Amazing Opportunity!

Attention all you armchair sailors. Spill the Wine will be departing Darwin for the 2000 (approx 20 days) mile strait west run to Cocos Keeling. And then on to Mauritius islands, another 2000 miles, and then to South Africa, a mere 1800 miles. Arriving SA in late October. Any of you hosers care to join on one of these legs? Your destiny lies just over the horizon. Interested parties please contact me at chris@spillthewine.net

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Crossing to Australia

It was the best of times it was the worst of times. The crossing to Australia begins. There are more reefy bits on our way and we make plans to steer clear of them. At the end of day two some wind arrives, but not so favorable. It is coming from our destination so we are hard on the wind and into the waves. Which are not so big, thank you very much. Running full main, storm jib, and part of our regular jib. It’s working. But will work better when the wind moves more from the east. This is predicted. And we’re ready. Cue the windshift already!

This passage started with a nice whale goodbye from Chesterfield reef. Then the fishing for wind began. I can’t really complain. It was blue skies and little fluffy clouds for both motor days. Our heading is just west of south.

Then the wind filled in. 20 to 30 kts. Forward of the beam at first, then moving more to the east and hitting us square on the beam. Generally more comfortable than forward of the beam, but now the waves are on the beam too. I’m used to a lot of downwind sailing. Wherein the waves will roll under your stern. Which would be quite a bit more comfortable. But if you like an interesting ride, we’re getting one today. And the clouds have come threatening rain. But there’s none yet, just the spray through the cockpit from time to time.

We have read about the East Australian Current. It flows south just off the coast of, you’ll never guess, Eastern Australia! Seems we should find it soon, it would boost our progress. We’ll see.

As we approach the coastline of Australia I have to confess. I am torn. And I am feeling it. It’s physically uncomfortable. I am about to leave my 42 foot home. Not very excited about that. I’m going to be reunited with my wife Nancy. Now that is a great idea! But it will be in the great big Seattle. I’m almost phobic about returning there. It’s still a great place but I’m done with living life in that kind of environment. In the old days I had to keep a calendar to keep track of a million damn fool things I was doing.  I have not had to do that in over a year. And I don’t miss it at all.

Breath slowly. I’ve lived in the big world before. I can do it again. Long enough to figure out how to get away again anyway. Hold on tight for just a bit longer.

The leg we are just wrapping up was the most motoring leg ever for Spill the Wine. And we knew that would be this way. We should have waited a day or three for wind to improve. But there was that flight to Uganda on my Calendar.  No way around that.

Chesterfield Reef

It took a day to get ourselves back into passage rhythm. Then we can go the distance comfortably. Wind is generous and we make Chesterfield 4 1/2 days later just after dawn. We find the anchorage about noon. Within an hour a humpback whale and her calf come swimming by. Then a dolphin says hello. Seems a friendly place!

We have neighbors. 3 New Caledonia boats. They speak a little English. But maybe our French is better. So we are required to use it. Good exercise! Cyril and Magalie invited us over for pizza night on their catamaran Black Lion.

Here there is some earth above the tide line. But not much. This place is mostly reef. No one lives here of course.  Sunsets are awesome.  Great place to look for the “green flash.”  And to relax.11 asunset.jpg

Spill the Wine looks relaxed.

So does the boy below.11 sunfeet.jpg

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We had a bird visit us.  Odd blue beak.  I’ve heard of Blue Footed Boobies but the feet are not blue….  Hmmm.

The snorkeling here is top shelf. We see the biggest Moray Eel ever. About as big as a good sized dachshund. But of course we viewed from a distance…

Beach day. There are a thousand birds nesting on this island. Eggs. Chicks. Parents annoyed at us for getting too close to the island. We find a sandspit that offends them only a little. The adults keep swooping on us. None of them got caught in our hair.20180827_164306293

Hard to appreciate via the above photo but the closest bird is about 4ft away.  They are after us. They were quite offended about sharing the beach with us. And here is why.  They nest here.  Spot the egg to the right of the bird.  Half sitting on it.  All about temperature control apparently.

Bird egg

We have tasked ourselves with making letters out of our bodies to send a message home. This reminds me of yoga. But we get our photos. Just had to be careful of the air traffic.  Kat did the creative work.  I just bent myself into a few pretzels.received_1347233065407002.jpeg

The next day we took Spill The Wine across the lagoon to tour some other islands. Lots of coral bommies in the anchorage. So that was tricky.

The wind has been steady at 15 kts since we arrived. And it’s not so warm either. Warm enough if you are in the sun anyway. Just the same, we are ready for a windless day.

More sandspit islands. Not so many angry birds here. But the turtles have been nesting here. Lots of pits in the sand where they laid their eggs.  The pits don’t show very well in this photo but what you can see is the extent of the reef.  On the right is the sea.  On the left is the lagoon.  Very narrow bits of land here.11 a in out.jpg

We came upon a turtle that had laid her last egg. Maybe last year.  This shell is about 4 feet long.  Just think how many pairs of tortoise shell glasses you could make with this!!11 ashell.jpg

There was a free kayak on the island. You just have to haul it off.11 akayak

We shortly discovered it’s being utilized by the hermit crabs for shade. We discover this when we moved it.11 crabs

About a hundred crabby hermit crabs. But then that’s situation normal for crabs…

Back on Spill The Wine we decide to catch up on maintenance.   Kat bought a slick waterproof dive flashlight.  There is a magnet on a toggle that moves about 5mm back and forth.  This actuates the switch is triggered magnetically and is inside the housing.  Which leaks.  Sweet as.  We chase the water out of it and in the process the said magnetic switch is bumped off the printed circuit board (pcb).  There are little holes in the pcb to match the electrodes of the switch.  You’d think one could just reinsert them but no.  They are full of solder.  If only I had a tool for removing solder from a hole….  Oh.  I do.  It is called a solder sucker.  If anyone out there knows a fancier name lemme know.Soldersucker.jpg

Good tool.  You press down the plunger and it clicks into a cocked position.  Then you melt the solder to be removed with a soldering iron.  Place the white tip by the melty solder and push the black button to release the plunger.  This sucks air (and melty solder) into the device and off the pcb.  PCB

Next we resolder the magnetic switch into place.  Better than new.pcb work

Here is the big picture.  Notice nothing on the horizon.  Chesterfield reef is that kind of place.  Anyway when we were done it worked but still leaked.  Sometimes that’s just the way it goes.  Kat may well leave this flashlight on the boat when she departs just to drive me insane!

Our anchorage was a bit rolly. And windy. The wind shifted and there was some discussion in the middle of the night as to whether adjustments were required. Then the wind died so we shortened the anchor chain a bit and went back to sleep.

The next day shows very little wind. We recrossed the lagoon. When the wind drops the water lays flat and spotting whales and turtles is much easier.

After we anchored we dinghy’d out to find whales. In the middle of the lagoon we turned off the dinghy motor and just waited. You could hear the whales singing while we were sitting in the dinghy. Really spooky. Even louder after we got in the water of course.

We had good whale luck. Mom and calf were near. And we got to watch three males go swimming right by us. The water was 40ft deep and quite clear. The whales gave us the Eye. I’m just glad they saw us. Beware that tail! Just ask Nancy.

Meanwhile back at the anchorage, it’s time for celebrating Magalie’s birthday on Black Lion. Our neighbors once again host us with marlin kebabs this time.

Happy birthday Margarite! She likes to dance.11 adance

Nights like that make slow going the next day. But we get it together and depart for Australia. This is another place we’d rather not leave. Chesterfield is beyond the edge of the world I swear. I wonder if those New Caledonians were real.  Probably were.  I lost a bet with Cyril and owe him some champagne….

On our way out of the lagoon mom and calf gave us a goodbye show. Whale magic.

Last Vanuatu Days

My neighbor Tobias stops over at 530. We are planning to swap bootleg movies. It’s what Pirates do. So much less toxic than shooting cannon balls at each other.11 tobias

He is a pretty interesting cat.  He lives on his sailboat and runs a solar power business.  He helps islanders that don’t have access to power get hooked into solar.  I should come back here a work with him for a few months.  I would love to know more about solar and electrics than I currently do.  He’s Dutch if I recall.  Married an island woman and now they just had a baby.  A Vanuatuan now!  Hold on tight Tobias!

Later it’s time to collect Kat at the airport. Her flight comes in at 10pm. I figured I’d dinghy in to shore, hit the restaurant and ask them to call me a taxi. It’s 930. They be closed however.  Bummer.

I wander into the parking lot. Jeffery the security guy explains that he is expecting a taxi shortly bringing in new guests. We wait a bit together. But time is short. And my money is on his incoming guests being on Kat’s plane.

I thank Jeffery for his company and head for the road to town. I haven’t tried hitchhiking here. Good spot. Right under a streetlight. Perfect night, perfect temperature. Quiet. Beautiful.

Too quiet. No traffic damn it! I need some wheels. Hitchhiking is so much more fun when you don’t have to be anywhere on a schedule. Sailing is like that too.

The Gods smile upon me and a car comes by and a ride I have. Aso is my driver/benefactor. I tell him I’m going to the airport to pick up a friend and he tells me that he is not sure there’s any planes coming in. The last one comes in at 6 pm.

Hmmm.

He offers to take me out there anyway just to see what the circumstances are. We are driving through town and he stopped by a crowd of cab drivers and asks them something. I think some discussion about whether there is a plane coming in at this hour or not.

We proceed with the airport and son of a gun, there is a crowd of people. Something must be going on.

Aso parks his vehicle and I looked in the backseat and I noticed that he actually is a taxi. He had stowed his identifying equipment in the backseat so perhaps he was done for the day but decided to pick me up on the side of the road anyway. Thank you Aso.

He says he will wait for me. I approach the terminal to see if I’m in the right place at the right time. I asked some of the people there are what are they waiting for, and lo… they are waiting for a plane from Port Vila which is exactly what Kat should be arriving on. Oh good.

And she does. A little bit late but so it goes. Bags collected and we begin to exit. There is a bamboo pipe band making it happen at the airport. We really have to pause and enjoy. It’s something I’ve never seen/heard before. They are playing bamboo pipes with something that looks like fly swatters. Percussion I suppose. Vanuatu style.11 band

We find our driver, load up and return to STW.  Kat has had a lot to think about while in Australia and has some decisions to make. She is looking at a Captain position on a really cool research sailboat. The problem is she really does not want to return to Germany’s cold winter’s. Which would entail living in a box (apartment) again. This is not boat life. But the rest of the gig is really cool. The owner is in for some serious negotiations. Hold on tight!

Time to get busy with fuel.  Since duty free fuel is not an option I’m off for the local station.  I dinghy up a river just around the corner from the anchorage.  Park under a highway bridge and there is a fuel station right at the end of the bridge.  I’ve borrowed a few cans so I can make it all in less trips.  Managed to spend what remained of my Vanuatu money on fuel.  Perfect!11 dinghy

We host a dinner in the middle of stowing supplies on our last night. I hope this was a good idea. Tobias and also Ian and Wendy from Outsider, another neighbor boat.  Today is the day to round up Veggies for the trip as well as for tonight.11 toby

Dinner was a good idea. The Outsiders have been cruising for years and they have some valuable info regarding Australia. Thank you!  We blew their mind with Chicken on the Egg.11 chicken.jpg

The next morning we pack the dinghy and chase the last details.  Say goodbye to the staff of the Beachfront Resort.11 staff

The tide in the channel will favor us if we leave about 1pm. We didn’t want to leave Vanuatu. But leave we did. On a course for Chesterfield reef. 550 miles to the SW.

Adventures in Clearing Out

Tomorrow is the day to start exit paperwork.  But today is relaxing Sunday.  Here is a water taxi headed for church.11 church

Notice the shipwreck at the beach behind them.  Lots of WWII relics here.  One was a 600 foot long cruise ship they made into a troop carrier.  The Calvin Coolidge.  It hit a mine and sank.  Thousands of troops aboard and only one man was lost.  We had a chance to dive on that.  Very much intact.

