Cruising the South Pacific with Tackless II
Tackless II, along with her two captains, Don and Gwen, cruise from Fiji to Australia
Sunday, August 26, 2007
23-25 August 2007- Vuda Point Marina
Vuda Point Marina (17*41'S; 177*23'E) is the first real marina we have seen since Raiatea, French Polynesia. It is quite a distinctive facility. Instead of the usual lineup of docks and finger piers, the marina is a perfectly round basin with a zig-zag key-hole entry conceived to make it a safe haven in cyclones. Inside the boats are moored around it like the spokes of a wheel. At this time of year, boats come and go, nosing their bows in to the wall and hanging their sterns from fixed underwater moorings. The finger piers here are stubby platforms, maybe six feet by four feet, perched on the basin wall between the "slips."

I say "slips" advisedly, because the space into which we were directed was surely no more than five feet wide…or was until George, in his work boat pulled one boat over so we could wriggle in, separated from our neighbors by no more than the width of our fenders! During cyclone season, boats left here for storage tie up stern to the wall with their anchor chains shackled to an underwater fixture in the center of the marina. Hopefully, there are fewer boats accommodated, and hopefully they stagger the masts!

Around the yacht basin is the boatyard. It is also the first haulout facility we have seen since Raiatea. The plan is to store Tackless II here this coming cyclone season and to have some major boat work done both before we leave and after we come back. So arriving during the work week was another motivation for getting here quickly so that we could get quotes from Baobab Marine for all the projects we are considering.

Fiji, like many countries, requires regional check-ins in addition to your intial check-in upon entering the country. For this area Lautoka is the check-in port, and Jane, Bill and I made our way by taxi to customs on the commercial wharf. Our reception was not quite what we might have hoped. A burly official informed us we must have the boat in the harbor to check in, and we politely insisted that published materials told us we were allowed to check-in by bus from Vuda Point. He kept stabbing his finger at a paragraph on our cruising papers that said we had to check in at Lautoka, and Jane and I kept firmly, but politely pointing out that, we absolutely wish to abide by all the rules and requirements and here we were, checking in. In the end he bowed to feminine persuasion, and by writing a letter stating that we had gone on to the Marina based on published materials advising us to do so, we were allowed to complete the check-in without fetching the boats….which would have been very inconvenient since Don had a salon window removed so that he and Brian of Baobab could devise the best design for our replacements.

Although a bus runs several times a day from Vuda to Lautoka, Jane of Lionheart had persuaded us to hire a taxi to run us around town. This proved a good idea because Sen was able to take us right to the bank, the supermarket, the hardware store, the liquor store and the meat market, pretty much giving us an orientation to the usual rounds of the cruising yachtsman! We were particularly stimulated by the savings on booze over Savusavu and by the exotic selections of meats at Fiji Meats.

Although we only stayed two nights at Vuda Marina, they were, as you might guess, quite social. There were quite a few boats we knew (including a fellow charter captain from St. Thomas!), and the yacht club's little sundowner bar is a pleasant place to hang out. Next door to the marina and yard is the First Landing Resort (named for the landing place of Fiji's first settlers) where registered yachties can eat, drink and even get pool passes, a salvation since the marina is well known as a very hot spot. We were in time for First Landing's Friday half-price pizza night which drew over thirty cruisers!

By Saturday midday we had our quotes and saw no need to stay longer. Bill has three days left before flying back to Florida and it seems only right he should get a chance to see the word famous yachtie hangout of Musket Cove before he leaves. And so we set out to Malolo Lai Lai Island in the Mamanuca Island group, conveniently only about fifteen miles away from Vuda.

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21-23 August 2007- T2 Moves to Viti Levu
Well before the crack of dawn Tuesday morning, the anchor was up and Tackless II and crew were underway away from Savusavu Bay. That's how it felt the first few hours: that we were wrenching ourselves away from a place we had quite settled into. But fickle as we are, by the time the sun rose, we were looking ahead to new vistas and new adventures.

Our course was south to the Makongai Channel that cuts between the end of the Namena Barrier Reef and the reefs surrounding the Makongai Island Group, which is just northeast of the historically significant island of Ovalau. (The city of Levuka on Ovalua -- the base of early European colonizers -- was the first capital of Fiji.)

