I know, I know- you have wondered what has become of Stars End 2? Have we become marooned on a reef or have we simply blended into village life on some remote island?
I am aware an update on my blog is well overdue, but there are a number of reasons why it has taken this long to produce. Some are valid excuses like illness and no internet access but the main reason is that I have simply been slack, and the longer I have left it, the harder it has become to catch up! Nevertheless, here goes:-
Firstly, once Paul & Jenny flew home at the end of July, Frank searched high and low for a 4 stroke inverter 1000 watt generator which needed to be specific dimensions to fit in our lazarette (area under the cockpit). Unable to find a suitable replacement for our broken generator anywhere in Fiji, he eventually purchased one on eBay and then we had to wait for it’s shipment from Australia, customs clearance and courier delivery.
During those weeks we were waiting around Lautoka & Saweni Bay, and the weather was sunny and pleasant, but those wonderful strong trade winds that Frank & I have come to love (not!) meant that we had to move anchorage several times to escape the wind, swell and the smoke from the sugar cane factory that belched into the air 24 hours a day.
It covered the decks in a film of black soot, and even infiltrated through the fine mesh of the fly screens to leave black smudges over our clothing & bedding.
Once we took delivery of the generator, we replenished our supplies of fuel, water and fresh food, and set off up the west coast of Viti Levu. It’s a slow passage along the coastline, as you veer close to shore at times but often divert far from land, following narrow meandering passages with exposed coral bommies and sand flats at low tide.
Sailing is difficult in this area, as you need to hand steer through these tricky reef passages that constantly change direction, keeping your eyes riveted for the shoal areas and submerged reefs, many of which are missing their ‘pole’ markers that jut out of the shallow waters.
I tend to do most of the hand steering on the yacht whilst Frank ducks in & out of the cabin to the computer where he checks google earth images of the area and we compare the GPS & maps to find the most accurate path. This has worked pretty well so far, although we did have one occasion where we were both wrong and scraped the bottom of the keel on at low speed on a bommie!
Of course, the winds were strong (what else would we expect!) and most of the tracks were not in our favour to sail, so we ended up motor sailing most of these passages until we arrived at Viti Levu Bay on the east coast several days later and met up with our friends the Eustace family, on board ‘Periclees’, who had been enjoying village life with the locals in this deep, protected bay. They took us ashore to meet their new friends and we shared lunch with them and a tour around the village.
Isobelle and both her girls Yara & Lanie had contracted a virulent form of influenza, and happy as we were to all be reunited, contagion was bound to happen!
So here is the second reason why I have been so slack – Within 72 hours, I came down with undoubtedly, the worst case of flu I have ever contracted. At first, the aches & pains and shivery hot & cold fevers almost convinced me that I had contracted dengue fever again, but I am pretty sure, I was simply knocked for six by this flu which left me flat on my back for many days. A month later, I was still coughing and we have since heard of many cases of people being struck down with this particularly aggressive strain of flu.
Despite feeling under the weather, Frank suggested the weather was good to leave the main island of Viti Levu in company with ‘Periclees’, and so we sailed to Naigani Islet & then on to Makogai Island over the next few days.
We had first visited these islands in 2013 when holidaying on board ‘Gypsy Lee’ with Dave & Lanie, and I had looked forward to spending more time exploring Makogai Island in particular, as it has a fascinating history of being established as a leper colony in 1911 for inhabitants from all over the Pacific Islands such as the Solomons, the Gilbert & Ellice Islands, Cook & Samoa Islands, Fiji & Tonga.
Separate villages were built for the Fijians, Indians and other Pacific Islanders, and the staff. The patients lived in dormitories, with women segregated from men. Indentured Indian workers were brought to the island to do much of the farming, although the physically able were encouraged to work in the fields, assist in building, cooking, sewing and other daily chores. Children attended school and there were girl guides and boy scouts. There was even an open air movie theater.
At the beginning, the only leprosy treatment offered was Chaulmoogra Oil, used to dress wounds or as an intra-dermal injection. It was not a cure, but treated the symptoms. In 1948, dapsone, a sulpha drug and a cure for leprosy, was discovered and patients were finally effectively treated and able to be released.
By 1947, there were 675 lepers on Makogai. According to the statistics register kept at Makogai, 4,185 patients landed there, 2,343 returned to full health, 1,241 died and were buried there ( the graveyard is still there among the overgrown jungle), 518 were repatriated, and 83 transferred to a hospital in Suva when the Makogai leprosarium was closed in 1969.
