Better and better

by Christine Kling

Every day I think to myself, nothing can top this. But the next day does. Fiji truly is a land of exceptional beauty.

This evening we are anchored out far from it all and off the grid again. I will have to post this blog with our Iridium-Go satellite communicator again, so sadly, I cannot include any photos. We are anchored in Mbavatu Harbor off the northeast coast of Vanua Balavu in the Lau group of islands. There is one other boat anchored in another arm of this big bay, but we cannot see him. We can only see the impressive sheer cliff of gray, black and reddish rock on our starboard side and the thick green jungle-clad hillside on our starboard. The deep water (anchored in about 75 feet) is an amazing sea green. The rocks around us are under-cut and the sound of the wavelets lapping at the underside of the rock is startlingly loud. Off in the jungle some sort of animal (a bird I think) is making a noise like a cross between a bark and a hoot.

We left Vurevure Bay in the Tasman Strait’s corner of Taveuni Tuesday night at midnight and we crossed the 60 miles to the Lau group overnight. The weather window called for NE winds, but in fact they were so light we motored almost all the way and at one point we saw 5 boats other than ourselves on the AIS. Everyone else decided to come across at the same time. We made it through the pass and proceeded down to the village of Dalconi where we had to take a bundle of kava to the chief in an Traditional ceremony called sevusevu. I wrote before that most of the land in Fiji belongs to the village clans. Each village oversees a certain area — that is called its vanua. You must go to the head man and ask for permission to visit any of the bays or lands that come under his authority. To not ask permission would be comparable to having some strangers pitch their tent in your backyard without permission. As Fiji transitions into more of a western nation, these traditions can seem silly to some, but I hope that people here will continue to observe them. There were at least 6 boats that had to do this when we arrived, and we were glad to be the first ashore. Already the chief, who did not speak English, seemed pretty bored as he said the words of the traditional thank you and welcome. I guess this island will see about 200 boats or more this season. But, that doesn’t change that we are in his backyard. The woman who was translating for us also told us that they were requesting a donation for the village. We had heard about this before — they had started several years ago asking for a $30 Fijian per person anchoring fee, and many yachts had grumbled loudly. They now make it voluntary which is much better all around, however, I think that these out of the way islands that mostly live off the land and the sea have every right to ask yachties to contribute to the village. If that money pays for better schools, sports equipment, medicine for the clinic, fishing equipment, etc. I am happy to pay that modest amount.

We spent our first several days at the Bay of Islands. It is another beautiful spot. Hopefully, when we next get Internet I can share some photos of all the cut-away limestone islands. Our first evening there we saw these large fruit bats go airborne right at dusk. The next day we had a great time in the inflatable kayak exploring through all the little islands and bays and we found a tree full of fruit bats hanging upside down. We had the dogs with us and they heard the noise of the bats flapping their wings, but they didn’t know to look up. That’s probably a good thing since they would have gone nuts if they’d seen them.

One of the challenging things about navigating here is that the Navionics charts we have on the Raymarine chart plotter and in the apps on the iPads have this island set about half a mile out of its charted position. Today we moved around to this bay using a combination of Google Earth and the captured Bing charts on the Navionics app that managed to update one of the iPads. Mostly, the best navigational tool is the old eyeballs, but with chop and cloud cover even that can fail.

The temperature here continues to amaze us. To us, it’s cold! We’re sleeping under a blanket and when showering on deck or jumping into the water there is lots of shreiking (on my part). Overnight lows have dipped below 70 and that’s just not what we expect in Fiji. Even the locals are commenting on how cold it is this year.

Tomorrow we plan to hike up to the top of the hill across the bay where there are supposed to be impressive views of all the lagoon surrounding this island and down into the Bay of Islands. It’s difficult to believe that anything could be as beautiful as what we’ve seen so far, but every day it just keeps on getting better.

Fair winds!
Christine

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2015-06-24 16.54.10

EXHIBIT A. It’s rock solid. The worst work is over. It’ll float, run, and it won’t leak, but there’s still more to go.

