We sailed to Fiji, but we saw very little of this wonderful country. The reason is the disease called Musket Cove Malaise. Many cruisers are afflicted by this condition when in Fiji. Common symptoms are red eyes, sore head especially in the morning, a happy and relaxed demeanour. Some patients may present with constant tiredness and aching muscles. Delusional episodes are common, often manifesting in manic and exaggerated stories of perfect surf, kiting exploits etcetera.
On Jolifou our main motivation is to go places that are good venues for our action sports passions, we also don’t mind having a few drinks with like-minded friends. Musket pretty much has it all for us.
Most of this blog post is not a chronological account, but rather discussing the main activities and spots we enjoyed in the Musket Cove area. But first, a brief summary of our time in Fiji.
Summary of what we did in Fiji
After flying back to Sydney for my Dad’s memorial we returned to Fiji with my Mother Joliette and really enjoyed having her on the boat for two weeks. She is so easy going and fits in really well socially with our cruising friends.
Our closest such friends are Warwick and Lanie, a delightful couple from NZ on their yacht Fusio whom we spend a lot of time with socially and sharing our passion for kite surfing, scuba diving and surfing.
We popped up to the Yasawa island group for a few days with them whilst Mom was with us, showing her a bit more of the Fijian beauty outside of the Musket Cove area.
Most of our time in Fiji was then spent in the Musket Cove area, largely because this is where the great surf breaks are, and also has good kiting options, but also because it is a great social hub where most of our friends were based. We would occasionally shoot over to Port Denerau for the day to provision up again.
After Musket regatta week we decided we should try to see a bit more of this amazing country, so we headed off to the Southern Lau group and also Kandavu, eventually clearing out of Suva. More on this in following posts.
I was already very familiar with the surf spots here because of a few previous surf holidays (by airplane) to Namotu Island. I have always felt a special affinity with Cloud Break, I love its beauty and I love the challenge of the wave, always a bit different, often scary and dangerous, but offering the fast, hollow ride of your life. My dream of being able to spend a long period of time and surf this wave over multiple swells was finally realised. It’s about 8 miles from Musket Cove and you can anchor quite comfortably on the inside of the reef. Other boats spent nights out there, but we preferred to do day trips, returning to the better secure shelter of Musket Cove.
When we first arrived my surfing mojo was at a very low level. Uninspired by Sydney Northern Beaches crowded summer slop, I had surfed very little since our last trip. My first few sessions at Cloud Break were timid and frightened affairs, bummed by the large crowds and intimidated by the prospect of wipe-out onto the reef and long hold-downs in my unfit state. As my fitness levels improved and I became more used to the crowds, I soon realised that “boarding up” early was the way to go. My crowd strategy was to be on a longer board and sit a little further out waiting for the biggest sets. On the bigger days most of the surfers out there are actually not that interested in taking the bigger ones, so by aggressively paddling and making sure I was going to be on the wave I was able to get more than my fair share of good waves. Gradually as my fitness increased I became bolder, eventually getting to the point of paddling into waves at the maximum that my ability and board size could allow, probably about triple overhead face. Memorably for me, I had a couple of huge barrels that I came out of! This is in context of me not remembering the last time in my life that I was able to do this.
This is my favourite surf spot in the world. A hollow and fast left-hander that peels with mechanical perfection around the fringing reef of Tavarua Island, 5 miles from Musket. You can anchor your yacht comfortably just wide of the final section of the break and have an excellent view of the surfing between sessions. Restaurants needs a bigger swell to start working so whenever Cloud Break got above my comfort level we would plan on trying to beat the crowds by getting there pre-dawn.
Crowds are a big factor here but I found I was able to get a lot of waves by ensuring I was in position for everything and paddling hard. Often the surfer originally on the wave would get too deep in the barrel and fall off and I was able to get many great waves by sitting a little wider and being aggressive.
