Fiji to Vanuatu

After James left, we got down to work - Vuda Point Marina is a good place to
get things done. Intrepid had broken her baby stay - the short
wire at the front of the mast which helps to hold the mast up - and Bruce
the rigger - confusingly, an American from Hawaii - made a replacement for a
good price of F$100, ($50). Willie's team of Fijians stripped all the old
varnish from Intrepid's exterior. The tropical sun added to wave action does awful
things to even the best varnish, and Intrepid will in future only have the
briefest varnished bikini of grab rails, seats and wave breaker - all else
will be bare unvarnished teak. Willlie trained in NZ and did a great job at
a good price.

You may not be able to buy everything western in Fiji, but you can get
things maintained and repaired - for example my high tec flexi-titanium glasses broke - in UK I
would have bought another pair for 180 pounds - in Latauka I found a jeweller/optician combination
that soldered it for F$25 ($12 or 8 pounds).

Part of this is because Fiji's economy is not in great shape -
Fiji must be one of the few countries to volunteer its troops for UN peace
keeping roles and to go to Iraq. Reason? The UN pays the troops instead of
Fiji. The sugar cane industry is in a bad way - the 4 cane crushing mills
are on their last rollers, the leases to Fijian Indian farmers are expiring,
so the land is reverting to Fijians, who dont farm; the current farmers burn
their cane which makes it easier to cut at harvest, but deteriorates faster,
and settles black smuts over the tourist beaches; and demand from the EU is
down, so there is talk of turning the sugar to ethanol for cars.  Only about
1 in 8 young adults is in paid employment, even with typical wages of
F$2/hour ($1). Fiji's garment makers are going out of business fast, unable
even at those hourly rates to compete with China and India. Car dealers are
also closing, as most cars bought in Fiji are 2nd hand from Japan.

The Government are proposing changes to the constitution which is a
sensitive matter given that it is really only the constitution that protects
the rights of each ethnic group. The general election has to be held before
September 2006, but already there are election debates on radio. For all
Fiji's faults, at least no-one has been killed in the coups, and the parties
are engaging in debate rather than war or terrorism.

And there are housing developments and Beach Hotels surrounding a golf
course and marina, which already buzzes with Japanese and Australians, and
there is a proposed industrial park round Nadi Airport. We took Intrepid to
see the Marina (Denerau) and met friends Mark and Dan in Bachus - a
motorcruiser - one of the few to cross the Pacific for fun. And we went up
to Abaca Village where a joint Japan/NZ eco tourism project is generating
enough money for the young adults to remain in the village and not drift
into town. Lazarus (18) went with us up steep Mt Koroyanitu where we had
panoramic views over all Fiji, (when the clouds parted), and we met Lanah, a
blonde bouncy American now living in NZ, where she is sorting out public
health and poverty. 5 Japanese and the 3 of us had to squeeze into a 4x4
pick-up for the ride back to town. Lanah, Nicky and I had the luggage area
at the back. After a vigorous v i b r a t i o n rich ride
Lanah came with us back to Intrepid and dinner at the yacht club, before
flying off next day, a great lady we hope its not her last night on a
yacht.....

Musket Cove is a sheltered anchorage behind Malolo Islands in the Mamanucas
chain about 15 miles west of Nadi. They host the
Musket Cove to Port Vila (Vanuatu) 'race' each year starting about 19th
September, and preceded by a week of festivities (sample: 'Briefest Bikini
Competition'). The 'race' is really a way to group cruisers going south to
(mainly) New Zealand to get out of the cyclone area. I didn't fancy my chances
in the bikini competition, and anyway it didn't fit our timing, but Musket
Cove is still a lovely place.

Its really a resort with beach bures, but is yachtie friendly, and
has a marina and a DIY BBQ, and great views. The island is about 1
mile by 2, and was sold by the local Fijians in about 1880 for 1 Musket to a
European, hence the name. In 1960 an American called Dick bought it for
'many muskets' and developed it as a resort. Like many Fijian islands its
not an easy place to get into, and 3 days before a yacht going full speed
hit a reef going in. It nose-dived almost to 45 degrees before righting
itself. Not recommended for keel bolts or anything else come to that. They had
mistaken the pole marking the outside of the Black Rock Reef for the pole
marking the outer reef. Not difficult considering both marks are...identical
poles, (hardly poles apart in fact).

My birthday was at the weekend, so 10 of us had a pre-birthday party on
Saturday at the stir-fry buffet, then a real birthday party on Sunday at the
DIY BBQ, great fun, and I was able to pass out huge chunks of birthday cake
to all the kids around, our party included. I have a theory that if you
havent learnt to windsurf before age 25, you never will. For a birthday
treat I tested this for 2 or 3 hours up and down the bay (more down than up
actually) and found the theory correct in all essentials.

We were looking forward to Bernard and Beryl arriving to sail with us to
Brisbane. Then the phone rang. Bernard's mother is seriously ill, and they
have had to cancel. Great shame for everyone, B and B had been planning this
for over a year. We put up notices, and had a few enquiries but nothing
concrete enough, and as I write we are sailing to Vanuatu just Nicky and I,
and we will see who else we may find there, or at New Caledonia.

Forecast wind: 10 knots, actual: 25. Oh well, Intrepid is speeding along. We
are re-confirming that the magnetic compass in binoculars designed for the northern hemisphere doesnt
work in the southern hemisphere. The tip of the needle is pulled down by the
earths magnetic field, and sticks in the housing, and you have to have a
special southern hemisphere compass installed.  My education continues......

Its only 550 miles to Vanuatu (which is where men go land diving with vines
attached to their legs - March or so  we wont see it this time). It used to
be called New Hebrides, but is now independent of France. From there its 320miles to New Caledonia
(which is a semi autonomous province of France and has the world's 2nd
largest offshore reef), and then 800 to Brisbane. We will be in Somerset from 15th to 28th December, in London 28th
Dec to 4th, Jan then in West Peckham, Kent from 4th January to 20th where
Ken and Rosemary Gunn kindly agreed that we house sit for them, before
flying to Oregon on 1st February. Thats the plan anyway. We would love to see as many
friends as possible....

First light came at 5am, a faint glow, Intrepid is bouncing along
at 6.5 knots, the occasional wave thumps against the hull, and I am doing my
best not to fish, as if I catch something it will wake Nicky who is
sleeping........but later in the afternoon I caught a 20lb yellowfin tuna,
fresh caught seared tuna under the stars in mid ocean is something
else....We have seen 2 boats in 5 days, there are 1800 square miles of ocean
within 24 miles of Intrepid at any time, and we are the only ones here....and now the wind has died......

With all best wishes for a colourful autumn/fall in the north, spring in the
south, do let us know if you want to sail on Intrepid in 2006, we have
already had a fair number of offers and are trying to sort out the best
options and combinations, we can't always fit everyone in, but if you do
want to come, please let us know your 1st and 2nd choice timing soon, no
commitments at this stage, just say if you may be interested. The
approximate timings were in the last email, I have updated the website
offline but cant post it until I locate a decent internet cafe....which is miles away from here

Andy and Nicky Gibb

PS The next edition of Yachting World (November 2005) should contain another
article by us - Sailing with Friends - you may see it.

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