Category Archives: Update posts

Ua – New Caledonia

What a gem!

Ua is a small uninhabited island less than a km long and maybe 400m wide at its widest. At 22 42.30S 166 48.39E, it is about 30Nm W of Kuna in amongst the many reefs that fall S some 40Nm from the end of the main island to the drop off. Not an anchorage recommended to visitors using the small charter fleet, it leaves it free for liveaboard visitors, the occasional local family on a fishing boat and other infrequent visitors.

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We anchored in 35’ of water on sand in the crescent bay at the NW corner of the island. It is sheltered but here is a wraparound N swell that finds its way into the bay. Not too bad for us catamarans but if you weren’t close in to the island, it can be a bit rolly for the monos.

There is only one small gap in the reef to get on to the island at the N end of the beach. Take care to find the right cut in through the beach and make sure you have the engine up to half mast as it gets v shallow at low tide.

We explored the island and saw two Osprey nests, one in a tree, the other no more than four feet off the ground 100m through the scrub forest from the dinghy landing point.

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We didn’t see the birds until we explored the island. After we had turned to walk N on the E shore, we startled four juvenile Ospreys who had yet to find the courage to leave the island. They flew above us, keening and obviously not happy that we were there so we turned round and left them to settle down. We listened to them crying away throughout our stay.

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We had been communicating with Tika by Messenger for quite a while, wondering if we would get the chance to see them again. They decided that one last rendezvous was in order. We had a moment when Russell and I realised that there were islands with all too similar names and there was still 15+ miles between us! They pushed hard to get down to us, arriving just around last light to anchor behind us. It was great seeing them again. It wasn’t long before Tika Taka, their rather splendid dinghy, was down in the water and it was great watching the kids pushing her hard around the bay. Hannah was effective ballast and thoroughly enjoyed hiking out! Although the Mirror dinghy that I learnt my sailing on is on offer to the girls when we get home, I rather think it is unlikely that they will experience this kind of weather for a while!

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Tika weren’t able to stick around for long. I have to admit, yet again, at feeling jealous watching Tika depart as she accelerated from 0 to 10+kts in a few boat lengths as her main filled. She left us in 20+kts with a full main up, the wind on her beam, tearing away towards Noumea.

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We had several days of simple pleasures, snorkelling on the reefs around the island, exploring the island, having a bonfire on the beach and doing a little bit of socialising. Wet suits were definitely needed but drying out in the sun on a walk was an enjoyable après snorkel activity.

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Ua provided us with some of the best snorkelling in the Pacific. That’s a big statement but the life on the reef running N from the island was magnificent. There was more colour in the coral than I’d seen anywhere else, the mix of coral was fantastic and the fish life was superb. At 21C the water temperature felt cold but this presumably has helped protect the reef from the heavy bleaching so evident E in the mid Pacific island groups. 

Russell asked if I was able to take the Tika kids down for a dive and that I did. Jaiya (her first ever), Hannah and Kai each got a short dive along the best bit of the reef wall about 100m N from the end of the island. It was a shallow dive and we didn’t have to go any deeper than 8m. I went back and had another couple of dives. I spent the time trying not to smile at the gloriousness of life I saw. Magnificent!

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With just a few days left before we needed to be in Noumea for Skylark’s survey and the imminent arrival of Kostya, the new owner, we needed to move. We left Ua and moved the 30 odd miles to a bay just shy of Noumea for our very last night on the hook. Skylark didn’t disappoint on our last real sail as a family on board and we swept NW at 8kts on a beam reach.

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Ile Des Pins –New Caledonia

The sail down from Ouvea towards the Iles Des Pins can be a difficult one. With the sea running from the SE and the wind regularly set from there as well, it can be a long beat. PJ of Stormy Monday had suggested that rather than going straight for the island, we should run on to the main island, go inside the reef and take our time in the sheltered water exploring the rarely used anchorages on the E side of the island. It made sense so we initially headed for  about  two thirds of the way down the island. As we cleared Ouvea, we found that the wind was from a wonderfully unexpected ENE direction so we hardened up and aimed further S to take advantage of it.

The next morning found us inside the reef in flat sheltered water and we pushed motor sailed SE the last few miles to Pass de Tare and anchorage described to us as a cyclone hole. We went in and found ourselves in a wonderfully sheltered bay, completely surrounded by forest. Wolfi and Cathi were in just before us having pushed a bit harder upwind. With a good muddy bottom, we anchored in 40’.

We spent a day looking around and met a delightful Frenchman who had been given permission from the locals to convert a small patch of one of the islands into a vegetable  garden. Once a violinist in Paris, we had found his way to New Caledonia and had never left. He does some trading with the locals and enjoys his life parked up in the bay.

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We moved on early the next morning escorted out of the pass by a couple of dolphin for the short jump to Iles Des Pins. There are a couple of routes into the huge sheltered nature park and we chose to head for Bay de Gadji which is on the N of the island. With only 15miles from Bay de Tare, it didn’t take us long but we had time to catch a King Mackerel. Finally, a fish with white flaky meat!

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We arrived to find Nigel on Varaiki leading a group of Rally boats off, all ducks in a row,  towards the narrow pass to the main town on S side of the island,  Hannah was disappointed to see her friends charge off but as we pointed out, Rally fleets are normally a bit more focused on moving on and are running to a timetable, something we have always tried not to do!

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We parked up for the first night at  a v sheltered anchorage in about 25’ of water just on the W side of the channel outside Bay de Gadji. The next morning having recce’d the route, we moved 500m E into the far shallower Bay de Gadji in 10’ of water into the whitest sand we had seen since the Bahamas. What a place! Lou has posted on Facebook that this is her favourite anchorage of the whole trip and it is difficult to argue with her. A huge area of sheltered water with great holding, oh so white sand and for the first few days at least little wind  meaning that Skylark looked as if she was floating on air, the water so flat and clear.

The original plan was to stay for a couple of days but we just loved it here. Joined by Be and Be and Plastik Plankton we had a great time being surrounded by beauty.

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Geoff decided he needed some time away from it all and took himself off on his paddleboard. He didn’t need to go far to find peace! I rather liked his style.

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We had a period of fantastic calm and beautiful sunsets. These are my two favourites. I’m quite proud of them considering they were taken on our little compact.

