Once the decision was made to include Vanuatu in this year’s cruising, we scrambled about gathering information about the area and headed toward the city of Lautoka on the west side of Fiji’s Viti Levu. There we could do our last-minute provisioning and obtain the necessary, outbound clearance papers from the officials at Customs and Immigration. On the way to Lautoka, we anchored for two days at lovely and peaceful Saweni Bay about 5 miles south of town. This gave us time for additional passage preparation and to take a strenuous hike up a mountain not far from the anchorage. The hike rewarded us with splendid views of the coastline, neighboring islands and interesting local flora. The beautiful area is now part of Fiji’s national park system. It is nice to know that the country is recognizing the importance of preserving some of its natural, pristine areas. The trail head is at a small village located in the foothills and, as is usually the case, our hiking group, including friends from the yachts “Evergreen” and “Southern Cross”, were welcomed to the village with a kava ceremony.
On the day of departure for our four-day passage to Vanuatu, we motored “Blue Rodeo” to the commercial harbor in Lautoka and went ashore to complete the clearing-out process. It was all rather straight forward though painfully slow due to the official’s need to re-enter most of the information, that we’d supplied to them on arrival, back into their computer data base. These formalities vary from country to country and, at best, can be a test of one’s patience. Sometimes, they can result in a serious case of writer’s cramp. After about an hour and a half, the process was completed and we were back aboard preparing to raise anchor.
Heading west from Fiji requires careful navigation in order to avoid the many poorly- charted reefs that extend for miles from Viti Levu. We had been carefully watching weather forecasts for several days and were expecting boisterous wind and sea conditions once clear of the reefs. In preparation, we raised our main sail only to its “double-reefed” point and set our staysail in order to sail comfortably in the forecast 25 knot winds. As often happens, the actual conditions we experienced were a little more robust than forecast with a confused, wind-driven swell that sent us constantly rocking and rolling as we proceeded on course. The first day or two of most passages can be a test of one’s fortitude as our bodies re-learn to live in the constantly moving, tilted and pitching environment. Anne took her usual partial dose of Stugeron to help stave off motion sickness which left her in a near constant state of drowsiness. As much as she hates the feeling, it’s preferable to being sick. Mark usually does OK without meds but, by the evening of our first day at sea, he began to notice that something was not right in his gastro-intestinal region. Within moments of first being aware of the discomfort, he found himself making a mad dash to “Blue Rodeo’s” toilet where he would spend a lot of time that night in considerable distress. He would later learn that friend Jon, from the yacht “Evergreen” that was also underway, was experiencing similar misery at almost exactly the same time. Since they’d both consumed ample amounts of kava at the village ceremony the day before, we couldn’t help but make the connection. Kava is produced by using bare hands to wring and squeeze the powdered yanqona root through, what looks like a discarded, dirty t-shirt, into water from a questionable source. It’s a wonder that more people aren’t left with a case of, as Mark would call it, the “Fiji Foxtrot” (a la Aztec Two Step or Montazuma’s Revenge in Mexico).
Since there was really nothing to do but continue sailing toward Vanuatu, Mark made the best of the situation with Anne giving him ample time to rest between watches. It was though, almost 36 hours after first noticing the symptoms before he was able to stomach anything more than a few sips of water or ginger ale and a couple of spoon-fulls of rice. He couldn’t help but think what an effective weight loss program this was. With all of the fad diet books making fortunes for their authors, he decided that he should also write one. It would include the following simple instructions: 1 - Drink two large cups of Fijian kava. 2 - Go to sea in a small vessel in 30 to 35 knots of wind with 12 foot, breaking seas. 3 - Stay near the toilet.