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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012, 12-19

2012, 12-18 The aftermath

"270km/h Tropical Cyclone Evan smashes Fiji"
"The town of Lautoka resembles a war zone."
"Strongest cyclone on Record,"
"No reported deaths,"
"Ships grounded,"
"Roofs ripped off,"
"Winds reach 135mph on Fiji's big island of Viti Levu."

I am filled with gratitude this morning as I type along listening to Bill read headlines to me. For those of you not on the metric system 270km/h equals 162mph -at the strongest point of the storm. The Big island of Viti Levu saw reported winds of 135mph and here in the marina we saw sustained winds well over 100mph. Our boat is not only still floating and all in one piece but we have virtually no damage at all. That is not the case for many of the other boats here at Vuda Pt Marina. Looking at the devastation around us and seeing how much damage was done to other boats by the boats around them I am certain that Bill decision to rerun the bow lines of our boat and the unoccupied boats around us made a huge difference in our outcome. We bitched and moaned through the hot work and envied a few of our neighbors who were sitting back drinking a cold one after their own pre-storm preparations but right now every minute of extra work was worth it.

I will try to draw a picture in your mind of how the boats are usually tied and then explain the change Bill made. When you moor your boat on a quay -essentially there are no docks or finger piers but rather you are stern in too a cement wall- you usually tie two lines off your stern and two lines off your bow to hold you in place. The two that go to land tie off starboard and port onto big steel rings and those that go to the water side tie off starboard and port to floats in the water that are then tied to something big and heavy underwater. If you look at a line of boats their bows are tied off with rope each forming a v going out into the water. Bill and I ran a second set of lines with chafe gear on both ends from our bow to our neighbor's floats spreading the force out one notch. Then we ran a second set from the boats on either side out a notch to our floats. Essentially we spread out the force and added redundancy while shoring up the holding power for our neighbors at the same time. If you think of it like spreading your legs and taking a more grounded stance, that's what we did.

On the quay side we added chafe gear to all four ends of the line already attaching Island Bound to the quay but then also added two more lines. The added lines went out another notch to either side like we did in front and we added not only chafe gear but length of chain on the land side to lessen the potential for a disaster if the lines slowly began sawing away on the rough concrete. During the worst of the storm while boats where laying all over each other crashing back again and again onto the boats next to them our little group of bobbers were heeling over but not grinding in to each other.
So.........a busy day ahead cleaning up so will say goodbye for now. Thanks for all the good wishes sent our way and we will write soon. Kat

!2-18 continued

Walking around the marina today seeing firsthand the effects of a category 5 cyclone was a lesson in gratitude. A category 5 cyclone leaves huge amounts of devastation in its wake. There is an odd quietness to the day in spite of the noise of the men already busy working with chainsaw, machete and truck. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone seems at least a little bit shell shocked.

      Early in the cyclone S/v Wayward Wind -one of the largest vessels in the marina lost both bow lines AND the anchor chain that was supposed to be attaching them to the inner cyclone ring. For a time they used their motor to try and stay pointed forward and off the surrounding boats but as the cyclone clocked around things got worse. At the back of the boat they have a large super sturdy stainless steel V mount for their wind vane made out of 3” pipe which speared the cement quay and eventually ending up stuck under the lip of the walkway leaving them unable to move at all. Their weight pressed against the boat next to them and like dominoes all the boats in that line began grinding together. Our friends who suffered some of the worst of the damages of the storm were a few boats down. With winds so high inflatable fenders were being rolled up onto decks and useless the boats in that part of the line groaned and ground together with the sheer weight of the winds for several hours. The toe rails on several of those boats were turned into toothpicks and where hull touched hull midships were ground down to bare fiberglass.


In the morning word came down the line that the marina was hosting us to tea and a dazed but good sized group showed up. Over fruit and pizza we learned about the fate of others on the island and set up some work crews for beginning to clear the debris and open up the walkways and for helping the kitchen staff put on a meal in the evening for everyone at the marina. It was also a time to solidify plans for the marina appreciation dinner we had begun to plan before the cyclone hit. The idea for the dinner we'll hold tomorrow night came from an appreciation for all the hard work the staff put in to help ready the marina for the storm. They worked for days and nights, tirelessly and always with a smile. Many worked double and triple time and most did so while their own families and homes were on their own. We passed the hat and came up with $750 which the marina will turn into food and drinks and a kava bowl and the boaties will serve them for the night.

Throughout the day word trickled on about the fate of the rest of Viti Levu and the surrounding islands. The entire area is without power and water and they're saying we'll see about three week pass before we see those services back online. We may have a bit of luck since Vuda Marina sits smack dab next to Blue Gas an import gas company with a pipeline out passed our reef where the tankers unload which is considered vital to Fiji and so their power and ours will likely be restored before anyone else on the island. There is no phone service, no radio or TV broadcasting and thousands of people lost their homes and businesses. There are thousands still in emergency shelters. The local farmers really have it bad with crops wiped out -in many cases a year's worth of crops gone. We're told within days there will be virtually no fresh produce available for many months to come which almost makes me cry thinking about all the mouth watering papaya's, mango's, passion fruit and bananas I'm going to be missing.

The multimillion dollar high end super yacht attracting marina at Port Denarau is no more. The docks are completely gone. All the vessels in Port Denarau were sent away but somehow one 85ft super yacht ended up there on the rocks. Musket Cove marina is gone as well as is the cruiser beloved Five Dollar Bar who's bure style bar and BBQ pits -completely annihilated. There is a mangrove swamp not far from Vuda Marina where many of the areas larger vessels retreated to spider web themselves into the mangroves for protection. We're told everyone came through safely but that there are some big tales to be told about breakaway boats and crashing neighbors.

It's hard to describe the extent of the devastation. I walked around the ground of First Landing Resort next door and my mouth hung open for most of the tour. Branches as big as a house lay sprawled around. The porch on the spa at First Landing was crushed under one tree and their once lush tropical gardens look like a bomb dropped. Most of their bure rooms surprisingly made it through without damage. The pool looked unhurt but is filled to overflowing with debris and brown sandy water from the storm surge. Their workers had already cleared the main paths with machetes and were joking and laughing with me as I looked around at the devastation.

Again it is hard to describe the experience. A hurricane has always been the big boogeyman of my cruising fears yet I was never really afraid -well maybe a teensy bit. At moments I could feel and taste the adrenalin my body was dumping out for my benefit. About the time the storm was reaching its crescendo I repacked our ditch bag expanding the few meager initial inclusion. Next to the small bag with passports, boat papers and laptops I began a new pile. I added Rx eye glasses, prescription medicines, tooth brushes, our backup credit cards and our American dollar cash stash, computer plugs, Kindles and chargers, water, Cliff Bars and one set of clean clothes. At dinner last night Marilyn on S/v Zulu commented that maybe it would have been wise to leave ditch bags high and dry in the office for emergency pickup since no one knew exactly how they were going to get off their boats with big bulky bags in tow.

One interesting phenomenon was what happened when the winds began to abate. It sounded so quiet and felt so still in comparison that we were happily discussing how light the winds had become. Then we opened the companionway and boy howdy it was still blowing well over gale force! When you've recently been buffeted by hundred and something mph winds sixty feels like a nothing. I've definitely had my experience and I certainly never want to go through anything similar at sea. I'm now certain that I can live without ever experiencing another one -been there done that. So let's make this the seasons only cyclone for Fiji thank you very much. Then some dumbbell loudly states that having such a roarer on December 18 says that this could be a banner year for South Pacific cyclone activity. Thanks for that update buddy. Will write soon. Kat

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2012, 12-17 Tropical Cyclone Evan

11:00 am

Gale force winds and rain have just arrived. We had expected the winds to begin building last night but they didn't show themselves until about an hour ago. The expected hours of heavy rains to usher in today's winds also didn't materialize which allowed both Bill and I a good night's sleep to bank against the coming storm. As I type this we are at gale force (35-50mph) but that is light enough for Bill to take a walk to the breakwater for a few minutes where he reported that right outside the marina proper the wind is near 50mph while inside the marina where we sit safe and secure it is blowing around 35mph.

Unfortunately the surge protecting boom has already failed but the marina staff has a diver in the water and a boatload of workers frantically trying to fix it. Side note: we thought the boom was going to be a giant chain with airplane tires strung like beads stretched across the mouth of the marina but when we were watching them get things ready we could tell they were going to be using heavy lines instead of chain! The winds haven't even reached us yet and already Bills EESP (Engineers Extra Sensory Perception) showed itself by predicting the failure more than half a day before the event.

Not one of the forecasts we are checking matches any others on predicted wind speeds or path so who knows what we will see in the next 24 hours but regardless it looks like the party is at our door! Kat

1:45pm

We are now experiencing heavy rain and sustained winds of 50 with frequently much higher gusts. The eye of the storm is scheduled to come it's closest to us in about 5 hours. So far our most serious problem is the fenders that keep blowing up onto the deck instead of lying at work between us and S/v Sojournor on our starboard. We have a steady set of drips around the main companionway but still have plenty of dry towels.

Around us things are starting to fray a bit. There is a loose halyard ricocheting around from the big unoccupied Formosa two boats over, the main sail on Turn the Page is unfurling and Relax just reported a large tree fell on them moments ago.

4:00 PM

Things are still building. A few hours more and then hopefully things will begin going the other direction. We are unscathed though getting damper by the minute. Beds still dry though! Our wind indicator tops out at 51mph no matter what is blowing so we have no real guess as to the sustained wind speeds but it is significantly more than we have ever experienced before and we have been at anchor with 60mph winds and in a marina at 75.

