Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Perfect Day in the Blue Lagoon

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A few days ago we arrived in the upper Yasawa Islands, into a bay referred to as the Blue Lagoon.  As some of you may have guessed, it’s named after the movie that came out in 1980 starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins as shipwrecked, love-struck teens.   The anchorage is located just off of Nanuya-Sewa Island and it is just as beautiful as it was in my hazy memory of the movie.

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The view to the south of Nanuya-Sewa
We were soon surprised to find almost 20 boats in the anchorage, about half of which we knew!  We hadn’t seen this many boats in one place in all of Fiji apart from Savu Savu or Muscat Cove – so obviously this is a popular spot!  We were delighted to catch up with several friends here, especially Muwari who we hadn’t seen since May…

Brain Coral
Amazingly colorful coral
When we awoke on our first morning here the weather was as perfect as it gets.   Sunny skies with just a few clouds and a light breeze to keep you cool.  No rollers coming into the anchorage, sending the boat careening back and forth – just smooth water with Bella Vita barely moving on the glassy surface and the nearby reefs clearly visible through the bright blue water.  When I used to dream of what cruising would be like, this is almost exactly what I imagined!

Camo Fish
This shy little guy blends right in!
We soon decided that such a day deserved a reprieve from the long list of chores and odd jobs we address each day – that we should just enjoy and make the most of this seemingly perfect day.  So after breakfast we got together with John on Mystic Moon to explore some of the local snorkeling spots. 


We arrived at our first spot, scouted by Brett the evening prior and quickly slipped into the water.  GASP!  Even with our “skins” (a lightweight fabric that provides sun protection and helps keep you a little warmer) the water felt very brisk!  But we soon adjusted and began our explorations.  Though the water here was a little murky the fish were plentiful and we also saw some nice bits of coral.

Yellow Carpet Coral
Amazing how soft and lush coral can appear.
After warming back up in the dinghy, we made the short trip to our second spot, just off the beach a little south of the resort.  We immediately could tell this was a popular spot for feeding the fish as we were positively swarmed the minute we got in the water.  While I greatly enjoy being surrounded by colorful fish I must say I’m not a fan of people feeding them as these fish are not meant to eat bread and can’t really process it properly.  But I’ll get off that soapbox for now….

Mini Mushrooms
These almost look like mushrooms...
It is definitely a little startling to have several fish right next to your face every time you look in a new direction, but once they figured out we didn’t have any food for them, they started to keep a little further away.  There was  nice variety of small fish along with some larger parrot fish that were beautiful.  I would definitely consider it a successful snorkeling trip!






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The view looking back to the pass
After a quick beer on Mystic Moon and a visit from Muwari, we made our way back to Bella Vita for lunch before gathering on the beach with Mystic Moon and the crew from Calypso for a walk around the island.  The conditions were perfect – on the way to low tide, not too hot and a light breeze to keep us cool.



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Treading carefully through the muck...
The mellow hike took us across a wide expanse of sandy beach, around to the pass between Nanuya-Sewa and Nanuya-Levu, to a bit of a mucky bog (tide was on the way out after all!).  After carefully picking our way through the shallower parts of the pass we soon made it the sandy beach in front of the the reknowned Lo’s coffee house (Really – a coffee shop out in the middle of nowhere? YES!).   It turns out that Lo’s makes a pretty tasty chocolate cake – especially when paired with a sweet orange soda.  LOTS of sugar to give us energy for the walk up and over the hill back to the anchorage. 

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Chocolate cake at Lo's!
The walk along the ridgeline was chock a block full of excellent views, which each new crest showcasing yet another beautiful perspective of reef strewn islands and crystal blue water.  Matching the beauty was the excellent company of some wonderful new friends – Andy, Nina and Antje off the boat Calypso.  We had originally met at the anchorage on Mana Island two weeks prior and our paths had been almost completely the same since.  Unfortunately, we won’t likely see Calypso again after leaving here as they are soon on their way to Vanuatu – but we’ve really enjoyed spending some time with them.  Hopefully our paths will cross again.

