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2019 Rocked!

Well 2019 was certainly a spectacular year for the crew of Dazzler. It started off with a bang as our dear friends, Jack & Mary flew in from the states to join us on a three week road trip around New Zealand. We covered a whole lot of ground making it all the way down to Queenstown and back to Whangarei and we saw many wonderful sites along the way.

That trip ended and we were off to the states for a month to visit friends and family in California and Florida. Yes, having family on both coasts makes for a lot of traveling but we got it all in and still had time for a little sightseeing along the coast of California where Jilly got to see hundreds of Elephant Seals up close on the beach in San Simeon.

FIRST TO CALIFORNIA

THEN TO FLORIDA

After seven long weeks of traveling we returned to Dazzler who was on the hard. There was no time to rest as Dan got to work immediately preparing and painting the bottom as well as working on some other projects like replacing a thru hull and cutlass bearing.

No sooner had we completed all our work and it was time to start provisioning and preparing for the trip back north as our visas were about to expire. At the end of April we cast off our lines and headed back north on the nine-day passage to Tonga where we spent a month traveling the islands. We learned that we really love the Vava’u group of islands the most. And, we especially love the eastern most island of Kenutu. On one side of the island the Pacific Ocean crashes onto the craggily coast with the fury of God and on the other the bay is as flat as glass. It’s spectacular! The Tongan people are very kind and we thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them.

By the end of May we were headed north to Fiji where we spent the next five months. Fiji is a spectacular place! We fully circumnavigated the northern island of Vanua Levu with our German friends Lutz & Gabi on SV SuAn. We visited islands and villages where they had not seen outsiders in years! One village was so excited to have visitors that practically the entire village came to the shore to greet us. It was fabulous to get a chance to visit these remote places and get to know the people there. Most have little to nothing. They live in tiny box like homes with no windows or doors, just cloths hanging over the openings. Most have no furniture to speak of except maybe a mattress on the floor where they sleep. They have community kitchens that are usually set up in the middle of the village and all cooking is done over open fires.

The villagers live on the fish they catch and eat the hogs, goats and chickens they raise. The have some solar power that is provided by the government and their fresh water is collected from the rain. These people have virtually nothing but we can tell you this…we’ve never met more genuine, honest, hardworking and selfless people in the world. If we’d have asked they would have given us, total strangers, the last of their fruits or vegetables and never once asked for a thing in return. It was quite humbling to get to know these fine people.  Each village we visited we had the same experience. In fact, in one village the Chief had his son, Soniala take us on several hour hike up to Tavora falls while his wife, Elizabeth, fixed us a huge lunch to have when we returned.

We visited the island of Makogai where they grow clams as big as humans! This island was once a Leper Colony where people with Leprosy from all over the world were brought to spend the remainder of their days. It’s now a marine conservation station where they grow coral and giant clams and even sea turtles to release back into the wild. We enjoyed several wonderful days here. We found some electrical items, line, clothes and other things on Dazzler that we donated to the village. We also gave the kids a brand new volleyball. They loved that! Dan played volleyball and soccer with them for several hours while I enjoyed the afternoon chatting with the ladies and learning about their culture. We intend to return here next season to spend a week or two helping in the village.

After a month of traveling Vanua Levu we headed west toward Vitu Levu, the Mamanucas and the Yasawas. WOW! What absolutely stunning islands and waters we experienced here. There were places we could see the bottom 200’ below us!

We spent a significant amount of time at the island of Malololailai also known as Plantation Island. There are three resorts on the island and one, Musket Cove, is particularly popular with cruisers as it has a marina and their famous Island Bar. The bay here is well protected and they have very strong moorings as well. We spent so much time here because Dan had to go back to the states for his youngest daughter’s wedding and I was left on the boat for 16 days. If a girl has to be left alone someplace this isn’t a bad spot at all.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t alone the entire time. I had my friend Donna fly in from New Zealand for ten days. Donna and I enjoyed our “girl time” on the boat. Donna isn’t really a boater so teaching her to get in and out of the dinghy and how to conserve water and power aboard was a bit tricky but all worked out swimmingly.

