Thank God for GPS
Sat 20 Jun 2009 04:17
Position 16.46S 179.20E
It's two weeks since we made our last diary entry and we are now at anchor, rather earlier than planned, in the exotic port of Savusavu on Vanua Levu, the northern big island of Fiji. Our plans to venture north to the remote islands in the north of Tonga had to be changed when we learned that a nasty cold front was heading our way. Disappointing, but hey, there's always next year. Our 6 weeks in Tonga were really enjoyable, and helped by pretty good weather in the main, in great contrast to last year. We spent most of our last week anchored in an idyllic anchorage--idyllic only after you had entered through a scarily narrow passage, recommended only at high tide in light winds with the sun directly behind you so that you can see the coral. Once in through the entrance it was one of the most beautiful spots we have ever visited. There was just a local village and a rather up- market fishing lodge which probably saved us a lot of money by not opening until a week after we left. We didn't starve though, thanks to a very serious NZ fishing boat who donated us a huge slab of marlin which we cooked on the barbecue using a Sicilian recipe from Rick Stein's Mediterranean cookbook. As usual, we took turns providing the evening meal with our friends on Harmonie and Lady Kay. We were also well provided with pawpaws, passionfruit and banana which we traded for canned corned beef, rice and instant coffee. Our trading partner was a lovely 'older gentleman' in an outrigger canoe who turned down my offer of milk powder because it might have come from China. The word certainly gets around! He invited us to his church and lunch on Sunday, the thought of which made the chaps decide we had a pressing engagement back at the main town, Neiafu. We did make a serious fishing expedition one day with our mates on board and hooked into a very large mahimahi which managed to get off as Don was attempting to gaff it. The more tender-hearted of the crew were secretly pleased, especially as we had lots of frozen fish on board. Another fishing trip out to a FAD (fishing attraction device) was similarly unsuccessful with a huge fish getting off at the last moment. At least we still have all our lures.
We had a very amusing encounter with some good ole boys from Marlborough who were commercial fishermen turned vineyard owners and coffee merchants. They had sailed straight up from Wellington in a southerly gale in Jungle,a big motor sailer which they were delivering to a new owner in Hawaii. Incredibly, one of the guys had recently been looking over the yacht, Storyteller, in Auckland. They were unusual among the cruising crowd in that they were 4 guys instead of the ubiquitous 'mom and pop' show.
Once we heard the weather forecast, we went through all the onerous formalities of entering into Fiji, as well as stocking up on homemade pies, curries, roti and lobster ravioli from the various expat business that exist mainly because of the patronage of boaters. Refueling for the trip to Fiji kept being delayed since the tanker had only arrived ther previous day. Luckily our lovely Tongan agent insisted that the delivery truck come to us instead of heading to the service station. Filling the fuel tanks with (duty free) fuel took two full hours,so instead of leaving early in the morning, we didn't get away until late afternoon, which meant coming through the Oneata channel in pitch dark. We didn't even get much help from the radar, as at that time it was pouring with rain, so you couldn't tell what was reef and what was rain. It might have been the middle of the night, but we were both wide awake. To add to the adrenalin level, the depth sounder had some sort of blip and showed very shallow water at that time--perhaps it was a big fish going under us! Next morning a couple of whales crossed in front of us, and then some pilot whales.
The excitement continued as we passed a major reef in our way into the Savusavu Harbour, again in the dark and heavy rain. There seemed to be no sign of the main navigation aid, a flashing light marking the edge of the reef, which was rather worrying. Instead there there some verry bright lights that suddenly came towards us and forced us to change course abruptly--yes it was the 10 pm ferry on its way out. We slowly edged our way up past the Jacques Cousteau Resort, using our spotlight to dodge local moorings. When we pulled up the anchor next morning there were a mooring rope and a largish lump of coral attached to our anchor chain.
Flying our yellow quarantine flag, we picked up our mooring in a wonderfully sheltered creek outside the famous Copra Shed marina and bar where we'll go tonight to watch the rugby. The quarantine, customs,health and immigration people were all ferried out to us and were extremely welcoming, unlike some of our previous experiences entering into Fiji. They didn't even search the boat looking for pornography and seditious literature. I'd actually taken the precaution of hiding the Lonely Planet. We're very much enjoying the icy cold beers and the delicious curries here, not to mention being able to read the Fiji Times, even though it is heavily censored. One of yesterday's hightlights was having much needed haircuts from Reggie, the local transvestite hairdresser. $15 for the two of us, which must be our record. Reggie appears to be a big fan of Colonel Baniarama, so who are we to argue.
You'll see from the attached photo that we were in the centre of things this morning when hundreds of local people gathered in a big rally to encourage young people to become blood donors. There were banners,music, speeches (lots), and best of all a Tahitian dancer. We're only a few metres from the shore, in the midst of stunning scenery that is as dramatic as anything we saw in Tahiti. Evidently property prices went trough the roof here before the global financial collapse, and there are quite a few Americans and Europeans living in the area. The mix of indigenous Fijians and Fijian Indians makes this a very interesting place as you couldn't think of two more different cultures. I went into an Indian store today asking for a dvd copy of Slumdog Millionaire
and was sold one for $2--mind you, it may be in Hindi!d