Friday, August 28, 2015

Pictures from Savusavu

Here are some pics:

Luckness, on a mooring, Savusavu, Fiji

My other vessel, the unnamed dinghy, on the left, dinghy dock, Savusavu.

These pictures are a little misleading.  They all show sunny blue skies!  That has not been the norm here.  Its been rainy and grey for long stretches - but the sun does come out from time to time.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fiji, food and money

Before arriving in Fiji I kept hearing how friendly the Fijians are.  I wasn't sure what to make of those comments.  But its true, as I walk around town, with very few exceptions, whenever I make eye contact with a local they immediately smile and nod, or smile and say Bula!  (Hello!)  And big smiles, not little smirks or half-assed smiles, but welcoming smiles, "welcome to Fiji!" smiles.  Its really nice.

Another thing I had heard before arriving is that the local food is very good and inexpensive.  This is absolutely true.  There is a large Indian population here and there are very good curry's around.  There is also good Chinese food, 'western' food and semi higher end stuff, although I'm tending toward the low end of the eating out market - inexpensive and delicious.  I haven't cooked a meal for myself since arriving.

Some people cruise and make a point of living as cheaply as they can.  Its true that while cruising you can live on a small fraction of what it takes to live in America (as long as the boat doesn't break down and need a lot of attention).  When cruising you can live inexpensively and also, sometimes, eat very healthy food and be surrounded with astounding beauty and engage in lots of interesting activities.  I say 'sometimes eat healthy' as in some countries it was harder to do that than in others.  Fiji seems to be a country where eating well is going to be easy.

Living cheaply hasn't been a goal for my cruise.  I like to save a penny as much as the next person, but often the penny I save on one thing is spent on a good quality beer, some tasty snack food or some other non-essential purchase.  I rarely eat out at expensive restaurants, rent cars, stay at fancy hotels and I'm not flying around the world while my yacht is safe in some marina - so I save money that way, but I don't mind spending money on things that I enjoy.

That was all a preamble to the start of my trying to pass along how astounded I am at how inexpensive it is here.  I had a friend in Tonga who has spent many cruising seasons in Fiji, and he was constantly complaining about how expensive everything was in Tonga.  I didn't think that it was, Tonga seemed pretty reasonable to me.  Now that I'm in Fiji, I'm starting to understand what he means.

My typical breakfast is the 'full breakfast' at the cafe attached to the marina.  Normally this type of place would be the more expensive option, often you need to leave the marina to find good deals.  Scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, sausage, and fried tomatoes for $4.25 USD (all prices will be in $USD, which is roughly $2 Fijian = $1 USD.)  Bottle of water, $1.50 so breakfast is $5.75.

I skip lunch and then have a large dinner.  I normally order two dishes, so at the Chinese restaurant I'll have something like Chicken in Black Bean sauce with rice and a vegetable side dish like Ginger and Onion Fried Eggplant.  Its a lot of food, and very, very tasty.  That comes to $8.  If I add a beer, the total is $10.

There are several places I've been going to for curry, all of them excellent.  At one of my favorites a typical meal is Chicken Curry which comes with a choice of Roti or rice, I'll have Roti.  That comes with a small vegetable side dish, a little dahl soup, mixed pickle and a poppadum.  Then I'll add a vegetable side dish, maybe Stir Fried Vegetable.  Again, a lot of food.  Total?  $8.

Luckness isn't anchored out in Savusavu, you generally rent a mooring here.  (You can anchor, toward the mouth of the creek, but its deep, around 80'.)  Moorings are $6-7/day.

Internet is fast and...inexpensive.  I have a Vodafone wifi dongle which I was using in New Zealand.  Vodafone is a provider in Fiji as well, so my dongle works here.  A new sim card cost me $5.  My first data package was $25 which gave me 5 GB expiring after 30 days.  I burned that up in about a week as I had a lot of downloading to do related to my app.  I recharged it for the same price.  As I plan to leave Savusavu soon I wanted to start with a fresh data plan, 30 more days, so I burned through the rest of my data doing downloads of operating systems and large apps like iPhoto, iMovie, etc.  I was seeing download speeds between 500Kb to 1Mb/sec.  That would be average in America probably, but if you're in the South Pacific that is absolutely top of the line.  Seeing a 1MB/sec download speed made my jaw drop.  After burning through that package I again recharged it.  This time there was a special on, $25 local ($12.50 USD) for 8GB, again expiring in 30 days.  Try matching those prices in the first world countries.

As I'm planning on leaving Savusavu to go cruising I've been buying actual food to provision the boat.  This is closer to what locals would be doing.  The local market is good - large with lots of fresh produce.

