Thursday, August 31, 2017

TV Time

0800 position 17-05S 177-17E. At anchor in Somosomo Bay, Naviti Island, Fiji

Rob is usually the first one awake in the morning aboard Van Diemen, and his first activity of the morning is making a pot of coffee. That ritual is followed by a breakfast of granola with yogurt and whatever fruit is ripe. I usually wake up when I smell the coffee brewing and follow suit with the granola. That's what happened yesterday, but at 9AM Rob announced that there would be a trip ashore to the resort for breakfast. I wasn't hungry after my granola breakfast but the rest of the crew were game, piled into the dinghy, and took off. They returned a couple of hours later and said that the food was great but cost about three times what it should have.

Some folks the crew met ashore told them that the diving was pretty good on the point just south of the Blue Lagoon Cruises beach so Rob, Eric and I dinghied over to give it a try. There were quite a few fish but most of the coral was dead. I decided to swim back to Van Diemen and got twenty minutes of good exercise. Three large jack crevally about the same size as the one we were given for dinner in Yadua followed me for five minutes. I've never seen that before. During my swim I found that the best coral and fish were on the reef right next to Van Diemen.

After our snorkel we decided to head south for the next anchorage and powered south through the Blue Lagoon. The wind had died off overnight after a number of days of strong trades, and the postcard weather made the Blue Lagoon look a lot more attractive than it had the day before. It reminded me of a half sized Kaneohe Bay where I live in Hawaii except all of the shorelines here have beaches and resorts. In Hawaii its seawalls and houses.

The charts available for this area are neither detailed nor complete. It's no problem though if you follow the tracks of someone who has been here before. That's what we've been doing so far in the Yasawas, but yesterday's jump was a real adventure because we were going to be exploring new territory. The usual route is down the western side of the islands, but if we could head down the eastern side we could cut a couple of miles off of the day's journey. Our chart showed that we should be able to do it. With the sun overhead for good visibility Eric and I stood at the mast with the hand held VHF to warn Rob of the hazards we saw ahead. There were a couple of places where we had to slow down when the water looked shallow, but we never got close to any danger and made it into Somosomo Bay on Naviti Island at 3PM.

I hadn't been ashore in a couple of days and was anxious to do some beach combing on the uninhabited shoreline. Rob, Eric, and I dinghied in and split up to explore. Rob and Eric found an abandoned house slab on the north end of the beach and harvested a couple of papaya. I found a 19 inch color television down south. That's why beach combing is so much fun. You never know what you'll find.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Blue Disappointment

0800 position 16-57S 177-22E. At anchor in the Blue Lagoon, Yasawa Islands, Fiji

Perhaps it is my preference for uninhabited islands and empty anchorages that jades my perception, but I don't get "The Blue Lagoon". Yes, it is a good and protected anchorage. It was easy to find too. All we had to do was look for the boats. There were eight other cruisers at anchor in the lee of Nanuyasewa Island when we arrived yesterday. There was also a 120 foot power cat full of tourists beached on the southern end of the island and a resort on the northern end. The cruising guides warned that anchoring was limited to the northern half of the island. "Blue Lagoon Cruises" has an exclusive use lease on the southern half of the island and its offshore waters. That's one I hadn't seen before, privately owned offshore waters. Different countries, different rules. We squeezed in between the fleet at anchor and the off-limits boundary (we could see the sign ashore) and dropped our hook.

I've read that two versions of the movie "The Blue Lagoon" were filmed here, and that's why it is so popular, but it is not as picturesque as a lot of other places we've visited. The cruising guides enthusiastically describe the many eating and drinking establishments scattered among the settlements around the lagoon, but say nothing about snorkeling spots. We've been watching the other cruisers for clues. They seem content to dinghy back and forth between their boats and the resort bar. My foot was bothering me so I stayed aboard, but the rest of the crew dinghied in to the beach yesterday afternoon to check it out. They returned in just a few minutes reporting that the resort was nothing special, a couple of bars, a restaurant, and some bungalows.

We've noticed that there is more and more civilization as we move south through the Yasawas, and this is likely to continue until we arrive at Musket Cove in a week or so. I'd better get used to it....

Then again, maybe my attitude isn't as positive as it might be because I've given up consuming alcohol for the time being to see if that helps me get rid of this pesky gout...

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Fleetwood Mac Diet

0800 position 16-53S 177-24E. At anchor in Malakati Bay, Nacula Island, Fiji

It looked to me like our next anchorage in the Yasawas, Malakati Bay, a large deep U shaped bay with the opening facing west, would provide better protection from the strong easterly trade winds. Unfortunately, when we got there we found that the hills behind the bay were not steep, and a saddle in the hills caused the wind to accelerate as it swept down on our anchorage. At least the seas were calm... We were all below about a half hour after anchoring late in the morning when a huge gust came through and all hell broke loose on deck. We rushed up to find that Van Diemen's beloved full awning, which stretched from mast to transom, had blown out. The once taught tent had ripped out its corners and was billowing like an out of control spinnaker. After we got it captured and put away we noticed that the same gust of wind had broken our flag pole on the transom. That was a pretty good puff!

As we finished cleaning up what was left of the awning I looked up and noticed that Van Diemen's anchor was dragging. We had moved about fifty yards to leeward and were still slowly making ground. Rob and I were surprised. We had anchored in twenty feet of water on a sand bottom and had more than 120 feet of chain out. We started the engine, moved closer to shore, and anchored again in fifteen feet of water. This time I put 160 feet of chain out. We dragged again! What gives? Rob went in with fins and mask to look at the anchor, which of course by that time wasn't dragging anymore. It was buried in the sand, but not as deeply as it normally goes. He swam back to the boat, I jumped in, and we took the opportunity to clean the beginning growths of grass off of Van Diemen's water line. When we were finished Rob let out another 100 feet of chain for insurance.

Late in the afternoon Rob and Renee took the dinghy ashore and harvested some papayas and bananas from the jungle behind the beach. They also met a local fisherman who offered to get some lobster for us. He showed up at the boat at 9PM in his power skiff with three lobster he had just speared night diving. Lobster for dinner tomorrow!

Rob's hearing isn't as good as it used to be, and sometimes he misses what's been said. He has had a couple of hilarious comebacks as a result. The other day Eric said something like "Rob sure knows what he is doing on a yacht", and Rob replied "What? I didn't fly fighter jets in Iraq!" I don't even recall what was said before Rob answered with "What? Stevie Nicks eats fish?" We were laughing too hard to figure it out.

It looks like the strongest of the trade winds may be behind us. We woke up this morning to lighter winds for our trip today down to "The Blue Lagoon", the area made famous by the movie of the same name filmed there thirty plus years ago.

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Free Enterprise

0800 position 16-51S 177-28E. At anchor off Sawailau, Yasawa Islands, Fiji

Yesterday morning Rob went SUPping and ended up aboard one of the other boats in the anchorage. While he was socializing aboard "Scoots", a fifty foot sloop from San Francisco, he noticed some fruiting papaya trees on the beach to leeward. After returning to Van Diemen he decided to launch an assault on the beach to capture fruit. Our papaya supplies were getting low. The rest of the crew piled into the dinghy for the attack and I stayed behind to hold down the fort. They returned a couple of hours later having successfully taken a couple of prisoners. It looked like another cruiser had staged a similar raid a day or so earlier so our crew didn't find much semi-ripe fruit left hanging.

The next stop on our Yasawa itinerary was Sawailau just around the southern end of Yasawa Island. According to two of our cruising guides, Sawailau had some great caves to explore. The guides indicated that the caves were the property of an adjacent village, and a twenty year old guide stated that the village charged $2 per person to enter the caves. OK. We powered the three miles from our previous anchorage at Malakati Bay to Sawailau to find three large motor yachts and a sailboat already anchored there. We picked an empty spot away from the others and dropped the hook.

Eric and I dinghied over to the island to do the caves. We didn't find anybody on the beach but behind it were tables, chairs, and a stairway apparently leading to the caves. At the bottom of the stairs was a sign that said "Visit the caves, $55 per person". Hmm. That's a pretty steep rate of inflation in twenty years. I'm a firm believer in free enterprise, but I doubt the Fijians are maximizing their income from the caves at that price. We turned around and went exploring on the dinghy instead.

This anchorage is more exposed than the last two, and the trade winds came up overnight making it a bit uncomfortable. According to the forecast, the wind peaked earlier this morning and will start backing off soon. No problem. We will be moving shortly to a more sheltered anchorage on the leeward side of the next island to the south.

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Not The Young Guy anymore

0800 position 16-49S 177-27E. At anchor in Malakati Bay, Yasawa Island, Fiji

Yesterday morning Rob and Renee got dressed up and went ashore for church and lunch. They came back four hours later and Rob reported that the first half hour of church was enjoyable with the Fijian singing but the hour and a half long hellfire and brimstone sermon that followed was tedious. Their lunch later of grilled wahoo, caught the night before by their host, was great.