C.E. Grundler

Some things seem to take waaaay longer than they should. Boat work, for one. (See Exhibit A., pictured above. ‘Nuf said.) And editing, especially with a work in progress that’s been derailed and restarted several times over now. (The book, not the…okay, the book AND the boat.) But when you’ve reached a point like this, where 90 percent of the worst is over, suddenly the momentum starts to build, and every day brings you closer to something solid and complete. And in both cases, things actually start to get fun as everything comes together.

Today’s agenda includes yet more work on the boat, and hours of keyboard time, hunting down the Backtracks. (Writing first, then boat. Always writing first.) Backtracks are what I call those bits of inspiration that weren’t in the original outline, weren’t even in the first draft and how could I not have seen it in the first place, if a certain character said “X” back in the third chapter, then that sends ripples to the second act, which shifts something else and…you get the idea. In the past, the moment one of those derailing little bits of sidetrack hit, I’d be finding the right spot to make the right adjustments, chapters back from where I’d been, and that’s a good way to spend time writing without really moving forward. The rule became: KEEP MOVING FORWARD, and ONLY FORWARD. Whatever page I’m on is where I stay. Period. No exceptions. I simply type <<BACKTRACK – Whatever idea, boiled down to abbreviated notes,>> and then continue on right where I was. Sort of like those bits of blue masking tape stuck at random points on the boat, flagging something I noticed while working on something else. I buy blue tape in economy packs, and you can usually tell where I’m working by the amount of blue tape visible — for example, the salon windows. Just stick the tape or type <<BACKTRACK>> as applies and keep moving. It’s a great way of keeping focused and actually making headway in many aspects of life.

As for headway, on Tuesday, my daughter, her boyfriend, and my car all exited New Jersey on their national highway Great Loop. Here’s a snapshot of the general route, give or take. Screenshot 2015-06-25 09.07.35

With the boyfriend’s sedan, it would have been half the trip in less space. My diesel Jetta easily gets double the range on the same fuel, and could hold a summer’s worth of clothes, cookware, tents, second hand donated camping gear, and so on, which meant double the trip on the same shoestring budget.

An hour after they pulled out, I officially wrapped up the second draft of Evacuation Route. Now, it’s just a matter of rounding up all those bits of tape little markers and making the appropriate changes.  And before the kids drove off, they said they expected two things when they returned: a finished book to read, and a floating boat to read it on. Which means it’s back to work for me.

And my car? Currently, it’s at marker #2 and the center of a campsite somewhere in the woods of the Huron-Manistee National Forests, in north Michigan.

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Beach Candy

Nauset-Beach1

by John M. Urban

Summer is here. It must be time for some beach candy. No, not bathing suit-clad eye candy along the shore. Beach candy. As in, salt water taffy and fudge.

Although this may be more of a Northeast phenomenon, I recall scores of shoreline stores selling boxes of salt water taffy and corner shops doling out freshly cut fudge, and this practice continues. From Hyannis to Edgartown, from Rockport to Glouchester, Portsmouth to Kittery, Newport to Narragansett, Sag Harbor to Montauk, Point Pleasant to Margate, and on.

Me making fudge
(Fudge making in Rockport, MA – quite obviously a precise undertaking)

I have spent time on Chesapeake Bay, southern waters, too, and I believe this food extends to those areas, as well, although I will look for confirmation from readers who possess better local knowledge. I do, however, speak with some authority on the prevalence of beach candy in the Northeast United States.

As for myself, I have had no desire for these sugary foods during the summer months. Salt water taffy? Absolutely, but not really in hot weather. Fudge? Oh, yeah, but better left for those months when winter clothes conceal extra pounds.

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(You know you’re on to a good business when you can amortize your marketing and print budget over a fifty-plus year period)

Yet, someone is buying this stuff. This must be. The proof lies in the fact that these shoreline dispensaries have been in business for years, for decades, for generations. Unless undercover news reporters are able to reveal that these local fudge shops are cleverly disguised fronts for money laundering, I must assume that they are going concerns kept alive by continuing sales.

Could it be the addictive nature or the soft texture of comfort food? Maybe. Could it be the reasonable price point of these modest treats? Probably. Or is it the continuation of a summer tradition. Yes, that, too.

