Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Anchoring Grace
By Michael

The runway was between us and that bouncy
contraption off the Plantation Resort on
Malololailai Island. Katherine and my
girls owned this thing after a week, and
spent countless hours in the resort's
pools. This is a family resort, so there
were hundreds of playmates around.
Many years ago, I heard John Otterbacher speak at the Annapolis Sailboat Show. John is the author of Sailing Grace (a riveting memoir about overcoming heart disease to go cruising) and one of the things he said during his slide presentation stuck with me. John mentioned an interesting aspect of his family’s cruising adventures: anchoring off resort properties. What made dropping the hook at these places interesting was the stark contrast between what he and the guests ashore paid per night to enjoy the same stunning view of the sunset.

It’s true. We are privileged to be able to live and travel the way we do and most places (Florida being an exception) haven’t come up with a reason or a means to charge us for being. We literally couldn’t be living and traveling the way we are, where we are, if they did come up with a way to make us pay.

But our good fortune is even magnified. Not only are we free to be wherever we are, but we’re almost always welcomed ashore to enjoy resort amenities alongside paying guests. Ironically, this is even sometimes the case at resorts where shore side access is restricted to guests. Yet, we row ashore in our dink, land in the backyard, and we’re welcomed into the fold of clean-smelling, well-attired shore people. (“Girls, remember to keep a low profile, we’re not paying guests and management was really nice to let us use the pool all day.”) And while the girls swim, we get to chatting with a guest who has barely recovered from arrival jetlag and they’re on a plane headed back home. (“It’s a shame that honeymooning couple we met last week can’t be here this week, now that the rain has stopped.”) These encounters definitely help check perspective in a way that anchoring off a city or in a deserted bay, do not.

Nowhere have we confronted this juxtaposition more than in Fiji—a nation that must have more resorts per capita than any other. And when the girls’ niece, Katherine, flew in for a short stay before school started back home, we focused our time at a few of them near Nadi.


We were treated like family at the Paradise resort on Taveuni Island.
This employee gave us (and the Swiss family aboard Oniva) impromptu
lessons in basket weaving.
And in case said employee reads this, I want to assure him that
this photo was just for laughs, the baskets are actually in use,
hanging from the grab rails in our cabin and keeping our
fruits and veggies fresh and accessible.

Katherine, Tyrii (from Rehua), and Frances loving
the pizza at the Musket Cove resort bar.

Watching the food prep at the Paradise Resort.

Guests at the Robinson Crusoe Island resort enjoying the sunset;
Del Viento is anchored just outside the frame.

Anchored off Namotu Island resort, Katherine and Frances looking on.

Rehua and Del Viento kids at Musket Cove.
(courtesy Audrie Vueghs)

A very touristy, and very fun, show at the Robinson Crusoe resort.

At the Robinson Crusoe resort.

Still at the Robinson Crusoe resort.

You guessed it

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Night Out
By Michael

The thing looked off-kilter to CB and I.
Nobody in our party rode the wheel
that night.
“People shouldn’t be screaming on a Ferris wheel.” I said to my friend CB of Palarran. Along with Windy, Tawn, and the girls, we had swung by the opening festivities of the Savusavu (pop. 4,000) fair. The Ferris wheel was the star attraction and its rotating lights were visible from boats moored a mile up the creek.

“It’s turning about 10 RPM; that looks pretty fast for a Ferris wheel.”

“Yeah, look how the baskets of people are nearly flipping as they swing off the apex. I’m going to go check it out.”

It wasn’t an OSHA-approved amusement ride. It was a small gasoline motor connected to the differential of the axle of a Ford F-150 and turning both wheels. One wheel was superfluous and the other was connected to belts that wrapped around the entire circumference of the Ferris wheel, flapping and loose as they turned the giant homemade contraption.

“You know, anyone who sticks their arm out to the side is going to lose it on those supports—and those side braces don’t seem broad enough to offer much lateral stability.”

Explosions turned our attention as fireworks burst 200 feet above our heads. They were launched 20 feet from a rope barrier and some errant rockets shot off sideways into the crowd pushed up against it. People scattered and shrieked in puffs of smoke and bright flashes, but otherwise took it in stride. We tiny group of cruiser bystanders glanced at each other wide-eyed.

Cotton candy and popcorn vendors hawked from the perimeter of the rugby-field-turned-into-fairgrounds.

“It’s the most developed nation in the South Pacific, but they don’t yet have deep-fried Snicker bars.”

The fair came on the heels of Fiji Day, a national holiday that marks two dates nearly 100 years apart: October 10, 1874, when King Seru Epenisa Cakobau ceded Fiji to the United Kingdom, and October 10, 1970, when Fiji regained its independence.

For a full week, the focus in Fiji is celebrating its diversity. Unlike every other South Pacific nation we’ve spent time in thus far, Fiji has a diverse population, comprised primarily of indigenous Melanesian Fijians, Indian Fijians, and some ex-pats from New Zealand and Australia. These populations are comprised of Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. Nobody seems threatened by anyone else. When I hear “As-salaam-alaikum” exchanged in greeting between people in a shop, nobody around me calls the police fearing a terrorist act.

