TAVEUNI AND BEYOND!
After two nights at the stunning anchorage on Matangi Island we went on to Taveuni, in theory for a short provisioning stop … but it became one that lasted 3 days! This enabled Ben and Owen (from Dulcinea) to dive on the Great White Wall and Rainbow Reef. Great dives!
Meanwhile Emma, Lachlan, Bruce and I took a taxi to Bouma National Park to visit the Tavoro Waterfalls. The guy in the dive shop deemed Bruce and I “too old” to make it to the 3rd of 3 stunning waterfalls … and he was right, certainly as far as I was concerned! It was worth the effort to get to the second one though – Emma’s app told us we had climbed the equivalent on 60 flights of stairs … and she did that with Lachlan in a front pack!
We loved our weekend at Catherine Bay on Rabi Island. Such an interesting history – the inhabitants were relocated there by the British Government in 1945 after ravaging their home island “Ocean Island” in Kiribati through phosphate mining. Although the people were granted Fijian citizenship, our guide book told us that the only things the people have in common with Fijians are their “monetary, postal, and educational systems, kava drinking (a Fijian implant), and Methodism.” We found that they also share friendliness and the welcoming attitude we have found everywhere in Fiji.
The local language is Gilbertese, and one of the villagers told us that their original Banaban Language was lost on the 1800s when the missionaries came to Ocean Island with the bible translated only into Gilbertese. There is no-one left who knows the old language.
They don’t do sevusevu in Rabi, but you must report to the chairperson of the Village Council to seek permission to visit. The chairperson at Buakonikai, the village we visited, is a woman, and she told us we were welcome as long as we didn’t bring drugs! I have to say that two less likely looking drug running boats than Dulcinea and Panthera, I have yet to see!
On Sunday we went to the huge (and in need of even huger repairs!) Methodist Church – arriving promptly at 11am as advised by the children who had guided us through the village on Saturday. Whoops … it had started at 10! Next whoops was not noticing that there was a male side and a female side of the church as we quickly took our seats! Despite our faux pas, the community was clearly very pleased to see us there. The preacher was a woman, and while she preached in Gilbertese, her tone was clearly full of “fire and brimstone”.
Some other interesting facts about Rabi are that alcoholic beverages are not allowed on the island, and that adultery is legally punishable offense!
After buddy-boating with Dulcinea since the Bay of Islands, we ventured to the Ringgold Islands alone. We felt very adventurous as it is not a common destination for yachts. In fact we were the only boat in the island group when we arrived. (One more arrived the next evening). We then discovered that a group of 6 young women from Canada left the day we arrived after staying at an Air BnB for 3 days!!! Now that is really adventurous, especially as they came by longboat from Taveuni! There are only 59 people living on the island; 16 pupils at the school (4 teachers!!); and it is the only populated island in the group. Things are very basic in the village, and I just couldn’t believe there could be an Air BnB there - the power of the internet! (Actually there is no reception at the village, so the owner, Willie, goes up the hill with his cellphone to run the Air BnB. He told us that it took 3 years to meet the requirements to set up with “Homestay.com” but he persevered … and was finally rewarded. He then learned about Air BnB and has found that much more successful in attracting guests.
Willie took us out in his longboat to explore the Cikobia crater … an amazing lagoon formed by the collapse of one segment of the volcanic island. We disturbed hundreds of beautiful bats sleeping in the trees by the water’s edge – they looked amazing flying above us. He then took us snorkelling in the reef off Cobia Island where we saw beautiful bright blue lipped clams. In the evening Willie arrived at Panthera with a gift of an octopus … and instructions on how best to cook it!
Our next planned destination was Albert Cove at the top of Rabi Island but beautiful sailing conditions had us sail right on by and anchor at Catherine Bay again. We negotiated two pretty narrow passes through the reefs on our way … a bit stressful seeing coral on both sides of Panthera, and the depth decrease from 300+ metres to 7 … but who needs more than 7 metres??
Paradise Taveuni, a resort that welcomes cruisers with free mooring balls and use of the resort facilities, beckoned us next. Like Yanuca Island we were able to snorkel in beautiful coral off the back of the boat – the clarity of the water and huge numbers of colourful fish were fabulous. We left this morning with a box of vegetables and fruit from the resort’s organic garden, eggs from their hens and 2 loaves of crusty bread – what a bonus!
FIJI: THE LAU GROUP
After a relatively easy 2 night passage from Tonga we cleared into Fiji at Lomolomo in Vanua Balavu … another bonus of being part of the ICNZ Rally.
We were possibly the last Rally boat to leave Neiafu, so despite overtaking several (not that we actually saw them) there were plenty of yachts in before us, so we didn’t get cleared for 24 hours. Lomolomo is exposed to the trades, so was a pretty uncomfortable spot to be waiting in … we were pleased to leave and head for the beautiful Bay of Islands to “hide out” from the predicted big blow that was coming - we couldn’t think of a more beautiful spot to be hiding out! The forecast was correct - the rain was torrential and there was plenty of wind - even in our sheltered little nook.