I was planning on clearing out of Vanuatu Tuesday the 21st but I expect this will entail a lot of running around and probably take more of the day than I would have thought. So then I thought maybe I should get started Monday and see if I can get a few of the Elements of that project taken care of.

I got off to a bad start. I started to go down the road on my bicycle on a dawned on me that I didn’t have a passport and I don’t have any paperwork.  So if I was actually offered the opportunity of getting something done I wouldn’t have the tools necessary but I was halfway to the immigration customs office so I said I’ll just go find out what’s necessary and then I’ll come back if I have to. So visit with the Immigration and they tell me that the port authority is right next door and I’ll have to go talk to them about checking out. They gave me a couple of forms which I wasn’t really able to fill out as I didn’t have the data. In particular I couldn’t remember what date it was we actually arrived in Vanuatu.

I took the forms and I headed back to the boat to get the information I needed. Everybody is closed at lunch so I had lunch at the Beachfront Resort and in the process of waiting for my food I filled up the water jugs to top up the tanks in Spill The Wine.

Back at the boat I set up a siphon to get the water into the tanks. And I sat down at the cockpit to fill in the forms with all the various data required. Tanks are full, forms are packed and I head back to town first by dinghy and then on my bicycle.

First stop is the govt cashier to pay the bill. But the official doesn’t know what to charge me because no one in the office seems to know exactly how much I’m supposed to pay per day. I think they’re used to seeing a Form walk in with a number on it and that’s just what you pay. I knew that was potentially a problem. I thought about going to the Port Authority first but that was way out of my way I’m trying to cut down the number of trips I have to make. I didn’t do well on that score today.

And I’m off to the Port Authority. They are supposed to close at 5pm. I got there a 130 and the door was locked. So they are technically open but they’re functionally closed because there’s no one here. I’ve a book to read. I’m going to operate on the theory that maybe they’re out doing some inspection of some damn fool thing and will come back before too long. We’ll find out how fruitful that little avenue is.

It worked. Someone showed up. And I got my port fees taken care of. And I stopped next door at immigration and they assured me that all I needed tomorrow was 2 passports and we could clear out. Rubber stamps and everything. Ok.

I stop at the duty free store to see what is required to purchase duty free alcohol. They tell me passport and clearance papers. Cool.

I decide I’d better visit the wharf to see what duty free fuel requires. Nice wharf. Lovely shipping containers. Friendly security and stevedores. Who speak only a little English. I enjoy Bislama but I no speak plenty. They were puzzled about my fuel question but I got the idea I would be welcome to bring the boat over tomorrow. Oh Kay…11 wharf

Now it’s Tuesday. Kat arrived last night and is dead from siblings and travel. Let her sleep. Later she starts inventorying and cleaning the bilge storage so she can shop. It’s an 8-10 day crossing to Brisbane and we will stop at a New Caledonia reef on the way. Without clearing into New Caledonia. This is piracy. But we have a pirate flag so it’s ok. And I’m running out of pages in my passport anyway. No more stamps please! I think I have just enough pages to get back to Seattle.

Reef should be cool. Fishing. Catching up on sleep. Surfing the internet… Well, probably not an option. No people on this reef. Quite remote.

It’s Tuesday and I’m off for more checking out stuff. Passports to immigration. Get stamped out. Stop at Port authority next door. I didn’t get a good feeling yesterday at the wharf regarding fueling and I want to verify that I’m under control, went to the right wharf etc..

I review with Port official what happened yesterday. Ah. Wrong wharf. There is another wharf, domestic, beyond the shipping one. Bicycle up and off we go.

I find the domestic wharf. Some ships, some people, some children on the scene. I look for the person in charge. I’m freaking the children out. One goes running to his friends chattering away. Not sure what he was saying but I did get blah blah blablahblahblah white man. He probably said goofy tall white man on a funny looking bike. It is big enough for me. I can’t hide. I’m not from around here.

I did find the wharf authority. He seemed to know about fuel and I left with the impression that I would be welcome tomorrow. I felt as confident about this arrangement as I did at the last wharf. I don’t see any fueling equipment.

I go down the road a bit further. Oooo! Pacific Energy office on the left. Looks promising. In I go. Nice staff informs me no duty free fuel this week. Some equipment is broken. Too bad but no crisis. They tell me to go to a regular service station. I can do that.

Next I head for the duty free store to stock up on some wine. At the register I learn that passport and port clearance papers that I was told were all I need yesterday are not all I need. There is a form. Of course there is. I’m off for the customs office. It’s right by the wrong wharf. I know my way around this town.

Keep in mind that I started this a day early. So time is not running out. That makes all this educational and challenging but not stressful. And everyone is very nice. It’s still a beautiful day in Vanuatu.

The detour to customs is fortuitous. Turns out I was supposed to go here anyway. Checking in and checking out is very thorough, let me tell you. Of course I am telling you…11 bike

Customs officials inspect my entry papers. Hey! Spill the Wine arrived with three people and I’m leaving with two! I explain that Bas debarked in Port Vila. I debarked him with officials there but apparently my papers did not get updated. I tell this lot he flew to New Caledonia and they believe me. Thank you. I walk out cleared with customs and have my duty free form in hand. It has a cool official stamp. Bow down to the Great and Powerful Stamped Form!11 formm

It’s not over yet. Still have to go to the duty free with stamped Form and stock up. The duty free people need to fill in Form with what I bought. Then return the Form to customs office. Then the process is complete. I think. But I thought that yesterday too… Anyway we are leaving for Australia. Too soon. I love Vanuatu. Seriously my latest favorite place.

The next day I visit duty free. I have my form. I have my check out papers. I have my passport. I fill my backpack with beverages. Pay the bill. And I’m done. I ask if I can leave my heavy bag so I don’t have to tote it all the way back to customs to turn in my form on my bike. They are happy to help, of course!

Zoom back to customs. I turn in Form. Official wants our passports. WTF? They were stamped out yesterday. I’m not clear why he still needs them. But nevermind that. He does. Bike back to the beach. Dinghy back to boat. Collect  passports. Dinghy back to beach. Bike back to customs. Share passports. I receive yet another Fabulous Form stating I am cleared to depart.11 form This is the second one of these. I do not comment that I now have two. Such a conversation would not go anywhere productive. And the second one has even a bit more “Officially” look to it. You tell me which one you like better!

I’ve met up with Kat now. She has a taxi full of supplies. But there is room for my heavy bag. Yay! Taxi back to duty free store. They’re closed for lunch. Of course they are. Taxi back to beach.  Driver was an interesting character.  He had retired from police work.  He worked for the government here when France and England shared management of Vanuatu.  This has been an independent country since 1980.11 taxi

Next dinghy to boat. Start stowing supplies. Lunch is over. Dinghy back to beach. Taxi back to duty free. Collect heavy bag and back to boat.

I lost track of how many trips. There were a few eh? Such nice people. A bit more organization to their border systems would be helpful I suppose. But I would not swap the people for any others.

Touring Santo

We have the boys to entertain, so we are doubly ambitious to get ashore and see what Santo has to offer.  We did a tour to a swimming hole back in Port Vila.  So we decide to do that here too.  Another good day.IMG_20180813_100332334_HDR-1Lukas swing

Now next time someone tells you to suck in your gut be aware that this action does unfortunate things to the expression on your face.  As illustrated below…IMG_20180813_102331381_HDR

And it would appear that the children have been a bad influence on Katharina.  She used to be so well behaved…IMG_20180813_102047242

Another day we took a tour to a village a bit inland from the coast.  There we would be hiking in the forest and treking through a cave that a river had carved into the hills.  We started in a van that took us up to altitude.  Then we hiked into the village.  IMG_20180812_101940718_HDR

Notice that the grass at their feet and the dirt yard are completely manicured.  In our travels in all of the south pacific this was the rule.  Well tended dwellings.

When we arrived we came upon a group of men that were rendering Kava root into a paste that could be used to make the Kava beverage.  They must use a different kind of Kava root in Vanuatu.  Or maybe a different process.  It has a greener flavor than Fiji or Tonga.IMG_20180812_164546323

Here the guys are working the root fibers through a meat grinder kind of device.  My mom had one of these and in her world it was for grinding meat to hamburger.IMG_20180812_164747057

Next you put the pulverized root in a sack and work that sack though the water to create perhaps a tea that tastes of the earth.  You drink it from a coconut shell that is passed around and leaves your tongue a bit numb.  Yer partying now mate!

Shortly after we arrive we are set up with a guide for the bush hike. 111 big tree.jpg

This takes us through the forest and down into a canyon.  Steep.  They had a network of ladders to make it all happen.

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Then it was time for face painting to appease the gods while we traveled in their forest.111 ears.jpg

Sorry about the ears Lukas.  Some day I’ll grow up.  maybe.

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The river runs through the cave it has created over the eons.  Notice someone disappearing into the cave upper right.  And what do caves have?  Bats.  Lots of them.  And what do bats do?  Yes they do do.  The rocks inside the cave are slick with it.  Lets just say you would not lean on those rocks twice.

111 cave light

In a couple places the roof of the cave opened and you got some light.  But mostly dark for sure.

More ladders and some ropes helped us through the cave,111 light

At last!  There was a Light!  Which got bigger.111 light 2

Looking back at our exit.111 exit

After lunch on the shore we headed back to the village.  Mostly walking down the river bed in waist high water.  222 riverIMG_20180812_175025373

These folks will sleep well tonight.

Looks like hiking is bad for my hair…222 hair

But before any sleeping its dinner time.  Join us in the cook house.  Where it is quite dark….222 banana.jpg

Our chefis using banana leaves make up the cooking enclosure.  And into that go roots and other veggies.  Then the whole thing is put on rocks heated with the fire.222 banana 2

While the cooking takes place there is time for some juggling.222 juggling

And then it is time to dine.222 presentation

Mosquito nets kept us comfortable, but I have to say that bugs were not a big problem in any case.  The next morning we hiked out to the van and found our way back to Spill The Wine.

Last detail was for Simon to finish his openwater diving certification.  Kat takes him off to the divemasters and he passes nicely.  Congratulations Simon!  Simon and Lukas both got to swim with turtles.11 asimon

11 alukas

Guests come and guests go.  It is time for Kat to pack up the siblings, take them to Sydney, and put them on a plane to Germany.  They will never be the same.  Neither will I…  🙂

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Wait until their parents get a load of their cool tattoos!!222 tattoos.jpg

 

 

 

On to Santo

Apologies for being away from the blog for too long.  I have some serious catching up to do.  Hold on tight as we pick up on the way to Santo.

We Departed the Maskelynes on the way to Luganville on Espirito Santo island. It was an overnight 100 miles to arrive at the village of Avunatari just short of Luganville. We left later in the morning. Lots of whales are on this path. But they don’t pose for photos.  Kat likes to fish.  On the overnight passage she caught a couple of tasty tuna sorts.20180806_184354825-1

Seasickness bites Simon a bit but especially Lukas. He actually started running a fever of 102.6 F (39.2C). Got our attention. As soon as we arrived at Avunatari we anchored and I went ashore to reconnoiter. Low tide and the cove was shallow so I had to walk.  Trying to keep Simon’s banged up toe out of the water to avoid infection.20180808_083457113_HDR

Not sure why I bothered… When it comes time for kids to throw rocks in the cove, Simon seems to think infectious beasties in the water be damned!!IMG_20180808_082040217_HDR

Friendly people on shore (such a surprise!).  And girls grow on trees!IMG_20180807_112612465_BURST001

And boys grow on boats.  IMG_20180807_105159113_HDR

And there is a bungalow hut style hotel. It’s time for Lucas to come ashore to recuperate. Kat stayed with him and in 24 hrs he felt nearly 100% better.

We had lunch at the lodging that day. Local food. I’m sure bananas were involved. The couple operating it were very accommodating. IMG_20180807_113217640

He peeled us a coconut. And the guy also ran a small grocery where we could get a few supplies, like eggs!

