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, 30 July 2015

More Canoe progress and a Palangi Lovo

We've had a very brief respite from the strong winds so several yachts have left and one new one has arrived so there are now just six boats in Fulaga. It looks as though we are in for another windy weekend but we are beginning to look towards sometime next week to leave this lovely place.
Meanwhile, there's rarely a dull moment! A couple of days ago we took Lutu, Mini and another expert carver, Pito, back over to the forest to watch some more amazing work with the chainsaw to cut three, 10ft long, 15" wide and 3/4" thick planks from the next section of tree trunk. A Health & Safety Officer would have had a heart attack at the sight of Pito standing, barefoot and without any kind of protective equipment, on top of the horizontal trunk, guiding the chainsaw by practiced eye and steady hand towards his foot! Thankfully we emerged, all limbs intact, with the planks, a rough-cut steering oar and the foredeck that was made a few days ago; Kerry & Damian's big dinghy carried all this back to the beach where the canoe hull has been waiting patiently for the past year.
Yesterday the team worked on fine-tuning the shape of the deck, with chainsaw and plane, to fit the top of the hull and it's all looking amazingly good; the more we learn about the construction of these canoes the more we are impressed with the design. That design which is just carried in the heads of the men who build them as there is nothing written down; the last canoe was made about 7 years ago so it's remarkable that they can remember all the details.
Whilst the work was progressing, Lutu made good his promise to teach Graham how to cook in a Lovo, an earth oven that's known as a Umu in Tonga and a Hangi in New Zealand. In essence, you dig a pit and light a hot fire of coconut shells onto which you pile pieces of coral rock. After an hour or so any remaining embers are raked out and the food, protected from the fierce heat of the hot rocks by a layer of green coconut tree sticks, is placed on top of the coral and is then covered with coconut leaves, some wet sacking and then a good layer of earth or sand. An hour and a half later you excavate the whole thing and the food is beautifully cooked. The Fijians were very amused to see a Palangi (foreigner) making a lovo and there was a some wonderful teasing but Graham was very proud of the results. Photos to follow when we get back to internetland.
Whilst all this was going on we had also been invited to a fundraising lunch and 'bring and buy', the funds are going towards a project to install flush toilets to every house in the village. So, in addition to the crab and cassava/coconut (grated into a kind of dough and wrapped in little parcels with coconut leaves) cooked in the lovo, we had some curried pork, rice, roti and pumpkin plus, of course, a few rounds of kava to wash it down. Some of the ladies did some traditional dances and we shared some stories and a lot of laughter. Quite a day!
Today we are having Jiko, our host from last year, across to Maunie for lunch (cooked in a gas oven!) and then we need to downtime from all the village activities so that we can edit lots of video of the canoe project and print loads of photos. Unless the weather changes dramatically, we'll do our farewells on Monday (which will mean a party, of course) and we're hoping to borrow the computer projector from the school to show our Fulagan friends the videos.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The day the Government came to Fulaga

