On the morning of the 3rd May we ghosted under full sail from our anchorage towards the gap in the encircling reef leading to the open sea, commencing our 3000 nautical mile (5400km) passage to Indonesia. We set our course northwest, to skirt around the more southerly islands of Vanuatu and then onwards to the Torres Straits which separate Australia and Indonesia. As our crossings have always been accompanied by light winds, we allowed thirty days for this leg to Indonesia.
Our first few days brought variable conditions – some good SE breeze but also very little wind and some of that from ahead. Not good for a sailing boat! On the 5th we heard female Kiwi twang calling Moondust’s name on the VHF radio. New Zealand’s Air Force Orion, not visible to us, was querying our well-being as they had picked up a faint emergency signal from an EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon).
Back at Musket Cove the lush green hills of Molololailai island now have a warm yellow tinge from the seeding grasses, the days are a bit shorter and nights a degree or two cooler. As we are preparing to leave Fiji within the next week for Indonesia, we look back on the last two months, which we mostly spent enjoying the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands on the western side of Fiji.
It is incredible how time flies when you are having fun! I’ve been in Fiji for three months and so far we’ve visited a number of beautiful islands, snorkeled some spectacular coral reefs and met many a warm hearted Fijian. We have also dodged a cyclone and avoided a tsunami.
Sailing in the Pacific Rim of Fire is high risk during the November to April cyclone season and is surely not ideal as it limits one’s ability to fully explore the area. And it is very hot and humid with plenty of rain for a large part of the season. However, even with these limitations, we are still able to see far more of Fiji than the average fly-in tourist would.
On the morning of my departure for the Southern Lau Islands thankfully the anchor came up from amongst the coral heads easily and with one reef in the main, I set sail for the passage through the fringing reef. Once clear of the island I found the wind was just south of east, meaning I would have wind forward of the beam all the way. However, having waited 27 days for these less than perfect conditions I was determined to go ahead.
Shortly afterwards I heard the chink of steel on steel and glancing up, saw that the bungee cord on the starboard fishing line was stretched to its limit and a big blue dorado was jumping and thrashing from side to side. Slowing the boat, I gathered the things needed to land it, but possibly being foul hooked, somehow it just slipped the triple hook and swam off.
The overnight passage was straightforward with about 15 knots of wind. That night, or rather early next morning, I finally tired of playing my uke, having worn through the skin on a finger and decided to catnap, after being alert and on my feet since departure. I managed about an hour of broken rest when it started to get light, then brewed some coffee, went out and was dismayed to see that the mainsail was showing a very full ‘belly’, caused by the reefing line at the clew (rear bottom corner) of the sail parting in the night.
Fortunately, there was a second reefing line rigged and my speed picked up with a properly set sail. By now it was 08:00 and the entrance to Fulaga was just six miles away, but directly up wind and up current. It took me three and a half hours to sail my way to just off the entrance pass, where I dropped sail and started both engines; happy that I had thoroughly tested them for fuel air blocks after the servicing I had done at Avea Island. I felt that I needed full manoeuvrability for my first effort at negotiating that pass which is only 50m wide and quite shallow – around five metres at places – with coral heads in the channel showing clearly. I had a route marked out on the satellite chart and after the first 300 metres or so, where I cautiously crawled my way in, straddling the obstructions, I finally anchored at midday in 4m of crystal clear water over sand off the village landing.
Following my arrival in Fiji from New Zealand and the completion of onboard quarantine at the end of June 2021, I was keen to sail away from the exposed anchorage off the main island of Viti Levu, out to the smaller islands to the west. Just as well I did, for later I learned that if I had stayed in there for more than 72 hours after clearing in, I would not have been able to move on because of Covid restrictions.
Being in the wind shadow area of the main island, I sailed 9 miles with just a zephyr of breeze out to Musket Cove, where I spent several days before catching intermittent puffs of wind to sail further north west up the Mamanuca Island chain and into the Yasawas.
Friday, 5th November 2021 was a joyous day on Moondust when Pete and I were re-united after being apart for 14 months! Just three weeks later, when the Omicron Covid variant was identified in South Africa, it became clear that I had been super lucky to have arrived in Fiji just before the whole world again closed their doors to South Africans.
I had returned to South Africa in September 2020 for my daughter’s wedding, convinced that I would be back on Moondust within a month or two, maybe three if Covid wasn’t over by then. Little did I know at that stage that Covid wasn’t going to disappear in a few months, years or maybe ever.
Hoping that Fiji would open their borders to international visitors sooner than New Zealand, being more dependent on tourism, Pete sailed to Fiji in June 2021 with a temporary crew member, under their so-called Blue Lanes Initiative.
As Fiji was still closed to fly-in tourists, Pete decided to make the best of his time in Fiji and made a wide circuit around the more than 300 islands. He especially wanted to visit the remote Southern Lau group of islands, which meant waiting about 45 days for the right weather window, as these are difficult to reach in the face of the prevailing the trade winds.
The weather fortunately was kind whilst on the hard and after 36 very full days, with only two off for rain, I was ready to go back into the water. In the meanwhile Ulla and Pelle flew back to Sweden, notifying me from Dubai that they had learned from fellow travellers that it was now possible to get Covid vaccinations in New Zealand. I called a fellow sailor who had access to a car and he secured us appointments for the next day.
My favourite destinations have been the lightly inhabited offshore islands, notably Great Mercury and Great Barrier Islands.
These are mostly bathed in clean ocean water and some areas are covered in pristine forest. The whole of Great Mercury Island is owned by prominent businessmen Sir Michael Fay and David Richwhite who both generously permit the public to come ashore. Through a sustained program of pest eradication involving bait stations and ongoing monitoring, the rat and feral cat populations have been eliminated, enabling indigenous birds to flourish. During one of my runs through parkland-like surroundings I met the woman who monitors the 600 odd bait traps on the island and began to appreciate the scope of her never ending task.
September 2nd 2020 saw Karin flying from Auckland to South Africa to fulfil her long stated intention to attend her daughter’s wedding towards the end of that month. After years of close quarters and 24/7 companionship, I knew that being alone would be a huge adjustment but I was determined to make the best of it, as I knew with the conservative Kiwi approach to Covid, that Karin wouldn’t be back for a very long time.
The Hauraki Gulf, east of the city of Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island, is a popular playground for tourists as well as local boat owners. It is also the venue for the iconic 2021 America’s Cup sailing challenge. Despite Covid restrictions on tourism from overseas, we had freedom of the Gulf on Moondust.
This area is extremely popular, being close to Auckland, as it features a number of islands, most of which are also accessible by ferry. We had previously visited Great Barrier Island, so this time, sailing from Whangarei, north of Auckland, our first stop was Kawau Island.