Our fenders are still jumping up on the deck instead of staying alongside where they would be of some use but the great news is that our quad stern, quad bow and anchor chain are all holding fast as are those on the boats around us. The two small boats on our starboard side have been hitting the quay and the little wooden finger pier splintering it a bit but are so far doing OK. The big Formosa one over on our port side is also holding fast thankfully since they were our biggest worry. Guava Jelly the 36 footer to our port between us and the Formosa is also doing well though his main hatch cover is gone and his Sunbrella tarp is slowly turning into ribbon. Our Whisker pole came loose and was flying off to starboard at a near 90 degree angle but S/v Lochiel saw it and gave us the heads up over the VHF and Bill was able to cinch it down.

There are head sails unfurling and fraying on other boats in all directions though none seem to be too threatening to the boats around them. We thankfully completely stripped our boat of sails as is the order of the marina. Those who chose to save themselves the work will be paying for it in the weeks ahead but since right now they are impossible to bring down the real danger is to the boats around with the added windage likely to bust lines and lay boats against one another. Up on land behind us S/v A Go GO sits in a pit and is slowly tilting to port. I'm not sure how far she can go before she tips out of the pit and or into the boat next to her.

Our friends John and LeeAnn on S/v Red Sky are reporting significant damage to their hull from the boat next door and at the moment are not answering their radio which has me a little worried. Grant and Caroline on S/v Lochiel were losing ground with the quay and are now motoring forward to try and keep the damage at bay. A boat kitty corner across the boat basin lost both their bow lines and the anchor chain that was attaching them to the central ring but seems to be managing fairly well by using their engine but when I look in their direction I assume there is going to be some significant damage to the boats around them as a result of the failure.

The trees around that I can see are splintered and broken and for as far around me as I can see the foliage is mostly off the trees. Bill is doing most of the outside work but the rain and winds are so strong he keeps getting chilled and the stuff flying through the air is so thick he is now wearing the ski goggles he received as a gift for just such a purpose when we first bought the boat. I appreciate his efforts more than he will ever know but I have to say Bill soaking wet, covered with leaves and tree bits wearing swim trunks and ski goggles is a truly humorous vision.

I can only assume that everyone is doing relatively well since the airwaves have stayed surprisingly quiet. Which either means all is well or they have no power to run their radios. Our wind indicator continues to read incorrectly but S/v Chrisandaversdream report gusts over 100mph. In time we will learn just how high the winds managed to build but in the end we get what we get and knowing exactly what it's blowing doesn't change things much.

The report that just came across the VHF said the winds should clock around to come from the north in about 1 hour and then we can expect about two more hours of topped out winds then things should begin to settle down. Oh and we still have no idea if the surge boom was repaired or not but I guess we will know as soon as the winds clock around to the point that the ocean swell is poised to howl directly down our throats. That could be fun in the coming dark. And yes I was a teensy bit scared but feel better now. Kat

8:15pm

It looks like the worst of the wind has passed us by. The needle on our barometer dropped like a rock over the last ten hours from 1018 to roughly 960 (the barometric pressure in the eye was reported to be 940 so we were darn close to the center of things) but is on the rise again at an equally fast pace. We are fine and even drying out a bit. The winds are still roaring at about 40 mph with pretty regular gusts into the 60's but in comparison to what we've just been through it sounds downright quiet out there. It will take daylight and much lighter winds before we can really check for damages but all in all it looks like we have fared extremely well.

We still have the back half of the hurricane to weather but really our only worry is the possibility for surge. The forecast calls for a 4 meter ocean storm surge -the surge is what causes flooding in cyclones- and it remains to be seen how much of that will breach the outer reefs and islands to work it's way to our home. High tide comes in a couple hours and the worst of the surge generally comes after the eye of the storm has passed so the flooding that will hit Viti Levu is yet to come. It is dark out now and it will be much harder to judge what we should do with our lines to combat any swell inside the marina. Bill always looking ahead put 50 foot lines on the quay side for just this eventuality. If we get a 12 foot surge we have 30 feet of line to use for adjustments. Not my fort-ay for sure but we will do our best to finesse the lines as best we can for whatever comes our way.
The water in the marina is now filled with debris: plastic bottles, tree branches, leaves, bits of rope, pieces of wood and at least one 55 gallon drum. So wish us luck in the dark tonight. Kat

11:30pm

Thankfully no huge surge made it into our inner sanctum though it looked like the tide was high (the highest we had ever seen it) in our little boat basin several hours after official high tide. We were lucky, extremely lucky. It sure looks as if Bills decision to re-tie the boats to either side of us made a difference in our outcome. I'm exhausted and since the winds have lowered enough that I might be able to get a bit of sleep I'm going to do just that. Kat

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2012, 12-16 More on Evan

2012, 12-16 Tropical Cyclone Evan

Evans predicted path has now shifted a bit south which means we are soon to experience a bit more than was anticipated at the time I wrote to you yesterday. The models now show us firmly in the 50nmph band rather than the 35nmph that Bill was hoping for. Sometime in the next hour marina staff will drag the surge protection boom across the entrance to the marina and once it is in place the marina will be closed to any more incoming traffic.

It is hot and humid and strangely still inside the marina right now but we should soon begin to feel the edges of the storm. The winds are forecast to build through the night and by day break our wind instruments should be showing us at least 35nmph. Then Evans true colors will present tomorrow when we will find out just how well all of our preparations will hold up.

We spent a total of three full days in sweltering heat preparing for Evan. Island Bound is ready and so are we. We took things in steps first taking care of the absolutely must do items, then switching gears in anticipation of sustained 35nmph winds. Then today we redoubled our efforts in anticipation of a full on hit -just in case. The marina staff has been working tirelessly and so have almost all of the residents. In the end it felt like we spent as much energy working on other peoples boats as we did on Island Bound. Lucky us two boats on either side of us are unattended.

Of the four boats next to us three were well prepared and just needed a few tweaks but one -which should be upwind of us for the biggest hit of the storm- was left basically unprepared despite the fact that all boat owners are required by contract to be left in cyclone ready condition anytime they are left unattended. The boat was covered with very flimsy tarps and once we began unhooking the tarps in order to help the marina staff attach the anchor chain to the central cyclone ring we discovered there was all sorts of junk littering the decks.

I found life preservers, bits of wood, numerous four foot lengths of four inch hose, six empty diesel cans, lengths of plywood, plastic tubs, two dock boxes with heavy hinged lids left loose with no tie down or locks and a broken wooden oar. Every last bit is a potential damaging projectile in high winds. The anchor chain was not left prepped for attachment to the cyclone ring and and there are only two flat fenders on each side despite the fact that this is a 54 foot, 30 ton giant. Needless to say we were glad we were finished with our own preparation in time to do what we could for our neighbor. Truthfully we would have rather been sitting at the Boat Shed Restaurant drinking an icy cold soda and lime!

To prepare we added two additional lines with four foot chain segments quay side where the lines touch the concrete quay and added chafe gear -lengths of fire hose- to all the critical spots. On the bow we doubled our lines from two to four and added chafe gear there as well. Thanks again to Doug and Ruth on Angelique who gifted the fire hose to use years ago way back when we all lived on F-dock. I knew I kept packing it around for a good reason! Everything that can come off outside is now inside and everything that couldn't be removed is tied down. I've packed a small ditch bag with passports and boat papers and have room left over to add things as I think of them so we're ready to run for high ground if there is any physical danger.

Some of you may think we're crazy to plan on staying on the boat during the cyclone but don't forget Island Bound was designed for all that the oceans can dish out. We are far better off on board than we would be any place else on the island. We are fully self contained: we will have power while the rest of the island remains dark for days to come, we have cooking gas and a fridge full of food and cold drinks, we have plenty of water, a library of music and movies to keep us entertained and I even managed to get the boat clean despite the work we had to do. Now I guess it's time to sit back and rest. Talk to you soon. Kat

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2012, 12-15 Tropical Storm Headed Our Way.

2012, 12-15 Vuda Marina, Fiji

Hi everyone. Just wanted to touch bases now before cyclone Evan is due to arrive. We've been hard at work getting Island Bound ready for whatever comes. Our plan is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The most recent computer models show Evan passing to the north of Viti Levu Island where Vuda marina sits but of course all we have is models so we will only know the real path after the fact.

Vuda is the safest place for us to be in Fiji. The marina itself is the only one in the south pacific to be certified for cyclones with Lloyds of London insurance so this is the place to be. The marina staff is working extremely hard to prepare and the work all around us has the place rocking. The marina sponsored a meeting at noon today to go over what we can expect and everyone is working amazingly well together to prepare and plan. We have a working VHF channel picked out for communication during the storm and as we speak there is a team of extremely hot and tired men working on getting every boat attached to the cyclone ring (the 15 ton underwater mooring in the center of the boat basin.)

Island Bound is prepared and equipped to handle whatever Evan throws at us and in truth we are much better off than most of the locals since we have an independent power source that isn't likely to fail, 140 gallons of water, cooking fuel and stores of food to keep us comfortable and completely self contained. It is however likely that our usual SSB/Ham communication will be effected by the passing storm and the local cell phone company will be first thrown into turmoil and then will cease to function completely for who knows how long. So, once this thing hits we will probably not be able to email or call to tell you we are alright. We will email as soon as we are able but depending on what cards are actually dealt to us it may be some time before you hear from us. We are probably just laying around watching movies or playing cards while we wait for the world to return to normal around us.

