Tag Archives: Diving

Ua – New Caledonia

What a gem!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Return of Taia – Fiji

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Diving in French Polynesia – 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Niue

What a fascinating, brilliant place. Niue is the one of the smallest independent countries in the world, the island being roughly 12miles by 8 miles. It is traditionally known as “The Rock of Polynesia”. It is an uplifted coral block  and there is very little reef, it standing proud with cliffs up to 30m high all around the islands perimeter. Life holds on tenuously as the soil is not tremendously fertile but there is an ancient “rain forest” on the W side of the island. Traditional farming requires a seven year rotation for the land to recover. In the last few years,  hydroponics has taken over and there is a large farm producing a good stock of fresh veg and salad crops which keeps the island reasonably stocked. One thing it does has is water with huge subsurface stocks easily accessible.

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Its closest neighbour is Tonga, some 250miles away. Once ruled by its kings, these days Niue uses the administrative services of NZ to allow it to interact with the outside world and the currency is the NZ dollar. It has two flights a week, increased this year from one and it gets resupplied by ship once a month. A Premier and three ministers are the senior political positions and there is a NZ Governor on the island too. Niue

Interestingly enough, we met a previous NZ governor here as well, running a bar and mini-golf course. He came, saw, loved, married and stayed on after his time ran out. There is just something about the island, he said………..

Niue was hit very hard in 2004 by Cyclone Heta. The population before Heta was 2500 but large numbers left the island as it did a great deal of damage. The hospital, set 100m back from the sea and up a 30m cliff was washed away as was the Yacht Club beside it. A large number of houses and businesses were destroyed too. Numbers went as low as 1100. Now, some 13 years later, the population is recovering and is back to about 1900. Numbers in the primary school are at 200 and the High School is about 150. Some kids disappear off to relatives and finish school in NZ. Large numbers of the teenagers disappear to NZ for tertiary education. One I spoke to, reading Law at Auckland, intends to return to the island that she loves in her 30’s, once she has built up a war chest. The lady has a definite plan.

Capt Cook visited Niue and tried to land in 1774 but was beaten off by the locals three times. Cook’s Marines had to fire on the islanders to be able to escape and the named the island Savage Island which stuck until it reverted to Niue. He did, however, in the very short period he was here, “plant” the flag and claim Niue in the name of His Majesty. The next foreigner that visited Nuie was some 60 years later! The local language of Niuem is alive and well and is the primary language taught and used in the school. English is the second language. Christianity was introduced in the 1840s by a returning islander, Peniaminus,  who had spent time in Samoa. We visited his grave which is kept in good order. His birthday is now a national holiday.

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Booking in was easy. We called Niue Radio and then the Yacht Club on Ch16. Niue Radio warned off the Customs and Immigration staff who came down to the dock to clear us in, done with big smiles. We are boat number three here this year. We will pay $34 exit tax per head (under 12s are free) and $15 as a one off charge for rubbish. Later this year the price is due to go up to around about $90 a head (stipulated by the NZ authorities) which I think brings it roughly in line with Cook Island charges, another NZ administrated country. The locals aren’t that happy about it as they are concerned that yachties will simply bypass them. Time will tell.

Niue Yacht Club is the biggest little Yacht Club in the world with a membership that now exceeds the actual population of the island. However, it doesn’t own a boat and the clubhouse is shared with the backpackers lodge as the old one disappeared in Cyclone Heta.  Keith, the Commodore of the Yacht Club (and the OCC PO), assigned us a ball just off the jetty and then came down to say hello. He drove Peta and myself around the town to show us the sites. He is a great source of information as he runs one of the orientation tour businesses here and he can point out the local laundry, reasonable at $25 for 8kg, so much better than FP, car hire, will arrange bread and baguettes, keys for the shower block and pretty much anything else you could need. He helped us throughout our trip, taking the ladies shopping and delivering booze and heavy stuff back to the jetty, getting my dive bottles filled after I had inspected a mooring for him and generally looking after us better than anyone else has done in our whole trip. You could class it as extreme island hospitality and he obviously loves what he does but he goes well beyond what I have ever come across before. Just brilliantly welcoming and helpful. He is a star.

