Friday, 31 July 2015

Central Fiji

Qamea:  Wednesday 17 June – Saturday 20 June

The weather was closing in and we had one day if we wanted to leave Vanua Balavu, or we would have to stay another 5 days. We set off at 7am, nervously navigating through the reefs until we reached the open sea and could relax. We arrived at Naiviivi Bay  (an excellent hurricane hole) on the island of Qamea at 5pm and after four attempts managed to get the anchor to hold, ready for the bad weather forecast for the next 4 days.

Our lunch provided by the Chief

The island chief (Moses) came to visit us the next day on a boat with some food for lunch – local fish, cassava and some taro with coconut which we had for lunch. We stayed on board all day as the wind and rain made going out an unattractive option, particularly in the dinghy.  The next day, despite some rain and strong wind, we ventured onto the beach and made our way  along a small path to the chief’s house for the Sevusevu ceremony .We took Kava as a gift that we had bought in Tonga – this was the inferior variety as it was ready ground but we had had no opportunity to buy the real stuff.   

Moses, his daughter and grandson
He welcomed us to his home where we sat cross legged on the floor while he conducted a ceremony in Fijian, clapping as he spoke. At the end of this he said that we had access to the island and if there was anything we needed such as water or fruit he was happy to give us .The house, a single room, was made of corrugated iron like most of the houses in the villages and the kitchen was a separate building with a wood burning stove. Apart from two beds there was no other furniture and the floor was covered with lino.

We had two guides to help us!

We chatted to many of the villagers on our walk round and they

Building a new hut for the village

were all very friendly and happy to talk about us and them. Many of them had lived in Suva (the capital) where they went to school but most returned to live in their village as it offered a better life – no stress and a real community.

Going to school by boat

The village had about 80 people living together, mainly fishing and farming although a few people worked at a local resort on the top of the island. There were no roads on the island and even the school bus was a boat, taking the local children 1 mile

along the coast to the school in the next village.

We left a couple of days later to go to Taveuni as the wind started to die down.

Taveuni:  Saturday 20 June – Tuesday 23 June

We had wanted to visit Taveuni as it is known as the garden island because it is so lush with tropical vegetation. There is also a national park there and a lot of waterfalls. The weather didn’t look good for some of the anchorages at the north of the island but we knew that a number of boats had gone to Paradise Resort in the south of Taveuni on the recommendation of the ICA lead boat. We got there just before dark after a rather rough sail around the coast and tied up to one of their mooring buoys, not really wanting to go to a resort. We were very pleasantly surprised as we were greeted like long lost friends and invited to sample the delights of the yacht friendly small resort. The staff were excellent and the mood was like a house party.

We stayed three days and enjoyed having dinner with the other 30 or so guests on long tables and chatting over dinner and drinks. Mostly Kiwis and Australians although a few Americans as well – many of the guests come back year after year and mainly for the scuba diving which is among the best in the world. The resort has no beach but a reef where it has the most fantastic snorkelling , the best since Fakarava. Loads of fish big and small and beautiful coral both hard and soft- it was amazing just off the back of our boat.

The bridge was a little rickerty
Hard going in the heat
We took a trip out to the waterfall and coastal walk which involved an hour drive, most of which was on unmade roads. Our two hour walk with the guide was very instructive as we made our way along the beach and then through the jungle to the waterfall. The last part of the journey was a swim up river to the waterfall which I had not intended to do but we could not get that far and not do it. It was well worth the effort but we declined the offer from the group of adventure travellers who turned up just after us to climb to the top of the waterfall and jump off. It was not that I hate swimming, I just did not want to die. The 20 year olds did not seem to have the same fear!

We had to swim the rest of the way
Exactly half way round and standing either side of the date line

Vanua Levu:  Tuesday 23 June – Thursday 2 July

Curly's house boat
Savusavu is one of the main towns on Vanua Levu, the second largest island in Fiji. We could not get an answer from the marina about tying up to a buoy and eventually Curly, a well-known Kiwi livingon a house boat in the river, shouted to us as we passed to take one of his buoys. Curly is a character and runs not only the local net on the VHF at 8am every morning but also chart navigation seminars for cruisers sailing around Fiji. An absolute must for safely sailing between islands and entering the reef strewn anchorages.  He also has a side line in making fishing lures which have a great reputation for catching fish.


