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For a variety of reasons, including expense, we were unable to replace our favourite sail, our "Chicken Chute", in New Zealand, which is definitely sorely missed on this passage. When the seller of a sail we had sourced doubled his price at the last minute, we took the decision to postpone a new purchase until we are able to bring a new sail back with us from the USA. Well, for another host of reasons, we never made it back to the USA whilst in Fiji, so no sail. We rationalised that, given the strong south-easterlies we had experienced over the past few months and the angle of our destinations until we reach Australia, it was unlikely we would need a downwind sail. With the wind right up Paw Paw's stern, guess we were wrong! Although we can sail Paw Paw wing-on-wing, it is a very slow point of sail and in light winds, even slower. As a result we have been motor-sailing for most of this passage. The forecast had originally predicted stronger south-easterlies today, but instead, we have light east-north-east winds. It is a beautiful sunny day, though, in relatively flat following seas and the current has come around in our favour, so we're soldiering on, in the hopes that we can keep our average speed at a minimum of 6.1 Kts so as to make landfall tomorrow while it is still light versus having to hove-to and spending another night at sea. The highlight of our day was a brief chat to Keenan this morning. Not having a radio net to participate in, since we're emailing our position reports, hearing another voice was a break from the monotony and seeing another yacht pop up on the AIS last night was at least company until we passed them a few hours ago. Unfortunately Chinese fishing vessels seem to be more prevalent than dolphins.
While being on passage is a physical break from the destination which we have just visited, in many ways, it's also a welcome break from life in general. No more officialdom, yacht maintenence and projects, daily chores, touring, dealing with landlubber matters, etc. It takes a few days to get into the routine, but you enter a "bubble" - One that revolves around the watch schedule and includes activities, amongst others, like keeping a lookout, updating the deck log, plotting our position, providing regular position reports, monitoring radar activity and getting sufficient rest. On this particular passage, though, getting sufficient rest has become somewhat of a challenge. For some inexplicable reason, no matter how much sleep we're both getting, we're exhausted. As a result we've had to "tag team" all day today. Instead of our usual six hours on, six hours off, neither of us is making it much beyond two hours, before a nap is needed. Feeling a little "green" due to a rather rolly seastate is obviously not helping either. Hopefully we'll have our "sea legs" for tonight's watch schedule. During a watch, there is also a sense of insignificance, vulnerability and loneliness in this vast ocean. Coupled with these feelings, though, is a sense of presense and peacefulness at "being in the moment". This was magnified last night as it was a very dark, overcast, moonless night, with barely a few stars for company. However, on occasion today, a bird or two has swept down to take a peek or something has popped up on the AIS, but we're still left with the profound sense of being totally alone out here. Enjoying the journey and not getting "destinitis" has been our challenge on every passage thus far and with lighter winds, which translates to "slow", we definitely need a dose of patience on this one. Fortunately we're not running the "gauntlet" or trying to beat a weather system, so we'll just have to sit back and enjoy the ride. Bests the conditions of our last ordeal!
As the Mamanuca Islands faded into the distance, our hearts sank a little lower. We were saying goodbye to Fiji and her beautiful people. Nowhere during this sailing adventure have we encountered such warm, welcoming and friendly people, allows accompanied with a "bula" and a smile. It is clear to see the appeal of cruisers getting stuck in this part of the South Pacific, returning year after year, having spent the cyclone season in New Zealand. We loved Samoa, but Fiji surpassed all of our expectations, in every way. Truly our "happy place"! There wasn't one thing we couldn't get done or couldn't do. We even got our passports renewed here without an issue. Activities abound. No matter what sport or activity you can think of, Fiji has it on offer. From sky-diving to zip-lining and everything else in between - Diving, snorkeling, sailing, yacht racing regattas, deep sea and reef fishing, jet-skiing, canoeing, paddleboarding, swimming in mud baths and hot springs, hiking including the hash, triathlons, golfing, touring, dining, live entertainment, getting married and enjoying a myriad of customs and traditional activities related to both the indigenous Fijian and the Indian Fijian cultures or, simply, finding a spot on a white sandy beach, lapped by warm turquoise waters, under swaying palms to take nap or read a book. After clearing out at Vuda Marina yesterday, we decided to spend one last night at Malolo Lailai island, where we enjoyed a late lunch, completed the last of our passage preparations and enjoyed sundowners at the MCYC Island Bar with Knockando (Clair and Darren) as well as say our goodbyes to Twocan (Margaret and Barry). Apparently we had just missed Raya (Ros and Rick), but we plan to see them in Sydney Harbour for New Year. Having a large turtle surface right next to Paw Paw while underway sealed our experience of Fiji. Under sunny blue skies, light winds and calm seas, it's westward and onward to enjoy all the new experiences that await us!
We've spent the past two days getting through the last of our preparations for our passage to Vanuatu, including setting up all the downwind running rigging and, aside from Niuatoputapu in Tonga, Fiji is the only other place where we had a number of people to say our goodbyes to, as well as drop off a few gifts as a small token of our appreciation for all the help we've received during our stay. Particularly, our thanks go out to Maria, the physiotherapists at Zens Medical Centre in Nadi, who worked a miracle for Elaine and to all the ladies of Port Denarau Marina, who were so patient with all our requests and changes for a mooring ball.We also took the time to stop at our favourite coffee shops one last time,  picked up the last of the fresh produce we needed and got some exercise walks in. We wrapped up our day yesterday enjoying sundowners and dinner with Storm Dancer (Del and Craig), then bid them farewell, after a few nightcaps aboard Paw Paw,  with the hope of seeing them again in Australia. This morning we eventually said goodbye to Roy's "happy place", Port Denarau.  We had planned on sailing to Saweni Bay for an overnight stop and to make water before clearing out, but ended up making a u-turn after Roy noticed the water was clearer outside Vuda Marina. After a pitstop there, making the water we needed, heading ashore to confirm our clearing out arrangements and returning to a one metre swell careering through the anchorage, we decided our first choice was definitely the better option. So, tonight, in calm waters, we're enjoying a barbecue aboard, then it'll be early to bed in anticipation of our busy day tomorrow.

