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The Two Captains



2C Update #147 - Savu Savu Tease - August 28 - September 7, 2006  Sorry, no photos, camera broken

Waking up in Savu Savu, there is no question that we are somewhere new.  The land and the people are markedly different from Tongans, even though the Fijian, Tongan and Samoan people have long traded (and warred) together.  Savu Savu wakes with a bustle.  Birds chatter loudly in the anchorage, a stereo fires up full bore before coffee, and traffic in town rumbles busily on the main street which runs right alongside the anchorage.  The freighter or ferry backed up to the commercial wharf across the mouth of the inlet has changed color and name overnight, while dark-skinned families pole by the boat in impossibly narrow craft bound for the day’s fishing.  And Curly’s daily “Good morning, SAvu Savu” VHF radio net has, if not shot you to your feet, at least got you reaching for your calendar to schedule the weeks activities. 

Curly’s official business is the Bosun’s Locker, a small storefront that offers services catering to cruiser’s needs: mail; cell phone rentals; office and Internet services; bookings for tours and dives; yacht moorings, maintenance, minding, and deliveries, not to mention Curly’s famous “Fiji Fantastic” fishing lures.

Curly’s Seminar

But Curly is probably best known for his seminars introducing visiting sailors to the realities of navigating Fiji’s complicated waters, negotiating cruising permits for out islands, and most importantly the peculiar protocol essential to successful visits to traditional Fijian villages.  With our return tickets to Tampa booked for November 2, we figured we had just the right window of time to cruise northern Fiji before we had to find our way to the Vuda Point Boatyard to haul..  So feeling motivated, we made our way to the Sea View Café for Curly’s Tuesday afternoon seminar on applying for cruising permits and village protocol.

Fiji is a complicated place.  For far longer than other island groups they kept out invading cultures thanks to the tricky reefs that encircle the islands and their reputation as fierce and frightening (augmented by some rather creative body paint and gruesome clubs!) cannibals.  But eventually, come those cultures did, primarily, of course, the European opportunists – the preachers, the whalers, the traders, and the land-hungry growers.  As happened elsewhere, the plantations needed labor, but the native Fijians did not take to the role “offered” them.  Enter the East Indians.  An industrious people from an overpopulated and socially restrictive homeland, the East Indians came to Fiji and turned labor into opportunity.  As a result, East Indians now number nearly half Fiji’s population and are responsible for most of the commercial bustle in towns like Savu Savu throughout the nation.

While the East Indian community does its thing, and the outside influences do theirs with their luxury resorts, the ethnic Fijians have determinedly maintained a more traditional lifestyle. ..at least one modified by its mating with the Christian Church.  The Fijian community is one of intense village hierarchy, and the national government protects that in part by controlling access by outsiders.  So, for example, it is said to be very difficult for cruising sailboats to get a permit to visit the most traditional outpost of Fijian culture, the Lau Island group.  This is, of course, because visitors have abused the privilege and failed to respect local customs.  An ironic outcome is that many cruisers don’t bother with the real Fiji and only touch base at Fiji’s Europeanized outposts.

Curly’s objective is to educate cruisers in the ways of Fijian villages and the proper behaviors to make us welcome there!  So, after walking us through the filling out of forms to get a cruising permit for the places you want to visit (including the Lau Group), Curly and his Fijian friend Bobby set about introducing us to the all important sevu sevu (prounced ser-vu ser-vu) – the kava giving and drinking ceremony.

First, it seems the kind of kava –  called yaquona in Fiji (and pronounced yan-gon-nah) – is very important. Although “instant” yaquona can be bought in a powdered form, it is more politic to bring the original root, and that root should be bundled in just the right amount (not too much and not too little) and tied up a certain way in a cone of newspaper.  Then when you land on a village’s beach, you ask the first person you meet to introduce you to the chief’s spokesman, who then acts on your behalf making the introduction to the chief and the village.  Then we learned the proper way to sit in a kava circle, the proper way to accept the bowl (one should drink the whole bowl, especially the first time), and the proper way to clap (with cupped palms, once before accepting the bowl and three times after!)  Bobby is most impressive presiding in his bare chest and sulu (sarong), not even batting an eye as the cruisers giggle.  Hardly looks like the same person who runs around in shorts and singlet helping with boat projects in the anchorage.

