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“Go in here and head that way”, says Isaac. As we descend we immediately realize just how stunning this dive spot is. The brightly coloured corals and fish shine in the clear calm waters as we descend down one of the many large pinnacles. Before long we are completely lost in a stunning labyrinth of underwater caves, tunnels and gorges. Best dive spot ever!
The Alacrity rocks dive area was one of the highlights of a quick exploration of the northernmost islands of the Kaduvu group. There is so much beauty in this area, the people, the majestic islands and an abundant underwater playground.
After a pleasant downwind sail from Matuku, we arrived at the anchorage of Nabouwalu village on the western side of Ono Island in the early afternoon of Friday 6th October.
After anchoring in the nice sheltered anchorage we went ashore with a little bundle of kava to perform the sevu sevu ceremony at the village. We met a few of the friendly locals, including headman Isaac who as chance would have it is an ex diver and offered to take us out to the nearby Alacrity rocks dive sites.
On the Sunday we attended the church service which was beautiful with the usual lovely Fijian singing.
Alacrity rocks dives
Although we often go diving with just the two of us and using our dinghy we far prefer having the peace of mind of having a support person on the surface, especially at new spots. Also although we knew the basic location of the Alacrity rocks, we didn’t know the exact location of the many dive spots. Isaac was fantastic as he knows the area really well. The first day we used our dinghy and it was rather wet and a squeeze, so for the second dive Isaac took us in his longboat. The small “tax” that he charged for this was well worth it.
We did two dives, one called “Split Rock” and I can’t recall the name of the other. Both were fantastic and our favourite type of dive, with beautiful coral and fish and lots of interesting terrain, tunnels, gullies and arches. Definitely one of the best dive areas we have come across.
And a not so good dive
We went around to the Naigoro passage area and anchored in the bay there for one night in order to do some diving at the passage. We had read good reviews on the internet. From the surface it looked like a really nice dive site, it’s an impressive narrow and deep pass. We did sevu sevu at the village and they asked us to pay $20 per tank to do the dive, with no support at all from them, which we felt was a bit rude. We dived on the northern side of the passage but there was strong current and the coral looked mostly dead, not very nice at all. We aborted the dive after only about 15 minutes, it was just not worth it in many ways. Perhaps we were not at the best spot or the tide was wrong, but our overall impression is that this is not a great dive location.
Vurolevu island manta rays
Anyone who knows Lyn will know that she is completely obsessed with Manta Rays. We have previously had a great experience swimming with them in New Caledonia, but they are elusive creatures and one can never be sure of finding them, even at known feeding locations. So when we heard that they are often to be found on the northern tip of Vurolevu Island we decided to investigate.
On arriving at the island we hopped in the dinghy and headed to the northern tip to coincide with high tide which is supposed to be when you see them. There was a small speed boat there already with a guide and two tourists and they beckoned us to come over. The manta rays were there! We spent about an hour taking turns in the water with them as we followed them on their slow route southward down the eastern side of the island, before they headed off out through the pass between Vurolevu and Ono.
The anchorage at this beautiful little uninhabited island just north of Ono is really pretty with its rocks and little beaches, so we decided to spend a few days there. Every day we tried to find the mantas again, same high tide, same location but no joy. We were consoled by enjoying our private magical little anchorage and beaches, exploring the island and snorkeling on the beautiful coral of the pass.
(Note to other cruisers: Before visiting the manta rays and island you are supposed to do sevu sevu at the nearby village on Buliya Island. We were told off for not doing this but made amends by doing so afterwards.)
We sailed to Suva on Thursday October 12th. Isaac had asked us if we would mind taking a few passengers on the trip to Suva, which of course was no problem at all for this short downwind day-sail. We had two men including Joe and his beautiful little daughter who had never been on a long trip on a boat before. She was sleeping quietly in the cockpit on Joe’s lap when she suddenly awoke vomiting from sea-sickness, poor little thing. Thankfully she felt better after that. The trip was uneventful except for us hooking a huge Mahi Mahi and our brand new lure unfortunately being lost as the crimp came undone, not happy! It was heartbreaking to see the fish continually jumping out of the water with the lure hanging from it.
Joe is an ambitious young man who has a kava plantation on Ono. The kava from the Kadavu group is known to be the best stuff in Fiji and is highly sought after. Joe explained to us that the roots we buy at the markets are probably only 1 to 2 years old, but the best kava is the older roots which have been left for up to 5 years to grow before harvesting. He said next time we buy kava to contact him directly and we can get the good stuff at a cheap price.
