August 31, 2011

Giving Sevusevu and Drinking Kava With Hot Rugby Players

 Sailing in Fiji is an adventure. The reefs are not as well charted, or marked, as we might like and the guide books are either old or out of date, or focused on just a tiny portion of this vast country. When S/V Quest recently went up on the reef near Savu Savu—everyone remarked that the fact the lighthouse light had burnt out some time ago must have been a factor. A factor that everyone in town was aware of but that hadn't made it out into general maritime knowledge.

But in the sunshine and in a trade wind breeze winding through Fiji's coral reefs is a lovely way to spend the day—we see dolphins and turtles, the fishermen smile and wave and the water is blue and inviting. And at the end of the day—and usually not that long of one—there is a quiet anchorage to pull into.

Yesterday it was the anchorage off of Nabouwala village.

“Do you think this is a sevusevu village?” Was the question we had when we arrived and gazed at the sprawling village on shore. Giving sevusevu is the traditional custom of requesting permission to enter a village, or anchor in its waters. It has died out in some villages and has been replaced with an anchoring fee, while in others the tradition is strictly adhered to. Not giving sevusevu, basically not showing respect, can lead to bad things: Like being bitten by a shark—according to the gruesomely specific example we were given.

Not wanting to get intimate with the sharp end of a shark we decided to error on the side on good manners and decked ourselves out in appropriate duds (sulas and bula shirts for the boys, long skirts and covered shoulders for the women) and gathered up our big bouquet of kava root and headed ashore. Then we walked down the village pier, feeling faintly silly as we asked how to find the turaga-ni-koro—or chief.
 When you ask a Fijian for directions it seems you obligate them to get you to where you are going. And in what felt like a game of 'pass the parcel' we were walked down dusty roads, past tin shacks, subsistence gardens, and impromptu games of rugby and were passed from one person to the next, each increasing up in rank until Waisea, the headman, claimed us as his responsibility and walked us up a steep hill to an ancient marae-like site where the chief's mataqali lived (extended family). He finally told us that yes, we were in a traditional village and the chief—an elderly woman of 97 would receive our sevusevu. But first he needed to don his own sula and give notice to the chief’s family so they could prepare her for our visit.

Waisea tutored us on the protocol of giving sevusevu, but as he tried to teach Evan the long string of Fijian he needed say to make our offering it was decided that Waisea should probably say it for us. So we called the traditional greeting outside the chief's bure (instead of knocking) and slipped off our shoes and entered when we heard the response.

Andisolmbe is one of the few female chiefs in Fiji and she's thought to be the oldest. Her territory includes not only the village itself but several off-lying islands. Despite her age she seemed delighted by our visit and she smiled happily through the long ceremony—where our story was repeated around the circle--and we clapped on cue and tried to say the right things in the right moments. Despite making a few errors here and there, our kava was accepted and we were welcomed into the village. We were now brothers and sisters and Maia was a daughter.

 After taking a few photos of our new family we were invited to return in the evening for tea with the chief's family and the kava with Waisea. Invitations that trumped our plan to spend the evening bar-b-queing and playing board games aboard...
Our first—more formal visit—was with Lute and Wati, the chief's nephew and wife. They gave us a lemon tea and a pancake-like pastry and as we ate they peppered us with questions—asking our ages, how much the boat cost, how people spend the evenings in Canada, what snow feels like…
 Then Waisea took us to another bure (home) for a bowl of grog (kava). I'd heard a lot about Kava—that it tastes like dishwater, or a slightly peppery mud puddle. To me though it tasted like yerba mate—but perhaps the fact the room was filled with rather attractive rugby players who were busy explaining the benefits of kava (all natural, not side effects, only a little hangover which can quickly be solved by a swim and more kava—all said with charming smiles) distracted me and made the kava seem more likable.

We drank four bowls each—which seemed to worry our friendly new brothers. They checked after each bowl that we were still doing well (I noticed my tongue was numb and each story seemed to get funnier) but we told them we didn't seem to be feeling much effect. But eventually, as Maia snuggled against me and her eyes began to close, we decided it was time to head back to the boat.

We were presented with gifts of kava to take home--part of the sevusevu that a visiting rugby team had presented to our host during our visit—and a plate of food. And then we wished our family a goodnight.
And sailed off.

