Posts Tagged ‘savusavu’

Cruising Fiji During Cyclone Season

Friday, March 14th, 2014
Cyclone Evan courtesy

Cyclone Evan courtesy

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.

Mélanie regularly spraying herself down to cool off

Mélanie regularly spraying herself down to cool off

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.

Waves picking up, I didn't get any pics when it was really bad

Waves picking up, I didn’t get any pics when it was really bad

Asari and what remains of Waitui's dock

Asari and what remains of Waitui’s dock

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.

Mooring line fail

Mooring line fail

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.

Nice tight entrance at Naqaiqai Creek

Nice tight entrance at Naqaiqai Creek

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.

Vuda Marina

Vuda Marina

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.

Boats tucked nicely into their pits at Vuda

Boats tucked nicely into their pits at Vuda

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

Maintenance and the Mumps

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

The last update to this blog had Mélanie and I running for the safety of Nagaigai Creek as Cyclone Ian was heading our way. The forecast held true and Ian turned back towards Tonga sparing us, but hitting the Ha’apai group with 185mph winds.

While we were hiding out from Ian, Mélanie’s throat started hurting. She stayed on the boat while I explored the abandoned houses and copra drier back up behind the mangroves. Then, the day Ian started heading back towards Tonga, the left side of her throat was so swollen that she was having a hard time swallowing. We immediately pulled up the hook and took off for Taveuni 8 miles away.

There was still a big swell running up Somosomo strait being powered by Ian now 100 miles to the Southeast. We managed to find a marginal anchorage off Somosomo village, where we landed the dinghy and took a cab to the doctor. Fortunately we chose the private doctor over going to the hospital. We were in and out in 15 minutes flat. Turns out Mélanie had come down with the Mumps. They gave her antibiotics, but said that it was caused by a virus and that there was nothing they could do. All said and done for the doctors visit, antibiotics, and pain killers it came out to $75FJD ($40USD). Not bad for the private doctor without an appointment.

We got back to Bodhran and the wind was honking up the strait. We’d wanted to go back to Viani Bay, but instead were forced by the wind back to Nagaigai. We woke up early the next morning to make Viani and it’s good internet connection to watch the Seahawks take out the Saints in the NFC Divisional round of the playoffs.

We hung around Viani Bay for a few days, but Mélanie couldn’t go swimming or do anything fun, so we figured it was a good idea to head back to Savusavu. Mélanie could be close to a doctor if need be and I could take care of a nagging problem with my compression post under the mast. We took two days to get back motoring in the morning and then sailing as the wind picked up by mid day. We stopped over for the night at Fawn Harbor, but didn’t check the place out much.

Back in Savusavu, I went to work trying to find angle iron to shore up my compression post. The Downeast 32 was built with a pretty significant flaw. The compression post that supports the mast underneath the deck is half the width of the mast. Not a big deal if it was centered, but it’s located underneath the aft half of the mast. When the mast is loaded up, it compresses the deck in front of the post and causes the post to bend. The post had dealt with this for 34 years, but has been getting tired since I crossed the pacific back in 2008. I’ve tried various fixes since then trying to zero in on the problem, but now I believe that it’s the post itself that needs to be replaced and moved 5 inches foreward.

Instead of pulling the mast and replacing the post with an unseasoned piece of timber that I would find here in Savusavu, I decided to reinforce it with steel. I found two pieces of 5/16” thick 3×3” angle iron. Of course they were rusty as hell sitting in a yard by the beach. So I took 4 days to cut, clean, drill and paint the steel while I was waiting for the Seahawks/49er’s game.

Gameday came. I got a last coat of paint on the steel before the Broncos beat the Patriots. Then went to the yacht club to watch the big game on the big screen with a bunch of Seattle fans and one SF fan. It’s been great being able to follow the Seahawks on the internet all year, but it’s really special watching a big game like that at a bar with other people. I wish that I’d been at home to feel the energy in Seattle, but all the Facebook posts gave me a good idea of what it was like.

