Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Some photos from Faluga

We have a little credit left in our July satellite phone account so we thought we'd post some small photos from the past couple of weeks in Falugu.
So, above, we have:
1. Our hosts, Meli, Jiko, Jona and Jima in their Sunday best
2. Jima making eyes at us in church
3. An amazingly tame Kingfisher
4. Meli at work – he's one of the best carvers on the island
5. The view over our anchorage
We have a busy day ahead of us. This afternoon we are going into the school to give a lesson! Amongst other topics we'll tell them about making yogurt – Graham has a video on his laptop showing the production process at Yeo Valley's Blagdon dairy and we've made some apricot yogurt for the children to taste. After that there's a big fundraising party organised by the women of the village who have been rehearsing dances and songs for the past few days; judging by the laughter we've heard coming from their rehearsals, it should be very entertaining.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Feeling a bit inadequate in our living-off-the-land skills

1. The view across the Fulaga lagoon from the lookout hill
2. Look who came to dinner
3. Jiko and Meli making baskets from palm leaves
Today we had a perfect lesson in how to harvest food and transport it home without the sorts of tools and equipment that we westerners regard as essentials; having arranged with Meli and Jiko to visit what they described as 'Meli's island', we collected them from the beach at 9.00am and set off across the lagoon in the dinghy.
We'd learnt that Meli's 'clan' originally lived in a village on a small island within the Fulaga reef, a couple of miles away from the current centre of population; the men were widely-respected as fierce (and, apparently, ravenously hungry) warriors when a spot of defending-against-incomers was called for. So a couple of hundred years ago, the Big Chief of Fuluga called them in to come to live in the main village, with the promise of some nice plots of land in the up-and-coming west end, because he wanted them as handy additional muscle to meet unwelcome guests bearing spears and clubs. Their original island was left deserted but Meli still retains ancestral rights to the place so goes their once a week to bring back breadfruit, cassava, coconuts and cabbage that he's planted in clearings in the forest.
He first led us up to the old lookout post at the summit of a steep and very rocky hill, with a detour via a cave stacked with the skulls of the clan's erstwhile enemies, placed there after a series of hearty post-battle luncheons, presumably. His normally taciturn face broke into a slow and wide smile as he watched our shocked reactions at coming face to skull, so to speak, with the contents of the cave.
Sightseeing over, we returned to the plantation and a fire was lit to roast some breadfruit as a starchy but tasty mid-morning snack. Whilst these were cooking (15-20 minutes over a medium flame, until the thick skin is nicely charred if you were wondering), it was explained that Meli would go and dig up some cassava roots and Jiko would take us crab-hunting in the mangroves around the low-tide mark. "Did you bring a bag?" asked Jiko, to which we apologised and said no; she just giggled at our lack of preparedness as Meli swung his machete and brought down a huge palm frond from which the two of them sat down to weave a couple of exquisitely-constructed and very strong baskets. "This one will be for the crabs" she said, "so we need to close the top to keep them in." Another swing on the machete and a perfectly pliable length of vine was tied in a series of rolling hitches along the top of the basket.
We followed Jiko, splashing across the sand flats as the tide ebbed away. Watching her stride confidently ahead, basket in hand, reminded Graham very much of his mum heading off to the shops, wickedly unyielding wicker basket in hand, when he was a boy.  And it was clear that heading off into the mangroves to catch some intimidatingly large crabs comes is about as routine to Jiko as wheeling a trolley around Sainsbury's is to us. Sadly we weren't allowed to witness the actual crab-catching technique, as our amateur efforts at crab-stalking would have them scuttling off into the distance, but Jiko returned after only ten minutes with the basket containing 8 large crabs, thereby allowing her to use the "10 items or less, Baskets Only" checkout. Sorry, we know what you're thinking – it should be "10 items or fewer" but the finest minds of Asdasainsmorrisco haven't understood that point of English grammar yet, so far be it for us to spoil the already-weak joke in the interests of pedantry.
Back to the clearing for a fill of smokey-tasting breadfruit (use breadfruit tree leaves as oven gloves to prevent burns, if trying this at home), we then returned to the dinghy, pausing for our hosts to find a dozen or so clams in the shallows to use as bait for the next chapter of our provisioning trip. Leaving the baskets of goodies in Maunie's cockpit, we heading north across the lagoon to anchor the dinghy in several 'good spots' for some fishing; sad to say that we visitors didn't cover themselves with glory, catching precisely no fish whilst Jiki and Meli hauled in three each (Perch-like fish called Ninos which have needle-like spines on their dorsal fins) but, in our defence, it was too windy and too cold for good fishing, apparently.
We returned to Maunie, getting pretty wet from the spray in the wind-driven waves, to warm up in the sunshine and have lunch. Here we managed, at least, to regain a modicum of self-respect; we'd been up at 6.30am to fillet and cook the last section of the mahi-mahi that we caught on the passage from Taveuni (the combination of a fridge and a Lakeland vacuum packer keeps fish fresh for 8-10 days so it's good that none of it was wasted). Our fish curry was given full and enthusiastic approval by the Fijians, though, of course, we didn't admit that the coconut cream came out of a tin.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Rain in Fiji

