Sunday, September 25, 2005

Now it's personal

Okay, now I'm on a quest to find out if it's even possible for me to sail from Fiji to Australia. I don't care what it takes, as long as I can get back in time to get back for Halloween.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I think I'm leaving today

I think I'm leaving for Australia today. We'll see. I moved my return ticket back to Oct 10, which I really didn't want to do, and it cost $50.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Fed up

Okay, I'm in Lautoka, and I'm about fed up. If we don't leave by
Monday, I'm going to jump ship. There's too many coconut trees to be
climbed and fish to be speared to wait around for a free trip to australia where I won't even have a couple days to visit.

I got an email from Brett today that cheered me up. He's the only one besides my Mom and Kelsey (and Joe) that's writ me.

Had a really high tech curry with roti for a late breakfast. Way too much food too early in the morning however tasty. I saw my reflection in the mirror at the restaurant and nearly jumped back. Looking a bit wild, and no doubt no sweeter smelling.

At least it keeps the ladies at bay.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Musket Cove

I thought I'd posted at least 1 more letter but it's not showing.

I've been in Musket Cove on Malololeilei island the past few days. It's pretty deluxe. It's a fancy resort, but we stay for $10 a day, moored in the harbor. $5 gets you a yacht club membership, and you can use the pool, and all the equipment, which includes free windsurfers, but there hasn't been any wind the last couple days.

There is great snorkling around here, and nice beaches if you're into that sort of thing.
I made a spear from a stick and tried my hand at spearfishing, to no luck yet. I think I might buy some elastic rope and fashion a spear gun. I dove deep (about 20 feet) to get a cowry and see if I could.

I've mastered climbing coconut trees and opening coconuts with a machete. The german girl Alan picked up as crew calls me a monkey. The Spaniards we met, Pablo & Miguel & Paola, who's a real beauty, and a Canadian girl, call me a real adventurer. They want to do my survival tour when I get it going. I think they think I'm a real life beach comber. I'm starting to look the part, with a shaggy hairdo, about a weeks worth of beard, a red face and tan, and various battle scars. The one think I'm missing is a flat belly, having eaten remarkably well all the while.

I've been fetching & opening coconuts for resort guests and taking people to the nice corals for diving and identifying fish. I should probably get paid, or at least be allowed to play on the staff volleyball team, which thoroughly trounced the yachties and resort guests in a tournament yesterday.

There are hobie cat races today, but I spent all morning scrubbing the hull of the boat with a brush and my snorkle. My knuckles are bloody from the barnacles. I also managed to bung up my elbow, and I've been limping with a gash in my right foot from treading on corals I think. I want to rent a windsurfer, but there's been no wind.

We (the german girl, Sabine, and me) were eaten alive in the village we found on Malolo island across the channel when we went exploring. Not by the villagers; by mosquitos. But there's practically none at the resort. They must spray. She's teaching me to play guitar. I'm working on "One" by U2. She wants me to teach her the riff from "Smells like teen spirit." That should take 2 seconds, though she doesn't understand power chords, having learned the propper way to play already.

We should leave for Lautoka to pick up the (hopefully repaired) starter motor and a new autopilot tomorrow. And then check out and leave maybe Friday or Saturday. I'm not getting my hopes up. Alan likes it here and is in no rush, and I suspect the autopilot may not work still.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

No, not really

I knew it! We're still in Fiji, but in Nadi. Alan likes it alot better because there's plenty of sun and islands with nice reefs and beaches. But they're starting to look for someone to throw overboard to remove the curse.

What happened was, in the middle of the night, while me and Alan are piloting in shifts, the port engine breaks. So after going miles south, we turn back north to Nadi and limp back in to Fiji. Turns out to be the starter, and we got it fixed the first day, but it meant going back up to Lautoka and checking in to customs and

Anyway, it looks like I'll miss my New Caledonia time except for a day or two, but we'll spend it in the west of Fiji anchoring off resorts and snorkling and spear fishing (as opposed to doing the same off of remote island villages in New Cal)

Also, alan decided after 1 long night to go ahead and order a new autopilot so that we don't have to have any more long nights followed by tired days. We're also taking on a new crew, some dude from Oregon named timothy. Me and Alan were both hoping we'd get a reply from the swedish gal who had a posting.

