It was a poignant moment, saying goodbye to the familiar faces and friends we had made during the 6 months we had kept Stars End 2 moored at Vuda Point Marina over the cyclone season.
On the other hand, it was a great feeling to hoist the sails and feel the breeze in our face, and know we were once again wandering nomads reliant only on the wind, weather and our whims to determine our course.
Our friend Dave Gooding had flown in from Brisbane for over 3 weeks on board Stars End 2, so this was the ideal opportunity for us to head to the Yasawas to visit local friends we had all met whilst holidaying together with Dave’s wife Des, on board other friends Lanie & Dave’s yacht ‘Gypsy Lee’ during our first trip to Fiji back in 2005.
Then, we had met brother & sister Oni & Vaci who were care taking an uninhabited island in the Yasawas for a NZ resort developer. We spent such a wonderful time enjoying their hospitality, getting to know their families, anchored in the pristine waters around this area which we gave the honorary name of ‘Oni’s Passage’.
Today, ‘Oni’s Passage’ is the site for Paradise Cove, a prestigious 5 star resort where Vaci works along with her daughter Mererai, and many of the residents of their nearby home village of Soso.
Last year, we had caught up with Vaci and some of her family at Paradise Cove and Lautoka, but had been unable to visit Soso village due to adverse winds preventing us anchoring in their bay, but this year we were determined to get to their island of Naviti especially to meet up with Oni and his wife Raewae.
On the day we head out from Vuda Point towards the Yasawas there was scarcely a puff of wind to start off with, until we were level with Waya Island, when a ripple traveled across the water as the only warning sign of a brisk 25 knot change which arrived as suddenly as if a switch had been turned on.
The wind coming straight from the direction we were headed meant tacking back and forth until we reached ‘Oni’s Passage’ in the late afternoon. By this time, the seas were steep & lumpy & we were happy to radio Paradise Cove Resort to ask permission to pick up their mooring buoy for the night. Here, we were out of the worst of the swell but not the wind so we stayed on board and listened to the mooring ropes creak and groan all night as they strained with the effort of swinging us round violently on the buoy in the strong gusts.
By morning, the wind had abated a good deal and as we had breakfast, Dave threw out a fishing line at the back of the yacht with a soft lure and a balloon float. He was inside brushing his teeth when he heard the line spinning out and rushed outside to enjoy a feisty battle with a magnificent specimen of job fish as our first catch of the season.
We motored further around the island to Mantaray Resort which undoubtedly enjoys some of the best snorkeling in the Yasawas. We caught up with one of the owners Tina, and a number of the staff whom we have befriended during the many years that we have visited Mantaray either by yacht or flying in for holidays.
Next day we had organized to catch up with Oni at Soso Village, but as we motored through the lagoon in front of Mantaray Resort, we found ourselves heading into a 20-25 knot NE wind that yes, you guessed it, was right on the nose for where we wanted to go! Such a familiar pattern.
It took us almost 3 hours to bash our way through the steep waves towards the deep inlet of Soso bay just 4 miles away where we found protection from the waves but not from the bullets of wind that rushed down between the tall hills and swung the yacht around violently at anchor.
Nevertheless, we took the dinghy ashore to Soso Village in the afternoon. There were still many signs of cyclone Winston’s damage- piles of rubble where homes had once stood, building and roof repairs evident throughout the village, damaged longboats on the beach and trees uprooted & bedraggled coconut palms.
Jo, from Mantaray Resort took this amazing drone footage of Soso village soon after Cyclone Winston.-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olBnyU6VlT0
We received welcoming “Bula’s’ from every home, friendly greetings from many of the villagers that we met and we enjoyed Oni & Raewae’s hospitality in their home, sitting Fiji-style on their grass mat floor, enjoying a cuppa and home made cake. We would have liked to take up Oni’s offer for a lovo the next night with Vaci and her family who would be arriving from Lautoka, but we were on a tight schedule to get to the top of the Yasawas in time for a weather window we had seen on Windyty that we hoped would give us a smooth passage across the Bligh Strait- notorious for inclement seas and strong winds that could blow up in an instant.
