Bula, Bula - Tonga - here we come!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bula, Bula everyone!!

We headed out from NZ on 28th May - bound for Tonga. A nice BFH (big, fat high) sat over the ocean and there seemed to be little to remind us of the fateful Queen Mothers Birthday Storm of a few years ago when so many yachts and lives were lost in the very same stretch of ocean.

Before long it became obvious that the new under deck autopilot decided it didn't want to play, so we altered course for Fiji. No sane cruiser wants to be without the most important crew member - Otto (auto). Luckily we had an electric wheel which actually managed very well.

After about 3 days we started to get some pretty strong winds and the seas became less than comfortable. We reefed down 3 times and ended up with a tiny mainsail and no foresail - and still found ourselves making good speed at over 5 knots!

Under tow going into Suva harbour on our arrival in Fiji

At the entrance to Suva harbour - reefs on either side clearly evidenced by the wrecks of large ships – we started the engine. Suddenly we became aware of diesel fumes and at the same time heard a gushing noise and the automatic bilge pump started up. Mike investigated, and found the exhaust pipe (newly constructed by our new installer and mechanical expert) between the exhaust and the engine had failed and exhaust fumes and water were gushing everywhere.

We called up the Port Captain on the VHF and asked for help - this was Fiji remember, post coup - and, not unexpectedly - they were unable to assist. BUT - oh, joy - a friend at anchor in the harbour said he'd come out and tow us in! Some time later (we had drifted about 5 miles) we were rescued by Nancy and Berger in company with Don from Lutana 2 on the good ship Halakei. It is SOOOOO amazing what one's yachtie friend's will do to help out - we are so very grateful.

Kava root on sale in the local market - ready to be made into the local hooch

Fiji quarantine officials came to our boat much later in the afternoon and gave us all the papers to complete for formal entry into the country. They told us to be at Customs early on Monday morning to finish the process. At the same time we were charged 106 Fiji dollars for their ferry trip out to us. This charge was the same for each yacht - even if the ferry visited three or four at once. No wonder there are so few yachts checking in at Suva

Fantastic flowers selling on the local market.

On Monday – when we went to finish our paperwork with Customs and Immigration - we ran afoul of the local "Manager - Border Control" a nasty bully with an attitude. He lectured and threatened us and we had to make formal written statement about how we had entered the country. A little unsettling as we try particularly hard to conform to local customs and rules everywhere we go - and in this case we had merely followed instructions from another official.

Overlooking Musket Cove resort and the yachts in Fiji

Our liferaft was overdue to be serviced - it costs a lot less here than New Zealand (someone remind me why we went to NZ? Just to spend a lot of money?). A valve was broken which may have been faulty since we got it. However - new flares - torch batteries, and a hermetically sealed pouch and we were as good as new - and a few hundred dollars poorer!

Mike dismantled the exhaust system and had it re welded so that we could at least run the engine.

Colourful Temple in Nadi

When all is said and done – it’s great to be out in the islands again. It's hot (joy after NZ) very humid and extremely wet here in Suva, but the local market is vibrant with all the veggie stalls, barrow boys vying to move your heavy purchases, pickpockets on the make! Lots of assorted fruit and veg - cauliflower, cabbage, tomato, celery, cucumber, beans, some sprouting beans - oranges, mandarin, limes, banana, lots of coconut, tallo - other mysterious roots and even a few tender baby lettuces. We even saw octopus the other day and although I haven't visited the fish market it is probably excellent as well. There are fresh bread stalls – supermarkets, hundreds of little shops selling all manner of goods. One can buy the latest DVD movies, have clothes made overnight, and sample all the varieties of local cuisine.

Indian food, sparkly clothes and beautiful gold jewelry is everywhere, Hindu and Moslem and Fijian mix and mingle. The Fijian women dress head to toe in bright, vibrant colours with huge floral patterns; the Indian and Muslim women are very recognizable in their dress style.

