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South West Pacific

Table of Contents

Suwarrow

New Caledonia

30 October 2006

Noumea park Port du Sud Park Photos Kevin's father Myles arrived in Noumea on 28th. We drove to the airport to meet Myles and were really surprised how arid the interior of the island is. It reminded me very much of Australia. Yesterday after going for a wander into the town centre we all went for a walk along the waterfront to Baie de Citrons which is the main tourist hub of Noumea. That is where most of the hotels and restaurants are situated. The views along the beach were very pretty and we finally found what some of us had been looking for...a pub that brewed real beer. We enjoyed a few drinks and a good meal before returning to the boat.

24 October 2006

Xavier We arrived in Noumea yesterday. The overnight passage from Mare to the main island of New Caledonia was straightforward and we arrived at the pass through the reef at slack water before the flood tide. There was also only about 15 kts of wind during our arrival. Even so, we had over three knots of current with us and the waters were very disturbed around the pass. We are certain that we made the right decision in delaying our arrival. I would not like to be taking the boat through there during a gale! The island is beautifully scenic and would make a great cruising ground. Unfortunately our time has run out so we will see no more than Noumea itself. The marina is close to the centre and after clearing in officially we made straight for the supermarket for our fix of delicious fresh fruit, meat and baguettes. The French influence is clear in the various patisseries, creperies and generally high standard of fine foods. We have been keeping a very close eye on the weather as the depression we had noted a few days ago has intensified to become Cyclone Xavier. The marina staff did the rounds today informing us all that the island is now on alert and so we have to fix two 60 metre lengths of line from our stern to a sunken chain that has been installed for this purpose in the marina.

22 October 2006

We left Fiji for Noumea on 15th of October and have still not arrived. The first day out was boisterous with 30kts+ initially forward of the beam. The wind swung around very slowly so that eventually we could sail with the wind 110 degrees aft of the beam and it eased which made life much more comfortable. For the first day out I was very seasick so once again Kev stood watch alone for the better part of the day. The second and third day were great sailing with 15-20 kts aft of the beam though with around 100 miles to go to New Caledonia the wind began to howl again and veer. We opted to anchor for the night at Mare which is the most southerly of the Loyalty Islands, about 60 miles from the pass to New Caledonia. We have now been anchored for five nights! Kevin's father, Myles, is due to meet us in Noumea and fortunately he was able to delay his flight by a week. The difficulty we have is that for the past few weeks there seem to have been a stream of huge high pressure systems forming off the Australian Coast and tracking east. There have been very short gaps only between the systems which have brought gale force winds (reinforced trade winds) with them. We are not keen to tackle the entrance to Havannah Pass into New Caledonia in these conditions so we have been waiting for the winds to moderate. We hope to make the passage across tonight. Still, several of the yachts we have met are waiting to make the much bigger and much more challenging passage south to New Zealand. Several of these have made that passage previously and have said that usually the passage south is better made from Fiji or New Caledonia instead of from Tonga as the difficult winds typically come from the west. This year seems to have been the exception to the rule with the very strong winds coming from the south east. We have seen on the weather forecasts recently a tropical depression forming over the north of Vanuatu. Perhaps this marks the beginning of the cyclone season in these waters.

Fiji

13 October 2006

Fiji Bay Musket Cove We are still in Musket Cove and the wind is still howling. Today however was our first sunny day here so we decided to go for a long walk around the island and that was a good decision as the views were beautiful. We walked through a shady coconut grove, along deserted beaches and across the top of the hills admiring the scenery and the magnificent homes that are being built there. The weather looks as though it might settle withing 36 to 48 hours so we are hoping to leave here tomorrow and head for Noumea.

10 October 2006

The weather has done us no favours since our arrival in Fiji. With the exception of one day in Savu Savu, every day had been dank, overcast and rainy. When we began our crossing of the Pacific NOAA were predicting La Nina weather patterns for the year though now they are forecasting weather patterns more consistent with El Nino. This is certainly what we have seen for the last few weeks. In Fiji there are thousands of reefs and not all of these are marked. Many of those which are marked are inaccurately charted and that means that to really explore the islands, boats need to rely very much on eyeball navigation. When the weather is unsettled as it has been since our arrival, this is just not possible as without good sunlight, the coral can not be seen. We have met up with some boats who have run aground here recently. We have spent most of our time in Musket Cove. This seems to be a jumping off point for yachts heading for NZ or Australia. Whilst this is a reasonably pleasant holiday resort (activities, swimming pool, bar etc.) it is not really our thing so we are waiting for the weather to improve for the passage to Noumea.

