Monday, November 7, 2016

On to Efate and Port Vila

From Tanna Island, we sailed about 9 hours with one reef in the main sail and the genoa to Dillon’s Bay on Erromango Island. Unfortunately, it was raining. No locals came out to the boat and we didn’t go ashore. We left the next afternoon for an overnight sail to Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu. Instead of going too fast and arriving early, our timing and speed were good on this passage and we arrived outside the entrance to Port Vila about 2 hours after sunrise. The weather didn't cooperate, however, and a severe thunderstorm rolled in. We considered trying to race the massive black clouds and get into harbour, but as we saw SV Dream Catcher swallowed up by the dense cloud and the lightening started coming in thick bolts, we turned around and slowly motored back into the sunshine. About 2 hours later, the storm had passed and we were moored off of Yachting World in Port Vila.

After having limited access to a variety of provisions, we were in heaven at the Au Bon Marche supermarket in Port Vila. The brie, prosciutto, chorizo, breads, wines… it was fabulous! In the local market there were raspberries, pamplemousse, mangos, avocados….

We met up with Tom and Lynn on SV Roxanne and made plans to explore the nearby islands to the North of Port Vila. We first anchored off Lelepa Island, snorkelled a few times and explored one of the larger caves on the island before we had a rainy day. Then we motored a bit further to Moso Island. In between rain showers we explored the beaches. After a few days, we moved on to Pele Island.

We spent several days at Pele, meeting many locals, eating lots of papayas and drinking fresh coconut milk. Lynn, from SV Roxanne, and Dina walked to the local school and dropped off some school supplies. One afternoon, Lynn and Dina were guided up to the top of the mountain by four boys, Rexon, Chris, Samuel and Stephen. The hike was rough and although one of the boys carried a machete, the razor grass left various cuts on arms and legs. The view was worth the hike, and the unrestrained joy and singing of the boys made it priceless.
Lynn talking to two local boys in a tree on the beach

View of Kakula Island from the top of Pele Island

Local boys having fun on the hike

Posing for a portrait


The next day Lynn brought the boys out to visit both boats.
Tug-of-war with Malcolm using one of the winches

We moved the boat a short distance and anchored closer to Kakula Island where SV Kiapa, SV Tranquilo and SV Roxanne were kite-boarding. Tom, from SV Roxanne, kindly lent Malcolm his kite to practice. A small storm front was approaching and Malcolm did not get the kite down soon enough. A strong gust came, caught the kite and dragged Malcolm off the beach, into the water and slammed him into an anchored dinghy. The kite came down for a second but got more wind and dragged Malcolm under the dinghy. Malcolm and Tom got the kite down and found it had suffered a torn air bladder. Malcolm suffered a nasty gash on his foot and various bruises and scrapes.

The good news was Tom is a doctor. There was a question whether Malcolm needed stitches, but Tom was able to glue the cut closed on Malcolm’s foot. The bad news was Malcolm was unable to swim for several days. More good news was that where we were anchored there were many turtles and each evening they would swim all around our boat.

After a few days, we made our way back to Port Vila. We said, Goodbye, to SV Roxanne when they sailed to New Zealand. Then we put Good as Gold comfortably to bed for the cyclone season. She is securely nestled up on the hard at the Port Vila Boatyard.
Waiting for the trailer

Hauling out

Hauling out

We flew to Sydney, Australia where we will be staying with our friends, Jamie and Kimberley, while our Japanese work visas are processed. We will spend the South Pacific cyclone season/Northern Hemisphere ski season (December to April) in Niseko, Japan.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Tanna Island

It is difficult to stop in Port Resolution as it is not a regular Port of Entry, so one must organise and pay transport for Customs and Immigration for checking into the country. In addition, there are no banks or ATMs in Port Resolution. Many cruisers found it difficult to obtain Vanuatu currency (vatu) in Fiji, so most of us arrived with no local currency. Stanley, from the "Yacht Club", helped many of us by convincing transport drivers and others to accept USD. 

