Far South in the Lau Islands – Fulaga

We left Taveuni in the company of Stop Work Order, a Gulfstar 60, as the weather window we had hoped for finally appeared to allow us to push S in to the Lau Islands. The wind was due to swing slowly North of East over about 36hrs then collapse back into the SE as the Trades re-established. We had about 12 days before we needed to get Shena and Kinsley back to the airport and although Fulaga was a long trip there and back, everything we had read about the island suggested that it was worth it. Set 180Nm SSE of Savusavu and well over 200Nm E of Suva, it is very isolated and has a population of about 250. It has also been described as one of the gems of Fiji.

As the wind had not yet started to turn in our favour, we chose to run NE from Paradise, using Taveuni as cover to gain another 30miles or so of Easting. Doing this killed much of the fetch and allowed us to get close to the outer islands and reef that run the length of the Laus. It was the right choice but I never like adding distance on to a trip. It took the distance we need to run from about 160Nm to over 200Nm.

We got through the mile long Somosomo Pass with a bouncy wind over tide, still running at 2kts in our favour just before the slack. Make sure that you do time it right here. The tide does run to 4+kts which would not be fun if you were pushing against it. As an aside, we crossed the 180E line as we went up the island, crossing back into the western hemisphere.

As we turned around the top of the reef jutting out of Taveuni, we started the long close haul S. Needing a course of 130mag to get us to Fulaga, we could initially push no better course than 170mag. As the first day ended and through the night the wind slowly veered N and we followed it around, managing about 155mag. The next day was a continuation of the pounding, slowly getting closer and closer to the course we required, pushing in to the 2m seas. We could see Stop Work Order most of the time and I don’t think we ever got more than 5 miles from each other. I was surprised at how well we kept with her considering her size and cutter rig. New sails work!


Although the forecast has suggest winds of about 15kts and no more than 20kts, we had one period of three hours where the wind was a constant 30kt plus. Patrick on Stop Work Order called me on the radio to warn me of one squall of 35+kts which had hit him. I thanked him for the heads up but had to tell him that I had seen him being rounded up and took that as a signal to wrap more jib away and to scandalise the main, already with two reefs in, which I managed just before the squall got to me.

Because of the extra mileage we put in in the lee of Taveuni, our timing to hit Fulaga was out by 6hrs. We arrived to sheltered water behind a line of islands 15 miles N from our destination just as the sun disappeared. With electronic charts being inaccurate (and paper being 1:1000000 in scale) there was no way I was going anywhere near the pass entrance in darkness. We dropped the mainsail, left just enough jib out to make way and sailed at a knot towards the pass. We were still going too fast at 0300hrs so I heaved to (yes you can do it in a catamaran) and we sat comfortably and quiet 5 miles N off our destination.


First light came and saw Stop Work Order and ourselves push down towards the pass as slack water was due to last until about 0700hrs. As long as you have light, the 50m wide pass is an easy one. What you need to do is ignore your chart plotter and use your eyes. My Navionics charts showed an entrance both sides of a small islet sitting at the entrance to the pass. Wrong. The pass was only accessible well to the right of this. Once we identified the pass we pushed in mid channel, according to my charts going over the reef, about 100m off set to the E.  Once through it showed me clear water. Wrong. More reef extending well out into the bay from the W end of the pass……..


Easy lesson – don’t trust your charts in Fijian waters for any information other than gross approximations.

Saying that as we pushed through towards an anchorage inside the lagoon, I actually “passed through” several islands so maybe be careful even with gross approximations! Perhaps Navionics should do here as they did in the Tuamotus and put an accurate satellite picture over their data and update it. It may not have lots of depth info but I’d be happy with the knowledge that there is a lump there which I need to miss and the correct placement of the reefs. It is worryingly wrong at the moment. Open CPN and SASPlanet (an excellent Russian programme that lets you download info from a vast variety of sources) are both more accurate on the basis that you can run Google Maps through them. Both are hampered by cloud cover over parts of the lagoon.

We anchored at 19 08.039S 178 34.542W in 40’ of water and decided that we need to get in to see the Chief quickly as we didn’t want to have to wait two days until Monday to conduct the sevusevu ceremony. This is your way of showing respect to the locals and receiving permission to visit their land. Lou and Shena had had fun braking our 2kg lump of kava root in to smaller presentation packages of about 500g each. We got ourselves dressed up and headed in towards the village. The right village to go to is actually on the S side of the island which means you need to find the bay (anchor at 19 08.902S 178 33.925W on sand in 25’) with a small warehouse  by the beach then follow the track across the island to the village. I’d suggest you take bug spray as the mosquitos are vicious on the walk across. We got picked up by a smiling local at the edge of the village and taken to the Chief’s house.

Some rules for you to note.

Don’t take your time in visiting the Chief. Get in to see him as soon as you can after arriving at an atoll as you can guarantee that they will know you are there. Make sure you see the senior Chief of the atoll. There may be several villages, each with a Chief but you only need to see and present Kava root to the most senior.

