Friday 16th November - Final Fortnight in Fiji

Jon & Carol Dutton
Fri 16 Nov 2012 00:38

18:07.354S 178:25.48E

Friday 16th November – Final Fortnight in Fiji

Fairly early in the morning of Saturday 3rd November we reversed our zigzag course through the reef and out of Fawn Harbour.  Although we successfully negotiated the entrance and therefore knew that the waypoints worked, there was still a bit of nervous tension as we edged out with the ocean swell breaking on the coral only yards away.  Our destination was Viani Bay – only some twenty or so miles away .  That bay opens out onto the Somosomo strait which runs between the main island of Vanua Levi and much smaller long, thin island of Tavenui to the south east.  This means that the whole area is well sheltered from the prevailing winds.  Once again, Curly’s waypoints were spot on (the Navionics charting was little better than previously, allowing us only a 1:200,000 resolution – hooray for C-Map and paper charts) and we found ourselves safely in another idyllic bay picking up one of Jack Fisher’s moorings.  Jack is a local character whose grandfather was English and who knows the reef like the back of his hand.  His house is a one room affair with a double bed in one corner, a cooker and a fridge in another.  Plus a veranda with a couple of deck chairs on it.  That’s pretty well it.  But, he, his charming Samoan wife (his sixth wife – but none of the previous ones was beheaded) and his grand-daughter (who lives with them) are more than happy with that.  One day, he piloted us to a niche in the reef where we anchored so that we could drift snorkel whilst he followed us in the dinghy.   Scary anchoring but stunning snorkelling.  Just stunning.  Coral of every shape, colour and description and such a variety of reef fish – plus a few grey sharks.  All the time we were in the bay Jack looked after us, taking our rubbish away and providing us with surplus fresh fruit and veg from his garden.   And he entertained us with tales of Fiji life – often at great length!  When we asked him how much he charged for his excellent moorings he replied that we might give him whatever we chose.  What a dilemma!  We suggested that we pay him what we’d paid at the Copra Shed Marina in Savusavu - $ 10 Fiji (about £3.50) a night.  He was delighted.  He was even more delighted when we discovered that we’d now got insufficient time to visit all the villages we’d planned to visit and had to off-load quite a bit of the good quality kava we’d bought as Sevusevu.


                                                    The hills above Viani Bay, close to….


                                                    …. and further away

There is a small primary school in Viani Bay.  Whilst the government will pay for children to get to school, education itself is not free.  However many families in Viani Bay have moved there to access a good primary school.   The school ‘bus’ came past us every morning at 0755 and back at 1545.  It was a hoot.  The sound of 30 or so kids laughing, shouting, screaming, arguing and generally being kids whilst the boat they were aboard made its way across the bay and in and out of the reefs was a real tonic.  There was much hand waving and cries of “Bula”! (Hello) from both the children and the crew of Arnamentia every time they went by.  When the children are 14 they have to go to board at senior school on Taveuni.  Jack thought this was an excellent idea – no opportunity for idling around watching TV or playing with Nintendos.  His granddaughter, Tiare, will be going there in a couple of years’ time.  When Jack, his wife and she came aboard Arnamentia one afternoon for tea, she spent quite a while studying our blow up globe but the only country she recognised was Madagascar since there is a film of the same name!  A bit to learn yet if she wants to follow her dream of being a teacher – overseas no less.  ‘Overseas’ being that marvellous other place we’ve all heard of but can’t quite place.


                                                                                        The Viani Bay school bus . . .              



                                                                                        . . . and not a life jacket in sight!

One evening we went around into the next bay where a lovely Swiss chap, Roland, has set up a dive centre and very low key resort.  It is quite telling that whilst so many of the smart resorts are doing little business at the moment, Roland is nearly always fully booked.  There is definitely a market for basic (eg no air con), comfortable rooms and freshly prepared food at a reasonable price (so that’ll be well, well short of the $1,000 US a day nonsense).   We had to take pot luck with the menu, but we were fortunate that it was the Lovo night – the traditional hot stone in the ground method of cooking.  Coconut shells are used to heat lava rocks before canes are laid across the heated rocks, food wrapped in palm leaves (or, nowadays, cooking foil) is placed atop and the whole is covered with palm branches.  And, then, sand.  An hour later; bingo.  The chicken was very succulent and served with beautifully spiced creamed spinach and taro – a grey, heavy root vegetable.


                                                                    Sand removed - the Lovo pit covered with palm branches


                                                Now uncovered - parcels of chicken and taro resting above the hot rocks

All too soon it was time to leave our little bit of paradise and head south to prepare for our passage to New Zealand.  We decided to break the journey at Levuka on the island of Ovalau.  This was the original capital of Fiji because with a port on its eastern shore one could beam reach up and down the archipelago in the sailing canoes.  As it was around 100 miles away, a night passage seemed the most sensible option so that we would approach during daylight.  As we neared Levuka, there were all sorts of vessels displaying odd combinations of lights which definitely don’t appear in the IRPCS.  However, steering well clear of them, we broad-reached averaging around 7.5 knots and had to take in sail to slow down so as not to end up trying to anchor in an unfamiliar harbour in the dark.  Fortunately there is a good set of leading lights – bright blue (not entirely sure that the architects of the RC Church envisaged its being ‘improved’ by the addition of a bright orange triangle on its tower by day and a blue light by night but there you go) – so we were able to get through the gap in the reef without hassle just as the sun began to peep over the eastern horizon.  Although the town was the original capital of Fiji, concerns that the 600-meter high cliffs surrounding Levuka gave it no room for expansion meant that the mantle was passed to Suva in 1882.  The reef affords protection but there is nothing to stop the SE trade winds blowing right across the anchorage and putting it on a lee shore.  This made for a pretty rolly night. The town itself has some touches of colonial architecture but is a bit run down, undoubtedly affected by the lack of tourism.


