Monday, October 13, 2014

Beqa to Vuda

Beqa to Vuda
It was getting close to the time I was expected to be starting back at the Lautoka Hospital, so on Wednesday morning I pulled up the anchor and left Beqa at about 11am. I was once again trying to time my arrival at a pass, this time Navula Pass into Nadi waters, for daybreak Thursday. I had to traverse the Beqa lagoon first, about 12 miles, and then it was 55  nautical miles across the bottom of Viti Levu to the pass.

The wind was light at first, mainly because we were in the lee of Beqa, so it was an easy sail across the lagoon, though I was on constant anxious lookout for uncharted coral. At about 3.30  it was a huge relief to finally sail out of the lagoon into the pacific ocean, to feel a long low ocean swell rolling underneath and to have a moderate southerly breeze on the beam. It was predicted to strengthen and go to the southeast.  In fact, the sailing in the ocean was fantastic  for the first few hours but then the wind went further round behind and we developed quite a roll, heading west with the swells from the south. But it was still good to be on the ocean again.
Sunrise at Navula Pass

For once my timing was reasonable and as the sky lightened we were indeed approaching Navula pass, and I sailed into Nadi waters as the sun came over the hills. The wind had been easing for several hours and then it died altogether. I decided to have my breakfast and tidy up the boat and have a rest rather than drop the sails and start motoring the 18 remaining miles to Vuda Point. We drifted about for an hour or so and then a light breeze returned, it slowly picked up, by 10 we were sailing nicely for Vuda Point, and shortly after  2pm I was alongside in the marina.

I had a shower and at the marina restaurant, one of my favourite Fijian dishes, raw fish in coconut cream with spring onion and various spices. I checked my email to find out what Customs and Revenues latest offer was : there had been no progress at all. I was amazed, and disappointed.  I phoned a contact in the Health Department who was supposed to be pursuing Customs and Revenue  about it - he was hoping to speak with a senior official in the morning.

So I phoned him again the next afternoon. Overnight I had decided that I had had enough of all this mucking around - if nobody had been able to see the value for Fiji in scrapping their punitive Levy  so I could work for free, I would withdraw the offer. And so it proved to be: the officials were still refusing to make a decision - so I made mine, to save them the bother .

So now I would have to find something else to do to fill in the next six weeks. I could have been elated to have six weeks free to do whatever I liked, but instead I felt disappointment and sadness that I wouldn't be going back to the Hospital . I had enjoyed my time there and had been looking forward to going back.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


My near neighbours off RSYC
I didn't like the anchorage at RSYC because it was like being parked in a noisy junkyard. There were other sunken vessels nearby and not far astern of me a raft of ten aging chinese fishing boats, to and from which speedboats came and went disrupting my peace, and the boats themselves often had noisy engines running.

Ashore, I visited the shops and went to a movie. I spent an entire day trying to find some methylated spirits for my cooker - eventually I got some from a Chemist. It was not available at any hardware store or Petrol station, or at a liquor shop as was suggested by someone in the Hardware store. Everyone seems quite scared of the stuff, mentioning its hard to get because people sniff it.

Finally I lifted the anchor and sailed for a nearby island called "mbenga" - thug its written Beqa. Remarkably the wind was from the northeast, light at first  and slow but it gradually intensified to the predicted 15 - 20 knots, so it was a pleasant 20 mile downwind sail with just the main up.  I entered the reef protected waters around Beqa at about 3pm through Sulfur Pass then motored into a long narrow harbour, running north and south, and anchored in 12m well up past the village of Lalati on the western shore.
Suva to Beqa through Sulfur Pass
The gusty wind seemed to be funnelled into this harbour and buffeted the boat around quite a bit, and then later, just before dark massive storm clouds gathered over head and we had our first squall. Initially there were just brief gusts  of wind that would push  the boat back to strain on the anchor chain, but when the storm  proper arrived the wind accelerated and incredibly heavy rain flattened the sea and bounced off everything. I couldn't see my marks but checking on the GPS I realised we were dragging, with gusts up to 29 knots!  It looked like  we had shifted about 10 or 15 meters  over the first hour of the storm , fortunately parallel to the shoreline rather than closer to it, and we could have safely shifted along another 100 meters, so I let the rest of the chain out and that stopped us from dragging any further. A couple of hours later it was dark but the rain and wind had eased considerably and several hours after that, I woke from sleep to an absolutely windless midnight, the sky had cleared, the water was as calm as glass and the stars were perfectly reflected in it.  Such a dramatic contrast!