The good people of Fulaga feel pretty remote from the centre of government in Suva and, overall it seems, don't expect much attention from it. Historically the Lau Group of islands in the east of Fiji were the centre of traditional politics of the region and many Fijian leaders came from these islands but, with the arrival of the British, the centre of power shifted first to the town of Livuka on the island of Overlau (which, confusingly, isn't in the Lau Group at all) and then to Suva. With the last military coup about 9 years ago, the once-powerful Council of Chiefs was disbanded and individual village chiefs lost their united voice (and, some say, their overblown sense of self-importance that led, in some cases, to corruption) and so remote islands like Fulaga began to feel increasingly disconnected from the country's political system.
With last year's democratic elections behind them, the government appears to be continuing to reform things. A lot of effort over the past few years by the military government of the coup (which then got re-elected by a popular majority) has seen a clamp down on the once-prevalent corruption in local and national offices and a focus on infrastructure projects. The rights of the Indio-Fijian people, who make up almost 50% of the population, have been championed, though racial tensions remain in some parts of the country, but the economic challenges remain huge, with widespread unemployment and significant reliance on aid and loans from New Zealand, Australia and, increasingly, China.
Against this backdrop, politically-sleepy Fulaga suddenly became the centre of government attention over the past two days. We'd been told that a government ship was coming and on Monday it arrived to disgorge over 100 officials from 21 different departments and commissions, led by the Commissioner for Lau, who came, talked, questioned and ate and drank. The poor villagers of Muanaicake (population about 95) doubled in size overnight as the visitors had to be found places to sleep and a huge team effort of fishing, cooking and washing-up was required to feed them all. Within the party were some engineers who came to repair some of the faulty solar panel inverters installed last year and install a couple of new water tanks but most people seemed to come to take notes. Poor Sera, the island nurse, had 15 people to deal with from the Ministry of Health and other welfare-related departments so looked particularly shattered by the time they all left.
On Tuesday morning we heard the ship, which had anchored overnight in the lee of a nearby island, calling Fulaga Radio on the VHF. The Fulaga Radio VHF was donated by a visiting yacht three years ago and we added a new aerial, with the brilliant technical help of Adam on Bravo, last year. Anyway, no reply was forthcoming so the ship then called 'Any sailing vessels in Fulaga'; Graham replied and chatted to the skipper who needed to let the shore party know of his impending return. Graham walked into the village to pass this message on, meeting the Commissioner and a few of his advisors en route. At the nursing station he passed on the message and found the reason for the radio silence there – one of the jobsworths had decided that the VHF was unlicensed and had to be removed! Sikele, Sera's husband and all-round good chap, was absolutely livid and stormed back to the people responsible to point out the stupidity of the situation they had created where a visiting foreign yacht skipper had to dinghy ashore and walk 20 minutes to tell them that the ship that would take them away needed to talk to them!
On his way back to the dinghy, Graham met the Commissioner's party again, which was accompanied by Simone, one of the village elders, so he held Simone back and quietly told him about the VHF. By the time they had reached the village, Simone had talked to the Commissioner about it and the Commissioner told Sikele and Sera 'if you need the radio, you should use it' so it wasn't removed but was left, disconnected, when the visitors left. It's now reconnected!
Anyway, that little fracas apart, the visit seems to have been judged a success and we'll no doubt hear more about what was said, discussed and promised in the next few days. The size of the entourage still amazes us and the junket is rolling on to 6 more islands before returning to Suva two weeks after it began its contribution to the process of bring government to the people.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

More amazing expereinces

A huge, 1040 mb, high-pressure system is slowly, very slowly squeezing its was eastwards between NZ and Fiji, compressing the winds at its northern periphery into 25 - 30 knot, near-gale conditions. So in Fulaga the normally placid water in the lagoon has been whipped into white foaming waves and the locals are all feeling cold again. Several yachts are wanting to leave to meet appointments with incoming flights bringing family and friends to Nadi so are getting increasingly twitchy about the unseasonably brisk winds.
The weather isn't the only unusual thing in the skies at the moment. On Monday evening, about 7.00pm, several crews over at the Sandspit anchorage saw a huge fireball streak across the sky from east to west and heard a loud rumbling 'boom' after it disappeared over the hill of the island. Sera, the nurse, and her husband Sikele, saw it pass high overhead as they were sitting outside and saw it explode into several large fragments, hearing the boom about five seconds later. It caused quite some consternation in the village! We've passed the information on, via the Gulf Harbour weather forecasters, and they have logged it with a research unit that tracks meteors and fireballs; hopefully we'll get some further information back from them.
Back on the ground, Graham spent a brilliant day on Friday with Lutu and Mini, Meli's brothers. The task was to go and find another tree big enough to make the second deck (known as a 'tua') and side planks ('sai') for the dugout canoe. In about four hours of hard labour, a huge hardwood tree was felled and some amazingly skilled work with a chainsaw saw the deck, about 7 feet long and 6" thick, cut to shape and hollowed out. We're low on satellite data allowance so photos and video will have to wait, unfortunately, but it was a really wonderful process to watch. We can't help feeling that this just might be the last sailing canoe to be built here but Lutu thinks that, as soon as it is launched, everyone will want to borrow it to go fishing so perhaps it'll generate sufficient interest for others to keep the traditional skills alive. What surprised us is that the canoes have a relatively short working life – without any kind of paint or anti-worm preservative they last only six or seven years so you can see why the modern 'fibers' and their outboard engines have taken over.
We had our hosts Lutu, Bale and little Acosita, aboard Maunie for lunch yesterday. The last beef mince in the freezer compartment made a pasta Bolognese change to their normal fish and crab diet and the Christmas Pudding with whipped cream was a big hit. It was a lovely, relaxed afternoon and Lutu presented us with a beautiful carving that he'd been working on; he'd been amused that we'd grown attached to the Remora Fish that had become equally attached to Maunie's keel so made a wonderful 18" Remora for us to go with Meli the Penguin.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

