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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!

The Island of Tanna - Vanuatu

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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Visitors from Home–The Turnballs are in town (Pt 1)

We have had a fantastic time the last three weeks. After all the fun we had with Shena and Kinsley, we said hello to our next set of visitors, Morag and Alice. They arrived in Savusavu tired after very long flights but with enough life to enjoy a pizza from the restaurant at the Copra Shed. The weather remained windy so we held there, letting the guests adjust to the time, wandering the town and playing around the boat. I got to fit the parts that Morag had brought out with her including, crucially the new baton ends for my mainsail. It took a morning to refit but I was far happier being back in good sailing order.

We also managed to fit in a visit to the nearby waterfall and lunch at the Koro Sun Resort.  The kids enjoyed the kids pool, complete with water slide, while Morag and Lou retreated to the grown ups pool and relaxed in the glorious peace and quiet.

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Although the wind has been from the right direction, it has been unseasonably strong say the locals and I’ll concur. We waited another two days for the wind to drop to below 20kts and then headed to where we should have met them, Nadi on Viti Levu, the main island of the Fiji Isles. The route took us through the pass we had run scared off in the heavy weather and then around the corner to the enormous Bua Bay arriving just before last light. Alice, Bless her, quickly decided that I needed all the help that I could get on the helm and became my little shadow for much of our travelling time. We anchored in 25’ of water just off the extensive reef that surrounds the bay protecting the mangroves.

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The next morning was beautifully still and crystal clear, a rare event here in the Pacific. The ladies took themselves off to do some snorkelling and explored the nearby reef by kayak. I wouldn’t say the bay has much to offer in the way of life. The reef is pretty dead but there were fish enough to enthral Alice. She had no problems throwing herself in and was happy paddling around in the deeper water. Visitors from HomeVisitors from Home

We did try landing at the one beach we could see at the entrance to the bay but we were beaten back by shallow reef and no way to land the dinghy. We snorkelled off it instead which proved to be much better with far more life than further in the bay. Initially we thought her shrieks that we could hear through her snorkel were of terror but we quickly realised that she was yelling, ‘Fishies, fishies!’ at the top of her voice.

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On the basis that we weren’t going to be sailing anywhere until the wind returned when the trades re-established themselves, we got the rubber ring out and Alice became proficient in hanging on for dear life.

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The Bligh Bight is a wind funnel, with wind being squeezed through the gap between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. When there was 25-30kts as we crossed back from Paradise, there was 40+ howling through the Bight. With only 50 miles to cross to the lee of Vitua Levu, we left Bua Bay just before last light and headed out with not a lot of wind around.

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This suited us perfectly and we had a easy sail with a gradually more and more sheltered approach to the Yavena Passage, our entrance to the channel inside the reef to Nadi. We waited for an hour drifting before switching the engine on and motoring the last 15 miles to the anchorage at the entrance of Port Denerau. There we saw old friends, Plastik Plankton, last seen in French Polynesia at the start of the season in Raiatea. We met Fiona, Henry and Stella, who had been busy exploring the delights of Port Denarau shopping mall and Henry was fully decked out in a Nadi rugby t shirt and sulu. We met at the wonderfully named Rhum Ba in Port Denarau Marina before going authentically Fijian at the Hard Rock Cafe for Burgers.  The manly looking cocktails were excellent!  There was great enthusiasm for the parcels that arrived with them too. All gratefully received!

Visitors from Home

The ladies spent the Sunday doing holiday shopping in Nadi, collecting the necessary tat to take home. The next day was far more fun. Fiji still has many active volcanoes and hot vents and one such vent comes up at Subeto Springs which is famous for the mud baths these power.  Everyone had a great time wallowing around like proverbial and then the women splashed out on a massage each too. Worth every penny, I was told. Lou got a hard time for mincing around the mud. Her excuse? That she had finally got her new bikinis and didn’t want to spoil them. You may notice the difference in appearance in the photos!