In the morning it was overcast but still,  so after my usual breakfast of cereal and coffee I inflated the  dinghy and went ashore to make "sevu sevu" at Lalati. "Sevu sevu" is a more or less formal ritual in which the visitors bring gifts to the traditional owners in return for permission to remain and enjoy their communities lands and waters. Lalati is a tiny village of about 20 worn out houses grouped on a grassy clearing around a large christian church.  I walked through and was directed to where the village Chief was - he was in a meeting at the school with  ten or twelve men sitting on the floor at his house.  A young man came and welcomed me, accepted the Kava that I had brought, and apologised that the chief could not come to greet me. I was free to go.

So I continued further out towards the lagoon to a Resort that had looked deserted when I went past the day before. It was not, but there wasn't a lot happening there. I booked to go on a snorkelling tour with them the next day, had a smoothie at their Bar and read my book, then eventually returned  to the boat.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Capital City - pun intended

Todays Weather Map
The marine weather forecast seemed to remain the same for days on end : a strong  wind warning for northern Vanua Levu , Vatu-i-ra and Kadavu Passages, and for everywhere else southeasterlies, 15 to 20 knots with moderate to rough seas.

At the north westerly corner of Koro, protected somewhat from these SE Trades, it was hard to know exactly what it was like out there, but my choices were limited if I didn’t want to go back the way I came. I had two weeks before I was supposed to be starting back at work in Lautoka and I didn’t want to get trapped somewhere by the weather, or be forced into sailing in risky weather to get back in time. I could go west to Makongai, an island that was once a leper colony, or to Ovalau which is where  Levuka, the former Capital of Fiji is, but from there, if the winds remained as they were, it would be impossible to sail south except rather slowly and uncomfortably by tacking into the “moderate to rough seas” something which I didn’t particularly want to do. So, instead I proceeded from Koro to the south west,  more or less on the same tack that had got me to Koro, close hauled making for Suva. This is a journey of about 80 nautical miles that would have to be an “overnighter” with a plan to arrive at the entrance to Suva harbor, a passage through the reef at daybreak the next morning.

The marker at the southern end of the reef surrounding Wakaya
The wind was a little stronger than forecast, with gusts to 23 knots but the seas weren’t rough. I stayed on Port tack the whole day, except for about half an hour on starboard to clear the reef extending south from Wakaya Island. During the night as we cleared the southernmost part of Viti Levu, Fijis main island , I  turned further westwards, eased the sheets and had a much smoother ride for the final 20 miles or so. It was so nice, in the dark, going a bit faster and rolling over the waves rather than going up and down them, that I  wished we could have just kept going like that, because now I could sleep better and it just all felt so nice.  Instead we had to heave to for an hour and wait for daylight.

I motored in to the area designated for yachts to anchor in front of the Royal Suva Yacht Club, and put the anchor down in 9 meters half way between another yacht and a sunken rusting wreck of a Japanese trawler, almost completely submerged , marked by a stick .

Daylight, and arrival provide a burst of energy that overrides the effects of an almost sleepless night and a long day of sailing – which is just as well because then I have to heave the rolled up dinghy out of the forward hatch, pump it up and launch it and then put the outboard motor on unless the distance to shore is less than 100 yards or so, in which case its simpler to row. Ashore, I paid my membership - $FJD20 – and got a key for the shower. After the shower, and arranging my laundry, I had a fruit smoothie and then a pie, and headed back to the boat to  rest, to tidy up, and to check email.
Anchored off Royal Suva Yacht Club
The correspondence I was most interested in was a trail now reaching nearly 40 emails between myself and various Customs and Taxation department officials : I had been trying to find out from them since August if they were going to make me pay for the privilege of working in their hospital for nothing, as they had the previous time, or would they consider waiving the Duty altogether. Their issue was the regulation that states that any foreigner with a boat in Fiji is only exempt from paying import Duty if he remains a “bona fide” tourist. If the owner becomes an “employee” – and they had decided that working for free at the hospital would make me an “employee”  and I would no longer be a “bona fide” tourist – then the owner becomes liable for the Duty. The Professor and the Departmental head at Lautoka had written  to the department, but still the emails went round and round from one bureaucrat to another and back again, and no decision was forthcoming: till now! Someone decided  finally that YES I would be expected to pay the duty but they would make it at a concessional rate!  I emailed back and asked them to specify  exactly what that would convert to in actual dollar terms, and after another 4 or 5 emails I finally had the answer, that Friday as I arrived in Suva : $FJD 12,450.00.