The two smiling fishermen approached in their little wooden boat, proudly holding up a huge wahoo. “Hop on with a knife and take as much as you like”, says Jesse James. We are a bit reluctant but it doesn’t take too much encouragement for Lyn to hop aboard and slice two nice fillets of delicious fish.
In this day and age it’s hard to imagine a place where you can live comfortably with no money. Living a largely subsistence existence in an abundant tropical paradise the locals on Matuku Island have this and are probably the happiest, nicest and most generous people we have yet met.
Time to see more of Fiji
Musket Cove is a wonderful place, but at the end of September 2017, after 3 months essentially based in that area we were ready to see a little more of Fiji before we left. We had heard wonderful accounts of the Southern Lau group of islands, including surf break possibilities so we decided that was where we wanted to get to. The only problem is to get there we would have to be travelling against the south easterly trade winds, which are notoriously strong along the Coral Coast on the south of the main island (Viti Levu).
After watching the weather for a few days a forecast of light wind had us heading eastward. Before the weather window we sailed to Likuri harbour for a closer launching point, a lovely and sheltered anchorage which looks like it would be a great flat water kiting spot. We left early in the morning, happy to be motoring in no wind
and later in the day motored through the main pass of the Astrolabe reef, north of the Kanduvu group. Stunning scenery in the glassy blue water with a pod of spinner dolphins accompanying us.
That night the wind came in stronger and with more east in it than expected and we were sailing hard on the wind. After quite a rough night on the morning of Saturday 30 September we modified our original plan to get to Fulanga Island, and re-directed to Matuku.
The pass into the anchorage is quite wide and deep, but with shallow fringing reef and unmarked. With the rising sun in our faces it was stressful getting in, but we were rewarded by a beautiful perfectly sheltered 360 degree protected anchorage.
We went in with some kava to perform the sevu sevu ceremony in the village and were soon charmed by the beautiful little village and equally beautiful people.
Fijis new Surf Mecca?
Next morning we went exploring the surf breaks at the main pass where we had come in. They are interesting and beautiful, but don’t offer much of a ride. The left on the south side of the pass is all over the show and wild, with the occasional hollow short ride if you were in the perfect place. On the north side of the pass, the right breaks beautiful and smooth, but is so short and ends almost immediately after it breaks.
Local fisherman Jesse James is a wonderfully positive man. He fishes and spear fishes with sharks at night time and hobbles around on a gammy leg (I think caused by polio) which doesn’t seem to inhibit him in the least.
He has an ambitious plan to open an eco-surf resort on the island, which would be the first resort on the island. Jesse does not surf himself, but he has assisted surfers who have come visiting by boat. He said that these surfers had been really stoked by the waves here. I quizzed him on the spots and it seems the most likely spot is a left called “Vinakas”, which is at a sort of false/shallow reef pass just south of the main pass. His advice was that you should only ride it around high tide.
During our time at Matuku we were lucky to have pretty good swell the whole time, including a big 4 meter swell for a couple of days. Whenever the tide was good I was going out on the dinghy to try to surf at Vinakas. Lyn was my faithful assistant a few times, hanging just behind the break on the dinghy whilst I tried to catch waves. On the smaller days the waves were stunning to eye-surf, hollow and fast, but I found that when I tried to catch them it was very hard to get one that didn’t close out or break too fast.
The wave breaks quite square on the reef and you need to pick one with a bit of a shoulder. Also, there is no sideways exit to deep water, so if you get stuck inside you are reef hopping on shallow reef.
I was also obviously the one and only surfer there, at a place with no hospital and with not much chance of being rescued if I had a major injury. Lyn would have been very limited in what she could do to help me. I also had no moral support or the courage of fellow surfers to share it with. So on the big days I chose discretion over valour and caught photographs of perfect waves, rather than riding them.
The waves did look a lot more rideable when it was bigger and if I had a surfing mate there I would definitely have been keen to give it a go.
Although Jesse says there are a few other surf breaks which we didn’t see, they are all much more wind-affected than Vinakas where the trade wind blows offshore, so I think I saw the best of the Matuku surf potential. Maybe Vinakas might line up better with a swell with a bit more south in it, but I don’t think so as I think the swell just tends to bend in and break quite square on the reef. So I think that Vinakas is an excellent surf break at the right tide, with a bigger swell and definitely for more advanced or pro surfers. It is a beautiful alternative to the crowded Namotu/Tavarua area but it is far less consistent for good surf.