Most of the Rally boats had chosen to go to the closer (and very sheltered) Mbavatu Harbour, so when we arrived there were only 5 boats in BoI, and only 1 other Rally boat ... how different to 2017! A few more arrived over the next 3 days, and we enjoyed “raindowners” together, both on Panthera and on an Australian boat, Mari. We enjoyed a day at Horse Bay as we made our way to Mbavatu Harbour – where there is plenty to do, including a walk to the lookout over the Bay of Islands.
The Rally reassembled at Susui last Wednesday for an afternoon and evening of entertainment by the 19 children at Susui School and feasting. A visit to the Hidden Lagoon where I had acquired my Hiawatha reputation in 2017 reinforced how important tides and daylight are when there is coral to be negotiated in your dinghy – this year the only boat to hit coral was, in fact, the long boat which was guiding us through it!
I have greatly developed my dinghy driving skills since being away … and food has been a great motivator for this! Taking myself off to the market and deli in Neiafu was a major breakthrough … and being “boat-woman” while Ben scoured the walls of Mbavatu Harbour for crayfish took my skills to a new level! Sadly he had no success, but we are ever hopeful!
Breadmaking has been another skill I have honed … who knew how large a loaf would become if you left it to prove overnight?!!! The challenge then becomes fitting it in the small oven to bake a) without burning the bottom and b) without it hitting the grill. Both are works in progress!
Surprisingly we have now left the Lau Group … without going south to Fulaga. I say that because it never crossed my mind that we wouldn’t! I loved that experience and the beauty of the area and had looked forward to visiting other islands in the southern Lau as well. However when it looked as if the weather would preclude our leaving before the weekend we’ve just had, we looked at our other options ... and the upshot is that we are headed towards the Taveuni area, Rabi and on to Savusavu. We are both happy with our decision as it means we can explore areas we have not been to before.
Travelling with Dulcinea and Equinox 2, our first stop on leaving The Lau Group was Wailagilala Island – a small uninhabited island, with a lagoon inside a reef to anchor in. In some ways it reminded us of being in Minerva Reef. We had a lovely walk around the island - there were boobies nesting and beautiful chicks popping their heads out of the nests. Four men from Taveuni were camping on the island … if we understood correctly, working to create a resort there. If that is correct, it is a long way off! They helped us get some papaya and bananas so we were very happy – fresh fruit is always welcomed! However it was an EXTREMELY lumpy night and we were very happy to lift the anchor and head to Matangi Island.
More from Matangi and Taveuni soon!
As we prepare to leave Tonga, we’ve reflected on some of the things that have made our time here special.
First the actual Rally … the shared experiences, support, fun and friendships that develop. It’s great to have Fairway Bay friends here aboard Calypso and Victoria … and regular visits (including a sleepover on Panthera) from George and Elizabeth aboard “Albatross”, their little kayak. Remarkably there are three families from Beachlands on the Rally too – Phil, Toni,Robbie & Olivia aboard Sea Angel and Sharyn & Ray aboard Jasper 2.
As with the 2017 Rally we love that people are always willing to lend a hand, share their “spares”, as well as advice, when things don’t go to plan! Sadly despite all the advice given and fixes tried, we had to get new wind instruments flown up from NZ. This, however, gave us the opportunity to learn how the courier service works in Tonga!!! Let’s just say it was a bit stressful, especially when our tracking notice said “Delivered – signed for by Ben in Nuku’alofa” … when we were, in fact, in Vava’u, and had yet to sight, let alone sign for, anything! We were so pleased to pick the box up yesterday … and for Ben (assisted by Glen) to get it installed and working in time to leave for Fiji today.
Getting things working again is a way of life when sailing … and the causes of malfunctions can be hilarious. The genset stopped a couple of evenings ago … the reason – jelly fish in the water intake! The number of jellyfish in Neiafu Harbour has to be seen to be believed – literally hundreds surround our boat.
While fixing things may be our way of life, boarding school is the way of life for a huge number of children in the Pacific … and Monday morning and Friday afternoon see numerous “school bus” boats ferrying children to and from their island homes to the nearest school. While we were at Vaka’Eitu Ben ended up being the substitute “school bus driver”! The three girls who live on the island board from Monday to Friday, but didn’t appear home from school on Friday. Their somewhat worried parents borrowed our phone to try to find out what had happened, but couldn’t raise anyone. On Saturday morning they paddled out to us and borrowed the phone again and this time located the children. It seemed the boat that was supposed to bring them home went fishing instead! So Ben and David (the father) took our dinghy to collect them while their mother sat on Panthera with me and talked. The family has 11 children ranging from 5-22, and pays for the children’s school fees by hosting feasts for visiting yachts. (Primary school is free, but secondary school is not.) With one such feast planned for the Saturday evening, Ben & David also picked up the octopus, fish and various other supplies for the feast. Ben said they were supposed to transport the pig back too, but the guys at the village couldn’t catch it! We later saw a boat arrive at the shore, so assume it had the said pig aboard, as there was one roasting when we got to the feast, which then went onto the table! The feast was the very best we have had anywhere in the Pacific.