Market in Labassa
Bus station - very busy!
The next day we set off at 7am to catch the local bus to Labassa with John and Stella from Excoet Strike. The 4 hour journey on surprisingly good roads goes over the mountain to the main town in Vanua Levu where you can buy almost anything.  After three weeks of not seeing a shop, it was an amazing change of scene – very busy with a bustling market.  Catherine managed to buy a new phone after the last one died two months ago, and I bought a SIM card so we could get at least some internet access and it turned out to be the best internet connection we have had since leaving England.

Weather Turns Again

The weather turned again and we were unable to leave Savusavu until the following Thursday which was just as well as Catherine was quite ill for 4 days with flu – something that had been doing the rounds among the fleet. Flu in 30 degrees of heat is not fun, nor is it living with someone who has flu and trapped on the boat. Catherine maybe the world’s worst nurse but she is even worse as a patient!  And to make matters worse, her new phone gave up and we were faced with going back to Labassa to get it changed. Fortunately the very nice girl in the Digicel kiosk arranged for a new phone to be sent by taxi from Labassa to her and I picked up the new phone 4 hours later. That is service!

So I wiled my time away fixing things on the boat and provisioning for the next leg of our journey. We were keen to get to Musket Cove before 1 July to see off our friends from the World Arc and so left on the Thursday with the first break of the weather – a little too early. The first 6 hours had waves crashing over the front of the boat and into the cockpit and we were on the verge of turning back a number of times. However, as the day wore on the winds eased and came round so that we were on a broad reach for the rest of the 150 mile journey. We arrived in Musket Cove late on Friday afternoon eager to see our friends before they departed with the rest of the Arc.

Eastern Fiji

Eastern Fiji:  10 June to 17 June
Tonga to Fiji

The weather forecast was for light winds when we left at Monday lunchtime and we planned to arrive on Thursday morning.  A relatively slow sail to cover the 295 miles to village of Lomolomo, the main village on Vanua Balavu in the Lau Group which are the most easterly islands of Fiji. The first day and night was light winds and we were on track to arrive on Thursday morning. The next day the winds increased and we were on a broad reach making 8.5 knots all day. If this continued we could make Wednesday lunchtime to enter in daylight with the sun high in the sky so we could see the reefs, but we would have to average 8 knots which seemed unlikely. The worst case was that we arrived at 5pm and would have to hang about all night before we could enter – night entry was not an option.

The winds continued to give us good speed but gradually backed and we were pushed further south than we wanted. We made the decision to motor sail the last 8 hours so that we could arrive at 1pm since the alternative would be to wait until morning. As we approached the entrance to the lagoon we could see a sailing boat stuck on a reef outside the entrance to the lagoon that had obviously been waiting overnight to enter.

Entry was nerve racking through the 50m wide entrance with waves breaking over the reef either side.  Once inside, we had another 15 miles of reefs and isolated rocks to navigate within the lagoon, many of which were not on the charts. So Catherine spent 3 hours standing at the bow looking for reefs and rocks so we could take avoiding action. Arrived in the anchorage at Lomolomo exhausted!

Lau Group - Vanua Balavu:  Wednesday 10 June – Wednesday 17 June

The next day we completed the entry process and we set off in the afternoon to Bavatu harbour where we were due to have a rendezvous and drinks with all the other boats.  Another 20 miles of navigating reefs with Catherine on the bow ensuring we missed the “bombies” (coral heads), reefs and other rocks.

The charts were pretty accurate for the reefs and rocks actually on the charts (many were missing) but when we got to the anchorage, a big island obscuring the entrance was missed off entirely.
We had a welcome ceremony by some of the villagers with traditional dress and war like cries and as a group we presented a gift of Kava root. Later that evening we had drinks in the yacht club (or hut as we might call it) and drank Kava with the locals while they sat round with guitars and other instruments singing songs long after most people had gone. I was the only one with a dinghy left at the end of the evening and so took everyone back to their boats after a very enjoyable evening.