We needed some beer too. I asked a young boy where the beer store was. And he took me there. Where I bought a 6 pack from an even younger boy.  IMG_20180807_134429747-1

And a frozen treat for my guide. This is not how it works where I come from but I’m not where I came from any more. And it works here.

On the recovery shore stay, Kat and Lucas became acquainted with two young men from Belgium. We invited them to snorkel a wreck with us the next day and they were for it.IMG_20180808_085905826_HDR

As wrecks go it was falling apart. But the fish were cool. And it was fun to have fresh company.

Soon it is time to head for Luganville. It’s about 10 miles away. Not much of a crossing. Nobody gets seasick. :). We left midmorning and arrive about noon. There is a resort on the south shore of the channel that rents mooring bouys.  Lucas explores the cool trees on the beach. 20180809_145458817_HDR

We get tied up and go ashore for a nice lunch with proper fries. Luganville is on the north shore of the channel and we are moored on the south shore.  But there is a passenger ferry.  Which we take to Luganville. Supplies. Kat needs a dive torch. Some groceries. Visit the butcher. Get acquainted with town. We like Luganville.

The next day we miss the ferry so dinghy over to Luganville. This wrong side of the channel thing is getting old. After we get back from town we cut loose and take STW across the channel to the anchorage in front of the Beachfront Resort.  Much more practical for us.  Easy to find transportation to town which is only a mile away anyway.  Way easier to get my bicycle to shore here.  Its only 100 meters or so away.  Great bicycle island.  Flat terrain and town is about a mile away.

The services available at the Beachfront Resort are awesome. Restaurant, laundry, drinking water. And they really make you feel welcome. The first resort we moored at was only ok this way.   Three cheers for the Beachfront Resort!Image result for beachfront resort santo photo

Maskelyn Islands

The crossing to the Maskelyne archipeligo off Malekula island goes well. Good wind and no one ill. The arrival was dodgy however.

There is a bit of a bay and we could see the village. But as we entered the bay it became very shallow. Spill the Wine draws six and a half feet and I was reading 8 feet on the depth sounder when we decided it was time to turn around. Our rudder scraped on something as we made our turn, so ya, shallow.

We exited and turned the corner looking for another bay to anchor in. it’s about 4 pm. It will be dark soon and we need to find a place to park Spill The Wine. Maybe 15 kts of wind and water choppy. Less than ideal for anchoring.

I have hoisted Kat up the mast so that she can get a bird’s eye view of the water looking for comfortable depth. I think it’s her favorite place on the boat. She reports that there is a small fishing canoe pursuing us.

One of the men from the village has come out to tell us that indeed we were almost in the anchorage and we just needed to go a little bit further. Martin offers to show us the way.

A bit of a leap of faith here but we decide to trust local knowledge. We follow Martin through the pass and he was right. It once again became 8ft deep and we draw 6 1/2. Aggghhh! But then it went to 30 feet and we can anchor quite nicely.

I put the dinghy together and went to shore quickly to thank Martin for his help with our passage. He invites us to shore the next day for a tour of the village.

The next morning we wake to find Pirates in the anchorage.

They look friendly so I invite them aboard. This thing with the hand signs is all over the South Pacific.

We go ashore for the village tour with Martin.

One of the local kids shows us how to climb trees for coconuts.

So the locals set a bad example and the siblings are sucked in!

There are wells on the island for drinking water.

Folks still collect roof water for other than drinking purposes. This we saw all over the South Pacific.

I spoke to the principal of the school. They have a large capacity water maker. He explained that the high pressure hose blew out. Asked if I’d take a look. Something broken? That’s my thing.

Nice install. Well organized. Good tool supply. Whoever did this even thought to leave behind extra high pressure hose.

And yeah that hose below looks ready to be retired.

I was able to use the sealing ferrules over again on the new hose and soon they we’re back in the water business.

New hose looks happy.

I spoke to Lynn. She’s the person that put this system in. She wants to know what the specific gravity of the various battery cells is. She is in New Zealand and wants to know ahead of time so she can get new batteries shipped in before she arrives. She says there should be a hydrometer present in the tool kit. Well maybe there was, but no longer. What to do… I don’t have a battery hydrometer. But I do have a beer hydrometer! Let’s try it.

Extracting some battery acid for testing.

And here is the result. Being a beer thermometer it’s not calibrated for battery acid. But the first photo shows the hydrometer sinking. Almost all the cells showed the hydrometer floating like in the second photo. So Lynn thought there were some dead cells and she was right. Anyway she is happy to have advance information so she can plan her next maintenance visit.

The boys got to play more soccer here. And left a couple gift balls behind. Yay!

We did eye examinations on the siblings just for fun. They passed!

We also did something Kat called the dinghy challenge.

he boys both were able to launch the dinghy from Spill The Wine, start the motor properly, run to shore, deploy the dinghy wheels, beach the dinghy, relaunch, stow the dinghy wheels, and land the dinghy on Spill The Wine’s stern. They did a fine job on all points. Nice work Lukas and Simon!

Nguna, the Village of Utanlangi, and Lamen Bay

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One more thing. A number of people have asked me if I’m worried about piracy. Well I was not until those scallywags Lukas and Simon came on board and fomented a Mutiny. STW was transformed into a Pirate Ship!

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It all started innocently enough. First there was an unusually shaped bamboo stalk/root that looked like a dragon’s head. After it was installed on the bow, morale on STW took a turn. And one day when I went off in the dinghy. Upon my return I was presented with the above insurrection! I had to threaten to cut off the chocolate rations in order to regain command. The keel haulings were tough. The boys submitted to their punishment but they were scared. I had to be keel hauled too. Times are tough on the high seas! After the keel haulings peace was regained in time for an orderly anchoring at Utanlangi.

I dinghyed ashore to ask the chief permission to anchor and come ashore with my (unbeknownst to him) mutinous crew. He seemed to think that was fine. And it was fun to catch up to Alex and Sarah again.

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This photo is significant for two reasons. One is the elegant photobomb on the part of Sarah in the back right of the picture. The other is the “stickmeat” I am nibbling on that I purchased at one of the booths on the beach. Not my usual but tasty enough kebab.

Nguna has 13 villages. As it turns out they have all converged on Utanalangi for a big soccer tourney and general independence celebration. The players are quite skilled. There is a program of musicians. One player recognizes me. I saw him busking in Port Vila. I supported his efforts there and now here he is in Nguna. Along with a number of other awesome players.

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The stand up bass is an unusual element for me but common in this neighborhood. The musician in the blue hat is working it. It is a cubic box with a fretless neck. The neck is jointed so one of the variables in the playing of it is how much you stretch the string with that neck. However it works, it works fine.

Notice the wire barrier enclosing the stage. This place must get rowdy from time to time! Actually no. This is so they can lock it up. There are quite a few buildings without doors and walls here.

Simon and Lukas get to play soccer and we all played volleyball here. The snorkeling and diving here was some of the best. The village has set aside half the cove as a no fishing park reserve. Good stuff.

Something about a dinghy and kids. Everywhere I go there seems I get a dinghy full of kids. And the sand that sticks to them accumulates… In the dinghy! Oh well! But it’s hard to photo them IN the dinghy. As soon as I approach they all jump out. Lukas and Simon left a few soccer balls behind for this crew. Nice kids.

I asked the chief if it would be good to do an eye clinic here and give away reading glasses. He liked the idea. Chief gets the word out. We set up in the local first aid center.

One of the chief’s sons is the medic. He helps out with the clinic as translator.

Here is one of my earlier patients sporting her new spex watching the show. We saw quite a few folks then cleanup. There is more music that night. The eye team sleeps well.

The next day Alex, Sarah and Kat go for a dive in the marine park we are anchored in. It was impressive by snorkel. And just as impressive by scuba. Some of the best so far.

Thank you Nguna island. Our next is Lamen Bay on Epi island. We leave at midnight. The anchor it was tricky to recover. Many rocks below and those rocks became rather attached to my anchor chain. A little push and pull gets it loose.

The boys get the Scopolamine patches. Night passage goes smoothly. Good wind. Nobody gets seasick. The next day we have dolphins joining Spill the Wine. Cavorting at the bow for 20 minutes. The kids dig it!

Kat has a go at swimming with them. Being towed behind the boat here. Dolphins were unimpressed.

Lamen Bay turns out to be awesome. Right after we anchor we are on our way to shore.

We encounter a fellow fishing out of a dugout canoe in the bay. And we meet Masing. He and his wife Ruth became our guides for our visit.

These people really live in paradise, and they know it. Sunset finds them together on the beach. Why not.

is village has a bottomless well. And there are always little kids looking to help you with water. Masing tells me in a bad dry season this well continues to deliver when others fail. Apparently Australians came and drilled this quite deep into the earth. Fed by rain in the mountains I suppose. The odd bit is this pump is less than 50 meters from the beach. Who knew. We take advantage and get ready to wash clothes in buckets. This offends one of the village residents. They lend us a proper washtub. They also invite us to use their clothes line. Nice!

This village is well groomed. They all have been.

Even the pigs are clean. The pigpens are not full of poop. Pigs kill me!

The soil is worn smooth by foot traffic. Vegetation debris, leaves etc gets raked up and burned.

This burning was in process when we purchased some fuel.

Top photo above is the fuel depot. Note that in the background of the photo there are brush piles on fire. Bottom photo is a close up of the fire. Maybe 15 meters from the fuel depot. Struck me as unusual.

Masing’s dad measures out a jug of gasoline for our dinghy motor. Dig the fire over his right shoulder. Don’t try this at home.

Masing’s dad also grows cacao.

This is the opened beanpod. There is a fleshy covering over each bean. You can eat that part and spit out the bean. Like you might eat pomegranite. Quite citrus flavor. I tried the bean raw and would not recommend eating this. Really needs roasted to become chocolate as we know it.

Snorkeling was great here. Impressive reef. Lots of big Green turtles. Even a Dugong (think manatee).

Before we left, Masing, Ruth and their daughter Leisale joined Spill the Wine for dinner. Beef au Egg was tasty.

Thank you Masing and Ruth. Thank you Lamen Bay. Long may you run!

Port Vila and onward

We arrive Port Vila Vanuatu at 10am. Awesome. We can see where we are going. Radio in to the marina. They have plenty of mooring bouys. Their work boat leads us to one and we are tied. It’s Friday morning and we have customs/immigration work to do. Kat is flying out tomorrow and will be returning with her siblings in 4 days. Minors age 10 and 12. We need some govt paper from Vanuatu to be sure her arrival at the Vanuatu airport is smooth. So I am off to the Govt offices. I still have not paid for our port fees from our check in out at Port Resolution either. That’s another office. On the other end of town. What did you expect!?

We find out way to the immigration office and get things moving on the permission letter for Kat to arrive in Vanuatu with her siblings. The official helping us tells us to come back on Monday to pay. Oh Kay… I’m figuring this out. Anything you need done requires 3 visits. One to start. Another to pay. And last to pick up your document. Distributed about town to keep it interesting. And it is. The market is in the middle of all this. And a proper market it is! Kat stocks up.

Its been a travel and I’m done for the night after dinner on shore. Kat and Bas head out for some clubbing. They have a blast and find that they are the only white people in the disco. A young woman walks them back to the marina to be sure they don’t get lost.

Saturday Kat departed for Australia. All paperwork in hand or in progress. Its complicated as she is going to be traveling with minors, even if they are her brothers. I get my bicycle out of its storage sack and put back together for a trip to get a few boat supplies. It is a brilliant day to go for a bike ride in Port Vila.

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I rode out to the end of town to visit a marine supply guy that helped us on the phone with our fuel pump questions. Nice guy. We end up watching some old video from the Tea Clipper races on YouTube. Think Cutty Sark. He had a friend visiting in the shop that does solar installs for the out islands. They tell me where I can buy a courtesy flag for Vanuatu. Strangely enough it is not easy to find one. But I do. The shop guy gives me a bonus small flag. I fix it to my handlebars.

