Off the Charts in Fiji

Checking in with carefully weighed luggage!
Our flight arrived back in Nadi, Fiji on Friday morning.  Weary, after a red-eye flight, we all clambered back aboard Field Trip, stepping over the eight duffle bags full of “stuff” we’d brought back from the states.  Our weariness dissipated, though, when we realized how many friends we had around us!  I’d assumed that everyone would have moved on from Port Denarau, continuing in their travels to Indonesia or exploring other parts of Fiji.  We were all very excited to reconnect with our ‘boat friends’ whom we’d missed so much!  Even jet lag couldn’t keep us from enjoying a happy hour that same night.
What a wonderful way to be welcomed back!
While we were catching up over Fiji Bitter Beer, we found out that our friends on Exodus and Breeze were planning to sail out the very next day to meet up with our friends on Lumbaz.  At first, I thought it would be impossible to think of leaving the next day with them, remembering the stacks of luggage that needed to be unpacked and stowed, but our desire to be back with some of our favorite families won out.  After all, the luggage surely wasn’t going anywhere!  The next morning happened to be the Saturday Fresh Market in town (the largest market day of the week), so we hopped in a cab, re-provisioned our produce and refrigerated items, and were underway by ten o’clock!  So much for taking our time to get settled in!
Everyone was heading to an anchorage just off of the Manta Ray Resort in the Yasawa Island Group to the west of Nadi.  Much of the waters in Fiji are uncharted and reef-scattered.  When planning the passages, we have to overlay the satellite images onto the existing charts and plot our course from there.  Then we make sure there is good lighting and plenty of time to get anchored before the sun is too low to provide adequate visibility.  No wind meant we had to motor most of the way, but our jet lag and land legs appreciated the calm passage.

Heading into uncharted waters

The charts for Fiji are notoriously wrong.  Our entrance into Viwa here shows us crossing land.

The first morning we were there, we headed to a pass to swim with the giant Manta Rays who come to feed on the numerous krill and plankton found in the current.  It wasn’t long before the enormous creatures came gliding by right below us, their mouths gaping, and wings gracefully moving them along.  On a few occasions they would wow us with a barrel roll, exposing the bright white of their underside as they fed.  What a privilege to swim so close to a majestic, peaceful giant of the sea.  None of us wanted to get out of the water, and with our new full-length wet suits, we kept warm enough to stay in the water for nearly two hours with them!

Fijian Birthday for Elizabeth

It had been a year since our special birthday celebration for Elizabeth with the sweet family on Maupihaa, near Bora Bora.  Now, she would be turning ten somewhere in Fiji.  The other boats had heard some stories of the dogfish tuna one could spear off the coast of an island called Viwa, the westernmost and lowest in elevation of the Yasawas, which was enough motivation to navigate the super-tight entrance pass and make do with the barely-there anchor holding (thin layer of sandy gravel atop hard, flat rock).  All four boats put out extra chain with our anchors and some even wrapped around rocks to get holding.  Then we dressed in our Fijian chumbas and sulus to go ashore for the sevu-sevu ceremony with the island’s chief.  There were seventeen of us in all - eight adults and nine children.  We were our own sailing village!  Many of the island children ran to the shore to greet us with warm smiles and shy hellos, excited to see so many visitors at once!
Navigating between shallow reefs and a shipwreck to enter Viwa Island in the Yasawa Group
Waving hello to our welcoming committee!

We all brushed the sand from our feet as we entered the ceremony hall and a quiet respect fell over the group.  Each father presented the yangona (root used to make traditional kava drink) and the chief gave his blessing and granted us permission to join his community.  After the formalities, I mentioned that it was Elizabeth’s birthday, and the school children who surrounded us sang a special rendition of “Happy Birthday” especially for her.

Entering the ceremony hall to meet with the chief for the sevusevu
Happy long life to you, happy long life to you!  Happy long life, dear Elizabeth! Happy long life to you!