What's in a name?

We've mentioned in an earlier blog the fun we have trying to remember people's names in Fulaga. particularly as they seem to use two or even three different ones, depending who they are talking to. However we are always amazed at their ability to instantly remember the names of visiting yacht crews and this skill seems to be a Fiji-wide gift. We think that their aural skills are better honed than those of us westerners who are used to written and other visual prompts. They do struggle with a few foreign names – Damian was known as Dennis for a while but they've got him sorted now, they manage Graham ok but Dianne is usually Diana (often with a prefix of 'Lady'). We chatted to a lovely lady yesterday, Luci, about names and told her about our great-nieces Erin and Jessica; she said that there weren't Fijian equivalents of those names but that they sounded nice: "I'll tell my son to call his first daughter Diana Jessica" she said with a smile.
The nickname thing is pretty common here. Colin on Ithaka was fondly known as 'Topoi' whilst he was here, for reasons none of us could fathom; topoi is the word for a kind of bready dough wrapped in palm leaves and baked in a lovo earth oven. Mind you sailors seem to like nicknames, too, particularly on race boats. When we both did the Round Britain Challenge, several of the 72 ft yachts used nicknames over normal ones. On Di's boat, she was known as 'Glamour Puss' (purely because she combed her hair each day!) and one unfortunate chap became 'Sailbag' after the amount of time he spent curled up in the foetal position on deck, terribly seasick, and was accidentally stood on by another crew member thinking he was, you guessed it, a sailbag. Another boat decided that Porn Star names would be fun – if you aren't familiar with this concept, your Porn Star name is the name of your first pet, followed by your mother's maiden name. Those sufficiently quick witted would invent a cool-sounding pet like Tiger or Rocky but one chap unthinkingly admitted his first cat was called Tiddles and so Tiddles (or Tids for short) he became; the fact that he was pretty short of stature made it all the more perfect.
You may wonder what prompts these random ramblings but there's usually a catalyst to the thought process. In this case it's Graham's ongoing (but, thankfully, increasingly successful) battle with the gastric bug. A French doctor, Jean-Pierre, on Domino advised that after five days of letting nature take its course without much improvement, it was time to intervene and he recommend an antibiotic called Ciproxin to kill the evil e-coli. We didn't have any Cipro in our medical kit but another British yacht, Beez Neez (from Plymouth, just along our home coastline from Dartmouth), came to our aid with some and we discovered that the skipper is a retired GP. Called Bear.
Anyway, best wishes to all our readers from Glamour Puss and Johnny Fart-Pants. Do let us know your Porn Star names (and be honest!) and any other news from the outside world to maunie(at)mailasail(dot)com –replace the (at) and (dot) with @ and . 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