I went shopping for something appropriate to toast on the Big Green Egg. I find a place to cut us some thick steaks. Something they call a Scotch Fillet is a US Rib Eye. Kat crossed the Pacific on a boat called La Pita. As I mentioned last post we shared some of the crossing from Tanna with them. And they are here in the Port Vila anchorage. Kat is gone to Australia to collect her siblings. And Bas and I will host owners Klaus and Tilly on Spill The Wine. Nice people.

I had time the next day, so I decided it was time for a haircut. I think the last was somewhere in NZ and its been awhile.

Kinda weird. The short haired guy has blonder hair. Hmmm….

The harbor here is pretty interesting. There are a number of derelict boats wasting away on the shoreline.

The remains of some cyclone no doubt. I’m not buying any of them! Too bad about the photo exposure. The boats were backlit at low tide.

Sunday night the Soccer World Cup happens. France vs Croatia. Vanuatu was formerly a French/British territory. I had no idea how seriously they take Soccer. Or maybe they just take a party seriously. France wins. And the party starts at 11pm. And is still rolling until just after dawn. Traffic Jams. People hooting and hollering. The thrill of Victory. I did not get in the middle of that as it started so late. But impressive. “Go France Go!” indeed.

On Monday it is time to go back to pay the immigration fees. I ride through town. Bike is way faster than a car because of the usual heavy traffic. The road turns one way against me. And it is hot. As long as I am moving its comfortable. But when I stop it is Hot and Humid. I park my bike and enter the govt office. No AC. Same helpful official as last week. She sorts me out quickly. The sweat pours off my body in the enclosed space. Hurry! I feel like a levee is about to Iet a torrent of sweat loose. I feel a drop roll down my spine and another accumulating on my nose. And I’m done and off not a moment too soon.

Off to Customs. This is at the other end of town. I find my way there and the same guy that helped me check in at Port Resolution on Tanna is taking care of me again. Get the port fees paid, cruising permit in hand and off we go.

As I fly through town I realize. I am the only white guy on a bike in this town. Hell I am the only guy on a bike in this town. And there are not many white guys either. No idea why bicycles are not common here. They seem a perfect fit. I get back to the marina and it is time for another shower before heading to the boat. Maybe that is why bicycles are not more popular…. I fill a couple of my Jerry jugs with water to top up the tanks. Not a great idea to run the watermaker in a harbor. Filters last longer on the open sea. Although I would have to comment that the visibility in this harbor is amazing. The first harbor I would consider running a watermaker in if I had to. But the water on shore is good and free so no need to consume the battery power. The tide must flush this waterway thoroughly to make the water so clear.

More Bislama fun. I do not know why I find this so amusing. German isn’t funny. hmm.

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Above would be a youth center.

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And this is to remind you that every drag from tobacco accumulates to kill you.

I have inaugurated my new outboard.

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I picked up a two stroke gas Mercury in Fiji. I grew weary of the unpredictable availability of Propane. The new one works. And it is smelly. There is extra oil in the fuel just now because that is what the manufacturer recommended for the first tank as part of the running in process. Next tank should be less smelly. It is a 9.9 hp unit just like the 9.9 Lehr propane motor. Performance was weak until the running in period was done. Couldn’t have anything to do with me peeling the 9.9 off and putting one 9 back on upside down so it says 6 now would it? Nobody wants to steal little motors. At first the new motor would not plane out the dinghy. Which seemed really weird to me. The good news us after the run in period it planes out the dinghy just fine. And the odor improved.

Kat returns to Vanuatu on July 19th with her siblings, Simon and Lukas, in hand. Along with plenty of associated gear. And Spill The Wine wept. Bas departs for shore accommodations and I deliver our new crew to their Vanuatu home.

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We have a couple more days of chores and provisioning to take care of. Trick is how to keep two young weasels entertained? Or do I assault the job list? We plan some outings to local attractions. We visit a swimming hole. Another fabulous Blue Lagoon (Number Unknown). But what kid does not love a rope swing? The pool was big enough to swallow a herd of cruise ship passengers. But the good news is there was no cruise ship in port today. 🙂

For that matter, what kid does not dig driving a dinghy?

Kat wants to go to the boat supply store to shop. We have life jackets for the boys but she is looking for a particular sort for them. Store has a few but they are nothing like we seek. Reality is nobody wears life jackets in the south pacific. So no one sells them either. The only ones they have are the orange ones for insurance purposes. Maybe…

I take a bicycle trip up the hill to find a French butcher. They have good meat and French wine with corks!! Not that it matters but NZ and AUS wines are predominant in most of the south pacific and they use those screw caps. Corks are just novel. And I witnessed A Miracle! There was another bicycle in Port Vila! The guy was even wearing a helmet. Definitely not from around here. There are no motorcycles either. Odd.

We decide to take a very short cruise over to a neighbor bay. We get anchored and relax and a big green turtle floats by. The attraction here is a restaurant that does a fire show. Think Cirque du Soleil but a bit more minor league.

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Turns out to be a great attraction. And the photo does not do justice. Hundreds of people show up to watch. And after the show the audience is welcome to come play with their fire tools. Adults and kids both. What could go wrong? Well nothing does. Its fun.

It is time to go back to Port Vila for last provisioning. Beyond here no grocery stores be! At least for awhile. Green groceries collected. A couple liters of yogurt at $15 each (ouch!). But imported is imported. I stop in to the local LP Gas depot and they fill me up presto. And all they have is Propane…. ARRRG!! If I’d a only known! Actually I’m still happy to have a gasoline motor in hand. How nice they have propane here, but there are plenty stops yet to go and my expectation is that butane, not propane, will still be the only fuel in many of them.

We dose the boys with half patches of Scopalamine to ward off sea sickness. We are late on this, we should have done it the night before. Exit the harbor and start sailing North. And the boys turn green.

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But they had their reasons. Apart from late meds the seas as we turn North were quite lumpy and random. Perfect to make one sea sick. And Kat did some research. Turns out your seasickness potential peaks at age 12. We hit their sweet spot.

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But they recovered quickly as we moved behind the island and the seas calmed down a bit.

Whales came along to cheer Lukas and Simon up. Kat spotted them on the depth sounder. The depth was erratic and she was sure it was a whale. I wasn’t convinced at first, but it’s hard to argue with a whale when they show up.

We are heading for Nguna island. A small island associated with Efata island. On our way we are passing a small bay on the west side of Lelepe island. Looks appealing. Ok maybe that is enough sailing for our little crew-lings. I head in. With no plan. This is my mistake. This was not our intended destination so our normal preplanning is yet to be done. And we are about to arrive. And the crew-lings are getting excited, running around, asking questions. Its very distracting. Kat is looking at the google earth images to see about a reef. I note visually that we are coming up on a reef. Kat is back on deck and it is time to reverse course and drop sails. Maybe overdue time. We get the motor running and we gather our wits. Still time to make a plan.

lelepa google image

The satellite images show a pass about the middle of the reef that would be best approached from just south of west. And we start looking for it. Visibility is pretty good but the pass does not reveal itself. Another cruiser is snorkeling in the reef zone and indicates where we should enter. So we try it. Very skinny water under our keel but it will do. Anchoring in 12 feet of water with nice sand bottom. Good holding as the sun goes down.

The google images we used quite a bit and we found to be a powerful tool in poorly charted areas especially. Kat figured out how to integrate them with a charting program called Open CPN. They are much more useful than the charting in many cases. And used together with charting you have a very useful tool. On the other hand, sometimes clouds happen and the images are not so clean as this one is.

The next day we note beachy palapas onshore. And there are tourists on the beach! Turns out the village on the south end of the island brings tourist day trippers out in skiffs to Lelepa island for various activities and this is their lunch spot. After they leave a woman comes out in a kayak to share the leftover snacks with us.

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And she stayed for tea. And damn my eyes I lost track of her name. ARRGGG!

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Here is the view off the beach. STW and a neighbor. Reef invisible! Those sneaky reefs…

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The Batcave had a Guardian!

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C’mon in! We did not leave a light on fer ye!

STW Cave Bats

Those little black dots are bats. They are small but small ones are more scary, right? Hey! Show fear! Bats are scary! Actually they were flying all around us during our minor spelunking. None got caught in anybody’s hair.

At this anchorage we meet Alex and Sarah. They are English people touring on a boat named Bob. Sarah shared some awesome photos with us. Like the above Batscape. Or Below…

STW Cave Skulls

Or this one. If the bats didn’t scare ye, the Skull on the right will!! Or might anyway.

STW Kayak

Its a fine day for a kayak said Kat.

At the end of our Batcave shore hike Simon stubbed his toe on a root. Earning his sea name “Simon Nine Toenails.”. Peeled that sucker right off. Both boys ended up with trouble of this sort. Even Kat got a splinter. Trick in life is to know when to wear something like shoes. And playing soccer shoeless with a raw toe is a good way to keep it from healing. But I suppose we all have things to learn.

S/V Bob (Alex and Sarah’s boat) left yesterday and now our time has come as well. Our postponed visit to Nguna Island is next. Spill The Wine is off for the village of Utanlangi to help them celebrate Vanuatu’s independence day. 11 miles. No provisioning required.

Tanna to Port Vila

I got up early and started to pack the dinghy. Stow the motor. Bail out the water. Install the bridle. These things make noise. So not long and my crew is rousted. It’s a bit cool but quite humid. If you move at all it’s going to get you hot. After all those departure preparations it is time for my last bath in this bay followed by a swimstep shower.  No photo available… Then coffee.

We weigh anchor at 0800 and exit the bay. We are bound for Port Vila 120 miles to the NW. Bas makes eggs served with baguettes, butter, and honey. I love breakfast! The wind fills in and we are making 7 kts on a broad reach. It is a good day.  Followed by a good night.

Another boat LaPita exits just behind us. She is a 75 ft ketch. Kat crossed from the Panama canal to French Polynesia on this boat last spring so she is well acquainted with these folks. They caught up with us but couldn’t quite get past. Neither could we leave them behind. It was fun to travel in company.img_20180712_0944224762202690972750051384.jpg

She is a beautiful boat.  Classic photo with someone nearly naked at the bow.  Shake it Klaus!  img_20180712_1412284935821381641215056486.jpg

Kat is making bread and curry for dinner.

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I get to skin the husk from the coconut on the swimstep. Curry wants coconut meat and water. We are trolling. Will this be fish curry?

No. The fish here are too smart for us apparently.

Winds were kind to us. Good speed on a beam reach. But not more wind than we could easily handle. img_20180713_061211553_burst000_cover_top2571312224303276685.jpg

Kat and Bas share the dawn watch.

!Almost on the Road to Vanuatu

When we visited Denarau marine complex for supplies we met another Katharina. She helped us acquire Kava for the Lao tour. She invited us to dinner at her house when we returned. Fun. We met her dad and her children. And we had some kava with the Kava dealer! Her dad runs a kava shop in the market.

Katharina takes a mean selfie.

People here name their houses. Kinda cool.

She served us lobster curry with all the fixings and of course, coconuts! Thank you Katharina for sharing your family with us.

We adjusted our crew list to include Bas a couple days ago.  This entails a paperwork shuffle with the Immigration authority.  I scheduled a 10am final signing out for Friday the 6th of July. The officials came at noon. So we had plenty of time for lunch! Nancy and I and Bas and Kat. All my Fiji dollars are spent. They are not so useful out of the Fiji. Vanuatu wants US or Australian dollars I’ve been told.

I sent Vanuatu customs the required advance notice today and lo, this time they didst respond. I tried a few days ago and their web site was Offline. We said our sad goodbyes to Nancy. She is off to Seattle to chase necessary evil dirt details.

The homeland is loath to surrender it’s young (or not so young). And devises all sorts of ways to keep us tethered in boxes. There is a price to pay to finally achieve your freedom. Nancy and I are close to that goal.

We’ve fueled, groceried, watered Spill the Wine. It’s time to go.

Some of our favorite staff come by to seranade us with the Fijian goodbye song. It’s beautiful.

