Leaving Tonga on 12th September, we felt good about pushing west. Had we more time we could have spent longer seeing the beauty of Tonga, experiencing their culture and benefiting from the warmth and generosity of the Tongan people. There were areas we wanted to go, the Hapai group, further south, the outer anchorages of the Vava'u, but weather and time were against us, and we needed to head west in order to get to Australia by the beginning of November and the start of the cyclone season.
This will be the story from now on. With the current schedule there is no way to fully explore Fiji and its many many outer islands. All we can hope for is to see a few islands, experience the culture and hopefully find a pleasant anchorage with fine weather and stop for a few days. We are, however, building an itinerary for next year and hopefully, if we manage to come back and skirt this route, we will have time to explore more thoroughly. That said, we are unsure of our plans and destinations for 2010, no doubt time and tide will reveal all.
We set off from Port Morrell with 2 reefs in, expecting boisterous conditions. Clearing the islands the swell settled down and we shook one out giving us excellent sailing conditions in 20kts ESE heading 260, making 9 odd Kts. The wind held overnight and we were making good progress. We had set up a radio schedule with the Vagabonds and the Blues so at 0730 each morning we could talk on the SSB, and overnight we had 15 miles clear on the Vagabonds and 25 on the Blues.
The first night offshore is usually quite hard work, getting back into the swing, so the first morning we have bacon and eggs together as a sort of treat. We all enjoy it and the eggs are just delicious with that deep yellow yolk one could expect from a place like Tonga….I guess everything is free range, even the bacon!!. First fish, 10,30, Tuna, 15.15, Mahi, lovely, 15.45 Tuna again, all weighing in at about 12-15kg. Great fishing and all dispatched to the freezer.
The wind eased to 15Kts ENE as we headed towards the Lau group and the pass between the islands. We were a little worried about sailing through the islands at night. Although the passage looked big enough at 15 miles, there were a few obstacles on the west side and the waters between Tonga and Fiji are known to have many uncharted reef and seabed disturbances. To give you an idea, we had been given a layer file for the charting software detailing 60 uncharted issues, so we were really on our toes. We also had no idea how accurate the GPS was going to be and what sort of offset we should allow. I thought that a 1 mile offset would be outrageous, so I allowed 3 miles for certainty. Even so I was straining to hear any reef break as we approached. The wind was easing all the time and by midnight it was 6-8kts NE, We were motoring to keep up to 5 kts with a full main up as we entered the islands. We didn't see them, and got through the reefy bits no problem, then started picking up the higher islands on the Radar. Great, I finally had a reference. We had some weird gusts. At 5.30am the wind suddenly started blowing at 20kts. With just the full main we were making 11kts downwind….then a violent shift of 40 degrees put us in an involuntary gybe, and off we went again at 11 kts. 10 minutes later the exact opposite, another gybe and off again. Not what you want after a long night, and quite exceptional.
By 5am we were through the islands and into the Koro sea heading west for Suva. I spoke to Bill on Vagabond Heart and recounted our experience. As I was talking with him he left the radio and dropped sail having just had the same experience, quite strange. Lucy Blue saw 2 water spouts close by and dropped sail instantly…..strange place. Im very glad we didn't see any water spouts as there was so little room to manoeuvre with reef on both sides.
At 05.15 on 14th September we crossed the date line, and started our count down to Greenwich. We had been heading away from Greenwich for a year less a week and now we were heading back home, a significant point for us, being exactly half way round the world.
The wind filled in from the NW and steadily increased over the day until it was blowing 25kts pretty much on the nose, but by the following morning the wind died completely, and being only 30 miles out of Suva, we could come back onto course, making the pass into the harbour at lunchtime with no wind and bright sunshine. We anchored opposite the Royal Suva Yacht Club at 1300 and waited for Customs to arrive. It had taken 3 days from Tonga with a week of different conditions. An extremely busy bit of sailing!!
Port Control had informed us that Customs, immigration and quarantine would be with us that afternoon, but at 1500 a launch turned up and said they would be along in the morning. We radioed Port Control and received clearance to go ashore to the Yacht Club for dinner and to let the Boys run. The RSYC was the first proper yacht club we had been in since Bayona. It was quite informal and had a good attendance of friendly locals and ex pats. It was a real club in the sense that the same faces were there each night with a fresh uplift of new faces on the weekend…. and an attentive steward. We all felt quite at home.
Customs and company arrived at 11am the following morning and having given them the required paperwork in triplicate they departed with instructions to pay the launch $100 and attend their onshore offices by 1500 that day. Needles to say their offices were scattered around town so we spent the rest of the day in one office or another and by 1700 we had all the required paperwork for our stay in Suva. We were, however, expected to attend the same offices to clear out when we left Suva, and clear in again on arrival in Latoka. We were gong to see a lot of Customs and their friends while in Fiji., and always new forms in triplicate. I guess the massive amount of paperwork is part of the legacy left by the British…I cant wait until we get to India. I think I will invest in some carbon paper. The strange thing is, that in the offices and even in the shops, all the business is recorded both on computerised systems and in ledgers. Its as if there is no trust in the electronic system!
