THE BEST PARTY IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC

October 13, 2020 ; 10:20 AM
17°77’S, 177°19’E – Musket Cove, Fiji

Our 19-hour sail to Musket Cove was complete with final night watches, lightning storms to avoid, and a “groaning” autopilot that Captain Dave is diligently investigating.
We grabbed a mooring ball and were quickly rewarded by a delicious, bacon-y breakfast at the Musket Cove café, where the Captain and Admiral would enjoy the “greatest breakfast sandwich ever” each morning for the rest of the weekend.

We were elated to reunite with Island Wanderer, Amari, Serenity First, and Catherine Estelle (+continue our adventures with Max). But our SOLA+ group was just a tiny faction of the “best party in the South Pacific”- Musket Cove Regatta.

To our knowledge, we attended the only international regatta to happen in 2020. It was peppered with colorful sailors from around the globe, sitting out COVID in Fiji and waiting to see what their next adventure will be. Throw in some competition, sunshine, and beer and you’ve got a party.

Here’s a highlight reel of the events Amazing Grace participated in over the long weekend:

BAY OF ISLANDS PORT OPUA HOBIE CAT CHALLENGE
The long weekend kicked off with a Hobie-16 race. It had been a long time since we’d been on a day boat- MAN, did we have a blast.

The course was twice around a triangle of buoys, leaving them to the starboard side. The competition went on over a few days, bracket style, with participants competing in pairs. The exception to the pairs rule was the skipper dads who clambered aboard their Hobies with a gaggle of kiddos. And sometimes that was even an advantage, as many of the races had legs with such still wind that paddling was essential.

Admiral Anne kicked off the event for Amazing Grace with the skipper of Island Wanderer (first time Hobie sailor). After a valiant effort, they did not move on to the next round. I blame it on their unwillingness to lay on the hull and paddle in the dead spots- but you know Admiral Anne- she’s a real stickler for the rules…

Your favorite Captain and First Mate faired better, advancing 3 rounds before being kicked out of the race by Serenity First. It was fierce competition, there was absolutely paddling, and we had fun watching our friends on Serenity First make it all the way to the finals to place second.

Fun fact: The Captain and Admiral used to race Hobie-16’s while they were dating and first married in Baton Rouge, LA. They each had their own Hobie-16, and I grew up sailing on a Hobie-16 that was a mix of those two boats, after each got into an unfortunate incident (crash) that rendered it un-sailable.

SUP SPRINT RACE
Everyone participated in this short down and back on the stand-up paddleboard. Only Captain Dave fell in…

We learned quickly that paddling into the wind is a lot more efficient on your knees, while with the wind is better standing up. Essentially, our bodies were acting as sails. This technique helped the first mate advanced to the finals, but when the rules evolved to require standing, I was crushed by the incredibly tiny and strong elite paddle boarding sailors of Fiji. These women are amazing, and I so enjoyed getting to know them.

RUM RUN
Now this is my kind of running: A “5k” (more like 4k but who measures?) run with 5 rum stations along the way. I’m talking 8-year special dark Fiji rum. DELICIOUS rum.

The First Mate ran, with the exception of a few rum sipping steps at each stop.
The Captain and Admiral treated as more of a rum crawl, bringing up the rear with Amari and Serenity First and cleaning up the rum tables as they went by.
The course was gorgeous, up the hills of the island with views, through woods, and finally ending along the beach.
No one medaled. Still, maybe we’d participate in more organized races in the US if they understood rum stops…

SUP LONG DISTANCE CHALLENGE
Three nautical miles of stand-up paddle boarding is WAY further than I’ve ever gone before. And boats came in from Nadi just for the race because SUP-ing is a serious thing around here. But what the heck? I threw my hat in the ring.

The race was supposed to be around the island, but the wind was too strong, so it ended up being a buoy triangle- similar to, but much further than, the Hobie Cat Challenge.

Leg one was fine. Directly into the wind for a mile, but still feeling good. I rounded the buoy to my starboard (yes, I also think it’s hilarious that a paddleboard is a big enough vessel to not simply use “right” and “left”) and headed out for the big, scary, mean leg. Although it was a slight turn out of the wind, we were far from the shore and the waves crashed over our boards. The wind was just slightly off the nose, and all the paddling was on the same side for an entire mile. It was exhausting, and the paddleboard queens started to pass me up. But never fear! Just as I was desperately regretting my decision to participate, I rounded the last buoy and turned back to go with the waves, wind on my back. The last leg was a blast, surfing the waves in and passing up boarders to place third!

A medal? YES, PLEASE.

RACING THE HOUSE (OR NOT)
I have to admit, we didn’t participate in the “yacht” race around the island. We just weren’t prepared to race the house so quickly after a few weeks exploring Fiji. But we should have, because it sounds like it was a blast, and we will next time!

Note: see awesome drone footage of those who did on @musketcove_fiji on Instagram! Plus, some glimpses of Amazing Grace and her crew 😊.