Once Dan returned from the states we took off for the Yasawa Island Group. These are the northwestern most islands in Fiji and also the most beautiful. We visited several islands and met some incredible villagers. We happened into the village at Noboro Pointe on the only day of the year that they hold their church fundraiser. What a wonderful experience this was for us. All three villages on the island gathered together. The goal for them was to raise $21K FJD. This is equivalent to the salary of two people working at a resort for one year. That’s a lot of cha ching for people who make between $100-$300 FJD per week. ($50-$150 USD)

We were treated to a kava ceremony to celebrate them reaching their goal. It was by far the largest one we’ve ever attended with forty or more people sitting on the woven mat drinking kava. It was an exciting and very enlightening day for us. We were honored to be a part of this special day and can’t wait to return next year.

Before we knew it the time had come for us to leave all of our dear Fijian friends and head back here to New Zealand. This is a passage that neither of us was really looking forward to making. You see this passage is known to be one of the toughest in the world. You pass through an area where the Coral Sea, Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean all meet. This makes for some pretty interesting weather systems and often times turbulent seas. Sailors who have made this passage all say the same thing… “This is not a pleasure cruise. This is a get there safely as quick as you can passage.” Just prior to our departure two sailboats sank making the passage. One was just south of Fiji and the other off the northern cape of New Zealand. In that sinking a man lost his life.  As you can imagine we just wanted to get it done.

Our eleven-day passage was, at times, filled with rough weather and more than half of the trip was fraught with issues including a large wave that crashed over the top of us literally swamping the entire cockpit sending water down the companionway. 

On three different occasions we had to heave to in order to work on the water lift silencer which ended up with several holes and a large crack. The first night we were bobbing in the sea in the middle of the night while Dan tried to diagnose the issue. At one point we lost all power, which really freaked me out. I had visions of the Navy coming to rescue us. As it turns out Dan accidentally hit the kill switch. He thought it was hilarious. Me….not so much. Thanks to an amazing little product called Minute Mend Dan was able to patch up the unit and make it work to get us to New Zealand. 

And let’s not forget the leaking jury can full of diesel fuel that we dealt with in the middle of the night or the leaking chain plate that allowed water intrustion into our lockers. Or, there’s my absolute favorite…the morning I was catapulted off the head with the seat attached to my bum as I slammed face first into the head door. Yes, this was quite a trip.

By day eight we were both exhausted and ready for our passage to end. Seems God must have sensed our exhaustion and blessed our final three days with amazing sailing and beautiful weather. We arrived in Marsden Cove Marina almost exactly eleven days to the minute from when we left Momi Bay in Fiji. I could have kissed the dock and probably would have if it hadn’t had bird poo all over it!

We now have the boat tied up at Whangerie Town Basin Marina. Dan has been working on many projects not the least of which was to replace the exhaust lift silencing unit, fix the leak at the chain plate and rebuild two teak hatches in the cockpit.

Of course we have taken a little time to enjoy being back in New Zealand. Our Thanksgiving was simply spectacular. We made a full Thanksgiving dinner on Dazzler which is quite the feat in a galley that’s only about three foot square. We enjoyed a wonderful day of laughter, family, food, drink and music with our wonderful German friends from SV SuAn and SV Rebell. Dan played his ukulele and I played my Irish tin whistle. If we couldn’t be with our blood relatives this was the next best thing. As we like to say, “ We had an American Thanksgiving in New Zealand with our German family!”

We spent Christmas in Auckland with our Kiwi family there. We had three lovely and relaxing days of family time and even met another wonderful new couple who have become the newest addition to our Kiwi family. Jilly got the new Huawei P30 Pro phone that has a 40 MP camera so you’ll see a lot of really great photos in the future. (Note the difference of the ones below) Dan got a custom made, hand-carved flagpole created for him by Macu, a wonderful Fijian carver from the Lau group of islands. Of course he says it’s too nice to put out in the elements so it’s become a beautiful piece of art that is displayed below deck on Dazzler.

Now that the holidays are about over it’s time to get back to work. Dan’s working feverishly on varnish while I’m working very hard on our Book Buying Fundraiser for the children on the remote islands of Fiji. During our travels to the remote villages of Fiji we were blessed to get to know many of the families and tons of children. On Kia Island when we visited they let the kids out of school early for their afternoon meal to visit with us. Two of the young ladies grabbed me by the hand and rushed me across the lawn to see their new library. It is a wooden building about 20’ x 10’. I could smell the freshly cut lumber and new paint. These girls, about 13 or so, were so excited to show me their new library but as we walked in I immediately noticed that the beautiful wooden bookshelves were virtually empty. I broke my heart!

