Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall charting our adventures as we sail around the world. This season we spent 5 months exploring Vanuatu and are now on the east coast of Australia.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Net fishing in the Fulaga lagoon

A crack team consisting of seven locals and five yachties set off in three dinghies on Saturday morning for a spot of fishing. The preferred method here is to use a net with floats at the top and lead weights at the bottom (it's about 40m long by 1.5m deep); it's manoeuvred into position in 1m deep water by two people, one at either end, and the rest of the team thrash the water to drive the fish into it. As the 'thrashers' get closer, the net controllers pull the net into a circle and join the two ends before snorkellers swim around inside it to drive the fish into the meshes. It's amazingly effective and great fun to be part of the process.
 
Our haul amounted to about 30 fish, a baby black-tipped shark and a small sting-ray. The village ate well that day and the three yacht crews got a couple of fish each.

Monday, 29 June 2015

All dressed up, Fulaga-style

We have a little data left on our account at the end of the month so here are a few photos...
 
In the village we're expected to dress in accordance with local expectations; the missionaries brought standards of long dresses, covered shoulders and knees to the people of Fiji and today the people find western skimpy clothes embarrassing. Men are expected to wear sulus – usually brightly-coloured skirts wrapped around the waist and knotted at the front and on Sundays and other special occasions, there are formal sulus made in pinstripe suit material.
 
Graham scored extra points at church with his formal sulu plus shirt and tie; the Chief's brother wanted a photo with him!
 
The other dress-up event was a meke – a dancing event in the second village – where we were presented with beautifully fragrant garlands.
 
 

Saturday, 27 June 2015

The warmth of the Fulagan welcome

Above: the anchorage; Bale and Akosita aboard Maunie
 
Both of us had felt a few slight misgivings about returning to Fulaga; after such a wonderful experience here last year, would it be an anti-climax and, with the tragic death last year of our host and dear friend, Meli, would we be overcome with sadness? We need not have worried. After five days here we are feeling as though we never left and the warmth of the welcome given to us has been overwhelming.
 
We went ashore on Wednesday morning to present our sevusevu with 5 other boats - Ithaka (Scotland), Anico & Antares (Germany) and Ranganui (NZ), all Fulaga virgins.  At the beach, waiting for us, were Alfreti and Mini, Meli's younger brothers, who led us into the village; on the 1-mile path we met lots of familiar faces and we received wonderful, big hugs and happy smiles and just everyone remembered our names (including many of the school kids when we walked past the playground). Luckily we remembered most of the names of those who greeted us. The other cruisers must have wondered what we did here last time as we certainly felt like the returning prodigals!!
 
One of the village elders,Tai, did the introduction of all the new visitors to Chief Daniel (now 89 but looking very well) who seemed to be very pleased to see us and was all smiles. He became very solemn during the sevusevu ceremony (conducted entirely in Fijian, punctuated with resonant hand-claps (known as cobos) and, at the end, shook hands with each of us in turn and said 'Bula' (welcome) then, with a twinkle in his eye, pretended he didn't know Tai so shook his hand and said 'Bula' to him too.
 
The ceremony over, Tai arranged to take each yacht crew to meet their host family. He explained to us that we had 'jumped houses' (the task of hosting is done in strict rotation) as Alfeti and his wife Bale had asked to host us in memory of Meli; this was really touching  and they now live in Meli and Jiko's house where Pussy the cat is still there begging for food by putting a paw on your knee just as she did with Meli. It was a bit emotional to talk about Meli but lovely to be able to chat over lemon-leaf tea and delicious pancakes. Jiko is now living with her brother in her family village of Naividamu, across the lagoon so we'll see her there in the next few days.
 
Alfreti and Bale came aboard Maunie on that first evening as Alfetie had caught a big crab that morning and Bale had made delicious rotis. They bought with them their great-niece Akosita who is nearly three; she's living with them for a few months, a fairly common practice with the big families in Fiji. Once her shyness had worn off she was chatting and singing away to Dianne in the cabin. Alfreti and Bale spend quite a few months each year in Suva and Nadi; unlike his brothers, Alfreti left the island in his youth and spend 18 years in the city, but still calls Fulaga 'home'. Incidentally, our conversations with them illustrated the challenges we have in remembering names here'; we noticed that Bale and other locals called Alfreti 'Lutu'. "That's my middle name" he explained, "but some people in the village also call me 'Fere', it's my nickname." We have no chance!
 