So we'll stay here for a week and wait for the part and catch the regatta at Mustket Cove this weekend which should be fun. And probably bump into Tony there or at Beachcomber, where I think we're going tonight.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Really Leaving this time (I think)


No? Well, maybe not *really* really, but I think we'll be going this afternoon or first thing tomorrow morning. At least as far as musket cove. There's really nothing we can do here but wait. Alan is beyond pissed at being caught in Suva's rain pit for a full month now. If we have to wait, we might as well wait on the west side where it's dry and we're 2 weeks behind his schedule and there's a Raytheon dealer in New Caledonia, so at most it'll probably be a week chained to the wheel.

I'm not worried, but I'm a little bummed that I won't have time to practice my guitar. And we'll probably cut short any idyllic island pitstops.

And I lost my flippers. I think I left them on the minibus I rode over from Nadi to Suva. Woe, woe, woe!

No big deal. I can swim without them, just not as fast.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

And now it's back to Suva

on a minibus after two hours internet. and a bus ride from Denarau that cost 65 cents.

Bobbing for spears

When I got back to the boat, the Birmies were quite "merry" as they put it, but I was there just in time for dinner: A brilliant chili with rice made by Vic. Tony broke open the bottle of wine without hesititaion that he'd been saving since he bought the boat. It was a good night.

We got to talking about fishing and he decided he needed to show Matty and Me his speargun, which he loaded and launched into the bay. But he'd forgotted to attach the line to the gun (it must have frayed the teflon cable, he decided) and so, before long, he was out in the water, 10 to 15 feet deep, in the middle of the night, diving in search of his missing spear.

Before long, Matty joined him, and I managed to pursuade myself not to, knwing it was a futile task. After an hour, they surrendered, and retured to the boat shivvering and wet.

But first thing in the morning, Matt rowed the dinghy out till he found our exact position from the night before with the aid of a handheld GPS and coordinates they'd written down the night before. From there, it should have been 20 yards or so to the northwest, by our best wild guess. I jumped in and headed for the spot, determined to be a hero. Tony went straight down and pulled up the spear immediately. There was only about 6" visibility in the green water, and he said as soon as he touched down, he put his hand on it.

So I got wet for nothing, but maybe it helped me smell better, even though it was dirty water.
I do admit, I've gotten quite a kick wandering around the Sheraton, which has real flushing toilets, looking like a shipwrecked tomato.

A Taxi Ride at night

A wedding was taking place right by the small dock where we pulled ashore. Tony brazenly walked up and asked someone where the nearest store was and we wandered around till we found it.

While they stocked up on food and booze, I called Alan and found I had a message from Laisa. So I called her, and found out it was her birthday. Would I like to come and hang out with her and her cousins? Sure.

So after we went back to the boat, I told the Birmies that I had a hot date that night. They decided to stay aboard and drink gin and tonic instead of going ashore and partying with the natives. No problem. Tony offered me his nicest shirt, which Vic decided smelled worse clean than my dirty one (the mildew smell went away after a swim and sun dry.) But it was too small in the shoulders anyway.

I caught a taxi to town ($10) from the Sheraton and was supposed to meet Laisa at 9. She wasn't there, and it was a sketchy part of town and I didn't feel like waiting around, so I spent another $10 to get to Nasoso village. There, no one seemed to know who she was (she'd just moved there a week before) but they all remembered her sister Suzie's wedding from a couple weeks before.

There were plenty of people to ask, because the taxi driver managed to put his front tires in a ditch from which I could not extricate him. With enough guys, we lifted the front end back onto the road and I went back to town with him.

I'd left my wallet, and just brought some cash in case I got mugged, so I'd forgotted Laisa's phone number. I took a couple of guesses, but no luck. Oh well. I ended up spending $40 for a taxi ride. That would have gotten me to Suva and with enough change left over for dinner. I also spent $10 on a telecard for less than 10 minutes.

Lessons: don't catch taxis at expensive resorts, and don't give your phone away that you got for just that purpose.

Red feet

I got sunburned sitting on deck and reading a "fishes of the Pacific coast" book. It wasn't too bad, because I tried to hide in the shade of the mast, but I fell asleep and woke up to burning red feet.

When we turned south to Denarau, the wind finally picked up and we put up the Genoa (oversize front) sail and cruised into the bay. The water turned green, unfortunately, and we had to park a ways out, since it got quite shallow. We all four piled into tony's little rubber dinghy, and rowed clumsily ashore.

A good swim

I swam out to the boat at night while Tony rowed Matty out to give it a look (after they were hooked, but before the price had been set.) They're going to crew with him at the regatta this weekend, and stay aboard for 2 weeks. They're like 3 peas in a pod. Tony owes me big time, though he doesn't know it, since he never would have done it without my encouragement, but he owes luck even more for the crew he got.