2 October 2006

Saweni Bay We hoped to head over to Musket Cove but were told that first we needed to clear into Lautoka. Having met two boats who had anchored off Lautoka to complete the paperwork, we decided to anchor around the corner from the town at Saweni Bay. Lautoka is a very Indian town and is at the heart of the sugar industry. As the refinery burns the sugar, the boats anchored off the town tend to be covered in ash. The anchorage here is lovely with good holding off a sandy beach. We went ashore last night with Interlude  to visit the small hotel here for a drink and a meal. The hotel was more like a little caravan park but we enjoyed very good wine with what Kev claims to be the best curry he has had since arriving in Fiji. We were pleased to see Jim from Cheyenne  anchored here when we arrived. He headed around to the marina a couple of miles away. We had considered following him today until he called us up and told us that the marina is not only infested with mosquitos, but that the marina boat boy who was helping him to dock ended up taking a chunk of fibreglass out of his transom. We will stay here for as long as we are in the Lautoka area as the bay is pretty, secure and sounds much less trouble than the marina. We are hoping the weather will clear shortly to enable us to see the islands at their best.

30 September 2006

Sapphire Sapphire Magic Carpet The last two days have been relatively long days. First we left Savu Savu and headed across the bay to anchor on the south of Vanua Levu across from the pass to the large southern island of Viti Levu. We happened to make that passage in company with Interlude  and Magic Carpet . (Chris and Karyn on Magic Carpet  are Australian and are coming to the end of their circumnavigation.) After spending the night at anchor we were off for 6am again to head across to Viti Levu. As so much of this navigation is through coral, and many of the reefs are unmarked or inaccurately charted, it is important to leave ourselves with lots of daylight. We enjoyed a fantastic sail on the second day roaring along at 7-8 knots all day. We found that we are virtually the same speed as Magic Carpet . Though a catamaran, and therefore theoretically faster than a mono hull, Magic Carpet  is smaller than Sapphire  so we were evenly matched. We took some great photos enroute of the boats. We decided to continue onto a pass further on as we had made such good time. I think we covered around 55 miles before dropping the hook again. The north of this island is surprisingly barren. I hope the weather breaks so that we can go snorkelling. Since our arrival in Fiji, the South Pacific Convergence Zone seems to have settled over the islands so we have had gloomy weather every day except for our second day.

26 September 2006

We have spent several busy days in Savu Savu. There is really one main street packed with little shops and restaurants. We have eaten out for lunch and dinner every day since arriving as the food is so good and very affordable. Yesterday we hired a car and drove across the island to Lambassa which was very Indian. We bought our kava roots from the market there, did a little shopping and soaked up the atmosphere. That side of the island was a lot drier than where we are. The weather has been mostly unsettled since we arrived and we are looking for a window to pick our way around to Lautoka. The wind is not so much the problem as the rain. A lot of our navigation there is within the various reefs so we need good visibility to make our way through safely.

23 September 2006

Nakama Creek We are in Savu Savu now in Fiji and it is great. We anchored in a creek with about 25 other boats two nights ago picking our way to the mooring very slowly under radar. Fortunately for us, Interlude  who had arrived several hours before us, called us on the radio and told us exactly where to find the mooring buoy. The passage from Apia was very mixed. The first two days were windy but fast, the third day was a different story as first the wind died then we saw a big front ahead of us. This brought 40 kts on the nose for most of the night. I was sick so Kev had to cover my watches until the early hours of the morning. The trip took 3.5 days which was not too bad. The weirdest thing was that there were lakes of pumice all over the ocean. We were sailing through it and after the seas had calmed down there was pumice all over the deck, as though someone had been throwing rocks at us! We figured that there must have been some volcanic activity in this area and spend a little time contemplating the consequences of this before we were told that there had been an underwater volcanic eruption somewhere near Tonga about 6 weeks ago and this was the result  (as well as a new island somewhere). It did no damage other than take a bit of the paint from the bottom of the boat. We met someone who told us that when the eruption first happened, boats in this area could not move through the pumice as it was so thick! (I am not sure whether I believe that though it would be possible I guess.) A few hours before our arrival Kev had to break out his dwindling store of Bowmore Voyage whisky to mark our crossing of the date line. Savu Savu is lovely. Clearing in was a breeze. The officials were extremely polite and efficient and they came out to the boat promptly during our first morning here to complete the paperwork. (They were thoughtful enough to take their shoes off before coming aboard! That has not happened to us before.) It is a tiny town and very relaxed. The people are both Melanesian and Indian. It is so cheap! The food is fabulous and so are the clothes. A lot of the clothing is either made here or in India where labour is inexpensive. We went for a meal at our little yacht club with Brett and Debbie last night. I can understand why some yachts get lulled into spending months here.

