Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore sailing seminars and boat purchase consultation.
Coming back to Fiji feels like coming home to me. The friendliness of Fijians is always amazing, as complete strangers smile and say, “BULA” while passing us on the street. Savusavu is one of our favorite towns anywhere in the world. It’s small – one can walk from the marina the length of town and back in 20 minutes, and you can actually land and tie up your dinghy almost anywhere along main street. There are always hundreds of immaculately-dressed Fijian and Indian children of all ages in their colorful school uniforms plus adults waiting for busses to take them back to their villages. The busses are a trip! Most are ancient, hand-made affairs, windowless and belching diesel smoke out the back
There are four small supermarkets(two of the same brand MH) but the main focus is the fairly large and always busy public market It’s located in the middle of town beside the waterfront and bus depot where both Indians and Fijians sell mounds of vegetables and fruit for shockingly low prices. A large pile of freshly-picked green beans or tomatoes or a pineapple cost the equivalent of US$1, and the vendors are always eager to chat and visit. Savusavu merchants love cruising sailors as many end up spending the hurricane season on the moorings which are truly hurricane-proof.
There are a couple dozen small restaurants along main street, but our favorites are Surf & Turf, a truly gourmet place with a tree to tie one’s dinghy to (Deb, Jim, Jordan and Andy tried it and raved about it) plus one that features Cruiser’s Indian Curry Night at least once a week.
We got lucky Wednesday night as Wai Tui Marina was having their monthly Fijian Dinner Night - all of the excellent Fijian food you could imagine, plus cake for US$6! The 30 or so cruisers were from many countries and we had a fun evening visiting.
Andy and Jordan and been looking for a dive and caught a taxi out to Jean-Michele Couteau’s Fiji Islands Resort, www.jmcfir.com, an exclusive dive resort where they were able to sign up at the last minute for two-tank dive early Wednesday morning
After our long passage from Wallis to Savasava, it was nice to be on land again. It was such a cute little Fijian town with a nice little influx of cruisers, a tiny marine store, some obviously permanent expats, and some more traditional tourist facilities. The first thing we did we arrange for laundry and then take a 10 minute taxi across to the Jean-Michele Couteau’s Fiji dive resort.
Despite us being smelly yachties, the 5-star resort welcomed us with delightful gin-and-tonics. Even though the dive shop was closed, we scheduled a last-minute dive for the next day. After a short presentation on the local sustainable pearl harvesting operation, we headed back to have a landman’s dinner at Surf-and-Turf.
The dive the next morning was awesome. After a 45-minute boat ride to the Namena Marine Reserve and our two dives were incredible. We saw well-behaved reef sharks, huge spotted rays, placid turtles, all sorts of colorful fish, and tons of healthy hard and soft coral. The day before, the group had run into some humpback whales. One of my best dives ever! While we were on the surface, the resort threw in a free lunch for us party crashers. I spent most of my surface interval day dreaming about how cool it would be to return here in a sailboat and anchor out.
When we got back to the resort, Jordan got a deluxe massage in a sea-side bure while I chilled out on the white sand beach. The dive team invited us back to go diving with hammerhead sharks the next day, but we had different plans.
After our lazy afternoon, we made it back to Mahina Tiare just in time to make it to the monthly Fijian dinner night at the Wai Tui Marina. It was tasty! Not only was it tasty, it was great to talk with other cruisers. We even learned that it was possible to anchor off Namena Island the next night. Luckily, Jordan and I had already checked out the reef.
Part of the dinner involved arranging a kayak rental for early the next morning. Jordan and I got up before dawn, lowered the kayak into the water, and headed out to watch the sunrise over the mangroves. We saw two types of herons, a kingfisher, and a local woman fishing. It was sweet-as.
We headed back in time for John’s special warm coconut rolls and a mid-morning exit to our next stop- the island where we had just gone diving. It was time to sail away, put out the fishing lines, and look for humpback whales.
Thursday morning we ran errands, topped up water and set sail for the first time for isolated Namena Island which we’ve passed many times enroute to Makogai or Levuka. Surrounded by a very large 5 x 12 mile barrier reef, we had always heard that Namena was a very private island but at the Wednesday night dinner we met the crew of a NZ boat that was heading there and said they had heard it was possible to anchor off the island.
