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.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Heading (slowly) towards the bright lights

The weather forecast is looking better and we can see the sun! Quite windy but we've decided to head for Suva in two passages, the first today being about 32 miles up to Namara Island in the North Astrolabe Reef. We'll wait there on Friday (the day of the highest winds) and will hope to get some more snorkelling on the beautiful reef there before heading up to Suva (another 35 miles) on Saturday. Hopefully we'll be in the Royal Suva Yacht Club at 07.00 on Sunday to watch England beat Australia!!

A couple more photos from the anchorage in Vunisea:

A banded sea snake in the water next to the dinghy - they are extremely venomous but the oft-quoted (and perhaps erroneous) theory is that they can't open their jaws enough to bite a human.

The daily flight from Nadi comes in over the anchorage

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Vunisea, Kadavu, and a welcome with a Fulaga connection

Though the weather certainly wasn't great, we left Ono on Sunday to sail to the west side of Kadavu. As we approached the pass through the reef, the rain was teeming down so we relied on detailed Google Earth images and a set of waypoints given to us by Navara to weave our way safely into the anchorage.

There may be trouble ahead.....
Thankfully the cloud lifted the following morning and the sun broke through for the first time in about ten days! Sadly the rain returned today but it was a lovely respite from the drizzle.

The anchorage at low tide

The reefs, all but invisible the day before, appear at low tide
Vunisea is the administrative centre of Kadavu island and the settlement is a 'Government station' rather than a chiefly village so we weren't required to present a sevusevu. Walking around the place it's clear that it is well-organised and has seen some investment; there's an airstrip, a few small stores, a secondary school, a police station and a post office.

The school 
More of the school buildings
We knew that Bis, one of the men we got to know well in Fulaga over the past two years, has family here and that they run one of the shops. We walked into the fist shop we came to and asked tentatively if they knew him and were immediately welcomed by his sister Tia and husband Api. Tia took us straight along to another shop, run by her sisters Li (Lice) and Mirry and father Tau where we were given drinks and biscuits and welcomed like long-lost friends. We were invited to supper the following  evening which then turned into them bringing a huge feast to eat aboard Maunie. Wow, lovely food and great company!

Tau, Maggie, Mirry and Li

A very substantial and delicious feast
 While we were together Tau phoned Bis in Fulaga (one of the two satellite phone stations is right outside his house there) and the phone was passed around so we could all chat to him.

The family hadn't seen Bis and his wife Joanna for about two years so we were able to print some photo of them from our time in Fulaga. It was a great evening and all too short so we'll catch up with the family again over the next day or two. We aren't getting too excited but it looks as though this nearly-stationary weather front might actually move away on Thursday and give us some sunshine again!

Saturday, 26 September 2015

A brief interval of sunshine, then more drizzle

No real sign of a let-up from the cloud and rain here but we enjoyed a few hours of sunshine (well, dry conditions at least) yesterday afternoon before the weather closed in again. Graham scrambled up the hill above the Kavala Bay anchorage to take some photos:

Looking north across Kavala Bay with Ono Island in the distance

Our very sheltered anchorage near the concrete dock for the shop
 While we were there the supply ship arrived from Suva, docking just around the bay from us. Unlike Fulaga, with it's 'roughly once a month' ship, Kadavu gets two deliveries each week but the busy activity at the dock was very similar.

Another ship that's had a long and hard life (previously in Tasmania, according to the painted-out original name)

A fleet of boats await to take the deliveries to the villages and settlements across the island
We entertained Carl and Linda from 'Navara' on board last night - the meal was a thank-you for the delivery of groceries they brought down to us to Fulaga from Suva all those weeks ago and it was great to catch up with them. 

We moved back to the last anchorage in Ono this morning to get back to the slow internet to be able to post these photos and to be able to search, in vain, for a more optimistic weather forecast. At least we were able to get some good waypoints from Navara for anchorages on Kadavu that they visited a couple of years ago. If the weather doesn't improve, they will give us more confidence about navigating safely between the coral reefs. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

A warm welcome to soggy Kadavu and a mysterious approach from the Fijian Navy

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.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Drizzle slows play

Yesterday morning we had breakfast whilst listening to the Fiji vs England game on Fiji One FM. We didn't feel quite brave enough to go ashore to see if the game was playing on a TV in the village, though it would have probably been an entertaining event! Anyway, that was the highlight of a day which was otherwise wet and cloudy. We have an almost stationary weather front over us which has delivered a couple of days of leaden skies and on-off rain; certainly not good conditions to move Maunie to another anchorage, what with all the coral reefs around these parts.

The anchorage, on the west side of Ono island, is pleasant enough and reminds us of a Scottish sea loch, particularly because there has been a forestry project here so the hills are covered in pine trees and, as previously mentioned, the weather isn't great. We made a tactical error when we arrived, however, and anchored too close to the southern side of the bay where we could see, dimly, the bottom in about 9m depth; unfortunately there were some coral outcrops and our anchor chain became snagged on one when the wind swung. 

Graham free-dived it but couldn't free the chain and we tried unsuccessfully to motor Maunie around the snag but luckily a German catamaran called Belena came to our aid. Ben and Marlene have diving gear on board so kindly agreed to come over at the end of a dive; with Dianne on the wheel and engine controls and Graham in the dinghy tied alongside Maunie's bow, where he could look into the water with his mask and then reach up to the anchor windlass controls, we were able to move the boat whilst Ben deftly unhooked the chain from the coral. We've moved across to the other side of the bay where the water is deeper but the bottom is soft mud.