Next day, it only took one hour to retrace our track back to Mantaray, through the lagoon and across to the west coast, where we were able to enjoy a good sail in the lee of the islands that offered protection from the swell and 25 knot winds.
By mid afternoon, we were anchored up with 11 other yachts in front of Nanuya resort at Blue Lagoon, where we had enjoyed a week with Paul & Jenny last year.
When Dave, Frank & I went ashore for ‘happy hour’ at the ‘Boatshed Bar’ deck specifically built for welcomed yachties, Dave thanked the barman for his icy beer using the colloquial term for ‘thank you’ used only in the Yasawas- “Vinandu Rikki” instead of the generic Fijian ‘Vinaka’. He did a double take, came back to our table and asked our names. It turned out that this barman, Luke, is the boyfriend of Anie, Oni’s daughter who works at the nearby resort of Blue Lagoon and had been alerted by her father that we were on our way up.
We hadn’t been able to catch up with Anie last year as it was simply too darned windy to anchor near her resort, so we were thrilled when she turned up ln the rain later that night, after she finished work, as Luke had organized a longboat to bring her across for a visit. We had first met Anie 10 years ago when she worked at Mantaray Resort and now she is mother to Josh and little Desi, who is Dave & Desley’s god daughter, and her children live with Anie’s mother Raewae in Soso village.
It was wonderful to see Anie with her beautiful smile and infectious laugh, and catch up with her for all too short a time.
We continued through the islands up to Wasa-i-Lau where we saw an impressive 150+ foot super yacht anchored up with a row of water toys – jetski’s, ski boat, paddle board and tenders tied up behind. As usual, when we see an impressive million dollar super yacht, we had great fun trying to figure out if we could recognize anybody famous on board and whether they would become our new best friends! Lol
I had just posted a picture of Frank & Dave on Facebook relaxing with a beer, when a message popped up from our Fijian friend Nigel, asking for my mobile number. It turned out Nigel was on board this super yacht for 6 weeks as tour guide extraordinaire through the islands of Fiji, for the family of 6 on board, with help from 13 crew members.
We thought of inviting them on board Stars End 2 for sun downers, but decided we didn’t have enough snacks to share.
By 7.15 next morning, we had motored out through the reefs to the eastern side of the Yasawas for the 42 mile crossing of the Bligh Strait. We had heard some fiercesome stories of this strait but the predicted winds of 15knot southerlies allowed us to make good headway until about halfway across when the wind suddenly died and came more from the east, so we were heading much more into it and ended up having to motor sail to get there before dark.
We were heading for Yadua Island, a small island about 20 miles off the north western tip of Vanua Levu, that we had visited last year, Frank decided to take a shortcut through a shoal area to avoid detouring miles around the reefs and enter the anchorage at dusk which was risky. It was an exciting little exercise that proved no problem and all the more rewarding when we caught a juvenile barracuda on the trolling line soon after. It was comforting to have our previous tracks that we followed through the narrow entrance to the bay and to the same anchorage spot as last time. Fish and chips for dinner- yum!
Dave tried assiduously to catch more fish, but they not only eluded him, he also snagged his new hard lure, broke the line and lost it. The guys noted the location and later that day, Frank & I jumped off the dinghy with our snorkel gear in the middle of the bay at the point where Dave and Frank guessed was the site.
I am proud to say that now it’s not only Frank who deserves a reputation for finding lost items in the water. It would not have been one minute after I jumped in that I spotted some fishing line which I followed down to the shiny metal lure snagged among the rocks.
Sad to say, it was terminally lost a couple of days before the end of Dave’s holiday when a fish struck the lure and it must have been a whopper as it broke the braided line.