You are expected to cover up and dress correctly when you see the Chief. They take the sevusevu ceremony very seriously and so must you.

Take in an offering of about 3-500g of kava. Unfortunately kava has recently become very expensive (about $100 a kg) as the USA has decided that it is a “super” health product. With far more going to export, it has significantly increased local prices. DO NOT offer powered root; it must be the whole root. When invited to sit in front of your host, place the root in front of you halfway between you and let him pick it up. If they do so, it shows that it has been accepted.

Men should wear a sula and shirt, ladies need to cover their knees and shoulders. Trousers are frowned upon and the Frenchman with us was loaned a sulu to visit the chief. I used my far more colourful sulu from FP and that was fine. You can buy a proper Fijian sulu for $15. My shirt, screaming though it looks,  is proper Fijian dress. Lovely, isn’t it!

Do not wear a hat or sunglasses in the villagers’ presence. It shows disrespect.

Whilst kids can get away with it, adults don’t carry bags on their shoulders. No idea why, it is just the rules. Hand carry any bag you require.

If you are offered kava, thank them by saying “Bula” then drink the cup in one go. Don’t sip.


The ceremony was held in the Chief’s house, a grand old man in his 90’s, one of the few truly old people we have seen in all our time in Fiji. We shared the ceremony with a French couple, Stop Work Order and Skylark’s crews all sitting in front of him. The kava parcels were formally accepted and the Chief’s 2IC translated for us. We were asked to explain where we had come from and to introduce each of us, including the kids. We then paid a $50 contribution which goes to the village fund, currently being used to buy each house a couple of solar panels, invertor and battery pack. I have seen some cruisers complain that this is not Fijian hospitality and that we should protest the charge (ref: The Fijian Compendium from Soggy Paws). I’d suggest that whilst it is all well and good to act charitably to the “poor locals” (makes some people feel all warm and fuzzy inside…) I would far prefer for the locals to be able to be in charge of their own destiny and get things they require with hard cash. I had no problem at all in paying this small amount in to their kitty. There are no generators in the village and a single telephone set up at an open window at the school. The nearest mobile phone coverage is some 150 miles away.

I was asked if we could fix the Chief’s magnifying glass he uses for reading which had broken and I took it way to use my super strength glue to fix it.

We were taken for a quick tour of the village and the school. The school has 59 students from the four villages on the island, up to Grade 8 (about age 13-14). Grade 9 and above is conducted in Suva on the big island. The classrooms have a good homemade posters, mostly in English and the school tries to teach wholly in English. The kids are trilingual, speaking the local island dialect, Fijian and English. The school struggles with teaching materials. Books are in short supply and what there is is old, beat up and falling apart. George, the headmaster was very keen to get his hands on any teaching material we could give him. Sadly we handed on most of our old stuff  to the school in Tonga. We did give them as many David Attenborourgh and BBC educational  documentaries as the schools computer’s memory would take. If anyone could help out with a range of primary school books (they will happily photocopy anything they get to pass out to the kids), I’d be pleased to give people an address by PM. Land mail is delivered once a month when the ship comes in. There is no air service to the island. There is one TV which “sometimes” works with a sat dish and a freeview box, held communally in one of the school buildings. It wasn’t working whilst we were there. We got the Scotland-Fiji score via a phone call.

We visited our host family for our stay in the atoll. This visit entailed simple introductions, a cup of lemon tea and some pancakes. Kid’s boats aren’t common (less than 1 in 10, said our host) so having so many kids suddenly rock up caused great interest and our hosts’ house had a revolving crowd of village smalls all coming to see our kids.

Our hosts, Tai, Suka, Wattie and Koro were all names we had read about in the Compendium. Tai, staff at Musket Cove for 15yrs was the man that had the Chief introduce the $50 fee for staying in the atoll. Articulate, bright and friendly he was an excellent host. Wattie and Koro are cousins but seem to hang out with each other.  Koro has a good understanding of English but seemed shy to use it.


We dinghied around back around to the village the next day having been invited to lunch after church. The church service lasted two hours and the Minister was more of a fire and brimstone type than the happy cheerful soul that led the service in Tahaa, still the best service we have been to. We were asked during the service to stand up and give the congregation a quick run down of ourselves and I took the opportunity to thank them all for their hospitality and friendship. The Minister came to apologise after the service in excellent English for conducting it in Fijian. We told him we were glad he didn’t as it would have removed a lot of the charm of the occasion! Those from our party that partook in Communion said he did their blessing in English.

As always in the Pacific the singing was loud and enthusiastic. The only musical accompaniment was a metal triangle vigourously banged. The kids’ choir was excellent and I’ve included one of their renditions. I’d think most churches in the UK would be happy with the volume and the harmony! Click the link.

Kids Choir of Muanaicake, Falaga, Lau Island, singing in church

We went for a wander around the village after church to wait for the call for lunch. Sala, the headmaster’s daughter showed us around.