We decided to travel to the capital of Tanna Island, Lenakel, on the West side of the island to exchange our USD, or take money out of an ATM. The trip involved crossing the ashfields on the downwind side of the volcano. Due to some confusion about whether a bank was open in Lenakel (it was a provincial holiday) or if a large hotel would change money for us, we ended up crossing the island and the ashfields 4 times! Most of them were while riding in the back of a pick-up truck.
Local girls we met while waiting for a ride

Dina heading down the gully to get to the truck which stopped to give us a ride
Ash field view with Mt Yasur adding some more ash to it all


We were unable to change money, so were unable to purchase lunch, and had to convince an older gentleman of the value of USDs to get a ride back to Port Resolution. We arrived back to the boat very dirty, with black streaks of soot everywhere, and too tired to go to the weekly John Frum ceremony in a nearby village. We heard afterwards from Norm and Willie on SV Dream Catcher that the John Frum ceremony was disappointing.

With so much more to explore in Vanuatu, we hoisted anchor and began making our way north.
Looking back at Mt Yasur doing it's thing

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Port Resolution and Mt Yasur

We had a lovely sail for the first 48 hours from Fiji to Vanuatu. On the third day, we hoisted the gennaker and maintain about 5 knots per hour. On the fourth day, we had to furl the sails and motor. That afternoon we anchored in Port Resolution, in the southern Vanuatu island chain, next to the smoke spewing volcano, Mt. Yasur.
Approaching Tanna Island, with Mt Yasur spewing ash

It was so exhilarating to land in Vanuatu. Aside from the active volcano and the steam vents at the anchorage, the mountains were covered in trees and jungle plants and the beaches, both black sand and white, were unspoiled.
Active steam vent at the anchorage in Port Resolution

We awoke the next day to learn it was a holiday in Vanuatu so there was no Customs or Immigration service. Stanley, the caretaker at the Port Resolution “Yacht Club”, assured us we were allowed to go ashore to see the volcano. That afternoon, we piled into trucks with SV Dream Catcher, SV Rehua and SV Second Wind and went to the entrance of the volcano. Before walking up to the rim of the volcano, we were given a safety talk, were sorted into groups with guides and were entertained with local traditional dancing.
Dancers in traditional costume

Then we went to the volcano...
Yikes! We're walking closer??!?

Crater View - Mt Yasur

and we moved to the viewing area near the edge...
Looking down into the crater - Mt Yasur

Small eruption - Mt Yasur

We felt the heat and vibrations with each eruption.
Eruption with ash - Mt Yasur

As night fell, the redness of the rock, sparks and lava spewing from the volcano stood out dramatically.
Lava and crater view - Mt Yasur

Malcolm had the camera on a tripod, but the vibrations from the eruption made the camera shake as can be seen in the wiggling at the end of the light trails in this long exposure shot (1 second).
Long exposure eruption -  - Mt Yasur

Eruptions from two parts of crater - Mt Yasur



Another evening, Stanley organised a fundraising dinner for local school fees. Several mothers of children attending the school cooked a local feast for the cruisers. Aside from a nominal fee, many cruisers took the opportunity to donate school supplies and clothing.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Final week in Fiji

The three boats, Good as Gold, Free Spirit and Roxanne, left Mana Island and went north towards Naviti Island, the place known for Manta Rays. We all decided to anchor part way to Naviti Island, at a little gap between Waya and Wayasewa islands. We chose this place because it was supposed to have good snorkelling and it was close enough to we could make a day trip to Naviti Island the next day. At low tide, Waya and Wayasewa are connected by a sand bar and at high tide the locals drive their boats though the gap. We did some snorkelling and the reputation was well deserved. Unfortunately, the bay seems to have been invaded by Crown of Thorns, an invasive species of starfish that eats coral at an incredible rate and is killing reefs around the world.

