Fiji Skies

Waiheke Island, New Zealand

By: Kerry

When the tallest thing around is a palm tree, the sky seems a whole lot bigger.

Call me a nerd, but one of the things I most enjoyed about Fiji was the extravagant cloud formations. Almost every day, there would be some vast, abstract masterpiece splashed across the sky.

Often, there would be a whole catalogue of cloud ‘types’ jumbled up together: sheep’s wool cumulus and mare’s tails, a mackerel sky, lenticular pancakes and anvils of thunder.

I left it a bit late in the season to make any real photographic study of them, but here’s a selection of Fiji skies…

(Click on a photo and you get a pop-up gallery. To exit the gallery, click the X that appears at the top left of the black side panel when you run your mouse over it).


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Learning to Fly

By: Kerry

Fiji kitesurfing-7483The second time I hitched myself to a kite, I made the mistake of glancing down to see where to place my foot. In the split second it took me to look up again, I’d made a Superwoman-like leap about four metres into the air – much to the amusement of all onlookers.

As I hurtled about 10 metres forward, I had time (in that slow-motion vortex you experience in the grip of an adrenalin rush) to look down and hope, helplessly, that I wouldn’t land on the coral below, before I face-planted into deep water.

With the wind blowing a little over 20 knots, the kite took off with me attached, being ‘body-dragged’ through the water: just as I was supposed to do. Woo-hoo!

Whenever we’ve been in Musket Cove and the tides (exposing the sand bar) and winds (15 knots or more) have aligned, kitesurfing guru Lionel has been giving us kiteboarding lessons. We started out with a one-square-metre training kite on land. Damian then sustained his golf wound, and couldn’t progress to the next step, so the class came down to the girls: Michelle, Suzie and me.

Suzie started earlier in the season and bought her own gear. She’s a step ahead of Michelle and me and, in the last week before we left, managed to crack it, getting up on her board and tearing across the bay, flat out.

Michelle and I are still at the body-dragging stage, where we fly a seven or nine-metre kite and get dragged through the water without the board attached to our feet and the added complication of having to steer the board as well as the kite.

I’d tried body dragging only once before my Superwoman act. This time – once I landed and the kite took off – I quickly steered the kite into the fly zone, lay on my back with my leading arm extended to act as a keel, and managed to body drag up-wind, with (according to the guru) perfect form. I was quite chuffed.

The interesting bit came when I tried to tack and the kite momentarily passed through the power zone, launching me into the air again…

Maybe next season we’ll get board-borne.

*Thanks to Graham Keating, Maunie of Ardwell for additional pix.

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Back in Inzud

Marsden Cove, New Zealand (Inzud)

By: Kerry Fiji to NZ 2014-5877We’re baaa-aack! Tied to a dock for the first time in five months. We arrived in Marsden Cove, NZ on Thursday evening, exactly six days and 12 hours after leaving Fiji, And we arrived with a mast this time, so figure that’s gotta be a win!

Regular readers would be disappointed if there wasn’t at least ONE incident to report, though, right? Never fear!

The day before we left Fiji, Verdo went up the mast to do a rig check and discovered that the gennaker halyard block (the pulley that holds our biggest headsail up) was distorted and the pin attaching it to the head of the sail was bent. With no time to replace the block before departure, we jury-rigged another pin and put the sail back up.

The guilty block and bent pin

The guilty block and bent pin

Several days into the trip, we went to use the sail for the first time. It lasted all of about a minute before the block exploded, dumping all 125 square metres of sail into the briny. Damian and Verdo managed to haul it back on board without any damage. All good.

The fun started when we tried to hoist it again. Because we couldn’t furl or contain the sail prior to hoisting it, we had to get it to the top of the mast as quickly as possible and then try to get the flogging acres of sail and miles of sheets (ropes) under control as quickly as possible.

So we got it hoisted without a problem, but it wouldn’t be that easy, would it?

As with everything on this boat, there is a lot of power, size and area that’s difficult to manage short-handed when it goes pear-shaped.

The sail was flogging wildly, and hence so were the sheets (attached to the clew, the outermost corner of the sail). Somehow, the flailing windward sheet (a very long rope) managed to loop itself under the leeward hull and jam itself into the dagger board casing on the bottom of the hull. Another case of ‘you couldn’t make this s**t up’.