We've battened down the hatches and laid in a supply of mangoes, papaya's and pineapples. The battery banks are topped up so we can watch movies to our hearts content and now there is nothing left to do but take care of the dinghy tomorrow. Keep us in your thoughts...we'll talk to you soon. Kat

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2012, 12-12 Watching for Cyclones in Fiji

 
   It's Christmas in Fiji. I know it is because there are carols on the radio and the stores have decorations for sale and signs telling me what I should buy to make my holiday special but it is a little hard to get into the “spirit” of things when the mercury hits 90 by 10:00am.

     Bill was off to the American Consulate early this morning to renew his passport. It doesn't expire for months but we have to begin working on our visa extensions which is multi-step process and they won't extend your visa unless you have at least 6 months left on your passport. So off across the island -five hours each way- for a day of bureaucracy.

     There are several ways for us to extend our Fijian visa. First we will apply for the usual easy two month extension which will get us through late March but then we have to do something more significant. We can fly out and return which restarts the clock, we can sail out of Fijian waters and turn around and come back (or visit any other country for a brief stay) or we can pay $600 each for another six months. Leaving Fijian waters sounds simple enough but ahah! it's cyclone season and leaving in March for an ocean passage might not be the safest answer to the visa puzzle. The other option -purchasing tickets to New Zealand- would give us a holiday in Kiwi land but leaves us faced with leaving the boat unattended for the duration of the trip while cyclone season still bears down on us. We have already had two cyclone watches this season though neither has developed into anything to worry about. Each though has been a reminder that to stray far from the marina leaves us vulnerable to both the cyclones and taking our boat out of the only place where we are covered by insurance for any resulting calamity.

     Staying close to the security of the marina has cut down on the travel we were hoping for in Fiji. We've ventured as far as the island of

     Malololaiai in the Mamanuca group which lies just to the west of us and will soon be visiting the southern most islands in the Yasawa group but so far we have stayed pretty close to home. We had counted on being able to stray much farther afield but that was based on a history of sailing in the Pacific Northwest where there are no reefs to sneak up and bit you in the behind. The reefs around Fiji are numerous and not well charted which leaves our sailing day shortened with the need to have the “right” light during travel hours. When you are traveling unknown waters you need the sun above you and or at your back. If it is overcast or if the sun is in front of you you can't see the reefs until your right on top of them. So travel is by where your going and what time of day it is. We have been laying down tracks on our chart plotter (a process of keeping a record of our path so we can go in and out of anchorages safely based on our own previous passage route) and that will give us a bit more range but then we are also limited by the miles themselves.

     Cyclones. Everything we do here is based on the most recent weather report. But it is not just a matter of if there is a storm. A handful of online weather sights track systems all over the pacific for us, we track them, our friends track them, the marina tracks them and then it's a matter of miles and time. The lows that develop into true storms are a living breathing thing that is frankly hard to read. Some big storms make a slow and steady trek across the miles and you have plenty of time to batten down the hatches. Some build and grow astonishingly quickly. Many look dire and then peter out all together. They all can make a quick change from nothing to something or something to nothing while your happily concentrating on something else.


     Truly getting ready for a cyclone is a lot of work and most of us are loath to cyclone proof our boats again and again only to have the work be a waste of time and energy. If we go through the drill of preparing for a storm all the work must be reversed again to make the boat livable in the heat and ready to sail again to the outer anchorages. The trade off for staying in the water and being free to sail to the outer anchorages in order to beat the oppressive still heat of our cyclone safe berth at the marina means where most cruisers ready their boat once and are done for the season we will likely run the drill numerous times between now and May. We've also learned that though we have a prepaid six month slip at the marina if we lollygag around when a storm is building somewhere off across the ocean by the time we make it back to safety the marina could be closed by the surge protecting boom they put in place at the entrance to the boat basin. So you better not be late for the party!


    In the meantime we are getting out and about to experience the island of Vita Levu. We have figured out all the buses and know the way to the movie theater (movies in English again, yea.) We are slowly learning which shops have the best produce and which have the best prices on groceries. I am starting to expand my cooking knowledge of the local ingredients and we are becoming curry professionals. My roti recipe is improving and I am beginning to be able to differentiate between sweet potatoes and parsnips, taro and tamarind and walu and wahoo. Oh and the fishing has been pretty good on our passages back and forth to the outer anchorages.

     Well since Bill is off gallivanting around the island I am going to get out the Christmas decorations and see what I can do to get a bit more into the spirit. Merry Christmas. Kat




Wednesday, October 17, 2012

2012, 10-17 Persistance Pays Off


2012, 10-17 ........Persistance Pays Off in the End.

      We arrived in Suva Fiji with plenty of time to check out the marina at Vuda Point and then make an informed decision about whether to stay in Fiji for the coming cyclone season or turn north to the Marshall Islands as we had originally planned. To expedite things at Vuda Point Bill took a five hour cross island bus trip to check things out while I remained with the boat in Suva. He was satisfied with the details and so returned to Suva after deciding to reserve a spot on the quay for the next six months. Then by chance we were wandering through Lami town outside of Suva when we met David one of the owners of the two marine hardware stores in the Suva area and a member of the family that also owns and operates Vuda Point Marina as well. The store was actually closed when we arrived but they let us in to wander around and we started talking a bit. He was friendly and easy to talk with but more importantly he was able to tell us a more about the marina and their policies and what their past experiences had been with cyclones. We shook hands and took his business card and walked back to the Royal Suva Yacht Club feeling a bit more confident with our decision decision to stay in Fiji.


       From my last blog post you know that I was basically instantly taken with the place when we arrived. The staff is friendly and warm and knew our names from day one, the town of Lautoka was easy to reach and has a great market, the buses are cheap and easy to use, they have movie night tree nights a week and they have two washing machines. What more could we ask for? Well, a guarantee that our place would be waiting for us if we traveled out to the nearby islands to beat the seasons worst heat.


      Our plan all along was to prepay for the spot on the quay -$2500.00 FD/$1500.00 US- then over the next six months spend most of our time away from the marina traveling around the outer islands. We knew from experience that the marina would be blisteringly hot for the coming months. The cyclone protection the marina offers is here only because the design of the boat basin reduces the airflow in and out. Which means all the usual cooling breezes of the pacific ocean are also kept out. Getting out of the marina would also remove us from the polluted marina water and free us up for swimming, snorkeling, walking the beaches and diving while we get better acquainted with some of the local islanders. A perfect solution.


     Perfect until we found out that despite the lump sum payment the marina would not hold our spot. They did promise to fit us into the marina in case bad weather threatens which sounds like a reasonable offer but all things considered not all of the spots along the quay are equal. We had managed to land in a spot well away from the channel opening across the reef while also sitting tucked in behind the widest area of reef, rock, dirt and width of trees that separates the in-the-water boats from the open ocean and we wanted to be able to come back to it. Guaranteed.


     But the marina isn't run like that. So despite being done in by several days of hot temperatures and high humidity our planned jump to Musket Cove would have to be delayed while we worked on an answer to our question. In fact we were starting to discuss alternative choices for the coming season while we persisted in our quest for a guarantee. The marina has until now operated by moving boats around, a lot. They want to be able to move anyone (except the commercial boats who have permanent spots!!!) at their discretion in order to fit in the comings and going of transient boats and generating the maximum amount of income from each few foot wide swatch on the quay. We on the other hand come from a back ground of always renting an actual space. You're own little 50'x15' piece of real estate that you could call home.


     Next we tried the general operating procedure, third world approach: small well placed currency. It was accepted and landed us the choice spot we are now sitting in and a big smile but it obviously came with no true guarantee. Then we tried the office manager Maria who smiled and suggested we talk with Mo. Mo being the man who previously couldn't give us any real guarantee seemed a dead end so we moved on. Then we met the marina manager Adam at a kava ceremony and tried appealing to his business acumen. Adam didn't think it would be any problem at all. In fact he said he assumed that we had actually rented a specific spot and it would of course be waiting for us on our return. He then had to back peddle a bit with surprise when we told him that the marina was saying no, that wasn't the case. He was positive and reassuring but also stated that since he had only been working here at the marina for a week and a half that he would need to talk with his boss and see what he could find out for us.

     We re stated what we wanted: a guarantee that if we left we would be given the same spot that we were currently sitting in. No different than if like most of the other boats in the marina we simply stayed put and didn't travel the islands. He came back saying he couldn't guarantee us anything but a place. Another day lost. Then I asked Bill if he had Davids card from the Lami Town marine hardware store -the guy who's family owns and operates this marina and several other marine bases operations? While Adam worked to get us a better answer Bill wrote an email to David. While we waited for something to break loose we told Adam that we were seriously considering heading north to the Marshall Islands or even possibly going south to New Zealand for the season if they could not offer us anything better. Adam then asked if we were interested in one of the pits instead of a slip -despite the fact that we had been told on previous inquiry that there were no pits available- and said he would check into that for us. We told him that we would be willing to buy a pit if he could get us on for six months so that we could still travel despite the fact that a pit is about 1/3 more expensive and we would need to manage a $400 FD/$240 US round trip on the travel lift into and out of the hole whenever weather threatened. Another day gone waiting to hear about the pits.


     Ah, but there are no pits left save one that is reserved but the boat is still in Tonga and they have not paid any deposit and may not be coming. He had emailed them and would tell us the next day if we could have the pit. The pits to be clear is a hole in the ground where they lower your boat after lifting it out of the water via the travel lift. You are keel deep in the pit with old tires propping you up all around -the pit area looks like someone has planted a crop of blue water boats. It's a great choice if you are going to leave you boat for an extended time away but a less enjoyable experience if you are going to try and live on it. It is generally hotter with no water to cool the hull and you have a tendency to get infested with vermin like rats, ants and roaches. Most people go in the hole here in October/November and get back out in the spring.


