Monthly Archives: May 2012

Inside the Astrolabe reef, Kadavu

Anchored off Yaukuvelevu Island in the Astrolabe reef

Camomile, Norsa and Forteleza left Suva at 06.00 on Sunday 13th May for a fairly racy sail into a south easterly down to Kadavu through rough seas.  After a gruelling 7 hour beat we arrived at the Herald passage, entry into the Astrolabe reef.

The anchor chain disappearing into the beautiful turquoise water




Our position 13th May

18º 47.9 south

178º 31.4 east

Anchored off Yaukuvelevu Island in the Astrolabe reef.   

The water’s a beautiful turquoise blue and so clear we can see the anchor and it’s chain on the bottom.  The snorkelling here is fantastic with lots of different coloured coral with striking coloured tropical fish. 

The island has a half built resort on it and the workman were a bit noisy so the next day we left to sail south around the island of Ono.  We got to the anchorage and could see a lovely sandy patch close in and started to motor towards it.  I was on the bow on coral spotting watch.  I could see the coral on the bottom and called back to Bill that we were over coral who was watching the depth gauge.  I told him to go right because there was a patch in front of us that looked shallow but there wasn’t time to turn and we felt the keel glance along the coral as we slid over it.  Fortunately it was just a small coral head and we came off it quickly but it was quite scary so we turned around and anchored further out.

Our position on 14th May

18º 55.8 south

178º 28.6 east

Anchored off Ono Island, Kadavu

Norman decided to try the cava with some of the villagers.

While walking on the beach the next day we met some locals from the village in the next bay who invited us all to come over and see their village that afternoon.  Six of us arrived in three dinghies on the beach later that day.  In Fiji when you visit a village it’s customary to perform ‘sevu sevu’ which means a bunch of kava is presented to the chief.  Kava is the dried root of the pepper plant that can be bought in presentation bundles from the local markets.  Once ground into a powder and mixed with water it forms a non-alcoholic, mildly narcotic drink which looks and tastes like dishwater!  Once we landed on the beach we asked to be taken to the chief to perform our sevu sevu.  We were shown to an old hut with a wizened but friendly old man sitting on the floor inside.  The only furniture in the room was a bed and an old dining chair but he preferred to sit on the floor.  Bill presented some cava on behalf of us all and it was received with a little Fijian prayer and some chanting, each bit followed by three claps which we all copied.  Norman decided to try the cava with some of the villagers.

The school hiden amongst the palm trees

After sevu sevu we were invited to look around the village and take photos if we wanted.    The villagers encouraged us to chat to everyone.  We all wandered up to the little school on the hill to take a look at the children. 

One of four classrooms in the school




The schools here look very sparse compared to the bright classrooms our children are used to.  Although all the children had a uniform on some of them were third or fourth hand and were looking very worn, also note none of them have shoes on.  When our boys were young they were often encouraged to fill a shoebox for less fortunate children than themselves.  We’ve done it many times, as I’m sure some of you will have done. 

The children were presented with a charity box of goodies


So imagine our delight when we arrived at the school to see some of these boxes being handed out.  The boxes had come from NZ and had obviously been intended for Christmas because there were hand drawn pictures and letters and Christmas cards from the children who had assembled them.  It was wonderful to see real children receive them, even though they were 6 months late.  When asked why they had taken so long the teacher said they had been held up in customs for a long time.  Why does bureaucracy have to affect the children? 

This little girl was pleased with her box

The boxes were categorised for either a boy or girl (there are girls in this group but it’s difficult to tell because they have such short hair and the boys wear a sula instead of trousers) and there were also 3 different age groups so as each child opened their box it was full of things relevant to them and the smiles on their faces brought tears to our eyes.  Some of them contained woolly socks or hats which probably won’t get worn but most of them had some sort of reading material, coloured pens and pencils and, more importantly, little toys which many of the island children simply don’t have. 

The children sat around in groups and investigated the contents of their boxes

What amazed us was that the children received them very gratefully and politely, there wasn’t any pushing and shoving, they just waited until they were given a box. Once handed out the children took their boxes into little groups and investigated what they had.  We saw no arguments, no swapping and no ‘his is better than mine’ comments they were just so pleased for each other; it was truly heart warming. 

Norman read them a story

Norman started reading one of them a story and was soon surrounded. When we get home these boxes are going to be my charity but they need some form of tracking until they reach their destination.