After they returned to Van Diemen we weighed anchor and started moseying south. I spent a couple of hours yesterday going through the three Fiji cruising guides we have aboard to find the best anchorages here in the Yasawas. I've picked out a dozen, none more than nine miles apart. That's how far we had to go yesterday, and at 4PM we pulled into uninhabited Malakati Bay at the southern end of Yasawa Island. The U shaped bay is protected by a couple of large offshore islands. There were two other yachts there when we arrived, but this is a big bay and we found a lovely cove with our own private white sand beach.

Eric and I were itching to get ashore and have a look around so we grabbed beers, jumped in the dinghy, and headed in as soon as we got the boat put to bed. We found a pristine beach with no sign of humanity. It didn't look like anybody had been there since the last storm erased the footprints above the high water mark. We spent half an hour walking the length of the beautiful quarter mile long beach. I had started strolling back and Eric was lying on the sand lounging in the shade of the rocks at the far end of the beach when I looked up to see that the empty dinghy was underway and headed out towards Van Diemen.

We hadn't bothered to pull the dinghy very far up the beach when we landed because I thought the tide was falling. Apparently not. I yelled to Eric and took off sprinting down the beach dropping my empty beer bottle, pealing off my hat, glasses, shirt, and emptying my pockets as I ran. Eric did the same and caught me just before I got to where the dinghy was picking up speed in the offshore wind. It looked like a garage sale on the previously unblemished beach behind us. As he sprinted past me Eric yelled "Let the young guy do it!", and he plunged into the water. He caught up to the drifting boat and swam it back in. I'm glad we noticed when we did. We had a good laugh about it later, but it wouldn't have been much fun to report to Rob that we'd misplaced his dinghy.

Dang. I used to be "the young guy"...

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Into the Yasawas

0800 position 16-42S 177-34E. At anchor off of Yasawairara Village, Yasawa Island, Fiji

The wind never did fill in yesterday as forecast so we ended up motor sailing all the way to the Yasawas. I was a little nervous about a shallow spot we needed to cross over while rounding the north end of Yasawa Island. The chart showed it getting as shallow as twenty four feet, but one is never sure about the accuracy of the charts down here. We did have some waypoints that I downloaded from another cruiser that used this route which means it was deep enough.... for them... We slowed down as we approached the shallow spot and watched the depth sounder closely. Eric stood lookout on the bow. It never got shallower than seventy one feet.

Van Diemen rounded the northern tip of Yasawa Island and entered a beautiful bay completely lined with wide white sand beaches. We felt our way in through the coral heads and anchored in twenty five feet of water over a sand bottom 200 yards from the beach. The village of Yasawairara sat nestled in the coconut trees behind the beach and in front of the 200 foot high hills running down the middle of the ten mile long by quarter mile wide island. The Yasawa Islands, ten large islands with a bunch of small ones scattered around for scenery, run north-south along Fiji's western flank. The islands are volcanic, lined with white sand beaches, and surrounded by coral reefs. It is one of the most revered cruising and diving meccas in the world. If our first stop here at the group's northern most anchorage is typical, I can see why.

Rob and Renee went SUPping during the afternoon and met a couple of locals on the beach who invited us in for church and lunch today (it's Sunday here). I redeemed myself at cribbage by beating Eric for the second time in a row (the first was a skunk). The crew finished the evening by watching the movie "Jaws" on my computer. It may be a while before we get back in the water.

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Friday, August 25, 2017


0800 position 16-52S 178-11E. Underway for the Yasawas

We liked Yandua so much that we decided to stay for an extra day. The entire crew took turns out on the SUPs during the morning. Eric and I went exploring the beaches on the leeward side of the bay. I'm always looking for glass balls (Japanese fishing floats) to add to my collection, and deserted beaches are a good place to find them. They are getting rarer though. I haven't found one in seven years, but that will just make the next find that much more satisfying. No luck again yesterday, but a couple of hours of beachcombing was fun anyway.

Rob spent the rest of the morning doing boat stuff like changing the engine oil, and in the afternoon went ashore to build a raft for Peter Van Dyck's (PVD's) ashes scattering ceremony. PVD was a close sailing mate of Rob's who passed away recently, and Rob was asked to scatter some of his ashes in a tropical paradise. There is no place prettier or more tropical than Yadua. The rest of the crew went ashore and worked on the raft all afternoon. I could hear power tools whirring away from Van Diemen, a quarter mile away. Just before sunset they came back in the dinghy towing what looked like a miniature bamboo version of Kon-Tiki complete with mast and deck. It was almost large enough to be a lifeboat for Van Diemen.

The entire Van Diemen crew piled onto the dinghy and towed the raft out to the pass through the reef where we stopped for the sunset ceremony. Rob poured PVD's ashes into a specially prepared half coconut shell on the raft's deck, activated a battery powered plastic duck on the raft that quacked, flashed lights, and laid eggs (Van Dyck... Van Duck...) and released the raft. Rob said a few moving words to honor his friend as Van Duck quacked and laid eggs in the background. We headed back to Van Diemen as it got dark, and as we were finishing up dinner a couple of hours later could still see the light in Van Duck flashing away as the raft slowly slipped over the horizon to the west. The whole surreal event was captured on video, coming soon to a theater near you....

We got an early start this morning on the last leg of our sprint west, a 55 mile dash to Yasawa island. The forecast fifteen knot trades were absent when we left Yadua at sunrise though, so we powered out of the bay and south to clear an area of reefs. A half hour after departing we noticed water in the bilge so Rob stopped the engine to investigate. It took an hour to find and correct the problem. While servicing the engine yesterday he had replaced a zinc in the oil cooler, and the gasket for the zinc was leaking. He got it fixed and we are now motor sailing again. Hopefully the wind will fill in soon so we can turn off the noise maker.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Miller Time

0800 position 16-49S 178-17E. At anchor in Cukuvou Bay, Yadua Island

Something big hit my lure just before we got to the Nasonisoni Passage yesterday morning, but the hook didn't set. I told the boys not to worry, we were guaranteed, money back guaranteed, to catch a fish as we neared our destination for the day, Yadua Island. A year ago we caught a spanish mackerel there two minutes after putting a fishing line out.

Much of the tidal flow in and out of Vanua Levu's southern lagoon moves through the Nasonisoni Passage. When we arrived at the entrance to the passage yesterday we encountered a two knot adverse current that we had to fight to get through. No problem, we were motor sailing at eight knots. The natural mile long passage was so straight and perfect it looked like it was man made. It was almost exactly 200 yards wide along its entire length and its depth was close to 200 feet. Once through we were in the calm waters between the reef and Vanua Levu.

We are sprinting from the Laus in the east to the Yasawas in the west because the south coast of Vanua Levu doesn't offer much to look at. There are no beaches, the shore is dominated by mangroves and mud flats, and the hills are unremarkable. We paralleled the coast inside the lagoon for twenty five miles and then exited through a pass in the reef off of the town of Nabouwalu where a couple of large ferries were loading passengers and vehicles for Viti Levu, Fiji's main island to the south. Once outside the lagoon, Yadua lay another twenty miles further on off of Vanua Levu's west coast.

As we closed Yadua we hooked up as promised. Unfortunately it was a small kawakawa, probably the worst tasting tuna species, so we let it go.

Cukuvou Bay on Yadua Island is a favorite anchorage for me. The uninhabited half mile diameter crater shaped bay is open only to the west where there is a fifty yard wide channel through the reef. There is a quarter mile long beach along the bay's eastern shore and a narrow reef between the beach and anchorage. A year ago while anchored here we jumped overboard to find two remora glued to the bottom of the boat. Lori and I then snorkeled in to the reef where we came face to face with a black tip shark. Later that afternoon we watched as a tugboat tried in vain to tow an overturned barge into the lagoon. The barge ended up on the reef (it's gone now). There was a lot going on, and it was beautiful.

Communication between the bow and stern of Van Diemen while raising and lowering the anchor has been a problem since the beginning of the voyage. Voices can't be heard at that distance over the sound of the engine . When we have enough crew aboard we've been resorting to posting people in between to relay communications. We've talked about purchasing some kind of walkie-talkie headsets so I can communicate with Rob at the helm, but haven't gotten around to it. It occurred to me about a week ago that we have a couple of hand held VHF radios aboard. Rob and I can talk using those on an obscure channel nobody else is using. We tried the hand helds, and they've been great. No more "What?!" yelled back and forth. Yesterday after I radioed Rob from the bow that the anchor was set and secure here in Cukuvou Bay he responded with "And now, it's Miller time."

