Previous

 

Fiji

 

 

 

 

 

Though slightly later than we planned, a convenient weather window opened only four days after Tom's return from New York and we sailed off at dawn from Auckland on 22 June. After nearly three years spent mostly in New Zealand, we were both sad to leave, but happy to be back in long term cruising mode with a year and a half cruising plan ahead of us.

 

The passage itself was a very gentle escape from winter and into the tropics, with mostly reaching and fairly light winds. Even so we managed to reach Suva in slightly less than nine days.

 

 

 

 

 

Despite its reputation as a tedious place to clear in, we had decided on Suva so that we could conveniently head to Kadavu Island just to the south. As it turned out we were fortunate, as there were two other boats waiting for clearance, one of which had already waited two days, while we cleared the morning of our arrival. Though somewhat faded in its colonial splendour, the Royal Suva Yacht Club was welcoming and the staff helpful. We restocked with essential liquids, water, diesel and beer and spent a week exploring the city, particularly the huge market, where we found not only fruit, veg and flowers but also the yagona (used to make kava) we would need to carry out sevusevu with the chiefs of the villages we would visit. Our time in Suva also gave Tom the chance for an emergency visit to the dentist about which more later!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Noumea in New Caledonia, Suva is the most important city in the tropical South Pacific. There are a few remnants of the colonial past in its government buildings, but much of its centre is fairly modern, as is the very beautiful campus of the University of the South Pacific further out from the centre.

 

As you might expect, much of the city away from the centre is rather more ramshackle, but bustling with activity. Despite the fact that there is currently a quasi-military 'interim' government, there was little or no evidence of this on the streets of Suva. It was very difficult for us as outsiders to gauge general attitudes to the current regime, but both locals we spoke to and cruisers who knew Fiji well, seemed to feel that there was broad support for the regime's avowed principles and the stability which it had brought, even if there was a desire to see proper democracy restored.

 

 

After the crowds, bustle and bureaucracy of Suva we were pleased to escape to Kadavu (pronounced Kandavu), where we anchored at Kavala with only one other yacht. The anchorage is tucked in the SW corner of the bay near the concrete wharf which serves the store. Approaching the anchorage we very nearly had our first Fiji reef experience, as the head of the bay is protected by a coral reef extending more then halfway across. Fortunately we spotted the shoals in time and edged our way round into deep water.

 

From the eastern end of Kadavu extends Great Astrolabe Reef, which surrounds an area dotted with small islands and smaller reefs. From Kavala we motored outside the main reef to a pass toward the northern end to arrive at the island of Dravuni. With its white sand beach, lush vegetation and tidy village the island has the look of 'tropical paradise'. As a result, it is no surprise that it is a regular stop for cruise ships and smaller charter vessels. Fortunately, our visit was a peaceful one, which gave us a chance to chat to the locals and to hike to the island's high point for a panorama of the reef.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is important in Fiji and throughout most of the Melanesian and Micronesian islands to obtain the permission of the landowner or responsible chief to visit any island, beach or reef, even if it is uninhabited. Having obtained this permission from the chief at Dravuni, we spent a day and night at the little island of Namara, with its pretty beach and good snorkelling. From there, the next day we wove our way through the channels between the south coast of Kadavu and its fringing reef. In Fiji, good light is an essential for moving along such channels as many of the charted markers have long-since disappeared, so a sharp watch must be kept for the darker water of the channel, the lighter water of the reef and also for the brown areas which often mark isolated 'bommies'.

 

 

Though he was unwell at the time, Chief Monassa and his wife Millie of Kadavu village were very welcoming as were the many children of the village. Despite the fact that there are two quite large villages in the valley, there is no road connecting them to the main centre on the island where there is a hospital and the administration. As a result it is a long hike or boat ride to reach medical help. Even for a chief like Monassa, the trip and the considerable expense of medical care are a real disincentive to seeking help. We gave Monassa some non-prescription medication and hoped it would relieve his persistent diarrhoea. Monassa and Millie had lived for years in Suva while their children were educated, but preferred to move back to their village thereafter. Monassa said that the government was encouraging people to move back to their villages from the cities and towns.