We did one scuba dive on the main pass which was pleasant but pretty ordinary in terms of coral and fish. On the inside sections of the Vinaka surf break before the false pass the diving and snorkelling looks awesome. Beautiful coral and interesting terrain. I snorkelled here but we did not scuba. Jesse says there are many other great scuba locations, but we didn’t get to them.
We are not religious, in fact we are quite against it, but whilst here we appreciated the beautiful faith and sense of community that the Fijian islanders enjoy through their Sunday church services. Out of respect to our hosts we accepted their invitation to attend the church services and it was a lovely experience. We attended the local service at the village at the anchorage (Loma) with a lovely lunch afterward. We also were fortunate to attend the monthly combined villages’ service at the nearby village of Raviravi.
This included a lovely tea, cake and kava reception after the ceremony.
The services were in Fijian but the minister had such charisma that he kept us interested anyway and the singing was truly beautiful.
Lyn provided endless entertainment taking photos of the beautiful children and showing them back to them. Not camera-shy at all!
We were also fortunate to be there on the arrival day of the cargo supply ship from Suva. It was fascinating to see the organised chaos of the collecting of the goods by longboat from all of the villages of the island.
All good things
With our time in Fiji coming close to an end and wanting to explore a bit more of other islands we said a sad farewell to Matuku on Friday October 6th and set out for the Kanduvu group. We have left a part of our hearts there and we will be back.
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.
On the morning of our 4th day at sea the satphone started ringing. This is NEVER a good thing on Jolifou, usually heralding bad news. The last time the phone rang it was news of the death of my beloved brother Tim. This time it was Dad.
We had delayed our departure for Fiji to await the result of my Dad having a cardio-version treatment as his heart had gone into arrhythmia. We had all been mightily relieved when it went well and his heart returned to normal rhythm. He was on the mend and in high spirits when I had a chat with him on the phone before we left.
The straight line to get to Fiji from Australia is usually a very bad trip because you encounter strong east/south East trade winds against you. So the game is to look for a window that will let you get as east as possible before you hit the trade winds. The length of the trip is also much longer than one can expect a long term forecast to be accurate, so all you can do is leave when it looks good and hope for the best later.
Weather windows for passage planning come in different guises. For this trip it took the form of a strong low pressure system that was moving southwards down the Australian east coast from Queensland and forecast to continue southward. We chose to leave Newcastle when the low was nearly on the same latitude as us. We would be getting the southerly breeze on its western side and later we would get the westerly winds on its northern side. That was the plan anyway.
Leaving on the morning of Tuesday June 20th, we soon realised one of the negatives about this strategy. Although we were sailing in Southerly wind, the strong easterly winds on the south side of the low had picked up a swell from the east, which we were sailing straight into, making for very rough conditions. We spent the first two days with little sleep, feeling seasick and not eating much. The biltong and crunchies that our mothers had left as parting gifts were a blessing as they formed our diet during this time.
Late afternoon on the second day with the wind blowing a bit stronger around 30 knots, we had a discussion about the situation and we decided to turn downwind more to try to make it more comfortable. Giving up on the goal to stay South of Lord Howe Island, we bore away about 20 degrees and the boat was immediately much more comfortable. By the next morning we were both feeling much better.
My YIT log entry at 9PM on the night of Thursday June 22: “Roaring along under a moonless starry sky. 2nd reef and staysail at about 110 TWA. Picked up some great favorable current east of Lord Howe which helped progress a lot too. Life is good on the Jolifou as we are finding our sea legs and settling into passage rhythm.”
Well this good mood didn’t last too long as we received the news of my Dad’s passing the next morning. Evidently his heart had just stopped whilst he was sleeping in bed at home. We were numbed and devastated with grief. After the initial shock we needed to make a decision whether to turn around and head back to Australia. The problem was we were now 3 days out and the wind between us and Australia would be strong south westerlies on the northern side of the east coast low. It would be a very difficult and slow trip and very hard on the boat and crew. We decided to continue towards Fiji and fly back from there, there was nothing we could do for him now and we would make it back before a planned memorial service.