Rob was my mentor when I was polishing my sailboat racing skills forty years ago, and I picked up a lot from him. "And now, it's Miller time," a phrase from a beer commercial in the '80s, is one of my favorites and I still use it all the time when the work is done and it's time to open a cold one. I'm glad Rob could pick up a little from me as well.

Eric suggested playing cards yesterday afternoon while we were enjoying our beer, and for the first time in four months a deck of cards came out aboard Van Diemen. First it was "war", which got old quick, then we found a cribbage board. Eric claimed that he hadn't played cribbage in many years. Right. He is currently ahead of me two games to zero.

We found one other boat at anchor here in Cukuvou Bay when we arrived, a beautiful fifty foot long 1903 steel Polish built gaff rigged ketch. It was like we had sailed back in time. There was a Danish family aboard and they dinghied over late in the day to give us a five pound jack crevally. They had just caught two of the fish trolling in the lagoon and only needed one for their dinner. We were already getting some lamb ready to grill so we'll eat the fish tonight.

The crew finished off another great day with a rerun of "Captain Ron", a cinema classic that Eric hadn't seen before, in Van Diemen's saloon theater.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Yadua Bound

0800 position 16-58S 179-03E. Underway for Yadua Island, Fiji

Yesterday afternoon was a whirlwind of action in Savu Savu. Provisioning, getting cash, checking email on the internet, and having a beer at the Copra Shed bar. I even got to have a video chat with Lori who is up in Portland playing with her cousins. She has good internet access there and just helped me with the purchase of a round trip ticket to Hawaii after we finish cruising in the Yasawas. I get to go home for a couple of weeks before Van Diemen departs Fiji for New Caledonia.

Late in the afternoon we dropped our mooring in Savu Savu and powered a couple of miles west to anchor off of the Cousteau Resort. It is a lovely spot and a good anchorage on the point at the end of Savu Savu Bay, but we couldn't really enjoy it due to the weather. It had been raining off and on all day, and by the time we anchored it was raining continuously and lasted all night. It is overcast this morning but fortunately the rain has stopped.

Today will be the longest and most interesting day in our series of daylight sprints toward the Yasawas. We have seventy miles to go to our planned anchorage at Yadua Island. We got underway at 6AM and are currently motor sailing toward Nasonisoni Passage, a mile long, 200 yard wide natural channel through the reef on the southern coast on Vanua Levu. We should be entering the passage in a few minutes. After negotiating the passage we'll skirt the southern coast of Vanua Levu for twenty miles inside its barrier reef and exit the reef just west of the town of Nobuwalu. From there its twenty five miles to the anchorage at Yadua, a four square mile island off of Vanua Levu's west coast. The fishing lines are out, and we are hoping for a spanish mackerel dinner....

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Hot Showers

0800 position 16-55S 179-45E. Underway for the Cousteau Resort, Savu Savu, Fiji

The Van Diemen crew spend most of yesterday relaxing at the Paradise Resort. In addition to free use of their moorings, the resort management invites the crews from visiting yachts to use the pool, dining facilities, and hot showers. I took full advantage of the hot showers. We have hot water for showers aboard Van Diemen, but necessary water conservation rules means getting wet, soaping up, and rinsing off using as little water as possible. There are no nice long luxurious hot steamy showers aboard like I enjoyed yesterday at the resort.

Eric had a hot shower as well, and I told him how my love of soaking in hot water led to the best investment I ever made. In 1986 my wife Alison and I spent eight months cruising in the South Pacific aboard our 33 foot sloop Eleu. This was a cheap, basic little boat with few creature comforts. We only carried thirty gallons of fresh water so we showered in cold salt water. We had been four months away from any significant civilization when we arrived in Bora Bora and picked up a mooring off the Oa Oa Hotel. Just like the Paradise Resort, the Oa Oa offered cruisers free moorings and showers, and I will never forget my first hot shower in four months. I was in heaven.

That event led to my deciding to buy a home when we returned to Hawaii. We'd rented up to that point, but I decided in Bora Bora that I wanted a hot tub, and it wasn't practical to install a hot tub in a rental unit. Our timing in late 1986 couldn't have been better. It turned out that the US tax laws were changing in 1987 making it advantageous for investors to take capital gains before 1 January. Every investor who even considered getting rid of their investment real estate was trying to sell before New Years which greatly depressed real estate prices in Hawaii. I did the arithmetic, and it was cheaper at the time to own than it was to rent. That was a no brainer. We bought a nice house on a hill overlooking Kaneohe Yacht Club and the first thing I did was install my hot tub. By mid-1987 the price of real estate in Hawaii had more than doubled, and it's been going up ever since. I still live in that house... all because of a hot shower. I'd rather be lucky than good.....

We had lunch yesterday at the Paradise Resort as well. It was all very nice, but came at a price. Eric mentioned that it was the most money he has spent on food in a single twenty four hour period in his life.

Rob found a butcher just down the street and the resort sold us some vegetables from their garden. We couldn't find everything we wanted nearby though. It turned out that the closest village with real stores was a forty minute bus ride away, to far to be practical.

We decided to stop off at Savu Savu today to finish up the provisioning before we continue on to the Yasawas. We are currently zipping along on a broad reach at close to ten knots with a full jib and single reef in the mainsail. The current plan is to anchor off of the Cousteau Resort at the entrance to Savu Savu Bay and take a taxi into town to finish the shopping. The anchor should be going down at about noon.

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Monday, August 21, 2017


0800 position 16-56S 179-54E. On a mooring off of Paradise Resort, Taveuni, Fiji

I spoke to Lori the other day on the sat phone and she mentioned that there had been a 6.5 magnitude earthquake the day before in the Lau Group. We were in the Laus at the time but neither felt the earthquake nor heard about it later. No tsunami was generated, but that is one of the few potentially dangerous situations we could find ourselves in cruising remote island groups. There aren't sirens out there to warn of an approaching tsunami, and we usually only communicate with the outside world once a day via radio/email. We'd have no idea that a tsunami was on the way until it hit us. Fortunately, tsunamis are low probability events.

The gems of Fiji cruising lie on its eastern and western extremities. We've just finished our visit to the Laus in the east and are now on our way to the Yasawa Islands 180 miles to the west. In between lies numerous islands, reefs, channels, and "Bligh Water", a 3000 square mile area of reefs and shoals made famous by Captain William Bligh who first passed through the area in an open row boat after the mutiny on the Bounty. To this day there are uncharted reefs in Bligh Water. It is not an area you'd want to pass through at night so we have cut the trip into segments we can complete in daylight hours. It will probably take us at least four days to make the passage between the Laus and the Yasawas.

The wind started to increase shortly after Phaedo disappeared to the south yesterday morning, and by 10AM the engine was shut off and we were sailing along at nine knots. Perfect conditions continued until we approached Taveuni and the wind died off again. We powered around the south end of the island arriving off of Paradise Resort at about 3PM. There we found our old friend Seil waiting in his kayak to help us pick up a mooring. Seil told us that it was "Fiji Night" last night at the resort so we called them on the VHF radio and made dinner reservations.

At 5PM we dinghied ashore and found a lovely small resort with about twenty guests milling around the pool and bar. We met Alan, the Australian owner, who told us that the facility had been completely destroyed by Hurricane Winston eighteen months earlier. Insurance didn't cover the damage because it was a category five hurricane, and all policies in Fiji have a clause that says they don't cover damage from cat 5 storms. Ouch. The recently rebuilt resort looked great though. Paradise was a good name for it.

We enjoyed a fun tropical tourist evening with the other resort guests including watching the staff remove the pig from the imu, Tongan singing and dancing, good local food, and a kava ceremony, all washed down with a couple of umbrella protected maitais. They even gave all the guests leis. Good thing I wore my aloha shirt.

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Aloha Laus

0800 position 17-10S 179-12W. Underway for Paradise Resort, Taveuni, Fiji

Yesterday morning we put away the second dinghy, hauled the inflatable SUPs aboard, weighed anchor, and powered half a mile to an island at the entrance to the Bay of Islands that David and Fiona said had the best diving in the area. Rob and I dinghied over and checked it out. We bumped into David and Fiona on the way and stopped to chat. They were out in their dinghy looking for caves. It was a pretty nice dive spot. The corals were beautiful, but there weren't many fish more than a few inches long. The lack of sizable fish while diving has been remarkable in both Tonga and Fiji.

After we finished with the diving we turned Van Diemen south and headed for Daliconi Village, the only yacht accessible village on the west side of Vanuabalvu. We found two other boats at anchor and joined them off the village.

Our primary motivation for going to Daliconi was to get provisions, but it was Sunday afternoon when nothing would be open so we didn't see any point in going ashore yesterday. The village looked pretty small as well. We decided it would be unlikely that we'd find suitable provisions there so we decided to leave at first light and head back to Paradise Resort on Taveuni where we can get WIFI at the resort and hopefully provisions from the nearby town.

