning of a busy time. On Thursday was scheduled the funeral of the wife of Aposai, a respected and educated village elder, and groups of guests were arriving – by boat and footpath – from all over the east end of Vanua Levu. Isei, the chief, came and sat with us over several rounds of kava, inquiring about our travels and talking business with Jim, only to be interrupted as new groups arrived.

As each group arrived, it approached the pavilion, set down the palm-leaf baskets of taro, cassava, and other foodstuffs they'd brought (which at least once included a squealing pig strung by its feet on a pole between two bearers), and sat down with a bundle of yagona identical to the one we'd brought laid on the ground front of the speaker. Isei would move to sit facing them and listen somberly to their petitionary speech. He then would deliberate a bit, because he has the right to accept or decline the offering, before finally answering equally formally and picking up the yagona.

The yagona ceremony is age-old. Many cruisers do not like it. Some don't like having to dress a certain way, act a certain way, and follow a particular protocol. They feel they have a universal right to go where they please once they've done the official paperwork, and most of the world indulges them in this belief. Others feel they should be able to give something of more practical use to the village rather than a bunch of dried up roots (each of which costs F$10 at the market) to "one old man."

But our visit to Cawaro let us see that the ceremony is neither some imposition on cruisers nor is some traditional performance maintained for tourists. We saw each group of visitors to the funeral, people from neighboring villages and presumably invited, initiate their visit with the same formal ceremony over a bundle of ugly roots. The chief's acceptance of the yagona signifies his acceptance of you into the village and extends his protection to you while here.

Ironically, despite a friendly reception and despite drinking kava with us, Isei never did complete our sevusevu. It most likely was all the distractions of the arrivals for the funeral, or it may have been a tiny reprimand for delaying so long in coming to the village, or it may even have had to with some undercurrent between him and Jim. In the end, when Napote (husband to Tokasa who works at Also Island) pointed out to Isei that he had never actually done the sevusevu, Isei designated Napote to complete it.

We could easily have come and gone from Also Island without bothering to visit the village, much as we did at Nukubati and Palmlea. It is definitely easier to stop over in one of those places where it is not expected. But you get so much for it. By this simple ceremony, we were now invited to attend Thursday's funeral "festivity," something Tokasa had been urging us to stay for.

Electrification & Appreciation
Although Jim and Kyoko are not by any stretch official missionaries, they stopped here because they saw a chance to make a difference, to become a bridge between what is still an almost primitive culture and the modern world that is pressing in on them….quite simply, to help.

Giving to a culture like the Fijian one is fraught with all sorts of pitfalls. Because it is such a communal culture, there is no real understanding of personal possessions. If you have something, be it a thing or a service, and it is needed, then it is expected you will share it. And, as we saw at Jimmo's plantation at Nukubati, if you aren't using it, and it's needed, they just take it. They simply don't see it as a big deal. Marrying into a Fijian family (also Samoan or Tongan) can bring some big surprises, when you discover that you may be expected, for example, to pay for a cousin's wedding, simply because you have the resources. It is a big disincentive to get ahead!

In Jim and Kyoko's case, they have put the majority of their retirement savings into their operation at Also Island, where everything they have implemented– the boat repair and building, the coconut press, the store, the fuel depot, etc. -- has been in response to a need of the local people. It has not been an outright donation. They do expect to able to support living the rest of their lives here, but it is no kind of get-rich scheme and hardly what most Americans would choose for retirement!

What this has to do with electrification is that Jim is "expected" to provide his expertise for events like the funeral to wire the village meeting house and the grounds with temporary lighting. Cawaro as a village has none of its own. A few individuals have batteries and an electric light, but that's about it. So Wednesday afternoon Don went with Jim to tackle the job. Don made two trips back to the island for equipment and light bulbs (right out of Also Island sockets!), which Jim predicted would disappear before he got them back. They were about to make their third trip, when Jim discovered that the "stick" he relies on to pole his boat through low tide shallows (Jale had made us one for our dinghy) had been taken from his boat. I don't know if someone is deliberately messing with him or not, but borrowed or "thieved" (as we say in the Caribe), it was something like the hundredth stick that has disappeared on him, and on Wednesday, it became a "straw" that broke the camel's back. Jim stomped off the job leaving the pavilion unfinished.

The moral of which story, to us at least, is beware of altruism, in particular in cultures not accustomed to balance sheets. It can become a heavy burden to bear.

The Funeral at Cawaro
Thursday dawned overcast and threatening, with rumbles of actual thunder in the distance. It was also a very low tide. At nine o'clock, Jim collected us and Ted and Karen of Sequester aboard the Also V, and with our dinghies tied off to the stern (in case we wanted to leave at different times) carried us to a landing near the school that still would still have enough water for us to land…and where no one was likely to take his stick.

