As I’m writing this, Cyclone Lusi has just passed south of Fiji. The 19th tropical depression of the season is gathering power over Samoa and is supposed to form into a cyclone early next week. All these tropical lows send people running from Fiji down to New Zealand and Australia for the Summer. I myself spent 4 Summers in New Zealand following the prevailing wisdom. These notes are for those who aren’t wise, in the prevailing sense.
I’d unsuccessfully looked around online for advice on cruising Fiji during cruising season. I’ve know a few people in the past that have cruised the Mamanucas and Yasawas while keeping a reserved spot at Vuda Point Marina to fall back to in case of bad weather. There were also a good contingent of cruisers this year who kept moorings in Savusavu, but escaped out to Cousteau Resort for weeks at a time between lows.
Neither of these options really sounded good to me. I’d been to the Yasawas, and while they’re nice, I tend to stick to the less touristy spots. Instead I decided that I’d range out from Savusavu, coming back every 4-6 weeks to resupply.
I was worried about the heat. My buddy Grant on Lochiel had spent the 2012/2013 season in Vuda and cruising in the Yasawas. He assured me that the heat wasn’t that bad. As a point of fact, the weather was generally much nicer during cyclone season than during the cruising season. Average temperatures were in the low 30s as opposed to the high 20s in the Winter. It actually rained less between lows during cyclone season than during the cruising season. The water was still cool enough to be refreshing. My crew did rely pretty heavily on a spray bottle filled with water to keep her cooled off, but I generally found that ample fans and the occasional swim was enough to stay cool.
There was an amazing amount of lightning all season long. I always felt a bit exposed when I was the tallest point in the anchorage. I did see lightning hit a boat in Vuda a few years back, but didn’t hear of any boats getting hit this year. Just in case, I kept most of my electronics disconnected when I wasn’t using them. I don’t know if this would have helped in the event of a lightning strike, but it made me feel better.
I used a number “hurricane holes” in northern and eastern Fiji and have heard of a few more. Here’s my run down on the ones that I’ve actually been to.
Savusavu (16 46.6677 S 179 20.0401 E):
I normally pick up a Waitui mooring whenever I’m in Savusavu. Unfortunately none of the moorings West of the Copra Shed are really suitable as cyclone moorings. Their ground tackle might be fine, but the spot is too exposed. I was able to pick up one of Curly’s moorings for a 30 gusting 50 knot low that passed through. The winds started from the north, but then switched to the west blowing right up the anchorage. My spot right off the Surf and Turf was nice and calm while all hell was breaking loose further out, especially for the two boats in front of Waitui. Waitui Marina’s float was destroyed and much of the dock was wrecked as well.
One boat broke their mooring lines at Savusavu Marina and ended up on the beach. Fortunately it landed on a muddy spot and didn’t suffer much damage. The rest of the boats on Savusavu Marina moorings rocked and rolled a bit, but it wasn’t bad. By far the best moorings are the ones between Copra Shed and the end of town.
Unfortunately these moorings were all reserved by the beginning of cyclone season. In order to rely on Savusavu as a hurricane hole, you have to reserve and pay for a mooring for the whole season. For this reason, I only came to Savusavu for the one low and only because Deviant had left his mooring and gone to Vuda for a haul out, so I knew I’d have a spot.
There were two boats that anchored in the mangroves between town and Savusavu Marina. It’s a tough spot to get into, there’s no wind and there’s lots of bugs. That being said, both boats stayed there for free all through cyclone season.
Nasasobo (16 44.9492 S 179 51.1202 E):
Nasasobo is a fine spot, capable of handling more than a few boats. The entrance is small and is protected by a reef. Holding is fantastic in thick mud. Along the western side, it’s deep very close to the mangroves. William (one of the locals in Nasosobo) mentioned that one shoal draft cruising boat was able to make it up one of the creeks into the mangroves on a high tide, but scouting it in the dinghy I wasn’t able to find any areas deep enough to get Bodhran anywhere close to the creeks in the north east corner of the bay. For my money the best spot is tucked into the northwest corner, tied to the mangroves with a couple anchors out.
The problem with Nasosobo is that it’s reasonably big. Some good waves could build up inside the bay during a blow. It also doesn’t have an internet signal, so you can’t track what the storm is doing once you get set. You can pick up a signal from Taveuni out by the reef if the weather is good enough to take your dinghy.
Naiqaiqai Creek (16 43.3945 S 179 53.3833 E):
I used Naqaiqai when cyclone Ian was approaching from the southeast. Naqaiqai has a narrow entrance. It’s exposed to the north, but Kioa would break up some of the really big stuff coming down. The bay gets shallow pretty quickly, but I was able to make it more than half way up the bay anchoring in 10 feet of water over thick mud. It turned out that Ian did a 180 and hit Tonga instead, so I didn’t get hit by anything more than 25 knots. It looked deep enough close to the mangroves to get in and tie off, but I didn’t do it myself.