Many of the buildings are crumbling shells, gradually being hidden by the overgrown vines and foliage. A few stone structures are still standing, including the remains of the outdoor cinema and the stone staircase that lead to the women’s dorm (the rest of the stone building was disassembled by scavengers after the leper colony was closed down).
A few of the buildings are still being used today as housing for the staff and families of the Government Fisheries Department who have lived on Makogai since it was declared a Marine Protected Reserve in 1989.
The idea was to cultivate the over harvested giant clams as juveniles in the bay near the village after being transplanted from an onshore breeding facility. Once sufficiently grown they can be re distributed throughout Fiji.
I have to admit that onshore a few of the large concrete tanks still hold baby clams and a few sad & injured tutles, but the place was decidedly less official like than when we last visited. Many of the tanks lie empty
(*Since I didn’t leave my bed sick & the weather was quite overcast and rainy whilst we were there this time, I have included a few pictures of the island from our visit in 2013.)
The weather continued to be overcast and cool, so Frank was keen to move on after a couple of days. We were anxious to be heading further north where there were many new islands to explore.
Frank & I are obviously governed by wind direction and the need for safe anchorages wherever we travel, but to the north, many of the islands are located no more than 20 miles away from one another, so it is more a question of which direction we should head first to absorb the full potential of Fiji’s culture and geography.
In all honesty, we have been quite discouraged by the unusually cool temperatures and consistently strong trade winds that we have experienced since arriving in Fiji in July, but we were determined to make the most of our time here.
We were both looking forward to cruising areas less traveled. Whether due to being off the beaten track, or due to the difficulties of negotiating tricky passages through the reefs to access most of the islands, for whatever reasons, Frank & I were keen to sail to places that did not feature a resort on every island, and where we could enjoy some relaxed cruising and see the ‘real’ Fiji.
The most popular cruising areas in Fiji are definitely the Mamanuca & Yasawa Islands off the main island of Viti Levu and the 60 islands & islets of the Lao Group to the east that were only made more accessible for cruising yachts to visit around 10 years ago.
It was at this point (at Makogai) that our friends on ‘Periclees’ decided to head back to Viti Levu and continue down to Suva and the island of Kadavu, since their cruising time was limited, with only a month before Isabelle & the girls flew back to NZ to become ‘landlubbers’ once again after almost 2 years of cruising. Dave would sail the yacht back to New Zealand with crew a few weeks later.
We lifted Stars End 2’s anchor and sadly waved goodbye to ‘Periclees’ , realizing we might not meet up again this season in Fiji, but knowing all the wonderful memories we had shared over the past few months had forged a strong friendship that would ensure we stayed in touch.
It was a brisk but enjoyable 26 mile sail to Koro Island, and the best part was catching an impressive sized mahi mahi en route on our trolling line. It was a big effort dragging the fish on board and having to kill it. I couldn’t help but think of ‘Lord of the Flies’ as Frank tried clubbing the huge specimen, then had to stab it continuously with a knife (that broke off in its head), with blood & guts splashing all over us and the deck before it gave up it’s fight for life!
It was well worth the drama. After filleting, we filled the fridge & freezer with enough fish for at least 10 meals. It has beautiful white flesh and tastes delicious.
We anchored at Dere Bay on Koro Island (7th largest island) which has a large contingency of expats living here with over 400+ freehold lots of land.
It cost us $10 to pick up a mooring buoy for the night (No anchoring on the coral), & though we enjoyed a calm anchorage, we woke to miserable weather of overcast skies & drizzle so we decided to move on. I still felt pretty wretched so another day of relaxed sailing suited me.
We had a good day of strong winds and sailed almost 40 miles to Taveuni Island, (the fourth largest island in Fiji). Taveuni is known as the ‘Garden Island’, with nature reserves, and is covered in tropical rain forest with an abundance of native plants & wildlife.
We radioed the resort on the southern tip of Taveuni- ‘Paradise Point’ mid afternoon, and they offered us a free mooring just out the front of the resort which was built on 5 acres of an old coconut plantation We went onshore in the dinghy and were made to feel most welcome by Phil, an Australian friend of the owner Allan who was preoccupied by having his elderly mother and 10 of her friends all visiting from a retirement village in Melbourne.
We stayed at Paradise Point for several nights, whilst I continued to rest and recuperate, feeling pathetically weak and with an irritable cough. We were shown around the resort which cultivated a huge array of fresh vegetables, & had a large new chicken coop and a piggery whose waste they planned to utilize down the track as a bio gas plant for fuel.