                                                                                                        Levuka waterfront


                                                        Levuka RC church – lovely orange leading mark atop the tower


As ever, the Fijians we met were friendly and helpful.  It’s a shame we didn’t have time for a ride across the island in a local bus – we’d have definitely experienced culture in the raw.


                                                                                                Local bus -  Business Class          


                                                                                        Small roadside market in Levuka

We felt that the place did not have a lot to keep us and we knew that we had jobs to do before our passage to New Zealand which could be better accomplished in Suva.  So, early on the morning of Sunday, 11th November we set off for the 60 mile passage to the south of Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu.  To start with we were on a very fine reach with the wind not quite on the nose.  Life was rather more peaceful on board after we rounded the SE corner of Viti Levu.  Coming into Suva harbour was quite a shock – ships all over the place, some in a better state of repair than others and development along the shore stretching for quite a few miles.  It almost felt like being back in Portsmouth Harbour!  We anchored off the Royal Suva Yacht Club in not so glorious mud.  We found that out as our anchor dragged at the first attempt.  We’d been warned that there was considerable debris on the bottom so it was a relief to find we hadn’t snagged on anything as we recovered our faithful FBA (obviously having an ‘off’ day) and did a ‘show again’.  Fingers crossed for when we depart.


                                                                                                    Suva waterfront


                                No not a miniature submarine – just one of the many wrecks in the harbour.  30m from us.


A vessel that stood out like a sore thumb in the harbour was a Chinese ship of a type which, apparently, is used for launch support and tracking of satellites.  Well; there’s a thing.

What of Suva harbour itself?  Well. It can be a bit oily which is an irritation.  The Royal Suva Yacht club is welcoming and they’ll fix most things for you.  Suva is a good place to provision and – most importantly from Jon’s point of view - sports an excellent selection of boys’ shops within walking distance of the yacht club.  These are not concerned with selling groceries, hand-crafted nick-nacks or ladies’ fashions.  They sell sexy, useful stuff like nuts, bolts (obscure non-metric), filters, tubing, vee-belts and so on.  Whoa!  Girls just wouldn’t understand but James May would (UK in-joke: fans of ‘Top Gear’ will know what I’m on about).  (Obviously, it is not our intention to be in the least bit sexist here – Ed).  

It was Diwali on 13th November which meant that most places were shut, not that that was a major problem for us.  Nor has the traditional means of celebrating the Festival of Lights been that bothersome – the letting off of fireworks started on Monday and was still going on Thursday evening.  But, they are largely small-scale local affairs.

So, what of this place, Fiji?  Well, we’ve been here for less than a month, we have to go to escape the hurricane season and realise that we’ve got it badly wrong.  We absolutely have to come back.  It is utterly stunning, the charting is dodgy and so the navigation/pilotage is testing – to say the least.  The consequences of getting it wrong are dire.  So; what other inducement are you waiting for?

What of the Fijians?  It would be tedious to go into the many kindnesses shown to us during our short time here.  But they really are many.  A thing that strikes you pretty quickly as a Brit is how much these people treasure their history as a British colony.  So, all of you who regard this sort of stuff as bunkum or Uncle Tom’s Cabin nonsense best skip the next four paragraphs. 

A trip around Suva (a pretty big town by anyone’s standards) is likely to lead to your being accosted in the most gentle way by someone who wants to know from where you have come.  You’re white and therefore not like him.  If you say “England” the response is likely to be “The Mother Country – you are very welcome, sir”.  Really.  

 Fiji is a republic and under the control of a military government.  Not that it very much feels that way to the casual visitor.  It has a President who is head of state and who has in the past week been appointed President again for the next three years.  There was no discussion in the newspapers of the process by which he was appointed but since he is an ex-chief of the Fijian armed forces it may not have been the most surprising political development in Fijian history. 

But, look at any of their banknotes.  Look at the photographs in the entrance to the Royal Suva Yacht Club displaying fine portraits of Fiji’s President and ex-commodores of the yacht club et al.  What do you see?  First: on all banknotes – regardless of the fact that she now has no constitutional position whatsoever – you see Queen Elizabeth II.  Second; the Queen (sometimes accompanied by Prince Philip) occupies more picture-hanging space than anyone else - by some margin - in the Royal Suva Yacht Club.  Moreover, the pictures are artfully placed such that they hang an inch or do above the competition (the President and the like).   To Hell with the politics; she’s Mum and they love her dearly.                        

Makes you think.  Makes you humble.      

We’re almost through our list of chores that need doing before we set off for Opua in the North Island of New Zealand.  We’ll be leaving the tropics so it’s time to dig out the cold weather gear; even though it is summer in the southern hemisphere the nights are likely to be as chilly as they are back in the UK when crossing the Channel in the spring.  The freezer is stocked up with casseroles – in foil dishes to minimise washing up.  A general clear out of food stuffs we know we can’t take into NZ has also taken place – either into the bin or via human consumption.  For some reason, a pack of yellow split peas has been with us all the way from Lymington – Carol has never cooked them in her life so why she thought she might start whilst at sea is a mystery.  (Note – she has made several very tasty dishes using red lentils, though!)  They are on the forbidden list, along with dried fruit, nuts, meat, fish and dairy products, so they’ve had to be ditched.

Although we’ve been watching the weather forecasts for a while now, we’ve engaged the services of the NZ meteorological sailing guru, Bob McDavitt.  He has advised us that Friday would be a good day to depart.  It should minimise the amount of motoring we’ll need to do and mean that the inevitable front we have to go through should be weaker when we encounter it.  Let’s hope he’s right.  If you get it wrong the passage can be very nasty.