15th May 2008
Despite the fact that we haven't been out sailing for half a year, going back in the water felt natural.
17th May 2008
The wind is 15-20 knots from Sou east, we are heading just over North on a nice fast beam reach. We noticed a swell coming from nor east but wind still Sou east no worries. The swell increased and it is getting lumpy in the boat, but we made a record 168 miles in 24 hours.
19th May 2008
I noticed that one of the shrouds that holds the mast became loose. I checked and found that the bracket had broken. The next hour was spent doing a make shift fix. At 250 miles away from Fiji, we were concerned for the mast. Since the wind has shifted to North East, we altered course to Noumea in New Caledonia, 550 miles West. This way the wind was coming from stern, which was easier on the mast. Flying only the headsail, the boat was still going fast, but with the swell there was a lot of water spraying around. Worst still to come. Couple of hours later the seas started to tower up reaching frightening proportions. Rough waves were knocking us off course, the wind was hauling, and making horrendous noises as it went through the rigging. We were caught in a the middle of a huge tropical low. Nomad Life is not normally wet but this trip. The first electrical item to suffer was the 2-week-old gas shut off solenoid, now we had no gas. I ripped out the solenoid and put back the old fitting. This meant leaning out of the cockpit for an hour in the dark with a torch. With a nice hot coffee all was well.
Early morning Judit noticed that the wind started to shift, in a space of 3 hours turned 180 degrees, followed by becalmed seas and no wind. Now we were in the centre of the front. The seas were choppy, waves were breaking on board from all directions and the wind has completely died down. To our horror we noticed that a little blue sky soon would be shadowed by a tower of black clouds, bringing the wind back with full blow. So we decided to blow out New Caledonia and set sail for Fiji again, 300 miles away. The instruments were going potty turning lights on and off changing the settings. Located the problem to be the head unit for the Autohelm, lucky we managed to get the course set and it lasted till Fiji. Otherwise we would have had to hand steer not nice given the weather conditions.
Exhausted, finally we made landfall. We had to clear in with customs. This entailed so much paper work, I could not think straight so Judit completed this. We bent the truth a bit on declaring our alcohol onboard. Soon we found out that Customs was coming on board. Whoops! We ferried him out on our dinghy. Then came the search, well, he left with 2 half bottles of vodka (bad vodka from Panama) I had wanted to throw it away in NZ. Lucky escape, as he did not find the other 6 litres or the 9 litres of wine or the extra 15 cases of beer. Now we are in Vuda Point marina trying to find the parts to repair the shroud and Autohelm. Could be a bit of a wait but luckily we have a friend, Boyd, who is in a race from NZ arriving in 2 weeks. Boyd offered to bring the parts.
This is one of the nicest marinas we have been in. It has a picturesque Sunset Bar that overlooks the Mamamucas Islands, a huge canvas set on the garden to show films and a hotel adjacent with swimming pool. The entrance for the swimming pool is $5 , too expensive for us! However since the marina is a hurricane hule, there is very little wind or ventilation through the boat. Also adding the cockroach problem, we were out of there in 4 days! These tiny roaches flew in from a long distance landing on deck. We found and killed 2 inside the boat; hopefully we don't have an infestation.
We took the rickety old bus into town for a last provisioning before setting off to cruise the islands. Lautoka is one of the main towns of Viti Levu. It is chaotic with buses and taxis. Majority of the population is Indian. Fiji has a mixture of Polynesian - Melanesian and Indian population, the latest bought here to harvest the sugar cane, an industry now in decline. What the "Sugar City" lacks in attractions, it makes up for curry houses. All very cheap, with wonderful aroma inside, they are called "fast food" (no McDonalds here). The market is amazing with hundreds of variety of spices, dhal, nuts and tropical fruits. We arranged the cruising permit in one of the governmental buildings, while waiting for it to be ready we chatted with one of the officers. As it is winter here, she asked if we are not finding Fiji to cold. In fact, after that we noticed the Fijians do walk around with winter jackets at night, despite being a cool 20 degrees!
Malolo was our first stop in the Mamamucas. Navigating around can be a bit demanding, most of the islands are fringed with reefs, markings are non-existent and the water is not clear so difficult to see the reefs. This was the first night at an anchorage after many months being land tied. It is also our 8th wedding anniversary. We sat on deck for hours looking at a perfect sky, cloudless and full of stars, wandering how lucky we are.