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From left: Andy Antje, Nina, John and Brett

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As always, electronics can be a
hodgepodge of things in the
third world, as seen here for the
local wifi antenna.
We finished off the perfect day by joining 6 other boats – Muwari, Rafiki, Mystic Moon, Calypso, Ray Margarite and Mersoleil – at the Blue Lagoon resort bar for happy hour as the sun was setting.  We are very partial to a chilled beverage in the company of friends as an excellent way to end the day…

From start to finish, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a day with such perfect weather and such a picturesque location.  Sun, water, sand and friends – definitely everything I hoped this trip would be.  The fact that days like these are surprisingly rare just helps us appreciate them more and to realize how lucky we are to be out here living this life.  Thanks to the friends (new AND old) who shared it with us! 

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The view from Lo's coffee shop

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friendships at Sea

Mussel Gatherers
Fun with Göran, Missy, Gudrun, and Bev!
One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about this season is the cruising community and the friends we’ve made along the way.  I thought I’d share some of my thoughts here as it’s an important part of our life.

Les and Diane
Les & Diane - friends from Mexico.
The cruising community is a pretty amazing thing to be a part of.  While we were friends with a lot of boaters before we left Seattle (and they were always helpful in a jam) out here it’s taken to a whole new level. 







KooKoo for Coconuts
Coconuts in Suwarrow with Cindi & Kathy
One of the things that always bothered me about living in the city is the lack of connection we have with our immediate neighbors.  While we often knew the neighbors on each side of us, we rarely knew anyone beyond that.  You could live next to them for YEARS and just barely know them – with little more then the occasional wave and hello as you passed on the sidewalk. Of all the neighbors we had, I can honestly say there was only one (Tom and Beth in Queen Ann) that we really got to know well, initially because we shared a wall and common maintenance, but discovered we truly liked each other.  I’ll be the first to admit that was our own fault for not reaching out.  I sometimes yearned for the community spirit that I imagined small towns and belonging to the local church must bring.

Dinner Out
Sharing a meal in Bora Bora with Bravo,
Mystic Moon, Mazu and Bella Star
Out here on the water, that community springs up anytime there is more than one boat in an anchorage.  We’ve made it a personal habit to often introduce ourselves to boats we don’t know in an anchorage and always make the rounds to catch up with the ones we do.  Because of it we’ve discovered some amazing people and made some wonderful friends.  It’s not uncommon to have a complete stranger dinghy up to our boat to say hello and ask a question about the type of boat we have.  This has often led to inviting them on board for a tour and a nice chat – it’s happened dozens of times.  Can you imagine if someone from your neighborhood knocked on your door, enquired about your heating system and you invited them in to not only discuss it but to tour your whole house?  Of course not!  I know my first thought would have been for my own personal safety – everyone knows we’re not supposed to trust strangers….right???

Hylas Rendezvous
Beers with Peter, Gene, Kate & Paul at
our mini-Hylas rendezvous.

But out here on the water I’ve seen complete strangers take part in rescuing a boat they didn’t even know just because they saw it was in danger.  I’ve seen a sailor rescue a dinghy that had gone “walkabout” and spend a fair amount of time locating the (extremely grateful) owner.  We’ve even been that stranger trying to help another boat get off a reef.  That’s not to say that people do not do amazing things at home, but I have to say this life often brings out the best in people.  It’s been pretty amazing to witness what people will do for each other just because we have this one small thing in common.  If only everyone made that effort to go out and not just meet their neighbors, but to help them in some way – imagine what a place the world would be.