One day early on, before I had my mojo back, there was a huge swell resulting in the biggest Restaurants waves I have ever seen. I had a morning session of getting a few waves and also getting scared as the rip pulled me deep where I was unable to take off on the waves. Jolifou was anchored closest to the break as Lyn and I watched perfect waves being ridden by good surfers. Suddenly, with no warning this freak set of waves came through, 3 waves twice the size of the biggest previous waves of the day. About half the surfers in the water got cleaned up by it as the huge waves sucked the reef dry ahead of them. There was a 6 feet high foamie thundering over dry reef. It left carnage in its wake with about 6 broken boards and many injured surfers cut by the reef. We feared that the wave would get to JoliFou, it was close but missed us, but we pulled the anchor up and got out of there before another one could get us!
Once I got my confidence up I had numerous epic sessions, pulling into and making barrels – awesome! The guests at Tavarua appear to avoid surfing Restaurants at low tide, due to the fear of the dry reef, but if you are brave enough you can have some great less crowded sessions in these conditions. Our Brazilian sailing friends (Santi, Pablo etc.) seem to be fearless when it comes to the reef, on a couple of occasions we watched them pulling into the barrel and wiping out right in front of dry reef and rocks. Remarkably they always seemed to get away with it without much injury. Fortune favours the brave?
Previous to cruising this has been my favourite island as I have holidayed here 4 times before with my sailing/surfing friends, with Lyn and my family coming the one time – the last time I surfed with my late brother Tim. So Namotu has a special place in my heart. Unfortunately as a non-guest cruising sailor the resort is not particularly friendly as they keep it exclusive to their paying guests. We were a bit disappointed not to get a friendlier reception from Scotty, the owner, since I know him quite well and we have many close mutual friends. Nevertheless we anchored off the island many times and they allowed us to launch kites on the beach a couple of times.
Namotu is great for its beginner-friendly surf breaks, Namotu Lefts and Swimming Pools, which Lyn enjoyed immensely. Lyn progressed to having her first surfing sessions where she was able to catch waves and cut across the face. Super-stoked surf grommet! There are quite a few of our cruising sailor friends that enjoy these waves on long boards or SUPs, so surfing here is often quite a social affair.
Kiting the Waves
Namotu Lefts is also a great spot for wave kiting and I had many memorable sessions there. We would often launch both of our kites from the boat and Lyn could then kite the flat water inside the island whilst I went out to the waves. On one occasion Lyn experienced the thrill of surfing the wave as we played on the waves on the Swimming Pools side of the island.
My most memorable session was the day that I ticked kiting Cloud Break off my list. We were anchored out there after a morning surf when the wind started coming up nicely. I rigged up and headed out on my brand new 10 meter Ozone Reo. I was soon joined by Kauli Seadi, the Brazilian 3 time’s wave windsurfing champion, who was on a catamaran in Fiji filming for his “Waterman” TV series. I had met him in the surf previously, a really nice guy, amazing on the windsurfer and SUP, and really good with the kite too. It was an awesome session, albeit a bit blown out by the wind, until I got a bit overconfident and took off too deep on a big wave. I thought I could get around a section closing out in front of me, but it clipped me and all hell broke loose! This is the first time I have been wiped out really badly with my kite. I was being spun around, not knowing which way was up as I desperately tried to keep the kite in the air. At one point I seemed to be getting dragged super-fast by the kite and the foamie of the wave and eventually the kite hit the water and I surfaced, out of breath. I struggled in vain to re-launch the kite before the next big wave, but I was going to be too late, so I ejected the ultimate safety leash attachment, not realizing I should have released the initial one first, so again I got dragged by the wave, scratching my back on the reef until I finally fully released the kite. Paddling back out through the waves I looked back at the terrible sight of my brand new kite sitting on the reef!