     Finally yesterday Adam tells us that after talking it over with Tony the big boss and surprise surprise David!!, we could have the pit that has now been released (we later learned there is in fact a waiting list of other boats hoping for a spot in a pit but one was offered to us regardless.) Then after another day and a moments relaxation into the whole idea of opting for the pit Adam came to us once again saying after a further discussion with Tony and David we would be offered the choice of the pit if we wanted it or they would guarantee to hold our spot. They decided they would give us our guarantee and proceed with the idea that they would use us as research into what impact offering guaranteed spots would have on the marina. They did ask if we thought a guaranteed space would be worth a premium and we honestly told them that yes we thought it would, we didn't know about other cruisers but had we been offered in the beginning a choice of a premium space with guaranteed in and out privileges or a place that would change every time we came and went we would have chosen the premium package.


     Finally we're satisfied. Never raised our voices or threatened or caused a fuss. Captain Bill simply kept asking questions until we got the answer we needed. By the time the final decision was made we were actually getting pumped about the possibility of New Zealand which certainly would have given us an entirely different experience and blown a bunch of friends out of the water -whom we had said our good byes too -when they saw us sailing into the anchorage next to them. But Fiji had been the plan and we are still happy with it. We assured everyone that they are free to put other boats into our spot when we are gone and we will be gone a great deal. We know if we came to the marina and were told that we were welcome but that the spot belonged to another boat and we would have to move if they returned we -and everyone we know- would be fine with that. So help themselves, no problem. The marina has promised to make a sign saying reserved and an email went out saying that “they (we) were adamant about having a guaranteed place at the quay” so the yard staff should consider us a commercial account.

     Even Adam kept a smile through the whole process and so far despite the meetings and emails and discussions I don't feel like it has impacted how we are thought of by the staff we interact with everyday. For the moment we may be the squeaky wheel but my guess is that any hard feelings will disappear into the reality that to them we all look alike and so in a few days or weeks the whole issue will have disappeared into nothing at all. Now the laundry is done, the boat is clean and we've got plenty of TP so we are off in the morning for Musket Cove. 

Kat

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Vuda Point Marina, Our Fiji Home for the Next Six Months


2012, 10-9 Vuda Point Marina, Viti Levu Island Fiji

      From Suva we sailed around the South West corner of Viti Levu Island to our new home at Vuda Point Marina. The marina sits half way between Nadi -home to the international airport- and Lautoka the second largest city on the island. The marina started as a submarine harbor during WWII and is different from any other marina we have ever been to.
 

      When you enter from seaward you pass first the Boat Shed restaurant and Bar sitting on the point. Then a big grassy area of picnic tables and a large outdoor screen where they show movies in the evenings three nights a week. Next you pass the coffee shop, the marina offices, a marine store and a small but surprisingly well stocked grocery store. Attached is a small laundry facility with three!!! washing machines, the restroom/shower facilities, a taxi stand and the security gate for the marina.

      For the marina itself imagine a cement pond in the shape of a “6” with the tail of the six being a channel that was blasted out of the coral reef that lines shore here. The circle of the six is the boat basin where some four or five dozen boats are tied Med Moor style stern or nose in to the cement quay. There is a cement path running the perimeter of the boat basin along behind the boats and a boat yard off to one side. The grounds are filled with tree's and plants that teem with birds -starlings, parakeets, lorakeets, numerous types of finches- and bright white long tailed Tropic birds swoop over the reef. There is a path off one side that cuts through thick vegetation to First Landing Resort where we are welcome to enjoy five star amenities including a couple of restaurants and bars, a full service spa and a pool.

      Adjacent to the boat basin is a section of marina ground that has been filled with holes dug into the ground. This is cyclone territory and many cruisers opt to bury their boats keels in a pit, prop tires around the edges and then climb in and out by ladder. It's funny to see them sitting here looking like someone is about to harvest a crop of blue water boats. There are obviously boaters still living in some and others have been prepared for the worst and then left to fend for themselves.

      That is why we are here, Vuda Point is reputed to be the best cyclone hole in this area of the South Pacific. For those not in a pit the marina offers some other unusual safety measures. In the event of a cyclone all of the boats in the marina will switch to stern to on the quay tying off to the heavy rings and chains attached to the edges of our little cement pond. From the bow of each boat will run the typical heavy duty anchor chain sans anchor. Every boats' chain will attach to a central underwater tie off point, wagon wheel style pulled off slightly from the quay. Additionally the marina deploys a breakwater made up of a line of airplane tires that is designed to close off the channel leading out of the marina and through the reef. This breakwater is essential in that it should cut down on the the surge that will inevitably try to work it's way into the marina. Once the breakwater is in place and we are stern too off the quay it will be impossible to leave the marina and almost impossible to leave the boat -we will be much further off the quay in preparation for an actual cyclone. This is the best that can be found in the South Pacific and we are betting our boat on it. The obvious problem is that if any of the boats in the marina have a problem they could and will effect other boats in the marina -like a pinball in play.

     Our plan is to monitor the weather, cruise when we can and flee to safety when anything threatens. But getting home will actually be the least of our concerns. In order to really be ready for what may come there is a great deal of preparation to be done. Our sails will have to stripped and stowed and the bimini and dodger will be removed as well as our four solar panels. Everything that can be stowed below will be and anything that won't come off will be lashed down. Once the dodger is off we will be vulnerable to rain coming in through places we have never experienced before.

    
     Oh and the rain, it will rain and rain and rain. At the same time the rain is coming down it will be hot - hot and muggy hot. Black mold will be growing on the inside of the boat from the heat and the humidity and during the guaranteed stormy weather every door, hatch and port will be dogged down tight. A new acquaintance warned me yesterday that even the cockroaches suffer from the cyclones. Desperate for dry land they will come scampering up our mooring lines looking for a dry home. Ewwwwww! But we cruisers are a pretty tenacious bunch. I have talked to couples who have prepared four times in one season for a coming hurricane or cyclone. Most have never seen winds above 50mph! I'm counting on that statistic proving out.

     Again the upside is that between the weather that is surely coming our extended stay will allow us to discover a Fiji most travelers never experience. Fiji's cruising choices are wide -multiple island groups, huge barrier reefs, vibrant cities and unspoiled beeches, exquisite snorkeling and world class diving- with enough to do and see to keep us busy for a years.
 
      
     Travel is all about experiencing life in a new way and Vuda Point promises to give us plenty of new experiences. From the moment we motored into the cut I've had a great feeling about this place. It felt like home to me like nothing else has since we first moved into Shilshole Bay Marina. Already half of the staff knows us by name and we are meeting our neighbors more every day. We've begun working our way through the to-do list and Gordon the Gekko seems to have settled into his new job with us as bug control patrol.


Bula! Kat

Sunday, October 7, 2012

October 1, 2012 You Gotta Love Fiji.

      Since the early days of planning for our cruising life people have been telling us not to miss Fiji. They said we were going to love it there, had to visit Fiji, could easily spend months in Fiji, don't miss Fiji!!! They were absolutely right – on our first trip into town I was completely captivated by the sights and sounds around me. Even the bus ride was great. We caught the bus into Suva right in front of the Royal Suva Yacht Club where we had left our dinghy and the 15 minute trip costs a mere 45 cents US. The mostly open air covered buses run seven days a week from sun-up till ten pm and if your feeling flush a taxi ride back will only set you back about $1.80!

     In town the buses converge at the main depot just next to the main market where you unload amidst dozens of other buses and taxis. The platforms are thick with business men and women and the throngs of local women on their way home from the market or grocery shops. Twice a day the place explodes with thousands of school children filtering through either coming or going each wearing their own schools distinct uniform.

     Amidst the travelers move a whole world of beggars and peddlers typical to a large third world city. There are snack peddlers and shoe shine men, stands selling fruit juice and tiny carts filled with Chinese foods. Rushing through it all are the wheelbarrow men who deliver goods from the area shops directly to your platform. Lining the edges of the depot are small stands in long rows selling curry and drinks, shoe repair and Bollywood D VD’s.
    
     The main farmers market is a permanent two story affair the size of a football field. Cement walls and floor filled edge to edge with fruit and vegetable sellers, stands filled with fresh eggs, take away food and prepared portions of fruit. There is a distinct separation between Indian merchants and Fijians but for as far as the eye can see there are things to buy. There are pile after pile of mango, papaya, watermelon, banana, coconut, apples and oranges. The air is filled with the scent of lemon grass and ginger and there are colorful pyramids of tomato and eggplant that vi for attention with pumpkins, squash, sweet potato, new potato and okra. Huge piles of several types of root vegetables who's names I don't know are continuously hauled away strung over wooden poles and virtually everything was picked that very morning.

     Up a long flight of cement stairs is home to the spice merchants and kava sellers. Here is where you find mounds of brown potatoes and huge stores of yellow onion piled in tight with sacks of lentils, popcorn, dried peas and beans, mule sized packages of almonds, cashews, cinnamon sticks and sultanas. There is dried ginger, smoked paprika,dried chili peppers and little bowls filled with tiny green and red peppers along with plastic bags spilling over with a dozen or so separate ingredients each cook uses to fashion their own special curry. It's here in the second story of the market where we will buy our sevusevu kava for gifting as we travel around the country.