So, lovely to be back and it's been full-on ever since we arrived. We've been dancing, fishing, playing volleyball and laughing a lot with the locals. More updates to follow, we'd better get ready for church this morning. 
 
 

The warmth of the Fulagan welcome

Above: the anchorage; Bale and Akosita aboard Maunie
 
Both of us had felt a few slight misgivings about returning to Fulaga this year; after such a wonderful experience here, would it be an anti-climax and, with the tragic death last year of our host and dear friend, Meli, would we be overcome with sadness? We need not have worried. After five days here we are feeling as though we never left and the warmth of the welcome to us has been overwhelming.
 
We went ashore on Wednesday morning to present our sevusevu with 5 other boats - Ithaka (Scotland), Anico & Antares (Germany) and Raganui (NZ), all Fulaga virgins.  At the beach waiting for us were Alfreti and Mini, Meli's younger brothers, who led us into the village; on the 1-mile path we met lots of familiar faces and we received wonderful, big hugs and happy smiles and just everyone remembered our names (including many of the school kids when we walked past the playground). Luckily we remembered most of the names of those who greeted us. The other cruisers must have wondered what we did here last time as we certainly felt like the returning prodigals!!
 
One of the village elders,Tai, did the introduction of all the new visitors to Chief Daniel (now 89 but looking very well) who seemed to be very pleased to see us and was all smiles. He became very solemn during the sevusevu ceremony (conducted entirely in Fijian, punctuated with resonant hand-claps (known as cobos) and, at the end, shook hands with each of us in turn and said 'Bula' (welcome) then, with a twinkle in his eye, pretended he didn't know Tai so shook his hand and said 'Bula' to him too.
 
The ceremony over, Tai arranged to take each yacht crew to meet their host family. He explained to us that we had 'jumped houses' (the task of hosting is done in strict rotation) as Alfeti and his wife Bale had asked to host us in memory of Meli; this was really touching  and they now live in Meli and Jiko's house where Pussy the cat is still there begging for food by putting a paw on your knee just as she did with Meli. It was a bit emotional to talk about Meli but lovely to be able to chat over lemon-leaf tea and delicious pancakes. Jiko is now living with her brother in her family village of Naividamu, across the lagoon so we'll see her in the next few days.
 
Alfreti and Bale came aboard Maunie on that evening as Alfetie had caught a big crab that morning and Bale had made delicious rotis. They bought with them their great-niece Akosita who is nearly three; she's living with them for a few months, a fairly common practice with the big families in Fiji. Once her shyness had worn off she was chatting and singing away to Dianne in the cabin. Alfreti and Bale spend quite a few months each year in Suva and Nadi; unlike his brothers, Alfreti left the island in his youth and spend 18 years in the city, but still calls Fulaga 'home'. Incidentally, our conversations with them illustrated the challenges we have in remembering names here'; we noticed that Bale and other locals called Alfreti 'Lutu'. "That's my middle name" he explained, "but some people in the village also call me 'Fere', it's my nickname." We have no chance!
 
So, lovely to be back and it's been full-on ever since we arrived. We've been dancing, fishing, playing volleyball and laughing a lot. More updates to follow, we'd better get ready for church this morning. 
 
 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Back in the beautiful island of Fulaga

The trip down from Qamea was pretty good in spite of our slight misgivings at the forecast suggesting we'd sail into a low pressure trough this morning. We set off at 06.00 yesterday with Colin and Ana on Ithaka and once again found that Maunie could hold her own against a bigger (43ft) boat; we were well-matched for speed and had some lovely sailing in bright sunshine for most of the first day. You can see our route on http://www.yit.co.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall
 
During the night the first signs of the approaching weather system arrived in the form of sudden heavy rain and big shifts in the wind direction; it swung from ENE to NNW and then died so we motored for several hours in the night. At about 7.30 am the next stage was a sudden move to the SW and an increase to 15 knots to give us a great final couple of hours sailing towards the narrow pass into the Fulaga lagoon. By pure chance we met two more boats in the final approaches, the German yachts Anico and Antares, both of who we know, and there was a kind of holding-pattern, after-you, no-after-you moment as we contemplated the slightly tricky pass in drizzle and poor light conditions that would make visual identification of the reefs difficult.
 
