Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Meghan On Amelie-May 2016

Bula!  Greetings from Fiji!  We have been enjoying the sunshine and warm waters again in this past month as we cruised back up north here to the South Pacific Islands.  On our way up from New Zealand, we stopped at a really cool spot called Minverva Reef and rested for a few days there and then headed on more north here to Fiji where we have been helping out the villages that got hit by Cyclone Winston in February (you can read my research report on the cyclone in my recent post "Meghan's Personal Website and Natural Disaster Research Report").

Minerva Reef
The sail from Opua (New Zealand) to Minerva Reef took 7 days so it was the second longest crossing we have ever done.  The first two days were windy but very rough and uncomfortable.  The rest of the trip, it was more comfortable but we had a lot less wind.  I guess beggars can't be choosers right?  In those days, we got to try out our new mizzen stay sail (sail designed for light winds) and it works excellently!  We were able to hold 6.0 knots (miles per hour) in 8.0 knots of wind!  That is still slower than a bicycle but we were able to go almost as fast as the wind (going as fast as the wind is impossible for a boat like ours)!

Just like Beveridge Reef which we visited in August (near Niue), Minerva is simply a horseshoe shaped reef in the middle of nowhere so you are in no sight of land and anchored in 30 ft of water inside the "horseshoe" where the reef protects you mostly from the swell outside!  We had a very blissful four days there enjoying our promenades on the reef at low tide (as we had not stood on solid ground for 6 days!), snorkelling the reef at high tide, swimming in the warm, crystal clear waters, and getting together for appetizers on other boats while watching the sun go down behind the reef!

EUREKA! Warm waters!

Snorkelling and paddleboarding near the reef
Waves go out…. and then come back in

One day, one boat in the anchorage even organized a baseball game to be held on the reef at low tide!  Now, I have one more thing to add to my list of "Weird/Awesome Things I've Done": played in the first ever baseball game to be held on Minerva Reef!When the ball landed in a crevasse and we had to wait for the next wave to come in and lift it back up again, I just could not help but laugh because I don't think anyone has ever seen that happen in a baseball game before!

Sailing with A Greater Purpose
As I mentioned in my last blog, we joined an organization called Sea Mercy so we could come to Fiji as relief workers after the terrible cyclone that hit a few months ago.  Sea Mercy is simply just a group of volunteering cruisers like us who are sailing to disaster-struck areas and don't mind helping out villages where we can and "sailing with a greater purpose" as Sea Mercy's motto says.

We and seven other boats in the Sea Mercy organization headed directly to the Lau Group which are Fiji's most remote islands that are located in the eastern part of Fiji.  We have been all going off to different islands to do needs assessments in all the villages.  In other words, we visit lots of towns, explain to them what Sea Mercy is, ask them what was damaged and what they need, report back to the Sea Mercy organizer, and then talk as a group and decide what should be done.  We have been given some supplies by Sea Mercy to distribute out like clothes, water purification tablets, food, machetes, and school supplies but if they require bigger things like water tanks, longboats, outboard engines or large building materials we can only report this back to Sea Mercy who will then pass the information on to Fiji's main town, Suva, who can send what is needed out on the next barge or plane that comes to the Lau Group.  Sea Mercy has also provided us with lots of tools and chainsaws so we can help repair damaged things or cut trees down trees that are dead and in the way of a road or path.

The aid that Amelie was given: clothes, bedding, shoes, and school supplies

Blow up solar powered lights to distribute around the islands
 The first town we stopped at was Loma Loma on the main island of the Lau Group: Vanua Balavu.  We stopped at Vanua Balavu last year but it was on the other side at a village called Daleconi.  Vanua Balavu was one of the hardest hit islands during the cyclone.  It shows because when you look up on the hills, almost all the trees are either gone or they are just sticks standing with no palms or leaves on top!  Loma Loma suffered five deaths but are actually doing okay now.  I could tell that pretty much every building had lost its roof but clearly, they have had lots of help in the last few months because most roofs have been replaced and the houses that don't still have a big tent beside the home or foundation of the home (if the home is no longer there) as a temporary shelter before they can re-build.  The town is also doing better because of the optimistic villagers who are able to live with the situation at hand and try to repair damage that is done.

