We loved our stay in New Zealand, but we really love our time in the tropics.
It has been over 2 weeks since our arrival in Fiji, and all of our hats, fleece, pants, and down comforters have been safely stored away, potentially forever. Our readjustment to life in the tropics is pretty much complete, and it was accelerated by the fact that we had some challenging (in a good way) guest logistics after our arrival in Savusavu.
If you recall, we had a full crew on the passage up from New Zealand, consisting of the four of us plus Dan and our friends Ravi and Alison (whom forevermore shall be referred to as “Ravison”.) The morning after we cleared customs, our friends Ian and Becky (remember “Hooked”?) arrived for a 10 day visit. That means we had a minimum of a 4-5 day period where Sophie had 9 souls on board. I say minimum because whenever guests join us in the tropics, I repeatedly try to convince them that “missing” their flight in order to remain in paradise for a few more days, in the greater scheme of things, is a much better choice than going back to another 3 days of work in the office.
Anyway, this chart shows how we managed people logistics over the 2 weeks.
The boat icon shows where we are currently located, in Savusavu. After Ian and Becky arrived, we motored down to that little anchor icon and spent 3 days of water fun offshore from the Cousteau Resort, one of the world’s first eco-friendly family vacation spots.
Fortunately, Sophie had two new pieces of equipment to assist us in our readjustment to tropical water sport fun. The first was the “Relaxation Station” V2, the successor to a floating water toy that we used to bring with us on summer vacations in British Columbia’s Desolation Sound. We used to raft with 5 other families on their boats on those vacations. The kids would usually play on Sophie’s trampolines, and the grownups would safely move off of the boat, and, well, relax.
V2 definitely delivered.
The second piece of equipment is something I picked up on a whim at a Mitre store on our last day in New Zealand. It is a simple water dispenser with a spigot and a frozen tube in the center.
I had no idea that such a simple piece of plastic would become a black hole in our liquor cabinet. The combination of this piece of plastic, 7 adults on board celebrating a successful ocean crossing, Relaxation Station V2, and some tropical sun after 6 months in New Zealand and a lifetime in gray Seattle resulted in Sophie essentially running out of booze for the first time ever. Granted, our stocks were very low, and granted, the days of our having 40 people over every Thursday night for the Downtown Sailing Series are long gone, but I have to say, it was quite an accomplishment.
Of course it didn’t help that in my ongoing attempts to provide the best possible guest experience on Sophie Adventure Cruises that I would occasionally swim a resupply out to the people on the Relaxation Station. None of the guests complained.
I also don’t want to create the impression that all we do is drink when we have friends on board, because we actually spend most of our time swimming, playing games, cooking, talking, homeschooling, reading, and listening to music.
One of the nice things about being a day ahead of North America is that we get to listen live to Michele Myer’s Friday night radio show on Seattle’s KEXP on Saturday afternoon. When we were down at Cousteau we emailed in a request for some surf music, and Michele responded with some Dick Dale. The crowd on the trampoline approved. Leo plays an excellent air surf guitar.
We spend a LOT of time swimming, paddling, diving, and splashing around. For me, Jenna, and the kids, it is definitely the best part about being out here. The water temperature is 83 degrees F right now. Our guests seem to enjoy it as well.
Normally, I am the king of the Olympic dives into the water from the top of Sophie’s coach roof, but I think I have finally met my match in Alison (also known as half of Ravison).
At sunset, Alison decided to take Hazel out for some paddleboard yoga. Hazel enjoys yoga as a means to find her inner peace. So off they paddled, with Hazel doing the driving.
However, Hazel decided that hanging out on the Relaxation Station V2 was going to be way more fun than finding inner peace doing paddleboard yoga with Alison, so she jumped into the water for a change of venue.
After some sunset paddleboard yoga, Alison, good soul that she is, came around to collect Hazel and bring her back to Sophie.