More and more kids came pouring into the library. Each was as excited as the next to tell me all about it and how everyone in the village participated in building it. Still I kept looking at the empty shelves. Later Dan and I spoke with Epeli, the headmaster, who told us that reading books are what they need most. It seems the Fijian government provides textbooks, paper and pencils but no reading books. Before we left we asked the kids what they would like us to bring back to them when we return next year. Each and every child replied, “BOOKS!” They could have asked us for anything else in the world but all they asked for were books. As we visited more villages along the way we heard this same request over and over from the children. 

This experience touched us both very deeply and we made a pledge that we will  return to these villages next season with as many books as we can buy and carry. As of today we’ve raised $1405 USD which brings us just short of 50% of our goal but we’re not done yet. We will continue to take donations through March 1stand we truly believe we will get there with the help of our fans, friends and families.

If you’d like to help us help the kids of Fiji, please CLICK HERE to make a donation

Well, that’s about all from the Sovereign Nation of Dazzler. If you want to see some photos of our adventures be sure to check out our Dazzler Art Photos & Videos Page by CLICKING HERE We’ve recently posted several hundred photos. We’re also working on a book of our travels, which we hope to have ready this year.

We certainly hope you all have a Fabulous and Propersous New Year!

Cheers,

Jilly & Dan

P.S. Grape Ape also had the time of his life this year. He is growing rather quickly and acts much like a teenager wanting to spend more time exploring on his own than hanging out with us but then that’s kids for ya. He does enjoy riding in the dinghy when we pull it behind the boat though. He loves his Uncle Lutz of SV SuAn and he’s made quite a few new friends this year. He’s looking forward to seeing what 2020 has in store.

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Goodbye Fiji

After five amazing months it’s finally time to say goodby to Fiji. We’ve certainly had a lot of wonderful times here. Circumnavigating Vanua Levu with our wonderful friends, Lutz & Gave on SV SuAn, exploring island villages, meeting Chiefs and villagers, drinking kava, snorkeling, having great friends visit and sailing Fiji’s amazing waters…we’ve certainly packed in a lot into such a short time.

We’ve met some of the most incredible villagers who have made such an impact on our lives. Many of whom we will revisit when we return next year. And the children in the villages certainly captured our hearts and left an indelible mark on our souls. Their sweet and gentle personalities, beautiful smiles and willingness to help in whatever way they can make these some of the most beautiful souls we’ve encountered along our journey. We have pledged to return to some of the villages bringing books for them. Books are what they asked for most often. Imagine that!

And of course we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the awesome people we’ve met in the service industry here. There’s Va, Ziggy & Josie at Musket Cove. Wilma, Mary and the crew at Rhum-ba. Ma, Dee, Bai, Jeff, Lisa, Monica, Ponya and Keith at Vuda. Mita & Angela at Copra Shed in Savusavu and, of course, our favorite “naughty boys”, Leli, Mac and Sailor of the Coral Cats. We will miss them all but have every intention of seeing them again!

There is no doubt Fiji has some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. She has crystal clear, aqua tinted waters, magnificent lush, green mountains and jungles, white sand beaches and an underwater world that is second to none. But, it’s not the scenery that makes Fiji so beautiful. It’s the warm, thoughtful, welcoming people who live here. We’ve been completely overwhelmed by their kind spirit and generosity. It’s so easy to see why cruisers come here and never leave. We know we haven’t had enough of this magical place and her beautiful people. Who knows, maybe we’ll be back for more than just one more season!

As we take off our on passage back to New Zealand we thought we’d post a gallery of some of our favorite pics from Fiji this year. Hope you enjoy the photos as much as we’ve enjoyed the adventure we had getting them.

Until next time…

Jilly & Dan

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Manta Ray Bay

In the Yasawa Islands there is a place called Manta Ray Bay. It’s considered “THE” place to go in Fiji if you want to swim with the Manta rays. The bay is bordered on the north by Naviti Island and on the south by Nanuya Balavu Island. In the middle is a small island called Drawaqu. We anchored just to the west of Drawaqu in about 50 feet of crystal clear water. It’s a beautiful spot that enjoys a really nice tropical breeze. That said, it is also a place where you need to make absolutely certain you have a solid hold on your anchor. When the tide comes in or goes out there is a pretty good current that flows between Drawaqu & Nanuya Balavu islands. It’s pretty cool to watch as there will be some whirlpools caused by the upwellings and the anchored boats swing in various directions. There’s also some wrap around current that comes through Manta Ray Pass that adds to the confused sea here but we didn’t find it to be anything to really worry about. We just kept a good eye on our position and made sure our anchor alarm was set.