Once Seattle had secured their spot in the Super Bowl, it was time to get the angle iron installed. I got the rig loaded up, put the sails back on and everything looks good.

Mélanie and I got Bodhran provisioned up and decided it was time to go. We left Savusavu and made it all the way down to Cousteau Resort a whopping 4 miles down the peninsula. Mélanie has to be in internet range to skype and do some work right now, so we’re hanging out, anchored off Cousteau with 5 German and Austrian boats, getting some snorkeling in and waiting for the big game on February 2nd (3rd over here). Thought the big game doesn’t seem as big as the one against SF.

Savusavu to the Yasawas

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

After 3 long weeks in Savusavu it was high time to get out of there. I had to stick around the last few days waiting on my visa extension to be approved. Now that it had come in, it was time to go, so Christian and I slipped our moorings and took off across Savusavu Bay. There wasn’t any wind, so we motored 20 miles to an anchorage on the other side of the bay where we were treated to an amazing sunset.

The next morning wasn’t a particularly good one for me. My windlass stopped working on me. The pull would only work in one direction, in the other it just let the chain back out. On top of that my autopilot stopped working on me. So after pulling the anchor up by hand I had to hand steer around to Coconut Pt on the West side of Vanua Levu.

We got a little bit of sailing in, but it was mostly a full day of motoring. Once I got the hook down, it was time to tear into my windlass and see what the problem was. It turns out that one of the springs on the idler gear was broken. There wasn’t much that I could do about it, but I cleaned everything up and greased all the gears. It helped a bit, but the windlass still wasn’t working properly.

It was blasting 25 knots out of the Southeast when we left Coconut Point the next morning. Christian and I wove our way through the reefs under jib alone and then hoisted our mains and had were treated to a sleigh ride across to the island of Yandu 10 miles off the West coast of Vaunu Levu.

We dropped our hooks in a bay on the West side were the wind funnel through the hill and accelerated. It was gusting in the high 30s. We were able to anchor close to the reef and the waves were minimal, so it was a good anchorage, but we stayed on the boats for 2 days waiting for the wind to come down before putting our skiffs in the water.

We had a few visits from the locals. The ranger responsible for the Crested Iguana reserve on nearby Yandua Tabu Island came over for coffee and checked my cruising permit. I also had a visit from the chief of the village on the north side of the island who was out fishing with some of the village boys. I had them all up for coffee. Both the ranger and the villagers agreed that it wasn’t smart to leave the boat under these conditions and I apologized for not being able to come to the village for sevusevu.

On the third day, the wind died enough to launch the skiff. I picked up Christian and we went into explore the beach. We’d heard about a possible trail up the ridge. We couldn’t find the trail, so we climbed the rocks and bushwhacked for a bit. Eventually we gave up and tried the other end of the bay. Again there was no trail, so we just settled in to drink some beers and watch the sun go down on the beach.

It’s 55 miles from Yandu to Sawi-I-Lau, the nearest anchorage in the Yasawas. That’s a long day if the weather isn’t perfect, so we hauled up our hooks at 5am to give us time to make the crossing. We had to use our track lines on the gps to navigate the 150′ wide entrance through the reef total darkness. Once we cleared the reef and got the sails up we were treated to another amazing day of sailing broad reaching in 20-25 knots of wind. I caught a mahi mahi and 2 barracuda on the way and we ended up gettnig into the anchorage at 3pm with plenty of time to spare and all the Yasawa Islands before us.


Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

I can’t believe that I’ve been in Savusavu for 2 weeks now. How can this happen? Whenever I come to scenic Savusavu on Fiji’s second largest island, I always stay at the luxurious Waitui Marina. By luxurious, I mean all the fresh water showers that you want to take. That’s where my bar stands. Waitui has a rickety dinghy dock off the end of an old pier, a covered little area to hang out, two bathrooms with shower stalls and a freezer where you can make ice overnight and take it out to the boats. The marina part consists of 20 or so moorings scattered throughout Nakama Creek where Asari will be waiting to help you tie up your lines as you come in. For USD$5 a night it’s a pretty good deal. There’s also the Copra Shed marina further up the creek, but it’s a bit more posh and Waitui suits my style.
With that kind of luxury, you could imagine me staying for a little while, but two weeks seems a bit excessive. Well the heavens opened up and it dumped constantly for the first 5 days I was in town. It was hard to get any projects done, but I did get around town and took some good pics. Riki and discussed the possibility of sailing up to Futuna to reset our import permits on our boats.