The rain in Fiji is mostly falling on us at the moment – and this is supposed to be the dry season. We've had drizzle interspersed with heavy showers for the last couple of days which has rather curtailed our plans to explore Fulaga. However, as you know, every dark cloud has a sliver of lightning, or something like that, so we've collected lovely clean rain water into our tank and, with the absence of sunshine to charge the batteries, we've run the generator for long enough to have the bread-maker on to bake a lovely wholemeal and multi-seed loaf. The availability of 240v AC power also allowed Graham to get the sander and vacuum cleaner out to sand and re-varnish some worn areas of woodwork in the pilothouse; three coats of varnish have been applied and we're slightly now high on the fumes. The results look good but, having made a shiny bit, we'll have to carry on with other areas that need refreshing over the coming weeks.
After being cooped up in the cabin all day yesterday, it was lovely to go across for supper last night on a catamaran called Quixotic. Ed (from Oregon) had been hunting for lobster in the shallows, guided by one of the local fishermen, and his wife Leila (from Israel) cooked them beautifully so we had a wonderful supper. Ed and Leila are both keen card players (their first question was "Do you play Bridge?") and put up with our novice attempts at Contract Whist.
As soon as the weather improves (soon, we hope, though it's still raining on day three – it's like a summer holiday in Galloway) we'll go back into the village. Sunday's church service was entertaining – a real fire-and-brimstone sermon from the preacher (in Fijian) and some great singing – and was followed by a wonderful lunch with Jiko, Meji and various other family members. Dianne had baked a carrot cake which the family really loved; little 16 month old Jima sat on guard beside the plate and entertained us all by pushing away the hands of her brother and cousins when they tried to take a piece. After the meal we showed them some photos and videos on the laptop – shots of home in the snow, pictures of some of the places we've visited and even the Yeo Valley TV adverts which they found very funny.
Meanwhile a couple more boats have arrived in the anchorage though one, unfortunately, ran aground on the reef at the entrance to the lagoon. We headed out in the dinghy to see if we could help but, thankfully, they managed to wiggle free after a scary five minutes and anchored safely with a few scars to the keel. Another reminder that these are difficult waters...