I cannot imagine the viability of opening a new fudge shop in any of the towns I listed above, nor can I imagine that there is fragility to the existing shops. Yet, when times change, it frequently occurs rapidly. The emergence and then absence of flip phones – occurred in a snap of time. The ubiquity and quick fade of AOL – looking back that was almost overnight. Will taffy and fudge shops eventually run their course? I guess. It seems, then, that I better get some soon, if only for the novelty.

Maybe. Then again, the lines are always long in those shops. I think I’ll just put on some shades and sunscreen, grab my powered-up Kindle, and head to the beach.

LC

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Gone with the wind

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by Christine Kling

We woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of the wind generator complaining. When the winds get up above 30-35 knots, the generator essentially takes itself offline and starts freewheeling. The speed of the turning blades goes way up and what we hear in the aft cabin sounds like you’re inside the belly of a whale with indigestion. BOOAAARRRRR!!! The boat was sailing on the anchor and it was clear the wind was gusting into the 40’s. Now, two days later, though the winds are not quite as high as they were that first day when I wouldn’t let Barney go pee on the foredeck because I was afraid he would get blown away, it’s still honking out there.

One reason why we are not more protected from the wind is because we are anchored off the extreme northern end of the island of Taveuni in an anchorage known as Matei. Actually, we are well protected from the swell out here because we are surrounded by reef, but we are quite open to the very strong ESE wind. In these two side by side pics you can see where the chart says we are (on a reef) and where Google Earth says we are. We are getting some protection from the two tiny islands (rocks, really), but not much.

MateiChart

satpic

 

Lest those of you reading this blog think that we are out here in Fiji spending all our time basking in sunshine while sipping umbrella drinks on the after deck, we are sometimes faced with extremely strong winds and gray skies. We go for days without getting off the boat and we keep the hatches closed due to the frequent rain showers and what feels to us like a cold wind. To be honest, it’s not that much fun. For us.

But not everyone feels the way we do. We are here with our friend Philip aboard the S/V Blue Bie, and he loves this wind because he is a kite surfer. Here at Matei, he is not alone. There are folks who come here on holiday just to go kite surfing. They stay at resorts on the island and every morning they are driven to this one sand bar off Naselesele where they can easily launch their kites. Some of them are beginners and there are teachers giving lessons on the beach, while others are already expert.

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Sometimes, looking from the boat off in that direction, we have counted more than ten kite surfers out in the 35+ knot winds and rain and what looks to us like miserable weather — but they seem to be loving every minute of it. The way the colorful kites swoop and dance is like a ballet of sorts, and if only I had a camera with a wide enough angle to capture it all on video, it would make an amazing film. I used to love windsurfing, and part of me is dying to try kite surfing, but the high winds that are necessary for the sport will probably prevent me from trying. For some reason, winds this strong make me feel more concern than elation.

Right now the forecast is for the winds to lessen and to switch around briefly to the NE on Monday night. If it still looks good for that when Monday night arrives, we will take off on the overnight passage to the island of Vanuabalavu in the Norther Lau group. It’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for forty years, and there we should be anchored on the leeward side of the island, so we won’t care how hard the wind blows.

Fair winds!

Christine

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Road trip = a clean bottom!

2015-06-18 15.33.41C.E. Grundler

Over the last few weeks there’s been plenty of prepping, packing, and building excitement. I’ve been going over every inch of my car, from fresh headlights and new tires, and every bit of maintenance it’ll need for the next two months and 10,000 miles or so, as the Jetta plays connect the dots between assorted national parks across the country. No, I won’t be going along — my daughter and I are trading cars for the summer. And while she and her boyfriend will travel in a car larger than either of theirs, but one that gets double the mileage and stretched their travel kitty to add more time and miles than the original plan. And me? I got this…

2015-06-16 14.39.33 That’s scaffolding in the foreground, lining up with the waterline, not a bunch of equally spaced holes. And that’s Alex underneath, working his way towards the transom.

 

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R.I.P Miss Belle (01/13/2004-06/14/2015)

By Mike Jastrzebski

Our dog Belle died this morning. She has been our sailing companion and friend since she was 8 weeks old and Mary and I will miss her dearly.