FUN EVENTS
You better believe with a bunch of sailors around there was constant sundowners, beers on the beach, dinners, dancing, games by the pool, pirate garb, and general merriment. The Amazing Grace crew soaked in as much of it as possible.

We were there for the 50th Fiji Day! Color guard and drums in grass skirts with tomahawks ceremoniously raised the flag and sang the anthem. Then speeches taught the story of throwing off the oppressive rule of England. Fireworks flew from the beach across the bay, but there was a very sad surprise twist: no s’mores.

The best non-competition even was the final dinner- PIG ON A SPIT, which I’ve been looking for ever since we got to the South Pacific. I learned that my favorite food is cracklins- my plate piled high every time I came back from the magnificent buffet. This is how you feast.

We danced the night away, and it ended with the entire dance floor jumping into the pool in our dresses as the band wrapped up their set. WHAT A PARTY. We loved spending more quality time with our SOLA+ family, meeting new people with stories of travel all over the world, and competing in some fun events.

Musket Cove Regatta, you have a special place in our hearts!

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: Think of the Musket Cove Regatta as adult summer camp for sailors… But, like, drown it in rum.

ABRA KADAVU

October 7, 2020 ; 12:22 PM
19°14’S, 178°53’E – Kadavu, Fiji

It was a very soggy overnight sail to Kadavu. And for the first time- a chilly, soggy sail. The good news is we got to wear our super cool foul weather gear for the first time, and I remembered what it was like to spend a few hours not sweating. The bad news is that I didn’t put my patch on early enough and the seasickness that I’ve been running from for 9 months got me.

But now we’re in Kadavu, the island Admiral Anne was maybe most excited about, so it’s all good. Our first afternoon we went directly to land for provisions. Our freezer and floorboards had never been so empty. And we were happy to find a fresh market open and a small bakery! Oh, and cases and cases of Fiji Gold (beer).

Unfortunately for all of us (especially Admiral Anne), there isn’t a whole lot to do here. All our guidebooks rave about this place, but the hurricane in 2016 took a big toll on the reefs and tourism has been down since then. The great snorkeling and diving will take some time to recover.

Still, we had to check it out. We spent a long morning of making sure the “dive shop” had enough gear for Maximillian and us. Luckily, Max has some of their own gear, so they were able to mix and match. They also had some trouble finding us a boat since their dive boat was out of commission.

But eventually we got it together and went to dive the yellow wall. It was pretty as we rounded a large, purple stone wall covered in yellow soft coral. The colors were so vibrant and contrasting that they almost looked psychedelic. But it wasn’t very fishy. It certainly didn’t have the same feel as the other awesome dives we’ve had the pleasure to experience here in Fiji.

In fact, we all agreed that the best part was the 5-minute safety stop, where we hung out at the top of the only coral head really covered in fish. The other highlights were 2 reef sharks and a giant, speckled triggerfish with a giraffe pattern I’d never seen before.

But my favorite feature of Kadavu is the waterfall. We hired a local to drive us to the swimming hole, which was a series of falls just off the road with a large, deep pool. And yes, I spent much of the time jumping off the cliff into the icy water, and then climbing back up to do it again.

The falls were surrounded by gorgeous rainforest and we had a wonderful afternoon laughing and splashing with good friends (Max).

There are some gorgeous beaches here to walk, sunbathe, and swim. I have to be honest, I’m at a point of needing to limit my time in the sun after a lot of beach and sun time in Fulaga. My skin just can’t take it! But I’ve been checking it all out in shorter intervals.

Oh! And Admiral Anne took a bird watching (or listening, as it were) hike!

We’re also starting to make arrangements for leaving the boat and what happens when we get back to the good old US of A (we land in Tampa on Halloween!) We’ve spent mornings getting that work done to clear our schedules for a weekend full of fun and competition at the Musket Cove Regatta.

So although Kadavu isn’t all our guidebooks made it out to be, we’ve had a nice stay. And last night was the perfect send off- our first dinner not on low provisions and not on Amazing Grace since before we went to the Lau group. It felt so good to have an evening without scourging the floorboards for something to throw together! And we appreciated the non-canned meat and fresh veggies.

After dinner (a wonderful chicken dish with French onion soup and corn pancake pie) we sat and drank kava with the employees at the resort (including our dive instructor). They played guitar and sang and it felt like an impromptu after dinner kick back at home. It was fun to be a part of their normal, relaxed culture without anyone putting on a show for us like at a kava ceremony or a resort regularly catering to international guests.

Now we’re getting Gracie Girl ready for our last overnight passage of the trip- back to Musket Cove. It should be 18-20 hours in light wind. We’re excited to meet up with what’s left of SOLA, welcome Island Wanderer to Fiji, and swap stories with others we’ve met along the way! According to the sailors we met on the radio in passing, it’s the best party in the South Pacific and we cannot miss it.