Namena Island

Diving daughter
Namena Island (Namenalala I in Michael Calder's guide) is a marine preserve and private island. For the annual fee of $25 FJ/ person you are allowed to dive/snorkel and swim here. Because it's a private island and resort there is an additional $50 fee for landing here. We are big believers in marine reserves, and somebody has to pay the park wardens who keep the fisherman away. Our understanding is that the fees also compensate the Fijian villagers who lost their fishing rights in the area. While the fee is a bit high for a one night visit, the snorkeling and diving was quite good. (OK we paid for 3 tags for our 5 persons aboard).
We anchored on the NW end of the island, in mostly sand/some coral heads 35'. There is 1 mooring buoy that was also available for bigger sailboats and a smaller buoy closer to the island reef that the park guard said was too small for sailboats. The reef 2 miles to windward didn't do a great job of knocking the seas down, but it was windy so most of the chop came from wind waves within the lagoon. The wind was from the E but in a SE it would be more protected. There is room for about 4 boats or so.

Our waypoint (WGS84) for the North Save a Tack passage was 17d 03.6' 179d 06.4'. The pass is not like a Tuamotos pass - it's easily a mile wide so you don't see the reef to the north of the pass, just the south reef. Neither beacon was visible. It was an easy entrance with no appreciable current. There is a visible 4 fathom patch in the pass which might break in rough seas, but I wouldn't had this way in strong winds either.
From here we will head through South Save a Tack Passage to Nandi Passage to Nambouwalu village to the west.
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August 29, 2011

Turning Ten and SCUBA

 Maia has been a cruising kid for just over two years now (well, at least of the years she can recall...). In that time she's sailed over 10,000 miles, visited seven countries, learned a smattering of several languages, started the ukelele, made friends with kids from hundreds of different towns and many different back grounds. She's hiked through varied terrains and shopped in stores where she could barely identify things. She's swum with five types of sharks, stingrays, manta rays, sea lions and dolphins. She's been in storms and watched sunrises that made her gasp in awe.

And she's grown-up.

In a few days she'll be ten. And compared to the seven year-old who only wanted to learn to drive the dinghy and maybe paddle her kayak as far as the boat next door--she's a very different person. She's wise and calm, hard working and helpful. And for her tenth birthday she wanted to learn to dive.

During the past few months she worked through the PADI manual (I think she memorized it...) and learned all she could about diving. Then our friends Mark and Val brought her a Maia-sized rig and yesterday she did her first dive.

August 25, 2011

Bula! From Fiji

I already have learned more Figian than I learned Marquesan, Tahitian or Tongan. The reason is you can not pass a person or enter a store without someone greeting you and striking up conversation. And though everyone speaks English to a degree--everyone seems to take pleasure in teaching a few words of Fijian.
everyone in their party dresses...
 It hasn't taken long to discover why Fiji has been a favourite stop with so many of our friends. This is easily the friendliest place we've ever been--and not only is there a diversity of veggies to be had, we're back to near-Mexico prices. Good-bye $4 carrots.

Our arrival timing turned out perfect. After we pulled in and got our moring the wind rose and rose. Rather than fighting through it we wandered the streets and admired tapas and tomatoes, baskets and bokchoy. The next day our friends arrived and while it stormed we wandered through town and then caught up with them.

While we've waited for the wind to drop we've visited waterfalls and sugarcane fields and eaten a Fijian feast. They guys got their sulas and today we'll buy our gifts of Kava so we can visit outer villages. We're in Fiji man!!

**The only thing marring our lovely time is a sailboat called Quest was lost on the reef outside Savu Savu last eveing. We don't know the boat but listening to their mayday unfold was sobering and heartbreaking.

August 22, 2011

On a Wing and a Prayer--into Fiji

There are three of us closing on Savu Savu this morning (with 25 knots from astern) and between us we are down a rudder, an engine, a lower shroud, a wind generator and a solar panel.
Mamalu, who we've been with since Aitutaki, is in one piece. But Java (with Evan and Donna aboard) who we've known since our early Mexico days has taken the big hit. His cat lost a rudder, and an engine and then the wind generator toppled and took out a solar panel.
Which leaves the lower shroud, and us.
We were making great way under a full main and spinnaker when I heard a big crack and smelled a struck-match smell. Before the shroud landed on deck I knew what it was and we were out on deck--changing tacks, dropping the main, pulling in the spinnaker. We lost the same shroud we did 18 months ago--but this time (maybe because we we're completely rerigged or because the wind was lighter) the mast didn't start pumping and we never feared losing the rest of the rig.

It took Evan about 15 minutes to juryrig a spectra shroud--the practice from our last loss paid off. Within an half hour we were back underway under a full genoa and no main. Fortunately the wind has stayed from behind and we've kept the strain off the lower shrouds. We're curious and concerned that we've lost another shroud (the rod sheered through at the mast fitting)--especially because we switched to rod rigging to deal with the high fatigue loads these short shrouds experience.