I paid to have some of the heavier washing done and on a couple of the evenings, we went ashore for happy hour & enjoyed meeting some of the yachties who were tied up to the other 4 moorings.
The weather was mild and sunny and I couldn’t resist a swim on the last day in the clear waters just off the yacht only 50 meters from the rocky shoreline. We were keen to take some dives in this area which boasts some of the best diving in Fiji, but I was still too poorly to book any from Paradise Point, so we decided to move on when the wind turned north westerly and we began rocking and rolling on our mooring.
To escape the swell and wind, we ended up sailing 13 miles across the Somosomo Passage to Viani Bay on Vanua Levu, the second largest island in Fiji.
Viani Bay has a reputation for scores of incredible dive sites around the reefs that surround this area, both deep wall drop offs & shallow drift dives. We were unfamiliar with the exact location of these sites and aware of the strong current that rips through the Somosomo Passage, so we wanted to get some advice from a local dive resort before venturing into the water on our own.
After exploring various inlets, we just happened to meander into Nassau Bay when I discovered (googling dive companies in Viani Bay area) that Sau Bay Resort was a few hundred meters away from where we were situated.
We anchored safely between several shallow reefs at the bottom of the bay and took the dinghy ashore where we met Nigel Douglas, a personable 5th generation Fijian who had been born in this area & now owned and ran a charming small resort with his wife, tucked away behind the trees that lined the beachfront. It was such a peaceful & protected bay, bordered by mangroves and coral reefs surrounding the shoreline that we were happy to stay awhile. Nigel organized for his dive master Tiko to take Frank & I out on our last day here for 2 of the best dives we have ever had.
The White Wall was accessed by descending steeply through a narrow hole in the reef to 120 foo,t to uncover a vertical wall literally covered with stunning soft white coral that seemed to go on forever. As we followed the wall around & gradually ascended, so the white coral was replaced by masses of soft purple coral that took our breath away.
Our second dive at Rainbow’s End was completely different- we dived to 20-25 meters and were surrounded by an unrivaled abundance of marine life. Schools of large fish & turtles swam around the myriad of colorful reefs with many varieties of soft and hard corals. It felt like we were in a vast aquarium.
Frank & I enjoyed our stay at Sau Bay and both agreed we would like to come back later and do some more dives, but it was now the beginning of September & there was still so much of Fiji to see!
We sailed back across the Somosomo Passage to Taveuni so that we could buy some fresh supplies before venturing further afield.
The wind hadn’t really stopped blowing hard for weeks, (months???) and we anchored at Naselsele Point on the northern tip of Taveuni, waiting for a break in the weather. It didn’t happen after several days, so we simply left anyway (plus we are so used to bashing into head winds now)!
It was a boisterous 12 mile sail eastwards to navigate the passage through the reef to the tiny island of Matagi, where there is a luxurious resort set in stunning landscaped grounds owned by the family of Nigel (from Sau Bay). We paid them a visit but ended up moving to Horseshoe Bay on the opposite side of the island, which was a safer, more protected anchorage.
We spent a couple of days enjoying some welcome sunshine, & explored this wonderfully isolated lagoon surrounded by turquoise waters and coral reefs. The snorkeling was good around the shoreline, but the wind was too strong to venture out of the lagoon to some of the wreck and dive sites we had hoped to visit.
We continued our travels 16 miles northwards to Budd Reef in the Ringgold Islands, a group of 4 small volcanic islands surrounded by large reefs, with only one village, on the island of Yanuca. We anchored off the village (of the same name) in a roly swell & within a few minutes, the chief’s son Willy, came out to welcome us in his longboat. As the village was accessed over a wide reef that had dried being low tide, he offered to give us a lift ashore so that we could do our ‘sevusevu’ (kava offering) to his father, chief Isoa.
After all the polite formalities, sitting on the verandah with Chief Isoa and his family, they soon found out about Frank’s talents & eagerly suggested ways in which we could help the community.
‘Fixit Frank’ was soon trying to mend broken mobiles, computers & VHF radios & check out solar panels and antennaes they had no clue how to work.
I soon realized that Willy’s 5 month old son had a bad case of ringworm all over his chubby face, and along with other family members who had various ailments, fetching some basic medical needs from the boat became a priority.
We returned to the yacht with Willy who offered to show us a preferable anchorage on the opposite side of the island. He was eager to steer the yacht with his longboat in tow, & was fascinated by every gadget he saw on board. He spoke fluent English, grasped well how things worked but sadly hadn’t the knowledge or tools to fix them.