Our first day here we took the dink out on an exploratory mission to get a feel for where we would need to be to see the rays. We cruised all over in the two bays and even stopped on the south end of Drawaqu Island to explore the beach. I found a few cool shells there. One was my first ever cone shell that was animal free. The animals that live in these shells are highly poisonous so when you find one you have to be extra careful not to touch the ends in case the animal is still inside. They have a harpoon like stinger that comes out and while the sting may be only as bad as a bee sting, some of them are large enough and have enough venom to make the sting fatal to humans. For obvious reasons we are extremely careful when picking them up. Today, however, I found one that was animal free and in perfect condition! BONUS! Dan also found me a truly beautiful Cowry shell as well. Our walk on the beach was quite successful and, of course, beautiful!

After exploring the bays and beaches we decided to head to shore for happy hour. The Mantaray Resort has a cute little outdoor bar on the beach and does a pretty nice happy hour. The also serve up stone grilled pizzas during happy hour but you better get there early. They sell out rather quickly so we never did get to try one although they looked pretty tasty. We did meet a lovely Kiwi couple there and shared a few beers while we got to know each other. Andrew and Mich had lived in Belgium for many years (where she’s from) and recently moved to New Zealand. That’s where he’s from. They had their two adorable daughters, Hannah and Sarah along as well. During our stay here we had cocktails with them a couple of times and really enjoyed their company.

The day after we arrived we had arranged with one of the boats from Mantaray Resort to take us out to snorkel with the Mantas. We figured it would be easier that way as we wouldn’t have to tie off to the dinghy while drifting or have someone in the dink following along. We went to the beach that morning as instructed and waited. They always send a boat out to look for the Mantas and then radio back to the charter boat as to where to go. We waited at the bar for an hour or so and they told us we could go back to the boat. They told us to listen for the lali drum that indicated Mantas had been found and then they would pick us up on the boat. Unfortunately the call of the drums never came. They didn’t find any rays that morning. Bummer!

So, what do a couple of ragtag sailors do when there are no Manta rays to chase? Well, we decided to find a spot and do some “regular” snorkeling. The spot we picked was directly in front of the Manta Ray Resort and oh my…what a spectacular spot it was to explore. We saw so many incredible fish and corals there and the water was just pristine! We snorkeled so long we actually ran out of batter power on our Go Pro and had to run back to the boat to get another battery so we could keep snorkeling. It was one of the best snorkels we’ve had here in Fiji. Of course I paid for not wearing a rash suit with a bit of a sunburn but fortunately I only had one evening of feeling like I was on fire and by the next day it was gone. I guess one sunburn all season isn’t bad considering how much we are in the sun and how close we are to the equator. As they say, “Live and learn”.

The following morning we decided we’d go out to the pass on our own to see what we could find. There were lots of people wandering about the pass in their dinghies. We even saw a couple of charter boats drifting as well. There were tons of people in the water snorkeling, people in the boats standing up and looking around and everyone was just waiting for that one person to indicate they had seen a Manta.

The Mantas usually come into the pass between Naviti and Drawaqu Islands during the changing from high to low tide. This is a big thing for all of the tourists and cruisers to see. After all, who wouldn’t want to swim with some of the most majestic creatures on earth? Charter boats come out from the mainland as well as from all of the local resorts to see this awesome sight. When the high tide has reached its peak and begins to go out the rays come in to feed and be cleaned by the Wrasse. The Wrasse are tiny fish who feed on parasites and mucus as well as dead and damaged scales of the rays and other sea life such as turtle, sharks etc… The Wrasse congregate in certain areas called “cleaning stations” and if you find one you will surely find the Mantas. To look for Mantas you go to the east end of the pass and then drift back to the west. When the tide is changing the water moves pretty quickly through the pass and it’s so clear you can see well over 75’ down so spotting them should be relatively easy if they are there.

Deb Dye if you see this…note the hot pink Zinc Oxide on my lips. I think of you every single time I put it on! LOVE IT!

