Vuda Marina Cyclone Pit – Ocean Blue’s home for the next few months

Vuda Marina is at Vuda Point, on the western end of Viti Levu about a 50 minute drive from Nadi International Airport.

Vuda Marina has two areas for berthing. The original basin is called the East Basin and the newer basin is known as the West Basin. In the East basin, which is roughly circular, its “med-style” mooring with fixed docks. In the west basin, there are modern floating pontoons.  There are good facilities here including a restaurant and bar area, small shop, yacht services and chandlery.  Gas bottles can be easily refilled (at the gas depot next door), and there is a sail maker across the road from the marina.

The marina offers cyclone pits; effectively holes in the ground that the keel and rudder are lowered into, with the hull supported on tyres on the ground. Once strapped down the boats are far more securely stored than if they were on normal props. Cyclone season is 1st Nov to 30th April. For us its time to return to work; it has come around far too fast this time.

With Ocean Blue safely tied down in a cyclone pit, we left her to stay on land for the first night in many months. We travelled back to South Africa for work via Hong Kong.

The stunningly Beautiful Southern Lau Group of Islands

Ogea
We finally found a weather window to head to what people who have cruised Fiji extensively regard as the jewel in the crown – The Southern Lau Group of islands. Unfortunately at the time we were enjoying the Yasawa Islands which are in the north west corner and the Southern Lau are in the south east corner so we sailed and motored for a couple of days. We were trying to get to Ogea but were not going to get there in the light so did a quick overnight stop at the lovely Numuka Island just 24 miles short of Ogea then moved on the next morning.

The anchorage was stunning and we were surrounded by tiny lava motos anchored in beautiful soft sand. As is Fiji tradition the first steps ashore are to give and present the village chief with Kava for a ‘Sevusevu’ ceremony which was a 40 minute walk through the woods to the other side of the island. At least the path was relatively well defined and we didn’t get lost. We were met at the village by two young girls willing to show us the way to the chief’s house. Afterwards we were give a guided tour of the their village.

As with everywhere we have been in Fiji the locals are super friendly and the experience was thoroughly pleasant. Rituals over, we could now explore the island. To finish the day off last night it was another cruiser’s birthday so we met up on the beach at sunset for drinks and a bonfire. Another opportunity to meet and make new friends.

The sun came out today so we took the opportunity to explore this beautiful place, above and below the water. The colours are just magic – no wonder people enthuse about it so much. Corals, beaches, caves, sharks, eels and many other types of marine wildlife. Absolutely stunning

Fulaga
Close by to Ogea is the beautiful Fulaga with a narrow pass and several options for anchoring. When you do your Sevusevu (presenting your Kava) there you are allocated to a ‘host’ family who take you under there wing, show you around the village and answer any questions etc.

Fulaga is one of the few Fijian islands where they carve all their own woodwork and it’s pretty cool stuff. We were treated to a tour, followed by lunch at their house before being accompanied back to the anchorage. Whilst eating lunch, they picked us fruit and veg then made us a basket to carry it all in back to the boat.

The generosity and friendliness of Fijians is a real treat.

After a few days of snorkelling, diving, kitesurfing and spending time making and chilling with new friends we had to leave to start making our way back to Vuda to lift the boat out.

Hopefully we will have another opportunity to return to the southern Lau group of islands since they have been an amazing experience and one we will always cherish.

We sailed across the Koro Sea again this time around the south side of Viti Levu and through the Navula passage. We did stop over night at Malumu Bay on Beqa and Natadola bay on the south of Viti Levu to break up the 4 day passage.

Exploring the Yasawa Islands

We left Musket Cove to sail north through the Yasawa Group which is made up of about 20 volcanic islands that cover approximately 135 square kilometers.

We found lovely small islands including the one used in the Tom Hanks film ‘Castaway’.

The pass between Drawaqa and Naviti is famous for manta rays. The mantas come to feed here and can most often be found at the NE side of the pass. We were there with several local trip boats and snorkelled with the mantas.

Somosomo-Naviti-Yasawa

The last 24 hours has been about sheltering from some pretty strong winds, with plenty of rain thrown in for good measure. Despite the conditions, the locals were out fishing and came by offering us lobster. Slight change of plan for dinner tonight saw Lesley enjoying fresh lobster tail in white wine and garlic butter, whilst I stuck to fajitas!

After several days of miserable weather, the wind has gone and the sun is back out. We moved up to Nanuya Lailai island, or ‘The Blue Lagoon’ as it’s known since this is where the movie was filmed back in 1980. Actually it’s the adjoining island where the filming took place but we can’t anchor there. Lo’s Tea House is across the island and Lo serves freshly made doughnuts and refreshing lemon drink, amongst other things. It’s a lovely walk with great views and good to see Lo still serving food from her house despite losing her tea room to the weather a few years back. Her new tea room will be up and running in a month or so and looks cool. Hopefully loads of cruisers will support her by buying more doughnuts!