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Of course, as always with Hannah involved there was a continued drive for sleepovers and after several, we managed to get rid of the whole problem by suggesting a camping exhibition to one of the islands. The suggestion was joyously taken up by the smalls and we had a great time finding wood enough for the fire, selecting the right trees for the hammocks and then agreeing who would be sleeping with who.

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The view from the campsite was pretty impressive.

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Of course the adults couldn’t simply desert the kids so we got to visit, feed and water and hang out at the camp, at least until the kids told us it was time for us to leave them on their own.

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With one girl in each hammock, there was a minimum of strife. Shelby, smart girl she is, decided to enjoy the relative peace of Be and Be without her siblings!

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After rousing the kids out early after a few days ashore, we moved around to Kuto, the village in the main bay on the S side of the island where the ferry comes in. The ladies were disappointed again by the lack of fresh product available in the shop (singular). When pushed the shopkeeper said there might be fresh coming in by ferry a few days hence but it wouldn’t last long. I find it amazing that the service from Noumea to the outer islands is so poorly operated. With a fast foot ferry operating a couple of times a day, there must be opportunity for someone to spark. At the moment the only people who get reasonable service amd access to the plentiful produce of the main island are the hotels who ship in their own.

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We operated a taxi service in and out of the dock as you aren’t allowed to tie up to the ferry dock or the passenger dock (reserved for cruise liners) and we weren’t happy leaving the boat on the beach. It worked well and we all got to run about. Hannah did a good job as Dinghy Captain.

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The bay at Kuna has Dugongs in it. We kept a good look out for them but all we saw was the very occasional glimpse of a dark shape as it rolled underwater. We even tried a engine off drift through where we though we had seen a couple but with no success. Similar to Manatee, the big difference is the tail which looks like a Whales rather than the spade the Manatee has.

We climbed N’Ga, the highest hill on the island which overlooks the bay. Hannah had to hauled up the last little bit. Hot, bothered and without Eleanor to motivate her, she was not a happy chappy Smile 

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At 262m, N’Ga isn’t that high but the views are spectacular. With a 360 visage, you can certainly see why the island has its name. Interestingly, the island was originally a penal island and was used by the French to get rid of inconvenient political prisoners for a brief period in the mid 19C. It is a lot nicer than the hell hole of Devil’s Island, made famous in the film Papillion, but it proved to be too expensive to maintain.

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We needed to move on and see a bit more before we left Skylark. There is a huge amount to explore at the S end of New Cal and we could have spent weeks exploring. We looked and discussed, asked opinions, researched online and eventually decided that the weather was settled enough to go for one of the less visited small islands W of Ile Des Pins. Be and Be headed off to pick up family coming out to see them from home. Plastik Plankton and Skylark headed towards our final stop before handing her over, the island of Ua.

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The Loyalty Islands- New Caledonia

One of the problems with New Caledonia is that there is one booking in point for sailors and that is Noumea, the capital. You may enter at other places with prior permissions but the captain is required to attend the authorities in Noumea within 24hrs of landing, always an expensive trip and not often practical. To get to Noumea by boat you need to beat down to the bottom of the main island so if you want to look at exploring the Loyalties or even the N of the main island, Noumea is the last place you want to visit.

We had joined the Island Cruising Association Rally to get around this. Based out of New Zealand, the Rally takes a little over five months to travel around Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia before returning to Opua in New Zealand.  This year was a transition year with Nigel and Amanda Richards taking over the running of the rally. I can’t say I envy them in their task of herding cats. Most crews were pretty independent but there were a few that needed to be spoon fed. Nigel and Amanda did an admirable job although their patience must have been stretched on occasion being continually at the beck and call of the fleet.

The rally organised Customs and Immigration to come to Lifou to book everyone in on Tues 19th Sep. It was a pain for a few boats who decided to arrive early as they were not allowed to leave their boat other than to swim around themselves. No visiting ashore or other yachts. Plastik Plankton had the longest wait – several days –  as they had travelled directly from the southern islands of Vanuatu and they thought they would have a slower passage. We timed it reasonably well and crossed with a 36hr sail which started fast and bouncy. We had to seriously slow ourselves down to ensure we arrived in daylight. Skylark was in the groove and reached all the way across. Whilst I allowed it, it was lovely fast sailing at times into double digits. We had to wait a day to book in but as the wind was due to into the S which would have forced us to beat, arriving when we did made sense.

Booking in was a painless and well organised event and everyone (25+ boats) was done in about an hour and a half. We did have a mong moment when we were told that we weren’t allowed to bring eggs in but the nice bio security chap allowed us to bake with them so the some members of the fleet got to try a yogurt cake and lots of fairy cakes.

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Hannah was over the moon to see her motley crew of kids. It didn’t take long for her to get the kayak down and head off to meet up with the gang assembling on Kena.

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Lou went into town to get a sim card for the phone to give us internet and to get some shopping. A word of warning. There isn’t a lot for sale on the the island and there was a distinct lack of fresh produce. We also found that prices were high, much higher than even the outer isles of French Polynesia.  I helped Wally of the wonderfully named Udder Life fix his diving fins with a new strap from my Save a Dive kit. I thought it may as well be used. A reminder to myself to restock…..

As an aside, Udder Life’s original name was White Gold. As Wally is a successful milk farmer, the name makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, too many people had other ideas what White Gold stood for and after being approached one too many times to see if he could help with a couple of grams of cocaine, he changed her name!

We had a good time in the village. My first task was to go and find fresh bread. After a joyous reunion with Kathi and Wolfi, one of our very favourite couples, it didn’t take long. We followed our noses through the village to the back door of a building. The traditional bread is a huge round which is then broken/cut into segments for sale. we arrived just in time to watch it being extracted from the oven. Baguettes were cooked in another kiln and the baker smiled, showed me how to extract them and handed me the pole. I had a great time and the baker seemed happy with my work. No discount was given on the couple of loaves I bought but I did get to choose my own. I went back the next day and helped out again. Simple pleasures!

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Whilst most house plots had a modern house on it, each and everyone still had a traditional round house as well. You really have to bend to enter the small doorway. The permanent structure is a low wall that forms the base. Thick vertical poles are set in the wall to allow a wooded frame to be fitted to it to hold up the walls and roof.