A couple of minutes ago, as I was typing today's blog, I looked up at the chart plotter and saw a boat on the AIS close by. I tapped on the screen to see who it was. "Phaedo 3". Wait a minute. I know that boat. Out came the binoculars. There she was, crossing our bow about a quarter mile away with her black carbon mainsail and code zero flying. According to the AIS she was sailing at nineteen knots headed south... There was only eight knots of wind (we were motor sailing, headed west). I followed the recent Transpac Race to Hawaii on the internet, and Phaedo was one of the three trimarans in the race trying to break the outright course record. Phaedo didn't win, but they were in the hunt. They must be on their way to Australia to do the Sydney-Hobart race at the end of the year. Very cool to see them sail by so close and so fast.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017


0800 position 17-10S 179-01W. At anchor in the Bay of Islands, Vanuabalavu, Lau Group, Fiji

The Van Diemen crew enjoyed a lazy day yesterday of exploring the Bay of Islands, boat projects, and relaxing in paradise. Eric and I took the small rowing dinghy out to find more passages through the maze of islands and found a couple of sea level caves. I got some great photos inside them. One cave was apparently well known to resident islanders as the fifty foot diameter chamber inside the small opening had native names carved into its limestone walls. Meanwhile back aboard Van Diemen, Rob built a new flag pole to replace the one that washed overboard on our rough passage from Bora Bora to Rarotonga.

Rob met the cruisers on the boat that was tucked into the cove next to ours when he was out on his SUP exploring, and they came over to Van Diemen last evening for sunset cocktails. David from Canada and Australian Fiona are three years into a South Pacific cruise on their forty foot sloop "Anahana". David is a professional photographer and has a fancy new drone with a built in camera aboard Anahana. He flew it up over the Bay of Islands yesterday morning and got some stunning pictures of the Bay and boats in it from more than a thousand feet up. He was kind enough to give us copies of the photos he took on a thumb drive.

My computer keyboard is still not working despite being packed in rice and placed in a warm compartment for a few days. Since the keyboard won't work I can't enter my password to get past the login page that comes up when the computer is turned on. I was screwing around with it this morning and found a couple of settings toggles that I can access from the log in page, including an "accessibility" page with settings that allow folks who can't use a keyboard to access the computer. Hmmm. That sounds a lot like me. I discovered I can turn on a virtual keyboard that uses the touch pad in lieu of the keyboard. Sacrebleu! A miracle Messieur! She is working! I am very proud of myself for discovering this workaround. It is not ideal, but I can now get at my navigation software, waypoints, and cruising guides that will allow us to safely explore this cruising paradise.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Cruiser's Heaven

0800 position 17-10S 179-01W. At anchor in the Bay of Islands, Vanuabalavu, Lau Group, Fiji

Yesterday morning Rob took the hard bottomed dinghy and went snorkeling at a spot outside the entrance to Bavatu Harbor recommended by John and Leilani. Eric and I got into the smaller soft bottomed inflatable and paddled around the entire shoreline of the Harbor. It took a couple of hours to complete the circuit. The uplifted coral geology with 500 foot high cliffs surrounding the harbor was spectacular. At sea level the coral was undercut by wave action. This undercutting extendede around the entire perimeter of the half mile wide harbor and was so perfect it looked in places like it was cut with a tool. Above the high water level was a fully wooded forest of trees and shrubs growing out of the coral. There was no soil though, and it was surreal to see trees with trunks as wide as a couple of feet growing directly out of the coral. Where did their roots go?

Our first stop was the "Royal Exploring Islands Yacht Squadron" near the entrance to the harbor. The facility was built by the owners of the plantation as a waterfront "getaway" from life up on the plateau. We found a two story club house, pier and launch ramp, and two moorings at the facility that were badly damaged during Hurricane Winston. Doors and roofing were blown off the club house and the pier was destroyed during the storm. The plantation staff hasn't gotten around to repairing the facility with higher priority work up on the plateau. In working condition it would be a facility that any real yacht club would be proud of.

We stopped by for a visit with John and Leilani who were anchored in an arm of the harbor out of sight of Van Diemen. Further up the arm they were anchored in was a deep pocket in the cliffs that would have been a perfect hurricane hole.

Just as we were completing our circumnavigation we came across a cave in the cliff that begged to be explored. Inside we found what we first thought were bats flying around, but later decided were swallows. The cave went back almost 200 feet into the coral and terminated at a small skylight that opened into the jungle above. Very cool.

After lunch we raised the anchor and powered around the north end of Vanuabalvu to the Bay of Islands. There we found a labyrinth of mushroom shaped coral islands and channels that provide some of the most amazing anchorages I've ever seen. Getting into our current anchorage was like winding our way into the middle of a suburban subdivision using only the back roads. Left turn, left turn, right turn, left turn, right turn, second anchorage on the right.... If you didn't know how we got in here, you wouldn't be able to find your way out.

I'd guess there are about 500 islands in this two square mile bay. I can see twenty seven individual islands from where we are anchored, and I can't see the open ocean. All of the islands are at least twenty feet high and they are all fully wooded just like the cliffs surrounding Bavatu Harbor. The islands vary in diameter from ten feet to 100 yards with deep channels between most of them. Some of the channels are only a couple of feet wide, but most are wide enough to let Van Diemen through.

We picked a 200 yard diameter clear spot right up against the cliffs of Vanuabalavu to drop the hook in. It is 100 feet deep here but we have plenty of swinging room. After anchoring yesterday I took the small rowing inflatable out to explore and got lost in the maze of islands for a couple of hours. I wouldn't have believed that a place like this existed on planet earth if I hadn't seen it myself.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Exploring Vanuabalavu

0800 position 17-10S 179-00W. At anchor in Bavatu Harbor

This whole north end of Vanuabalavu is owned by Tony Phillips who has a "plantation" here. Tony also owns one of the two marinas in Savu Savu and another in Nadi on Viti Levu. The only signs of humanity here in Bavatu Harbor are two docks along the shore and a house perched atop the cliff on the west side of the bay. The dock near the entrance of the bay sits in front of the abandoned "yacht club" facility that was badly damaged during Hurricane Winston eighteen months ago. The other dock, at the south end of the bay, is actively used for landing supplies for the plantation.

It was 11AM before the Macka crew arrived in their dinghy to go hiking. We all went ashore at the active southern dock and walked up the concrete road at the bottom of a gulch that led to the plateau on top of the island. As we neared the plateau the gulch opened up into a cleared valley filled with cows, coconut trees, and short grass. The cleared areas looked like they had been painstakingly claimed from the surrounding jungle decades ago. It was certainly an old plantation, and most of the coconut trees in the cleared areas had been knocked down during the recent hurricane. The many hundreds of downed coconut trees had all been cut into ten foot long segments. It took a lot of effort to cut the trees, perhaps the first step in cleaning up after the hurricane, but none of the downed trees had been moved yet from where they fell. We passed lots of cattle and downed trees on the plateau as we meandered through meadows with gated fences. After a half mile of gradual climbing we approached what looked like a low walled village compound with six or so structures in it including a generator that was running to produce electricity. A couple of Fijian men came out to speak to us. They told us that the compound provided housing for the four male workers who maintained the plantation. They spend the work week there and return to their village on an adjacent island on the weekends. The compound was completely destroyed during Hurricane Winston and had been since rebuilt. The workers who were on the island during the hurricane took refuge from the storm in the roots of a nearby giant banyan tree. Nobody was injured during the storm, but fifty six cows were killed in addition to the downed trees and destroyed structures.

One of the two men who greeted us, Seko, took us on a walking tour of the plantation. First he guided us to a cliff lookout on the western side of the island that faces the "Bay of Islands", a popular cruising destination where at least three boats were anchored including the 305 foot Eos. The Bay of Islands is aptly named, a beautiful labyrinth of islands and coves with dozens of hidey holes where yachts can find protection from the winds. It looked like a good place to go during a hurricane, and it is the next stop on our cruising itinerary.

From the lookout we meandered another half mile along a manicured path back to the worker's compound, behind which we found two large houses. One of the houses, which belonged to the plantation's owner, was a fifty plus year old concrete building that had come through the hurricane unscathed. They don't build them like they used to... Seko told us that none of the Fijian plantation employees, some of whom had worked there for years, had ever seen Tony, the owner of the plantation. The other house was new, replacing one that had been destroyed during the hurricane. The new house was the one we could see from Van Diemen's anchorage, and the view of Bavatu Harbor from it's front lawn was spectacular. We got a bunch of great photos.

That's where our tour ended, and from there we followed the path to a wooden stairway with 291 steps down to the boat landing. It was long and steep, and at the bottom was a plaque claiming that some guy had climbed to the top a few years ago in 56 seconds... 560 seconds would be a fast ascent...

