As you’ve read in earlier posts, we’ve had lots of consternation about sailing to Fiji. We’ve had friends lose their boat on a reef in Fiji and a New Zealand yacht was lost on one of the outlaying islands while transiting to Fiji all within the last month, so we were a bit on edge about the passage.
|Screen shot from Ovitalmap showing our boat (the blue arrow) in Suva harbor.|
Since most of the charts of Fiji are outdated and inaccurate, the key to navigation is to use KAP files (essentially Google Earth satellite photos that are geo-referenced with GPS coordinates). I spent a lot of time (as Internet was available) in Tonga collecting KAP files from various sources on the web. We have three navigation programs: Maxsea, Ovitalmap on the iPad, and OpenCPN, so I figured we were about as prepared as we’d ever be and planned a Friday departure on July 21st.
After our debacle of getting caught in the storm approaching Tonga, we were super careful about our weather window, picking a four-day period where the GRIB files (graphic computer generated maps of predicted wind speeds) showed winds in the range of 7 to 14 knots. That seemed to give us a fighting chance of a safe passage.
On Friday we checked out of Tongan Customs and filled up with $2.20 /gal. subsidized diesel fuel (the cheapest anywhere in our six years of cruising). We had had a problem changing the oil in our engine when our Reverso oil change pump bit the dust, but our friend Franklin offered to come over with his hand pumped oil extractor. Even though it took almost an hour to pump out all the old oil it gave me great piece of mind to know we were OK for the next 125 hours of engine run time.
We left Neiafu around 3:00 pm and headed out to sea in a nice 12 - 14 knot breeze on the beam. We quickly settled into our passage mode alternating three hour watches throughout the night. We had decided to take the longer (by five hours) northern route via Nanuku Passage as it avoided a lot of the islands and reefs on the more southerly direct route to Savusavu.
For the first three days we didn’t see much of anything except the inky blue South Pacific Ocean all the way to the horizon. Although we’re used to it now, it can be a little unnerving when you realize how far away from anything you are during South Pacific passages. You’ve got to have a lot of faith in your boat and your own abilities.
Since we’d passed into the Fiji region we lost another hour of time and we had a bit of problem trying to figure out the ZULU Greenwich time used by the GRIB files with the day and hour ahead status of Fiji.
By the evening of the third day the wind had lightened considerable so we ended up motor sailing the rest of the way. As usual, you can ascertain the locale of the islands by the low overhanging clouds. We slowly sailed down the southern side of Taveuni Island and later the main island of Vanua Levu heading southwest. We then rounded Passage Point and motored around a very long reef that protects the entrance to Savusavu Bay. It certainly gave us a lot of respect for the reefs we been forewarned about in Fiji. This one went on forever. We then motored back northeast into the picturesque small inlet of Savusavu.
|Copra Shed Marina in Suvasuva.|
A quick call to Copra Shed Marina gave us instructions to land at the Customs dock, a 20 ft. dock that was ill fitted to a 44 ft. boat. Eventually the Health, Customs, Immigration, and BioSecurity officials came aboard the boat and cleared us. The only problem was we were boxed tightly between boats, and with the wind direction we couldn’t back up or go forward. Finally some nice Aussies assisted us, and with help from a dive boat that had just pulled in 90 degrees in front of us, “walked” our bow line around to get us out into the main fairway.
|The mooring field at Suvasuva with the city in the background.|
|The smoke on the shore is actually volcanic stream raising from a vent.|
The moorage area is very tight and consists of only mooring balls, but with help from Bubba from the Copra Shed Marina we got tied up and had a chance to let out our collective breaths of relief.
|The woman on the left is wearing the traditional sulu.|
Savusavu is about as idyllic a moorage as one can wish for in the South Pacific. A short dingy ride to the Copra Shed dock, then about 100 yards up the street was a large and very well stocked Morris Hedstrom (M-H) grocery store. After perusing what was available, we beelined it to the local phone store and got a Vodaphone data SIM for my iPhone and a Digicell voice SIM for Meryl’s phone. Internet is very good and extremely cheap in Fiji compared to the rest of the South Pacific and we were ready to reap the windfall. Unfortunately, my iPhone battery was just about dead and Meryl had a defective charging port so she couldn’t charge her phone. So our next job was to find an electronics repair shop by the name of Ozzi’s. We met Ozzi and he was very helpful and said he could fix our phones, but it would take a couple of weeks to get the parts shipped in. Ugh.
|Drinks at the Copra Shed Marina. Flying Cloud is straight ahead.|
|Meryl enjoying our $2.50 fish and chips at Waitui Marina.|
We ran into the Aussie couple (Karen and Paul off GIGI) that had helped us dock the boat and they gave us the run down on good restaurants and other stuff in Savusavu. They sent us down the road to the Waitui Marina (which looks like it is about to fall into the water) for some good fish and chips priced at $2.50. It was then we knew we were going to love Fiji.
|The local market was well stocked and the vendors very friendly.|
|It was the yearly Primary School Day and all the school kids were down at the city park.|
We marveled at the Fijian men wearing the traditional black or dark grey sulu (wrapped skirt) around their waist. Fijians, like the Tongans, are a god-fearing and conservative people. The women wear brightly colored Polynesian print dresses and sulus, however, and always have a big smile on their face and a welcoming “bula” (hello) whenever you make eye contact.
|The bus to Labasa.|
|The view back across the bay to Savusavu.|
|A typical Fijian village in the interior of the island.|
A couple of days later we decided to take a two-hour road trip to Labasa, an old sugar cane milling town over the mountains and on the north side of Vanua Levu. For $3.50 each way we were told the Labasa bus was the best tour of inland Vanua Levu you could get. The bus was packed with Fijians and the radio was blasting, but at least it was nice music. We were amazed by the size of the inland mountains, and the vast jungle the makes up most of the interior of the island. One the home of fierce cannibals and warriors, many European sailing ships avoided these waters at all cost. Now the Fijians are among the most helpful, friendly and honest people we’ve met in our world travels.
The goal in Labasa, the second largest city in Fiji, was to find a cell phone repair place. And tried we did, but after visiting about six phone stores we realized that anything to be fixed had to be shipped to Suva and it took about two weeks. We did find a delightful little local lunch place called Cafe Delight where we had a delicious Indian curry for lunch. We stopped at a curious Indian store called Bargain Box that had everything under the sun at ridiculous prices. We bought school supplies and balloons for the kids on the outlaying islands we planned to visit later in the month.
|Stopping to fill the water bottles in a mountain stream.|
|A passenger buying some veggies for the bus driver.|
|Another stop to change the engine oil and check the brakes.|
The bus ride back was more interesting. I got one of the last seats, next to a huge Fijian who offered me one quarter of the seat (he was filling the rest) with the support bar poking into the small of my back. We also had a new driver who liked the music even louder (if that was possible) than the first driver, and made the bus ride his personal pick-up route. Just outside of Labasa we stopped when a kid ran up to the bus with some packages, then we stopped and he had one of the passengers run over to a stand to get him a cold drink, then we stopped to get some veggies, then we stopped at a roadside spring where about seven passengers got out to refill their water bottles, and finally we stopped at the maintenance shop where I swear they changed the engine oil and checked the brakes.
We finally made it home, a little worse for the wear but rich in another of life’s experiences.