Anniara
Our last game night with Göran and
Gudrun from Anniara - good fun!
Along with the community aspect of cruising, another amazing part is the people we’ve met and the friends we’ve made.  Brett and I have always been very social people, so it was a little tough before we discovered how easy it actually is to make friends out here.  But once we did – well, we were off and running!  And the friends we’ve made….so many boats!  Amazing families from all over the world!  And while it’s mostly wonderful, it’s also a little tough because your time together is fleeting and it often involves a goodbye, right when you are really getting to know each other.  In June we had to say farewell to one of our favorite boats – Anniara.  We met them in Samoa and became fast friends – sharing a car for three days when we barely knew each other, touring the island.  We’ve run into them many times since and had lots of fun nights together, so it was really tough to say goodbye, knowing we might not see them for years….if at all.

Michael & Anita
Relaxing in the Marquesas with Michael
& Anita from Cherokee Rose
But that’s where the Internet comes in, allowing us to stay in contact with friends, even when you are 1000’s of miles apart.  Imagine our delight when our friends on Cherokee Rose (who we hadn’t seen in a year) decided to travel upwind (gasp!) to visit Fiji, totally against their prior plans.  It was awesome to have the unexpected time together to catch up.  A happy and welcome surprise. 

Friends at Omoa
Mazu, Cherokee Rose and Exit Strategy
Soon we will be doing the Muscat Cove Regatta and almost every boat we know in Fiji (that’s a LOT of boats!) will be there – some of whom we haven’t seen since Tonga or New Zealand.  I can’t wait to catch up with all those friends and hear about their adventures before we go our separate ways once again.  And while it’s always tough to say goodbye, there is always the hope that we will see them again down the road.  It might be three countries from now, but we will still hope.  And until then we will continue to take the time to stop by that boat that we don’t know, because new friends are just a dinghy ride away.  It’s a great way to live.

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And of course, John & Kathy on Mystic Moon

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sushi Night at Matagi Island

A beautiful rainbow over Matagi Island

Okay - so now that I'm this great fisherwoman (lol!), I've been after my friend Kathy on Mystic Moon to give me a lesson on making sushi - something I like VERY much!  While in route to the tiny Island of Matagi (pronounced Matangi) in early June, both Bella Vita and Mystic Moon landed some fresh tuna - what better time to have a sushi night than we had a plethora of fresh and tasty fish?

After another expert lesson on how to fillet my fish (thank you John!) we soon had some great looking fillets and nice smaller pieces for making sushi - dinner was ON!  My contribution would be to teach Kathy my Mom's excellent recipe for seared Ahi coated with black and white sesame seeds - cool to look at AND delicious!

All ready to roll up our sushi - so easy!
After a day of excellent snorkeling, off we went to Mystic Moon for our big feast.  With all of our ingredients at hand, Kathy quickly set out to teach me the basics while the boys relaxed over wine.  Kathy had pre-made the sushi rice and it was perfectly sticky - excellent!  We also had carrot, cucumber, radish and green pepper to go with our tuna.  During the lesson I learned to start the rice about an inch into the seaweed then smooth out the rice (dipping fingers in water liberally to combat stickiness), until it's about 4 inches from the other end - about a 1/4 inch thick.
The finished tuna rolls - beautiful!
Next, you layer some tuna and any other items you like in your tuna roll.  When it looks like the photo above, you carefully take the sushi mat and gently start rolling the roll up.  Once you've completed the roll, lightly wet the entire end of the seaweed sheet to seal it together.  It's really important to not go too crazy on the fillings as the roll will be too big and hard to manage.  Think bite size! 

How yummy do these finished rolls look?  Even the guys got into the action with everyone making two rolls each.  They were awesome!!!


Seared tuna with black & white sesame seeds - yum!
Next we prepared the sesame crusted seared Ahi.  First you marinate the tuna for about half an hour in the following:  soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, finely chopped garlic and hot chili oil.  After you've marinated the tuna, mix about 1/4 cup each of black and white sesame seeds on a plate.  Coat all sides of the tuna in the seeds and then coat your pan in a little more sesame oil and get it nice and hot.  Sear each side for about 2 minutes - don't you dare overcook that tuna!  It should be a nice pinkish-red on the inside, just like the picture shows - yummy.  Thanks to Kathy for the beautiful presentation!