As if showing a mark of respect, or influenced by Dad’s spirit the ocean became much friendlier, the sea state and wind was much more moderate during the middle part of the trip, allowing us time to grieve and reflect and sleep. We are not religious people but we do allow a little spiritual belief into our lives and when an albatross appeared and accompanied us for a few days it made us feel better believing it was the spirit of Dad.
As the South Pacific high pressure system moved over us and in trying to get to Fiji faster (to return home for the family) we started to use the motor for long stretches and I was starting to get a bit concerned about running out of diesel. We changed strategy to only use the motor when it was un-comfortable to sail or sails flopping around too much.
We also had many days of really nice conditions with smooth seas and broad reaching in moderate wind strength and the loose luff furling gennaker saw a lot of good use. This and frequent motoring meant we had plenty of sleep and were it not for the sadness of my Dad’s passing we would have been thoroughly enjoying the passage.
On one occasion we spotted a large yellow plastic box in the water and decided to investigate. It looked like the lid of a liferaft or something, possibly blown off a ship. Some small fish were hiding under it and large Mahi Mahi lurking beneath.
Our final approach to Fiji saw the wind strengthening and backing into the south east as expected. We were able to cash in our easting gained previously to improve the wind angle as much as possible but it was still quite rough going, not helped by the contrary current. With reefed main and staysail or half-furled genoa we were comfortable enough and making good speed through the water at a blast reaching angle.
On a trip where we had seen no wildlife apart from birds and flying fish, we were treated to two pilot whales surfing our wake and bow wave for a couple of hours, spectacular animals. We thought of them as the spirits of Tim and Dad and it brought joy back into our hearts.
We saw the high Kandavu Island some 50 miles out and as we got closer to Fiji the seas flattened more and our final approach was excellent reaching in quite flat water.
We arrived at the outer reef near Navalu passage just before first light on Saturday 1st July and decided to rather enter at Cloudbreak so I could check out the surf.
It was fantastic to pass by my favourite surf breaks of Cloubreak, Restaurants and Namotu Island on our way in, despite the waves being a bit ordinary and crowded.
Then is was a pleasant sail in flat water to the clearing in port of Lautoka on the main island.
“I’m going to trimaran you!” yells Dave from behind us across the ever-decreasing gap of water. “Time to shake out that reef, quick Lyn”, says I, starting to worry about losing the bragging rights at tonight’s debriefing drinks.
Our cruising friend Jim of “Insatiable 2” is a very wise and amusing man. He says: “If you are sailing somewhere and another yacht is going the same direction then it is a race, unless the other boat is faster than you”. Well you can imagine what happens when the skippers of said boats have a history of racing against each other at the top level in South Africa. What ensued was a series of day-sail races up the North West coast of New Caledonia, interspersed with awesome scenery, great anchorages and rekindling of a special friendship.
Olympic Sailing Friends
David Hibberd and I were fierce rivals in the Laser class in South Africa in our youth, and later good friends and team-mates at the Olympics in 1996. He and his wife Goodryn immigrated to the US around the same time as Lyn and I immigrated to Australia and we had not seen each other in over 20 years. It was a dream re-union when we happened to meet up in New Caledonia as he and his family (Goodrun, Ben and Gabbie) were stopping there as part of their circumnavigation on their Lagoon 400 “Cool Runnings”.
Being on a very similar schedule heading to Bundaberg, we decided to cruise in company. The basic plan was to work our way up the NW coast of New Caledonia before heading offshore. We also hoped to make a stop in the Chesterfield reefs if weather permitted.
Final surf stop at Ouano
After a few days of kiting at Maitre, we cleared out of Noumea on a rainy Monday morning November 21 and headed North in a strong Easterly wind, stopping at one of our favourite anchorages Puen. The swell was up so we set off early in the morning and a couple hours later we were anchored off Ouano looking at perfect lefts peeling down the reef, no-one out.
Dave and I wasted no time at all getting ready and Lyn ran us out to the take-off spot on the dinghy. Dave was a bit out of practice and unfit but courageously struggled against his over-size wetsuit, taking a few big wipeouts before getting a couple of waves. I had an awesome surf, one of my best sessions at Ouano.
Race 1, sail to Bourail
It was bittersweet to say goodbye to my favourite surf break but we had to keep trucking North as we wanted to make Bourail before nightfall.
