Our journey from Tonga to Fiji was complicated by the treacherous reefs through the Lau Islands group which runs down the east side of Fiji. You can’t visit there officially until you have checked into a recognised port of entry to Fiji which are all to the west of the Lau group which would mean beating back into the prevailing wind to get there after checking in. To avoid the hazards of passing through reefs and islands with inaccurate charts meant we had to head due west for 200 miles and then north up through a reef clear passage to Savusavu on the island of Vanua Levu. The detour added a further 100 miles to our journey but meant we would have a much safer and easier passage. The journey proved uneventful apart from a very windy start until we arrived at Savusavu early in the morning and started the engine. I could tell immediately by the sound of the exhaust that there was no cooling water coming through. I’m now so attuned to the sound of everything on board even a slight change is quite noticeable. I turned off the engine and went below to inspect the most likely cause, the impeller in the seawater pump. I stripped it out only to find it in perfect working order, next I checked the seawater filter which was dry, not normally so. I suspected air in the cooling water system or a blocked sea water inlet and so poured a couple of gallons of seawater into the filter to prime it.
We were sailing quite fast towards the port with and tacking to get as close as possible in case my fix didn’t work. I radioed the Waitui marina where we planned to stay to explain that we may need assistance. Joelene the manager responded but explained their launch only had a 5hp outboard, not powerful enough to tow our 18 ton boat but she said she could ask other cruisers to come out with their dinghies in the event we needed help. I said I would start the engine when we were half a mile out and see what happened. This would give us 15 minutes of engine running before it overheated, hopefully enough to get into the mooring area, if I kept the revs low. We reefed the genoa and fired up the engine just outside the anchorage and lo and behold we had cooling water, I radioed Joelene with the good news and we motored in to pick up a mooring buoy with the help of the marina launch. I suspected the problem had been the strong winds at the start of our trip and with the boat well heeled over the waves forced air into the pipework and broken the suction. Anyway it all worked out well but it was not the sort of problem you want at the end of a long journey and after a night on watch.
The anchorage in Savusavu on the island of Vanua Levu
The anchorage in Savusavu is just off the town and in a very pretty area with green hills and sandy beaches, some with hot springs steaming away, we just had to clear in and then we could relax. Joelene organised the authorities and brought out immigration, customs and health officials to the boat in the marina launch. Before leaving Tonga we had had to email details of our arrival to the Fijian authorities and we had been warned they would be strict on any fresh fruit, meat and vegetables we were carrying so we had limited the amount we bought before leaving Tonga to avoid confiscation. As it turned out they were mostly concerned with mosquitos and fruit flies so the health official came on board first and sprayed the boat which we then had to seal and once he was satisfied that we looked healthy enough told the other four officials they could come on board. All these officials have to be paid for and guess who pays? In all it cost us $250 Tongan, about £100 to check in which was a bit of a rigmarole. We had first to go to the bank to draw the funds and then find the right government building to pay the money over. After following instructions and trying four different government buildings we eventually found “Bio security” paid our money over and then went in search of Health Administration, paid again and then ended up at Customs a few days later to get our cruising permit for the various islands.The cruising permit tells you where you can and can’t sail to. In practice the only place we couldn’t go on our permit was a small island which had very rare crested iguanas which is now the only place in the world where they are found, so it has been turned into a nature reserve. However, that left over 300 other islands we could visit.
Sunset in Savusavu anchorage
After spending three relaxing days in Savusavu we decided to explore Vanua Levu a bit further and took the bus to Labasa, the island capital, a three hour journey east. The route wound up through spectacular mountain scenery, sugar plantations and small villages. The local people in Fiji are very friendly and curious about foreigners and the people sitting behind us started to ask us questions about where we were from and why we were here, when they got off others moved into the seats and the questions started again. Throughout that day we were the only white people (pajadi) we saw so we stood out from the local crowd. Labasa is a bustling commercial town with a large market, factories and a main street with numerous shops and restaurants.