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: Although kava is certainly an experience worth trying in Fiji, we prefer a night cap of rum. Then again, we’ve always been pirates at heart.

WHATCHA-MA-CALL-IT

October 2, 2020 ; 8:27 PM
19°14’S, 178°53’E – Fulaga/Vulaga/Fulanga, Fiji

Keeping track of the different villages, towns, and islands we visit in Fiji is much harder than in French Polynesia. Names are used multiple times (ex. Somo Somo) and many places have multiple names. Or, in the case of our most eastern stop, the name seems to be the same but is spelled differently on official charts, maps, and signs. It’s all very confusing for the outsiders, but it doesn’t seem to bother the locals a bit, so who am I to judge?

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to use the spelling on the village sign- “Fulaga”, but note that the “F” is pronounced somewhere between a “F” and a “V” and the pronunciation suggests an “N” before the “G”.

Now that we’re past the semantics, Fulaga is SO GORGEOUS. Captain Dave’s favorite Fiji spot, and maybe even favorite on the whole trip. The small, limestone islands within the reef (corroding at the bottom so they look like they may tip over) give it a more spread out “Bay of Islands” feel. But the water is more shallow, creating more vibrant and bright shades of blue, and the lagoons are much larger, so there’s more area to explore. The biggest bonus? Big, beautiful, soft beaches around every corner.

Most of our time was spent swimming off the boat, sundowning/picnic lunching on the beach with Max, exploring on the kayak and dinghy, playing frisbee, and generally enjoying the magnificent views at a couple different anchorages.

We had one of the best lobster dinners of our lives, courtesy of the local boys who flagged us down as we sailed into the bay. They sold us the biggest lobster we’ve ever seen (seriously, one lobster tail + 2 arms- no claws- fed all three of us). It was also the greenest lobster we’ve ever seen- so we weren’t sure what kind of flavor we would get. But hot off Gracie Girl’s grill, smothered in garlic and butter, it was cooked perfectly and so delicious.

Fulaga is also home to a village with a unique view on Sevu Sevu. We hiked in through surrounding jungle and pretty flowers to meet the head man and the chief. They were a little more formal than some of the other places we’ve been, spending the time to explain what’s going on in their village and their ways of life, and giving us plenty of time to ask questions. It felt like they really appreciated us being there and enjoyed having visitors. They accepted our kava and welcomed us to be part of their village, even assigning us a host family!

We got to hang out with Arminio, Uhna, and their family in their home. They told us about their family both there in the village and others who had moved to Savu for schooling and other opportunities (including the military). We got to interact with the kids (I really miss kids!) and they made us tea (hot water with lemon leaves) and bao buns.

Most of what the village consumes is grown, hunted, or gathered right on the island. They eat a lot of fish, fruit, and root vegetables and we were lucky that they shared with us, because we were dreadfully close to being out of provisions!

Horror story: WE RAN OUT OF BEER. Still working out how this can be Captain Dave’s favorite place without his favorite carb 😉.

Since the village is so remote, they only receive supplies once a month. We were lucky enough to be there when the supply ship came, so we witnessed a “holiday” for them in which the whole village hikes to the shore of the bay where it’s deep enough for the ship to anchor. They patiently await their supplies as they play and chat on the shore. From what we can tell, they mostly buy butter, sugar, and flour, but they’re also able to get parts for their outboard engines, batteries, etc. when they have the need and ability.

The ship also takes crops back to Savu to sell for the village. We saw them drying out coconuts and hauling vegetables to make a little income. Families were reunited with loved ones who came home and the kids loved having visitors. It was nice to be there on such an important day!

It’s obvious that the village itself has had more help than some of the others we’ve visited. Many of the houses were built of corrugated steel with a strong timber frame and a concrete floor. There’s a community building, and each family has their own solar panel. According to the chief, a lot of this is because of the generosity of sailors who come through Fulaga. The community building was donated completely by a boat who visited just after the last cyclone, which appears to have flattened brick buildings in 2016.

On the opposite side of the lagoon from the village is the pass we sailed in. It’s only about 50 M wide, surrounded by very shallow reef, and complete with coral heads within. At low tide, it’s absolutely necessary to have someone on the bow watching to dodge the shallow spots. It will be nice to have our track from coming in for our passage out tomorrow morning, when the light will be low.

But while the reef makes the skinny pass nerve-wrecking, it also makes for excellent snorkeling. We snorkeled both sides and saw lots of fish, a couple sharks (the Admiral claims one even stalked her), and the most gorgeous coral. I’m talking healthy, multi-colored, huge coral heads. The current was fast on the south side of the pass, so we held onto the tender as we drifted through. The view was a little different than other passes we’ve snorkeled because of gorgeous sand between coral heads, as the reef was less densely packed. It was absolutely stunning and unique and I loved every moment of it. (Apologies for the lack of pictures, I was way caught up in the moment).