Amazingly and unusually we had a good weather window to return to the southern Lau islands, a trip against the trade winds, so we picked our way through the shallow waters of the pass for a 3 day passage to Ogea Levu crossing Bligh Water and the Koro Sea.

Fiji

There was a rally going from Tonga to Fiji and the organisers had arranged for the boats to check into the northern Lau group at Vanua Balavu which is situated, to the east of the two main islands of Fiji. We were able to join them for the check in saving us the trip west to Vanua Levu. The Lau group consists of about sixty islands and islets, only about thirty are inhabited and covers a land area of 188 square miles.

Boats are required to stop at Dalconi Village to do sevusevu. Sevusevu is a ritual where you’re brought to the hut of the chief, make a presentation of kava, then sit through a small ceremony after which you are welcomed as part of the village. You’ll generally be given a tour of the village and perhaps some fruit, and you’ll meet some of the villagers. Everyone participating in the ceremony has to be dressed accordingly, no head coverings and men wear a sula and women should have their shoulders covered For our first experience of this we were rather glad that this had been organised through the rally so that we were able to participate and understand the custom.

The Kava root, Waka, is used to make a mildly-narcotic drink that is consumed throughout Melanesia.

Once we had gained permission to be in there we headed to the Bay of Islands to explore. It is an area which is excellent for SUP or dinghy exploring. There are a few caves and interesting rock formations.

Unfortunately the weather was against us. We had intended to head south and explore some of the many other islands in this group. However there was not a favorable wind direction in the foreseeable future so we decided to head west instead.

Fiji has over 300 islands spread over a distance of 3,000,000 square km km. Only about 100 are inhabited. The capital, Suva, is on the southeast coast of the largest island, Viti Levu which means “Great Fiji”. It was discovered in 1789 by Capt. William Bligh of HMS Bounty.

Lautoka, on the northwestern coast, is a port for the sugarcane growing region. Sugar, pineapples, rice, and tobacco are grown here. A goldfield at Vatukoula, in the north-central part of the island, was first developed in the 1930s. Nadi (Nandi), in the west, has the country’s main international airport, and an oil-fuel installation is at nearby Vuda Point.

Indigenous Fijians make up more than half the population; the rest of the population are people of Indian descent, most of whom are descendants of indentured labourers brought to work in the sugar industry. There are also, Chinese, and Pacific Islanders who have origins outside Fiji with a high level of intermarriage between Fijians from the Lau group of islands of eastern Fiji and their neighbours Tonga.

Fiji was a Crown colony within the British Empire from 1874 and gained independence from British rule in October 1970

Fiji’s mixed ethnicity contributes to a rich cultural heritage. Many features of traditional Fijian life are still around; the system of village chiefs and clans or tribes, traditional crafts, eg Masi or tapa which is a traditional material made from the bark of the young mulberry tree, which is soaked in water, beaten with mallets and formed into sheets. mat weaving; wood carving. Drinking of kava, made from a root and takes place as a part of important ceremonies as well as part of the everyday life of Fijians.

Vanua Levu Island “Great Land” is the second largest island of Fiji, bordering the Koro Sea in the South Pacific Ocean, 40 miles (64 km) northeast of the island of Viti Levu. It was formerly called Sandalwood Island.

We decided that our destination would be Musket Cove in time to celebrate Steve Bailey’s birthday. We took a route from the Northern Lau to Qamea, entering through the reef and anchoring in Navivi bay in the dark. A little nerve wracking but uneventful and thankfully good holding.

In the morning it was good to see our surroundings and that we had made a good choice. We headed around the island to Narmada bay.

The bay is situated on the north side of the island and is well protected, except from north east wind. Here lives the Mitchell family who welcomes you as guests of honor and with great hospitality. We went ashore with freshly baked bread to ask if we were ok to anchor in their bay. You do not do sevusevu here as the family grows the kava root for markets!

We enjoyed several days here diving the reef and joining the Sunday church service.

The wind was forecast to changed direction to the north and increase so we said our goodbyes and headed to Vanua Levu and Viani Bay which would be more sheltered.

Viani Bay is famous for the Rainbow Reef and its multiple dive sites. The white wall is usually on everyone’s list of dive sites to visit. We did two dives with the Dive Academy on the white wall and purple corner. They have a lovely resort and welcome crusiers to use the bar and join in with their activities. We had dinner one night which was a traditional Fijian meal cooked in the lovo which is an earth oven. After a few days we need to move on if we were going to make the birthday bash.

We called into Savusavu on Vanua Levu, taking the opportunity to reprovision and see this town briefly. There is a bustling fruit and veg market as well as kava and crafts for sale. Although there are no active volcanos now there are plenty of hot springs around which are often used for cooking.

In Musket Cove we enjoyed walks on the islands dining in restaurants and wing boarding! It’s great to have friends with new toys; we get to play! Thanks Philip and Claudia for sharing.