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Home sweet home in Fiji

The infinity pool and view from Eduardo and Helena's housesitting spot

The infinity pool and view from Eduardo and Helena’s housesitting spot

by Christine Kling

In between rounds of editing on my new book, we had a serendipitous meet-up with friends of friends. When Wayne’s former colleague read that we were in Savusavu, he sent an email saying that in an amazing coincidence, he had friends who were housesitting in Savusavu, and he made the email introduction.

the gangIt turned out that Eduardo and Helena were like our land-based counterparts in that they love traveling and now that their kids are grown, they are on the road full-time. One of the things that they enjoy doing is housesitting. It turns out that there are several websites like Trustedhousesitters.com that are essentially match makers for this. The owner might need someone to pet sit, take care of the garden or show the home to realtors, and the housesits get to live in the home and care for it.

hammock

Our new friends were housesitting in a place that is for sale here in Fiji, and after we invited them out to the boat one afternoon, they drove us up to see the place. Eduardo cooked us a fantastic curry dinner. We had a wonderful time making new friends and getting to go inside this beautiful home.

EHhouse

One of my biggest surprises here in Fiji s the number of homes owned and being built by foreigners from New Zealand, Australia and North America. I was similarly surprised when I returned to the Bahamas after an almost 20-year absence. I’m very happy I was privileged to visit these Fijian islands back in the 1970’s before there were so many resorts and ex-pat vacation homes. The islands and people here are much more affluent than back in the 1970’s. Sometimes when I see young Fijians chatting on their cell phones and wearing western clothing, I think it’s sad to see people losing their traditional village way of life, but I certainly understand the lure of modern amenities. I’m not about to give up my gadgets and why should others be denied the same luxuries? The influx of tourists and new home owners has changed the islands, but it has also raised the standard of living of many Fijians.

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It turns out that there are three types of land here in Fiji: native trust land, crown land, and freehold. Crown land is owned by the government, and native trust land is owned by individual Fijian clans. Foreigners can build homes on native trust land by leasing it on a 99-year lease as many are familiar with in places like Mexico. However approximately 9% of the land in Fiji is freehold land, and foreigners can buy and own these properties free and clear.

The island of Vanua Levu where we are currently anchored, along with Taveuni and a few smaller islands have the majority of this freehold land because back when Fiji was a British government, the British designated it such and tried to get European farmers to come out and start plantations. We saw lots of homes when we drove out to the house with Eduardo and Helena, and there are also lots of fancy vacation homes on the hillside where we are anchored here just off the Jean Michel Cousteau Resort.

According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, vacation homes in Fiji are significantly less expensive than those in Tahiti or Hawaii. I think that must be the case because while we have been here in the Savusavu area, we have learned of three cruisers who have either just bought homes or are in the process of building homes.

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It appears from the For Sale ($295,000 US) sign on this property, that unlike the prices mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, not all the homes are over a million bucks.  In fact, it is our understanding that the house we visited for dinner is for sale for around half that.

While Savusavu is a small town, it is well supplied with a fantastic open market selling loads of fruits and veggies, and it has first world amenities such as Brie, a wine store and reasonably fast Internet. What more could you ask for? However, the major thing that makes people fall in love with Fiji is the people. Everyone here is so friendly and cheerful! I can understand why cruisers who are contemplating swallowing the anchor would choose homes here. I look at some of the homes, and I think how lovely it would be to live there, but when I get back to the boat, I realize there is no way I would trade our cruising life for a piece of land – no matter how awesome it is.

Fair winds!

Christine

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The pictures aren’t pretty…

C.E. Grundler

In fact, we don’t have a whole lot of pretty to show for all the work proceeding on the boat. Much of the work we’ve done is structural, and no one’ll ever see it. Even the engine, gleaming silently, is tucked deep inside where few ever see. There’s plenty of brightwork awaiting me, and other shiny bits to attend to, but I’ve never believed in hanging curtains until I know the roof won’t leak, so to speak. I looked over the pictures I took this morning, all for work reference, and none are all that interesting, post wise. But we’re actually rounding the bend, and in the coming weeks more will be going together than coming apart — definitely a step in the right direct there!