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With Morag just days to do, we headed offshore with everyone onboard to visit Musket Cove, a famous resort started on the island of Malolo about 10 miles offshore from Nadi. The island started with three owners back in the 1960s. One developed the Plantation Resort, one the Musket Cove Resort and the last sold out. His land is now an organic farm which supplies some of the products required on the island. We found Plantation somewhat unfriendly but perhaps it was just the muppet the kids ran into who tried to fleece them for cash. The rest of the staff seemed fine but they were let down by the bloke we ran in to twice who was just a prat. Ah well. We went back to Musket and spent our money there instead. Their loss.

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Musket Cove on the other hand, was marvellous. With its own dedicated mooring field and small marina, boaties are very definitely are part of their business plan. You also have the advantage of joining the Musket Cove Yacht Club ( a one off payment of $10) which gained you a nice card and saved a fortune in the ferry price back to the mainland as we found when Emma and Fiona headed back the first night.  It is a great deal.Visitors from Home

The facilities at Musket are very good with a couple of restaurants, a large salt water pool, a health centre (massage and alike which Fiona enjoyed) nearly free activities for card holders and an excellent Musket Cove Yacht Club Bar down by the marina with its own BBQ cookers available to use for the grand price of $2.  Cutlery and crockery are provided by the bar so we didn’t even need to wash up!

As their time with us ran out, Morag and Alice got the ferry back to the mainland with Fiona, Emma, Stella and Evie so that they could have a farewell dinner. We swapped Henry for Hannah for the night and said some tearful goodbyes. It was lovely having them both on board and we are all looking forward to seeing them again at the end of the year.

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Visitors from Home

Diving in French Polynesia – 2016

I thought I had put this up when we left FP to go to NZ but I’ve just realised I never got round to it. It is a collection of some of the better underwater photos we have taken. Only nine months late. Oops.  SH Jul 17

In 2015 I was blessed to meet Robert of Almost There, a US Navy trained Master Diver who needed a dive partner in Bequia. He informed me with a pointed finger I was it and introduced me to the sport. His methods of teaching were old school and doing remasking drills at 15m was fun. But he took me out, held my hand (literally and figuratively) and taught me the basics extremely well as well as, most importantly, his philosophy for diving, for which I am very grateful. Since then, I have not had a more conscientious or competent dive partner.

Having qualified a in Nov 15 at Scubatech, under the lovely Evelyn’s care in Prickly Bay, Grenada , I have managed to do quite a lot of diving. Not as much as I’d like but it gets expensive if you don’t have access to a compressor and a dive partner, which for large periods this year I haven’t. Dives average around $70 a dive and most days you will do two dives so $140 a pop. Refills on tanks are dear (running to $30 a go in Fakarava) and again soon mount up. Problematically in FP, there are few places you can get a fill, really the larger atolls only, so you can’t rely on a school helping you out on most atolls.  If you have friends with a compressor or have one yourself, it costs you the price of the filters you will contribute to replace every 25 fills, needed to clean the air.

One clear lesson. If there are two of you wanting to dive on board, then having a compressor would be every penny for a Pacific trip. Find the space!

Fakarava was one of our primary targets for this year’s travels as it has a reputation for having some of the very best diving not just in French Polynesia but in the whole of the Pacific. And I wasn’t disappointed.

I started with a couple of dives up in the N pass. This is a deep drift dive going down to around 36m. After I had been asked what diving I had done, I was sent away with the schools own awful instruction document (French to English courtesy of Google Translate) which I decided to rewrite, if only so I actually understood what I was supposed to learn. I’ve always found that writing an instruction manual or guide is an excellent way to embed knowledge and I passed the test without issue. TopDive Fakarava N should be thankful!

The two dives in the N pass were interesting but not brilliant. We dropped into the blue and were swept on to the mouth of the pass, landing on the drop-off at 38m, 20m more than technically I was qualified for with my PADI Open Water and a couple more than the PADI recommended max with Nitrox (although 2m less than the absolute limit). The current runs very strong (3-4kts)and we were holding on tight to stop us from being swept in to the lagoon as we waited to see if any sharks would come to take a look at us. A few did, some Greys, and we then swept on through the pass bouncing up and down between 25-35m. We did see small schools of pelagic fish but we were moving too fast to really enjoy the few reef fish we saw. Dive two was a rerun of the first but with slightly more current, having lost half an hour of time waiting for a cruise ship to enter the pass. Waiting to drop in, we saw thousands of Sooty terns and 15-20 Devil Rays feeding on the surface which was the highlight of the day. The dive again was interesting without being fantastic. I found some white tips teeth on one of the sandy patches and passed them on to the girls.