Samoa

14 September 2006

Police Band Enjoying an Aggie Grey's Special Dancers Firedancers Each day in Apia the Police Band, along with the police force on duty that day march down the main road of Apia. As they march past, the local people stand still as a mark of respect. They looked fabulous in their lava-lavas. At eight o'clock they reach the town square where the flag is raised to the sound of the national anthem. It is a really dignified ceremony and as the flag is raised, a siren sounds and everything stops - all the traffic, shop business and even conversation. The Samoans are a proud people. The day was mostly filled with refuelling. We did this messy job with our jerry cans as we wanted to be sure of filtering the fuel. This was a good call as there seemed to we a lot of water in the diesel. After being covered in greasy fuel, I went for a snorkel at the Palolo Deep National Marine Reserve which is right by the marina. There were cages underwater protecting several giant clams. The Deep  is a large hole around 50 metres from the shore. Up to that point the water is only a foot or two deep but there the depth drops rapidly and the coral is beautifully colourful and the fish are abundant. It was much better than any snorkelling we did in French Polynesia but far from being as spectacular as Suwarrow. During the evening we joined a group of friends for a buffet / dance show at Aggie Grey's  hotel. We had a great night. The company and food were thoroughly enjoyable and the dancing was wonderful. The dancers were all hotel staff. (In fact I recognised one of the dancers as being the doorman who had welcomed us to the hotel upon our arrival.) The inevitable moment came when the dancers pounced on unsuspecting members of the audience to perform with them and sure enough, Kev was hauled up to demonstrate yet another of his many talents. What made the performance particularly special was the clear enjoyment of the singers and dancers. They seemed to be having a ball and delighted in demonstrating their skills to the guests. The finale was a firedance performed by the young men. That was extremely impressive.

12 September 2006

Samoa Interior Story Vailmia View Fale On Sunday we went to Church. The unaccompanied harmony of the Samoan singing has to be heard to be believed. (Friends told us that the singing was also incredibly powerful in the Cook Islands.) The music was simply magnificent. There are hundreds of churches of various denomination on this island and everyone goes to their church on Sunday. The women all wear hats and get very dressed up and the men look wonderfully distinguished in their lava-lavas. Other than church work is forbidden here (as it the case throughout a lot of the Western Pacific) on Sunday. This is the day when extended families cook and share their huge meal usually cooked in the traditional umu. We joined friends yesterday in hiring a taxi to take us for a day trip around the island. We stopped at the Robert Louis Stevenson's Museum which used to be his magnificent house. The author settled in Samoa after sailing across the Pacific with his wife and step children. Unfortunately his health was always bad and enjoyed only four years here before he died at a young age. He produced thirteen books during his days in Samoa. During the four years though he seemed to earn a place in the hearts of the locals due largely to his efforts at promoting peace between various chiefs. He was also supportive in the Samoans in their bid for independence. The Samoan people called and still call Robert Louis Stevenson Tusitala  which means teller of tales . We drove across the centre of the island and then along the south coast. I was really surprised to see how traditionally so many of the people still live. Many live in houses called fales . A lot of these dwelling have no walls. They are a concrete slab or raised wooden platform with a roof which is held up by pillars. Some have furniture and others little or none. They have blinds that they can pull down if it rains. Many of the people are virtually self sufficient in growing their own fruit and vegetables for consumption or sale. The main sources of protein are fish, chicken or pork. The Samoans know how to use a lot of plants for medicinal purposes too. A lot of the homes have graves in the front yards as it is customary for the family to bury deceased members themselves. The chiefs get taller graves! Everywhere we went we were greeted with huge smiles and waves. We have not come across people this openly happy and friendly since Brazil. The beaches are pretty and very clean and the interior is phenomenally lush and green with lots of steep gorges and waterfalls. The island has invested heavily in hydro electricity as a source of sustainable energy. Samoa is effectively governed by chiefs. Until quite recently only the chiefs could vote but now everyone over 21 is eligible however only the chiefs can stand for election. We lots of groups of children and men playing kirikiti which is the Samoan version of cricket. The bat looks similar to a cricket bat though instead of having effectively two sides it has three and one of the sides is curved! How they have any control over where the ball ends up is beyond me. From what we have seen, though Apia is relatively developed, the people of Samoa seem to know that they have a jewel in their possession - both the pristine islands and their rich and warm culture. They seem to be making real efforts to preserve this whilst encouraging and welcoming visitors to their country.

