Monday, June 26, 2006

Return to Naviqiri Village

Current Location: Naviqiri Village
Current Position: 16°39.4' S 178°35.7' E

One of the main reasons we came back to Fiji was our love of the people, their smiles, laughter and good nature is thoroughly infectious. Our arrival in Savusavu felt like a homecoming with greetings from our old local friends and cruisers alike. The most amazing thing is how all the locals remember our names. We were constantly surprised by the "Bula Chris Bula KT" calls as we walked around town, even the woman at the local vegi market remembered KT. We received a couple of VHF calls from local cruiser residents who have started businesses there, "Welcome Home", and it felt like it.

We spent the first couple of days recovering , sharing war stories over happy hour and cleaning up the wet gear around the boat. Bobulona was getting ready to head north to Hawaii (via Samoa) so I spent a couple of days setting him up with some fishing gear. He really wants to catch a Yellowfin Tuna and I've got enough gear to outfit a fleet a fishing vessels so why not. KT and I were both amazed at the fresh vegetables at the market, yum! After dealing with air freighted or even worse ocean shipped veggies in Majuro, the fresh from the earth kind was much appreciated. Little things like mint and cilantro, fresh with root stocks still on them. KT even tried to get some to grow so she could add them to the basil she actually kept alive during the trip south.

She was excited to start testing the Solar oven that Red gave us to give to a local Fijian village. It only took a day to get it out and cranking and soon we had fish, bread, eggplant and roasted chicken all cooked to perfection in the solar oven. It was a little difficult to get the position right in the tidal river of Savusavu but it worked great when we moved out to the point for the weekend to relax and enjoy the nice breeze. KT even saw a Lion fish while she was snorkeling.

We headed back to town, because we could, for more fresh veggies and a nice sushi dinner to say goodbye to Bobulona. We spent the rest of the week enjoying the laid back atmosphere of Savusavu, it's fresh food and cheap beer during happy hour. It's a nice balance between small town atmosphere blended with the cruisers, not too much of either and if you get sick of one you can hang out with the other. KT cooked more things in the solar oven and, hold the phone, the cockpit cushions were made. It's kind of been a standing joke between KT and I because she has been threatening to sew them since we left. They turned out great but we both realized that the light gray color would show every piece of dirt brought aboard Billabong. So we had a happy hour complete with Ginger snap cookies and invited Indra over so we could get them dirty and get over the fact that they wouldn't stay clean forever.

KT joined a couple of our cruising friends another session of Cooking with Luci and made an amazing Tamarind Chutney before we headed out the point for the long weekend. I spent most of my time working of some fishing designs so that I could get Curly (the local rascal who helps the cruisers) to help me test them. I wrote up some "spec sheets" for all the things we've been using successfully but Curly has been out of town for weeks buying a new boat (to him), so I'm not sure it will happen. We returned to Savusavu which was filling up VERY quickly and decided it was time to head out of town. We spent a couple of days getting some supplies for the solar oven (that we could leave with the villagers), checked out and headed out to the point for a quick stop so we could leave early in the morning.

We were both very excited to see our old friends at Naviqiri Village. We had a nice beam reach (hey after 1700 miles of beating we weren't sure we remembered) down to the pass and a reef sheltered sail around the point before the wind died. We fished and caught a large barracuda, which in hind site we should have kept but threw back, and watched as a large shark stalked our lures for about half an hour. We had a choice, we could anchor and get up early in the morning to continue our trip or we could keep going (using our GPS track from last year) and arrive at the village at 10pm. We decided to keep going so that we could surprise everyone the next morning. We anchored just as the almost full moon rose above the clouds and went straight to bed so we would be ready for our exciting day in the village.

We walked in early and went to Sera and Freddy's house only to find out they were both gone!!!! Sera's now baby sits for a school teacher and Freddy was in Nadi. Grandma was there and she was soooo excited to see us. Of course she can't speak a lick of English so she just sat there smiling, laughing, hugging and punching us.. and boy that woman can hit!! Luckily we were greeted by Aquila, Freddy's nephew who spoke fluent English who could explain where everyone was. We walked around the village saying hi, watching in amazement at the expressions on their faces. "Chris, KT you came back like you promised".. it was kind of funny to watch.

