Three hours before the kick-off of the Musket Cove Regatta Week, the sky lowered and ushered in the first heavy rain of the season. The rain came so hard that it spouted from the scuppers like a fire hose. It did not bode well for the evening’s festivities.
Yet the organizers of the regatta must live right as the clouds pulled back in time for the opening ceremonies to roll on. By the light of flaming torches, the sponsors kicked the evening off with free rum punch and Heineken to get the cruisers in the mood which was followed by some very impressive traditional music and dance (meke) by the resort dance troupe. Female Fijian dance is quite restrained, but the male dancers -- muscled, bare-chested and in grass skirts and fringed with leaves – dance stylized war dances to a throbbing drumbeat with clubs and sticks and aggressive shouts. Accented by strobe lighting and a little man-made fog, I’m surprised the show didn’t drive the little kids screaming from the front line!
The meke was followed by national anthems from all the participants – New Zealand, Australia, England, France, Italy, Norway, Germany, Canada and the United States, followed by the Fijian anthem (quite long) sung by the Fijian-based sailors and the staff. None of us held a candle to the musicality of the Fijians, for whom song is an everyday part of life, but I will say we Americans, making up about a third of the entrants, acquitted ourselves relatively well. All this was followed by a good buffet.
Saturday brought the Pirate’s Day Race to
During the windless motor I had whipped up an eleventh hour entry in the “Figurehead competition” – Joshua (the Teddy bear) in his pirate bandana with Don’s fillet knife as his cutlass embracing a can of Fiji Gold astride an inflatable flamingo on the bow pulpit. Pretty cute. But by the time we approached Beachcombers, the wind began to pipe up -- on the nose, of course -- whipping the flat seas into a 2’ chop. Our “figurehead” pretty well fell to pieces, Don’s fillet knife -- but NOT Joshua --falling into the briny deep!
Oh well, by the time we reached the finish line, the finish line judge had given up and gone to shore, so there was no one to judge us! By the time we were finally picked up by Beachcomber’s tenders, we’d pretty much missed all the beach events. We did not miss the excellent lunch buffet, but we gathered our crew (Jane of Lionheart and Lee and Jan of La Boheme) after the last bite to get a head start back else we might not have reached our mooring before sunset! (And could we sail back? Nay, nay. The afternoon wind swung 180* and was yet again on the nose!)
On Sunday the racing switched from big boats to Hobie Cats. Don actually started his sailing career on one of these 20-25 years ago, so of course, we signed up. Musket Cove has fleet of Hobie 16s (with modified shoal draft rudders) for the resort guests, so the heats were run as match races. The wind once again was very light, and after our discouraging performance Saturday on our heavyweight boat, Don and I had very little hope for our heavyweight selves. So it was a pleasant surprise when, after nipping at the heels of our competitors the whole way round the course, Don opted for a different final-leg strategy than the leaders and we handily won our heat!
In the afternoon, the big event was a cruiser swap meet. Don and I looked at this as a great opportunity to continue our hard-hearted getting-rid-of-stuff campaign. We took ashore everything from clothes to videocassettes to food to parts, and came back with very little of it as well as a few $ in our pocket! Can you believe it, people paid to take this stuff away! The biggest surprise of the session was the snapping up of four very short skirts by one Fijian lady after another!
That evening we hosted a pot-luck cocktail gathering by and for SSCA members and recruits. The SSCA is an international organization of cruisers about 10,000 strong, to which Don and I have belonged for many years. They are best known for their monthly Bulletin, written by and for active cruisers, which is full of real practical information you don’t find in other publications. This Bulletin is now available online (www.sssca.org), and I had the computer ashore so people could check out SSCA’s new website. Most of the cruisers who attended we had gotten to know during the previous weeks here, but there were several new faces. I managed to get six Associate Members to upgrade to Commodore status and handed out new membership applications to another half-dozen. It was a fun time.