     Kava is a local “grog”made from the pounded mashed root of the kava plant. It produces a slight tranquilizing effect and numbs the lips and tongue. Originally it was made by chewing the roots into a pulp and spitting it back into a special wooden Kava bowl where the resultant grog would be poured into coconut shells and passed around during a kava ceremony. Now days there are kava joints you can go to and spend your day getting loaded, buy it pre-made in take away containers or grind up your own at home. There are “brands” of kava from specific regions with their own reputations but most of the kava is made from powdered root bought by the bagful.

    For the offering of sevusevu which is still practiced mostly in the more remote villages the correct form is still generally a 2 kilo bunch of whole kava ears and gnarly root wrapped up in newspaper with colorful ribbon wrapped round the paper to keep it all in a neat package. Their were maybe 20 different sellers all selling your choice of whole plant sevusevu packages, “ears” -just the wide part of the root severed from the tangle of root and brown paper bags of powdered root. A few of the stands had huge ceremonial sevusevu gifts made up out giant many years old roots. One package had a root and ear bouquet that stood six feet tall! We bought six 2 kilo sevusevu packages, now All I need to do is figure out how to fumigate it before it comes aboard Island Bound.
    
     Across the street and further into the city Suva continued to surprise us. Past the daily fish market you move into a world of skyscrapers. Walking along the sidewalks feels like New York City with buses blaring past, taxis honking and whistling, pedestrians crossing everywhere with little regard for lights, beggars on every corner and signs and lights everywhere. The scent of warm fresh bread rolls over the sidewalk from the many bread stores, there are Chinese restaurants everywhere, signs advertising nightclubs and cell phone company kiosks everywhere. There is a six-plex movie theater showing Hollywood, Australian and Bollywood films from noon till midnight.

     In the center of downtown there is a big four story MHCC mall with $300 dollar dresses selling next to stands filled with Indian sweets. There are other smaller malls as far as the eye can see and a McDonald selling Big Macs and Fires. Across the river walk from the MHCC mall is “little India” filled with wedding jewelry shops and clothing stores filled with fancy spangled wedding and special occasion clothing and jewel toned sarees that to my eyes looks like they would be fit for a king or queen. More than half the population in Fiji is of Indian descent and between their dark brown skin and straight hair and the Fijians kinky black hair and dark eyes all around us is a sea of brown. In the big market I was buying bananas from an Indian woman and turned around to find Bill was no longer behind me. I paused searching for my $2 saying my husband was missing and the woman whirled around in a circle then pointed at Bill and laughed saying it was easy “just look for the white, every where is black so he stands right out, see!”

     It's in little Indian where finally we locate the curry shops I've been looking forward to for months now. I'm in heaven as soon as we walk inside the Curry House. The lunch crowd lines are thick but the glass cases on either side of the front counter are filled with delicious smelling goodies. The menu behind the counter has three full rows of curries and accompaniments. Lamb curry, goat curry, chicken curry and fish, roasted eggplant, fried noddles, Masala, tandoori and butter chicken and a whole array of vegetarian yummies and roti: fresh made upstairs roti, yummmmmm. The full meal deal gives you a round metal tray with a small bowl of peas and potato, a serving of lentil soup, a smear of tamarind chutney and a piece of pickled mango along side the matching bowl filled with your choice of main dishes. Bill goes for the goat and I decide on the boneless lamb all for less than $5 US each including a drink! Over our days in Suva we find sit down curry houses, take out curry houses, curry dishes at the Chinese restaurants and curry take away at the grocery stores. There is no “how many stars?” when you order here it comes out as hot, hot and hotter - I don't care.

     Every time we go into town I am struck again by the chaos and the rhythms of Fiji. Such a mix of island time slow down and big city pace. The locals are quick to smile and filled with laughter. We're greeted on the streets with loud hellos, “Bula!” and are often stopped and asked where we are from and how we are enjoying Fiji. Lots of locals guess straight off that we are here on a “yacht” and are always thrilled to find out that we are staying for months instead of days. They show genuine interest in how long it took us to get here and almost always ask why we decided to visit Fiji. When they find out we will be traveling throughout the outer-island groups they are quick to tell us where they are from and where there families are still. The people have been so welcoming and with so many islands to explore and so much to see and do I'm sure we are going to run out of time before we run our of Fiji.

Kat

Sunday Lunch with Joe and Tiesla, Suva, Fiji

September 25th 2012 Sunday Lunch with Joe and Tiesla Suva, Fiji Cruising requires a great deal of planning and we gather our information from a variety of sources. First there is the big scale planning: deciding where we want to go and what time of year is best for our passage there, what paper charts we will need and which chips we need to buy for our chart plotter. Then there is the rest, the micro scale of information gathering that for us is usually being done underway right up to the moment we make our next landfall. For that we turn to cruising guides and compendiums, information from other cruisers, Lonely Planet and Moon travel guides and locally published visitor guides. We spend hours on passage pouring over information and now that we are traveling internationally my favorite part of the research is learning the local customs of the country we are about to visit. I usually end up spending a few hours during our passage pouring over a Moon Guide. These popular travel guides give a good overview of each country from Customs clearance and Visa requirements to how long we can stay and how long the boat is allowed to stay (which oddly is almost always different from how long we are allowed to stay ) along with a list of formalities for checking in and out and for any movement within the country. There is always a section covering the countries history, politics and religion(s.) They chart out the seasonal climates including temperature and rainfall and list information about the flora and fauna of the regions. The country is then further divided into regions for travel. The generally have a good section on what to do and see when we travel with a section on restaurants, farmers markets, grocery stores and other shopping, how to ride the local buses and use the local taxis. If there is a movie theater in town the books even let me know if we will find movies in English. My favorite part of every Moon book is always the section on local customs and culture. The Pacific Islands have been rich in cultural differences. In Samoa we needed to know that our choice of clothing needed to be modest, that the local churches were a huge part of life there and that is would be considered rude to walk down the street eating or drinking anything. In Tonga we were told we shouldn't take people pictures without their permission and that again the dress was to be modes and also that if we wanted to go swimming in view of the locals we would have to do it basically fully clothed. Here in Fiji we learned about the custom of presenting “sevusevu” -a gift of kava root- to the chief or mayor that gains ones access to the village, its anchorage, roads, beaches or reefs. We also read about the customs surrounding being taken under the wing of a Fijian family and the process and pitfalls of gift giving. We had been warned that if we were invited into anyone’s home we needed to be careful about admiring anything because it would be quickly offered up as a gift. We had read that it was common for Fijians to ask for things that we would need to be careful of being put in a position of giving away things we really can't live without like binoculars, our VHF radios, our outboard motor and even the line off of our boat. Despite the write up and warnings we were still amazed at how quickly we we adopted into our first Fijian Family. We met Joe and Tiesla as we stood in line at the DigiCell kiosk waiting to buy a SIM card and a data plan. Joe struck up a conversation with Bill and literally in less than five minutes we had plans to spend Sunday lunch in their home the following day. From the moment we met it was obvious that Joe was thrilled to have found us and was excited to be our “first Fijian friends.” They took their new job quite seriously and immediately abandoned their own Saturday plans to accompanied us through town and back and from one cell phone shop to the next until we had both a working phone and up and running internet too. Once that was completed Joe squired us back through the city to find a doctor -on a Saturday - to treat Bill who now had his own version of my Tongan skin infection. The tropics are tough on skin and we have now both had abscessed skin infections that required antibiotics. Joe especially took his new job every seriously. On the way to the doctors office we stopped a the bus depot so he could point out the correct bus to take the next day and then at the doctors office he gave us another round of instructions on catching the bus. He kept explaining and we kept reassuring him but no matter what we said Joe seemed pretty sure were were going to get lost. The fact that we had made our way halfway around the world didn't seem to have left us much credit in his eyes but eventually he left us there at the doctors in order to meet Tiesla at the market so they could do the shopping for the next days meal. His eyes were filled with joy when we parted saying “now you will come yes?” On Sunday morning he called again -we were in town again at DigiCell to try and fix a glitch- to check on us and ask if we could come an hour earlier! When we finally arrived at the parking lot of their home church he bounded up to us and quickly bundled us into a cab and off to their home to meet the family. The family of five live in a modest neighborhood on a street with rows of carbon copy houses. Theirs is a two room, half of a duplex on a street filled with families walking home from Sunday services. Tiesla was already inside and busy preparing our Fijian lunch while Joe introduces us to Susanne Collins, 8, Joe Jr, 6 and Meme, 4 along with Nana #1 and Nana #2. There home was tiny but neat and tidy. The main room was roughly 10'x16' and held a single table, three chairs, a small refrigerator, a two burner stove and a separate one burner stand alone cooker, a single counter with a small sink, two wooden hutches one filled with dishes and utensils the other with family photos and boxes of papers and other bits of family life. There were woven mats on the floor and the standard south pacific centerpiece -a large flat screen. We were formally ushered into two of their three chairs (along with Joe) while the rest of the family sat on the floor and spent the next several hours as their honored guests. We visited and talked and asked questions back and forth while Tiesla finished preparing the meal. She served us fish cooked in coconut milk, a local green similar to spinach, fresh cucumber slices and a chicken and veggie noodle dish. When we were first served we sat quietly watching for clues to try and avoid any social blunders. We waited for the others to begin eating but soon realized that it was only to be the two of us and Joe. Our meals came with spoons as did Joe's which I think he was using as a show of solidarity but he soon abandoned his for the local custom of eating with his fingers. Tiesla and the two grandmothers sat quietly watching us while Joe explained the local custom: everyone else would wait until we had been served, then the children were served and finally we were offered seconds, “please eat you're fill.” Only when we had declined seconds did the women take a plate. Guests get first dibs on everything and if we had eaten every bite they would have gone without. The three kids were well behaved and also obviously catered too, especially Joe Jr. I brought along a batch of brownies which were a huge hit especially with little Joe who was on fourths or fifths by the time the rest of us finished our meals. Afterward we talked about their lives here and asked questions about the language and then practiced our Fijian. Susanne Collins taught us our numbers and apparently my attempt at twenty something made some hilarious reference to my feet! We learned about their church, the church's new primary school, the fund raising efforts to build a secondary school and bits and pieces about their lives and their customs. Tiesla's mom, Nana #1 comes every week by bus on Wednesday from Nadi -a five hour trip across island -to stay with the family. She stays through church on Sunday and then returns to her home again. The other grandma is actually not a blood relative. She attends the family's church and though she has three grown children of her own in Suva she spends her family time with Joe and Tiesla. The afternoon had barely begun when we started to learn our own lesson in Fijian gift giving. Shortly after we had arrived Joe stepped into the second room to get out of his go to church suit and came back out with a mans shirt in his hands. He came to Bill and instructed him to take off his shirt -how do you react when someone stands in front of you and says take off your shirt? Bill did as he was asked and stripped off his own shirt and received as a gift one of Joe's prized button down Fijian dress shirts. He explained that with this shirt hanging in our closet we could never forget him. A few minutes later Bill decided to try to reciprocate the gift. The weather had been cool and wet and he had packed his only pair of still decent Levi's in his backpack as a just in case so he pulled them out and offered them as a gift. At first Joe acted reluctant but beamed and then soon had them on and was strutting around the living room fashion show style showing them off. A few minutes later Bill pulled out a baseball hat that was also tucked in his pack and it too was accepted and worn amidst giggles and grins but then quickly taken off and placed high on the top of a shelf. We later remembered that we had read that as palage (off island white folks) it was considered rude to walk through a village wearing a hat or sunglasses and then realized that in our days wandering around Suva we had not seen anyone wearing a hat. After our meal we watched rugby, -Suva won, Nadi lost- and gave balloons to the kids. We drank tea Fijian style with milk and sugar and ate “pancakie” a deep fat fried pancake served with a dusting of sugar and nibbled on a typical Fijian snack made up of dried salted peas, peanuts and little crispy noodles similar to the canned Chung King noodles from home. We learned a lot about Fijian life and Joe explained about his plan to buy a piece of property in the spring. He hopes to build a bigger house and start an export business growing and shipping Fijian produce. He said he knew there was a growing community of Pacific Islanders in the states and Australia whom he was sure would buy up all that he could grow and ship. He invited us again and again to come back any time and told Bill he could help with the farm. We could too if we wanted, build a home of our own so we could come and go to the boat and our travels but then would always have a place of our own as part of his family when we return to Fiji. Then Joe mentioned how nice it was going to be when we all returned to our boat for a little trip. Uh oh, I hadn't prepared for guests or planned any food. Plus our outboard was not working very reliably and ferrying everyone out might be a challenge. Worse, it had been raining with thunder and lightning off and on all day so maybe not the best day for a trip out with the family. No problem, they will wait until the weather has improved and we will all go out for a little turn in the bay. Eventually it seemed like it might be time to go but it was hard to tell. Were we expected to stay all day? Had we overstaying our welcome? Finally it was explained that it is custom for the guest to ask for release from the gathering. OK time to say our goodbyes. There were short speeches of appreciation from Joe and modest thank you's from Tiesla and finally a tear filled speech of gratitude from Nana #2 before it was time to make our way back to the main road to catch a bus back to the waterfront. The grandmothers stayed at the house, waving and crying and waving some more while the rest of the family walked with us through the neighborhood -apparently showing us off- and back to the bus stop. At one point on the way Joe said to Bill “let me see that shirt you had on.” So Bill obligingly opened his pack and pulled out the shirt he had worn to lunch. Joe told him how much he would like to have it so that he would never forget us. OK, one shirt, one pair of Levi's and one baseball hat. A few moments later Joe's flip flop broke when Joe Jr stepped on it and poor Bill instantly looked down at his own sandals with a flash of wonder as to just how he was going to make it home barefoot. What a nice way to spend a lazy Sunday and wonderful to now have someone we know in Suva. We will wait for the weather to turn dry again and then make an afternoon of burgers and chips aboard Island Bound -after we've decided on some appropriate gifts and hid away the things we cannot live without. Kat