What we didn't realize was the school landing was at least a mile from the village over dirt footpaths. Jim also forgot to suggest we carry-in our change of clothes. So there we are in our Sunday best, and it starts to rain. No problem, we have an umbrella. Hah, imagine trying to keep dry under an umbrella on a hiking trail in the Adirondacks growing moment by moment more slick with mud. First to go was the shoes. Bare feet got a much better grip. Next the umbrella, which was put to better use as a walking stick. At first we were glad to see the river, happy for the chance to sluice off the mud, but then it turned out we had to follow the river bed over its very slick rocks, which was pocked with holes. I'll confess to a fleeting moment of nasty satisfaction that it was Jim, whose impatience with our slow progress was hard to miss, who went down, backpack and all, in a big hole in the river. It was gone the moment I saw his barked shin. Then, just when things started looking up, there was the proverbial log bridge across the river. I'd thought he was kidding on that one, but, no, there it was. I'm not good at the balance thing, and I thought the day was over for me, but the top of the log had been flattened and one of the nice village ladies came out to lend me a steadying hand, so I made it. Have I mentioned that there was a group of ladies "walking" with us? Somehow, they managed to make the trip without even seeming to get wet!

Once we arrived at the village, bedraggled and muddy, Jim took off to find Kyoko, who had (we now saw sensibly) been ferried over at high tide at 6am! Tokasa, who, with her little notebook, seemed to be the ringmaster of all that was going on, passed us into the care of her sister-in-law Kilisi, who also works at Also Island. Kilisi took us to her house, stripped off our wet clothes, hanging them to dry from a wire across her living room, and outfitted us in substitutes from her wardrobe trunk. I ended up with a coordinated skirt and blouse combo, but Don, who wears a sarong on the boat all the time, was loathe to go out in public in his loaner sulu, and preferred his wet pants.

To our amazement, the funeral started pretty much on time. With somewhere around two hundred people from outside the village, there wasn't a chance of everybody getting inside the church. Some sat cross-legged on mats under the bamboo and corrugated pavilion, and others on the cement "deck" of "the old chief's house," while the rest occupied themselves with preparing all the food for the big upcoming feast. Although as "special guests" we were urged to go inside, we all (Ted, Karen, Don and I) preferred to sit outside and listen to the singing through the opening windows. When that got old…and the rain eased…we wandered around taking pictures of the food preparation.

This would not be a good activity for the squeamish. Men were butchering the various meats – beef, pig, turtle and fish – with axes and machetes, after which someone else would cut them up into the bite-sized pieces required when eating with one's fingers. Women were clustered together in doorways peeling, slicing and dicing the various vegetables to be mixed in with the meats as well as the boiled root crops – taro, cassava and yam – that are perennially served on the side like potatoes. There were fires with grills and cookpots blazing in four or five locations, and little boys having fun with some of the unused parts…like the cow's head and hooves! Here's how we put it all into perspective: less than 150 years ago, Fijians were still cannibals and at such an event as this it might well have been people in the pot!

When the funeral service emptied, the casket was carried out of the church to the cemetery. Leoni, Jim's venerable carpenter, motioned for us to follow him into the line of mourners. As incredible as anything we saw was the job of the pall bearers bearing the casket down the steep hill and up the next to the burial ground. Great effort had been extended to cut steps into both hillsides, but thanks to the rain and many feet it was largely transformed into a slide. How they managed I don't know; maybe because they were the first up. The rest of the crowd slithered and slid, everybody helping one another while struggling to remain solemn.

This, as you have probably gathered is hilly country, with little flat land available, but still it was surprising to find the cemetery situated in a v-shaped crotch of hillside. Maybe a dozen concrete tombs poked out of the slope in a random fashion. The new grave was open at the bottom of the hill, and by the time we straggled up, the crowd had pressed close. The minister (Methodist) said some words at graveside before the casket was lowered in. Then men from the village took turns spading in the dirt and tamping it down, placing four sticks to mark the corners of the rectangle. Then they passed in large stones that were used to frame the grave top, which was filled in with more dirt. Then the mourners spread two woven mats across the grave and topped them with a piece of beautiful tapa cloth, on which was then laid all the bouquets of flowers. Only when the last bouquet was laid, did the keening begin, almost a high whimper like dogs might make. It seemed ritualized, but there was a lot of dabbing at eyes throughout the crowd, and when it was over it was over. The family gathered around and someone took pictures.

While waiting for the feast to begin, Karen and I followed two little girls creeping down a hallway in the "old chief's house" to its main room where a crowd of elder ladies were well into the Fijian version of an Irish wake. Several strapping young men, shirtless but for a necklace and armbands of leaves, served the ladies cups of kava from the tanoa in the center of the floor. Everybody was packed in sitting on the floor mats around the walls while four mature ladies made meke – the traditional chants and dance much like what we saw at Nukubati. Apparently it was hilarious! Even the little girl in front on me was laughing into her fingers.

Suddenly it was over and it was time to eat. Don, Ted and Jim had been summoned with the first round of men to the long mats laid in the town hall, but about ten minutes after their head start, Isei, the chief, spied us waiting and hustled us in to eat with our husbands. Bowls and platters of meat dishes, fish (boiled and fried) and "provision" (the Caribbean's collective word for starch crops) were laid out down the middle of the mats, constantly removed and replaced as they emptied. After watching the butchering, Ted and Karen rediscovered a vegetarianism that they'd let slide, but Don and I gamely tasted most everything. I am most sorry to say that the turtle was the best dish after the fried fish. To drink there was a Koolaid-type drink, and industrial-sized finger bowls were shared for rinsing off greasy fingers. When you were done eating, you stood up and left, so that someone else could take your place. Only that way could they rotate the crowd through the meeting hall.