The wind building from the North East made for a fantastic sail in smooth water, just outside the crashing reef waves. The scenery with waves in foreground against the beautiful mountainous back-drop was spectacular.
Jolifou had the legs on Cool Runnings but a conservative sail plan on the final approach to Bourail saw the big-sailed Cool Runnings take the race on the final approach.
The last couple of miles into Bourail were awesome, with the various surf breaks lighting up alongside us.
The break at the final corner of the pass before entering sheltered waters (Green Island Left) was particularly perfect (no-one on it), but it was getting late in the day and brown river water was about to reach this spot, so I resisted the temptation.
My decision not to surf was validated shortly afterwards when we observed two bull sharks swimming around the muddy waters of the anchorage.
This place has a sharky reputation and has been the scene of a few attacks over the years. After sundowner drinks on Cool Runnings we were on our way back to Jolifou in the dinghy when something hit us! Hard! We were moving slowly so it was not us hitting a log or something and it jolted the boat a lot! Although we didn’t see anything in the dark, we are convinced it was a shark.
Race 2, Durac Pass, Chasseloup Bay
We were understandably reluctant to surf the next morning despite perfect waves (again no-one else surfing) and we set off Northwards in light off-shore breeze, headed for Duroc Pass. The swell was again big and we again were treated to spectacular scenery of waves on the reef and mountains as we sailed and motor-sailed in the light wind.
We anchored at the pretty and unpretentious Chasseloup Bay for the night, having a quick little explore and rubbish-run ashore before dark.
Race 3, Koumac
We were now once more inside the lagoon and on Thursday 24th November we used the light to moderate wind to sail inside the reef to Koumac. The wind direction moved from the North East around to the South West and we even spent some time tacking upwind! Jolifou easily took out the race despite a desperate gennaker-flying charge from Cool Runnings at the end.
Koumac anchorage area is a quaint pretty little place, not much to it. There is a nice little dinghy yacht club and a small marina. We had a bit of a walk around the place and came across this amazing outdoor gym. For some reason the fuel dock at the marina was out of order and Dave ended up getting a lift with jerry cans into town with a very nice local.
The kids realized that it was Thanksgiving and invited us to Cool Runnings for dinner. It was Lyn and I’s first Thanksgiving celebration. The mediocre food (canned turkey) was more than made up for by the delightful company, a fantastic evening.
Dave and I had been constantly monitoring Predictwind forecasts and discussing options for leaving for the Chesterfields and Bundaberg. A closed cell tropical low was forecast to develop North of the Chesterfields which would potentially cause strong Northerlies there, which is bad as there is no protected anchorage in that wind direction. In fact the depression could also have a bad impact on a direct Bundaberg course. We decided to make ready for passage and head a bit more North in New Cal before final leaving decision.
Race 4, Tanle Island
We then sailed and motored to a beautiful anchorage at Tanle Island.
We spent Saturday the 26th at Tanle. Lyn and I did a SUP paddle around the island which is very beautiful. I also gave the boat a bit of a bottom clean, taking advantage of being in the least sharky anchorage we’d been at for a while.
Race 5, Bundaberg
By Sunday morning the models were looking better on the tropical depression and we made a snap decision to leave for Bundaberg. After securing the dinghy on the foredeck we motored out through the pass, the waves were still beautiful with a big swell.
The wind filled in gradually from the South East making a good broad reaching angle but the seas were quite rough with the wind across the large South West swell direction. Skies were grey with persistent light rain and cloud.
The wind remained quite strong from the South East for the entire trip, making for great sailing as the seas and weather gradually improved. We made sure to remain in VHF radio range (and AIS range) of Cool Runnings the whole way. The boats are quite evenly matched though Jolifou was a bit faster at the broadish angles of our course, forcing us to use a bit less sail than normal which was fine and nice and comfortable. There was a lot of banter on the VHF radio, continuing on from our shenanigans in New Caledonia with numerous word plays on the boat names, something like this:-
“Jolly Fool, Jolly Fool this is Fast Runnings”. “Tummy Running, this is Jolly Cool, over”. Etc.
The only events of note was Cool Runnings blowing their gennaker halyard block (pushing it too hard again Dave) and us blowing an engine impeller just as we decided to run the engine to make sure we crossed a ship on final Aus approach (of course it was dark and 3 in the morning). Getting bits of impeller out of the heat exchanger whilst the boat was wallowing around in the lighter wind was not a pleasant task.
