Archive for May, 2011

Ocean Front Property in Funafuti

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

The island of Fongafale is so skinny that most property is ocean front property. The center is just wide enough for the WWII vintage airstrip.

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We took a boat ride down the lagoon side of town for a look at life on the beach.

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The combination of heat and lagoon bathing forces daily life into the open. 

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Fresh water is only available from the clouds and so Tuvalans embrace the sea.

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The ingenious push their accommodations out over the water…

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and amuse themselves with naked-time and a tire.

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The gentry live in western style homes and keep their custom cabinhouse skiffs out front on a mooring. 

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Kids love this place.

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What could be better than pet pigs and a splash with your buddies?

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Or a swing on the mother of all hammocks?

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The island has more than its fair share of infrastructure and social problems but what man would not be pleased to meet his waterbaby and mermaid wife at the end of  long day on the reef?  

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08°31.90′S 179°11.04′E 29-May-11 22:30 UTC

Fishquest Falefatu

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

We are driven by few things more pressing than the quest for unlimited underwater visibility and new fish. And so it was that we loaded up the dinghy and sped through ocean rollers out into the south pass on a flooding tide.  

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The pass appeared to be about 20 feet deep but was actually more than twice that. The bottom looked near enough to touch in 45 ft of water . 

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The north pass was almost as good.

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After ticking off this box in our criteria for an excellent anchorage we searched for new-to-us fish on the reefs of Falefatu.

We found this fangblenny…

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some chummy goatfish with bloodshot eyes

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chummy milkfish who look like minnows but are a meter long

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lots of redbreasted wrasses…

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a surge damoiselle…

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an arc-eye hawkfish…

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redlip cleaner wrasse…

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a blue-spotted damsel (we made this one up)…

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a red-speckled blenny…

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a yellow speckled grouper (we made that one up too)…

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and a few dotted butterfly fish.

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08°35.15′S 179°06.64′E 28-May-11 22:30 UTC

Kingdom of the Staghorn

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Funafuti as been colonized by monopolistic organization of staghorn coral. We don’t really understand it but this staghorn coral is thriving in monoculture over acres and acres of Funafuti seafloor.

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Happily it comes in several colors.

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This fish don’t seem to mind what flavor of coral they live in.

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We were happy to see longnose filefishes are thriving here, pruning polyps like judicious arborists.

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They have no preference for vanilla over blueberry.

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But there were teeth below the blueberry staghorn.

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We saw very few toothy characters in Funafuti. There was one groggy white tip shark asleep on the sand that paid us no mind, and a 1 foot long baby blacktip in the shallows that even S was not afraid of, but she kept her eye out for their gray or tiger cousins.

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The top level predators on this reef were humans. Very nervous large groupers were second

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and these businesslike jacks came third.

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The littler guys showed some experience with fishermen but were populous enough to allow the persistent breathholder some pics.

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08°34.66′S 179°07.00′E 27-May-11 22:30 UTC

Falefatu Island

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

We thought we’d check out the undocumented chart anchorage at  Falefatu and it turned out to be just our type of place.

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We dropped an anchor on either side of a sandy patch flanked by fringe reef in 20 ft of gin clear water and settled back in a consistent 10 –15 kts of blessed trade wind that makes all the difference between paradise and hell within 10 degrees of the equator.

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The old dinghy made its last trip into the beach after 7 years of trusty service. The patches of Savusavu were re-leaking, signalling that it was time to deploy our new NZ-made inflatable.

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But our Zeitoon’s last trip let us take a look at the beach life.

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We watched our old Polynesian friends the acrobatic noddys wheeling and diving though the palms.

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We walked all the way to the end of the island. The atoll pass in the sunset had lost all the intimidation it held for tired sailors at dawn.   

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08°34.54′S 179°07.38′E 26-May-11 22:30 UTC

The Fishermen of Funafuti

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

About half of the atoll is a marine sanctuary. The other half is fair game for boat loads of harvesters in brightly painted skiffs and canoes.

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A typical skiff will load up about 10 guys and come buzzing by Khamseen to check us out and wave. The snorkelers bail off and head to the shallows, where we think they’re looking for sea cucumbers for the Asian export market.

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Meanwhile the very fit skiff operator waits offshore, getting hotter and hotter.

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Finally he jumps in to cool down.

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There is a wide range in the fitness levels and fishing techniques of Tuvalan watermen.

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Lone paddlers stalk the shallows off the village beach. 

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We saw the glass balls of a traditional net fishery…

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and warning signs discouraging the heavy handed approach we recognized from the chicken curry.