We are so infatuated with Fulaga that we would absolutely spend more time here if the forecast wasn’t rain for the next 4 days. We had some spotty showers and high winds while we were here, but there was plenty of time to enjoy the islands as well. Sitting soggy on the boat waiting out downpour for 4 days couldn’t be lower on our list- so hook up is scheduled for 6 AM tomorrow!

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: If you ever make it to Fulaga, and we 10/10 think you should, say “hi” to Arminio and Uhna for us! We’re part of their family now 😊.

SITTIN’ ON THE DECK IN THE BAY (OF ISLANDS)

September 18, 2020 ; 3:26 PM
17°34’S, 178°95’E – Susui, Fiji

I’m gonna be totally honest with you- 3 days of POURING DOWN rain since the last blog post were MISERABLE. Everything I owned was wet. All my clothes (clean included) were wet, my sheets were wet, my body was constantly so damp that I had permanent toe wrinkles…. IT WAS SO WET. The wetness trapped us in the boat, where we got incredibly sick of each other with nothing new to talk about because we all live the same life, and there was no cell service. The Captain was in a mood, the Admiral was in a mood, the First Mate was in a mood- and it was not a good look…

But then it was the fourth tomorrow and the sun came out and we had made our way to the Bay of Islands. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A magical fantasy maze full of caves and caverns through limestone cliffs that lush, green trees jut out of. Honestly, my words and these pictures cannot describe this magical place, and I recommend you Google around to check out some more professional videography.

After Sevu Sevu at the neighboring village (Doliconi), we could explore. My favorite way to navigate through the maze is on the kayak. Around every corner I was again lost in the magnificence of it all. I paddled through arches and around crab-covered rock that had been corroded near the waterline to make the islands look like mushrooms. There was lots of time for kayaking, swimming, and snorkeling in the clear, cool water, and we took advantage of every minute of it (post rain). Seriously, we were living in a post card.

We did hire a villager to take us to all his secret spots, since the bay is big and it’s easy to get lost or miss something. He took Maximillian and us to amazing caves and the best snorkeling around, with many, bright colors, and pretty reef fish.

We grilled off the back of the boat and read in the sunshine and finally (after a couple days) dried out all the fabrics on the boat. The overall mood shifted 180 degrees to our usual, sunshiney selves and we are again so happy to be cruising Fiji.

But after a few days (even in paradise), it’s always time to move on to something new. We sailed to Bavata Harbour for a hike to the view of the Bay of Islands. We met the workers on the plantation (complete with Texas flag), who are tending to sheep, cows, and horses. They also grow coconuts to sell. It was a strange sight to be on a farm after all this time, especially on the top of a mountainous island!

There was more swimming and another stunning kayak ride before we had to move on to Lomaloma (we are very slim on provisions). The stores were quaint and didn’t have much in the way of fresh food, but we got some coconuts, a few tomatoes, and packaged food.

While the Admiral was at the grocery store, the Captain and I went for diesel. We were sent “just down the road” for what ended up a 15 minute walk carrying our jerry cans. I was certain it would take me approximately 1 year to walk back once my cans were full of fuel. Lucky for me, when we got there no one was there to help, so we got to lug our empty cans back. The captain was less impressed.

Then the man who sent us there said “oh, well if you want you can go to the store NEXT DOOR instead”. Insert VERY thankful eyeroll here. I’m not exaggerating that I still had to put down the cans for a quick rest twice before I got back to the dinghy. It would have been a WHOLE YEAR before I got there from the other diesel seller. God was looking after me.

Now we are in Susui. We spent a day working on flights home (yes, we have officially given up on New Zealand and are home bound at the end of October), and catching up on other internet things (bills, etc.) as the village asked us to please wait a day to come in for Sevu Sevu. This morning we got blessing from the chief to be part of their village for our stay, and the captains worked to fix the village generator. The last few village stops, they’ve been able to help the villages with some handy jobs like batteries, generators, and solar panels. We have the tools and some basic knowledge (all these gadgets are also on the boat, and we have to be able to repair in case of emergency at sea). As the only non-engineer on the boat, I’m exactly zero help. But go Captains!

Instead, Admiral Anne and I focus on the learning about the villages and their way of life. Cruisers like us are really positive for these villages because it’s a source of income and donation to help with things like new roads, outboard motors, and churches. Susui was hit by a cyclone in 2016, and the cruising community has been enormously generous. It’s great to hear such positivity about the impact of this wonderful community we’re glad to be a part of.

This afternoon, they took us to a gorgeous beach and hunted for oysters to grill on a fire with lime and spicy peppers. They also grilled breadfruit and kasava to go with. It was DELICIOUS. Best traditional Fijian meal I’ve had. Perfectly seasoned and fun!

Fun, but a lot of work. Although pounding the oysters open looked easy, it wasn’t. My help was quickly denied after it took me a few minutes to open a single oyster. These things are shut TIGHT and have rock surrounding them! You really have to have the knack for the perfect hammer angle. Apparently, I didn’t.