We stopped the boat as best we could (it being the middle of the ocean and all), and I dived in and tried to free it. No luck. Verdo joined me, but the two of us couldn’t shift it. So it stayed there for the rest of the trip as we pondered various ways of trying to get it out. It meant we didn’t have a starboard dagger board for the rest of the trip, which cramped our style to windward, but compared to losing a mast, it was minor!

On another positive note, Damian’s leg started to heal properly the minute we left the tropics and his ‘bullet hole’ is now looking a whole lot better. Spoiler alert: I will post a couple of photos of it at the end of this for the medically curious, but if you’re at all squeamish, skip them!

This stretch of ocean between New Zealand and the tropics is regarded as one of the most treacherous on the planet. Of the four crossings we’ve now made of this Black Hole, this one was by far the easiest. For starters, we had Verdo as our crew: having a reliable and experienced third person on board, rather than just the two of us, made a huge difference in terms of reduced stress and sleep deprivation!

The weather was also a lot kinder than previous trips. Although we close-reached all the way (the wind never went aft of 60 degrees apparent), it never went above 25 knots true and we only had one day of crappy seas, so well and truly manageable compared to previous trips (see here, here and here).

And for the first time, we also buddy-boated with another boat: Kiapa, another 52-foot catamaran. While they’re the same size and both cats, Kiapa and Sel Citron are quite different boats. Kiapa is designed by Melvin and Morelli: it’s a light-weight, go-fast cruising cat, whereas we are about twice as heavy, thanks to a different construction and having quite a few more creature comforts. (Lionel, Kiapa’s owner, likes to call us the ‘fat chick in lycra’).

Nevertheless, we pretty much paced one another: Kiapa pulled away from us in light airs, but in stronger winds, we kept pace and had a much more comfortable trip in the rough stuff. It was great having the company and we stayed in VHF radio and visual contact all the way until the last night, when Kiapa peeled off to Opua and we continued to Marsden.

One bonus of buddy boating is the opportunity to take photos of each other under sail – the first time we’ve ever seen ourselves with sails up! These were all taken on the same day – easy to see the difference some weight makes… And this was on a light air day! Thanks to Graham Keating on board Kiapa for the pics of Sel Citron.

We felt a bit like the homecoming queen arriving: the marina staff, friends on other boats, even Customs and Biosecurity know us and gave us a warm welcome. It almost feels like home!

PS The gennaker sheet is now free from the dagger board, thanks to the combined weight, effort and brute strength of Damian, Lionel, Steve (Citrus Tart) and Graham (Maunie/Kiapa). Thanks, fellas!

PPS Here are some pix of Damian’s golf wound – close your eyes and move on if you’re squeamish! Never underestimate a coral cut. See background details here.

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The End of the Season

Leaving Fiji

By: Kerry

It’s the end of the season: the first tropical low is starting to spin up to the northeast of us, heralding cyclone season, so it’s time to head south, back to New Zealand. We started looking for a weather window a week or so ago and now, as we sit here in Musket Cove, dabbling in ‘analysis paralysis’ – the cruising yachtie’s affliction brought on by looking at weather maps for too long, trying to decide the ideal time to leave – it’s an opportunity to finally catch up on the blog. It’s been a while…

I last wrote from Blue Lagoon, where the name ‘Brooke Shields’ is still on everyone’s lips, though just where and how much of the film was shot on location there is not really clear. It’s not so much a ‘lagoon’ as a sheltered waterway between several quite substantial islands, but on a sunny day, it lives up to its name, when the water practically glows in every shade of blue.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

We anchored off one of the sheltering islands, Nanuya Lailai (or Nanuya Sewa), which nestles up against the very upmarket and yachtie-intolerant Turtle Island, and circumnavigated both islands by kayak.

As we hugged the edge of the beautiful white-sand beach on Nanuya Lailai, a young whippet-sized dog, that we’d met the day before, trotted down to the shore to say hello, and followed us around the shoreline. When we got to a patch of mangroves, we thought she’d turn back, but she jumped in and swam after us.

