This morning finds us bashing into tradewind seas, as we have done all night. It is not comfortable or easy on poor ol’ Ellie girl, but we can all take a one-night beating; for the spoils of remote Vanua Balavu are beckoning. We have motor-sailed – or rather ‘bashed’ – 100 miles since departing early Tuesday morning and have another 40 rhumbline miles to go before we reach the protected lagoon of Vanua Balavu. It’s a wet and rough ride but if the engine keeps up the pace we should be in by noon. So far the new heat exchanger we installed in Savusavu is working like a champ. [I wrote that under way. The rest I wrote this morning at anchor.]
We left Savusavu Wednesday morning after loading up on vegetables and bundles of kava from the market. It’s funny seeing big bundles of kava in our hanging baskets, but each village we visit requires that we present a bundle of kava roots to the Chief and participate in a Sevusevu ceremony (more on that later). The heat exchanger arrived last Saturday and we installed it on Tuesday. I ran all over town on Monday looking for radiator hose but none of the stores had a length long enough to reach the inlet/outlet ports on the new exchanger, which of course had ports configured differently than the old one. I did not want to spend another week or two in port waiting for a longer length of hose (that would have been more than fine for the Princess, she loves close proximity mooring, while I feel claustrophobic). So I disconnected the water heater hose and used that to plumb the new heat exchanger. Now the engine will not heat the water in the water heater but we can still use the generator to make hot water. The install went well and the engine is running like a champ! We have been hammering the engine at 2,000 rpm for the past day pushing into the wind and seas and the temperature has yet to climb above 155F.
With most our errands done, we were doing some final prep and running last minute errands when we ran into a backpacker friend from Tonga, Miriam (somehow spelled with a J – she’s Dutch). She asked where we were headed and we said Taveuni. She wanted to come along so we invited her to sail with us for the day. We had the dinghy on deck and secured by 0800 Wednesday morning and headed out to sea on a beautiful sunny day. We enjoyed a mostly motor-sail to windward into the lee of Taveuni. We picked up a mooring off the Paradise Resort and went in for happy hour. The sunset was incredible and set right over Ellie while we relaxed under the palm-thatch roof on the cliffs edge. We returned to the boat via borrowed kayak from the resort and enjoyed a delicious dinner. After dark we bid farewell to Miriam, cast off the mooring lines and put back to sea, bound for Vanua Balavu, another 70 miles to windward, directly upwind.
We sailed out of the lee of Taveuni and were hit with 26 knots on the nose. It was funneling around the island and kicking up seas. I pushed the engine to 2,000, tucked in a double reef, and pushed hard into it. We were 40 degrees off the wind making 5 knots SOG and taking water over the boat with each wave. It was tough going but ol’ Ellie girl knows how to bash to windward. We continued taking our beating and fighting back and eventually the wind subsided below 20 knots and our speed increased. We split the night watch – I took the first half and Alyssa the second. I did my best to avoid getting sick and throwing up and I managed to hold it together, the Mermaid was not so lucky. Sunrise was beautiful and the sunny morning saw us sailing in between the islands of the Lau Group. I imagined that only 500 years ago there were Fijian and Polynesian war canoes traversing these same waters; they would have been filled with savage cannibal warriors. Not something you would want to see if you were on passage to another island out here. After five tacks and 100 miles, we made it to the QilaQila Pass on the NE side of the reef. The charts were off so I lined up the range marks and, with Alyssa on the bow, we threaded our way through the reef and into the huge protected lagoon. We were both elated to have made it and both awestruck at the sheer rugged beauty of this place.
Vanua Balavu in the Lau Group of Fiji is a little visited group of islands set inside a 150km barrier reef. The islands are steep volcanic rock covered with very lush foliage. The water is an amazing variety of turquoise contrasted with deep blues. The scene upon entering is similar to Vava’u in Tonga but with an encircling barrier reef, much less boats, take away all the Kiwi and Aussie expats, remove the western influence and you start to get a better picture. The Lau has just recently been opened up to cruising yachts, so most of the traditional way of life has been preserved here. There is little to no development or westernization. Most of the cruising yachts that visit Fiji will not make the trip out here. It’s a tough 140 mile bash back to windward, which most cruisers prefer not to make. Also, most cruisers attend seminars in Savusavu where they are scared into following set waypoints for fear of running into uncharted reefs. So they will all follow the same path, visit the same places, and all end up piled up at the last waypoint before departing fiji. Not us. We have a saying we like to use in times such as this, “to the adventurers go the spoils.” The feeling we had upon entering this lagoon was almost indescribable. I’ll try and fail but it was one of elation, awe, satisfaction, pride and accomplishment. In short, we made it.
After entering the lagoon we turned to port and motored around the north side of the islands, threaded our way past uncharted coral hazards and entered Mbavatu (or Nabavatu) Harbor. The harbor provides excellent protection from almost every direction and the water is like a lake in here. There are towering lush cliffs on all sides, a bit reminiscent of Thailand. There are baby turtles swimming around the boat, schools of fish being hunted by predators and what sounds like monkeys howling in the hills. We slept like rocks last night and enjoyed a very peaceful breakfast this morning in our private bay. Alyssa is quietly reading in the cockpit and has declared a “day off.” I am in full support. We have been putting in some serious miles over the past week or so and it’s time for rest.
There is much to explore here and many new stories will be told. We plan to spend at least a couple weeks here gunkholing around the dozen or so great anchorages in the Bay of Islands. We’re a bit apprehensive about our first Sevusevu (obligatory kava ceremony), but I’m sure it will be a wonderful experience, I just hope I can process the dirty kava water better than I did in Kiribati. Stay tuned for the update.
From our paradise to yours.
Lewis & Alyssa
August 21, 2015
Mbavatu Harbor, Vanua Balavu, Lau Group, Fiji
17 11.211 S
179 00.043 W