Last night, on the fair’s main stage (okay, only stage), an emcee introduced young women vying for a crown (“One of these Savusavu girls might be the next Miss Fiji!”). In turn, a half dozen women aged 18-30 introduced themselves before walking the catwalk in a sarong while the emcee announced the symbolism of their garment. The beauty of Fiji and the value of its diversity were reoccurring themes. The following video is of one of the contestants, a young woman sponsored by the Public Service Commission.


Like stealing candy from a baby.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sugar Cane Express
By Michael

Children of the cane.
Most of the cruisers and cruising families we’ve ever met hail from one of the big six: the United States, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. It’s not unusual to come across a boat from Sweden, Spain, or Holland, but a boat from anyplace else is unusual. Since leaving Mexico, we’ve met the crews of cruising boats hailing from countries that don’t spawn a lot of cruising boats. In the Marquesas we met a family from Monaco (I think you’d have to meet a cruising family from the Vatican or Lichtenstein to beat that) and a couple from Cape Verde. The other night we met a family from Israel. And since arriving in Fiji, we’ve made friends with two families from Switzerland.

Our encounters with the two Swiss families were just days apart and I was surprised neither knew of the other, Elas just a day sail away from Oniva, halfway around the world from home. Then I learned that tiny Switzerland—and Windy says everyone already knows this, but she’s a geographer—is essentially divided by language and culture into German-Swiss, French-Swiss, Italian-Swiss, and Romansh-Swiss. So our new German-Swiss friends (Elas) weren’t aware of our new French-Swiss friends (Oniva) and they each speak and blog in a different language (besides, one sails a monohull, the other a multihull—how well would they get along anyway?). The things you learn cruising.

Weeks after my Swiss geography lesson, we tied up in Port Denarau to pick up the girls’ cousin, Kat, visiting from Washington State. Down the docks come the Elas family with a tale of woe.

We knew they had decided to haul out in Fiji’s Vuda Point Marina, for a quick repair before their passage to Australia. A sleeve on their rudder shaft was worn. The play that resulted wasn’t too bad, but neither was the fix going to be a big deal; there was a machinist near the marina that could turn a new sleeve in his sleep.

But halfway through the job, Elas on the hard, the machinist requested they bring in their rudder, explaining that it would help him to fabricate a part with closer tolerances. That was music to Swiss ears. Kim and Claudia delivered Elas’s rudder, the machine shop accidentally destroyed it.

“It’s not my problem,” the shop owner told our friends, “go after my employee.”

That’s the flip side of the joys of living and doing business in a less-regulated, less litigious place.

Kim shakes his head, a self-deprecating lament of his decision to address the problem in the first place. “We are Swiss and so everything must be perfect, no wobble, no tiny wobble...”

The rudder might be reparable, but they reckon it’s too critical a part to rely on an iffy repair. It’s going to take Beneteau at least 6 weeks to fabricate a replacement in France and get it to Fiji. It’s going to cost the family thousands of dollars. (They talk all about it here, in Swiss-German.)

After the girls’ cousin departed, we sailed north to Saweni Bay to visit our rudderless friends in Vuda Point and cheer them up. We walked 2 hours each way from Saweni Bay to Vuda Point Marina. Elas was there, but the family had found a cheap flight to New Zealand and went exploring. It was a good day anyway.


Saweni Bay, where we left Pudgy to begin our trek to Vuda Point.

Dry dirt roads all the way.

We followed these tracks nearly the entire way. This is sugar cane
growing land and these tracks are used to transport harvested cane
to the refinery in Lautoka.

About 30 minutes in.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was the
bar at Vuda Point.

Vuda Point Marina is famous, it's where boats are hauled
for cyclone season and their keels lowered into pits that
surround this enclosed basin. Boats within the basin are
rafted together in a big circle.

Starting home, the engines were positioning to pull
the cars loaded with cane.

Goat herder.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

God Bless America
By Michael

Me climbing a coconut palm back in American
Samoa. I didn't make it past that bend
in the trunk.
We recently found ourselves in Fiji and in need of getting our signatures notarized on U.S. documents.

“Let’s go to Suva, to the U.S. Embassy.” I said to Windy.

“Suva? Why not just get them notarized here, they said a Fijian notary would be fine.”

She’s was right. We were told a Fijian notary would be fine. But what if that was bad information? These docs were urgent and we were already pushing it with the shipping timeline. So I googled it. I learned that Fiji was part of a Hague convention in 1961 that allows reciprocity for notary services. But it didn’t seem that simple. The word apostille kept popping up. In fact, that Hague convention was the Apostille Convention. An apostille is a separate piece of paper I’d never heard of and I wasn’t clear about whether we needed that in addition to the notary for everything to be valid.

“Why take a risk? If we get them notarized at our embassy, we know it’s good. Plus, we’ve paid our taxes over the years, it’s our due.”

