A note from Dick and Gail Barnes:
Dick and Gail Barnes are off on another excellent adventure on their Nordhavn 57, Ice Dancer II. They departed Honolulu on May 4, 2009 for an expected one-year cruise of the deep South Pacific. On Ice Dancer (I), a Nordhavn 50, they completed trips to Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii and French Polynesia for a total of 23,545 nm. Ice Dancer II has been to Mexico, Alaska, Galapagos Islands, Cape Horn to Hawaii for a total of 28,708 nm. At their first stop for this trip, Palmyra Atoll, they had completed 52,253 nm on their two Nordhavns. You are invited to share their observations, here.
August 31, 2009 Monday
Coral Sea 15-22.5S 173-20.8W
We had our clearance to leave Niuatoputapu, Tonga when the VHF call for Ice Dancer came in from the small lodge, nearby. The customs officer wanted to know if we would take a woman and two sisters to Neiafu, our next port of call. The woman's husband had died in an accident, we were told, and it was the only way she could get to his funeral. She showed up on the concrete wharf half an hour later, with four large bags stuffed with belongings. And the two sisters were the young woman's two babies. We were had, but for a noble cause. The customs officer apparently told the woman to be ready to go the next morning and that she would make the arrangements.
The trip to Neiafu was 24 hours of moderately rough beam seas and all three passengers were sick for the entire voyage. She could not speak English, so communication was difficult. We spent much time cleaning up the mess.
Fortunately, the customs agent contacted immigration and her counterpart at our next port, so the extra passengers, absent from the crew list, were not a problem. To the contrary, we were roundly thanked by all for providing transportation. The new widow gave us a box of sugar cane stalks and bananas.
Neiafu is the second largest town in Tonga (18-42.0 South 174-05.4 West). Its economy is based primarily on boating tourism. The locals understand the cash cow and don't hassle the yachties. Visitors are attracted to the wonderful cruising grounds of Vava'u, a collection of small islands and fringing reefs that provide protected waters. Quiet anchorages abound and boats sail short distances from one to the next. Local proprietors maintain a morning VHF net for sharing news of events and touting services to visiting yachts. More than half the boats are cruisers, arriving from every direction, and the remainder are bareboat charters. Power and sailboats from New Zealand and Australia make Vava'u a close-by, wintertime destination of choice. Every Friday afternoon, the local Yacht Club lays out a race course in Neiafu harbor. The event, which is seriously contended, is the kickoff for a party that lasts well into Saturday morning. Sailors that flew in for charter-boat vacations fuel the party atmosphere, more so than the cruisers. Away from town, the remote anchorages are quiet.
Tonga is a kingdom. The king owns all of the property and ultimately makes the rules. All of the buildings are on leaseholds, with rents going to the monarchy. Tonga was never conquered or colonized by a foreign country, unlike most of the South Pacific. There is some pressure to move to a democracy. In the meantime, their system seems to function fairly well.
Vava'u is breezy and cool compared to islands closer to the equator. It is far enough south to get the effect of Tasman Sea weather. Water temps dropped from 86 to 89 in Niuatoputapu to 79. Air temps were about 77. It was certainly cooler than the islands further north. For Kiwi and Oz cruisers, the Vava'u temperatures seemed just about right for the middle of winter.
Vava'u was such a nice place that it was hard to leave. But we were on to the next adventure, in Fiji. Before we left, we passed on to a family in a 65-foot ketch, a box of home-school supplies that we brought from Pago Pago. They had missed the shipment and we made arrangements through ham radio for meeting in Tonga.
We arrived in Savusavu, Fiji after a three-day crossing from Tonga that wound through small islands and coral reefs. Seas were moderate to rough. We took a mooring on Nakama Creek, in front of this rural, plantation town (16-46.9 South 179 19.8 West), located on Vaua Levu, the second largest island in Fiji.. The port is located in a wet section of the islands and the vegetation shows off at its tropical best. There were around 25 other boats moored in the creek, almost all visiting sailboats. U.S. boats were small in number with New Zealand, Australia and European countries filling out the pack. The local people were friendly and kind. They are a mix, not a mixture, of Indo- and Melanesian Fijians..
This is one of four ports of entry for Fiji. We chose to bypass Suva to avoid possible problems of political unrest. As we arrived, there were riots in Suva over the military government canceling a planned Methodist convention and refusing to allow elections before 2014. Political problems were transparent in Savusavu.