We spent a wonderful few days here at Cukuvou Harbour. The path we had taken last year to a rocky point high up the hillside with wonderful panoramic views was so overgrown that Frank & Dave only became lost trying to seek it out. I think it was more likely because they didn’t have me there to show them the way!
However, I was having so much fun trying out my new kayak in the water and must have paddled miles over the next few days, exploring all the bays plus back and forth to the beach for swims in the clear water.
The super yacht was anchored far out in the bay when we woke a few mornings later and as I was playing on the kayak then languishing in the shallows I couldn’t help but be intrigued as I watched a small power boat make it’s way to the beach to choose a suitable location, then head back to the mother ship to pick up another crew member and supplies. The two crew then proceeded to rake a large area of the beach they had picked out for their guests and create a luxury picnic area complete with umbrellas, table and chairs, hammock, blankets & folded towels and esky that I could only imagine was full of icy champagne and caviar & tasty treats! Once satisfied, they returned to their motor boat to meet up in deeper water with yet another small cruise boat that delivered a couple of the guests. Another arrived on a paddle board and a fourth on a jet ski.
By the time Dave & Frank met up with me for a swim further down the beach, we decided that a picnic sounded a good idea, so the boys returned to SE2 for provisions, whilst I ‘raked’ the sand with a palm frond under some shady trees on the shoreline. For us, a towel, an upturned bucket some crackers, cheese spread, chips and olives became our feast with a bottle of wine. Add a magical location with the sun shining and crystal clear water- it doesn’t get much better than this whether you’re a millionaire or a grotty yachtie!
After several wonderfully relaxing days at Yadua, we needed to make a move as Dave’s wife Desley had managed to juggle her work commitments so that she could fly out to join us for the last week at Savusavu. We left Yadua early and once clear of the shelter of the bay we found- yes that’s right- the wind was right on the nose and blowing stronger than forecast.
7 tacks later we reached landfall again but all in all it was a pleasant days sail made infinitely better by a Spanish mackerel who took the lure on the trolling line just before we reached Bua Bay and anchored near a sandy beach. Fresh fish for dinner again.
After Dave cleaned and filleted the fish, we took the dinghy ashore and found a veritable shell haven- a narrow rocky reef bordering the shoreline appeared to have trapped scores and scores of trocha and spider shells in the shallows (all long ago evacuated by their shellfish tenants).
Being such an avid shell lover, I was like a child in a candy store- so excited, I simply didn’t know where to start picking up all the treasures. Once my initial frenzy settled, I discovered all the spider shells were too broken or eroded through exposure to sun on the beach to be worthwhile, but I filled my trusty ‘shell collecting’ bag with trocha shells of varying sizes and condition.
That night, Frank remembered that whilst flicking through our 2016 ‘Fiji Guide’ he had read that certain shells were prohibitive export and we would be fined heavily if found on board. Sure enough, I found that it was against the Fijian law to be in possession of trocha shells measuring under three and a half inches. Our anchorage site became the resting ground for dozens of trochas and I retained just a few impressive specimens for my prized shell collection.
Now we were at Vanua Levu, we could take our time getting to Savusavu when we were due to pick up Desley, so we decided to go for an ‘adventure’, by moving the yacht to the far side of Bua Bay, and then dinghy to Bua village Frank had found on google maps a few miles downstream.
We motored down the meandering inlet with dense foliage along both banks and impressive trees with massive branches leaning so low over the riverbed & exposing their root systems they looked ready to topple into the water.
About 4 miles upstream, we rounded a bend & saw solid, smart looking homes spread along the river bank, surrounded by well tended gardens and lawns- we discovered that this community consisted of 80 homes spread across 3 villages, and when we found a suitable landing spot, it appeared they were so unaccustomed to visiting yachties that no one seemed to know what to do with us.
Moses, the pastor of the evangelical church invited us to sit with him on the verandah of their community hall which overlooked the river, whilst the word went out that strangers had arrived, so there were plenty of visitors who dropped by for a ‘looksee’ and a chat. They tried to contact the chief who was in charge of 64 villages in the region, but he was not answering his mobile phone!
