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.

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Whew!  That was one long winded post.

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4 thoughts on “Through the Lau Group

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