Futuna Turnaround

It seems a silly thing to have to do, but boats sticking around Fiji have to leave the country every 18 months or pay 30% the value of the boat in duty. My 18 months was almost up, so it was time to get out. The nearest country to sail to is the French Island of Futuna a mere 230 miles the the northeast. I’d pressed hard from Vuda Point to make it to Savusavu during a break in the tradewinds caused by a high pressure system. When I got to Savusavu, the forecast was for one more day of northerly winds before the predominant easterlies filled back in. I had a couple of hard slogs against the trades to get east from Savusavu in the past that I didn’t want to relive, so I bought 5 pineapples and checked out of Fiji.

The forecast northerly ended up being a light southerly and I used it motorsail most of the way east to Taveuni. Then things started getting ugly. Sitting atop Somosomo Strait between Taveuni and Vanua Levu was the gnarliest looking bit of weather that I’ve ever seen. At first I thought there was even a waterspout in the middle, but it just turned out to be a particularly dense column of rain. Clouds that looked like a volcanic eruptions, lightning flashing throughout the system with deafening thunder following behind and then for a bit of a meteorlogic irony, a rainbow off to one side.

I dropped sail when I though there was enough wind in the system to form a waterspout and began tracking the cell on radar. I then noticed another, much less scary, lightning filled system coming up behind me. This is the first time that I’ve used my newly installed radar and it worked flawlessly. I threw all my portable electronics in the oven to protect them in case of a lightning stick and then used the radar to keep directly between the two passing systems. I ended up passing through Somosomo with just a little rain and a nice rainbow.

I only know a few boats that have been hit by lightning. I’ve heard of it blowing out through hulls and sinking boats before, but the people that I know just had their electronics fried. Either way, it’s one of the few things that really scares me out at sea. This trip treated me to lightning at sunset every evening.

Once through Somosome Strait, the wind filled in on the nose and stayed there the next two days to Futuna. The wind was light as I motorsailed against it. Unfortunately the seas were not. 2 meter waves greeted me as I cleared Rabi and made my way out into open water. The seas were much bigger then the 5-10 knot breeze should have created. Add to that a contrary current running at .5 to 1.5 knots the entire way up to Futuna. I averaged 3 knots motoring all but a few hours of the trip.

I pulled into Futuna at dawn on the third morning. The one anchorage on the island was well marked and easy to find. It was too early for customs, so I had a little swim, cleaned up and took care of a few boat projects that had come up on the passage. At 8am I rowed ashore to look for the Gendarmarie.

Futuna’s people are a mix of Tongan and Polynesian. The place felt very much like one of the outer islands in French Polynesia. After spending so much time in Fiji, it was hard to not greet everyone on the street with a hearty Bula! As it turned out it was hard to even get enough eye contact to say bonjour. I’m sure the people are very friendly, indeed one of the gendarmes gave me an enormous lei, but after Fiji, the place felt very cold. It also could do with the fact most visitors, like myself, just show up for a few hours and then are off again.

Checking in and out simultaneously with the gendarmes and customs was a breeze. I didn’t have to fill out a single form or pay any fees. It made me a bit sad to leave so quickly, but the wind was perfect for the return trip and the anchorage was notoriously rolly. I decided the prudent thing to do was to sail on.
Just 3 hours after arriving, I hauled up the hook and set off on one of the most pleasant sails that I’ve ever had.

That current that was against me going northbound, was like a turbo boost heading south. With 10-15 knots from the stern quarter, I was able sail at nearly 7 knots most of the way home. The wind finally failed me after getting back through Somosomo, but even then I was able to sail at 4 knots the rest of the way to Point Reef where I finally had to turn on the motor to make the 4 miles north up to Savusavu. Brilliant and uneventful, except for the squalls and lightning that I still had to deal with each evening.

I pulled into Savusavu at 9:30 this morning, just 9 days after leaving Vuda Point and 3 days before my old import permit would have expired. I was worried about getting a good weather window to leave Savusavu, but I doubt that I could have pulled off that turnaround any better. Now it’s time to start getting ready for cyclone season here in Fiji. I’ve identified a number of “hurricane holes” on the charts. I need to explore and lay down track lines into each of them so that I’ll have someplace to run if a cyclone does come along. However it goes down, I feel better about this than leaving my boat to be smashed in Vuda Point again.

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