Eventually we were passed over to another villager (whose name I couldn’t understand) who took us to the home of one of the 3 village chiefs Seti, to offer our sevusevu (kava). We were then invited to visit the other two villages where we were introduced to a number of dignitaries, shook many hands and patiently waited whilst our guide went into elaborate detail about who we were and where we had come from. All we understood was ‘yachtie’ and ‘Australia’, but everyone greeted us with many smiles and ‘Bula vinaka’s’ and we were invited to have our photograph taken with each group. Dave, as a keen photographer, had a field day capturing shots of all the cheeky children who followed us around like the Pied Piper.
As dusk approached, we made our excuses and to a rousing farewell by many of the villagers and children, we scrambled into the dinghy and returned downriver to the yacht lying at anchor at the river mouth.
Next day, we continued down the western coast of Vanua Levu, but with scarcely a breath of wind, we mostly motored the 24 miles to Nasonisoni Bay, disappointed that a day of trolling for fish was without success. Once again, google maps came into their own as it enabled us to find a sandy anchorage among circular shaped reefs and bombies all around us, that would have been so difficult to find by maps or by sight alone.
A dull overcast day greeted us the following morning and although we had thought to try weaving in and out of some of the bays to see if we could find more protected anchorages, the winds were not in our favour, so we kept going until we reached Jean Paul Cousteau’s resort on the point a couple of miles before the river entrance to Savusavu.
As we neared the 5 star resort we were shocked to see the resort’s wharf had been completely demolished, with a few concrete stumps in the water and a tangle of wooden debris sticking out of the shallows the only signs of what had been a substantial wharf. The retaining wall along the beachfront had been washed away when the powerful surge of the sea during cyclone Winston had swept through the low lying area leaving rubble & rocks strewn across the sandy beach. Most of the coconut trees bordering the shoreline had been stripped of fronds, and tarpaulins still covered the majority of the thatched bure’s and resort buildings 4 months after the eye of the cyclone had passed just 30 miles away.
Last year, we had enjoyed sitting around the pool area of the resort with friends, sipping cold drinks and had envisaged doing the same with Dave and Desley once she arrived. Now, we were unable to go onto the premises at all as there were scores of men & machinery working daily to get the resort back up and running by the September 1st deadline.
In the couple of weeks whilst we have been at Savusavu, we have watched teams replacing entire thatched roofs, a new retaining wall has been built, and every day there is the constant noise and bustle from diggers, trucks and workers reconstructing the luxury resort from the devastating remains left by Winston.
Once we went into the township of Savusavu, we discovered more shocking facts about the damage caused here by the cyclone.
An American couple we spoke to, who had been on board their yacht during the cyclone, spoke of 2-3 meter waves being pushed down the creek and winds exceeding 120 knots.
We heard how all but 5 of the 27 boats on mooring buoys down the creek in front of Savusavu, had broken their moorings or had other yachts break their moorings and plough into them before being dashed against the rocks along the shoreline. We saw many of these yachts along the river in various stages of repair after being holed or badly damaged, with a couple of yachts still aground and abandoned, and many smaller vessels sunk in the shallows.
We anchored near Cousteau’s resort for a few days and then took up a mooring buoy on the river in front of the town of Savusavu so that we could get a load of washing done, re provision the yacht and fill up with fuel, ready for Desley’s arrival.
Before she flew over, Desley had to resolve a number of work related issues connected with her successful fashion shop ‘Beach House Bling’ (https://www.facebook.com/Beach-House-Bling-1006712566013083/?fref=ts), then she fell over and hurt herself in the rain during the horrific weather & storms Queensland was experiencing, and to top it all off, her flight from Brisbane was delayed for over 8 hours, giving her only a few hours sleep in the hotel in Nadi before taking her connecting flight to Savusavu early the next morning, so by the time she arrived, she was well in need of a holiday.