When you arrive in Fiji you get a permit allowing your boat to stay in Fiji for 18 months. If you exceed 18 months, then you have to pay tax amounting 30% the value of your boat. To reset this 18 months, all you have to do is check into another country and come back. The small French island Futuna is only 250 miles NE of Savusavu. Riki is leaving his boat here for cyclone season and needed to reset his time. I decided that visa wise it’d make more sense for me if I were to go in November, so I let Riki take off on his own while Christian and I stuck around.

With all the rain and the wind, it was hard to get many projects done, but I did pick up a 130 watt solar panel from the local hardware store and replaced the 60 watt panel in the middle of my array. Now I just sit back and smile as I watch the amps roll in. I also got a tip that there was a trail on the island across from town, so I went over and checked it out. It was mostly bushwhacking, but I got some good views, ran into a gnarly looking spider and met some local guys on the beach that turned into a party on Bodhran.

Once Riki took off, it was going to be at least 5 days before he got back, so Christian and I decided to stick around even though the weather had improved, but the real reason that I’ve been haning out in Savusavu so long is my good internet connection and sports. Many of you may not realize that I’m a huge sports fan. It’s one of the biggest things that I miss while I’m out cruising and wouldn’t you know it, I hit Savusavu just in time for the opening weekend of the NFL. I hadn’t found anyway to watch the first Seahawks game, but I followed it on ESPN’s gamecast. Of course it was played at 5am local time and the bars weren’t open. I did hit the bar for the afternoon and night games. Since then I’ve found European sites that allow me to pick up the games on board.

On top of all the great NFL action, I’ve also been able to watch all the America’s Cup races. This years cup has been the sensational. I’ve been captivated, watching 72 foot high speed catamarans match racing on San Francisco Bay at speeds of 45 knots. It’s been amazing.

Riki is back now and I should be moving on, but I sprained my ankle the other day when I was out taking pictures. I can probably hobble around enough right now to sail, but it’d be safer to wait a couple of days, but by then it’d be getting close to next weekends NFL action, so I might be stuck here even longer.

Heading East

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Riki and I spent a couple of weeks at Nananu-I-Ra. He was learning to kite board and I took my open water dive course. We were both waiting for boat guests to arrive. Doris was joining Bodhran and Hannah was going to be hopping on Guava Jelly. They’d coordinated their tickets to fly from the States to Fiji. Riki and I had been weighing different options as to where to meet the girls. We’d originally thought that Savusavu would be a good spot, but that would require a long layover in Nadi and another expensive plane ticket. We were having such a good time at Nananu-I-Ra that we decided to work with Warren at Safari to get the girls to meet us there. He was good enough to arrange the 2 and a half hour van ride from the airport as well as a panga to pick the girls up on the main island and bring them out to the boats. Everything went off without a hitch and just like that Riki and I weren’t singlehanders anymore.

Doris scored a screaming groupon deal on her dive certification over the winter in Seattle. So the first thing we did was spend a couple of days diving with the Safari Lodge. I’ve been snorkeling for years and honestly the best colors are in the first ten feet of water, but there’s something very special about being 60 feet under the surface, able to loiter as long as you want checking out the tiniest detail on the sea floor.

We did a 5 dives with Safari over 2 days. The weather was bad the first day, so we went to some close in spots with great sea fans and lots of fish. The second day we were able to take the maiden voyage out on Safari’s new dive boat to some spectacular bombies in the pass between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. We did three dives through deep canyons and along abyssal walls teeming with life.

