ende

2022
02
Dec

Interview on the radio

We met with Ursula Burkert for an interview in August and on Sunday it will be on air on Ö1, the Austrian station for classical music, news and culture :-)
Here’s the link!

2022
01
Dec

Photos from Matuku

Finally, some photos again! Village life and beautiful nature on this little island in the south-western Lau group. We did our best to spread the word about overfishing and sustainability among the kids as well as the chiefs and headmen and it looks like the villages will indeed start protecting their reefs!

Matuku

We have visited the little island Matuku in the Western Lau group twice this year (2022). It's off the beaten track and not many yachts make it here. The people are super-friendly, there are several good anchorages and the reef is simply beautiful!

(46 photos)

2022
29
Nov

Arriving at dawn

Of course we got more than the predicted 15 knots, so in the end we had to reef down to almost nothing to avoid arriving at night. Vanua Balavu is a big archipelago with numerous islands within a deeply submerged barrier reef that doesn’t give much protection and we’re anchored in a bay on the E side of the main island to be able to pick up the internet signal from the only antenna at the main village. After 7 weeks without internet we have quite some catching up to do!
Within 5 minutes of arriving we saw a car on the coastal road (wow!) and a plane descending (WOW!!)–but let’s not get carried away: Vanua Balavu has 1 little plane per week and the car we saw was probably on the way to the airport for that reason ;-)
There’s only one other airport in the Lau group at Lakemba, so the islands are not easy to reach (unlike Fr Poly, where the French built an airport on basically all inhabited atolls).

2022
28
Nov

Flat in Graz to rent

We are searching for new tenants for our garden flat in Graz, Austria. Send us an email if you’re interested or know someone how may be!

2022
28
Nov

On to the next island

We are getting ready to leava Fulanga. We’ve had quite a hyperactive time here and would have needed 48 hour days to fit everything in:
- village life (spending time with our host family, Christian did some electric repairs, spreading info about sustainable fishing)
- nature (snorkeling and kayaking in different areas, each one prettier than the last)
- and of course boat projects (Christian serviced our winches and I sanded and painted the frame of the forecabin hatch)
Today we’ll sail northwards to Vanua Balavu, because it’s the next island with shops, 4G and protected anchorages. Along the way we’ll have to pay close attention to the course, because we’ll go through the dense island chain of the Lau group and will have to dodge several islands. The weather forecast looks great (Easterly winds around 15 knots), so we should make the 120 nm in less than 24 hours.

2022
28
Nov

Tabu – protected taboo areas

After the success we had in Matuku persuading the chiefs and headmen to install protected areas (Tabu) around the island to protect the reefs from overfishing and to ensure a sustainable use of the resources, we tackled the same issue here in Fulanga.
The problem’s the same like everywhere in Fiji (and the rest of the Pacific islands and probably elsewhere): the islands were able to sustain the population for a long time, but now with modern technology (spear guns since the 1990s, torches to go nightfishing, outboard engines to go longer distances and of course freezers to store and export fish) the numbers of fish are rapidly shrinking.
Just like in Matuku the people here are noticing the change themselves and are concerned–they are just now starting a Tabu committee and thinking of strategies to control the overexploitation. We volunteered to share info about our experiences in the Pacific, the different Tabu types in comparison (short term Rahui in Tahiti that doesn’t work at all, permanent Rahui in Rapa Iti that works very well), etc.

We got a projector from the school, a white sheet from a house, the guy from the Tabu committee brought kava (the only way to get the villagers to a gathering is the sound of pounding kava he said with a wink) and it worked–the assembly hall quickly filled up for our presentation. We try to present the main points quite simplified as many villagers don’t speak English well. The importance to keep the eco-system in balance, the role herbivores play in keeping the reef clean and the necessity to install protected zone and to limit the export. No reef no fish, no fish no reef…
The villagers were interested and the following discussion quite lively. They already have short-term tabu system: spearfishing is only allowed 6 months of the year inside the lagoon and the pass (always outside). We explained that such a system is not efficient as the fish don’t have enough time to grow and reproduce when they just leave them for 6 months. It would be much better and more sustainable for the future to have an area that is always protected, so fish can really mature in there to have a much higher reproduction rate and just fish off the “overflow” around the borders of the Tabu. It turns out that they are willing to install taboo areas, but worried that not everybody will respect them and especially that people from neighbouring islands will sneak into the pass at night to go fishing anyway… We hope it’ll work out somehow as the pass area here is really worth protecting. It’s among the top 3 reefs we’ve seen in the Pacific!

