Morning session at mini cloudbreak
kiting off the sandbar at malololailai island
Moet anchored at Waya Island, Yasawas
Discovering new islands
We are anchored in an unnamed bay off the east side of Naviti island in the Yasawas. It is probably one of the most perfect anchorages you can imagine. Only room for one boat (us), 4 metres of calm turqoise water, protected by coral reef, and a chain of 7 tiny islands a short row away. We dive in the water several times a day to cool off. The sailing dinghy is tied off the back of the boat and we take turns to explore the surrounding islets. As I write, Dave is just setting off on a Swallows and Amazons style round-the-next-island voyage. Being in this place makes the hardships of sailing worthwhile. This is the place we have been searching for; and the long nights spent at sea, the anchor watches, the rolling motion, all make the pleasure of being here sweeter.
It is good to be back in the tropics, and there are a surprising number of cruisers we have met before still here in Fiji. It is easy to get lost in the islands for a few years, and many sailors we meet barely remember what year they left their home country.
With our resident musicians Frans and Louis, there have been plenty of musical evenings - onboard Moet, round the campfire, at Musket Cove bar, and even a drunken evening in Musket Cove rowing around the anchorage with Dave at 2.00am. Sorry everyone, that was us! Having musicians on board is a great way of meeting people, and getting to know the local islanders; and also a good bartering tool - the boys arranged a gig at a small island resort in exchange for dinner for the entire crew!
Dean, a lifeguard from NZ, joined us for 3 weeks. He was great to have on board and he has spent much of his childhood holidays on sailboats. If ever the anchor needed checking or if something fell overboard and needed retrieving, Dean was the first to dive in the water to sort it out. We rigged up the kiteboard as a skurf board (like wakeboarding) and towed it at high speed behind the dinghy. Some special surf spots were found along the reefs too. There are a few well known and fairly crowded surf breaks in Fiji, but there are miles of reefs waiting to be explored, several with perfect barrels and no-one to ride them! Dean caught some of the best waves of his life with only himself and Frans in the water. Lets hope these waves stay unknown and reamin a prize for those who make the effort to get there.
Rowing to shore each morning with Dylan is a new way of experiencing village life. A small child is a great way of being welcomed in a new place, and there is usually be a crowd of children waiting for us on the beach ready to scoop Dylan up and take him to their homes. Dylan has quickly learnt to say 'Bula' (Fijian for hello), and 'dinghy' every time he wants to go to shore and play in the sand.
At Waya island we presented sevusevu to Tom the chief of Namara village. Sevusevu is an offering of kava root that a visitor will make when arriving in a new place and is accompanied by a formal ceremony welcoming the visitor as part of the community. The kava root is then pounded to a powder, mixd with water, strained, and served in a coconut shell as a mildly intoxicating drink. It makes you pretty mellow and relaxed and is a common way for the men of the village to spend an evening. Tom was a man in his 50s and very jovial. Namara gets several foreign visitors from the nearby backpackers on day trips so Tom was no doubt used to many people passing through his village. Despite this he showed a genuine interest in speaking with us and didn't seem tired of welcoming people into his home. We talked about fishing, the properties of kava, and breastfeeding. 'The women in Fiji feed their children for 2 or 3 years, when the child is already running about,' he said, 'they only stop when the child is embarrassed and being teased by his friends'. So there was never any problem with me feeding Dylan when I was onshore, and the Fijian women were happy to see a white woman breastfeeding her child.
It hasn't been the greatest month for fishing on Moet; some put it down to the presence of bananas aboard, claiming it is an old sea curse (never heard that before myself), but Dave has perservered and tried out nearly every available lure and type of bait possible. On the day the bananas were finished (coincidence of course) we caught 3 tuna fish and had a splendid feast. His confidence up, Dave spent the next few evening hooking Garfish (skinny little fish with a long spiky nose) and using them as live bait to catch the yummy Emporer fish which has been a real treat. However, since he got nipped on the chest by a suckerfish this morning while snorkelling off the boat I haven't seen him with his fishing line. Maybe it is safe to get some bananas again.