And we are off. Kat, Bas and I for the salty road to Vanuatu and Nancy for the jetstream east and north to Seattle. I’ll join her later after the boat is laid up in Australia for cyclone season.

Days at sea give me time to reflect.  Below is STW’s first crew.  Hot to go to sea out of Seattle bound for San Fran and San Diego.  Above is NZ to Fiji 2018 crew an d Mexico West 2017 crew.  I need more crew photos!!  I’m missing too many people.  So many priceless friends have sailed on Spill The Wine.  Thank you all for sharing.  I have learned so much on the path.  Some things that are good to know.  Some things that I should have known already.  If I keep at it, some day I might be smart.

STW Coho crew

But back on course to Vanuatu.  25kt winds on the beam and seas as large as 15 feet to match. We sail 6-7 kts through the afternoon and night. Mine was the first watch until 0100 then Kat takes over. Just before dawn I’m back on. Stars were brilliant for the first hours of the evening. The moon came up late and was its own show. With sunrise I am greeted by a thousand diamonds on the deck. Fresh sea salt people!

Bas is learning fast but there is a lot to learn. It’ll be awhile before he can stand a solo watch. Great fun to have him on!  He is great at identifying where he can be helpful.  And clever enough to know when he might be in the way.  Key skill set!

We ran the motor to charge the batteries. The autopilot really soaks up the electricity. Mid day we put the windvane, Mr. Sulu, to work. This device steers by the wind and is powered by the wind. So we should do better on electrical consumption.

Tonight it’s beef on the green egg.  Nobody is seasick today.  Bas and I are using Scopolamine patches. Kat tried Stugeron for seasickness. Backfired. Side effects were kinda like seasickness. Clearly not her tool going forward.

I take watch until 0200 then Kat takes over.  Bas splits his awake time between Kat and I to make sure the on watch doesn’t get bored. Thank you Bas.

More sleep on and off during the day for all of us. Seas are down to 10 ft waves. Wind 15 to 20 now. Still plenty. It’s starting to look like our planned 4 day crossing will only take 3 days. Better wind than expected!

 

Tonight we roast a chicken on the Egg. Which came first, the chicken or the sunset?  By color they really look related.  Kat made a big salad. Pomegranate chocolate ice cream after. Times are tough on Spill the Wine. Wind dying so we motor up for speed, electricity, and water.  Shower Time!  Only mildly overdue.

It’s a bit cool tonight. Long pants called for. I had to dig but found ’em. I hope shoes and socks don’t become necessary anytime soon.

Just as we departed Fiji we contacted customs Vanuatu. Can we check in at Port Resolution? Why not? Captain Cook checked in there so long ago. Customs says no. They don’t have enough staff. They want us to go all the way to the west side of the island to their regular office. We’d rather not. Bummer.

As we approach Tanna island we make contact with Vanuatu customs. Ask the same question regarding where we must check in. And Lo! The answer changes! We set a course for Port Resolution. Only later did we find out why that answer changed…

Wind expired on us as predicted. Which means we approach Port Resolution in the dark under motor. Easier for the boat to hit things in the dark, darn. Also easier to see Tanna’s volcano, Mt Yasur. It has a perpetual steam cloud. And that cloud glows red in the moonless dark. Then as we watch it goes Boom! Then hot lava flys into the night sky. Imagine. Fireworks not made in China!

The engine is feeling neglected. I am aware of this because I am the Engine Whisperer. She speaks to me with a voice not heard by ordinary ears. Today she was moving us along nicely and then she said to me, nothing at all! As in she sputtered and stopped. Very subtle. This impressed me as a fuel problem. Maybe air in the system? We sail along slowly and do some assessment.

First I look at vacuum. There is a pump that sucks fuel from the tank through a filter. If the filter is clogged the vacuum goes up. Well vacuum is normal and maybe even low. Next we peek into the last fuel filter before the fuel injection pump. Hmm. Kinda half full. That seems like air. From where?

There is a little primer lever on the fuel pump. If you work it a few hundred strokes you should be able to bleed the air out of the filter. But it does not work. Are we sucking air into the fuel system from somewhere? Fuel pump faulty?

Never mind getting started on a full repair. We are losing daylight and need to get moving. I look into the spares bin and pull all my hose bits. Kat and Bas dig (I mean that, they’re at the bottom) a 5 gallon Jerry can of fuel out of a lazarette in the cockpit. We rig the Jerry in the companionway over the engine. The hose siphons fuel into the filter at the injector pump. Bypasses the questionably functional fuel lift pump. Not pretty but we are under power once again.

 

 

We have studied our charts and Google Earth images. Following waypoints Kat set up we limp our jury rigged way into the anchorage and join about 4 other boats. Sleep will be welcome.

The next day we wake to find 15 new boats and see more on the way. The bloody WorldARC has found us again. That is the bad news. The good news is their presence is what changed Customs tune. Because of the number of boats it was worth their leaving their office and coming to Port Resolution.

Time to get serious about the fuel issue. img_20180710_112005431_hdr556616008504430087.jpg

We remove the pump from the engine block and take it apart. Looking it over it seems there is nothing wrong with it. Apart from a gasket I shreded in the dismantle process anyway.

Ok. Let’s reassemble. I make a new gasket out of some handy gasket material (a beer carton).

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Then we whack it back together. And the primary pumping function seems to work fine. Strangely enough the priming lever should move fuel too. And it did not before we removed it. Interesting, but that is not likely to be what broke us down.  What can it be??

Now we tested the pump on a jug of fuel. Works. Next we tested it pulling fuel from the tank.  Not work. Has to be an air leak. And it is. The vacuum gauge Ts into the fuel line. Leak identified at the connection to the gauge and resealed.  Last we reinstalled the fuel pump and boom we are back in a properly motorized condition.

Next day we escape the madding crowd for an excursion to the major (relatively) village on the other side of the island. We need local cash and a Sim card for internet. We go to shore and seek out transport. Joe with a truck will provide. We take our seats on the 2×8 inch benches in the bed and hold on tight. Much of the way is definitely a bush road.

As we travel everyone shouts greetings as we go by and offers us their best smiles. These people have way better (more) teeth than the Fijians. I wonder why? We pass a number of other trucks and note they all sport flags of various countries. Our truck has a French flag and we are greeted with enthusiastic cries of “Go France Go!” img_20180711_1525422877425785932591031928.jpg

And then they laugh. Not sure when I’ve seen such exhuberantly happy people. We fly down the dirt road through dense jungle. Floating on the unbearable lightness of being on Vanuatu’s Tanna island.

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The ride was windy enough to be chilly.  Who knew?

One of the other passengers in the truck tells us there are 20,000 people on the island. And there are 24 different dialects. He fills in a few details about the Volcano just as the jungle we have been traveling through is replaced by a vast volcanic desert. Are we impressed by Tanna? Hell yes!img_20180711_1316217837687524306521057743.jpg

Lenakel town has a small produce market with first class product. We bring some home. Find Sim card shop. Even find gin. Our Tonic water has been getting lonely. Kat finds a truck sporting a German flag.img_20180711_143518423_hdr7838167648217035764.jpg She chats with the driver and we learn that the flag indicates what country’s soccer team they favor. They take this seriously.

As we wander through town we see signs in English but it isn’t quite. It is Bislama, the official language of Vanuatu.  If you look at it phonetically it can be decyphered. img_20180711_1457398483266012349581088284.jpg

Last stop was the lemonade stand style kava shop. One for the road!

We take our places on the 2×8 benches. Our bums will be happy when the ride is over. School just let out and we are treated to many calls of Go France Go! from the students as they run laughing after the truck. As happy as these folks are they should live forever.

One the way back we stop at the volcano for a tour. It’s borderline cool so I put on long pants. It’s been awhile! Hike is coming so I went for shoes and socks as well. Felt kinda weird.img_20180711_1610571181230601324006342928.jpg

The Tannaans showed us some dancing and song. They did a fair bit of stomping which reverberated through the black volcanic sand, and up from the sand into your chest. From time to time the volcano would also speak, similarly shaking your bones.  Booms and shrieks of steam escaping the bowels of the earth complimented the songs and dancing profoundly.

The WorldARC comprise much of the audience tonight. Our hosts load the lot of us out for the short trip to the volcano… in a small fleet of pickups with… 2×8 benches! My bum knows fear.img_20180711_1654120106552797514938385554.jpg

The jungle fades as we enter a lunar landscape. Hiking up to the ridge the ridge we look down into… The Fires of Mt Doom! Time for Frodo to pitch “The Prescious” into the Lava stream! I know that’s not how it really happened but cut me some slack here.

The Booms and steam venting are louder now and are a great soundtrack for the occasional shower of lava that Mt Yasur sends into the sky. Thankfully we don’t see any lava showers that are as big as the one we watched as we approached Tanna last night. Really don’t need to be close to a big eruption like that…

With each boom you can watch the shockwave propagate through the clouds of steam. The visual is caused by the air pressure increase the shockwave delivers. Puts the micro droplets in the cloud back into a vapor state briefly. The vapor becomes cloud again after the wave passes. Like you are watching the sound of Boom!

After the tour we catch our truck, they waited for us. Nice fellows. Back to Port Resolution. Sarah runs a small restaurant in the village. She is closed but gets word we are looking for dinner and opens for us. And we were hungry too. No lunch!

Next we find our dinghy in the dark. Find deep water and we are on our way to STW. But now to find her. Seems I neglected to leave the anchor light on. Not that hard really.

As we relax in the cockpit we note that the neighbor boat is swinging dangerously close and there is a collision with STW!  Minor but this can’t continue.  This is one of the WorldARC boats that arrived after us. I thought the fools anchored too close and the consequences are manifest.  As there is no one on that boat we reanchor STW.  Then sleep joins the crew.

Up next.  Bas and Kat an I sail for Port Vila on Efata Island.  120 miles to the NW.

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We are anchored with Phil from Parotia off the beach at Somosomo town on Taveuni island. First go is a taxi ride to the gas depot to see if we can get Spill the Wine’s propane tanks filled. Can’t do. This location does not have fittings for my tanks. And they have butane only on which my outboard does not run well at all. They recommend I check Savusavu. But I’ve been there. They had the fittings but still butane only. Have to wait until Vuda point on the South island, Viti Levu. We have enough fuel to get by.

Back to town to get supplies. Some groceries, some veggies, some beer. Taxi back to the beach and load the dinghy.

Spill The Wine’s next leg is into the Lau Group. Nancy thinks that sounds like too much sailing for her taste and would prefer to relax on Taveuni island for a bit and meet us in Vuda Point after the Lau leg. I will miss her but she’s right, the Lau leg is a lot of sailing. She’s happy that Kat is on board to share in the deck work and watches.

Nancy and I taxi up the coast and check into a really cool placeimg_20180604_122045568_hdr

But they have coconut issues.  There a dozen bungalows on a hill looking over the Somosomo channel between Taveuni and Vanua Levu. Nice pool. Nice fellow guests. We met Seamus and Sarah. A lot Irish in a fun way.

The next morning I return to STW and we get ready to make our way to the Lau group. img_20180606_172635818-effectsPhil will be traveling with us on his boat Parotia. We make it to the other side of Taviuni. Anchored in a quiet cove that turned out to be fairly well influenced by ocean swell. That’s Rock and Roll people! The next day we go ashore and Rajan is waiting for us.       “So and so told me you wanted a ride to the waterfalls.” Well we do. And we are in the middle of a sparsely populated zone. It’s like we rubbed a magic lamp or something. He tells us he was born on Taviuni and lived all of his 58 years here. Why not? It’s called the Garden island. So named for it’s lush foliage fueled by plenty of rain.img_20180609_152513366_hdr

Rajan is ready to haul us off to the Tavoro Falls in Bouma Park. Decent dirt road.

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The path to the first fall is practically lawn.

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The first falls are a short hike in. Great to swim in but we passed for the moment.  There are some cruise ship leftovers from the small cruise ship nearby. We had passed quite a few of their passengers on the trail hiking back down to their transport. Some were quite ancient and still doing it. We were impressed. The second falls are further on and the path more challenging. IMG_20180609_114513138

Ford river on slippery rocks with dodgy rope to help you. After the second falls Ford again.

