Escaping Noumea

Sunday 8th October 2017

We have to admit to finding the city centre of Noumea rather uninspiring and slightly shabby. We found the shops uninviting and the famed French restaurants below par. On top of that it is just too windy, each morning we would wake to light winds, giving hope that today might see calmer conditions. However by ten a lively breeze was building and by midday it was often too windy to eat lunch in the cockpit. All afternoon we would be battered relentlessly onto the pontoon, living life at a slight tilt, until if we were lucky, by bedtime things calmed down a bit. The weather looked good to escape out to the Islands on Sunday so we put our heads down and worked towards that.

Kite surfers enjoying the high winds, off the beaches to the South of Noumea

Along with the normal cleaning and bits of boat maintenance, we needed to stock up the fridge and freezer, buy a few basics and having run our stocks low in Fiji to pass customs for our arrival in New Caledonia, top up stocks of wine and beer. There are great fruit, veg and fish markets on the quayside close by the marina but the supermarkets are quite a walk away. We decided to hire a car for the day escaping the windy marina for a few hours exploring and using it for a big shop at Carrfour.

So Friday found us heading off into the interior to visit the Parc Provincial de la Rivière Bleue. Once out of Noumea any signs of habitation quickly disappeared, the road climbing steeply into the hills. Unlike the other Pacific islands we have visited, New Caledonia, was not formed by volcanic action but was part of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, this ancient bedrock has produced a land which is rich in minerals. The soil is an intense rust colour and the extensive mining activities and land slips have left the green hills scarred with slashes of red.

Looking out Westward from the hills above Noumea

The Blue river area became a park in 1980 when the river valley was dammed and flooded to create a water supply for the growing coastal towns. The combination of the red soil and the seasonally low water levels has produced an almost alien looking landscape of stark beauty.

La Rivière Bleue

Thousands of trees that grew in the valley were drowned as the area filled with water and now stand ghost like high and dry on the banks.

Ghost Trees

Further into the park is a rare piece of native rain forest, a pathway has been created to enable visitors to walk inside without damaging this fragile environment. Amongst the native trees we found a huge 1000yr old Kauri and tall tree ferns. We had been told to look out for endangered and emblem of New Caledonia, the Cagou. A grey flightless bird about 18nches high, they are reputably shy so it was with surprise we twice almost stumbled over one strolling up the path towards us.

Cagou

Having enjoyed our morning we drove back to town and the supermarket only to discover that in New Caledonia no alcohol is sold after noon on Fridays or the weekend. We couldn’t possibly set off into the islands for a few weeks with a dry boat, Saturday morning saw us lugging boxes of beer and bottles of wine on foot.

This morning we left at the crack of dawn to avoid the afternoon sea breezes that would make sailing southeast difficult and by midday we were tucked in a deserted bay on the south coast of Ile Ouen, Port Koutoure. Replacing the sound of cars and crowds is bird song, the reef protects us from the swell and the hills from the wind, a relaxing staging post, halfway to tomorrow’s destination the Ile de Pins.

Contrasts

Thursday 5th October 2017

Mirror flat seas followed by 30kt winds, open ocean one day, modern city the next and an introduction to a culture that’s part chic France part Pacific Island charm, the last few days has been full of contrast.

Saturday morning nearly half way between Fiji and New Caledonia the wind began to die and soon the sails were flogging and despite being happy to travel slowly the engine eventually had to come on. Although motoring in calm seas is very easy, we can sleep, cook, shower as if at anchor, it is also noisy and with the wind behind us rather smelly from the exhaust wafting into the cockpit. In addition, after our engine problems on the trip down to New Zealand, we both, apprehensively have ears half cocked for any slight change in engine pitch.

I guess light winds must be a problem for the sea birds also, without the air currents to help them soar and rest, flying must become tiring. That night while on watch I peered forward to check for lights on the horizon and spotted a dark blob on the rail, worried something must had fallen from somewhere I shone a torch forward and revealed a Red Footed Booby, head tucked under his wing, perched on the pulpit. Obviously fast asleep, he was unbothered by the torch light and stayed unmoving until day break, as the sun climbed into the sky he flew off, back the way we had come, hopefully we hadn’t taken him too far in the wrong direction.