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08°30.55′S 179°11.00′E 26-May-11 22:30 UTC

Change of Address: Vaiaku, Fongafale, Funafuti, Tuvalu

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

We arrived outside Funafuti atoll at dawn and found Te Ava Pua Pua, the southern pass, right where the guidebook’s coordinates said it would be.  In fact, we found the area between this pass and the town of Vaiaku to be very well charted with all the inner atoll reefs in place, giving us an easy passage to the anchorage. Actually, K still spent a couple of hours swishing through the sky at the first spreader level because we didn’t know the chart was good until we saw that… the chart was good. 

Funafuti has many islands encircling the lagoon.  The Tuvalan capital, Vaiaku, is on the eastern island of Fongafale. 

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We anchored in front of town and went ashore to check in, but were directed to the Customs satellite office at the main wharf a couple of kilometers out of town.  We were warned it would be a long hot walk but after five days at sea we took the opportunity to stretch our legs and take in the sights.  We found the island bright, breezy, and full of people and color.

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Scooters are everywhere, and drivers usually share the ride.

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Moms wait for their kids to get out of school for a tandem ride home.

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Bicycles are popular too.

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In Fiji, nearly everyone you passed on the street offered a friendly “Bula.” In Tuvalu, they prefer a silent respectful raising of the eyebrows, kind of like the index-finger salute you give passing pickups on the roads of rural America.  It’s very subtle and it took us a while to notice that they were in fact acknowledging us.  The children love to wave and say hi, and we got a warm response from their elders when we learned the Tuvalan greeting “Talofa.”

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Judging by the number of hammocks that we saw strung up in the shade as we walked down the road in that sunny tropical afternoon, we decided that Tuvalans must be smart, practical people.

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Every house has a hammock or two in the front yard.

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Its the perfect place to dish away the sweltering afternoon.

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Most houses also have a boat and a couple of ancestors in the front yard.

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Traditional houses are simple raised platforms with open walls.

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There are a few key appliances that come with all the benefits and frustrations of mass produced household goods. Sad is the man with a broken fan.

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It’s deathly hot in the middle of the day. By 1100 every hammock is full

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and every pup is snoring in the shade.

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All family authority succumbs to the siesta and there is a relieving breakdown in child supervision for the urchin in his warm weather uniform.  

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Micronesian life has a simple progression here. Every coconut palm has a set of scary ladder sticks tied up the trunk and if it all goes wrong, the cemetery is never far.

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We finally made it to Customs, and after checking in we stopped for a bite in a quiet curry house with an amazing Obama montage. We had chicken curry with a side of calcium.

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Now we are hardly purists when it comes to meat cutting. K will seek out a primitive chop on principle, but if the Fijian recipe for chicken curry begins with:

1) Rinse a whole chicken, pat dry, and cut into 1 inch cubes with utter disregard for skeletal anatomy…

the Tuvalan version must be:

1) Rinse a whole chicken and pat dry. Ignite explosive in the cavity and retain all the bone chips…   

On forensic reflection, that chicken was processed with either dynamite or a sledge hammer. The effect on the flavor was excellent, but the effort to sieve all the bone chips out had K wishing for some kind of reverse baleen prosthesis.

08°31.45′S 179°11.38′E 25-May-11 22:30 UTC

Fiji to Tuvalu

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

We said goodbye to our friends in Fiji and set off from Savusavu at sunset to make it to Somosomo Strait by dawn.   Descriptions of Somosomo conjured up images of swirly Deception Pass back in Washington, but our timing was right and we passed through with minimal drama – though we found that the 1 mile wide pass was offset on the chart by half a mile. K found the east side of the channel with the fathometer in the dawn’s early light and quickly turned back into the deep center of the channel before we met the pounding reef breakers directly ahead.   

It was a slow passage. With light winds on the nose and a current setting us southeast it took us another day before we finally cleared the last of the Fijian islands on our route north.

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Each day found us alternating between motoring, trying to sail, sailing slowly until the wind died again, and motoring.  The days were hot and muggy but our night watches were deliciously cool.  We were treated by shows of ghostly phosphorescence in the depths alongside us, and had the light of a waning moon to brighten the deep hours of the night.  On one such night around 1 AM a booby came in to land on the bimini.  He spent a few hours preening, pooped, then fell asleep with his head crammed under one wing…

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…until dawn when he was rudely awakened by a camera’s flash.