I wanted to go in to the reef to rescue the kite, but I was bare-foot and I knew I would be cut to shreds trying to negotiate the waves on the reef. Kauli offered assistance, but there was really nothing he could do to help. His support boat was able to loan me a pair of thongs and I headed to the reef and managed to get to the kite without too much injury. Lyn arrived at the kite shortly after, having walked from the dinghy at the inside of the reef (wearing booties). We managed to get the lines off and Lyn walked the kite to the dinghy and came around to fetch me as I paddled out rather than try to walk the reef in the slippery thongs. In the end, thanks to my hero Lyn, I managed to escape the ordeal unscathed with just a few little reef holes in the kite. Could have been a lot worse.
Kiting the Flat Water
Apart from launching at Namotu Island, there are a couple of great flat water kiting options at Musket Cove, depending on the tide. At lower tides you can take the dinghy to the sandbar near the anchorage and kite windward or leeward side, depending on depth. One day we went there and were busy rigging the kite when an entire Bollywood movie crew and equipment arrived. I had an interesting time watching the takes and chatting to the lead actor whilst Lyn kited in front of us. The higher tide option is at the end of the airport runway, where there is some beach depending on the tide and also a grassy area convenient for rigging and unrigging. A bit of a walk to get there, but not too bad.
We both have developed our twin-tip skills quite a bit this season, especially Lyn who has now mastered slide turns, toe-side, popping and jumping. I have gotten much better at jumps and perfected my one trick, the back roll.
Kite boat launch
We have also now finally mastered launching the kite from the boat. This is a big deal as it allows us to kite anywhere we are anchored, no need to look for a convenient beach to rig up on. After quite a few aborted attempts and one regrettable day when we twice had the kite tether/clip break and had to chase the kite in the dinghy, this is what we do:-
- Unwind lines off the bar onto cockpit floor.
- With bar upright, run the lines from the bar, pulling lines between the fingers of one hand and depositing in a neat pile in a bucket, until you get to the 4 ends.
- Arrange lines and tie at places near the stern.
- Inflate kite upside down on the sugar scoop, attached to boat with a short strop.
- Turn kite right way up and attach the 4 lines.
- Take the bar carefully around the bucket and attach chicken loop to a snap-shackle strop at the side of the sugar scoop.
- Put on snorkeling fins, put kite in the water face down and slowly swim it out to the side of the stern of the boat. The lines should pull neatly out of the bucket until they pull taught on the tethered bar. Person on boat can ensure this is happening, but I have been able to launch alone without any assistance.
- Swimmer sets kite up on its wingtip at the edge of the power window. The kite can be left like this and will just sit there and behave itself.
- Before heading off, let out a longer tether line with a snap hook (climbing carabiner works well) and a float near the end. This is your way of getting back to the boat.
- Once dressed and board ready, the kiter can sit on the sugar scoop and attach to the chicken loop, launch the kite and head off.
To return to the boat:-
- Come in at a good hot angle towards the stern of the boat so you can grab the tether.
- Just before the tether, slow down and sink into the water.
- Grab the tether with one hand, and with the other steer the kite down onto its wingtip.
- When the kite is landed on its tip, use both hands to clip tether onto chicken loop and release yourself from it.
- To retrieve the kite, grab the lower centre line and pull it in aggressively until no load on other lines. At this point all lines can be wound onto the bar as the kite come in.
Musket Cove Regatta Week
We had not originally intended participating in this fun event as my sister Jacqui and her husband Guy were coming to visit us during this time and we wanted to show them some other islands. Unfortunately they had to cancel their trip at the last minute, so we decided to take part.
It was a fantastic fun week of sailing and socialising. We sailed with our friend Dal on his “Cruz Control” (Santa Cruz 52) with a bunch of other friends in the round the island race where we placed 2nd monohull, beaten only by an Oyster superyacht. The Hobie cat challenge was so much fun, both from a spectating and competing point of view. Lyn and I made it to the semi-finals where we unfortunately had a boat with a spinnaker for a mainsail and were pipped in a close race.