After this gathering we all went our separate ways. We decided to explore the Yasawa islands.

The Kingdom of Tonga – a summary

21st May 2023 – 3rd July 2023

A few musings from the notes Lesley wrote down:

We have arrived safely in Tonga!

We have now completed our shakedown sail after relaunching Ocean Blue. 1133 miles from New Zealand to Tonga with 3 nights at Minerva reef. Not much to see there, since it’s all under water at high tide! Excellent place to stop for a rest though – quite unique.

Hopefully we can start to explore Tonga tomorrow.

There are 176 islands in the Tongan archipelago which are divided into four main groups. From south to north – Tongatapu, Ha’apai, Vav’u and Niuatoputapu groups.

Initially we were very happy to be here and looking forward to sundowners on the beach!

Tongatapu

We hired a car and took ourselves off on an island tour. We discovered Abel Tasmin’s landing site; it must looks much the same as after the tsunami the resorts have gone and the sand and plants have reclaimed everything.

Tongatapu was hit by a tsunami in 2022 after an underwater volcano eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano. Waves of up to 15 meters struck the west coast of the island and wiped out several resorts. The island is still recovering and tourism is only just returning.

Our island tour took us to spectacular blow holes and a massive rock, ‘tsunami rock’, believed to be the largest tsunami debris ever found, although not from the 2022 one.

Next was a three headed coconut tree! the roosting place of a colony of fruit bats and spot Captain Cooks landing place. When we returned to Nuku’alofa we checked out the Royal Palace and the used the car to get provisions for the rest of our stay in Tonga.

The Vava’u and Ha’apai groups of Tonga are better suited as cruising grounds for visiting yachts with pristine beaches, healthy corals and enjoyable, easy snorkelling and diving.

Another draw to this area is the annual migration of humpback whales and we were hoping for an opportunity to go and see them once again in one of their breeding grounds.

Ha’apai group

We anchored off a little island called Ha’afeva in the Ha’apia island chain of Tonga. We took a walk across the small island of Ha’afeva to visit the village on the west side of the island where some 60 families live. There are apparently 7 churches, two small shops, a primary school, loads of pigs, some chickens a few cattle and an enormous spider!

As soon as we stepped ashore we were met by Pita Ofa Heanba who picked us limes from the tree by the path and invited us for lunch. I donated my crutches to Pita for his mother. Everyone was very friendly and the school children, who were immaculately dressed walked with us and conversed in pretty good English which is not their first language. Later in the afternoon we snorkelled the reef just by the anchorage.

The island has an impressive solar array and a generator, but the generator is broken though the engineers were on site trying to fix it.

In the late 1990s there was a roro dock built in the anchorage but it’s been destroyed by a cyclone leaving just a mass of broken concrete. Such a shame, but still good to tie the dinghy to.

The Tonga people are certainly living up to their reputation as being welcoming and warm to us visitor

Not a bad spot for Sunday lunch.

A short sail this morning took us to a stunning anchorage just north of the island O’Ua. Some excellent snorkelling followed by a barbecue on Supertramp rounded off the day very nicely. In the anchorage we saw turtles, squid, many small colourful fish and our first white tipped reef shark for this year.

Uoleva, the next island up the eastern chain of the Ha’apai group has a kite surfing school. An excellent opportunity for a quick refresher in superb surroundings, whilst Lesley made friends with the locals. Unfortunately the wind was rather light – around 10 to 11 knots but still good to get some new tips and a bit of supervised practice.

We took a long dinghy ride to the main town in this group, Pangi. There was limited shopping but some great ice cream.

We snorkelled the most beautiful coral garden at matafonua lodge at Northern tip of Pangai, Ha’apai. And We we’re even able to have a sundowners at the resort bar/restaurant over looking the brilliant turquoise lagoon to finish off a fabulous day. And sunshine at last!

Vavau

Vavau consists of one large island and over 40 smaller ones, which create a wonderful sheltered area for sailing and exploring. Neiafu is the main town for provisioning and also has several restaurants and yacht services.

15 June – We had great fun today exploring some of the caves in the area.  Swallows Cave is a located on Kava Island,  The cave  is named after the large number of swallows that nest within its walls. The entrance to the cave is located at the water’s edge, and visitors can enter the cave by boat or kayak. Once inside it is large with high ceilings and walls covered in formations of stalactites and stalagmites.

The water inside the cave is crystal clear and spectacular with a huge ball of fish inside. We had trouble finding Mariners Cave but the scenery along the way was stunning. Photos of the dinghy trip to the nearby Swallows Cave and some views of the anchorage.

More exploring of the eastern and southern Vava’au group. Lunch (and baking fresh bread rolls and doughnuts) anchored off the beautiful uninhabited Fua’amotu, now back anchored in the shelter of Euakafa island. The squid was swimming off our transom for a day at Olo’ua and the locals were busy fishing in the shallows off Koloa.