Instead of taking all three boats to Naviti for the day, everyone got onto Roxanne for the trip. Once there, we saw several tour boats from the local resorts. The coral and fish here were plentiful, like lots of places in Fiji, but the Manta Rays were nowhere to be found. We talked to some of the tour boats who confirmed that most days there are mantas but some days there aren’t. Well, the snorkelling was nice. Before we left, Tom thought we should check one more time so he drove his dinghy towing Malcolm through the water. Malcolm really, really enjoyed this. It was like the drift dive we did in Fakarava, French Polynesia. It seemed like the fish were not that frightened by the dinghy so Malcolm got a great view. There were still no Manta Rays, but there was a very large octopus – maybe 5 feet long. It was frightened by the dinghy so it moved quickly to a better hiding place as Malcolm and Tom passed over it. Malcolm was amazed at how quickly it camouflaged itself as it settled into a crack in the coral. Just as they were heading back to Roxanne, Malcolm saw a White Tipped Reef shark and he felt like a large lure being towed behind Tom’s dinghy. The shark was sleeping on the bottom, so it was a non-event.

Coral

Dina snorkelling

On the way back to the anchorage, we discussed the Crown of Thorns. We decided to go snorkelling the next day and see if we could remove some of them. Free Spirit left in the morning to head down to Nadi, as Lauri had plans to fly home for a visit. In order to avoid too many tears, we said a quick good bye to our good friends and made plans to see them next season in Vanuatu or New Caledonia. After they left, we got some tongs from the galley and went on a Crown of Thorns hunt.

Tom had a big bucket in his dinghy, while Lynn, Malcolm and Dina gathered as many Crown of Thorns as possible. As the bucket filled, Tom took the starfish to the beach and dumped them in a safe place. In no time the hermit crabs were investigating their next meal. The thorns are very sharp and have a mild toxin. Dina was the first to get pricked when one moved around while she had it in her tongs. Tom is a former ER Doctor, so he took Dina back to Roxanne, removed the spine from her finger and made her soak it in very hot water to break down the toxin. In the meantime, Lynn and Malcolm continued collecting. Malcolm was next to get stung when he tried to grab some coral to help position himself to reach a very large Crown of Thorns. Unfortunately, there was a second one hiding under the coral that he grabbed and he was stung. By this time, the group had probably collected about 80-100 Crown of Thorns so we called it quits and went back to Roxanne so Dr. Tom could take care of Malcolm’s finger.

Pile of Crown of Thorns we dumped on the beach
Photo we found at www.cairnspost.com.au, showing someone else collecting some Crown of Thorns

At this point we’d explored as much of Fiji as we reasonably could, so both boats headed south to Nadi, docking at Port Denaru next to about 7 or 8 mega yachts, 2 with their own helicopters. We stayed at Port Denaru for a few days, bought fuel and provisions, and had some nice meals ashore. We had a really good weather window, so we checked out of the country and started on the three day sail to Vanuatu.

Halfway to Vanuatu

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Exploring around Mana Island

We had been in Fiji for three months, and we needed to extend our visas or leave the country. Now that we were having fun with Chuck and Lauri on Free Spirit and with Tom and Lynn on Roxanne, we figured we’d stay a bit longer. This meant we had to head to the Immigration office in Latoka. All three boats left Robinson Crusoe Island and had a lovely sail north. We passed Cloudbreak and saw some surfers out there, but it was much quieter than during the competition we’d seen a few months ago. As we entered the main lagoon, Free Spirit headed off to Musket Cove for a big regatta that was starting there. The wind was still good, as Good as Gold and Roxanne continued sailing the 10 nautical miles across the lagoon towards Latoka.