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The roof is a structure of wood poles tied together overlaid with leaves. A fire is lit centrally. This dries and preserves the roof. It will last several years. The floor is covered with a thick layer of dried fronds which have a layer of matting over them. It provides a very comfortable sleeping platform. It felt like walking on a firmish sponge.

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Even if you loose the roof to a cyclone, New Caledonia being frequently hit, it does not take long to reconstruct.  The house in the photos is lived in and the local who invited us to look at his house was glad of the chance to show off his inlaid tile walkway and fireplace. Wolfi (an architect by training) got all excited at the roof design.

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Just as in Fiji, it is necessary to show respect to the local chief if you want to explore the islands. A gift of cloth is the done thing with the more modern addition of a 1000XFP note tucked in with it. Nigel collected these and did a collective presentation to the Chief he had been told was the boss. Permission was granted for the fleet to anchor in a variety of places, to fish (a big concession) and to visit some of the smaller outer isles.

Unfortunately, a few boats who fired off to explore were soon on the radio telling of aggressive locals telling them to bugger off. What transpired was the Chief could give permission to some areas but not others. A second chief was identified and placated with gifts but it seemed that there was a power struggle going on. An old chief had died, two new chiefs were fighting for precedence and we had got caught up in the middle. It was a unpleasant mess and led to a complaint to the police because of the overtly threatening behaviour of a few locals.  A bit of a shame really as it dissuaded a lot of the fleet from exploring as much as they wanted.

We enjoyed the beach, the sunsets and did a little snorkelling at the pass entrance. Alice, crew on Varaiki, and I did a little diving at one of the bommies a mile or so offshore.

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We moved up to Ouvea with an overnight sail with Plastik Plankton. We sailed in and parked ourselves off the Paradise Hotel in the SE corner of the atoll in 20’ of water. It is another beautiful atoll and we spend a few happy days just playing on the beach and hanging out with the other kid boats.

It was an easy, tranquil time and we thoroughly enjoyed it. A few of the fleet explored the atoll by car with mixed reports. Very beautiful everywhere you go but not a lot to do. I think we had the best of it simply sitting in the glorious setting we found ourselves in, exploring by foot the area around the anchorage and having fun. See what you think………..

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With time ticking we decided to head towards Iles Des Pins (the Isle of Pines) which had been identified as one the must see places in New Caledonia. After advice from PJ and Josefina on Stormy Monday, regular New Cal visitors, we headed best course to windward, SSE towards a gap in the reef surrounding the main island. We left in Plastik Plankton’s company as the sun started to set for a quiet and sheltered overnight sail.

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Efate – Vanuatu

I didn’t think we would ever lose our mojo on this trip but I’m afraid that is pretty much what happened in these last three weeks.

We had an easy run from Tanna up to Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu on Efate. We left within an hour of Tika and Stop Work Order. Tika saw a pod of Humpback whales at the entrance to the bay; we, of course, saw zip! It was good watching Stop Work Order in all her glory smash passed us as we transited Mt Yasur heading up the coast of Tanna.  The overnight sail N was tedious and sloppy. We even had a couple of hours with no wind. 20 miles offshore, there was a hole to the W of Erromango. We ran into it and Time Bandit had the same issue. We both thought we would be far enough downwind to be clear of any island effects. We were wrong. Stop Work Order went to the E of the island and had a far better run although they did have a far bigger sea to contend with. You make your choice and pay the price….. Vanuatu

We did have success with the rod again. A lovely Yellow Fin Tuna took the bait. About 10kg, it fed us, Stop Work Order and Lionheart of Clyde comfortably. Eleanor, on her last passage took charge of the gutting although I did the filleting.

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Port Vila is the capital and is a booking in port. Having had permissions to ignore the Customs and Immigration Officers of Tanna, we stuck up the full regalia of flags as we approached the excellent harbour. We anchored at the yellow quarantine buoy at the N end of the bay close to Stop Work Order and behind Lionhart of Clyde. Booking in was easy, if a little disjointed. The immigration office is in the middle of the town in a somewhat beat up office undergoing refurbishment. Customs is by the cruise ship dock a few miles around the bay. Both staff were excellent and quick. We paid our $50 for entering the country at Tanna and then an extra $60 for the letter required from Immigration to allow Louise to re-enter the country after she dropped Eleanor off in Sydney.

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We decided to go along side at the Waterfront Marina as the price difference between a ball and alongside was $5 a day. With the added convenience of never ending water and an walk off/on to the dock and town, it was an easy choice. It gave us the opportunity to try and clean the rest of the volcanic dust off Skylark.  We had noticed that even with all the buckets we had had used, a black sheen still reappeared every morning. What was worse was the port winch had started to get v sticky. When I took it apart to check it,  it was clogged up with the black powder, requiring a full clean. Not a difficult or time consuming job (I actually find it rather satisfying) but once you have done one winch, you know you may as well do the lot. They were all clogged to a greater or lesser degree. The boat got to smell of diesel for an afternoon but the winches always sound so good running smooth afterwards! 

Lou found the laundry lady and we offloaded all the sheets and most of the wardrobes for a good hot water clean. Prices were reasonable at $8 an industrial load with a line dry and fold in the price.

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The sea front at Port Vila is undergoing a huge facelift. With the majority of tourists arriving with cruise ships and few escaping the town centre where all the tax free shops are, the town has been investing in making the centre prettier. The walkway around the sea front is a pleasant boulevard with grass gardens to decorate it. It formally opened whilst we were in Port Vila to the backdrop of a concert and fireworks for the great and good.

I’ve got to say that the sea front is not representative of Port Vila. Just a few hundred metres inland and you find shanty housing with no electricity and no obvious sanitation. I understand the need to attract the money of the tourists but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere to the public good.

The kids found the play park and we enjoyed translating the signs in the local lingo, known as bismala, as we toured the shops. You have the choice of Chinese made tat at bargain basement prices or the tax free shops with high end goods and little else. However, there were several high quality ice cream shops so we stayed happy. Bar One, an excellent little eatery which showed films projected into an outside screen a couple of times a week was a good find and the new Thai noodle restaurant just around the corner is well worth a visit too.