Monday, September 17, 2012

9-17- 2012 Swimming with the Whales in Tonga

~~~~~))))(((((((~~~~)))))(((((~~~ ~~~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ >>>^^^^^^^>>>


This is me doing a little happy dance....yea, yea, yea.........We spent the day with the whales of Ha'apia! Tonga is THE place to swim with humpback whales because a) the huge creatures travel thousands of miles from Antarctica every year to the warm water lagoons of Tonga spending roughly 15 weeks here to breed and give birth before turning around and making the trek back to their cold water but food rich home waters again, and b) Tonga is one of the few places on earth where humans are not banned from getting into the water with the whales for a tiny glimpse into their world.

As far as whale encounters go the Vava'u Group in Tonga is world famous but for us it turned out to be a complete bust. Quite honestly we really should be in Fiji right now but we decided to throw caution to the wind and stop at the Ha'apia Group for one last chance to see the whales. The weather tanked again shortly after we arrived bringing in high winds, heavy rain and very choppy waters -all bad news for whale encounters. Even after waiting two nights at anchor in town followed by two nights anchored off the island of Uoleva things still were not looking to good. The night before our scheduled trip it rained so hard we managed to capture 100+ gallons of free sweet rainwater for our tanks amid 35mph winds.

Astonishingly morning dawned amazingly clear and calm so we were in great spirits when we joined Ann and Mark from Blue Rodeo as tourists aboard the catamaran "Wildlife." The beautiful two year old custom built catamaran is owned and operated by a great family that has been out cruising and offering on the water experiences for more than ten years now. Dave and Tris and their two young born aboard kids Dior and Kai run the business from their floating home. During peak season they spend six days a week offering whale shark and whale experiences in Australia and now swim with the whale trips in Tonga. They take day tripper like us as well as longer term live-aboard guests aboard their home for some very unique experiences.

David was off working with a group of professional photographers on their smaller boat so Tris was our leader and Paul -who joins them from Oz for seven or eight weeks each year- took over piloting the ship. As we motored away from the anchorage the kids were busy at the salon table with one of the four live aboard guests standing in as teacher for the day while the two pet chickens Stripe and Chick-Chick wandered around underfoot.

The plan for their whale adventures is to motor about until they find a whale who will offer to stay still long enough that a snorkel and mask clad paying guests can slip into the water and then swim close enough to get a glimpse as they glide past on their way to somewhere else. You then swim back to the boat to either switch with another group of tourist swimmers or run off to look for your next whale victim. This would be more than difficult to do with just Bill and I aboard our own boat since we would never both jump off Island Bound into the water. Someone has to stay aboard or you could find your boat drifting off in the current as you wave goodbye. Even with the motor off and the sails down a 32,000 pound boat can drift along at an amazing rate which has been known to leave even strong swimmers adrift and alone.

We were planning on jumping into deep ocean waters with live wild animals and you would be crazy not to have someone aboard watching, waiting and ready for pickup. A couple of cases in point: We were told a story of a whale excursion boat dropping a load of snorkelers into the water with a whale shark only to "realize" that the creature in the water was a Tiger shark not a whale shark! Tiger sharks are responsible for more shark attacks than any other shark in the oceans so the shark must not have been hungry as everyone apparently made it back to the boat without incidence but it could have been a disaster. A story closer to home and real time comes from Niafu where we just spent many days. The day we left headed for the Ha'apia Group a guest from a large motor yacht "Ice" was attacked by a shark of some kind. She was swimming alone behind a kayak that was being paddled by another guest. The conjecture here is that the swimmer in the water was playing around in the water right behind and next to the kayak which was being idly then wildly paddled about by another guest and may have looked like a baby whale floundering about in distress. The victim was hit then left without a second attack but was lucky in that the shark left only a large bite mark without taking a huge hunk of flesh with him as he retreated to look for real prey. My point being not to gross you out but to show that it would have been difficult for Bill and me to safely have this experience on our own but with Tris directing activity and Paul manning the helm we were free to enjoy the day and to soak in the experience.

The first whales we saw were just a few minutes out of the anchorage. A mama and calf pair who were quickly joined by another mamma and calf - a rare sighting we were told. Paul positioned the catamaran with Bill and I on one transom all geared up and Ann and Mark on the other. With fins on and masks in place the moment it looked like they were going to pause a moment for us without fleeing we were given the "in neutral" sign and slipped into the water. With instructions to stay in a tight bunch we entered the water and followed Tris towards the group of four whales.

They didn't stay long. In fact the whole thing from splash to climbing out was over in less than five minutes but being in the water with these creatures was amazing. Once we were close enough to stop swimming and simply watch I lay motionless in the water watching as the foursome seemed to be moving right towards me. The two pairs were swimming along slowly only a few feet below the surface. Both moms seemed to be keeping an eye glued to our little group but they remained calm and relaxed as their babies rolled and bobbled along. Both pair turned moving off to the left with one mom and calf ahead of me and the other pair almost directly below me. The closest baby passed upside-down showing me his pretty white belly full of bumps and ridges and trailing along his personal squadron of Remora fish.

I have to tell you honestly that deep in my brain there still lives a place that's reserved for reaction to fears -a human gut reaction that is ever attune to the likes of a real scream in the dark or the image of a shark fin slicing through the water- and as I floated along watching the whales swim towards me a little voice yelled out in my head "MOVE BACK." "Not forward Kat, not forward!!!!" But our guides signal said move forward....so I did.... and then the whales took their slight turn while I hovered there listening to bits of squeaks and clicks and in a heartbeat the whole encounter was over and I was swimming hard trying to make my way back to the cat. It was one of those experiences where after the fact you can't keep your mouth shut and you can't stop grinning. WOW. And it was only 9:15.

The second group of swimmers had been positioned to slip into the water as soon as the whales passed off and away from us and that was the rhythm of the day: drop in a group, reposition, hand signal a switch, new group in the sea as the first group made their way back to the cat. One the foursome moved off we spent a few more minutes looking for whale signs then pacing a few looking for the best candidates. By 10:00 it looked like we had lucked out again when we found a mother and calf logging. Logging means they are on the surface taking a rest. It is the best possible arrangement to find a logging whale and here was one with a baby. We moved in closer and watched and waited. Mamma didn't seem to mind us being there at all. She just lay quietly on the surface breathing calmly and nosing here baby around a bit. The other group of swimmers slid off the transoms and we watched as they moved in.

As we swam forward for our second encounter I could see the calf floating at the surface but his mother lay unseen some hundred feet below. As we swam towards the babe she was just a vague outline below me marked mostly by the light bouncing off her long white flukes and the white edge of her tail fin. As she lay resting her baby repeatedly surfaced and dove rolling and flailing about. He didn't seem to be terribly good yet at being a whale. He rolled and flipped and looked as though he didn't really have control yet over his floppy bits. He would pause hanging with first his head down and tail pointed upwards then roll and lay suspended with his belly pointed towards the sky with no sense of preference. Occasionally he would try a dive towards mom only to sort of bob to the surface for another breath and another try. Tris estimated the calf to be roughly five weeks old and certainly still very dependent on his mother.

After 20 minutes or so momma moved up towards her calf bringing him up to the surface with her for a group breath before leaving him again and returning to her resting place where she hung like a tripod -huge head pointed to the bottom with both flukes spread wide to either side where she quickly settled into whale nap time again a hundred feet below her calf.

We spent the rest of the morning switching out with the other group of swimmers for 20 0r 30 minute turns and when we rejoined the whales for the last time both momma and calf were floating along on the surface. Momma lay logging with her back and blow holes just above the water line but with her face deep in the water. Poised curved over her massive head lay the baby with his blowholes safely above the waves where they could both rest easy without having to work to surface for breaths. They stayed that way relatively unmoving for the next 25 minutes while we listened to their breathing and snapped dozens upon dozens of pictures.

Both of our little swimming groups had three trips out and back without seeming to affect the resting whales. Even Kai and Dior joined us once their school day was completed (they both swim like fish.) But eventually it was time to go. I had been so totally engrossed with the whales that I was surprised how exhausted I felt as I made my last swim back through the rising waves and current to the boat. After everyone was aboard and the tea kettle was on and Paul set the sails and we were off across the waters to another island known for its whale activity. What a lovely treat being guests aboard: Paul at the helm, cups of tea delivered and a lovely lunch with someone else doing the dishes! We had plenty of time to ask questions, visit with the other guests and rehash our morning in the water all while keeping an eye out for more whale activity around us.