Our shore side adventure was great fun, but we were worn out after three hours of hiking. It felt great to get some real aerobic exercise after being on the boat for so long.

John and Leilani dinghied over in the late afternoon to socialize. They are headed south today or tomorrow for Fulanga, a Lau atoll 160 miles to the south. The current forecast indicates they should have perfect weather for that overnight passage.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017


0800 position 17-10S 179-00W. At anchor in Bavatu Harbor

After we got out of the lee of Taveuni yesterday morning the wind came out of the north with a vengeance. We saw as much as twenty five knots, far more than the seven knots forecast. Taveuni is a large and high island and we thought that perhaps some of the velocity was due to the wind accelerating around the ends of the island but it didn't die off as we left the island behind. The gribs got the wind direction right but they really missed the mark on velocity. It was 100% overcast and raining, but we were screaming along at close to ten knots. As the day progressed the wind velocity decreased and the direction backed to the west as forecast and by 1PM we were under power. The front that brought the wind and rain disappeared to the east and the weather became postcard perfect as we approached the pass into the Vanuabalavu lagoon in the Lau Group.

A couple of hours earlier we watched on the AIS as Eos, a 305 foot long, forty five foot wide and twenty one foot deep three masted schooner, entered the same pass. Watching a boat that big negotiate the pass gave us confidence that we'd have no problems. Sure enough, the pass was easy and with the sun still high enough to see the shallow spots we followed the channel around the north end of the island to Bavatu Harbor. We could see Eos' three masts sticking up above the hills of Vanuabalavu as she sat in her anchorage on the other side of the island.

The island of Vanuabalavu appears to be made of uplifted coral similar to Vava'u, but it is much higher and spectacular. 200 foot high sheer cliffs surround Bavatu Harbor except at the small opening into the lagoon on the north side. The cliffs are heavily wooded and full of caves. It is beautiful and remote. There was one other boat at anchor in one of Bavatu's fjords when we arrived. After closer inspection we determined that it was Tony Spooner, a pal of Robs from Newport Beach. Tony, his wife Caroline, and daughter Malia have been in the Laus for a few weeks now on their trimaran Macha. We powered over to them, exchanged greetings, and invited them over for cocktails and dinner after we got settled.

We anchored in sixty feet of water in the southern arm of the harbor completely out of sight of the other boat. The Macha crew dinghied over an hour later and we had a great time socializing and comparing cruising notes with them. It was quite comical when they left Van Diemen to head home. They forgot to leave a light on aboard Macha, and it was pitch black in the complete overcast. No lights ashore, no stars, no moon; they had no idea which direction to go. If they don't show up for our planned hike ashore this morning we'll know that they never made it back to Macha.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017


1000 position 17-05S 179-52W. Underway for the Lau Group

Van Diemen has been carrying two outboard engines and two dinghies. Our primary outboard, an old Johnson 9HP, worked for a couple of days in the Marquesas before crapping out. We don't know what was wrong with it and didn't spend much time trying to get it working because we had another outboard aboard the boat, a new Mercury 4HP. We've been using the Mercury ever since and it has been working flawlessly. Rob dug the Johnson out of the sail locker when we arrived in Savu Savu and took it to a mechanic who got it working. Rob decided that he was done with that engine though, and made it known around the marina that it was for sale for $1,000 Fijian. Duki (pronounced Ducky), the marina employee who helped ferry government officials to Van Diemen when we checked in, expressed interest in buying the engine, but yesterday morning decided that he didn't want it because nobody works on Johnsons in Savu Savu. Hmm. Didn't the guy who just got it running work on Johnsons? Oh well, we ferried the now working Johnson back to Van Diemen and Eric and I re-stowed it in the bowels of the sail locker.

Our cruising permit finally came in yesterday morning and we got ready to depart Savu Savu. Our itinerary showed us away from civilization and shopping opportunities for a couple of weeks so we did some last minute provisioning. By the time we got finished provisioning, hoisted two dinghies aboard, and got ready to go it was well after noon. We had to get cracking if we were going to make it to a safe anchorage before dark.

Our first cruising destination is the Lau Group on the eastern side of Fiji. The Laus are reputed to be unspoiled by tourism and spectacularly beautiful, but a mine field of coral and twisting turning passages and channels. No problem, we have routes, waypoints, and GPS coordinates that have been published by cruisers who have already been there to guide us. All of this was loaded into my computer, which I had open and running on the salon table.

Shortly after departing Savu Savu we rolled up the awning, took off the sail cover, and hoisted the mainsail. That all took about fifteen minutes and when we were finished I stepped below to find that my computer, which was under an open hatch, had been doused by water that apparently had been perched on top of the sail cover and drained off when we rolled it up. It looked like about a cup of water had poured onto the keyboard and allowed to soak in for the ten minutes it took me to discover it. By that time the damage had been done and the keyboard no longer functioned properly. There may be other damage done as well but I can't log onto the computer to find out. I tried to dry it out and it is now sitting in a plastic bag full of rice down in the inverter locker where it is always warm. I am hopeful my attempt to dry it out will get the machine working again, but in the meantime all of the cruising guides and waypoints in my computer aren't available. We should be fine though. Captain Cook didn't have any waypoints to guide him and he did OK, except when he got eaten in Hawaii.

Our late start made it impossible to get to a safe anchorage before nightfall. Our destination was the Paradise Resort on the southern end of Taveuni Island, about a third of the way to the Laus. I called the resort on the VHF radio just at dusk when we were an hour away, and they told us that a kayak would be waiting for us at the mooring with a flashlight. Sure enough, we found Seil (pronounced Seal) waving a flashlight at the mooring when we arrived in the pitch black of night. Good thing he was there. We never would have been able to find the mooring in the dark without his help. After getting secured we invited Seil aboard for a beer and tour of Van Diemen.

Eighteen year old Seil has been working for Paradise Resort for five months now greeting every boat that arrives to pick up one of their seven moorings in his kayak. He said we were the first boat he has met that has invited him aboard or offered him a beer. We happened to be the only boat there last night, but he said that there were fifteen boats either on their moorings or anchored off the resort at one time a couple of weeks ago.

At first light this morning we dropped the mooring and departed for the Laus. We need to get there in good visibility since we don't have our waypoints to guide us. We are currently reaching under double reefed mainsail and reefed jib with fifteen knots of wind out of the north. If the forecast is correct, the wind should back through the west and die off as the day progresses, and we should make our Lau landfall in the late afternoon.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Fiji Time

0800 Position 16-47S 179-19E. On a mooring off of Savu Savu, Fiji

The Van Diemen crew increased by one yesterday morning when Eric Mutzke, Rob's nephew, arrived after an epic thirty plus hour trip from Prague, Czech Republic. Eric was in Prague for a friend's wedding and he will cruise with us until we depart Fiji.

Yesterday was also Monday, and our cruising permit was supposed to have been issued. We checked with Horace in the morning. No permit yet. Hmmm. Perhaps the squeaky wheel gets the grease. We bugged him off and on until the end of the business day without effect. Horace said the permit "can take up to twenty four hours to process, sometimes more." I guess we are in the "sometimes more" category. Then again, maybe he meant twenty four hours "Fiji time". We'll find out how long that is.

I went shopping for some kava so we can perform sevu sevu, if necessary, at some of the remote villages in the outer islands that we plan to visit. Sevu sevu is the formal offering of a gift of kava to the chief of the village when asking permission to anchor in their waters and explore ashore. Sevu sevu isn't required, but it is expected by the villagers in some remote areas, and if you don't do it you will start off on the wrong foot with the locals.

The new dinghy cover showed up at 7PM last night while we were eating dinner at the marina restaurant. Six burly Fijians helped transfer the hard bottomed dinghy plus cover from a pickup truck into the water. We towed it back to Van Diemen with our smaller spare dinghy. The new cover looked OK last night when it was dark, but Rob was a bit disappointed with the quality of the work this morning after inspecting it in daylight.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

It's a Small World

0800 Position 16-47S 179-19E. On a mooring off of Savu Savu, Fiji

Yesterday morning Rob and Renee took off with the car to do more touring. They headed inland on the island's main road to see the rain forest. It was raining, which seems appropriate, but didn't make for great sight seeing. In the middle of the forest they passed an official looking sign that said "Rain Forest Closed". Hmmm.

I dinghied over to Amazing Grace to see John and Leilani and took them back for a tour of Van Diemen. They gave me some more tips on cruising in the Laus and some ideas on places to stop in between. After I dropped them off on their boat I noticed another familiar boat name a few slips down, "Velic". My wife is close pals with Claudia Webster, the mother of Velic's skipper, and Lori asked me to keep an eye out for them. I dropped in to chat and found Ruth Webster aboard Velic. Ruth and her husband Randy are stuck in Savu Savu awaiting the arrival of a replacement engine mount. We discussed our connection and mutual pals Mark and Blossom Logan who we saw a couple of weeks ago in the Society Islands. The Websters are also good friends with John and Leilani. It's a small world after all.