Just a few of the types of coral we saw on our snorkel on the reef. So wonderful to see such a healthy coral garden.

We took a trip outside the reef today since the wind and swell were low. We were rewarded with a walk around our very own island (actually Fonuafo’ou Island), lunch onboard in the bay, then an hour or watching whales play nearby. Every July to October, humpback whales migrate from the Antarctic to the South Pacific Ocean in order to mate and calve.


Then back at anchor tucked up inside the reef.

Our last weekend in Tonga has been spent enjoying the coral, Mariners and Swallows Caves, and spending time with friends Alex and Carla from Ari B.

On this dinghy trip we did find Mariners Cave on the west wall of the north end of Nuapupu Island. Unlike Swallows Cave, which can be entered on the surface, the entry to Mariner’s Cave is 1 to 3 meters underwater (depends on the tide), and you have to swim about 3 meters underwater to be able to come up inside the cave. The cave is not visible above the water. You can go close to the island and jump into the water. Once inside the only light is the ethereal blue coming through the underwater entrance, and the seal is so tight that when the swell rolls in, the water compresses the air in the cave fast enough to produce an instant fog-out!  As the swell ebbs, the air comes as instantly crystal clear.

Tomorrow we leave for the Lau group of islands in Fiji. Thank you Tonga for an amazing experience.

Minerva Reef

We had 3 surreal nights at Minerva reef. There is north and south Minerva reef, we went into the North one. The reefs are conveniently located on the way to Tonga from New Zealand, 485 kilometres (301 mi) southwest of the Tongatapu Group.

The Minerva Reefs are a group of submerged atolls located in the Pacific Ocean between Fiji, Niue and Tonga. The islands ownership are contested between Fiji and Tonga. Currently it is under Fiji.

The North reef is circular in shape with a small entrance into the flat lagoon with a deep harbour. It  is about 6.8 kilometres (4.2 mi) in diameter. The South reef is approx. 4.8 kilometres (3.0 mi).

Remnants of shipwrecks and platforms remain on the atolls, plus some functioning navigation beacons. Geologically, the Minerva Reefs are a limestone base formed from uplifted coral formations elevated by now-dormant volcanic activity.

We arrived the day before the forecast strong winds. We sat out strong winds gusting over 40 knots with about 30 other boats. At high water you cannot see the reef, but it breaks up the swell and waves from the Pacific Ocean. Its been an amazing experience being anchored in the middle of the Ocean over 300 miles from the nearest bit of land. 40 knots is a lot of breeze, but thankfully we have a very effective ‘Rocna’ anchor and loads of heavy chain to keep us safe. Despite waking several times during the night as the wind howled, our Vesper Anchor watch app on the phone beside the bed showed us stationary just bobbing up and down in the chop. Very reassuring.

and explored the reef at low tide.  Many others caught crayfish.

Perigee Sailboat  hosted a sundowners evening for all the boats anchored in Minerva Reef. Can you believe we first met up when we were the rafted up at the start of the Suzie Two rally 6 years ago.

Ahe

Ahe is a small atoll between Manihi and Rangiroa, just an overnight sail from Rangiroa. We waited for a weather window so that it wasn’t an uncomfortable long beat to windward. With no ideal conditions forecast, we settled for a period of no wind, meaning an overnight motor sail for 14 hours. We left the anchorage in Rangiroa at 15:14 and left the pass at 15:45. With a knot of outgoing tide we were through quickly and easily with flat(ish) water. One of the resident bottlenose dolphins came to say a bon voyage and we hoisted the main and were clear by 16:15. In this case Lesley said the anticipation of a rough and bouncy pass was worse than the main event!

The passage was relatively uneventful with no fish caught. However, there was a stunning night sky with shooting starts and some brilliant phosphorescence in the water. We did a four hour watch each and Derek on his second watch caught some rain showers that we had otherwise been able to dodge during the night. We arrived at the Passe Tiareroa into Ahe at 6:30am and it was such a flat and easy entry to the lagoon that he didn’t even bother to wake Lesley!

Ahe Map
Simple Ahe Map

Ahe is known for fishing and pearls. We were told that there are 25 pearl farms here and certainly there are hundreds of pearl buoys around the atoll. We headed up the western side of the lagoon to where our friends Russ and Lisa on Uproar were anchored. After settling in and buoying our anchor chain, a first for us. We caught up on sleep and when we woke Uproar had gone – was it something we said!

Ahe is approximately 14 by 17 miles at its widest parts, with a well marked channel along the west side. Supply boats come here once every two weeks. If our timing had been right we could have clambered aboard to buy fruit and veg directly from the ship. The two restaurants we went to, get their supplies delivered directly from the ship to their beach! Before GPS this atoll was the mid stopping point between the Marquesas and Tahiti, since it is on the northern edge, and navigating through the middle of the Tuamotus at night prior to GPS was dangerous. Now it seems that not many yachts venture here. We were told that there were less than 20 this year but that is more than last year.