2022
18
Nov

Isolation and Lockdown

No worries, this is not a blog about Covid19. We haven’t seen another cruising boat in almost 2 months, so we’re as isolated as it gets and the daily lockdown is all about the vicious mosquitos here. Now that the weather is hot and calm they swarm out all over the lagoon–no place is safe.
The first evening we simply retreated to the aft cabin after sunset, thinking we’d be safe behind mosquito screens and shut doors. We killed about 10 in the evening and settled down for the night, but somehow the bloodsuckers made it in anyway–we had to turn on the lights twice to smash another dozen and when I went to the loo afterwards another dozen followed me back in… The next day we thought we were extra clever and closed the bathroom doors as well–using the light, little room as a decontamination chamber we slipped in there first (laptop for the evening entertainment, bottle of water and bar of chocolate in hand), smashed all those that wanted to come along and proceded to the aft cabin. By 2 in the morning the room was buzzing again–incredible.

We kept improving the method and expanded the counter measures to a three-phase lockdown. We close off the aft cabin and the bathroom at 5, but we can still sit in the cockpit and have dinner. At sunset we go (flee) inside, close the companionway and all hatches in the saloon, proceed through the decontamination chamber into the aft cabin and tape off the doors (they leave a tiny gap at the bottom). With the new system we can finally enjoy restful, undisturbed nights again ;-)

2022
17
Nov

The pass of Fulanga

Fulanga is one of the few atolls (or rather island-cluster with an outer reef–there are hardly any classic atolls here in Fiji) with a proper pass, meaning a narrow outlet of the lagoon with steep coral-clad walls like we know them from the Tuamotus. Most other “passes” are very open, wide and don’t have walls up to the surface so you hardly notice you’re in a pass when sailing into one of these open “lagoons” that feel more like open ocean.
It’s also one of the most beautiful passes we’ve ever snorkeled with a great variety of stunning, healthy corals. Today we took the dinghy all the way out to the outer reef and drop-off and were amazed to find huge groups of different kinds of big snappers, jacks, barracudas, surgeons and even three napoleons hovering in the light current–really impressive! We were glad to see half a dozen white-tip reef sharks among them–in most places we’ve snorkeled in Fiji so far they were hunted to extinction…
Further inside the pass the coral is even more beautiful and the biomass of little swarm fishies is mindboggling, a really dense fishsoup.

Yesterday we checked out a few inlets through the reef on the eastern side, expecting to find similar biodiversity, but the coral’s all dead and there are hardly any fishies–hopelessly overfished with even the tiniest fish scattering in panic and hiding underneath rocks at the sight of a human diver. Inside the lagoon there aren’t many bommies and the few only have some small growth of coral and hardly any fish. The lively pass area is a wonderful contrast to these lifeless areas.

2022
16
Nov

Guests at the village

Like everywhere on the islands of Fiji it’s obligatory here in Fulanga to visit the village to introduce yourself and to bring a sevusevu (kava bundle as a gift), so we wandered across the island to the main village (that sounds serious, but it’s just a twenty minute walk on a well-cleared path) to ask for the Turanga ni Koro (headman) who then introduced us to the chief. We gave him our present and were welcomed to the village, had to pay a fee of 50 FJD (flat rate for every small boat) and given a host family. Fulanga’s a very popular place and the chief showed us the entries of the other yachts in his visitor’s book–120 were here this year!
They are also more interested in paperwork than other islands, so we showed them our clearance and cruising permit. Apparently another yachtie who arrived in May had neither of those and was picked up by a Navy boat and his yacht is still tied up in the lagoon–weird story, we’ll try to find out more. Pebbles, a German registered boat apparently with a Bulgarian singlehander on board…
Despite the many visitors the people in the village are really friendly and we bought some nicely done carvings from the three carvers here we were casually introduced to ;-)
We had lunch with our host family, Christian promised to look into a cable issue at another house -the dwellings are very basic here, just corrugated iron, but the little houses still look neat and the gardens are lovingly decorated. There are some solar panels, but usually just for a few LEDs, not many have a fridge or TV. Apparently some sort of internet will be installed this week (maybe a wifi router, we’ll find out), so maybe smartphones, facebook and Co. will soon arrive…