Red Footed Booby hitches a ride

Throughout Sunday the wind hardly registered on the gauge, the surface of the sea became like a mirror, the only movement through its silky expanse was the slight undulation of a small ocean swell and the ripples created by our wake. We put out the fishing line and kept a look out for dolphins and whales but for twelve hours there was nothing anywhere but us. The grandeur of this emptiness is difficult to get across, we sat in wonder at our isolation.

Mirror like silky seas

Gradually the winds picked back up and by midnight we were sailing once again. Next morning we have New Caledonia in our sights and we’re glad we had kept our speed low and delayed our arrival, the Canal de la Havannah turned out to be as treacherous as described in the guides. We arrived perfectly timed at supposedly low water but still had to contend with two knots of tide against us and swirling currents that did their best to drag us off the line through the pass. Add into the mix patches of rough overfalls created from the wind blowing against the outgoing water and we were well and truly pleased to enter the lagoon.

The lagoon however was not quite what we imagined, it’s the largest lagoon in the world and with its outer reef nearly twenty miles off the coast this is basically open water. As the afternoon sea breeze added to the already high winds the sea became extremely choppy. Fortunately we had the wind and waves behind us and we made good progress towards the marina. As we rounded the headland south of Noumea we were greeted by the sight of a hundred or so kite surfers, they looked from a distance like flocks of huge colourful birds, at least someone was enjoying the conditions.

To our dismay as we approached Port Moselle the high winds continued, putting out the fenders and lines in preparation for the approach to the marina was hazardous. We took the decision to collect ourselves, we motored to the anchorage outside the marina wall dropped the anchor and sorted everything out at a slower pace. Then with our hearts in our mouths, as gust of over 30kts toyed with us, we entered the marina and only with the help of neighbouring crews made it without incidence into our berth.

The marina office were friendly and efficient and initiated the check in formalities for us. It was all very low key, customs didn’t even bother to visit the boat but the biosecurity lady did come onboard and take away all our fresh produce and meats. The immigration office only opens in the morning and must be visited in town the next day. Quite quickly we were able to settle down with a ‘got here beer’ and then enjoy a good nights sleep.

Got here beer in blowy New Caledonia

It’s a bit of a shock to the system to have a road running past the boat with proper traffic and it feels very odd to be in what on the surface seems like an European town. New Caledonia like French Polynesia is an overseas territory of France, however unlike French Polynesia the population, in Noumea at least, appears to be dominantly European. Gone are the ubiquitous smiles and greetings as you pass smiling strangers who stroll through the streets, “bonjour”, “bula bula”, this is city life, everyone is busy, eyes ahead, intent on reaching their destination.

First impressions are that there are only a few signs around that we are still in the Pacific islands, muddy taro still looms large next the contrasting colourful produce in the excellent fruit and veg market, traditional Melanesian crafts fill the stalls next to the tourist boats and car hire companies and there are plenty of pot holes and uneven pavements to remind you that you are not back in the world of personal injury claims. On the other hand the supermarkets are packed with fantastic French cheeses, cold meats, bread and wine, the dress code is mostly fashionable French and high rise buildings line the shore.

Our first foray into town was a little frustrating but in the end 90% successful. Immigration, once we found the office hidden away unlabelled in a scruffy block, in a side street, was easy, we are still European and can stay here for 3 months without a visa. It took three different ATMs but we finally persuaded one to give us some cash and after taking directions to half a dozen places we eventually found a mobile shop and bought a sim for Ricks phone.

At lunch time back onboard Raya we sat down to tasty salami, proper ham, smelly soft cheese and crunchy French bread, delicious. European towns do have a few upsides.

