Niuatoputapu to Fiji June 2011
Although we had checked out of Tonga there was one more Island we planned to visit. Niuatoputapu (nicknamed new potatoes by cruisers) is about 200 miles north of the Vava’u group, which meant an overnight sail. We left at 3.30 in the morning and sailed most of the day with the cruising chute up in very light winds. The other rally boats gradually passed us, some with engines on but we enjoyed a lovely peaceful sail. The wind dropped overnight and we had to motorsail until 2.00 in the morning when the sails were out again. The volcanic tip of the island was visible for quite a time before we arrived at lunchtime.
We were the last boat to arrive and were dismayed to see the sight of all the boats anchored in the beautiful anchorage, one of the downsides of being in a rally. That evening everyone took their dinghies to a little island in the lagoon for sundowners. The damage from the tsunami earlier in the year was evident.
The next day the local school invited us to join them in celebrating their school festival. We were invited into the school hall to watch their assembly and listen to their singing. It was a lovely service although it was mostly in Tongan. The preacher spoke some English and welcomed us to the school. The children had a very strict uniform code right down to the girl’s hairstyles and ribbons in their hair.
The boys, like the adult men, don’t wear trousers but a wrap around ‘sula’ topped by a piece of coconut matting held in place by a length of cord. None of the children had shoes on which was bizarre.
The view from the hall out across the grounds was amazing and, at times, quite distracting. We made our way back to the boat past their little houses. This was the furthest north we’ve travelled since the Marquesas Islands and it was now time to head west towards Fiji. The other boats stayed for a few more days but we had to leave for Fiji so I could catch my flight back to the UK.
We left at 15.30 with our twizzle rig flying sailing directly down wind for as long as we could before the wind dropped. The engine went on at midday the following day as we couldn’t afford to slow down. The temperature was 35C so we tipped buckets of seawater over each other to cool down but even the sea was warm. For the next 48 hours the engine was on then the wind picked up again.
At 18.30 on the third day we crossed the east/west meridian line, it’s fascinating to watch the GPS swap from west to east, just as the wind returned enabling us to start sailing again.
The wind was very light but with the main up and the cruising chute flying we were able to maintain the 5kts necessary as we sailed around the south of the main island of Viti Levu on our way to Lautoka for our check-in.
After our forth night at sea we entered the Navula passage through the reef to be greeted by a fabulous sunrise, finally dropping our anchor at 9.30am on Thursday 23rd June.
Most of that day was spent in customs, immigration, gaining quarantine clearance and obtaining our cruising permit. Gabby and Richard from Riga II were there also (we’d met them in Tonga) so it great catching up with their news while we were waiting for the various officials. We were delayed in town and were late back to customs to finalise our clearance but I think it was meant to be because when we returned to the customs building we bumped into our great English friends Tim and Rebekah who we haven’t seen since Gibraltar in October 2009. They were just checking out of Fiji and planned to leave the next day so it was meant to be. We all enjoyed a great meal together catching up on the last 2 years including looking at their wedding photos from the previous year.
The next 3 days was spent in a whirlwind of provisioning for Bill, washing and packing ready for my trip back to the UK while we were moored in Port Denerau (we had our own personal sunshade). Camomile was later moored to a buoy while I was away which was cheaper. Bill also had her lifted for annual maintenance so I got to miss all that – lucky me.