We emerged from our "sitting" to find the sun struggling to come out and the tide well in. On the grass between the "pavilion" and the "old chief's house" were piles of goods over which Tokasa hovered, placing the name of each village group on a pile. These goods included woven mats, taro and a chuck of beef (often still including hide and hoof!) If I remember my reading right this suggests the traditional redistribution of tribute paid to the chief. Or maybe it is just the Fijian version of party favors. Even Jim got a mat. No one was disappointed he didn't get a piece of cow.

We all went back to Kilisi's and changed back into our own (still wet) clothes and then Jim and Ted took off to get the boats and bring them around to the main jetty. Don, unfortunately, had managed to pop his knee on the descent back from the cemetery and was hobbling gingerly. Only as we waited for the boats to appear did we meet Leighton, a tall, handsome young Fijian with the King's English. A resident of Aukland, he was visiting his mother's home village which is how he came to be a guest like us at the funeral. Had we met him earlier, he might have been the "interpreter" we needed to get a better grasp of what was going on around us, for although everyone here speaks a little English, a little English is as far as it goes.

But even without interpretation, the day made for quite the kaleidoscope of experience, so much that was universal, so much that was unique. On every precarious path and step, hands were extended to help, and everyone was unfailingly friendly, evidently pleased to have us there, cameras and all (they specifically encouraged us to bring cameras!), even though we were so obviously outsiders.

The German Question
Our party were not the only white faces in Cawaro. A family of four on a small boat flying a German flag, sailed into Lagi Bay on Monday evening. Despite the flag, the family -- Andrez and Marianne and their two tow-headed boys Simon (5) and Samuel (2) – turned out to be Swiss, doing a year's cruise on a friend's boat out of Australia.

Tuesday morning they went ashore on their own on the hunt for some children to play with theirs, so by the time we arrived that afternoon with our bunches of yagona for sevusevu, they were well-ensconced. A village girl had Samuel on her hip, while his parents went for a hike to the waterfall, and when they got back, their enthusiasm for the hospitality of the villagers was positively bubbling over, greater than Andrez's English could keep up with. Wednesday morning, they went back to the village and on Wednesday evening Andrez came back to their boat alone for clothes, because they were all staying the night ashore, and he, Andrez was going out with the men that night for spear fishing.

On the one hand, all this made us feel like a pair of old fuddy duddies. Where had we lost this youthful enthusiasm to throw ourselves so wholeheartedly into such an adventure? How wonderful an experience this must be for the children, who'd seemed more shy of us when we first met them than of all the unfamiliar faces of the village! This, it seemed, is what cruising cultural exchanges ought to be like.

But in balance, were they sufficiently culturally sensitive of their hosts? Marion's rather revealing attire was certainly not, and Andrez stood over the seated Fijians and talked down at them, a big no-no. Had they brought yagona and done their sevusevu? Was their extended visit an imposition on their hosts, who are culturally unable to say "No"? Was the hospitality they were so enthusiastic about merely the villagers native politeness?

I don't know the answers. I don't even have a clue. To me is emblematic of the central quandary of cruising: Is the visit that is good for us as good for the villagers?

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007
8-9 July 2007 – a Busy Weekend at Also Island
About three months ago, Jim's wife Kyoko suffered a stroke. It occurred so gradually that that it took them a while to realize it had happened. Jim rushed her to Suva where she spent time at the private hospital. When she was released, she returned as far as Labasa, where she'd been staying in the care of friends and to which Jim had been commuting as often as possible to visit.

This morning Jim got an email from her that she was coming home. Coming home to Also Island is not so simple a matter. Although there is a road to Lagi Bay, it is currently closed, and the Lady K had completed her weekly trip the night before. For Kyoko to get home she would have to be driven partway and Jim would then need to pick her up by boat. He called and asked it we'd like to go along for the ride.

We went by way of the Also V, a 22-foot runabout Jim built himself with a 40 horse outboard. With just the three of us our trip to the rendezvous point -- down the coast and then about ten miles up the Nasavu river – was fast and exhilarating, skimming over colorful shoals thanks the high tide. The river mouth yawed wide, with clumps of dead bamboo stalled on shoals looking like ghost skiffs at anchor. The run upriver was stunning, making us recall our trip to Angel Falls, although this ride faster and smoother. Mostly the river was broad and deep starting amongst mangroves and then twisting and turning its way into steep hills and rocky cliffs sheathed in mixed forest, with anything from bamboo to pine, and only a very few houses. At last we reached a village, and tying up beneath a tall trestle bridge, we climbed a footpath to a makeshift bus shelter alongside the dirt road.

We were grateful for the shade. Only two cars passed in the half hour we waited before Kyoko finally arrived, driven by Rizwan and Nazareen, the Indian couple who had been taking care of her, along with their two boys, groceries, Kyoko's bags and a 50 gallon drum of gasoline! We collected the boat and moved downriver to a landing and Rizwan backed his truck down to the water. With Don holding the boat wedged against the land with a pole, Jim and Rizwan executed the precarious transfer of the drum from the truck to the boat along the boat's bench turned into a ramp. Then we loaded everything and everyone else into the boat for the return trip.

