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.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Cave diving, a small medical drama and a super-friendly superyacht

We arrived at the anchorage at Sawa-i-Lau island ( a towering piece of rock with strata very similar to that in Fulaga) and went ashore with Bruce and Laura from Pacific Hwy to explore the famous caves. The local village control access but, for $10 per person, provide two guides to take you through into the second chamber; at all but low tide this requires a duck underwater for a 10 second breath-hold and a scramble through under the rock until you pop up into an almost pitch-black, echoing cavern. Scary, even with a waterproof torch in hand and certainly not recommended for the claustrophobic!! Graham was very proud of Dianne for doing it as it's certainly not her thing normally. The two guides pushed and pulled you through so we all made it safely and coming back was easier as the water glowed brightly from the sunshine finding its way into the first chamber.

Photos by Bruce from Pacific Hwy
The legend goes that these caves are the start of an underwater passage that ends in the Lau islands, hundreds of miles to the east. Certainly divers have explored for more than an hour eastwards with no sign of the passage ending.

Returning, blinking in bright sunlight, to the surface we thanked our guides and asked about doing a sevusevu ceremony in the nearby village. 'No problem' they said, 'we'll come to your boats.' Sure enough, a 'fibre' fishing boat arrived alongside, we handed over a parcel of yagona, one of the chaps said three sentences in Fijian, we all clapped three times and they were off, all done in about 30 seconds. A sign of the times and the tourist popularity of this place: a drive-by sevuseva.

Our anchorage, of about 8 boats, is dominated by the 240ft superyacht Dragonfly which is owned by one of the Google founders. He's the third owner so got the 6,600hp, 27 knot, 18 crew boat for a bargain US$45 million, allegedly. It also had a twin-engined seaplane bringing in new guests (and you can charter it for 490,000Euro per week according to this site ) so little did we expect to be climbing aboard it the following morning.

The seaplane arrives with new guests
We were contemplating moving anchorages this morning, to the northern most tip of the Yasawas, when we heard a radio call from La Fiesta, a boat we'd met in New Zealand. Dave, the skipper, had somehow managed to get a big fishing hook well and truly buried into his hand as he reeled in a fish. As they came into the bay, Graham ferried Bruce out to La Fiesta so he could help them anchor safely then went to see the locals at the caves to ask if there was a village nurse - the answer was no. Meanwhile, Dianne was reading up her medical notes and preparing to act as medic to try to remove the offending hook; whilst she was ready to put her training into action, we suspected that Dragonfly would have greater skills and facilities so Graham called them on the VHF.

Mike, the Captain (who, we later learned, completed his training in Fleetwood, Lancashire, just down the road from Dianne's home village), was immediately friendly and helpful on the radio and said that they had a doctor on board and that we could certainly bring Dave over for treatment. So Graham, as mere dinghy driver, was allowed to sit on the aft deck of Dragonfly, chatting to the crew, whilst Dianne accompanied the patient, and his young daughter Natalie, up to the bridge where the doctor and the captain snipped the end of the hook off and, with plenty of local anesthetic and a pair of pliers, worked it through to come out of a new, second hole in Dave's hand (the end of the hook had a barb on it so pulling backwards would have caused all sorts of damage). It was about this point he fainted! 

All the crew we met were super-friendly and interested in our boats. Alex, the chief engineer, was from Kingsbridge (15 minutes' drive from our home port of Dartmouth) and James, one of the deckhands, grew up near Itchenor where Maunie was built. As Graham chatted to them, he couldn't help noticing all the 'toys' in the aft locker - 20 kiteboards, scuba gear for 15, paddleboards, two jet skies and two 8.5m RIB tenders. The crew are all allowed to play with all this stuff 'after work' and seem to have a good rota of 3 months on, one month off.

Mike and his crew's immediate willingness to help seems to be typical of their positive and friendly attitude. Mike happily answered little Natalie's endless questions (including the classic "Why are you all wearing the same clothes?" - the skipper and crew all wore understated grey, or pink for the girls,  t-shirts and board shorts) and we learnt that they'd managed to thread this enormous yacht into the narrow entrance at Fulaga and then had donated ten tonnes of fresh water from their huge desalination plant to the villagers who were almost out of drinking water after this very dry season.