We explored a small area of the atoll which still has the original trees that would have been growing here before the clearing and planting of coconut palms for copra production. You could imagine the whole atoll being covered in the trees and ferns that were in this small wooded area.

Trees
Original Forested Area

Pension Raita (www.chez-raita.com) has set up some tables and chairs here that can be used for having a BBQ ashore. Great to be able to sit and watch the small black tip reef shark pups swimming around in the shallows. On the way back we found what seemed to be a cleaning station for the sharks with approximately eight sharks of varying sizes swimming circles in a small shallow reef area. They all had a shoal of tiny yellow fish around their mouths.

Dinghy
Dinghy quietly at rest by the Beach

The next day, we headed across the lagoon to two private mooring buoys off another pension to join Lisa and Russ from Uproar. It transpired that they had moved when the wind dropped as they were starting to swing towards the reef and it became uncomfortably shallow.

The distance across the lagoon is only about 10 miles but it is riddled with the pinnacle shaped bommies, shallow reefs and pearl farm buoys. We kept a sharp look out for the buoys but even when we located and watched them it was imperative to have Lesley standing at the bow. There was never just one buoy. If you spotted one there were more, slightly submerged and strung together, presumably holding the ropes for oysters. They were a ghostly green below the surface so not easily seen. We backed off several to try and go around the last one in the chain but did manage to get over one line with the drive in neutral and drifting along very slowly under our momentum.

Lodge
Watching the boats from Cocoperle Lodge

The small resort, Cocoperle Lodge run by Frank and his wife Francine was delightful and we had a very nice dinner with their guests and Uproar. They let us know about various areas of the atoll to explore and could not have been more friendly.

Decorations
Christmas Decorations Ahe Style

We spent several days on their mooring buoy in light winds and explored by dinghy from there, visiting a small pool area called the La Source where the sea breaks over at high tides, some coral gardens and some pink sand bars.

We walked on the outside of the reef for about 30 minutes from Pension Chez Raita to try and find the turtle nesting site. We think we located a small area of sand where they could haul ashore without going over the rim of the reef but there was little evidence to support that they were currently nesting at night. It was a great walk for shell collecting though and we also arranged to come back the next evening for dinner.

Shells
Collecting Shells!

Raita and her family were most welcoming and even prepared chicken for Derek instead of the fish menu of oysters and grouper that the rest of us had! We were entertained by the family singing and playing local instruments.

The Band
The Band!

Both restaurants were good, and different to each other but both were excellent hosts and made for wonderful evenings, a real treat from the hot galley onboard.

We have learnt some Polynesian phrases as we are always greeted when ashore with friendly smiles and ‘Ia oraana’ Meaning, good day or hello.

Thank you is MAURURO
Goodbye is I – NANA
Please is EE (EH-EH)
Lots of love is TE AROHA IARAHI
How is it going is EAHA TE HURU
Very well, thank you is MAITAI ROA, MAURURU
Cheers – Mauruuru

In true cruisers style we shared meals, stories, knowledge and CPN charts and films! Lesley also gave Derek a haircut and trimmed Lisa’s long curly hair, which was a first for her.

We discovered a Gecko on board. Really not sure how he got there unless a bird dropped him on deck. Lisa named him Gaylord the Gecko! Apparently it’s Norman French origin meaning joyful or high spirited. Well so long as he eats a good number of mosquitos he can stay.

Gaylord
Gaylord checking out the boat

We had also had a worrying night on the mooring buoy when the wind changed direction. We were very close to the pinnacle of a bommie that just clipped the rudder on one occasion. We watched it for over an hour by torch light as we swung like a pendulum across it. Luckily the wind died a bit and shifted slightly, the tide came up a bit, so that we could get some sleep.

The next day we said good bye to Uproar; they were leaving to get to another atoll to meet a friend flying in for Christmas. She was also bringing with her a new control panel for our solar panels which had broken. So actually ‘au revoie’ until later. We decided to move to the village and explore an area we had been told about near there, travelling across the atoll, again dodging shallows and pearl buoys. To add to the tension the light was poor because of a slowly approaching squall. We were accompanied by the sound of distant thunder and just as we made the sanctuary of the marked channel the heavens opened.

We circled the protected area between the reef and the concrete wharf by the village called Tenukupara, but didn’t find a big enough area for Ocean Blue between the bommies and coral to anchor there. We picked a patch further out away from the village and channel.

From here it was a 2 mile dinghy ride to an area in the south east corner of the atoll where there is a lagoon, within a lagoon. There is a reef separating another deep water area. This was interesting as the colours were more green than blue with shades from turquoise to emerald with an interesting lime coloured band. We think it was mostly influenced by depth but probably also the reflection and type of bottom substance.