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One place you did see locals was at the market, half way along the high street. Vibrant, cheerful and noisy, there was a good variety of fruit and veg on offer. Prices were set and were on a par with the Fiji market of Savusavu even though the average wage here is less than in Fiji. The one thing very noticeably different between the populations is the far smaller number of overweight individuals and increases in gleaming white teeth. I had a conversation with an Australian dentist on this peculiarity. She suggested that the diet in Vanuatu remains a basic local one which does not include the sugar based products now so liked (and affordable) in Fiji which causes a brown discolouring. A lack of processed sugars in the diet means whiter teeth and a leaner people.

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On 25th Aug, Eleanor said goodbye to Skylark and started her journey home to the UK. Lou was to travel with her as far as Australia and a friend was kindly going to look after her as she moved the rest of the way back to Granny Joyce and the Tuckers in the UK. It started badly. Getting to the counter to book in for their flights, we were informed that we had no clearance to travel to Australia.

“But I’m British. I don’t need a visa to travel to Australia”

“Sorry, Mrs Henderson but you do”

“No I don’t!”

“Yes you do……”

On the basis of not fighting the pink and before she said something inadvisable, an irate Lou was sent off to look up the rules on the internet whilst I paid one of the desk agents large amounts of money to right the wrong and get us a e-notice approval from Aus Immigration. That done, a still fuming Lou at the indignities our colonial friends had heaped on her, departed after final cuddles with Eleanor.

Lou was away for a week. I had originally thought of travelling N to join up with Tika and a few others at the Ambrym festival but we would have had to leave that night to get there in time. In the end we sat at Port Vila, having fun at the market, working out interesting spicy soups and dishes to make, something not really possible with Eleanor around whose inability to handle real heat is well known.

Scotch Bonnet chillies to the fore! Hannah had great fun experimenting and produced (with a little help) some excellent fare.

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We also did the touristy bit and with Lou away, explored the town in detail and hit the ice-cream shops a bit harder than we would normally do.

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Of course THE big event was the McGregor/Mayweather fight and Hannah and I enjoyed it in the company of the owner of the one micro brewery in Port Vila. I think Hannah was the youngest there by some way. She caused some amusement by announcing loudly that boxing was stupid and spent her time reading and rolling her eyes at the idiocy of her father and new friends whilst we shouted our support!

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We also got in a little more formal education. We had been told about the National Museum in Port Vila and the man who drew pictures in the sand. We went to visit and I am so glad we did. Edgar is the resident sand drawer, the traditional method of telling stories handed down the generations. Still practised in the outer isles, Edgar suggested it is an art form that is just about holding on. It was wonderful to watch his techniques. You start with a rectangle split into segments and then, never removing your finger from the sand, tell the story and emphasising the story with the drawing, never using a straight line. It was beautiful to watch and had us and some appreciative local ladies entranced with his expertise.

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Hannah just had to have a go and after we had looked around the museum she went back to the sand board. Edgar, seeing her interest spent half an hour giving her a private lesson which she loved. I’m not sure she will remember how to do the turtles or lizards she drew, but the pig using E, e, M and two W is firmly fixed in her mind! Our thanks to him for a great afternoon’s education.

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Hannah had a go at the Vanuatan traditional wood instrument, made up of pipes vibrated by hand. I’m standing beside the senior chief of the island’s totem pole, carved with five heads to show his  status. The more heads, the higher the status. Note the cut in the wood which allows the pole to be used as a drum.

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One morning as we walked in to town we went past a crowd of people washing kava roots. We stopped for a chat and ended up meeting Johnathan Napat, the owner of the business. Life is sometimes swayed by small things. After he mentioned he had a sandalwood plantation and I said I never used anything else other than sandalwood soap to shave with, he smiled and offered to show us around his estate in the hills. As well as growing sandalwood trees, the estate also grows a large amount of kava, fruit and veg (he directly supplies the public hospital of Port Vila) as well as another couple of exotic hard woods loved in the Middle East, used for expensive inlays.

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We had great fun looking around and learning his thoughts on doing business in Vanuatu. As the son of one of the Vanuatu original government ministers at Independence in 1980, he offered a fascinating insight in to the realities of life. We sadly didn’t get to meet his Mum, an English lady and obviously an adventurous soul,  who moved from England in the 50’s and stayed to marry his Dad. She must have had an interesting life. Remember Vanuatu’s last known occurrence of cannibalism was 1969 so it wasn’t a civilised country when she first arrived!

He also gave us an understanding of the land rights and naming rules for those born in Vanuatu. Your name describes exactly where you are from. Think of a hand. The main island is split into five segments and each segment is split, just as your fingers are, into three parts. Each of these segments have a number of allocated names for men and women so simply giving you full name describes where you are from, be it by the sea, inland or the hills and your mothers family ties through blood. A man is the tree, tied to the land he is born on; the women are doves and may go where ever. Beautifully simple.

Since independence, only citizens of Vanuatu may own land. If you are a foreigner, you may lease land for a period not exceeding 75 years, used because it is the productive life period of a coconut palm. Johnny has a large track of land which we is continuing to clear. Ultimately he intends to split his efforts into several separate businesses. His sandalwood stock smelt amazing. He is working hard to bring his production techniques up to international standards to allow tracking down to individual trees and plant level, required when the produce is used for medicinal purposes. He is a man on a mission and doing well.

We didn’t manage to hit the small library in town but Hannah was happy visiting the magazine counter in the very good supermarket mainly used by the ex-pat community at the top of the hill. Kindle is great but having a real book in your hands seems far more satisfying!

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Lou arrived back having packed Eleanor off and we continued to feel pretty flat with her gone. It didn’t help that I caught some sort of horror bug which left me coughing my guts up and voiceless too (sometimes not a bad thing, I’ve been told…) , meaning that my planned diving had to be side lined too. We wombled around, tidying the boat, getting some school done but not really enjoying ourselves much. After so much time together, we realised we were missing a vital cog and, I’ll admit it, we missed the arguments!

Saying that, it wasn’t all navel gazing. Just outside Port Vila there is a river walk through the rain forest up to the Mele Falls. We visited it twice, once without Lou and then a second time with the Cerise and Cameron from Stop Work Order. It is well worth a visit. The pools are lovely and the falls beautiful. The view back down on to the bay is pretty good too.