About this time Jim may have regretting inviting us along! Between the load and the falling tide it was a much slower trip home.

Meanwhile, the trimaran Sequester was approaching the same pass we'd come in the day before. Don and I only knew of Sequester from Jim's radio net, which, covering such a large area, is in constant need of relays, and Ted's resonant radio voice and his excellent signal make him a reliable regular. But Ted and his wife Karen are old friends of Jim and Kyoko's's having spent time on the island in its early days. However, that time they'd flown in, and this was their first approach by boat, having recently sailed up after five years in New Zealand. Navigating with only paper charts and a handheld GPS and not with the handy-dandy electronic chartplotter we rely on, Ted and Karen were justly anxious about the complicated reef approach. They were especially anxious because several days ago they'd grounded on an unseen reef on which they'd been stranded a whole day until the next high tide floated them off. So, despite the packed boat, Jim diverted out to rendezvous with them and, making a flyby pass to the under-sail boat, deposited Don aboard to help guide them in. I'm not sure Don was happy with this assignment, but he did manage to get them in safely. All in all, it added up to a pretty long day for everyone!

Sunday morning there was some discussion of church, but with the crowd Jim opted instead to produce a pancake breakfast for all on the "deck of knowledge and responsibility," the social spot on Also Island. By the time we got ashore after the net with our contribution – a pitcher of smoothies a la Palmlea (papaya, banana and passionfruit), Kyoko and Nazareen had been cleaning for hours, the traditional homecoming ministrations of women in any culture. Over breakfast, we all got to know one another a little better. The two boys, Leon and Salman , must have thought they'd died and gone to heaven to be deposited in this island playground, bonding pretty quickly with Jale.

Since school loomed Monday morning for the boys, after breakfast Jim loaded Rizwan and family back in to the Also V for the run back to their truck. This time Ted and Karen went for the river ride, and we stayed and chatted with Kyoko, learning her family history and her take on their operation here at Also Island. Ethnically Japanese, Kyoko was actually born in China where her father was stationed at her birth, but ended up spending most of her life in California, where she worked as a graphic artist. A self-described fishing fool, she met Jim when he had his boat in Marina del Rey.

Although Kyoko had some misgivings about coming back to the island after the stroke, she seems to us to be doing markedly better than even yesterday. She still moves around pretty carefully, often with a cane, but her speech is clear and wit unclouded. Since she had much the same incident that my father suffered in the 80s (subdural bleeding), it is quite impressive. None of the aphasia that he suffered.

In the evening we hosted Ted and Karen and Jim and Jale to dinner on Tackless II (Kyoko begged off at the last minute), serving a Thai fish curry (to use the fish some villagers had given us for a pint of gasoline) and beef with honey and black pepper sauce (to use some stirfry beef I had thawed.) It was the first time in a long time I'd tried to cook two meals at one time, but it came off just fine.

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Monday, July 9, 2007
7/7/7 - Also Island, Lagi Bay Udu Peninsula
Tackless II is comfortably at anchor (S16*13.2; E179*50.16) behind Also Island in Lagi Bay on the Udu Penisula. The Udu (pronounced Un-du) Peninsula is a 16-mile-long spear of land thrusting to the northeast from the east end of Vanua Levu. It's going to be some work to get around it on our next leg, but right now it makes us feel as far away from things as we have ever felt cruising

We had a nice motorsail up here outside the Great Sea Reef. T2 never cares to go to windward, but the wind was light enough, the seas small enough, and the angle just off enough that we made excellent time with a pleasant ride, although, despite being on the outside of the reef, we caught no fish! The day was gorgeous, cooll without a cloud in the sky, and we arrived at Nukudamu Pass with good light for the complicated reefs we had to negotiate to get in.

Our Cmap-based chartplotter did a good job getting us through the maze all the way to the last bit. We got close enough to see Also Island, with the Also II, the Passport 42 that brought Jim and Kyoko here in the first place, on its mooring, but some river outflow turned the water abruptly brown in a broad band right across our route, and, of the promised pairs of markers, only one of each remained with no topmarks. Should that marker be taken to port or to starboard? What is reef and what is mud? We came to a standstill while Jim ran with his handheld radio to the top of his island and talked us through. Quite honestly, I'm pretty sure we didn't go where we were supposed to go, and when the depth sounder hit seven feet (we draw 5+) my heart about quit. Fortunately, it was dead low tide and, right or wrong, the rising tide would have rescued us, but we squeaked through with nary a bump.

