October 2000
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Fiji, Tonga and return to New Zealand

Last time we wrote, we were departing Suva, Fiji for Beqa Lagoon .

Beqa Lagoon, Fiji

After trying for a year we finally caught up with our friends John and Aleta on Holding Pattern.  Terrific friends and fantastic diving buddies.  We  met them at Yanucca Island in Bega Lagoon (pronounced Mbenga Lagoon).  After arriving, we  promptly changed into some appropriate island attire and bug spray, and   dinghied ashore to watch the famous Bega Fire Walkers.  We were treated to a ceremonial fire-walking display by the local islanders in traditional costume.  The chanting and drums began just as the sun was getting low in the sky.  You couldn’t help but sway to the hypnotic beat

Of course all of this excitement brought our appetites to a ravenous state.  Or possibly it was the delightful fragrance the food was creating that had been cooking.  A Lovo (traditional Fijian feast) was next.  The food was cooked in a hole in the ground line with hot rocks.  Wrapped in banana leaves it was left to cook the whole day and now it was time for us to dig in.    Wonderful food , Fiji Bitter (beer), good conversation with old and new friends, a few mosquitoes but who cared.   An interesting tid bit.  Those drinking beer got louder and louder.  Those drinking Kava – brewed from local roots - got quieter and more mellow.

The next couple of weeks found us in a diving frenzy.  There were so many spots and so much to see.  Giant sea fans, a multitude of colored soft corals, crevices, fish and yes the occasional shark.  We were in a divers paradise and just couldn’t get enough of all the sights.  Taking  both Holding Pattern’s and Sea Witch’s dinghies (and the GPS) to as many places as we could find, we were diving world class dive locations all by ourselves.  Thanks in great part to the Fijian coup and the lack of tourists.

Astrolabe Reef, Fiji

Departing Beqa Lagoon, we stopped overnight at Lalatti Village.    Escorted by three young men (teenagers) on a bamboo raft,  we visited the village to do Sevu Sevu, the traditional gift offering done when traveling to a neighboring village.  Climbing up a rock wall we tied our dingy up and were ushered through the village by the local children.  People were looking out doors and windows waving and calling out Bula, Fijian for hello and welcome.  Once at the Taronga ni Koro’s house (village headman) we entered and sat on the floor mat.  Jeff, wearing his sulu – the traditional Fijian wraparound garment -  presented the kava we had brought as a gift.  The Tarong ni Koro then issued his greeting and proclamation in Fijian.  We didn’t understand a word, but it was nice.  Jeff was then asked  his opinion of the coup.  It is hard to answer direct questions diplomatically when our opinions are so very different from theirs.  

The next day was an easy trip to Great Astrolabe reef and another village where we presented Sevu Sevu.   We were met by John at the beach and escorted to meet the Tarona ni Koro.  In his limited English, John asked us if we knew anything about a grasscutter.  At first we thought he might be talking about a goat but then realized he wanted help fixing a lawnmower.  Go figure.  Here we are at an island out in the middle of a coral reef and they mow the village grass with a lawn mower.  John from Holding Pattern and Jeff spent the next day repairing the village lawn mower and were thanked by a very grateful village.   Holding Pattern and Sea Witch donated some video tapes and some batteries.  We always try to give something back to the villages when we can help.

We moved to the unihabited island next door.  Just Holding Pattern and Sea Witch.  An incredible sandy beach just perfect for beachcombing.  A new bunch of shells rolling in with each high tide.  It was also the perfect spot to stage from for scuba diving expeditions to the reef passes. Deeper diving with walls and crevices, pelagic fish and massive hard corals.  We were having just too much fun.

Beachcombing became a daily outing for Aleta and Gail once they found pieces of a nautilus shell.  For days we combed every beach risking life and limb in the dinghy making beach landings over the coral reefs. Not to mention the wild goats.  It paid off.  We found three whole nautilus shells (with no critters).

More boats arrived which made the perfect setting for volleyball (two bamboo poles and a rope), Frisbee, a pizza cookoff, beach cookouts and just sitting around the campfire.  It was so much fun the locals from the next island over came to join in the festivities.  They can play one mean game of volleyball.  It was a good idea to make mixed teams by splitting the locals up.

Mololailai, Fiji

Next we found ourselves on the western side of Fiji at Mololailai.  We settled in at Musket Cove to find a market, a great hamburger, the $2.50 bar ($1.40 US for any drink) and a real volleyball net.  The volleyball net came equipped with ferocious islanders ready for an aggressive game.  Then there were the aged and sad looking Hobie 16’s with reef rudders – pieces of wood bolted in  place but only extending a few inches into the water.  Pretty funny.  A quick trip to the mainland for supplies.  Sea Witch did AAA service, towing Ferric Star in when she overheated. 