The reason I decided to swim out was, well, I hadn't swam in the ocean yet since I'd got to Fiji, and my shirt stank of mildew, having been washed in Suva, but put in a bag for three days instead of drying, because it was constant rain.

I swam back and dripped dry in front of the fire dancers and the cover band while the Birmies all chatted about home. I was making eyes with short girl with short hair with a mean expression on her face and a gorgeous friend with a significant butter face.

Finally, Vic pulled me out of my shell and got me talking politics. Apparently, they teach it in school over in britain that the moon landing was faked. And people are pretty much into whatever conspiracy is out there, foreswearing the Da Vinci Code and Fahrenheit 911, but then quoting from them.

Matty said, "The thing is, in America, you have no independent media." I just laughed. He'd been quoting things directly from the America media obtained secondhand, via his State owned media monopoly. I told him all the media was independent, except for one network, and that was controlled by the opposition party, not the government. I told him even if all the networks really were pawns, that we even have the BBC and Al Jazeera.

He said that he didn't mean the BBC, so I asked if he meant Murdoch's News Corp (Fox here.) No, he meant like Channel 4. He didn't even konw that that was a part of the BBC.

Anyway, we got along well. The came aboard the next day and I went swimming in the reef all morning. I went ashore to get a drink to wash the salt out of my mouth just in time to see the short haired girl saying goodbye to all the staff, and asking for one gal by name. She must have been there a while. She even said goodbye to me, and then just before getting on the ferry, turned around and took my picture.

Maybe I was just in the middle of the frame. Anyway, I swam back out to the boat and we puttered along to Nadi.

Birmies at Beachcomber Island

We made it safely to Beachcomber, giving the island a wide berth of almost a mile, and coming in cautiously from the south, which we found out afterwards was unnecessary, but we were happy to be careful after our earlier scare.

The inflatable kayak took us ashore where we stumbled up to the bar, trying to get our land legs. We looked around for a bit while Tony had a beer, and then went up to the reception and told them our story. They were happy to sell us drinks and let us anchor offshore, as I'd hoped they'd be.

We sat around waiting for evening, expecting a crowd to develop as it got later, since it was Friday night, and Beachcomber Is. had a reputation as a party spot. Instead, at 5:30, about half the people loaded up on the ferry boat and went home.

Finally, Tony worked up the nerve to start a conversation with a couple at the next table. We had our script all planned out, describing our night run, Tony's solo trip, how we'd met in Suva, etc. We asked them how much it cost to stay here, and when they told us, Tony set the hook. First with a teasing tug: "I'd let you stay on the boat cheaper than that." Then a jiggle: "I'd even take you around and teach you to sail."

The boy's eyes lit up, "I'd like that, really i would."

And we reeled them in. I played them up first, telling them Tony needed any money he could get. Then I played against it, telling Tony they were robbing him. They settled on $60 a day, plus food, which they were happy to buy groceries.

It turned out that they were British. Matty & Vic (Vicky), and from Birmingham. And frequented the same haunts as Tony. Matty was in IT, too (Alan's observation that everyone out here was in computers held up.) So they taked about their old stomping grounds all night. Matty was a student helicopter pilot too, so we had something to talk about, as well, though those of you konw, at parties & clubs, I'm pretty much a stick in the mud.

A close call with donuts

We hit the hay as soon as we anchored at Lautoka. As soon as he was up (and while I was still asleep,) Tony made a run for customs to get a cruising permit, but just missed them. He says he showed up at 4:25 and they said they were closed. He asked when the closed, and they told him 4:30. It takes about 2 minutes to fill out the paperwork.

Government beaurocrats are the same everywhere.

So we had to spend that night in Lautoka with the soot from the sugar mill raining down on us.

One of the reasons I'd gone with Tony was to help him out by paying for fuel, etc. As well as to provide an extra pair of hands, which he wasn't too worried about, having sailed so far on his own already, but greatly appreciated on that night run where we averaged about 7 1/2 knots. That's about 9 miles an hour, very fast.

I'd talked him into trying to charter his boat. I was sure it'd be easy. Just drop into a hotel, mingle at the bar, and eventually say: "I have a yacht! Wanna come out?"

That's how easy it was.

After clearing customs first thing in the mroning we set out under motor, put-putting to what I reckoned was beachcomber, based on the small map in my Lonely Planet. The plan was, if the wouldn't let us dock there, we'd go on to Denarau in Nadi and maybe try going to one of the backpacker hotels, and maybe pick them up for a fare back to Beachcomber Island.