Here are a few photos from a walk the other day when the weather was rather better:

The rickety bridge between the two villages at the head of the bay 
Manuku village

Looking towards the head of the bay with rain clouds beginning to gather
The forecast is for a few more days of unsettled weather but we hope we'll be able to move south to Kadavu tomorrow as we could do with a shop to get some fresh vegetables.

To end this blog entry on a positive note, we've just spotted a break in the clouds and done a wonderful snorkel at the nearby reef. We were greeted by schools of beautiful almost translucent fish and then  on the coral itself we found some colourful Clown fish, aka Nemos.  

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The day the Marshmallows invaded Dravuni

When we arrived at the island of Dravuni (the most northern of the Astrolabe Reef islands) last week, we found a neatly manicured village of about 120 people who were in the midst of preparations for something big. On the beach a team of men was floating pontoon decking to attach to some piles driven into the sand:

The following morning, all became clear. The Dawn Princess cruise ship, en route from Sydney, via New Caledonia and on to Suva, had anchored a mile offshore and three of its big lifeboats took turns to motor most of its 1200 passengers ashore.

The enterprising locals has set up stalls offering coconuts, food and back massages in an attempt to gain full financial advantage of this event (they get about one ship a month on average) and the visitors wandered about looking faintly perplexed. Sailing friends call cruise ship passengers 'marshmallows', presumably from their general build and colour - there were certainly some very pink ones at the end of the day! Most had no idea about Fijian culture, though one person did stop us and ask if it was true that they should remove their hats and sunglasses in the village; we explained that it was but most weren't aware or bothered. We thought that the locals must have a very strange opinion of their visitors, who were mostly Australian, and we did feel that it was a bit like watching visitors at a zoo. 

We did feel that two very different worlds were illustrated here: one of the nurses from the ship had spotted us (he recognised a Yeo Valley t-shirt!) and he later tracked us down wanting to show us a photo on his iPhone. A villager who we'd met the previous day came along to look so the nurse showed him the photo and explained it. The villager wasn't bothered about the photo but more about the phone, asking what kind it was and how much it cost. The nurse flippantly said "something like $650 US" and the villager responded by estimating that he would never earn a sum like that in his working lifetime. 
Visitors wandering through the village centre

Many just headed straight for the beach

Preparing the credit card terminal (really!) for a busy day

Quite a few made it up the 'mountain' for this view

Selfies and white torsos
Overall, these visits are obviously very beneficial, financially, to the village so we guess that the once a month invasion is worth all the hassle for the people who live here.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Photos from Namara

Some photos taken  at the little uninhabited island of Namara, Astrolabe Reef, south Fiji:

The dinghy is hoisted out of the water, if you are trying to make sense of the perspective!

Note the unfortunate shadow from the wind indicator!

Catching a Turtle

The little resort island of Leleuvia is pretty special so we parked Maunie on one of their moorings for three nights last week:

Graham did a couple of scuba dives with the dive-master Seru and was able to film him catching an adult Hawksbill turtle for a government tagging and monitoring project:

There's a short video and more photos here: https://youtu.be/FqihQhK2Pi4

Friday, 11 September 2015

In the Great Astrolabe Reef

We have sailed south to the Astrolabe Reef (see http://www.yit.co.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall for details) – a cracking 70 mile sail that made the 2.00am departure worth while. The reef is huge, with several small islands and a couple of big ones, Ono and Kadavu, to the south.
We've had some great entertainment, both at Leleuvia on the day before departure, and at the island of Dravuni yesterday but we'll have to wait till we get to some internet access to tell you about it all as the photos are needed to illustrate the stories. In the meantime we hare anchored off the tiny, uninhabited island of Namara where the water is crystal clear and the coral beautiful and teeming with fish so we'll be snorkelling again today before moving south to Ono.

Sunday, 6 September 2015


The wind finally quit on us so we motored the last 90 minutes to Leleuvia where the very friendly resort staff guided us to a free-of-charge mooring. Dramatic skies and mirror calm water as the light faded:

View from the mast of Leleuvia. The Fijian flag shows the effects of a windy season

The weather front approaching us

Anchorages don't come much calmer than this!

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Ghosting along

After an overnight stop in Makogai, an  island we visited last year, we left at 07.30 to sail south the 30 miles to the little island of Leleuvia. As forecast, the wind is very light and the sea is calm so we hoisted the cruising chute and are ghosting along at about 2.5 knot in only 6 knots of wind. We're in no great hurry, though, so it's very pleasant.

You'd never guess that Maunie's first owner was Irish!
You can find our location on http://www.yit.co.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall and Leleuvia is just to the south of the big island of Overlau. We'll stay there a couple of days whilst a weather front passes through so the wind will go anticlockwise around the compass from NE to SE. 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Leaving Savusavu

After a week here in Savusavu, we're about to leave for more adventures. Our passports were finally given 'Visa Extension' stamps yesterday by the grumpiest Fijian lady we have ever met; Fijians are, by nature, happy and friendly people but those traits had obviously been trained out of her by the Immigration Department.

We've had a busy time here replenishing stocks, cleaning the boat and putting clothes and seat covers through the excellent laundry service at the marina where the lovely Sylvia will do a wash for about £2 or a wash & dry for £4 - the best value and quality washing we've ever found on our travels.

The plan for today, after a last run around the vegetable market, is to head out to an anchorage a couple of miles away from here to be able to get a swim and to stow the dinghy and then we'll head south west tomorrow. The weather forecast looks pretty good so we hope for some good sailing; we'll update the blog when we know just where we are going!