There's something in the water

If you have a look at http://www.yit.co.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall you'll see that our anchorage over on the east side of the lagoon is surrounded by little rocky islets or motus. Each has been eroded at its base by the water so some now stand, precariously top-heavy, on the narrowest of rocky necks and look as though they might topple over if given a reasonably decent shove. Although their rocky surface seems to bear no kind of soil, each has a little hairdo of greenery and even a few stunted palm trees. We'll try to add a photo if our monthly data allowance permits otherwise we'll put some on the blog when we return to internetland; yesterday the wind calmed to nothing and the setting sun cast a beautiful light across the lagoon so we have a lot of photos to chose from!
On Wednesday we will have been here in Fulaga for 4 weeks and it's been pretty busy with village life so we're now enjoying a few days of downtime. Colin and Ana on Ithaka left on Friday and we were invited to their leaving party – lots of lovely food, some wonderful singing (especially the 'Fulaga Goodbye Song' in harmony) and plenty of kava. There were tears from sailors and locals alike at the end of the evening.
Unfortunately both Colin and Ana reported upset stomachs when we talked to them on the radio a couple of days later and they are not alone in this; Graham's suffering and so are several other yachties. We think that the water used to make the kava, which is just rainwater collected from roofs, might have had something nasty in it; there's been no rain for a couple of weeks and the village tanks are running low so who knows what's breeding in them! It's a tricky one: we don't want to refuse the kava as it's such an important communal event but equally we need to be aware of the risks that come with it. Until now we have had no health problems here so we're putting it down to a bad batch.
The wind is forecast to increase over the next few days so we'll enjoy this calm anchorage while we can and then head back for more village events later in the week. At some stage we'll have to move on as meal planning is becoming ever more challenging.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Your monthly delivery has arrived!

Imagine, if you will, the concept of being able to order any deliveries to your home only once a month, but with the order having to be placed over a crackling telephone connection and not via internet. Imagine having just one tiny shop in your community which, too, only receives deliveries of food, fuel and other household necessities once a month and which, despite your regular protestations, always seems to run out of the things you really need about three quarters of the way through the month.  Imagine the excitement when the delivery finally arrives and the delight at receiving all the things you've been waiting for and frustration at finding breakages in transit or items missing altogether. Welcome to island life for the people of Fulaga.

Yesterday the monthly supply boat arrived at about 10.30am. From first light people had been gathering on the beach, bringing wheelbarrow loads of goods to add to the growing pile in the tin shed there destined for export to Suva and  then getting to work on the palm-leaf  woven baskets full of clams that had been gathered over the past few days and left in the shallows. The shellfish were labouriously opened and cleaned and the meat put into ten-litre plastic tubs, lids wired closed for security on passage, to go into the ship's refrigerator for delivery to relatives at the next island on the itinerary. The ship makes three more island stops en route to Suva so the entire trip takes four days.

Once the ship dropped an anchor, the incoming goods were unloaded into flat-bottomed boats and the men of the village worked in teams to wade out into the shallow water to carry all manner of boxes and sacks back ashore. Those destined for individual houses would have the address written large on them : "Simone, Muanicake, Fulaga" seemed to be sufficient. Large drums of fuel, mostly for the outboard engines here, were rolled off the boats into the shallows and we prayed that their seals were intact. Once unloaded, the exports were carried out to boats.

The amount of stock to be put onto the ship made us realise that this seemly relaxed and untroubled island is really a surprisingly busy and productive place. The main export is a wide range of wooden carvings, bowls, ceremonial paddles, masks and drums, all made from the Esse hardwood that is unique to the islands of Southern Lau. The carvers here have realised that it's most time- and cost-efficient to leave the carvings in an unfinished state so that relatives in Suva can finish and polish them for sale to the tourist shops there and in the other tourist hotspots of Nadi and Denarau. A bowl leaving here will fetch about $50 and will sell in the shops for around $130 once the polishers, middle-men and the retailers have taken their cuts.  One suspects that the Fulagans could easily take a bigger slice of the income but they recognise that the cost of living in Suva is increasing and employment opportunities aren't great so the current arrangement gives some vital income for their relatives there.

