November – Final Fortnight in Fiji
in the morning of Saturday 3rd November we reversed our zigzag course
through the reef and out of Fawn Harbour. Although we successfully negotiated the
entrance and therefore knew that the waypoints worked, there was still a bit of
nervous tension as we edged out with the ocean swell breaking on the coral only
yards away. Our destination was
Bay – only some twenty or
so miles away . That bay opens out
onto the Somosomo strait which runs between the main island of Vanua
Levi and much smaller long, thin island of Tavenui to the south east. This means that the whole area is well
sheltered from the prevailing winds.
Once again, Curly’s waypoints were spot on (the Navionics charting was
little better than previously, allowing us only a 1:200,000 resolution – hooray
for C-Map and paper charts) and we found ourselves safely in another idyllic bay
picking up one of Jack Fisher’s moorings.
Jack is a local character whose grandfather was English and who knows the
reef like the back of his hand. His
house is a one room affair with a double bed in one corner, a cooker and a
fridge in another. Plus a veranda
with a couple of deck chairs on it.
That’s pretty well it. But,
he, his charming Samoan wife (his sixth wife – but none of the previous ones was
beheaded) and his grand-daughter (who lives with them) are more than happy with
that. One day, he piloted us to a
niche in the reef where we anchored so that we could drift snorkel whilst he
followed us in the dinghy. Scary anchoring but stunning
snorkelling. Just stunning. Coral of every shape, colour and
description and such a variety of reef fish – plus a few grey sharks. All the time we were in the bay Jack
looked after us, taking our rubbish away and providing us with surplus fresh
fruit and veg from his garden.
And he entertained us with tales of Fiji life –
often at great length! When we
asked him how much he charged for his excellent moorings he replied that we
might give him whatever we chose.
What a dilemma! We suggested
that we pay him what we’d paid at the Copra Shed Marina in Savusavu - $ 10
Fiji (about £3.50) a night. He was delighted. He was even more delighted when we
discovered that we’d now got insufficient time to visit all the villages we’d
planned to visit and had to off-load quite a bit of the good quality kava we’d
bought as Sevusevu.
The hills above Viani Bay, close
…. and further away
There is a
small primary school in Viani Bay.
Whilst the government will pay for children to get to school, education
itself is not free. However many
families in Viani
Bay have moved there to
access a good primary school. The school ‘bus’ came past us every
morning at 0755 and back at 1545.
It was a hoot. The sound of
30 or so kids laughing, shouting, screaming, arguing and generally being kids
whilst the boat they were aboard made its way across the bay and in and out of
the reefs was a real tonic. There
was much hand waving and cries of “Bula”! (Hello) from both the children and the
crew of Arnamentia every time they went by. When the children are 14 they have to go
to board at senior school on Taveuni.
Jack thought this was an excellent idea – no opportunity for idling
around watching TV or playing with Nintendos. His granddaughter, Tiare, will be going
there in a couple of years’ time.
When Jack, his wife and she came aboard Arnamentia one afternoon for tea,
she spent quite a while studying our blow up globe but the only country she
recognised was Madagascar since there is a film of the same name! A bit to learn yet if she wants to
follow her dream of being a teacher – overseas no less. ‘Overseas’ being that marvellous other
place we’ve all heard of but can’t quite
Bay school bus . . .
. . . and not a life jacket in sight!
we went around into the next bay where a lovely Swiss chap, Roland, has set up a
dive centre and very low key resort.
It is quite telling that whilst so many of the smart resorts are doing
little business at the moment, Roland is nearly always fully booked. There is definitely a market for basic
(eg no air con), comfortable rooms and freshly prepared food at a reasonable
price (so that’ll be well, well short of the $1,000 US a day nonsense). We had to take pot luck with the menu,
but we were fortunate that it was the Lovo night – the traditional hot stone in
the ground method of cooking.
Coconut shells are used to heat lava rocks before canes are laid across
the heated rocks, food wrapped in palm leaves (or, nowadays, cooking foil) is
placed atop and the whole is covered with palm branches. And, then, sand. An hour later; bingo. The chicken was very succulent and
served with beautifully spiced creamed spinach and taro – a grey, heavy root
Sand removed - the Lovo pit covered with palm
Now uncovered - parcels of chicken and taro resting above the hot
All too soon
it was time to leave our little bit of paradise and head south to prepare for
our passage to New
We decided to break the journey at Levuka on the island of Ovalau. This was the original capital of
Fiji because with a port on its
eastern shore one could beam reach up and down the archipelago in the sailing
canoes. As it was around 100 miles
away, a night passage seemed the most sensible option so that we would approach
during daylight. As we neared
Levuka, there were all sorts of vessels displaying odd combinations of lights
which definitely don’t appear in the IRPCS. However, steering well clear of them, we
broad-reached averaging around 7.5 knots and had to take in sail to slow down so
as not to end up trying to anchor in an unfamiliar harbour in the dark. Fortunately there is a good set of
leading lights – bright blue (not entirely sure that the architects of the RC
Church envisaged its being ‘improved’ by the addition of a bright orange
triangle on its tower by day and a blue light by night but there you go) – so we
were able to get through the gap in the reef without hassle just as the sun
began to peep over the eastern horizon.
Although the town was the original capital of Fiji, concerns that the 600-meter high
cliffs surrounding Levuka gave it no room for expansion meant that the mantle
was passed to Suva in 1882. The reef affords protection but there is
nothing to stop the SE trade winds blowing right across the anchorage and
putting it on a lee shore. This
made for a pretty rolly night. The town itself has some touches of colonial
architecture but is a bit run down, undoubtedly affected by the lack of
Levuka RC church – lovely orange leading mark atop the
As ever, the Fijians we met were friendly and helpful. It’s a shame we didn’t have time for a
ride across the island in a local bus – we’d have definitely experienced culture
in the raw.