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Membership of the club is a $20 a year if you join in Niue and you get a rather spiffy membership card. The money goes a long way to pay for the excellent moorings the club maintains for visiting yachts. I’m afraid I also indulged in a burgee which I will use with pride once I get back to the UK. Fees for the use of the balls is $20NZ a night. It is a small sum for the security they offer in a place it is simply not possible to anchor at. Pay for them up at the club house, a 10 minute walk S from the jetty through the town. There is free (slow) internet and a good book exchange there too.

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We had been told that the water visibility was pristine and so it is. The mooring ball we were on was in 50’ of water and the bottom was crystal clear. 60m underwater visibility is the norm here and it can be better!

Our first visitor to the boat was one we had not seen before – a sea snake. They are inquisitive creatures and it was happy to come and have a good look at us at the back of the boat before diving for the bottom again. Although they are hideously poisonous, it is v v rare that they ever cause injury or death. The poison glands are set very far back in the jaw which is not big enough to be able to bite us.

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Our first day ashore saw us working our way through the village exploring. The kids took themselves off and explored the coastline caves and beaches around the town.  Lunch was a fantastic roti ($5NZ a pop – wow!) at  the Indian restaurant in the “shopping centre”. The couple that run it are from the Punjab and thought about moving to NZ. Niue proved easier to do and so they ended up here and have stayed, loving it. The public internet is pretty slow other than when sitting outside the IT network shop, a couple of doors up from the Indian. There it is good enough to Skype. If you are a local, you get free internet and have had it free since 2003, the first nation in the world to provide such.  It is slated to become the first organic farming nation as well. Not bad for a wee place with less than 2000 inhabitants. These people work hard and dream large.

There were three kids boats in. Be and Be, who arrived just after us and a day later, Pesto, a HR53 with Alex, Adriana, Paulo and Raquel on board. Of course, the kids went feral and had a great time on Be and Be as the adults met on Skylark for sundowners. The next day, Pesto drove around the  island and after school and some internet, we met up with them for the Thursday happy hour and mini-golf at the Vaiolama Cafe and Bar. The kids took nearly two hours to noisily go round the eighteen holes. The highlight for me was Evie’s hole in one at the 18th!Niue

We also visited the bond store where as yachties,  we were able to stock up on duty free alcohol.The prices were fantastic. Carling Black Label 500ml cans on offer at $1NZ (or 50p) – couldn’t get that in the UK! 1l Bombay Sapphire gin at $40NZ. Wine at $10NZ a bottle. It is, bizarrely considering how remote we are, the lowest priced alcohol in the S Pacific.  Sadly, Fiji is pretty strict with its duty limits so we will not going to be loading up too liberally.

We decided that we needed to hire a car to be able to see around the island. Hitching isn’t done here but cars are remarkably cheap with several fair sized car hire companies on the island touting for business. We paid $60NZ a day for an economy car from Alofi Car Hire opposite the one garage on the island. The car had aircon and we took it initially for two days, quickly extended to three days as we needed to get away from the Alofi on the Sabbath which is taken very seriously here. We had a fantastic time exploring. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the sites are by the sea.

Keith came to our aid yet again, giving Peta and myself a lift at 0715hrs for the mile and a bit to the car hire company. He then spent 15mins before the garage opened, talking us through all the best sites to see and when to see them, presenting us with a map and tourist booklet, all marked up.

Friday saw us going around the whole island, visiting the main sites on the W side of the island. First stop was a 20minute walk down to Togo Chasm. Exposed to the Trades, the seas crash along the whole E coastline and there is no relief. The old coral has been worn away in to viciously sharp pillars, very hard underfoot. You don’t want to slip walking on it.

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Just around the corner from the forest of ravaged coral trees there is the chasm which you gain by climbing down a steep ladder to the cavern floor. The kids had a great time exploring a cave, 50m through the cliff that led to the sea smashing its way in at this pool.

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The end of the chasm used to be a swimming hole but the entrance was closed up by a cyclone and is now a swamp. It didn’t smell great so we didn’t hang around long.

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With so much to see and visit we whisked around the N coast stopping in at Uluvehi at the N end of the island. The road down to the parking area was overgrown and a little cheeky but the wee cars just managed it. The caves were fantastic and the kids had a great time exploring and climbing them. The grown ups had to look away a couple of times as the young mountain goats with no fear scrambled up some pretty sticky places. Every cave was full of stalagmites and stalactites.