This morning the three boats are a few miles apart and are in constant radio contact. Java is having trouble steering and is worried about rounding the point into the channel--a tricky maneuver in our current conditions. We're confident our mast will hold but Mamalu is standing by to assist either of us, should we need it.

Meanwhile we heard our friends on Connect 4 are in terrible weather on their way to Tonga. They've just blown out their main sail and their eta is several days off--with several more days of bad weather ahead. It seems unfair--they were due to get underway several days before they did but they delayed their departure to assist when Ri-Ri went up on the reef at Palmerston. It's not clear what happened (Connect 4 was the only other boat there) but sometime during the night Ri-Ri broke off their mooring or anchor and was lost on the reef--Henry and ? were okay and Connect 4 and the villagers did all they could to salvage their things, but the boat was lost.

Each safe landfall is a gift.
S 16 59
East 179 30
We've gone so far west, we are now in the east.

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August 20, 2011

Are We There Yet? Passage to Fiji

We're underway to Fiji. The wind is light and slightly ahead of the beam and we're making 5.5 knots. The thing is we want to be making closer to 7 knots in the hope of outrunning a system that is due to hit and build during our last night and final day out. We want to get in early in the morning before things get really ugly--so the faster we go now, the less exposure we get at the end... So we're experimenting: putting up the staysail only offered up .5 knots, so now Ev is rigging the spinnaker. Flying a big kite will make us much faster, but it'll be tricky to carry when we're pointing this high upwind. It will need constant trimming and I'm on watch.

It might strike you that I write about being at sea as much as I write about the places we see. This is because we spend a lot of time sailing. During the past 4+ months since we left Mexico we're spent more than 40 days and nights at sea. We really are 'sailing' across the South Pacific. We spend more time sailing than we do in any one place. And when we are parked in a place much of our time is spent watching the weather--trying to plan how to get from A to B between systems. And during this section of the passage we've been strategising two or three stops ahead; contemplating highs and lows, systems and sheerlines and their speed and direction of movement with the same intense focus some people apply to sports and that I usually reserve for politics...

The rhythm of passages is coming more naturally now. I fall asleep as soon as I get off watch and spend my on watch hours reading, doing chores, listening to podcasts or contemplating the vastness of the ocean. It really is big. Having only short breaks between long passages seems to make the passages more enjoyable. I'm not sure I've ever recaptured the intense awe of our Pacific Crossing, but I've been enjoying the days and nights at sea the way I enjoy a leisurely Sunday afternoon. When it's pleasant that is, when it sucks, it sucks. And I want off the boat.

Weather willing we'll be in Fiji on Monday.

S 18 20
W 175 31
Distance to Savu Savu 325 miles

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August 18, 2011

Tonga Time

Tonga is lovely—we can see why people enjoy cruising here and why the charter fleet is so busy. The Vava'u Group—where we are is made up of dozens of islands which are protected by reefs. You can spend an entire visit moving from anchorage to anchorage (most are only a few miles apart) and never venture into the open ocean.

It's all rather tame.

Tame is nice though and we've been shifting anchorages as the whim hits—pulling up beside tiny white sand beaches, lush jungles and rugged reefs. We've visited caves, dinghied within meters of a mama whale and her calf (humpbacks come to Tonga from Antarctica during the winter to mate and give birth) and snorkelled in clear water. Evan even rescued a couple of fatigued fishermen who were separated from their boat while snorkelling for sea cucumbers.

Most of what we've seen, and where we've dropped the hook, has been planned by Maia. Like most cruising kids she schools year round. While we aren't using a formal curriculum we are keeping track of what is covered in her grade (she thought it was rather cool that while some kids study the early navigators in books, she's actually anchored in the same harbours they anchored in and has been greeted by the decedents of the people who greeted those early explores).

For the most part Maia's education comes from delving into the culture, history and environment of the country we're visiting. She's discovered that there are 171 islands in Tonga and that 91% of the 100,000 inhabitants are Christian. But she also learned that there is a rich mythology here—and Tongans believe that the islands were fished out of the sea by Maui, one of their demigods.

The coolest part of her learning is how relevant she finds it—frequently one of us (or a cruising friend) will ponder a detail about the place we're visiting and Maia will have encountered the answer in her studies and be able to fill everyone in.

Today's lesson is going to be beachcombing—followed by a swim and maybe some ukulele as the sun goes down.