Anyway, the good news is that Dave emerged from surgery without complications and Dianne was extremely relieved not to have had to attempt the procedure. The best ongoing advice regarding fish- hooks is not to get one stuck in you in the first place.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Great sailing and fire dancing

We've had some absolutely brilliant sailing in the last couple of days - beating against the north-easterly wind in bright sunshine. The sun made life much less stressful on the navigational front as it makes shallow water show up as bright turquoise patches in an otherwise dark blue sea and, as we've already mentioned, there are a lot of reefs here that simply don't appear on our electronic charts (or if they do they are several hundred metres adrift of their charted positions). 

So, each time we spotted a reef and alter course to avoid it, we added it to our chart plotter as a reef waypoint for when we sail back this way. Makes us feel a bit like chart-makers and explorers in a very minor way.

The anchorage at Blue Lagoon turned out to be very well sheltered, with not a trace of swell to make us rock and roll, and there are a number of tourist resorts around it, ranging from the hideously expensive to ones catering for back-packers. One of the lower-priced outfits, Coralview, is owned and run by local Fijians and we learned that they organised a Lovo (food cooked in an earth pit) and dancing evening each Saturday; a number of boat crews were going so, with a bit of trepidation about joining the 'tourist trail', we also signed up.

It was a very entertaining evening (apart from the conga!). The food cooked in the Lovo - chicken, pork, cassava, sweet potatoes and spinach cooked in coconut milk - was properly Fijian and delicious whilst the dancing display was great. The finale was outside with two of the male dancers demonstrating some wonderful fire dancing. 

Opening up the Lovo - the boys must have asbestos fingers

The pig, cooked in a palm-frond basket

Making this look easy

Getting more complex

Sitting on your mate's shoulders, twirling firesticks - you did risk-assess this didn't you?
The finale

After all that we were very glad to be ferried back to our boats in the pitch black over some very shallow reefs - the boatman could obviously do the trip with his eyes shut and just nonchalantly shone his torch out a couple of times to light up the reef-marker poles which obediently appeared just where he expected them to be. When we motored out of the anchorage in Maunie this morning, we did it a lot slower and with some nervous glances as the clear water made the coral look only a couple of feet below the surface!

Today we have moved up to an island called Sawa-i-Lau where there are some impressive caves to visit in the morning. The weather front that's been forecast for the past week or so is due to pass over us tomorrow, bringing cloud and maybe even rain (the first for several weeks here) so it'll be a good day to be anchored; a chance to catch up on some boat maintenance and so on. We'll be heading back to New Zealand in 3 or 4 weeks' time so we're starting the preparations for what could be a challenging passage.

Friday, 26 September 2014

A different perspective

Photographers and landscape artists love perspectives - the way distant hillside fade into light tones and how differing sizes of objects can fool the eye.

Take this simple photo, for example:

It was taken in the early evening light from our anchorage in Blue Lagoon (where the Brooke Shields film was made, apparently) and you can see the hillsides to the right fading off into the distance. A couple of catamarans in the foreground are of similar size, you might think. But no, Margarita to the right is about 13m long whilst Hemisphere is the world's largest sailing catamaran at a whopping 44m long. 

A cozy saloon

under way
Read more at http://www.boatinternational.com/yacht-features/hemisphere-the-worlds-top-cat/ 

A very different perspective on sailing! We've come across Hemisphere a few times now (including the time they had to anchor outside Port Denarau as they are too big to fit into the marina) and we've got used to the admiring stares as Maunie sails past.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

More wind - but some great kite-boarding

Our hopes for quieter conditions today were dashed so we've remained at anchor with the wind whistling around our ears. The upside of this enforced was the chance to do some boat maintenance, cleaning and tidying before heading out to a sandbank emerging at low tide to watch some amazing kite-boarding.

Our friends Lionel and Irene on the catamaran Kiapa are keen boarders and have more or less made Musket Cove their Fiji home. When the wind is light they go out to the reefs for surfing and when it's blowing they get the kites out. Today it was blowing about 25 knots so we motored out in the dinghy (getting soaked in the process) then anchored to take photos and video of Lionel in action.

Pumping up the wing

Preparing the lines



We were hugely impressed with Lionel's skill - there's a short video here which we think you'll enjoy.

Hopefully the conditions will calm down a little in the morning though the forecast isn't optimistic. More servicing of the winches might be on the cards!