As the only boat in the quartet to have been here before, Maunie led the way and, thankfully, our procession of boats made it safely into the beautiful anchorage. There were already some visiting boats here, but just five of them, so the villagers will be delighted at today's influx of newcomers. A fishing boat came past us just after we anchored and there was a lot of waving and shouts of "Bula, Graham & Dianne!!"
 
After a some recovery time for the rest of the day we will head in to the main village to present or sevusevu in the morning and to meet our host family this year. After his death last year, Meli's widow Jiko has apparently moved back to her family village across the other side of the lagoon so we hope to see her sometime in the next few days. That'll be an emotional reunion.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Just nipping to the shops...

This may be the last update with photos for a couple of weeks as, if all goes to plan, we'll be back in the remote island of Fulaga in a couple of days. There's no internet or mobile phone signal there but we'll still be able to send and receive emails via the satellite phone so will update the blog with stories.

Our evening in the village of Waibulu was entertaining with plenty of kava consumed and lots of laughter.

Colin looks delighted to receive a bilo of kava from John Valentine in the Chief's house; the Chief is on the right. John's great (x3) grandfather was a Scottish sandalwood trader who married the then Chief's daughter and then went on to marry several other Fijian girls!

Graham, in his best bula shirt and sulu, pounding the yagona roots to make kava.

Tom has a go. You thought Graham's shirt was loud!
We made it safely back to the boats after all that excitement.

The forecast looks ok to sail the 155nm to Fulaga tomorrow, though it looks as though we'll get a low pressure trough crossing us as we arrive so we are expecting some rain and squalls en route. We therefore decided to nip across to the shops this morning for some last-minute supplies and this involved a 2 hour sail each way with a very wet dinghy ride across from the anchorage in Matei to the shore. On the way across there was a big crash from the stern cabin followed by a rather nice smell; a cool box containing a few bottles of beer had catapulted across the floor when we rolled over a big wave with some casualties as a result. What a waste!



Thursday, 18 June 2015

Meals on Keels

We are certainly glad that we came into Naiviivi Bay yesterday. It's a really well-protected, deep and narrow bay, surrounded by densely-wooded hills and thick mangroves at the shore. Last night the bad weather that we'd been watching on the forecasts finally arrived - after a very relaxed evening aboard Maunie, with the crews of Ithaka and Exit Strategy, the rain and wind arrived with a bang at 11.30pm.

Today, the clouds hang low over us and, every now and then, big gusts and rain squalls find their way down the valley to soak us. The view is very similar to that on the Google Earth picture of our anchorage on http://www.yit.co.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall !

Looking East towards the head of the bay

Looking West towards the entrance, with Exit Strategy in the foreground and the island of Taveuni, almost lost in the mist, in the background. You can just see the waves breaking on the reef - there are 4-5m swells reported by an unfortunate yacht on passage from Tonga this morning.
We took advantage of a brief break in the rain this morning to go ashore to present our sevusevu to the Chief in the nearest village, Waibulu. This traditional and formal ceremony involving our presenting a gift of a neatly-wrapped bundle of yagona root, used to make the Kava drink, would result in our welcome to the village as special guests and their protection and help if needed. Getting ashore looked like something of a challenge but luckily Colin and Ana had done the trip a couple of days ahead of us and kindly offered to act as guides.

Kim and Dianne in our dinghy. We knew that the falling tide would involve wading through sticky mud so left the outboard engine on Maunie; Colin and Ana gave us a tow up the narrow cut in the mangroves.
The sevusevu ceremony was fairly short but we were invited to tour the village and to return tomorrow evening for a 'fundraiser' event and to drink Kava; we will report on the delights of this in a future update! Two of the village women showed us around; the place is home to 200 people and is steadily growing in size thanks to employment offered in farming and fishing as well as at a couple of expensive resorts on the island. One house we visited was carpeted in AstroTurf (complete with white lines!) rather than the traditional pandanus mats. Mary giggled and explained that her husband works at the 7-Star (?) resort on the other side of the island where he looks after the golf course so this unusual floor covering was 'a bit left over'.