The light wind meant a fair bit of motoring on the final day but we were consoled by being greeted by a pod of dolphins outside breaksea spit. The wind increased from the North West on final approach and we reached into Port Bundaberg, looking forward to a hot shower, burger and beer!
If you wanted to pick a spot in New Caledonia that “has it all”, for us it would be Tenia Island. This heart-shaped island 30 miles North West of Noumea forms the Northern flank of St. Vincents pass through the outer reef. It is quite typical of the many sandy lagoon islands, but is larger and probably the most beautiful. Amongst other things, it offers a variety of great locations for the action sports that we love – kite-surfing (flat water in the lagoon, waves out at the pass), scuba diving (and snorkelling of course) and surfing.
With the on-shore Easterly wind, grey skies and our friends departing, Oro felt like a desolate place, nothing like the paradise it had been on our previous visit with offshore wind and sunny skies. We had planned on going around to Kuto, but with the wrong wind direction we completely changed plans and decided to head towards Noumea with our ultimate goal being the surf and kiting of Tenia Island. It was a very pleasant reaching angle sailing through the reefs to spend the night at Magic Bay within the Prony BAY area where we enjoyed a quiet evening with dinner for the first time in over a month.
Here is Akimbo
Akimbo was also at Magic and the next morning Pete and Ness came over for coffee and a catch up, telling us about their trip to Lifou in the Loyalty Islands. A strong Easterly wind was blowing, and with poled out jib only and a favourable tide we sailed through the Woodin Canal to Maitre Island for the night. It was a boisterous night on the Maitre moorings as the wind went round to north of East, making us wish we had rather anchored at Citroen Bay.
Next morning it was a stocking up mission in Noumea after we anchored off the Marina. Markets, rubbish, dinghy fuel, Marine Corail chandlery and dropped Lyn off behind the cruise ship at the sea wall stone steps to go to Casino supermarket. Supermarket shop was much longer than normal due to it being full of cruise ship passengers. We cannot comprehend why cruise ship passengers would want to spend their one day in Noumea on buying food in a supermarket, when food is inclusive in the cruise fare?
After stopping at the Nespresso shop in Orphelina Bay for the essential coffee pods supply, we were glad to leave Noumea, sailing with jib only to Signal Island where we were greeted by a dugong. We snorkeled to the beach, watching pretty little fish eating the coral a big eel and a beautiful big turtle which allowed us to swim really close and touch his shell.
We walked around the pretty little island, which is a bird sanctuary and then enjoyed a stunning sunset with thousands of birds flocking to the island. A couple of cute little “tits?” seemed to make the dinghy their home for the night and we didn’t have the heart to kick them off and lift it out the water as we normally do. Our reward – bird poo all over the outboard cover!
A perfect spot
Friday the 11th November was a beautiful calm and sunny morning as we motored to False Pass at the outer lagoon reef. We had a bit of fun practicing our uncharted reef navigating and dodging coral bommies to the inside of the reef as close as possible to the surf break (surf too small). We anchored in a perfect little shallow gap between the reef and Lyn went up the mast to take photos. We snorkelled to a nearby gully with lots of pretty little fish, then dried in the warm sun on the foredeck, soaking up the beauty of this glorious spot.
In the afternoon we sailed towards Tenia in the building WSW wind but decided to stop at Hugon Island for the night due to its good Westerly protection. We walked up the hill for the stunning sunset, startling the resident goats.
St. Vincent surf
With us running a bit low on diesel, we elected to sail out of the bay at Hugon in a light South Easterly breeze, anchoring inside the reef at the St. Vincent reef pass left surf break. The waves were better than expected so I jumped in and had a really fun little surf.
Just for fun and for the first time ever, we sailed off anchor with just a 2nd reef mainsail, which worked really well. At Tenia Island we anchored close to shore in the shallows east of the sand spit. During a SUP paddle around the island we bumped into Guy (the flying vet) who was there by boat this time, camping with a bunch of friends. We later joined Guy and Sonja and their mad friends for sundowners. Language barriers reduced with alcohol intake as we marvelled at the flocking birds show as they gathered for their night on the island.