But what was the best part about our meal?  Spending time with our dear friends John and Kathy!  Since we'd be heading in opposite directions the next day - and it would be many months before we'd see them again - the time together was especially sweet.  Thanks to both John & Kathy for teaching me how to make sushi and for hosting us on your beautiful boat.  Definitely a memorable night for both of us!

Selfie of the gang on Mystic Moon - a great night!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Adventures in Viani Bay

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An overview of Viani Bay
After several days of waiting for a good weather window, we finally made our way northeast around Vanua Levu to the famed Viani Bay in early June.  This is where you anchor if you have any interest in diving some of the best areas in Fiji – the “White Wall” and “Rainbow Reef”. 

LogAfter taking the “Cruisers Seminar” offered in Savusavu by Curly – a seasoned cruiser who gives advice, warnings and waypoints to the newly arrived – we were definitely “scared straight” about all the potential reefs  on which we might run poor Bella Vita aground.  Curly basically spends several hours beating it into your head that about 200 boats each year go aground in Fiji and 4-5 are totally lost.  Serious stuff and not to be taken lightly!  So we approached Viani Bay with all of the caution of a brand new boaters….and we're glad we did!

Dog
Just can't resist a sweet pooch!
With myself (Stacey) on the bow, walkie talkie in hand and Brett behind the wheel, we carefully entered the bay trying to find the perfect spot to anchor – really just a spot where we wouldn’t hit one of the many coral heads if we spun on our anchor in shifting winds.  Here’s an excerpt of me on the walkie talkie to Brett, “Okay….hard to see as the water is a bit murky but it looks okay for about 200 feet ahead.  I see a bomie at 2:30 about 40 feet out…..another bomie at 9 o’clock…..but the path ahead looks totally clear….STOP!!!!!  STOP!!!  BACKUP!!  REVERSE!!!  REVERSE!!!”.  With visibility at about 10 feet the coral heads would seemingly loom up out of nowhere.  This scene was repeated about 10 more times.  It was completely nerve-racking. 

Jack
Jack Fisher in Viani Bay
After spending over an hour looking for a spot we finally just took one of the mooring balls offered by Jack Fisher.  Normally we avoid mooring balls as you never know how good they are so we don’t like to trust them, but at this point our nerves were shot and we just didn’t care.  Shortly after taking the mooring we were visited by the infamous Jack himself – a local Fijian who has made it his business to meet every cruiser that comes to the area.  Jack is a very friendly guy and often takes cruisers out to the reefs to show them the best dive and snorkel spots (for a small fee) and will take care of your boat (or dinghy) while you are in the water.  Jack has captained many boats and is generally a good guy.  We spent a fair amount of time with Jack (fishing and snorkeling) and since he’s a very talkative guy we learned his life story in pretty short order!  Suffice it to say that Jack has done many things, and has a very, very large family! 

Caz & Jim
Caz & Jim from Somerset - good times.
When it came to diving Brett choose to dive with a certified company – namely Dolphin Bay Divers.  They were an excellent outfit and we would recommend them to divers of all levels.  If I ever get over my fear of tight places and breathing underwater I would definitely go to them to get dive certified as they were a wonderful group of people.  Brett ended up doing four dives with them and felt they were some of the best of our trip so far. 


School Entrance
The entrance to the school grounds - fancy!
While in Viani Bay we took a stroll through the village and checked out the local school – quite a nice “campus”!  It was really neat seeing the kids from around the bay all loaded into a panga – their version of a school bus – traveling back and forth to school each day.  Each day they would pass us and we’d wave and shout BULA (the local greeting) and they would all get really excited and wave and shout back.  I think it might have been making the driver a little nervous though as the boat was loaded to the hilt and low in the water – better to stay calm and not rock the boat! 

School
The main schoolhouse

Fish
One of the fish I caught!


If you are into fishing, Viani Bay is a definitely a good spot to cast your best lure!  While out with Jack, Brett and our friend Jim from Somerset we caught a good sized Walloo – which made an excellent dinner that night!  Jim and I caught another one a couple days later and between the two fish and Jim’s lessons I’ve now got a pretty good idea of how to fillet a fish.  I can’t believe it’s taken so long, but I’m definitely getting into fishing – big time!