Monday - “Fun Race” to Namotu
I’m not sure these two captains believe that racing is ever fun. After Saturday’s frustrating outing, Don and I bowed to the reality that neither we nor Tackless II are really cut out for it (certainly not until we get a bottom job!), and so, for Monday’s “Fun Race” to Namotu, we jumped ship to crew aboard our friends Tom and Bette Lee’s catamaran Quantum Leap. Quantum Leap, a St. Francis 51, is a big boat. In addition to her length, she stands high off the water, which makes not only for lots of head room inside, but a quieter ride underway. Tom and Bette Lee had the boat built for them in
Today there was just enough wind to make real racing a possibility, so despite the cringing of the women as Tom squeezed the 26’ wide boat through the pack at the start line, we wereall determined to give it the old college try. The moment we rounded the first mark, out came the red and blue spinnaker, and given a little elbow room, the big boat gradually gained on the leaders. However, as we approached the second mark, another catamaran, a Leopard 50 called Camissa, started to play chicken with us. I suppose these shenanigans are part of the fun of it for real racers, but we cruiser-pretenders just found it irritating, especially when, after screwing us up and causing us to lose ground, they ended up motoring in the windward leg! Not Tom. Determined to sail across the finish line, we tacked that sucker six times. My job was to run the genoa around from side to side, making for a sort of nautical step aerobics.
Tuesday morning brought the next rounds of the Hobie Cat matches. We had very little hope as we were matched in the second round against the stars of the regatta, Bill and Julie of the Kiwi catamaran Synchronicity. The wind was still ridiculously light, and though we gave it our all and dogged their heels the whole way around, they not surprisingly left us in the dust at the end. The good news is we had fun and are thinking ahead to some Hobie rentals back in
We were a tad more optimistic about the afternoon golf tournament, since we’d at least swung a few golf clubs in the States last year and played a round the previous week. Our foursome was comprised of our young friends Tricky and Jane of Lionheart, and we were up against eight other teams. Boy, I can tell you a scramble is the only way to play golf! There’s no time nor need to brood over your crappy shots. Don enjoyed a particularly good day, and together our foursome came in only one stroke behind the winning team!
The evening BBQ closed the day with an “essay” contest for the women on “Why I hate sailing,” which brought some funny performances. If the subject had been why I hate "racing", I might have partook.
Wednesday’s race – The Round Malolo Race – is the most serious race of the Regatta, and this time there was wind. Lots of it. Probably 15-20+ knots. All over the anchorage, serious race boats were lightening the load, clearing their decks and dumping anchors and chain as well as excess gear into their dinghies! Yikes!
For the Malolo Race we were invited to sail with Sid and Viv aboard the monohull Freedom Hunter, along with our friend Rachel of Apogee (enticed out from the Vuda boat yard for a few days by Tricky and Jane) and Sid and Viv’s guest Kathy. We first met Sid, a circumnavigator who now sails seasonally from
Viv, however, is a new recruit to sailing who has so far avoided any major passages, so it was her first experience of any serious heeling. Poor Viv was clearly not sure which was more alarming, feeling Freedom Hunter heel over under the press of the wind or watching all the boats crisscrossing all around us dip their rails and show their bottom paint! Quite honestly, I found both a little alarming myself.
Just to make life a little more exciting, when Sid cuilt the boat, he made some unusual choices in equipping her. Unlike 99% of boats with a wheel, Freedom Hunter does not steer like a car. That is, if you want to turn right, you must turn the wheel to the left (like a tiller!) This would be unnerving enough to a volunteer helmsman in everyday conditions, but for Don in the melee before the race start it was terrifying. Sid also has the old style winches where you crank with one hand and tail with the other (or someone else does) instead of self-tailers like we have that grip the line for you. To counter this inconvenience, he has an elaborate system of jam cleats and cam locks, which are great once you learn the system, but mighty tough on newbie crew. It was a fast learning curve for Don and me – in the 20 minutes before the start!