Engine Mounts

Speaking of boat projects, shortly after arriving in Savu Savu, Don decided to tackle the big one that had been preying on his mind for some time: Tackless’s front engine mounts.  They had gradually become distorted over the years and definitely needed to be replaced, and we had brought back with us from Florida two replacements mounts.  While in theory the project could  be a straightforward exercise, given a twenty-five-year-old installation, we had balked at messing with it in Vavau where any kind of mechanical support service was minimal.

Savu Savu is hardly a metropolis, but Don got to gabbing with Curly, and the next thing I know the boys have decided to plunge ahead without further ado.  The project required loosening the old mounts, jacking up the front one side of the engine at a time, disconnecting and replacing the mount, and then realigning the engine, all in very tight spaces and with the anxiety of many things going wrong that could render the engine unusable.  The first and most major accomplishment was breaking the mounting bolts loose after twenty-odd years. As is often the case, all those month of sleepless anticipation (Don does a lot of his planning in the wee hours!) were for naught as the bolts broke free relatively easily. Then they had to jack the weight of the engine off the each mount on the engine bed.  The boys first tried using a come-along attached to the mounting bolts of the binnacle above it , but that system failed when one of the bolts broke.  Instead, they fashioned a fulcrum with cement blocks on one side, a hydraulic jack on the other and a bar across the top with the engine attached to a chain over the bar.  This worked.  Once the engine was raised up, they propped it with blocks to give them room to work. Here’s where we really appreciate Tackless’ access to both side of the engine!  Don reattached the new mounts to the engine with new bolts, then reset the mounts to the engine bed with new lag bolts.  This all took about three days.  Finally, Don and Curly realigned the engine, a committee endeavor between them, and the project was done! 

Exploring town

While the boys were having all this fun, I divided my time between working on my computer in my corner of the salon (my new monthly column – “The Admiral’s Angle” – for Latitudes and Attitudes Magazine was calling for some unaccustomed discipline!) and exploring the town with other cruising women.  There are two fair-sized “super-markets”, one at each end of the street, a half dozen or more smaller food stores between them, and two bakeries.  Similarly there are at least five “hardware” stores scattered the length of the main street. Mixed in are some restaurants, some internet cafes, and some “general merchandise” shops. 

What I persist in thinking of as the “Mercado” – the town’s open air veggie market – is right in the center of the town, conveniently next to the bus depot.  This market is packed with fresh veggies –  huge eggplants, round cauliflowers, bouquets of broccoli, piles of bok choy, mounds of peppers – and of course all the local veggies and fruits we’d had in Vava’u, only in much more bountiful quantities at much lower prices.  Plus, there were the rows of pungent spices in sacks and tables of the exotic snack mixes that so characterize Indian cuisine.  Next door at the bus station we found several ladies selling local “fast food” – long East Indian curried-potato rotis rolled in foil or wrapped plates of Fijian fish and root dinners – dispensed back to back from coolers on picnic tables.  The ladies of the different cultures were dressed in bright outfits and far more outgoing (once the initial temerity of speaking with foreigners was overcome) than I ever found Tongans to be.

In the evenings we quickly fell into the routine Curly orchestrates of happy hour at the yacht club followed by specially-priced cruiser dinners at various restaurants.  The yacht club, located at one end of the Copra Shed Marina complex, is a most amiable hangout.  The local members – mostly expats of various countries (with a distinctly more Australian flavor ) make the yachties welcome over specially-priced Fiji Bitters and Fiji Golds –  the local brew.  The conversation is often about upcoming passages (which route is better to Lautoka, Musket Cove and Vuda Point….the long sail clockwise around Viti Levu or the more direct but laborious weather-bound crawl through Western Fiji’s labyrinthine reefs),  visiting villages, and, while we were there, the stunning demise of Steve Irwin, Australia’s beloved crocodile hunter.  The cruiser dinners range from a Fijian umu, to an Aussie Bar-B, to, our favorite, a buffet of East Indian curries up at a hotel overlooking the anchorage.  At each gathering there are from eight to twenty cruisers, some folks who have just arrived, others who have, as their stay in port lengthens, become regulars.