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Moments in Tonga

Maia at the beach

Mama whale and babe

August 16, 2011

Life in Tomorrowland, er, Tonga

Yesterday we crossed from today into tomorrow. Actually it may have occurred the day before. It could be that it’s been tomorrow for a few days… The problem is the dateline isn’t defined in this area. Technically the dateline is found at longitude 180—where west becomes east. But in this area the islands themselves decide which side of the dateline they want to be on. Samoa, for example, is tired of being a day behind her neighbours and is defecting to tomorrow come January. American Somoa will stay in yesterday.
 On first view—through the drizzle of a currently very mobile Southern Convergence Zone—The Kingdom of Tonga looked remarkably like BC’s Gulf Islands--with palm trees. And this morning, through the drizzle, it still looks this way--but with some very lovely sounding birds.

 After anchoring across from Neiafu (a town about the same size as Ganges on Salt Spring…) we headed in for groceries and to explore. Our first stop in any town is always the public notice board—we love seeing what’s going on. It also gives us an idea what to expect. If it is covered in ‘stolen’ notices we head back and lock up the dinghy, if it offers up a celebration we make note. This time it was a listing of the week’s events which included a ‘Ladies Night’ and a ‘Real Ladies Night’.

Polynesian men who dress as women or seem feminine are considered a third gender here. In French Polynesia they are called Mahu (in Tongan they are called fakaleiti and Samoan fa'afafine) and traditionally they were a highly respected part of the culture. It was explained to us that the Mahu were responsible for celebrations, feasts, tending to chiefs and hosting strangers. Their social skills were (and still are) so respected that a party wasn’t considered a party without a Mahu present.

When the French began nuclear testing in the Tuamotus though the Mahu began to develop a different culture—it was explained that when the French soldiers and workers visited the cities and villages some Mahu began working as prostitutes to meet the demand. This is also when the Mahu began out dressing the local girls (typically we can recognize Mahu because they are so much more made up and attractively dressed than the girls…) and this change probably lead to things like the need to distinguish between a ‘Ladies Night’ and a ‘Real Ladies Night’.

 From the notice board we wandered through town—noting the roving pigs (they seem to outnumber dogs), the traditional dress and the general friendliness of everyone we met. We loaded up on a few groceries (the fresh local stuff was manageably affordable—eggs $4 a dozen, onions and potatoes $3 for 8 but meat and cheese were pricey.

Today we’ll head out to the outer anchorages and explore while we wait for a weather window to get to Fiji.

August 12, 2011

Slow Boat to Tonga

We motored for 36 hours. Not motor-sailed, which is what you do when there is a little wind, but motored, which is what you do when there is no wind. which is something we haven't done for a very long time. Now we have slightly more wind, maybe 8-10 knots (with an emphasis on 8). It's enough to sail slowly at 4.5-6.5 knots (with an emphasis on with the spinnaker. We have slightly more than 300 miles to go to get to Tonga. I'm not sure when we'll get in. And not just because of that time change thing.

While the engine chugged we cleaned. We sorted through our lockers which are still brimming with food (what made me think we'd eat that much tinned tuna?), and worked on making space for our guests. Beyond that life has been dull routine. Cook, clean, work on projects, nap. It's sort of blissful except for the fact the boat is lurching in confused seas.

The seas are a sure sign that somewhere there is wind. And by the size of them I would say this means that somewhere there is a lot of wind. But it's definitely not here.

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August 10, 2011

Sailing to Tonga

I was about to write the day, but I realize I've lost track and that pretty soon it won't matter. In a day or so we'll reach the international dateline. If you think 'spring ahead' is tricky try sailing into tomorrow land. In in a couple of days tomorrow will be today, or today will be yesterday, or something like that. And we'll need to change time zones for the hour too, so it'll be tomorrow minus (or perhaps plus?) and hour...

We're still sailing along in big bouncy seas. The wind is fairly light and is completely unrelated to the sea-state. It's not very pleasant. I'm really hoping it will settle out for a baking day though. It's time for bread and other goodies--food keeps the passages from getting too monotonous, but when it's too boisterous no one wants to eat.

It feels like we've been doing a lot of sailing recently, and we still have a bunch to go to reach Fiji by the 23rd (22nd on this side of the dateline) when our friends arrive. We tried to pick a date that made sense, one that gave lots of room for us to be slow. But we're always slower than we expect... Which we should have expected. Pretty much every visitor we've had we've either been a bit late for (oops) or arrived just in time. No matter how good our intentions are.

