Fabulous Fiji (July 29 – August 12)


We are always happy to make landfall, and after a passage like that last one, we are even more appreciative. Unfortunately, we aren't allowed off the boat until the officials come by so our first job is to make the boat and ourselves presentable and then wait. We were supposed to have three separate people come by but the agricultural fellow never did show up. A couple of days later he signed our papers, which we'd left at the marina office, but we never met him. I had a little chuckle thinking about that happening in New Zealand – not a chance! While we were waiting, a few folks we'd met elsewhere came by to welcome us and compare notes on our respective passages. Sailors like to debrief their trips, especially if they were exciting, scary, or unpleasant in some way. We also like to know we aren't the only ones. As a trauma counsellor, I find it interesting to observe this behaviour; based on the fact that most of us keep sailing, this coping method seems to work. Or maybe that's why happy hours are so popular...

Savusavu (pop. 5000) is a convenient spot for cruisers as there are a lot of services that are particularly useful for us, such as Internet access, laundry, showers, charts for sale, and seminars. One can get water, fuel and a good assortment of groceries. The cruiser's information net on the radio every morning lets you know about these services, and which establishment is having the happy hour that evening. The mouth of Nakama Creek provides a well-protected harbour where about 25 boats can moor. After the bouncy ride to get here we surely appreciated the calm flat water, and slept very well. The view of the commercial part of town is softened by the attractive amount of vegetation right at the waterfront. Colourful shops can be seen through the trees. A bit farther inland the island rises steeply, with houses and buildings scattered amongst the greenery, looking down on the harbour. On the other side of the harbour is an island mainly covered in bush. Looking north, extending into the distance, one can see the wide creek with marshy edges gradually narrowing, and watch the local small fishing boats making their way through the coral patches. From this direction, just a bit more to the west, one is treated to a beautiful and peaceful view of softly-rounded, dark green mountains.

We were pretty busy in Savusavu, accessing many of the above services, catching up with cruiser friends we'd met in other ports, and meeting new folks. We went to two seminars put on by local colourful character, Curly. At one, we learned about how to behave in a village so that we don't offend anyone (for example, wearing a hat is considered rude, as is wearing a bag over your shoulder), and learned how to present the sevusevu, which is a gift of kava, or yoqona (pronounced yongona) as it is called here. The other seminar highlighted some of the areas that are good to stop at, and where some of the danger spots are. Fiji has a lot of reefs and some boats become better acquainted with them than is preferable. Using some of the computerized charts exacerbates problems; the program can give a false impression of precision. We ate out quite a bit since the restaurants were pretty inexpensive, and sometimes there were good socializing opportunities there.

The extroverted Curly, who is easily recognizable by his long white beard and lanky build, runs the Bosun's Locker and coordinates many services for yachties. He seems quite happy to help out and provides a wealth of information. We sent our life raft off to Suva to be serviced through Curly, and plan to get in on the next bulk purchase of pop. He lives on a bright blue houseboat, complete with potted plants on the deck, a large dog, and an attack cat. Every morning at 0830 he comes on the VHF with a hearty “Goooood morning, Savusavu!!”, and proceeds to give the weather forecast and other information all with a good sprinkling of humour.

The big event was the arrival of the Samoan Circus. We went with friends Jim and Barb on Spanish Stroll, and had a lot of fun, despite, or perhaps because of the small scale of the show. The tent held about 400 people. The entertainers all had more than one job and no doubt they all helped to set up the tent and stage as well. The music and lights were run by the patriarch, until he did his magic show at the end, when an acrobat took over. A couple of the acrobats (one of them about 10 years old) were running a game out front where people tried to climb up a wobbly rope ladder. Bjarne made the attempt to win the $100 but, alas, ended up on the mat like everyone else. From our front row seats we had a good view of some impressive physical feats, and the entertaining clowns. Bjarne was brought on stage to help the clown out and he did quite well; I reckon he had a natural talent for it. A woman amazed us with her hula hoop skill: she could wiggle a hoop up from the ground, and at one point she was spinning at least 50 hoops all at one time. There were some pretty buff, scantily-clad men doing various feats of strength and balance. If most of the men in Samoa look that good, I think I'll like it there. There were no wild circus animals except for one that was contained in a large shaking box labeled “Danger!!” (held by aforementioned scantily-clad men). With much trepidation the clown went in, wrestled with the wild beast, and emerged with a very cute ginger kitten. Oh yes, a chicken was also pulled out of a hat. Some popcorn and candy floss completed our circus experience, and we left with well-used smiling muscles.