Though there's no nursing station in the village and all the houses are basic corrugated iron single-story affairs, there's a tiny shop selling a few basics and every household has a sizable area to grow their own vegetables. All the children go to a school in the biggest of the four villages in the bay, up until Year 6 when they have to move to a boarding secondary school over in Taveuni. Everyone we met looked fit and happy.

The growing of yagona is the main cash-generating industry of the village - one of the ladies explains the drying process and the need to put the roots under a building to protect them when it rains

Ana learning about the fabled "Raining Stone". Before the missionaries came along the people here believed it had special powers; slap it once and heavy rain will come within the hour. Our guide slapped it and it has been pouring down ever since!
Tour over and with nervous glances at the fast-receding tide we returned to the dinghies, pushed them through a few yards of thick mud to the water and managed to get back to the boats just as the rain really started to bucket down at lunchtime. However a brief respite a few minutes later saw the arrival of some wonderful entrepreneurship:

The British yacht Afar VI gets a visit
 A local open boat, known as fibers in these parts, did the rounds of the six yachts anchored here offering ready--cooked lunches!

Meals on Keels in action - at the outboard is Moses, the Chief of the next village, and the two folk in the middle of the boat had huge cooking pots at their feet

Lunch for $5 (about £1.65). Clockwise from top: Salmon, cassava, onions, chilli, lemon, fried aubergine and, in the centre, cassava leaves cooked with coconut milk.
We'd just finished our lunch but took two plates of this lovely-looking grub and put them in the fridge for tonight's supper.


Saturday, 13 June 2015

Monsters of the Deep

We've spent a lot of time in the water over the past few days. Graham did two absolutely superb scuba dives on Thursday on the famous 'Great White Wall' and the Rainbow Reef (whilst Di enjoyed an equally superb massage at the Dolphin Bay Resort) and we have been out on two excellent snorkelling expeditions with Jack Fisher. 

However, not all the fish below us are pretty and we have discovered a monster lurking under Maunie, attached to the front of her keel. The water in the bay is a bit murky but Graham got close enough to snatch a photo before retreating to a safe distance:

A monster has attached itself to our boat!
 Further identification was made possible by throwing some bait over the side and the monster revealed its true identity:

He's about a metre long
It's a Remora fish, the type which usually attach themselves to the bellies of sharks and rays - you can just see the flat 'sucker' on the top of his head. 'Our' Remora (we'e called him Reginald) seems to like to stick to Maunie and dash out in hope whenever we throw food scraps overboard. We've read that Remoras can attach themselves to divers - if this happens to you, dear reader, the removal technique is to slide them forwards. We like to be able to share relevant and useful tips on this blog.

Whilst most of the fish that we've seen on the dives and snorkels are absolutely beautiful, there are definitely some less attractive ones around. We didn't get close enough to the White Tip Shark and the menacing-looking Moray Eel to get photos but there her are a couple of well-camouflaged characters spotted today:



Here are some of the prettier ones:






So life goes on in Viani Bay - the underwater world is so amazing here that we'll stay here a couple more days at least before moving on. Meanwhile, we continue with a few boat jobs, bake fresh bread and watch the school bus pass us twice a day:

Returning from school
PS You may have spotted a new home-page photo for the blog. We thought we'd ring the changes every now and then so thanks to Irene on Kiapa who took this one as they passed us on passage to Tonga last May.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Local Knowledge, Jack Fisher.

So we are anchored in Viani Bay looking out towards the 'Garden Island of Fiji', Taveuni. you can see our position on Google Earth by clicking this link. The island is hilly and, lying as it does on the SE corner of the big island of Vanua Levu, it catches the prevailing SE wind and rain so it's lush and green.


The view from our anchorage, looking SSE towards Taveuni
Viani Bay is home to a great local character called Jack Fisher and his extended family. Jack is of mixed Fijian and European stock and has been a fisherman and diver over the years and has hundred of entertainingly tall tales to tell!