Right away they would ask, "Where's Julie and Karl" like all Amercans who have ever been together have to stay together. Of course the kids were the most fun, some of them having grown significantly in the eight months since we last saw them. We said "qito qito" "play play" and they all ran up to the playing field. I pulled out a bunch of Frisbees and threw them as they went screaming across trying to catch them. One kid even grabbed one, held it to the sky and then kissed it and came running back with the biggest smile I've ever seen. KT got out some jump ropes and we all caught up by playing and laughing. Sera arrived after work and invited us back to her place for tea and to explain the big happenings.

Sera said she has a child now named Peter, and that he was white like us. Whoa this was HUGE news because Sera and Freddy have been trying to have a baby for a while. Then it came out that she had adopted the baby and then later that she gets paid $F40 (60 American cents an hour) a week to watch him and cook meals for some local teachers. We knew something was up when KT asked how the parents learned to speak Fijian (being White and all), and Sera gave KT a strange look, as if duh of course they speak Fijian! Anyway we were told we would be able to meet him the next day at the Big party. It turns out Freddy's son (that we didn't even know about last year) was on the Fijian Sevens Rugby team that won the world championships in London recently. This was HUGE!!

Fijian's love rugby and to have a world champion in their presence was beyond comprehension. The plan was to go in and help prepare the feast the next morning, maybe even in the solar oven, and then await their arrival around 1 o'clock the next day. When we went in there wasn't much cooking going on. We sat around waiting and willing to help but the only thing happening was they cooked the Cassava, in the biggest pot I have ever seen. We spent the afternoon killing time by making balloon animals with the kids, which was pretty funny because we didn't have a clue what we were doing.
Heck we still don't. This was going to be a HUGE party, they built a shade structure and decorated it with fresh greens and flowers. This is when we started to realize that even though we are speaking the same language there was a lot that was lost in the translation. Things that we thought we clear weren't. 

First Peter was pretty dark (certainly not white) and both his parents were about as Fijian as you can get. Then Freddy and his son arrived at around 4:30 with a bunch of other people. We were told to wait in the ceremonial building as we watched, not having a clue what was going on. First, all the new guests went to another building and then came over to sit with us in a VERY structured way. There was an older couple, Freddy and then his son Oressi. At first the village women (and KT) presented the older man with lots of mats and oils, all laid out in front of him. One of the village elders spoke and the older couple and Freddy were all in tears, the older gentlemen saying "Vinaka" (thank you) frequently. This went on for about five minutes. I thought that this must be someone returning after losing his wife and the village was welcoming him back. Then he gave a speech and Freddy and the other lady were crying hysterically. What on earth is going on? Then Freddy's son was welcomed to a very special mat where Boxing Grandma was sitting. As she went to sit down grandma grabbed KT and pulled her to the mat so that it was this rugby world champ, grandma and KT sitting at the head of the ceremonies. KT kept looking at me like help .. and I was thinking she was going to be presented as a sacrificial virgin to the champion. Anyway there was more crying, grandma was having a fit, hugging Freddy's son and the two Ki-palagi (white) people were confused beyond belief. I think the son was scared out of his wits as well, as he kept chain smoking any chance he got, the weird thing was Freddy or his son didn't say anything.

So this is where we figure out that they do things a little differently in Fiji. Turns out that the older
couple was Freddy's sister and her husband and that they had raised Freddy's son and another daughter.. yikes. It also began our investigation into the strange nature of brothers and sisters. Turns out they also call anyone who is actually a first cousin, brother and sisters and people who share the same parents are "real" brothers/sisters. This kind of threw a wrench into everything we thought we knew about all the relationships of the village, but we are slowly clarifying the "real" parts so we can get it all organized in our minds again. Now that I had a slightly clearer explanation for all the emotions I could relax and enjoy the kava and watch the recorded rugby games on the DVD player. Freddy came over and gave me a huge hugs and kept saying "Chris Chris" as he gave me huge hugs and held my hand. It turns out that all the gifts were actually for Freddy's son but they are passed/received through an intermediary.

