CRACK! What the ???? The autopilot started beeping at me and telling me the rudder arm was fully extended. Phylis was veering off course and in serious danger of broaching. For a minute I thought we'd lost the rudder. I took over control and phew, she responded to the wheel. OK, so the rudders still connected to the helm. Something has happened to the autopilot then.
"Kym, Kym wake up" I yelled. It was 1am and very dark. Phylis was surfing downwind doing 8kts in a nasty choppy following sea and I was having a hard time maintaining course. She staggered out. "What??" "Somethings wrong with the autopilot." "Oh bugger." Next thing I heard her ripping the aft bunk apart to get at the autopilot. Then I heard the tool drawers being opened. After about 10 minutes she emerged with a black object in her hand - it just happened to be the backing plate that connects the autopilot hydraulic arm to the bulkhead that had somehow disconnected itself." "Oh dear" I said, "can you fix it?" She nodded and disappeared below armed with a fistful of spanners. Some 15 minutes later she came up and told me to try the autopilot - hey presto!! It was working again. Thank goodness for that as we still had five hours to go and you really don't appreciate just how much you rely on the autopilot until it is rudely taken away from you.
We had left Tonga two days prior to this incident. We had light variable winds and a fairly flat sea. It wasn't until we were inside the reefs off the Lau Group of islands that the wind backed and increased to 25-30kts. We learnt later that the Koro Sea is notorious for rough seas. Once inside the shelter of Savusavu Bay things quietened down and we gently motored up the bay in time for an 8am arrival at the Copra Shed Marina. A quick call on the VHF and we were directed into our slip with a little difficulty due to tide and wind but we were soon tied up and sitting back breathing sighs of relief. Another 428 mile leg completed and we were safe.
Savusavu is on the second biggest island of Fiji named Vanua Levu. It's a wonderful laidback place full of activity. Everything you need is here laid out alongside the main road that goes right through the busy town. The backdrop of sloping green hills enhances the idyllic atmosphere. Meeting up with old friends positively puts the cherry on the cake.
The town consisted of a variety of local stores, a couple of bakeries and a couple of supermarkets
Savusavu had a great fresh produce market where you could stock up on extra hot chillies amongst other things
No shortage of cold beer here, and the Waitui Marina also did a FJ$5 fish and chip lunch!
Peace and tranquility was shattered on one day as a cruise ship pulled up behind the mooring field, the main road was suddenly lined with a myriad of stalls selling every possible souvenir
The yacht club bar was a mere 100ft from our boat and the scene of several raucous evenings with Paul and Trish from Babe, and Craig and Aron from Raeo
Craig and Paul decided to 'do their nails' during one evening of happy hour drinks, Craig went rushing back to their boat Raeo to fetch his bag of nail things so that he and Paul could compare colours....
As we were all on different agenda's there were several rounds of goodbye drinks, especially as Raeo were having some pesky engine issues which resulted in them returning to Savusavu a few times for some more partying
3rd and final (for now) goodbye drinks with Raeo before they left for Suva and we left to go round the north of Viti Levu
I wish I could describe a whole load of activities but we appeared to do not a lot for eleven days apart from party! We did manage a few walks to take in the sights while recovering from the night before getting ready for the night ahead. The food in the restaurants was pretty good and exceptionally cheap so we ate out a lot.
Walking out either end of town you soon found yourself on a quiet road with the hillside dotted with houses
We had heard about a hot spring where the water is literally boiling so we set out to find it one morning, it was located just on the edge of town, behind the playing field, and had an interesting welcome sign
The water really is boiling and it bubbles away furiously, the locals use the hot springs to cook food and we found a couple of pots simmering away
Looking towards the commercial wharf and the back of the mooring field
One evening at our favorite Chinese restaurant stands out. We were being pretty rowdy after consuming many scoops beforehand. Sitting next to us was a group of locals. Paul was doing his usual trick of going around chatting to everyone (especially the waitresses) when suddenly, the guy next to us sat back and started singing "on Ilkley Moor Baht'at" an ancient Yorkshire song. We instantly joined in and brought the house down. Laughing the guy introduced himself Major General Sitiveni Rabuka (OBE, MSD, OSTJ, MP) who happened to be the dude who was in charge of the 1987 bloodless coup and instigator of lots of doodies. He also represented Fiji at 1974 commonwealth games in shotput, hammer, discus and decathlon, and now he's the leader of the opposition party, yet here he was having a raucous singsong with us piss 'eads! Who next? Theresa May?