One challenge Jenna and I faced that weekend was trying to figure out how to pull together meals that met the various dietary requirements of everyone on board. For starters, Ravison are strict vegans, which means they don’t eat meat, fish, or any animal product like milk or cheese.
According to one of my favorite night watch movies, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” it also means that they are “better than the rest of us.” In reality, it means that they wind up eating delicious things like potato chip hummus cucumber wraps. A lot.
Ian and Becky are gluten-free, which means we have to read the label for anything we might potentially cook with.
On the other extreme are people like me and Dan who can spend all day eating stuff like this.
Jenna, as usual, played the role of happy medium who brought everyone together in a harmonious and respectful way. It turns out that we all agreed that vegan food tastes really good, and some dishes Ravison shared with us are now Sophie staples. The important thing is that we cooked together and ate well.
Unfortunately, our weekend off Cousteau had to come to an end. We failed in our attempt to get Dan or Ravison to “miss” their flights. When I took Dan to the airport, he shocked us by breaking out his light blue Bermuda travel shorts. Where were those in New Zealand, dude?
For Ravison’s departure the next day, I figured that they could enjoy some donuts without actually eating them.
Dan, Ravi and Alison, you were wonderful crew and guests. We miss you so much and cannot wait until you re-join us.
Ian and Becky still had another 8 or so days with us. We wanted to head 40 miles east towards Taveuni Island, and area with excellent snorkeling that is on the right side of the map.
Unfortunately, we ran into a low pressure system with strong winds from the east which forced us to hole up off of Cousteau in the rain for 2 days. (This low forced 24 boats heading north from New Zealand to hide out in Minerva Reef in 40 knot winds halfway up — we are hearing that it was a very, very rough passage for the boats that left a week after we did.)
On one of the days we tried to poke around the corner and see if we could make it, but we pounded into a very steep chop for five minutes. One of the screws holding a support arm for our starboard windmill post worked loose, causing the windmill to fall forward into the main sheet and snap off a blade. Fortunately it missed Ian’s head! (Barely.) We have ordered replacements.
We also started to hear the “Water is seeping into the space between the two gaskets of the saildrive” alarm. This was a first for us and somewhat more disturbing, especially since we had just pulled the boat in New Zealand and that the Yanmar manual said the probable cause for the alarm were small cracks in the gasket causing seawater to leak into the boat. The repair requires hauling the boat out of the water.
The optimist part of me, which is essentially all of me, wasn’t too worried though. Our watermaker is located directly above that saildrive, and a couple of days earlier a hose inside the watermaker that feeds one of the unit’s pressure gauges had worked loose, dumping tens of gallons of water onto the saildrive and into the bilge. I had fixed the watermaker a few days earlier, but it had never occurred to me to check the saildrive. After we returned to Cousteau, I pulled the sensor that triggers the alarm, inserted a little hand pump into the space between the gaskets, and pumped the small amount of water out. The alarm hasn’t gone off since.
That is all that has broken since New Zealand, and I am so glad we don’t have to pull the boat out of the water again. Whew!
Meanwhile, the strong easterlies continued and we had no appetite for motoring directly into them so we decided to sail 20 miles south to Namena Island, a nature preserve surrounded by a coral reef. Becky and Ian got to enjoy a 9 knot sail under a reefed main and full jib, and we all got to explore a new place for a couple of days.
The diving was excellent, and Jenna took a bunch of underwater photos diving the reef at the anchorage and also near South Save-A-Tack Pass.
We also attracted the attention of a very small and VERY poisonous sea snake whose mouth, we hope, was too small to bite a person. We saw him on our cockpit steps (where we shower after swimming), swimming around near the boat, and even trying to climb inside our canvas engine cover for the dinghy. He apparently enjoyed our company.
After a few days in Namena, we saw that we had a <10 knot easterly, so we decided to go for it and motor the 40 miles over to Viani Bay and Tavauni Island. It turned out to be a great call. For starters, we were treated to one of our best aerial dolphin shows, ever.