Farewell Fiji

Crystal clear waters at beautiful Navandra

Saturday 30th September 2017

19 52′ 722 (S) 172 56′ 036 (E)

We sit encircled by the royal blue of deep water, under a cloudless sky, we are caressed by a gentle breeze, the sea is calm, its rippled surface overlaying a lazy ocean swell. There are no other signs of life, no boats or aeroplane tracks, no birds, not even flying fish on the decks. We sail steadily towards our destination, Noumea the capital of New Caledonia, which lies 350nm away. After a quiet night we feel rested and relaxed.

Our last few days in Fiji were spent in Vuda Marina preparing for this passage. At some points they were also relaxed – best day to go is Friday. And at other times a big rush – actually the weather has changed, a Tuesday departure looks perfect, can we be ready in two days?

For this passage not only were we looking at the weather forecast but also the tide times. In Vuda we needed to depart 3hrs either side of high tide to ensure enough water under us at the fuel dock and the sand bar at the exit. Luckily this weeks high tide was in the morning and coincided with the customs people who each morning conveniently come to the marina to check yachts out of the country. Fast forward 3-4 days and we will arrive at Canal de la Havannah the pass through the reef encircling the large South Lagoon at the bottom of New Caledonia. This channel can have currents of up to 4kts, so you are advised to enter on a rising tide, not to mention that the 20kt winds forecast for our arrival are perfect for a wind against tide chop on an outgoing tide. It is then over 40nm inside the lagoon winding around headlands, islands and reefs before you reach Noumea all best done in good light. Timing of our arrival is therefore critical.

So in between, laundry, provisioning, cooking passage meals, standard engine and generator checks, sorting out rigging and clearing the decks there has been much calculating and copious amounts of rubbing out.

In the end we left Thursday, this gave us plenty of time for all our jobs and gave us the opportunity for a bit of an Oyster Owners get together. With five Rally boats in the marina there has been plenty of friendly introductions, a visit from the Rally coordinator and a night at the bar filling a couple of crews in on our favourite spots in the Yasawas.

Abdul the taxi driver (Abdul blue car, he tells us we should call him, to distinguish him from all the other Abdul’s who are also taxi drivers but, presumably, without blue cars) was as helpful as ever, running last minute errands and even appeared at the dock to wave us off. We also had a final fairwell from Clare and Darren from Knockando, our last night dinner together was scuppered by a sudden squall but we did manage a cup of coffee in the morning. Even the restaurant staff waved us off emotionally. Vuda will remain one of our favourite places.

Motoring out of Vuda Marina

Having assured customs we would be leaving immediately, we let go the lines around noon and motored for a couple of hours before slipping, hopefully unnoticed, into Momi Bay on the far southwestern corner of Vitu Levu. Our best time to arrive at the Canal de la Havannah is mid morning on Monday, when the tide turns but giving ourselves plenty of daylight to reach Noumea. This unfortunately means that we need to take our time and have a slow passage. Anchoring meant we left Fiji a few hours later, and meant we could eat lunch, shower and get an afternoon snooze, before setting off at 5pm out of Navula Passage and into open water.

We were expecting that evening to pass through a rain band but the accompanying high winds whipped up the waves creating a very messy sea and turned our first night into an uncomfortable start. Thankfully by sunrise everything had calmed down and we, despite the grogginess bought on by the seasickness pills and lack of sleep, started to get into the rhythm of things. We have now had 24hrs of great sailing, only problem is that despite a number of reefs in the sails, Raya is in her stride and is going too fast. The winds are expected to gradually die so the plan is to adjust our timings during the expected day of motoring we will have to do on Saturday/Sunday. For now we are just enjoying the calm and the blue nothingness all around us.

Sailing into the sunset

Census in Sawa I Lau

Sunday 24th Sept 2017

Our presence in a remote bay in the Yasawas has been recorded officially and for eternity. Last Sunday morning as we sat anchored off the Island of Sawa I Lau, with just one other yacht, a mile or so from any other signs of life we were visited by a local boat. It’s occupant greeted us with the normal wide smile and enthusiastic greeting “Bula Bula” but unusually, for the Islanders, spoke with perfect English. He asked not for the anticipated bunch of cava but if he could take down some information about everybody onboard. It turns out that it was census day in Fiji and our presence remote or not needed to be recorded.