Willy told us we were only the fourth yacht to visit his village this year, and as he regaled us with stories, you could hear how much he enjoyed the interaction with ‘yachties’ from many different countries who stopped at his island.
He offered to take Frank lobster diving that night & when I expressed concern that he would need to motor his longboat back to his village on a rough windy night with no moon to guide him, before we realized, we had a visitor staying on board for the night!
The guys donned wet suits against the cool weather and spent about an hour in the choppy water, searching the reefs with just our dive torches for light, but only succeeded in catching a ‘bug’ & a spotted crab which we boiled up straight away & later refrigerated.
We had a visit from a village longboat & were subsequently introduced to some of Willy’s brothers & family members. They had huge plastic tubs in their boat that they were slowly filling with sea cucumbers that would later be exported to Japan & Taiwan. These sea cucumbers used to be found in the shallow waters all around the islands, but over time (over hunting), their numbers have dwindled and now the men need to dive down to 30 & 40 meters to find their quarry. The men stay at a camp they have made on nearby Cobia Island for weeks at a time, working long days diving, followed by washing, cooking & drying the cucumber flesh to fulfill the demand for this rare and exotic Asian delicacy. They told us they received Fijian $200 for a full tub of cucumbers by a ‘middle man’ (who supplies the men with boat, scuba tanks and compressor) whereas the finished dried product was eventually sold overseas for $2,000 for EACH cucumber!!! We can’t say how much of this was true, but over the next month or so, we started to notice many longboats plying the same trade around the islands & reefs, and realized it must be considered a worthwhile & profitable venture for many villagers.
It was a roly anchorage on Yanuca Island and I didn’t sleep well with someone new on board, but next day Willy was happy to offer his services to show us more of the area. We motored less than 4 miles across to Cobia Island, where Willy assured us of wonderful diving opportunities. Unfortunately, it was simply too overcast and drizzly by the time we anchored, so we donned wet suits and decided snorkeling would have to suffice in these cool conditions. We took the dinghy towards breaking reefs far offshore. It was too deep to anchor, so I towed the dinghy to allow Frank & Willy to dive down, and we were amazed at the spectacular underwater scenery.
There was at least 40 to 50 METER visibility of coral reefs teeming with schools of colorful fish that swam between sheer cliffs, narrow gullies & deep canyons, You could feel the surge of the swell as it swept back & forth over the reefs. Frank enjoyed diving down on some interesting drop offs, whilst Willy tried to catch a fish using his spear gun, (he later said that the visibility was not as good as normal and the big ones all eluded him!).
Had the sun been shining and the wind less strong, we would have loved to stay here for a week or more, taking up the invitation to visit the sea cucumber camp, diving, snorkeling & exploring Budd Reef, but the clouds rolled in and the rain became persistent, so we sadly dropped Willy back off to his village and tried several bays around the islands before we found an anchorage that wasn’t too uncomfortable.
We called back to the village next day with some donations and Frank spent several hours setting up our old VHF radio that he left for the village after he was unable to repair their very old handheld model.
Once back at the yacht, we moved to yet another anchorage to try & stop the persistent rock & rolling, and found it the best so far! We wondered if the reputation for poor anchorages was one of the reasons not many yachts visit the Ringgold Islands.
Next morning, the sun tried to poke it’s head through the clouds, so Frank & I took the opportunity to snorkel around the reefs along the shoreline after having a small bonfire on the beach to burn all our disposable rubbish. The water offered decent visibility (20 meters) but there wasn’t a great array of coral or fish to capture our attention for too long in the cool temperatures. We could see sunny skies above the island of Rabi 20 miles in the distance, and with favorable winds to sail there, we decided it was time to chase some sunshine & move on in that direction.
We thoroughly enjoyed a wonderfully relaxing trip, with the sails ‘butterflied’ out on either side to capture the full advantage of the wind. We had to navigate a narrow passage through reefs in order to head around the top of Rabi island & sail into the protected anchorage of Albert Bay. Here we appreciated the calmest night on anchor (in mirror like conditions) since we had left the marina a month earlier, and it made us realize just how accustomed we had become to rocking & rolling at anchor.
We planned to return to Rabi at a later stage as it is an island with an unusual history, having been given to the Gilbert Islanders for resettlement when their island was compromised through phosphate mining in 1945. They have retained their own native language and strong cultural traditions & are renowned for their skilled craftsmanship.
However, with strong winds (how unusual!) predicted over the following few days, we wanted to be in protected waters so we planned to sail the 40 miles to Vanua Levu the next day.
This marks the start of our circumnavigation of the island of Vanua Levu, which I will cover in my next blog update.