Barb and Jim, helpful folks that they are, assisted us in celebrating our twelfth wedding anniversary. We ate dinner at the Savusavu Yacht Club, with a goodly helping of wine, followed by chocolate on Spanish Stroll. Sitting on a boat with friends, enjoying the tropical night air, eating chocolate and sipping wine – if this is what's in store, I'll stick around for another 12 years. Other socializing included having Len and Jane from Felicity Jane over for supper on Freya, where we used some of our moose-shaped pasta in honour of them having come from Canada. No one could tell what the heck shape the pasta was supposed to be but it tasted just fine with a nice tomato pesto sauce created by Bjarne. We then had dinner on Felicity Jane a couple of nights later. The yummy curry dishes inspired an interest in taking the seminar on local cooking. Because of the large Indo-Fijian population (from the indentured labourers of the past century), Fiji's local dishes go beyond taro, breadfruit and coconut.

The Fijiians we have met have been very friendly. They are more outgoing on average than the Tongans. When we are walking by we'll often hear the call of “Bula!” and have to look around to see where it is coming from. We'll spot the person a ways away, cheerily waving to us. Sometimes people stop and ask us where we are from and some will shake our hands and introduce themselves.

Fawn Harbour

It took a bit of effort, but we finally got ourselves out of the town. There's always one more email we could send, one more item to pick up at the market, one more person to chat with, and so on. It was a bit late to go very far, so we started with a short, one hour sail to a mooring that is just inside the entrance to the large Savusavu Bay. It was nice to be away from the town and we had a lovely, relaxing afternoon. The next morning we headed out quite early for the 35 mile (as the frigate bird flies) sail to Koro Island. As soon as we passed outside the reef guarding Savusavu Bay the seas became quite lumpy and the strong wind was coming from where we wanted to go. Both of us started to feel uncomfortable. I took a Gravol and Bjarne took to the rails. I think we were still suffering from having had a bad passage a week previously so our resilience was down. We just weren't up to spending a long day feeling lousy so we altered course to a place that was a bit closer (still 25 miles though) and didn't require us to tack up wind. The trip was tiring as the seas were still rough until we carefully made our way through the pass into Fawn Harbour. In the now calm waters I spotted a turtle popping its head up but it was over the reef so we couldn't go closer. We anchored in the shelter of a tiny island in Fawn Harbour and took it easy for the rest of the day, trying not think about the long passages home.

The winds continued to be boisterous and from approximately where we wanted to go so we took the dinghy ashore in the afternoon. This bay has a long stretch of shallow water extending from shore. The tide was out so we walked through deep mud that enveloped our feet and tried to suck the sandals off our feet. On this first excursion ashore we walked along a bumpy dirt road bordered by trees. There is a bus that travels along here to and from Savusavu, so although the area is rural, it is not isolated. Through the palm leaves we could see the beautiful shades of blue-green over the reefs bordering the harbour. The day was sunny and the walk pleasant. We saw a type of tree we didn't know with large bowling-ball-sized smooth green fruit hanging from it. We still don't know what it is, but Rita, a local woman, told us it wasn't edible. We visited with Rita a few times while we stayed in Fawn Harbour and had some fun learning a bit about local politics. For example, she said the government was going to pave the road, but she figured their main motivation was to get votes for the election next year, and that since no one would maintain the road, it would eventually be worse than before it was paved. Seems like short-sighted government decisions are world-wide. Rita kindly gave us some jam and limes and we brought her a couple of books the next day. She told us there were papayas growing on the small island we were anchored near so we detoured to look around the island and pick a couple pieces of fruit. The papayas were growing well over our heads so Bjarne knocked them down with a long bamboo pole and I tried to slow their falls. We avoided the ripe ones for fear they wouldn't survive the landing. As we were about to leave, a sea snake swam around our dinghy. Since they are poisonous, albeit with little mouths, we waited until it swam away before we carried the dinghy into the water.