Local bus - Business
Small roadside market in Levuka
We felt that the place did not have a lot to keep us and we
knew that we had jobs to do before our passage to New Zealand which could be better accomplished in
Suva. So, early on the morning of Sunday,
11th November we set off for the 60 mile passage to the south of
Fiji’s largest island,
Viti Levu. To start with we were on a very fine
reach with the wind not quite on the nose.
Life was rather more peaceful on board after we rounded the SE corner of
Viti Levu. Coming into Suva harbour was quite a
shock – ships all over the place, some in a better state of repair than others
and development along the shore stretching for quite a few miles. It almost felt like being back in
Harbour! We anchored off the Royal Suva Yacht
Club in not so glorious mud. We
found that out as our anchor dragged at the first attempt. We’d been warned that there was
considerable debris on the bottom so it was a relief to find we hadn’t snagged
on anything as we recovered our faithful FBA (obviously having an ‘off’ day) and
did a ‘show again’. Fingers crossed
for when we depart.
No not a miniature submarine – just one of the many wrecks in the
harbour. 30m from
A vessel that stood out like a sore thumb in the harbour was
a Chinese ship of a type which, apparently, is used for launch support and
tracking of satellites. Well;
there’s a thing.
What of Suva harbour itself? Well. It can be a bit oily which is an
irritation. The Royal Suva Yacht
club is welcoming and they’ll fix most things for you. Suva is a good place to provision and – most
importantly from Jon’s point of view - sports an excellent selection of boys’
shops within walking distance of the yacht club. These are not concerned with selling
groceries, hand-crafted nick-nacks or ladies’ fashions. They sell sexy, useful stuff like nuts,
bolts (obscure non-metric), filters, tubing, vee-belts and so on. Whoa! Girls just wouldn’t understand but James
May would (UK in-joke: fans of ‘Top Gear’ will
know what I’m on about).
(Obviously, it is not our intention to be in the least bit sexist here –
It was Diwali on 13th November which meant that
most places were shut, not that that was a major problem for us. Nor has the traditional means of
celebrating the Festival of Lights been that bothersome – the letting off of
fireworks started on Monday and was still going on Thursday evening. But, they are largely small-scale local
So, what of this place, Fiji? Well, we’ve been here for less than a
month, we have to go to escape the hurricane season and realise that we’ve got
it badly wrong. We absolutely have
to come back. It is utterly
stunning, the charting is dodgy and so the navigation/pilotage is testing – to
say the least. The consequences of
getting it wrong are dire. So; what
other inducement are you waiting for?
What of the Fijians? It would be tedious to go into the many
kindnesses shown to us during our short time here. But they really are many. A thing that strikes you pretty quickly
as a Brit is how much these people treasure their history as a British
colony. So, all of you who regard
this sort of stuff as bunkum or Uncle Tom’s Cabin nonsense best skip the next
A trip around Suva (a pretty big town by anyone’s standards)
is likely to lead to your being accosted in the most gentle way by someone who
wants to know from where you have come.
You’re white and therefore not like him. If you say “England” the
response is likely to be “The Mother Country – you are very welcome, sir”. Really.
Fiji is a republic and under the
control of a military government.
Not that it very much feels that way to the casual visitor. It has a President who is head of state
and who has in the past week been appointed President again for the next three
years. There was no discussion in
the newspapers of the process by which he was appointed but since he is an
ex-chief of the Fijian armed forces it may not have been the most surprising
political development in Fijian history.
But, look at any of their banknotes. Look at the photographs in the entrance
to the Royal Suva Yacht Club displaying fine portraits of Fiji’s President
and ex-commodores of the yacht club et al.
What do you see? First: on
all banknotes – regardless of the fact that she now has no constitutional
position whatsoever – you see Queen Elizabeth II. Second; the Queen (sometimes accompanied
by Prince Philip) occupies more picture-hanging space than anyone else - by some
margin - in the Royal Suva Yacht Club.
Moreover, the pictures are artfully placed such that they hang an inch or
do above the competition (the President and the like). To Hell with the politics; she’s
Mum and they love her dearly.
Makes you think.
Makes you humble.
We’re almost through our list of chores that need doing
before we set off for Opua in the North Island of New Zealand. We’ll be leaving the tropics so it’s
time to dig out the cold weather gear; even though it is summer in the southern
hemisphere the nights are likely to be as chilly as they are back in the UK when
crossing the Channel in the spring.
The freezer is stocked up with casseroles – in foil dishes to minimise
washing up. A general clear out of
food stuffs we know we can’t take into NZ has also taken place – either into the
bin or via human consumption. For
some reason, a pack of yellow split peas has been with us all the way from
Lymington – Carol has never cooked them in her life so why she thought she might
start whilst at sea is a mystery.
(Note – she has made several very tasty dishes using red lentils,
though!) They are on the forbidden
list, along with dried fruit, nuts, meat, fish and dairy products, so they’ve
had to be ditched.
Although we’ve been watching the weather forecasts for a
while now, we’ve engaged the services of the NZ meteorological sailing guru, Bob
McDavitt. He has advised us that
Friday would be a good day to depart.
It should minimise the amount of motoring we’ll need to do and mean that
the inevitable front we have to go through should be weaker when we encounter
it. Let’s hope he’s right. If you get it wrong the passage can be