The race proved pretty exciting. Almost all the racers were over-canvassed, and there was no stopping to take a reef. In the first stretch the little Italian monohull Libertee was so over-powered, her rudder would come clear out of the water when she'd heel over in a gust, causing her to go nearly on her beam ends before rounding up. We watched the unsettling spectacle six times before we were able to scoot past on her leeward side. Don and I were kept quite busy easing and taking in main and genoa sheets in response to those gusts (no way were either of us taking that crazy helm in race conditions!) On the reach down the backside of the island, Freedom Hunter maintained a steady 8.1 knots , even with a reefed genoa, a blistering speed from our point of view! Kathy and Rachel had a great ride on the upwind rail, and they finally coaxed Viv out on deck with them, where I think she eventually began to enjoy herself. Although the serious guys up front popped spinnakers on the downwind run, we made do with letting out the rest of the genoa, before having to furl it back in on the final beat in to the finish line. Freedom Hunter completed the fourteen-mile circuit in a mere two hours and fifteen minutes! The winner – the cat Synchronicity -- however, made it in just one 1 hour 35 minutes!
The final day of the Regatta started with the semi-finals and finals of the Hobie matches. Several friends of ours reached this point, including Tricky and Jane, so we were on the beach to cheer despite the black sky and roiling, thunderous clouds creeping ominously towards Musket from the southeast. It took that sky and those clouds to finally bring the breeze to the beach that these Hobie so love and give us some exciting races. Before we knew it the semis were over, and it was Tricky and Jane in the final against the Synchronicity stars!
Unfortunately, some last minute fussing over the boats allowed the last of the squall-generated wind to blow on by, so that the finals – best two out of three – took place at the same snail’s pace of the first rounds. There were times when both boats seem to come to an actual standstill – very anticlimactic for the crowd. Still, Tricky and Jane did very well, leading the rounds much of the time, but first once, and then again, Bill and Julie’s experienced teamwork gave them the edge in the final crawl to the finish line.
The Awards Ceremony
Much like the opening night, the finale of the Regatta was threatened by bad weather, yet once again it backed off enough that the awards feast could go on. The resort had set up a bar and tables for a crowd of 350 under tents on the bach alongside their regular restaurant, and the dress code for the night was sarongs, sulus and “bula” shirts, so that crowd was quite colorful. Also like opening night, the sponsors sprang for free rum punch and beer, and the buffet of roast pig and all the fixings was scrumptious (actually, whoever makes the soups here -- tonight's choice was seafood or pumpkin -- is definitely their best chef!). The resort’s band of three guitarists provided a background mix of Fijian and American rock tunes throughout the evening, and we were treated to more meke, which this time included several dances by two lovely Polynesian girls (much more fun for the men) and some very impressive fire-dancing by a gifted Samoan ten-year-old!
The race awards pretty much all went to Synchronicity. In truth, the sweep couldn’t have been effected by a nicer couple. In their first year of full-time cruising, Bill and Julie – like many of the catamarans – have their young family aboard, and the maturity of these boat kids is a great advertisement for bringing up a family on a boat. Fortunately, there were lots of second and third place awards in many categories, so Tricky and Jane came home with a pile of loot – two Vodaphone cell phones (complete with prepaid SIM cards!), golf shirts and a mini keg of Heineken -- for their second place finish in the Hobie races. Several very nice prizes were also awarded randomly, but the luck of the numbers was not with us, and, as Don said, we weren’t forced to bring home any more unwanted junk. The night ran late with lots of drinking and dancing, and these two captains fell into bed just about midnight. It was a great week, but we are glad it is OVER!
Labels: Musket Cove
It's all about momentum, and I guess our Musket momentum started with a resolve to start walking in the mornings. It's easy here because there is a dinghy dock, so no struggling with shoes and socks and sand! The island is ideally laid out for the endeavor with dirt roads leading up to the ridge above the resort where the walker is rewarded with panoramas in every direction, including, of course, over the anchorage. Along the ridge are also the first homes in Musket Cove's residential development, all handsome and high-end -- stimulating for fantasies in the "what I would do with my lottery winnings" department. From the ridge road there are about four turnoffs leading to distant corners of the island, all of which we have explored. Sometime during the first week of walking we met Tom of the catamaran Quantum Leap. The next day we joined up together with Tom and his wife Bette Lee (working herself back into this after a hip replacement), and since then the contingent has grown. We spend about 90 minutes a day at this. We are feeling very virtuous.