On our way across we saw a group of big males, six or more of them moving fast across the surface. Tris explained that the group movement we had spotted was probably a clutch of males pursuing an available female. Evidently the males will keep up the chase for hours until eventually the female gives in and finally picks one with which to mate. We also saw plenty of other surface activity including breaching, tail slapping and lobbing and fluke waving. When we arrived at the opposite island Paul and Tris lowered a hydro phone into the water off the transom and we sat eating pieces of cake and listening to a faraway male singing us his song.

Seeing these great animals so still was amazing. It is hard to explain the difference in perspective you have of these great whales when you're in the water with them compared to watching them from the deck of a boat. It became a total body experience floating there in the sea surrounded by all the sounds of the waves and wind and my own swimming all overlaying the subtle noises the momma and calf were making. Floating so near them was stunning and quite emotional. Here were animals that are usually viewed only in brief glimpses but now every ridge, every skin color variance and even the creases around their eyes were visible.

Before we arrived in Tonga in anticipation of getting into the water with the whales I had been reading all I could find and had watched a wonderful National Geographic program on humpbacks. The video especially showed them spending long spans of time completely still in the water. My observations had primarily been watching them as they were on the move or feeding with the occasional glimpse of one asleep or resting on the surface. But the truth is when they are not on their actual migratory path they spend hours at a time resting nearly motionless.

In the warm Tongan waters that they breed and mate in they do almost no feeding - for months! And the males who do the real singing in fact do all of it hanging nearly motionless head down, flukes spread wide to open their chests to allow the sounds to pour out. Humpbacks have no vocal chords. All of their singing comes as a rumble through their baleen and out of their chests which makes perfect sense when you think about it. When you sing do you do it while you run? Of course not. So the momma and babies are resting and reserving their energy for the upcoming migration back to Antarctica while the males are trying to insure their thousands of miles of migration isn't for naught by alternating between chasing the girls and singing their hearts out. What and experience.

The trip back to our little lagoon was fast. Their big catamaran nearly flies over the water. We blasted back towards home at a screaming 12 to 14 knots. Once the anchor was down eleven year old Kai expertly chauffeured the four of us back to our floating homes in the family car -the dinghy- a full eight hours after our departure. We couldn't have asked for a better day. Even the weather cooperated with not a drop of rain, smoothed down chop, just enough sun to warm us back up but not cook us too badly and a whale experience we will never forget. Kat

~the amazing photos will follow on our Face Book page "BillandKat Russell" as soon as we have a decent connection~

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9-15-2012 End of the Road Pangia Tonga

2012, 09-12 End of the road, Pangia Tonga


In our travels there is a big difference between our time spent in big cities compared to that we spend in small villages. In cities everything blends together and the bits of culture become lost in the big picture but in the small towns it becomes easier to spot the differences and then easier to put them into a context we can understand. This clears the way to really see the culture behind the difference we observe which both bill and I find amazingly interesting. What is the point of traveling if you are not on the look out for the things that are truly different. It puts our own lives into context and open the door to unlimited possibilities. We do the things we do because that's the way we do things but there are other ways to do them that are just as valid.

Take burial for instance. Cemeteries have always fascinated us. In fact I have always been fascinated walking around through the headstones reading tiny snippets of other peoples lives. In Alaska we were amazed to find a cemetery in the village of Hoona where a huge proportion of the people buried there were well over a hundred years old when they died. Mexico had interesting roadside memorials and also the family plots that were taken care of by groups of family members on certain days of the year. Then too of course is the famous Day of the Dead celebration and the resulting art form of skeleton masks and figurines that are now famously collected.

French Polynesia showed us above ground crypts situated conveniently in front yards. Grandma and Grandpa remain important members of the family even after their passing. It is not unusual to see someone taking a nap on top of a crypt or the weeks washing laid out to dry across the smooth marble or concrete covers. Some families build large shade covers over massed group graves and we always wonder about real estate resale values if mom and dad are interred in the front yard. There are often elaborate marble headstones engraved with names and dates along with dates of military service. Scripture and poems are always popular and many have a built in vase for fresh or plastic flowers. Pictures were very popular in French Polynesia and in Samoa. Many had elaborate framed pictures of the deceased in their prime and some had a laser picture engraved into the marble.

In the town of Pangia in Tonga we noticed something we had never seen before. First, instead of the normal rectangle crypt shapes that usually fill the cemeteries Pangia had simple mounds of coral gravel over each body. The graves were not permanently marked with a headstone nor with planted signs of any kind indicating names or dates. Most had plastic flowers profusely "growing" out of the coral piles. But most interestingly off all were the quilts we saw there. Not all but many of the graves had a bed quilt left with the grave.

Some were left laying across the top of the grave and some had large wooden frames at their head with the quilt stretched across them. I was not able to question anyone in town about this -with my limited Tongan it seemed too intrusive a question. I did ask an Aussie woman who has lived here for many years but she had no answer for me. Are the quilts memorial quilts made for the occasion of death or are they the actual bed quilts removed for some symbolic purpose? In a society where so many have so little why would they give up such an item? Of those I saw some where obviously works of quilt art but others looked to be store bought with ruffles and printed flowers. Would a family buy a new quilt or take the time to make a new one piece by piece? Interesting.........I hate having questions like these left open and will ask if the opportunity ever arises. You'll be the next to know. Kat

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

August 29th 2012 Tonga

August 29th 2012 Neiafu, Vavau Tonga Story Problem 1 In order to arrive during daylight hours sailing vessel Island Bound plans to depart Pago Pago American Samoa at 5:00pm Saturday 25 of August bound for Western Samoa 80 nautical miles N/NW of their current anchorage. Winds are expected to be 15kn from the NE for an expected average hourly speed of 5.5 knots. What day and time will Island Bound make landfall in Western Samoa? Answer: Landfall, Vava'u Tonga Wednesday August 29th. As to the change of plans, well we do make changes to our plans. One of our close friends once commented that she never knew when she would see us. “Island Bound always follows her own drummer, one day there you are right there in the middle of things with everyone having a great time and then I look up and Island Bound is gone! In other words we change our minds. A lot. We had been planning our next hop on to Western Samoa for a couple of weeks. As soon as our all of our packages arrived we would stock up on fresh produce and then leave at night fall for the short 80 mile passage and then surprise surprise ...arrive after sunup. Instead the final lost package had arrived, the groceries were all stowed and then as we sat an McDonald’s checking email and looking at weather forecasts and inter-island mileage Bill decided we should skip American Samoa completely in favor of extra time in Tonga. The passage difference: a mere 250 miles. The next morning we hustled around with a few last minute details and said our good byes before lifting our anchor out of three weeks of mud and muck and motoring out into the stiff breeze. There is a fundamental difference between an 80 mile passage and a 330 miles passage. It's OK to leave without fresh eggs or missing bits of produce if your going to be in another town in less than a day. A “one night” is a piece of cake and requires relatively little planning. Psychologically an overnight is simple: you know you are looking at only one night of interrupted sleep and Apia, Samoa is not much of an unknown after our time in American Samoa. I knew we would easily find anything we might run out of and if the weather tanked we would only have a few short hours to endure. But Tonga? A whole other story. We would need to officially check in on arrival and would likely be tired. I hadn't looked at the books on Tonga in two months and not at all with the eyes of imminent arrival. Did we need to get currency? We left without knowing. Did we need to arrive with kava root for the Chiefs or the King? We didn't know and so left with none. Where was my passage rotisserie chicken? No time to cook one up myslef and no dinners precooked and packaged up, only a handful of ripe bananas and almost out of homemade yogurt. Plus and probably most disconcerting was that we had been blissfully ignoring weather reports while we were tucked in safely deep in Pago Pago's anchorage. As amateur weather forecasters there is always much more to any forecast if you have been closely