 

The infrastructure of the village seemed to have decayed in recent years. There were signs that there had once been centrally supplied electricity, which was no longer working. Water, though piped to standpipes appeared to come directly from the rather muddy river. Housing in the village varied from more modern breeze-block construction to traditional thatched huts with earth floors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were fortunate to visit Kadavu village at a time of northerly winds, as the south coast of the island can be quite exposed in the southerlies which predominate. When these returned we headed back to the sheltered anchorage at Kavala. From here we stretched our legs by hiking along the track which was being developed as a road connecting the villages on Kavala Bay to those in the centre of the island. As we passed it, the bulldozer (above right) very nearly slid sideways into a ravine and had to be rescued by another. There were some formidable obstacles to developing the road, as the washed out area below shows. During dry season the road is hard packed earth, but in the wet, much of it must be a sea of mud! On the way we also passed an entrepreneurial and skilled chain-sawyer, who was turning logs felled by the road gang into planks to be sent for sale in Suva.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In retrospect, had we known that we would spend two months in Fiji, we would have stayed longer in Kadavu and visited more of its traditional villages as well as further exploring Great Astrolabe Reef. However, at the time we wanted to move on and so headed NW on an overnight passage to enter Nadi (pronounced Nandi) Water in the early morning. Thankfully we had one of our few fishing successes in Fiji on this passage with the catch of nice yellow-fin tuna. Once through Navula Passage we headed for the sybaritic delights of Musket Cove on Malololailai Island. This resort is one of the relatively few which actively welcomes cruisers. There is a small marina, as well as numerous moorings available. Each September the Resort also runs the well known Musket Cove regatta.

 

 

 

 

It is very easy for cruisers to become firmly hooked on the pleasures of Musket Cove and some stay there for weeks or even months. We were determined to limit our stay, but we did find time to catch up with several cruiser friends and acquaintances as well as using access to TV to watch the All Blacks continue their unbeaten run in the Tri-Nations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was fortunate that we were on a mooring at Musket Cove, as the anchoring is deep and our trusty windlass had chosen this time to work to rule or not at all. Dismantling it revealed that the commutator on the motor was worn. Tom made an attempt at repair, but it was clear that more expert attention would be needed, which meant that it was a return to the arms-back-shoulders windlass.

 

Meanwhile, back in Suva it had become obvious that one of Tom's capped teeth had also decided that enough was enough, not only shedding its crown but breaking up as well. Fortunately, as a result of many recommendations, we found Dr. I. A. Sahu Kahn, who was trained in Australia and uses a technician in Sydney to provide his fabricated crowns and bridges. He is an excellent dentist, but because he is in Suva and we wished to keep cruising it meant two lengthy journeys back for Tom. First by bus from Lautoka and then by ferry from Savusavu, in order to keep appointments to fit a bridge to make good Tom's gap-toothed smile.

 

 

 

Saweini Bay, about 10 kms west of Lautoka is a very convenient and well sheltered anchorage from which it is possible to pick up a bus to get into town. While Tom trekked to Suva Vicky stayed with the boat in the initially quiet anchorage until the New Zealand ICA (Island Cruising Assoc.) rally fleet invaded.

 

 

 

 

 

Waya Island is at the southern end of the Yasawa Group, which is one of the most popular areas with cruisers in Fiji. This is partly because the weather is generally dry and a little cooler than some other parts of the country. There are lots of beaches and quite a number of good anchorages. However, the area requires careful and cautious pilotage as no absolute reliance can be placed on GPS or charted information. Yalobi Village is on the southern side of Waya Island. The villagers are used to visitors, and are welcoming to cruisers, following the lead of their chief, Tom.

 

During our stay there, children from all the local villages had their sports competitions at netball and rugby, while the men held trials to choose a team to represent the island in regional competitions. Fijian men are religiously devoted to rugby and Fiji's women are ranked fifth in the world at netball.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brief visit to Navadra Island in the Mamanuca Group gave us another opportunity for snorkelling and beach combing just before the rally caught up with us once more.