My original idea had been to take this trip slowly, leg by leg, stopping over at Namena and Makongai which are said to have great diving, and then onward, leisurely, to Vuda Point around the top of Viti Levu by the route inside the reefs. Last week's weather delay, however, robbed us of the time to be leisurely, and new wx forecasts threatened a possibility of high winds returning. With Uncle Bill's return ticket just a week away, we felt we ought to keep moving.

The day was gorgeous, clear skies and crisp air. Of course, having waited out the heavy winds, we now had too little, and we were forced to motorsail most of the morning. But who could complain! The boat motion was dreamy, an easy swishing over the seas under blue sky, and we enjoyed a decadent lunch of baguettes (frozen from Futuna) with pate and brie!

As we approached the Makongai Channel, however, the wind steadily picked up until before we knew it we were bashing in 20+ knots, the sea abruptly stirred to whitecaps far and wide! Even so, having reached the channel early – about 1300 – we decided to push onward to the next stop, Naigani Island, a mere fifteen miles further on. This, probably, was not a particularly wise decision, because those fifteen miles were across Fiji's infamous Vatu-I-Ra channel, where winds funnel and accelerate between Vanua Levu and Viti Levu. Had something not gone quite right, there we would have been, at the end of a long day, up the proverbial creek.

Things did not go wrong, however, and once we realized we still had a full main up (we so rarely do these days!) and got it reefed, our ride settled back into the manageable and we laid Naigani comfortably before dusk.

From offshore, we'd been skeptical that the three steep lumps of the island seemingly huddled in the sea of whitecaps could provide a comfortable anchorage for us where it was alleged to be at the north end. But, in fact Cagabuli (Thangambuli!) (17*34.33'S; 178*44.65'E) proved to be a charming cove with a sand bottom and a white sandy beach with palm trees, all within the embrace of two curving reefs. Although the wind gusted around the north end of the island, the boat sat comfortably back-winded stern-to the beach. According to the cruising guide, the only village on Naigani is a few coves further on while a small resort is at the southeast end. With towering cumulus clouds massed on the sunset horizon over the north end of Viti Levu and with bats chattering in the forest ashore, the only clue that we didn't have the island to ourselves was the cackle and crow of common chickens.

The next morning, after indulging in a leisurely breakfast that we felt we deserved to enjoy in the beauty of our surrounds, we moved onward, in part motivated by a radio call from our young friends Tricky and Jane on Lionheart, who, after stopping at Makongai, had determined they must press on due to some battery problems. We "allowed" them to catch up to us as we sailed up the coast and traveled tandem with them the rest of the way around.

The north coast of Viti Levu is quite handsome with lots of inlets with small beaches, small Fijian villages, and waving coconut palms. As we reached the northernmost tip at Volivoli Point with the off-lying Nananu islands, the development became abruptly more westernized with expensive-looking housing on the islands and a large, eye-catching resort on the mainland point(a little Internet research reveal the new resort is Wananavu Beach Resort!) on the mainland point, all in a landscape now reminiscent of the California coast. We didn't get to rubber-neck to the degree we might have liked, because the channel requires some abrupt changes of direction as it wends its way among the reefs. Since we'd been sailing with main only, this called for some quick gybing back and forth, for which we were quite grateful to have an extra hand on board!

As we started down the back side of Viti Levu, the landscape suddenly became reminiscent of Baja, with dusky brown mountains ranging high and haunting behind arid looking grasslands in the foreground. The Fijian national pastime of burning fields was well in evidence by the haze that pooled in this valley or the other. In fact, from the anchorage we found about five in the afternoon, the flames of several hillside blazes burned like beacons in the dark. Fortunately, they were all downwind.

We woke early again to another crystal clear day and were underway one behind the other by 0630 passing a landscape from which the majesty gradually drained away to a fairly blah palette of browns. This area, the Ba roads, is said to be the fast-growing district in Fiji, but for sure it must be inland somewhere, because, but for a big wharf, there was little sign of it on the coast. An interesting anecdote, however, is that I had strong cellular broadband service the whole way (except in the lee of Naigani), and I confess I spent some time on the computer during the boring stretches.