Elaine decided to take Sunday off - No yacht chores, no yacht projects, no exercises, but rather a day of pampering, which included doing her nails and getting her hair cut. She started her day, though, in the galley - Making pancakes to enjoy with freshly chopped pineapple, yoghurt and honey, along with a side of fresh paw paw. We did, however, also work up enough energy to enjoy a walk to the Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa for afternoon coffee and French pastries at La Parisienne - Not that we needed anymore freshly baked goodies.

Yesterday we woke to a very wet day,  having rained all night, which then continued on through the day. Fortunately that definitely helped Paw Paw get a much needed thorough washdown after days of black soot descending on her.

While Elaine undertook a final review of all our navigational notes, cruising guides and the officialdom process for Vanuatu, as well as completed all the necessary documentation for clearing out of Fiji and  in to Vanuatu, Roy took the bus to Nadi to get some additional provisions as well as some VATUs (aka Vanuatu dollars). Unfortunately, on the latter activity he ran into the most incredulous brickwall.

Although he had gone prepared with all the yacht documentation as instructed previously, he was told that he couldn't purchase any VATUs without an airticket - Yep - You read correctly, he had to have an airticket. It didn't matter how many different ways he tried to enlighten them with the fact that he was actually on a yacht, they repeatedly told him the same thing - No airticket,  no money, unless he went to the money exchange at the airport. This was the same feedback he received from all the banks in town.

Completely exasperated, Roy returned to Denarau where he decided to try one last time.  His tenacity paid off. A very delightful individual at the Denarau money exchange booth processed the transaction without any fuss. "The mind she boggles!"

Today involved finishing off the rest of our passage paperwork, including our Float Plan, water and fuel management calculations, preparing the deck log, etc, as well as getting the laundry done and installing the new track for the saloon door mosquito net. 

At this point we're just waiting for a low pressure system to the north of Fiji to move further east, which will then give us more favourable winds for our departure later this week. 

With the temperatures dropping overnight as a cold front passed over Fiji, we woke to a very chilly morning yesterday, so we decided to just stay in bed. When we eventually did surface, the sun was shining and another beautiful day awaited us. Elaine got her exercises done, Roy completed the upload of all our recent photographs to the website Gallery and by then it was lunch time.

A short bus ride took us back to the Hilton Fiji Beach Resort and Spa, where we enjoyed a tasty lunch, before tackling our first large shop in months - Provisioning, before we leave Fiji, at the Fresh Choice supermarket on Denarau Island. This must be one of Port Denarau's best kept secret, which Roy uncovered by accident when purchasing our new house batteries. For months we've been taking the bus into Nadi to do our provisioning, then hauling the shopping all the way back on the bus or getting a taxi, when all we had to do was visit this very large, well stocked supermarket. Live and learn hey!

Today, we did, however, have to make another trip into Nadi to visit our preferred butcher, purchase a new "communications device" for Elaine, as the existing one cannot keep up with the constant stream of bullshit originating from the White House, it seems, and purchase a few gifts.

Once we were back on Paw Paw we spent the rest of the afternoon doing the usual preparations for an upcoming passage - Refill propane tanks,  fill up with diesel, purchase dinghy fuel, etc, all of which we were successful in completing when we moved Paw Paw to our allocated mooring ball in Port Denarau Marina.

In between all of this, Elaine had the delight of dealing with our property management company again, who have simply refused to reallocate a substantial residual amount of costs to the tenant, touting that the damages are as a result of "usual wear and tear" - Allocating only 30% of the cost to have the entire interior repainted, although almost every wall has been damaged, broken locks, a closet door that is off it's hinges, replacing a medicine cabinet that was removed for some inexplicable reason and this is only a small subset of all the damages caused by this tenant for which they are being charged.  It is truly appaling and beyond comprehension as to how this is allowed to happen.  Anyway,  for now we have agreement on everything that needs to be repaired and have paid the upfront cost to get the work underway. Lets see how the rest of this saga unfolds!

This morning we decided to have breakfast ashore, so we took the bus to the Hilton Fiji Beach Resort and Spa, where we enjoyed a very tasty breakfast at their French Café. It seemed we weren't the only cruisers with this idea though, as we'd no sooner sat down at our table, when Twocan (Margaret and Barry) walked in.

After breakfast and to ensure we got our exercise walk in for the day, we joined Twocan on their walk back to the marina. Then, while Elaine finished off the last of the sewing, Roy ran a few errands, which included topping up our stock of saildrive oil, purchasing a few more watermaker filters, dropping off our used oil at the recycle area and, finally, making arrangements to dispose of our old house batteries with a native Fijian man whom he randomly met on the dock and who is from a village on one of the outer Mamanuca islands.

It's fair to say that the delight on the faces of the three villagers who stopped by Paw Paw in their outboard powered skiff late this afternoon, on route back to their village, after completing their day of shopping on the mainland, was priceless. They were just so gracious and grateful. While these batteries were no longer able to support the myriad of systems on Paw Paw without us having to frequently run the generator to top up their charge and could not be used as a starter battery, they most certainly could be used in a village home.  Homes on the outer islands have solar powered energy that charges a single battery. Then, through an inverter, similar to the system on Paw Paw, powers their lights, TV,  microwave, cell phone chargers, etc. So, have extra batteries is an absolute luxury for them.  It's definitely a true saying: "One man's junk is another man's treasure".

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