There was no dissuading her, but there was nowhere for her to land, either, so when she eventually tired, I hauled her up on my kayak. She fell off a couple of times as she squirmed and tried to stand up, but then she settled down and happily sat between my knees as we headed out into the open water on the windward side of the island.

It took us an hour or so to get around, and it was a bit choppy at times, with waves coming over the kayak, but she seemed to quite enjoy it and only jumped off and swam ashore when we were rounding the last corner and headed for home.

A week or so later, we were further north in Sawa-i-Lau and I was talking to Abraham, the village chief, and I mentioned we’d been kayaking in Blue Lagoon. He suddenly stopped and said, “Was that you with a dog on your kayak?”

He’d happened to be on the windward side of the island the day we’d paddled past and laughed his head off when I admitted that yes, I was the crazy white woman who takes stray dogs on open water sightseeing cruises.

Meeting Abraham was yet another slightly baffling sevusevu experience. We’d arrived the day before and had been taken to see the ‘chief’ of the village, and were introduced to a smiling elderly lady who spoke no English. She took our kava and thanked us, but once again there was no suggestion of doing the full ceremony.

I was impressed that the chief was a woman, but next day, we met Abraham and heard that, in fact, he was the chief and he asked us to advise our fellow cruisers that they were obliged to do sevusevu with him, rather than with the caretakers of the ‘famous’ caves, which are the main attraction of Sawa-i-Lau.

Seems there is a bit of competition for cruisers’ kava…

To date, we haven’t done a full sevusevu ceremony anywhere, despite presenting bunches of kava to village chiefs on half a dozen occasions. It seems the locals in this part of Fiji are happy to receive the grog, but aren’t that fussed about ‘tradition’. In fact, our friends Di and Graham even did a ‘drive by’ sevusevu, when the said cave caretakers came up to their boat in a panga, asked for the kava to be handed over and then sped off.

So much for our fear of breaching protocol…

The ‘famous’ flooded limestone caves at Sawa-i-Lau were decidedly underwhelming, but the bay they are in is lovely, and we spent a hedonistic afternoon lolling about in gin clear water on the edge of a golden beach, drinking chilled wine with the Citrus Tarts.

The Mamanuca and Yasawa chain of islands extends for around 80 miles, south to north. We didn’t make it all the way to northern end of Yasawa, the top island, but we did find plenty of lovely anchorages along the way, quite a few of which we had to ourselves, including the beautiful, broad bay of Somosomo, on Naviti Island.


One of my favourites was just off Yalobi village on the south side of Waya Island, which lies about halfway up the chain. Waya is geographically the most dramatic island in the Yasawas, with steep green hills rising from the shoreline and crowned with massive basalt outcrops – the eroded evidence of its volcanic provenance.

Yalobi village sits on an arc of golden beach, embraced by rugged hills and fronted by a clear aqua bay. We hiked up above the village from where we could see all the way down the island chain – and look down on Sel Citron looking like a rubber ducky in a bathtub.

We spent several relaxing days kayaking and snorkelling, then we headed back to Denarau, with the intention of leaving for NZ to be back in time for friends Ian and Sue’s wedding on Pittwater. But once again, it was just as well we’re on the No Plan Plan…

Of course, there’s never a dull moment in our lives… In the course of a game of golf seven weeks ago when my family was here, Damian came a cropper while retrieving a ball from the beach ‘bunker’ at Musket Cove. He fell on a sharp rock on the shoreline and gouged a divot out of his shin. He went to the nurse at nearby Plantation Island Resort, who cleaned it, dressed it, and dosed him with antibiotics.

He stayed out of the water for three weeks, kept it clean, had more antibiotics and three penicillin jabs in his derriere – basically did all the right things. But it stubbornly refused to heal, developing an infection/abscess as coral-type cuts infuriatingly tend to do.

To cut a long story short, he eventually had to go to the doctor in Nadi, who took to it with a scalpel and ‘debrided’ the wound, leaving him with an elliptical hole the size of a 20 cent piece and about an inch deep. Even the doctor admitted it looked just like a bullet wound (he was worried about osteomyelitis, but an x-ray proved negative).

Since then, we’ve been hanging out in Musket Cove, while Damian has had to make weekly trips back to the doctor in Nadi to have it checked and dressed, which has rather stymied our travel plans, both here in Fiji and for heading back to NZ.

