Away at last

Our ‘couple of days’ in Savu Savu had extended to nearly a week. It is a pleasant little town with a nice walkway along the shore. We decided to head to Lesiaceva Point, just three miles out of town on the approaches, to reacquaint ourselves with our diving gear and experiment with diving from Caramor and from our (rowing) dinghy. We anchored off the ‘desert island’ featured in the last blog post, it is the private property of the exclusive Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort (owned by the son of the TV famous diver of the same surname). 


We snorkelled on the nearby reef and it was nice to be in the water again even though the visibility wasn’t particularly good. The following day we went scuba diving from the dinghy. We paddled over to a reef, dropped our small anchor and, once equipped with our tanks, rolled over backwards. As always it was a magical experience; an area of disturbed sand revealed a startled stingray, colourful fish hovered or chased each other above coral heads and two white tip reef sharks slept soundly in a coral hollow. I couldn’t see a hole big enough for them to get in and out, they were well protected. The question was why were two full grown sharks hiding? Were there even larger predators lurking in the murk? For the rest of the dive, I kept one eye over my shoulder.


Our intermittent electrical fault was still not fixed despite our intensive efforts. In our last attempt, we’d cleaned up the wires and the main circuit breaker in the consumer unit, yet the lights were still occasionally going out. It was time to bite the bullet so we ordered a new circuit breaker from the UK and had it sent to Lindsay at ‘Ship to Shore’. She is the amazing person who deals with our post. Since the DHL four day service to Fiji (“4 days? Yeah right!”) was roughly the same price for a tiny parcel or a slightly larger one, we ordered a cockpit speaker for the VHF radio and a salt water hand pump for the galley. The VHF speaker stopped working sometime during the past three months and the saltwater pump we bought in New Zealand is absolute rubbish. It is so hard to operate, we are at risk of putting our backs out. It is frustrating that despite all the work we did in New Zealand, some things just aren’t working as we would like them to. The crux of the problem may well be that so much upheaval and change on a boat leaders to other problems and without a shake-down cruise they come to light in places where it can be difficult to resolve them.


We would now have to wait for the parcel, breaking free of Savu Savu was proving problematic. 


After a couple of days on our own at the point, and a worsening forecast which would make the anchorage very rolly, we moved directly opposite the JM Cousteau Resort. We swam over to another British boat called Shandon (the name was familiar) and Susan and David invited us aboard. Suddenly it clicked, David is the author of the RCC (Royal Cruising Club) Lau Group Notes (2011). I’d been meaning to get in touch with him and had no idea he was still in the Pacific.

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Shandon at anchor off JM Cousteau (a rare sunny period)


That evening we landed at the resort’s pontoon for a dance event which turned out to be a group of local teenagers’ very modern take on Fijian dancing. ‘Te Vaka’ (Cook Island/NZ band) that Franco introduced me to many years ago after he saw them perform in Brittany has become the musical symbol for young Pacific Islanders. We chatted over our cocktails with a guy who claimed to be a co-founder of Greenpeace (impossible as they are all dead) and the founder of the Rainforest Alliance (plausible - he does vaguely resemble the guy in the photos on the internet). He showed us pictures of the house he’d just bought nearby and told us of his plans to move permanently from New York City to Fiji. He’s apparently in the solar panel business.


Next morning Shandon left and Chikita (another Brit) arrived. It turned out we knew the skipper, Ding, from Whangarei. There were two other boats in the anchorage, Optimist a catamaran and  NZ’s Pennygowan, so we invited everyone over for pizza, always appreciated and a good way to get to know the neighbours.


That night Franco was brushing his teeth and one of them fell out. It was a crown and luckily we found it before it disappeared down the showertray hole. 


As Franco needed a dentist and the parcel was due imminently, we headed back into Savu Savu.


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Approaching Savu Savu


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Caramor alongside at the Copra Shed Marina


The dentist at the local hospital stuck Franco’s tooth back in and pocketed the fee.


“Is everybody on the make here?” Franco asked, we were still fuming at having been over-charged FJ$40 by a customs officer for our Cruising Permit.


Our friends from Whangarei, Ruth and Randy on Velic had arrived and were helping Paul and Karen of Gigi rebuild their windlass.


The next day, Wednesday, we called by the DHL office and a couple of hours later, the parcel arrived at the marina without hassle or additional costs - Winchester to Savu Savu in four days is an amazing feat. Thank you DHL!