Raya anchored off Sawa I Lau

Our final set of guest has left us, it has been a busy summer and nice as it’s been to have everyone onboard it felt good to have Raya back to ourselves. Sasha and Julia’s visit will be remembered for the fantastic snorkelling we have done, this week we finally got to see the magnificent mantas again, we were also treated to sharks, sea snakes, and a huge titan trigger fish. The last couple of swims were done without Rick who had a bit of an earache and the sight of the three of us after a long tiring snorkel, struggling, ungainly and giggling trying to lift ourselves into the dingy, whilst gradually being swept out to sea, went thankfully, unrecorded but will stick in our minds for quite a while.

Excellent snorkelling off Manta Ray Island Resort

We have played Rummy cube, attempted a game of bridge, drank far too much wine and beer, eaten far too much food and talked and talked. We were actually treated with enough wind during their stay for a couple of sails but for our stay in Fiji we have basically been a motor boat. In fact we have motored so far that on our return to Musket Cove we actually ran out of fuel in the main tank and in, luckily, calm open seas we had to top up from our reserve tank.

Team Raya on the sand bank at Musket Cove

Yesterday we came back into Vuda, ready for the girls early flight this morning. We are getting use to the tight squeeze of yachts here but the space we were presented with this time was the tightest of all. In fact after two tries it was fairly obvious we weren’t going to fit in going stern to, so Rick turned us around and managed to wedge us in with bows to the wall. The normal skilled marina boat boy wasn’t around and his replacement had no understanding of what was going on. Without the efforts of Sasha one side and Julia the other, both armed with large blow up fenders we would never have berthed unscathed.

And we are not the only Oyster squeezed in here, after bumping into only a handful of other Oysters throughout the whole Pacific crossing, suddenly we are inundated with Raya look a likes. In Manta Bay another Oyster 56 had anchored right next to us and at Musket Cove there were three other Oysters including Oyster Blew 56/23 the boat built right after Raya who is 56/22 and here in Vuda there are five other yachts, the Oyster World Rally has arrived in Fiji.

We however are on our way out of Fiji, we have a few days to clear up and prepare then weather permitting it’s on to New Caledonia at the end of the week.

Familiar Bays, New Adventures

Sunday 17th September 2017

The wind continues to howl past the boat for the fourth day running and we are beginning to feel a bit tired of it. This morning hoping for a drop in the winds we came up from Blue Lagoon to Buasali Bay and are anchored off Sawa I Lau. It is incredibly beautiful and although the island and the reef are protecting us from the swell, it is still extremely blowy and the fetch rough enough to make dingy rides rather wet, swimming from the boat unpleasant and use of the kayak tricky.

Sawa I Lau is unusual amongst the Yasawa Islands as instead of being composed of volcanic rock it is a slab of limestone that has been thrust upwards by past geological activity. Being limestone it’s cliffs have been eroded to form an encircling notch, reminiscent of the islands in Tonga and the rocks are scarred with caves, cracks and vertical grooves. We took the dingy for a closer look and marvelled at the fascinating shapes created by a millennia of erosion.

Sawa I Lau

Sawa I Lau is where we came a month or so ago to visit the caves, in fact we have been revisiting, with Sasha and Julia, many of the places we have been to before but we are finding plenty of new and interesting things to do. At Manta Bay for instance, we found a different snorkelling spot just off the beach along from the resort and had one of the best snorkels we’ve had all season. Instead of the normal walls of coral, the area was dotted with bommies, these were in turn surrounded by fish. The reef fish were larger than we often see and in the bright afternoon sun and clear waters their colours shone out. We watched a blue spotted ray emerge from its sandy resting place, a giant moray eel slink from one rocky hole to another and a pair of pennant banner fish dance in unison.