Who knew golf was an extreme sport??

It’s still a long way from healed (it’s probably only about a centimetre deep now!) but he’s been given the all-clear to travel. So we’re off to NZ!

This time we have a friend and extra crew member, Peter Verdon (Verdo) along for the ride – very experienced sailor and all-round good guy. The weather forecast is looking good, so we’re hoping (just for a change) for a nice, easy trip!

We are already underway, en route. I’m typing this as fast as I can before we lose internet, so might have to ‘edit’ it at the other end… We should be in Marsden Cove by next Friday.

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Wild Times in West Fiji

Blue Lagoon, Yasawas, Fiji

By: Kerry

Bula from the Yasawa Islands: the long tail of islands trailing north from the western side of the big island of Fiji, Viti Levu.

While my family (sister Sandra and her hubby Dave; and my niece Lori and nephew Matt) were on board for a couple of weeks, we ventured further afield, sailing north from Denarau (on the west side of the big island, Viti Levu), through the chain of islands as far as the south side of Naviti in the Yasawas.

Our first night out, we stopped in Navadra, an arc of pristine golden sand with a pelt of palm trees and a large volcanic plug dominating one end. The snorkelling was fantastic, with lots of huge plate corals and unusual formations.

The perfect deserted tropical island, at last…well, almost.

There was only one other boat in the anchorage. OK, so it was Dragonfly*, the 73 metre (204 foot) super yacht owned by the ‘other’ Mr Google, which kind of dominated our sunset view.  But they left at 0600 the following morning, and then we had it to ourselves…

Next stop was just off Octopus Resort on Waya Island: another pristine, white sand arc, fringed with palm trees. Conde Nast Traveller readers apparently voted it into the Top 10 beaches in the world. It was beautiful, no doubt, but those CN readers really need to get out more. We all decided there are plenty of others we’d rate higher – but then, we’re horribly spoiled (we all thought Hawks Nest gave it a good run for the money!).

We then headed up to the southern side of Naviti Island and anchored in view of the pass, which is renowned for attracting manta rays. When the tide’s running, they feed by swimming into the current funnelling through the channel, and filtering food in the manta version of eating on the run.  It was an overcast afternoon, threatening the first rain we’d seen in months. The boys jumped in the dinghy and headed off fishing. As they left, Sandra and I pointed to the brewing storm clouds and said, “Don’t go so far that you lose sight of the boat.”

Matt's Big 'un

Matt’s Big ‘un

No sooner were they out of sight (duh!) than the heavens opened and it poured. Complete white out – we couldn’t see more than a few metres. Sandra, Lori and I got out the scrubbing brushes and cleaned the decks in the downpour. Just as we were finishing, the boys returned. Matt had landed his biggest catch ever:

So the storm blew through and we settled down for the night. At around 0300, Damian and I woke as the wind started to get up. By 0600 first light, it was blowing 25-30 knots, had swung around and we were now on a lee shore (i.e. with the reef right behind us, being blown onto it, save for our anchor holding us off). Luckily, we weren’t dragging our anchor, but the swell and chop was getting worse by the minute: we were about to be in the middle of a surf break.

The swells were starting to break around us, and the boat anchored next to us was burying its bow into the waves while it was still anchored. To add a degree of difficulty, one of our engines had decided to quit the day before (now repaired) so we had to try to get the anchor up using only one engine, which is a bit tricky to do on a catamaran. Anyway, as soon as we could see, we got the hell out of there, thankfully without any further drama, and headed back to the only other sheltered anchorage nearby, on the north side of Waya Island.

Lori had managed to get a good dose of sunburn the day before. On the crossing to Waya she emerged on deck, announcing she felt sick. Poor thing was so pale even her sunburn had turned grey! Fortunately it was only a short-ish hop and we were soon anchored in a sheltered bay beneath dramatic basalt outcrops.

There had been no warning of the bad weather from any of the numerous weather sources we monitor on a daily basis – and that’s not an uncommon thing. Together with the lack of, and distance between, sheltered anchorages, not to mention the numerous uncharted reefs, it makes navigating these islands pretty challenging. As Lionel on Kiapa says, “It’s why I have fallen in love with Mooring Ball #14 at Musket Cove.”