Lunch was a glorious offering of homemade food. There were noodles, half a dozen different fish dishes, a turtle curry, cassava in a couple of forms, roti, bread fruit, a sweet bread for pudding and all in huge quantities. We as the guests ate first and as we proclaimed ourselves to be full, the plates were handed down the table and our hosts got stuck in. I think we all felt that the turtle curry was the piece de resistance but it was all terrific. We also enjoyed fresh coconut milk using a cut papaya stem as the straw.


After inviting the family back to see us on Tuesday evening on board Skylark we headed back to the boat. We moved Skylark to another island no more than 500m from where we were to 19 08.008S 178 34.339W on sand in 24’ of water. Occupied until just recently, the small hut is still in good condition and the coconut grove is in a fair condition. The island has large beaches exposed at low tide and  we had a good explore . We stayed on the island all day exploring the shallow bays and finding a good selection of hard corals,  chitons, starfish and small fish.



It was too good a chance for the kids to go in to school and having been invited by George, the headmaster, the younger ones headed in. Hannah was a bit surprised at how long schools went on for (0830-1500 – boy, is she in for a shock when we get home). Eleanor found herself well beyond anything they were teaching. Kinsley helped with the kindergarten kids.


After heading back to the boats to feed children and being joined by Invictus, we decided that the island was a perfect place to have a bonfire. It was a great night.

With limited time left to explore we decided to move to the SE corner of the atoll.  With the watermaker playing silly buggers, Invictus was kind enough to fill us up with water before we moved. You are always grateful to have a friend with a watermaker making nearly 10x the amount of water we can with our little one! It took less than an hour to make and transfer around 300l. Our thanks to Tobi and Nicole and and wish them a safe passage across to Maola Island. We should catch up with them in a couple of weeks at Musket Cove.

The passage through the atoll is one you need to be careful of but the scenery is fantastic. The lagoon is full of small James Bond type ancient coral formations which you can generally pass quite close to.


As with all atolls, there are bommies and sandbanks around and you need eyes at the front of the boat. We went one better and stuck Eleanor up the mast so she could get a decent view forward and to warn us if we were getting near to trouble. She had fun with the camera too.


The ladies on board, supplemented by Ciara from Stop Work Order, decided to have a pouting competition. You can decide the winner. Hannah didn’t get it and just looks cute!


We anchored @ 19 08.396S 178 32.528W in 12’ of water, disturbing a turtle as we dropped the hook. There was a certain amount of toing and froing between boats and it ended up with Hannah having a sleepover with Truly on Stop Work Order and the Eleanor and Kinsley sleeping on our trampoline. We hosted Patrick and Corise for sundowners to give them a break from the noise of six kids before we split them back to their respective yachts!

We had a rendition of “We are the Champions” over Ch16 which was the victory call of T-Be, a NZ Bahia 46 who had got the news that NZ had won the America’s Cup. Great news and a invitation to all was extended for a pot luck supper and sundowners on their boat in the evening. It was a fun evening and we met another set of Hendersons from NZ who very conveniently were able to give us details of where they had bought and imported a new membrane for their Spectra water maker, sadly something we now need to do as well. It has saved us a lot of wasted time researching.

The kids went off with Stop Work Order to visit the small village at the end of the atoll whilst we moved the boat around to the bay at 19 08.902S 178 33.925W on sand in 25’ of water to allow us short taxi rides for Tai and family’s visit out to us. The men were keen to get stuck into the kava, the kids into the cake, sweets and juice and the ladies a mix of both. We weren’t quite expecting the number that arrived but it was great to be able to host the family back after all their hospitality. Great people.

The kava flowed and everyone, including our girls, got a taste. Hannah left hurriedly but showed enough decorum not to retch until she was out of sight of the locals!


They stayed for a couple of hours and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. We talked about the possibility of the island becoming a booking in port, something that would greatly increase the number of visitors the island would get and the impact on the island. Even after 5 years of being open to cruisers again, the local view is mixed in whether this would be welcome or not.

After they had sung a farewell song to us, we ran them home with storage containers, toys, books and what dry stores we could spare.

We moved back up to the SE anchorage at last light using our previous track and a big torch to ensure we got in safe.

Our last day was spent in and around the anchorage, kids playing with Stop Work Order and the grown ups getting the boat ready. I made one last visit to the village to take some printed photos of our time in the village to Tai and to visit the school and download some documentaries.

The people of Fulaga have been the most welcoming of anyone we have met in during our travels. Still early in the season, they have had few boats as of yet (they average about 75 a season) and perhaps was just that they aren’t touristed out yet. But I  rather think what we experienced was their simple and honest hospitality. They don’t have much but all they had was offered freely. Life is hard for the islanders and those that stay are proud of the old lifestyle. However, it hasn’t stopped the majority of adults of a working age moving away from the island for an easier more modern life. All children leave for their secondary education in Savu and many families simply up and go for this period too, not to be seen again until their 40s or in Tai’s case, once he retired at 55. It is a sad fact that the old ways are no longer attractive enough for the young to hold them to the island. There needs to be more opportunity for money making ventures to entice some at least to stay. Otherwise, the island population will continue to see a slow decrease. There are already too many unoccupied houses in the village.  Exposure to modern conveniences has happened, Pandora’s box has been opened and there is no shutting it now.