Lingering in Savu Savu could be mighty easy.  The biggest obstacle to that is the limited moorage available.  There are only a handful of stern-to slips and a couple of dozen moorings maintained by a couple of different companies (Curly and Copra Shed Marina being two of them).  Otherwise there is little space to anchor inside Nakama Creek.  Cruisers can anchor outside the inlet along the coast out to Point Passage, but as any departure requires a visit to Customs and Immigration, one tends to go or stay!  Feeling a bit that the engine mount project might have hogged a bit too much time on one of Curly’s precious moorings, we attended Curly’s other popular seminar on routes and charting quirks of the Fijian reefs (Curly is at work his own cruising guide for Fiji, parts of which cruisers can purchase at his seminars) with the aim of getting out of town early the following week. 

Change of Plans

This however was not to be.  On Saturday morning, the first of September, a routine download of email brought the following email from Don’s Dad:

 “A little news here: I'm going in for knee replacement on Sept. 14th. No big deal I'll keep every one advised on progress. I didn't expect to get in as soon as it turned out, but this way I should be up and running by fall and ready for Florida after Christmas.”

“No big deal”, huh?!  Don’s Dad is 81, and at that age any trip to the operating room is a big deal!  Plus, anyone who’s been reading these updates since September 2003 will remember the six weeks Don spent in Indiana helping his Dad get through the first one. 

I hasten to say that the email’s announcement was not a complete surprise.  He has needed it since the first one, but so disliked the experience, he has been putting up with the increasing discomfort for three years.  This past month or two, the family grapevine suggested that the inevitable was….well becoming inevitable, and in fact, we’d pushed our departure from the Ha’apai last month to get back to Vava’u (where we knew we could store the boat safely if need be) when said grapevine suggested a decision could be  imminent.  However, although we awaited word, dropped hints, etc, it looked like the “grapevine” had been jumping the gun.  And so off we sailed to Fiji.

Now, here we were, one week in the country, twelve days before the surgery, a long way from the haulout yard at which we had reservations to store the boat, and it was a weekend to boot!  There was absolutely no question in our minds that we would pack up and go, it was just a question of whether we could!

Fortunately, almost from our arrival, we had been pondering the idea of Savu Savu as an alternate place to leave Tackless for cyclone season.  Tackless seemed to do so much better laid up afloat last year than she did after six months closed up on the hard in Raiatea. Nakama Creek has a good reputation as a hurricane hole, and historical statistics suggest that Vanua Levu gets hit less often by cyclones than Viti Levu (and our planned haulout yard!) to the south.  Plus, Curly himself offers a yacht-minding service not unlike what we’d had by Larry and Sheri of the Ark in Tapana. 

By the end of day, it had all come together.  Curly had arranged a cyclone mooring for us through the Copra Shed (his own were all spoken for), and we began stripping the boat down.  By end of day Monday we had changed our November reservations to Tampa to the Thursday evening flight, plus we’d managed to book the one way flights to Nadi from Savu Savu for Thursday morning despite the short notice.  We even had a place to while away the ten-hour layover in Nadi, since our friends Bud and Anita of Passage (last seen a year ago headed for New Zealand from Vava’u) were in Vuda Marina, an easy taxi ride from the airport.  From Tampa, after a day to recuperate from the thirty-eight hours, door-to-door travel (including back-to-back red-eyes, eight times zones, and  two Thursdays!) and to play with our grandson, we would drive to Crystal River, re-commission the “box boat” (our RV), and hit the highway to Indiana, about a two-and-a half-day drive!

The plan went like clockwork, pure momentum carrying us through, and we arrived in the folks’ driveway in Morristown, …a very long way from Fiji…with a day and a half to spare.

We are now back in the States, as of September 2006, through April 2007.

While in the States' we are experimenting with using a "blog" (Web Log) in combination with our regular cruising logs.

       Check out Gwen's USA Blog


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