Jack Fisher and his wife Sophie on board Exit Strategy
He now offers a wonderful service to visiting yachts, guiding them to the best snorkelling spots on the outer reef where he comes out in your boat, shows you where to anchor perilously close to the coral and then follows the snorkellers in the dinghy. He also guides boats over to a safe anchorage close to the shore of Taveuni and organises a taxi to take you up to the beautiful waterfalls on the eastern side of the island so that's what we did yesterday:


The view looking SE from the hike on Taveuni

At the third waterfall, at the top of the trail through dense bush

The Third Waterfall
It was a hot and sweaty hike so a swim in the first waterfall was wonderfully refreshing before we climbed back into the extremely-rattly minivan for the 80 minute drive (on mostly dirt tracks) back to the main town of Somosomo, with a quick stop to get some more groceries. We climbed back aboard Exit Strategy and arrived back in Viani Bay just as darkness fell. It was a great day and we were glad to have done the tour in good weather; Jack charges just $10FJ per person for his pilotage and boat-watch and the taxi was just $100FJ for the day so, with a $15 per person fee for the Waterfall trail the whole day worked out at about $42FJ per person, or about £14! 

Our snorkelling trip with Jack the day before, aboard Ithaka this time, took us to a section of the reef called the Fish Factory; well named:


Tom from Exit Strategy free-diving

Clown Fish

Kin from Exit Strategy

The Fish Factory



A Crown of Thorns starfish. They cause lots of damage to the coral and are extremely poisonous - don't touch!! 
Wonderfully-coloured Parotfish


Having all this fun here meant we missed a reasonable weather window to sail SE to Fulanga so we'll wait around here and explore some of the nearby anchorages for a few days to see how the weather settles down. It looks as though it might be a bit windy towards the end of the week so we'll settle for a good anchorage and a good book if necessary!

Finally, the beauty of good email access here allowed our nephew Gary to tell us the fabulous news of the arrival of Jessica Glen Armer on the 4th June so that's Great Uncle and Great Auntie x4! Many congratulations to Gary and Becky. We look forward to meeting her and her new cousin Erin via Skpe soon.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Dressed for the Tropics

Sorry, we know that Britain has experience a cold and windy May and that June hasn't started so well; however, we have to report that it's oppressively hot and humid here. Savusavu is a brilliantly sheltered harbour but that just means that it feels fairly airless aboard just now.

We've rigged Maunie with her full selection of shade canvas and added a 'Windscoop' to funnel whatever breeze there is down through the fore-hatch to make life below feel vaguely bearable:

On the mooring in Savusavu

Close-up of the sun-shades and Windscoop

The mooring in Savusavu
Meanwhile the locals all think that the weather is turning rather cool! Remember that we are heading into winter here so we can't imagine how oppressive the heat must be in mid-summer. The town in a busy, bustling sort of place with lots going on - we were sorry to miss out on the raffle prizes advertised on this notice:

We assume that the Billy Goat and Rooster would be still walking around on collection!

All being well we'll head out to fresher breezes and cooler temperatures in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

A Feeding Frenzy

We left Savusavu harbour at 06.30 yesterday morning to move out to a nearby anchorage for a few hours. The main reason was to get less interference on the radio as Graham was net controller for the Southern Cross net but the main benefit was the ability to swim in very clear water. 

We snorkelled around 'Split Rock' which was teaming with fish. Thanks to Di's niece Laura, who has just completed her Masters in Marine Biology at Southampton, for the species identifications!

These fish aren't shy -they came up to us, some of them even nibbling our arms and legs!

Scissortail Sergeants (Abudefduf sexfasciatus)

Golden Damselfish (Amblyglyphidodon aureus)

Bullethead Parrotfish (Chlorurus sordidus) nibbling the coral

Laura's best guess on this one was a Lemonpeel Anglefish (Centropyge flavissima)
We think that the local resort staff must come and feed these fish when they bring their guests out to snorkel - they certainly weren't backwards at coming forward when we scattered some biscuits in the water. Here's  a little video clip of them in action (sorry it won't play on iPads):

video

We're now back in Savusavu for a last replenishment of fruit and veg from the wonderful market. Tonight we're celebrating Kerry's birthday aboard Sel Citron and then tomorrow we'll head east, weather permitting. There are some stronger SE winds arriving at the weekend so we need to get to a good sheltered anchorage near the island of Taveuni to wait them to pass.