In addition to physical momentum there is social momentum, and on that front it seems that we have stumbled into the hands of a full-fledged organizer. Robin of the Voyage catamaran Endangered Species has organized day-trips, dive trips, dinners and potlucks which have filled up our calendar in a way we had not anticipated. First we went diving with Robin and her husband Rick, a long run with four of us and gear in their dinghy out to a fairly dramatic pinnacle where the current made us think twice about going out again without a surface watch. Two days later Robin put together a gang that filled three dinghies for a run around the corner to a backpacker resort called Funky Fish for a great lunch overlooking the acrobatics two fabulous kite surfers making the most of the 20+ winds. Lunch was followed by a beer-drinking/snorkel stop at an offshore sand motu that uncovers with the tide. Shades of Beach Blanket Bingo!
Two days after THAT was her real pièce de resistance: A boat tour of the further Mamanuca islands. Spoilsport that I am, I couldn't imagine why people with their own boats would want to PAY to go on an island tour, but sure enough on Monday she managed to line up eighteen of us. And what a blast the day was! Despite piping winds over 20 knots, our aluminum boat with the two massive 220hp outboards took us on a high-speed ride all around islands that we now see really don't have anchorages for us to stop in! We stopped once to snorkel a stunning reef of perfect hard corals and then made a pass by the island on which the great Tom Hanks' movie "Cast Away" was filmed (came home and watched it again that night, and sure enough, it's the one!) before whipping around several more to our lunch stop. Our destination resort (I am mortified to admit I never did get its name!) was the least tropical looking of any we have seen, with modern white structures and a stunning infinity pool that just drops away into the blue of the sea. The food in their stark white restaurant, however, was unexpectedly fine. I had a salad of octopus and feta cheese with mounds of fresh greens and was amazed when the advertised octopus was not pieces but was instead a veritable flock of tiny octopi that you popped in your mouth whole! Not for the squeamish! With the wind actually increasing in the afternoon, we voted to forego any more snorkeling efforts and settled instead on stops at several MORE island resorts (of which I pretty well lost track) at which we all mixed and mingled and got to know one another better over chilly beverages. This part of Fiji definitely takes the world prize for the number of resorts per square foot of land. Every turn reveals another! And business doesn't look bad!
You may remember that Don and Bill bought a dive package the first day here. Unlike many resorts, the Musket Dive package can be shared by all the crew members of a particular boat. Don and Bill used up only two dives of the fourteen that first day, so Don and I have also had to fit in some scuba diving. The day after our dinghy trip with Rick and Robin, we went out on the Subsurface boat with three divers collected on the way from various resorts. This was the first two-tank dive (two dives, one after the other) we have done in a long time. Fortunately for me, most of the sites around here allow me to have a good dive while keeping to my modified depth range (max 50'). Our two dives were as different from one another as the two dive leaders were. The first leader, a man probably in his fifties, never once looked around for his divers, while the second after specifically saying that a dive is not a race, took off and left most of us in the dust. The first dive offered three "pinnacles" – more like three mounds – bedecked with large sea fans and many multi-colored crinoids (a species of feathery starfish that perch on coral to filter feed). Up shallow, I swam over a nice-sized turtle on the reef-top that everyone deeper missed. The highlight of the second dive, a shallow plateau with patch reefs, was memorable for the live Triton Trumpet shell, several small stingrays with blue spots, and lots of table corals.
That was the only two-tank trip we've taken, and it was also the last open boat we've taken. Since then the indefatigable Robin has managed to get the dive shop to run a special afternoon boat for our expanding gang of cruiser divers! This is ideal for us. A single dive to a destination of our choice, all with our own friends. Such a deal. Unfortunately, most of the dives we have done have been pretty average. This part of Fiji does have some nice hard corals, despite predation efforts by the nasty crown-of-thorns starfish, but the fish life is depressingly thin. For example, we did a striking afternoon dive on a vertical wall where there should have been a steady parade of pelagics, yet the open water to our right remained absolutely empty!