The next day, of course the sun didn't cooperate so KT cooked the chicken and fish curry on board, made some Pawpaw (papaya) cake and we went in for Church. The party was after church and it was a huge feast where the table of honor rotated as people finished their food. KT got a couple of complements on her Ki-palagi food which was a little too soupy to be eaten by hand but that didn't keep them from trying. We also found out that Freddy's son was going to be leaving that afternoon instead of spending the week, another hiccup in our communication. I felt bad because I thought we would have some time to get to know him; we did have a good time hanging out with his sister. KT also noticed a VERY strange behavior between certain people, especially considering the lack of deodorant; they place their faces next to each other like a kiss to the cheek and then sniff violently. Hmmm!!! We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and sharing some more Talanoa (stories) and Kava (grog). When the generator came on KT got out our DVD and played their part for the village. They laughed and giggled and felt like movie stars as we explained that all our friends and family in America watch them on TV. They watched it three times and all wanted copies.

We spent the rest of the week hanging out in the village and playing with the kids when they got home from school. Luckily we only played rugby a couple of times, most of the village men have gone to Labasa to cut sugar cane, so that I've had a chance to recover between games. We went to the school on Friday to hang out with Sera, Peter, Freddy and the parents. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with the kids and teaching them how to play a modified version of Ultimate Frisbee. It was rather amusing to watch the kids take advantage of the rules as we made them up. First we thought since they're not really good at throwing well or catching we'll make the rule the first person who gets to the Frisbee gets to keep it. Well the boys treated it like rugby and tackled the girls or pushed them out of the way, so we had to change that. Then the boys would throw the Frisbee way down the field and run after it to get across the line, and most wouldn't even catch it in the end zone. So we added a couple rules and then all had a blast. The girls were much better because the basic netball, which they play a lot, one girl even asked KT if she could "pivot". In the end we came up with a good set of rules that worked and everyone enjoyed. Even some of the mothers came out to play, maybe it'll be the new village sport.

On Saturday KT planned a cooking class to teach the locals how to make banana bread, pawpaw cake and use the solar oven. About 20 people showed up, surrounding KT as she explained everything, they didn't even know about vanilla or cinnamon. She modified the recipes to have oil instead of butter and got rid of some of the extra stuff, and even showed them how they could make zest with a coconut grater. Of course it was overcast so we had tocome up with an oven. We thought a pot within a pot would work good, especially if we put some fire on the top (they use aluminum pots) and raised the bottom with some tin tuna cans. Well I think it would have worked but there were way to many cooks in the kitchen. They kept opening it and looking, then burning the top with too much heat, then removing the outer pan and burning the bottom. Oh well they enjoyed the bread and even liked the burnt parts. The pawpaw cake was even more of a disaster because they completely took over, doing it the Fijian way, without two pots using only ash to insulate the pot from the fire.. it was even more burnt than the banana bread. Oh well it didn't stop a couple of ladies from trying to make it on their own the next day.

The first visit made us feel like what it must be like to be a rock star; with all the attention. The second visit has been even more amazing.. The people of the village who knew us from our first trip are amazed to see us again, some not believing their own eyes. The people who had only heard stories of us, greet us with open arms and are in awe that they get a chance to meet us. It's nice because we've been treated like one of the family, a little less focused on and able to relax and blend in a little more. We just hope we've been able to show them how special they are.

Continue reading "Return to Naviqiri Village"...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Passage Journal: Marshall Islands to Fiji

May 14 - May 30 2006

Current Location: Arrived Savusavu, Fiji
(from Majuro, Marshall Islands)
Current Position: 16°46.6' S 179°19.9' E
Next Destination: Undecided (somewhere in Fiji)
Miles Traveled: 1787.3
Miles to Go: 0

Yipeee! We’ve done it, finally arrived in Savusavu, and oh what a blessing it is. We officially pulled into the anchorage on Wednesday, May 31 around 7a.m. It’s our first time returning to a location already visited, and it feels a bit like returning home. After nine months visiting flat atolls, the surrounding luscious green mountains of Fiji are breathtaking. And we feel we’ve earned the peaceful waters of the anchorage, as less than twelve hours after writing our previous BLOG (posted 5/25) all hell broke loose.