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Our new Fulagan family

Our experience of Fulaga has been pretty special, so far. On Thursday morning we dinghied a couple of miles across the lagoon to a beach and then walked for about 20 minutes into the main village where our arrival was clearly expected. The village nurse, a young man in his twenties, greeted us warmly and handed us over to Aqila who was to be our 'spokesman' at the sevusevu ceremony; as we walked towards the Chief's house we had lots of shouts of 'Bula' (hello) from the (mostly corrugated iron) houses and several people came over to shake our hands in welcome.
The sevusevu ceremony, in contrast, was a very formal and solemn affair. Aqila took our yangona (kava root bundle) and laid it at the feet of the 82 year-old Chief and then launched into an impassioned speech in Fijian on our behalf – the Chief and his spokesman uttered a few words in response and then the Chief touched our yaqona and told us (again in Fijian) that we were welcomed and honoured guests of the island. Suddenly it was all smiles as we shook hands and were asked to sit with the chief for a photo. The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that Graham appears to be wearing a skirt – it's a length of material known as a sulu and is required for formal events; shorts just aren't smart enough.
The sevusevu completed, we were then introduced to our host family. Each visiting yacht is assigned to a host and they take it in turns to share what we'd consider to be a bit of a burden, as last year 60 boats came to Fulaga; they all seem to relish the job, however! Our hosts are Jiko (pronounced Chico) and her husband Meji (Melly) with an 8 year-old son Jona and a 16 month girl Jima (Tima) and we were given a delicious lunch in their house then a demonstration of pounding the kava root and infusing it through a cloth in a large bowl of water. Drinking kava is a social occasion so several family members and friends sat around the bowl with us but, as guests, we had to drink first from the polished coconut-husk cup. To replicate the taste of cava, boil old newspaper in water and leave to cool for 12 hours (preferably add some mud for the authentic colour); it makes you mouth go a bit numb, though. Graham was asked to give a little speech about us and where we'd come from – our hosts listened very politely and clapped at the end; telling stories is part of the kava ritual. It's probably a bit like us westerners sharing a couple of bottles of wine with half a dozen friends; on Fulaga, though, there is no alcohol as it's a strict Methodist community.
We learnt that on an island of three villages (well, technically four but the fourth is tiny), 300 or so people, a monthly supply boat, electricity only in the school and 3 telephones, the visits by foreign yachts are regarded as something to be enjoyed. We're glad to hear that most yachties do a fair job of returning the friendship they find here.
The following day, the villagers' hospitality extended to a bbq on a beach near to where we're anchored – about 25 of them came (some in their own boats, others getting lifts from the village on a couple of catamarans) at about 10.00am and duties were immediately given to locals and yachties alike – building a temporary sun shelter, lighting fires, spear-fishing and crab-hunting. The women of Faluga traditionally go net-fishing in the shallow waters of the lagoon (whilst the men go out into the surrounding reef for bigger prey) so the yachtswomen were expected to go and help them – this is Dianne's account of what happened:
"Yesterday was the funniest ever. The women (about 10 locals/ yachties in total) went off netting fish (Goat Fish were the prized species) while the men were involved in preparing the bbq / fishing etc. Graham drove one of the dinghies that took the women to the netting spots. What he saw was hilarious, as it was for us! Basically we swam / snorkelled / waded toward the net which was stretched out and then 'ran' beating the water like mad women to drive the fish into the net. We did catch about a dozen fish but laughed so much that it hurt! Round here, you can forget water aerobics - just do a bit of netting!! Graham wished he'd managed to video the scene as he didn't anticipate what he was going to see! All this in the most beautiful turquoise waters."
Fishing completed, we returned to the beach to find bowls woven from coconut fronds and a makeshift table groaning under the weight of food. The yachts had chatted on the radio the previous day so had arrange to contribute bowls of salad, pasta, rice and cakes to compliment the local food. We all ate extremely well and laughed a lot; the party broke up at about 4.30pm.
Tomorrow (Sunday) we're going back to the main village for Church followed by Sunday lunch with Jiko and Meji so Graham gets to wear a sulu again and we try to get used to sitting cross-legged on the floor for a meal. It promises to be another great experience.
Sadly, we're limited by our satellite phone to just a couple of photos – we'll add more when we get back to Internet Land but, to be honest, don't think we'll be rushing to leave this wonderful place.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A bit of an epic - Taveuni to Faluga

