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Savusavu (Part 1)
Vanua Levu, Fiji
August-September 2012

Perhaps I should start with a little geography. Just to be certain you know where I am. So, here's a few maps to help orientate you.

Here's the half of the planet in which I'm currently playing:

The 'wet half' of the world with a zoom-in on the Fiji Islands on the left

As you can see, it's mostly water where I am. And I'm pretty much hell-and-gone from everywhere else.

For those of you with Google Earth installed, you can download and examine Galena's route from Key West, FL, to Savusavu, Fiji by clicking on this link: Galena's Track.

As I said in my previous blog entry I arrived in Savusavu on the northern island of Vanua Levu at the end of September 2012. I immediately loved the place. Customs, immigration, health and 'bio-security' inspectors were all very friendly and professional. For the second time in the 10-years I've been sailing into and out of various countries a customs agent actually went below and looked around. In this case, as with the first time, he simply went below, stood there looking around, and then came back on deck. Not invasive at all. And certainly nothing like the horror stories I've heard about other people's boats being ransacked by over-zealous agents.

Savusavu Harbor, Vanua Levu Island, Fiji (S16º 45.5 E179º 18.5 )

I rowed myself to shore and headed toward the local and ubiquitous ANZ Bank ATM to get a bit of local currency as I had some fee's to pay. Not 100 meters down the street, as I pass a local pub, I find cruising friends from Tonga. So after the bank I head back to the Decked Out bar to have a few cold ones.

Back to the marina to sign in and get some local information about what's where. The office staff at the Copra Shed Marina was very helpful (and cute).

Copra Shed Marina, Savusavu, Fiji Islands

Then back to Galena for some rest and to finish putting her to bed. My plan was to stay here for a few weeks and then work my way around to the west side of the southern island where I would visit Musket Cove. Several friends had told me that I would love that place so I had to stop there before sailing over to Vanuatu.

Galena at her mooring, Savusavu, Fiji Islands

Maybe it was just that the Decked Out bar was my first stop in town on arrival, but it became the place I went for lunch and then for a couple of beers. It was easy to meet both locals and cruisers there. The tables were right along side the sidewalk and people-watching was just too easy there.

Some of the first folks I met at the Decked Out were the owners, Colin and Janine Skipper. They also run the dive concessions at a local resort. Between diving and drinking their days are pretty full. They also have a good little kid named Blyh. As it turned out Janine is as much a flirt as I and we immediately hit it off. They were usually there every day at about 1400hrs. I was, too. By sunset we were all pretty happy.

Janine at the Decked Out. Colin in the back upper-left keeping an eye on us as he always did

Other regulars at the Decked Out included John and Rhiannon Petty. A pair of British expats who were in the process of setting up their own dive resort on the island. Since they would be competing with Colin and Janine I was surprised to see them being such tight friends. A case of the pie being big enough for everyone to have a slice, I guess. John was a most engaging and interesting guy. As opinionated as I, he was always ready to weigh-in on just about any topic. But he discussed things as a gentleman without rancor regardless of how passionately he held his beliefs. Always a pleasant find. He's a Yorkshireman so at times I had to ask him to repeat things in 'American' for me to follow the conversation.

Joel making a point with John, Rob (s/v Changing Spots) and Rhiannon at the Decked Out

Last but certainly not least of the regulars at the Decked out was Leon. Leon was a trip. He was a South African expat who had been here many, many years. He ran a machine shop and I suppose he occasionally did some work there. He seemed always to be at either the Decked Out or at the yacht club (Copra Shed Marina) and seemed always to have been there for quite a while.

Leon had a distinctive look that he put on the block. As part of a fund-raiser for the local kids' sailing club's trip to Suva, Leon and his mate, Ron, agreed to shave their beards. The one who collected the most money would win a bottle of rum. On the night of the Great Shave-Off, we had donated over US$ 1,000 to the cause. I started a second round of pledges with a US$ 25 bid to also shave his head. When it hit $150 Leon agreed to shave his head; but Ron declined.

Leon before and after the Great Shave-Off. Then we convinced him to also shave his head.

