Friday, July 20, 2012


I saw a McDonalds restaurant this morning.  I walked right by it on my way into Nadi..  That pretty much sums up where I am.  (How many McDonalds are there in the South Pacific?) 

I know I judge a good portion of the yachtie world pretty harshly for being retired well to do tourists but when I see real tourists I feel like I might have to back track a bit and eat my words. There are real tourists on the west side of the main island in Fiji.  Hordes of them.  There are also loads of yachts as there are a lot of anchorages and many islands.  One island in particular has a reputation for being yachtie paradise.  Musket Cove was skipped the last time I was here.  Maybe I will change my attitude and brave a visit this season.

Non sailors, upon hearing I have single handed nearly fifty thousand miles in the last six years, are impressed and want to know about the challenges.  Did you ever have bad weather or storms?  What they should be asking about is the panic that sets in when you get invited to the cruiser's potluck and all you have on the boat is texturized vegetable protein and unsprouted mung beans.  It is less than three hours of motoring to Musket Cove (there is no wind on this side of the island) but it might be the most challenging passage yet.  I think I would have to change my image to survive it.  No admitting I am a single handler - they are all sleaze cases that you find cruising places like Madagascar or Thailand.  I would have to finally get around to setting up the brand new outboard sitting on the stern pulpit.  I haven't even put oil in the case.  Only guys that went to wooden boat building school in places like Port Townsend are allowed to row and their dinghies don't look beat up like mine.  I don't have a beard anyway so I can't do the Master Mariner wood thing...  If I make fun of polo shirts with boat names and pleated shorts with a belt, I have to keep in mind what they are seeing when they look at me.  The wild hair and seven dollar knock off surfer shorts at my age means "life long marijuana user."  This is no paranoid projection.  It has been plenty of times when the square looking cruiser suddenly comes over all friendly and does his best at being a "dude just like me".  It turns out they are always looking to score some pot.  I don't even drink alcohol so no help there...

Aside from the terror of contemplating a visit to Musket Cove, I have been mulling over how to finish this trip.  Fiji puts me within striking range of the first of the true places I wanted to visit on this second pass.  Pitcairn and the Australs were just the appetizers.  The problem is that I cannot hit enough of them and make it out before the close of this season.  The reality is that to do it thoroughly, it would take another whole season, which means nearly another year out here.  I don't know if I have the stamina for that and I certainly cannot afford it.  Get a job then!  Yes, this has been considered with the Marshalls being part of the U.S. and I am sure I could get something there.  One cruiser who has been there said eight to ten dollars an hour which may sound like nothing to some readers of this blog but that buys a whole lot of texturized vegetable protein. On a side not, my fishing skills have gotten a lot better.  I could just visit one spot and call it quits and get down to Australia by October and give the boat away for cheap there.  What to do...  Maybe my community of fellow yachties in Musket Cove will give me some great insights.  You never know, right?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Eight Bells

One thing I have learned on this second pass of the South Pacific is that even high latitude cruising is becoming part of the main circuit.  My old understanding was that you do the easy trade wind circumnavigation in your plastic boat but after completing it you graduate, become a true sailor and part of an elite minority.  You get a real boat (metal), aluminium if you have money and steel if you don't and you head to destinations like the Chilean Fjords, Antarctic or the west side of Greenland.  My older Cornell guide says that the number of boats that go to places like Antarctic are in the single digits.  That isn't the case anymore.  I think that in the early nineties once GPS became affordable, it triggered a big growth in cruising.  The latest is the accuracy and affordability in being able to receive weather forecasts.  There are GFS weather forecast models that go out to twelve days now. 

Before the availability of GRIBs, yachties used weather fax but also depended a large part on land based guys who knew yachting, local weather and would disseminate crucial info over shortwave radio.  Two big names recently died.  I heard of Don Anderson's (Amigo Net) passing en route to Pitcairn and this morning I heard that Des of Russel Radio passed a couple of days ago.  Guys like Des and Don do a great service to yachts on passage.  I have used both of them many times, checking in as often as twice a day.  I have fond memories of listening to Don completely exasperated when some greenhorn wants a detailed report for a 50 mile hop on the Mexican Gold Coast after he just said it was land and sea breeze for the entire area.  I remember it was Des who was the first to welcome me to New Zealand when I hailed him on VHF to let him know I had made it to the Bay of Islands... 