Backpackers resorts have been springing up everywhere in the Yasawas over the last few years, and seeing how an influx of tourism has affected other parts of the world, I am concerned as to how this will affect the people of Fiji and their lifestyle and homes. However, it is good know there are still some real explorers around with the true travelling spirit - and George, who has been kayaking around the islands for several weeks, is certainly one of them. George had seen our website and sent us an email about Fiji. We swopped itineraries and sent some advice, so when we saw the inflatable kayak with a litlle red sail crossing the passage between two islands we knew it must be him. He paddled over 50 miles up and down the chain of islands and pitched his tent on small rocky outcrops and spent weeks in the villages sharing life with the Fijians. His stories were enchanting and he had been helped and welcomed everywhere he went. Despite the hundreds of tourists that visit these islands every day George said he stayed for a time in one village where he was the first white visitor to spend a night with them. We were charmed by his method of travel and are toying with the idea of such an expedition... maybe something similar in the sailing dinghy perhaps??
Dolphins swimming alongside 'Moet'
We are now on a friends houseboat just outside of Nijmegen in Holland, and there is snow on the deck outside (which Dylan tried to eat). There is a little beach by the river, but all the footprints have hardened and frozen over. It is about 30 degrees colder than in Fiji! It is good to be here though, to be with friends and family, to walk in the woods, to sit by the fire, to watch Dylan play with his cousins. But this is the Fiji page, so I have to think back to write the rest....
We had a Canadian couple join us for 2 weeks of kitesurfing while we were at Malololailai island. Everyday we would dinghy out to the sandbar for kitelaunching, and most days there was plenty of wind. There were usually only 4 kites in the air - Frans's, Cindy's, Malte's and our friend Antony's from the boat 'Moonpenny'.
It was overcast when we sailed over to nearby Mana island, which has a tricky reef pass to enter its lagoon, especially in such cloudy weather, and especially when the beacons have been turned back to front(!). The sun came out the next day, and we discovered a pristine snorkelling spot a short dinghy ride away - around half a mile of multicoloured corals, undamaged and untouched, and no-one around - a rare sight today in Fiji. The guys launched the kites off the main beach, and cruised around the flat water of the lagoon. Cindy had a close encounter as a seaplane about to take off came rapidly towards her! The villagers on shore said it was the first time they had seen kitesurfers - we'll be back again next year for sure!
It was an active month in October, with lots of sailing, and 4 crew - Sandy (from the States), Gary (from England), and Sander and Mariska (from Holland). We had good weather most of the time so everyone slept on deck at night. Though there were a couple of times when it started to rain around 2am and everyone had to run inside with their mattresses!
The boys did quite a bit of surfing, and on one trip to our favourite secret surf spot dolphins swam beside the dinghy, so we all jumped in the water to swim with them. It is one of the most magical things you can experience in life, especially when it is unexpected and it is the dolphins who seek you out.
We anchored a couple of days in Manta Ray Bay, and I showed the girls how to sail the sailing dinghy. We hoped to see Manta Rays, who frequent the area; however, we saw none. Since the last few years many tourist boats plough through the area, and while occasionally Manta Rays are seen, my guess is that these large peaceful creatures are seeking out a quieter spot. However, we did discover a fun new watersport which we decided to call drag snorkelling. We found a pass where the tide was flowing quite fast, and let a long rope out from the back of the dinghy. One person drives the dinghy through the pass while everyone else holds onto the rope with their mask and snorkel on. We towed each other through schools of fish of all sizes and 'swam' alongside them, playing about all morning, it was a lot of fun!!
Traditional Fijian bure in a Yasawa village
Dylan practised his swimming through the weeks, and can happily swim 2 metres between Frans and I, head down underwater, kicking all the way. He comes up to laugh and breathe, then starts kicking to go again! Sander and Mariska got us all singing Dutch songs for Dylan, and he got everyone to read his favourite books for him, especially our Fiji guidebook, which he loves for its pictures of familiar things. His first words of the morning were quite often 'Gary, gary, train, plane!'
Being back in Europe after so much time away, I feel that life here is somewhat disconnected from the real things of the world, and is out of balance in many ways. I am often longing for the sanctuary of our boat, and of the simplicity and honesty of life in the Pacific. We visit England next week, and will be back in Fiji for next April to get 'Moet' ready for sailing again. Looking forward to exploring some new places and getting back to the warmth and freedom and open spaces.