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Leaving the kids to it, the grown ups went for the views instead.

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Our last stop was at Anapala Chasm. This is a fresh water pool at the bottom of a long flight of stairs which the kids all counted loudly as we walked down to them. 155 apparently.  We swam the 40-50m length of the dark, cool pool. Hannah was none too keen in getting in after she had seen a baby water snake hide under a rock in the first pool but (eventually) refused to be left behind. She swam quickly to the other end in water a lot colder than the sea. The locals used to use this site for drinking and bathing water, walking the mile or so from the nearby village to collect what they required each day.

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On the basis that there was (on the European weather model only) a low coming through in three to four days, Pesto decided to head off on Friday morning to reach Tonga before it made it there. Geoff on Be and Be and I thought that the Low would either fail to form or would travel in a direction that shouldn’t bother us. Oh, how optimistic we were.

We continued our explore of the island on Saturday and Sunday. Over the course of the year each main village has a village fair and we were in time for the first of the year at Makefu. We arrived just after 0700hrs to enjoy a full BBQ plate load of food and trifle for breakfast. The fete started with the old and bold praising God and finished with an appearance of Tommy Nee, an local who has made it big in NZ and Polynesia as a pop star, singing about one night stands and snogging. Quite surreal.

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We watched Uma racing (the local name for coconut crabs) and were amazed at the speed the old ladies made a basket in a weaving competition. We watched one old lady with arthritis getting help from her sister to finish off. Great ladies who were very pleased to be attracting so much interest. Evie was presented the basket as a souvenir. Niue

There were throwing competitions, a local spear for the men and coconuts for the ladies, before the dancing which was traditional up to the point that they had decided that the music of Moana, the new Disney film, was good enough to dance traditionally to. It was amusing to watch the older ladies jump up on the stage and stuff money into the dancers costumes. Although there are very different interpretations of that !action in the rest of the world, it is obviously the done thing here. The dancers made a fortune!

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The show finished by 1130hrs and we left, needing to cool down.

Matapa Chasm was the personal bathing pool for the King and royal family back in the day. There is a cold top fresh layer from a spring sitting on the warm sea underneath. Wonderfully refreshing. There was a couple of places at about 8m height to jump in from which required a bit of rock climbing that provided some fun for me.  For the more competent snorkeler you can get out to the sea but you need to be careful as the surge is strong.

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At every tourist hotspot around the coast there are showers. The island has so much water and as tourist numbers are relatively small, they have no difficulty in putting water pumps out to even the more inaccessible site. It is so nice not having to get back in to a car covered in sand and salt. Some of the showers had missing heads but that just proved even more fun for Hannah.

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It is a thirty minute walk down to the Tavara Arches from the car park and well worth it. Once used as a lookout post, now you can clamber down through caves in the rock face to the shore. You need to go at low tide to be able to reach the massive main arch.

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We moved on to Avaiki Cave where we met up with Tommy Nee and the two gigantic backing singers with him in an underground pool. It was nice but just around the corner we reached the main cave which blew us away. Huge and surrounded by stalagmites it is spectacular. Visiting it at low tide meant the pool was flat calm. We climbed and explored right through it, needing torches for a couple of the smaller caves we found right at the back.

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Moving S on the W coast, we stopped at the Hio Cafe that we had driven past on our first explore. It sits above one of the few sand beaches on the island. It does an excellent lunch menu and proper coffee too. The owners must have seen the excellent use of iso containers down in Christchurch town centre as that is what the cafe is too.

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Limu Pools are beautiful. Deep clear water with a small inlet means protected space. There was some coral there and the fish were quite good but the highlight was yet more cliff top jumping in that the kids indulged in. Great fun!

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There was also time for a couple of dives with a firm called Magical Niue for Eleanor, Geoff and myself. We had a really good time with them. Although the water temperature was 26C, it felt noticeably colder than FP, needing 3mm suits rather than rash vests. We did our first dive touring the coral mounts around the mooring field so they could assess Eleanor’s standard. There was an amazing amount of hard fan coral. Not so many fish but we did see the biggest Napolean Wrasse we have ever seen. Huge. Between dives we lucked out. The pod of Spinner Dolphins that live around Niue came across to see us and Eleanor got the privilege of being dragged at the side of the rib, swimming amongst the 30 odd dolphin having fun at the front of the rib. Massive high!