We passed through the busy port of Lautoka a little after midday. Lautoka is Fiji's second largest city (after the capital of Suva) and is the center of the sugar industry, long the economic mainstay of the country. Wood chips must also be a major product, judging by the huge pile rising behind the commercial docks. Several mini-cruise ships were moored in the roadstead, but other than a yard stacked with containers, a small marina, and the commercial docks, there was not much on the shoreline to catch our eye. Offshore there is the island of Bekana with a small resort and several sailboats on moorings. We'd been advised that to check in to the port of Lautoka it was preferable to moor out at Bekana, and dinghy across to the port, but we didn't stop as the marine brochure for Fiji advised we could check in from Vuda Marina by bus. And so, we pushed onward the last few miles, rounding the headland where Fiji's first settlers are reputed to have landed, to pull into Vuda Point Marina by mid-afternoon.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007
13-20 August 2007- Fitness Week
Here's the thing. If you can't be moving, make staying worthwhile. And once you accept it, it isn't so bad.

This whole week has seen a high wind warning posted for Fiji, a warning confirmed by all the various GRIB files calling for 20-25 plus a few boats that have straggled in. It has been hard to believe tucked into our anchorage off the Jean Michel Cousteau Resort on Lesiaceva Point, where the water has remained nice and calm throughout. There are quite a few boats waiting like us to make the trip down to Makongai and then around inside the reefs to Lautoka, on the west side of Viti Levu. When we do all leave, it's going to look like a departing Armada!

On the afternoon of Don's birthday, we loaded up the dinghy with dive gear and zipped out to Savusavu Bay's outer reef to do a dive on a site Curly gave us the lead on called Nuggets. This first dive – a small area centered on two tall coral bommies with crisp hard corals, swarms of bright tropical fish and bright yellow soft corals hanging profusely from the roof of an undercut -- was a real gem, and it set the mood for an active week where "we" dove most every day.

By "we", I mean Bill and me. Unfortunately, we are down to two sets of dive gear on Tackless II. For some reason (perhaps just being a gentlemanly host), Don has insisted on snorkeling instead of diving. (Then again, ever since we left his hunting days in the Sea of Cortez behind, he just hasn't had the same eagerness for diving to sightsee.) My enthusiasm, on the other hand, has been reborn since the dives at Viani Bay, and to our surprise, the sites right here along the reef reaching out to Point Passage Light are almost as impressive. The incredible variety of beautiful and intricate hard corals here never ceases to amaze me, with the bright orange and lavender basslets swarming among them, and the spectacular soft corals come in such an array of brilliant colors. I do not understand what gives these soft corals their purples, oranges, yellows and pinks. Until Fiji most the soft corals have been dull tans and greens.

It turns out there are three buoyed sites from Nuggets to the Light itself, and despite some wind chop, Bill and I managed to dive all of them this week. Although I have a soft spot for the soft corals of Nuggets, the most dramatic is definitely the series of reef buttresses marching seaward along the wall below the lighthouse itself.

Meanwhile, we have renewed our friendship with the vigorous young couple – Tricky and Jane – aboard the Tayana 42 Lionheart. About our kids' age, Tricky is English and Jane is Australian, and they met, wed and bought their boat the past year or so in New Zealand. This is their first cruising season, and their enthusiasm and greenness is balm to our crusty jadedness. There have been several cockpit happy hours (a tradition much dimmed by the expense of liquor here!) diagnosing alternators and chargers etc, and Thursday afternoon, the young folk persuaded Don and Bill to leave me to my writing and go off with them on a tramp up in the hills.

Apparently this was invigorating for Don, because the next day he persuaded Bill and me to join him on the 6k walk to town. I think we about killed Bill (who insists there must four miles to every Fijian kilometer). I must confess by the time we reached town I was pretty stiff myself. But then, Saturday morning, Don was up and afoot walking to town AGAIN with Tricky and Jane! Think maybe we have a case of birthday-itis?

The walkers got a ride back to the anchorage yesterday with another young couple, Paul and Jo on their boat Overdraft (good name!). Clearly there was some conviviality on this run, as they all arrived in a highly sociable frame of mind. This led to a group of nine yachties (with addition of Bob and Margaret from the Nordhavn 46 Suprr) descending on the Cousteau Resort for their overpriced cocktails.