As the sun was setting on the evening of the 25th, we could see we were surrounded by a number of thunderheads, but nothing so dense to be concerned about. The first squall hit around 7:30pm, marking the beginning of our most exhausting night in our passage-making history. Squall after squall hit, pounding us with enough rain to solve most of the world’s drought problems and with winds between 30-38 knots. They continued the entire night. Twelve hours straight. Hitting so close together that we never got more than 20-30 minutes rest. Our definition of a “squall” was redefined. Once the word “squall” would conjure up images of a large thunderhead throwing down some rain and wind for about 5-15 minutes before passing by … a bit inconvenient, but short-lived. Not this night. These squalls lasted from 30-90 minutes. They didn’t just throw down some rain; they pelted us with water bullets. The wind howled down at us and the waves tossed us around like rag-dolls. It was truly ugly.

Neither of us slept much, if at all, and when dawn finally broke we anxiously looked around hoping to see some break in the system. Depression hit fast when all that surrounded us was a thick layer of clouds and thunderheads. During one of the “calm” periods Chris did a quick deck check and found our main sheet block shackle had worked itself completely out of the threads, the only thing holding it was the pressure of the sail on the line. If it had come loose during a big squall we would have had some serious damage. That morning I talked to a single-hander, Russ (on Hygeleg) on the SSB Radio. He along with Indra and Navire, were a few hundred miles ahead of us. They were all hove-to waiting for a system even further South to break up before continuing on. Russ confirmed that he and Indra had also gone through the system we were currently in, and it had lasted about two days. Not what I was hoping to hear. As the SSB radio net was a twice a day event, Chris later asked me (as I was the one who had been listening in everyday), “How the hell could you have missed them talking about this kind of weather for two days straight?”. In my defense, I didn’t have a copy on Indra or Navire. Hygeleg complained of squalls in addition to a bunch of stuff on his boat breaking; so when he talked about how exhausted he was I attributed it to everything, including him being a single-hander, not just bad weather. I figured, okay so we might hit a few squalls … never had I imagined this! Had I picked up on it, we could’ve pulled into Funafuti, Tuvalu and waited for better weather, but now it was too late, we were going to have to ride it out. What’s even worse is the system had further developed by the time we had arrived. Needless to say, from then on I was much more attentive when I listened to the net.

That day we experienced less squalls, but the winds had picked up to a constant 20-25 knots and the seas were building and extremely lumpy. It was like being in a washing machine. The worst part was that we still had to run close-hauled in order to keep our Easting and not loose our rhumbline heading. The day was dark, dreary, and wet; never did any blue sky seem to poke through. The squalls that did hit were just as intense as the night before, but now we seemed to have a system down and so they didn’t seem quite as bad. Around 4pm I was getting hopefully that perhaps the night wouldn’t be so awful. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but with fewer squalls we could at least get a bit of rest. After two meals of granola bars I was thinking something warm and soupy would be comforting and a bit more nutritious. It was still too rough to cook anything ‘real’, so cup-o-soup was on my mind when the next squall hit. The squall packed a punch, making it too rough even for cup-o-soup. I kept waiting for it to end, but alas it was there for the long-haul and I conceded once again to another granola bar meal.

When things are bad, it’s good to remember they could always get worse. And unfortunately in this case they did. Now we weren’t just surrounded by squalls with painful rain and high winds. Now we had lightning. The worst thunder and lightning either of us has ever seen in our lives. LIVES – not just since cruising. Bolts of lightning cracked so bright and so long we had to shut our eyes against them. Thunder that rumbled then roared then growled, all in one continuous long song. There was so much electricity in the air that half the time our instruments didn’t work, reading crazy wind strengths (such as 200 knots). Chris was sure we’d be hit; how could we not? We crammed our oven full with electrical instruments and computers, and threw over our grounding strip. And waited.