And as if all that wasn't enough to wear us out, we are also continuing to play with our young friends Tricky & Jane on Lionheart. Jane, a former competitive swimmer, has been teaching Tricky how to swim laps properly in the resort's pool, so Tricky has taken on giving Jane, me, and…drum roll…even Don WINDSURFING lessons. With the resort's very reasonable hourly rate on boards that are nearly as wide as an aircraft carrier, these efforts have actually been quite successful. Who'da thunk it?
And finally, in an effort to see how many muscle groups we can shock, we all played golf this morning! Yes, GOLF! Behind the Plantation Island Resort on the other side of the runway, is a little 9-hole course. For $26F (About $15) we each got a full set of quite nice clubs, a pull cart, three tees and three balls. The course is, of course, mostly flat, but it has got some doozy hazards: sand traps that aren't much softer than the fairways themselves, water hazards that are gaping canyons because it is the end of the dry season, and a couple of holes with the sea along one side just waiting to eat up a slice. They charge $1F per lost ball, and we consider the outing a huge success because we came back with all our balls. This should not give you the mistaken impression that we played well. I would say we all played almost equally badly, landing balls in bushes, ricocheting off stands of bamboo, invariably putting our shots on neighboring holes…sometimes on both sides! Fortunately, there seemed to be only one other couple on the course…and they stayed well clear.
It is very hard for me to believe that all this has taken place in only two weeks. And in that time it has not actually been all play and no work. Don has worked on two watermakers (and discussed two others), plus I have booked tickets for cruisers on Tiffany's travel website via my cellular broadband card (www.thetwomomstravel.com) and done an interview and written another article!
Aren't we just the busy beavers! All this and barbecues most nights at Ratu Nemani Island, including last night's potluck for Robin's birthday. I'm sure you can guess how orchestrated THAT was!
Can we take any more? Well we'd better, because this Thursday starts the annual, week-long Musket Cove Regatta! We are signed up for pretty much all the events, which include two or three full-day "races" with the big boat (motors for the less than serious racers allowed) to other resorts for lunch, at least one of which is in pirate regalia, Hobie Cat races (if we ever find time to practice!), a best-ball scramble golf tournament (Oh, God!), kayak races, wet T-shirt contests, Hairy chest contests, pig roasts….well, I think you get the idea.
Stay tuned to see if we survive.
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Labels: Musket Cove
The anchorage itself, wrapped around by the islands of Malolo Lai Lai and Malolo as well as a maze of reef, is well protected once you find your way in. Yet it is not a remote spot. Malolo Lai Lai has at least three other resorts that overlook the anchorage – Lomani, Plantation Island, and Malolo Beach(?) – and there are others around the bend! This makes for a lot of boat traffic, pangas from the various resorts bringing staff to work from the village on Malolo and then carrying guests out for snorkel and dive tours, Hobie cats in novice hands, and ferries to and from the mainland. With all this going on there is still plenty of room to anchor between the reefs should you not want to take advantage of either the 27 maintained moorings Musket Cove Resort provides for a modest fee or the further twenty med-moor spaces available inside their little marina. This little marina is up an inlet in the reef along floating docks with a fuel and water dock at its innermost end. They even have hurricane storage in a man-made lagoon doglegged in to the center of the resort itself.
But what really distinguishes Musket Cove from many another stop is how the Musket cove Resort treats their marine-based guests. Instead of a grudging permission to land, at Musket boat-based visitors are granted virtually equal rights as resort guests. For the modest fee of $12 per yacht, we get a life-long membership to their Yacht Club entitling us to open an account with a credit card and then use that account at any or all of the facilities – the restaurants, the dive shop, the beach rentals (kayaks, Hobie cats, windsurfers, bicycles), the ferries to the mainland, the grocery store, and of course, at the bar.