The huge market in Labasa
In Fiji it is mainly the Indian population who run the businesses, in Tonga it had been the Chinese. The Indians were brought to Fiji by the British to work on the sugar plantations in the 1800’s, not as slaves but as volunteers who paid for their passage and were guaranteed work. Today around 40% of the population are Indian and because of their work ethic they control most of the countries wealth. This caused racial riots a few years ago as the indigenous Fijians felt their country was being overrun. The government today has made it clear that the Indians are Fijian as well and with some sensible power sharing today everyone lives in harmony. The president is an indigenous Fijian but his Prime Minister is Indian and both communities are looked after equally. Inter marrying is common and the more this happens the more tensions ease as understanding grows. There wasn’t much for us to do in Labasa which is definitely not a tourist town so apart from visiting the local market, having an Chinese stir fry lunch, and visiting a few shops we hopped on the afternoon bus to return to Savusavu.
On the way back the bus made a stop at a mountain stream and the driver got out to fill his water bottle as did some other passengers so I followed suit. The driver explained he did this journey twice a day and twice a day he stopped to get water from this stream.
The filling station
He was the same driver who had taken us out so I asked if he finished work when he got back. He laughed and said he had another route and wouldn’t finish until 11 o’clock. He drove from 6 in the morning till 11 at night and said the money was good, but I did wonder about the safety aspect especially on the night run. As we came over the mountains there were some spectacular views so I swapped sides to take a photo at which point the driver stopped the bus. He indicated I should go ahead and take my photos and the bus duly waited while I took a my shots. When I had finished and back in my seat off we went again and the crowded bus seemed to take this quite naturally. I was amazed I can’t imagine the same thing happening on a scheduled service anywhere else.
Waitui Marina proved to be a slightly shabby building but was very cruiser friendly epitomised by the lovely Jolene who couldn’t do enough for us. Savusavu had been badly hit by hurricane Winston early in the year and the banana plantations destroyed so bananas were at a premium. When we were in Labasa we found plenty of cheap bananas as this side of the island had been relatively unaffected, so we bought a plentiful supply and gave some to Jolene as a thank you when we returned. She was really pleased as the family had been unable to afford bananas since the hurricane in January.
One thing Jolene couldn’t provide us with was a map so we went in search of one in the town. I tried the Tourist office and Fiji Airways but no luck next i went into an estate agency thinking they must have maps and was greeted by Elayne (sic) from Manchester, escaping the rain and cold. She didn’t have a map but she recommended we visit an eco village on the east side of the island which we could reach by bus. She had visited twice and been hosted by a local family, a real experience of native Fiji. We jumped at the idea and Jolene rang them to book us in for two nights. The bus reportedly left the depot at 08.30, we got there early just to be safe which was just as well as it actually left at 08.15 for the three hour journey to Naqaravutu village. Once again the scenery was spectacular, eventually after an hour and a half we ran out of tarmac and the open sided bus lurched along a dirt track throwing up dust through far flung villages whose only means of reaching the outside world was on this bus.
People regularly got on and off as we stopped at farms and villages along the way so the bus remained fairly full, some were field workers and some were visiting relatives, some going home after a visit to Savusavu . Again we had several conversations with these friendly fellow passengers and the three hour journey passed quite quickly.
When we arrived we were met by a smartly dressed lady who took us through the village to meet our host family who were waiting for us in the shade of a huge rain tree. They had set out a blanket on the ground for us to sit on and dishes of fruit to enjoy for lunch.
The rain-tree where we were greetewd by our host family
The host couple, Simeone and Dorica, were in there early thirties and with them were three young and curious children. Dorica gave us each beautiful garlands of frangipani with their heavenly scent and we sat cross legged to eat lunch and talk.
Part of our welcome committee, not all could stand the pace!
After lunch we were taken to the chiefs house where Simeone presented our Kava gift of roots, a tradition when visiting a village. Simeone explained who we were and where we came from and that we had sailed from England to Fiji in our boat, all in Fijian and the chief thanked us for our gift of Kava root and welcomed us and offered us the freedom of the village, again all in Fijian but translated by Simeone. We left the Chiefs house and were taken to the house we would be staying in which was also the office for the Eco project.
