I sing along with Jimmy B. as we prepare to flake and fold the jib sail. Andrew forms his lips into a little smooch and inhales. I see what he is about to do and reprimand him as though I am diving to catch a foul softball: “STOP!!!!….NO WHISTLING!” The deck is clearing off, slowly but surely. The mainsail is off, rolled, and stowed below. The big front sail has been removed. The Bimini shade, gone. Splash curtains, gone. We still have 16 hours to go.
We have been in Savusavu for a while, about a week longer than we wanted. Maybe our one day passage here was a harbinger of things to come. When we upped anchor from Makogai, the weather was scheduled to be a bit over cast, maybe a little rainy, but light winds from the Southeast. Perfect to travel Northeast to Savusavu. As the day progressed, though, the wind clocked around to our nose and strengthened to a solid 25 knots. Along with a current flowing from the Northeast, we were struggling to make way. As the sun went down, we were an hour from the mouth of the protected bay, with our sails up and our motor on trying to move against the current, waves and wind all coming directly from where we want to go.
Sailing Quiz: What is the one direction a sailboat cannot sail?
Answer: Directly upwind.
Sailing Quiz #2: What direction does a gentleman never try to sail?
Answer: Directly upwind.
Unfortunately for me, Sonrisa’s captain is no gentleman. My parasol is getting splashed.
Sailing into an unknown port in the dark is a strict no-no, but all the cruising guides say that this port is safe to enter at night. There are some lights marking the entrance (one lighthouse), we can see the opening on the chart. It looks wide and easy. Our friends on Romano are already there, radioing us information as we come in. Our other choices are not much better. We could hove-to outside and wait the night, but we are pinned between two islands and a reef. So, we would spend 12 hours trying not to hit the pointy bits surrounding Sonrisa. Or, we could turn around and try to enter the Makogai bay we were in this morning and follow our track on the GPS. Wehave been there before and know the entrance, but this means we know it is a maze of reef. We decide to head into Savusavu, just take it slowly. If we hit anything or get tangled in anything, it will be just a little bump.
As we make our decision, a giant rainbow forms in the sunset, arching vertically above Sonrisa’s mast. We also were visited by a pod of dolphins earlier that day. Nothing bad can befall you on a passage on which you are visited by dolphins, right?
Rules are made to be broken.
Two hours later, Romano’s crew greets us from their dinghy, flashing a red headlamp to guide us onto our mooring. As we drop Sonrisa’s main sail, her boom sags limply onto the solar panel. “What the….”? Upon inspection, we see the bolt holding Sonrisa’s boom onto the gooseneck is bent at almost a 90 degree angle. We add the boom to the repair list, prop it up with a halyard, then head over to Romano to enjoy some beers to wipe the annoying passage from our memory. We made it safely, but we definitely burned up some Black-Box Credit.
As we get settled in, we learn that Cyclone Donna (“cyclone” is just the South Pacific’s name for a “hurricane”) has formed over Vanuatu - about 400 miles West of us. In addition, a “low” has settled over Tonga, 250 miles to our East. Sometimes a low is just an area of crappy wind, waves and rain, but sometimes a low can develop to be its more sinister cousin, a cyclone. So, as we sit in Savusavu, several days into what should be Cyclone Safe May, we find ourselves sandwiched between a fully formed cyclone and a cyclone baby. We decide to camp out in Savusavu until these storms run their course.
The reason we originally headed to Savusavu was to do some scuba diving. Some of the world’s best diving is here in Fiji, and four or five of those dives are located within dive boat distance of Savusavu. So, we hunt down Colin and Janine of Korosun Dive and make a plan for three days of diving. Day 1: no go. The wind is not letting up and the waves out in the ocean would make diving unpleasant. Day 2: we give it a shot. We are all tossed about in the wind and waves until our new vacationing, dirt-dweller friends get seasick. I guess there is an upside to our upwind passage a few days ago, we already have our sea legs. We get two dives in, but we don’t see the hammerhead sharks we were looking for. The next day was forecasted to be dead calm, so we looked forward to diving 25 miles off shore in the Namena Reef. But, the next morning brought even stronger wind, and our dive is cancelled.
