Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Savusavu and Suva, Fiji

Savusavu (Part 2)
and Suva, Fiji
August-September 2012

As well as seeing Vavua Levu (the island on which Savusavu sets) by motor scooter I took a mini-bus to Labasa (pronounced 'Lambasa') with cruising buddies. Rob and Pauline (s/v Changing Spots) set it up.
We met at the yacht club in the morning and were on the road by 9AM. I was the last in the bus because I had to run down to the ATM to get some cash. I had been out the night before and spent all I had on hand. Since I was so very hung over I tried to sleep through a great deal of the trip to Labasa.

The rest of the gang, seeing how terrible I looked gave me the front seat of the van so I could be more comfortable. I think they just wanted to be sure I didn't throw-up on them. Of course the driver wouldn't let me sleep. He keep up a running commentary about what we were seeing (except I wasn't seeing it since my eyes were closed behind my sunglasses).

I have to admit I was impressed by the rugged beauty of the island. This is the smaller of the two main islands of Fiji. But it's still huge compared to most of the islands I've been on during this trip across the Pacific. The mountains are actually mountains. And since they are fairly young, in geological terms, they are very sharp and rugged-looking.

Stopping at a scenic overlook on the road between Savusavu and Labasa

The scenic outlooks were pretty spectacular. As with waves on the ocean photographs fail to capture the beauty of the sights. But I still took a few shots to try to convey a bit of the feel of Fiji.

View from the road to Labasa.

I woke up often enough to take a few shots from the road:

View from the road to Labasa. In forgound is a sugarcane farm.

We were traveling at the height of the sugarcane harvest. That meant the roads were clogged with trucks hauling cane to the crushers in Labasa.

Trucks moved slowly from the sugarcane farms to the factories in Labasa

Along the way Rob was playing with some new navigation apps on his iPad. Seems he almost always had that thing in his hand.

Me sleeping and Rob playing with his ipad

Of course, I was playing with my new camera. It has both a compass and a GPS built in. Whenever I took a picture it recorded information such as: You were "here" and were looking in "that direction" and it was "this time." Pretty cool toy, really.

Once in town, we told the driver that we'd call him when we wanted to return. We set off to explore the town. Now, trying to get seven people to move down a busy sidewalk is tough. Someone always wants to stop and look at something. Or to go into a store. Or to take a picture.

The main street of Labasa

Eventually we spit up and agreed to meet at a bar down the street later in the afternoon. It didn't take me very long to 'see the town.' After all, it's just a very crowded town with lots of people going no where in particular (except of course in the oposite direction as I).

I was soon at the bar having a beer waiting for everyone else. We had picked a strange bar. It closed at 3PM and then opened again at 6PM. Not sure why. So we called the driver and headed back just after three.

I got back to Galena early enough to stop at the yacht club and have a few beers. Galena was patiently waiting for me when I finally returned.

Galena at her mooring in Savusavu harbor

On the shore, just west of Galena's mooring was the burned out hulk of a steel sailboat. Leon gave me his take on what happened. He was here and helped tow the still burning hull to the shore where it lies still.

Burned-out hull marking the tragic end of a dream in paradise.

The story according to Leon (I don't know how close this is to factual.):

Ten years ago a couple came to Savusavu. They started a T-Shirt printing business. As the years went by bad things started happening. Even though the shop was going well, they got into trouble. There were people/investors who claimed they were mistreated. There were government issues as well.

By last year their boat had been impounded by the Fiji government, their business had failed, they were massively in debt, and the government had told them they had to leave (without their still-impounded boat).

About 9 months ago the wife went to the bank and after making a few transactions said, "You won't be seeing me here anymore." The husband went to one of the shops and after making a few purchases said the same thing. The next day he shot and killed his wife and lit the boat on fire. It seems that the flames got out of hand too quickly and he was seen jumping burning into the water. He was taken ashore by other yachties while the boat burned. It burned for several hours. The husband died in the hospital a couple of days later.

Leon towed the boat to shore before it sank. Inside they found the wife, the gun, and lots of solvents from the T-shirt printing shop. A murder-suicide that went awry; but succeeded in the end.

October 2, 2012

It was now time to start thinking about getting out of town for good. Galena had been sitting still for a long time. So long that her bottom was quite foul with growth. I had to get down there and do some scraping and scrubbing. Especially her prop. There was so much crud on the prop that I don't thing she would have been able to move if I asked her to.

But a half hour's work and the prop looked pretty good. Then another hour or so and I had her bottom at least clean enough to sail with some semblence of speed. Well, in the loose context of 'speed' that goes with 'Westsail.'

Before and after pictures of Galena's propeller

October 9, 2012

Finally I had run out of excuses for staying put. I picked up my cruising permit (I needed a permit to leave the harbor and sail to other Fijian ports) and paid my final bill at the yacht club. I sailed about 3-nm down the harbor to anchor just off the world famouse Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort.