I haven't said much about this resort in my writings, which is hardly fair since we've spent so much time a stone's throw away. Although still called the Jean Michel Cousteau Resort, rumor has it the resort actually changed hands several years ago. It really is a handsome facility, with 25 luxury bures nestled on 17 acres of sand-fringed point, all shaded by thick stands of the lovely red-trunked coconut palms. Don and Bill managed to finagle a tour on their Thursday afternoon walk, and were particularly impressed that this resort, unlike many luxury resorts, not only welcomes families with children, but has a whole special play area set aside for them. They obviously are well-known as a dive resort, and still keep an actual marine-biologist on staff. They also market traditional Fijian weddings to the honeymoon crowd, and earlier in the afternoon we were able to spy on one as the bride and groom were poled from the beach to the jetty in a raft bedecked by fronds and flowers and powered by four bare-chested Fijians in grass skirts to a chorus of singers. Hopefully, they weren't offended by the line of laundry we had just pegged out!

The resort does not come across as particularly yacht-friendly, understandable since their priority must be their own guests. They probably needn't worry too much about being overwhelmed by yachties, since their prices are quite stiff and somehow the fancy drinks never wholly satisfying. Still it makes a nice setting for a special evening, especially if you can restrain yourself to one drink! The main pavilion is really handsome, with cushy seats and lounges in warm colors the bar area, and red-clothed candlelit tables for dining divided into family and "quiet" sectors, all around a lovely pool in which the nighttime torches reflect and flicker. They had a local string band playing, and there was kava in the tanoa, and the Fijian staff is always friendly. In May when we came ashore, business was quite slow, but this week the place seems packed.

It was raining when we returned to the boats last night, and the rain kept up much of the night. Sunday, however, dawned sunny and breezy, and the group, less the Overdrafts but plus Wind Pony's Dick and Lynn, shared out dive gear and went for a group dive back out to Nuggets. Things were quite choppy on the surface, and it seemed like every dive boat in town was making for the same spot! Fortunately, the one on the mooring made us all (four dinghies) welcome to tie off to their stern. Although conditions were nowhere as nice as they were when Bill and I first dove it, it was a big success with Tricky and Jane and Dick and Lynn, all fairly novice divers who were grateful to have Don and me shepherd them. All in all T2s dive compressor has been kept working pretty hard.

Tomorrow, Don plans a trip into town (by foot or taxi?) to get our circuit breaker (which has FINALLY arrived 10 days after shipping from the US) through customs, and it looks like I will have some of my newbie divers hankering for one more dive. The GRIBs and Fiji Met both promise a drop in the wind and sea state by Tuesday, so tomorrow afternoon we will haul the dinghy aboard for an early departure Wednesday.

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Monday, August 13, 2007
6-13 August 2007- A Week of the Three Rs
Rest, recuperation and repair – the mainstays of the cruiser's life. Monday was laundry and wash-down day. Tuesday, Don and Bill took me up the mast to retrieve the wayward topping lift and to re-wrap the flapping baggy wrinkles.

Wednesday, Don and Bill took a rental car across the island to Labasa where Don went to the dentist. We'd heard a great deal about this Dr. Kumar, and he lived up to his reputation, rebuilding Don's broken tooth point for F$40 ($25 US!), including the Novocain shot. The boys spent the night at Palmlea, giving Bill a quick look at north-side life (and the fantasy property), before they drove back Thursday. Meanwhile, I spent my time alone on the computer catching up on my Admiral's Angle columns, printing out 100 photos for Sera and Freddy back in Naviqiri, and doing other computer stuff.

On Friday, the boys finally tackled my Force 10 stove. This stove has been a trial to us since we bought it nine years ago. Never have I been able to have something in the oven and then use any of the top burners. Over the years Force 10 has sent us parts ostensibly to fix this problem, but they've never helped. In Central America, when our oven valve failed, it took two tries to get the right part. Trying to put that part in – without any directions provided – was not one of Don's happier endeavors. Since then, one by one the stove-top burners have been failing, so that upon Bill's arrival I was down to one working burner.

