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