“Maybe, but it also means renting a car and driving three hours each way, to Suva and back.”

“It’ll be an adventure, and we’ll not have to worry whether our signatures pass muster.”

“I’m not worried, you are.”

We found a dirt-cheap rental car in Port Denarau and then got upgraded to a snazzy ride after they ran out of economy cars. We got lost after the first hour, but still made Suva by lunchtime.

“Do you have an appointment?” the guard in front of the embassy building asked.

“No. We’re U.S. citizens here to sign some docs and have them notarized.” I gave him our passports and we waited on benches outside on the stately grounds.

Twenty minutes passed before he motioned us through a glass and metal door that must have weighed four tons. Inside we were quizzed briefly, processed through airport-like security, and directed through a back door, outside again, but within the embassy compound.

“So this is the United States girls, a tiny little piece of your home country, here in Fiji. Isn’t that weird?” I felt instantly relieved of the constant traveler’s feeling of being a guest, always a transient, often hamstrung by language and culture. Here I was home and could relax. “This is a government building, our government. All the people you see here work for us, citizens of the United States.”

“We know Dad.”

The door to the next building was also fortified and once inside, we again had to go through airport-like security. Once through that, we were directed to a tiny, vault-like room and a door was closed behind us. On the wall was a small window with glass and a pass-through, like a bank teller.

I leaned in. “Hi, we just need to get our signatures notarized on some documents.”

The clerk reviewed all our paperwork, putting colored tabs on the signature lines I indicated. “That’s three times the consular official needs to sign.”

“Uh, yeah, yes, three times.”

“It’s fifty U.S. dollars per signature, payable in cash only. For three signatures, that’s one-fifty.”



“I was just telling my girls it would probably cost us nothing, being U.S. citizens and all—I guessed I imagined notary services would be free.”

“No sir, that’s what we charge, by law.”

“Let me ask you, can we get these notarized by a Fijian? Do you think that would be okay?”

Frances watching the sunset
from the boom in Fiji.
“Probably not, I’ve had lots of people try that and then have to come back when their notarized signatures were not recognized—but you’re welcome to try sir.”

I looked at Windy. She shook her head, “I think we should find a Fijian notary.”

I turned back to the clerk, “What about the Hague convention, 1961? Do you know about that?”

“Yes sir, I do. You’re welcome to have a Fijian notary help you, I can only tell you it hasn’t worked in the past.”

Windy was still shaking her head. “It only has to get by a county clerk in Arizona and they said it’s okay—I say we go.”

I turned back to the clerk. “Thanks, we’re going to try our luck.”

Outside, near the street, I posed near the U.S. Embassy sign by the road on our way back to the car. Windy raised the camera. An embassy guard started shouting, running down the driveway towards us, waving his arms. “NO! NO! NO PICTURES!”

“Seriously? Not of this sign? We’re practically on the sidewalk. Why not?”

“No pictures, not allowed.”

We drove back downtown, parked, had lunch, and found one of only two notaries in Suva. Attorney Singh was relaxed and welcoming in his modest second-story office. He charged a third of what the embassy wanted and chatted us up while he notarized and made copies for us. It kind of felt like home.


Since arriving in Fiji, we've been amazed how much it's
defied our expectations, in terms of landscape. Even from
offshore, we often see California. Couldn't the photo
above be California? Crazy.


California for sure--it was a head trip driving to Suva.

Some dude and his kid. You may have noticed on this blog that we
take few candid shots of locals. I like those pics, but we
both feel awkward taking them. And by the time we ask permission
for a photo, the image is gone, and definitely not candid. I don't
know how the Bumfuzzles do it, but they do it well.
We grabbed a snack at the Royal Suva Yacht Club. It is
a very cool place, storied and not pretentious in any way.
This café was the spiffiest part. We'll drop in again in
Del Viento as we're headed that way.

So they had a few typewriters on display and the girls
were fascinated, never having seen one in person.
They couldn't believe Windy and I actually owned
and used them in high school and college.
I can't either.
Downtown Suva.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Hanging Ten in Fiji
By Michael

Heading for the break.
We’ve spent the past two days tucked away in Natadola Bay, on the south side of Fiji’s big island. Beside the fact that it’s a beautiful little bay that we’ve got all to ourselves (ourselves and the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa), Natadola Bay is home to some of Fiji’s smallest surf.

As new owners of two surfboards recently gifted to us by the former Exodus crew (¡Muchísimas gracias, Alex and Brenden!), and as the parents of two girls still interested in learning to surf after their lessons in Pago Pago, this is the place for us, at least now, as we make our way towards Suva and then back to Savusavu.

We’re actually on a bit of a mission to reach Savusavu.


Because we have big plans. I’ll release the info slowly in the near future. But things are coming together, I think.

For now, surfing.


Windy coaching her student.

Frances got up twice, but this is the closest picture I have.
I was in the dinghy and pretty far away, so good shots
were difficult.

Eleanor got up over and over, but this is the sharpest photo.

Del Viento waiting outside the break.

                                            Windy surfing.

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