We liked Suva. It had a busy feel, a hustle and bustle, street vendors and discount stores, and absolutely no tourists. We really were in the minority as WASPS with the populace of Fijians, Asians and Indians. The people were friendly and courteous and, as in so many of the other countries we have been to, the boys had their heads touched continually. I think its just an involuntary reaction some people have to blonde hair, but as they pass, the hand comes out and just brushes their hair, then they look and smile at us and it happens again with someone else. The boys always attract attention and we are acutely aware of their difference, but as yet have felt no threat to their security. They are little monkeys and quite engaging. In the enormous fresh market in Suva they were given fresh pineapple, cut and ready, and managed, even with the language barrier, to convince a 12 year old barrow boy to race them around the stalls in his wheelbarrow…that drew a small crowd and big smiles.
We stocked up well, this being the first city we had been to since Papaeeteei, and enjoyed the variety and availability of products and the cheap nature of the stores. We bought sweet iced tamarind drinks and ate fresh corn on the cob from street vendors, and in a way it reminded me of Cartagena…. That, seems like a lifetime ago.
The taxis were reasonable and plentiful so it made life easy and after 2 days we had completed a major restock of the boat. In addition we both bought ourselves a little present. Amanda a new Nikon lens for her camera, and a new pair of Binoculars for myself. For some reason both items were affordable and good quality and would make a difference, so were easily justified.
While in Suva we had to sort out our Australian Visas. We took a taxi to the Australian consulate, pulled a ticket and waited…and waited…and waited. After 2 hours we were seen, but it was apparent it was not going to be straightforward. Our Passports were not sufficient evidenced of our parenthood and birth certificates and marriage certificates were required….. Impossible. We left and decided we would apply for electronic visas over the Internet, and extend them after our arrival in Australia. It took 20 minutes to apply and 4 hours to receive confirmation and authority to travel. It's quite remarkable how efficient, easy and economic a good website can be.
We were lucky that the first day or two it only rained in the afternoons and the mornings were clear. On the third day it really started raining and it just didn't stop for 2 days. I inverted our canopy and made a sort of tent over the cockpit, which kept the area dry so we had some outside space, but I have never seen rain like it. I had read somewhere that Suva receives 200 inches of rain a year. I started thinking about that and it dawned on me that that was 18ft of rain….that's a lot. No wonder umbrellas were cheap!!!
We were ready to leave Suva, so after doing the rounds I obtained clearance and on the 19th Sept we headed the 50 miles WSW to the Beqa lagoon and Yanuca island. Behind the island was a sheltered bay and we decided to spend a few days at anchor. We swam and I cleaned the weed from the waterline, a job I was having to do more often, and we walked and shelled the beach. The Boys were enjoying the beach and the weather was fine, although we could see it was still raining over Suva!!
There is a legendary surf spot know as Frigate Pass just 12 miles from the Bay we were anchored in and on the beach was a small, basic resort hostel for surfers. We went ashore and had a few drinks talking with some surfers from Hawaii. The girls were just as you would expect Hawaii surf chicks to be…all muscles and "like totally awesome waves man"…Ok for 20 minutes but you would struggle over dinner, unless you were arm wrestling or something.
The following morning we left with good light as early as we dared and tip toed through the uncharted lagoon to the pass into the clear water. We headed towards Latoka and after a brisk sail we came through the pass at 5pm, and at dusk we dropped anchor in Momi bay, the first sheltered bay available. The next day would be an easy hop 15 miles up the coast to Musket Cove where we had heard our friends the Vagabonds and the Blues had spent a week enjoying the resort and amenities. .
We arrived in time to see the Blues and the Vagabonds departing in separate directions and made a plan to meet with the Vagabonds in a few days. The Blues were off to smarten the boat up as they were trying to sell her and had a potential buyer flying in from Australia. They have completed 2 years on board and will have sailed from Norway to Australia, which was their plan, so its time to move Lucy Blue on. We planned to see them further down the track, and wished them luck with their endeavour.
While picking up a mooring Buoy we noticed a boat Mikado .we had not seen since the Marquesas. We said hi and bye as they were just off to Vanuatu, but confirmed we would see them at the end of October in Bundaberg, our arrival port in Australia. Many of the boats cruising the pacific and heading to Australia had decided to participate in a rally ending in Bundaberg. It promised to be a party, and would make the whole entry and documentation process easier and faster. We secured Pegasus, launched the dinghy and went ashore, looking forward to a swimming pool for the boys, and a good book and poolside service for us. Luxury.
Musket cove was in fact 2 resorts on an island with an airstrip. In total there were 5 pools and the boys swam in all of them. We ate in a couple of restaurants and enjoyed a relaxing 2 days. Its really quite easy when there's a pool. The boys swim all day, breaking for snacks and drinks, and we can relax. The resort caters for Australians and Kiwis looking for winter sun, a sort of antipodean's Lanzarote. As such there were quite a few "Chubby lobsters" wandering around , and our good mornings were answered with g'day.