The suggestions that we travelled around to Dalaconi village in convey the next day was welcomed by everyone – anything to make the journey easier. So 20 boats followed the lead boat who knew the area well and had indeed written the definitive guide to sailing around Fiji. 

Singing Traditional Songs

The village had put on a feast for us in the evening together with

Traditional Dancing Sitting Down

traditional Fijian dancing and singing. The feast is one of the few ways that the village can earn any hard currency and the only boats that go there are those that have crossed the Pacific – too difficult to sail from mainland Fiji the 200 miles east against the wind and tide. 

The next morning we went to church. Again the people were very welcoming and after a rather long service with a full choir singing we were invited to lunch. This we regretfully declined but we did spend some time talking to the elders and the schoolteacher. Education is now free in Fiji and so this village has a total of 30 children who go to school there before boarding in the capital at age 12.

Afar VI anchor in Bay of Islands
We spent the last few days in Vanua Balavu in the Bay of Islands, some 80 small islands in the lagoon. Beautiful setting where we were able to spend a relaxing couple of days exploring the islands in the dinghy.

Bay of Islands

Exploring the caves in Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands

Thursday, 16 July 2015


Tonga Friday 29 May to Tuesday 8 June

The journey from Niue to Tonga was relatively short – 3 days and 260 miles. After the first day the wind dropped and we motored overnight before the wind filled in again and we were under sail.

Main street in Neiafu
We timed our entrance to arrive at 9am on the Friday morning to avoid entering at night and tied up at the Neiafu wharf (the capital of Northern Tonga group of islands) to go through customs and immigration.  That was all painless and 1 hour later we were heading off to pick up a buoy off the main town of Neiafu which are surprisingly are provided by Moorings/Sunsail. This is a very popular cruising group with lots of charter boats sailing round the 30 odd islands in this part of Tonga.

One of the many shops we visited

The town was much poorer than many of the places we had visited, being an independent kingdom and not reliant on aid from New Zealand or France like many of the Polynesian islands. We bought provisions for a few days so that we could head off to some of the more remote islands, going into 4 or 5 shops to find things since they are all small not as well stocked as the other islands we had visited.

Off to Visit the Islands

Main road through the village
Saturday afternoon we headed off to a small island with a population of just 120 people. The village is pretty much self-sufficient and sell fish to the mainland to get money to buy items like rice they cannot produce themselves. No cars, no mains electricity but they had 5 churches! We were invited to attend the church service the next morning and join in the Kava ceremony before the service – the chief of the island, his advisors and the preacher were there and as a special concession allowed 

Village Chief at Kava ceremony
Catherine to attend (normally a men only affair). We sat on the floor crossed legged while the chief drunk the Kava first and then everyone else was allowed to drink. We had four bowls of Kava while we chatted about island life. All very friendly although not all spoke English.

The church service was an hour long with the preacher getting very passionate in his address, waving his arms about and giving the impression the sermon was about hell and brimstone – it was in Tongan so we did not understand a word but he was very animated. The Kava may have helped! Although there was only 20 people in the church, the singing sounded like 100 people, all singing in perfect pitch we great loud voices and singing different parts in harmony. It was a great experience.

We were never going to be fluent
Afterwards, the local primary teacher showed around the school and gave us some lessons in Tongan. That afternoon we went back to the boat and Chris, Catherine and I were overwhelmed with tiredness and slept for a couple of hours. A side effect of the Kava.

Street seller on the island
The next day we headed off for another island, going outside of the reef and back into the group of islands further north. Not for the faint hearted since the reefs are not well charted, some are missing off the chart as are isolated rocks. We anchored off another village with 150 people and spent the next day exploring the island, walking along the shore on a deserted beach.  All very beautiful and very relaxing.  Unlike the journey to the next island the following day when we decided not to go outside of the main reef since it was rough outside and take the short cut through a pass between two islands – as per the pilot book. It was all going well with Catherine and Chris on the bow looking out for reefs and rocks until we came to two boats in the pass – one anchored and other aground in the middle of the channel after hitting an unmarked rock. So we retraced our steps and went back the long way.

