The sail from Tonga to Fiji ended up taking 5 days because I slowed intentionally during the penultimate day in order to arrive in the light. Conditions were ideal for the first 24 hours with 15 knots of breeze on the beam allowing Fathom to romp along at full speed with her freshly painted bottom. Julius on yacht Trinidad departed just after me and despite his boat being 39 foot I managed to stay within VHF range for nearly 48 hours. The first evening out I had gone for a 30 minute nap but was woken early by the words “wakey wakey” blaring out of the VHF speaker on Channel 16. It turned out there had been a huge wind shift and the self steering had adjusted Fathom’s course as the wind turned and we were almost pointing back at Tonga! Julius had seen Fathom change direction from his AIS display and called to wake me up. The wind was quite shifty over the next couple days with intermittent squalls passing through before it died altogether. Approach to the main island of Viti Levi coincided with an acceleration of the wind to 25 knots and a fairly rough sea making entry into the pass as a container ship came out rather exciting.
After anchoring close to Vuda Point marina on the first night entry formalities were completed the following day with four other yachts also checking into Fiji at the same time. We were all welcomed to the country by the marina staff singing and playing guitar to us on the clearance pontoon, a unique and very nice moment I have not witnessed in any other country. I was hoping to take Fathom across to Malolo Island, home of the famous Musket Cove resort in time for the annual regatta there but the cruising permit was too slow to come through so instead of missing the fun decided to catch a ferry. I got there in time for the round the island race which I sailed with friends on yacht Spill the Wine and attended the final night party. The next week and a half was spent back at Vuda point and it turned out to be very social with lots of friends and familiar boats around either on the water or on the hard. Every night someone seemed to be hosting dinner or pot luck and the marina bar was a great spot to sip a ‘Fiji Gold’ while watching the sunset.
Tim, an old friend from home then flew out for a couple of weeks holiday and we planned to cruise up the Yasawa group islands. On his first evening at the marina bar, after flying nearly 17,000km from Switzerland to Fiji, Tim was heard to say “I haven’t flown half way round the world to drink a litre of beer at an Octoberfest event served by a Fijian in lederhosen!”. I assured him this was a one off and he would see authentic Fiji soon. Our first stop after leaving Vuda was the anchorage at Saweni bay where some friends were anchored so I invited everyone over to Fathom for drinks. Then a day sail north to the island of Waya and anchorage off the Octopus resort where we played volleyball and watched a magnificent sunset with new friends from yacht Boisterous. The next stop was the anchorage at Blue Lagoon where we waited for a couple of days for some strong winds to blow through. The highlight was walking a path across the island and seemingly through several peoples gardens to reach a small shack on the beach known as ‘Lou’s tea house’ where we enjoyed fresh doughnuts and lemon tea served by a very nice Fijian lady.
Navigation here in Fiji is far more challenging than anywhere else i’ve sailed because the charts are so inaccurate. The Navionics electronic charts I use onboard do not show the majority of reefs so cannot be relied on. Instead the best method is to download satellite images through an app such as Ovital Map which then overlays the boats position and track. I know several boats that have kissed a reef in the last few weeks because they were relying too much on Navionics. It does make the sailing interesting round here.
These satellite images were really useful on the sail back south from Blue Lagoon to the island of Naviti as we weaved our way through the reefs. After anchoring off the small village of Somosomo Tim and I dinghied ashore with an offering of sevusevu (cava plant) for the village chief as a sign of respect. We were led to the chiefs house by a small boy and were met by a lady who told us to sit cross legged on the floor. A very elderly lady, aged 97, entered the room and was introduced to us as the chief. She accepted our gift of cava by clapping her hands several times and then granted us freedom to walk round the village and snorkal in the surrounding water. We then went and played a form of netball with the local kids who referred to us as Tom and Jerry. The following day we moved Fathom to the next bay and walked over the island where we swam round an old world war 2 plane that had crashed in shallow water.
Next stop was an anchorage close to Manta Bay pass, so named because if you are lucky Manta rays will be feeding and you can swim alongside them. The first day we arrived too late as the tide was slacking and only saw one Manta quite deep and swimming quickly. The next day our luck was in and we spent over an hour swimming alongside these magnificent creatures as they fed. The biggest was at least 9 foot across. Spill the Wine arrived next to us in the anchorage and Chris and Nancy, not for the first time, hosted dinner and a very enjoyable dinner onboard that evening.
Our final stop before heading back to Vuda point was Musket Cove and I managed to get a spot for Fathom right in the middle of the resort. Our arrival coincided with a get together of the Oyster World Rally and I couldn’t resist hoisting an ‘Oyster ‘ banner on Fathom. The smallest Oyster yacht is 45 foot and the largest 80 foot so the sight of my 28 footer flying the banner looked quite funny. Someone commented Fathom was the ‘pearl in a fleet of Oysters’ which was most kind. Before leaving Tim and I took a Hobie Cat out for a spin but the thing was so shot I was surprised we returned with the mast still up and the tiller attached. Exit from Musket didn’t go entirely to plan because as we let go of the stern lines to pick the bow anchor up the 25 knot stern wind pushed us onto the mud bank despite the best efforts of a man in a dinghy to pull the bow round (I had asked him to help just in case). Fathom bounced along the bottom but Tim got the anchor up just in time and I manged to motor us off before we got well and truly stuck. They say there are only two types of sailors who have never run aground. One never left port and the other was an atrocious liar.
Once Tim had headed back home I worked through some jobs in preparation for leaving Fiji. My intention had been to head south to New Zealand but after talking with several salty ol’ seadogs who had completed circumnavigations I decided that in view of continuing into SE.Asia/Indian Ocean next year it made sense to go straight to Australia. This would avoid the need to bash down south and back up again in a few months. I’ve sailed to New Zealand before and travelled round that beautiful country so i’m not missing out. I’ve really enjoyed my time in Fiji the people here are the friendliest i’ve met anywhere in the world. I would like to have visited the Lau Group but there is never enough time to see everything. The plan is to check out of Fiji tomorrow and head west to New Caledonia where I will make a quick stop before heading to the land down under.