Roxanne sailing past us on the way to Latoka

It was sugar cane harvesting season, and there is a large sugar processing plant next to the anchorage in Latoka. It was interesting to see the train cars and trucks bringing in lots and lots of sugar cane, but it wasn’t so nice to get a mild dusting of ash from the continual burning of the cane. We decided to make it as quick a stay in Latoka as possible, so we spent the day extending our visas and buying some provisions. The next morning we headed back out to the islands. Tom and Lynn had the same idea, so the two boats headed over to Mana Island. We arrived late in the afternoon, so we anchored on the north side of the island for the evening and moved to the lagoon in the morning. After negotiating the tight pass into the lagoon at Mana, we dropped the anchor near the Backpackers Resort which is run by the villagers on Mana. We were close enough to shore that some local children came out on their raft to say Hello. We invited them onboard and shared lots of laughs as we all took turns jumping off the bimini into the water.

Local kids on board

Local kids heading home
Jumping off the Bimini

When Roxanne came into the lagoon at Mana, we decided anchor the two boats in a quieter part of the lagoon. The island is small, with no rivers, so the water in the lagoon is very clear and the coral is pretty healthy. We went for a swim from the back of the boat and found a small lobster hiding in the coral.

Lobster hiding

We spent a couple of days at Mana, along with Roxanne. On a couple of occasions, we went on Roxanne for little day trips to nearby snorkelling destinations and beaches. The first was to a tiny island called Sand Cay and Nukuimana Reef, where we snorkelled the reef and saw some awesome coral and fish. The second was to Navadra Island which was also pretty good.

Clown fish and a protective neighbour

After about a week, Free Spirit joined us and the three boats made a plan to head north to a location known for Manta Rays.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Oops

With SV Roxanne and SV Free Spirit, we motored to Kavala Bay on the NW side of Kadavu island to get ready for the sail to Beqa Lagoon. As we motor-sailed through Ono Strait, dolphins joined us.




After an amazing pizza dinner on SV Roxanne, we got an early start the next morning so we could get to Beqa in the daylight. We hoisted the main sail before hoisting the anchor and Dina was motoring out of the bay while Malcolm was down below. The charts here are not very good, and depth went from 17 metres to 1.8 metres – Good as Gold draws 2 metres. We hit a reef.

Fortunately, we were not moving too fast. Malcolm dropped the main sail and jumped in the water to assess the situation. He could see there was no damage to the boat. Tom, from SV Roxanne, and a local fisherman, took a couple of lines in their dinghies and drove away to heel us over and we were able to drive back into deep water. Dina was relieved there was no damage to our boat, but she felt terrible about hurting the reef.

We continued on to Beqa sailing downwind with the main sail and gennaker, a 7-8 knot breeze and sunshine. The wind picked up (not predicted) and we were soon overpowered with the stern being pushed around in the large swells. We wrestled the gennaker down as Roxanne passed us and took some photos.
Malcolm at the mast, after releasing the sheet

Snuffer coming down over the sail

Snuffer half way


 After a few hours, the seas calmed down for a lovely sail to Yanuca Island in Beqa Lagoon.
Sunset in Beqa Lagoon

The next day we continued on to Robinson Crusoe Island.  It was almost directly downwind, so we sailed with just the genoa. It looked like it was going to be an awesome 6-7 hour sail. Again, the winds picked up higher than predicted and the last two hours turned into a hairy ride as the winds gusted over 30 knots. The bay at Robinson Crusoe has good protection, there was still lots of wind but the water was calm. We anchored and dinghied ashore. The staff remembered us from our visit in June! We had drinks and stayed for the weekly feast and fire dancing show.
Free Spirit sailing along towards Robinson Crusoe Island


Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Great Astrolabe Reef


We left Matuku before sunset. Once we were outside of the reef, we raised the genoa (head sail). It was very rolly, overcast, rainy and cool. The wind was much stronger than predicted and we were a bit concerned about waves breaking over the stern of the boat. We hoped it would calm down once we were further from the island. The waves did settle into a pattern, but were still very large. A small pod of dolphins joined us until the sun was gone. The boat sailed very well, maybe too well, as we once again were going to arrive at the entrance to Astrolabe Reef earlier than planned. Throughout the night, especially during Dina’s watches, the boat was doing 10-11 knots and she saw 14.6 at one point!