In the evening 15 or so canoeists were out paddling around in their priorgs or Vaa a’s and two of the men invited us to go and see their pearls if we were interested the following morning. After breakfast we went ashore to the building that had been indicated and spent a lovely time learning about the pearl seeding and harvest. Luckily for us one of the ladies spoke perfect English having been educated in the USA as her mother was from Seattle and her father Tahitian.

They have young oysters here that they sell to neighbouring atoll pearl farms as well as growing their own pearls. We saw the small ball of shell that they use to insert into the oyster, which is approx. 4mm in size. This is used to stimulate the oyster which coats it with nacre to form a pearl. They are inserted when the oyster is between nine months to a year and not harvested from the pearl for up to another 2 years. The baby oysters have to be lifted and taken off the fine netting that they start life on and transferred to long rope, approximately 100 per rope hang into the depth. When they are inserting the seed and making the transfer they can deal with 1000 oysters a day. The plastic tassels that we had seen on the beach are used to deter the sharks, turtles and rays from eating the oysters.

We looked through the different grades of pearls to make a selection for potentially buying but would have to wait until the men folk were back to negotiate a price. Each bag was marked with the workers name so they can keep track of who has been working on which rope of oysters and can monitor which techniques for inserting the seeds produces the better pearls. We also saw the very small natural pearls that are created by the oyster if no seed is retained. They are very small irregular chips by comparison. Lesley also learnt how to look after and clean pearls.

A fun morning and as we left we were given mangos, a pineapple and an avocado! We waited for the negotiation. After the days work had been completed the men came by Ocean Blue and we followed them ashore. As well as buying pearls we were also given a large bowl of fresh oysters. That was Lesley’s dinner sorted!

The pearl house
The Pearl House

We had wanted to go to the pearl house run by Patrick, but the area and dock looked unlikely for our boat and having bought from the village we felt we had probably done our pearl shopping, for the moment. We did anchor near the pass to wait for an incoming current and to snorkel the pass. Wow, it was worth the short wait, beautifully clear water and a stunning collecting of fish. A coral carpet, massive groupers and a sleeping shark. We timed our departure for an overnight sail to Fakarava to arrive at slack water for the pass there. However, it took us an hour and a half to get the anchor up, going backwards and forwards to unthread the 80 metres of chain from around the rocky bottom. The last 30 metres wouldn’t budge with this technique so Derek had to don his diving gear and go down to see what the problem was. The tip of the Rocna anchor had wedged itself into a small hole in the lava rock. Derek moved it a metre to sand and finned to the surface with a 3 min stop.

Back on board and showered again we were able to weigh the anchor without any further problems and got going. Our timing was good and Lesley steered Ocean Blue through the pass making it her first passage through an atoll at the helm.

Rangiroa

Rangiroa is the largest atoll in the Tuamotus and one of the largest in the world. Approximately 43 NM long and 18 NM wide. The 240 islets string together in the ocean for more than 110 miles (177 km), completely encircling a deep lagoon

Several scuba diving operators will take you to dive the pass. Whales, manta rays, and sharks have been seen, as well as the resident pod of dolphins that stay here.

Picasso Fish

We took to regularly snorkelling off the motu Nuhi Nuhi by the Tiputa pass, known as the ‘aquarium’, which had an abundance of fish and colourful coral. There are also some informative markers there, under the water about the reef and fish!

Butterfly Fish

There are two main villages of Avatoru and Tiputa which offer several magasins (shops), selling pretty much everything you need for the day to day simple life are restocked twice a week when the supply ship has unloaded. There are also churches, craft centres, local restaurants(snack bars) and even a boulangerie.

The strong winds and torrential rain limited exploration for a few days. Work and boat jobs continued though, a rain canopy for the aft hatch so we can still keep it open at night and get some ventilation through our cabin was made, the wind scoop fixed, cookies cooked, software written and training courses updated!

The tour boats also come to the Blue Lagoon

With calmer weather we took a day trip to the blue lagoon. This is an area on the western side of the atoll where the shallows are a nursery for black tip reef sharks and the shallow water is gin clear.

Never far from a shark here!

With prevailing winds from the East and the Blue Lagoon on the West, you need unusual weather to make a stay there comfortable, since the chop builds and makes anchoring uncomfortable and potentially dangerous, especially at this time of year where we have frequent squalls with wind coming from many different directions. We took friends, Frank and Sophie from Anastasia for the day trip, leaving at 8 and returning by 5 to motor across the atoll in the well marked channel. A great day out and well worth the visit.

Beautiful clear shallow water

Our dinghy is our transport between the boat and the shore, or the boat and any other adventures we undertake. In most places we anchor every destination is reasonable distance away. Sometimes just a few hundred metres but often much further, sometimes a few miles. Recently the dinghy outboard motor has been playing up.