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Our second dive was a visit to one of the caves about 500m S of the mooring field. We swam in to the cliff face maybe 30-40m and then were able to surface inside the cave. After 5 minutes, we came out and had a tour of some of the canyons near the shore. There was a bit of surge and we had to work hard but Eleanor handled it like a champ. When we came up, Eleanor was so excited she went in to motor mouth mode, grinning hugely. The dive master, Ramon, made comment that she was technically the best junior they had seen, which just capped it off for her.

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By Mon, it was obvious that the front would hit us and that we would have a day of NW wind at about 25kts, decreasing and falling S as the Low went by. We ended up having the whole of Tuesday on the boat, unable to get off watching 4-5m seas break over the jetty. Whilst we had been in shelter to the Trades, we were now on a lee shore with a reef a whole 150m behind  us. Niue

We had one alarming moment late afternoon. On hearing a unexpected noise, Eleanor went off to investigate. She came back to announce we were hanging on by one line only. I worked out that the lifting buoy’s line, a floating plastic type, had wrapped around our port line and with the constant surging we were experiencing, had in effect sawn through it. We quickly replaced the damaged line and cut away the lifting float and line to ensure we weren’t caught out a second time.

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We really should have gone around the S end of the island to find relief but Lou was not keen to lose the “security” of our nice mooring. Having dived on several moorings (and had a go at putting new plates on for Keith on one of them), I was satisfied that the lines and fixings were strong enough for what we were in, even if it was uncomfortable. Even so, we stood watch all day and through the night with the engines running so if something did break we could quickly extradite ourselves. The wind eventually moved back in to the SE at 0330hrs on the Wed morning. It was a long 30hrs.

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The seas abated enough by lunchtime to be able to get people ashore. It was still a little adventurous but manageable. Lou was very keen to get to the coffee shop and stop moving!

Geoff and I had a day of fixing boat problems. My genset had started to make smoke and I was pretty sure it was down to the exhaust elbow clogging up. It should have been an easy fix.  Sadly the muppet that had changed my elbow at Grenada Marine had used cheap mild steel hex bolts and as I tried to undo them, they each broke off in turn. They will need to be drilled out. Tonga maybe, more probably Fiji before it is fixed. The other issue was my log and anemometer B&G electronics had decided to fail. My thanks to Geoff for coming across and using his expertise to track down the fault which was a rotten data lead connector causing a short. I got apparent wind back but I’ll need to wait for a new connector before I get depth, boat speed and a true wind speed again.

With the delivery ship due in, the World Arc Rally about to arrive to nab all the moorings and the weather turning favourable, we booked out and planned to leave on Thu 25th May. Perhaps we should have left with Pesto but if we had, we would not have had time to explore Niue as we did. It is a strange mix of island isolation and NZ civilisation. But so worth a visit. Don’t expect beaches but enjoy the fantastic pools, caves and snorkelling around the coast. I’d love to go back during the whale watching season. The whales come in to the bay and are often found of a morning sleeping under yachts. It can be too loud to sleep if they are singing. That would be an experience!

My only real regret was that we could not find time to play a round of golf at the 9 hole course opposite the airport. Great fun, said one man who had played it, although he was a little perturbed by the way the ball would hit a lump of coral  and spring forward an extra 100m! Not easy for club selection.

For those reading in NZ, Niue is on your doorstep and just a 3hr flight away. Go and enjoy but be prepared to go slow. The place is magical.

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Rangiroa

Rangiroa was to be our last atoll in the Tuamotus. I’d love to have spent more time exploring more of this huge group but it would take years to do so properly. Next time with a compressor onboard……

One problem that I encountered when renewing my nav info for the year was that the wonderful Tuamotus Tidal Guestimator had not been updated in the Soggy Paws website. This was a bit of a blow. I managed to download the NOAA info on Rangiroa tides and then cross checked it against the WXTide32 programme I had and found that the two didn’t correlate. Typical.