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Third falls had the best swimming hole but all were awesome.  Falls number two and three require quite a bit of elevation gain but we’re certainly worth it.

Phil is a bird watching guy. There was one sort of bird he came to Taveuni to see. A Silktail. Only on Taveuni. AAA Silktale

Stop squinting.  The photo really is blurry.  On the hike we saw two pairs and noted a nest as well. Phil got photos and video of them and their nest. He was in birder heaven.

After a few hours of that we came down and there was Rajan. Thanks for waiting man! If you ever need a ride to Tavoro falls ask for Rajan. Tell him 2 meter Chris from Spill the Wine sent you.

Rajan takes us back to our boats and after dinner we napped until midnight. Then we got up and headed out the channel making our way towards the Lau group. Goal was to time our departure so that we would arrive Lao  decently before dark. Wind was pretty good but not quite in the right direction the whole trip so we motored a bit as well.

We investigated a small island on the way pretty close to our destination. Cool reef, nice beach, no people. But the pass was marginally deep. I need 2 meters and it was barely there. I’ll come back some lonesome day at high tide when I’ve had more sleep.

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We carry on to the anchorage at Bay of Islands.  Phil captures Spill The Wine at anchor with his drone camera.  The setting was magazine cover spectacular.

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In fact I spotted our anchor spot on a Fiji Magazine back cover.  Very interesting topography here. Like the moon with water.AAA hats.JPG

Kat and I put on silly hats and set off to frighten the neighbors. Unsuccessful. A couple invited us to movie night on the foredeck of their catamaran. Fun. We met Hugh and Olga there and toured their catamaran after the movie.  More fun people.

The following day we note a number of new boats in the anchorage. A rally called the WorldARC has arrived. We joined a group of about 25 of them to go visit a half submerged cave with bats. Pretty cool but I have to say I have become quite unfamiliar with crowds like this. Claustrophobic. Not a big deal but I noticed.

Phil and I dinghy over to the village of Daliconi to pay our respects. This is important. If I have not mentioned it before if you visit an inhabited peripheral island a gift of kava root is traditional and we bring some. We offer the chief the amazing opportunity to have a goofy eye Dr and crew take a look at his population to see if they need spex. I think there are 130 people living in the village. They won’t all show up. Which is fine. We don’t have a big enough team to see them all in one day. We only have reading glasses but that is the most frequent problem that causes people to be interested in an exam.

He thinks that’s a fine idea. Phil and I dinghy back to our boats. His outboard’s gear shifting lever breaks. Making it hard to…., well…., shift! Into fwd, reverse, and back. The process is: start the motor in neutral, then shift into gear. If you can’t shift, its a long walk back to the anchorage. As it happens this failed in a very narrow shallow pass. So we really could have walked home. We figure out a way to make a lever out of a bailer. It won’t last long but it gets us home.

That night after fabulous chicken burritos and some libations I was able to recruit an eye team. Phil, Katarina, Hugh, and Olga will head to the village tomorrow for the Eye-Invasion.

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Olga convinced me to try stand up paddle boarding. A brilliant way to see the anchorage. And my legs were only a little sore afterwards. Let’s just say this is a skill I am still acquiring.

Then to work. Hugh’s dinghy is large enough for all of us and gear to make the 5 miles to the village.AAA Israel

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I’ll interview and examine, even though I have really bad dinghy hair.

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Phil and Kat work dispensing readers.

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Olga and Hugh are photographers and and prove to be quite capable of entertaining the crowd.

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Phil did some juggling which fired up the small ones.

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Then Hugh started to juggle the children. One at a time granted but this was very popular.

The clinic went well. Lovely people. Mostly glasses related concerns and one foreign body removal. “My eye is sore and red for two months now doc!”. Well there was a reason.

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One of the village elders, Israel, invited us back the next day for dinner. Kat and I brought Spill the Wine over in the afternoon. Extracting ourselves from the anchorage proves interesting. Another friendly reef caresses the keel. Not on my chart. Even Google Earth doesn’t show much there. There was a recommended course line that Kat had loaded. It’s hard to follow those precisely by hand and I was close but not close enough. Too soon old too late smart. No damage as we were going slow.

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We anchor off the village and go ashore to Israel’s house. Lobster with spinach and kasava greet us. Israel’s cousin attends. She lived in the US for much of her life. She is moving back to the village now. She was born here. As her English is flawless she is able to tell us quite a bit about the mechanics of life in Fiji. Tomorrow a truck will come and take people to the larger village of Lomolomo for supplies. We sign up to go and head back to the boat. Many thanks to our very generous hosts! Besides being tired from too much sun today, the invisible mosquitoes get about half a pint. Time to retire.

Through the Lau Group

This morning we dinghy’d in to the same village where we had dinner yesterday.

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Plenty of time to relax with the rest of the folks waiting for the truck. It will be here sooner. Or later. But right on Fiji Time. Time has a different meaning here. Quite a few villagers are going. The chief (on my left napping) and Israel among them. Maybe the truck holds 20.

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And off we go. The road is mostly dirt. Steeper bits are paved with two strips of concrete, one for each tire. You could say lumpy ride, but the scenery was very interesting. There were forests of some sort of strait tall evergreen tree. Until cyclone Winston.

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Now the ones that remain vertical are dead and branchless. I have to think these were an introduced species. They seem quite unsuited to the cyclone zone.

When we get to town the post shop is the first stop. Supposedly where you can get cash from a debit card. But not today. The cash is supposed to arrive from somewhere by noon. Hmm. Noon. Fiji noon… Could be awhile. Anyway I’m not out of cash yet so we get some eggs and milk and carry on. This becomes an inconvenience later.

We catch the next truck and head back to the boat. Say goodbye to Israel and company and dinghy back to Spill the Wine. We expect winds close to 20 knots. So Kat thoroughly ties down the kayak on the foredeck. I deflate the dinghy, bag it and it gets tied down to the foredeck.

We had thought to go to Falanga. But it’s quite far, upwind, and probably populated with WorldARC boats. That was enough zoo at our anchorage yesterday. There is an island called Namuka nearby that we can reach in daylight hours that looks like it might have a passage through its reef. But it is hard to find out for sure. We’ll look.

Passage went well. We had to motor a bit as our destination is quite directly up wind. But we arrive to what appears to be an uninhabited island. Reef pass worked. Cove with dramatic limestone shoreline. A couple of beaches. Sand bottom 12 feet under Spill the Wine. After we anchor and start to unwind a fishing boat shows up. Not a lot of English happening here but they gave us some kind of fish.

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A Salala and a Kasika.  Of Course!  Whatever.  They were quite tasty.

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We cooked one on the Egg and one became sushi. We had gifts for the fishing guys too.

The next morning we met Atu. He motored through the cove with one of his daughters. He offers to take us around the corner to the village and introduce us to the chief. Turns out Chief died as of the beginning of the year. Voice of Chief is still with us. Kind of like a vice president. He welcome us and tells us we are the first Yacht to come this season. We present him with the kava and offer to do some eye work at his village. Seems quite open to our project. We head back to Atu’s house for some bread they bake in an Earth oven.

 

We meet his wife and daughters. And just visit for a bit.

The Methodist Church next door is having services. Lots of singing. Beautiful. Atu is 7th day Adventist. They worship in a different building on a different day. Religion is a bigger part of life in Fiji than I am used to seeing.

Then Atu takes us for a tour of the village. There are about 300 people here.

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We stop at the local school to use their internet. Thank you! We made a donation to their children’s school uniform fund. They have English words painted in the rafters and elsewhere. It will become their second language. Schools where I come from use bells for lunch etc. Here it’s drums. A traditional large tree trunk carved into a drum. Way more fun than a bell.  I should have taken photos of the students darn it!  Awesome uniforms!

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Even dogs go to school here.  Their English needs work too.

There are a couple of very limited inventory shops.  A nurse’s office.

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We encounter some women making Tapa. It’s between cloth and paper. Made by hammering wood fibers pulled from just under the bark of a particular tree.  Very traditional.

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Further on they are processing copra. I’d heard of this many times but never quite understood what it was about. It’s about coconut oil. They dry the coconuts and extract the oil from the coconut meat.  This is a large industry.  Coconut oil is sold in every Fiji market and shop it seems.

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This is a poor photo but you can see how water is collected from the roofs and diverted into a cistern beyond the tree.  Water is precious. No fresh ground water on this island.  There are no land vehicles of any kind here and if there were, washing them would not be popular.

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Cyclone zone.  A building with round ends is less likely to blow away in a cyclone.  This building is built like that and is one of the older structures in the village.  Strange thing is they don’t make the round ended ones anymore.  Recent buildings are square.

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If you would like to bathe there are two choices. Two caves. One on either end of the village. Which contain pools that are a bit salty but less than the sea. They have been in use as long as people have lived on this island. No one was able to tell me just how long that might have been.

There is electricity from a diesel generator from 6 to 10 pm. But we pass a house that has its own generator. They have a freezer. The fishermen store their fish here and when the supply ship comes the fish enter the supply chain for the main island. 4 hrs a day of power is not enough to keep a freezer happy, hence a dedicated generator.

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Atu guided us down the trail to the cove where we anchored. Along the way is his garden. Sweet potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant. Further on is the coconut grove planted by his grandfather. He tells me that all the coconut trees on the island were planted. He shows us how to knock the fresh ones out of the tree.

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He whacks one and we drink it. It’s been a long walk.

He shows us a trick for tying coconuts together in pairs to make them easier to carry. Spill the Wine needs a coconut machete.

Next day Atu comes to pick us up for the eye clinic at 0815. We head for the village against the wind and waves. And there is plenty of both even inside the reef. But there is no hurry.

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My hair still looks weird.  We set up in Atu’s house. It wouldn’t be a Fiji thing to do counting patients. So we don’t. But there were probably 50 patients like at the last village. There usually are not many nearsighted ones, but maybe a few more than usual in this village. I did not bring many nearsighted spex but was able to give a few of what I had out.

 

We spent the afternoon snorkeling.  Atu took us to their Clam Garden.  The villagers have collected 120 giant clams outside the reef and brought them into the lagoon.  And they are as big as good sized dogs.  Without legs I suppose.  And they have begun a program of propagation.

After clinic we Atu takes us back to Spill the Wine. I sat on my transom to remove the husk from one of the coconuts with a cleaver. Success there leaves me with fresh husk debris all over the swim step. I learn that the juice from the husk leaves brown stains on my fiberglass, aieee! There will be some boat polishing in my near future.

It’s “No Schedule Wednesday.”

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Check the reef under the dinghy!  Photo credit Kat.  A good day for a dinghy ride up the north shore of the island and look for caves.

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The NW shoreline is dramatically vertical rising to perhaps 600 feet. You’ll see isolated coconut groves about 75 feet up where there are flat spots. Those coconuts did not get put there by the sea.  Some ambitious hoser planted them.

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There is a beach protected by isolated rocks whose strange erosion patterns make it possible to imagine that they might be lots of different things. It’s kind of like looking at clouds.  Notice the shoreline and lots of the rocks are undercut by the water.

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The root patterns on these trees are amazing!  And apparently need climbing.  I hope Kat never grows up.  We are thinking of our friend Oceana just here.  She is a climber too.

Kat snorkels and declared our own anchorage to have superior snorkeling. We round up some plastic beach trash and a machete I found as well. Just when I was thinking STW needed a machete. I should have asked for a not so rusty one… Our ride north was against the wind and waves. The ride back to STW is much smoother!

As we approach the anchorage we spot Atu. He was planning to join us and take us ashore to hunt for coconut crabs. We find a couple. Odd critters. And yes they do make their living eating coconuts. Atu tells us they get as large as 5lbs. Rare though. They get hunted. Smaller ones are more common.  but they are quick.

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Here is the best photo I got of one of those coconut crabs.

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Here is a photo of a not-coconut crab that actually sat still for the photo.