During our walk we also met Tiana, the wife of the local minister, who invited us into her home. She asked about our lives at home and told us a bit about her life. She was, I think, rather lonely. She spoke of how hard it had been to come to this rural area 5 years ago as she was from Suva, which is a large city. No doubt being a newcomer to an area where most of the people are related in some way, and being newly married when she first arrived all added to the adjustments and challenges. She gave us some pieces of sugar cane that were about 2 inches in diameter and we left some scented pencils for her children, who were out with her husband at that time. Tiana invited us to return the next day and truly seemed disappointed when we said we would probably be leaving for another anchorage. The next day the winds were still up and the sky was overcast, so we decided to go ashore again for another visit with Tiana, and to bring those books to Rita. When we arrived her children were all playing with the pencils, the youngest by chewing on one. This time at Tiana's house we also met the matriarch, Caroline, of the clan in that area. She was quite friendly and sent some of the kids out to get us some “poor man's oranges” and taro. It was interesting to observe how she came in and essentially took over the conversation with us, while Tiana sat quietly.

After a while, eleven year old John offered to take us to the hot spring. He was a good tour guide, and named some of the plants we passed, asked questions about us, and answered questions we asked him. The spring was reached after a 20 minute walk on a well-trod path through the bush and skirting fields of crops. We stepped into the small pool which the hot water flowed into from a one inch pipe. The water was almost too hot, although probably just perfect for a bath on a cold winter night (we have some vague recollection about that). No worries, the hot water poured over the rocks and merged with the adjacent cool stream, making a lovely warm pool. We splashed around a bit but the presence of our young tour guide, and the other folks who walked by, deterred us from peeling off our clothes and immersing ourselves.

When we returned, much to our surprise, Tiana had prepared a delicious lunch for us. Like other times we have eaten in people's homes in the South Pacific, we were the only ones who ate. I don't think I'll ever grow to like this custom; to me, sharing a meal is a way to connect. Tiana invited us to return for Sunday lunch (this was Friday) but we declined as we did want to move on to another location. She expressed her disappointment that we did not meet her husband, but we were happy to have met this friendly, somewhat shy, woman. We took a photo before leaving and said our goodbyes.

John accompanied us to the boat. We never did figure out who his parents were and whether or not it was a problem to take him out to the boat. We did mention to Tiana that he was coming with us; she didn't seem to think anything of it, nor did John give any indication that he needed permission. We were pretty certain though that more than one adult was aware that he was on our boat. John was very curious about things on Freya, but also very polite. He was quite interested in the photos of our travels, but, like most kids would be, he was also keen to know if we had any video games or movies. When Bjarne and John headed back to shore in the dinghy, our little outboard, which had been a bit cantankerous since we reached Fiji, chose this time to go on strike. We were anchored a fairly long distance from shore and there was a steady breeze that wasn't blowing him any closer to his destination. I watched sympathetically while Bjarne yanked on the starter cord and he and John drifted away. When it finally started and John was delivered safely to shore I was relieved – I wouldn't want us to be thought of as kidnappers. Hmmm, on the other hand, we could use some crew.

The sun was shining the next day and the winds started off very light. We had thought that we'd go to Viani Bay next, about 20 miles further along the southern coast of Vanua Levu, but the winds were favourable for heading to Koro. It was a lovely day and, once the winds picked up to 15 kts, we scooted along nicely. The low seas made for a comfortable ride and we were able to read and bake bread along the way, thus reassuring ourselves that not all passages are bad.