Short clip of checking in with Des just south of Vanuatu when I did the passage up back to the islands.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday Night

Last night, being a Friday night, was one of only two nights during the week when it is worth checking out the nightlife here.  Savu Savu is a pretty slow town.  There are three different venues and I opted for the one I was warned to stay away from by the very polite Fijian staff at the posh Copra Shed marina.  "It is unsafe for yachties."  I think the truth is that is unsafe for anybody as I witnessed at least three fights and two persons who had gone way over their limit passed out in front of the club on the lawn.  Fijians like to party in that rowdy sort of way.

The other two options were the club for Indians and the bar/restaurant for the yachties. I also spent a good portion of the evening with the Fijian staff at the Waitui Marina.  Copra Shed gets all the business so the small bar at Waitui was empty and the workers do a kava circle every evening right on the dock where I tie my dinghy up.   It attracts locals who live nearby so it was a good group.  Kava circles have elements of plain old peer pressure traditionalized into a ceremony.  They pass the bowl full of drink around, there is hand clapping and a few other gestures but mostly it feels like a strange game of trying to out last one another and/or maintaining some composure despite being completely subdued by the drug.  It is a bit lively in the beginning with a guitar, songs, "bullshit" stories.  I even got to hold the floor with that liberal shtick of commiserating with them about how unfair it is to have expats come and slowly buy up beautiful pieces of property that they couldn't afford in their own country which ends up making it unaffordable for the Fijians(no law about foreigners owning land here).  My shtick usually includes the waring to not lust after an opportunity to live in America making big bucks.  Complete trap...  "You think you'll have time to hang out and do a kava circle???",  Most people who have never been to American don't realize just how bad the neighborhoods for the non white working class really are...  After a couple of hours of drinking kava, the drug starts to take effect and there isn't any conversation anymore.  I left and by the time I came back from the club the ones still there looked stoned and incapable of moving.  At some point you have to rouse yourself up and go home.  It is considered bad taste to sneak off and when your turn comes you have to announce your departure.  It is part of the ceremony.  Everyone wakes up momentarily, partially self conscious of the fact they spend every evening drinking themselves into a stupor, but it seemed barely conscious and buried by the ceremonial gesture of saying goodnight.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


I paid the health fee yesterday and expressed some "concern" over the rate increase.  I figured it was a more tactful angle than being a jerk and complaining about it.  Everyone in the office admitted that the increase was a lot and that it wasn't their decision and in so many words, expressed that it wasn't a big deal because all the yachties were "millionaires."  I loved that one...  There is truth in it though.  I just wished the money was going toward something decent instead of the military that took over the country in the last coup.  This sentiment was also shared by the women in the office.

I do have a million dollar view from the entrance of the creek...

Good news is that I purchased a USB hard drive "box" ($20 U.S.) that allows me to plug in the old hard drives from the laptops destroyed by the elements during the course of this trip.  This means a lot of forthcoming flashback posts and I also owe some people some photos and clips from years back.  Great stuff.

Here is a quick scene from a church service I attended in Raivavae.  I have always had an issue with the amount of influence missionaries have had on the indigenous cultures here in the South Pacific.  I have noticed though, that there are many elements of their past traditions that they have incorporated into the modern day version.  The service I attended in Raivavae was quite special as it only happens once a year and involved groups from the other Australs.  A celebration of community, pride in their respective islands and a shared rejoicing in how they understand their relation to the cosmic.  All of this expressed through singing.  Definitely moving stuff...