 

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Lighthouse

Gay Head Light

They moved Gay Head Light. This point of land, also known by the Wampanoag Indian name Aquinnah, shows a flashing sequence of red and white that carries twenty-four nautical miles out to sea. But the cliffs of Martha’s Vineyard continue to erode, threatening the lighthouse, so it was recently moved back.

Moved light

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(A 129 foot journey from the spot it occupied since 1844.)

In my early twenties I visited the light by bicycle on many occasions. Back then, I was paying a portion of a summer season rental, $275 I believe, which entitled me to every weekend from May to October, plus two summer vacation weeks. Today, that same amount might buy you a couple of round-trip car ferry rides or maybe a men’s bathing suit in one of the island’s tonier shops.

I don’t get to the island much these days, but I keep an eye on it. From our house in Rhode Island we see the Vineyard in the far distance, the light above Aquinnah flashing bright, even more so at night when it stands out among a constellation of navigational beacons that includes the Buzzards Bay entrance tower, lights off Cuttyhunk, and markers that guide boaters into Westport, Massachusetts. Modern navigation now relies on GPS, radar, chart plotting and Sat Nav, but lighthouses remain the darlings of the shoreline.

This weekend we went to a wedding celebration in Kennebunkport, Maine. This trip north to waters defined by rocks and tall stands of shoreline conifers reminded me of another lighthouse, one visited in my youth. I recall being six or seven years old, sitting in my great-aunt’s two-station varnished rowboat while my father worked a pair of long cupped oars to carry us from Juniper Point to a nearby lighthouse off Boothbay Harbor. At the completion of each stroke the oars left small whirlpools of circling water, and with each backstroke a constant stream of water fell from the lower tip of the oar, the blades staying just above the water’s surface each and every time.

We tied up at the island dock, greeted the light keeper, and climbed the circular lighthouse stairs where I heard about the prisms of a fresnel light. I returned home with a large bulb, a prized souvenir that became a show-and-tell item when I began the next year of school.

I don’t think I ever connected that trip with my frequent need to now watch the light shine above the Vineyard. I have, however, often thought of my father’s graceful and accomplished rowing. Perhaps I’ve spent too much of my life trying to imitate the creation of those perfect pools of water and that smooth cadence of the oars, maybe too much focus on form. Then again, maybe not enough.

I am grateful for that rowboat ride. Thankful, too, for those $275 summers. Forever grateful, as well, for our spot along the Rhode Island coast. And for those lighthouses that adorn our charts, our imaginations, and our lives.

Gay_Head_Light_during_Winter_Solstice_2007

by John M. Urban

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The Uncensored Zone…

C.E. Grundler

By that title, it sounds as though this post might be headed into X-rated territory, but not to fear. (Or sorry to disappoint, but this is a family-friendly blog.) The ‘uncensored’ I speak of is that wonderful type of writing where ideas flow freely while that little whisper of doubt is napping off in the corner. It’s that golden zone where you write onward, damn the typos and full speed ahead. Next thing you know it’s a thousand words later, characters are saying and doing things that sure as hell weren’t in the outline, and suddenly a simple transition scene is crackling with tension. It’s my favorite kind of writing, the kind that comes best when distractions are low and the analytical side of the brain hasn’t arrived at the party yet.

These days, I’m making up for a lot of lost time, and I’ve returned to my routine of free-flow writing at dawn. It’s the first thing I do, before I check any email or to-do lists, and I don’t stop until the momentum runs out. That or the dogs really want breakfast. It’s that time where I just go with it and don’t stop to think. Not now; that would pause the brain, the fingers, and the possibilities. And I’ve found another trick that seems to add momentum — notes I’d left myself at the end of my last writing session await me as I turn on the computer. It’s like setting up the coffee pot before I go to sleep, or properly prepping wood before launching at it with Epiphanes and my best badger brush. I’ve already done the heavy thinking the night before. Now I can just rip into the task at hand. As the morning progresses and the caffeine works it’s way into my sluggish bloodstream, then I’ll go back and tidy up my words.

And feed the dogs. They’re all giving me that look.

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