Uncle Bill, bless his heart, had taken on ordering all the needed replacement parts from Vancouver. He had even managed to get a printout of instructions. The parts we thought we needed had, of course, been discontinued, and instead he'd to buy three completely redesigned burner kits…which of course cost a bundle. Don, as you might guess, was sure it would have been better to make a dive site of this stove and to put those dollars toward a new one. Without Bill on hand, those new burners might well have slipped away to the spare parts netherworld. But Bill, naive as he was, was game to tackle it and dragged Don with him. It took ALL DAY, because the stove has to be largely dismantled to get access to the insides, and of course, dismantled, the parts and pieces had to be cleaned. But by golly, by sticking to it, the guys got it all reassembled, and get this…it works! I mean works the way it always should have!!!!! And no stray licks of blue flame around the edges, either. I guess there's a reason they redesigned those burners. And not only does it work – lighting promptly even when the oven is on, but it no longer rattles when we motor. For once, money and effort truly well spent! The chef is a happy camper!

Don't get the idea that Uncle Bill's holiday has been all work and no play. There wasn't a happy hour we missed, and we ate out pretty near every night. Savusavu is full now of boats we have come to know, so life has been quite social.

Saturday morning the boys went ashore for a haircut. This they found at a salon upstairs above the Bula Re restaurant. This turned into quite the cultural experience for Uncle Bill as the hairdresser was Reggi/Regina, a flamboyant Fijian version of what would, in French Polynesia, be called a faka leiti (a fake woman!) She/he did a great job with both guys, although she particularly liked rebraiding Uncle Bill's token pigtail.

We also tackled making a little video movie for Kai in return for the great DVDs he and his Mom sent out to us with Bill. Titled "PopZ and Gz on the Boat in Fiji", it's a little closer to sailing with Mr. Rogers" than "Sailing with Elmo!" Steven Spielberg we aint. At least it will give him some idea of what the boat looks like, both at anchor, and, yes, by golly, underway. We dropped the mooring after lunch, raised the sails and the boys and camera chased after me in the dinghy as a brisk breeze sent T2 flying out to the Point.

Yesterday, we finally got Uncle Bill wet with a little scuba refresher class and some exploratory dives along the reef. There are some amazing coral formations on the bottom here, and we were treated to a turtle as we swam through the cleft in Split Rock.

Today, Monday, is the 13th which means it is Captain Don's Birthday. We've started the day with a glutinous pancake breakfast and who knows what lies ahead. We SHOULD have gotten underway this weekend for Lautoka, Vuda and Musket Cove, where we plan to end Bill's visit. However, we ordered from the states a replacement breaker last week for the windlass, and it hasn't come in yet. And, wouldn't you know, the weather report is for a return of strong winds. Oh, well. Never have schedule.

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Monday, August 6, 2007
6 August 2007- All Set for Another Year in Fiji
After another rolly night, the three captains were more than ready to leave Futuna Friday morning, even though it meant that we'd be arriving back into Fiji on the weekend, and so would be subject to their stiff overtime charges. Believe me, after two bad nights, the overtime fees sounded cheap!

Of course, first we had to get there. The better conditions Freedom Hunter reported at sea, we now know fell apart for him within hours. We, too, had pretty decent conditions starting out: sunny blue sky, puffy white clouds and a nice wind of about 18 knots sending Tackless II bounding over the waves at 6-7 knots. Bill set out optimistic, armed with seasickness meds in his system, but that lasted only a few hours. As the wind speeds increased and we took sea after sea aboard the leeward rail, his smile drooped, and by dusk, as we took the third reef in the main sail, Bill disappeared to the sea bunk in the salon.

The good news is the wind stayed just far enough to the east that we could actually sail. The bad news is that wind was so high – 25-30 sustained – that we could carry no more than staysail and triple-reefed main, and the big seas whipped up by the wind would intermittently stop and drop the boat into a trough. It was not pleasant sailing.

Our first mishap of the night occurred when Don, having opted for a bowl of "extra crunchy" French muesli for dinner, cracked a tooth! Then, later in the night Don noticed the topping lift flying free, winding itself up in the upper rigging. Without the topping lift tacking becomes impossible because the third reef does not hold the boom up enough to clear the hardtop and boom crutch. Hmmm. For the time being we were fine, as with luck we'd have the same tack all the way back.

The next day we ventured a handkerchief of head sail and managed to pick up our speed again. Our goal for the day was to get to and through the maze of reefs scattered across the way to the Somosomo straights by passing directly between Vetauua Island and the west side of Naqelelevu Atoll. But of course, the wind unhelpfully veered just enough more south, that our course over ground got pushed to starboard complicating that plan.