Blue spotted Ray

As always the rolly conditions quickly drove us north to Blue Lagoon, but even here and despite the windy conditions we found plenty of new adventures to entertain us. About a mile and a half across the Lagoon from the anchorage is an mangrove, lined inlet. Undeterred by the conditions we dressed suitably for a wet ride and set off to to take a look. At its head there is a small village, a tiny resort nestled amongst the trees and a little way up the valley a fruit and veg farm. The village vegetable boat had topped up our fresh supplies the day before so we didn’t venture inland but we decided we needed sustenance before we faced the wet upwind ride back to Raya, so we headed for the resort. We were welcomed first by a metre long Octopus that was swimming in the shallows where we landed the dingy, it swam straight under the dingy for cover and spread its legs out into the sand in all directions, cartoon like, to stay still in the current that was washing over it, as we drew the dingy away it elongated itself and headed off into deeper waters.

Octopus on the beach at Waitui Basecamp

After wading from the sand bank across a mini Lagoon to the resort, Waitui Basecamp, we were enthusiastically greeted by the young Australian owner. We spent a pleasant couple of hours drinking beer, enjoying the rather different view and eating a slightly dubious baked rice and vegetable lunch.

The next day, accompanied by the crew from Crazy Daisy, we took the path to Lo’s Tea House on the windward side of Nanuya Island. As the track reached the summit the full strength of the easterly wind hit us. At about 25 maybe 30kts it felt quite strong and we all remarked how it was impossible to imagine the 185kt winds that have just hit the Caribbean.

Windward side of Nanuya

After the hot walk, down by the beach the breeze was very welcome, Lo’s donuts were as sugary as always and we enjoyed the cleansing effect of the lemon tea, before settiing off on the return journey. Instead of continuing on the track across the top of the island we turned left and followed an alternative path that dropped down towards a valley. The upper track passes through mainly grasses and areas of sugar cane, the valley path had many more trees, gullies were crossed by makeshift bridges, it had a much more jungly feel. After about half an hour and just as we were beginning to feel like intrepid explorers the illusion was broken as we emerged out from the tress into the tended grassy area of palms and huts at the beach used by the Blue Lagoon cruise ship. A ten minute stroll up the beach led us back to the dingy.

Intrepid explorers

Hoping to sail south tomorrow, fingers crossed for the Mantas and less wind.

Where Next ?

Monday 11th September 2017

As we start to plan the details of our next move from Fiji to New Caledonia and onwards to Australia, lurking at the back of our minds is the question of where we should go next year. From the beginning, this trip, had been about getting to and sailing in the Pacific, as we near our first continental landfall since leaving the Americas we have to face up to the fact that the Pacific crossing is almost complete.

The journey so far.

If we could conjure ourselves back to Panama we would happily do it all again. The reality, however, is that we have no magic wand and an eastward sail, more or less back the way we have come, would mean long periods against the prevailing winds, not something we particularly want to do. Another alternative is to sail up past Japan to Alaska and down the west coast of Canada and the States, for us wimpy warm weather sailors that all sounds a bit cold. We could of course just stay this side of the Pacific sailing the circuit from New Zealand or Australia to Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. This is a tempting option, but the cyclone season is seven months long, which means we end up spending a lot of time and money just kicking our heals waiting to get back to the Islands. We are therefore facing up to the fact that we have to start to plan our departure from the Pacific and into the Indian Ocean. With access to the Suez Canal still a no-go area, the route home is via South Africa and the Caribbean.

Basic route back to Europe

This route is rather heavy on long ocean passages but provides plenty more exciting places to visit and possible diversions but making the decision to leave the Pacific is a hard one.

Rick contemplating the future.

Back in real time we are having a final trip through the Yasawas with our last set of guests, Sasha and Julia. Their first day started well with the wind behind us and strong enough for us to actually sail from Vuda to Musket Cove. Unfortunately, that evening, those same winds bought thunder, lightening and heavy rain. With all the hatches closed it was too hot to stay below so we all perched under the sprayhood counting the seconds between the flashes of lightening and claps of thunder, noting that the masts from the couple of super yachts close by would make much higher and better lightening conductors than Raya’s. In the lulls we took it in turns to check the aft pole light for signs of the Manta and made plans for the following couple of weeks.