The circuit breaker fitted, a month’s food supply stored aboard and six bundles of kava worth the small fortune of FJ$200 (the price has increased dramatically in recent years) hanging from the ceiling, we were ready to head east. We returned to the JM Cousteau anchorage planning to sail the following evening. 


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Heading out of Savu Savu once more


For a couple of days I’d had a sore ear. I thought it was the lobe, maybe a mosquito bite that was becoming infected but there was nothing to see. The pain was becoming bothersome. I asked Franco to take a look and he found a small forest of mushrooms growing out of the earhole! He even took a photo because he didn’t think I would believe him. I was somewhat distressed so the next morning I headed back into town as early as I thought I would find a doctor. Ten minutes later I had a prescription for antibiotics and ear drops and was back onboard for lunch.


After a short sleep, we weighed anchor at one in the morning and sailed overnight to Taveuni Island, making sure we got into deep water as soon as possible using our track in. Navigating in the pitch black through coral strewn shallow seas, often inaccurately surveyed, is nerve wracking to say the least. The trade winds, as expected, were against us but two tacks allowed us to make landfall at Paradise Resort on the south-west end of the island. The passage was nowhere near as bad as I had expected from reading other sailors’ accounts, though having said that, my breakfast and I did part company.


Paradise Resort offers free moorings and a member of staff helped us tie up. After a short siesta, we headed for the bar. The welcome was so friendly that we decided to stay for dinner.


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Caramor moored off Paradise Resort


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The swimming pool at Paradise (we didn’t use it, though enjoyed the free shower)


On the Sunday, we went for a walk along the road. The rain hadn’t let up since we’d arrived in Taveuni and soon our clothes were soggy. There is no point wearing waterproofs in the tropics, we’d be just as wet from the sweat. 


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Franco, not enjoying walking in the rain


Coconut palm plantations lined both sides of the dirt road. After a turnoff to a plantation estate, we caught up with three young boys. They were equipped for spearfishing; the taller one carried the spear, the second carried a pair of heavy duty fins and a rucksack containing the firing mechanism and the third had the gun itself. They walked with us and smiled easily. Two of them were fairly confident speaking English, though it took us a while to get our ear in. 


“You come from Prdise?” They asked.


“Veerrri cold” they commented about the weather.


They told us they were friends and from the village ahead on the road. One of the lads was the youngest of seven siblings and they all had relatives living in Australia.


“How far is it to your village?” Franco asked.


“Veerrri fah” they replied.


“Which one of you is the best hunter?” I asked.


“Me.” Replied the two English speakers in unison. We all laughed.


“Which one of you is the worst hunter?” Both pointed at their taller friend.


He realised he was being set up but took it well, smiling sweetly.


I asked if they were afraid of sharks. Taveuni was the stage for a number of deadly shark attacks in the nineties but none have been reported in recent years. They replied that indeed they were frightened.


They told us that the village had a blowhole and that we could go there without offering ‘sevu-sevu’. Sevu sevu is the presentation of 1/2kg of kava to the village chief, signing up to become his temporary vassal and agreeing to respect any taboos. In exchange a visitor is granted the right to swim, walk in the village, snorkel, etc. Once at the village, the kids showed us the road to the blowhole and we parted company.


We never got to the blowhole, it was a long way and our sandals had started rubbing.


On the way back (it was still raining) we tried flagging down a bus but it didn’t even slow down. A minute later a car stopped and offered us a greatly appreciated lift, the family had been to the village for the church service.


Back at Paradise Resort, a kava session was in full swing and we were invited to join in. Much to my surprise Franco accepted a shell (half coconut shell filled with brown gritty liquid). The taste was bitter and not particularly pleasant but it was manageable. This particular kava brew was made from powder and not the freshly ground root. I drank a second shell and my lips started to go numb. When we got back to Caramor, Franco could barely keep his eyes open which he blamed on the kava.


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Kath with the Paradise Resort singer (she was very good)


The following morning the weather was right so we made the short hop over to Viani Bay back on Vanua Levu, crossing the Somo Somo Strait. A few hours later, Manna (our friends Julie and Curtis) pulled into the bay, much to our delight.


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Taveuni, the garden island (read ‘the wettest place on earth!’)