The inside of our hut
The corrugated iron house was 20 ft square and had a toilet and shower room, a living room, part of which was set aside for office space and a bedroom where we slept on a mat on the floor. Unfortunately the water supply pipe was blocked so we had no water in the house. Here we met Ravu who acted as our “butler” during our stay. Anything we needed, Ravu fixed it, he was a lovely gentle guy and he arranged for us to use the showers and toilet facilities in a neighbours property and brought in a large bucket of water in case we needed the loo in the night. Nothing was too much trouble. Each mealtime a different family in the village would prepare a meal for us and bring it to the house. Ravu would set the table, introduce the family and our meal would be proudly set out. The families were paid for the food from the monies we paid to Ravu which for them was a way of earning currency in an otherwise barter economy.
Some of the village houses.
On our first night in the village they held a fund raising event for emergency situations, like Tsunamis and we were invited to participate. Almost all of the 100 villagers turned up, one group set about mixing a huge bowl of Kava which held about 2 gallons of the concoction.
Mixing the kava for the fund raising ceremony
Kava is made by pounding the dried root of the kava bush and the amount of water mixed with the powdered Kava determines the strength. For these family occasions it was relatively weak and to be honest I didn’t feel any effect apart maybe from feeling quite relaxed. At full strength it can numb your lips, freeze your legs, and put you to sleep and it’s a mild hallucinogenic.
Gill didn’t partake and to be honest it tasted like muddy water. We noticed all the locals winced as they drank it, but for them it’s free as they grow and sell it and its cheaper than beer. Me, I’ll stick to beer! The event raised a staggering $600 for the village emergency fund, used in particular for any emergency which hits the village.
Chopping and bagging kava for sale in Savusavu market.
The following morning we could hear the village people about us from first light but managed a lay in till 8am. Ravu was champing at the bit as breakfast of fruit and pancakes had been cooked and the pancakes were going cold so we washed in cold water and got stuck in. Simeone had agreed to take us up into the forest to see the waterfall and their ancestors bones located in a cave. We climbed the hill behind the village through mighty trees on a well trodden path, past special places of worship marked out by stones set around “special” trees.
Gill and Simeone in the forest – these huge tree roots form pens for the village pigs
Eventually we arrived at a small cave and there lay a pile of human bones. Simeone had no idea how old they were only that they were the village ancestors. We suggested he get the university in Suva to carbon date them but they may be disappointed with the result, better to leave as is.
Simeone showing us the ancestors bones.
We climbed on up to a large pool and waterfall and passing field workers coming down the hill from where they had been working in the kava plantation. We were interested to know what the different trees and plants were and which were used for medicine,tools or food. Simeone didn’t know but the next day Dorica who did know about the medical benefits pointed out lots of different plants to Gill, explaining their use. Apparently learning about medicine plants is a female thing!
That afternoon we were joined by Petero who was the Project Manager for the ECO village and we talked about ways of promoting the village to get more people visiting. We agreed to circulate their brochures in Savusavu and put out a radio report on the Cruiser’s net. Peters wanted to publish a new brochure which would include their achievements in reef regeneration but they had no underwater camera. I willingly agreed to go with Simeone and use my camera to take some shots. Gill in the meantime went to church, I was excused and a prayer apparently was said for Simeone and me as absentees.
Three years ago this reef was dead and the photo shows the amazing recovery made.
That evening after another delicious dinner several villagers gathered in our little house for a “sevu sevu” session of drinking kava which involves sitting on the floor around the bowl while one of the senior villagers acts as MC and dispenser via the communal cup. I haven’t contracted anything nasty since so all was well. Gill abstained as she really found kava quite revolting but in the interest of maintaining diplomatic relations I joined in but somewhat reluctantly. At least I had the choice of measure size, small tide or high tide so I opted for low tide although I noticed the small tides grew to mid tides and mid tides to high tides as the evening wore on and the conversation ranged far and wide. As the honoured guest in the village I was served first and as I “downed in one” the group clapped three times. It then moved on to the next ranking person and the clapping was repeated as the kava went down. I’ve tasted nicer cough medicine. There would be a pause of 15 minutes for conversation and story telling until the next round was repeated, this to allow the kava to take its gradual effect. I just felt increasingly more relaxed and eventually sleepy, our guests left around 11 pm to carry on elsewhere and there were a few sore heads the next day from the stalwarts.
Gill washing her hair in the village stream, chilly but refreshing.
The bus back to Savusavu left on Sunday at 1pm and a number of villagers had gathered to say farewell. We felt we had been there a lot longer than two and a half days and we had made some good friends in that short time. Lots of hugs and kisses and we boarded the bus for Savusavu and our return to the boat.