9 September 2006

Our passage to Samoa was just a pleasure. We were blessed with four days of easy tradewind sailing accompanied by blue skies and puff ball clouds. These conditions have been unusual as we are often directly in the path of the South Pacific Convergence Zone which often brings pouring rain for days and violent squalls. The first couple of days were relatively fast with 15-20 kts from astern but then the wind dropped as did the seas and the last two days were slower but more relaxed as well. We entered Apia Harbour after dark aided by a full moon and clearly visible leading lights. After making our way through the reef pass we anchored next to our friends on Lotus  and Interlude . We went into the town today and were delightfully surprised at how genuinely friendly the local people are. (Everything I had read had suggested this might not be the case in Samoa - my books are wrong!). We made our way directly to the huge fresh produce market as we had run out of fresh food some time ago. As we wandered through the many stalls selling local produce, people would stop us and welcome us to Samoa. This was a very different situation to French Polynesia where the locals seem weary of tourists. Another huge and very welcome difference was the refreshingly affordable prices. The town itself is not pretty but interesting and the people are very warm. I particularly wanted to see Samoa after reading Gavin Bell's In Search of Tusitala  which tells the story of Robert Louis Stevenson's travels years ago.

Suwarrow, Northern Cook Islands

3 September 2006

John and Kev Anchorage Island We all had a really great night last night as we celebrated the birthdays of two of the people in the anchorage with another pot luck BBQ ashore. We had been fishing with John the day before so contributed fresh fish, rice and two birthday cakes. We all sat around on the beach enjoying the delicious food and the company of our fellow cruisers and of course, John's family. Towards the end of the evening John was persuaded to get his guitar out and treated us all to some well known songs and some traditional Cook Island songs. His little boys danced and performed their own version of the Haka which was just brilliant. One of the French men here took the guitar for a while and played some French songs which went down well with the handful of French people here. Suwarrow has been an absolutely incredible experience. I wish we had been able to spend less time in French Polynesia as I would love to have spent more time in the Cook Islands. We will never forget our time here.

1 September 2006

John Veronica Three Boys Twins Another unforgettable day. We had decided to try our luck at fishing again in preparation for a BBQ tomorrow. We had planned a surprise BBQ for Debbie's birthday. John and Veronica invited Kev and I to go with them and the four boys on a fishing trip to their favourite island, Entrance Island. This island is out of bounds to unaccompanied cruisers due to the high number of fish and also, this island is where the tropic birds and turtles nest. We all went over in John's boat (this would have been too far for our little outboard to manage) and went for a wander around the island. As we got out of the dinghy to walk the few metres to the shore, the boys knew to pick up rocks to frighten the small sharks that appeared as if from nowhere. They were attracted to the splashing of our feet and though we were in less than a foot of water this was no problem for the sharks. Entrance Island is tiny so the walk around took only a few minutes but Veronica took us into the centre where we saw baby tropic birds and even some nests with the mother and the baby nesting. The chicks were surprisingly large and outrageously fluffy. Veronica found tracks where the turtles has started to come up the beach to nest. We all went for a snorkel out to the reef where the depth drops off fairly quickly. This was without a doubt the best snorkelling we have ever done. The variety of fish was awesome and we even saw a Napoleon Bass. At well over a metre long and very wide he was enormous. The parrot fish were beautiful and the coral was alive and well. We spent some time trying to dive as deep as we could as there was so much to see. (Kev made it to thirteen metres deep with his snorkel.) I was a little nervous as there were a lot of sharks, mostly black tips and grey sharks. The grey sharks were a little too curious for my liking and although we would have loved to stay snorkelling for many hours we returned to the boat.The snorkelling here really made the coral and fish we saw in the Society Islands seem so second rate. Here it is just incredible with a huge number of beautiful big fish and brilliantly coloured coral. John took us over to New Island which is one of the smallest in the lagoon. The boys explained that the island is growing though as the coconut palms on this tiny atoll drop their coconuts, these germinate and a new tree grows and so allows the base of the island to grow as well. Our run over had been strike free as far as the fishing was concerned but as we were under way again in the dinghy, Veronica caught two large grouper within a minute of each other. Shortly after that, Kev caught a really big trevally. We made it back to Anchorage Island just before dark. We felt so utterly privileged to visit such a magnificent place in the first place, and particularly to share the day with such a beautiful family.