We wanted to head out to some islands in the Yassawa group, so on the 24th September we headed north through the reef and islands in the lagoon up to the Mananutha-I-Ra group, where we knew Vagabond Heart was anchored. We sailed the 60 miles north arriving in a beautiful bay at 1500. The Bay was formed by 2 islands in a horseshoe, linked at the top by a coral reef. It was truly stunning, and reminded me of the location for that 80's TV programme "Fantasy Island".
The Vagabonds were leaving the next morning to pick up a guest flying into Latoka, so that evening we all met on the Beach for sundowners and a big fire. There was a local boat anchored on the beach and we greeted the 6 lobster divers as we arrived. They were very friendly and it seemed that they camped on the beach 3 days a week diving for lobster at night. We asked if they could catch some lobster for us. "No problem" they replied and off they went into the night. We had a great evening catching up with our friends and the boys ate toasted marsh mallows round the fire.
There was another boat in the bay, a swan 46 called Da Capo.. Alistair and Lucy had 3 small children on board, Callum 4, Naomi 3 and Thomas nearly 2., all animated and able. We met them on the beach and the boys started playing. These were the first children we had met that were about JJ and Louis' age, and we all got on famously.
That afternoon we met up with the lobstermen on the beach. They had 3 large lobsters for us, the green tail variety. We gave them a carton of cigarettes and they were overjoyed. They had expected a couple of packets, and after our generosity they couldn't do enough for us. One of the men cut saplings and made the boys a bow and arrow each, and we sat and chatted about Fiji and their lives and villages for some time. In reality it was a good trade as the cigarettes we had bought in Panama for 6USD and that's a small price to pay for risking your life diving in shark infested waters with a clacking lobster on the end of your spear….. which was the only alternative I could see to catch lobster for Amanda..
Drinks onboard Da Capo and a rendezvous the next morning on Pegasus for swimming and play time. Pegasus is a great boat for that sort of thing and we had an easy morning with plenty of swimming and good social. The afternoon we spent shelling and walking on the beaches and we climbed up the rocks for a spectacular view of the Bay. The Vagabonds returned that evening and we had drinks on board and met their guest Patricia, an old friend of the Vagabonds.
We spent 2 more days and nights in the Bay, all enjoying the terrific snorkelling, fires and BBQ on the beach and some great shelling. Time was pushing on for all of us and after a superb curry night on board Vagabond Heart, we all left the Bay the next morning, the 29th September heading our separate ways.
We arrived in Latoka, some 35 miles, after lunch and made our way to Customs to check in. Even though our plan was to only be there a night we needed to officially enter, and clear out again.. After the formalities we went into town and bought supplies, milk, coke and beer. We hauled this all aboard and returned to town for dinner. With the large Indian population in Fiji, the Indian food was fantastic, readily available and cheap. We ate curry and dahl, while the boys had chicken, chips and roti, which they love. We were not impressed with Latoka, and felt a slightly threatening feel on the streets. It had none of the colonial charm of Suva and we were ready to leave. We planned a little shopping, clear out and away by lunchtime the following day.
I was woken the morning of 30th September by my mother in England….Tsunami warning., Great! Now I've covered this in a previous blog so I wont elaborate, but after the threat had diminished we completed our shopping had a quick lunch and arrived at customs to check out. There was no one there as they had all taken the day off due to the Tsunami warning. There were 6 other boats with business, so after some time a car load of officials turned up to man the offices. I have to say it was quite impressive watching the 5 Indians dealing with the 7 boats all at the same time. There were 7 of us filling out forms on every available surface, and 5 of them photocopying and stamping everything in sight. After 20 minutes we were done (having completed the paperwork prior to arrival) and we upped anchor and headed south so that we could get an early start through the pass in the morning. We motor sailed the 40 miles to Momi bay and dropped the hook at 2100. Being only 3 miles from the pass through the reef protecting the lagoon, we could be up at first light and on passage to New Caledonia before breakfast.
On reflection we liked Fiji. There was no feeling that this was a country that had just had a coup, and the people were friendly and engaging. There was a slight feeling in the Latoka area of the locals being tourist weary, and as such they were not as friendly, but on balance it is definitely somewhere we hope to go again. I have to say that I do like going to countries where HRH is on the bank notes. It always makes us feel that we are slightly more than visitors.
There are thousands of islands to explore in the Fiji group and some really remote regions. It was a shame to be leaving after only 15 days having just scratched the surface, but time was pushing on, and we had a rendezvous in Noumea with Ben the Cameraman on 7th October, and some 750 miles to cover.
We set off on 1st October in 15-20kts SSW close-hauled, making 10+Kts through deep azure water, and with clear skies….. It felt good to have Pegasus flying again.
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