A couple more pictures around the Decked Out bar and grill follow.

Colin, left, and Janine, right own the Decked Out. Here with one of our British friends, Joel

Colin is waiting in the blue truck while Janine continues to chat at the Decked Out.

Rhiannon and Joel solving the problems of the world

The other pub where I felt very much at home and where I could comfortably roost for an afternoon/evening was at the Copra Shed (aka: the 'Yacht Club"). They ran the moorings; to one of which Galena was attached. Since they were right on the water and had the main dinghy dock out front they had my business as I came and went to town.

They had their set of regulars, too, with just a bit of overlap with the Decked Out click. One of those was Bernard Krieger. It was a while before I learned of his last name, which was also my mother's maiden name. We're possibly related way back in Germany somewhere.

One of the regulars, Bernard, enjoying a cold one at the yacht club

And now for some pictures in and around the yacht club:

Me and my local friends waiting for our pizza at the yacht club

One skipper passing through while I was there was Pablo. He was "sailing master” on a yacht whose owners were transporting it from the US to their home in Australia. They were short on experience so they hired Pablo to teach them to sail while helping to make the passage. Pablo's real name was Peter. But he had lived in Mexico for so long that he had taken the Spanish version as his own. Pablo was a great example of the good folks one bumps into in just about every harbor in the world.

My buddy, Pablo, and I having a quit beer at the Copra Shed.

Another great friendship forged in Savusavu was with Ruth and her son, Louie. She was on the island for a few weeks as a 'house-sitter.' Between gigs sitting houses and using the generosity of participants in the Couch Surfing organization she's able to travel the world and see all the sights.

Louie and his mom, Ruth. They were seeing the world on a shoestring budget.

Ruth and her son, Louie, were a real treat. They have a lovely blog at where they chart their adventures. Ruth was so delightful to talk with, drink with, dance with. Miss her much.

The owner of the Copra Shed dropped by while I was there. He, of course, gets to park his boat right out in front. And what a boat it is. From what I could gather his grandfather built the boat and came out here in it. The brightwork is amazing on this yacht.

The owner of the Copra Shed Marina parks his boat right in front.

Each evening the yachties would gather for sundowners on the yacht club's deck. While the sunset was always worth seeing, sometimes they were just fantastic!

Sunsets from the yacht club were often spectacular

Of course no pub would be able to hold my interest if there were not a bevy of cute bartenders and waitresses about. One of the best at the Decked Out was Waverly. Always ready with a smile and a friendly, flirtatious word.

Waverly. One of the waitresses at the Decked Out

And at the yacht club there was Sheron and Mika serving beers as fast as I could drink them.

Sheron and Mika. Two of the lovely waitresses at the yacht club

As my stay went past the original 'couple weeks' and into a couple of months, Sharon and I became quite good friends. And Mika would meet me at the nightclub and dance her butt off. Damn but that girl could move!

At the pubs they had three local beers from which to choose. The Fiji Gold and Premium were usually a few cents more expensive than the Bitters. Right at the start of my stay I tried them all just to see which best suited my tastes. In my opinion the Bitters was the only beer that had any flavor. The others were not unlike Coors Light.

The beers of Fiji: Gold, Premium, and Bitters. About US$ 2.00 each at the bar.

While on the subject of the pubs, there were two others in town. They were local nightclubs that had a very local flavor. The music was loud and pounded well into the night. Between about 10PM and 3AM, the places were packed. One club was at the west end of town and was the most civilized. You could go there and have a good time without even thinking about a problem coming up. The other, the Stork Tavern, at the east end of town, was much more volatile. There are more security personnel than bartenders. The kind of place where just bumping into some a bit too hard was likely to ignite a confrontation. I went there a lot because that's where the more crazy girls hung out.

Often before heading over the club I'd get invited to do some kava with the locals in the back room of some restaurant. I never got much out of kava. But to the Fijians, it's a big part of their culture. And they get pretty high on the stuff.