The whole loading and unloading process took about two hours and, apart from taking photos, some of us yachties contributed cold drinks and biscuits as refreshments to the workers, an input that was welcomed. The final event of the day was to take four or five passengers out to the ship; one needed medical treatment in Suva, one was a pregnant women going for her 6-month checks and to remain in Suva for the birth (on-island births are no longer allowed as part of government health policy) and a couple were returning for family events.  The fare is $115 each way (subsidised by the government) so most people can't afford one of the cabins on board so take a mat and sleep on deck;  we've heard tales of terrible passages in rough seas and, looking at the ship as it left the island, still with a considerable list to port, we were pleased not to be aboard.

Saturday, 11 July 2015


"To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea... "cruising" it is called.
Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.
"I've always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can't afford it." What these men can't afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of "security." And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine - and before we know it our lives are gone.
What does a man need - really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in - and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all - in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.
The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.
Where, then, lies the answer? In choice.
Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?"
―Excerpt from 'Wanderer' by Sterling Hayden.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Learning more...

Thanks to a favourable windshift at the weekend, a further eight boats have arrived in Fulaga so on Monday there was quite a crowd in the Chief's house for the sevusevu ceremony. Most of the boats are over at the Sandspit anchorage whist we, Ithaka, Sel Citron (our mates Kerry & Damian, who arrived on Sunday) and a couple of others are anchored at the village landing place.
We've come to realise that some crews are happy to meet the villagers when they first arrive but then congregate, like a group of expats, over at the Sandspit anchorage at the far side of the lagoon, content just to enjoy the stunning beach and wonderful views. However, we've been to lots of islands with stunning beaches and wonderful views so, for some of us, the incredibly rare opportunity to become involved in village life is really the thing that makes Fulaga so special. Colin and Ana on Ithaka are certainly in that camp and on Monday Ana (a physiotherapist) was giving a talk, complete with demonstrations, to the women of the Weaving Group, about pelvic floor exercises!
Every time we go ashore we learn a little more about life on this remote island, about the relationships where everyone is somehow related to everyone else it seems and even those who've arrived from other islands have an interesting story to tell. We had lunch with Sera the island nurse and her husband Sikele the other day – lovely people who have lived in Suva whilst Sera was training and returned last November to their home island for probably a couple of years before her next posting – and got an informed opinion on some of the challenges and as well as the delights of a small community. Gossip is definitely an issue in these small villages and the Monday Weaving Group (strictly ladies only) began with a very emotional but effective 'clear the air' session where concerns were openly aired and resolved; it made us think about all the angst that Facebook and similar inventions cause in our world where we've lost the ability to resolve differences face-to-face.
The 'expat' yachts are missing all this and also don't experience the delight on the villagers' faces when we walk in and find the daily volleyball game starting at about 3.00 pm. They enjoy our fumbled attempts at playing, though they are very supportive and encouraging, and then more of the regular players arrive so the pace and skill increases to the point that, one by one, we bow out to enjoy watching them. It's an inclusive game for them; men and women play on equal terms and the peals of laughter and the happy chatter is, for us, one of the main soundtracks of village life.  The teamwork and competitiveness of the game must be another vital component of harmonious living here. The arrival of the new boats, even if they don't come to participate in village life, was welcomed, though, particularly as the island had completely run out of kava and the next supply boat isn't due until next week. The yagona roots brought by each yacht for the sevusu were quickly distributed on Monday but it seems that binge-drinking isn't only a British problem; there was a day and late-night kava session and now they have run out again!
Yesterday morning we were involved in the beginning of the next chapter of a Fulaga story that's very important to us. Regular readers will remember that last year our brilliantly-talented host Meli had been making a new dug-out canoe up in the forest, the first to be built here for at least six years. We helped haul the 25' hull out of the forest (the first foreigners to witness such an event) and if you search YouTube for 'Maunie of Ardwall' you'll find a video of the adventure. Following Meli's death (at only 48) last year, the canoe was left above the high-tide line here but his brothers Alfreti (aka Lutu) and Mini said they wanted to finish it. On Sunday we showed them the video, which included a sequence of Meli shaping a section of wood for the foredeck so we suggested that we could go and retrieve it as it was still at the site of the felled tree.
So, with the crews of Sel Citron and Ithaka, we set off into the forest and scrambled up the rocky 'path', wondering how on earth we managed to manhandle the heavy canoe down it. The abandoned poles, used as rollers, still littered the route and Meli's 'workshop' was pretty much as we left it almost a year ago. The deck piece, about 6' long, was shaped to fit the bow but was a heavy wedge of hardwood. about 3" thick at the front and 6" at the back. With some incredibly deft work with a chainsaw, Lutu made a lot of criss-cross cuts on the underside and then he, Graham and Colin used adzes to chip out a hollow so that the deck was only about an inch thick and, of course, a lot lighter. Lutu was clearly a little apprehensive about the whole job because, though he's a talented wood carver, he explained that he had never built a canoe before; however he looked increasingly happy as the job progressed. After only about an hour and a half's work, the deck, plus chainsaw and tools were carried down the rocky path and back to the dinghies.
When we got back to the beach, the deck was placed onto the canoe and it fitted absolutely perfectly. Lutu's smile was just wonderful to behold and we think Meli was smiling down on us too.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Wind: BLS, becoming BDOC later