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We decided that we needed to move on and, on the basis that we wanted to see as much of New Caledonia as we could without having to double back on ourselves, we decided to join the Island Cruising Association (ICA) Rally. A roundtrip affair from NZ, we had seen the Rally in a couple of ports in Tonga and Fiji. We realised we actually met the organisers, Amanda and Nigel,  all the way back in Opua in November 16 when we had given them a lift to the shops in Kerikeri. By joining the Rally we could cheat and enter New Caledonia via the Loyalty Islands as the Rally would organise for the Customs and Immigration team to come out to Lifou to clear us in. We signed up, got the battle flag and prepared to leave.

We had time for one last show. We had been told of a fire show at the Beach Bar near Hideaway Island, six miles outside town which came highly recommended. Craig and Aron from Reoa had seen it as they moved N through the islands and thought it a very good evening. We took a taxi out to the bar. It went the slow route by way of a number of shanty towns on the outskirts of Port Vila which was a bit of an eye opener. 

The bar was full when we arrived and the beer and food was going down well. We ordered pizza after watching them being made in the wood fired ovens at the side of the bar. The show was fantastic. We did have an interesting conversation with one local who suggested not going too close to the front as “ even if they are getting better, they still sometimes set some of the audience on fire”…… I thought it was a joke until I watch one lad jump up when an overly large spark landed in his lap! Health and Safety doesn’t exist here yet.

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The few kids in the rally, spurred on by our own little entrepreneur decided on a money making venture before we left to add some pocket money to their accounts. Here we have the kids from Kena (Annabelle and Olly), Varekai (Ella) and H (the smart one holding the money….) out selling cookies, friendship bracelets, necklaces, etc, etc. Over a couple of afternoons, they made $78US which Lou collected and converted into XPF for New Caledonia spending.

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We didn’t do Vanuatu justice. What we can say is we enjoyed it for the first few days in Tanna when we were all together. Losing Eleanor to the reality of school and the UK kicked a bit of stuffing out of us.  I think we all realised as well that our own idyll was coming to an end all too soon.

We left Vanuatu with lots of company for the short sail across the Coral Sea to Lifou, one of the Loyalty Isles in our last country to visit this time around, New Caledonia. 

Time to buck up and enjoy it whilst we could.

The Island of Tanna – Vanuatu

We had a last hurrah in Fiji at Vuda Point Marina where we had to go to book out from the country. Why the Immigration and Customs staff are based there rather than the somewhat bigger Port Denarau where all the super yachts are, I really don’t know. However, it necessitated us moving the 5 miles across the bay where we got the chance to meet up with Be and Be, languishing in Vuda Point still waiting for the parts to fix their sail drives, broken all the way back in Viani Bay. The kids hung out and had a good time and we said our goodbyes to Peta and Geoff. We are hoping that they will be fixed in time for us all to have a last blast together in New Caledonia. Fingers crossed that the repairs work out.

We made a rather tedious passage across from Fiji to Vanuatu, a distance of about 450miles as the crow flies. The first 36hrs were wild and racy and we charged along. However we fell into a hole and slopped along before the wind turned to our nose and we had to beat. I’m afraid I got v bored and decided to turn on the get there juice. We motored in the last 20 miles to arrive in daylight rather than wait until the next morning.  Tika and Time Bandit had screamed across and both were in over a day ahead of us but handily were able to confirm route in and anchorage. Oh to be 10’ longer and that fast…….

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We had a strange time trying to spot land as we beat up towards Tanna. We could see the island of Futuna, a rarely visited island some 30 miles E of Tanna from a huge distance away, over 50miles but Tanna itself remained obscured until we were 20 miles away.

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We decided that the dragon we saw in the clouds, coming directly from the volcano on Tanna must have had something to do with it!

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We had received permission to enter Vanuatu at Port Resolution on the island of Tanna, not a entry port but the closest anchorage to the famously active Mt Yasur, the most accessible volcano in the world. Although Customs and Immigration Officers will come across the island to book people in (with a significant additional cost), we got permission from Customs HQ at Port Vila, the capital, to simply enjoy our stay and formally book in once we reached Port Vila. We were charged a $50 unnamed entry port fee once we reached Efate. I’ll write more on this issue in our next blog post on Port Vila.

Tanna in the local dialect translates as “earth”. So the story goes, when Capt Cook arrived on the island he lifted up a handful of earth from the ground and asked what it was. Confused, rather than tell him the island name (what I think he was after) the locals said “tanna”. So the island was named on Capt Cooks chart and so it has stayed.

Navionics’ mapping appears to be a problem yet again in Vanuatu. Port Resolution, a major bay on the SE corner of Tanna doesn’t even show up as an anchorage. Thankfully I had bought the Rocket Guide to Vanuatu (a quite excellent publication which I wholeheartedly recommend) which had lots of details and handily, some waypoints that would get me in to the bay. We dropped in about 20’on to hard black sand. Great holding. We were a little surprised to find the bay full of other yachts. However, as we were in the process of dropping the hook, many of them were upping sticks and heading out. The yachts were from the Island Cruising Association Rally from NZ and having had their short stop in Tanna were off again heading N. By the next day they had all gone and it was far more peaceful. The locals mainly fished in the bay and no one used anything else other than a traditional dug out canoe from a single tree with outrigger. We did some trading with a couple of them. Biscuits (cookies), matches and cooking oil were traded for local fruit and veg.

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The bay initially had a NW wind blowing, bringing ash from the volcano down in to the anchorage. We had been told if the volcano was active this could be dangerous, hot ash not going well with fibreglass hulls but all we got was a very fine black power in great quantity. We tried to keep up with the cleaning but it was wasted effort. Note – even a month after our visit to Tanna, we are still washing off black volcanic dust from the deck daily. Pernickety stuff!

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The bay is well sheltered from any wind other than a NE when a sharp sea can set in. The advice is to leave quickly if the wind sets there. Volcanic activity is evident around the bay as well with smoke vents and small hot water springs pouring into the bay on its W side. There is the “Yacht Club” on the E side of the bay where you can arrange trips to local villages, eating out and of course a visit to the volcano. Park your dinghy on the rocky beach by the fishing boats and walk up the hill to the club. The view is lovely and they sell beer! It has a few huts with basic amenities (that doesn’t include lights after dark!) which can be rented. When we were there there was a Australian group of  volunteer dentists and medics staying there. They come in twice a year to treat the locals. They said that if there were problems, all they could do is extractions as there was no way they could do any follow up treatments. Thankfully the generally dental standard of the locals is pretty good, mainly they think because the diet is a traditional one with low sugar content.