An added bonus to Naqaiqai is a weak internet signal. It wasn’t enough to surf the net, but it was just enough to download gribs and check email.
Qamea (16 45.8276 S 179 46.8308 W):
I didn’t actually go to Qamea during cyclone season, but I’d been there last year and it looks like a good anchorage. I’d like to get in and scout the creek going back to George’s house, but never got the chance. Still it’s a protected little spot with great holding. It’s open the west, but Taveuni would knock down anything really bad from that direction.
Navatu (16 55.4526 S 179 00.7386 E):
Navatu looked on the chart to be a sweet little spot. I tucked back in here when Cyclone Kofi was approaching. Unfortunately there are shoals everywhere in this bay. The only really usable areas are behind the island and the northeast corner. I chose to anchor behind the island. In order to get suitable cyclone scope, I had to tie off a line to a tree on the island to limit my swing. As the storm changed tacks, I ended up putting two more anchors out so that I didn’t end up caught beam to the wind. It turns out that when Kofi passed, I had southerly winds. My big anchors were out to the north and west where the earlier forecasts had the worst wind coming from. I rode out the 35 knot winds on a 25lb Danforth. It did have 100′ of chain on it and held like a champ, but it was discouraging to prepare so much and have the wind do the complete opposite.
Navatu has a strong 2G signal that you can browse the web with as well as track weather and emails. It worked well for me, but it couldn’t accommodate more than 2 cruising boats.
Wainaloka (17 44.1331 S 178 46.0009 E):
I ran to Wainaloka after being hit by a fresh northerly while I was anchored in Makogai. I’d heard that it was a hurricane hole and after a lively sail I anchored in the northeast corner of the bay in flat calm water. The holding is good and it’s possible to get fairly close the the mangroves, but Wainaloka is far too big for me to be comfortable using it as a hurricane hole. Moturiki would prevent any real big waves from coming it, but theres still more fetch to the west than I’d find acceptable.
An added bonus to Wainaloka was the ability to catch a truck into Levuka. We did a quick resupply here. There’s not much fresh stuff available during the week, but apparently theres more on Saturday. The truck comes by the village around 8:30am. If you miss it, there’s not another one. There’s also no traffic for hitching.
Another problem with Wainaloka is it’s lack of internet signal. Additionally you can’t get a signal by water until you get to the north end of Ovalau. You can get a signal in Levuka if you take a shore trip, but I don’t like being in the dark with a storm approaching.
Tivi (16 16.9973 S 179 28.7380 E):
I didn’t visit Tivi this year, but I anchored there last year and kept it in mind as a hurricane hole if I was on the north side of Vanua Levu. The entrance dog legs and is protected by a reef. Tuck into the little notch along the eastern side. The holding is thick mud and it’s deep right up to the mangroves.
Vuda (17 40.8718 S 177 23.1560 E):
I left my boat in Vuda for the 2012/2013 cyclone season. Vuda took a direct hit from Cyclone Evan which was a category 4 storm at the time. Boats in the pits suffered little to no damage. Boats in the water with their owners on board also fared quite well, generally suffering only minor damage. A 65′ ketch was put next to my 32 footer the day before Evan came through. The storm passed right over Vuda and the wind came from multiple directions. I didn’t suffer any damage from the 40′ boat on my port side, but the 65 footer blew down on me tearing up 15′ of cap rail, destroying 3 turnbuckles and bending my chainplates. He had also put a chain behind me to keep him off when the wind was blowing the other direction. When the wind shifted, he drove me down into that chain bending my stern pulpit and 2 stanchions.
My takeaway from Vuda is that it’s a good cyclone hole if you can get a pit or if you’re going to stay on the boat. The pits were all reserved this year in June a full 6 months before cyclone season. I wouldn’t leave my boat unattended in Vuda during cyclone season again.
In addition to the spots that I mentioned above, there are supposedly very good cyclone holes at the north end of Vanua Belavu, up the rivers in Denerau and Lautoka, and by the Tradewinds Hotel in Suva. I’ve never been to any of these spots, so I can’t comment on them, but I kept them in mind as I sailed around Fiji this season.
Cruising during cyclone season turned out pretty well for me. I only saw 2 other cruising boats outside of the Savusavu area. Vodafone’s coverage in Fiji is good enough that I rarely went without grib files. When I didn’t have internet access, I was still able to listen to the Rag of the Air most mornings. There are definitely risks to staying in the tropics during cyclone season, but it’s very possible to keep cruising and not bail down to New Zealand.
Here’s a gpx file with most of my tracks from Fiji: JasonsFiji.gpx