The hot Fijian sunshine, a calm anchorage back near Cousteau’s resort and a few vodka’s under her belt and Desley started to relax.
With only a week together, it went far too quickly. All other anchorages were a good day’s sail away, and with the inconsistent winds, we opted to stay in the area, but we had a wonderful time together, eating, drinking, swimming, and posing as fashion models for a photo shoot by Dave on an uninhabited nearby islet.
A couple of times, Desi coerced me to dress up in some of her Beach House kaftans, as a Kaffee Queen, and we swanned into Savusavu where we glittered and dazzled the locals with our ‘kaffee’ bling.
Of course, Desi made new friends wherever we went and when she fell in love with a quaint cottage for sale that was perched on the hillside near our anchorage she daydreamed of running her business from Fiji!
Despite gallant efforts from Dave and Frank, sadly none of the canny fish in the bay chose to sacrifice themselves, but luckily we had frozen some our previous catches so were able to share them with Desley.
On our last day together, we took a taxi cab ride along the coast road dotted with resorts and homes, and after wandering around the town awhile, we decided to head back to the yacht.
Thank god we did.
As we approached Stars End 2, we saw that she was adrift, with the orange buoy still attached on her fore deck and the mooring rope trailing from the bow. Frank accelerated, but with four of us in the dinghy, we were unable to get on the plane, and less than a minute before we reached her, Stars End 2, who was moving fast in the current and wind, collided on her starboard side amidships with the starboard bow of a large catamaran that was anchored at the entrance to the creek.
We managed to clamber aboard our yacht as she drifted off into Savusavu Bay, start the engine then anchored in the middle of the river before Frank went back to the catamaran to check her damage with the owners who had just returned in their dinghy. Sadly, our stainless rubbing strip had impacted with the catamaran’s bow and resulted in crushing the composite material, causing hairline cracks and risking water ingress.
We were in a state of shock, as we had been assured by the marina that they not only check their mooring buoy ropes twice yearly, but had checked them after cyclone Winston. The frayed rope that had been holding the buoy (and Stars End 2) to the weight on the seabed showed extreme wear and tear, and we have spent the last few days communicating and filing a claim through our insurance company to fully repair the catamaran once the family on board return to New Zealand in October. Thankfully, they understood it was not negligence on our part, and they have made a temporary fix to their yacht, as has Frank to SE2, but sadly, even though we hold the marina responsible and liable for the damage, Watui marina has no insurance.
It was a sad end to Dave and Desley’s visit, but the incident could have been so much more serious and for that we are grateful.
Next morning, after farewelling our friends, Frank & I hastily finished all our chores so that we could leave this place that had left a sour taste in our mouth. We started to hear stories about other yachts that had broken free of their marina mooring buoys in recent weeks, the most recent being only 2 weeks ago, it made us realize that we would not trust marinas so readily in the future to do the right thing.
We have head back to our favorite spot near Cousteau resort where Frank & I have been putting all our affairs in order before taking off cruising again, knowing that internet access will become more erratic and unreliable the farther afield we travel.
I had a slight setback when Frank & I were swimming off the side of the yacht, and I unknowingly snorkeled through a tangle of Portuguese Man-o-War tentacles. It felt as if someone was slashing my body with a knife and although Frank dragged me back to the yacht immediately, I am covered in massive welts all over my torso, arms and legs. It was excruciatingly painful and many of the welts are now blistering and weeping, but at least I have been able to take it easy and relax on board whilst I recover.
In the next few days, we plan to head off. There are no real plans. Being fiercely superstitious, I do not want to tempt fate, so I am hesitant to admit that so far this year, there is a marked improvement in the weather and wind strength.
We are looking forward to simply cruising some more of Fiji before we make any decisions to leave this beautiful tropical paradise and go elsewhere. Let’s just see where the wind takes us……