15 green peppers = $7.50USD.  3 kilo's of oranges = $1.50 USD

4 kilos of onion = $3.10 USD

2 kilo's of brown rice = $1.10 USD.  Jumbo raisins = $7.50/package
The jumbo raisins aren't inexpensive by any means, but I love those things and was happy to find them.

Living inexpensively but poorly would be unfortunate.  Living well, inexpensively, seems to be easy here.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Catching up...Luckness is in Fiji

I haven't updated this blog in quite some time.  I'll post a couple of articles to bring it up to date.

I've mentioned before that I have been working on a software project, a new GRIB (weather file) reader and viewer for the Mac.  Its called LuckGrib and is now available on the Apple App store.  Its name is pretty unique, so if you google for LuckGrib almost all of the hits you find will be related.

There are YouTube video's posted which showcase a few things in the app.

Towards the end of the app's development I was enlarging the Beta program and decided to invite someone who to me is a weather guru, David Burch, the author of Modern Marine Weather and many other books.  It turns out that he has a Mac and has been very supportive of the app, offering suggestions and encouragement.  He posted a review of the app here:

It was quite a lot of work to go from having nothing at all to a working product, in around 8 months.  I'm really happy with how the app turned out, and if any of you buy a copy, I think you will be too.  I'll be doing some more enhancement to the app over the next year, but I'm going to also start cruising again - so, with that out of the way, on to more cruising related topics.

In my last post I said that I had arrived in Tonga.  Of course, I arrived there from Minerva Reef but had not yet posted any pictures of my stay there.  Here are two:

While I was there, I remember thinking to myself "Pretty nice, but the blues aren't as beautiful as they were at Beveridge Reef."  Everything is relative.  It might not be the most beautiful reef in the world, but it was still an astounding place.  Anchoring in what feels like the middle of the ocean is something that should be on all sailors bucket list.

I've already talked about the trip from Minerva to Tonga.  What I didn't really get into was the circus which was the checkin procedure.  Non-sailors may want to skip ahead to the picture of coral and start reading again there...

The docks that are available for you to tie up to as part of the Tongan customs checkin procedures are less than ideal.  The officials require you to go to the dock.  I've heard of one or two boats which anchored out, but that is really frowned on, the officers really don't want you to do that, they want your boat beside the dock.  Last year when I checked into Tonga I knew a little about the dock but arrived fairly unprepared, hoping that it would work out ok.  Luckily there were a gaggle of boats already on the dock and I was able to side-tie to a large monohull, which made the whole process very easy.

This year when I was arriving, I had a real plan in place.  I had noticed that the weather was blowing from what I thought would be a favorable direction to blow me slightly off of the better of the two docks, the fisheries dock.  As I approached Neiafu, I called into the local VHF net asking when high tide was that morning and had several boats reply.  So I slowed down and arrived around 1 hour before high tide with high expectations - I'll just motor slowly up to the large empty dock, at high tide, and have no problem at all.  (At low tide on that dock, Luckness' caprail is below a concrete lip and with the surge, the dock would basically batter Luckness.  Damage for my boat is guaranteed there at low tide, and boats had taken damage at that dock while I was there last year.  I know of one sailboat that needed to replace parts of their standing rigging after an encounter with that dock...)

As I got into sight of the two docks I noticed that the one I wanted to tie up to already had two large steel fishing boats tied to them, leaving two short spaces between them - it would be something of a challenge to get in there.  Also the wind direction wasn't quite right, it would be pushing me onto the dock, getting out of those short spaces would be something of a challenge.  The other alternative was the cargo dock - this thing is massive, its designed to handle small freighters and ferries.  As I was heading past the long dock with a frown on my face I noticed a sailboat tied to the side of the freight dock and they offered to have me side-tie to them.  Perfect!  I circled once to adjust the dock lines lines and fenders and headed back to them.  As I headed back, they cast their lines off and left the dock - apparently they had just finished their checkin and it was time for them to leave.  This left me and my small boat contemplating a side tie to this dock.  There was some help on shore, and they appeared to be sailors.  So I went for it and ended up tied up there.  A boats length behind me is a concrete wall.

I realize non-sailors will find this all very tedious and if you haven't skipped over this section, you're probably wondering why you didn't.  This docking is far from ideal.  If I was to step off my vessel, getting back on would be very tricky.  I could pull a line taught to bring Luckness close to the dock and have the officials take a large step down and out to me, but if I went ashore I would need to leap across to the boat.  Anyway, the side tie worked out pretty well.  I was being blown off the dock and was in no danger there.  With a different wind direction, this would not be a place a small boat would want to be.  The officials had a bit of a challenge boarding, but none of them fell in.  Once again, after all the paperwork was done there was a round of the officials asking for gifts.  Unlike last year, I was prepared for this and got by very lightly, giving up a couple bottles of beer.