I wouldn't give up having folks visit though--this is too special a journey not to share. And usually people bring boat parts and treats--very important stuff:)

18 21 S
164 19 W
550 miles to go
average speed 6.2 knots

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August 9, 2011

Surfing Through 10,000 Miles

We're sailing to Tonga. The wind is a pleasant 15 knots but the seas are big and lumpy. When one catches us it picks us up by the bridge deck and we surf; 10,12,15 knots. There are squalls all around us and the weather charts are a bit undecided when it comes to telling us what to expect next. 700 more miles of this won't be terrible, but it'll be tiring.

850 mile passages don't seem like that big a deal anymore. Especially because sometime today we'll be sailing through our 10,000th mile. On little Ceilydh it took us over 3 years to reach that milestone (our two-year cruisa-versary was July 22.). But both times it felt worth celebrating. The problem is mileage markers tend to happen at sea, which means making a nice meal is going to be tricky...

Last night on my night watch I thought about the past 10, 000 miles and came up with a list of things I miss and things I don't miss.

Things I miss:

-Calling my mum (or a friend, or a sister, or an editor...). Communication has come a huge way since we last did this and I'm almost always in touch and reachable somehow or another. But knowing I can be reached is not the same as being able to call my mum over a morning coffee and chat about the little stuff...
-Lunch dates with friends. I've only taken off with girlfriends for lunch and shopping a handful of times during the past two years. Every time we manage to escape we swear we ought to do it more often, but it just doesn't seem to happen.
Hot baths and long showers. I wouldn't trade my daily swims in the ocean for them, but gosh I miss a big bathroom...
-Variety in food. I miss restaurants I can afford and diverse fruit and vegetables other than the handful that seem to be standard everywhere (although here we've substituted bokchoy for Mexico's broccoli). I'd love some asparagus and a melon, mushrooms and green peas. I'd also love any grain other than white rice.
-Libraries and bookstores. Having an ereader is great (especially with all the free books out there). But I miss browsing and choosing a book because it looks interesting, not because the only alternative is a NASCAR Romance by Harlequin...
-The news. I'm completely out of the loop and have no idea if the world has ended.
-Being able to walk out my front door. Loading up the dinghy and finding a place to land gets old. It takes planning and coordination and we almost always head to shore together.
-Time by myself.

Things I don't miss:

-Telemarketers and conference calls. Sometimes not having a phone is a bonus.
Traffic. We only rarely end up in cities big enough to have traffic jams and most of the time we can time our visit to avoid the heaviest traffic.
-Excessive consumerism. It would be nice to have more options but visiting places that have what they need and no more is really refreshing. Maia never asks to buy stuff the way she did when we shopped at home because there is either nothing to buy or she knows it will be hideously expensive.
-Souvenir hawkers. It's kind of cool heading to events where there are no t-shirts, coffee mugs, mouse pads or stuffed mascots for sale. Instead we go to see the event and simply take a few pictures to recall it.
-Rigid schedules. Other than the weather, visa limitations and friends flying in it's pretty much up to us what we do and when we do it. Maia does school work when it fits the schedule (though we try for mornings) and we're able to accept dinner invites with a few minutes notice.
-Rain. I don't mind a bit here and there. It keeps the boat clean and gives us an excuse to have a down-day aboard. But I don't miss those drizzly winter days that go on for weeks...
-Celebrity news. It feels really nice not having any idea about which stars have recently self-destructed. Really nice.

Position as of 19:30 zulu
S 18 38
W 161 49
average speed 6.5 knots
distance to go 690 miles

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August 8, 2011

Giant Clams and other Aitutaki Highlights

Aitutaki Anchorage
The oldest church in the Cooks is located a few steps from the anchorage. Which makes going to church a remarkably simple thing and makes not going to church (on this very religious island) a very obvious thing. So we went. The church was founded in 1821 by John Williams of the London Missionary Society (the same missionaries who converted Tahitians), Williams was the second westerner to visit Aitutaki (the first was William Bligh and the Bounty-17 days before the mutiny).
The church itself is a massively sturdy building, with bright white walls that are two feet thick and that are decorated with bright green, red, yellow and blue scrollwork throughout the interior. The bilingual service (English and Rarotongan Maori) is attended by locals—who dress in all white (the men in white suits, shirt and ties and, in some cases, flipflops) and the women in dresses and intricately woven hand-made hats.
The highlight of any Polynesian service is the singing—rather than the standard choir setup the locals arrange themselves throughout the church then let loose with soaring melody. The result gave me shivers while some of the littler kids simply found it loud—and covered their ears.
lovely lagoon
 After church we decided we'd head out to see the giant clams. Three species of the nearly extinct Tridacnidae and the h. Hippopus are raised at the Aitutaki Marine Research Centre then moved out to the motus where they are repopulating the reef and being sold into the aquarium trade. We had seen the little clams in the hatchery and were eager to see just how big they could get.
Before we could leave though, our outboard went for a swim. By the time it was recovered and running again the dinghy motor the Connect 4 family planned to use needed to be returned to its owner so the seven of us piled into our dinghy and made the long, wet trip upwind and confirmed that the carrying capacity of our dinghy is less than seven…

