2011 Overview – Tonga and Fiji.

Dec 30, 2011| 0 Comment

Decisions, decisions and more decisions! In March of 2010, The First Mate was not sure what bets The Captain would have placed on her as we set sail across the vast Pacific. After 9,000nm of open ocean, when we finally arrived on the shores of New Zealand, would she ever want to step on a boat again!  To his surprise, she does.  She does!  How dare he doubt her!  The question now is where to next.  Well …. we honestly do not know.  So many places, so big an ocean, so many choices.  What we have decided is that we like the South Pacific.  We like the cruising.  We like the options.   We like the people.  We like the challenge.  Where to next?   The decision is before us and so is the great, wide, wonderful South Pacific!

Last year was an exciting year with lots of new places, but many of them went by way too quickly. We had a lot of miles to cover, and we put more pressure on the schedule by going home for two months in the middle of our Pacific Crossing. We have resolved that this year we will visit fewer countries and will spend more time in each one.

New Zealand has turned out to be a good place to leave the boat, so we plan to head north to some tropical islands then return to New Zealand at the end of the year. We enjoyed Tonga and would like to return, and we skipped Fiji last year. Decision is made. We have our plan: New Zealand to Tonga to Fiji to New Zealand.


Year End Summary

Mar 30 – May 6New Zealand167
May 6 – May 17New Zealand to Tonga1110
May 17 – Jun 17Tonga325
Jun17 – Jun 20Tonga to Fiji434
Jun 20 to Jun 27Fiji178
Sep 23 – Nov 7Fiji737
Nov 7 – Nov 14Fiji to New Zealand1144
Nov 14 – Nov 29New Zealand0
Total Year4095


At the end of March, we returned to New Zealand where Avante had spent the southern summer in the Opua Marina Boatyard. The repairs and maintenance work that we had arranged had been completed, and with one exception, we were very pleased with the work.  As usual, we had brought some parts back with us and installed several of them on the boat.  After a little over a week in the marina, we were provisioned and ready to go.  We spent several weeks of delightful cruising in the Bay of Islands and nearby areas before heading back to the marina at the end of April

There was an Island Cruising Association rally that was headed to Tonga, and we signed up.  The scheduled departure was delayed almost a week waiting for a good weather window.  It took us 11 days to make this 1100 nm passage, but we stopped for 4 days at Minerva Reef.  It was not the most pleasant passage.  Winds were quite light in the middle, and we had to motor a lot, then they got quite strong and on the nose for the last two days before reaching Minerva Reef.  Minerva Reef is an interesting experience.  You feel like you are anchored in the middle of the ocean.

After a year of all new places, it was fun to go back to someplace where we had been before.  Clearing into Tonga with the rally was a much more pleasant experience, taking only 15 minutes.  In general, we found that the rally made clearances and fueling much more convenient and that reduced fees for rally participants covered much of the rally cost.  In addition, John and Lyn Martin run a very laid back rally with few scheduled events, and they encourage boats to do a lot on their own. We cruised north through Tonga, starting at Big Mama’s near Tongatapu and going north to Vava’u.  We were able to spend a lot more time in the Ha’apai Islands this year, and we enjoyed these wild and sparsely populated islands.  We also had much better weather than we had experienced the previous October and were able to get into several Vava’u anchorages where we had been frustrated on the previous trip.  Just like the prior year, we had a lot of fun and really enjoyed cruising through the Kingdom of Tonga.

From Tonga, we left the rally and sailed west to Fiji, and we enjoyed 3 days of relaxed sailing on this 430nm passage. We cleared into Fiji at the Copra Shed in Savusavu where there are a number of moorings and fuel can be hauled from a nearby gas station.

By now, our schedule was driving us.  We wanted to leave the boat in Fiji for several months, and the only marina that could handle our draft was the Port Denerau Marina located near Nadi on the west side of Viti Levu.  That was 175nm to the west of Savusavu.  Since sailing around Fiji is basically a daytime experience because of the many reefs and often poor charting, and since sailing in Fiji requires internal clearances and customs and immigration do not work on weekends, we were in a hurry.  After a day in Savusavu, we headed southwest, going between Fiji’s two big islands, reaching Lautoka to check in on Friday, then heading over to the Port Denerau Marina where we left Avante at the end of June and flew home to Telluride for the summer.

We returned to Fiji in mid-September bringing several boat parts including a new refrigeration unit.  (The old one had failed the day before we left to go home in June.)  Port Denerau proved to be a good place to leave the boat.  We had a capable agent to watch it for us, there were some marine services available, and there was good provisioning in nearby Nadi.  Also, there were a number of nice restaurants right next to the marina, and it was a very agreeable place to spend some time.  Although, we had sailed through the center of Fiji in June, we knew that we had not really seen much of Fiji yet.  We ran into several friends who had already been cruising in Fiji for a few months. After discussing their Fiji sailing experiences, we decided to return to Savusavu, do a counterclockwise circuit of the northern island – Vanua Levu, then cruise south through the Yasawa Islands ending up back at Port Denerau. 

Fiji is a country of contrasts and conflicts.  A former British Colony, Fiji has been an independent nation since 1970.  However, there is conflict between the indigenous Fijiians who are the only ones who can own land and the Indo-Fijians who were imported from India more than a century ago to work the sugar cane fields.  Today, the Indo-Fijians appear to do most of the work and control almost all of the commerce.  There is also a great disparity between the nice resorts and the poor island villages. 

Sailing in Fiji can be beautiful, but it is often frustrating.  The Fijians are very tradition oriented, and yachts cruising in rural Fiji are expected to visit the nearby village and seek out the chief for a sevusevu ritual where the chief is presented with a bundle of roots that will make a bowl of kava.  This is fine if you will be staying a while, but is not always convenient if you are just anchoring for the night.  Also, there was not a lot of comfortable navigation around Fiji, and The Captain hated the mixture of poor charts and many reefs. We spent a lot of our time underway in Fiji motoring slowly with a bow watch.  The ports and anchorages that the British navy used are well charted, but the rest is not.  It is not easy to spot 9 foot deep reefs when it is overcast or the wind is not right.  The Yasawa Islands are quite lovely, but as we discovered, they can be very windy.  We found that many cruisers spend a lot of time at the Musket Cove Resort and in the marina at Port Denaru or Vuda Point. We hope to return to Fiji in the future, for it will be so much easier the second time.

In November, we sailed south to New Zealand. This was our third passage to/from New Zealand, and it was consistent with the others – somewhat rough with wind well forward of the beam.  We had a great weather window and planned to fuel on Friday morning then clear out with Customs and Immigration in the afternoon.  Unfortunately, the pump at the fuel dock was not working, and by the time it was fixed and we got our fuel, we had missed Customs and Immigration.  We headed for nearby Musket Cove to wait out the weekend.  Things went smoothly on Monday, and we enjoyed a wonderful sail out of Fiji.  This lasted only until the passage through our last reef in Fiji where we were hit with higher than forecast winds of 25 to 30 knots from the southeast.  We spent our first 24 hours offshore on a wet and rough port tack.  Conditions improved for a few days, and we even had to motor occasionally due to light winds.  As we neared New Zealand, the wind shifted to right on our nose, and we spent the last 28 hours grinding slowly away under motor.  It took us 7 days to complete this 1140nm passage from Lautoka to Opua.

In New Zealand, we returned for our second season in Opua Marina where we pulled Avante and left her on the hardstand while we flew home for 4 months of winter in Telluride.

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