Next, a young man was asked to show us around the village.  He walked us along the well-kept narrow paths between houses constructed of straw, concrete, wood, and tin, Brightly colored laundry hung on the lines strung in between.  Folks popped their heads out of the doorways to say “BULA!” as we filed by, and little children skittered along behind our processional, so excited to be part of the tour.  The village was neat and orderly.   The houses were arranged in an organized grid pattern unlike any village we’d seen.  In the aerial shots we had viewed to navigate through the pass, we were struck by the planned layout of this village.  All the houses faced the same way, and the paths provided access to each one in a very logical way.  Their HOA must really be on top of things!

Hanging laundry with this view wouldn't be too bad!

Before sunset, we all piled back into our dinghies and met up on Field Trip for cake, cocktails, and yet another rendition of “Happy Birthday”, this time with a Spanish version tacked onto the end, thanks to the multilingual Lumbaz crew!  As all of our friends sang together, I was overwhelmed with the many dear families we’d connected with along the way, some who’d even helped us celebrate Elizabeth’s birthday a year ago!  The Pacific crossing has given us long-term friendships that I never thought possible in the sailing life.  And this experience together has created friendships that will last a lifetime.  I imagine Elizabeth trekking across Europe when she is in high school, visiting all of these wonderful folks we've met while sailing - British, Spanish, Swedish - I'll want to go, too!

Our international birthday party!

The following day, we took the kids to shore to interact with the schoolchildren who were out on a two-week holiday.  Meanwhile, the men went spearfishing outside the reef, and a few of the women opted for some quiet snorkeling around some of the reefs.  Rumbling stomachs brought us all together for lunch again.  Our anchorage places us next to raised coral cliffs along the shoreline where the local children stand, watching and waiting for their visitors to come out again to play!  So, we have a continuous audience watching our every move.  I guess they got a bit impatient, because somehow, the play moved from the beachfront to the transom steps of our boats that afternoon!

Fijian children enjoying their holiday!

Making new friends!
The kids were all smiles when the guys got the dinghies set up and took them tubing through the anchorage at top speeds!  From our boat deck, I watched the kids hooting and hollering as they held on for their lives, screaming, “Faster, faster!!”  I imagined them going back to school in two weeks, standing up in front of their classmates and retelling of their high-speed adventures with these crazy cruising families.
The smiles say it all!
It was obvious that they loved the company, which made it even harder the following morning when many of them stood on the cliffs and sadly waved to us as we pulled out.  The calm winds had created perfect conditions for us to transverse through the tedious pass once again.  So with little notice, we had decided to raise anchor and set off for our next stop, leaving no time for formal goodbyes.  
In many ways, I was nervous coming back to Fiji.  Sitting in the living room of my mother-in-law’s home, I realized how accustomed I’d become to American life in the two months we were there.  How quickly our schedules had filled up, our lives had become rushed, and our standard of living had swung back closer to where it used to be.  I saw a boat friend post a photo of her kids sitting in a grass hut, on palm mats, talking to a Fijian family and I was struck by how detached I was from that scenario, when we could have taken a similar photo only months prior!  As I sat on an over-stuffed chair drinking iced water, I wondered if I could go back to that.  Part of me was really enjoying the air-conditioning and the consumerism!  Did I want to go back to that?  Was living off the charts something I would choose?  At that time, I could have named a million reasons why we should’ve stayed, because I didn’t want to say goodbye.  But now that I’m back, there’s no question that this is where we are meant to be right now.

Sailing Families from Sweden, Spain, Canada, California and Colorado!
Sailing Sisters - Me, Sabina, Deanne, and Genie

Our life has found its rhythm again.  This morning I’ve been writing out my month-to-month lesson plans while Mark is adding more solar panels outside.  The kids took the paddle board to the beach and are with nine other boat kids, setting up tents, planning meals, and building the bonfire for their beach campout tonight.  It's good to be living off the charts once again.
A hike to the top for a beautiful view!

(Special thanks to our boat buddies on Breeze, Lumbaz, and Exodus for sharing photos with us, many of which were used in this post!)


  1. Nice shirt Mark!!

  2. My envy for your excursions is an amazing once in forever journey that only few can experience. My Son loved Fiji.... Bula!


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