When we got back we circulated the brochures and I did a pitch on the radio net to promote interest in the village. Gill later wrote and article and sent it on spec to the publishers of an excellent island magazine for cruisers in Fiji which is published every year. They wrote back to say they would be delighted to do a special article on the village for the 2017 publication, a real result and well done Gill. We hope to go back next year and see how they are getting on, this was the most memorable aspect of our visit to Fiji and we felt quite privileged to have been so warmly welcomed and to have shared some great times with these wonderful people.
Back in Savusavu we met up with Karen and Cheryl, two Canadian sailors who had spent three years sailing around the Islands of Fiji, we wanted to visit the Yasawa Islands on the western side of Fiji and they were able to give us advice on places to visit. They also told us about their experience in January when cyclone Winston hit Savusavu with winds of 165 knots. They thought the storm had passed them by as it headed north up towards Samoa but it turned and came back and Savusavu was right in its path. They prepared their boat as best they could running out two more anchors to support the hurricane mooring they were on. They stripped the boat of sails and anything that would increase windage and as the storm struck started the engine to ease the pressure on the lines. The main risk was other boats in the anchorage several of which had broken free of their moorings and were being driven before the wind. One boat hit them and the combined weight of the two boats was too much for the mooring and they started to drag the mooring towards shore. Fortunately the other boat eventually broke free of them and they were able to hang on. The spray was horizontal and both wore diving masks as protection, others on a nearby boat didn’t use anything and the force of the spray took the skin from their faces. The peak of the storm lasted 30 minutes and they knew then as the wind eased they had come through with only minor damage to their boat. My insurance company won’t provide cover for named storms and as a result we have to be in New Zealand safely out of the cyclone zone by the end of November but lots of boats take the risk and stay on. Its not a risk free option the crossing is 1200 miles of tricky weather to get down to New Zealand. In one of the marinas in Fiji as an alternative they offer pits where the boat is lowered into a hole in the ground filled with old tyres andthe boaat then roped to steel stakes driven deep. None of the boats in these pits suffered any damage from Winston.
A not so lucky boat wrecked by Cyclone Winston in January
Before leaving for our next port of call, Mokagia a now defunct leper colony about 50 miles away to the southwest we stocked up on provisions and several packages of kava roots to give to the village chiefs we would meet along the way. It’s a traditional gift in Fiji if strangers visit a village or anchor off the village. They see their bay as we would regard our garden. On arriving at the island of Mokagai we anchored off the leper colony and a badly damaged jetty which had been badly hit by hurricane Winston. We kayaked ashore and met up with a gang of workers building holding tanks for clams. One of them took us up to a nearby house to meet with his boss. Apparently there wasn’t a chief here as the village was on the other side of the island. This part of the island was going to be a hatchery for clams and turtles, a project funded by the Fijian government. The boss man took our kava gift and promised to take it to the village chief when they returned there in the evening, welcomed us and offered us the freedom of the island. He showed us around the ex colony which had once been a significant undertaking and comprised a school, houses for the families, a hospital, a butchery, a church and the cemetery which contains over 1200 graves and even a jail. The colony housed over 4500 lepers from across the Pacific from its inception by the French in 1911 until its decommissioning in 1969. It’s now heavily overgrown as the jungle creeps back but the Fijian government has plans to conserve it.
After our tour of the colony the boss man showed us the work that was going on to create a hatchery for giant clams. These clams have been taken over the years for food by the islanders and are still highly prized resulting in them becoming a threatened species. The seawater tanks are used to hold the baby clams until they grow to a size where they can be introduced on reefs around the islands. Any village will be able to request clams on the basis that they are used to regenerate clam life. The boss showed us where we could dive and see the protected clams that would provide the eggs for future generations. These specimens are huge, measuring close to a metre across and can live for over 100 years. The stories of divers being caught by these massive shellfish are not true, they take some time to close and even then they don’t close completely although I have to say I didn’t stick my leg in to check it out.