We arrived at the pass of Rangiroa I thought about on time to find a great big dive ship waiting on the outside with the tide still howling out and big standing waves evident at least half a mile from the pass. I had a chat with the Captain who agreed with my data, added another reference which appeared to be as equally wrong. We agreed we would be waiting a while to get in. Remember my post on “The Vagaries of Tuamotus Tides” ?? It applied! After over an hour hanging around, a dive school rib came over and the local suggested we would be able sneak in if we stayed close in to the E side of the pass. Punching about 5knts of tide, thankfully in flat water out of the race, we were able to do so. The dive ship waited another 45mins before the actual slack.

The bay at Rangiroa was empty other than our old friend Soren of Taranga who had arrived a week before to do some diving with his new crew,Magnus, Fleming and Nico, a good bunch. We picked up one of the free moorings @ 14 58.930S 147 38.106W provided by the town just off one of the posh hotels. We quickly moved to another buoy 300m W in deeper water as the original, very close to shore was too sheltered from the winds and we weren’t getting power. We dove on the new one and found it to be heavy and in good order.

It was just as well that we did move. A couple of days into our stay we had a localised gale which roared in on us out of the W with no warning and nothing in the forecast. 30+ miles of fetch and 35+kts of wind gave us a short, very nasty sea and both Taranga and ourselves were thrown around  violently. Our dinghy, down but padlocked on, snapped its security cable and I was required to get the canoe down, quickly surf down to the dinghy and stop it before it hit shore. Not much fun at all in the dark but we were lucky we felt the cable snap and were able to save the dinghy and engine from being smashed up. The gale blew itself out by the morning but the weather wasn’t settled Trades. The sky, at times, could only be described as steel in colour.

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Eleanor and myself found a handy dive shop to fill our bottles and the Aquarium, a dive area inside the Tiputa pass, unaffected by the current which had a maximum depth of around 15m. We managed to get six dives in, gradually spending longer underwater as Eleanor’s confidence, buoyancy technique and stamina improved. A highlight would be the huge Moray eel that came out and nuzzled the camera, hoping it was food.

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I also did a dive on the pass with the Taranga crowd. A little different to anywhere else I had been, you drop into the blue and descend to around 35m and hang 30-50m off the bottom, waiting to see what appears. We got a glimpse of a Great Hammerhead, solitary and huge, well below us on the floor and then were surprised when half a dozen Scallop Hammerhead appeared in full hunting order. When you can see the eye stalks you know they are a little close.

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They charged in at us fast, thankfully realised we weren’t for eating and quickly turned away in search of better prey. Watching a full size Manta ray swim over me as we did our 5m safety stop at the end of the dive was magical.

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Life around the anchorage once the weather settled, was pleasant. We became a roosting place for Sooty Terns and we watched the local kids practise on the big 6 mans canoes around us. There was a pretty good supermarket a 10min walk up the road where we could get bread at 0830hrs every morning and we got together with the Taranga crowd most days. We even ended up in the big hotel enjoying G&Ts at the beach front bar, eating a drizzle cake that the girls had made to celebrate Nico’s birthday. The only trouble with Rangiroa is it is too big and spread out. It certainly felt the most touristy of all the atolls we have visited. If we had more time and had explored away from the passes (and therefore the tourists), perhaps I would feel differently but other than the pass diving, I could enjoy everything here at any of the other smaller atolls.

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We made friends with the owner of the cafe/bar/restaurant at the pier that provides pretty good free internet for paying customers. Lily is a character. A widow, her husband a French soldier killed in Afghanistan, she set up the place on her husband’s island rather than go to her home, Madagascar where they had met. She was a cheerful flirt and buzz-ball of energy and their son is in the same mould. Toue, Etan, his best friend and Hannah quickly came thick as thieves and had a great time. Hannah handled herself with aplomb whenever they said goodbye, done in strictly French fashion, in which Toue was very enthusiastic in doing! 

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Lou was very keen in moving on to catch the boat kids we had seen in the Marina at Tahiti. We said our goodbyes again to Soren and wish him luck in his next endeavour somewhere as yet unspecified in the Far East with the liveaboard dive boat he and his friends are planning. We will stay in touch and I hope to dive with him again one day.

Seeing no great change in the outlook but suspicious of the inaccuracy of forecasts in what we had experienced the previous week, we left to a forecast E at 15-20kts for the 210mile reach S to Tahiti. Life is never that easy. We came out and immediately hit 25+kts and that didn’t significantly change for the whole trip. With squalls hitting 38kts, lightening storms all around us through the night and an average of 25-28kts, we alternated between 2 and 3 reefs and charged along. Our second to last hour run of 10 Nm as the seas abated in the shadow of Tahiti and we approached the entrance to Papeete Harbour with 3 reefs and a hanky up is our best single hour run ever.  Tahiti was largely hidden in cloud as we approached. Moorea looked magnificent!