We're now safely anchored at Faluga ( 19 deg, 08.96 mins south, 178 deg, 32.62 west) after a 27 hour, 175 mile passage and, yes, it feels very good to have arrived!
We definitely picked a good weather window for the voyage and set off in bright sunshine yesterday morning, with a nice 15 knot wind on our starboard beam and a slight swell. Maunie was charging along and we caught a very nice Mahi-mahi at about 4.00pm which was quickly gutted and portioned into steaks and fillets for the fridge. Cooking it that evening would prove too tricky as neither of us felt on top form and the dreaded sea sickness got Graham for a couple of hours after dealing with the fish.
As night fell, Dianne had a pretty challenging watch as rain squalls brought big wind shifts and gusts so Graham joined her on deck for some sail changes. At one stage, once the bright moon had risen, we looked over our shoulder and saw a moon rainbow, the first we'd ever seen, as the next rain approached. It was a narrower arch than we normal see with the sun and, in the silver half light, it looked pretty eerie.
As daylight arrived, we saw another yacht a couple of miles astern. We'd met the American crew of Lisa Kay (larry and Lisa, with their son) in Savusavu and again in the supermarket in Somosomo so we knew they were also heading for Falunga; once again Maunie's speed came as a surprise to people who don't know her as they are a much bigger boat and yet they couldn't overtake us.
As we arrived at Faluga, a horseshoe-shaped island with a reef pass in the open bit of the horseshoe, we talked to a couple of boats, already here, on the vhf. Lots of helpful advice was offered, particularly about the pass into the reef through which the tide can race at up to 4 knots; thankfully our timing was good so we came in safely against a 2 knot outflow.
Wow, what a place! The big lagoon inside the horseshoe is shallow (about 5-6m) so the water is a bight turquoise, studded by water-eroded, mushroom-shaped rocks. The land is tree covered and sustains life in 3 villages whose occupants must feel pretty cut off from the rest of the world. A supply boat arrives once a month and mobile phone coverage can, apparently, only be gained by a 20 minute climb up a hill outside the main village to get a weak signal from a bigger island 20 miles north of here; as a result, visiting yachts are given a very warm welcome.
However, interaction with the locals, apart from a very cheery wave and shouts of 'Bula' (hello) from fishermen near the pass, is ahead of us. Having dropped anchor in a bay with 6 other yachts, we had a celebratory beer each, some lunch and then went to bed at 3.00pm 'for a couple of hours'. At 9.15pm we woke up in the dark.
Tomorrow we'll head across to the village to present our sevusevu to the chief and to have a look around. The lack of mobile signals will, unfortunately, limit our ability to post photos on the blog as we're back to the satellite phone but we'll add a few updates and post pictures when we can. Hopefully we'll get internet connections again when we head to the northern Lau islands in a couple of weeks but in the meantime we can receive emails as normal and would really welcome your news!

Monday, 14 July 2014

On the buses

We had a lovely day out on the buses today! Having discovered that the biggest town on the island of Taveuni, Sosomo, had a supermarket, we caught the bus for the 10 mile trip down the west coast road. We were, of course, the only foreigners aboard so took care to study all the notices and instructions.

A stern notice by the front door warned us it was an OFFENCE not to take a ticket as we boarded and so we paid the $3.40FJ fare and clutched our tickets nervously for fear of being found without. The next sign told us that the bus' capacity was 60 adults, 84 school children and we weren't entirely sure if that was 60 adults and 84 children; luckily there were just a couple of empty seats near the front for us.

We noticed the sign for the emergency exit above the window opposite our seats, which was mildly amusing when you saw the bus in its full glory:

The only emergency exit.....

.....in a windowless bus!
Once under way we couldn't help noticing that the engine noise was quite impressive but its power clearly wasn't so the driver, who obviously knew his vehicle well, was kept busy stirring the long, curved gear lever that sprouted from the floor some three feet behind his left shoulder. Once into top gear, though, a gentleman sitting in the first row of seats behind him then took hold of the lever to stop it dropping out of gear. It's probably some kind of apprenticeship scheme where you have to do a couple of years as gearstick-holder until you can progress on to becoming a driver. 

Holding the gearstick
It's just occurred to us that he might just have been an ordinary passenger and that it's just expected that you'll help out if you sit in that seat.