To get back east, we would have to tack, but to tack we would have to take the mainsail down. This we managed to pull off with me manually yanking the boom onto the crutch as Don lowered the sail, no mean trick in 27 knots. The problem was, with no topping lift, there was no way to get it up again. However, with no main, our forward progress, even with the engine running, was puny, the autopilot struggling to maintain steerage. Enough stuff was going wrong that we realized it was time to STOP, BREATHE, THINK and ACT.

Stopping in the open sea means heaving-to. We have heaved to in Tackless II on a number of occasions, but never in this much wind and sea. Even though it is the prescribed maneuver, we were not sure how well it would work, especially since we would be trying to heave to with the staysail only. We had just had happy-hour conversation with some skippers in boats similar to T2, who liked heaving to with staysail only, but having never tried it ourselves, we were skeptical. Don went forward and put the preventer on the staysail to hold the self –tending boom to windward when we tacked, and then we tacked her through and put the rudder hard starboard (up). The principle is that the rudder is trying to turn the boat one way while the sail is pushing the bow the opposite direction. Sure enough, presto, T2 came to a stop, hove-to neat as a pin! It was not quite as nice as heaving to with a main up, where our bow would angle up more toward the wind and sea. But even beam on the ride settled out considerably.

Now the task was to jerry-rig a new topping lift which we did using one of our running backstays. We took its tackle off and used a short piece of Spectra line from the boom through the shackle and back to a convenient cleat to allow us to adjust the height of the boom over the crutch. With the main already triple-reefed it worked like a charm.

Feeling rather chuffed (hard to beat Brit expression for feeling smugly pleased with oneself) by our successful contravention of the problem, we continued on, tacking twice to be able to enter the reef system where we wanted. We made our final turn southward just about sunset, and from there on the trip was a breeze. As the motion settled down, Bill was able to come up and take a watch so that Don and I could get some rest, and by the time I came back up around 1:00 am, we were sailing free and easy in fifteen knots with the moon breaking through the clouds. Now THIS is what it is supposed to be like! We passed through the Somosomo straights around 4:30am in the calm of Taveuni's wind shadow, and by 9:30am, the wind filled back in off our quarter and we made the long run back to Savusavu in a nice broad reach. Back in Nakama Creek, we picked up the very same mooring we dropped nine days earlier, and the officials all came out and checked us back into the country without a hitch. We didn't escape the overtime charges, but, as we slept soundly for the first time in nine days, we all agreed it was money well spent.

This morning we bundled heaps of soggy laundry ashore to the Copra Shed, and then we went on the fuel dock and old T2 got a thorough wash down. I'm sure we had salt as high as the spreaders. Sid of Freedom Hunter has been by to trade war stories, and we met the young couple on Helena moored behind us, who'd lost their headsail in the same weather system coming in from Tonga. In this way, crappy sailing experiences are transformed into fodder for happy hour sea tales. It's a damn good thing sailors have such short memories! Maybe we won't sell the boat tomorrow after all!

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Friday, August 3, 2007
2 August 2007- All’s Swell?
We woke Thursday morning at four to the boat rolling in swells rolling straight into the harbor from the south. At four thirty our neighbor called to alert us he thought he was dragging. Fortunately, as he and his wife went to reset, they discovered they'd just let out more scope than they thought.

However, once up, it was hard to go down again as the four boats (the Kiwi boat Freedom Hunter arrived yesterday) in the tiny, narrow "V" of an anchorage were bucking and rolling in a horrid onslaught of 3-5' waves. Don and I sat up until daylight, when we added coffee to the mix, and Bill finally emerged when the dish drain with all the dinner dishes crashed to the floor.

Are we having fun yet?

No. Our little hidden paradise has become a bit of a trap. The prudent mariner would surely put to sea and ride the weather out in the open, but we can't even consider that as our dinghy and engine are in still in the water. Steve on Apogee took a shot at it, and turned right round and tucked back in, meanwhile scaring the beejeezus out of the rest of us.

So we have spent most of the morning staring at the seas breaking on the reefs around us as the tide slowly goes out and the wind ever so slowly backs toward the east. The sun is breaking through and things are beginning to settle. As soon as things settle enough, we will yank the engine off the dinghy and hoist the dinghy itself onto the foredeck to be ready to break out when the time looks right.

