After 3 days in Savusavu, Bodhran, Guava and Irie were all topped up on fuel, water and groceries. We were ready to go and even more impressive, we had a forecast for easterly winds turning northeasterly. We decided to capitalize on the unusual northerly and shoot for Fulanga 190 miles to the southeast.
Fulanga is in the southern Lau Group in Fiji. For many years the Lau was accessible to cruisers by special permit only along with a hefty daily fee. 3 years ago the Fijian government opened up the group for cruising, and it’s quickly becoming a favorite destination. The problem with the Lau is that you have pass it by check into Fiji and then work your way back against the prevailing tradewinds when you want to visit. Fulanga is about as far up against the trades as any point in the Lau and would make an excellent jumping off point if we could lay it.
Doris and Hannah had 3 weeks left before they we scheduled to fly back to the states. While in Savusavu they went to the Air Pacific Sun office and booked connecting flights out of Vanua Balavu in the Northern Lau and the only island in the Lau Group with air service. Hard schedules are anathema to the cruising sailor. They make for bad decisions and missed opportunities. Of course there’s no way to avoid them when a visitor comes on board, but if the wind didn’t cooperate we could have some problems making Vanua Balavu by the appointed hour.
Bodhran, Guava Jelly and Irie all left Savusavu in the afternoon and set a course for Point Reef where we’d then be able to make the turn southeast to Fulanga. Of course our forecasted east northeasterly 10-15 knot wind ended up being 15-20 knots directly from the southeast. Doris and I rounded the point shortly before the sun went down and proceeded to bash into a sloppy head sea. We only made 10 miles good towards our destination during our first 4 hours. After that we got tired of getting beat up and cranked up the iron genny and motor sailed for the lee of Taveuni which we layed about 3 in the morning. Not the most auspicious beginning for a passage, but we used the light winds behind Taveuni to regroup a bit from the night’s beating and were ready for the easterlies when the filled in with the rising sun.
Once we got the wind, we spent the next 36 hours close hauled on a port tack. The wind died again the second night out and I used the motor for a couple hours to make some more easting. When the wind filled back in we had a perfect line for the pass at Fulanga which we raised a little after noon.
The pass at Fulanga is narrow and has a lot of current. If you judge the tide wrong it can be treacherous. Guava had arrived 20 minutes before Bodhran and had judged that the pass looked pretty good. Riki had been in here last year, so I was happy to tuck in behind him. With Doris posted on the bow as lookout and we transited the pass fairly easily. The water clarity in Fulanga actually complicates matters. It’s hard to judge the depth of the coral heads. In the pass you can avoid most of them, but once you get through to Fulanga’s expansive lagoon, there are patches where you just have to cross your fingers and hope for luck.
The lagoon in Fulanga is a spectacular a spot as I’ve been in the Pacific. A barrier reef surrounds a large “U” shaped island with the opening pointed to the northeast. Inside, the lagoon has a few large islets, but the real distinctive feature are the hundreds of mushroom shape rocks strewn everywhere. With depths rarely getting deeper than 40′, the entire lagoon is an anchorage capable of handling many hundreds of boats. We followed Guava into Riki’s favorite anchorage behind a sand spit in about 15′ of water.
Irie overnighted in Numuka-I-Lau and hit the pass the next morning. Doris and I jumped on Guava and motored out to meet Irie and snorkel the pass. The current was running strong, so we skiffed to the outside and drifted the pass back in with our dinghies tied to our waists. The sky was overcast, so the colors in the coral were a bit muddled. Still we were rewarded with a huge school of mating coral trout at the pass entrance as well as a few good sized white tipped reef sharks. Afterwards we finished off the day with music and a fire on the beach along with Jamie and Lucy on Bamboozle.
After two days on the island it was high time that we went to the village and did our sevusevu. The main village is on windward side of the main island. There’s an anchorage off the lagoon on the leeward side. From there it’s a ¾ mile hike along a scenic, but mosquito infested path across the island. The village had nominated Tai as the yachtie liaison. Riki had met Tai the year before, so we went straight to his house.