Miles of coastline to explore – but we need the dinghy

Modern fuels in most parts of the world are made with more and more ethanol content every year. Whilst there are some good environmental arguments for adding ethanol to petrol, it also has some nasty side effects, including eating fuel hoses, seals and other rubber stuff that were manufactured prior to the high ethanol content being used. Ethanol is also hygroscopic, whereas petrol is hydrophobic, or in simple terms Ethanol absorbs water and petrol repels it.

Therefore in the humid marine environments we live in, we get a lot more water in the fuel than is good for the engine. We use additives to minimise it, but after leaving the outboard for a while, invariably the water from the fuel will have caused some crud to form in the carburettor meaning the engine doesn’t want to idle and a quick stripdown and clean of the carburettor jets is needed. It is so frequent that Derek can do this now in less than 10 minutes!

Giant Clams abound the reefs

However the latest failures of the engine perplexed Derek for a good few weeks. The engine seemed to be running rich, using loads of fuel and cutting out at high revs. Even more strange was that the oil level rose and overflowed the dipstick! After sleeping on the problem, Derek identified it as a fuel pump problem. The rubber diaphragm had perished and the fuel was being pumped straight into the engine crankcase rather than the carburettor – not ideal!

That gave us a problem. We carry many many spares on board but not a fuel pump. There are virtually no chandleries or engine supplies in the atolls and an email to the Mercury dealer back in Tahiti got a quick answer stating it will be one to two months before they can obtain a new pump for us. Then we must organise it to be shipped to wherever we are somehow.

That’s a long time to wait and not go ashore or go and visit anything. Later that evening Derek proclaims:

‘Why do we need a pump anyway? We only need a pump if the petrol storage is lower than the carburettor. Gravity should do the job otherwise, that doesn’t break!’

The next morning, the pump was bypassed, the fuel can raised high and the starter chord pulled. Its not ideal, it does require a little use of the hand priming pump in the fuel line from time to time, but the engine runs, and we can at least get around until the new pump arrives. We have ordered one from the UK to be sent to Tahiti by DHL and then we will somehow hopefully get it sent on to wherever we are. Times like this make us eternally grateful to family back in the UK who can assist with shipping etc.

With the dinghy operational again, on Saturday we went ashore early, to get bread for breakfast and found a bustle of activity. There were small market stalls with clothes and fishing gear as well as dried snacks and general stores. The supply boat was also selling fresh fruit and vegetables directly on the quay. We purchased, mangoes, oranges, carrots and tomatoes but there were also cucumbers, limes, potatoes, onions and cabbage. The fridge was refilled!

With the wind forecast to drop and the arrival of a large cruise ship on Sunday, we decided to sail across the lagoon to the southeast corner for a few days away from the relative bustle of the village and a potential influx of tourists (its all relative!).

The area is called Tevare, Sables Rose and is famed for its pink sand. We had a light wind of 8-12 knots and had a glorious sail most of the way, before reverting to the engine for the last hour picking a somewhat torturous route through the bommies to the beautifully calm sheltered spot where we dropped anchor. Charts are somewhat lacking, within many of the atolls so Derek had his first go at producing a satellite image chart (something we had got used to using in the San Blas), so we tested its accuracy for bommies – very useful it was too, clearly showing all the shallow bommies that we encountered.

Anchored at Le Sables Rose

We stayed here for several days exploring the environment and enjoying the peace and quiet. Nature was close by, with the small bommie behind us being a nursery for juvenile fish. The flats to the pink sand banks had numerous black tip reef sharks and we saw eels and rays whilst walking through the shallows.

Pink sands of Le Sables Rose

On another excursion we we took the dinghy as far as we could, waded through a soft bottom to get to the coral shore and followed the cairns to reach the outer Pacific shore. This gave us a very clear appreciation of the dramatic underwater coastline. We stood just metres from the reef edge in the crashing waves, and could see that less than 30 metres away the reef dropped off to depth of thousands of kilometres almost vertically.

The edge of the reef

There are a few dwellings along the shore where the inhabitants produce copra and collect shells to sell. We were told that they didn’t live there permanently, just stayed to do the work then returned to the villages. The upshot of this is that there was virtually no light pollution at night. When the skies cleared all we could see was a myriad of stars in a perfectly black sky. We saw stars and constellations that we haven’t been able to see for quite a while.

We read in one of the guides that there was a tiny Motu (Nao Nao) about halfway back towards the village anchorage that had good diving, so we took the opportunity to stop off there on the way back and enjoyed a lovely shallow dive with a great array of colourful fish. This was followed by a clean of the hull before returning to the anchorage as dusk fell and the light faded.

Snorkeling the reefs

Knowing we would be leaving soon, we planned a quick shop for fresh bread, vegetables and fruit but found the shop had delayed its opening for a special event.  They were launching the European lottery ticket sales!  Free nibbles, ice cream and local dancing. Plus we could get our shopping!