Continuing the unpredictable weather theme, we left next morning to head back to Musket Cove, but we rounded the headland and ran into 30 knot head winds and seas so rough we couldn’t distinguish the reefs from the cresting swells. It was clearly too dangerous to chance going all the way to MC so we put tail between legs and scuttled into the nearest anchorage on the west side of Waya and opted for movie afternoon onboard instead!

Unbelievably, the next day there was so little wind, we had to motor, almost gagging in the heat. We stopped at Monoriki Island, where the Tom Hanks movie, Castaway was filmed. The local resorts are geared up to bring punters there and then take them back to the resort to watch the movie, but we had coincidentally watched the film only recently and found it so appallingly awful we’d deleted it from our collection, so couldn’t check the details!

* Dragonfly bills itself as the fastest, ‘most economical’ super yacht afloat: it burns a mere 400 litres per hour. I guess ‘economical’ is a relative thing. As is speed. Our boat uses around 3 litres an hour and our top speed under power is around 10 knots. We tracked Dragonfly, going from zero to 17 knots in very short order. Top speed is 27 knots. If the idea of a super yacht holiday appeals, you and 11 of your besties can charter her for $773,000 per week. Or if you REALLY like the idea, the asking price last time it was for sale was $85 million. Bargain. It is a sexy looking beast, though.

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Musket Cove, Malolo Lailai, Fiji

By: Kerry

Since the end of August, we’ve been using Musket Cove as a base to explore the Mamanuca Islands and the southern Yasawas and enjoying quite a hectic social life, for the first time in forever!

There’s a constantly changing roll call of playmates as boats come and go. We’ve caught up with quite a few cruising buddies from last year and NZ, as well as meeting lots of new people.

Mornings start with yoga under the palm trees, led by our friend Lionel, from Kiapa. That’s followed by coffee and the hardest part of the day: deciding what to do next…

If it’s low tide, the sand bank at the entrance to the bay is exposed: a swathe of white sand, perfect for anything from weddings to kite surfing, so long as you can do it within an hour or two, before the tide comes back in.

Lionel and Irene are both expert kite surfers and Lionel has been teaching a few of the yachties to kite, including us. We have only just started – using a tiny training kite and flying it on land (i.e. the exposed sand spit) but it’s great fun and I’ve  had a taste of what the ‘real thing’ is like when I’ve been lifted off my feet when I’ve dipped the kite into the wind’s ‘power zone’.

(Here’s some photos that Damian took of Ray, Lionel and Irene’s friend from Perth, who clearly knows what he’s doing…)

There’s a nice little snorkelling spot just off the sand spit that’s been christened the Clown Fish Hotel: the top of one big bommie is a high-density colony of Nemos, as well as lots of other curious little fish that come when they’re called! I discovered that if you extend your hand and rub your fingers together you are instantly buzzed by dozens of hyper-coloured, hyper-active tiddlers. (I assume they’re used to being fed). The best thing is that all this happens in about a metre of water: you can just float on the surface and all the activity goes on right under your nose.

A little further out, on the edge of the reef, is Cloud Nine, which takes the concept of a ’swim up bar’ to a new level. It’s essentially a two-storey pontoon, anchored on a sandy patch amidst the reef, with shady day beds, cocktails and smoothies and a wood-fired pizza oven. We take Sel Citron out and anchor just nearby, go for a snorkel on the coral reef and then go for a drink….

There’s another little island nearby, Namotu, which is close to the famous surf breaks (Cloudbreak, Restaurants, Wilkes and Swimming Pools) and is also a great kite surfing spot. We’ve been out there a few times and, on a couple of occasions, we’ve shared the anchorage with one or other of the Google founders’ two super yachts. ‘Senses’ is 50-odd-metres long, with a helicopter on the back and multiples of every water toy you can think of on board: kite boards, jet skis, surf boards, etc.  It’s owned by Google founder, Larry Page and word had it that they booked out the whole of Namotu Island, which precluded any yachtie rabble landing on the island while they were in residence. But it didn’t mean we couldn’t anchor off and surf the same breaks, which goes to show, money can’t buy you everything!

