It's Christmas in Fiji. I know it is because there are carols on the radio and the stores have decorations for sale and signs telling me what I should buy to make my holiday special but it is a little hard to get into the “spirit” of things when the mercury hits 90 by 10:00am.
Bill was off to the American Consulate early this morning to renew his passport. It doesn't expire for months but we have to begin working on our visa extensions which is multi-step process and they won't extend your visa unless you have at least 6 months left on your passport. So off across the island -five hours each way- for a day of bureaucracy.
There are several ways for us to extend our Fijian visa. First we will apply for the usual easy two month extension which will get us through late March but then we have to do something more significant. We can fly out and return which restarts the clock, we can sail out of Fijian waters and turn around and come back (or visit any other country for a brief stay) or we can pay $600 each for another six months. Leaving Fijian waters sounds simple enough but ahah! it's cyclone season and leaving in March for an ocean passage might not be the safest answer to the visa puzzle. The other option -purchasing tickets to New Zealand- would give us a holiday in Kiwi land but leaves us faced with leaving the boat unattended for the duration of the trip while cyclone season still bears down on us. We have already had two cyclone watches this season though neither has developed into anything to worry about. Each though has been a reminder that to stray far from the marina leaves us vulnerable to both the cyclones and taking our boat out of the only place where we are covered by insurance for any resulting calamity.
Staying close to the security of the marina has cut down on the travel we were hoping for in Fiji. We've ventured as far as the island of
Malololaiai in the Mamanuca group which lies just to the west of us and will soon be visiting the southern most islands in the Yasawa group but so far we have stayed pretty close to home. We had counted on being able to stray much farther afield but that was based on a history of sailing in the Pacific Northwest where there are no reefs to sneak up and bit you in the behind. The reefs around Fiji are numerous and not well charted which leaves our sailing day shortened with the need to have the “right” light during travel hours. When you are traveling unknown waters you need the sun above you and or at your back. If it is overcast or if the sun is in front of you you can't see the reefs until your right on top of them. So travel is by where your going and what time of day it is. We have been laying down tracks on our chart plotter (a process of keeping a record of our path so we can go in and out of anchorages safely based on our own previous passage route) and that will give us a bit more range but then we are also limited by the miles themselves.
Cyclones. Everything we do here is based on the most recent weather report. But it is not just a matter of if there is a storm. A handful of online weather sights track systems all over the pacific for us, we track them, our friends track them, the marina tracks them and then it's a matter of miles and time. The lows that develop into true storms are a living breathing thing that is frankly hard to read. Some big storms make a slow and steady trek across the miles and you have plenty of time to batten down the hatches. Some build and grow astonishingly quickly. Many look dire and then peter out all together. They all can make a quick change from nothing to something or something to nothing while your happily concentrating on something else.
Truly getting ready for a cyclone is a lot of work and most of us are loath to cyclone proof our boats again and again only to have the work be a waste of time and energy. If we go through the drill of preparing for a storm all the work must be reversed again to make the boat livable in the heat and ready to sail again to the outer anchorages. The trade off for staying in the water and being free to sail to the outer anchorages in order to beat the oppressive still heat of our cyclone safe berth at the marina means where most cruisers ready their boat once and are done for the season we will likely run the drill numerous times between now and May. We've also learned that though we have a prepaid six month slip at the marina if we lollygag around when a storm is building somewhere off across the ocean by the time we make it back to safety the marina could be closed by the surge protecting boom they put in place at the entrance to the boat basin. So you better not be late for the party!
In the meantime we are getting out and about to experience the island of Vita Levu. We have figured out all the buses and know the way to the movie theater (movies in English again, yea.) We are slowly learning which shops have the best produce and which have the best prices on groceries. I am starting to expand my cooking knowledge of the local ingredients and we are becoming curry professionals. My roti recipe is improving and I am beginning to be able to differentiate between sweet potatoes and parsnips, taro and tamarind and walu and wahoo. Oh and the fishing has been pretty good on our passages back and forth to the outer anchorages.
Well since Bill is off gallivanting around the island I am going to get out the Christmas decorations and see what I can do to get a bit more into the spirit. Merry Christmas. Kat