following the local weather patterns and trends than what you can deduce from a single spot check. Regardless we left in a hurry Saturday morning and expected to reach Tonga by night fall 2 ½ days later. Weather wise we didn't exactly get what we had expected. Instead we had 25 to 30 knot winds at 60 degrees off our bow -almost sailing upwind- which came with big clunky 10-12 foot seas. For the first 48 hours we were surrounded by squalls which kept us reefed down, wet and rocking and rolling our way through our four hour watches. Trust me when I say a four hour watch lasts a very long time when the rain sheets down on you and the waves are crashing along and pouring tons of sea water over the boat for hours on end. We sprang a new leak around the main hatch and that along with the water we drug in on hair and clothing soon every towel in the boat was lying in wet salty heaps on the floor and still everything inside was damp to the touch and the floors dangerously covered with slick (and weirdly sticky) saltwater. The night watches were down right cold and I broke out tennis shoes for the first time in I don't remember when along with wind pants and long sleeve shirts and rain coats. It was too rough to shower and 330 miles is far enough to leave anybody a bit fragrant. Add to that nothing to eat that couldn't be put in sandwich or stuffed in a bowl while you hunkered into the corner of the cockpit So, we left at 11am for Tonga expecting 15 to 20 knot winds for the 330 miles passage. At 6.5 to 7 knots we expected to arrive at Vava'u some 55 hours later on Tuesday morning August 27th. Instead we beat upwind in high seas and arrived around 200am -the middle of the night again. We did attempt to drop our anchor in a tiny bend just outside of the island but the poor lighting, offset charts and the whale we apparently woke up were were once again left hove too waiting for first light. Our official check in was 9am Wednesday August 29th after passing over the International Date Line and loosing an entire day. So we lost a day, arrived in the middle of the night and had cruddy weather all transpiring to add up to one of the worst passages of all times. Total time for passage, 70 hours give or take the lost August 26th. Oh and for special measure how about three abscessed boils from a fungal skin infection caused by the wet conditions that left me achy and feverish and now unable to get in the water with the whales until the skin is completely intact again. Welcome to Tonga! Kat

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012, 08-16 American Samoa We have been anchored in the main harbor near Pago Pago for more than two weeks now enjoying all that is Samoa. The main island of Tutuila in American Samoa is an interesting mix of a Polynesian tropical paradise and your typical anywhere US of A. We have US dollars in our pockets again and are spending them on all the familiar products we haven’t seen in the nineteen months we have been out of the states. We while away the hours in McDonald’s or Carl Jr's catching up on internet tasks and we can order in boat parts and pick them up at the local branch of the US Postal Service. Nearly everyone speaks English in addition to the Polynesian dialect of Samoan which makes for easier communication, a huge bonus. Twenty months of struggling with language gave us a real appreciation for the sound of English coming from the mouths of the locals. There is a small concentration of cruisers who have welcomed us and kindly shared their knowledge and helped us find our way around the island and the culture. Much like Mexico many cruisers get stuck here in what is the largest protected bay in all of the South Pacific. Being an American Territory it is one of the few places in the South Pacific where US citizens can stay indefinitely. As an added benefit visits to doctors and dentists are readily available and the costs are highly subsidized by our own tax dollars. Making it a great place to take advantage of resident medical care. Twenty seven months away from Seattle has made getting routine medical care difficult. We are simply never anywhere long enough to wait for an appointment then follow through the system of visits and rechecks, tests, results, specialists referrals, diagnosis, treatment and follow up. Here we were around long enough for Bill to have a second diagnosis and treatment for a simply skin problem and to take advantage of a free pap and mammogram program. I also had my hearing tested to confirm my suspicions of hearing loss -see Bill I told you I wasn't ignoring you and yes your voice hits right in the middle of the range of sound that is strangely “gone.” Our stop here almost didn't happen. As we move along we make choices at every new junction. The choices are influenced by available time, relevant distances, weather, seasons, reports from friends and what we read in the guidebooks and online cruising compendiums written by other cruisers. We had read pretty mixed reviews about Samoa. Reportedly the harbor water was polluted and thick with trash, the towns dirty and the people unfriendly and the remnants of missionary Christianity still so pervasive that the culture could be stifling. On the other hand there would be a US Post Office within walking distance that accepts General Delivery packages: the lure of General Delivery won out, thankfully. So, here is the real scoop. Yes the harbor water is dark and peaty but it comes rolling down off the nearby mountains through lush tropical vegetation AND it's cool enough here that it's not mandatory to be in and out of the water all day long simply to stay cool. Yes there are some issues here with trash but it seems to be something the whole island is working on and the problems are actually much better than some of the places we have visited. There is an occasionally problem that is uniquely Pago Pago's -pronounced “pahngo pahngo.” Periodically the Charlie the Tuna canning company needs to vent their boilers which releases an airborne stench that could peel paint. The odor is periodic and if the winds are blowing quickly disappears. It is the smell of thousands of tons of rotting tuna carcasses, blood meat and offal superheated and released into the air and to the uninitiated nose can literally wake you from a dead sleep. The tuna fleet here is one of the largest in the world but growing smaller by the fish. There used to be four canneries but Starkist is the last and long ago stopped dumping tons of fleet waste directly into the harbor -thank God! SO the stories were true but not and so far we have accepted the occasional stench in exchange for the other joys of the Samoan Way. Which brings us to their culture. The Samoan Way is still alive and well. They are kind and gentle people and they have a pride and delight in sharing their islands. Virtually everyone we speak to one on one makes a point to welcome us to their island and are immensely pleased when we tell them we are enjoying ourselves here. They love our attempts at Samoan and seem pleased to see us out exploring their island. There are customs to watch for and ways of acting which are important to the Samoan and we do our best to fit in. Among the things that we have learned that are different: No one eats and drinks as they are walking along or on the bus or inside any business. When asked we were told that if your going to take the time to eat you should give yourself a little “me time.” The buses n't run at on on Sundays and they stop for the nights after their 6pm run the rest of the week. Most of the shops close down for lunch from 12:30 to 1:30 each day and after six in the evening except for taxi's and restaurants. The daily rush hour occurs around 2:00pm when the schools let out for the day. Early evening is out and about time when the ball fields and volley ball courts fill up or people walk around together or sit on stoops resting in the shade and visiting. Sundays are church and family day period. The missionary work done in the South Pacific really took hold here in the Samoa’s. Church life is suck a big part of the culture that in polite conversation the question of “what church do you attend?” is number three right behind what is your name? And “Are you from off island.” It strongly influences how they act and what they wear and to a big extent how they spend their days. There is no shortage of choices for church membership, in fact it is reported that there are far more pew seats on the island than there are seats to fill them. Most of the churches meet several times each Sunday and numerous times over the week. In some of the smaller villages it is still not only mandatory that you attend your village church but that you attend all three or four Sunday services. Many villages also still observe an short evening period of worship right before sundown when everyone stops and prays for a few minutes. If you are unobservant enough to be walking or driving about during this time appointed enforcers will stop you and insist you pause silently until the minutes pass. The only clear division between the multitude of church choices seems to be whether you choose a church that meets on Saturday or Sunday. If you see someone swimming on a Sunday you can bet they attend a Saturday church. On our first weekend in town I was sitting under a tree across the street from the Methodist Church making a phone call home on what turned out to be White Sunday. As the services ended the parishioners began to trickle out of the front doors and down the wide front steps and each member was dressed head to tow in white. What a beautiful sight. The ladies were all wearing the traditional Samoan two piece dress topped off with a white straw or silk hat many of which were covered with white flowers. The men wore button down collared shirts over the traditional lava lava ( a skirt like covering tied at the waist) and many held hats in hand. Even the little children were dressed all in white. It was definitely beautiful but all I could think of was the laundering logistics involved. We leave American Samoa in a few days, our next stop Western Samoa. It will be interesting to see the differences between the two Samoa’s. We will fuddle through a change to yet another new currency and try and train our ears around English with a Kiwi twang. We will try and complete a radar repair before heading on to Tonga (it's whale season in Tonga!!!) and will spend the next few weeks studying up on the choices we will have to make as we move north into Kiribati and then on into The Marshall Islands. ~hugs~ kat