Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Birthday in the Lau

40 mmmmm, how the hell did that happen, seems to have crept up on me, must have been really busy over the last three years and seemed to have missed from thirty seven to forty, never mind, here we are in the Lau, a bottle of Mum champagne with a bacon and egg breakfast, the sun is shining and it is an unbelievably beautiful day, plan on taking it easy, a snorkel this afternoon, then a whole group of boats have put on a bit of a gig so should be a great night. Rachelle managed to sneak on board a very special present, so this morning was an amazing surprise, I have been eyeing up this French provincial cutlery set for some time and as of today it is mine so VERY VERY spoilt, thank you Rachelle. Eva has fully stepped up and is a regular little swimmer, we have swimming between the boats now and she is loving it, this activity has many benefits best of all being it is the only thing I can get her to do that get even close to wearing her out :-)
Ok time to go a take it easy, we are planning to be here as long as possible before doing an overnight back to Savusavu, if you are at a loose end in July and August come hang out, Rachelle will be back in New Zealand so there is a spare bunk.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The last two months

Brrrr its getting cold, it must be time to leave.

It always amazes me how quickly the first of May comes around, something to do with getting a life and boat ready to go offshore for six months.

This year was no different, if not more so when John asked me to lead the ICA rally to Fiji, John and Lyn made the week prior to leaving a dream and the last minute preparations under the ICA banner are so much easier than going it alone.

The main focus the week before seems to always be the weather, considering we had thirty eight boats leaving, twenty for Fiji and eighteen for Tonga there was more than a few budding meteorologists keeping watch. I am not sure which of us maxed out our credit card with the man upstairs but all signs pointed to a near as perfect weather window you could hope for.

With all the food, fuel and crew on board, paperwork complete and clearances gained the weather had continued to play ball and we were in for moderate southerlies going south east as we got further north, a stop in Minerva Reef looked a real possibility and then south east again for the sprint to Savusavu.

Come the morning of the 1st of May the sun was shining, the breeze not so keen on arriving but the fleet more than ready to depart, as we all jockeyed for position, spinnakers appeared, motors revved, all in all it was quite a spectacle as we headed out of Opua. The breeze was late to arrive but by mid afternoon everyone had settled down, there was fifteen to twenty knots out of the south and we were all starting to bunker down for the first night at sea.

Is that the bilge pump, mmmm that doesn't normally happen, it seems it was our turn on Sea Esta for a false start, after a a little investigation the cause of the problem was the rudder shaft gland, not the right tools meant an easy decision, turn around time. How to make a very not sea sick and happy crew quite the opposite, turn around and make it dead on the nose is what was by then a solid breeze with building seas. Needless to say after ten hours Rachelle was more than happy to be in the flat waters of Opua marina and my three year old daughter sound asleep and oblivious. Thanks to the quick thinking and great coordination of the team ashore and again the benefits of the ICA umbrella saw us pull into a berth, get a good six hours sleep, make repairs and be gone again by nine, a huge thanks again to John, Tony and Phil.

While we slept the rest of the fleet continued north and after heeding all the advise kept well East setting themselves up for an easy sail further up the track for Minerva Reef. As we cleared Russel wing on wing doing just under eight knots the rest of the fleet continued trucking north in twenty five to thirty knots of sou-sou east. The next four days proved pretty uneventful, the breeze continued if not a little more boisterous than forecast but from a perfect angle with all the boats making amazing progress. For us on Sea Esta the delay of a day seemed to have put us in an even better weather window, we were trucking, under reefed main and just the clew of the head sail unfurled we averaged eight knots and ended up needing to slow down to ensure a daylight arrival at North Minerva.

As it turned out we all converged on Minerva reef's together with the exception of only a few boats that kept going. It was quite a site as we lined up the pass of North Minerva at first light with a string of boats astern and a number already at anchor. The feeling after five days of leaving twenty to thirty knots and a boat that keeps moving for the calmness and uniqueness of Minerva is hard to put into words. Both North and South Minerva Reef's are truly incredible, they are places few of us are lucky enough to visit, anchored in the middle of the ocean within the protection of a submerged reef surrounded by other boats is very special.

The arrival of a small low and northerlies meant our timing again was perfect, we were able to spend four days exploring and recharging before the wind cooperated and went south again for the sprint to Savusavu Leaving on Friday meant a Monday morning ETA, it always seems easier and far less expensive to arrive during the week.