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I have to admit I was very pleased to see Taranga arrive at Rotarua. Soren is a great guy and had first filled my tanks for me all the way back in Panama. He was very keen to get to the better S Pass and we travelled in company with him. For him to stay in the S for any length of time, he needed water as he has an emergency watermaker only and I would need air if I wanted to dive. It seemed a good swap and sweetened by a kilo of our honey (he had run out), Skylark for post dives coffee and teas, bug spray (we won’t talk about this….) and some petrol during our three weeks in the S, I think we were both happy with the arrangement.

The diving in the S Pass can only be described as spectacular. In terms of reef fish, ease of dive, shark population or coral density, I have never seen anything like it. We dived mainly on the incoming current, our outgoing experiences being mistakes hitting the water late in the tide, finding ourselves working hard. The outgoing was used by the dive schools to bulk up their paying customer’s dive time but we found that the visibility markedly decreased as silt and sand from the inside of the atoll was swept out. Whilst still a good 10-25m it didn’t compare to the frequent 50m+ of the incoming clear deep ocean water.

We dropped in normally to about 18m and generally stayed to the side of the pass wall, dropping to no more than 25m so we didn’t bother the sharks. We did go along the pass floor on one occasion, swimming beneath the approaching sharks, but they didn’t like it and quickly disappeared. Down at 32m you don’t have a huge amount of bottom time and it was more fun to stay between 15-25m.  On our best day, we finished the dive staggered by the number of sharks we saw. Normally we would see 100-200 on what is known as The Wall of Sharks; that day it was just a solid wall of them. We reckoned 500+, a mix of Black Tip, White Tip, Grey and a huge lone Silver Tip, all sitting in the incoming current. Just amazing.

All us divers need to say a special thank you to Lou who always came with us to snorkel the pass and look after the dinghies until it came time to pick us up at the end of the dive. We couldn’t have dived without you.

Whilst I think I got some good photos I have been wishing I had a decent underwater camera with the ability to zoom in. All of these shots were taken with a GoPro 4 Silver, a good camera but limited by having a fixed lens. You needed to be very close to small fish to be able to take a decent still and I’m afraid small fish are just too afraid to sit still enough to let you get close enough! Where the GoPro excels is film. I am inexpertly put together a small video segment which gives you a decent flavour of what diving in the S pass is like. I’ll link it in here when I am eventually finished.

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Diving in Toau as very different. We did one drift dive from outside the pass which was hard work as we had to deal with a big northerly surge. The dive at the N end of the atoll was better and going along the wall was great fun, trying to find all the caves talked about in the Compendium. They were pretty good and it was wonderful seeing the occasional huge pelagic swimming just at the edge of our vision off the wall in the deep.

Ann-Helen and John at the Wall of Anse AmyotCaves at TouaMoray Eel at Anse AmyotOn the Wall at Toua

I’m not sure if I have spoilt myself with the superb diving I have been able to do here but I have caught the bug in a big way and am praying for more of the same as we go through the Pacific next year. I have been extraordinarily lucky in meeting up with friends happy to help me fill my bottle daily and I doubt if I will be as lucky next year but I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I’ll find other like minded souls. I do know it should get easier to find dive shops able to fill bottles as we get to more populated places but I still need dive partners.

To those who have dived with me this year, a big thank you. They are John from Mary Ann II, Ann-Helen and Harvard from Wilhelm, Soren and all the rest of the mob from Taranga, a special mention to Mia, Olivia and David of El Nido and a few others who made guest appearances. It has been a great education.

My dive on the wall with Ann-Helen and Harvard proved to be the last dive before we hauled out and headed for New Zealand. I’m so looking forward to planning and researching more diving for next year, perhaps with Eleanor in tow if we can arrange it. I can’t wait.

Fakarava Diving

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

We decided to return to the Paradise Resort at the S end of Taveuni for a day or so of being spoilt before Shena and Kinsley were to head home. After the quiet of The Laus it was nice to be able to sit by the pool, relax with a beer and just do nothing.  The kids of course were a little more energetic, playing in the pool and cliff jumping.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

The ladies worked on the tan and enjoyed trying the cocktails. Kinsley asked to go up the mast and I obliged. She took some good photos, even having time for some classy selfies!A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

Having asked about getting up to the Waitavala Natural Rock Waterslide, close to Somosomo, a famous attraction of the island, we were dissuaded from using the resort transport at $100+ a head for the visit. We were also told that the lack of rain meant they weren’t worth visiting them. I’m glad we decided to ignore the advise!

We moved the boat up to Somosomo, the main town on the W side of Taveuni and anchored just to the N of the river mouth in about 25’. We used the well stocked supermarket there and found (eventually) where we could buy bread. [As an aside, this anchorage was where Belinda of Free Spirit, visiting a few days later, was followed by an adult 4-5m Tiger Shark. She was lucky. She thought the villagers shouting out to her as she took a swim to cool down were simply being friendly. There was an intake of breathe when she was approached by a couple the next morning where they explained why they had been trying to get her notice!]

The ladies dinghied ashore and caught a taxi, who for the grand total of $6 took the whole party to the start of the walk up to the naturally formed waterslide. The walk takes you past Fiji’s prison and onward up into the forest. It was great fun. The younger ones fired down with little hassle and no problems.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

The older generation (whose with hips!) had a few more problems with the bumps and Shena came down with bruises on her unmentionables to remind her of how much fun she had had!

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The trip was rounded off back in Somosomo with a great meal. Cheap and with huge portions, the Indian on the balcony (can’t remember its name) gets recommended.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

To ease Shena and Kinsley’s trip to the airport we moved up to an anchorage at Matei, a couple of km S from where they needed to go and Shena got to see in one last Fijian dawn. A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

We need not have worried about being there two hours before to book in. The airport has a hatch which is the cafe and a desk where you hand your luggage in. Check in was simple and the taxi driver we were with announced that we may as well wait somewhere better than the airport, the airport man said ok and we headed off for a last repast and tomfoolery at a cafe overlooking Matei bay, where we were anchored. A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

We had great fun with Kinsley and Shena and it has been wonderful to be able to catch up with both of them. We like to thank Kinsley in particular for the advise and chats she had with Eleanor. It is wonderful to meet a young teen with no hang ups at all! All we need to do next is work out where we will next meet up. USA or the UK? Both are possible.

With the boat feeling empty again, we moved down to Viani Bay where I had arranged when we were all the way back in Nuie, for my ScubaPro regulator to be serviced by Fiji Dive Academy, the first time I’d found someone competent in the Pacific to do so. Viani Bay is a safe anchorage, wonderfully protected by Taveuni just to its E which stops the clouds and weather dead. The bay is inside a world famous dive site called Rainbow Reef, particularly known for its soft coral.  We met up with our friends Be and Be and Invictus. The anchorage is deep, rarely less than 20m and is covered with bommies. When we came to leave, all three of us had wrapped and each had to do the “dance of the bommies” in an attempt to unwrap. They both got lucky and came free. I had to dive to 20m to get the anchor point out from under an old lump of coral. It was completely jammed. If I hadn’t been able to dive and alone, we would have been in a world of hurt.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

Most of the dives are wall or drift dives as the current in the Somosomo Pass can run up to 4kts, making dive selection times important. However there is a good selection of shallower dives on the inside for learners to practise on too.

The Fiji Dive Academy is a new venture between partners Marina and Jone. Jone, originally from Taveuni went to Germany to train up as a dive instructor, where he met Marina, at that time a keen diver. After they got together, they decided to return to Fiji and set up a school with the aim of teaching and training locals. After the normal fight with officialdom they got their commercial license and set up the school in Viani Bay. Now with some basic buildings set up and the shop really taking shape, they are progressing to building living accommodation for divers to stay with them and are slowly clearing the ground, planting grasses to prettify everything. It should look fantastic once it is all finished.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

I’d also recommended the Fiji Dive Academy to Be and Be who had at least one budding diver in Shelby on board after her try outs with me in Bora Bora. As it was, by the time they arrived, we found that EVERYONE on board had decided they wanted to give it a go! Jake, still a little young got to do a bubblemaker dive with Marina. He will need to wait a couple of years before he can take his Junior Open Water. Peta did her OW and Shelby, Harry and Evie did their JOW.

One of the disadvantages of just being an Open Water (OW) diver is that you are limited to a depth of 18m. A lot of the better dives are to be found at greater depths, Rainbow Reef included. Fine if you are diving by yourself when you can ignore the PADI rules but you are limited as soon as you dive with a school who need to see your qualification card for insurance purposes.  I’d thought about doing the Advanced Open Water (AOW) course done to allow me to get trained properly to do deeper dives. Geoff decided he may as well get in on the act and we both signed up for the course. Shelby was allowed to do a zero to hero and join us too but was limited to 21m for her deep dive due to her age. I did think about letting Eleanor do it too but the age limit of 12 snookered us. It will have to wait until she is back in the UK. Geoff and I also decided to get qualified as a deep diver specialist. This lifted our dive permissions from 30 to 40m. Our qualifying dive to the Great White Wall, one of the best soft coral walls in the world at 35m+ was fantastic. Although severely damaged by Cyclone Winston a couple of years ago, it was great to see the regrowth of healthy white and yellow banks of soft coral.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

We dived for a week and the Rainbow Reef lived up to its world class reputation. Magnificant. Mixed in with the course were dives with the famous Jack, a retired dive master who will take you to the local dive sites for the princely sum of  $20 a diver. Good value if you have your own equipment. Eleanor and I did a couple of dives with the Be and Be crowd. It was great fun to see all the newly qualified smalls swimming together, all intensely interested in everything around them – some of the time. Upside down skills and winding up siblings were practised too. We visited the Cabbage Patch, an amazing coral growth and then the Fish Factory, good but of less interest than the Cabbage Patch.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

We had an evening at the dive school with all the boaties, divers and lots of locals, together enjoying a great range of food, kava and music with a big fire blazing close by. Marina and Jone have been organising one party a week and it is a nice way for everyone to come together. I hope they continue it as the school develops and builds. It was a good evening.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

We also had a round of socials on a variety of boats. Swiftsure, Blowing Bubbles and Free Spirit all hosted huge numbers on board. The standard of music was very high with Carl and his ukulele leading the way. He even managed to find time to give the kids a lesson too – very kind.

We also tried to keep up on that education thing. The kids visited the primary school, right next door to the dive school and were welcomed for the day. The school asked for any assistance we could give and we made a small donation to aid them buy equipment. If you were going to the bay, reference books and teaching material would go down well too. Harry made a name for himself by being his normal, hugely enthusiastic self and his dancing skills!

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

Although I could have happily mortgaged my soul to be able to continue diving with Marina and Jone, we had to move on. With Morag and Alice coming in a little over a weeks time, we needed to start moving towards Nadi on the W side of the main island, Viti Levu.

We said our goodbyes to Marina and Jone and moved with Be and Be and Invictus to Paradise Resort for one last night of fun there. We arrived to find dolphin in the anchorage and the news that two humpback had been through the anchorage the night before. Hannah and I jumped in for her very first dive.

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Her enthusiasm to get in was admirable. Once she had worked out how to clear her ears effectively, she had great fun. We sat at around 6m and watched the sea life go by. She came up with a big smile on her face and we have another one set to do her JOW before we return to the UK.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

We timed it well. The resort does a Fijian night once a week and we had arrived just in time to join in. The food is prepared traditionally in a earth oven and is fantastic. The whole affair is made a spectacle.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

The locals put on a dance show with most of the dancers being the kids of the staff which leads to lots of staff participation. I got the feeling that they were enjoying it at least as much as the “guests”! To finish us off, we were invited to drink kava with the team.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

I rather think I overindulged, partly because I was asked to take the Chief’s position which meant that I got to call the start of the next round (a graceful nod in my direction and instruction on the words of command). Whilst most people got a half cup, I seemed to get loaded up. The beer chasers probably didn’t help either…….. Peta and I were amongst the last to leave and I’m afraid we carried on the motion until the small hours on Skylark. A great, fun night even if we did suffer for it the next morning.