The life cycle is such that hunting coconut crabs is not terribly sustainable. Their habitat is a small fraction of this 6 x 2 mile island. And there are 300 people. If they start exporting them it’s over. Many South Pacific islands no longer have coconut crabs. This is obviously short sighted but I’m not convinced people on mainlands behave anymore thoughtfully. Overfishing, overforesting, over consuming, overpopulating. Color us all a problem.

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Thursday we have invited Atu to bring his family on board and Kat will make pizza for them all. That will be Atu, his wife and her sister, and 5 children.

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We planned a three hour tour but there is no wind. And I forgot how it goes with children. A little bit of swell goes a long, wrong, way. It was not too messy but it was time to head back shortly after we started.

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Putting this one in the hanging chair proved to be a less than good idea…   🙂

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This is the only daughter that did not get seasick.  Maybe she will grow up and be my crew.

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We had a picnic on the beach and then did the pizzas at anchor.

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The kids introduced me to “Fiji gum”. This is a berry as big as my thumb. You peel it and chew. It seems unlikely that this stringy mass will turn into gum but it does. And it sticks to your teeth. And everything else. Beware Fiji gum!

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Kat has a trick ball that bounces on the water.  The kid on the right had the best attitude on the planet.

 

And Kat’s kayak is very popular.

 

Atu gives us a parting gift of some fruit and priceless leafy greens. It’s been awhile. He gets to take some leftover pizza back home.  I call this a Fiji briefcase.  A woven bag from palm leaves.  Its what they used before those wonderful plastic bags that are choking the Earth were invented.

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Looks like the Captain has some sort of rash?  Or is that a mysterious tuber Atu gave us?  We’ll see about this…

We sat down with Atu to review our week. The village would like to attract more yachts. They currently export coconuts (copra), coconut oil and frozen fish. They just launched a program to create a clam garden of giant clams. There are now about 120 of them in rows in one part of their lagoon. For $25 they will take you there for a snorkel. It’s pretty cool. But really, a nice reef with giant clams as a natural part of it would be more fun.

When we arranged to have Atu tour us around I explained that we were short of cash. My next adventure on the big island will be to send him some Fiji dollars via the post office. Like Western Union, just local.  This proves to be pretty easy.

They are puzzling over what sort of handicrafts might appeal to yachts that might provide income for the island. Some of the inhabitants have worked away from this island in the tourism industry and have seen this sort of trade in action.

Cruise ship passengers are more likely to buy things to take home. Yacht dwellers try to avoid collecting things.  Boat gets full soon enough.  So shelf stuff is not what will bring them or impress them.

We recommended they provide opportunities for experiences. Maybe a dinner at the village cooked in their Polynesian earth oven. Maybe the clam garden. Although it kind of did look like a clam parking lot. Reef snorkel tour. Also groceries. This is Big Deal. If they fatten up their gardens so they have veggies to spare they will be the most popular island in Fiji. Off the main islands veggies are home grown. So for traveling yachts there is no access to that. And we miss our veggies. But number one asset is really the communal culture of the village. And the friendly nature of all the citizens that live there. Turning Namuka I-Lao into a theme park and a casino would be the end of all that. It would no longer be a unique place to visit. But I suppose you could hire a advertising firm to promote the world’s largest giant clam parking lot.

After Atu said adieu Kat and I got busy putting Spill the Wine in order for passage. Tie the kayak to the rail. Drop the fishing spear point. Dive for it. Fail to find it. Clean the dinghy hull of growth. Remove/stow the outboard. Hoist dinghy onto foredeck. Deflate. Put into storage bag. Tie down. The handheld depth sounder got water into it. Again.  This is my second one of these.  The first one died of water ingress too.  Tear that up and dehydrate it with fingers crossed. Check weather. Make waypoints and route. Load same into chart plotter. Man it’s a bit of a job to get ready.

Depth sounder proves to be unrecoverable this time.

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I finally find its special purpose.  Handy popcorn container/shaker for musical moments.

After a nap we are up at midnight and weighing anchor. This should have us arriving at our Kadavu island destination about noon in a day and a half. Always best to have light to navigate a new destination.

Making your way through a reef pass, precise navigation is critical. Especially at midnight. And as we approach the chart plotter loses its fix and does not know where we are. No GPS data. And so it is not able to guide us through the pass with the precision necessary to avoid the big crunch in this case.

Hold on. Before you deploy the liferaft I should tell you that Kat has spent quite a bit of time getting acquainted with OpenCPN.  (OpenCPN.org)  This is an open source chart plotter program for your computer. She brings her laptop to the cockpit and we carry on through the pass.

Our course is plotted for Kadavu island. Should take 36 hrs. Kat takes the first watch and I take over at 0415. She takes over shortly after dawn.

The chart plotter has been misbehaving for quite awhile. Raymarine E120 vintage 2006 for all you marine electronics geeks out there. Infrequent loss of GPS position. It’s been an annoyance mostly. Until it craps out in the pass. Really need to do something about this. Of interest I was talking to some friends recently who have the same equipment on their boat that I do. And theirs is failing exactly like mine. There is something going on here…

I’ve spent a bit of time trying to figure this out. Checking connections, rearranging the connections, updating operating software for the various components in the system. No help. Problem slowly becoming more frequent. Grrr….

Maybe I should interrogate some industry people that have more experience with the equipment in question. So I did. They all seemed to lean towards the data networks, there are four, as being the most likely source of trouble. Good place to start. And it’s a difficult question given that these experts did not have the luxury of examining my navigation system in person.

There is nothing more challenging than tracking down a problem that occurs monthly. But this one started monthly and got worse to the point that it pretty reliably reboots the chart plotter every 3 minutes. Now maybe we can figure it out.

Kat and I review the behavior and what to investigate. How to sort out device problem vs network related problem? I disconnected the different networks one by one. Until the only wires attached to the device were positive/negative 12 volts. And it still crashed. Houston, I think we have a device problem.

Kat has a strong software background and starts poking into the submenus of the device. Diagnostics menu shows the hard drive is 99% full. That might be a problem.

Execute factory reset, delete all data, and the old bugger performs normally. No more crash. Couldn’t be happier about the outcome here. This means the device doesn’t need replacement. Immediately anyway, I know better. 12 years is certainly living on borrowed time for a bit of marine electronics. Even better, I’ve a spare for this one for when it eventually meets its destiny.

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Um, Kat?  I think we are a little over powered here…  We are having great wind today. 15 to 20 on the port beam. Same tack all day at 7 knots, reefed main and jib. Never mind noon arrival. Could be more like dawn. Earlier even. We reduce sail further to cut more speed and control the degree of heel.  Finally got it down to less than 6 kts.

Shortly after 2am my watch was done and Kat took over. I got 15 minutes of sleep and she wakes me up because there is a strange navigation bouy off our starboard. Flashing white and red. No bow or stern lights.

I am totally not in love with this development. The last time I had a reef to my port and left a lighted marker to starboard I ran into the reef. Don’t wanna repeat.

Reverse. Boat is stopped. Go around the mystery mark leaving it on my port side. Almost certainly we are not close to the reef. Boat’s chart says no. My phone chart plotter says no. Atlas for Fiji Mariners app says no. But we leave the mark to Port just to be sure.

A few miles later we see another white and red flashing mark just like the first. In my coursework for my Coast Guard boat captain license, I recall flashing to be reserved for navigation marks. Channels. Rocks. Anchorages. Headlands. But this we are almost certain is not those things. What is it? Later we discover that the most likely thing is a drift fishing apparatus of some kind.

We leave the second one to starboard. Nothing bad happens. It’s 4am and we are back on our track. Kat takes over and I get some sleep. After a few hours I get up and the wind is allowing STW to sail. Awesome. Great wind.

I take over watch and Kat is due for a nap. I work us towards the pass we need and we tool into a cove where there is a village. We think it’s the one we need to visit to ask permission to tour their neighborhood.

We anchor. Relax. And a guy shows up driving the school boat. This is Fiji world’s version of a school bus. We invite Issac on board for a beverage and he ties alongside. He tells us many things. Number one being that his village is not the one to ask for permission to tour the manta spot. Draviuni is. We head for there.

We look over at Draviuni and there is a cruise ship there. The idea of going there is totally not appealing. Crawling with people. On the way we stopped at a place where we had planned to anchor. There is a lot of wind there and the seas are rough. We will not be anchoring there.

What to do? I ask Kat to check the cruising schedule of the cruise ship on the internet. She does and it says they sail at 6 pm. We can live with that.

We sail up and anchor. The last cruise ship shuttle is loading and gone. I go ashore to seek the chief’s permission to tour their waters a bring the traditional gift of Kava root.

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They have a helpful sign to keep the tourists in line.

This village has a proper floating dock on their beach so the cruise ship shuttle can land. Makes it easy for me.  I walk up from the dock and a lot of the village is under a palapa singing and drinking Kava. I’m not sure they are happy to see me. They just kissed a cruise ship load of tourists good bye and are relaxing and here comes one more. I find the chief, give him the Kava root I brought and ask permission to tour and anchor. He says sure, welcome and show me your cruising permit. I’m kinda surprised. Nobody asks for that. But ok I’ll bring it in tomorrow. Back to Spill the Wine.

The next morning Kat and I both dinghy in. Find the chief and give him papers. He’s happy.

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They have good dogs here.

This island has some pretty good vertical.  We ask some folks about a path to the top.

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They are in the middle of making an earth oven to cook some chicken but set us on the right path.  We hike up to the top of the island. Early on the trail we meet Sailasa and Sefania.  Sailasa lives here and Sefania is visiting from the central mainland.

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We tag along with them for a bit and they tell us about the island.

There is ground water here. Not so for many of the islands. And they have a well and a pump to bring the water to a central water tank.

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Powered by a large solar array.  But something is not working.

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They power on the unit and it sounds like the pump is choking on debris. I really want to tear it apart but we leave tomorrow. No time for that.

Next we walk down to the beach. Large recycle collection from the village. The neighboring island’s resort picks it up periodically and transports it to the mainland.  That resort leased the neighbor island they are built on from this village for 99 years.  Helicopter pads etc.  Oh My.

Kat and I resume our hike up to the top of the island.

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The view is predictably awesome.  You can see the reef behind Kat.  Back down we come on the steep trail.

We meet Sailasa and Sefania again. Talk a bit more then invite them on to Spill the Wine for a snorkel this afternoon where the manta rays might be feeding. I’ll pick them up at 1:30.

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I come ashore and they are ready. Another fellow Tomasi wants to join. Why not?

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We load our new crew and sail off to the next island.

Anchor in the tidal current and head off in the dinghy. Every body in the water. It’s a cloudy day so the reef colors don’t pop but this is a healthy ref. Lots of soft coral.

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Sailasa finds a couple large conch like mollusks.

I’m watching Sefania. He did not promote himself as an experienced snorkeler. And he isn’t. Never done it in fact. So skills he needs to work on. But he keeps his cool amid the challenges. Sucking salt water through his snorkel. Leaky mask. Moderately choppy sea. Really inefficient fin technique. He takes advice well and none of this gets to him. Nice. Later I learn he has never been on a sailboat before. Big Day Sefania!

 

Sailasa and Tomasi got busy with the mollusks. Hammering them out and hammer tenderizing.

 

Then slicing, seasoning with lime and chili pepper. Turned out quite tasty!

No molusks complained about being harmed in the making of this hors d’oeuvre.

Back at the village I dinghy to shore to deliver our guests home.

 

They invite us to come drink Kava with them.

Kava session was fun. There were 14 men there. I brought my guitar, Kat her ukelele. The instruments got passed around a lot.  Ricky has mine in the second photo. But we play very quietly. It’s Sunday. No work allowed. Making music somehow is considered work and forbidden. But drinking Kava is ok. 🙂

The next morning we go ashore to get a chicken and some eggs. I bring some tools to look at the chief’s generator.  Tomasi meets us and we get 30 eggs. Then to Chief’s house to see about the generator.