Fiji, no matter what direction you arrive from is a tease, you sail past some amazing islands and cruising grounds, coming from Minerva is no exception and we sailed past the Lau Group knowing that coming back to cruise would mean a one hundred mile beat back into the prevailing trade winds.

Savusavu is very much the Jewel of the pacific, the team at the Copra Shed, Hot Springs Hotel and Savusavu Tourism do an amazing job, no sooner have you arrived and the formalities are complete so you can proceed ashore for a hot shower, drink or four and superb cheap dining. Two special mentions must be made, Savusavu Tourism for contributing to the clearance fees for the yachts and Dolly at the Copra Shed. Dolly is the most connected, organised and helpful person I have ever met, THANK YOU.

Lorna and her team put together a week of festivities and it was a great chance for us all to relax and enjoy Savusavu, having all been in a rush with the chaos of departure we hadn't had a chance to spend much time together and socialise. The week was a perfect chance to meet, get to know each other and unwind culminating in a farewell dinner and prize giving in the beautiful setting of the Hot Springs Hotel.

As a group of people there was an extensive base of experience on all things boats and cruising, as a result any maintenance, damage and cruising information were able to be shared and repaired so we could all get on with going cruising. The chart marking sessions, yes we had a few, gave us all a mass of information to now get out and explore. This again highlights what I feel is one of the biggest benefits of the rally, help and support, we are all good at something and between the boats there was always ample skills and spares.

With no real cruise in company this year it was now a chance to go cruising, we all had similar plans so in various groups set out to explore. For us on Sea Esta our first stop was Cousteau's resort, not more than four miles from Savusavu, yes I know not that adventurous but we wanted to snorkel split rock and it was on the way to our next stop. Nasasobo Bay was next, a pancake flat cyclone hole anchorage on route to Viani Bay, we had managed to acquire a copy of Carpé Diem's Cruising Guide To A Secret Fiji, following Hilton's advise we planned to follow his recommendations and they are more than just good. Taking the inside passage to Viani Bay is beautiful with some of the best snorkelling I have seen in Fiji. Next stop, Viani Bay for a spot of diving and snorkelling out on the world famous rainbow and surrounding reefs.

MAYDAY MAYDAY, a cruisers worst nightmare, as we dropped anchor out on the reef for our first dive we heard MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY this is TOUCHE TOUCHE TOUCHE, it is a moment and day that left us all extremely upset and heart broken for Dennis and Rebecca, I wont go into the details but thankfully they are both alive and able to share their harrowing experience. I am sure in the future they will publish an article that we can all learn something from. Needless to say we didn't dive that day and planned to venture our with Jack Fisher the next day.

Take two, Jack Fisher is a service not to be missed, for $10 Fijian a person plus lunch he will come out on your boat, guide you and support you either diving or snorkelling or both, he knows this area inside out and is a great guy to boot. While in the area we got to dive the fish farm, white wall and snorkel the rainbow reef, as always well worth the effort.

Next, Taveuni, its sad to say I had never been to Taveuni and have I missed out, it is a beautiful island, we anchored on the northern end near Naselesele Point off a beautiful white sand beach. Taveuni is an easy stop and the best place for provisioning in the area, there is fresh fruit and vegie markets and a supermarket that stocks all you need and more. Just south of Naselesele Point is a beach bar with the million dollar setting, sip a cold vino and watch the sun go down, you wont be disappointed.

So as I write this we are sitting in a postcard perfect anchorage at Matangi island, yesterday was snorkelling, today a few boat jobs and tomorrow the Lau Group, I am not working, not cold and more than just a little relaxed, ah the cruising life, you should try it.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

The Lau

As I type this we are in the more remote islands of Fiji, the Lau Group, the area we are anchored in now is called the Bay Of Islands and it is stunning, very similar to Thailand with the undercut mushroom shaped limestone islets, there are hundreds and dinghy exploring is the activity of the day. We are so lucky to be able to explore here, this is the first year they have really opened the area up to cruisers and as a result it is untouched, free of pollution and like it would have been a thousand years ago.
The plan is to spend a couple of weeks here, get old at the end of this week, then head back to Savusavu before heading across to the Yasawas, either way we are flexible so generally go the way the wind blows and the mood takes us.
Hope wherever you are and whatever you are doing you get as much time to smell the roses as we do.

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