Local Polynesian girls dance to celebrate the shop’s start of selling lottery tickets!

And today we move on. Rangiroa grew on us as we stayed here. Due to its size, the anchorages can be rather exposed. If the wind picks up and has any south in it, the main village anchorage gets lumpy but then there are other places to anchor on the southern side. However its not a short hop across the atoll and does require good light.

Rangiroa does has a lot to offer the cruiser.  The local hotel we anchored off (The Kia Ora) is welcoming and when we emailed them to ask, they were happy for us to drink at the bar and watch the Polynesian entertainment. There is even some wine production here and a tasting tour at the Dominique Auroy Estate which is nestled within a coconut grove. It produces three grape varieties.  We didn’t explore this but we saw the wines for sale in the local magasin.

We have enjoyed our time here but look forward to the next atoll, which if the wind is as forecast will be the much smaller Ahe, just an overnight sail away.

Back In the Tuamotus

After a few months back working, we are back onboard. The boat was safe and sound after it’s 4 month stay in the Papeete marina, and we spent nearly two weeks at anchor inside the reef in Tahiti, re-aclimatising to being back on board, cleaning the hull, re-provisioning and generally getting back into the liveaboard life.

By that time we were itching to move on, so after getting our duty free fuel from the marina we headed out, skirted around the island and headed towards the nearest of the Tuomotu atolls – Makeatea.  Large waves and a dreary sky were not an encouraging first sail.

Lesley soon felt the start of sea sickness and after putting a few things more securely, when to hibernate on the leeward settee below.

The boat seemed to love the conditions and with minimum sail we ploughed on through the night towards the atolls. As the wind backed, it became evident that we were not going to make our intended destination without an even more uncomfortable bash to windward so we decided on Tikehau instead – another 50 miles further but a much nicer sailing angle.

We arrived at lunchtime and took a look at the pass which seemed ok. A quick radio to see if any other boats could advise on the tidal stream and after a reassuring affirmation from another cruiser we went through. Perfect timing – a gentle outgoing current and flat water! We prefer to have slack water or current against us since its easier to slow down or even stop if the sight ahead looks unwelcoming, something that is very difficult is there is a current pushing you onward towards the dangers.

Once inside the atoll our world stopped pounding up and down and became more civilised. Lesley started to smile again and we followed the well marked Channel to the anchorage on the eastern side of the atoll, sheltered from the prevailing winds.

Days start quietly on Tikehau. From the sky, this graceful atoll looks like a crown of white and pink-sand beaches shimmering around the Tikehau Atoll lagoon making it almost too breathtaking to be true. Only about 500 Tahitians call this tranquil world home, generations of fishermen whose lives revolve around the sea. And, it’s a life of both peace and plenty. After a few days of just enjoying the peace and quiet, and continuing the never ending list of boat jobs, we took a dinghy ride with another boat to the Manta cleaning site – a place where Manta Rays congregate to be cleaned by remoras. We tied the dinghy to the buoy, donned the mask and flippers and jumped over to take a look. We were not disappointed – within minutes we were treated to a circling Manta ray, well over 2 metres across just metres below us. The water was not as clear as some places but it was an amazing sight and went on for about 30 minutes.

Manta Ray being cleaned by remoras

We had read about the ‘Eden Isle’, or ‘Garden of Eden’ where you could supposedly visit and obtain freshly grown vegetables so we up anchored and took a trip up the eastern side of the atoll. Once ashore we were welcomed by a taiwanese gentleman who gave us a tour of their island.

Drying Sea Salt

The ‘prophet’, Elijah Hong, from Taiwan and leader of a sect called the NTC (New Testament Church) traveled around to search for a place to start their Eden project. There are also similar settlements in South Africa and California. When he came to Tikehau he said that he felt that God meant that this was the place. They then purchased a motu in 1997 and have lived off the land using natures resources and ‘farming as they did in the beginning.’

Healthy piglets

We were given a tour with fascinating explanations and ate cherries, mulberries and a variety of different leaves, that we would not have been able to differentiate from weeds. We were given aubergine, chili peppers, lettuces and basil. They also had vanilla growing and made their own sea salt as well as keeping chickens and pigs. We also purchased a cute pearl necklace and some rough pearls.

Vanilla growing

After another tough day, enjoying the peace and tranquility of the bay we opted to head back down the atoll to the village, where we went ashore, had a wonder around, bought bread, onions and ice creams, grabbed a bit of wifi from the post office and stretched our legs.

Fresh cherries

We left Tikehau early the next morning, to head for the largest atoll in the Tuamotus, and the second largest atoll in the world; Rangiroa.

We were lucky that our timing on both passes worked out well – no waiting around and flat water. Once inside Rangiroa, we headed for the anchorage where we have been ever since. The weather has not been great – very wet and squally, so we have yet to go ashore. However it is set to dry up later today, so fingers crossed.