The view from the road, with the coral exposed at low tide

A shaky photo as the bus approached top speed of about 35mph
 It was a very entertaining journey, much better than the supermarket, and we liked Sososmo, and particularly the primary school overlooking the beach:

Sososmo Primary
The reason for the journey is that we have a friendly-looking weather window of south west winds for the next couple of days - ideal to head south east to the Lau islands without having to fight our way against the usual south-easterly trade winds. So we plan to leave tomorrow for the 160 mile overnight passage down to Fulaga. 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Staring at the Moon

Yesterday we moved into a more sheltered anchorage in Buca Bay, just a couple of miles across from Kioa on the 'mainland'. As night fell, briskly as it does in the Tropics, the nearly-full moon rose over us and by 9.00pm it was directly above us, bathing the boat in a beautiful silvery light.

I did something that, curiously it now seems to me, I've never done before. I lay on the deck and looked at the moon through binoculars. I guess that the complete absence of light-polution and the clear atmosphere made it especially good but I was absolutely amazed to be able to see individual  craters in the surface at just 50x magnification. Dianne came and had a look (accidentally hurting her black eye with the binoculars - more of that later) whilst I fiddled with the camera to try and get a photo. This is the best I could manage; it looked much clearer through the binoculars:

My first astronomy photograph!

We both noticed a bright white dot on the surface which you can see in the photo at about the 8 o'clock position, not far from the edge - the sun reflecting on a still-shiny piece of Apollo space junk, perhaps? I hope so.

The Moon, of course, is terribly important to sailors since it's the chief influence on ocean tides. Every fortnight, when Moon is either full or new, it lines up with the sun and the combined gravitational pull of the two pulls the sea towards it in a lump - the highest Spring Tide. At the opposite side of the earth there's another lump whilst half way its circumference round the water level drops. So, as the earth rotates you get a high tide, a low tide 6 hours later and another high tide 12 hours after the first. Spring tides, because of this combined gravitational pull, give very high high-tides and very low low-tides and, in between the two, all the water has to flood in and out between islands and around headlands as it finds its new tidal level so the current will be at its strongest.

A week later and the Moon and Sun won't be in line (they pull at right angles to each other) so the sea is influenced only by the Moon's pull; the highs and lows are less extreme and we get neap tides with weaker current flows. Generally, it's easier to do coastal navigation at these time but the downside is that, at night, you don't have much moonlight to see by. So there you go, a quick overview on tides!

Finally, on to Dianne's black eye. In the middle of the night a few days ago she got up to use the heads (loo) and, not wanting to wake me, didn't switch on the light and went to use the aft heads, which has a low doorway. You can guess the rest. She now has a pretty impressive shiner which, unfortunately, she won't let me photograph. The problem, apart from the pain she experiences with binoculars of course, is that it's considered rude to walk in to villages wearing sunglasses here so I may be wrong, but I do sense a degree of sympathy toward her from the locals and a few disapproving glances in my direction. My Fijian isn't up to "no, actually she walked into a door" however.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Kioa Island

A slight weather-related change of plan. Rather than heading south east for Lau we have gone round the eastern corner of Vanua Levu to Kioa Island (16 deg 40.22 mins south, 179 deg 54.17 mins east for those wanting to find it on Google Earth).

Kioa is an unusual place in that it was bought by the islanders of Tuvalu in 1947. Tuvalu Islands lie about 800 miles north of Fiji and are small (the biggest just 4 square miles), flat and very low-lying. The Tuvalans recognised that they were at risk of rising sea levels (and apparently today their airstrip gets flooded at high tides) so needed to be able to relocate some of their people; in 1947 a group of 31 islanders arrived at Kioa, which must have seemed like a huge, mountainous and fertile paradise and now around 300 people live in its single village.

The islanders, whilst being Fijian citizens, retain their Tuvalan culture and speak a mix of Fijian, Tuvalan and (thankfully) English. They are pretty much self-sufficient, fishing from traditional dug-out outrigger canoes (with small sails) and growing their own fruit and vegetables. They export Kava and the women make handicrafts which are sold to tourists in the mainland markets. However they welcome visitors and we went ashore to present our sevusevu to one of the village Councillors and were welcomed to the village.