Yes, twelve thousand, four hundred and fifty dollars!

So I phoned the Professor and apologized to him – I could not work at Lautoka as planned. “Don’t worry” he said, no doubt thinking of all the connections he had with Government  ministers and officials “ We still have a week, leave it with me, I am sure we can sort something out”

Friday, October 3, 2014

Blood Pressure Therapy

Savu Savu From the Air - Sapphire out of view to the left
I visited an Eye Specialist that I knew in Australia and he agreed entirely with the diagnosis and management of Dr Okonkwe in Nigeria. He reinforced the necessity to keep my blood pressure well controlled and stay on low dose aspirin.

The next day I flew to Fiji and he day after that to Sapphire, back in Savu Savu, the real Paradise. I had three weeks to go sailing and get the boat back to Vuda Marina in time to start work again back at the Hospital in Lautoka.

After tidying up and checking all was OK on board, and taking my time about it, and then getting the necessary Coastal Cruising Permit, I sailed out of Savu Savu intending to make my first stop at a place called Fawn Harbour, about 20 miles east along the coast of Vanua Levu.  To do this one first sails south to East Point then turns to Port, heading East to Fawn Harbour. I wanted to go there because I liked the name, it wasn't far, and it looked interesting on the charts, a narrow channel through the coral reef opening up into a flower shaped harbour. My plan was to make a series of day-time sailing trips, destinations and timing depending on weather. Arriving at anchorages well before sunset is mandatory in these coral reef-strewn, and incompletely charted waters.

Turning east around East Point proved impossible - the wind was easterly - from right in front, thought not very strong  - so I continued on Port well out from the coast. After a couple of hours I thought about tacking back - it looked like I might be able to lay Fawn harbour -so I did but after half an hour it was obvious I was not. In fact, on checking I was still 20 miles away from my destination and it was five hours till sunset - clearly  I would not get to Fawn Harbour at a safe hour - even motoring would not get me there in time - and I hate doing that anyway - so I reconsidered my options.
Approaching Koro
Directly in front, only 16 miles away,was the island of  Koro, about a third of the way across from Vanua Levu to Viti Levu, the two big islands that make up Fiji. My aged (1996) Cruising Guide described an anchorage in an isolated bay at the north western corner - and I tacked back onto Port and made for it. The other option would have been to go back to Savu Savu. It was a lovely sail, a warm breeze not more than about 12 knots, a calm sea, and for once I was not close hauled and bashing into it. I had noticed the Log wasn't working - some weed  must have grown around it and prevented the little wheel from turning that gives the readout of how fast we are going - and I had decided not to do anything about it - until now. I went below and unscrewed it from the floor of the boat - water floods in the hole it comes out of but a special plug is provided to stop that while I cleaned the wheel and had it spinning freely again - and then reinserted it and screwed it in tight. I  mopped up the half bucket of water and went out -Great! Now I could see our speed - around 5 knots.  An hour or so later I went below again for snacks - and found half a ton of water flooding the cabin, three inches deep -  somehow I hadn't screwed the log back in properly - I removed it and reinserted it, mopped out the flood and there were no further problems. I am becoming quite good at trying to sink the boat.

Later, my Blood Pressure back to normal, around 5pm, I dropped sail and motored through a tricky pass and around a corner into the bay I was expecting to be deserted - much had changed since 1996 - now there was resort with a long jetty thrusting out into the Bay, a row of thatched Bures along the beach and scattered among the dense tropical vegetation on the steep slopes of the Bay , numerous dwellings that had an "eco-sensitive" look about them, and five courtesy moorings, two of which were occupied. I always like it when I am spared the stress of firstly finding a suitable spot for an anchor, dropping the anchor and checking that it is holding, monitoring to make sure we are not dragging, worrying about being able to get the anchor back up when its time to leave, and the physical effort of hauling it back without a windlass - so it was a nice surprise to be able to idle up to a mooring ball and tie on, just as the sun was about to set.

It had been a great day of sailing.
Sunset at Koro