Today has dawned hazy and serene, I still marvel at how one place can be transformed over a few short hours, last nights stormy sky and sea is today’s calm idyll. It’s an early start as we have a six hour trip north, no sailing today I think.

Sasha and Julia enjoying the calm sea.

Hair and High Winds

Tuesday 5th Aug 2017

My news feed is full of tales from the Caribbean sailing community preparing, the best they can, to sit out Hurricane Irma. We have a soft spot for the BVI, as while chartering there, many years ago, the first small seeds were sown for our current adventure. Irma, at cat 5, is the strongest type of hurricane and due to hit these beautiful Islands later today. It is difficult to imagine how terrible it must be for the people there, as well as the cruisers abandoning their yachts for safer ground.

The weather in Fiji has been much more benign, I’m glad to say, but not wall to wall sunshine, last week it was mostly cloudy and wet. As we motored in light winds out of a downpour we had on a much smaller scale our own weather phenominum, as we looked behind us we were alarmed to see a water spout forming down from the clouds. Fortunately we were sailing away from it not towards it, we watched as it gradually faded as the cloud reached the land.

Water spout just a mile behind us

Out in the Yasawa Islands it has been the normal cat and mouse game hiding from the wind and swell. With both of us fighting a cold we could have done with a bit of a lull. We have to thank Ashley for being an extremely undemanding guest, as we coughed and spluttered our way through the week. In between showers and doses of paracetamol we have done some very good snorkelling. No mantas at Manta Bay but again a great drift snorkel through the pass, then in Blue Lagoon we enjoyed the fantastic coral on the north reef and had fun once more at the beach reef. We took bread to feed the Sargent majors and some parrot fish came to join the party, painfully they didn’t seem to be able to distinguish between the bread and my extremities! Having got a few shots of Ashley in the feeding frenzy I decided it would be safer to turn my attention to the reef. It is nice and shallow here and easy to take good close ups of the fish.

Back onboard Raya we put Ashley to work, one of her many skills is as a hairdresser, this was not a opportunity to be missed. Now there are some moments in life when you expect to be able to get five minutes peace. Sitting with a hair colour on your head is one of them, in a hair salon you’d sit with a cup of tea and a gossipy magazine, at home you’d expect to relax or chat, on a boat however you end up on the bows resetting the anchor. We had arrived in Blue Lagoon a few hours earlier and anchored comfortably to the side and behind a 120ft superyacht. Just as I relaxed for the required half hour the colour takes to hide my grey bits, a strong southerly appeared from no where and the superyacht suddenly became perilously close. She had been sitting over her 100m of anchor chain in the light breeze and the higher winds had stretched it out moving her right on top of us. Moving a superyacht is quite an effort, Rick offered to move instead and so up on deck I came, looking totally ridiculous, hair dye splattering in the 20kt wind, at least it wasn’t raining

Trim for Rick

As one of our yachting friends says, champagne problems, especially when compared to the disaster about to strike the Caribbean. We are now back in Vuda Marina feeling safe and ready for a few days rest.

Ash in control

Mantas at Musket

Wednesday 6th August 2017

Our spotlight that illuminates the back of the boat, makes for easy landing from the dingy at night and also casts a pool of light off of the stern into the water. This light attracts insects, tiny fish and krill, these in turn lure in other creatures looking for an easy meal. It has provided hours of entertainment over our travels but none so much as our experience last night. We returned from our BBQ at the bar to find a beautiful black and white Manta Ray dancing in the spot light. It swooped and rolled scooping up the mass of krill as it went, oblivious to us watching and filming it or the dingy almost on top of it. Mesmerised we watched its graceful twists and tumbles often right on the surface, other times it went deep only to re emerge ghostlike from the darkness. As it rose to the surface we could see the huge cavity with which it filters the food rich sea water and as it rolled it exposed its white underbelly with two remora stuck fast.