Andy (waitress at Decked Out) serving Kava in the back room

Even in these every informal kava events one had to observe the rituals. One person acted as the server. He would dip the cup into the bowl and hand it to someone. Before accepting the bowl you clapped your hands once. And it's a cupped-hand clap, making a hollow popping sound; not a flat-handed slap. You then down the kava in one go handing the bowl back to the server. This is followed by three claps. This ritual is called 'Taki.' One of the distracters to engaging in Taki is that the kava is mixed using what appears to be an old T-shirt. And they wring out the water with their (usually unwashed) hands. That makes the main kava bowl the equivalent of a Petri dish.

In the nightclubs the Taki procedure is also followed for beer. Someone buys a couple of beers for the table and gets one small glass. The server then puts about 6-oz of beer into the glass and passes it to the first person who chugs it down. They don't do the clapping thing but the rest is the same: a communal beer and a cup filled and passed in sequence to each person at the table. The main problem I have with that is that you end up letting someone else (the server) decide how much and how fast you drink. For me that ends with me getting very drunk, very fast.

Here are some photos of my nightclubbing friends.

After the kava, Shelly, Andy and others heading out to the clubs.

Mika dancing with one of the gay guys.

My friends at the club. They look sinister here but they are really quite tame

Sometimes after the club closed down we'd pile into a couple of taxies and head over to a black-market store and buy a case of beer. Then we'd go to the beach and drink and dance till the sun started to come up. We'd end up at someone's house for a couple hours sleep before everyone had to get up and go to work. Then I'd head back to Galena for some real sleep.

Several of the cruisers here have LED lights from a local fabricator, Bebi Electronics (pronounced: mBambi in Fijian) they make a very bright, white, waterproof anchor light that draws next to nothing and looks very well (if simply) built.

Anchor light built into PVC end cap. Works great and is extremely bright.

After using their anchor light for a couple of weeks, I went back and bought four of their Vonu interior cabin lights. They have a soft, yellow-white colored LED and a two position switch to turn on only the perimeter LED's (indirect lighting) or all of them. I've already installed two of them and will replace all the original lights in the cabin with these…. Eventually.

Cabin light by Bebi>

Shortly after arriving in Fiji I was made aware that my sister had a birthday coming up. I checked flight costs and decided that I could swing a trip to Las Vegas where three of my four sisters lived. As soon as I posted that intent on Facebook an old school chum of mine reminded me that I have a high school reunion that weekend. Since my sister, Nancy was holding my car for me I decided that I could do a quick run from Las Vegas, NV, to Cleveland, OH, and back in the time allotted.

The trip back to the states was not actually a part of this cruising adventure so I'm posting it on a separate page (click here).

I also though, hey, I can buy a bunch of stuff while in the States and carry it back on the plane with me. That way I'd have it soon and avoid all the customs and duty hassles. I ended up bringing back a new Icom 802 SSB radio, new camera, dive gear, a bunch of small electronics (flash drives, etc.) lots of clothing, and a pile of small things that are just hard to find in the islands. I also brought back a small outboard motor (that was a challenge!). I flew out with a few shirts in a backpack and came back with 150 pounds of baggage.

Once I had returned to Savusavu I really got into the island scene. That included hanging with the locals, the expats, and also the cruisers who, like me, were just passing through. Many of the expats arrived here as cruisers but then stayed. There is a common refrain that I hear from those who have called it quits. They ask, "Why would you sail to another island when this one is so perfect?" I can only answer, "Because maybe the next island is even more perfect."

I developed significant friendships with some of the folks here. Megan, for example. She was here because her parents lived here. She ran the local computer repair shop. She was smart, pretty and so much fun to dance with.

Megan at the Decked Out

Just about the time I was leaving Savusavu, Megan met a young sailor up from New Zealand. Within days they were engaged and she was on her way to Opua. VI am very happy for her.

Of course, my old friends Rob and Pauline of s/v Changing Spots were usually a part of each day. I had cruised with them for almost a year by this time. It was a sad day when we finally parted ways in Suva harbor – they heading to New Zealand while I to Musket Cove.