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Intrigue and tension was high in Fiji in the days before we left, as a former colonel charged with uttering seditious comments and inciting mutiny went on the lam rather than appear in court.  He was mysteriously “rescued at sea” in Fijian waters by a Tongan patrol boat and taken to the King’s residence in Nuku’alofa.  Fijian coastwatchers and informants were on high alert as the search for those involved in the escape was underway – which may or may not explain why we were buzzed at mast top level one morning by a strange unmarked military air patrol several hundred miles north of Fiji.

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Thankfully that was the most exciting thing that happened on this passage.  On the morning of the last day out, we finally got a steady 15 kts from the east and Khamseen took off like a horse for the barn. 

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08°34.32′S 179°07.57′E 24-May-11 22:30 UTC

Fiji Videos

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

We’ve uploaded some snorkling and sailing video clips to our YouTube channel. The link to that is at the top of the blog page, on the right under “Video Channel”.

14°53.93′S 179°51.62′E 20-May-11 02:42 UTC

The Resorts of Fiji

Friday, May 20th, 2011

We never have actually stayed in a resort but we see quite a few of of them, usually from offshore. We put the best ones on a mental list for the day when someone asks where they could go for a sweet Pacific get-away. We also expect the day when we would be looking for a sweet Pacific get-away ourselves.

We are really impressed with the eco-bungalow operation on Namena Island.

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This island is about 25 nm from anywhere, out in the middle of the Koro Sea. It sits in the middle of an atollesque barrier reef and has a spectacular fringe reef skirting the island. The island is privately owned but it sits within a marine conservation park.  Ten of the 100 acres have been developed to support six bungalows, which are perched on the cliffs above the reef with excellent views.

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The amenities are basic. No air conditioning, no internet, no phones, no TV, just rain catchment water and lots of tropical wood furnishings.

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There is a beautiful restaurant/lounge with a library of paperback books.

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This would be a great place to escape form the world and spend some high quality time with your partner, a host of tropical birds and plants, and some of the best underwater diversity we’ve ever seen.

But it’s hard to beat the Cousteau Resort Village in Savusavu to fulfill the post card  image of a tropical vacation.

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The bungalows are well hidden in the palms behind a nice beach.

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There’s an active dive operation here running trips to the barrier reef on the far side of some fun  micro-islands.

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It might be a stretch to call it a resort but if we ever go back to Suva we’ll stay at The Five Princes again. This place has a great mix of classy colonial history and lush tropical overgrowth.

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There’s a small pool tucked into the terraced gardens…

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where gold plated beetles inadvertently swim.

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The building style was defined by a time before air-conditioning.

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But these rooms have all the mod-cons and the splurging yachtie had the option to watch movies, surf the web, and loaf around (after their unlimited showers) in arctic conditions if they wanted to.

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17°06.50′S 179°06.25′E 20-May-11 10:30 UTC

Candid Savusavu

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Savusavu is a tough place for a Caucasian longhair to take candids because everybody is watching him like a hawk all the time, especially if he’s carrying around a big camera. But with enough time we started to collect some intel on the daily lives of these lovely and diverse people and their lovely and diverse ways of life.

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We saw people living high in traditional stilted houses, teaching their youngsters to wave a friendly “Bula” to passersby,

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and an elderly lady with beautiful long white hair living down the hill in a neat cottage with a clever built-in foot washing basin.

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There were muslims with ear rings 

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and muslims with little boys who like ice cream.

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Ladies with umbrellas to avoid the sun,

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unless they could find a shady spot to spend the morning.

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This lady and her dog held court under the mango tree all morning.

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This lady was too elegant for any rainbow colored umbrella and too busy for any shadetree loafing.

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The school rush hour is very busy on main street.

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Buses are loaded with kids at the end of a 2 week fall break.

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The combined effects of returning to class and a lack of sunglasses in the strong morning light show in their faces.

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Some are forced  to walk.

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The late ones have to run.

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Little ones don’t have to rush for anything. They get carried around and smooched.

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Or fed boiled corn on the cob.

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The street corn guy was doing a brisk morning business.

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Everyone was getting down to business after the school bell rush.

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Snappy dressers appeared from all quarters and moved with purpose towards their morning meetings.

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Senior associates met on the street and passed along items of interest.

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The vegetable market was a bit less hectic.

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There was still time for a quiet thought even in the bustle of an early weekday morning. We watched a guy from the Hindu temple distribute ceremonial flowers into Nakama Creek.

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Little girls patiently waited for buses and read instructions to their grandparents in eight consumer languages,

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or petted Ganesha’s knee.

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16°46.90′S 179°20.50′E 18-May-11 13:30 UTC