Scooping up the krill has he comes to the surface.

Back flips exposing the white underbelly and two remora.

The only disappointment was that Charlie and George, still drinking at the bar, missed the show, especially as the Mantas didn’t put in an appearance the two days we were at Manta Ray Bay. Luckily the drift snorkel through the Tokatokanu passage is one of the best snorkels we have found here with or without Manta. We take the dingy up current through the pass, jump in and drift with the strong current back over the coral towing the dingy behind. It is a fantastic sensation as you fly over the reef passing over a million fish big and small, spotting eagle rays and sharks on the way. At one area of the reef shoals of chromis, small turquoise fish, form dense lines of a thousand individuals that sweep and undulate around the contours of the coral looking like fast flowing underwater rivers. When we pop out the other end we just jump back into the dingy and do it all again, and again, and again.

Rivers of Chromis sweep over the coral

For our final day with the boys, we motored out with our friends on Knockando to a sandy cay, surrounded by nothing but turquoise sea. The snorkelling was a bit of a disappointment but the location was so remarkable in the calm conditions that we just swam and floated about enjoying the view. We moved on to the outer reef at Musket Cove in search of better coral but a sudden dramatic increase in wind drove us back to the anchorage and an evening in the bar.

At anchor off Sandy Cay

George and Charlie hopefully had a great time with us, they were fun to be with and they appear to have remembered to take all there belongings with them but have kindly left us with the colds they bought from Sydney. As we all coughed and sneezed our way into Denarau harbour, Raya sounded much like a plague boat. We swapped the boys for Ricks niece Ashley, the poor girl will have to put up with two ill old people for a day or two.

The extreme beer drinking experiment was not really a success

Musket Cove

Friday 25th August 2017

We have spent a pleasant four days in Musket Cove sat in the resort’s small marina. With three restaurants, a large pool, beaches to explore and a bustling activities centre it feels like being on holiday. Some of the time at least. Unfortunately we have had a lot of cloud, some rain and a cool wind that has, due to the direction we are tied to the pontoon, been screaming into the cockpit, at times, keeping us hiding below. Jumpers have been worn!

Pretty place to tie up to the dock – Musket Cove Marina

The weather started to change last Sunday. After a nice day spent Saturday off Octopus resort, meeting up with our friends from Crazy Daisy, Sunday morning we headed South. There was zero wind, the calm flat sea was dark and oily and with clouds building, the atmosphere was heavy and oppressive. Rick slightly under the weather with a tummy bug, snoozed in the cockpit, everything was so still and the ocean so empty it felt like I was the only living thing around. Then has happens in the tropics, the rain starts and the world comes back life. So it was, a very bedraggled Raya and crew tied up at the dock.

Monday dawned dry but windy. Musket Cove is connected to the mainland by the Malolo Cat, an hour ferry journey across to Denarau Port. While I stayed aboard cleaning and preparing for the arrival of our next guests, Charlie and George, Rick took the ferry across to complete some chores and have a look around the chandlers. With a shuttle from the airport to the ferry it was also an easy way for the boys to reach us the next day.

Moored one boat down from us on the dock were Clare and Darren from Knockando and frequent visitors to Musket, over a drink at the bar they filled us in on all the local information, including the best snorkel spots, a run down on the restaurants and how to buy cheaper beer.

This turned out to be invaluable, Charlie and George arrived exhausted from their exploits in Indonesia and Sydney but still able to sink a can or two of Fiji Gold and keen to get into the water. A mile off the marina is a long sandbar, as the sunshine appeared from the morning cloud, the white sand glowed in a turquoise sea. We took the dingy, sluggish under the load of four people, out through the shallow marina channel, through the anchored cruising yachts and past four or five super yachts. One giant, Dragonfly, is a sleek 240ft long by only 32ft wide motor yacht and Google tells me is the fastest superyacht around and Google should know, it is owned by one of their co-founders.