 

 

 

On our trip up the west coast of Waya Island we had thought we might anchor at Liku Liku, but on seeing an anchored yacht rolling quite heavily, we decided against it. This decision was reinforced when we caught sight of a wrecked yacht on the beach. We later found out that it was a boat we knew, an early 'Moonduster', originally owned by Dennis Doyle, the very well known and respected Irish offshore racing skipper. At the time it was lost, the boat was owned by an American who had decided to cruise in Fiji during the early part of cyclone season in December 2009. Unfortunately, he was caught out on a lee shore by the first cyclone of the season and lost the boat when the anchor chain parted. It was a sad end for another fine S&S yacht and warning that apparently benign tropical waters have their dangers.

 

 

 

After a brief stop at Naulawaki Bay at the northern end of Waya, we continued on to Somosomo at the northern end of Naviti. This a beautiful and sheltered anchorage with a long white sand beach on the western side of a narrow peninsula. A 20 minute walk takes you to the eastern, windward side, where Clara and Sanita live. They are both well into their 70's and manage for cash by selling coconuts and copra in the market in Lautoka. It is clearly a hard existence. Most of their food comes from their own gardens. Clara is clearly well educated and speaks excellent Engish. Their children were also well educated, two now living in Australia and two in Suva, all with good jobs.

 

While at Somosomo we managed to buy some fruit and a lobster from a local panga, while Tom carried out repairs to the long-suffering Avon dinghy. Though we had had some refurbishment done in Auckland, we had been trying for a year to acquire a new floor and keel tube with no success. The dinghy has been a work horse for 13 years now and it seems likely that we will have to replace it, perhaps when we reach Canada. We would like another Avon, if only because it is the only inflatable with decent rowlocks quite apart from the quality of the hypalon.. The dinghy's tubes are still in good shape, but the inflatable floor, which is not hypalon and made by Zodiac, is UV damaged and leaking at seams which can't be repaired.

 

We had heard from those moving south through the Yasawas that it tended to be very breezy in the northern anchorages. So it proved when we moved up to Land Harbour at the SW corner of Yasawa Island. The anchorage is very well protected from the prevailing winds, which appear to be accelerated by passing between the two main islands of Fiji. In addition the higher land east of the anchorage sends little bullets of williwaws across the harbour. The holding, fortunately is excellent, but with the strong winds and the relatively large size of the anchorage there was little chance to get ashore.

 

 

 

 

 

Bligh Water in the midst of the Fijian Islands is the one area where, with reasonable care, it is possible to sail safely at night. As it is an up-wind trip we had hoped for fairly moderate breezes and foolishly believed the GRIB file when it predicted them. In the event, we beat through the night into 20-25 knots, the wind only dying as we reached the Yadua Pass in the morning. Sadly we were unable to stop at Yadua. Foreign vessels had been banned from visiting, as crew from one had violated the rules of this area of scientific interest by stealing rare iguana eggs. It is infuriating when fools spoil the cruising experience of the many in order to indulge themselves by breaking the rules of a country in which they are guests. Most cruisers are respectful of their host country's rules, even when these are trying or time-consuming, but a few treat rules with contempt and then are outraged when they are brought to book.

 

After our bouncy passage it was a pleasure to anchor in the peaceful narrow inlet at Koroinasolo. The village there is quite isolated and traditional. However, the chief and his family made us very welcome, though with the exception of the daughter, Mary, they had very little English. Vicky managed to find a spare pair of reading glasses for the chief, which we understood to be a considerable status symbol!

 

 

 

Despite Tom's efforts, the windlass motor had more or less ceased to function since leaving Musket Cove. Fortunately we have kept on board all the elements of our old manual system, which we re-fitted. Most important of these is probably the chain pawl which sits over our grooved anchor roller. This grips the chain after each pull, so that it is not necessary to hold it while getting a new grip for the next pull. The other important element is our trip line. This, in combination with a snatch block on the pulpit, allows us to break out and lift the anchor and much of the chain using a self-tailing mast winch. The anchor then hangs conveniently outboard for cleaning. When the windlass first started its go-slow, Tom wondered if, seven years on, he would still be able to do the anchor work without mechanical assistance, but it all worked fine especially after a few days of muscle-building.