The geology of Also Island seems very different than elsewhere on Vanua Levu. The island rises about twenty feet above sea level with sides of what looks like sculpted grey sandstone, and the topside of the island hangs over the edges for a rather Alice-in-Wonderland cartoon effect. Jim's base is in a sort of gorge on the west end of the island with a hodgepodge of buildings ascending from the beach landing to his living quarters at the top. At beach level are the sheds for his boat building business and fuel drums for the fuel service he provides, next a tool shed, then a separate kitchen with a deck known as the "deck of knowledge and responsibility", above that a generator shack, then a little store he maintains for the local village, then a guesthouse, a bathhouse, his coconut pressing set-up, and finally the main "house" which is also his office, all connected by cement pathways, steps and elaborate flower gardens. Above the buildings to either side are cleared lawn-like slopes, randomly planted with pineapple, pawpaw, banana and other shrubs, with a water tank at the very top and a bench pleasantly placed for an overlook. Quite the little domain

We came ashore mid-afternoon for tea. Tea was actually tea flavored with fresh mint leaves served with biscuits and pineapple jam. We were introduced to the main characters of Jim's regular staff, men, women and children from the nearby village on the "mainland", and, as it was payday, a lot of little envelopes were changing hands, most of it then being spent in the store. A couple of hours after tea, came the end-of-week grog. Grog is the colloquial name for kava, and although not quite a traditional venue, it was the most informal and authentic kava experience we've yet had. Over the kava we learned the history of how Jim came to this remote spot and it is quite a tale.

Here's the short version. Jim and his wife Kyoko crossed the Pacific in 2001 from California and Mexico on the Also II. They sailed into Lagi Bay (Lagi is pronounced Lang-ee) some five years ago, and like many handy cruisers he started fixing things, engines and outboards, for the local villagers. That grew to funding the bringing in of fuel and helping with boat building and other repair projects. One thing led to another and they soon found themselves completely entwined in village life and business. What really makes this story special is how the villagers reciprocated. They essentially gave Jim and Kyoko the island in the bay to keep them here!

It sounds simple and idyllic, but of course, nothing ever is completely. The red tape of the government seems constantly to throw obstacles in the path of all Jim's various efforts, virtually all conceived for the benefit of the villagers, while the villagers themselves have such a laissez-faire attitude, that Jim never knows who will show up to work, the man he has spent weeks training, or someone totally new.

As the afternoon wore on, Jim became distracted over the delayed arrival of the Lady K. The Lady K (named for Kyoko) is part of a fishing cooperative Kyoko set up. Every day, the Lady K tows the village punts like a line of ducklings out to the reef for the day's fishing, and at night she brings them back in again, and once a week she makes the run to Labasa as a transport ship, ferrying villagers back and forth and bringing in fuel for the depot and goods for the store. Labasa is three hours away by dirt road (it is currently closed by a landslide), but for the Lady K it is about an eight hour trip each way. Due around 4pm, she was late, but not only had her skipper not called to say he was running late, he was not answering the radio. Was the volume just turned down or was the boat in trouble amongst the reefs? Fortunately, just about dark, the Lady K finally pulled up to the beach.

Finally, after the boat was unloaded and the crowd dispersed back to the village, only Jim and 15-year-old Jali (pronounced like Charlie without the "R") remained, and they offered to share with us the supper that had been left for them. Jale turns out to be another interesting story. Several years ago a couple of cruisers visiting Also Island became aware of Jale's ambitions to become a doctor. After much consultation with Jale, his family and his teachers, the cruising couple determined to sponsor his education as far as he chooses to go. His side of the deal is he must make good grades. For this reason it was decided that he would live on Also Island in order to improve his English (the language in which all advanced studies is taught) and for Jim to help him with homework. In return, he helps out in the many ways a son would, setting the table and then doing the dishes afterward.

How easy it seems to make a difference here!

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Friday, July 6, 2007
6 July 2007 – Blackjack Bay
We spent the night of July 5th anchored in a small dimple of a bay (S16*14.5; E179*31.9) on the west side of Vatudamu Point, a long finger of land thrusting north from the coast, dotted by a muffin-shaped islet at the end. Dubbed Blackjack Bay by Nigel Calder in his cruising guide (named for a boat that was at anchor with him), the anchorage proved to be one of the prettiest on our trip. Due east on a low isthmus was an actual sand beach – courtesy of the low tide – backed by coconut palms. Framing the low strip were rugged lumps of rock with eroded hollows where boulders had fallen out. I paddled the kayak all along the shore which was glad in some sort of pine tree, enjoying the scenery and listening to the sigh of the breeze through the pine needles. There is no other sound like that.

In the afternoon we had two visitors. The first was a panga-load of Fijian ladies being back chauffeured back by a lone man from their afternoon fishing to a village neither in sight nor on our chart. They rafted alongside to "chat" and peer in through the portholes! They were displaced by Jim Bandy, net control of the Rag of the Air SSB net, whom we are on our way to visit. Jim was making the run from Labasa to "Also Island" (his home base) in a work boat that could make the trip in about three hours – a trip that will take us altogether about twelve! Jim paused for a cold beverage and a quick chat about approaches tomorrow, before he was on his way, needing to make home base before dark.

Evening was stunning, with just the barest loom of Labasa to the west challenging Venus and her starry companions and the strand of lighted fishing boats out on the reef for the night.

We got an early start this morning, exiting through the great Sea Reef at Sausau Pass to sail and motorsail eastward to Nukudamu Pass.