Me diving to inspect the giant clams
After leaving Mokagai we made our way to the Yasawa islands, Fiji’s riviera, a more commercialised and touristy part of Fiji. Every island has its resorts and you can see why people flock here, mainly from Australia and New Zealand, beautiful bays, unspoiled villages, great snorkelling and diving. We anchored off the village of Savi-I-Lau in the northern Yasawas after squeezing through the narrow pass between the islands under full sail, very exhilarating but scary with nasty rocks close on either side. The village is famed for its limestone caves and has a good safe anchorage. We went ashore to meet the chief, forgetting it was Sunday, he was in church when we arrived and one of the village boys went to fetch him out. He briefly welcomed us, took our kava and apologised about having to return to church. We went with him but had to enter by the “tradesmen ‘s door” and sit in a pew on our own under the gaze of the minister. Unfortunately for us the whole service and very long sermon was in Fijian but the singing was lovely.
One of the congregation came to the front of the church and welcomed us in English and asked the congregation to pray for us. The minister then welcomed us again in Fijian and led the prayers. Neither of us is at all religious but it was a bit special being welcomed in this way. After church Gill was surrounded by village children, asking questions and showing off while the chief and I walked ahead. He came to the kayak to see us off and we paddled our way back to the boat.
The next day we visited a nearby bay in the kayak on a scorching morning to see the extraordinary forms of the limestone rocks, eroded by wind and sea. We didn’t visit the caves however as they wanted to charge us $55 each and only the first cave was easily accessible, to reach the rest you had to dive through underwater passages and neither of us were that keen. After a couple of restful days we sailed around to the next island, Nacula, only 5 miles away under blue skies and good wind making 7 knots.
We anchored in the sandy bay off the village of Makalati, here our kava was taken by the chiefs wife who with her all female entourage who were resting from the midday sun under a large thatch covered platform where they slept and were cooled by the sea breezes.
The beautiful sandy bay at Makaliti
One of the ladies asked if we had any reading glasses as she had broken hers and had no easy way of replacing them so we promised to come back the next day with a spare pair Gill had on the boat. It turned out she was the village nurse, Renee and she asked if we would be coming back to Fiji and if so could we bring lots more as she could dispense them to needy villagers. We agreed to try and remember.
The village at Makaliti
The next day was another delightful sail to the Blue Lagoon where the film of the same name starring Brooke Shiels was made. There is an extensive resort which was still undergoing expansion and climbing the hill above the resort we met the very hot and dusty Australian owner driving a mechanical digger. He had invested over $20 million in building up the business and looked like he’d just come off the film set of Crocodile Dundee.
Tourists arriving at Blue Lagoon Resort
Our friends Jessie and Neil off The Red Thread joined us here with some friends from back home in Utah. Jessie had applied for a job at Melbourne University as a clinical psychologist and had been granted a Skype interview so Neil, their friends and Gill and I left her in peace and dinghied over to a nearby reef to snorkel. When we got back Jessie felt it had gone well but they said they would contact her in a few days to let her know the result.
At a Fijian feast for cruisers on an island near Blue Lagoon, in a villagers home
Neil and Jessie had to return their friends to the airport at Nadi and we moved our boat to Somosomo bay on the next island and had another good ten mile sail. I like these short island to island hops especially when the wind is right, the seas quiet and there’s a new place to explore at the end of the day. We anchored in a spot surrounded by reefs at the head of the bay and went snorkelling. The map shows a WWII plane wreck in the shallows on the other side of the island so the next morning we set off through the jungle on a narrow track which was going roughly in the right direction.
Lost in the jungle!
In a coconut grove I stopped to take a drink of water and when I looked round Gill had disappeared without a sound. I searched for a track and any sign she had passed that way but found nothing. I shouted but only silence, it was quite eerie. I set off through the jungle with the sun as my guide and soon came upon a track which eventually led me to a deserted village. The houses were either locked up or empty and no signs of recent habitation. On the other side of this village I came out onto the beach on the other side of the island and there sitting on a log was Gill asking “what kept you!” We had no idea where we were in relation to the map, there were no landmarks and the completely deserted beach stretched for miles in either direction. We had no way of finding the plane so there was nothing for it but to head back. It had taken us two hot hours of foot slog to get here loaded with our snorkelling gear and back packs. We lost the trail a couple of times on the return but eventually we came out at exactly the place we started from and were very pleased to see the kayak where we’d left it.