We drifted east to west multiple times and after an hour or so we decided we probably wouldn’t see any of these magnificent creatures. We were pretty bummed but that’s how it goes. Dan told me to get in the water where I could allow the current to pull me through the coral reef as I snorkeled. After all, if we couldn’t swim with the Mantas one of us might as well drop in to see what else lies beneath the surface. This was my first drift snorkel and it was really cool. I was moving at close to 3 knots without having to do a thing. Dan stayed about ten feet away in the dink following me. It was very interesting to watch what happens to all of the fish in a pass like this during the tide change. Many drift along with the current. Some of the larger ones are fighting it and others are scooping up all the krill and food that passes by. The soft corals sway back and forth in a whimsical underwater dance that is simply mesmerizing. It was stunning, just stunning! I could have done that over and over but alas…the tide was going out and it was getting pretty shallow so one pass was all I got.

Later that day we decided to move north to an anchorage on the north end of Naviti Island because some winds were expected that were going to make this anchorage a bit too nautical for our taste. The anchorage we chose was the northern most out of the three available. There’s a large, well protected bay that cuts into the northern coast there. It was a quiet anchorage with no village to visit so no sevusevu was required. Sometimes that’s a bonus. The water was clear and we planned to snorkel there but the weather turned ugly. It rained for two straight days so we stayed on the boat and never even put the motor on the dinghy. We did get to see a vonu (turtle) there. I named him Viti Vonu. He came by the boat several times a day and was a pretty big one too. Unfortunately it’s hard to get pics of them because they surface and dive so quickly but it’s still always fun to see them.

Yesterday we headed back to Manta Ray Bay. We were hoping the clouds would clear and we could get some snorkeling in but they didn’t. It rained on and off so we spent most of the day on Dazzler. We did go to shore to the resort there for happy hour. It’s sort of a cruiser tradition you know.

We met a lovely young Fijian lady named Luse at the bar. She and her husband, Moses, live in the village on the South end of Naviti Island. They were at the resort to pick up a couple from New Zealand who were going to stay in their village. We watched as the New Zealand couple and their young children sat at the bar chatting away with no real regard for the couple who had come to escort them to the village. They did have their son go over to Luse and Moses and give them each a soda but then they moved to the bar and all but ignored this couple. I was flabbergasted. Here you are in their world and you are going to be staying in their village, no doubt on some sort to kindness mission, and you ignore the very people you are here to visit. I watched as Luse sat on the ground and Moses stood nearby leaning up against a tree while the Kiwis sat at the bar laughing and chatting with a couple of other people or a good hour.

Finally I struck up a conversation with Moses as he came by to check out the score of the rugby match that was playing not the TV behind me. As we talked he reminded me that he had stopped by the boat when we were here earlier in the week. He was trying to sell some fish. We wanted lobster but he never found any that night. As I spoke with Moses Luse came over and we all began to chat. They are both truly lovely people and we enjoyed the hour or so we spent with them. All the while the Kiwi couple is looking at us all bewildered because we are actually having a conversation, laughing and enjoying the locals. Honestly I was so disgusted by the actions of these people it was everything I could do not to say something.

Anyway, when the Kiwis had finished their pizza and beer and were ready to leave they instructed Moses to grab their things and they all started to head toward the long boat to go back to the village. We could see that Luse really wanted to stay and chat and we felt deeply for her. She was hugging us and doing everything she could to drag out the goodbyes. Before she left she went over and talked to one of the guys sitting nearby and then stopped to tell us she had arranged for us to get some lobster. What? Really? We’ve been dying to have some of that wonderful shellfish for a few weeks now. It was so kind of her to do this for us but it was not why we befriended her. We just love interacting with the locals because they are such awesome people.

After Luse & Moses left a man stops by and asks Dan to come with him. Dan follows him out of the bar and down the path. About ten minutes later they come back and Dan says he needs to go get some change. He goes to the bar then walks around the corner again. The next thing I know he comes back with a large package wrapped in black plastic. He places it on the bar and tells me we are having lobster for dinner. OH YEAH! We finished our beers and left.

Back on Dazzler I open the bag to find three beautiful lobsters. One was really big and the others a bit small but it that was okay. For approximately $30 USD we had fresh lobster!!! Dan steamed them then cut them in half and grilled them for a couple of minutes. I made mashed potatoes and drawn butter. We enjoyed our tasty treat and spent the balance of the evening sitting in the cockpit delighting in the warmth and the sweet scent of the sea. While we didn’t get to see any Manta rays, we did have a wonderful time at Manta Ray Bay. Looking forward to coming back next year!

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan