Category Archives: Update posts

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.

P1120016

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.

P1120020

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!

IMG_8629IMG_8630IMG_8642

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.

IMG_8624IMG_8617IMG_8619

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.

IMG_8620

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.

IMG_8616

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.

P1120009P1120031

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………..

P1120018P1120029P1120032P1120038P1120040P1120047P1120041P1120055P1120044

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.

P1120022

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.

VanuatuVanuatu

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.

Vanuatu

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.

Vanuatu

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.

VanuatuVanuatuVanuatu

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.

VanuatuVanuatu

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.

IMG_2723IMG_2727

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.

IMG_2730P1110844

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!

P1110848

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.

IMG_2751IMG_2752IMG_2753IMG_2754IMG_2755IMG_2756IMG_2757IMG_2760IMG_2790

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.

IMG_2826IMG_2832IMG_2833

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.

IMG_2793IMG_2813

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.

P1110794P1110801P1110791

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!

P1110808

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.

P1110813P1110823P1110830P1110837P1110841

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.

P1110882P1110951P1110964P1110967

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.

P1110983

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…….

P1110519

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.

P1110534 (3)

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.

P1110552P1110575

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!

Tanna

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.

TannaTanna

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.

TannaTannaTanna

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.

TannaTanna

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!

TannaTanna

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.

P1110706TannaTanna

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.

TannaTannaTannaTanna

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.

TannaTanna

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!

Tanna

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.

Tanna

Tanna

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!

The Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - Fiji

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.

The Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - Fiji

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.

The Return of Taia - Fiji

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.

 The Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - Fiji

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.

The Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - Fiji

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.

The Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - Fiji

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!

 The Return of Taia - Fiji

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.

The Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - Fiji

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.

The Return of Taia - Fiji

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…….

The Return of Taia - Fiji

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.

The Return of Taia - Fiji

The Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - Fiji

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.

The Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - Fiji

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

 The Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - Fiji

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.

The Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - Fiji

The Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - Fiji

The Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - Fiji

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.

The Return of Taia - Fiji

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!

 The Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - FijiThe Return of Taia - Fiji

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.

The Return of Taia - Fiji

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…….

The Return of Taia - Fiji

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.

Vistors from HomeHi Fiona

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!

 Hi FionaHi Fiona

Visitors from Home

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.

 Visitors from HomeVisitors from Home

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.

Visitors from HomeVisitors from HomeVisitors from Home

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.

Visitors from HomeVisitors from HomeVisitors from HomeVisitors from Home

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!

 Visitors from Home

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. 

Visitors from HomeVisitors from Home

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!

Visitors from Home

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.

Visitors from Home

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.

 Visitors from HomeVisitors from Home

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.

Visitors from Home

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.

Visitors from HomeVisitors from HomeVisitors from Home

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.

Visitors from HomeVisitors from HomeVisitors from HomeVisitors from Home

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!

Visitors from HomeVisitors from HomeVisitors from Home

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.

Visitors from HomeVisitors from Home

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.

Visitors from HomeVisitors from Home

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.

Fakarava diving Fakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava Diving

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.

Fakarava DivingFakarava DivingDiving in FPFakarava DivingGrey coming for a lookFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakaravaFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava

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