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Thursday, July 5, 2007
5 July -- Movin' On
We are underway at last, moving east from Labasa area toward Udu Point. Goodbye, cellular broadband, hello Iridium sat phone. While at Palmlea I made as much use of our cell card as I could to post pictures on the blog as far back at June 1. So, even though you may have read all the copy from this cruise, please, take a moment online and check out the photos. To get to older postings, you have to click the Archives for the previous months.

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04 July -- Independence Day!
The Fourth of July -- Independence Day -- to me distills all that is good about being American. Not just backyard barbecues, parades and fireworks, but a momentary sense of a nation united in good feeling, family, fun and outdoors and a belief in freedom.

Despite wandering the world, we are often in places where US yachties get together and remember the good stuff with all the trimmings. I am thinking especially of a great Fourth of July in Juncalito, around the bend from Puerto Escondido on Baja, with a gathering of some of the best cruising friends we have ever had.

"Meanwhile, our gang – T2, Lady Galadriel, Ryokosha and Mirador – put together a quintessential Gringo picnic to celebrate the home country Independence Day. Can we say cholesterol?! Onion and cheesy bean dips (and sashimi) for starters; cheeseburgers on the grill (with mushrooms), potato salad, Cole slaw, homemade baked beans, and – following a break for the pyrotechnics from the beach – peach pie with ice cream."

The ice cream was a story in itself. Jerry of Mirador started it by mentioning he had an ice cream maker on board, but he didn't have the power to run it! With our generator, we did, but then he couldn't find all the parts and pieces. But Jerry and Paul (Ryokosha) were set on ice cream and Lisa had made the pie, so the guys hitched into Loreto and returned with two half gallons – somewhat more than required for "a la mode."!!!!

But we are not in place with other Americans. We are still at Palmlea (delayed by a combination of actual bad weather -- our first on this side of Fiji -- and Don taking one last shot to solve our alternator belt issues), and everybody besides Don and me is either a Kiwi, an Aussie, or a South African. Well, Joe was born in the US, but he's been international so long, I'm not sure he counts. There's been no talk of cheeseburgers on the grill, baked beans or pie a la mode. In fact I think a fish curry is planned!

Worse, there's been a lot of talk about what's going wrong in America. A magazine called "Uncensored" was making the rounds last evening, with an article about the deplorable state of the US public school system, the sagging US literacy rate, and actual developmental poisoning by the widespread chemical additives in our lives (e.g. fluoride). On our own, from our perspective standing outside looking in, Don and I are pretty distressed about the state of our home country, the homogenization and processing that is running rampant in the name of progress, the outrageous materialism, our political egotism. These have a momentum that is more terrifying than terrorism!

But it still hurts to see it all reflected in other people's eyes, to suspect they know more about it than we do ourselves, like the child of parents who fight realizing the whole neighborhood knows.

So I am a bit depressed today, even though the low rolled through last night and the sky has cleared and the seas calmed. We are moving on for sure tomorrow.

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Monday, July 2, 2007
June 30-July 2 – Back Again to Palmlea
It was our intent to go from Nukubati out to Kia Island. Kia looms on the northern horizon here as a Bali Hai-esque mountain thrusting up from the sea. It is the sole landmass in the horseshoe-shaped loop that the Great Sea Reef makes midway along its length. The island has three villages, which thanks to their distance from the mainland is said to be both more traditional as well as more excited to have visitors. It also puts a visiting sailboat much closer to the clear waters of the outer reef.

However, thanks to our delayed departure from Nukubati, the timing seemed tight to get out there before dusk on Saturday, and when we finally face up to a finally accounting of our remaining time available to cruise this area, we realize that we have got to get a move on back around to the other side. It is testimony to how much we have enjoyed the easy, laid-back cruising that this side of Vanua Levu has offered that we have so lost track of any sense of schedule.

But the schedule is there. We must take Tackless II out of Fiji sometime before the third week of August and make a passage to another country to be able to return and have another year here. And, as we know, only a fool leaves such a thing to the eleventh hour!

Plus we have a visitor coming. Our friend Bill Church – a friendship dating to Don's early days as a sailor in Clearwater – is flying in July 25th to both make the passage to Futuna with us and then, upon our return, to enjoy a little Fiji cruising on our way to the west side of Viti Levu. We, of course, are loading him up with lists of parts and pieces to stuff in his luggage for us, so it would probably be the tactful thing to do to actually be back in Savusavu when he arrives! Plus, we still have some sightseeing to do at Vanua Levu's Udu Point, Rabi Island, Taveuni, Qamea & Matagi Islands. Yes, it's time to get a move on, and it would almost as bad to give Kia short shrift as it will be to miss it altogether!

And so we followed our track back again to Palmlea, where we need to change out all the loaner movies, get fuel, reprovision, and take our leave.

We dropped the hook as the sun sank into a mass of clouds on the western horizon. Imagine our surprise several hours later to see the nav lights of a sailboat approaching from the local pass. This boat turned out to be Stelite of NZ, with Peter and Faye aboard, along with David, a handsome young man from south Africa who crewed for them on the passage up from new Zealand. (Note: David is look for a crew position on a boat making the trip from Fiji to Capetown, South Africa or any part thereof. You can email him at Peter and Faye said he was the best crew they've ever had.)