The next island we went to was called Nayau.  There was a reef surrounding the island meaning we could not get in with Amelie so my mom and Matthew stayed on the boat and drove it around (because it was too deep to anchor outside) and my dad and I, as well as a couple of the people from the boat Dreamcatcher (who was our buddy boat for that day), were picked up by some of the villagers in their longboat and they took us into town.

Nayau as we passed it at sunset

When we got to the village of Salia, we were welcomed into the Turaga Ni Koro's hut, that is the village headman, where we offered him a kava root, which is what we are supposed to give him as a gift for letting us stay in his waters and walk around his village.  We actually met the chief instead because the headman was out fishing.  When we gave him a solar powered blow up light, which we were given loads of by Sea Mercy to distribute out, he was so overjoyed and was awed by it as if it were a technology brought back from the future!

In the Turaga Ni Koro's hut (Chief is the man in the blue undershirt at the back)

Nayau hadn't suffered too badly from the cyclone as far as the land and houses go but they did have a water shortage (only about 25% of their water tanks had water in them) because the underground water had turned brackish (salty), it hadn't really rained since the cyclone (they collect rain water), and a few of their tanks were actually cracked.

Top: Dad and Norm investigating a crack in the school's  cement water tank
Bottom: Only one out of these four school water tanks has any water in it!

The school mistress (kind of like the principal or head of the school) told us that she was pretty sure we were the first boats to stop here and come on land in a year!  We explained to her that it was probably because no boats as big as us could actually anchor there and so that makes it very difficult to stop.  It does make me want to help this island even more now that I know they almost never get help and so we have reported their shortage of water to Sea Mercy so hopefully they will be able to bring water to Nayau somehow in the near future.

After Nayau, we sailed off to another island called Cicia (pronounced thi-thia) where we joined up with SV The Southern Cross and our old buddies SV Perry.  Once again, Cicia had not suffered very hard from Cyclone Winston but still needed help at the school anyways so we stuck around for a few days to help.  The school desks seemed to all be around 60 years old so a lot of the hinges were broken and some even had nails sticking out the top so my Dad and Matt off of SV Perry decided they should help out with that.

Offloading aid in Cicia

The school had a beautiful location on top of the hill and also had some nice hibiscus trees growing in the yard.  The day where the men repaired the desks, the school had a short cricket match which was interesting to watch and also gave me a chance to talk with some of the school children, which I always love doing!  

Cicia's school master and his children
At one point, I asked them to all get in a circle so I could take a picture of them.  They all gave me their lovely smiles and I will never forget when they all crowded around me afterwards to see the picture, ooing and awing at the sight of the image on the digital screen.

Now that we have good Internet, we are all able to post all our blogs we have written in the past two months so if you are in the mood for doing a blog reading marathon, now is your chance!

But first, here is a quick guide to how Fijians pronounce some of their letters and what some Fijian words mean so that you know a bit more about the Fijian language and know how to pronounce the names in case you come here one day:
-"bula" is the best known Fijian word and means "hello" ("bula vinaka" is a more polite way of saying "hello")
-"vinaka" means "thank you"
-"moce" means "goodbye"
-"c" is pronounced "th" (eg. moce is pronounced "mo-thay")
-when a vowel comes before a consonant, there is an invisible "n" or "m" afterwards (eg. Nadi is pronounced "nandi" and Lakeba is pronounced "lakemba")
-"levu" means "big"
-"vanua" means "tall"

I hope that helped you all and now, stay tuned for my next blog all about more adventures with Sea Mercy in the Lau Group.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Minerva Reef- Amazing how quickly one forgets…..

It's amazing how quickly one can forget...

On the first two days of our first big crossing in over 6 months  I was feeling seasick and miserable...we had left Opua and were headed towards Fiji via Minerva Reef. As I lay in my bunk, green and queazy, I feebly called over to Mark...took his hand and said :  "I’m sorry….but I'm just not cut out for this....I thought I was but I’m not….it's not getting easier, if anything I feel like my seasickness is getting worse as the years pass by....” I don’t mean to sound melodramatic but thats pretty much how it went... I was unable to make proper dinners for the rest of the crew and my “meal preparation” consisted of a grunt and my pointing to the cans of soup I had managed to pull out before collapsing back into my pillow. Yup !  That pretty much sums up what  the first two days back at sea were like for me !