Although we tried to dump wind and slow down, we arrived 4 hours earlier than expected (3 hours before sunrise). We still had lots of wind, but a least the water was calmer because we were downwind of the reef. We gybed back and forth outside the pass for a few hours until we had enough light to see, entered the reef at Usborne Pass and anchored off Dravuni Island. The Chief was away working at a nearby resort (we later learned the village had negotiated with the Australian resort owners that they could use the land as long as they employed the locals at the resort). We did sevusevu with the local Mayor, Isaac. Once we were welcomed, we walked almost all the way around the island.

We met the local Chair of the Village Tourism Committee, Marika. He explained to us that the village had negotiated with Holland America cruise lines to stop at Dravuni Island. Apart from the main island of Fiji, Dravuni is the only other island that receives cruise ships. The village is notified before the ship’s arrival and the locals ready the dock, the beach massage huts and tables, the traditional dance area and craft stalls. It is a very organised island. We stayed for another day, had more fresh coconut and another walk on the beach. It was a lovely place to spend some time while waiting for our friends on SV Free Spirit and SV Roxanne to catch up to us.
Yaukuelailai island anchorage

Before our friends showed up, we motored just a few nautical miles south to Yaukuelailai Island. It was a lovely secluded island with secluded beaches and wonderful snorkelling right from the boat. The first day the snorkelling was great, but the next day, after the morning rain, we encountered swarms of tiny, clear, jelly fish. They did not sting, but there were so many, it was impossible to see anything!
LOTS of Jellyfish, plus a leaf

After four nights in beautiful seclusion, we motored less than an hour south to Vurolevu Island. We snorkelled in the bay and explored a couple of beaches while Tom and Lynn, on SV Roxanne, arrived. We had not seen them since Tonga, almost a year before, so it was a wonderful reunion. Chuck and Lauri, on SV Free Spirit, arrived the next day and we all dinghied over to the NE point where we had heard that manta rays are often seen. We swam with three mantas – one was very large with no tail, another was large with a tear in its flap and a third was smaller (younger?).  The six of us all swam with them until we were too cold or too tired to keep up with them.



We wanted to dive the famous Naigoro Pass in the Astrolabe Reef, so we motored around to Naigoro Bay in the rain and cold. The next day, Gerald, from Matava Resort, picked us up, along with Tom from SV Roxanne, to dive. There was an out-going current in the pass, which we thought was not good for diving, but the guides returned from a scouting swim and said all was fine.

Dina was having trouble with her buoyancy and mask, so one guide took her back up to the boat a few minutes before the others were finished. The current seemed to get stronger and just before the dive ended, Malcolm and another guide were swept around a corner of the reef and out into the active pass. With the other divers and guides on the dive boat, everyone was looking for Malcolm and the guide. The waves were now so high, it was difficult to see them and the dive boat was having trouble manoeuvring. After 15-20 minutes, Tom said, “There they are!” It still took the dive boat a while to reach them. A rope with a float was tossed out, but the current was so strong, the rope burned Malcolm’s hands and then snapped. The dive boat circled again and tossed another line and this time Malcolm and the guide made it aboard.
Wall dive at Naigoro Pass
After a rest and some snacks, we went to a shallower, inner reef (not out the passage) called, Ozzi Reef. The sun was trying to come out and as this was not as deep, it appeared more colourful. We all thought it was better than the Naigoro Pass.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

To Southern Lau Group

We left the SW end of Taveuni Island and sailed in lots of wind and waves directly into the wind coming from the SE. With a reef in the main (not the full main sail) and the genoa (the head sail), we had the rail in the water and were sailing fast. We were aiming for the gorgeous and remote island of Fulanga in the Southern Lau group of islands in Fiji. Throughout the night, we could not get far enough east, so we aimed for Totoya Island, another island in the Southern Lau about 30 nm west of Fulanga. 