I don’t know a lot about generators. But the wire connections really look corroded. I disassemble them and clean them. Kat looks it over and wonders if the alternator coils need to be wound with new copper wire. Next start the motor and check the terminals for voltage, amp flow. As I prepare to do this, the coils start to arc to the case. Nice lightening bolts. Conclusion is alternator is dead and maybe rewinding it with new copper really would help it. Wish I’d thought of that!

As we are moving through town a woman approaches us and invited us to tea. That sounds nice.

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We follow her and she and her friend Unaisi treat us to tea and biscuits with butter and jam. We invite them back to Spill the Wine for a tour and eggs. We have plenty of eggs now. We pick up a frozen chicken on the way.

I row everybody out to Spill the Wine. Dinghy was full. The girls were having a blast. They had never been on board a yacht before. Unaisi’s husband Anasa comes along in his fishing boat and joins us. Then a guy, Pete, I recognize from last night’s Kava session is paddle boarding out from to beach and he joins us too.

The night before I had mentioned to the group that I could take a rider to Vuda Point marina the following day. Now Anasa and Pete are on board and both want to go.

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Ok then, they are both going. Pete brings a small bag and Anasa brings nothing but the clothes in his back. Life is simple in Fiji.

On the horizon I see a large catamaran approaching our anchorage. Hey it’s Hugh and Olga on Wayfinder. We met them in Bay of Islands Lau group.  Unfortunately after a brief Hello, Spill The Wine has to get moving.  We want to catch up with Nancy in Vuda Point.  It’s a 24 hour run.  Our new crew has a lot of boat experience.  Sailboat experience not so much.  But they learn fast.

Minutes after we depart we see a fishing boat chasing after us. It’s Anasa’s wife Unaisi. She left her flip-flops on Spill the Wine and has nicked out to recover them. And I’m not sure she is too pleased about us hauling off her husband Anasa.

We navigate the lagoon with our new crew providing local knowledge. There are rocks out there waiting to kiss the odd keel going by.  Exit the pass and head North for the West side of the biggest island, Viti Levu. Destination is the marina at Vuda Point.

The wind is weak for the first 10 hours of the trip so we motor. Then the wind picks up and we sail so fast that we have to slow down to avoid navigating shallow water in the dark. Successful. No friendly reefs make contact.

New crew turns out to be great crew. Experienced boat people but no sailing experience. They are eager and interested students and Kat and I do our best to make sure they go home with more sailing mojo than they had when they arrived.

Docking at the marina about 11am. Plenty of cleaning up to do and we get to it. Nancy arrives about an hour later. Hello Nancy! It’s been too long. And now you are here and it is good. I am in love with this woman.

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Cheers Mate!

Nancy has brought Bas with her.  She met him in Taveuni and he wants to sail to Vanuatu.  No sailing experience?  Gonna get some!

We take our empty propane tanks to get filled. No propane readily available but the gas Depot staff offer to make a fitting that will make a propane fill possible. They are set up for butane, that is the common liquid petroleum gas in the South Pacific. But my outboard needs propane. Mike McCaughan told me it was a bad idea to take a weird propane motor out of the US and he was right. Much more useful in the US where propane is the most common LP fuel.

Pete and Anasa do a fantastic job cleaning the deck and then set to on polishing the stainless. Another amazing result, thanks gentlemen!

The next day Pete and Anasa depart for their island. Kat leaves to visit fellow La Cruz boat Me Too for a few days. And it’s just Nancy and I. We are ready to have some quiet time together on Spill the Wine.

AAA Pfew

Whew!  That was one long winded post.

Return to Fiji

We are wrapping up a three day crossing from Minerva to Fiji. The wind has been generous. The sea state was building across the days but that is what happens when the wind blows! Closing in on Midnight as we work our way through some of the many Fijian islands on our way to Vuda Point marina. We should arrive tomorrow morning, Thursday the 10th.

We pull up to Vuda Point at the appointed hour. We tie up to a mooring and radio in.

Biological Security comes on board first. They primarily are concerned about whether we are healthy enough to be allowed to enter Fiji. We Pass.

I recognized one of the women from last year when she confiscated our contraband bananas! She remembered me and seemed to be in a better humor than last year. I assured her that I had no bananas this year and she was amused.

Next was customs and the details of officially “debarking” Brad, Grant, and Roddy so they can fly out.

I had an interesting conversation with the woman working me through the customs process. She told me that she was trying to get a visa to visit the US for a family wedding. And that the fee for a visa application was $600 US. That is a lot of money for a Fijian. And is you are not approved it is not refundable. Keep that in mind next time you get hassled by a customs official in your travels. The US customs process does not treat people so well that wish to visit. Especially if they are from a non-white country. She was being so kind to us and I was ashamed that my country was not showing her the same respect.

Last step in our process was applying for a “cruising permit” so that we can sail about in Fiji waters. It’s Thursday. We are told we might get that permit Friday. This matters as we want to visit a few islands before B, G, and R fly out on Tuesday. Well we did not get a permit. And now won’t until Monday at the earliest.

Permit? We don’t need no stinking permit! We go anyway. Risk is life.

We round up some last supplies. Saturday we depart. Mana island is our first stop. It has a good reef and a well protected lagoon. The pass into the lagoon is a little twisty but not bad.

The island is kinda closed. This is one of the primary places where Survivor is being filmed. So the resorts and restaurants have all been shut. No guests. Makes for a peaceful lagoon. Which now contains yet another pair of my sunglasses. Another sacrifice to Neptune.

We next head for Musket Cove on Round island. No “Survivor” nonsense here. Restaurant and grocery open.

We’d been here last year for an event. Lots of people! This year very different. More staff than guests. But it is early in the season. Grant takes us out to dinner as B,G and R leave tomorrow. Ferry to mainland then shuttle to airport. After they depart Nancy Kat and I just chill at anchor for the day on Monday. Nice to have more space on the boat. But that lot gets invited back. Great crew.

The next day (Tuesday) we head back to the mainland to pick up our cruising permit. It just came in, thank you! And we are off to Port Denarau, a nearby marina that has more vendors. I need something welded and we can get more supplies and fuel.

We need some Kava. This is a root used ceremonially in the peripheral islands. We met a woman named Katherine in a Fijian restaurant who tells us her dad sells kava. And he is from one of the little islands we will be visiting. She fixes us up. We need to keep in touch with this one, she might make good crew..

Welding gets done, dive gear gets sorted out, other supplies acquired. Successful mission!

We want to go to the Lao islands in eastern Fiji. A few folks have told us the way to take best advantage of the wind is to go clockwise through the northern Fiji islands ending up in the Lao.

So off we go winding our way North for Sawani bay where we will stop for the night. Just before sunset as we get ready to turn into the bay… Bonk! Another one of those friendly reefs reaches out and spanks my newly painted keel. As the kiwis would say, Bugger! We reviewed our myriad navigational aides and none of them really shows the rocks we met in such a way as to call them a hazard. Bugger again! I just need to be more paranoid.

But we move on and get anchored. We are meeting folks for dinner. Shanise and Stuart. We dinghy to shore (not hitting anything else on the way) and they carry us off to a restaurant in their truck. Shanise might join Spill the Wine for a bit. We’ll see about schedules.

This morning (Saturday the 19th) I went under the boat to see if there was any real damage from that rock. Bottom paint on the keel took a whack but otherwise is all looks ok. Inside shows a tiny crack in a frame. So nothing needs doing immediately. The frame will be an easy repair. Even for me. The paint whack will have to wait until the next haul out. At least a year. Time for breakfast.

And we continue to wind our way up the coast dodging numerous huge reefs successfully. Kat sends the day sorting out a navigation program called Open CPN. And she makes way more progress than I ever did. Damn youts! (That’s “youths” in Jersey speak). We anchored about 4pm on Saturday by Volivoli point. Time to roast a chicken. Tomorrow we exit the reef through Nananu pass and cross to Vanua Levu island. It’s about 35 miles. We should get there before dark.

Unless we decide to stay put for a couple more days. It’s a beautiful bay!

Nancy and I go ashore to see about some supplies. Mangroves on the shore. So where to access shore is not obvious. We pick a spot. It was pretty shallow for the last 100 yards. That should have gotten my attention. More on that later.

We wandered up the hill through some sugar cane fields, dodging the odd cow grazing along, a couple goats. We met the woman in charge of the land and she very graciously directed us to the path that led to the road.

We followed The Google’s directions to the grocery. It was described as opening at 8am. Well I’m thinking it has not opened at 8 in quite some time.

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We look up the road and spy a little vendor. And smells like smoke. Best go look.

They have lamb BBQ with cucumber, kasava, rice, and a hot dog. I’m in. The proprietor gets my a glass of water and a chair in the shade. I’m really in Fiji now. Super nice people. First there was the woman running the stand. Then her man came along. Then a small girl and a grandmother gravitated over from the house. This was a happening. Two people from the US just wandered into our BBQ stand! Inconceivable! Fun.

They tell us there is a bit of a store just down the road. Just keep walking. Nancy did. I sat down to enjoy the BBQ. But I did catch up to her as she bought some eggs and a liter of milk from the little store.

The owner invited us to relax for a few. A small girl with a beautiful smile (that she won’t share with a camera) comes along.

Then the proprietor wants in. Why not?

Then a little boy jumps in and you can see a local fisherman behind us. He tells me he is heading to Alaska to do some cold water fishing. Get ready for cold my young friend!

We walk back towards the bay. Get some more BBQ to take to STW for Kat who continues to work on the Open CPN project. Then there was a horse… Of course.

“What do you mean you mean you went to the store and didn’t bring me a carrot???”. Honest dude! They did not have any veggies. Cans only! Horse unimpressed.

We find our way to the same path through the canefields as before. The woman who guided us previously is not about but we left her a couple of eggs for her kindness. Navigate the goats, the cows, the bushes, and there is the dinghy.

And the tide is out. And we are 100 yards from the water line. And the dinghy + motor + fuel is a bit too heavy to drag 100 yards. Learning. Beachest thou not thy dinghy after crossing 100 yards of shallow water on a falling tide. So we strip the dinghy.

Stack the bits on a rock at the water line. And carry the empty dinghy to the water.

C’mon Nancy! Try to get more excited about portaging the dinghy! Actually Nancy was a great sport throughout. And hoist the dinghy we did. Remounted the motor and returned to STW.

That was a lot of work. Time for a nap. I love not having a tight schedule. My blood pressure just went down.

Nancy suggests we visit Volivoli Beach Resort for dinner. Why not? It’s Sunday. Everything else is closed.

Great idea. Super sunset on their beach. We had smoked pork, spring rolls, and sushi. All awesome. Staff was awesome. They were Fijian after all!

Monday comes and we dinghy ashore to a different part of the bay. The Fijians on shore are happy to help us land. We explain that we have come for groceries. Hmmm… Groceries. Several miles to to go to Rakiraki town. One of the guys asks if we want him to call us a cab. Before that happens a guy pipes up and says our cab is here, and he is it.

So we walk to Lau’s car at the foot of the jetty. He unlocks it and pulls some wires out from under the dash which he twists into the doors to roll down the windows. On the road to Rakiraki town!

Where there are several grocery stores. We round up some supplies in one store. Then our crew went in several directions. And I did not know where my crew was. Neither did Lau. How hard can it be to find the only two Caucasian women in Rakiraki town? Finally did of course. Then it was time to go… Or was it? Lau wants to make one more pass through the market. Not sure why, but he’s driving.

They have everything green here. Grocery stores not so much it turns out. He introduced me to some Fijians he knows here. They ask me if I want to drink some Kava. How to respond? Are they being polite? Is it impolite to decline? It’s not like I have to drive… Sure. Next thing you know my tongue is numb. It’s what Kava does. But I’m honored they wanted to share numb tongues with me.

We round up lunch to go and head back to the wharf. The locals help us launch the dinghy and we head back to STW. Stow the groceries and trot out lunch. Tomorrow we depart for Vanua Levi, Fiji’s other major island. But first we must pass through the many reefs…