We left Fulaga on a falling tide with just a few standing waves at the pass for the 130Nm trip up to Vanua Balavu, part of the Explorer Isles.


Bula, Fiji!

The sailing grounds of Fiji are huge and we will have the delight of exploring them for about two months. The Lau Group alone is over 200 miles long or half the length of the Caribbean. Then you have the Yasawa Group, two huge main islands and lots of other individual islands to explore. We decided we would explore as much as we could but with the primary goal of visiting the Lau Group, difficult to do unless the weather plays nice for you. These islands, very much off the beaten track and very definitely off grid, have only been opened up for cruisers to visit in the last five years. The Fijian Government stopped issuing permission in the mid 90s as it was felt that the island communities were being corrupted by the few visitors they were getting. Cruising licences were granted again in 2012. Last year around 100 yachts visited the chain.

On our passage from Tonga, we came through the Oneata Pass during the night and then turned N for the 170miles run up to Savusavu. Our first sight of land in daylight was the island of Taveuni, a huge old volcano lying to the SE of our destination, Vanua Levu island.

Bula, Fiji!

We booked in at Savusavu on Fri 9th Jun. Savusavu is the northern and most eastern of the available booking in ports of Fiji. The Customs and Immigration Staff were pleasant and we had no problems. Charges are made for the Biosecurity and the Health inspectors (a total of about $230 – about £85 – exchange in Jun 17 was $2.70 to £1 – all pricing given in Fijian $). Don’t book in at a weekend as you get hit for automatic fees for the Customs and Immigration with a minimum charge of three hours staff costs, another $200 or so. The only issue we had was as we had no Fijian money on us, we needed to find their offices on the following Monday to pay. We had a few attempts where the staff were nowhere to be seen, presumably busy with duties but it did mean we explored the town well!

The other embuggerance we found is that until you gain your sailing licence you aren’t allowed to tour Fiji. Stupidly, it requires another application to the Customs staff after you have booked in. We did it through the Marina office and it took a further three days to be organised and for us to be called into the Customs office to finish the paperwork off, a total of a week after we arrived. Why it isn’t done automatically with the information you supply with your advance notice C2 paperwork, I don’t know. Once you have the licence, there is a second requirement to phone in to Customs with your plans once a week so they can track you as you go through the islands.

Bula, Fiji!

We had a fantastic week at the Copra Shed Marina, sitting properly still for the first time after all the fast jumps we had had since Tahiti and met some good people. It took a few days to work out that we knew Ding from Opua when he had been parked beside ZigZag and we had mutual friends in Gill and Alastair of Starcharger. We had a good day watching Scotland beat the Aussies and then the Lions match afterwards.  There are three marinas in Savusavu. You have the Yacht Club, a mile or so up E outside the town. This is home to the long term liveaboards that have decided not to leave Fiji. We were invited down one evening for a pot luck supper which was great fun. They are a nice crowd. It was great to meet Jimmy, a 15yr vet of Fiji who has now qualified for residence. His story of building a platform on his newly gained land with an ISO container and putting a yurt up on top to live in until the house is finished is inspirational!

Next you have the Copra Shed. With some dock space and plenty of balls, it is the most swept up and commercialised of the marinas. It has an excellent bar and restaurant, laundry, shops and a couple of chandleries with a surprisingly good selection. Their electronics were better priced than NZ. The marina will also organise, free of charge, your booking in and out, calling the Customs and Immigration staff in as you arrive. Well organised and with a secure dinghy dock, it is run by Geoff Taylor (the OCC PO in these parts) and his staff and is a good place to be. To point out a star, Pretty, the lady who runs the marina office is superb at sorting out your questions and problems. Our week on the ball cost us $15 a night and our evening view was fantastic.

Bula, Fiji!

Lastly you have the Waitui Marina. These days it is pretty run down but its balls are even cheaper than the Copra Shed. If you really need to save cash go here, but don’t expect frills. It has a small dinghy dock, a bar and the evening restaurant is a BBQ stand at the front of the building. Saying that they are the best of the marinas at listening out on the radio and are excellent at sorting out taxis. Bula, Fiji!

Turning right out of the marina, there are several restaurants along the sea front. The Chinese is excellent (portion sizes are massive) and the Indian is pretty good too. You really need to ask for hot here as if you don’t you will get a bland offering. When they do heat it up, it is excellent.

In regard to services, the Copra shed is excellent.

Laundry is cheap at $8 a load and generally done within the day. Water and fuel are available (water from the dock at a small charge – fuel from the local Total petrol station – not tax free but easily organised).

We wouldn’t recommend Shabnam, the lady who sits outside the Copra Shed and says she is a seamstress/sail repairer. She did some inside cushions for us on the basis we could check her work before we gave her our sail cover,  parasail and bimini for repair. What came back didn’t impress and I certainly wasn’t going to hand anything more valuable to her to do given her standard of work.