Peter and Faye met Joe and Julie in the same cruising season we did, but a little further along. They have built a fast friendship, with the Stelites making repeated visits to Palmlea to help with such things as solar powers systems and electrical stuff.

So Sunday was spent with lots of visiting: a fabulous breakfast with frittata and scones in the morning and a scrumptious lamb chop dinner last night. Peter and Faye are experienced commuters from New Zealand, and David is on the back end of a hitch-hiking circumnavigation. Unlike many such wandering crew, David actually seems to know a thing or two about sailing. His goal upon his return to South Africa is to get all the big-boat certifications and take himself off to the Med to work the yachting biz. As you might guess, this seasoned company of cruisers (Joe and Julie themselves have some 60,000 sea miles!) managed to generate a sea tale or two, and so the evening wore late!

Don is in Labasa with Julie this morning getting fuel, propane and short-shopping veggies to carry us the rest of the way around Vanua Levu. We plan to be moving on Wednesday, after we get the propane tank back. Our next planned stops are a midway anchorage called Blackjack Bay followed by a visit to Also Island, the base of Jim Bandy, net control of The Rag of the Air SSB radio Net, whom we met here at Palmlea a few weeks ago. After that, we'll make our turn around Udu Point and sail back south.

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Sunday, July 1, 2007
June 26-30 – Nukubati Redux
Pulling into Nukubati Bay felt like coming home. In our previous stay here, just two weeks ago, we had such a nice time and imprinted so strongly on the view of the mountain ridge over the resort, that the return almost brought tears to my eyes. To me, this is what the South Pacific is supposed to look like!

There were new guests, of course, another young American honeymoon couple with the place to themselves. This time the honeymooners weren't divers, so we wouldn't be competing for the dive boats. Or so we thought. Although we had called ahead and spoken with Jenny, we had a little miscommunication. She thought we were going to Kia Island first…because, well, we'd thought we might go to Kia first, and her boat and staff were committed to support a mooring installation project at the port of Malau near Labasa. So to our chagrin, we watched the dive boat whiz out of the resort at 7:30 am. Thanks to some mechanical issues, it didn't return until late the next day!

It may have been just as well, because on our first evening a gusty wind sprang up and blew hard the next several days! It blew so hard our second night there, tossing the palm fronds so hard that they sounded like rushing water, that Jenny insisted we stay ashore for dinner until it died down well after dark. As usual we had plenty to do. Don's success in the varnish department now spread to some small pieces that he'd bypassed in the first go round, and I tackled cleaning the bottom. Plus I'd borrowed from Jenny's library "A History of Fiji," by R.A. Derrick. Unfortunately, I only got halfway through – up to the mid-1800s -- before we left, but this very readable account of early Fiji – how the initial migrations likely happened, and how the people sorted out into the hierarchy of chiefs, warriors, "priests" and commoners (a hierarchy that persists to this day) and the constant posturing and battling between tribal city-states (usually started by intrigues in the chiefly class) -- revealed a lot about why Fiji is the way it is.

Diving on the Great Sea Reef

But finally, Friday rolled around with calm winds and high soft streaky clouds, and we were picked up in Nukubati's "aluminum inflatable' by Salote (Nukubati's boat woman) and Sisa our dive leader. Why we didn't start out in our dive suits I don't know, because the ride out was fast and wet. By the time we reached Ravi Ravi Pass and the outside of the Great Sea Reef 25 minutes later we were soaked, which made getting the suits on after the fact a struggle.

A little aside here: These boats have no GPS or chartplotter, yet Sisa piloted us out through the reefs in unbeaconed waters to the pass with no more than a few looks over his shoulder at the mountains behind! Very impressive.

The dive of the morning was called Fishmarket. Just around the outer reef from the pass, this steep outer reef bank started in about 30-40' feet of water and dropped away in a wall to depths only vaguely glimpsed. On the chart the depth contours suggest that the drop to 298 meters is close at hand! The visibility was superb, especially after weeks in the green waters near the shore, and we were quick to see why they called the dive "Fishmarket." Lots of large meaty-looking snappers and groupers in addition to plentiful tropicals and schools of boga with neon blue smears of their sides populate this reef, an exciting change from the seaward reef we dove in the Ha'apai last year, although the corals were not as pretty as that dive. Almost immediately, Sisa pointed out the first of four turtles, and Don sighted several whitetip sharks cruising below us, plus we were shadowed much of the dive by one large solitary batfish.. Like icing on the cake, the water at depth remained a balmy 81 degrees! Another improvement over that Ha'apai dive.

On the surface, Salote was having a rolly ride as she followed our bubbles, but she brought the boat right to us making our exit from the water as smooth as possible. We took our surface interval anchored in the shallows on the north side of the reef, enjoying the snacks the resort had provided along with their nice fluffy towels. Wow! It's mighty nice to be on the receiving end of such attentions!

