Well the weather certainly seems to have it in for us at the moment! We have yet another grey, drizzly day here and it has been about 5 days since we saw any blue sky. The solar panels do what they can to extract some energy from the dull light but we're having to run the generator every couple of days to recharge the batteries; right on cue its water pump began dripping sea water a two days ago but, fingers crossed, it seems have cured itself for the time being.
With no sign of any improvement in the forecast, yesterday we took the decision to move from our anchorage on the west side of Ono to Kavala Bay on the north side of Kadavu, just six miles away. The normal advice that we adhere to is to avoid moving your boat in these reef-strewn waters unless there is good sunlight to show the shallows but we'd managed to download detailed Google Earth images of our route and the charts here are reasonably accurate, so we took it slowly and anchored in a wonderfully sheltered, mangrove-ringed bay at lunchtime. There a shop here, actually it's the shop for the entire north east coast of Kadavu, so we went ashore with hopes of a restock; sadly the store is pretty limited but we managed to get a frozen chicken (probably farmed in pretty terrible, intensive conditions) and some snacks. Tui the shop owner shook his head sadly when we asked about fresh vegetables then met us outside clutching a cabbage and some egg plants (as aubergines are known in these parts) from his garden, refusing all offers of payment with a broad smile.
In the afternoon we dinghied (I know, a new verb) a mile across to Kavala, one of three villages in the bay, to present our sevusevu to Mini, the chief. Unusually there was an American Peace Corps volunteer called Brock who has been there for nearly two years and the locals spoke pretty good English so it was pretty easy to make conversation. Once the ceremony was completed in Fijian they asked us about our journey and our tales of Fulaga seemed immediately to elevate us from the ranks of normal palagi tourists; our yagona root was taken out to be pounded and we had a very entertaining kava circle with Brock, Mini, Atu and the pastor. The fact that we knew the right words – taki ('Fill' at the start of each kava round) and maca ('Empty' once your bilo of kava had been downed in one) – further elevated our status as visitors who'd taken the trouble to learn a bit about their culture and we had some good banter about the Rugby World Cup. If we are still here in a couple of days we suspect we'll be watching the Fiji vs Australia match in a crowded room with them early in the morning.
As the conversation flowed we were beginning to worry that our dinghy would be left high and dry as the tide receded from the very broad shallow patch in front of the village. Brock told us that the neighbouring village, which can only be reached at high tide, has a mischievous trick of keeping visitors chatting so that they are trapped for a long night of kava until the water returns so, after a few rounds and lots of chatter, we made our excuses and left. Happily we walked back to the water only to find that some kind soul, probably Atu who had slipped out of the room for a while, had moved our dinghy to a little mooring buoy so it was still in knee-deep water.
The drizzly weather drove us indoors and, although we've rigged water catchers, it's been wet enough to be annoying but not enough to deliver any meaningful volumes of fresh water to our tanks. Harvesting rain water is more important to us than normal just now because our water maker is ailing at the moment, making groaning noises that we know from experience mean that it needs a rebuild and new o-rings in its valves. We can do an interim fix with the parts we have on board but we're hoping to put that job off until we get to Suva in ten days or so because the UK service agent is sending us some spares there and we'd rather not do the fiddly job twice. In the meantime it runs but is only prodcing about 15 litres per hour, which is half its normal rate.
So today is a 'jobs on board' day – Graham has just made bread rolls and a banana cake, to use the last of the very ripe bananas given to us by Isaac in Ono, whilst Dianne is currently taking the pilothouse apart and giving it a blitz clean in the ongoing fight against mould and mildew in these damp conditions. Our morning's work was briefly enlivened when we saw a large vessel coming into the bay at some considerable speed, with a huge white bow wave and a trail of dark diesel smoke suggesting its engines were working hard. Through the binoculars we could see it was a Navy patrol vessel and it seemed to be steaming straight towards us! We switched on our AIS (Automatic Identification System) which transmits our vessel name, call-sign, size, course and speed; it takes about a minute from start-up for it to send its first signals and, sure enough, about a minute later the ship suddenly slowed down and turned back out of the bay when it was about 3/4 mile away. Clearly the ship was looking for someone but thankfully it wasn't us! Had we not switched on the AIS we might have had some interesting photos and stories to add to the blog but we'd rather not mess with the Fijian Navy, especially only a few days after the English victory in the rugby!
Whilst we had the relative luxury of slow internet at the last anchorage, there's no signal here so we are back to the sat phone for plain text emails – and we'd love to hear from you! Carl and Linda on Navara, whom we first met in Fulaga and who brought an old sail with them to cut down for the canoe, are on their way here from the Southern Lau so we look forward to seeing them tomorrow if all goes to plan. Then, if the blessed weather improves (but there's a hint of a nasty low pressure system heading to northern Fiji on Friday) we'll head westwards along the north coast of Kadavu before sailing north to Suva.