Category Archives: Update posts

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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

Far South in the Lau Islands – Fulaga

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

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

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

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

Fulaga

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

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

Fulaga

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

Fulaga

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

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

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

Some rules for you to note.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fulaga

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

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

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

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

 FulagaFulaga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fulaga

Bula, Fiji!

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

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

Bula, Fiji!

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

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

Bula, Fiji!

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

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

Bula, Fiji!

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

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

In regard to services, the Copra shed is excellent.

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

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

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

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

Bula, Fiji!

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

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

Bula, Fiji!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bula, Fiji!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The sunset was spectacular.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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