All in all, it was a lovely stay in Viani Bay.  A big thanks to Jack for making our stay so great!


VB 2
The rest of the view of Viani Bay

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Arriving at Savusavu, Fiji

Sunset at Coustou Resort
The sunset at Savusavu

Copra Shed Marina
The Copra Shed Marina
After spending a few very blustery days at Minerva Reef, the winds finally abated enough to carry on and complete our trip to Savusavu, Fiji, arriving on May 25th (yeah, I know……waaaaaaay behind on my posts!  Bad Stacey!).

Officials
Customs officials being brought to a boat.
We were quickly greeted by the very friendly staff of the Copra Shed Marina who showed us to our reserved mooring and soon dispatched the local officials to our boat.  Checking in at Savusavu is an absolute breeze, especially compared to some of the other stories we heard from friends that checked in elsewhere.  Here, it’s all coordinated by the marina and they not only bring the officials to your boat, but also take care of getting your cruising permit for you – fantastic service and well worth the $5 US they charge you for it. 

Abandoned Boat
Some boats get left for good here...
The first officials to visit are from Biosecurity and Health.  Once they have determined you are healthy and that you’ve not brought anything illegal into the country (and you’ve fed them lots of cookies), you take care of a couple easy forms and off they go to be replaced by the next group, Customs and Immigration.  More cookies and a couple more forms and viola!  We are officially good to go.  Not enough Fijian cash on board to pay the fees?  No problem – just drop the money by the office sometime over the next week.  All four officials were extremely courteous and friendly.  I think I’m definitely going to like it here…. 

Downtown SS
Downtown Savusavu
By the time we’d finished with the officials and completed all the post passage activities (getting the boat ship-shape) it was time to go and visit the MANY boats we knew in the harbor and catch up over beers at the “yacht club”.  We couldn’t believe how many boats we knew in the anchorage – there must have been 12!  And several were some of our favorite people – just what the doctored ordered.  It was great to catch up with friends and to share our adventures since we had last connected.  Even better was going out to great curry dinner with two rounds of drinks for a mere $10 per person!!!  I am DEFINITELY going to like it here – we can actually afford it!

Bus Station
The bus station - usually a HUB of activity!
Savusavu is a sweet little town, with a main street, lots of little clothing and cheap goods shops, a couple of restaurants and two main grocery stores.  The grocery stores were MUCH better than anything we saw in Tonga, but still not even close to something you’d find in the US.  It’s  like something between a mini-mart and a small local grocery store at home – mostly filled with the basics.  But I’m not complaining!  Just happy to have a place to restock.  Even better was the produce and fruit market since we were completely out of everything fresh!  Turns out in early May you can get many things, including pineapples, bananas (there are ALWAYS bananas), papaya, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant and bokchoy to name a few.  There was even a little lettuce – awesome!  And don’t forget to pick up some kava – the national drug of choice.  We would need that to present to village chiefs along the way – but more on that in another post…

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Locals fishing at sunset
Something we particularly enjoyed in Savusavu was watching the Fijians fish as the sun went down.  They have these crazy rafts that look a little like the one Tom Hanks made in the movie Castaway - made of bamboo and mighty rickety looking.  The locals go out right at dusk and fish for hours.  Some of them have little LED lights on board, but most are just fishing in the dark.  Never did find out what they were catching... 