Beachcomber is the moderately expensive backpacker designated party island. At $85 a night for the 200 person dorm, it's not cheap. But that includes meals, though not drinks, as I'd heard a couple years ago. I wasn't sure what kind of reception we'd get, not being paying guests, but figured the worst they could do was chase us off and we'd head on to Nadi.

We looked at the chart, guessed which island it was, and set a course on the autopilot. Except for a close call while making donuts, we puttered along uneventfully. Whilst frying said donuts, ("Tony's South Sea Donuts" franchises are available in your area now!) the depth finder warning went off, and we burst above decks to find we were no more than 10 yards from rocks on either side. I rushed to the bow to look out ahead, and saw a looking yellow reef just ahead as Tony cut the engines.

"Which way?" he asked.

"Backwards!" I shouted.

"I can't hear you when you're head's turned."

"Throw it in reverse. Reef dead ahead less than 10 feet."

"It's in reverse."

When we looked at the computer chart, the gps showed us right on the edge of a reef way out around a tiny island, and right nezxt to our position was a shipwreck marker.

The donuts were excellent. The local sugar, while flecked with light brown, has a very slight molasses flavor, and is the perfect complement to it, with a mug of tea with milk, quite British.

A long night at sea

So I was sitting in Suva Harbor aboard Alan's boat, about to have dinner. Tony, a young british guy who's sailing across the Pacific solo (after his girlfriend who convinced him to get the boat bailed at the Marqueses, the first stop after Mexico, and by far the longest leg of the trip) had been coming over almost every evening, and said he was finally getting out of Suva and going to Nadi & Musket Cove for the regatta there next (this) week. He's a bit strapped for cash, so I made him an offer to crew for him for the cost of fuel, food, etc., about $100. He snatched at it, and we were off first thing the next morning (after my head wounding.)

The winds were dead east, and we were heading southeast, and then east once we rounded Beqa (mBenga) island. The seas, 6 - 8 feet were slopping over port stern occasionally, and of course I got seasick right after breaking the rudder.

Actually, they've gotten smart nowadays, and when a hard pull to starboard meets a hard wave coming from the port stern, a clamp comes loose and the rudder doesn't break. But it doesn't work either, until you put the clamp back on and center the rudder and tighten it.

Easier said than done, especially when your inexperienced mate at the helm is having trouble telling right from left, or up from down, and all he wants is to pop, but he's only had a sour little
apple all morning, and his head is spinning.

But we made it eventually. Only the autohelm wasn't working. Oh well, it's only about a 24 hour trip, and once we turn east, we'll have the swell directly behind us and it won't be as rough, and once we get away from Suva, it'l stop raining. And the autohelm will work once the seas aren't so rough.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Okay, it was about a 24 hour trip, but we made it in 18, like a bat out of hell with the wind at our back. We waited around in front of the passage until morning so we could have good light to see the reefs. And then puttered our way in to Lautoka to arrive around 11. Twentey four hours straight. Constant rain, rough seas, gusty wind, and cold. About 50 degrees at night and soak from rain and seas over the cockpit. As we rounded the west end of Viti Levu about 5am, the waves got warmer and at sunrise, the sun came up and the seas started calming.

I was beat, even though I'd snuck a few minutes nap here and there. Tony did about 75% of the steering after about midnight when the fatigue hit me. I couldn't hold a course or think straight about how to turn the wheel. But then, after dawn, when you could actually see landmarks to steer by, I took the helm all the way in to Momi bay, where it was calm, and the autopilot started working.

You'll see how nackered I was when you see the video.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

At the Denarau Sheraton

outside Nadi, Fiji. Still haven't left for Oz.

I'm still on Tony's yacht "Devotion", but will catch a ride back to Suva tomorrow. I have a few posts to post, but internet is 25 cents a minute here. It's a very deluxe resort (in a mediocre deluxe location) aboard the ghettoest yacht in the harbor. The rest are all way flash, and all that's really wrong with Tony's boat is that it's 30 years old and a quite a bit dirty from being at sea for 9 months. It's just about what I'd be looking for. He paid $50,000 for it, and that's about my range.

I look like a beachcomber from hell -- the salt in my hair helps me to have a nice blonding afro, and I'm turning a nice reddish brown. This side of fiji has mucho sun.

Anyway, despite how I look, and how the boat looks, a yacht is a yacht, and we're still treated like ghetto kings of the high seas. But I can't affort to post more at these princely internet rates. I'll try to fill in a few more posts in Nadi tomorrow before going to Suva.

Their working titles are:

A long long night
Red Feet
Night Swimming