We headed off planning to make the pass through the reef at before last light and then sail down to Nadi overnight. As soon as we cleared the shelter on the S tip of Taveuni, I knew we were in trouble. The wind grew to 25+kts and we were getting side swiped by a southerly swell. It would have been an interesting sail if we had had the main working but under genoa alone, it was just painful trying not to get knocked off course. As the wind went past 30kts, I decided discretion is the better part of valour and we aborted the run W to put into the anchorage at the Jacque Cousteau resort for a sheltered night of sleep.

The next morning after having a quick visit from Ding, we stuck our nose out again but the wind had not eased and the seas had grown. After one of the shortest discussions Lou and I have had in passage selection and for once in total agreement (S- “this is crap”, L – “yes, really crap”)  we turned tail again and headed back into the shelter of Savusavu.

It meant that we needed to reorganise Morag’s flights to move her up to us but better that than have to waste the few days we would have to wait until the weather abated enough for a safe passage.

Ah well, Savusavu is not a bad place to be. Time for a bit of restocking

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

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Vanua Balavu

The overnight sail from Fulaga was an easy one with us running or broad reaching in 20-25kts true from the SSE. Sheltered behind the reef from the Pacific seas running in at Fiji, all we experienced was the fetch inside the reef. It wasn’t more than 1.5m until we got quite close to Vanua Balavu when it increased to about 2m.

Sadly during the night, although we had a preventer set, Skylark gybed a couple of times. At first light, we noticed damage to the cars. All three of the old cars I didn’t change when we damaged the old sail S of Haiti had broken, being pulled off the mast. We quickly dropped the main and went on with a reefed genoa only. We won’t be using the main until we can get replacements. Hopefully something else for Morag to bring out if we can organise in time. Don’t worry, Morag. They are small!

Vanua Balavu

I choose to enter Vanua Balavu by the pass on its W side, the Andivanthi Passage. I had read in the Fiji Compendium that the charts were inaccurate again and punched some waypoints in to the chart plotter to help me. Just as well that I did. Although we had good light and I had expert eyes in Lou and Shena forward, I hadn’t realise that in this day and age the charts could be so inaccurate. I worked out they were off set at 066mag and with a distance of 0.424Nm. WTF, Navionics?

We got through the pass without issue, dodging a couple of big bommies as we did. I wouldn’t go near it without good light as it is narrow and you do have to wind a bit.  We went across the deep bay to the village of  Daliconi  and anchored at 17 13.210S 178 57.992W in about 25’ on rock and sand. Shena admired the airstrip just to the S of the village. Must be a fun landing set at that angle! One of only three islands in the Laus with an airstrip, Vanua Balava merits two flights a week.

Vanua Balavu

Dalaconi is a neat village in the midst of rebuilding itself having been hit very badly by Cyclone Winston, the first cat 5 beast to hit Fiji, in 2015. It devastated large parts of Fiji and killed over 40. Communications to Vanua Balava were cut off for four days. After a quick sevusevu ceremony (the Chief was away) we were free to proceed. Note that the village no longer asks for a $30 fee per head for access to the island (as detailed in the Fiji Compendium). If you would like to make a contribution, it is gratefully received and noted in the visitors book. I think that the village has had to change its tune having lost out to the privately owned “yacht club” on the N side of the island which had also been giving sevusevu ceremonies. It had only 37 yachts in 2016 turn up to see them. We were told that two large rallies were currently parked up on the N side of the island, some 40 yachts, none of whom were visiting the village.  New ways; old ways. Old ways losing out……

We decided to move around to the Bay of Islands, a couple of miles W from Daliconi. When I saw the route I had to use, I decided to take things very slow. There is a post marking the reef to the W of Yaniahaloa island which you need to find and go round. All the posts we saw (some are missing, including all the reef entrance markers for our entry and exit) are damaged and are either rusted and at an angle or stumps.