Around 10pm, I was down below trying to get in a nap, when Chris called me up. The wind had died and we were stuck in, as Chris called it, the belly of the beast. It was as if we were inside a thunderhead. We couldn’t see more then our boat length away – in any direction. Rain poured down. And everywhere lightning flashed, you could see the bolts darting through the clouds. 360 degrees of surrounding lightning; and here we were sitting there with this huge metal pole standing 60 feet tall. Not a place to just kick it, so we turned on the motor and went full throttle. And went. And went. It felt as though we were doing circles, we had no reference points and it didn’t seem like we’d ever make it out. For two hours we motored and sailed as the winds died and increased. The entire time the thunder roared so loud it shook us to the core and the lightning continued, each flash circling 360 and briefly lighting the surrounding dark masses of clouds.

About an hour into it, I was standing in the center of the cockpit facing starboard, with Chris behind the wheel, when WHACK. “What the hell was that?” Chris, ever so calmly, as if it is a normal occurrence, says “A bird”. “See”, as he shines his flash light on a small bird spread flat on the port side. He was tangled under one of our lines, so I moved the line to free him. Whether dazed, injured, or just plain tired he didn’t make a move to leave. At this point Chris and I were so exhausted and fed-up with the weather that we had nothing but empathy for the poor fellow. He didn’t seem to take well to the motion of the boat (who would), and was having trouble standing. Chris bundled up his sweatshirt and placed the bird into it, providing some assistance against the rocking. Meanwhile the bird’s family seemed to be following us, SQWACK … SQWACK. Our new friend sqwacked back occasionally but made no move to leave. Chris, in his delirious state, actually called out to the birds, inviting them aboard, shining his flashlight onto the decks in a runway fashion. No one else joined us, but they did follow us for a good bit. At one point Chris moved the bird slightly forward of the cockpit, near the railing, to give him a better chance to fly off with his mates, but the bird stayed. So we left the guy, desperately trying to maintain his balance and looking at Chris and I as though we were fools to be on such a moving beast, in the cockpit to rest.

Around midnight, we finally we broke out. Seven hours of nasty lightning finally coming to an end. It was blowing 16-20 and still raining, with occasional lightning flashes here and there, but the clouds no longer blended with the seas and the lightning no longer circled us. Chris finally attempted to rest while I took watch. Eventually our bird friend moved, practically flew into my head, scaring the you-know-what out of me. I thought he wanted to leave, so I lifted the cockpit wind-curtain, but at the same time a wave hit and the bird lost his balance and fell on the floor. I scooped him up and held him to the hole in the wind-curtain. Just about then another huge wave hit and the bird half fell and half jumped from my hands, landing on our swim step. He didn’t look happy at all, but there was no way I could reach him, so I left him, hoping he’d fly away before another wave washed him off the step. The next time I looked out he was gone. I had to convince myself that he surely flew off to safety before a wave came and washed him out to sea.

We went an entire five hours without a squall hitting. We were overjoyed. The next morning was still overcast, but a bit calmer. Maybe, just maybe it was almost over. BAM. Another squall. A white out of rain. We couldn’t see past our bow. But no wind this time, so we were motoring. Unfortunately the seas weren’t dying and they seemed to be coming from three different directions. The three boats up ahead had started sailing again and were reporting the same conditions. By now we were both beyond exhaustion. We’d hardly been able to sleep, and what sleep we did manage was uncomfortable and broken. It is amazing how your body handles such exhaustion. While there are times that the waves and winds can sound a bit like voices, it is usually easy to tell your mind is just playing tricks on you … unless, that is, you are sleep deprived. On more than one occasion Chris reported hearing voices and music. He was especially thrown off when one day we were within VHF range with Indra. Chris hadn’t realized I was talking to them on the VHF down below, and with the high winds he could barely make out Rob’s voice on the cockpit mike. He thought his mind was playing tricks again until he finally realized he actually recognized the voice this time. We had to be extra careful the more sleep deprived we became. There were times when I was so tired I couldn’t get the instruments to focus; they were just blurry numbers before my eyes. Onetime Chris was checking and couldn’t manage to clear his brain enough to compute what he was looking at on the instruments and what it all meant. He had to just stare at the numbers trying to remember what he was supposed to be accomplishing. Staying awake during watches and alert during squalls became more and more difficult; our watch timer was barely doing the trick of waking us if/when we fell asleep. Thank god is was just about over.