4 Sunrises
On my night watches, wretched and unable to do much except stare at my “seasickness container” , I kept my sanity by dreaming of moving back to a blissfully (perfectly) immobile home on land but then....on day three, I woke up like from a dream...feeling pretty good and with lots more energy and by the time we’d  arrived  at Minerva Reef, on Day 8, those first few days were a distant memory and I was back to my old self, happy enjoying the warm sunshine, seabreeze and bewitching night skies...

Other than this, the crossing was mostly uneventful... Uneventful except for the fact that our autopilot - the new one we had bought and installed in St Martin in 2014- gave up on us after less than 24 hours! This could have been quite a serious situation, especially with my feeling so sick the first few days.....except that this was our backup autopilot....we has our reliable old one we could switch back to...and so we did..extremely grateful for our captain’s impeccable planning on that one !

Always carry a spare !

Another treat was that the 10-15 knot winds we were experiencing were just right for us to try the “new” Mizzen Stay sail. This sail is not exactly new. It was original and so had come with the boat, but since we had, up until a few months ago, two wind generators on the mizzen mast, we had not been able to use this sail (It ties down between the mizzen Sail (back mast) and the main sail (forward mast). Mark was eager to give it a try to see if  the sacrifice we made by letting the two wind generators go had been worth it......  Well ! What a Spectacular rig !  How wonderful to be able to go 5-6 knots in 8 knots of wind !

The Mizzen Stay Sail is now our new favourite sail !  

Dazzling Minerva Reef

Imagine that you are sailing in the middle of the ocean....reaching 5000 feet deep below your hull....there is no land in sight, hasn’t been for days....and then you see breakers on the surface of the shimmering blue water. There is an opening in between these breakers, and you have the waypoints (coordinates) to make your way into a protected lagoon, surrounded by reef which  nearly doesn’t even skim the surface except at the lowest of the tides.

We motor on in and to the other side of the lagoon where a growing number of sailboats on similar journeys (either to Fiji or Tonga) await.

We spent 4 perfect days at Minerva Reef....a place like no other we’ve been

Wearing our reef shoes...we had a chance to take a walk on the reef at low tide and we were simply giddy . The warm air, beautiful turquoise waters makes us feel like we are walking on an artist’s palette....colourful giant clams and hermit crabs and the feeling of being so far away from it all came rushing back to us, instantly...this love affair we all have with this life style!  Makes us want to stay forever!  

Gone are the everyday anxieties, the fast pace, the “hurry up and get ready” attitude...and time just stands still.....we get up in the morning at our leisure, do some school, in the afternoon we go for a snorkel and wave hello to  a shark or two, we come back, have a snack, Meg does some crafts, Mark has a nap, Matthew sits out in the hammock enjoying the million dollar view and the sound of the crashing reef not far the evening we hang up lanterns in the cockpit, and have a movie night under s starry sky and the watch of the full moon....everything is all very good in our world and we feel extremely lucky to be here. 

These colours are for REAL !

A nudibranch !

A Historic Baseball Game...

When a call came over the radio asking for volunteers to participate in "Minerva Reefs' First Ever Baseball Game" we were keen to participate! We waited for low tide and then scurried across the reef to find a bit of dry land with the rest of the players....everyone had a chance to swing the bat a few times  and the players in outfield could only hope for the ball to come directly at them because there was no chance of anyone running or diving for the ball without the potential of getting seriously was a sunny afternoon, lots of fun...even with the absence of hotdogs and cotton candy 

Once all the boats of the Sea Mercy fleet arrive here (including our buddies from SV Perry) , we will need to head out again and start our short journey to Fiji (about 5 days away). No doubt I will have moments when I feel sick again, but this time I will remember that “this too shall pass”, and great rewards come afterwards!

A Giant Clam 

Colourful Crab !

Minerva Reef with Amelie in the background