31 August 2006

groupere Seven Island Beach Jeremiah fishing Frigate Chick John took us out to visit Gull Island today and it was brilliant. We even saw a chick hatch from an egg - a baby frigate bird. There were lots of species and thousands of birds at all stages of development. It was just incredible. Kev tried trawling from John's boat and caught a grouper. It was delicious. Sadly there has been a problem with yachts visiting islands like these unaccompanied and without John's permission. It would be easy to damage the island through ignorance though John has even found crusiers killing the birds in the past. We then took the boat to visit Seven Islands and went ashore on the biggest island where Bernard Moitessier spent some time. We found a fresh water well that he had built. Again John just about ran up a coconut tree to knock down green coconuts and Veronica cut them open so we all had coconut milk to drink. To finish the day we all went for a snorkel over a high reef. This was the first time that we have really seen much live coral on this whole trip. We just had the most wonderful day. During the evening we enjoyed drinks on Interlude  with Brett and Debbie who are also bound for Australia.

29 August 2006

Coconut Crab Young Frigatebird When we went ashore here to introduce ourselves to the caretaker John and his family I learned that I went to college in Brisbane with John's brother, Thomas! My college was relatively small so Thomas and I knew each other and were friends. I have not seen Thomas since graduation and now know that he is the headmaster of the school at Penryn, an island north of here. John, Veronica and their four beautiful sons (Jeremiah, Jonathan, Augustino and Giovani) took us and a lot of of other people in the anchorage here on a trip to visit Motu Tao on the south side of the lagoon. As this is all a national park most trips to the motus need to be accompanied by John. It was such a delight. We saw hundreds of nesting seabirds and coconut crabs, not to mention the stunningly beautiful scenery. John climbed the coconut trees to knock down some coconuts and then Veronica wielding a machete cut them to provide coconut milk for us all. We felt so lucky to be there, especially with such a delightful family. The caretaking family live here for half of the year as the Cook Islands government does not allow people to be here during the cyclone season. The family seems to really enjoy the company of the cruisers here and they have made us feel exceptionally welcome. Right now though they are running very low on essential supplies due to a combination of inadequate supplies to begin with and also, during the last cyclone season their stores were robbed. The yachts here have all clubbed together to provide as much food and other essential items as we can.

28 August 2006

We arrived in Suwarrow today. The passage was very mixed with a combination of sunny tradewind sailing, calms and two days of driving rain and strong winds from astern. Whilst I remain eternally grateful that the wind was from behind us, that meant that the rain really soaked everything. We spent our first day on the boat washing and putting things back in order. During the evening we joined Keith and Christine with friends on "Poco Andante" for delicious sushi and drinks. Suwarrow is the Cook Island's only national park and due to the presence of the caretaking family, the atoll's pristine natural character remains intact. Suwarrow (sometimes known as Suvarov) provides a safe nesting area for 11 different species of sea birds, some of whom only come ashore to breed. They remain at sea for the rest of the year. This atoll was made relatively famous by the New Zealander Tom Neale who lived here alone between 1952 and 1977. Like all of the atolls in the Northern Cooks, Suwarrow is extremely low lying. Certainly upon our arrival we could not see the atoll by eye until we were less than three miles off and the radar did not see it before about six miles away. This makes Suwarrow, and the other atolls of the northern group particularly vulnerable to the rising sea levels due to global warming.