The clams were worth the effort though. I've been fascinated by the big molluscs for years but because large invertebrates are neither cute nor majestic I assumed my interest was simply a bit odd. But it turned out that everyone who went out to the clams found them captivating.
They are found in shallow water and the clams lie on their backs in the sand or on reefs with their colourful mantles exposed to the sun. This was pretty much their downfall—because when you have a big tasty food-stuff just sitting there in calm, shallow water you tend to eat it. Which is what the people did, until there were no clams left to eat.
The big clams grow at about 4-5 mm a month and it takes about four years for them to grow to sexual maturity. The largest we saw were two – three feet across and Maia's math problem for today was to sort out roughly how old they are (about 13-16 years old). The coolest bit though was for big non-moving shells they were even more exciting to see than I hoped. They covered a huge area around a motu and in the clear water around them there were clam nursery trays (where they could grow bigger and avoid predators) and coral gardens, where the research centre was also regenerating coral, as well as some of the best snorkelling we've had since the Tuamotus.
Back at the anchorage we discovered all the boats were unlacing themselves and beginning to depart so we helped with untangling and rearranging. Meanwhile another boat came in and got stuck in the channel (which is only 40' wide), blocking it. By the time it was free the tide was falling and every departing monohull ended up getting stuck then needing freeing before it made it out. The whole procedure took a few hours and by the time it was done everyone was exhausted.
Today were finishing up laundry (we started before church yesterday), cleaning the boat with the readily available water, then pulling out for Tonga. It's been lovely here though and we could easily have stayed much, much longer.
PS—we'll upload images of the clams when we get to Tonga
For those behind us in FP we have time left with Manaspot Login: u10h1043 Pass:k78Zff
And Iaroanet: Log: ceilydh_vol pass: edcrfx
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August 7, 2011

Aitutaki-Born to Be Wild

When I crested the hill I came across a couple of hikers, "Have you seen three scooters pass this way?" I asked. The couple told me they had, then hesitated, and asked if their map was wrong, weren't they on a hiking trail?
We were on a hiking trail. And for someone who had just recently mastered the skill of not driving off the road and into the bushes every time I needed to curve to the right, taking my rented scooter up a rugged and steep incline was a tricky thing. Which is why I had fallen behind. But, I thought, as I pushed on through some long grass and over a rocky bit, at least I didn't have that oncoming traffic driving in the wrong lane thing to contend with.
We're stopping in Aitutaki only long enough to let the current front blow through. So for our brief stay here we're trying to pack in as much as possible. On our first night we headed to the pub to watch the NZ All Blacks play Australia on the big screen TV. Although pub and big screen seemed like false advertising. We crowded around a boom box and normal-sized TV, which was set on a table in an open-air hut. Then we began to cheer: for the Wallabies (when our Auzzie friends were beside us) and for the All Blacks (when the rather large and cheerfully drunk Cook Islanders were chatting with us).
Being able to speak English again is a novel thing. I hadn't realized how much thinking out loud I had started doing during the past 18 months. Typically when I'm on my own or with a group we'll talk about what it is we need to ask then try to come up with the phrase. Here I keep getting surprised by the fact that local people answer me while I'm still in the question formulating phase. Which makes me a bit nervous--my questions tend to sound like this: Nine dollars for eggs? Seriously? The beer is cheap though. Maybe we should just live on beer. It's a wonder anyone is sober here. I wonder if there is a cheaper source for eggs...
"Well, it's $17.50 if you'd like a flat of 30."
We decided renting scooters would be a good thing to do with the Connect 4 family. Aitutaki is fairly small (in fact we managed to get around and across it a few times during our day on the scooters) and unlike the eggs, the scooters are affordable ($25 for 24 hours). So we arranged to be picked up at just past nine and as we headed to the scooter place our driver pointed out a few things: the grocery store, the two or three small restaurants, the airport and the dozen or so churches. Then he commented that there would be traffic on the road because with two funerals going on everyone on the island would be out and about.
I am not very good at driving a scooter--as I mentioned. And I quickly fell behind our group. At first they'd double back to be sure I was alive and then they just started waiting when ever there was an intersection (which isn't often). Our first stop was the Ma'rae. We're not sure if we never reached the one the Lonely Planet called "the most spectacular on the island" but the grouping of big stones set into the jungle was hard to get too enthusiastic about--even for the Connect 4s, who had somehow missed out on seeing all of the French Polynesian ruins.
While we explored the rocks (and even wandered into the jungle to be sure we weren't missing something--like a temple, or platform) the skies opened and the winds whipped up. And while we congratulated ourselves for not being out sailing in it, scootering through a storm is not much fun either. So we decided this would be a good time for a lunch break--but as we circled the island--passing one big funeral where the women were feasting under a tent and the men, dressed in suits and ties, were digging the grave (people bury their family members in their front yards, which are often small--which leads to an unusual gardening style) and then the next--we realized that having everyone out attending funerals meant there was no one left to run the restaurants. So we headed back to the boats to see how they were fairing and spent a lovely hour chatting with a German family that were visiting the island and were intrigued by the cruising life.