Our next anchorage looked perfect, just outside of a village although a little tight between the reefs. Unfortunately the wind turned south which put us just 10m away from a reef behind us while at anchor. I decided that it was too close for comfort so we upped anchor and went round the corner to the next island and tried to anchor as night was falling. After 5 attempts (no other boats were in anchored here which should have told us something), we headed off across the bay to where all the other boats were. By this time it was dark but as luck would have it there was a buoy and it was free so we tied up and had a few drinks and a BBQ.

Back to Neiafu

We had to go back to Neiafu for a group dinner on the Tuesday night which was such a good evening. All the food was local cuisine with traditional dancers providing the entertainment. Dancing followed late into the night with the staff joining in and looked like they were having as much fun as we were. 

We may have overdone the gin and tonics during the night, we were certainly one of the last to leave along with Andy and Emma (no surprises) and we were all a little slow the next morning for our visit to the Botanical Gardens.

Making cloth from bark
I use the term Botanical Gardens loosely since it was a collection of plants and trees spread in a somewhat random fashion throughout the garden. The most interesting part was where they showed us some of their traditional skills – making clothes, rugs and other items from the bark of a tree (which is a painstaking process),  use of the coconut tree not only to make coconut milk but also using the leaves for roofs, windows and doors.

Traditional dancing
A Tongan lunch and more traditional dancing followed (not as good as the night before) and we headed back. A group of us including Catherine and myself (Chris stayed on the boat) meet for dinner in the Aquarium café that evening and we had fried red snapper and chips. It was one of the best fried fish I have tasted.

Off to the Islands again

On Thursday we headed out once more into the islands to see some of the remoter parts of Tonga. We anchored in a bay with two other boats – we did feel it was crowded given we often had the anchorages to ourselves. We were invited over for drinks to one of the other boats and took half a bottle of gin with us. None came back we had a great night. A couple from New Zealand who were on the ICA rally and another couple (Paul and Susie) who were from Dartmouth who did the World ARC last year and left at Fiji to go to New Zealand for a year. They were about to another ICA rally going to Thailand.

This gave us an idea. Rather than go to Australia with the World Arc where we would arrive at the end of July, we could join the ICA rally to New Zealand which arrives in November. It would give us another month in Fiji, three extra weeks in Vanuatu and we would visit New Caledonian. They were so enthusiastic about New Zealand we decided we would look into this as a serious option. And the Thailand rally next year would be a very attractive option.

We spent one further night at anchor before stopping off at the Blue Lagoon on our way back. A very tricky entrance, with narrow passages between the reefs but well worth the effort. We walked around one of the island surrounding the lagoon which we uninhabited but the views and the variety of trees were well worth it. The other island had a resort on it but when we went there for a beer, it had closed down.

Getting Ready for the Next Leg to Fiji

So Friday night back to Neiafu again so that we could attend the briefing on getting to the Lau Group in Fiji which would be another tricky entrance wending 15 miles through reefs to get to the anchorage where we would go through Customs and Immigration. This was a special arrangement since boats cannot normally check in other than the main islands 100 miles further to the west which would mean sailing east again back to the Lau Group against wind and the current. Not a good option so consequently very few boats visit these islands.

Chris and Catherine in the market
Local market
Saturday was spent shopping, visiting another 5 or 6 shops to try and find what we could buy for the next 10 days. Chicken was easy to get but other meat and vegetables were next to non-existent, even in the very vibrant market. So we bought what we could and we will have to be inventive in our cooking.

Our regular cafe overlooking the harbour
Sunday was a day of rest with nothing open and apart from visiting the church we spent the afternoonon the boat playing our last games of Crib with Chris which Catherine won. That afternoon we discovered that our gas bottles filled with butane would not work with our gas regulator – so no means of cooking! Using the gas regulator from the BBQ, and with the help of the Moorings maintenance team, we managed to fit the BBQ regulator to our gas supply just in time to go through our scheduled clearance time on the Monday morning and leave by lunchtime.

Chris left us early on Monday morning to start his journey back to England after 5 months. Chris was a good sailor, very practical and helped fix many things along our journey. And there had been many things to fix! He was also a great cook and a mean cribbage player.

So now it is just Catherine and I sailing the rest of the way to New Zealand.