Maunie at anchor, local fishing canoe on beach

The Mission Statement
To fetch a pail of water...

The School

The menfolk, ready to welcome visitors on the beach

A beautifully-make dug-out canoe

We were lucky that a small tourist cruise boat was arriving in the afternoon and so a traditional dance had been arranged in the village hall. The councillor conspiratorially suggested we blend in, as best we could, behind the local in the hall so we got to see the event for free whilst the cruise boat visitors had paid for it. Here's a short video to give you an idea of the event. Video

Monday, 7 July 2014

Viani Bay and meeting Jack Fisher

We arrived in a beautifully sheltered anchorage called Viani Bay, after an overnight stop-off at Fawn Harbour, and it's home to a famous character in this parts, Jack Fisher. Jack's Fijian but, as his name suggests, there are some European roots there somewhere and his grandfather Ned settled here many years ago. Today, Jack has an extended family around him and makes a steady living helping visiting yachties.

Jack rows out to greet us, with younger members of his extended family

He understands our needs well and was once a dive boat captain, he says, though one gets the impression that some of his stories should be taken with a pinch of sea salt. Anyway he offers to guide us to the best snorkeling spots on the reef, organise treks, arrange a bus tour of the neighbouring Taveuni Island and, once a week, will organise a Lovo. He has an admirable pricing policy of charging $10 FJ (about £3.50) per person for his services and is hugely affable.

So yesterday he organised a Lovo on the beach in front of his house. A lovo is a traditional Fijian feast cooked in the earth oven that gives it its name. A shallow pit is lined with stones and a hot fire of coconut husks burns in it until the stones are really hot; the fire is raked out and the meat - a butchered pig and chicken - is put into it between layers of banana leaves. The whole thing is then covered with earth and left to cook for a couple of hours. 

As we arrived on the beach the lovo had been opened up and wonderful smells greeted us. There was a formidably-organised team of ladies from the local church group who served out the meal onto plates for the thirty or so sailors present. In addition to the meat there was spinach cooked in coconut milk, taro root (which cooks to a dense potato-like texture), squash and tuna. Absolutely delicious!


Plating-up the meal

The crowd hovers, expectantly, as the food is ready to be served

We'll definitely come back here to do some of the snorkeling and hiking but there is a weather system approaching us which will bring rain but also a NE wind (rather than the usual SE trade winds) which should be perfect for getting out to the remote northern Lau islands. Last night we met a boat called Sea Whisper (another Southern Cross Net contact) who had spent over a month in the Lau Islands and described them as probably the best places they'd ever visited.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Out into the islands

After a busy week in Savusavu, we left the harbour on Friday to head east into the islands. Before we left, though, we had to re-provision with the usual fresh veg and meat from the superb market (the best we've seen so far).

Saturday is the best day in the market and extra stalls are set up outside

We also had to buy some unusual supplies for our trip - bundles of 'yaqona' - the dried roots of a pepper shrub which we'll present to the chiefs of each village we visit in a very important ceremony called sevusevu. The roots will be pounded into dust and mixed with water to make a drink called Kava. We'll post more about this once we've completed our first sevusevu.

Yaqona root bundles wrapped in newspaper and rafia tape 
On the morning we left we watched a local fisherwoman paddle a raft, made entirely of bamboo logs, through the anchorage - we suspect we'll see more interesting boats on our journey.

Low-freeboard fishing vessel
We spent our first night anchored just a few miles from Savusavu, sheltered behind  a reef near a large and expensive resort, before sailing along the coast and into a gap in the reef where there's a beautifully-sheltered anchorage known as Fawn Harbour; we are the only yacht here. It was a great sail - with sails hauled in tight and boat heeling over as we sailed close-hauled against the wind - and the coastline is stunning. The water near the coastline has a permanent mist rising from it as the waves crash on the reef.

As we headed east we were overtaken by one of the ferries which service the islands. Not sure if it was the wonderfully-named Egi One, though

Must be one for illegal immigrants, judging from the Deporting Time