Sara helping the girls unpack their boxes

Camomile sailing passed Ono

Our position on 17th May

18º 52.4 south

178º 29.6 east

Anchored off Naqara village, Ono, Kadavu

 The wind shifted again and so we sailed back up to the north of Ono and anchored in front of a village called Naqara.  We went ashore to do sevu sevu and the six of us were invited to a meal the following evening.  Joe, one of the elders of the village, met Norman and Sara, and Kerre and Tony, and Bill and I on the beach.  First he showed us the school.  This part of the island is more isolated without any tracks across the land so the school is a boarding school. 

The children sang to us in the dining room

Children as young as 7 were living in fairly poor conditions Monday to Thursday and then they go home by boat on Friday afternoon.  They all seemed to be coping ok and the older ones helped to look after the younger ones because there wasn’t any kind of housemother scheme.  There were 4 showers shared between about 50 children; outside of course.  It was all very basic.  Lollipops were distributed to a small group that followed us around and in return they sang to us in their dining room. 

The Fijian meal in Joe’s house

We went back to Joe’s house where we were all given beautiful leis to wear that had been made by the ladies of the village who had also specially prepared a lovely meal for us.  It was served on plates on a tablecloth spread out on a coconut mat on the floor.  We all sat on the floor around the mat, my knees are not good for sitting cross-legged but we made ourselves comfortable.  We didn’t recognise any thing but Joe explained what it all was.  First we had the most beautiful coconut crabmeat served in their own shells in coconut milk, there was also aubergines cooked in garlic and tomatoes, fish wrapped in taro leaves, cassava, which is a root vegetable similar to sweet potato that had been prepared in a variety of ways, to name just some of what was on offer.  Although it was a bit bland because they don’t use herbs or salt it was interesting to try some traditional Fijian food and mostly very nice.  Although they offered us water to drink we politely declined and chose to drink our own.  I’m sure it would have been ok but we thought we ought not to risk drinking it.

Bill and Joe

They wouldn’t allow us to pay them for what we had eaten but asked for a donation to their new generator for their church instead, which we were happy to do.  After the meal we were joined outside by the chief, he thanked us for coming and for our donations.  Bill thanked him and the villagers for their hospitality.  Joe and some of the others walked us down to the beach and helped us launch the dinghies.  They waved us off with happy smiling faces.  We just love this country.

5 days in Suva

Royal Suva yacht club

Our position on Tuesday 8th May 2012

18º 07.3 south

178º 25.4 east

Anchored outside the Royal Suva Yacht Club


After a good nights sleep I conferred with the other boats and we agreed I would start calling the RSYC at 8.00 to arrange for the customs to come and clear us into the country.  Fiji is the worst country we have come across for bureaucracy.  I’m sure Indonesia will rival it but at the moment Fiji is even worse than Panama. 

The bar at RSYC

Consequently it took the RSYC quite a while to arrange for the various government bodies to come and clear us in.  At about 11.00 a launch finally turned up with 3 officials bringing the necessary paperwork to each of the 4 boats then they came back to us and started the process.  There was a representative from the customs, immigration and quarantine (practique) all very nice people but each with forms to fill in and money requested. After about an hour and F$262.50 (about £90) they finished with us and continued onto Norsa but half way through announced they were stopping for lunch and would be back in the afternoon!  We just have to smile sweetly and accept it or else they could make life difficult.

The catamaran Troutbridge up on the hard

Finally we were all cleared in and able to go ashore.  RSYC was built in the sixties and still looks like it although the people are very friendly.  It has a secure dinghy pontoon, fuel and water, a little restaurant and a bar.  We had a long chat to Peter off of the catamaran called Troutbridge.  Unfortunately he hit the reef at the entrance this time last year and has spent the last year trying to salvage it; not sure if he’ll do it, she looked in a bad way still and her engines are sitting in a Fijian workshop some where in pieces.  In the evening we sat down for dinner with Norman & Sara in the little air-conditioned restaurant, a welcome relief from the 34C.

Guarding the Presidential palace

The next day six of us got into 2 taxis to go to the Ministry of Fijian Affairs to get our cruising permits, the final piece of paper to make us legal in the country.  Amazingly it was free! The ministry was next door to the Presidential palace and we all had to have our photos taken with guard in his smart uniform.  The poor guy looked really hot. 

Norman and Sara from Norsa helped.