We hung out at the beach and learned about village life, looking out into a bay as blue as Bora Bora. It was the perfect setting for a wonderful meal with old(ish) and new friends.

Next stop: Fulanga.
We set sail this afternoon to check out more southern Laus. We’re told they’re as stunning and different as the Bay of Islands, and we can’t wait to see them ourselves.

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: Sunshine is a very important ingredient to the recipe of a happy crew. I also encourage Tim Tams, beer, and beef to be thrown in the mix.

SOMEWHERE, OVER THE RAINBOW (REEF)

September 14, 2020 ; 3:23 PM
16°75’S, 179°90’E – Vanua Levu, Fiji

Rainbow Reef is probably the most world-renowned dive spot in Fiji, featuring the famous Great White Wall.

So naturally, not 24 hours after we dropped the hook, we were keen to be on the reef.

The Great White Wall was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Fiji is known as the soft coral capital of the world, and Taveuni is known as the soft coral capital of Fiji. The colors were so vibrant they seemed unreal, and they varied from oranges to purples to yellows, etc. The reason the wall is unique compared to the rest of rainbow reef is that it’s a 90 degree, colorful cliff that is dusted with paper white soft coral as well. As our guide would say, “this is the only time you’ll ever see snow in Fiji”.

The difference between soft and hard coral is that soft coral shrinks and expands according to the current. Our awesome dive masters (Taveuni Ocean Sports) took us at just the right time of day for a current that ensured the wall was blooming like a field of wildflowers (or maybe more accurately rainbow cauliflower?). Apparently, if you go at the wrong time, it just looks like a big grey cliff. Nothing would be more of a letdown.

We swam through caverns and schools of colorful fish. I was completely bewildered at myself because I’ve spent almost every day swimming in the ocean since January, and I never wondered where the common Goldfish came from. What a dig to my favorite fish friend growing up, Cedric. (Cedric was an important member of the Pankratz family, killed by the hands of the admiral– but that’s a story for another time).

Swimming around the reef, I was sure I had found that Fiji was teeming with Goldfish, but I was mistaken. After dive number one, the dive masters educated us on the fish and coral native to Fiji. I learned that the orange fish that covered most of the reef were actually Anthias. The females are orange and look just like Cedric, but the males are a gorgeous purple (I referred to the males as “mohawk fish” prior to our little science class).

Anthias are all born female and live in schools with a single male. When that male dies, the largest female anthias turns into a male. This is opposite of clownfish (which we saw a lot of, too), who are born male and headed by a female. When the female clownfish dies, the biggest male turns into a female. Basically, Marlin was really Nemo’s MOM during the movie, although he was Nemo’s dad at birth. The animal kingdom is kind of freaky, isn’t it?

Our guide was extremely good at pointing out tiny micro animals throughout both dives. I would have missed literally all of them without his help, as most looked exactly like the coral or other plants they were sitting on. My favorite was a lime green crab, only about an inch wide, that he pulled out of some lime green “hair” growing off the coral. I had just examined the area carefully and missed it completely. We also got to see popcorn shrimp and searched for pygmy seahorses, although I never saw one.

We saw parrot fish laying eggs, a white tip shark, lots of mocking blue fin tuna, and so much more. As we explored the coral heads I had trouble keeping my snorkel in my mouth as my jaw dropped around every corner. Seriously, I encourage you to YouTube videos of Rainbow Reef and the Great White Wall, and then TRY not to put it on your bucket list. It was the most wonderful, other-worldly experience.

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: Rainbow Reef was the best dive site that didn’t feature major game (sharks, rays, etc.) of the entire trip to date. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful and should be on every divers’ bucket list.

DARLING, IT’S BETTER, DOWN WHERE IT’S WETTER

September 11, 2020 ; 9:20 PM
17°31’S, 178°17’E – Volivoli, Fiji

OKAY WE HAD THE MOST MAGICAL COUPLE DAYS OF SEA CREATURE INTERACTIONS. Don’t believe me? I have about a million videos.

RACING DOLPHINS
Dolphins love to race at the bow of Gracie Girl (and any boat) on a day with the right conditions. Although we’ve seen less dolphins total than I probably thought we would on this trip, we’ve certainly seen this pattern a lot.

Over the last two days, during great intraisland day sails around the Yasawas, we had 3 separate pods of dolphins race with us!! They weaved around and in front of the boats for about a half hour each time, until they realized they could never keep up the pace and forfeited to go catch a school of fish instead.

Gracie Girl: 3 ; Dolphins: 0

FLIPPING MANTAS
If you’ve read pretty much any of this blog, you’re aware I have a manta obsession. French Polynesia gave us some awesome experiences, but it’s been a while. So when we sailed to Manta Ray Island I was just as giddy as our first snorkel in Maupiti. And my perfect mantas had a surprise for us!