Monday, 22 September 2014

May your bows always face the swell (Irish proverb, probably)

Well, Amy is safely back in mid-Wales after a great 10 days with us. We dropped her at the airport in Nadi (after a brilliant teppanyaki meal at the Fiji version of the Daikoku Japanese restaurant where we celebrated Graham's 50th in Auckland) on Saturday evening and she arrived in Heathrow at about 3.00pm on Sunday, having lost 11 hours in the time zone changes en route.

We stayed in Port Denarau for an extra night so rushed around to get two loads of washing done in the launderette, restock beer and wine, travel to the Nadi market for veg and meat and we even fitted in a rum tasting as well. All very successful but we were pleased to escape to fresher air by late morning today.

As it turned out, we found plenty of fresher air on the 2 hour passage across to Musket Cove. In spite of a benign forecast, the wind piped up to 28 knots (about 33mph) and we had to reef down to keep Maunie from cantering about like a wayward pony. After very gentle sailing over the past couple of weeks, it came as a bit of a shock and the water was streaked with white foam and breaking waves as we approached the entrance to the reef - thankfully we could follow our 'breadcrumb trail' of our previous entrance on the chart plotter but, even so, it was slightly unnerving to be sailing at 7.5 knots towards unseen reefs.

The anchorage here is exposed to the wind but the encircling reef means that the waves are relatively small - any underlying ocean swell is flattened out as it hits the reef at a couple of internationally-famous surfing spots about a couple of miles away. So we're lying in 20m of water, with our anchor firmly dug into the sandy sea floor at the end of about 70m of heavy chain. The wind's whistling in the rigging but otherwise we're in a good spot - we chose to be to windward of other anchored boats, having previously seen yachts suddenly dragging their anchors in windy conditions.

Wind-driven waves 
The anchorage is pretty busy here at the moment and conditions would make a dinghy-ride ashore a very wet experience so we cooked supper on board and hope it'll be a bit calmer in the morning.

Neighbouring boats (plus plane to the right)
Actually, we've discovered that getting a decent night's sleep at anchor in the islands around here needs some careful planning. In several spots we realised that the wind and the sea swell came from different directions so we found ourselves rolling uncomfortably until we deployed a second anchor, from the stern, to pull the boat around to point at the waves rather than the wind. This all added time and effort but was definitely worth it for a quite night!

We now plan to explore more of the Yasawa Islands which we didn't have time to visit with Amy aboard but we're watching the forecast with care as there is a period of squally weather heading our way towards the end of the week. More careful anchoring will be required we think.

The red blobs are heavy rains squalls in what's known as a Convection Zone (right over us!) - expect sudden changes in wind direction an torrential downpours so the choice of anchorage will be important!

Friday, 19 September 2014

Another video - dancers in Fulaga

In the remote Lau island of Fulaga, the traditional dances are kept alive through practice and Mekes (dance and song parties put on to entertain locals and visitors alike). We were present at a party organised by the women of the main village to raise funds for community projects. The dance in this film was taught by a housebound 80 year old women to her younger neighbours and it represents the women's job of fishing in the island's lagoon. Of course, it ended up with the visiting yachties being roped in (so you'll see Dianne in action)!

Watch it here 

Video of the Manta Rays

There's a short video of us swimming with the Manta Rays in Naviti Island here

Hope that you like it!

Avoiding sunburn

Sorry, that's not the kind of blog title you want to hear as autumn approaches in the northern hemisphere but the west side of Fiji has certainly lived up to its reputation for delivering hot, dry weather.

We had some good coastal and inter-island sailing over the past couple of days so have had a nice beat to windward followed by enjoyable downwind legs where both the 'Irish Flag' and the 'Blue Monster' spinnakers have been flown.

Amy helming upwind...

..and downwind
We were recommended an anchorage in the north-east corner of Naviti Island by Jimmy and Carol who sail a catamaran called 20:20 Vision. We first met them in Fulaga and, as the boat name suggests, Jimmy is a retired ophthalmologist so they carry supplies of used reading spectacles to give to people in remote villages. They told us of a lovely walk across to the eastern coast of the island where there were an elderly couple living in a very traditional Fijian house known as a bure. They gave us a set of glasses to give to the lady, Claira, and she was absolutely delighted that she could suddenly read small print again; a wonderful moment.

The traditional bure

Claira,very happy with her new glasses

Last night we returned to Navadra anchorage which was a lot busier that on our last visit. We had neighbouring boats of very different character - Legacy and Bonne Femme.