Which leads me to “eating out in Neifu”. As you can imagine, opportunities for eating out can be few and far between … so the chance to do so is welcomed by the chief cook on board! To be able to share these evenings in Neifu with Jillian and Glen from Malakite was an added bonus! These included an evening at Mangos over candlelight (due to the power cut) which included a very random quiz night; a walk for Jillian and I to the Hepi Pizza place (supposed to be 500 metres, but was actually 1 km) for takeaway pizzas ... having a drink on their deck with its stunning views over the Harbour … then being driven by the owner back to the yachts because he wanted us to be able to enjoy his pizzas as while they were hot!; and fish and chips at a cute little barge in the harbour which can cope with 4 orders at a time – and serves margueritas and cold beers while you wait for your turn!
The not so good news from the Rally is that one of the boats, Squander, had to be abandoned, and the crew lifted by helicopter and taken to NZ. We are all delighted that not only were the crew safely rescued, but that Squander has since been successfully salvaged.
WE HAVE ARRIVED IN TONGA
We arrived in Tonga on Monday - 6 days and 5 hours after leaving Opua. We made very good time, and were amongst the first group to arrive (maybe 6th boat here I think). We got in just on dark and had to wait on our boat until we were able to clear customs etc ... which finally happened 22 hours later!! It is certainly Tonga time here!
The Passage up was not my favourite one (this year’s understatement!) ... and sadly, with a big front coming through, stopping at Minerva Reef was not an option this time. Several boats got stuck there for a week recently, and in pretty rough conditions ... so we didn’t fancy that! (No crayfish is worth it!)
That forecasted front was the factor pushing the decision to leave when we did. The first 18 hours was pretty rugged, and I experienced really bad seasickness ... such that Ben and Jens had to do my watches on the first night - I couldn’t move without throwing up! They were just great and just let me lie on the bed with my bucket! Ben slept in the saloon. As you can imagine, I was thinking that FIFO (Fly In, Fly Out) was looking like a good future option ... and that this was my very last passage. However I think it is correct to say that four boats turned back with various issues ranging from a blown out mainsail to taking on water, so possibly seasickness was nothing in comparison to that!
After a reprieve of a day or so to recover, it was unpleasant again for a day and a night. Both high winds and horrible seas. Jens really thought Panthera was going to fall to pieces with some of the bashing and crashing! The rough seas brought back the seasickness, so I succumbed to taking “sealegs”. Either that or 5 hours sleep put an end to it, and I was then fine.
By then we had managed to go fast enough to be ahead of the next front, and we had two days and nights of really beautiful sailing. We then motor-sailed the last day to get here by nightfall ... making it with less than 30 minutes to spare! Jens saw a pod of whales in the early light on Monday ... hopefully the first of many that we’ll get to sail with over the next 5 months.
We are now at Pangaimotu Island, about a mile across the Lagoon from Nuku’alofa, and enjoying the camaraderie of other members of the Rally at Big Mama’s Yacht Club. Ben was up the mast today, with Jens assistance, tightening up a few nuts and bolts and trying to get our wind instruments working again (fairly essential when you are sailing a boat!) As the only member of the crew to hop into the beautiful blue, warm water for a swim, my task was to check what was wrapped around the prop ... one of our engines stopped half way here, and the problem was identified as something ... maybe a fishing net ... being wrapped around the prop. Unbelievably there was nothing ... and the engine is running beautifully! We assume that whatever it was disentangled itself! We wish every problem was as easily solved!
A trip to the market yesterday had us enjoy mud crab, followed by papaya for dinner tonight ... we are one happy crew!!!
RE-RUN OF A MOVIE WE SAW IN 2017!
Here are the ICNZ Rally Members ready and waiting in Opua ... the emphasis being on waiting, waiting! A tropical low in the Pacific has delayed our departure for Tonga, and it looks as if we will be here for at least another week. Watch this space!
Panthera - Heading Out Of The BoI
We are now an hour out of Opua and it's a beautiful day to start our adventure! Yachts ahead of us and behind us as far as the eye can see. All heading to Cape Brett and beyond. And all motor sailing at this stage in swells of about 2 metres.
Panthera - Watch this space!
Saturday has been confirmed as departure day! So we're off back to Opua to restock the chocolate (and other goodies) consumed during our sojourn in the Bay!
Panthera - Don't Get Excited!
It may look as if we're on the move, but sadly it's only out into the Bay of Islands! Next weekend is our next projected weather window (we've had them before, but they haven't materialised!) So we're enjoying being out on the water again ... as we continue to wait, wait, wait! Lovely sunset followed by sundowners on Malakite. ..if it weren't so cold we could imagine we were in Tonga!
Panthera - Still in Opua
Cyclones Donna and Ella have delayed our departure. . we sit and wait while the weather chaos clears!