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We arrived at last light with the sun setting over Moorea 10Nm to our W. We crawled through the narrow pass by the airport, waiting for clearance to cross the end of the runway, to the mooring ball fields at Marina Taina and tied up.

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The noise and lights of the city of Papeete told a story. Skylark, after looking after us for so long in the boonies, was back in civilisation. 

Halloween, a windy farewell to Fakarava and a brief visit to Toau

Halloween

After all the fun at the S end of Fakarava, the weather gods decided to spoil things by bringing in the first foul weather of our time in the Pacific. A big low came up out of Southern Ocean and whilst the islands to the S of Tahiti got the majority of the rubbish, we had two and a half days of nastiness too.

The day before it hit, we left Pokokora Yacht club at 0700hrs and ran N the 8 miles to Rotoava, chased hard by two boats who obviously had been thinking about the free buoys at the village too. Not that any of us would admit to any feeling of competiveness in the constant trimming and the occasional suggestion of taking shortcuts across questionable depths as we charged up. We got the last one, much to the disgust of the next boat in, 10 minutes behind us. I will admit to feeling a little smug as we tied on to a well cared for 30 ton buoy, knowing we would be fine on it and not having to worry about wrapping chain around a bombie as the wind twirled around as the Low passed through.

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I can’t say it was tremendously comfortable aboard and Lou and the kids generally got ashore to spend time at Fakarava Yacht Services or the Pink Slushy Bar, trying to avoid moving during the frequent periods of torrential rain. However, when the wind went into the S and we had a 30mile fetch, I was very glad not to be one of the boats that had chosen to anchor in the NE corner. We spoke to a few of them and all required an anchor watch as they got severely bounced around, the seas breaking on the reef 100m behind them. Mary Ann II’s dinghy became awash, losing its oars in the process. John and I dived to recover them in 40’ of water. I was a little disappointed about our lack of bottom time as we landed directly on top of them. My dive computer registered a dive time of three minutes.

Once the wind went back to the E, we had a wonderful calm. It took two days for the weather to right itself and reestablish the easterly trades.

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In the calm, we cut hair and kept the fish under our keel well fed. Lou hasn’t bought a mirror so I’m still getting away with my rough clippering – Vidal I am not……. We discovered a craft fair that the locals had set up for themselves and we had a great time learning how to weave coconut leaves and make flower headdresses. Lou came away with a small black pearl necklace at a somewhat better price than you would find in the shops. Halvard bought out the entire stand of necklaces for men and then we had a go at making our own from oyster shells, the dremel and a saw. We shaped out a hammerhead shark and a more typical hook type affair that Polynesians would then decorate with a tiki and a single pearl. More practise required but both turned out pretty well.

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We took the chance of some last minute shopping and then, joy of joys! Another kid’s boat appeared in time for Halloween which was to be our last night at Fakarava. El Nido with Olivia, David and the girls Kali and Gaya, are a Belgium boat who have been out only 7 months. They decided early to concentrate their time in the Pacific. Since leaving Europe the first place they have really slowed down being French Polynesia. They will sell and return home in 2018, intending to sail no further than Australia – much like ourselves.

The kids had a fantastic time, all dressed up and the locals thought it was great that the we had got involved. This was the first time Fakarava had celebrated Halloween and boy, did they go to town. The kids thought they had died and gone to heaven with the quantity of sweets the wonderfully friendly islanders handed out! The parade started by the school and travelled the length of the village. Hannah and Eleanor were filled up with yet more sweets by Halvard and Ann-Helen on our way home. We will be dealing with sugar rushes for days.