Our second dive was a drift dive through Ravi Ravi Pass along its eastern side. The reef on our left presented a craggy face with hidey-holes for all sorts of creatures as well as some striking sea fans. Sisa promptly pointed out the cruising sharks, whitetips from small to large, and then turned his back to show us tiny white and blue nudibranchs on the coral no larger than an thumbnail! He was pleased to find two round stingrays – one small and one large in their holes at the base of the reef, and I was tickled by an even bigger ray ruffling overhead along the reef's upper edge. On this dive we saw many angelfish, the psychedelic regal angels, the handsome emperor angels, but also many large blue angels, which look like our gray Caribbean French angels only accented in blue rather than yellow! There were lots of parrotfish, some bi-color and some blue, including several large bumphead males. Everywhere, there were dusky surgeon fish and a larger fish like our durgons, as well as four or five different types of triggerfish. A highlight for me were the cave-lets in the reef providing protection for some elaborate growths of sea fans and gorgonians, the stuff that uw photographers fill the color pages of dive magazines with.

Our ride back into the afternoon wind was even wetter than our ride out. Don and I resorted to wearing our masks about half way which amused Salote and Sisa no end.

Nukubati Meke
We got back to Tackless II at about 1:30. We rinsed our gear, showered ourselves, ate some homemade veggie soup,…and promptly dozed off. What is it about diving that takes the starch right out of you? Still, by five we were up dressed and ready to go ashore for our "official" dinner ashore which just happened to be meke night.

Meke is the word for Fiji's traditional music and dance. At Nukubati, the staff gathers in the lodge in their flowered shirts and dresses for an evening that starts with the kava bowl before dinner and ends in an evening of song and dance. This was the evening that we missed during our last stay.

What a special night! As we sipped our cocktails and nibbled on the canapés and roasted coconut that are the nightly hors-d'oeuvres, the staff assembled on the spread mats and began making kava in Nukubati's large wooden tanoa, the traditional four-legged kava vessel. Several men with guitars and ukeleles began strumming a tune, and as more staff gathered they launched into a series of songs in multi-part harmony. When the kava was ready we were all invited to come for a "bowl". Although we had 'training" in the kava ceremony in one of Curly's cruising seminars in Savusavu, this was our first actual opportunity to participate. You can ask for "high tide" or "low tide" to select the size of the serving wanted. Because of the diving, I was abstaining from alcohol, so I took only a low tide taste. We managed to remember most of our training…one clap before receiving the cup and three claps of appreciation after. Although obviously this is done partly for the entertainment of the guests, Jenny insists that it takes place more for the pleasure and unity of her staff.

For which reason we "broke" for dinner to be served, so that the kitchen staff would be free to join the festivities. Dinner was something! For starters we had clams in seasoned coconut cream, followed by banana sorbet. The main course was mudcrabs in spicy black bean sauce. This is a helluva dish to try to eat at a table set witha white tablecloth and a full place setting of cutlery and glassware! Jenny sat with us, and we were a little self-conscious about the mess we were making cracking the pieces of crab and licking sauce off our fingers.

Unfortunately, I wasn't half way through dessert when I started having some kind of allergic reaction! Presumably it was due to all the shellfish, although that hasn't happened before, or perhaps to the tiny sip of kava before dinner. Although nobody could come up with Benadryl, Jenny did have a huge box of Kleenex in the ladies room, and so armed I was able to hang in for the after dinner dance.

The after-dinner presentation was of a series of songs and chants done to the fevered drum beat produced by none-other than Salote, our boat woman, basically on a hollowed out log.. The staff was joined this evening by a group of "old ladies" from the village who'd come out to earn money for a church event by working in Jenny's gardens. Clearly everybody knew the songs, and the harmonies were taken up in full voice. Five costumed women performed a series of dances exhorted, as is traditional, by the men behind. Following the regular dances, three of the "old ladies" added a spontaneous comedy performance, apparently to a child's nursery rhyme to the hilarity of the Fijian staff. Like all the dances and songs, we outsiders are pretty lost as to the storyline, but it is fun none-the-less.

At the end of the performance, one of Jenny's staff made a pretty speech to the honeymooners, complete with humorous observations based on their stay. Imagine our surprise when she had some words for their sailor friends as well. It seems we've set a record among their repeating guests by returning to Nukubati in only two weeks!

Following the performance, the musicians returned to more popular songs, and staff members took turns getting the honeymooners out on the dance floor. No one asked either of us to dance, but we took a turn around the floor together on our own. Since the music has a bit of a reggae beat, we Caribbean sailors acquitted ourselves pretty well.

Checking Out

The next morning I tackled the second half of the bottom cleaning job while Don made the rounds with the Cetol brush putting on the next coat. We'd tidied up the boat for a possible visit by Jenny, but she had some family show up and couldn't make it out. Instead we went ashore to pay our bill, arriving just in time to be added to the lunch table. Jenny's guests included her transport driver plus her niece Sophie and husband Gary, both of whom work for Air Pacific in Nadi. It was illuminating to get to talk to some young professional Fijians, quite the contrast with the villagers and resort staff people we've mostly been meeting.

Departure was even harder this time, and I do think that Jenny has really come to think of us as friends. We certainly have come to feel that way about her, as well as many of the staff, and we will hold Nukubati in a special place in our hearts.

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