The lull we were waiting for came in the mid afternoon. With the three of us working together and a safety on the outboard, we managed to hook it and yank it off the dinghy transom before the next big roller got us. Smug with our success we tackled hoisting the dinghy onto the deck, and all went well until the windlass –which we use in company with the old spinnaker halyard to raise the 178 pounds of dinghy out of the water – STOPPED three inches shy of the lifelines. Well, the boys were able to manhandle the beast the rest of the way aboard, and we got it down and secured.

BUT what was wrong with the windlass? Don and the multimeter and his ½"wrenches went through every connection. We even opened up the motor cover to see if the problem lay there. To make a long story short, Don & Bill's perseverance (with as Ms. Stepandfetchit) revealed the problem to be the 150amp circuit breaker, even though it had checked positive for continuity. The problem identified, Don was able to wire it direct so we can get the anchor up not just when we are ready to leave tomorrow but should conditions get bad again.

What Uncle Bill makes of the show we are putting on about the cruising life, I cannot say. He was on hand for all the day's projects, and he has been a stoic sport about the nasty roll. Freedom Hunter left the anchorage this afternoon and reports much better conditions at sea. Let's hope they prevail until tomorrow!

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007
30-31 July, 2007 –TV Stars in Futuna
Futuna (14*17'S; 178*10'W) is a small island of 51 steep square miles that, with Wallis Island (250km away to the NE), make up the French Overseas Territory of Wallis & Futuna. Linked together in modern times, the two islands have very different characters. Wallis, a low-lying, volcanic island pocked by a number of lake-filled craters and surrounded by a lagoon, was historically influenced by repeated Tongan invasions. Futuna, a steep-to island with no lagoon, was never conquered by Tonga, but instead became linked to Samoa. The islands became associated with France initially through the efforts of Catholic missionaries, with France making it official in the late 1880s. The islands became an overseas territory July 29, 1961. (Note, we missed the big fete by two days!)

The French seem to be good custodians of their islands. They import an infrastructure of communications, medical, education and police services, staff it with Frenchmen, fund it French francs, import French foodstuffs to feed the staff, and then pretty much leave the cultures alone.

Small and off the usual cruising routes, Wallis and Futuna are not often visited by cruisers, although Futuna has become a popular destination for boats in Fiji who need to extend their time there with a quick trip out to another country. Usually, those boats arrive, drop the anchor, clear in and out in one stop with the officials, and then weigh anchor and head back south.

On our way north, we had done our usual preliminary orientation by reading about Futuna in our Lonely Planet Guide, and it sure seemed a shame to sail all this way and not give it a look-see. So when we went ashore that first morning to go to customs, we decided among us to stay two days. We arrived with a little anxiety about customs because the last two boats to make the trip had arrived back in Savusavu without the proper clearance paper and been heavily fined. But everything seemed to us straightforward and clear, despite the language difference, and we left the office with our clearance already in hand.

The next stop is the gendarmerie, about a mile or so walk east down the coast road. Outside the gendarmerie, we ran into two men with a TV camera, and we wondered what was going on. It turned out we were what was going on! It seems that this is the first time there has ever been three sailboats in the harbor at one time, and it seems that in Futuna this is newsworthy. The reporter and cameraman --Nasalio Leleivai and Jean Francois Puakavase – wanted to do a feature on the sailors and what we do when visitnig Futuna.

And so began our day as TV stars. The gendarmes got into the spirit of the filming, serving us a round of demitasse cafés for us in their air-conditioned office. As we've noticed on other French islands, the French gendarmes do not subscribe to a uniform code, more often than not appearing in the briefest of shorts and T-shirts.

From the gendarmerie, we moved on to the money changer, the proprietor of a small store who sat behind a counter and happily changed "Mr. Bush's money" into Central Pacific francs. He had no use for either Kiwi or Fijian dollars, and he had less use for the TV camera. "Taboo," he said, shaking his head repeatedly. "Taboo."