My view of the Cousteau Resort

Friends had perviously stopped there and were surprised by the lack of welcome the resort gives yachies. In fact the resort has a printed sheet of rules that they will had you when you try to land your dinghy. Basically they just don't want us there. Rule one is 'If you want to land your dinghy, we recommend you go down the coast and use the yacht club dock." Of course that's three miles away! Also, we are not allowed in the main dining area, the pool area, or the main lounge. since none of their facilities, except the main desk, is equipted to handle cash, you have to open an accound, secured by your credit card, if you want to have a drink at the one bar we're allowed to visit.

With all that in ploace, I gave it a pass. I stayed on Galena. And when James and Kim showed up on s/v Doin' It I went there for a very lovely evening of drinks and comradery. It was made especially enjoyable since they had their friend, Monet with them. Not only is Monet an extraodinarily pretty woman (alway nice to spend time in the company of beautiful ladies), she's also quick, smart, and interesting. She even had the grace to laugh at my silly jokes and stories. Yep, a very nice evening, indeed.

We were joined by s/v Madrona. The three of us were heading out of Savusavu and in generally the same direction. Doin' It was going to Ovalau and there would sign out of Fiji entirely and head over to Vanuatu. Madrona wanted to get to Ovalau and then to Vanuatu. I was heading to Ovalau, Suva, and Musket Cove before heading to Vanuatu.

The next day, October 10, Doin It and Galena headed toward Namena Island. It's a small island inside a big reef. Eveyone said it's some of the best diving in Fiji and I just HAD to stop there.

Galena's track from Savusavu to Namena (red), to Makongai (green), and Ovalau (blue)

Coming into Namen I found the opening in the reef right where the chartplotter said it would be. The wind was up a bit and I sailed through the cut at a very good clip with reefed main and full headsail.

Of course, with s/v Doin' It directly in front of me, as I dropped sails things went badly. The headsail just wouldn't come down. and when I finally wrestled it down it went into the water ahead of Galena. By the time I got it on deck and secured Galena had come to a stop and was waiting patiently for me to get my act togeter. James on Doin' It said he had never seen hanked on headsails come down quite like that before. No kidding!

Galena's track into Namena

Once inside the reef and approaching the anchorage under power I was called by Rob on Changing Spots. He had arrived a day or so ahead of me. He said the anchorage was very deep and he had the only mooring available. Thanks, Rob. I let Doin' It get anchored and settled before I went it looking for a spot up close to the island.

The anchorage was, indeed, very deep. I found a spot that was 70-ft deep and the was the shallowest spot I could find. In the end I had all 200-ft of chain out plus about 100-ft of rope. I wound up a bit too close to Doin' It but James didn' mind too much.

I put on my snorkeling gear and went for a swim to see what all the fuss was about. Sure enough, there was some pretty spectaular reefs and fish. After an hour or so I called it a day. The open nature of the anchorage made for quite a rough night. And being so close to s/v Doin' It didn't help me sleep at all. I kept waking up and checking to see if I was coming any closer.

Morning found me ready to move on. The next stop would be Makongai.

Galena's track into Makongai

This was another "must see" spot. In this case the attraction was the giant clams that the islanders were farming. The fijians appearantly love their gian clams. So much so that they have pretty much killed them all off. So the islanders of Makongai have put together a farming opeation to repopulate the reefs with these beautiful, and tasty, clams.

Makongai Anchorage

The anchorage in front of the village was almost perfectly flat. Even in the significant trades that were blowing when I arrived. I was also happy to find the bottom was sand and came up nicely to allow me to anchor in about 25-feet.

Galena in the Makongai Anchorage

After arriving I found that the reef is mostly submerged to a depth of about 25 feet and that I could have come pretty much directly in from the sea. I didn't really have to use the 'pass' as charted. Better safe than sorry, though.

I was joined by s/v Doin' It and Changing Spots. Once we were all there, we went in to meet the village cheif and present the traditional gift of Kava.

We were ushered to the meeting house for the ceremony. The first thing I noticed was that there were about ten million mosquitoes competing to drain me of all my blood.

Makongai village meeting house

Outside we were asked to fill out a visitor's form and book. Inside the chief greeted us and accepted our 'gift' of Kava roots. He said a long prayer (in Fijian) and essentially make us a part of the village. He thanked us for honoring their traditions.

Makongai cheif accepting the Kava roots

Once the ceremony was finished the chief took us on a guided tour of the settlement. This village was once a lepper colony. There were thousands of patients in the hospital back in the '50's. Now the only things left are the shells of the hospital buildings.

Makongai lepper hospital

The villagers still use the church and many of the building have been rebuilt several times.

Makongai village church

The most goulish reminder of the history of this island is found way out in the jungle: the old cemetary.

The lepper cemetary

We also toured the tanks where the giant clams are grown. Here our little group of yachties visit the tanks while the chief tells us the history of the tanks, the reasons for wanting to replenish the clam population and some of the mechanics of growing giant clams.