Cruisers do love a good watering hole, but this is a department in which the Pacific has proved woefully thin. So to have one conceived exclusively for us, on its own little man-made sandy island, complete with beach, thatched palapa bar, picnic tables with lights, and wood-fired barbecue grills is the proverbial "died-and-gone-to-heaven" for sociable sailors. And if we are all seeking a place where "everybody knows your name", we've found it here where the two Fijian lady bartenders somehow manage to do just that! Even Savusavu's hospitable Yacht Club, at which we spent so many fine evenings, seems uptight and formal compared to Musket's super friendly Ratu Nemani Island Bar.
It was into this paragon of summer camp for cruisers that we brought Uncle Bill for his last few days in Fiji. We arrived Saturday afternoon, picked up mooring #1, (which looked, and turned out to be, brand spanking new), and launched the dinghy so the boys could go in and reconnoiter. They got us registered as Musket Cove Yacht Club members (each with our own laminated membership card), signed us up for a dive package shareable by all members of the crew at the dive shop, and inaugurated our association with the Ratu Nemani Island Bar to such a degree that the lady bartenders smile the moment they see Don coming over the bridge. Uncle Bill plunged into the crowd ever in search of an unattached female sailor who might want to go cruising in the Bahamas, and while I don't think he found one, but he sure seemed to have good time trying!
Where was the Admiral in all this? Well, in very poor hostess fashion I managed to get myself an article assignment that had to be turned around within the week, so for most of Bill's last days aboard I could be found chained to the computer.
I did come out for happy hour and dinner (never fear), and, as our first real night at Musket was Sunday, that meant we were in time for the traditional Musket Sunday night BBQ. It's BYO meat for the grill (or purchase a BBQ pack from the little store) and then the resort brings the fixings – baked potatoes, green salads, pasta salad, coleslaw and garlic bread – that you can buy for a modest fee. We ended up sharing a table with the crews of two Voyage catamarans –Rick and Robin of Endangered Species and Paul and Lei Ellen of Gato Go – plus Lee and Jan of the monohull La Bohème (who were on the dock at the same time we were in Raiatea!) – all of whom, it turned out, are, like us, home-based in the Tampa Bay Area!
Monday the boys spent the morning on boat projects (specifically installing the new circuit breaker for the windlass), and then in the afternoon they made a one-tank dive with Musket's Sub-Surface dive shop. The dive was a shallow one on some scattered bommies that didn't measure up to what we'd enjoyed the week before in Savusavu Bay, which was a bit disappointing. With the benefit of hindsight, it's clear they should have gone for the morning two-tank dive for which the dive boat runs farther out to better sites. However, you have to reserve a day ahead for an 0800 departure and the weather forecast for the morning had been bad. With nature's famed capriciousness, the weather, of course, was fine. That evening they lured me out from my lair again with happy hour which led to Curry Night at the Resort's main restaurant with Dick and Lynn of the other Voyage cat in the anchorage, Wind Pony.
Tuesday was Uncle Bill's last day aboard, and it was spent – as far as I could see over the screen of my laptop – with those usual last day activities: packing and weighing of suitcases and last minute reviews of watermaker installation procedures (one of the projects awaiting Bill when he gets back aboard his own boat Geodesic.) Ironically, I finished up my article and sent it off about ten minutes before it was time to take Bill ashore to catch his ferry. This ferry, on which Musket Cove Yacht Club Members get a big discount, runs three times a day into Denerau marina on the mainland which is a hop, skip and a jump away from Nadi airport. There is also a busy airstrip here from which small planes regularly fly, not to mention a seaplane service and helicopters, but being nautical (and cheap) folk, the ferry was more our speed.
Uncle Bill left mid-afternoon in fine weather, but the forecast front finally rolled in about sunset filling the sky with clouds and pretty well knocking out our chance to see the red eclipse of the moon. We consoled ourselves with dinner aboard and the last three weeks of the Dancing with Stars season, which Tiffany had sent out with Bill on DVD. Hopefully, Uncle Bill got to see the eclipse from the plane.
PS: My nephew John Wells is participating for the eighth time in the Annual Multiple Sclerosis Society MS 150 in South Carolina the weekend of Sept 15-16. This Bike-athon is a fund-raising effort to raise money for the fight against multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects million including members of our family. I include a link here for any one who might want to pledge a donation in his name.
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