The 28th was our first day without rain since the whole mess had begun. The winds were still up (around 20 kts) and the seas still confused, but what a difference a little sun can make in your outlook. We hadn’t fished since the first squally night, but as we passed over a few shallow banks, Chris threw over one line just for fun. We instantly caught a very funky looking reef fish with big ‘ol teeth and a huge wide-open mouth. Not knowing what he was and being still a bit rough to attempt fish cleaning, we threw him back. Another time the “fish on” snubber was pulled bar tight until the 400 lb test line snapped like it was a thin piece of thread, I would have like to have gotten a look at THAT fish!

The 29th was still lumpy and windy, but now we could see the light at the end of the tunnel, as the next day we’d be in Fijian waters and we knew it would be calmer once we got into the Somosomo straight. After all the crappy bad-weather meals I was looking forward to something real and was excited that Chris would once again be able to fish. The next morning was utter bliss. Clam and near flat. Mostly sunny. No black ugly clouds on the horizon. Fijian mountains in the distance. And Chris fishing. With six lines running, we looked more like a fishing vessel than sailboat, but it paid off. By 8am we had already pulled in a good size Mahi Mahi. We also had caught a Barracuda, but opted to not keep it. We spent the day enjoying the calm seas and light winds. Chris played with his magnitudes of fishing gear in between boat chores, such as draining 25 gallons of water from our forward bulk-head. I straightened up down below and kept the boat on course. It is amazing how many things can get jarred free and end up flying across the cabin. With all the commotion we had also managed to burst a few of our home-brew bottles … Billabong smelled like a brewery. We enjoyed extremely fresh fish tacos for lunch and looked forward to another fish meal for dinner. The winds continued to lighten, so we eventually had to motor. Life aboard Billabong was slowly returning to normal.

Since we had our track and waypoints from last year, we were able to get into the Savusavu bay at night. It was around 11pm and we didn’t want to go all the way into the harbor at night without knowing if and what mooring balls were available, but we knew the approximate location of a mooring ball out at the point (about 3 miles from the harbor). We had never attempted picking up a mooring at night, but the thought of a restful night of sleep tempted us into trying. Surprisingly, it went really well, and we soon found ourselves enjoying a calm, cool, quiet evening. You don’t realize just how loud the wind and rain are until you are still. I found myself enjoying the stillness of everything; the air, the wind, the boat, and myself. We both let out huge “Ahhhhhhhhs”, and then hit the sack. It is technically against check-in regulations to moor or anchor prior to clearing into the country, so we got up at the crack of dawn and headed into the anchorage.

It’s hot and muggy due to lack of breeze, but it’s calm. We’ve seen a few familiar faces and have enjoyed being recognized by some of the locals. Navire, Hygeleg, and Indra all made it in on Wednesday as well, so that evening we went out to share ‘war stories’ over cold beers. Navire, having sailed for 10 years and having been around the world nth amount of times commented that this was some of the roughest seas/weather ever encountered. It didn’t help that early on they tore their main sail and had to use their tri-sail, which makes it difficult to point. Hygeleg has been out sailing for over 20 years and he said this was his worst passage yet. While not the worst weather he’s seen, the confused rough seas and endless squalls combined with a torn main sail and broken auto-pilot made the passage nearly intolerable. Indra had to battle a broken wind-vane, leaks, and a severe burn caused from a pot of boiling water falling onto Margie’s hand when a squall came up unexpectedly. All in all, it made Billabong’s passage seem not-so-bad considering we didn’t break anything or hurt ourselves.

After more than 1600 nautical miles of the 1787.3 mile trip to weather (an approximate 45 degree apparent wind angle) and 373 hours, 19 minutes of continuous moving, we are quite thrilled that we have only day-trips to look forward to for the next month or two!
Continue reading "Passage Journal: Marshall Islands to Fiji"...