After a day of the NW rubbish we had to beat into to reach Tanna, the wind relented and changed back to the more normal SE trade. It was good to meet up with Stop Work Order again who arrived the morning after we did who had a passage much like our own – sloppy and not that quick. Of course the girls were soon in contact and Jaiya, Truly and Hannah were soon as thick as thieves, added to with the arrival of another kids boat, Fluenta with the Shaw family on board.

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The main reason to visit Tanna is the volcano of Mt Yasur. Tika, having arrived 24hrs before us had already liaised with the locals and had arranged for Time Bandit, Tika and ourselves to visit the volcano together. Stop Work Order joined us which led to a bit of fun in the transport.  4+4+5+2 seemed a squeeze for one vehicle and we were promised a second car. Of course it didn’t turn up. I’m sure it wasn’t legal but we all piled in. The big adults went inside and the rest of us clambered in to the cage on the back, holding on for dear life!

The dirt roads on Tanna are a lane and a half (at best) track and are covered by volcanic ash. It made for a dusty and exhilarating bumpy ride for the 20km to the park entrance.  Some of the trees we saw were magnificent, huge banyan type affairs that the locals revere.

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Once we were at the entrance to the park we were welcomed with flowers and then a demonstration of local dancing. These days a trip to the volcano is very commercialised and not cheap. It cost us $60US for the transport and then about another $100US a head for the volcano itself.

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After the short presentation and welcome, we jumped back into the vehicles for the 10min ride up on to the volcanic plain beside the volcano itself. Sadly we didn’t know about the bizarrely placed post box and as there was nowhere to buy either cards or stamps we didn’t get to send Shona, a fan of exotically posted cards, one to remember!

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Mt Yasur itself is fantastic. You arrive about a couple of hours before sunset and troop up under the careful supervision of a bunch of locals. They decided to tighten things up after a tourist got squished by falling debris a few years ago. Health and Safety isn’t a high priority in Vanuatu but they are trying. Active volcanic activity is measured on a sliding scale between 1-5 with anything over 2 being cause for serious concern. We visited when the activity was at 2 which is the highest the authorities will now allow people to approach the caldera. Even so, the initial position we were taken to by the guides became a little dangerous as falling magma from the eruptions, occurring every few minutes, started to land 50m in front of us and we were moved to a new position further to the NW of the caldera. There are no rails or paths to follow as you troop around the edge. Just guidance to stay back a little from it and not to fall in! With more instructions to “Keep looking up and no running” if there was a big explosion ringing in our ears we kept a careful eye on where the wind was and where the fallout was at each mini eruption.

In the daylight, the volcano is mainly to do with bangs and huge billowing clouds of sulphurous smelling nastiness.

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As the sun sets, what was impressive becomes extraordinary as the three different magma tubes feeding into the caldera become very evident. The power of the volcano (in a relative quiet mode) is belittling and you can understand why the locals thought that the volcano speaks with the voice of the Gods. The bangs are bloody noisy. The power of even a small eruption is scary.

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Here is one of the bigger bangs we had.

We were allowed a little more than an hour at the top before being shepherded back to the vehicles and the dusty ride back towards the anchorage.

We had arranged for a meal at one of the locals houses. Sally, the lady in question served us all and another family just in that day for a total of 26 of us sitting down. It was the largest gathering she had ever had. We fed very well for the grand total price of 800vatu a head – about $8. Excellent value for a selection of local dishes, lots of fish and a papaya and banana pudding.

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The three year old dude below is Ben of Fluenta. He decided that dark specs were required and carried the 70’s look off with aplomb. Marvel, take note. A Spiderman of the future!

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Having had four days around the bay and lots of interaction between the four kids’ boats, we headed out a couple of hours after Tiki who were heading straight for Ambrym for the festival due to start there a few days later. Sadly we didn’t get to see the pod of Humpback Whales they saw playing at the entrance to the bay. We just haven’t had the luck.

This was to be the last sail for Eleanor as she would be leaving the boat to return to the UK to start senior school. The wind was kind and we reached N overnight towards Efate, the main island of Vanuatu. Stop Work Order charged past us looking good with the volcano in the background.

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The Return of Taia – Fiji

We parted company with Taia in the Caribbean all the way back in Grenada in Oct 15. Our very first meeting had been in the Bahamas at Big Major’s Cay with the swimming pigs, when a dad with noticeably painted toenails and two kids dinghied up to say they had seen us come in but were just leaving on their way S. Bugger, we thought. First proper kids boat we had seen with smalls the same age and we hadn’t managed to even overlap our stay for a day!

We met them again a couple of weeks later after Eleanor had demanded “kids to play with” for her 9th birthday and we had run S to Elizabeth Harbour, Georgetown at the bottom of the Exumas, the great stepping off point to the Caribbean.  Taia was already there and we quickly formed a good friendship with them, even if Ernesto regularly took the mickey out of my tiny dinghy, running around it in his and offering everybody a fast, dry ride back to Skylark from Volleyball Beach, our daily hangout, rather than being swamped in ours. There were times I could have happily punched him.

We separated again. We went offshore, taking the I-65 route to the BVI; Taia took the Thorny Path via Dominica Republic, Puerto Rico and then E through USVI. But inevitably we met again. We heard them on the radio one day, hailed them and they chased across from USVI to find us at the Soggy Dollar beach. This time it was us getting ready to move on but the evening before we did, we got a visit from Ernesto to tell us that Cami and Matias had mutinied. They had told their folks that wherever Skylark was heading, they wanted to go too. And so it was. Sadly this is a period we have almost no photos from but I did find this one when we visited Salt Island together. Just look at the size of them then and now!

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After that,  the rest of the 2015 in the Caribbean was spent for the most in each other’s company. And we loved it.  We got used to the daily ritual of mate, a drinking habit they had brought with them from Argentina, their home before they emigrated to Canada and I, of the fun you had booking in with Ernesto for company, a man who just loathes officialdom!

Of course circumstances change. During hurricane season in Grenada when we were getting ready to plan our route across to Panama, they made the decision that they weren’t ready to follow us, planning to stay another year in the Caribbean. We said our farewells in Nov 15 as they left Taia on the hard and jumped back to Canada for a while to refill coffers.