Our afternoon was spent visiting a giant clam nursery. They grow the clams to about 6" in the nursery then transplant them to the outer motus where they can grow to be several feet across. From there we decided to head to the lookout. It was still drizzly--but enough blue sky had poked through that we thought we'd be able to see the view. But it was late enough in the day that when we hit the start of the trail--we didn't think there was time to hike it so we opted to keep going by scooter.
When I caught up with the others near the top of the hill I found Evan and Maia had crashed when their scooter slipped on loose rubble. Maia was fine, but Evan had some impressive road rash. Even more impressive though was the view. We could see the entire island and surrounding lagoon and reef.
With the wind blowing and the rain drizzling we couldn't help but wish we were seeing the view on a calm, clear day. But when we looked out to see and saw it frothing a way it was hard not to be grateful. Land is a fine place to weather a storm.
A fine place.
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August 5, 2011

Landfall Aitutaki

Looking for a 40' wide entrance break in a barrier reef is a stressful way to start the day.
Knowing that the channel would be about 6' deep and not in it's charted position is bad enough, but somehow I visualized the entrance as being marked, you know, with a buoy or something. Instead there's a stick. A stick. An insignificant (and very short) piece of wood inside the opening that indicates where the oncoming swell stops exploding on exposed coral heads and is able to gently flow into the lagoon. Unless there is a 6 knot outflow current. In that case we're back to that exploding wave thing again--but at least there is no coral underneath.

But we're here. And it's gorgeous. The outer 'pool' anchorage, where we're currently bow and stern anchored, is a bit iffy (aka indifferent holding and lots of coral heads) and it will soon be crowded. The little low, which we were whimpishly avoiding, has apparently grown to a more concerning low and boats that use professional routers are now being routed here and the boats which were due to leave (and appear to have filled up the entire inner anchorage) are now staying put. Which means a harbour that typically holds 5-6 boats currently has 11-12 and at least three more are enroute. This afternoons activity is the big shuffle--as we all move into the inner harbour then lace ourselves in.

But we're here. And did I mention it's gorgeous? And with the anchor down it seems safe enough to look at the guidebook and find out what we might get to see should we end up in a snuff enough spot that we can leave the boat...

It turns out there is an important marae here and apparently it's made of bigger rocks than the ones we've previously seen. A fact that thrilled me and made Maia ask what else there is to see. So I told her about the lagoon; it has excellent snorkeling, sandy motus, a wreck and (the best part) giant! clams. Which also failed to stimulate much enthusiasm. Which left us with the fact our friends on Connect Four are due shortly and she'll have friends to play with. This seemed to thrill her.
"I think I'll like Aitutaki," she said. Which sort of made me wonder...

But it is gorgeous--the blue lagoon stretches for miles and shifts through every shade of blue, the palm trees are swaying over sandy beaches and green hills rise up behind them. And if rumours are correct the beer is affordable again, although the internet (which apparently doesn't work) is not and nor is the food. And it's bloody expensive to visit here with a $50 arrival fee a $20 inspection fee, a $5 something fee and a $50 per person leaving fee.

But it's better than getting battered by a storm.

PS--Happy Birthday to Deb! I planned to send an email but it seems that is not so likely to happen. But we're sending birthday wishes your way and a little package will follow in a few weeks.