Touring the tanks used for growing the gian clams

Along with the clams, as sort of a side venture, they also hatch and grow turtles. Monet (s/v Doin' It) was especially enamoured with the baby turtles

Monet and tuttles

The clams in the tanks ranged in size from microscopic to about a meter across. They were truely impressive. I'd never seen clams like this before. They have a soft lip that covers the outer edge of the clam shell. Inside they have a large blow hole through wich they 'exhale' and a slit mouth through which they 'inhale.'

Green giant clam

They also come in many colors.

Red clam

With the soft edge you really can't get hurt. But I'm still thinking you might get a hand stuck if you're not careful.

Kim touched this one and it snapped shut.

Eventually it was time to head back to the boats. Rob had given the crew of Doin' It a ride and they had the usual Cf getting everyone into the dinghy. As I cruised by and took this picture Monet was the only one to realize that this had the potential to be a good picture.

James, Rob, Kim, Pauline, and Monet loading themselves into the dinghy

That evening we all gathered aboard Changing Spots for a bit of rum.

Doin' It crew: Monet, James, and Kim, aboard Spots

I spent a few days swiming and relaxing in the Makongai harbor. The snorkeling was excellant. And the harbor was, understandably, full of giant clams. I mean full-grown ones that were well over a meter across. Very cool.

Finally it was time for me to head out to Ovalau. Changing Spots had departed and was heading directly to Suva; something about mail waiting for them. Ovalau was a short sail away and would allow me to make the run to Suva as an overnight sail later on.

I'll say right off that Ovalau was a disappointment. the anchorage is just an open roadstead. Sure there's a reef out in front. But it disappears at high tide. Half of each day you'll find yourself bouncing around wondering if your anchor will pop loose.

Chart showing Galena's track into Ovalau anchorage

And from the Yachtsman's Guide to Fiji, this arial photo of the Ovalau 'harbor.'

Arial view of the Ovalau anchorage

Every time I went ashore I worried about Galena's safety. It made for a very dissatisfying visit. Historically, this was the original capital of Fiji. It was the main port and one can still clear in and out with the customs officer here.

s/v Madrona, Doin' It, and Galena in the open anchorage that fronts Ovalau

I will say, though, that the main street of the town is picturesque. Except for worrying about Galena, I enjoyed the place. I would have stayed longer but for the crappy anchorage. Also, I had to pay a minor harbor fee of US$ 2.50. Just an anoyance.

The main drag on Ovalau

Of course, the first thing we did was find a place to have a beer. S/v's Madrona, Doin' It, and I were always ready for a beer. Well, Madrona not so much. They have a couple of rug-rats with them so that gives them a slightly different set of priorities.

Having the required first beer in Ovalau before finding a place for lunch

While we were having our beer there was this cute little kid who kept watching us at a distance. I guess we were somewhat of a curiosity to her.

Local kid trying to make sense of a table full of yachties

Later that evening, as we continued our quest for cold beer, we found a nightclub off the main drag. There Monet made a new friend of Epi.

Monet and her new friend, Epi

This would be 'goodbye' for s/v Doin' It. They would head directly for Vanuatu and the Solomons while I would head for Suva and Musket Cove. At the time I still planned on catching up with them 'down island.'

Since I couldn't stand the rough anchorage I soon departed for Suva, the capital of Fiji. This would be an overnight sail of about 15 hours. I left Ovalau in the afternoon when the weather was rainy but absolutely calm. As soon as I was outside the reef the wind picked up and I settled in for a nice evening of sailing downwind and around the corner to Suva.

As the evening wore on, the wind continued to pick up. And, as usual, it clocked around until I was close-hauled and pushing into steep seas. This is not Galena's best point of sail. Truth be told, her best point of sail is "Anchored."

By dawn I was tired. Very tired. Again the wind died as I turned into the harbor entrance. I followed the charts to the area near the Royal Suva Yacht Club. There I was greeted, again, by Rob on Changing Spots. He gave me the lay of the land, as it pertains to the anchorage. He had had some trouble getting his anchor to set and suggested places for me to attemp to anchor. The anchorage is about 20-ft deep but shoals quickly as you approach the yacht club marina.

Galena's track into Suva harbor

I found a spot and also had a bit of trouble getting the anchor to set. After two tries I was satisfied. As usual I ended up not quite where I wanted to be. This time I was a little too close to a sunked fishing boat. In fact, I would later move just to get some distance between me and it.

Suva harbor with the RSYC and anchorage in the lower portion of the picture

I don't have many (any?) pictures of my time in Suva. I was there for a couple of weeks and most of that time was spent crawling from nightclub to nightclub. I was quick to find the clubs where each ethnic group hung out. The Purple Haze was where you went if you wanted to dance with the lovely Indian ladies. The Singles club was always full of oriental ladies. And O'Reiley's was where you could find just about anything/anyone you wanted.

Aside from drinking there was not much to do there. I did some provisioning because I was still planning on heading out to Vanuatu after a short stop at Musket Cove. That plan would change.

Rob and Pauling were heading directly to New Zealand for the cyclone season and they spent their time in Suva getting ready for that passage. It would be a "longest passage" for Pauline. As it turned out, it was not at all pleasent. They even sustained some damage and lost a sail.

I got myself ready for another overnight sail.

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