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We left on 2 Nov to Toau, in the company of El Nido. It was a quick sail and I enjoyed the view of a new Outremer 45 not going past me quite as quickly as I thought it might! Halloween

We had a day at the SE pass which proved to be a very easy entrance about an hour after low slack. Wide and with plenty of water underneath us, we sailed in, sticking to the S side of the pass and anchored at 15 55.973S 145 53.188W in 20’ of water. David, Olivia and I returned to the pass and dived on the edge of the wall, looking down the 2000’ drop-off. We saw some huge tuna, schools of snapper, good reef fish and the odd Grey Shark. The outside wall and sides of the pass had good coral but the centre stretch of the pass was all dead which suggests that it has been swept clear in the past. We tried to drift through and turn S towards the boats but the bottom current had a strong surge which pushed us N. We came up, tired of the effort required just to keep us on the side of the channel and found even with 1+kt current that we had only managed to reach half way through the pass. Sadly my dive computer went wrong too and ceased working at 20m down. I wasn’t happy. I finished the dive latched on to Olivia like a puppy dog. Although I have changed the battery, it seems that the original battery leaked and has damaged the internal components. I tried it against another two wrist  computers and it lasted just 15 mins and was under reading depth by about 20%.  I’ll be writing to the manufacturer.

El Nido’s recovery to us was short lived as Gaya, their 5yr old, found out to the cost of the nail on her big toe and a lot of blood that the anchor locker is not a place to play hide and seek…….. She was very brave but a bit lucky that that was the extent of the injury. Hannah was mortified. Thankfully, cuddles from Mum and the odd sweet or two from the Halloween collection seemed to help matters and after a calming period, we went back to El Nido for a very pleasant evening.

Halloween

The next morning, with no time to waste, we moved on up to Anse Amyot, a false pass at the N end of Toau. As we left the SE pass, supposedly at the end of the outgoing tide but probably a little early, the standing waves were the worst we have seen. Breaking and up to 8’ in height, it was very unpleasant and it was obvious why some of the guide books don’t recommend a visit to the inside of this atoll. Thankfully we were able to keep close in to the S edge of the pass, right by the reef, avoiding the really nasty stuff but we had to go 1.5miles offshore to get around the race to head N. Our view is that the slack periods in the pass we observed were fine for transit. As always, you just need to time it correctly.  The photo below hopefully gives you a feel of the foulness we managed to claw past.

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We raced up the E side of the atoll under parasail with El Nido following up behind us and the 20 mile trip took just over 3hrs. It was a lovely, easy, lazy ride and we needed to touch the Parasail’s sheets once only. Touching 9kts at times, even the speed machine El Nido with her asymmetric flying, gybing back and forth, couldn’t beat us in. I just love that sail! 

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We picked up one of the moorings, right by the reef and arranged for us to have dinner ashore with Gaston and Valentine, the owners of the pension and the buoys, the next night. Mary Ann II arrived the next morning, quickly followed by Wilhelm who, on finding the doctor would not be at Fakarava for another month to fill any more steroid prescriptions for Halvard’s duff knee, saw no point in staying there. It took 15 minutes of chat between us to arrange one last dive with them, John and El Nido on the wall a mile W of Anse Amyot. It was a good dive but what are called caves in the Toamotus Compendium proved to be interesting depressions instead and my torch was not required. We saw lots of Moray Eels and a few enormous tuna floating in and out of our view, a little off the wall.

After seven months of constant cruisers, Valentine wasn’t keen to set up one of her famous banquets but Gaston provided fish and a BBQ pit, we provided the rest and we had an excellent night. We choose not to eat the Jack and the Parrot fish although Gaston said both would be fine and proved it by munching through both of them. We stuck to the Red Big Eyes which were good too

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The girls found a huge bowl of misshapen black pearls from the days Gaston ran a pearl farm and Valentina gave each of the kids three from the bowl the girls are holding up! The kids’ night was rounded off by way of a funeral that was held for the poor departed soul of a Hermit crab that had been stood on. It was buried with full honours.

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The next night we had one last BBQ on the beach with Halvard cooking an enormous lump of beef that they had picked up at Fakarava. Everybody had some and there was still slices left over. With the crews of El Nido, Mary Ann II, Wilhelm and another UK boat that arrived that evening, Asolare with Peter (78 yrs young) and Charon on board, it was a lovely way to sign off our travels in French Polynesia for this year. The goodbyes were long but cheerful on our last morning and we hope to see Wilhelm, who also will haul out at Apataki, just before we go. Halloween

We headed towards our final destination, Apataki, on 5 Nov. It seemed strange to think that it will be our last sail of the year. We decided to make it a good one.

Up went the Parasail!