 

 

While in Fiji we had got in touch by email with our friends Joseph and Marci on Horizon, knowing that they had set off in March from San Diego to cross the Pacific. We wondered how they were getting on. They replied from American Samoa a mere cruiser's hop away - so we suggested that they might consider a small diversion to Savusavu and Fiji on their way to Vanuatu. They agreed and so we were on a mission to get to Savusavu, both to see them and to try to get the windlass repaired.

 

A long day from Bua Bay on the west coast of Vanua Levu, along the south coast and through Nausonisoni Pass got us to Savusavu just after dark. We motored our way gently among all the moorings, found one free and tied up in cruiser heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

We had expected that fellow RCC member, David Mitchell on 'Shandon' would be long-gone, off to the Lau group to deliver medical supplies. However, problems with his new vane-steering system had held him at Savusavu fortunately they were problems we were able to help with, delving into 'Sunstone's' lockers for bits that 'might come in handy some time'!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Savusavu on the south coast of Vanua Levu has become a real cruiser cross-roads, partly because of its convenient position as a port of entry in Fiji for those arriving from north, east and south. However, it is also popular because of its well protected moorings and its relatively good supplies and services. It is a compact town, where everything is easily accessible and it has good connections to Suva for those joining or leaving or requiring delivery of parts. Each winter season a number of cruisers base themselves at Savusavu and a few even leave their boats on dedicated 'hurricane' moorings for the cyclone season. However, most boats left in Fiji during that season go to Vuda Point marina near Lautoka, where boats are lowered into tyre-lined pits to ensure that they are not blown away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joseph and Marci on 'Horizon' had a safe and quick passage from American Samoa a place which they had been delighted to escape. It was great to see them again after seven years, both to catch up on each others experiences and to exchange information about future cruising. We re-introduced Joseph to proper bitter beer and admired 'Horizon's' pristine bright work.

 

 

Below: 'Horizon' and 'Sunstone' meet again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once Marci and Joseph had recovered from their passage a window of lighter easterlies opened to allow us to make a cruise in company to the east along the south coast of Vanua Levu. We introduced Marci to the gentle pass-time of reef 'fossicking' at low water, exploring the remarkable variety of marine life which is exposed on a coral reef when the tide goes out in this case including baby moray eels, brilliant blue starfish and giant clams embedded in the coral.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Viani Bay on the SE corner of Vanua Levu, we picked up Jack Fisher's mooring buoys and met the man himself. Jack is a Fijian cruising institution, having helped countless cruisers explore Rainbow Reef and learn more about his corner of Fiji. He is a wonderful character and a stalwart of the life of his village. In his capable hands we had a great time snorkelling among the colourful coral heads of Rainbow Reef and then took a hike with him through the local bush, during which Jack kept us both entertained with his stories and educated by his knowledge of the local plants. Our visit to Viani Bay was one of the highlights of our Fijian cruise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To round off our time with Joseph and Marci we explored the channels through the dense mangrove swamp at Naqaiqai, before heading back to Savusavu so that 'Horizon' could begin making her way west toward the Yasawas and then Vanuatu, while we prepared for our departure northwards to Ile Wallis.

 

By chance our return to Savusavu coincided with Alvah and Diana Simon's arrival on 'Roger Henry'. Their cruising exploits are well known, quite apart from Alvah's remarkable winter spent iced-in in the Arctic. Meeting with them gave us a chance to get more information about their recent cruise in Japan and on through the Aleutians, both of which are our major goals for the coming year.

 

 

This time round, we thoroughly enjoyed our cruise through Fiji and have every intention of returning in future. Next time, however, we plan to spend more time in the remoter parts of the country, Kadavu, the Lau Group and the northern coast of Vanua Levu. Whereas in 1999 we felt that many Fijians were somewhat dour and much less open than their ni-Vanuatu cousins, this time we found indigenous Fijians and Indo Fijians to be both welcoming and helpful. This was particularly so in the remoter villages.

 

 

 

 

Home

Next