That’s ok. We are having fun in Savusavu, anyway. Our friends at Waitui Marina are some of the best marina/mooring friends we have met on this journey. This Marina is always filled with the best kinds of riffraff, sailors, and characters. Those who work there are always smiling, always offering some bit of help, including Layla and Caleb - two small but feisty little ones who know all the sailors by name and by boat, and will steal your heart. We attended TWO amazing buffet dinners, enjoyed a most epic night of Karaoke.
(Best bar tender ever!)
One day, we took a van up and over the hills to the biggest city on Vanua Levu, Labasa. We watch sugar cane hills, palm trees, pine trees, and little villages fly by.
We find Labasa bustling with busses, people, shops, and fish markets. As usual, everyone is friendly, calling out "Bulla Bulla" from across the street.
We visit the handicraft market and meet women who are weaving the most colorful and beautiful mats. Andrew is taken by the handiwork on a handbag and decides he must think of a lucky lady for whom to buy this handbag. I am the lucky recipient.
We visit the strange and beautiful Naagmandir Temple. As the taxi drops us off at the front door, we hear melodic chanting inside.
We are greeted by a Hindi man, visiting to say his own prayers. He invites us to remove our shoes and step inside. There, we find small room with a large rock at its center. The rock is decorated with flowers and beads. Fruit, flowers, and coins are laid at its feet. Small statues of Hindi gods line a platform below the rock. A couple engaged in ceremony move through various offerings and prayers while the religious leader sits off to the side singing the chant.
The leader finishes his chant, sees my camera hanging around my shoulder and invites me to take photographs if I would like. The couple smiles at me and nod. He begins a second chant, and the sound of milk being offered into a fountain flowing with water offers its echo. I feel odd taking photographs of this couple’s personal worship, but also happy for the opportunity.
The rock is a mystical legend that draws Hindi pilgrims from all over the world. It is said that the rock grows taller every year. Many efforts have focused on preventing vandals and other nefarious characters from harming the rock. The temple was built around the rock to secure and preserve it, and also to provide a space for worshipers. However, it wasn't long until the religious leaders had to remove the roof to the temple and rebuild it higher, twice! With all of that trouble, they decided to make a request that the rock grow just a little slower, or maybe sideways for a while, so that their investment in the most recent roof would not overwhelm their resources. What do you know? The rock agreed. It has since slowed its growth and aims just a little sideways.
Once the couple completes their homage to the rock, the leader stops chanting. The couple exits through a small door in the back of the room. The leader offers us a banana and a ball of smashed grain with sweet spices (sugar, cinnamon and cloves). I am a little uncertain. Am I supposed to eat this banana or give it to the rock? The leader confirms it is a gift to us from one of the Gods. We can’t very well turn down a gift from the Gods, so I peel the banana and partake of the smooshed grain. Thank you, Elephant-God-With-Many-Arms.
Next, we are invited to follow the couple that exited through the back door. The leader takes us to the door, points up at the stairs and explains. “You must take each stair one at a time. Step both feet onto the stair and repeat: “Oshmanwhoallah” 108 times as you go. (Or at least that is my best guess as to what he instructed us to say.) When you reach the top, you can make a wish then carry on downward with the same strategy.
We take our steps, then I make my usual wish. The same one I made on the Tiki back in the Marquesas, and the same one I make on every shooting star. I believe consistency in wish making is key.
By the time we returned to Savusavu, we learned that the “low” hovering over Tonga had grown stronger, and formed to Cyclone Ella. What is worse, Miss Ella has her sights set on Fiji. We cross reference four different weather predicting tools. The first two do not indicate any cyclone exists at all. The third indicates Ella will pass just to the East of us, bringing us some rain and a rather windy day, and the fourth indicates Ella is going to slam right into Savusavu. If the fourth is correct, we can expect 100 MPH winds, storm surges in the water, and lots of rain. Great.
There is nothing else to do but to get ready. All those sailing gadgets and gizmos we reinstalled in Tonga all have to come down. We move to a Cyclone-safe mooring, tucked in the back of a bay within a bay and get to work. According to the weather, we have approximately 24 hours before Ella arrives.