We arrived early – before sunrise – so we tacked back and forth outside of the pass in the reef around the island. Once the sun rose, we could see that the pass was wide and deep so we headed in and anchored in a quiet bay, had a nap, then went for an afternoon snorkel. 

A French boat from New Caledonia, SV Ilo, was anchored on the other side of the bay and the two men aboard began whistling and waving their arms at us. We thought something was wrong, so we rushed over. They had been snorkelling and caught 3 large lobsters. They wanted to give us one. We said, no thank you, as Malcolm is slightly allergic and Dina is not keen on cooking lobster, but they did not comprehend us turning down fresh lobster, so one ended up in Tubby. We thanked them, returned to our boat and promptly released the lobster back into the water.




The trade winds were quite strong, so we decided to give up on heading upwind to Fulanga and sailed west instead to another island in the Southern Lau group, Matuku. But first we had to unwind our anchor chain from a large rock. This involved Malcolm snorkelling at the front of the boat telling Dina which way to drive the boat and Dina running between the helm to steer and the front of the boat to work the windlass.

We arrived at the anchorage off the village of Lomati on Matuku Island. The bay has a tricky entrance and is surrounded by mangroves. The water was murky and the bottom dark with good holding. We immediately noticed the sounds of many birds which seems quite rare for Fiji. The island also had many pine trees.

We went ashore and met Jay, the village ambassador. The Chief was away farming but we were welcomed to meet with the women who were weaving in the communal building. We did sevusevu with the Chief the next day. It was one of the more personal ceremonies. Although we could not understand the Fijian, we heard the Chief say our names, “Vancouver” and “Canada”. In addition to the requisite kava, we also gave the Chief many glow-sticks for the children of the village. We then went for a walk with Jay and his daughter, Margaret. We walked up behind the village to get a good view of our boat in the bay. Jay collected coconuts along the way.
Anchored at Matuku  
Jay climbing for coconuts

Margaret helping with the coconuts

We enjoyed the fresh coconut at Jay’s house where we meet his wife and son. As we walked back to the boat, a woman rushed out of her house to give us bananas. The next day, as we were preparing for an overnight sail to the Great Astrolabe Reef. Jay and Margaret came by in his small boat and gave us a woven palm basket filled with eggplants, zucchini and bok choy!
Jay and Margret
Margret and her brother - back in the village


Savusavu and Labasa

After Zophia left, we spent a few more days in Savusavu getting ready to head out again. This means provisioning and doing some boat jobs like filling our water tanks, picking up and installing the four AGM batteries that we had ordered from China, and getting extra cockpit cushion covers and salon curtains made.

Before leaving Savusavu, we took the bus to the Northern coast of the island to the town of Labasa. The drive across the island is very scenic. We went on market day and it was a bustling town. The market is much larger than in Savusavu and much of the produce in the market in Savusavu comes from Labasa.

Is this grafitti?

Local Bus to Labasa

Labasa market

Labasa market

Bok Choy at the Labasa market

As we were waiting for the bus back to Savusavu, we struck up a conversation with a local woman who was also returning to Savusavu. She worked for the Ministry of Immigration and visited the boats as they arrived to Fiji for the official check-in process. When our bus arrived at the station, there was much pushing and we asked Malcolm to go in front of us, push onto the bus and save us seats. Unfortunately, in all the mayhem, Malcolm felt his wallet lifted. It happened so fast, none of us could detect who had done it. There was nothing to do about it.

Rather than push onto the bus, the local woman stayed with us. She felt terrible about what had happened. As the next bus was in two hours, she invited us back to her boyfriend’s house for tea and cake. With the return taxi being late and a bit of a traffic jam, we almost missed the last bus back to Savusavu!

A few days later we left Savusavu, trying to work our way east to get to the Lau Group of islands. So, we motor-sailed, close-hauled, in the rain for 8 hours eventually anchoring off of Paradise Resort on the SW tip of Taveuni Island. By then the rain had stopped, so we joined del Viento, Interlude V, Moondance, Kiapa, Onivas and Koza for happy hour at the resort.