Horn of Tenia
Sunday was again a still and sunny morning, perfect for our scuba trip out over the inner reef to the horn of Tenia hook on the outer reef. It was gorgeous out there, with a few divers, snorkelers and also surfers surfing some nice looking little left handers (wished I’d taken the board along). We had an amazing dive at this beautiful spot with deep drop-off, gorges and swim-throughs, stunning coral and lots of large fish, not at all scared of humans. On the way back to the anchorage we saw two huge turtles mating. After lunch we went out there again, this time with surfboard and I surfed the break all alone, with Lyn taking photos.
It was difficult to be in the right spot for the waves, but had a few excellent rides. Back to JF then across to the island, now deserted as weekenders had all taken water taxis home. A beautiful sunset from our own private spot.
A scuba scare
Next morning we filled all 4 dive tanks and went for another dive out at the hook. With the dinghy tied to the mooring over one of the huge bommies, in my haste to get ready I dropped one of my lead bags, so we started our dive by going straight down to look for it. Not finding it at the edge of the coral, we started working our way down a slope of coral scree and sand. Suddenly Lyn’s dive computer started beeping madly, we were at 45 meters with 4 minutes of air remaining at this depth!! It was a big fright and we immediately abandoned the lead and went up to enjoy the dive at shallower depths. Back at Tenia we sun-baked on the hot beach to warm up. In the afternoon we decided to head North inside Puen island to the Borake anchorage as the wind was forecast to blow moderate from the North, turning our anchorage at Tenia into a lee shore. We sailed most of the way there, a very mellow spot just off the public slipway, and enjoyed watching dolphins in the distance over sundowners.
Outer reef exploration
On Tuesday 15th November the forecast was heralding developed super trade-winds to arrive with the expected surf swell, so we abandoned our original idea of heading to Ouano for the surfing and decided to get back South in the forecast South Westerly breeze whilst it was easy. Sailing out to St. Vincents pass, the small waves were not even breaking on the low tide. It was beautiful conditions so we decided to sail outside the reef, which was a lovely mellow sail.
We re-entered the lagoon through Utoie pass and stopped at Mbe Kouen island for lunch, but the red bird-protection flag prevented us from going ashore. We spent a strange night at Legionnaires Island with rain squalls and wind from all directions.
Next day we motored to Maitre Island, with our newest kiting convert eager to get back on it!
It’s fantastic discovering new beautiful things when on a cruising adventure and it’s also wonderful meeting new like-minded friends. Showing these friends the places you have discovered and enjoying them all over again through their eyes is one of the nicest things you can do, so when our friends Lanie and Warwick from the beautiful Elliot 46 “Fusio” decided to join us on a final adventure trip before their departure home we knew it would be a lot of fun.
Where are you mantas?
By Wednesday the 2nd November the trade winds had died, predicted to be light wind for some time, so we headed out to the Amedee Island pass area for another manta ray search. We anchored at a lovely sandy spot inside the reef and went for a paddle over the reef on the SUPs.
“Fusio” joined us with their new crew member Grant Hugget (Hug) and we all set off for a snorkel to see if we could find Manta Rays. No such luck, but we did see a few sharks, turtles and some beautiful eagle rays.
Hug was stoked as it was his first time snorkelling off a boat in such a remote location: “how lucky you are to be able to do this kind of thing!” With a forecast of light winds, after a typically fun sun-downer drinks session on Fusio, we decided to remain anchored there for the night, rather than going to the better shelter of the Amedee moorings.
It was beautiful to wake up in the morning at this stunning place out at the reef. I noticed a couple of little boats across the pass at a right-hander called “Corvettes” and we took the dinghy across to check it out. I went for a surf whilst Lyn took photos from the dinghy. It was beautiful conditions with a 3 to 4 foot wave size. The break has a pitchy hollow take-off and my little 5’4” “baked potato” board was not appropriate, so I entertained Lyn and the Fusio crew with plenty of spectacular nose-dives and wipe-outs.
With the wind building from the West, we sailed to Ua Island along the inside of the outer reef, checking surf spots on the way. With “Fusio” in close company it soon became a race. In the light downwind conditions Jolifou had a slight speed advantage with board up, bigger mainsail and long spinnaker pole. Fusio took advantage of JoliFou being distracted by a surf break to take the lead, and it was a very close decision at the finish.
As we arrived the wind switched to the South East as forecast, which was great timing as the anchorage is well protected from this direction. We all enjoyed watching the flocking sea birds whilst drinking sundowners on JoliFou.