Fishing
More people fishing...those rafts are crazy!
All in all it was just great to finally be in Fiji – the land that we’d heard so much about and have so looked forward to seeing.  And we were especially thankful to have had a fairly easy trip from New Zealand since the area is known for its harsh weather.  Thanks be to the weather gods and for another successful long passage!
Dog
Dogs run wild in downtown Savusavu

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Living the Dream

It's 2:10 in the morning as I sit and listen to the persistent banging of a halyard coming from the foredeck and the low moan of something stretching to it's absolute max. That something is the harness on our chain that keeps the pressure off our windlass when we are anchored. I'm trying not to imagine it breaking - a real possibility even though it's 5/8" 3-strand line with chafe protection. It's under incredible load as the wind has been howling in the 30's for over 12 hours and the fetch is causing the boat to hobby horse like a bucking bronco. Something else bangs in the dark and I quickly glance up at the wind meter......36.8 knots. Well, I think.....at least it's not 40 knots.....yet.

I'm on anchor watch and as the wind gusts again what I'm REALLY thinking is how thankful I am to be here. That we are not at sea in these conditions, out there in this storm where some of my friends are right now. I send up a prayer that they have made it far enough to avoid the worst of it. I'm worried sick for them, but trying to keep the faith as they are excellent sailors.

We are anchored in a tiny little outpost called Minerva Reef. It's a popular stopover for cruisers making the long passage between New Zealand and Fiji and a good spot to duck into during a storm. Not that you can actually hide, since there is no real land to speak of. It's simply a low-lying ring of reef that is almost completely awash at high tide, but just high enough to keep the huge rolling waves temporarily at bay. It's about as close as you can get to anchoring in the middle of the Pacific ocean and I'm incredibly thankful to be here.

As the fetch from the waves hits our cockpit enclosure because the tide is high and the waves are growing, I try not to let the noise overwhelm me. I try to distract myself from thoughts of the other boats breaking free and hitting us or of our boat coming loose and crashing onto the reef....of losing everything. So far we are all staying put and the holding is very good - I just need to get through this night. I'm not safe at home, the boat is not tied to the dock and I can't walk away no matter how scary it gets. This is the life I have chosen and there is no other place to be tonight other than out here in the middle of the ocean. And so I write this post to help the time pass and to give you a chance to see another side of our life at sea.

Just another day living the dream. Living the dream.

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Birthdays and Leaving New Zealand

The birthday boy with Cape Brett in the background.
On the 26th of April we officially rounded "Cape Brett", which is basically the front door to one of New Zealand's most prized cruising grounds - the Bay of Islands.  What's the big deal about the 26th you might ask?  Well my friends, it just so happens to be Brett's birthday!  And we couldn't help but take a photo of Cape Brett with Birthday Brett!

How many candles on that cake Brett???
After firmly setting the hook at the highly recommended Urupukapuka Bay (how fun is that name to say?) with our buddies on Mystic Moon nearby, we gathered to celebrate the auspicious occasion.  There was a lot of toasting, a bit of candle blowing (damn those trick candles anyway, right Brett?) and generally a lot of merriment.  Especially since Mystic had brought along some very nice whiskey!  A big thanks to Kathy and John for joining us and for being a part of a really fun night.

Having fun with John and Kathy from Mystic Moon.
We've spent the last week ticking last minute items off the pre-departure list, we've had plenty of time to prepare and consider our upcoming passage.  Countless hours have been spent looking at and analyzing the grib (weather) files, considering our options and talking to other cruisers.  It's hard not to be a little worried as this is a tough piece of water to get across, but we are as ready as we can be and it looks like our window is finally here.

As I sit in Opua trying to get our blog up to date before we leave tomorrow for Fiji, I've spent a lot of time reflecting and reliving our time here in New Zealand.  While it's been a little tough to swallow how ridiculously expensive it is here (imagine spending an entire years budget in just 6 months), we've also had some amazing esperiences and cruised in some beautiful areas.  I have been truly impressed with the locals we've met here - they are funny and kind, but also will tell you EXACTLY what they think about pretty much anything.  No political correctness here - and that's really refreshing!  They will not hesitate to invite you into their home and their lives, even when you've just barely met.  Again - refreshing!

So while we are now significantly poorer financially for having come to New Zealand, the friends we've made, the places we've seen and the time spent cruising this beautiful north island were worth every penny to me.  And while I am very ready to go, I will still miss it here after I'm gone. 

Goodbye New Zealand!