Since we were drift snorkeling through a fast-current pass, we were in a primo eating environment for the mantas. They opened their mouths all the way and swam quickly to collect plankton, etc. for lunch. The best ones did backflips all the way through their meal! Seriously, for as long as I could keep my body in their vicinity before the current swept me away, the backflips never stopped. Don’t believe me? Check out some videos.

One of those guys even has a ZIPPY! Apparently, he thought I was a manta, not a shark, which I much prefer anyway😊.

HUNGRY FISHIES
The manta snorkel was complete with large schools of fish and pretty coral. We loved it so much we drifted the pass 5 times. My favorite non-manta was this school of fish feeding!

Since we left Manta Ray Island (which also has delicious, wood-fired pizza, by the way), We’ve been running from some storms and making our way back east. Remember, we had to sail almost all the way west to Port Denarau to complete COVID check in requirements for Fiji. Now our sails east are against the trade winds so we don’t miss out on the “best” parts of Fiji. Weather windows are extremely important, and we are conscious of strong winds coming through the area. Sadly, our Russian friends ended up on the reef that night at Manta Ray Island (everyone is okay and the boat is reparable).

The islands are close together and there are many reefs, which aren’t as well marked as they were in French Polynesia. So we’ve done some day sails over the last couple days rather than one long, overnight passage to make sure we don’t hit anything. Luckily, this short stop in Volivoli featured Fiji’s best burger, and it did not disappoint.

As you can tell, WE ARE LOVING UNDERWATER FIJI. Next stop: Rainbow Reef!

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: 2 words: Manta backflips. Yes, scroll back up and check out the videos.

SEGA NA LEQA- IT MEANS “NO WORRIES”

I know you have all become accustomed to the high-quality blog posts from Kristen, our first mate, but she stayed with the boat to snorkel, kayak and relax without parents (hmm?) during our adventure to Turtle Island Resort.  So, you’re stuck with me.

Admiral Anne and I enjoyed a two-day respite away from the part of boat life that can get old.  You know- constant cleaning, showers where you cannot really get enough water and it is rarely warm, beds that are not quite wide enough, preparing meals in a very small kitchen, decks that never stop moving, constantly thinking about all the parts and pieces to maintain, ensuring the anchor does not drag, etc.  You get the picture.  A night at Turtle Island was the right move.

Turtle Island Resort is a magical all-inclusive resort on private Turtle Island (also called Nanuya Levu).  Captain Cook anchored here in 1774 for the beautiful water and good shelter of the lagoon.  Turtles in those days were a welcome feast for the sailors.  Captain Bligh also anchored here but was reportedly chased off by the king on Matacawalevu Island.  Fijians have a strong warrior history.

Now days there are 26 villages in the Yasawa island group.  The land is under Fijian control with a hierarchy of kings, queens and chiefs. 500-acre Turtle Island is the only freehold island of the group.  Turtle Island was first settled by Europeans in 1858 and then granted freehold status by the English monarch, Queen Victoria, in 1884.  Richard Evanson bought the island in 1972 with money he made in cable TV.  In 1980 Columbia Pictures filmed The Blue Lagoon staring Brooke Shields on the island.

Today it is a private resort with only 15 bures or “huts” with huge bathrooms, hot tubs, beds and seating areas.  The staff or family of 40 people who live on the island cater to whatever you want.  As we arrived the girls (Anne and Kristen) were carried by Fiji men in full dress from the boat to shore and we were welcomed with a song and introductions of the staff.  After breakfast at a big table on the beach and a tour of the island, Anne and I went to a private picnic lunch on Honeymoon Beach (one of 15 private beaches on the island).  We had a great time complete with beautiful sand, rock cliffs, waves, hammock, lounge chairs, and delicious lobster curry.  Next, we were up for a horseback ride before cocktails on the beach and dinner.

Dinner was Fijian style- cooked underground in a pit with hot rocks and coals and served on a beautiful open-air table in the garden.  The food was excellent including lobster, pork, chicken, and lots of different vegetables.    After dinner, traditional Fijian dancers and singers precluded the traditional Kava ceremony and drink.  We closed the evening with a bottle of champaign on ice on the beach under a beautiful star-filled sky.

The next morning, we enjoyed another great breakfast at a table on the beach  and the morning song and dance with staff/family.  Afterwards we went to the beautiful, huge garden to plant a small papaya tree and the traditional garden.  It was fun to see names of famous people like the John McCain family, Al Gore family, Robert Murdoch and some of the royals who had visited.  We then took mountain bikes to explore the incredible views and the private beaches we had not seen, including Devils beach, where Blue Lagoon was filmed.

We did lunch at the private Cliff site which includes a private swimming pool, pavilion, and hammock overlooking the sea.  Relaxing together in the hammock was my favorite.

We returned to the boat late in the afternoon refreshed, relaxed, and with all the boat laundry cleaned by the staff!  Kristen was so happy to see us😊!