Move on over 18 months and we get the call from Natalia wondering if our invitation to visit us in the Pacific still stood. Yes as a response meant tickets quickly bought and we welcomed Natalia and the kids for a fortnight.

The kids took off pretty much from where they left off and the excitement both sets showed at meeting each other again was lovely to see. The gifts of proper maple syrup and a variety of Canadian deli delights as well as a few boat parts was a wonderful ice breaker too. 

We had a bit of work to do on the boat at Port Denarau. The bimini was taken off to allow the solar panel holders to be restitched with UV thread, the sail cover had a couple of holes patched and I got a new tape sewn on the foot of the parasail. The water maker had been gradually producing poorer and poorer quality water – the membrane being shot after, I think, a little bit of contamination in FP. It is a simple job to replace a membrane but getting one sourced meant reaching out to NZ to find the Spectra dealer there as the Fijian dealer didn’t hold them. Some $600+ later, we had a new membrane. Typically, it got stuck in Customs and I decided to wait until the end of the Natalia’s visit to get it fixed rather than waste time getting it cleared.  Whilst I got the boat sorted out, the kids went to the nearby Bula Waterpark. Not a cheap activity at $180US a family day ticket but guaranteed fun. Be and Be who were still at Vuda Point awaiting parts came too.

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We headed out for Musket Cove and took Dylan and Jayden from Sangvind with us too. I’m afraid Eleanor had a bit of fun with Dylan. All I’ll say is that he is a good sport and scrubs up nicely Smile. The Return of Taia - Fiji

It was an easy two hour sail and it was good watching Natalia smile and watch the stress of “normal” life bleed off her as we crossed over from the mainland. I rather think she enjoyed being back on the water.

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We spent a few days there , exploring the island, enjoying the pool, meeting up with Sangvind for evening BBQs at the Yacht Club, just slowing down and relaxing. The kids hung out with the kids from Pesto, Sangvind and Miss Goodnight.

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We took a run up to the northern reef of Malolo and got a wall dive in with Natalia. It was an pleasant dive with the wall no more than 20m with reasonable coral life.

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Eleanor went off with the Musket Cove Dive School for a couple of dives. Eric and Anne Simmons have been looking after the school whilst their friend the owner is away doing a bit of sailing. They are better known as the couple that have written an excellent free sailing guide for Vanuatu in conjunction with Vanuatu Tourism. I arrived back to pick her up and Eleanor was buzzing. I’d said that Eleanor was very good technically and had excellent buoyancy. What I hadn’t expected is for them to check this out, agree, then take her down to a depth that had my eyes bulging. She had a fantastic time and saw some great wildlife. Both Eric and Alice are expert underwater photographers and I thank them for the copies below.

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When we cruised the Lau’s, our chart plotter was off markedly against what Navionics said I should find but at least everything we saw appeared on the chart. The mapping data against GPS was up to about half a mile out in accuracy. A couple of hours after we left Musket Cove to explore the island of Moniriki, used for the filming of Tom Hanks’ film, Cast Away, I was very surprised to see breaking waves in front of me. Not just a rock, but a reef at least 750m long by 300m deep. And completely uncharted by Navionics!

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After we did a big detour to avoid it, I noted at least another three unmarked large bommies as we closed up to our destination. It was really a little off putting and I’m glad we had the sun overhead as we travelled. It is obvious why Fiji doesn’t have a charter fleet business. Whilst it is a magnificent cruising destination, unless you have accurate mapping, there is no way I’d let the occasional sailor loose in Fiji. There would be just too high a chance of something going wrong. Even the liveaboards screw up. Four boats sank in Fijian waters whilst we were there, all because of charting inaccuracies, an over reliance on electronics, a belief a chart plotter is always right and not keeping a proper lookout. Too many folk treat their plotter as gospel. We luckily learnt early that in this part of the Pacific at least, they were but an approximation of reality and always kept a good look out. Frankly I’ve been less than impressed with Navionics. If they can use Google Earth satellite photos to correct and update the charts for FP, why on Earth can’t they do it for Fiji? I accept there is a cost implication to it but I’m afraid that for a major sailing destination, they should be doing a lot better.

Moniriki does not have the easiest of anchorages and we had a few dramas, managing to wrap a prop as we failed to hold in the v steep anchorage all too close to shore. In the end it took 20 minutes diving to clear the prop and one move under engine to move us away from a reef when we drifted a bit close to it for my liking. I think Lou enjoyed dragging me through the water whilst I hung on like grim death with arms of Garth! With time wasted and dark o’clock approaching, we aborted our attempt to get ashore and headed S again to find a suitable anchorage for the night. Most of the anchorages around this part of the Mananutha group are day anchorages only and I certainly didn’t want to take the chance of dragging off the very steep and narrow coral ledge which is all that Moniriki has.

I decided to head back down to Mana, the island N of Malolo, and a known anchorage. Although the entrance through the reef is a little tight and a double dog leg, it proved well marked and easy once you were in the channel. We anchored at  in 40’ on sand just off the jetty. Good holding. The island resort welcomes sailors and the beach is lovely. We spent the afternoon there, playing in the pool, on the beach and enjoyed a beautiful sunset, ably helped along by some rather excellent cocktails. Natalia was on her holidays after all.

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We headed N the next morning as soon as there was light enough for us to get through the gap in the reef safely and went back up to Moniriki. We had breakfast on the way, enjoying the fair wind and the prospect of a blue sky day.

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As the wind had moved further in to the E, I decided that I wasn’t going to anchor on a lee shore so dropped the dinghy and let the crew go ashore. I stayed with Skylark and happily drifted in the lee of the island. I’m glad I did as I found what would seem to be the most perfect beach I have seen. On the wrong side of the island, it is obviously rarely visited due to the distance and rough country between it and the normal drop off point for visitors. It would be worth a proper explore with camping kit if you could get a settled period to anchor or get someone to drop you off for a night. Just beautiful. Oh to have the time to explore more. Maybe somewhere to plan to come back to…….

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The mob had a fantastic time on the other side of the island, for the most part without any tourists intruding as we had arrived early in the morning, well before any of the tours rock up.