Legacy - 150 ft with a professional crew

Bonne Femme, 26 ft with a Canadian single-hander we first met in Tonga. Phil's chat-up line of 'come and see my yacht' seems to have paid off, however, as he now has a very bonne femme abaord.  

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Swimming with Manta Rays

Our patience paid off yesterday afternoon. Having anchored Maunie near Manta Ray Resort, we'd snorkelled the reef before lunch and then took the dinghy across to the pass where the Manta Rays are said to drift through, feeding on the plankton-rich waters. A couple of other yacht dinghies had been there for a while with no sightings and they eventually gave up but we stayed, drifting with the current then motoring back up-tide to repeat the drift. The light afternoon light was beginning to fade when we spotted a Manta, quite deep, and Graham & Amy managed to get a good view of him. Better still, 15 minutes later, we had two of these majestic and huge (about a 10ft wingspan) beasts close to the surface and they were very happy to swim in lazy circles around us as we snorkelled. Wow!
We've taken some video which we'll post on the blog as soon as we get stronger internet connections.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Waya Island

After two nights in the beautiful anchorage at Navadra, we headed north just ten miles or so to neighbouring Waya, the southern-most island in the Yasawas. It's impressively rocky but, less impressively, the underwater rocks and reefs on its western coast were not marked at all on our electronic chart plotter. Luckily we saw the change in colour of the water that indicates shallows so made an emergency detour.

Waya's mountainous coastline

Nalauwaki Village
We anchored in a wide bay to the north of the island, sheltered from the gentle south-easterly breeze and in just 6m of crystal clear water over a sandy bottom . A gentle swell running into the bay threatened to make it a rolly anchorage so we set a stern anchor as well to keep Maunie's bow pointing into the swell and it's been a comfortable spot for two nights.

Yesterday we joined the crews of Pacific Highway and Chakti to present our Sevusevu to the village chief and were then taken on a tour of the village by one of the women, Anna. It's quite a big place, with around 400 inhabitants, and, compared to Fulaga, it's pretty well developed: most of the houses are built from breeze blocks and there's a central generator, water standpipes and showers outside most houses and a good fleet of 'fibres' (GRP fishing boats) on the beach.

Anna took us to the kindergarten where the children were delighted to recite songs and nursery rhymes in both English and Fijian (they learn two Fijian dialects as well as English) with huge enthusiasm and plenty of volume.

A spirited rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
The kindergarten was very smart building with a white picket fence just off the beach and it transpired that that a wealthy Australian who had visited the village in 2009 from the nearby Octopus tourist resort had returned the following year with a chartered transport boat, materials purchased in Lautoka and five tradesmen to build it. Indeed the children's confidence in performing in front of us foreigners is also a by-product of the proximity of the resort as we were told by Anna that every Monday afternoon a group of resort guests come over the hill for a 'cultural tour' that includes a visit to the kindergarten and then a Meke (a dance and singing display). Since we'd arrived on a Monday morning we were invited to return for a cup of tea in Anna's house and then to watch the Meke, which was hugely entertaining.

Great singing

... and spirited dancing

Followed by the obligatory craft fair
The relationship between the village and the resort seems to be pretty positive - the resort offers employment and purchases fish and lobster from the village fishermen and the weekly visits brings welcome income. The arrival of 40 or so (mostly Australian) tourists seems to be a source of entertainment for the villagers - lots of good-natured teasing - so the Meke fell just on the right side of the dividing line between the genuine and the pastiche.

Today we head north again to Naviti where we hope to find a pass where there are Manta Rays to be seen.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Photos from Navadra

Here are a few photos from the past couple of days:

Amy has a go at Stand Up Paddleboarding in Musket Cove, thanks to our friends Brian and Sue on Darramy. The inflatable SUP is now the toy of choice for many cruisers.