By now we are all hot to trot to find something to eat. We had skipped breakfast saving ourselves for croissants and baguettes. Apparently, however, there are no "snacks" in Futuna, and the only restaurants are at two the hotels and absurdly expensive. So Nasalio and Jean Francois steered us to the supermarket, whose shelves were filled with such French treats as baguettes, small rounds of Brie and Camembert, and canned pate, and armed with this loot, we went back to the TV station to woof it down in Nasalio's office.

Once fed and watered, Jean Francois took us all on a tour of the island in the station's vehicle. About 33km all the way around, our tour took all of ninety minutes, especially as our guide had some pressure to get back for an interview with one of Futuna's two kings at the hospital.

Our first stop was a fine fale fono in our guide's own village. The fale fono in Futuna, like the ones we saw in Samoa, is where the men gather in the evening to drink kava and discuss community business. A beautiful oval structure in the Samoan style, this fale was built completely with traditional materials: an impressive latticework of beams secured with traditional sennit (much like the Fijian magimagi we saw at Nukubati) and topped by thick thatch with woven palm "blinds" lowerable for shade or protection from the wind. Inside were stacks of mats, several large tanoa (kava bowls) and the mortars used for pounding the roots. A bunch of kids were hanging out in the shade, waiting for the bus to carry them back to school for the afternoon session, and they were quick to speak with us in English. Apparently English is now a required subject in school, as per an edict from one of the kings.

Across the street is a magnificent church of cement painted to look like blocks. The church, with two side towers, an impressive wood carving of Mary and Jesus, huge wooden doors and stained glass windows was built in just five months after an earthquake brought down the original in 1993. (note, this info does not jibe with what is given in the Lonely Planet!)

From there we drove to an overlook of Alofi Island. Alofi is uninhabited but for one caretaker. It is essentially a retreat for Futunans who can go out for the day to maintain gardens or just play on the exquisite beach. There is a church there and some fales for general use, and it is a popular spot for visiting yachts to anchor when winds are out of the southeast.

On the north side of the island at Poi, the main sight to see is the multilayered tower of the Basilica of St. Pierre Chanel. Pierre Chanel was the first Catholic missionary to come to Futuna. Initially he and his colleagues were welcomed by the king, but as he gained converts the king began to feel his traditional power threatened, and sent a band of warriors to kill him. Chanel was the first missionary lost, and eventually became the patron saint of Oceania. The Basilica is huge and cool inside, lit by panes of colored glass. There must have been hundreds of pews, surely enough to seat the island's entire population! Off to the side is an unexpectedly modern chapel where the sacred Chanel relics are kept. This chapel, all angles of wood, is extraordinarily peaceful with the susurrations of the sea on the beach in the background. Oddly, in the center of the church grounds is the tomb of the man who had Chanel killed.

From there the pace of our tour picked up as Jean Francois hurried to get back for his interview. Our only other stop was to admire the lava rock formations on the northwest point.

Jean Francois dropped us back at the wharf in mid-afternoon. For two cruisers who usually nap half the day after a passage, the day's activity was quite the departure from the norm. Don and I both took the chance to crash for the three hours until five pm, when the crews of all three boats gathered aboard Apogee with Jean Francois and Nasalio as guests.

From our point of view, the evening was the traditional gathering of cruisers for hors d'oeuvres and sundowners. From their point of view, this was the official interview of the American, New Zealand and Australian crews. However since I was the only one among us to speak French, I was the primary intermediary. Now I must point out that I haven't spoken a lick of French since the Societies, and that my vast reservoir of school French (a reservoir that has stuck with me faithfully for thirty years) got badly contaminated by my efforts to learn Spanish. So, here I am after a night of night watches trying badly to make sense translating for everyone all day, and I must tell you that Nasalio, with his mellifluous Futunan accent was damn hard for me to understand.

And yet it went well, and the completed "reportage" aired on Tuesday night's news program which we were actually able to pick up on our multi-system TV (the absolute first time we have every used it!.) We all looked great, and Jean Francois had edited things nicely so that I did not come across as the village idiot. Some of us had already seen the footage at the station in the afternoon, and Jean Francois made us a DVD that actually plays on our anglo computer!

Two small things that really amuse me about all this. One is that while trying hard to speak coherent French, I actually end up looking French, with the pursed lips, the quizzical tilt of the head, and the hand gestures. The other amusing thing is that a fourth boat cruised in this afternoon. Perhaps they'll have to reshoot the whole story!

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