Pauline sewing and Rob doing what he loved best: ordering parts for s/v Changing Spots

While wandering around town I took some pictures trying to capture the feel of the place. One thing I was unable to capture were the smells and sounds. The air is filled with the scents of cooking fires, body odor, and hair straightener. As for sounds, almost all the shops seem to be owned and operated by Indians. So the music the blares out the doorways sounds strange to my western ears. Many shops have big speakers setting on the ground just outside their doorways.

Showing most of the main street of Savusavu

When I first arrived I had an alternator that had stopped working. I took it in the local repair shop and told the guy I'd be off-island for a couple weeks. When I returned I went back to pick it up; no paperwork was ever done. I asked the kid in the shop about the alternator for Galena. He looked blankly at me. I got a bad feeling that I may never see that alternator again. Then the other guy in the shop walked into an adjacent office, rummaged around a bit and came up with my alternator. US$ 60 was all they wanted. Not bad.

Me at the alternator shop with my repaired alternator

I previously mentioned that Kava (aka: Grog) was very popular in Fiji. I happened upon this 'grog pounding factory' just off the main street in Savusavu. I didn't go inside but the sound of mechanical hammers was deafening where I was standing outside.

At the Grog Pounding Plant. That's kava root laid out to dry behind me.

I just had to have a picture of this shop named, "Pots and things.” The name just makes me smile. It's apparently a large chain of stores as I've seen these stores all over Fiji. They really do carry pots and things. Mostly things.

Great store name: Pots and Things

The locals travel the creeks and harbors on small rafts made of just a few bamboo poles lashed together. You can see whole families traveling on these little 'boats.' Sometimes a child will be swimming along side if there are too many for the raft. The picture below shows the huge difference between two cultures' idea of family boating.

The difference between a Fijian yacht and an American one in Savusavu harbor

Rob (s/v Changing Spots) suggested that we rent a couple of motor scooters and tour the island. As an old biker I loved the idea. The yacht club had a pair of scooters they would rent for US$27 per day. Rob made the reservations and one fine day off we went. From Savusavu, there are only three lengths of paved roads.

Savusavu is bottom-center. The three paved roads are marked.

Off we went. But within a half hour Rob's scooter got a flat tire. He called the owners and they sent out a pickup truck. I followed them back to town. Rob had brought along his trusty iPad and took pictures of the flat. So I took a picture of Rob taking a picture of the flat.

Rob and his flat scooter

The next morning we were ready to try again. This time we rode all day without a problem. We were a coupe of wild and crazy guys. We stopped what seemed like every few minutes to take a picture or two. Often of each other.

Biker Bill. Yeah, I'm a bad-ass biker

Just outside of Savusavu we stopped to look out over an overlook. Savusavu harbor is just off to the left in this picture.

One of the many beautiful vistas along the roads

I let Rob lead some of the way. But he was actually way too cautious a rider for my tastes. I'd follow him for a bit and have to pass him up and roll at my own pace for a while.

A rare moment when I was actually following Rob down the highway

We also stopped just to cool off in the shade and drink some water and nibble on some snacks that we had brought along.

Taking a break in the shade

As we putted along the beach road just past the airport we came upon a couple of guys who were out 'hunting fish.'

Local fisherman on the beach

Locals were working the fields just about everywhere we looked. Here a guy is bringing out a bit of harvest. They would haul these sacks up to the road and eventually a truck would come along and they'd load it on.

Local laborer bringing in a harvest

Some of them traveled by river. Everywhere we stopped, people would wave and smile and want their picture taken.

Local man moving goods up the river on a bamboo raft

Local kids ran up and posed for a picture while Rob and I sat enjoying the shade

At the farthest point we travelled to the northwest of Savusavu, we found a gas station and grocery store. The gas was sold in 5-liter bottles. We each needed the full 5-l.

End of the line. Gas and groceries.

In each of the directions we eventually hit the end of the pavement. As soon as we were on the gravel I found out that these small (12”?) wheels would slide sideways almost as well as they would roll tread-first. Virtually uncontrollable on gravel. So at each end of the paved world we turned around and headed back to civilization. It would have been different if we had had real dirtbikes. Then we could have really seen the island.

End of the pavement.

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