Internet is always a thorny problem in the Pacific. FP was stupidly expensive but we were impressed with Tonga. Fiji is even better. Fiji has an good 3G phone coverage and data cards for your phone cost $50 for 50Gb download, valid for a month from Vodaphone, the provider we were advised to use by locals. We bought a card and then a dongle to allow us both phone and data access. Full service and good internet about $140? And $50 credit for calls throw in for free? Excellent! Bizarrely international calls are $0.15 a minute, local calls are $0.42. Go figure……..

We explored Savusavu thoroughly. It is a small town with one main street running maybe half a mile long with a bus station and a large indoor market for fruit, veg and the all important dried kava roots, used to make the local tropical beverage of choice. The majority of the shops are cheap, a bit chaotic but great fun to explore and the people are uniformly helpful and pleasant. It has been great to get back to better prices than FP. My Keen sandals were starting to fall apart. Fixed by the shoemaker for $6.  Could have bought new flip flops for $5 but hey! It isn’t a population with much money and the pricing in shops (and you have to say the quality of goods in the shops) reflect this.

Bula, Fiji!

Our first of four sets of Fiji guests arrived. We last saw Shena and Kinsley from Almost There in Puerto Rico for Christmas ‘15 just before they moved off their boat and back to North Carolina. Kinsley has shot up and now is as tall as me at the grand old age of 13…. It was lovely to see both of them although the long flight out here had taken its toll. The goodies they brought out with them (new handheld, the new Delorme, new cable for the VHF and some god awfully sour sweets called Warheads for the girls) were gratefully received. The Moonshine that came too will be appreciated at a later date!Bula, Fiji!

We had a couple of days exploring the local area with them.We visited a tropical rain forest, run by locals. We spent more time looking for kava to present them and then getting stuck on the v small road to the village (thank you to the bloke who took pity on us and took us the rest of the way in his 4×4 – no way would our hire care have made it) than we did actually looking around the trail.

Bula, Fiji!

It is well worth a visit if for nothing more than the fresh water crayfish and the bugs we found. I enjoyed being surrounded by that slightly off rotten smell you get from true rain forest, very much a land smell. My legs didn’t really enjoy having to climb up and down hills for the first time in a long time.

Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!

We visited a village that looks after a waterfall. After our sevusevu ceremony where our $20 stick of kava root was formally accepted, we were given permission to look around the village, buy some trinkets made in the village and then visit their waterfall. I’m afraid I succumbed to the charms of an enormous shell and the ladies had fun buying bracelets. I had some fun with two very small boys wanting to throw a rugby ball around and we toured the neat, small village, proudly being show the church and the Fijian equivalent of the church bell, a hollowed out tree, used as a drum. Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!DSCF1719DSCF1712Bula, Fiji!

We headed back into town and Lou got very excited about a sign she saw. Apparently her Dad went to St Bedes when he was growing up………..

Bula, Fiji!

We met up with another couple of kid boats, Mrs Goodnight from GE with Katrina on board and most impressively Lil’ Explorers from USA with 6 kids on board!

We had a good night at the Savusavu Yacht club with a pot luck supper and visited the old plantation club in town too. It had extracts of A to Z of White immigrants in Fiji where the detailed views of the planters on the intractability of the “natives” in the late 19C was a horrifying non-PC but very interesting. I’d have to say the current internal problems with the take over of administrative and management roles within Fiji by Indian émigrés (now 4 and 5th gen Fijians themselves) started a long time ago and seems to me to be very much down to British colonials  bringing in more “tractable” staff……

We loaded up with fresh from the excellent market as there is a very limited ability to pick up anything in the islands beyond the local’s hospitality.

Bula, Fiji!

We moved from Savusavu SE to the end of the point beside the Jacque Cousteau Resort to meet up with Mrs Goodnight and Lil’ Explorers and to wait for a weather window to move to Taveuni, a large island 40miles W but well placed to give us a decent sailing angle down into the Lau Group, hopefully our next destination. Whilst we waited we had great fun with a movie night on board Lil’ Explorers and then an education for all of us in the delights of Halyarding. Great fun, a little scary and with the potential to go wrong if you mistime it, it was an adrenaline buzz loved by all.

Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!

Shena and I got up to a fair height but the wee ones got to the full stretch of rope. Hannah went one better and launched just as the rope went taut, firing above the line like an arrow. It took us all by surprise. I think she reached well beyond 10m in height and took a long time to reach apex and fall back into the water!

Bula, Fiji!

The passage to the Lau Islands is not an easy one. The prevailing winds of Fiji are the SE trades. To get back into the Lau Islands from either Savusavu or Suva, the two booking in ports means a either a long beat upwind or waiting around for weeks to get a window of 36hrs or so when the Trades collapse as a system goes through. There had been one just as we arrived in Fiji and one looked likely as we moved around to the Jacque Cousteau Resort. To position ourselves, we beat a further 40Nm E around to the island of Taveuni. It was not a pleasant sail and we had big seas until we got into the lee of Taveuni. We stopped at the Paradise Resort near the S corner of the island and met back up with Stop Work Order.