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We continued N towards the island of Yawa and went in to the southerly bay. It can get rolly (say the guides) but it was lovely and flat as we hugged the E side of the bay

We anchored in 50’ of sand off the village of Naboro at Yawasewa. We wanted to explore the S end of the island and climb the hill so we headed in to see the local chief and do sevusevu. We were welcomed and had a interesting time in the village. The chief took us up to see some of the work of the ladies in the village and he and I chewed the fat with him sitting outside whilst the ladies and Matius looked over the wares. Everyone got a necklace, with sharks teeth being the preferred option.

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Climbing the hill we wandered past the village school that was on its break and had a quick chat with the kids there.

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After a night and a day, we moved around the corner to the Oyster Bay Resort on the NW corner of Yawa. There is a posh side and a backpackers side separated by security and a big fence which you walk past if you use the beach. A bit pointless really. As boaties, we were allowed on the posh side. We had a nice walk and met the quite excellent dive school at the Resort who were perfectly happy to fill my bottles and did so twice in the course of a day as Cami, Eleanor and I had some fun just offshore at one of the small reefs.

I’d had instructions from Ernesto to make sure I took Cami down diving and we managed to get a couple in, the first at at Oyster to about 12m where we found a mini cabbage patch in the making and then a second dive at Navadra where we had a good wall dive along the inside of the W wall of the islet.

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We travelled S again, back to the island of Navadra where a kids boat meet up had been organised. In the end there were 22 kids, 16 adults and 7 boats that turned up, an excellent turn out. Our thanks to Greer of Tika for all the organisation, over a month in the making. In the bay were some regulars, Tika, Pesto, Skylark, Lil’ Explorers, Sangvind as well as Enough, last seen in NZ and Outer Rim who Lou had been in contact with since they had come through the Panama Canal but had never met before.

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Sadly, we had but a day before we had to return to Nadi to allow Natalia and the kids to return home but what a 24hrs! It was quickly determined that the kids would be sleeping ashore and then the whirl around the boats saying hello and having fun started. We did give them a little help setting up the campsite and we had a fire and BBQ for them on the beach, near the campsite. We needed to extinguish a few fires as the older pyromaniacs got a bit fire happy but there was no damage and it was all fun.

My thanks to Greer for letting me use some great photos. Next time around the shopping list will include a drone. Brilliant shots!

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This one Greer took of Jayden of Sangvind watching the dolphins must be up there as one of the best photos I’ve seen with a boat kid. This is the kind of life experience we boat parents all dream of giving our kids, beautifully captured.

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After corralling the kids just after first light (they had been up for hours) and dragging them off the island, we had a bumpy ride back down to Nadi where we had arranged for the engineer from Baobab Marine to replace the membrane on the watermaker.  Natalia and the kids last day with us was spent at the Hilton for an afternoon beside the pool and a last classy meal at the Hard Rock Cafe. We said our goodbyes at the marina and their departure was delayed slightly for some big hugs and a few tears.

It was lovely to have Natalia and the kids on board. Our friendship was renewed and strengthened in the short time they were with us. The time flew past.  It looks as if we will be doing a fair bit of international travel after we return to the UK. We have reciprocal standing invitations to visit Canada and the USA now. Shena, Natalia – we will need to do some planning! What is there to do halfway between North Carolina and Toronto…. or somewhere else? We need diving and a boat…….

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Visitors from Home–The Turnballs are in town (Pt 2)

Fiona, Emma and the kids caught the ferry back to Musket Cove, raided the hotel of their things and returned to us the following day. We had a lovely three days exploring the reefs close to the boat.

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It was a delight having smalls on board again, particularly those that think cleaning and tidying up is fun. Evie took a little more time to get the hang of a big pair of binos! Our thanks to the excellent Evie for all her help.

The ladies and Henry went on a snorkel with the resort at the Sandbar, the closest dive site to Musket Cove on the inside of the reef, which they said was pretty good. Fiona had had to point out to the management that advertising free activities and then trying to charge for them wasn’t on. It didn’t take her long to having them backing down!

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Henry, Emma, Louise and I went out to explore the Sunflower Reef at the atoll pass entrance to Malolo which was excellent. In somewhat rougher conditions a couple of days later with Skylark unable to anchor, Emma and I tried a dive there on the way back in to Port Denarau which was average at best until we came upon a turtle resting on the bottom. We sat and watched each other for a couple of minutes before it effortlessly swam off. Just beautiful. Sadly, for once I hadn’t taken my Gopro so no photographic evidence.

The local paper had announced that the Nadi Rgby Club were to host a match against a team from Suva and we headed back to Nadi excitedly to watch it.   Henry and I were a little surprised and a bit annoyed to find the stadium filled with teenage marching bands, a Miss Nadi competition in full swing and a wonderfully colourful Hari Krishna group going great guns at one end of the park.

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The match had been switched to Suva so the local Bula Festival, a week long event, could be held in the grounds. We went to the fair ground to make up for it and the kids went on dangerous looking rides that UK H&S people would have fits about and ate lots of sugary mess instead.

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With the imminent arrival of Natalia and kids, we took Fiona and Emma back to the hotel they had occasionally utilised. We spent their last couple of days with us around Nadi. There was an expedition down to the sand dunes at the Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park where boogie boards were deployed to surf the dunes. We splashed out and got the hotel transport down to it for $180 return for all of us. It took about an hour and a half to get there and it was well worth it for the fun the kids had. Some were more successful than others in sliding down the slope. Dips in the sea were required to remove sand from the unmentionables.

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Henry had an assignment to have a photo of himself reading a book at an exotic location. We thought that sitting on the back deck of the $45m, 150’ long super yacht “Skade”, rather fitted the bill and wouldn’t be beaten by anyone else in his class!

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For our final meal with Fiona and Emma, we went had a run ashore at the Rhum Ba and rather took over the place with Be and Be, Fata Morgana, Invictus, Natalia and the kids and the Sangvind kids all joining in for a great night.  The pizza went down well as did the caffeine laced cocktails so loved by Peta and Geoff. We managed to have a good chat with Tobi about our next destination the Yasawa Islands and Vanuatu. Sadly we wouldn’t be seeing Invictus for the great kids get together planned later in the month as they would be heading to Vanuatu. 

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It had been great fun to catch up and to be able so show Fiona and Emma that our lifestyle is rather good fun.  We will miss especially the smalls of Stella (pint sized smiley trouble!) and Evie (The Skippers’s little helper/limpet) but we are looking forward to catching up with everyone, including our new friends, Emma and Evie back in the UK. Won’t be long!

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