With Ferric Star (after she was fixed, we thought) and Sea Wolf, we headed up to the Yasawa Island Group.  In the ratlines (wood steps that allow us to climb the rigging), radios in hand,  we worked our way through coral reefs.  No one wanted to go first.  Coral makes a bad sound when it contacts fiberglass.  From the rigging we were able to sight schools of fish but weren’t able to catch any.  Oh well.   We found a beautiful bay off an uninhabited island to anchor in.  Just the three boats.  This time we presented our Sevu Sevu to an alter.  The Gods keep you honest.  Don’t want them mad, especially if they have any influence over the weather.

 With a planned  movie night on Sea Witch, Rick from  Sea Wolf was getting in his dinghy to come over when all of a sudden his anchor line cut through and Sea Wolf started drifting towards the reef in the middle of the anchorage.  He was able to hop back aboard and get Sea Wolf to safety.  The next morning Jeff went diving to retrieve his anchor for him.  After quite a search he found the anchor.  Heading back to Sea Witch, we saw Hawaii Five O-style waves breaking over the reef behind Sea Witch.   Jeff assured Gail it was much further away then it looked, but Sea Witch was rolling from rail to rail.  It was time to move.

 The anchorages were a bit rolly so after a few days we headed back down to Mololailai to prepare for our passage to Tonga.  Jeff was able to fit in a couple more volleyball games but seriously dislocated his finger blocking a spike.  With Jeff lying on the ground, an islander grabbed his finger and pulled until it popped back in place.  Yes, you could hear it pop.  Ouch!    We were having a BBQ that night so we iced him up and plied him with a few beers.  It eased the pain for awhile but sailing the boat with a finger out of commission is really not fun.  No more volleyball for Jeff.

Tonga

We found our weather window and headed for Tonga.  Sounds good until you realize we were going against the trade winds.  Motored into the wind for four days.  It was a pretty bumpy trip and we were glad to get there.  We arrived in the Vava’u Group after dark and went in on radar.  It was like playing a video game, and the good news is we won.  With the anchor down, we had our first flat calm night in four days. 

We liked the look of Tonga right away.  The island topography was very different than what we had seen in awhile.  Steep cliffs with caves.  Very dramatic.  It does rain a lot in Tonga.  We had one heck of a thunder and lightening storm and could have reached out and grabbed a bolt.  Thanks to the Moorings charter company, the anchorages have been numbered.  Even the locals refer to the anchorages by number.  This is probably a good thing because none of us can pronounce the names anyways.  The dogs in Tonga looked strangely like pigs.  Actually, there were pigs all over the place, followed around by numerous little piglets that simply did not like being picked up. We found this out the hard way. 

We headed to the  Ha apai Group to do some diving and we were not disappointed.  It was a one day sail which was full of things to excite us.  There were many huge dolphins (we could hear them talking through the hull), and displays of humpback whales performing all kinds of tricks.  We even saw a baby jump completely out of the water.  Then there was the variety hour in which we hooked up seven different varieties of fish.  The five foot wahoo was the largest  landed, but you should have seen the one that got away.  It was sooo big (a large sailfish or marlin) it was probably a good thing we didn’t have to figure out what to do with it.  All this and the diving was great also.  We were lucky enough to have 10 days of beautiful sunshine and calm weather.   Great diving on rarely visited steep walls.  Lots of fish – tropicals and pelagics.  Whales swimming through the anchorage. But, it was time to head back to
Vava’u and prepare for our trip to New Zealand.

In anchorage 16, Jeff swam with a mother humpback whale and her calf.  He says he has never seen an eyeball that big.   We were just traveling along in the dinghy heading back to Sea Witch after an afternoon of snorkeling.  Jeff jumped into his fins and mask and slid in the water.  It took a while, but finally he was able to get up close to them.  Awesome creatures and so much bigger then he expected.

Now it was time to prep Sea Witch and be on weather watch.  With our sister’s wedding rapidly approaching, we needed to scoot out as soon as a clear weather window appeared.  It was back to NZ to catch a flight to Los Angeles.  Everything was checked and double checked.  Ready to go.  Jeff squeezed in a few moments to take the Ham VE (volunteer examiner) test and is now a certified volunteer examiner.  Also, we finished the designs for Blinky II  (our watch timer) and, after letting the smoke out of a few parts, got it working.  A check of the weather faxes and there it was, just the right weather and we were off.  An easy trip.  Thank goodness.  We found ourselves in Opua, NZ in only seven and half days and nothing broke.  That’s the way we like it.

We are now back in our same slip at Gulf Harbour Marina near Auckland.  Safe and sound and feeling right at home.  We received warm welcomes from all the people here and are comfortably driving on the wrong side of the road again.  Even managed to get our NZ drivers licenses. 

See you in LA

Jeff and Gail