The weather forecast for the next day was storm force winds from the north which would sweep straight into the bay and be very dangerous for us on a lee shore so we moved the boat another 10 miles around the island to Natuvalu Bay which faced south west which I thought would give us good shelter. We anchored off a resort 100 metres from the beach in 15m of water with almost all 60m of our chain out. As predicted the winds picked up in the morning, but more NW than N and them to our horror the wind swung through west to southwest and increased to gale force whipping up steep waves in the shallow bay. We were now at anchor on a lee shore in a full blown gale and then the anchor started to drag as the boat pitched violently, the reef only 20 metres away. I started the engine and motored up wind to ease the strain on the chain. We couldn’t lift the anchor and motor out of the bay because we couldn’t see where the numerous reefs and bommies were in the spray and driving rain. The wind was so strong it kept pushing the bow round and forcing us back towards the beach, even at full throttle. At this point I thought we were going to lose the boat. We would be swept ashore but over rough coral which to put it mildly would not be very nice! I managed to turn the boat again and again to seaward over the near vertical waves and on one of my forays out the chain wrapped around a coral head known as “bommies”. These heads rise up vertically from the seabed and this one was only a few metres below the surface. The anchor chain snagged hard and jerked the boat into wind, the motion was very nasty but at least we weren’t going anywhere. The waves spun us around again and shortened the scope of chain to a few feet, if the violent jerking continued I knew it would pull the windlass out of the deck and all would be lost. I had to try and lengthen the scope by motoring around the bommie but not free us completely, a bit tricky! However, it worked and the jerking on the chain lessened. I put nylon lines on the anchor chain and led them back to our main and mast winches to act as shock absorbers and we sat and waited for the storm to pass, relieved that we were safe for the moment. After 12 hours of storm force winds from the south west the wind started to ease and shift to the south. We went to bed exhausted but happy to have survived.
The next morning I dived under the boat to see if we could recover the anchor chain. It was wound around a double headed bommie and jammed in several crevices. Gill helmed and I guided from the water and we used the boat weight to pull the chain out. We had to be careful because the bommie was close to keel depth but between us we gradually over an hour unwound the chain and freed the boat. That was the scariest moment I have had on the boat, we were very lucky and it was the bommie that saved us.
I then had to go ashore to recover the things washed over the side in the storm. The resort workers had stashed them safely away but with the help of a very bossy lady I got them all back and we were free to leave. The wind was light so we motored out of the bay and I set course for the island of Waya. Half an hour out and we hit an uncharted reef. The sky was overcast so nothing could be seen but then neither of us was looking as according to the chart we were in a clear channel, another lesson learned. I backed off the reef which was about keel depth with relative ease but the wheel wouldn’t move, the rudder was jammed! I dived over the side to see what the damage was and was pleasantly surprised to find only superficial scrapes on the bottom of the keel. I kicked the rudder several times until it came free and it seemed non the worse for the grounding. I checked the bilges to make sure there was no leak around he rudder post but all was well and we set off again, keeping a better watch this time.
Then about 10 miles out of Waya a second storm hit us, it just wasn’t our lucky day. The wind was right on the nose and torrential rain reduced visibility to a few yards. I ran the engine at 2500 revs which would normally give us 6 to 7 knots of speed. In the gusts we slowed to less than a knot and never made more than 2 knots. Gradually we crept towards Waya and once in the lee of the island the seas flattened out, the wind eased and the speed picked up. We anchored off a river mouth in good holding perfectly protected by high mountains on three sides. It was great to be able to relax in the quiet, cook dinner and go to bed for a peaceful nights sleep. These were pay days for all the other lovely days we’ve had.
We left Rururugu Bay on Waya in the morning to go Navadra, about another 10 miles to the south east which we had to enter through a narrow pass in the reef on the east side of the horseshoe bay. All went well and we anchored 50 yards off a lovely sandy beach, well sheltered from all but the south and went ashore by kayak to explore.
The wind shifted to the southeast and we had a very restful stay.
The next morning we set off early for the famous resort of Musket Cove where we were due to meet up with Jessie and Neil. It was a beautiful day but no wind so we motored the 24 miles in flat calm seas threading our way through the many reefs on the way. With the sun high in the sky they were quite visible and Gill was able to snooze most of the way. We anchored off Musket Cove resort in a crowded anchorage that had little to offer.