Damian and I aren’t (board) surfers, but on a couple of occasions, our friend Irene shared a wave with Mrs Google and on another day we were out there, Layne Beachley was there – we think she may have been hanging out with the Googles as their tutor. Tough gig, huh?

We have also accompanied Irene to some of the local villages to conduct reading glasses clinics. Between Kiapa and us, we carried a number of boxes of reading glasses (just the standard +1.0, +1.5, +2.0 etc) to Fiji, that had been collected by the Lions Club in NZ. We usually get around a dozen to 20 people turning up to each ‘clinic’. Irene (whose initiative this project was) devised a rudimentary testing procedure: look at a page from a magazine and see which size type you can read. Then we match the person’s magazine-reading ability to a pair of reading glasses. Many villagers can’t afford specs, or their old pair has been broken or is no longer strong enough, so it’s fantastic to see people’s faces light up when they put on a pair of glasses and can see properly again – sometimes for the first time in years.

Later in the day, we might swim a few laps in the resort pool, before heading to the Island Bar to meet up with a few friends and throw a steak on the barbie. All the plates and cutlery are provided; the staff do the washing up, and beer is cheap.

It’s all pretty hard to take.

Every now and again (for about a nanosecond) I feel a bit guilty – like we’re copping out: we should be exploring more intrepidly, getting more involved with the local villages, going farther afield to less-visited cruising grounds. But after all we’ve been through in the last couple of years, it’s quite nice just to stay in a nice, safe anchorage, take it easy and have a ‘holiday’!

Calm morning in the anchorage

Calm morning in the anchorage

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Mayhem in Musket Cove

Musket Cove, Malolo Lailai Island, Mamanucas, Fiji

By: Kerry

After all the navigational challenges and a few sleepless nights in windy anchorages, it was a bit of a relief to make it to Musket Cove, on Malolo Island off the west coat of Viti Levu, and to pick up a mooring rather than anchor. MC is a bit of a yachtie Mecca – lots of boats come here each year and just stay the whole season. Hard to argue with the idea: there are world-renowned surf breaks (Cloudbreak, for example) a dinghy-ride away; great kite surfing, snorkelling and diving nearby and for F$10 you can get life membership of the Musket Cove Yacht Club – the only requirement being that you must have sailed here from another country.

As a member, you have access to the Musket Cove Resort facilities: swimming pool, lovely outdoor island bar, free use of the BBQs; banana lounges, hot showers; restaurants – all very laid back and casual.

The other major attraction is the annual Musket Cove Regatta, now in its 30th year. It runs for a week and the emphasis is definitely on fun rather than serious racing, largely because most entrants (cruising yachties) are racing their homes and aren’t that keen on denting them.

‘Official’ events included Pirates Day, where everyone dressed as pirates, sailed (‘raced’) to nearby Beachcomber Island and drank loads of rum before sailing back again; Crazy Olympics (think blindfolded kayaking); and of course the ubiquitous wet t-shirt competition. I actually thought those went out with the eighties, but apparently not. In supposed ‘fairness’ to the girls, there was a hairy chest competition, but most of the hair was supported by beer bellies and middle-aged moobs. Eeeeew.

Of course, where there’s a yacht race, there’s an egotist and a local boat (i.e. not a home) got a bit carried away in the Round the Island Race and t-boned another boat (i.e. someone’s home) and put a sizeable hole in it. Fortunately, the damage was above the water line. We weren’t racing our ‘home’, but Damian was invited to sail as part of a boys-only crew on Kiapa – another 52-foot cat that’s light and fast and owned by friends of ours, Lionel and Irene. The egotist had already forced Lionel to do a radical gybe to avoid hitting either the egotist’s boat or the reef and Kiapa recovered just in time to see the dude pull the same stunt on the next tack…but this time collect the other boat. Pretty scary stuff.

Meanwhile, all the girls had a much more fun day: we booked out the spa, had massages and facials and a girlie lunch by the resort pool!

In other Regatta events, Irene and I were the only all-female crew to complete the Hobie cat race course: our heat was the last of the day when the wind was peaking and we had a wild old ride. (We didn’t make it to the next round, though…).