We dress conservatively - it may not be quite so important in the ‘big city’ of Suva, but elsewhere we cover our shoulders and knees. In the villages we are required to present a gift of kava to the chief and sample the liquor of same gift in a formal sevusevu ceremony. In addition we cannot wear hats, sunglasses or backpacks. The early missionaries invaded and certainly left their mark on these islandes.

Women from the northern Banks islands came to a local pool to demonstrate their water music

When after several delays our exhaust was repaired we made plans to sail around the bottom of the island towards the town of Lautoka and prove to ourselves that there really is sunshine on the other side of the island! Suva has to be just about the most rained upon place on the globe! I read that here we can expect temperatures of about 20 - 26 with approximately 4.3 sun hours per day in July. We will receive about 160mm of rain each day, with about 17 rain days each month.

Fern carving on a street in Port Villa, Vanuatu

There are 333 islands in Fiji, discovered by Europeans in 17th century. Captain Bligh – the infamous mutineer was set adrift near here but was scared away by frightening cannibal natives! East Indians were brought in some time ago to labour on the sugar cane plantations.

When we arrived on the sunny side of the island we arranged to have another so called expert have a look at our exhaust system in Vuda Point Marina. He suggested a flexible stainless tubing set up which we agreed to, and subsequently had fitted. We liked the marina and it’s proximity to the pleasant town of Lautoka. Here we made new friends, enjoyed delicious cake and coffee in the cafĂ© which also provided free internet, and spent several pleasant “happy hours’ watching for the ‘green flash’ as the sun set over the ocean.

We saw the little narrow gauge railway train that services the area around Lautoka taking the freshly cut cane to the factory. When the winds blows in our direction all the boats get covered in the sticky black residue form the factory burning.

Vanuatu carvings on doslpay in the local museum, Port Villa

Friends recommended a visit to a nearby resort – Musket Cove. This was glorious – a true holiday island! We hiked the island daily, swam in the pristine saltwater pool, socialized in the island bar that provided all the accoutrements for wonderful barbeques. We swam on the nearby reefs, lazed in the sunshine and thoroughly enjoyed two weeks of pure idleness. Wonderful!

Back to reality and we began preparations to make another passage to Vanuatu. We left Musket Cove with the Island Cruising Association – a rally of about 15 boats heading west. Unfortunately our auto pilot misbehaved and we turned back when Mike noticed that there was a leak at the rudderstock. Vuda Point wasn’t far away and we headed there for another round of repairs.

Kustom headdress worn by islanders during their celebration dances

Eventually we were ready and departed in company with a Japanese boat. The 4 day trip was a bit rolly and uncomfortable and we motored a great deal of the way. Once again we became aware of fumes, but as the wind was coming over the back of the boat thought that the exhaust fumes were being blown back at us.

We pulled into Port Villa, cleared customs and went around the corner to the sheltered harbour where we picked up a mooring buoy. Mike investigated in the engine compartment and discovered that the flexible stainless tubing installed in Vuda Point had split and cracked.

This time it was a lot more difficult to find assistance and parts. Port Villa might be the largest town on Efate, but that isn’t saying much. Like Fiji, Vanuatu is a prime holiday destination for Australians and New Zealanders. Unlike Fiji it has very little industry apart from tourism. Mike’s enquiries led him to a mechanic who owns and runs an extensive truck and repair business in town. He and Mike eventually decided to change the set up and ordered a length of two inch diameter exhaust hose to come in on a shipment from Australia.

Vanuatu warrior.

The main language here in town is Bislami – a form of pidgin English – completely incomprehensible to my ears, but great fun to read in the newspapers and signs.

The peoples have, up to now, lived very traditionally in clan based villages, maintaining centuries old customs. There are tribal chiefs, intricate ceremonies, dances and feasts to mark every important occasion in the hundreds of individual cultures and languages still existing in the 83 islands that comprises Vanuatu. I am so disappointed to have missed visiting these islands and those of Fiji. These peoples cultures and traditions that are so different from what we are familiar with will disappear very quickly now that technology is invading everywhere.

Maybe we can come back next year to have a longer visit in these truly mysterious islands.