2022
14
Nov

Strange wonderland Fulanga

Fulanga is a strange geological phenomenon. Imagine an atoll with a line of outer motu, numerous coralheads and reefs which was then lifted 20 m or so by tectonic movements. That’s what happened here.
The lagoon is now shallow and gleams in light turquoise and scattered all across are mushroom-shaped limestone islets–former coralheads that were eroded by the high tides here in Fiji. Thanks to their overhangs and spiky rocks they are completely unaccessible which makes them perfect nesting places for seabirds (we see raucous groups of bridled terns and white-tailed tropic birds) and great destinations for kayers!
We’ll post pics as soon as we have internet again…

2022
13
Nov

Musket Cove Regatta Week

Our article about the regatta is now online on Cruising World:

https://www.cruisingworld.com/people/2022-musket-cove-fiji-regatta-week/

2022
10
Nov

Sailing to Fulanga

We explored all around the islands of Yagasa, anchored in a few extremely scenic spots that looked perfectly protected on sat images, even brought out landlines to be as snug as possible, but it was always the same: calm at low tide, seriously bouncy at high tide. The outer reef is just too low to keep out the swell.
With stronger NE winds predicted we gave up and sailed down to the next island, Fulanga. 10 nm as the sooty tern flies, but about 20 miles around barrier reefs from pass to pass–a quick sail with Pitufa doing around 6 knots in NE wind between 16 and 20 knots.

The strong breeze guaranteed a fast ride, but made the arrival a bit scary: the 55 m wide pass of Fulanga faces NE and we had to surf down the waves into the entrance. Pitufa was swerving down the steep crests alarmingly, but I kept her under control and once we were in the pass, the water turned completely calm. We had our timing right at slack water. An ingoing tide (together with the wind), would have been okay as well, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend trying this pass (or any tricky pass) with wind against current.
We finally got to spend a quiet night in the perfect shelter of the almost closed lagoon.

2022
09
Nov

Turtle hunters

Yesterday we took the kayak to a beach, found a camp fisherman had recently left (Yagasa is uninhabited, but people from neighbouring islands come here) and followed a horrible stench to the carcass of a turtle. We collected a bag of plastic rubbish around the camp site and burned it on one of the many fire sites the raiders had left.
It’s really sad to see how ruthlessly the islanders exploit Yagasa. We had high hopes finding lots of wildlife on an uninhabited island group, but we see just a few birds, hardly any fish and the reefs are mainly dead. Everything is overgrown with algae…
This lifeless desert may have some natural reason, but it seems more likely that overfishing (maybe with poison or even dynamite–both still used around here we heard) are to be blamed.

2022
07
Nov

Advanced Elements Island Voyage two-seater Kayak

We brought a new kayak back to Pitufa from the US, but until now we didn’t have the opportunity to use it. Now, among the mushroom-shaped limestone islets of Yagasa we unpacked it, inflated it for the first time (quickly done), admired the bright-yellow, sleek vessel and took it out for a first round. The ancient kayak we used to have, had its own mind, always tried to turn its bow into wind and waves and regularly made us go in circles. Cursing the damn thing (and occasionally each other) we’d have to constantly correct course, go for miles paddling on one side–we thought that was part of kayaking.
The new Advanced Elements Island Voyage kayak holds its course, is wonderfully easy to handle and we effortlessly took it around the bay and to some adjacent beaches. Who knew kayaking could be so easy!!

2022
05
Nov

Mosquitoes!

Most outer reefs here in the Lau Group don’t give much protection and the anchorages are accordingly rolly, so we counted ourselves lucky yesterday to find a calm bay on Namuka. We were a bit disappointed about the lack of wildlife (no birds ashore, nothing to be seen in the water). At sunset the local wildlife got up: a cloud of mosquitoes descended on the boat–the worst invasion since the rivers of Suriname. We ran for shelter, put screens up, but many of the little suckers were already inside, so we spent an interrupted night with a few in-between raids.
At 6 in the morning we lifted the anchor and headed out to sea, bashing into the waves again for five hours to tack to the neighbouring Yagasa group. Here we found a scenic anchorage, not quite as protected and we’ll find out at dusk what the mosquito situation is like here ;-)

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