The resort is owned by two Aussies,Terri and Alan . Deemed too old to do so in Aus,  they moved to Fiji to be able to adopt kids and now have four happy smalls. Good people, they have decided the resort will be a cruiser friendly place and have put in 6 buoys in place for visiting boats. The buoys are free as is the use of the showers and pool. The food is excellent and the evening ambience, helped along by being serenaded by a guitar playing local was very pleasant. Internet is v expensive ($50 a day against $50 for 50Gb lasting a month via Vodaphone data card) as is laundry (more than 5x the price of getting it done at the Copra Shed) but we required neither service.

I did get an education in wearing my “man skirt”. In FP, men wear the sulu with the front cover going to the right, just as I would wear a kilt. In Fiji, men wear the front cover to the left; ladies to the right. I was a little surprised to be wolf whistled at by the grinning guitar player but he explained why and we laughed. He did offer to exchange his own more formally correct Fiji suvu for mine but I rather like my Bora Bora flowery one…… I did change the wrap around before anyone else took advantage of me and got another knowing smile and a nod when he saw me correctly dressed!

The kids had a wonderful time and Hannah enjoyed a couple of nights being invited to dinner with the Resort owner’s kids. Much laughter, great fun and we thank Terri for the invitations.

We had two great days at Paradise before leaving on the tide N to make more easting in the shadow of Taveuni. Two days of sailing stretched in front of us, most of it on a best course to windward.



We sailed the 250 miles or so from Niue in moderate seas and winds in two days. The first 36hrs were running and we managed a few hours up with the parasail but with no moon, overcast and the odd squall, we choose not to run it at night. The last night was under plain sail after the wind went back into the SE and we just had the angle to fill the genoa on a broad run. Pleasant sailing.

We even manage to catch a fish! A lovely big Mahi Mahi threw itself on our hook. It took a bit of time to get it on board but it gave us meat enough to feed Be and Be and us twice, Shane, the Irish solo sailor we last saw in Raiatea and the crew of an Aus boat called Persistent Shift, another Lavezzi. It tasted wonderful cooked in sesame oil and S+P.


We reached the Ava Fonua Unga pass on the E side of the Vava’u Group, the northern island group of Tonga and went through the shallow pass without difficulty. We had been warned that our charts might be significantly off but Navionics seemed to roughly accurate. There was a little reef to avoid on the inside but after sailing in the Tuamotus, we were comfortable reading the seas colour and recognising the dangers. It was an easy entrance in the conditions we had. NB. We have found that the charts are generally accurate but there have been some howlers. Most reefs are marked but there are omissions and the depths shown must have been guessed at in places. The call is easy. Travel with a high sun and be suspicious always.

We arrived on Sunday afternoon and anchored in Port Maurelle on the island of Kapa, a lovely bay where the first Spanish sailor put in for shelter and to water back in 1781. There was a spring running down the hill, used by Maurelle and until recently; the locals. With modern plumbing and rain catching tanks being now used, the spring has been left to overgrow and now feeds a swamp. It was great to listen to the songbirds, the first we had heard on the boat for a long time. As dusk fell, the kids got really excited to see huge fruit bats flying overhead, heading back to their roost.


Be and Be arrived mid afternoon having had a few problems with their main, some baton cars blowing up on them necessitating a move to the W of the island to find sheltered water to get the main down and sort things out. They have had to order a couple of new cars, thankfully finding replacements in Australia so they should have less problems and wasted time than we did when we broke our cars going in to Cuba in 2015.

On Monday morning, we moved up to Neiafu, the main town and port of entry for the Vava’u Group. We waited a little while at the rough dock shared with the fishing fleet for the Customs, Immigration and Health staff to visit us.


We had no problems that couldn’t be settled with a smile, cake and coffee. We were cleared in without issue. I took the chance to run across to “Problems in Paradise?” , the small engineering business in a boat shed beside the dock and was able to get Ian, the excellent mechanic to come and have a look at the genset. Lou ran into town and got some local wonga to pay our entrance fees, then found where the laundry was and whilst I waited for Ian, disappeared to look around.


Neiafu is fairly large, containing the majority of the 16000 inhabitants of the Vava’u Group. There are a number of small supermarkets, all seemingly run by the ever present and hard working Chinese, several slightly seedy bars and a couple of banks. The town has a down beaten look and there is not a lot of money evident. The largest building in good nick seems to be a government one, ironically watched over by an enormous derelict colonial house which probably had the same function 50 years ago. There is a good sized mooring field, some run by Moorings and more by Beluga Diving as the depth for anchoring in the bay is a bit too much for most, mainly between 50-75m. Call them on Ch 26 or 09 for a ball.