From Savusavu, we traveled west across the Koro Sea toward the Yasawa Islands, stopping along the way for overnight anchorages at the former leper colony at Makogai Island (17-26.4 South 178-57.1 East) and Nananu-I-Thako (17-18.8 South 178-13.4 East), an area of vacation homes. Both were good anchorages, but required entry through small openings in fringing reefs. Makogai was quite picturesque. Most of this area is sparsely inhabited, poorly charted and has very complex coral reef systems. Thank the gods for our scanning sonar.
Our first stop in the Yasawa Islands was at Namataya Bay (16-49.2 South 177-27.7 East). Our anchorage was on the far west edge of Fiji and the only boat within the five miles visible from there. During these winter months, trade winds blow from east to west, so we were on the lee (west) side of Yasawa. During the summer months, the trade winds stop and occasional tropical storms bash this coast from the west. Waves from the tropical storms have created pristine, white beaches. This is the dry side of Fiji. The shore looks like the coast of California, between Monterey and Santa Barbara, but without the North Pacific swells and surf hitting the beaches. The hillsides are rounded with tall, brown grasses. Trees are mostly in ravines and along the beach line. The water is absolutely clear and coral formations occur anywhere that the bottom is shallow enough for the coral to grow. We had the dinghy and kayak in the water and snorkeled every day. Our anchorage was protected from prevailing trade winds but this is largely an open roadstead, with a small swell. For the first time on this trip, we deployed the flopper stopper to dampen any boat roll.
After two days of calm, a passing tough of low pressure gave us incentive to move to a protected anchorage at Sawa-I-Lau Bay (16-50.8 South 177-28.0 East). This traditional area supports three villages and is largely protected from seas at all points of wind. It is a popular stop for small exploration-style cruise ships bringing tourists. It is a calm anchorage and provides shore trips to see underwater and terrestrial caves. We found excellent snorkeling not far from our anchorage.
While in Sawa-I-Lau, we met a couple from Australia who graciously gave us a tour through their 76-foot, trawler-style boat, Adagio. The owners conceived the vessel and worked with a naval architect to create one of the finest examples of good function, fit and finish we have ever seen. It was crafted in New Zealand from aluminum and the exterior finish was so carefully executed, that the paint job cost more than the hull. It was amazing.
Our port of departure from Fiji was Lautoka (17-36.1 South 177-26.3 East). It is the second largest city in the country--approximately 750,000 population and located on Viti Levu, the largest island in Fiji. The majority are descendents from émigrés of India, brought to Fiji by the British to work the sugar cane fields. They now own most of the businesses and are resented by the indigenous Fijians. The sugar refinery in Lautoka spews ash and sticky soot into the air when spent cane is burned to make power and fertilizer. This large facility would not be tolerated in a developed country. When the prevailing wind blows across the harbor, visiting boats are slimed by the pollution. A short visit is enough, here.
Lautoka has a good farmers' market, similar to most South Pacific towns of any size. After filling our fresh vegetable supply and checking out of the country, we headed for Port Vila, Vanuatu.
Port Vila is an attractive, up-scale town with good facilities. It is tourist oriented, both for yachties and fly-in visitors. The people are Melanesian and much smaller than Fijians, Tongans and Samoans. Very few are fat. They look more like East African marathon runners than pro football players.
Our primary objective at Port Vila was to fuel Ice Dancer for the crossing to Australia. We had not purchased fuel since American Samoa and needed supplies for the seven-day crossing. A yacht service has a fuel dock that worked fine, although prices were high, even at the duty-free rate. More important than price, they had the supplies and it appeared to be clean.
Once again, we left a country or an anchorage with the feeling that we needed to spend much more time. There are boats spending years to travel the same course. We had to settle with a do it next time, attitude.
We are crossing the Coral Sea, on our way to Cairns, Australia. We estimate 1,330 nautical miles for the trip, so we are running at a speed to make about 200 miles per day. We will check our speed and distance as we begin the last 24 hours and if necessary run on our wing engine at a slower speed to arrive in daylight.
Upon landfall, we will scribe another corner of the Pacific Ocean explored on our wonderful Nordhavns, from Alaska to Cape Horn and now Australia. We have passed 33,000 nautical miles on Ice Dancer II, following 23.545 nm on our Nordhavn 50, the first Ice Dancer.
Dick and Gail Barnes