Rob has been looking to get a cover made for the dinghy to protect it from the sun. An Indian lady standing on the street outside the marina asked him if he needed any sewing done, and convinced him that she could produce a high quality dinghy cover in less than 24 hours. He dropped the dinghy off at 4PM yesterday and is supposed to meet her at the same time today to pick up the dinghy and finished cover. Stay tuned.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Vanua Levu

0800 Position 16-47S 179-19E. On a mooring off of Savu Savu, Fiji

Two large islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, dominate the other 331 smaller islands in the country of Fiji. The capital of Suva, the Nadi International Airport, and most of Fiji's population inhabit Viti Levu. Forty miles to the northeast lies Vanua Levu. Savu Savu, where Van Diemen is currently moored, sits on Vanua Levu's southern coast in a deep bay.

With the weekend to kill we decided to rent a car and tour Vanua Levu. Rob heard that "James Car Rental" in town had something available so we wandered up there late in the morning. James was standing outside his office. "I heard you had a car available," said Rob.

"Just that Jimmy over there," James replied, pointing at a beat up micro SUV.

"As long as the air conditioning works," jested Rob.

"Sorry, AC not working," was James' comeback.

"Well, as long as the windows roll down, we'll be OK," Rob countered.

"One window don't roll down," said James with a shrug. "Everything else works OK."

They agreed on a one day rental for $70 Fijian, discounted from the $100 list price because of the defects. We headed east along Vanua Levu's southern shore to sightsee and look for potential anchorage sites.

The shorelines of Fiji's main islands are not particularly attractive. There are very few sandy beaches, and protected areas are overgrown with mangroves. A few interesting offshore motus have been developed into resorts or luxury communities with causeways connecting them to the mainland. On one of the offshore motus we found a huge three masted schooner undergoing a major refit in the mangroves. The surreal scene looked like something you would expect to see in the bayous of Mississippi. The deckhouse of the "Tui Tai" alone was two stories high and the ship had to be at least 150 feet long. Later we came across a fifty foot ketch up a creek, high and dry and abandoned, apparently a victim of Typhoon Winston that devastated Fiji eighteen months ago. We didn't see any anchorages that looked promising. After an hour the paved road turned into a dirt road. We continued until our butts were sore from the bumping and turned around at an empty waterfront "resort" near the eastern end of the island. Sore and tired, we wandered into the Cousteau Resort at the entrance to Savu Savu Bay and had a beer at the bar.

Back aboard Van Diemen we saw an ad offering luxury cruises aboard the "Tui Tai" throughout the Fiji islands. Not this year it seems.

It's not all sunshine and puffy clouds here in paradise. This morning dawned rainy and windy, and it looks like it will continue all day. Rob and Renee will likely take the car and tour inland before it is due back at noon. I toured inland when I was here a year ago so will pass and hang out on the boat.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Savu Savu

0800 Position 16-47S 179-19E. On a mooring off of Savu Savu, Fiji

Yesterday morning at 11AM we caught a thirty pound aku. We would have let him go but couldn't get him off of the hook without killing him. That's OK. Our freezer is now well stocked with fish.

We turned the corner into Savu Savu Bay at 1130 and tried to call the marina on the VHF. No response. After a couple of attempts Leilani Himmelman, and old pal from Kaneohe Yacht Club who was listening on the radio, responded and said she would walk to the marina office to let them know we were coming. Leilani and her husband John moved to New Zealand fifteen years ago and are currently in Savu Savu on their forty foot cruising boat "Amazing Grace". We've been trading emails and she has been very helpful with tips on moorings and clearing customs here.

A marina worker was standing by to guide us to a mooring and ferry the government officials out to the boat. Five officials and a flurry of paperwork, stamping, and carbon paper later and we were cleared into Fiji. We told them that we wanted to head out to the Laus over the weekend. They looked at their watches and shook their heads. It was after 3PM on a Friday afternoon. We could try, but it was unlikely that we could get the required "cruising permit" before Monday. They told us that the Marina Manager would have to arrange the cruising permit for us. All four of the Van Diemen crew and the three large government officials piled into Van Diemen's dinghy and headed for shore.

Divide and conquer. I was assigned to pursue the cruising permit. Doc was headed to the Fiji Airline office to see if he could arrange a flight back to the US this weekend. Rob headed for the bank to get money to pay all the fees that had accrued during check in.

I found the marina manager, Horace, outside his office building tables. He dropped what he was doing to help me. Horace tried to call the government office in Suva to expedite the cruising permit for us but got no answer. Looks like they were already gone for the weekend. We'd be stuck in Savu Savu until Monday, but there are worse places in the world to be stuck.

I headed down to the adjacent marina to look for the Himmelmans. I found John and Leilani aboard Amazing Grace in a slip there. It was great to catch up with them. They are also headed for the Laus and are waiting for favorable winds to depart.

This morning we said goodby to Doc who is heading home to the US. His five country in five week tour has come to an end. Doc has been a great shipmate and I will miss his stories and good humor.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Through the Laus

1000 Position 16-53S 179-23E. 20 miles from Savu Savu, Fiji

At 4PM yesterday afternoon we jybed and zigged to the south again. By 6PM the wind had lighted up slowing us down to less than six knots and on came the engine.

We were pretty careful about choosing where to punch through the Lau Group. We would be going through at night and there weren't any lights or other aids to navigation in this area so we had to be cautious. The widest gap between the islands is about seven miles, not a lot of leeway if you don't get it right. In some parts of the world the charts are off by a few miles, and since we weren't familiar with the Laus we didn't know if that was the case here. As we approached our chosen pass Rob could see the islands right where they were supposed to be on the radar. Visibility was fine as well, and about the same time I started to see the high islands ahead of us.

The wind continued to die off and as we entered the Laus the swell, blocked by all the islands around us, disappeared as well. Passing through the Laus ended up being pretty easy but I wouldn't have wanted to try it without GPS. This morning it is Kaneohe Bay flat, there isn't any wind, and we are powering at nine knots. We should be arriving in Savu Savu at about 1PM.

I noticed as I write this that we are now in the eastern hemisphere. I guess that bump I felt last night was us crossing over the international date line.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Luckiest Fish in the World

0800 Position 17-26S 177-02W. 215 miles from Savu Savu, Fiji

We finished clearing out of Tonga at 11AM yesterday and departed for Fiji. We are headed for Savu Savu on Vanua Levu, and the wind is blowing directly towards our destination. Normally that would be a good thing, but Van Diemen doesn't have a spinnaker pole to wing the jib out so we can't sail dead down wind. We have to sail thirty degrees higher than DDW to keep the jib full. The wind direction hasn't changed since we left Tonga, and it is not forecast to change much, so we will be zigging and zagging to get to Savu Savu. That's not a problem, it is comfortable sailing but we end up sailing more miles. We are still hoping to get in to Savu Savu in time to clear customs before the end of the business day tomorrow.

Our first zig to the south took us by Late Island, Vava'u's only volcanic island. We sailed by it a mile off shore and it looked to be uninhabited. As we approached Late the fish started hitting our lures. First we sailed through a school of mahi. We had eight mahi strikes on our two handlines but we were going more than ten knots at the time and the hooks kept pulling out of the fish's soft mouths. Unfortunately, we can't slow Van Diemen down when a fish hooks up without destroying the sails so we need to deal with the fish at full speed. A few minutes later we sailed though a school of aku. Six strikes later we had two aboard but we don't care for aku so we tossed them back.

At 10PM we got lifted, jybed to starboard tack, and zagged to the north. We've been on that tack ever since, and are now looking at the charts to decide where we want to pass through the Lau Group that marks the beginning of the Fiji islands. The Laus are mostly atolls that stretch north to south between us and Savu Savu. We will be going through after dark and don't want to run into any of them.

A couple of months ago I wrote about the unluckiest flying fish in the world that came down the galley hatch. This morning we met the luckiest flying fish in the world. The boys were messing around in the cockpit and found a plastic quart yogurt container full of water with a live flying fish in it. We use two of those containers to plug our cockpit drains. Somehow the flying fish flew in and ended up in one of those containers that was full of water. He was swimming around happy as can be. I got some video of him in his aquarium before we let him go.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Checking Out

0800 Position 18-39S 173-59W. At the customs dock, Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga

I spent a couple of hours yesterday morning aboard Haven with Bruce and Carrie showing them how to use some of the tricker aspects of OpenCPN, the navigation software I use exclusively on Moku pe'a. I had given them my GPS tracks for the two and a half months we spent cruising in Tonga in 2014 and showed them how to make those tracks appear on their plotter. Having the tracks of others are great because if you follow them you can be sure you won't run aground. Carrie gave me the tracks of some cruisers who had visited Fiji's Lau Group, one of our destinations, so that will be helpful when we get there.