The posts take some spotting, even if you know they should be there.  In the end I just used the plotter as a chart and ignored my trace showing me wandering over the reefs and islands, taking base bearings from the chart and using my wonderful Steiner binos with integrated compass to find my way. Interesting times.

Once you have got through an internal reef and into the channel that takes you up to the pillars, the scenery is lovely. There is still a fair amount of reef beneath the steep sided hills that line your route and shelter you from the prevailing wind but mid channel there is plenty of water. We spotted some tucked away beaches that if you had time would be great fun to kayak in to to explore.

A small piller at the edge of the channel

After about a mile, you reach the entrance to the tight route through the pillars to the Bay of Islands

Lou watching out as we weave through the pillers

Vanua Balavu

Although concentrated in to a small area (no more than 1x1km), the pillars are spectacular, a mini version of the James Bond set for “The Man with the Golden Gun” in Thailand. Tightly packed together there is one safe route and we motored through Ships Sound and Shoal Pass carefully. We went over an unmarked bommie showing just 5’ of water at about 17 10.509S 179 00.897W. The water visibility is not good in the channel and even with a high sun, we didn’t see the rock until we were on it. Keep left in the channel, close to the island, to miss it.

Vanua Balavu

After wandering around trying to find a suitable anchorage in the deep water of the bay, we parked up on the edge of the channel at 17 10.661S 179 01.082W  on sand in 15’just behind a small reef between two of the islets. It meant we got a good breeze through the boat and we hoped this would keep the bugs away. We needn’t have worried. For once, no mosquitos.

We spent a two days here. The kids got to have fun in the rubber ring Julia and John of Mary Ann II had given us. Unfortunately Eleanor bounced out and smacked herself hard at speed but she survived. Shena and Hannah went off exploring and found a shallow patch between two of the pillars to laze around at.

Vanua Balavu

The ladies took themselves off and relaxed. I stayed behind and nursed the infected coral cut which I had picked up before Shena and Kinsley arrived. Even after judicious use of rubbing acohol, scrubbing it out and externally applied triple antibiotic cream, it had turned in to a tropical sore on my shin. As we left Fulaga, I swapped to oral antibiotics, Amoxicilana, suggested to us by Mia all the way back in Galapagos as a useful addition to our medical kit. I’m very glad we listened to her. 48hrs later and the sore had stopped weeping pus and looked immeasurably better. I deciding I needed a few more days out of the water to let it heal up.

For the ladies, it was a time of simple pleasures, exploring by kayak, playing in the shallow water and lazily sun bathing.

Vanua BalavuVanua BalavuVanua BalavuVanua BalavuVanua BalavuVanua BalavuVanua Balavu

Kinsley’s underwater camera, the same one that Harry from Be and Be has, works well.

Vanua Balavu

Three boat loads of local men came by as the ladies were rinsing off on the back step, calling loudly, waving and smiling as they went by. I think they may have been enjoying the view.

Vanua Balavu

We spent a second day just kicking back and relaxing. Shena reintroduced herself to the pleasures of Nutella and peanut butter mixed on a single spoon…. Best when taken in quantity, it seems!

Nutella and peanut butter

We left to Vanua Balavu to return to Taveuni as Shena and Kinsley had but a few days left and wanted to visit a couple of sites on that island.

Navigation around the island as we went out was a little difficult with the chart plotter and Navionics still wildly inaccurate, never fun with lots of reef around. The waypoints I found in the Fiji Compendium to and through the Quilaquila Pass were spot on again. Hannah cooked dinner, a spag bol, as we heading towards the pass. It meant fun cutting onions up and after some tears, she eventually found a dress state that was kind to her eyes!

Hannah cutting onionsCutting onions 2

The actual Quilaquila Pass itself is reasonably easy as there are two large white leading marks on the shore. It meant I watched backwards adjusting course as we motored through the pass, about 3/4 of a mile in length due to the number of rocks sticking up outside the reef but we were soon back into deep water. With little sea and about 20kts from the SE, we rolled out the genoa and set off W for an overnight passage of about 60Nm back to the Paradise Resort.

Vanua Balavu