After Ian had come and gone, I walked up to find Lou, Peta and kids settled in in the Tropicana Cafe, washing on at a very good $18Fijian per load for a wash and dry, beers in hand, looking happy. The Tropicana is the main dropping in place for yachties,has good internet, and Greg will accept mail and parcels on your behalf. He can be called on Ch26, the channel which is rebro’d around the whole of the island group. For those needing new films, he has the largest collection of films and series that I have ever seen to exchange. The food is pretty good too. He can supply flags, charts and is a good source of info for your stay in Tonga.

The local currency is the Panga, which exchanges at about $3:£1

We had been told that Tonga was useless for internet, reason enough for us to get all our advance notice paperwork for Fiji in all the way back in Bora Bora. I’d like to announce things have changed massively for the better. We bought a phone sim card for $10 which gave us 2Gb of data. The 3G has been excellent for most of our sailing through the islands and the speed is at least to FP standard, generally much better. There was some free internet at a couple of the cafes but it was far easier (and cheaper) to buy the sim card and then hotspot it. The local provider is Digicel and the shop is found in the middle of town close to the Customs, just up the hill from the market.

We spent two nights on mooring balls, moving to the wall during the day so Ian and I could work on genset. In the end, he did the drilling out and fitting of new stainless steel studs and I did the rebuild, new gasket, replumbing and a change of impellor too. Once everything was back in place, the sound of the genset running sweet and clear of smoke brought a smile to my face. One less thing to worry about.

Shopping proved successful as well. Last year there had been problems with delivery ferries making it up to Vava’u and shopping was difficult. The problem seems to have been fixed and this year there are multiple ferries a week. There is a good selection of fresh, canned and dried food and there is even an excellent deli run by a couple of Canadian settlers who make the best sausages we have tasted in the Pacific. Sorry NZ but your sausages really are crap in comparison….

We watched the arrival of more and more World Arc Rally boats. This rally takes you around the world in about 15mths and we have been managed to be just in front of them since Bora Bora. I talked to one (professional) crew member and his comment was that he was sailing then provisioning then sailing, very occasionally being able to sightsee for a day. I get the sailing bit  – around the world will always be a massive achievement – but I rather think not experiencing the cultural differences of all the places you pass is somewhat missing the point of travelling. Just my opinion, of course.

As the original fleet was more than 30 and it has dropped to 20, I think some folk might just have decided that too. They will be here in Tonga for a few days, then Fiji then Darwin by the end of July to be able to cross to Cape Town in season. We won’t have left Fiji by then!

When we were in Panama last year, we had been given a copy of the sailing guide Moorings give to their Tonga customers. It has proved to be very helpful. As the water is very deep for the majority of the Vava’u area, Moorings has put in buoys in the safe anchorage spots that they recommend. Although it means less clear anchoring areas, it is protecting the sea bed, so we didn’t feel bad in picking them up when we saw them. They all seem to be in reasonable nick but I’d prefer to be on my own anchor if the wind was blowing in hard.

The sailing reminded me very much of the BVIs but better protected and less civilised. This is not a swept up tourist destination; rather an isolated gem of a cruising ground. Load up when you arrive as there are no other shops and don’t expect the beach bar life of the BVI. The water is wonderfully protected, the scenery is beautiful and there are few people here.


We moved around to join Sangvind, last seen at Raiatea at a small island between Mafana and Ofu, where some old friends had taken up residence on an island they have leased. To reach them , we went through through the Fanu Tapu Pass. The pass has no markings anymore (there was supposed to be three of them) and you need to read the reef carefully as you make the last turn to 010Mag. Turn early and you will find yourself dodging bommies. A few miles N, we anchored between Mafana and Ofu in about 25’ of water on a sand bank between two deep patches. We had one night there and moved even further E to the island of Kenutu, at a sheltered anchorage at 18 41.967S 173 55.759W in 20’ of water.


A strange rock formation at the S end of the island looked very much like a warship.


You need to be a little careful going from the channel to the anchorage for the last half mile E but in good light it should pose no problems. The kids went ashore and camped there for two nights. We got a decent fire going, heating the kids’ food on it and of course, had marshmallows, found in one of the supermarkets.

Camping ashoreTongaTongaTongaTongaTonga

The adults retired. Bliss and quiet on the boats…..


At the next island up, Umuna, we explored for a fresh water swimming cave that Sylvia remembered from their last visit to Tonga some ten years ago. After one unsuccessful climb up to 30m cliffs, we moved up one bay and met an Aus couple, Mark and Annie who had built a house on the island and were planning to spend large parts of the year there. The view W from the house was spectacular and they have put in an impressive amount of work to make a garden from the jungle surrounding them. Sadly a tree had fallen across the entrance of the cave which was just behind their house and it was suggested that it was too dangerous to enter.


As they had rights for the whole island, they had constructed a walkway through to a decked area on the E side of the island and we explored that too. What a sunrise from there must be like………. The kids of course charmed Annie but the find of a dead rat was infinitely more interesting to them than the views! Our thanks to them for allowing us to wander on their land.