I also downloaded the New Zealand raster charts of the South Pacific to their computer. Raster charts are digital versions of the paper charts we used to use. Raster charts are particularly useful because they show all hazards with the detail dependent on the scale used. Vector charts, which are most commonly used on chart plotters, only show hazards when you zoom in far enough. The problem is that you don't know when you need to zoom in. The ability to easily toggle between raster and vector charts, a feature of OpenCPN, provides a degree of safety that is missing on most other chart plotters that use vector charts alone. A catamaran that we met first in the Marquesas and again in Tahiti was lost a couple of weeks ago in fine weather because they weren't aware of a hazard off of Huahine's coast. They hadn't zoomed in far enough on their vector chart and sailed right up on the reef. This kind of mistake happens many times each year to those who depend solely on vector charts.

An executive decision was made yesterday that Van Diemen will be departing Tonga today for Fiji. The winds are starting to drop and we should have two days of trades in the teens, perfect for the 400 mile passage to Savu Savu.

With departure imminent, we powered back to Neiafu in the early afternoon and Rob went up to the Tropicana to send the tedious "notice of arrival" to the Fiji authorities. Yachts sailing to that country must submit a ten page document by email in advance of arrival that includes pictures of the yacht and skipper. Failure to submit the documentation in advance results in a fine of more than $1,000. Greg at Tropicana has helped other yachties through the process many times and was very helpful to Rob in completing and submitting the documents. After a couple of hours of torture Rob returned to the boat worn out but victorious.

At first light this morning we slipped our mooring and moved to the customs dock to clear out of Tonga. The process should take a couple of hours and Van Diemen should be on her way before noon.

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Monday, August 7, 2017


0800 Position 18-43S 173-59W. On a mooring off Tapana Island, Vava'u, Tonga

During yesterday's morning radio net the moderator mentioned how cold it was the night before, and said it would get down to 16C last night in Vava'u. By my calculations that's 60F, pretty cold for a Hawaiian. I don't think it is much above 70F during the day. Yesterday I wore a sweatshirt all day and the sleeping has been great at night.

The wind blew all day long so we stayed put and hunkered down on our mooring. It was a good day for reading. The rest of the crew went ashore in the dinghy to explore. I stayed aboard and nursed my sore foot.

One of our reasons for coming to Tapana was to go to the Paella Restaurant. Run by a Spanish couple, the Paella has been a fixture here for decades. Rob recalls eating there in 1990 when it was nothing more than a coconut palm frond lean too just off the beach.

Owners Maria and Edwardo were circumnavigating on a sailboat when they passed through Tonga in the mid-1980s and decided to stop and settle here. They leased some land on Tapana and started building a restaurant that caters to visiting yachts. Over the years the restaurant has relocated and grown. It now sits on a hillside overlooking the anchorage and can seat about thirty guests. Reservations are required at least a day in advance using VHF channel 11. We called and made reservations for last night as soon as we arrived in the anchorage.

Bruce and Carrie from Haven were also in the Tapana anchorage and joined us for dinner making it a party of six. There weren't any other guests. Dinner was a set menu of a variety of tapas followed by a huge plate of paella.

After dinner was over it was time for the entertainment. Edjuardo is pretty old now, and it didn't look like he had either cut or combed his hair since settling in Tonga. The splitting image of a long haired Charles Manson minus the tattoos, he stepped barefoot on the stage with a guitar and started to play. The music sounded like a blend of Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, and Carlos Santana. I don't know what language he was singing in, but it wasn't English and I don't think it was Spanish. It sounded to me like "talking in tongues" except it was singing. He got so wound up at one point that he kicked a drum over with his foot that started a domino like cascade of instruments and tables falling over. Like a real professional, it didn't phase him a bit. Somehow the music seemed to fit the venue and was pleasant and entertaining.

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mariner's Cave

0800 Position 18-43S 173-59W. On a mooring off Tapana Island, Vava'u, Tonga

Yesterday afternoon we headed out of Neiafu to do some more exploring. Our first stop was the infamous Mariner's Cave on Nuapapu Island. This huge underwater cave has a house sized air bubble trapped inside it. From the outside the cave looks like an eight foot diameter black hole in the underwater cliff five feet below the surface. It is extremely disconcerting to dive into that hole, holding your breath, not knowing with certainty what you will find at the other end. Fifteen feet into the hole the ceiling opens up and you can rise up and surface in a completely airtight chamber. The inside of the chamber is barely illuminated by what little light enters through the same opening you just swam through.

Rob, Doc and I got in the water while Renee powered Van Diemen around off shore. You can't anchor off of Mariner's Cave. The water is 200' deep 100' from the island. I had been in the cave in 2014 so I dove in and out a few times to put the boys at ease, then all three of us went in and surfaced. There was a small swell running and each time the swell surged our ears pressurized in the chamber and a fog formed. As the swell receded the fog and pressure on our ears disappeared. I got some great GoPro video of the boys swimming in and out of the cave.

The weather forecast called for increasing easterly trade winds, so we needed to find a place where we would be protected for a few days. Tapana fits the bill there. It's not a volcanic crater, but it looks like one. The half mile diameter circular bay is completely landlocked except for two wide channels on the western side. Most of the rest of the bay is bordered by the steep cliffs of three islands.

When we were cruising here in 2014 we found a mooring field tucked right up under Tapana's eastern most cliffs. Those moorings were installed and managed by Sherry and Larry who also ran a floating art gallery moored there, "The Ark Gallery". The gallery, built on a forty foot barge like structure that also served as Sherry and Larry's home, featured the work of local artists and sold primarily to visiting cruising boats. We heard in Neiafu that the moorings were now being managed by someone else, but when we arrived and picked up a mooring yesterday Larry came alongside in a dinghy to say hello. He and Sherry have sold the gallery and moorings but still live on another boat moored there. Unfortunately, the new owners of the gallery got into some kind of a tax dispute with the Tongan government, abandoned the gallery, and left the country. The gallery barge is still on a mooring but it is shuttered.

The winds came up last night as forecast. This anchorage is not quite as protected as Hunga because the wall of land to windward is only forty feet high. We can hear the wind whistling through the rigging at the top of Van Diemen's mast, but down on deck it is calm.

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Cold Beer

0800 Position 18-39S 173-59W. On a mooring off Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga

We powered back into the mooing field in Neiafu late yesterday morning and picked up a ball off of the Aquarium Café. Rob borrowed Doc's cell phone and called the refrigeration system's manufacturer in California. It was Saturday here in Tonga but Friday in the US. The tech guy there gave him some leads to follow, and Rob went back to work. He discovered that the controllers for the compressors, which were supposed to operate on twelve volt power, were only seeing one point seven volts at the controllers. We traced the power supply wire back to the twelve volt panel and couldn't find any breaks. The terminals looked fine and were well secured. Why was there a ten volt drop from one end of the wire to the other? A short in one of the controllers could explain the voltage drop, but a short also would have tripped the breaker, and it hadn't tripped.

After another call to California, Rob decided to bypass the installed 12 volt power supply cable with a temporary cable strung across the cabin floor. Success! The fridge and freezer units, which share the same power cable, now worked. That explained why both failed at the same time, but where was the fault in the cable? More digging in the bilges followed, and Rob found that one of the wires had burned through from friction at a bulkhead where another cable had been pulled past it while being installed. Rob replaced the damaged portion of the cable, removed the jumper, and the problem was solved. It only took a day to diagnose and fix…. "Cruising"…

Our other reason for returning to civilization was to get WIFI. We went ashore late yesterday afternoon to discover that the city had been without power for most of the day. Word was it should be restored before nightfall. Civilization indeed.

As I write this the rest of the crew is ashore enjoying the Sunday morning church services. The Tongans are a very religious people with every flavor of Christianity represented in the community. They really know how to sing, and I'm told that Tongan services are quite entertaining. I'm sitting here trying to recover from a gout attack that has been coming on for a few days in the same toe joint that was bothering me previously.

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Friday, August 4, 2017


0800 Position 18-43S 174-02W. At anchor of Nuku, the King's Favorite Island, Vava'u, Tonga

Van Diemen had a couple of Australian visitors yesterday from the other cruising boats. First Adrian from a French built hard chined aluminum sloop came by. He had expressed an interest in seeing Van Diemen the night before at the Tongan Feast. Adrian bought his boat on the coast of Australia from a Frenchman who "walked away from it". The previous owner left everything behind, including clothing. "We are still wearing his foul weather gear, and his shorts fit me too!" Adrian has two other partners in the boat, so that means there are three skippers aboard. "It is working out so far," he claimed.

