Barry and Margaret Wilmshurst
Mon 14 Jul 2008 07:09
This has taken a very long time to write; too long, but we have had a quiet life with little excitement to write home about. We are now at sea and I am composing my thoughts on Fiji.
We stayed in Suva for nearly three weeks hoping to get JJ Moon put right after our rough passage from New Zealand. We accomplished the small tasks OK but had no luck with the bimini or navigation light. We found a sailmaker but the weather was very wet for the first week and he didn't want to come out to the anchorage to measure up until conditions improved. Then nothing happened for a bit and it became clear that he probably didn't really want the business. The general manager of the local chain of chandleries made valiant efforts to secure a replacement navigation light from NZ but in the end we had to purchase a lesser model as a temporary measure.
Looking for a change of scenery we sailed round to Vuda Point marina about 6 miles south of Lautoka, Fiji's second "city." It was very comfortable, sheltered and with all necessary facilities including a more helpful sailmaker. The boats are secured bows in round the rim of a circular basin. The new bimini was made up and now includes smart zip-on side pieces to protect us from the setting sun. We greatly enjoyed the good life of Vuda and would have been even more relaxed had we not got into a bit of administrative trouble. I realised soon after arriving, and after receiving conflicting advice from those who should know, that we ought to have cleared out of Suva internally and cleared into Lautoka before entering the marina. Someone was fined about £400 for the same offence at another port so I thought we should try to put things right. This involved hiring a car and driving 3 1/2 hours each way to Suva and back to "check out" and then into Lautoka the following day to "check in". It all went well but I had one or two edgy moments. While dealing with the customs officer in Suva a colleague came in with a signed confession and "settlement" from another poor skipper who had, I think, arrived in the country without doing the proper thing. $1000 cash was handed over while I went pale and engaged my man in earnest diversionary conversation about another recent change in the law. However, having come to terms with the inconvenience of 7 hours driving on dreadfully pot-holed roads we quite liked the experience. We got to see some more of the country and we were able to go shopping in Suva for things we already had our eyes on.
Earlier we had had one of those "it's a small world" experiences. On our first day at Vuda we were walking round the basin getting to know the place when I suddenly came face to stern with a boat I thought I knew. Ondarina was the unusual name and she looked about the right size and shape. I was searching my memory for details and trying to explain the story to Mags when the owner appeared from below. She was the same boat but under different ownership. Many years ago, in 1979, brother Martin and I advertised in Yachting World for a partner to share ownership of a Hustler 35, my dream boat at the time. After several false starts we met a chap we thought we could get along with and we all set about identifying a suitable Hustler. Then everything went quiet until I received an apologetic phone call from our new friend to say that he had found his perfect boat, an Ohlsen 35, but unfortunately she already had a part-owner attached. To compensate for our disappointment would we accept a weekend sail to Poole in his beautiful Ondarina? We went, had a good time, and that was the last we heard of boat and owner both - until there she was nearly thirty years later in Fiji. In the meantime Ondarina had come into the hands of a distinguished yachtsman who had kept her for seventeen years and sailed her half way round the world through many adventures, all to be recorded in three volumes (according to his web-site). The brand new Kiwi owner had not yet had her in the water so I was able to boast that I had sailed her more than he had. We had some convivial beers with him and his partner.
Having put the ship to rights there was no excuse for not going off to the Mamanuca and Yasawa islands to explore a little of the "real Fiji" (actually, I rather think "rural" and "traditional" Fiji). We anchored for 2 nights off a deserted coral island and during the day swam, pottered ashore and Mags tried out her new compact scuba diving gear. That worked well and she was able to give our bottom a thorough look-over to check for eroded anodes or wobbly bits. Then we visited a larger island where an all-Fiji seven-a-side rugby tournament was being played at the village school but we missed out on that because when we were half way ashore in the dinghy the heavens opened and drenched us. We turned back, but went to church the following morning and got a feel for the place. Then to the Blue Lagoon, which is a beautiful spot with a calm anchorage mercifully free from swell. We walked across the island and later had an excellent meal in a tastefully discreet small resort hotel.
Back to Vuda Point for re-victualling and preparations for the passage to Vanuatu. The marina was now very crowded because several of the Blue Water Rally round the world boats were in having a half-time bottom scrub and anti-foul. Naturally, these tend to be biggish boats and their owners have paid a substantial sum to join the rally. They want service, and quickly. They are all working to a timetable and have only twenty-three months to get all the way round. We chatted to the owners of one of the smaller boats; they seemed a bit disillusioned.
Now we are on passage to Vanuatu, about eighty islands five hundred miles distant from Fiji. We are trundling along at about 5 knots in a following wind of 25 knots or so. We could be going a good deal faster but once again it seems a good idea to time our arrival for just after dawn (on Wednesday).
Finally, for this blog, we have had a change of plan. We are going back to New Zealand at the end of the season for another 6 months. This will enable us to spend more time in the SW Pacific this year, sail directly to Australia next year and join the Sail Indonesia rally which leaves Darwin in July 2009. The rally is sponsored by the Indonesian government and the organisers take on much of the burdonsome paperwork connected with obtaining a cruising permit. We shall then have more time to explore parts of SE Asia before going on the Malaysia or Thailand for Christmas.
Pictures to follow when we get to an internet connection