Charlie and George on the sandbank, Musket Cove

The snorkelling off the bank was murky but the lack of visibility was compensated for by the thousands of fish. Along side the normal array of reef dwellers we spotted a group of 2ft long trumpet fish and numerous trigger fish, including a group of my favourites, Picasso triggers.

Picasso Trigger Fish

We availed ourselves of the resort facilities for another couple of days. The boys went diving, we all enjoyed the self cook BBQ at Pirates bar, we swam in the pool and stocked up on the slightly pricey supplies at the shop. Then having made Raya shipshape yesterday evening, we plan to leave on the high tide at 9am this morning and head for a night at Navandra.

A last thought, I spotted this article on the BBC news website and it made me smile.

The problem of having to ration your energy requirements to make that essential cup of tea was big news in the real world, for us in Raya World, this is an everyday feature, just replace electric car with water maker/water heater/toaster.

Busy Blue Lagoon

Saturday 19th August 2017

We spent another 4 days at anchor in Blue Lagoon doing nothing very much but watching the world go by. Sandwiched between three islands this seems to be one of the few spots in the Yasawas that is free of the effects of ocean swell and so an ideal place to catch up on some sleep, do a few small jobs and relax while a trough passes over the area . Quite a few other boats obviously agreed and the anchorage was relatively full.

As we entered through the reef last week one boat name caught our attention and led to a ‘what a small world’ moment. Onboard, having sailed up from their New Zealand base, was the sister and brother in law of some friends of ours from our old home town of Cranbrook. In fact it turned into a very sociable couple of days with all the crews getting together most evenings at the Yacht Club bar in the small Nanuya resort.

Raya at anchor in the Blue Lagoon

Despite its uncrowded feel it’s a busy area. Surrounding the large lagoon hidden amongst the trees are two or three villages, three or four backpacker and more up market resorts, a glamping site and a beach area used by a small cruise ship that comes in once a week. All the resorts in the Yasawa and Mamanuka islands are fairly small and they blend well into the unspoilt landscape.

In fact the whole economy of the area revolves around the tourist industry, the villages provide the staff, grow a lot of the fresh food and are involved in the transport of goods, locals and tourists between one island and another. There seemed permanently to be one boat or another crossing the lagoon.

The villagers whizz about in their all purpose longboats that convert into everything from the school bus, to a fishing boat, a taxi or goods delivery van.

Fridge delivery

The villages and resorts are kept supplied by landing craft that ply back and forth from the mainland. In such treacherous waters, even with their shallow drafts delivery is dependent on the tide. We watch in admiration at the skill with which these large boats are navigated through the anchorages and complex reef systems.

The larger of the two landing craft keeping the islands supplied with goods.

A few tourists arrive daily on seaplanes that noisily land frighteningly close to the yachts. However most people arrive on the Flyer, a bright yellow catamaran that will be forever synonymous with our trip here, it daily delivers and picks up passengers from almost every resort in the island group. Bringing in its wake not just waves that set us rocking but a fleet of small boats that act as go betweens, transporting goods and guests from the Flyer to the shore.

The Yasawa Flyer

On Wednesday we added another form of floating transport to the Lagoon, setting out on our kayak to feed the fish off the reef half a mile away at the other end of the island. We could see the sky was darkening but the sea was calm and the wind nonexistent, we didn’t think a little rain would harm us. About halfway a sudden deluge began, it brought so much rain we could hardly see even the few metres in front of us. We paddled to shore and hid under a palm tree, five minutes later it stopped and we carried on our way. Then through the trees we saw another band of rain approaching, the wind had began to pick up, the signs weren’t good, so we quickly turned for home. Not being particularly proficient paddlers the trip back was rather, shall we say, challenging, especially as we kept getting fits of the giggles. By the time we reached Raya there were 2ft waves running and it was blowing 25kts, thank goodness we were upwind, I think had we paddled out the other way we might still be out there!

Not the best time to chose to take out the kayak.