Malolo didn't have much that enticed us ashore. Motor boats were coming and going throughout the day to the nearby resort, water planes landing, so it felt a bit like being anchored in a motorway. We left early morning to catch some of the morning sun for a better visibility of the reefs. We passed Tom Hank's Castaway Island, the setting for the film, conveniently chosen as it is next to another island with a luxury resort. Although the Mamamucas do have an infestation of Sheratons, many of the islands are uninhabited and inaccessible; it is largely unspoilt by tourism. Now we found the anchorage with a WOW factor! Vanua Levu and Navadra Island formed a very pretty bay. Waterdragon was in the bay, they had caught a huge Wahoo that fed all boats in the anchorage. Later we caught up with them during a BBQ on their boat. Teryn and Graham, both on their early 30's has been cruising for 6 years. With no budget to cruise, they worked in Auckland then on a diving boat out of Pitcairn and Gambier's, but managed to see a lot of the Pacific.
Vanua Levu is uninhabited apart from a few goats, an abandoned bar, hundreds of shoes awash on shore, a shrine and a cave that is clearly marked Tabu, bizarre! Sundowner was at the beach together with the only other 2 boats around, Waterdragon and Alk, a German boat.
Sun came up as a cruise liner appeared in the horizon. It got closer and finally entered the bay, picking up a buoy not far from us. After a lot of palaver they managed to drop the dinghy which was wildly swinging barely missing to hit the side of the liner. Then the crew prepared to offload the eager tourists. In the meantime a luxury motorboat was also approaching, to our horror that was also coming into the bay, anchoring even closer to us. Now this idyllic bay has turned into a crowded seaside resort with boats zooming around, swimmers glaring at us and the cruise liners loudspeaker's shouting out today's program of "diving, sunbathing in the beach and relaxing". Anyway, it was time to head back to Musket Cove to wait for Boyd, but instead of going directly we decided to stop at Mana for the night. According to the pilot book this island was one of the few with navigational markers around the reefs and had an easy entrance. We have seen the markers well in advance but once approaching it was quite difficult to work out the channel as it has a dogleg shape. Graham, in the bow, saw the stick to the entrance we just couldn't work it out which side of the stick to go. Now he'd seen the other marker and shouted " right!" The depth got swallowed underneath the boat. Now Graham was frantically shouting "left!". Too late, Nomad Life came to a sudden violent holt. We had hit the dammed reef! What Graham took for the marker, it was in fact a rock and I wasn't quick enough to turn around. As we found out later, diving the bottom, we had hit the solid steel keel, so more than damaging the boat we damaged our pride. And it did hurt! We sat the rest of the afternoon , in a sour mood, cursing the Fijians for their bad seamanship manners. As consolation we had a NZ steak for dinner, kept for a special occasion. We settled in for the evening hopping that we haven't anchored in the middle of the water runway of Turtle Airways.
Coming into Musket Cove was again tricky, dotted with reefs all the way, the usual sticks were there as navigational markings but not so visible. We arrived there at low tide. Musket Cove has a very interesting feature, at low tide the whole bay dries up and masses of sandy beaches emerging from the sea, the reefs also dry out, some forming swimming polls, very picturesque, but also one of the busiest places we have been so far here. Soon we found the 4 dollar beer bar with wood BBQ where you can bring your own meat!
The first five boats from the Auckland- Musket Cove race have arrived. These boats made it in 5 days and were the elite of the racing community of NZ, some were part of the Royal Squadron. ,We were in the bar at the evening to soak up the atmosphere.
Now most of the race boats are already in and what was a nice atmosphere slowly is turning into a drunken obnoxious crowd. It seems that the drinking has been going on non stop for a few days. We are coming to a conclusion that they are a different breed from cruisers. Still waiting for Boyd’s arrival with our Autohelm.
Finally Boyd arrived; the Autohelm is up and running now. Caught up with Boyd and the crew, just couldn't keep up with their drinking habits, now we were ready to leave to Vanuatu. With sailing, things never go as planned; a low front was approaching and forecasted to pass between Fiji and Vanuatu, that wasn't the time to leave. We sought shelter from the low in Vuda Point. Here we found Aaron, the mad Hungarian sailor on his 19ft boat Carina. He has spent the cyclone season here weathering 3 cyclones in the marina. On one of those rainy evenings, with not much to do, Aaron came on board and we listened to his stories of life in Fiji. The last of a series of coups happened in 2006 which resulted in the actual government, but still not accepted by all parties. The riots and coups are purely political movements, on daily life Fijians and Indians live together. Proof of this is the amount of half cast people around. We were very intrigued to find more about the cannibalism in Fiji, but that seems to be a Tabu subject...
Finally the trade winds came back; it was time to leave one of the friendliest places we have been in the Pacific. We left together with Galduz- with Gerard and Regina, a French couple we have met last year in the Cooks. The plan was to leave through Wilkes Passage, whilst approaching the exit there was 20knots of headwinds, adding to that we found out that Wilkes Passage is a famous surfing spot, which was enough to put us off. We detoured to Musket Cove and anchored for the night. The idea was to try again early morning, when usually there is not much wind. Dozens of surfers were taking advantage of the huge waves while we squeezed through the narrow passage. It was frightening but never the less amazing.