We walked back into the town to sort out sim cards for phones and internet dongles.  Technology has moved on in Fiji over the last year and dongles were available quite cheaply but we’ve since discovered the signal still isn’t strong enough to upload photos and large documents onto the website in many of the islands so I’ll still have to  send blogs by the SSB radio and I’ll add the photos when we get a better signal.  We headed back to the yacht club and ate in the restaurant again in the evening with Kerre and Tony of Forteleza and Connor and Marian of Toucan, joining Norman and Sara and Bill and I.



Wandering the streets of Suva

On Thursday Bill and I went into town again for a wander.  There’s two sides to Suva, The old part with it’s little shops and emporiums full of tat standing side by side with the big modern shopping mall with it’s bright lights and smart shops. 



Old Suva on the left of the river and the modern shopping mall on the right









Inside the shopping mall


Beautiful Indian clothes for sale

There’s a strong Indian influence in Suva.  There are lots of Fijian Indians restaurants here but we decided to play safe and have a McDs for lunch, well it did have free internet. 





Norman and Sara joining us for a drink

We got back to the RSYC just as it started to rain.  We waited for what we thought was a lull in the rain but we mistimed it.  Half way out to the anchorage the heavens opened and it POURED.  Tropical rain maybe warm but it soaks you in minutes.  We arrived back to the boat soaked to the skin.  Later in the evening we assumed no one would want to come to our planned drinks evening but this is Norman and Sara on their way. 

Norman in his swimmers

Norman decided it was easier to come in his swimmers and change once he arrived; nothing keeps Norman away from a drink!!






Oranges for sale in the market

On Friday Sara, Marian and I decided to have a girls day while the men did boat ‘stuff’.  First we went to the market to stock up on fruit and veggies because it’s difficult to buy things in the islands.   Although green these oranges were very juicy. 




A row of cobblers!

It’s also possible to get your shoes mended by these boys.

We went into the mall and had lunch then Sara and I had our hair cut.  Mines a bit short but it will be cooler. 

We took our boat papers to customs and waited an hour to clear out of Suva and obtain clearance for Savu Savu, our next main port in Fiji.  Despite there being 6 people in the office only one lady could process us and she was out but eventually she turned up and we got our clearance.

Saturday we relaxed on the boats ready for the sail the next day although we went ashore for one last drink in the yacht club.

Minerva reef to Suva, Fiji

We weighed anchor at 10.00 the next morning and prepared to leave the reef with Forteleza (NZ) and Toucan (Irish). The engine has been acting up recently and just as we were motoring towards the entrance it started again. As you know I don’t do technical but Bill said the raw cooling water wasn’t getting through the engine properly, which means the engine could overheat. We turned back from the entrance while Bill manually fed water into the strainer to get the suction going on the water pump. After about half an hour of working on it, while I took the boat round in circles, he was happy for us to go back to the entrance and leave the reef.

Rough seas

We had 365 miles to go to Suva – a Biscay crossing roughly and rough was the right word because the wind was still blowing 20 – 25 kts outside the reef with 3 – 4 metre seas. Fortunately it was coming from behind us so it wasn’t too bad. We still had 3 reefs in the main and Bill controlled the speed by winching the Genoa in or out. The Hydrovane was having trouble steering when we surfed down the waves so we had the autohelm on as well. Bill also had to hand steer. We reached 9.3 kts once as we surfed down one of the waves and I was doing a very good impression of a meercat just popping up now and again to see if the seas were dropping. I kept Bill fed and watered.

Our position at 10.00 Sunday 6th May 2012
21 16.9 south
179 57.4 east
We covered 154 miles in the last 24 hours and we’ve got 211 miles to go.

Neither of us slept very much last night. Bill chose to sleep in the cockpit for a couple of hours while I kept watch because he didn’t want to go too far away from the wheel while the sea was still rough. I laid down on the saloon berth but it’s difficult sleeping with the boat lurching from wave to wave. By 2am the wind went round to the east, which made the motion a bit better, and Bill went below to try and get a bit more sleep. I’m still doing my net each morning and we have Forteleza just behind us and Toucan is to our starboard. Norsa were a hundred or so miles behind us and chose not to stop at Minerva so now they are a little way ahead of us but the wind has pushed them off course and they are still quite a way east of the rhumb line. We’ve crossed back over the meridian line and during the afternoon crossed 20 degree south, which means we are back in the tropics. When we left NZ we had 3 layers on but each day we are able to leave more of them off. It’s now starting to get warm enough to sail in shorts and t-shirts. During the day the wind dropped to F5 and the sea started to moderate. As much as I love New Zealand I’m really not doing this passage again.