Next day Fusio was clearly the faster at the tight angles of the 15 Knots East/South East wind as we sailed towards Gadji on the Isle of Pines. Being unfamiliar with this route through the Southern lagoon reefs, Fusio was forced to throttle back the sail plan in order to stay behind the relatively pedestrian JoliFou.
On arrival we lead Fusio in through the tricky shallow reef entry to Gadji outer anchorage, and both anchored there. On snorkelling to check anchor it was holding on firmly but only by the tip in a tiny hole in the coral slate (we would move to the secure inner anchorage the next day). Drinks and cards on Fusio was a hilarious affair as usual.
Garden of Eden
We were stoked to have scuba diving friends with us in this place with some amazing dive spots, so next day the JoliFou dive tour began. We set off in both dinghies for a site called the “Garden of Eden” which we have dived many times before. Huggie was our willing and most able support boat boy, a pleasure having the security of this when diving a current affected reef pass. We saw quite a few reef sharks including a group of 5 grey reef sharks, a big moray eel, and stunning schools of fish in a very pretty shallower end section that we had missed on previous dives.
Caves of Gadji?
Ever since our trip here last year, we have wanted to check out a dive site called the “Caves of Gadji”. This year we were determined to find it, but our information on the location basically consisted of a dot on a rough mud-map of the area, a confusing old French dive guide description, and a conflicting more recent report from a cruising friend of ours. On Sunday morning after filling the tanks we started a dive near the dive guide location and looked for the caves entrance. It was nowhere to be found and it didn’t appear to be cave-like terrain, not very interesting except for seeing a couple of beautiful eagle rays. It got much prettier and more cave-like further along as we swam northward. We found and explored some cool tunnels but they didn’t open up to caves.
After re-filling the tanks during lunch back at the anchorage we set off again in the early afternoon to try further north at the location our friend had told us of. Huggie had to placate an angry local fisherman on a speedboat, buzzing around above us and yelling: “no fish no touch”! We moved southward along the dropoff and discovered awesome swim-throughs and caves. We are still not sure it’s the official “Caves” dive but it is one of the best dive sites we have discovered to date.
Cool Runnings reunion
On the way back to the boat in the dinghy we saw our friends Dave and Gudrun Hibberd (and Ben and Gabby) arriving on their Lagoon 400 catamaran “Cool Runnings”. Dave and I were fierce competitors in the Laser dinghy in South Africa over 20 years ago, and we later became good friends and were teammates in the South African Olympic Sailing Team at the ’96 Olympics (Dave in Laser, me in the Soling class). We all emigrated over the next few years, Dave and Gudrun to the US and us to Aus. We got in touch recently when we heard they were planning on doing a circumnavigation and as fate would have it they arrived in New Caledonia whilst we were there. We shot out to meet them on the dinghy and I got aboard and piloted them our preferred way into the inner anchorage. After filling tanks and sorting out dive gear we headed over for drinks, along with the Fusio crew.
Lovely to catch up with good friends after such a long absence, it always amazes me how quickly one re-acquaints, and it feels like you were never apart.
Next morning, Monday 7th November we left Gadji for Oro, leading Fusio through the reef passes. Cool Runnings decided to remain at Gadji for a while and we would catch up again down the line. It was an interesting sail with the Westerly wind changing to a moderate Easterly half way. Our main goal was to show Warwick and Lanie the beautiful dive site we had discovered here previously, so we headed out on the two dinghies, surviving a bit of an iffy moment getting through the breaking waves on the barrier reef. It was an excellent dive with two fantastic swim throughs, a few good sized sharks, turtles and large fish including a Maori Wrasse. The highlight was a nose to nose encounter with a biggish shark as we exited one of the swim-throughs. The bar opened early on the aft deck of Fusio and the shark’s size grew proportionally to the number of beers as we relived this great dive.
Fusio had already cleared out of the country a few days previously in Noumea and it was time for them to leave for NZ. On Tuesday morning we joined them for coffee and a sad farewell. Our adventures in New Caledonia had been so much the sweeter this year with such great friends as Warwick and Lanie. Sharing our passion for kiting, surfing and scuba diving, positive, funny and easy-going we can’t imagine a nicer crew to share the cruising lifestyle with. The only thing we don’t like about them is that their boat seems to have the legs on us in most wind conditions. We already have plans to meet up again next season with them in Fiji, along with our other Kiwi friends Rob and Carolyn (Shenanigans) and John and Pip (Sharpe Focus).