It turns out that Riki was the fist kai palangi (white person) to ever return to the island for a second visit. Needless to say we received a warm welcome. We were escorted to the chief’s house, performed our sevusevu and paid our $50 per boat fee for visiting the island. Before lifting the permit process, Suva charged a daily fee to be in the Lau Group. A portion of this fee was supposed to go to the villages. In practice, it never tricked down to the islands. The free right to anchor is one of the tenets of maritime law the world over. Also once you perform sevusevu, you supposedly have the right to anchor, fish and generally go where ever you want in the territory controlled by the chief. Still we’re visitors here and if they want $50 a boat to visit one of the most fantastic anchorages in the world, then it’s a small price to pay.
We spent 2 weeks in Fulanga, alternating between the more remote anchorage and visiting the village. We went to church on Sunday and were treated to a big spread afterwards. The schoolteacher, George, and his wife Ma, pretty much adopted us with Ma baking and making food for us every time we came in. We played music and drank kava a few nights. The generosity of the people was overwhelming even by Fijian standards. The monthly supply ship was broken and months overdue. Resources were running low and we were still treated to the best that they had to offer. We tried to reciprocate in kind with whatever supplies we had on board, but how to you repay someone who has next to nothing and feels bad that they can’t offer more.
Subsistence living the order of the day in Fulanga. With plenty of arable land and fish in the sea, the population get’s by fairly well. Unfortunately they don’t grow kava or tobacco not to mention petrol, cooking oil and rice. They do have magnificent vesi trees. A tropical hardwood, the wood carvers are hard at work most days shaping it into rough kava bowls that are sold to Suva where they are sanded and finished. They do a little bit of finish work, mainly with the softer woods that they carve into masks, dolphins, turtles or whatever else catches their fancy. I ended up buying a rough kava bowl and took a picture of a design which I’ve tried to carve into it’s rim. It’s not done yet, but will be much nicer than the plastic mixing bowl that I’ve been using.
We had a big going away party a few days before we left Fulanga. It started out to with a hike up to a cave filled with bones up above the village. The stories differ on whose bones these were, but supposedly they belong to 19th century invaders from Tonga. A number of the skulls have large holes in them presumably where they’ve been bashed in by war clubs. From the cave we continued up to a high point with a good view of the village on once side and the lagoon on the other. On the way down we visited another much larger cave, this time devoid of human remains.
Upon returning to the village we were treated to a big lunch. The highlight of which was steamed clams in coconut milk with seaweed mixed in. From there we were late for a concert at the school. What you didn’t hear? The kids have never heard country music and Christian, Riki and I were slated to perform for them. It was news to us, but good fun. Especially when the Spanish couple from Caps Tres goaded the kids into clapping in time. They finished off by singing a song back to us. It was all very sweet and a good precursor to sitting down to a big bowl of ole locally preferred narcotic beverage, where we proceeded to swap songs back and forth with the Fulanga Band Boys. At one point there was even a conga line going. I’m not sure how that started, but a good time was had by all.
The wind had been out of the north for a few days. A very odd wind direction during the hight of the tradewind season. We were beginning to get a little worried about getting the girls up to Vanua Belavu for their flights home. With only 3 days left, we got a light southwester which eventually clocked around to the southeast and pushed us nicely up to Vanua Belavu covering the 120 miles in just over 24 hours.
Upon reaching Vanua Belavu and doing our sevusevu, we learned that they weekly flight to Suva was often cancelled. The runway is situated on a hillside. Planes land on a grass slope at about a 25 degree angle. Too much rain and the runway gets too muddy to land. Not enough visibility and it’s dangerous to come into the until airstrip. The village tourism commissioner, Sam, set us up with a 6 am 4×4 ride to the airport.
It was touch and go when we got there. Suva had tried to cancel the flight, but the dour fella that ran things in Vanua Belavu overrode them. So thankfully the girls got out, albeit a few hours late and Riki and I went back to being singlehanders again.