We had better luck in the Dress the Dinghy competition, but by general consensus, we was robbed: we dressed our dinghy up as the Vaka Vinaka (Vaka being a traditional canoe, and Vinaka meaning ‘thank you’) and dressed ourselves in grass skirts (Michelle, Irene and I, as well as Lionel and Ray) and even had a hula dance routine (see photos). But the ‘Kid Factor’ won the day: as a last minute entry, a bunch of cruiser kids threw their teddies out of the cot and into their dinghy and rowed away with first prize.

The last night was ‘Dress as anything starting with M’. Fancy dress is always a challenge when cruising, since you don’t tend to carry a lot of batman suits or belly dancing outfits on board – you just have to make do with what you have. Our whole motley crew (ten of us) went as M&Ms: we made cut out Ms and eyes from contact paper and stuck them on bright t-shirts (thanks to our friend and fellow-cruiser Laura for making the trip to Nadi for the tapa print fabric for the ‘vaka’ and the contact paper). We made it to the finals, but the competition was fierce: in the end, Mrs Doubtfire won, followed by Mahatma Gandhi and Freddy Mercury.

I reckon this photo sums it up: it’s the winning photo from the Musket Cove Regatta Photo competition (taken by yours truly – I won a bottle of wine) and shows Jack, the regatta organiser, umpiring the Hobie Cat Races. Like I said, no-one was taking the racing tooooo seriously!

Musket Cove Regatta-6397

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Finding our Feet in Fiji

Port Denarau, Viti Levu, Fiji

By: Kerry

We ended up spending around three weeks in Savusavu (where I last left off). It took us a week or so to recover from the trip up from NZ – and even longer to recover from the last eight gruelling months of boat sh*te! Plus we had (yet) another period of ‘enhanced trades’ that saw strong wind warnings for all Fiji waters. We’d initially planned to head out east, but as this was right into the teeth of the trades, the more attractive option was simply to stay put, hang out in the yacht-friendly town and just chill. A lot of other yachties had the same idea, and at one point there were around 80 boats in the anchorage!

We used the time to get Damian certified (yes, you may have thought he was certifiable) as a SCUBA diver. Not a bad place to learn to dive: warm water, stunning corals and even the chance of seeing schools of hammerhead sharks on his first open water dive. Unfortunately, the hammerheads took the day off, but the diving was still fantastic. (I got my PADI certificate 25 years ago, so didn’t need to do the course, but went along on several dives).

Eventually giving up on heading east, from Savusavu we headed south to Namena – a tiny island with an even tinier, low-key resort, focused totally on diving. The surrounding reef was proclaimed a marine reserve in 1997 and so the fish and coral life is vibrant, abundant and simply spectacular. I did a drift dive (for more advanced divers) and then Damian came along for the next dive which was called The Chimneys: a series of rock pinnacles rising up from the sea floor to about five metres below the surface. During the dive, we swam in spirals around each pinnacle, working our way up and down the sheer sides, which were covered in floaty purple and white soft corals, lace and fan corals and all sorts of hard corals, all in pristine condition and vivid colours.  In and around the corals there were hundreds and hundreds of fish, all competing for the most lurid body paint, while just off in the deeper water we saw massive dog tooth tunas, big hump head wrasse, barracudas and sharks cruising around.

Overall, it was one of the best dives I’ve ever done, but the decompression stop at the end was far and away the most magical dive experience I’ve had. We floated at five metres, suspended over the top of one of the pinnacles. The water was warn and crystal clear. Shafts of sunlight shone down through the water onto the coral garden that covered the top of the ‘Chimney’ (rock pinnacle). A dazzling diversity of corals in all shapes, sizes and eye-popping colours were crammed in together. Thousands of different, tiny technicolour fish surged and darted in and out of the corals and all around us and as the sun caught them, they’d shimmer and sparkle so that it was like being in the midst of an insect swarm or a cloud of Tinkerbell dust!

(Here are some pix I pulled off the interweb to give you an idea of what it was like).

The Namena Marine Reserve is home to more than 400 species of corals and over 1,100 fish species. We also saw octopus, a turtle and whole gardens of garden eels, which stick up out of the sandy sea floor like a patch of pale asparagus stalks. Above sea level, the island is home to around 400 pairs of nesting Red-footed Boobies. The youngsters  are ridiculously curious and when we were snorkelling they’d come down and try to land on your head or in the water beside you. They are bloody big birds, so at first it’s a bit intimidating, but they’re so goofy you just end up laughing at them.