Riki and I wanted to work our way East and get to the Lau Group. The Lau had been off limit to cruisers for years and had only opened up a couple of years ago. It’s filled with fantastic scenery and a remoteness beyond that of even the rest of the Fiji. After our dive days, the wind was favorable and Guava Jelly and Bodhran weighed anchor and set our sights East.

The first day we made it as far as Naigani. Naigani had a beautiful anchorage with good protection from the howling Southeast wind. Unfortunately our first encounter there was with a fella in a panga telling us not to land at the beach because it was taboo, instead of the customary Bula! So we got a good night’s sleep and took off for Makongai 20 miles to the Northeast.

Makongai was the sight of a large leper colony. The ruins are scattered all along the beach and even under the water. It’s also the site of a giant clam reserve and government clam/turtle hatchery. The hatchery staff and their families live on site in building left over from the leper colony. Technically it’s not a village and there’s no need to do sevusevu, but neither Riki or myself are big on technicalities, so we grabbed a couple bundles of yanqona and skiffed on in.

Camelli runs things on Makongai. He performed the sevusevu and we shared a few bilos before heading back to the vessels for the night. After a lazy morning, we all went in and got a tour of the facilities from Camelli.

The hatchery consists of a number of concrete basins covered with netting to keep the birds out. Each basin holds clams or turtles in varying developmental stages. We got to play with some 2 year old hawksbill turtles in one tank. The most interesting tank held mature specimens of the 7 different variety of giant clam endemic to Fiji.

Camelli then took us through the leper colony, explaining the history of the island and showing us the remains of different buildings. The tour ended at an overgrown cemetery where over 1000 graves were in various stages of being claimed by the local flora. I wanted to stick around and take pictures, but alas the mosquitoes were hungry and must have tasted like bacon. I was wearing repellant, but Fijian mosquitoes are of a strong stock and easily laugh off such countermeasures.

We spent that night drinking kava and playing music with the staff at the hatchery. Hanna is a Spanish teacher and soaks up languages like a sponge. She settled in writing down phrase after phrase and repeating them back until she got them right, while Doris picked up my camera and got some good shots of the evening.

Our last day on the Makongai was cloudy and windless. We didn’t expect much, but Doris and I decided to do a little snorkeling off the old leper colony wharf. We were rewarded with one of the most interesting snorkeling spots that I’ve been to. You normally see giant clams tucked in amongst the reef. The colorful mantle distinguishing them from the coral surrounding them. Here the clams were out in the open sand where you could see their full size and majesty. There were also large underwater lattices where clam spat was being incubated. Most interesting were the artifacts of the leper colony strew about. Barrels, bed frames and chunks of metal too deteriorated to tell their original purpose were being used by coral to spawn new reefs giving the terrain both a spooky ghost town feel while simultaneously teeming with life.

From Makongai we had an epic all day sail with the wind on the beam nearly the entire way. Doris and I squeezed our way through a narrow pass on the Nemena Barrier Reef and then out again in a wide pass on the north side. We caught a mahimahi near each of the passes. Just before sunset, we laid the light at Point Reef on the East end of Savusavu bay and glided into Savusavu itself. Asari, who’d looked after Bodhran for me a year earlier when I went home to work, was waiting in his panga with a mooring for us. Guava Jelly picked up a mooring behind us. We’d made our way to Savusavu to get a bit of easting in, to pick up some more provisions, but mainly to meet up with Christian on Irie. Upon settling into our mooring, I heard the haunting cry of a nautilus shell trumpet. It was then I noticed Irie three moorings upriver from us blowing on his horn and welcoming us in. Riki replied with his own nautilus. Damn! I got to get me one of those things.

We ended the day with a big mahimahi sashimi feed on Bodrhan with Christian and Veronique off Irie, Riki and Hannah on Guava Jelly and Doris and myself. We talked of cruising prospects and adventures to come for our three vessels. We still talked of the Lau Group, but the wind prevailing wind from Savusavu would make it difficult. We knew that we’d have fun wherever we went so we left the plans vague and settled into a couple of days of resupplying the boats, working on projects and waiting to see what the wind would bring.