-David Pankratz
Captain, Amazing Grace

TLDR:  Great memories at Turtle Island and Honeymoon Beach.

SEVUSEVU SAVVY

September 7, 2020 ; 4:50 PM
16°97’S, 177°37’E – Turtle Island, Fiji

As you can tell, the wildlife and landscapes of the South Pacific are jaw dropping. But our lengthened time to explore (thanks, COVID!) wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t also get to immerse ourselves in cultures that are so different from our own.

Fijian culture varies from French Polynesia even more than the landscape, and we’ve already had the honor of participating in so much of it.

When a boat comes to anchor in Fiji (outside the main tourist areas), it’s in someone’s territory. For permission to stay in a given bay, the captain and crew of a vessel must go to shore and present kava to the chief. Kava is a root vegetable grown and sold in Fiji that also happens to be a very mild narcotic that the villagers make into a drink (basically, mildly hallucinatory mud juice). Once the chief accepts the kava and the crew participates in a short ceremony of chanting in Fijian and welcoming to the island, the boat is welcome to stay. The village also often offers visitor dinner and/or entertainment, and has a variety of fruits and crafts to sell.

Super yachts and boats like ours are about the only visitors these areas get, due to their remoteness. That also makes us their main source of village income. Of course, there are teachers who live in the village and commute to school with the children, and others who live and work at resorts around the islands or on the mainland and send funds home. But the villages tend to be relatively poor and live simple ways of life. They live off the land and cook only what can be grown on the island or fished from the sea.

Since the chief at our first village (Somo Somo), is 94 years old, we presented the kava but didn’t get to participate in the drink (I guess she was tired, as we met her in her bed). She was a lovely woman and her family and friends catered to our tour around the island and told us stories about the chief and her ancestors. She’s a pretty impressive lady.

We also participated in their traditional Fijian feast. It was a blast, and the food was only 80% disgusting- consisting mostly of boiled, unseasoned root vegetables and fish, as well as seaweed and sea grapes (harvesting these underwater options is another source of income).
The other 20% of the meal was fresh fruit, eggplant, and a delicious, fried spinach patty. I can certainly see why the Fijians are much fitter than the French Polynesians…

After dinner, the village sang and danced for us. They had the most beautiful voices and really seemed to enjoy having us there to perform for. Captain Dave even got dance stabbed in the heart with a spear. We think he’s ready to have a second career as an actor…

The village allowed us to hike and snorkel on their land. Although we thought we found the hiking trail, we quickly lost it and were left yet again to make our way through thick woods. Luckily, Captain Dave was in front, so he got the brute of the spiders and branches. I’m sure he was regretting not purchasing that machete back in Huahine…

It was great to be around kids again in the villages. They came to greet us and played on the beach. We would see another village with lots of kids again soon at our next anchorage, where we were blessed with a magical morning at church.

As we made our way to the chapel through kind villagers who offered me clothes to wear (I was completely soaked during a very windy dinghy ride), we realized we were a little early for church. We hung out front with Maximillian and chatted with Sam, who was interested in our journey, as we listened to Sunday School kids practicing their song.

Since this village was close to a resort area, they get few visitors (especially since COVID), and the kids were very curious to see us. We were thanked for coming to spend time with them rather than snorkeling or beaching, which was sweet. But we know we were more blessed by the experience than they were.

The kids sang “A Wiseman Built His House Upon the Rock”, a tune we were familiar with. Once the adults filed in with traditional Fijian songs, a choir of gorgeous voices moved us. As we expected, the songs and sermon were mostly in Fijian, so I’ll admit I did a fair amount of bible reading rather than paying attention in the 2 hour service. But religion is such an important part of culture to our family that we really enjoyed seeing how it’s practiced and celebrated on the other side of the world.

While I was most impressed and blessed by the villages over the last few days, we’ve been moving fast and exploring more “touristy” areas as well. At The Boathouse we spent a fun afternoon drinking beer and eating cardboard pizza with the other Bitter Enders.

We went on a gorgeous hike as we said goodbye to our dear friends on Influencer, who are headed to Australia this week.

Then Admiral Anne and Captain Dave decided it was time for some time off the boat.
We anchored at Turtle Island, and they spent 32 hours at a 5 star resort, >50% off a one night price, and lived like the rich and famous (typically requires a 6 night stay). They and Serenity First were the first guests since the beginning of COVID 19, and the staff (who live there) couldn’t have been happier to see them.

I know because I was invited in for breakfast (best waffles of my life) and a tour of the private island, which were both impeccable. I’m sure the entire stay was a wonderful, once in a lifetime experience, but I opted for some alone time with Gracie Girl.

I spent almost 2 full days of pure bliss- enjoying my alone time, kayaking, snorkeling, exploring the beaches and rocks, listening to whatever music I wanted, and not being nagged for one single moment about anything. IT. WAS. AWESOME.