The markers at the entrance of North Save-A-Tack Passage were missing, but we carefully navigated to an anchorage just inside where we swam against the current to check out the reef. Two dive boats from the Namena Island run by Fijians stopped by to inform us that the lagoon was a marine sanctuary and that we would need to stop by and pay FJ$25 per person for each of us that were snorkeling - which we agreed to.
Wanting to get safely anchored before dusk, we soon raised anchor and motored two miles further to a spot off the west end of the island where Equamanity, the Kiwi boat had picked up a mooring. We found a fairly good anchorage and with Jim in the water with a mask on managed to avoid most of the coral.
On the beach was a sign saying, “Private Island, please come to our dock to pay marine reserve fees”, so we all hopped in the dinghy and motored a mile or two along the coast to a tiny man-made harbor where the two dive boats we had seen earlier were moored. One of the dive guides took us up 300’ of stairs and introduced us to Tom Moody, the 70+ year old owner of the island to visit and pay our fees. He explained that he had worked for over 15 years to establish the no-fishing marine reserve, and that the funds collected purchased school supplies for the children of the traditional land owners on Vanua Levu who had agreed to give up fishing rights in exchange for this. As a result of stopping fishing in the lagoon, the reef fish population has exploded, as we were to discover when snorkeling the following morning.
Tom Moody was a true visionary. His dream in 1983 was to establish a very small dive resort (only six very private bures accommodating a total of only 12 guests) on a very isolated island (12 miles from the nearest island) without being tied to running a diesel generator. Every bure has solar panels, composting toilets, rain catchment off the roofs and water storage tanks under the bure. The designs are traditional and we heard that the main dining hall building was exceptionally attractive. With the cost and difficulty of getting diesel fuel to the island, it turns out that Tom’s plan was a wise one.
When I asked him what he was going to do next after realizing his dream, Tom said that now he just wants to move back to Pittsburgh, PA, live with his daughter and watch television!
Tom and his wife Joan had spent a few years working at island resorts in the Caribbean before moving to and purchasing the uninhabited Namena Island in 1979. Namena was and still is covered by nesting sea birds - thousand of them! We saw boobies performing their bizarre mating rituals, fluffy baby booby birds in their nests and trying to learn how to fly, tropic birds, terns, frigate birds, noddies and more birds than we could identify. www.moodysnamenafiji.com
Saturday we had two choices, a long 60 mile run to Nananu-i-ra or a shorter passage through extensive Vanua Levu Barrier Reef to Nabouwalu, a village we learned about from Katie and Jim Thomsen, Leg 1-2008 expedition members who visited there last season. We chose the second option and enjoyed some spectacular snorkeling along the coastline of Namena, before setting sail.
All we had learned from Katie and Jim was that Nabouwalu was a small village with a 93 year old woman chief.
Lydia, a study and gracious looking middle-aged Fijian woman just said, “Let’s go!” and we followed her down the road. When I mentioned that I had neglected to purchase a waka (bundle of kava roots) to present the chief in the sevu-sevu ceremony which would give us permission to anchor in their waters and visit ashore Lydia said that we could stop at the next shop along so that I could purchase the kava. Nabouwalu was just a few minutes walk along the road and then up a hill in a location that was cooled by the prevailing trade winds. Lydia first introduced to the turaga-ni-koro (village mayor), then the chief’s nephew, and we followed up the hill to a small frame house
We were invited into the chief’s home and after removing our shoes, backpacks, and sunglasses found ourselves in a simple two-room home made of planks and decorated with tapa cloth. We were ushered into a large circle with the mayor, the chief, her nephew and our “ambassador” Lydia. The nephew introduced the chief, Adi Salote, and told us that she was 97 years old and then spoke to her, presumably introducing us and explaining who we were. Adi Salote was beautiful with silver hair, pale brown skin, and a soft smile. It appeared that she preferred her native tongue but her gaze followed us as we spoke with her son. John then presented her with the gift a kava, wrapped in newspaper like fresh-cut flowers. The son and nephew accepted the kava, blessed it in their native language in a ceremony that we were prompted to clap with them at the appropriate times. After accepting the kava, we were invited to personally meet Adi Salote and in turn shook her hand.