The New Zealand weather forecasts remind us of home in as much as they highlight the maritime nature of the country and, in a place where everyone seems to have some kind of boat, even if it's just a 'tinny' aluminium fishing boat for the weekend, the windspeed and wave conditions they report seem relevant to most Kiwis. Back in Britain the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4 is, for the majority of listeners, a rather arcane but oddly reassuring intonation of strange names and terminology; Dogger, Fisher, German Bight.... For sailors, though, it instantly evokes memories of feverishly scribbling down the words on a notepad made soggy from wet sleeves and dripping hair at a slanted chart table and hoping that the 'Westerly Gale 8' might arrive 'later' (in 12 hours or more) and not be 'imminent' (within 6 hours) as we raced for a sheltered harbour.
Before Graham was born, his father,  Geoff, was briefly in a pop group (not sure that's the correct term, a combo might be better?) produced by legendary Beatles producer George Martin; the Master Singers were his other Fab Four. They shot, briefly, to fame but sadly not fortune with a No. 22 hit called The Highway Code. That wasn't just the name of the song, they actually sang the contents of the Highway Code booklet in the unaccompanied style of a Gregorian Chant; clearly something of novelty number (Google it if you don't believe us!). A slightly less successful follow-up, the difficult second single, was The Weather Forecast where, you've guessed it, they sang the Shipping Forecast: Humber, Thames, Dover, et al. It ended, after increasingly loud sound effects of wind, thunder and lightning, with the words: "In short, the weather will be normal for the time of year."
Well, here in the South Pacific the weather certainly isn't normal for the time of year and without the luxury of internet access here in Fulaga, we can't click onto all the weather forecasting sites that we normally use to make sense of what's going on. So we're back to scribbling notes whilst we listen to the static-laden SSB radio for the daily update from NZ, some 1,100 miles away. Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic service but we have to learn a new language and set of weather rules for this part of the world; for a start, the winds revolve the opposite way around high and low pressure cells compared to the northern hemisphere and the fronts bring squalls and downdrafts and something called CB's. Not too sure what they are but they sound nasty.
Anyway a big weather front is passing over us as we speak and the boats at anchor have obediently weather-cocked to illustrate its arrival. The wind, which had been blowing strongly from the SE (the normal Trade Winds direction) has reduced and veered (the opposite way to a northern hemisphere veer) to the NE, then the N and it's now NW (all within a few hours). The atmosphere has become increasingly hot and humid and the heavy rain has just begun; we'll let it wash the decks for 20 minutes then open the lid of the deck filler to the main fresh water tank, just as the villagers are diverting it from their corrugated iron roofs into their tanks. The big unknown is whether the passing front will bring cloud bursts and strong wind squalls so we might have a disturbed night.
Which brings us onto some new-to-us meteorological terms from the radio forecasters. The BBC talks very formally about Force 5 or Gale Force 8, from the Beaufort Scale invented by the eponymous Admiral of the Royal Navy, but the New Zealanders give the windspeed in knots. Occasionally the forecaster at Gulf Harbour Radio will add the delightfully unauthorised illustrative term of 'BLS' (Blowing Like Snot, which we take to be about a Force 6) and we've heard other boats referring to 'BDOC' (Blowing Dogs off Chains, an Australian term, we think, for about a Force 8). At the moment, we're pleased to report, it's 'As Calm As', as the Kiwis would say. Fingers crossed for a quiet night.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Hiking and a Birthday Picnic