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Waitui Marina

A quick plug for Waitui Marina, which is a good alternative to Copra Shed if you are going to check in to Fiji through Savu Savu.  They can contact the officials and ferry them out to your boat just like Copra Shed.  Kendra, one of the proprietors, upon seeing me tied up to a Copra Shed Marina mooring remarked that my boat wasn't pretty enough to be associated with them....  (Part of the reason why I made the refit schedule in Mexico was that I only got about halfway with painting the cabin top...I will finish it here).  She is right and I felt it too, so once checked in, I promptly moved out by the entrance to the creek and am the only boat on anchor.  There are three other long term ones on the hook but they are way up the creek where there isn't any more room...   Being on the hook saves a whopping ten Fiji dollars a day.  The folks at Copra Shed made it appear as if there isn't a general anchorage anymore.  I found an all you can eat curry buffet for that same price.  Need I say more...

I hate to beat this issue to death but it feels like I just cannot escape how much money there is in the cruising scene.  I think a lot of it has to do with the simple fact that most cruisers are older.  The average age is in the sixties.  If you have worked all your life and put off cruising to retirement, it is understood a lot differently.  It makes sense.  If I would have continued working the past six years, and was going cruising this year, I probably would opt for a nicer boat than Pelican.  That said, I see now that I could have actually left earlier and settled for a smaller boat and in some ways this would have been the wisest choice of all.  I remember back in California coming up with the idea of a "disposable cruiser" with a friend of mine.  They give plastic boats away for free in California and you can dumpster dive/visit scrap yards for odds and ends.  Ebay and Craigslist for used gear and off you go.  It takes a certain amount of confidence to go this route and I admit, I didn't have it before taking this cruise but I see it clearly now.  Pelican is a solid cruising boat comparatively.  It is like with Robin Lee Graham's "Dove" and "Return of Dove."  The first Dove was a Cal 24 and then the Return is a Luders 33 which is a lot like Pelican.  I remember reading how impressed Robin was with how much more substantial the Luders felt, but note that he didn't switch to this boat until over three quarters of the way around the world.

The face of cruising has changed tremendously in the last thirty years but how much has the ocean changed?   

The check in fees for the health inspector has gone up from $17 when I was here last (2007) to $33 last year to $172 this year!  I will have spent more money on check in fees than anything else upon leaving Mexico.  I have only used 10 gallons of diesel since San Blas, Mexico.  Granted, I only dropped the hook in a total of six anchorages so this has been more about passage making than gunkholing.

Namana Creek seen from the Copra Shed mooring.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Savu Savu, Fiji

I could only handle six days in Vava'u.  I try the expat yachtie thing but it isn't really me.  Sometimes it clicks but never for long.  I get another shot here in Savu Savu. (Today being the fourth of July, the American yachts are having a get together later). This is my first time here in Savu Savu and so far it is alright.  The yachts dominate the view from town but it feels ok.  The marina and its associated business are small and just a footnote.  No megayachts in the anchorage today.  Being a California sailor, I see Fiji as the Mexico of the South Pacific.  It is definitely the best value and it is the choice destination for the boats in New Zealand.   Tonga felt expensive this time around.  The market even felt like they were doing two tier pricing.  Internet was higher than in Raivavae which is hard to believe.

One of my cruising guides continually uses the word "unsophisticated" to describe the major towns in Fiji.  I understand why...  The level of education here is low and it feels pretty third worldish in the general sense.  The funny thing, though, is that a lot of people are relaxed and smiling.  I noticed it immediately.  In Tonga, everyone is so dignified and serious.  In Raivavae, they were quiet but pleasant.  I have already met a handful of locals here without even trying.  It feels good.

So the first phase of this second crossing of the Pacific is over.  Fiji was the first goal, not because it is a worthy destination in itself (it is great cruising but is not on my "trophy list") but because I am now in striking range of the places I really want to see.

I am also at a bit of a conundrum with how to play it out.  One of the first lessons of cruising that you learn is that the seasons determine your route, not your "trophy list" or whatever else....  You get a certain number of months in each part of the world and then winds, currents and the odds of hurricanes all start to shift so you have to manage around the facts of this.  I am still working on my plan.  For now, though, it will be break time...

(Two of these creatures stuck with me for half a day a few hundred miles east of the southern Cooks.  I don't know if you can make it out but they aren't exactly dolphin size....)