When it was time to cast off the lines, the helpful folks who were there to get me onto the dock had long since walked off and I was basically stuck until someone came along.  There was no way for me to get onto the dock and free my lines without having Luckness blow off downwind, which I really wanted to avoid.  Eventually someone came within shouting distance and I was able to talk them through what I would like them to do and I was out of there and heading towards a mooring and a good nights sleep.

It was nice to be back in Tonga.  I stayed there until early July and spent my time between Neiafu and the local anchorages.  Cruising is very easy in this area, and this is a theme I'll come back to when I start talking about Fiji.  Unfortunately I took very few pictures while I was there.  Here are a couple:

The coral in Tonga isn't fantastic.  I hope to be posting pictures from Fiji of its local coral...once I get out and see some.  More on that later.

A new marina is being built in the Vava'u group, close to Neiafu.  Think of this as a baby-picture, of the infant marina that's in the process of growing up.  This was from mid June, 2015.

I left Tonga in early July and sailed over to Fiji.  It was a nice passage, the hardest part was going slow enough to arrive at the points I had picked to be there in daylight so that I could verify the locations of reefs and land - wanting to avoid both.  The entry into the Fijian waters turned out to be very easy, and my next problem was to continue going slow enough to arrive in Savusavu in the morning of the next day.  When the biggest problem you have on a passage is having to slow down, that's pretty good.

I arrived in Savusavu expecting there to be customs mooring balls to tie up to as that was what all the cruising guides mentioned.  It turns out that there is now a customs dock that the Copra Shed Marina where I was arriving is using instead.  Check this out:

A customs dock that floats!  As I arrived, two of the staff walked over and accepted my lines and tied me up, as they have been doing for all the arriving boats.  Checkin was very simple, part 1 is aboard the boat and then in part 2 you walk around the town paying a couple of fees.  No gifts were requested.  This all left a very good initial first impression, which has been building since being here.

I'll cut this post off here, more to come.   (and to avoid any dramatic buildup, as they say, "its all good.")

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Arrival in Tonga

Sometimes plans change, and my arrival in Neiafu Tonga is a case of that.  When I left Minerva Reef I had every intention of arriving in Tongatapu, Tonga, which is the southern most group of islands and the group which holds the capital, Nuku'alofa, of Tonga.  While I was underway I kept reevaluating my reasons for arriving there and comparing them to the reports I have been hearing from boats currently in Fiji, and made a Captains decision to change my destination.  I now plan to stay in Tonga for less than a month and then head over to Fiji where I'll finish this cruising season, followed by a return to New Zealand.

The passage went well.  This is something most people say as a way of getting the "how's it going?" question out of the way.  Ask most cruisers "How did your passage go?" just after they finished, and most will say "it went really well!"  More detailed answers can take a long time to finish.  Nothing major broke, this makes it a good passage.  I was able to sail to my destination without too much trouble, which also makes it a good passage.  I sailed the entire time, aside from entry/exit into Minerva reef and Tonga and leaving New Zealand, which I like, and makes this a good passage in my mind.  It wasn't exactly 'smooth sailing with winds at my back' - but I was able to cope, mostly ate well, slept enough to stay functional, which all makes it a good passage.  I have to say that some of the magic of doing passages that I experienced earlier on on this cruise is starting to fade.  There were days of absolutely beautiful sailing which anybody who sails should envy, just glorious.  There were other days which weren't like this - but nothing extreme, no storms, no big waves, I was able to head to my destination, no heaving to, no drogue, no storm sails - I really have absolutely nothing to complain about.  But being on passage can be hard work, people who read this blog shouldn't be fooled into the life always being easy.

Now that I'm in Tonga, life is going to be absolutely easy and glorious.  The ARC fleet is in the area. This is a fresh version of the fleet I met while in the Marquesas last year.  They were there in early April and now they are already in Tonga.  They sail around the world in 18 months.  Crazy people.  The IAC rally is also here, which is a much more leisurely rally which is from New Zealand, to Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Calendonia and then back to New Zealand.  Compared to the ARC rally, these people are slow pokes, sailing leisurely around the islands.  In contrast, my plans are totally lazy - Tonga, Fiji and back to New Zealand.  I plan to be in Fiji for around 5 months.  I'm looking forward to it.

I'm sitting in a cafe, yards from the edge of the water, cool beer next to me dripping moisture off the glass due to the warmth and humidity, looking out at Luckness on a mooring blowing back and forth in the light wind like she wants to get going again.  The sun is starting to appear after two days of light rain.  The wind looks like its going to die off for the next week or so and after a little more sleep here I'll reprovision and then head out to revisit some of the beautiful local anchorages.  Life is good.