Koro Island

We were happily moored in Dere Bay by 1530, giving us enough time to go ashore. There is a sort-of resort there but they don't really take tourists. Instead, the folks staying are ones who have bought nearby property and are working on their houses, or who are considering buying property. There are over 400 lots, most of which are apparently sold, but you can't really tell since not much has been built yet. Getting materials to the island and finding skilled builders is apparently a challenge, but communications will soon be getting easier: there's a cell phone tower and a satellite dish for Internet in progress. There are flights to the island as well. There are a few houses amongst the trees on the very steep hillsides, and some obviously in progress. The lots are concentrated into one area of the island as Fiji only allows a limited amount of land to be sold to foreigners. There are a number of villages on the island as well. It was interesting to speculate about what it would be like to have a house there or to run a business for the new landowners. Bjarne thought he could install environmentally friendly energy sources, for a fee of course. It would be interesting to see what Dere Bay looks like in 10 years.

We hadn't had a lot of exercise lately so we set a brisk pace up the steep hills. We followed a rather rough road which made its way around the new development area. The lush vegetation was running rampant and the views out into the bay were lovely in the late afternoon light. The hills, though... we would be in good shape if we lived there. Along the way we met a woman named Holly and her partner Richard. Holly had won her house on Koro in a reality TV show called Under One Roof . We had a longer walk a couple of days later. Koro really is a beautiful island. We stopped to feed a couple of horses that were tethered along the roadside, on pretty short ropes. They were very skittish and started anytime our hands moved. With a bit of coaxing, Bjarne got one to eat out of his hand but the second horse was too scared. We felt sad for them. However, the mosquitoes took advantage of our compassion and began attacking rather mercilessly while we stood still. Onwards, says I. We turned around before we reached the village because visiting a village could end up taking quite a while and we weren't really feeling like it. Instead of following the road back we looped back along the waterfront. Not only did we get to see different things, we avoided going back over the hills.

One of the boats in the anchorage, 49 foot Galatea, had a party on our second night there. There was an unusual mix of folks there as Galatea had invited the fellow who was selling the real estate, a new landowner who was at the resort while having her house built, and Holly and Richard who live on the island. Usually it's just sailors at these gatherings so it was good to have conversation options beyond what wasn't working on the boat. The new landowner was from Los Angeles and she spoke of how she liked to come to Fiji so she could slow down. She was quite exuberant and fun to listen to but one couldn't really have a conversation with her; when she asked a question, she'd be off and running with another topic before you'd finished answering. We wondered what speed she normally worked at. Sounds like L.A. would be a bad place for cruisers to get re-acquainted with land life.

We did some diving and snorkeling on the day after we arrived. Some of the coral lumps were as big as houses and there were swim-throughs with the coral arching overhead. We weren't very deep so we didn't see any large fish but there was a bit more colour here than in Tonga. We'd planned to spend more time in the water the next day, at a spot we'd heard was really good, but the seas were quite choppy and the sky gray. The weather disappointed us and we glumly hung around for the morning reading and working on the website. A good long walk on shore in the afternoon perked us up a bit. Apparently, Clint Eastwood has some beach property here, but we weren't sure if we were on his beach or not. We entertained ourselves trying to get a photo of a fruit bat but they weren't very cooperative. We ended up with quite a few shots of blue sky, and a couple with blurry bats.


There was a three night maximum stay in Dere Bay so we headed off to Makogai Island, which is home to a clam and turtle breeding facility. We had a pleasant sail as the seas weren't too high and we even had some sun for a while. Bjarne entertained himself by using the sextant to calculate how fast Galatea was catching up to us. At one point a whole lot of fish were leaping out of the water, being chased by a much larger fish (maybe 3 feet long). It was bright blue and shot out of the water one or two feet into the air. Quite amazing to see. Bjarne almost caught two fish, both of which somehow got off the hook. The first one could be seen jumping at the end of the line, a little too vigorously I guess. Oh well, we reached Makogai at 1330, which gave us plenty of time to make pizza dough.

On our tour of the clam and turtle breeding facilities we learned that the funding has been drastically reduced since the 2000 coup. I believe various countries pulled their support from Fiji so as not to support the illegal government, and some of the money for this station came from Australia. The facilities were much reduced and the workers are struggling to keep things going. They are using an old generator left over from when there was a leper colony on the island (closed in 1969). The generator provides power for the villagers and runs the water pumps which are crucial for keeping the baby clams alive. The 20 foot radius of oil spewed around the generator tells its own story. They run short of supplies and money at times so the workers sometimes pay for the diesel themselves to ensure the clams don't die. We gave them 10 litres of diesel (we don't carry very much). We learned that the clams eggs are artificially inseminated by the workers. Baby clams grow in long cement troughs and when they are big enough, they are sold to other islands in Fiji where the clams have been depleted due to over-harvesting or damage to the environment. The resorts are good customers because the tourists like to see the large and colourful clams. We saw clams as tiny as a few millimeters but they weren't nearly as cute as the baby sea turtles. These were only 1 to 3 months old and about 5-15 cm big. Awwww, can we keep one?