The Captain and Admiral’s First Mate free time was more eventful (but couldn’t have been more blissful) than my time on the boat. But I wasn’t there, so I can’t tell you about it.

Although they haven’t taken me up on my offer this entire trip, maybe the Captain or Admiral will guest write about it. Or maybe what happens on Turtle Creek Island, stays on Turtle Creek Island…

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: Despite my sunny attitude, charming personality, and general lovingness to the people of Somo Somo, I still haven’t gotten to try even a sip of Kava mud juice. What’s up with that?

WILSON!!!!

September 2, 2020 ; 11:13 AM
17°46’S, 177°04’E – Navadra, Fiji

Monuriki (not to be confused with Castaway Island) is beautiful and diverse- although it’s only about 100 acres large. Monuriki is where most of the extremely slow but occasionally hilarious Tom Hanks movie was filmed- but Castaway Island has a resort of the same name. So, tourists sometimes end up there rather than the uninhabited paradise of Monuriki. Also not to be confused with Rafiki, who is the baboon from the Lion King 😊.

After a not so good night’s sleep (anchorage was rolly and winds were high), Admiral Anne was chomping at the bit for an explore first thing in the morning. To shore we went in search of the hiking trail.

The term “trail” should be taken VERY loosely in this post. It’s more likely that a group of drunken college kids stumbled around with pink ribbon and tied them around nonsensically than that someone tried to trample a trail. Seriously, there might be hidden cameras around that filmed Amazing Grace, Amari, and Influencer stumbling around the jungle. Yes, our falls and confusion were hilarious, and if you’re out there reading this- we are interested in making a rights deal to fund the rest of our circumnavigation.

Each not-a-path we explored led to varying difficulty of hike based on elevation, barriers, and number of spiders. This naturally split us off into 3-4 different groups. I can only speak to the couple hour, achieve highest elevation as possible until continuing up the cliff would lead to certain doom hike that Captain Dave, Amari’s skipper, and I did- but if you want to hear about people smarter than us who found a real trail you’ll have to talk to Admiral Anne.

Our hike began on the gorgeous, white sand beach before we cut inland. We trudged through arid, dry woods full of sticker plants (which thoroughly cut up our legs) until we came to a steep rock face. After some hands-and-feet climbing, we made it to a magnificent view overlooking the surrounding islands.

As we climbed down the other side, we found a lush jungle. The plants and soil changed completely. Queue killer spiders.

The worst part about leading on these not-path hikes is the spider webs you have to knock down to get through. Usually, they’re large webs with little, half-inch diameter creepy crawlers. NOT ON MONURIKI. We encountered the largest spiders I’ve seen since the tarantulas in Big Bend. But unlike tarantulas, they’re not crawling on the ground, they’re eye level and menacing and you might not see them until they’re 4 inches in front of your face. YIKES!

As we zig zagged through the spider jungle, we eventually came to clearings where it was straight up fall. A complete season change happened in the course of a few feet, and we were surrounded by gorgeous red and orange leaves.

Eventually, we made our way back down to the sea, because it was obvious there was no way for us to get to the top without climbing gear and we were absolutely nowhere near a trail. We emerged from the woods in the middle of a rock beach.

Remember the scene in castaway where he’s trying to spear the fish?? That was us wading through the water. And the crabs? They really scurry all over these rocks. We even found Tom Hanks’ cave! Or at least one camera angle of it.

As we walked back toward the boats, we returned to the white, sandy beach where most of Castaway was filmed and met up with Admiral Anne and the others. We loved that we had seen such a variety of landscape and vegetation on such a short hike, and we had the battle scratches to prove it.

After a quick lunch on the boat we returned to the island for some beach time, and we FOUND WILSON!

Don’t we look as rugged as Tom Hanks? Isn’t Wilson getting better with age? It was a very fun, silly day- topped off with a short motor to Navadra (thanks to Gracie Girl for getting off that island).

On the short passages around the Nasawa islands, we’ve been stretching Gracie Girl’s sails. Unfortunately, since getting the main patched, we’ve had trouble unfurling as the sail jams in the mast. Hopefully, it will work itself out over time. But with the time and effort it takes to crank the sail out (Captain Dave on deck pulling, me on the winch), we are SO HAPPY it’s a problem here within island wind protection, and not on the open ocean.

Here off the coast of Navadra we have the cove all to ourselves, except a trimaran on the other end catching some waves. We spent a nice, quiet evening grilling on the boat and watching the sun set over the hills.

Then this morning we snorkeled both sides of the island. We saw our first turtle in a while and walked down the beach, where there was a sign that we weren’t allowed to come to land without permission. Who’s permission did we need? Probably the chief’s. Now we’re off to meet up with the other Bitter Enders and find the chief!

-Kristen Pankratz
First mate, Amazing Grace

TLDR: While on Monuriki, Tom Hanks made best friends with a volleyball. For me, it was a very long stick that I used to bat away the large and scary spiders…