Landing on a desert island at the Navadra anchorage

A pristine beach with plenty of shells to collect

Amy enjoying her first island

Returning from a beach walk

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Navadra Island

We've spent two nights in a slightly rolly anchorage at the uninhabited island of Navadra (17 degrees, 27.2 mins south, 177 degrees 3 minutes east). The rolling has been more than compensated for by the beautiful beaches and wonderful reef snorkelling. This was Amy's first snorkelling in tropical waters (apparently Scottish waters are a bit chillier) so she loved the variety of corals and the many species of fish.
The line-of-sight to a mobile phone tower on a neighbouring island is blocked by the rocky hillside of Navadra so we aren't able to post photos but we're heading north today, leaving the Mamanuca Islands and heading into the Yasawas. Next stop will be Waya where we hope we'll have internet access to be able to add some photos.
As ever, the extended family of cruising yachts that we know through the SSB radio net means that we are never far away from a friendly face; last night we were invited aboard 'Pacific Highway' for drinks by Bruce and Laura (originally from the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean) whom we first met in Vava'u last September. They spent time in Faluga this year, before we got there, so we shared stories about the place and chatted about plans for the coming season. Bruce has kindly lent us some additional paper charts for the Yasawa Islands so we've taken photos on the iPad of some of the key anchorages that we hope to visit in the next few days – this kind of boat-to-boat help makes cruising unknown waters so much less stressful.
Speaking of boat-to-boat help, late in the afternoon another yacht we've spoken to on the SSB came into the bay and headed in towards the shore looking for a shallow anchorage (we're anchored in a nice sansy patch but it's quite deep at 20m). Amy and Graham realised that they were heading right for the place they'd been snorkelling earlier, where coral pinnacles suddenly rise up out of the depths and the water was only a metre deep. Graham gave them an urgent call and we saw a big puff of exhaust smoke as reverse gear was hurriedly selected. We think they missed the reef by only a few seconds.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

And then there were three

We're delighted that Goddaughter (and Bridesmaid) Amy has joined the Maunie crew. We picked her up from Nadi International Airport after a slight delay waiting for the narrow-gauge railway train to haul a vast load of sugar cane past the main entrance:

We treated Amy to the experience of the windowless bus to Nadi town where we had to change to the Denarau bus; we used the time to visit the vast indoor fruit and veg market for some wonderfully fresh provisions

In the yangona (kava root) section of the market, Amy was introduced to her first taste of 'grog'
We left Denarau after topping up our water and diesel tanks and headed across to an island called Malolo and the Musket Cove Marina. We've anchored outside the marina but have become lifetime members of the Musket Cove Yacht Club (whose annual regatta - mostly partying with a couple of races thrown in - finished a couple of days ago). There are several boats that we know still here so it's been good to catch up with old friends.

We'll be heading north into the Yasawa islands over the next few days.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A culture shock

As we suspected, Port Denarau has proved to be a culture shock, and not a good one. Denerau was one a swampy island but is now home to dozens of hotels, hundreds of expensive holiday homes with boat docks at the back door, a marina and a shopping mall selling tourist-oriented tat (including poor copies of the kinds of carvings we saw in Faluga at about four times the price).

The view from our mooring
..and at night. Unfortunately the noise of two competing cover bands travels across water all too well.
The place is full of pale, newly-arrived English and Australian tourists who, looking slightly bewildered, sign up for expensive boat trips to nearby islands after a burger meal in the Hard Rock Cafe or one of its dozen or so alternatives.

Who could resist a ride? Us!

Sadly, after meeting so many genuinely friendly Fijians on our travels, it's sad to find the people here operating in a 'have a nice day' autopilot mode and it's really hard to engage with them, even when we use some Fijian phrases and make eye contact. It's a clear illustration of what happens when mass-tourism arrives and the locals are reduced to low-paid waiters and shop keepers. Ugh! We can't wait to get out of here.

We have been kept busy, though. There are a few boat chandlers here so we managed to find a replacement VHF radio as our Icom IC-411, which failed last year and was repaired in New Zealand, had started to have off days again when it would broadcast messages but not receive them. We've also ordered a new masthead block for the spinnaker halyard as the old one has collapsed due to old age and the old enemy, UV degradation. Getting parts to fit a normal-sized boat is a bit of a challenge, as the main marina pontoon is home to some very large and polished super yachts.

And the prize for the shiniest anchor goes to...

Big boats and helicopters

Maunie (far left) in 'paupers' corner', a set of 14 moorings. Notice the gathering clouds - the forecast looks damp for the next few days

This morning we took the locals' bus ($1 each, we were the only tourists aboard as most don't leave the island resorts) to a reasonably well-stocked supermarket in Nadi and an excellent butchers so we're ready to head out into the less populated islands once more.

Our time here only goes to reinforce what a special place was Fulaga - our friends on Bravo have just posted an update on their blog with a well-told story of the scary beast in the cave - you can read it here