The fun began on our passage from Tonga to Fiji. Despite having put out the fishing line on countless occasions over the last twelve months, our last catch was in April last year en route for the Marquesas. So neither of us was expecting a bite on the lure late one afternoon. The prize was a weighty 9 kg mahi mahi, and once prepared it made a welcome addition to the contents of the freezer. We struck lucky again two days later with a smaller version of the same fish, but this time we were more than ready with the necessary ‘landing’ equipment’!
Fiji comprises a group of over 300 islands, the main two are Vanua Levu to the north west, and Viti Levu to the south east. The capital is Suva, located on the southern side of this latter island, where we understand it always rains, and as a port of entry the officials are most difficult. Consequently we decided to head for Savusavu on the island of Vanua Levu. There we found the Copra Shed Marina to be most helpful, guiding us to a mooring, and arranging clearing in formalities with the many officials, who were helpful and easy to get on with.
You can be forgiven for wondering why there has not been an update for some time. Before we left the UK in April Elaine’s mother had been admitted to hospital, and her father had a hip replacement operation planned for early September. In the circumstances it was necessary for Elaine to return to the UK on 10th September, and as at the time of this update, 14th October, she is still there helping to care for her parents.
So our focus was on arranging a return flight for her from Nadi International airport, which is located on the north side of Viti Levi. Fiji is a total contrast to Tonga. It is mountainous, and surrounded by unmarked dangerous reefs, with many boats being lost or damaged each year. To our knowledge 3 yachts have already sunk in 2012. The reefs are largely unmarked because they are so profuse, and cyclones wash away or severely damage the marks that have been laid. Added to which, the Admiralty charts are inaccurate and cannot be relied upon.
It is multi-cultural society, though the majority of the population is Fijian, with 37% being Indo-Fijian. In addition there are many Chinese, and descendants of Americans, Australians, New Zealanders and Europeans. Fiji achieved independence from the UK on 10th October 1970. The people are very friendly and welcoming, and also work hard….!
We managed to make most arrangements in Savusavu, so once organized, and we had received our obligatory cruising permit, sailed through the reefs and past many islands to Port Denarau, close to Nadi airport. Because of the danger of the reefs, it is only safe to sail during daylight hours, and we adhered to our rule of being underway between 10.00 and 15.00. Thus our passage to Vuda Point Marina took 4 days, which whilst not very far from Savusavu, attention to navigation was of paramount importance, and hence the concentration was tiring. After a night at crowded Vuda Point and a super meal ashore, the following day we completed the short passage to Denarau Marina, where we felt as if we had returned to the first world.
From the little that we have seen, Fiji is a country of contrasts. Port Denarau is modern, the hub of holidaymakers coastal travel to the islands, and the marina home to massive superyachts, as well as more modest sailing yachts. It is also home to a Hard Rock Café, where ‘happy hour’ takes place every evening and where some of the gay waiting staff provide a nightly table top cabaret. There are numerous other restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and tourist shops. Here we met up again with our German friends from Abora and Wasabi.
Close to this complex are many modern hotels, a golf course, and not far away the town of Nadi where most shopping needs are catered for. However, stray off the beaten track and the poverty of Fijians who do not have skills is all apparent, with many of them living in shacks and hovels, alongside dirt tracks and swamps.
We had decided to book a mooring at Musket Cove, on the island of Malolo, which is 14nm north of Port Denarau. We had imagined a small holiday isle, with very few facilities, so had caught a bus to Nadi to provision, and then a taxi back. When ready we set off, and called our contact Sophie to confirm we were on our way. On arrival, we found our mooring, and then took the dinghy ashore to check in.
And what a lovely surprise! Musket Cove is a very pleasant resort, created by Dick Smith in the 1970’s, when he bought the island. Being a sailing enthusiast, he geared it for the yachtie, and the holidaymaker. There is a small marina along one pontoon, with a bridge to a man made island with a bar, and a very pleasant area to walk in surrounded by palm trees. Every evening yachties build fires to get the BBQ’s going, and the bar provides plates, cutlery, and salads on Sundays. It is very good value with a beer or large glass of wine costing $5FJ, about £1.70.
Malolo has since been divided into 3 resorts, with different owners, and different styles. The yachties can become life members of the Musket Cove Yacht Club, which entitles them to free use of the Musket Cove resort facilities, and an account. The lack of an ATM is therefore not a problem. Musket Cove resort is more upmarket than the nearby Plantation resort, and has a large number of bures or bungalows, each with its own space. Some of these have beach frontage, others alongside an inland waterway. In addition there is a good restaurant surrounding a large swimming pool, a shop that also provides the food for the restaurant, an activities bure and a nine-hole golf course a few minutes’ walk away alongside the airstrip and the far side of the island. Helicopters and sea planes are frequent distractions as they deliver and pick up guests.
Elaine flew home on 10th September, with a flight back planned for 8th October……!
So she missed out on the 29th Fiji Regatta which began on 14th September, with an opening ceremony and free supper for all participants. The yachties of each nation were invited to sing their national anthem, with the Kiwis outnumbering every other nationality! 69 boats entered the regatta.
It was an action packed week, with the highlights being a Pirates Day race to the Beachcomber resort, with our friends Jamie and Lucy on Bamboozle winning the prizes for the first yacht to arrive, and the first skipper ashore. Jamie dived in with his fins and swam to beat the opposition who were waiting for a launch! The costumes were amazing, and a lot of fun was had by all participants.
There was also a golf competition, Hobie Cat racing, round the island race and a race outside the sandbank, timed so that on the return the large sandbank would be exposed, lunch served, and the wet T shirt competition and beer drinking competition took place.
Finally there was the Best Dressed Yacht and Live Figurehead competition, in which Pipistrelle came 2nd. We believe the reason we didn’t win was because we didn’t offer the judges kava root as a bribe, which friends of ours did! Bob created a palm shelter on the foredeck, which the wind did its utmost to destroy.
And so to the prizegiving and dinner which was held at Dick’s Place around the swimming pool, with dancing afterwards. All in all a fun week, with something for everyone.
Shortly after the regatta our German friends on Abora and Wasabi arrived from the Yasawa Islands, and were very welcoming and involved Bob in dinners out, BBQ’s and a game of golf. We also took a guide and walked fairly close to the summit of the adjoining island, which has outstanding views.
The 10th October is Fiji Day, a national holiday to celebrate Independence. Once again Musket Cove Resort pushed the boat out to involve all 130 of their staff, the resort guests and yachties in a fun packed day. The morning was marked by a re enactment of the handover from the British to the Fijians, including a kava ceremony and the lowering of the Union Jack, represented by an ensign, and raising of the Fijian flag. Later on there were team or Tribe games involving adults as well as children.
During the afternoon a pig had been traditionally cooked in an underground oven, in preparation for the dinner laid out around the pool. Each resort department and the yachties had been asked to put on a performance, and most were very professional! Prizes were presented, and those that had the energy danced the night away!
Towards the end of September it was apparent Elaine was not going to be able to return to Fiji as planned. Our yacht insurance does not cover us during the cyclone season which starts on 1st December, and so alternative crew would be needed to sail Pipistrelle back to New Zealand. Happily a good friend of ours, Tim Goodwin, found himself unexpectedly available, and kindly offered to fly out on 22nd October. Tim sailed with us in the Classic Malts Rally in 2008, and from Gibraltar to Madeira, so knows Bob and the boat well, and is an excellent sailor.
In the meantime, there is plenty of maintenance to keep Bob busy! We are now looking for a weather window towards the end of the month, for the 1100nm passage back to New Zealand.