Tonga Tonga

You might remember that my log and depth thing had stopped working due to a immersed and rotten connector between the data cable and the bus. I had attempted to clean it out, drilling out the old screws and wire so we could reconnect it. Geoff, a professional electrician with his own business back in Aus spent some time expertly soldering wire into it before one of the connector male spines maddeningly broke off, frustrating both of us. In the end Geoff hot wired the data cable directly into the bus connector, wrapped it with electrical tape and tied it up in a plastic bag. We switched on and voila! Depth, log, true and apparent wind all back up and showing. Two positive results in two days! My thanks to Geoff for a lesson on electrics. It is always good when someone with the knowledge can show you the way.

After a good time playing Robinson Crusoe, we headed round to meet up with Ben and Lisa, friends of Sylvia and Frans who had invited us all to a party with the Peace Corp staff for the area. Having been abandoned by the kids (“soooo much more fun on Be and Be or Sangvind” ) Lou and I went for a sail – an actual sail – just for the sake of it. We tried to remember the last time we sailed for fun rather than to go somewhere and we think it was in Grenada…… The wind was light and the sea flat. We even enjoyed beating across to the reef pass which we sailed through.

We sailed to Tapana and stopped for lunch, then had another great relaxed sail to Matamaka, the village the Peace Corp are based at. We picked up a mooring ball just off the jetty. Sangvind appeared with another yacht following. As they passed them going the other way, they saw they had kids and invited them to the party too. The Nelly Rose, an X-Boat from NZ had two kids on board, Ollie (9) and Alana (8). They will be sailing Tonga and Fiji this season. Navionics says we picked up on a reef. We were definitely in 30’ of water.


The sunset was spectacular.


The evening was great fun, sitting outside in the grounds of the Corp’s compound and the music, courtesy of Frans’s guitar playing, was excellent. We slept late the next morning.

We moved so we could be out of sight for the Sabbeth and returned to Port Maurelle, just a couple of miles away with the boys from Sangvind and Evie and Harry from Be and Be (“soooo much more fun on your boat…….” –  there is theme going on here) on board. I gave the kids the collective task of getting us there without hitting anything. Between the four of them they did a good job.


Port Maurelle was very busy with lots of the ARC boats in.  We anchored cheeky close to the reef on the S side of the bay in about 9’ of water. Pesto moved around to join us too. We made ourselves at home and created noise! Ten kids playing exuberantly made perhaps more noise than one or two boats liked. I’m afraid I didn’t care.


We visited Swallow Cave, set in a cliff a mile from the anchorage. It is large enough to drive the dinghy in with two large water chambers (sadly decorated with lots of graffiti) and another dry that you would have to climb to. We decided not to explore it as we watched a water snake slither over the route we would have had to take. Unfortunately a little bit of tomfoolery on the Be and Be dinghy meant a lost mask overboard. Geoff tried to dive for it but we measured the depth at about 16m, too deep for either of us to get down to comfortably. We went back the next day and dived for it with a tank on.


We snorkelled outside the cave at a patch of reef. It had a good drop off to about 25m and vis was around 50m, more than we had seen so far in Tonga. There were a small number of reef fish, a few patches of anemones with their resident Orange-finned Anemonefish, the first Barracuda I had seen in  a long time but the coral was very dead.


Our last full day was wet as the weather changed. We met a lovely little girl called Paige from a NZ boat up for the season called Ika Moana that day who invited everybody to her boat for her 8th birthday party. Baking was done (cupcakes and Lemon Drizzle cake) and there was a lot of fun involved which included using a spinnaker pole as a swing and an awful lot of screaming. The day ended with some crap US High School Musical that enthralled the kids on Be and Be. I rather think Paige enjoyed herself.

With our need to get to Fiji and with a high projected to sit on us, we decided that we didn’t want to wait and get left with no wind. We wanted to go on Mon 5th but had to stay for the festivities of Independence Day as everything was closed, including all government functions. Leaving Tues 6th meant one more night in Port Maurelle and a final chance to leave gifts for  Dylan and Harry’s impending birthdays. Blackmail and peer pressure not withstanding (Frans – looking at you, bud. Boy, you are good at it!) we decided we had to leave to make sure we reached Fiji before the weekend when the wind was expected to fail.

Tonga has been great fun. It has been lovely to explore it in the company of the kids boats of Be and Be and Sangvind and a surprise to find ourselves in and around more boats than at any time since Nuka Hiva last year. Everyone seems to be on the move again, be it with a rally or as one of the boats appearing from NZ. The season has properly started.

The Vava’u Group of Tonga is a beautiful cruising ground and the best description I can give you is a greener, less civilised BVI. The anchorages are good but often deep, the reefs beautiful (as long as you are careful) and the water flat and protected. It is a magnificent sailing ground. I am surprised there isn’t a bigger cruising fleet here. Saying that, I don’t think I would really want to spend lots of time here. I need the mix of land and sea and Tonga has very little to offer in the way of land based activities and amenities. Perhaps if we had visited the main island group to the S, I’d think differently but the general feel from cruisers I have spoken to is that a couple of weeks here is enough.

Finally, Shena and Kinsley – days to do! Really looking forward to seeing you both.