A google chart showing our track through the reefs on the way to Musket Cove
When Red Thread arrived we asked Jessie how the job application had gone and she was delighted to tell us they had offered her the post in Melbourne. Cause for celebration! (Since then Neil has got an interview with Microsoft in Sydney and if successful would be based in Melbourne, fantastic, good luck to you both you deserve it)
After a couple of days with Jessie and Neil eating Romano pizza and playing Mexican train dominoes in the evening we left for Vuda Point Marina on Fiji’s main island where we were due to check out to set off for New Zealand. Jessie and Neil were leaving for Vanuatu in a couple of days so we hugged goodbye, promising to meet up again in OZ.
On board The Red Thread in Musket Cove
On Thursday 20th October we set out for the 1250 mile journey to New Zealand in company with two other boats; Moonraker, a British boat with Chris, Laurie and son Stuart on board and Melipal, a Maltese boat with single hander Peter on board. We kept daily radio contact throughout the passage to Opua where we were due to clear customs and immigration. A group of Fijians gathered on the dockside to sing us a farewell song and asked us to come back soon,which was lovely
Will ye no come back again in Fijian!!
The first day we were headed west by the wind which then swung south and on days two and three we made reasonably good progress of 160 and 130 miles. A high pressure system gradually moved over us and so the wind dropped. On day four we put on the engine and had to motor for the next 4 days. Our weather forecasting station at Gulf Harbour radio gave no hope of wind so with 700 miles to go we had little choice, no one likes motoring, its bliss when it stops. Fortunately we had topped up the tank and on deck jerry cans, even so we only had just enough to reach Opua in Northern New Zealand. Poor Peter on Melipal fared far worse and ran out of fuel several hundred miles out and had a really tough time beating into head winds to make it to Opua, three days behind us and four behind Moonraker.
On the third day outfrom Fiji Gill noticed a hole in the flour bin which had been chewed through so we guessed we had picked up a rat passenger in Vuda Point where the boat had been very close to the dockside. When I radioed in to the Opua authorities advising them of our impending arrival one of the questions they asked was about animals on board so I owned up to the rat. When we arrived and immigration and Bio Security came on board they said “Ah! your the rat boat, you can’t stay in the marina and will have to go out to anchor until the rat is caught.” So I went ashore and bought rat traps and poison but wouldn’t you know this was a very smart rat who could take the bait off the trap without triggering it. After 3 days at anchor and no further sign of the rat I persuaded the authorities to let us sail to Whangarei where I was basing the boat during our stay in NZ. This was on the basis that I reported if the rat was caught or killed. The customs ladies brought dogs on board to try and find it but there was no way they could catch a rat on a boat, too many places to hide. The girl handlers were really pleased though as they thought it was excellent training for the dogs. We were left with a lot of dog hairs on board from a moulting Labrador.
Off we went eventually, sailing through the lovely Bay of Islands, anchoring overnight on our way south but with no further sign of the rat. I reset the traps on a very light setting in the forward heads with tomato which I knew he liked and one night in Whangarei the trap fired. I got up to have a look there was lots of blood about but no rat so I guess he’d wriggled free. By now everyone knew the story of the rat with the authorities relating the tale to all the cruisers checking in to Opua. So when I met up with David and Ghitta on Aros Mear in Whangarei, Ghitta presented me with this card.
Roger rat had been hiding in the heating ducts so if he died there it would be difficult to find him. No bait was taken over the next few days and then the smell started I knew I had an ex rat. I started taking the cabin sole boards up and eventually found him. I triple bagged him and rang the Bio Security people to ask how I should dispose of him. They sent a man in a van out to the boat and took him away for incineration. It took two days of scrubbing with bleach and a whole can of air freshener to get rid of the smell but at last I’m rat free and the authorities are happy to have their body!
A cheeky but very appropriate card given to me by Gitta on Aros Mear in Whangarei
Gill left the boat to return to the UK which brings to an end our 3 years of cruising together through thick and thin, definitely the end of an era on the boat. Next year my eldest son David is coming out to crew with me for our trip back up to the Pacific islands and next cyclone season we will sit out in Australia. The boat is now in Town Basin, Whangarei with all the facilities I need around to bring her back up to scratch after 20,000 miles of sailing across the world. It’s been a fantastic journey and more to come!