Following an early morning run and visit with Lydia to give her the pictures Amanda had printed off, we set off for the 40 mile run from Vanua Levu toward Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. I wish we could say we set sail, but we set motor — as the winds never topped 4 kts in this normally windy channel between the main islands.
On further wandering we found lots of trails and three small backpacker/B&B’s catering to divers and kite boarders. As a yachtie wanting a meal you need to book ahead, so we enjoyed dinner aboard.
Early Sunday morning Jordan & Kate joined us for a sunrise run/walk, and Kate had an interesting experience:
The dawn trip ashore for a to walk/jog/take photographs lead to a fortuitous chance encounter. Calling out a soft “Bula”, Alowesi Naicaranawa introduced himself as he emerged from his home just beyond Ellington wharf. We chatted about the village and it emerged that he coordinates health services at the local hospital. With the help of the Fijian government and charities such as the Rotary Club of Australia he tries to meet the health needs of the villagers. Recognizing that they are shy of western style medicine he keeps it low key and local. Interested in such a project, I asked what particular resources are still needed. It seems that basics such as immunizations would be very welcome and Alowesi is well versed in assisting medical teams import such goods. Exchanging contact details I am hopeful that I may become involved in this initiative. As a Brisbane general practitioner it should be quite feasible to plan a visit to offer primary care services at one of the monthly Saturday clinics at Ellington Wharf. Take it from there and see what grows! Definitely an exciting opportunity.
Before getting underway we covered Cruising Medicine with great input from Andy, an ER doc who conducts wilderness medical seminars. Our passage Sunday through the twisting coral channels led us past an extensive, now abandoned gold mine’s wharf to anchor off just pass the River Ba’s roadstead.
Knowing that clearing customs in Lautoka can often be a many-hour affair, our eager crew was up at 0500 and underway in the dark minutes later. Jon and Andy had carefully laid out courses and bearings and by sunrise we could start picking up reef markers. By 0700 we had anchored off the Port of Lautoka where four ships and several yachts were flying yellow quarantine flags and waiting to check in.
Jordan and Andy ran me ashore in the dinghy at 0720 so I was first in line and all checked in and crew signed off with immigration by 0930. Meanwhile, Amanda had completed a second braid splicing class - all of our crew completing the challenging double braid eye splice for one of the first times ever!
Before I forget it, here is our most excellent Leg 4 crew:
Jim Brainard, 62 from Golden, Colorado
Andrew Brainard, 35.
Jordan Vaughn, 32
Jon Fawcett, 52 and Kate Fawcett, 51 from Brisbane, Australia
While underway from Lautoka to Vuda Point Marina, about six miles south, our crew practiced two storm survival tactics: towing warp and setting a drogue.
Vuda Point Marina www.vudapointmarina.com is one of our favorite places to end and start expeditions because it is so convenient. The marina was formerly a WWII rock quarry used by the Americans to build the runway that is now the nearby Nadi International Airport. Tony Philip, a brilliant local yachtsman came up with the idea of plastering the sides of the quarry, dredging a channel and creating a marina! It really worked, and is the busiest marina in the South Pacific with long term dry storage ashore for folks who need to fly back home, plus self-service laundry, a little grocery store, a marine store, fuel dock and the very cool First Landing Resort www.firstlandingfiji.com just next door.
Since Jon was the birthday guy, we let him choose the restaurant; either the yacht club at the marina or the First Landing - he chose the second as they had an amazing offering of fresh fish, and...
What an excellent time we had on Leg 4. Tuesday morning several expedition members mentioned how this had been exactly what they had been looking for. We won’t be one bit surprised if some of them join us for the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland in 2014!
We would like to give a special thanks to Jordan and Andy for their excellent images that they contributed to this update.
Between expeditions we’ll head for Musket Cove on Malololailai Island, www.musketcovefiji.com anchoring MT in the same spot she was when we got married on the beach there in 1998. This for us, is paradise; no cars ashore, great running trails, free barbecues on the beach every night with cruisers from all over the world and best of all, the lovely Fijian people ashore.
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