The only problem with Namena is that Damian is now totally spoilt for diving anywhere else…

We continued south, crossing to Makogai Island, which was a leper colony from 1911 until 1969. Around 4000 patients from all over the Pacific were treated on the island, some living there for decades, so the facilities – for patients, carers and administrators – were substantial. There are still a few buildings more or less intact around what is now a mariculture station and a few local houses.

Fijian tradition – and our Cruising Permit – decrees that, whenever we anchor near a village, we must ask permission from the Chief of the village to swim, dive, snorkel fish, etc in their waters, or to visit the village, go for a hike etc. The permission-seeking process is called sevu sevu and protocol involves going ashore as soon as possible after anchoring, armed with a bunch of dried kava root (known as yangona or grog) and presenting it to the Chief. There is then supposed to be a ritual of grinding up the root, mixing up the kava with water and passing coconut shell bowls of it around to be drunk by each individual, with ritual clapping from all involved. The kava is a narcotic that will send your tongue and lips numb and a really strong brew can knock you sideways if you drink enough of it. To me, it looks and tastes like a puddle, but it’s extremely rude to refuse a cup or not to drain it completely.

Once the ceremony is performed, we are officially welcomed into the village and we are then free to do or go wherever we want, and we will be treated like family. Conversely, if you don’t do sevu sevu, in a figurative sense, you don’t exist.

We did our first ‘sevu sevu’ at Makogai. Being a little unsure of the protocol and not wanting to offend, we figured we’d go for safety in numbers and went ashore with our friends Steve and Michelle, from the only other yellow catamaran we know, Citrus Tart. The Chief wasn’t around, so an old guy with one tooth sat us down cross legged on the ground, closed his eyes and said a few words in Fijian, clapped three times, said ‘welcome’ and that was it. Then he took our bunches of grog and tossed them onto the verandah of the nearest building.

So much for tradition.

That didn’t mean the locals weren’t friendly or helpful, though. The old guy then proudly took us on a really interesting tour of the remaining buildings from the leper colony days. The  locals are slowly recovering the old graveyard from the tangle of vines that has engulfed it and are restoring some of the lovely old houses, churches, and other official buildings. We took a walk around the coastline and along the way, there were numerous buildings, now hidden deep in forest, in varying states of decay. The fascinating thing was that none of the buildings on the island were built as ‘temporary’ structures: the houses had lovely carved wooden details; there were the crumbling remains of a huge concrete structure that turned out to be a cinema; and we found the remains of a jail with around eight separate cells. The isolated island was more of a fully-fledged colonial outpost than anywhere else outside Suva!

We did the last hop to the big island of Fiji – Viti Levu – and worked our way around the north coast, inside the reef. This is the official shipping route, since the strong currents and winds funnelling through Bligh Water (the waterway between the two main islands of Fiji) make for treacherous conditions outside the reef. In fact, inside the reef is just the lesser of two evils: there are reefs and bommies strewn everywhere and, like just about everywhere else in Fiji, our charts (even the electronic ones) are so inaccurate as to be largely works of art rather than fact.

The first rule of navigation here is to only travel between 9 am and 4 pm, when the sun is high in the sky and, with someone stationed on the bow of the boat, you can spot the reefs. Thank the goddess for Google Earth! Apart from actually eyeballing the route from the bow, our main navigational aid has become a Russian computer app that allows us to see our position and track on Google Earth satellite images, which clearly – and accurately – show all the reefs and shallows.

Except when there was a cloud in the way on the day the Google Earth photo was taken…!

The inside passage is narrow, with lots of twists and turns and you have to be vigilant all the time. We have heard of so many boats hitting reefs that we are super careful and so far, so good. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t trail a line – and Damian hooked a fantastic Spanish Mackerel (my favourite fish to eat) which we reckon weighed around 15kg. We had sushi, ceviche, BBQ, fish burgers, another BBQ, Kokoda (raw fish in coconut milk), another BBQ… and still we have a freezer full!

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