It then got better, because as we neared our destination after a quick and calm passage, the fish began to bite, in a big way. It kicked off one of our best four day stretches of fishing we’ve ever had on Sophie. It started with Becky landing a 2 pound yellowfin tuna.
One of our local friends described it as the smallest yellowfin he had ever heard of, but from Becky’s perspective it was enormous.
Not to be outdone, a few minutes later Ian spotted a Spanish mackerel on one of the meat lines and we were able to get it onto the boat. It weighed in at 5 pounds
Needless to say, this is one happy couple. And no, I am not wearing a skirt.
We spent the next 2 days with Jack, the local who owns the moorings in Viani Bay and who takes care of visiting yachties. We were the only boat in the harbor. We dodged bombies (coral heads), refilled gas, sat through a 40 knot squall, cabbed into town for supplies, discovered the beautiful “Cabbage Patch” reef, and enjoyed Jack’s stories as much as we enjoyed his papayas, bananas, and limes.
But back to fishing.
Leo and I took Ian and Becky out trolling one morning, and we had an absolutely fabulous time. We had multiple hits and came back with an 8 pound Spanish mackerel and a 4 pound barracuda, Sophie’s first.
Leo netted the barracuda and was proud to appear in the trophy shot.
We gave the barracuda and the soup parts of the Spanish mackerel to Jack. On the next day we landed an 8 pound dogtooth tuna, another first for Sophie. The fish had meat so rich it almost looked like liver, but it made for a great sashimi goodbye lunch for Ian and Becky later that day.
At this point, we were in a full-on fish frenzy. We were gently sailing downwind under main to get to the Matei airport anchorage so that Ian and Becky could avoid “missing” their flight. We had 3 big lures in the water, and we stumbled across a marlin sunning himself. I gybed the boat to chase him down and came within 10 meters of him but he avoided our offerings.
I did use the opportunity to present a Quentin Tarantino-like hypothetical question to our guests: Cut or Fight?
If we hook this fish, we would need to fight it for a couple of hours. You would miss your flight and be… forced to stay with us for 4 more days. You would miss work, dogs, friends etc. and probably have to pay a few hundred in airline fees. But you would get a memory of a lifetime. So if we hooked a marlin, would you ask me to cut the line, or stay and fight?
One of our guests said after 30 minutes, basically “cut it”. The other said “stay and fight, OF COURSE!” (Each respondent’s identity will remain anonymous).
I posed this question earlier on Facebook and got some interesting answers.
Regardless, the fish solved the problem for us and 30 minutes later we were anchored in Matei. Ian and Becky packed, I scouted out how to get to the airport, and we then all enjoyed a nice luncheon on the flybridge. Becky tried on the mystery bra (over her shirt) and informed us that it didn’t belong to her. Our search continues.
We said our goodbyes, and then it was one more sad dinghy ride to take good friends off to the airport.
Ian and Becky are wonderful people, and we are lucky to have them as part of our lives.
With their departure, the boat suddenly became quite quiet. We’ve had guests on board for over 3 weeks, and it was now back to just me, Jenna and the kids. We love our friends, and we also love our quiet time.
The next day we sailed 50 miles back to Savusavu. It was a beautiful and gentle sail. We hooked a big mahi mahi that we lost on the stern steps but landed a small bonito that we grilled last night.
We’ll be on a mooring here for the next 10 days. I will fly back to the US for a week to attend my son Max’s graduation from law school. The kids have fewer distractions that can prevent them from focusing on their schoolwork (we hope).
We also have the opportunity to run errands, South Pacific style. Like filling up on diesel directly from the fuel truck. Visiting immigration for government letters. Or going to the market every day.
This is normally the part of the blog where I talk about how lucky we are. But it’s all not simply just luck. We have a guardian angel here on earth who watches out for us every day from her perch on our nav station.
Sharing with friends like you back home, in addition to the friends who come to visit with us out here, is one of the things that makes life worth living. And that can happen regardless where you are and what you are doing. And for that we are all truly lucky.