Land sighted

Our position at 10.00 Monday 7th May 2012
19 04.1 south
178 57.6 east
151 miles covered in the last 24 hours, 60 miles to go

We had a better nights sleep and this morning we shook the 3rd reef out of the main and let out all of the genny. Later we shook out the other 2 reefs and were sailing really well in a nice F4 – why couldn’t the whole trip have been like this? At 11.30 I spotted land; oh no it’s the island of Ono!! The air temperature is 28C and the sea is 26.9C, oh yes!!
We continued sailing right up to the reef outside Suva before taking down the sails to pass through the entrance at 20.40 and then carefully making our way in the dark to the Royal Suva Yacht club to drop our anchor at 21.00. Norsa had arrived a couple of hours before us; Toucan came in about half an hour after us followed by Forteleza an hour later. All my little ducklings safely in.

4th, 5th & 6th days at sea.

Our position at 10.00 Wednesday 2nd May 2012
28 30.1 south
178 52.3 east
153 miles in 24 hours, 549 miles to go

The wind went round to the south and we were off. We got the engine off at 20.00 last night and have been sailing since. We spent the night rolling around in a moderate sea and everyone was tired on the net this morning. Today was my birthday and although Bill had very sweetly hidden a couple of little presents for me, it wasn’t much of a birthday. I even had to get up earlier than my usual watch time because Bill wasn’t feeling well. Never mind, we’ll save the celebrations for when we get in. Bad hair day!!

Our position at 10.00 Thursday 3rd May 2012
26 13.3 south
179 55.8 east
154 miles in 24 hours, 161 miles to Minerva reef

Our little stowaway

We’ve changed our destination to the north Minerva reef. These are 2 reefs in the middle of nowhere which are quite a popular stop off points on a passage from NZ. It will be nice to have a bit of a rest. The wind is now blowing F6 south easterlies – classic trade winds. We’ve got 2 reefs in the main and a scrap of genny out and still doing 6-7kts surfing down the waves. The swell has increased to 4metres which is quite alarming when you’re watching it from the cockpit. All the hatches are closed as we are getting rogue waves coming into the cockpit. In the midst of all this a little swift flew in, sat inside the cockpit cover, preened itself, pooped on the deck and flew off. The skipper was not impressed.

Our position at 14.00 Friday 4th May 2012
23 37.77 south
178 53.83 west
156 miles in 24 hours. Anchored in Minerva reef

Approaching Minerva reef

We have crossed the 180 degree meridian line briefly to stop in Minerva reef. I’m not sure it will show up on google earth but it’s worth a look. It’s a circular reef about 3 miles across. There’s nothing here and sadly with the strong winds it’s too choppy to get in for a swim but it’s quite an experience being anchored literally in the middle of no where watching the surf explode onto the reef all around us. The wind is still blowing 25 – 35kts across the achorage but the sea is much calmer in here because the reef is breaking up the waves. The entrance was easy to see with the sun behind us. There are 3 other boats from our net who have also stopped but we don’t want to unpack our dinghies so we’ll just have a nice meal, a glass of wine and a good nights sleep, ready to go out into the ‘washing machine’ again tomorrow

2nd and 3rd day at sea

Our position at 10.00 Monday 30th April 2012
31 49.8 south
177 11.8 east
133 miles in 24 hours, 807 miles to go


Red sky in the morning is a shepard’s warning…..

Our second day at sea was frustrating because we couldn’t get enough wind to sail and spent almost 24 hours motoring. After finishing the NICA net I plotted the positions of the other boats on the chart plotter and found we were all still quite close together and the others were also motoring. We had been warned we would have a day of motoring by Bob McDavitt, our weather router. The highlight of the day was that we caught a fish, this is a fairly rare occurrence on Camomile so we were really excited as Bill reeled it in. It was a small mackerel tuna, we even managed to catch a second but unfortunately it jumped off the hook as soon as we got it near enough to the boat to gaff it. During my evening watch the sea became so glassy I could see the reflection of the moon in it. At around 23.00 the wind piped up and I got Bill up so we could put the sails back up and start sailing again.

Our position at 10.00 Tuesday 1st May 2012
30 42.7 south
178 39.5 east
105 miles in 24 hours, 702 miles to go

We sailed over night but by the morning the wind was dropping again. We sailed slowly until midday when, with our boat speed down to 3kts, we put the engine on again. There are a couple of boats ahead that left the day before us but they haven’t got any wind either so we’ll just have to be patient. It was a frustrating day with only 105 miles covered in 24 hours but someone somewhere wished for more wind …..

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