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August 4, 2011

Aitutaki Passage Day 3

This has been our slowest passage to date. Since leaving Bora Bora we've averaged 5.5 knots, including a few hours of being becalmed last night between mild squalls. They were more like boat washes really. But the rain was so heavy and the night was so black it was hard to get our bearings--not even the radar seemed able to see through the squalls. Or, as the radar seemed to show, there was only one small squall which attached itself to our mast and threw buckets down on us at intervals. The good news was despite reports from other boats we saw no lightning.
Lightning is beautiful at sea--but only from the perspective of watching it far away and knowing it's already passed.
This morning we have 112 miles to go. And we've sped back up to 7 knots. Which means at some point we'll need to slow down. But the weather maps are riddled with thunderstorms and cut through with a sheerline--which shows the wind dropping to nothing and changing direction and then dropping again. It seems there is none of that clear-sailing stuff up ahead.
But for now the seas are long and rolling and the sky is bright blue, thunderheads loom on the horizon but they don't seem to be menacing us. It's by all definitions gorgeous out here. Perfect sailing.
100 miles is the distance some people regularly commute in a day. But for us it's still an unknowable expanse of ocean that will take us somewhere we can't yet imagine.

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August 3, 2011

Aitutaki Passage Day Two

The wind has dropped, as predicted, and were loafing along at five knots. We had hoped to make it in tomorrow, but with the drop in speed we won't be in until Friday. Which is fine. It's peaceful out here. The three of us are lazing about and producing meals that use up our fresh foods (rumour is we can't bring fresh fruits, veggies and meat into the Cooks--but how strictly enforced this is I don't know...), reading books, and napping.

I think I slept 20 out of the first 30 hours of this trip--deep crazy-dream-laden sleeps that were difficult to rouse myself from but incredibly luxurious to slip into. I decided I must have been really tired--that late-ish nights with friends and a really long afternoon at the spa somehow depleted me. In retrospect, I think my latest efforts to combat sea-sickness may have been the cause. I switched up my meds and when the new ones weren't working I simply popped the old ones as a chaser. I'd been trying to address some of the side-effects I seem to be getting from Stugeron (headaches and fitful sleep) and while I'm neither headachy nor tired now--I think I'll skip the cocktails in the future...

So, where is Aitutaki, you ask. It's in the Southern Cooks. Which may mean as little to you as it does to me. But looking at the chart I can tell you it's a 100 miles or so north of Rarotonga and 180 miles east of Palmerston Atoll. We had planned to go to Raro--but a weather system is due which could make that exposed harbour uncomfortable. So our current plan is to divert to Aitu. Why there, you ask. Basically, it's about the only option that we feel comfortable with between here and Tonga. Many boats just push through and this is what we'll do if a predicted low peters out, but as it stands it looks like we'll duck into Aitu, let the low roll on over then be back on our way to Tonga with maybe a quick pitstop and look-see at Niue.

What's it like there, you are probably wondering now. Me too. And considering you are probably reading this online and have access to faster internet than I've seen in some time, my guess is with a few clicks you'll know way more than me. Which is fine. The last few times I researched a place and got excited about going there, something happened and we never made it. So I know nothing other than they speak English, use New Zealand dollars and might take my fruit. Beyond that it's pretty much a mystery that will unfold when we get there. Which in its own way is cool.

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August 2, 2011

Enroute to the Cooks

We left Bora Bora yesterday. Just a few weeks after we thought we'd leave. It's easy to understand how boats fall further and further behind on this trip. Fortunately we're meeting friends in Fiji in a couple of weeks--while this means we've cut out part of the trip through the Cooks and will have a shorter time in Tonga--it means we'll be relaxed and unrushed for the second half of the trip.

The seas are lumpy and confused but we had a good night's run--averaging 7 knots. Now though the wind has swung round to come from behind and we've slowed to six. We're still hoping to make Aitutaki on Thursday--before another low rolls through. This passage--and even more so the one that comes next--to Tonga--is considered one of the tougher, more dangerous crossings on the journey. The weather can be less predictable and the squalls a little squallier.

So this means that all the boats tend to congregate and wait for the right window. And when we leave we leave en mass--which is how it is that I have two boats (Salamander and Finnish Line in my sights). But this is our first passage without the company of WGD. They and Piko, Britannia and DQ are going to be a day or two behind and may be heading to different islands in the Cooks.

Or time in Bora Bora was nice--I had an amazing massage at the Pearl Resort and spent bonus time with the DQ family. We were set to pull out on Sunday and were having a goodbye breakfast with DQ when our three buddy boats called to say they were arriving. We decided to stay (must say the squally weather helped us decide)and spent the evening reminiscing over our three months.

We were equally divided over which set of islands we loved the most (although Tahanea in the Tuamotus figured as the best day we all spent). All three sets of islands had a lot to offer and we loved them all differently.
Staring at a screen in bumpy conditions is bringing on my ever-lurking seasickness so it's time to go and start dreaming about what comes next.

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