Judging by the number of ruins, the leper colony must have been pretty extensive, but ruins is definitely the appropriate way to describe what is left. There was a large cemetery that the French Catholic Church provides some support to help maintain (by the looks of it, not quite enough), in honour of the Catholic missionaries that worked with the lepers. Our guide pointed out the building that used to be the cinema, where men and women sat separately to watch films. At least some of the living spaces looked like cement cell blocks. Most of the work and building was done by those who were still fairly healthy yet sentenced to live on this island. Apparently there was a fair amount of violence in the colony. I can't imagine people were very happy there.

There were non-lepers on Makogai but they lived on the other side of the island and movement between the two communities was quite restricted. We walked along the narrow trail that used to be a road to the other side where we saw the abandoned police station and the empty municipal office with the post-office and bank. Unfortunately the safe had been cleared out except for a rather boring list of by-laws. When we reached the larger village where 10 families live, as opposed to the four which live on the clam farm side, some kids on their lunch break found us and brought us to the school. They were quite shy and didn't say much to us. There were two teachers, a husband and wife team, for the 24 students. They ran the school on a $3000 budget, not including their salaries. They had obviously worked hard to make the best use of local resources and were very dedicated to their work. The Fiji government seems to put more importance on their schools and education than the Tongan government; education is more accessible and sending your kids to the public schools is not a last resort. I was impressed to learn that a remote area will rate a school if it has 10 children. We gave them a book for the students but I don't think Joshua Slocum will be as popular as the Harry Potter book that had recently been donated by another cruiser. There was a long sign-up list for that one.

Under the water we found small patches of brilliantly-coloured soft coral and some clams as large as two feet long. A large turtle chose not to linger when we appeared; I tried to follow, but it was able to go much deeper and faster than me. We saw a rather skinny shark, which I thought might not bode well, but it wasn't the least bit interested in us. Some other cruisers were quite interested in the large grouper we saw, but it wisely stayed out of range of their spear gun.

One morning we were happy to have a bright sunny day, as there'd been a fair amount of overcast weather recently. Little did we realize the welcomed sun would cause our downfall. Bjarne hauled the two V-berth mattresses out to take advantage of the sun and still air. I noticed that he hadn't tied them down right away but then got caught up in whatever I was doing. Later I found myself wondering what that large floating thing was behind us. The folks from Flair happened to be heading out in their dinghy and apparently were also curious. As they approached the mystery object I had a horrible thought - sure enough, there was only one mattress on the dodger. Curses! Flair brought our rather soggy item back to us and Bjarne abandoned the electronics project he was engaged in so that he could spend the next hour rinsing the salt out and then trying to dry the thing. We used many towels to sandwich the foam and then stomped on the mattress so the towels could absorb the water. No doubt this looked entertaining to our boat neighbours; we should have had some Stompin' Tom music to help us out. Fortunately, there's room to sleep in the main part of the cabin as it took about 5 days to dry out our giant sponge.

The anchorage near the station is a bit noisy in the evening when the oil-spewing generator gets rolling, but it turns off around 2130h. When we passed through Makogai a couple of weeks later we stayed around to the north side of the island, where the anchorage is less popular and more peaceful. The coral near the shore was pretty extensive and we saw a lot of interesting fish. That night the stars were fantastic so we grabbed a blanket and sat out on the deck to enjoy the view. The sounds of gentle surf wooshing on the shore and birds calling carried well in the calm air. The peace infused us and we talked about how we haven't spent as many nights this way as we'd thought we would. Lots of things, including weather, contribute to this but it was a good reminder for us to enjoy such moments when we get them. Even out here one can forget.

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