As you will see from our latest update on http://www.yit.co.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall we have moved anchorages. We came over yesterday morning with three locals, Socce, Nessie and Ba, aboard for a special event – more of that later.
The Google earth photo on the YIT page gives you a pretty good idea of the size of the lagoon here. The main village, Maunaicake, is actually on the south side of the island facing the ocean at the large indented bay and the second village, Muanaire is ten minutes' walk to the west of it. The third village, Naividamu, is the only one facing into the lagoon and is situated in its NW corner. With the blustery winds blowing from the SE at the moment, the anchorage there is an exposed lee shore so we decided to hike overland on Tuesday to go and see Jiko, our lovely host from last year.
The conflicting advice we received about the path between the villages should have warned us. Some people said it was a good path, others looked surprised when we said we were going to attempt it. Some said it would take 45 minutes, others thought it would be closer to 2 hours. What became clear is that no one really uses the path any more; instead they walk the first part of it down to the lagoon and then get the open 'fiber' boat across. Anyway, we set off, with Ana from Ithaka with us, in a mood of optimism, walking though very dense forest, following a narrow and obviously little-used trail. After about an hour it seemed to peter out and we were faced with waist-high undergrowth. 'Can't be the right path!' we thought, so turned back to investigate various little side-paths, none of which lead anywhere. Dianne was wearing only sandals and the going was rough so she sensibly decided to head back to the village; Graham and Ana refused to be beaten so went back to the point we'd turned around, pushed our way through the undergrowth and found the path again. Three hours after setting off, we finally arrived in Naividamu to a huge welcome, with hugs and tears from Jiko, a formal sevusevu welcome from the chief, a wonderful lunch and a round of kava. Luckily for us, Sera the island's nurse, had been called over to the village after we had left so we thumbed a lift back in her boat.
Having  survived that little adventure, yesterday was a fun day over here at the Sandspit. The locals had proposed a picnic for the yachites on the beautiful beach here so they piled into the big village boat, with Maunie and Ithaka taking a few left-overs. In all there were 14 visiting yachties and about 35 locals and we ate amazingly well – a huge haul of crabs (the biggest about 8" across the shell) cooked in a lovo earth oven, plus some lovely fish and a good array of 'pot luck' dishes from the yachts. Dianne and a few others had been shown the skill of weaving bowls out of coconut palm leaves so there was quite a production line in operation before the lovo was opened up. It was Ana's birthday so the previous day Colin had smuggled some ingredients to Ma the baker and she had made a huge chocolate birthday cake with pink icing. The singing of 'Happy Birthday' was loud and in harmony – they know how to sing here!
We'll stay out here at this anchorage for a few days but are watching the weather. We listen to an excellent weather radio net every morning, Gulf Harbour Radio, which is run by a cruising couple who have 'swallowed the anchor' and are now based in NZ; David is a meteorologist so he gives us daily lessons in upper atmosphere winds plus a great forecast for the south Pacific. Anyway he tells us that it has been abnormally windy and unsettled so far this season and there is even a tropical cyclone now in the Solomons (north west of Fiji). Cyclone Raquel is the first ever cyclone to be recorded in July (the normal cyclone season is between November and April) and so everyone is watching her progress with interest. We shouldn't get strong winds down here but some weather fronts will spin off from her and could bring rain and squalls. Ah, well.