Our second visitor was Bruce from "Haven", a forty foot fiberglass sloop. Bruce and I had discussed cruising in Fiji's Lau Group during the Tongan Feast. We are looking for information about the islands in anticipation of going there. Bruce hadn't been to the Laus either, but he had some cruising guidance for the area on a thumb drive and brought it over for me to download. Bruce and his wife are heading west for home and have almost completed a multi-year circumnavigation. We will likely bump into them somewhere in Fiji.

By mid day all the other cruising boats had departed, and it was time for us to go too. We powered a couple of miles east to Nuku, reputed to be the Tongan King's favorite island, and anchored.

They say that "cruising" is "working on your boat in exotic locations". This cruise of the Van Diemen has been surprisingly non-compliant with that definition until yesterday afternoon. We noticed that the generator was bogging down during the short hop to Nuku. Rob figured it was being starved of fuel and changed the generator's fuel filter after we anchored. Changing the filter appeared to solve the bogging problem but after starting the generator I noticed that the refer and freezer weren't cycling on as they normally do. Rob has been digging through the guts of the boat ever since trying to figure out why. Things are so desperate this morning that we even dug out the manuals. In the mean time, the temperature in the ice box and freezer continue to creep up threatening to spoil everything inside them.

We can't see the connection between the problems with the generator and the problems with the refrigerator and freezer, but coincidences like this are rare. We also can't figure out why both the freezer and refrigerator have failed. They are two stand alone systems. Hmmm. Stay tuned.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Tongan Feast

0800 Position 18-43S 174-04W. At anchor of Matamaka Village, Vava'u, Tonga

The Van Diemen crew spent another lazy morning enjoying the serenity of the Hunga lagoon. At 230PM, close to high tide, we weighed anchor and headed for the pass. This time Rob saw no less than thirteen feet of water as we exited the lagoon. Piece of cake.

We powered south around the end of Hunga and past "The Blue Lagoon", one of the few shallow sandy bottomed areas in Vava'u, and turned east toward Matamaka Island. At about the halfway point we stopped to watch a humpback whale, but he wasn't in performance mode so we didn't stick around. By 4PM Van Diemen was anchored off of Matamaka Village.

There weren't any other boats anchored off of the village, and I wondered if the Tongan Feast was going to happen. I couldn't see the village going to all the effort of putting on a feast for a single boat's crew, but soon thereafter the fleet started to arrive. By 6PM there were five boats moored off of the village and heading to shore in their dingies.

"Kalo" met us at the pier and took us on a tour of his village. The houses were simple but modern, similar to what you'd see in other third world countries. There was no road, just a foot path through the center of the village. Each house had a water catchment system with a small swimming pool sized plastic tank next to it and a stand alone solar system consisting of a single solar panel and battery on a steel frame in a concrete foundation. The solar-battery systems were built by the Japanese government. The solar systems are large enough to charge cell phones and provide emergency lighting and not much else. We saw a lot of dogs, but only a few of the village's inhabitants and no pigs. Pigs are everywhere in Vava'u, but some of the remote villages have banned them from the populated parts of the island.

We caught up with the other cruisers on the lawn outside the village community center. We met sailors from England, Australia, and New Zealand. There was also a couple from Dallas, Texas, who were paying guests on one of the Australian boats. They arranged the two week Vava'u charter on-line and had just arrived four days earlier. An interesting group.

The villagers showed us how they make baskets from coconut fronds, mats from pandanus, and kava. Kalo brewed the kava much like tea is made using a cheese cloth filter, squeezing water through it with his bare hand in plastic bucket. It left me wondering where his hand had been lately. The braver cruisers tried the kava.

Dinner was served inside the community center after an interesting prayer by Kalo about communicating with God via VHF radio. Hmmm. Whatever floats your boat. A buffet of breadfruit, curry chicken, potato, oysters, sweet and sour pork, and a few different kinds of salad was provided. Conspicuously absent was roast pork. The centerpiece of any traditional Tongan Feast is a roast suckling pig on a spit. That was the case for all three Tongan Feasts I attended while cruising here in 2014. It takes a lot of effort to roast a pig. Apparently the Tongans have figured out that they don't have to make that effort and the cruisers will still be happy. The missing roast pork was disappointing to me, but the other cruisers didn't know the difference.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Mary Poppins, Tongan Style

3 August. Vaka 0800 Position 18-42S 174-08W. At anchor in the Hunga lagoon, Vava'u, Tonga

Late yesterday morning an elderly local guy in a dugout canoe came by for a visit. "Vaka" was very friendly, spoke English well, and his canoe was a piece of art work. It was built the way the Tongans built canoes 500 years ago, except he probably shaped it with a chain saw instead of an adz. After chatting for a while he said "Do you like fruit?" and he produced a bag of passion fruit and what he said was an apple from his backpack. Rob agreed to buy them. "How about papayas? You like papayas?" We said we did, and he agreed to return later with some.

The boys went ashore for a hike in the early afternoon. There is a narrow trail up the steep hillside to the top of the hill where a four wheel drive track runs the length of the island. We walked along the road to the south end of the island where there is a nice beach exposed to the open ocean to the south. I've hiked there half a dozen times always hoping to find a glass ball on the rarely visited beach. No luck again, but it is a beautiful place.

Late in the afternoon Vaka showed up again in his canoe. Rob invited him aboard and he sat down in the cockpit to visit. He opened his backpack and produced a couple of papaya and three coconuts. "How much do I owe you for all the fruit?" Rob asked.

"You help my family. There is no price. You decide how much you want to help my family and give me" Vaka said. Hmmm, guilt trip. This guy was good.

Rob paid him for the fruit and we chatted some more. Vaka was born on Hunga as were his parents and grandparents. His grandfather had started a pearl farm in the lagoon. "You like pearls?" Vaka asked.

"Well, sure!" somebody replied.

Vaka's backpack was the equivalent of Mary Poppin's carpet bag. He had a department store's worth of stuff to sell in there and from it he produced a plastic bag full of baroque pearls, black, white, and pink. "All these pearls I grow" Vaka told us.

He had necklaces, earings, and single pearls. He laid them all out and after much examination, discussion, and bargaining, a couple of black pearl necklaces were purchased. Vaka threw in a pair of black pearl earings as "a present".

Vaka said he was going fishing after dark last night outside the lagoon for wahoo and mahi mahi. He agreed to stop by this morning to sell some fish to us if they caught anything. He departed Van Diemen lighter and richer and everybody was happy.

The anchorage here is very quiet. When the trades are strong we can hear the wind in the trees on top of the ridge behind us. It almost sounds like surf on a barrier reef. There are no other sounds except the occasional bird song or the splash of a fish jumping. Every evening at exactly twenty minutes after sunset it seems like a switch gets flipped and the quiet turns to chaos as the island behind us comes alive with the sound of cicadas. Millions of the insects start making a deafening noise at exactly the same time. Twenty minutes later the noise stops just as abruptly. Weird.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017


0800 Position 18-42S 174-08W. At anchor in the Hunga lagoon, Vava'u, Tonga

Yesterday morning some local boys came by Van Diemen in a skiff and did a good job talking up the "Tongan Feast" that will be held on their island of Matamaka on Thursday night. The crew decided that it sounded like fun so we are planning to attend.

In the meantime the forecast calls for increasing trade winds. We wanted to do some exploring but need to anchor someplace sheltered. One of my favorite Tongan hidy holes when the trades are up is the totally landlocked lagoon on Hunga. The only entrance to this mile long by half mile wide lagoon is a heart stopping 150 foot wide crack in the cliff on the western side of the lagoon. A sharp turn as you pass through the narrowest part of the channel is necessary to keep from hitting the stones just inside the entrance. It was always an exciting passage on my little thirty five foot Moku pe'a. On sixty four foot Van Diemen it was ridiculously tight, but we made it unscathed. I'm glad Rob was driving.

Once through the pass Van Diemen entered a calm lake surrounded by a panorama of cliffs. We powered over to the eastern edge of the lagoon and anchored off a white sand beach in the lee of a high hill. There is a village and a small resort on the northern edge of the lagoon, but the rest is uninhabited. We can't see any sign of habitation from our anchorage. All night long we could hear the strong winds in the coconut trees on top of the ridge above us but where we are anchored it is flat calm. It is so calm here that this morning that Rob and Rene decided to inflate their stand up paddle boards. As I write this they are off exploring the sheltered eastern edge of the lagoon.

Lori and I spent a lot of time here in 2014. The entrance is so sketchy that it scares most boats away and we were usually the only boat in the lagoon, just like last night. We had great times hiking and exploring ashore too. Lori and I transplanted a young ti plant from just behind the beach here to a vase on Moku pe'a's saloon table. Our little memento, "Hunga", is still growing happily there three years later.

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