The food here was amazing and so cheap, well if it's good enough for Sitiveni Rabuka....
Everything was so convenient and living so easy we honestly didn't want to go any further. However with around 322 islands to explore we thought it best we saw a little bit more of Fiji. There are so many cruising options in Fiji and each one with a different look and feel. We had an end game in sight and decided to make our way slowly over to the big island of Viti Levu, doing day hops of no more than 50 miles. Taking the northern route, we estimated that it should take us 8 days to get to our next marina at Musket Cove. The first few days of our cruise were fantastic with calm seas remote islands and spectacular scenery.
We had a great sail on our first day to Namena Reef, and we really did sail most of the way!
We were the only boat at Namena, unfortunately the snorkeling wasn't great and a lot of the reef seemed dead, most likely as a result of Cyclone Winston in 2016. We were however surrounded by birdlife, with red footed boobies and tropic birds calling the island home
The second day saw us arrive at Makogai, entering the reef was a little intimidating with strong currents and a large breaking reef by the entrance. It didn't help that you couldn't see the north side of the pass at all so you had to trust in the charts and waypoints which thankfully proved accurate
Makogai was once a leprosarium for the whole of Pacific Island region and used to have a small village and a clam hatchery and turtle breeding station in Dalice Bay, however since cyclone Winston ripped through there is little left - just a few houses occupied by one family and some tanks that are the remains of the hatchery.
There were still some giant clams in the bay, these beauties were all more than 3ft long
The next morning saw some cloud and rain setting in so we decided to skip the island of Naigani and head straight to Viti Levu Bay where we could hold up for a few days if needed
We spent a wonderfully calm night at Viti Levu Bay, it also showed the signs of Winston's passing with the trees on the top of the outcrops stripped to bare poles. We fancied staying on a bit here as the villagers had already buzzed us and brought out their children to say Bula!
We awoke to a perfectly still morning but we knew the weather was going to change so we decided to push on around the corner to Volivoli whilst the conditions were benign as this passage is notorious for accelerated winds
Threading our way through the reefs was pretty nerve wracking until we had confidence in the accuracy of the charts and it's a good job to! Once upon a time the inside reef route was delineated with numerous reef markers aiding navigation but many are now gone and most in need of repair. Any stick, sticking out the mud, is now something to be wary of. Often a reef would not be apparent until you were just a few meters away. Despite the accuracy of the charts Kym spent much of the route standing on the bowsprit looking out for anything uncharted.
We had some really strange weather conditions, everything was very still and grey and it became difficult to distinguish between the sea and sky
Many of the reef markers were in need of a little TLC
A lot of the markers had disappeared completely but some of the reefs were quite easy to spot at low tide
We were glad the charts were accurate as once the tide had risen a couple of feet without the markers it was hard to see the reef
Our idyllic cruise was shattered on our fourth night as we lay at anchor just off Volivoli resort in the north east of the big island. We were in a notorious wind acceleration zone. Still the forecast was for only 10kts. We had just gone to bed when the howling started. Suddenly our quiet bay turned into a frothy cauldron and the wind started gusting 35kts. Not much sleep was had that night as Phylis bucked and tugged on her anchor. Dawn saw us underway as soon as possible to get out the wind zone and sure enough after a couple of hours the wind died down and conditions returned to normal.
Passing Ellington Wharf on the way to Volivoli point
One of the resorts close to Volivoli point
Sunrise at Volivoli point with the wind ripping up the bay
The north coast of Viti Levu is pretty remote and the scenery very spectacular. Unfortunately, there are no sheltered anchorages here so we pushed on to get around to the west coast to where most cruisers end up. As we sailed by the ugly commercial port of Lautoka we could only hope that things would improve. Of course they did!
Cruising along the North coast of Viti Levu still trying to get away from that pesky acceleration zone
Spectacular scenery along the north coast
Approaching Lautoka we were greeted by an abandoned cruise ship left to rust on a mooring
Lautoka is a commercial port and not very cruiser friendly, however it is a port of entry and there were several sailboats anchored near the sugar can processing plant
We spent a night at Saweni Bay which is a bit of a staging post while boats wait to get into the various marinas. It was a bit of a shock to be surrounded by other boats. Suddenly Fiji had got popular.
The day after we carried on to Musket Cove Marina. It's a very tight med moor job and with no assistance somehow Phylis managed to stop on the right spot, drop her anchor and with a series of forward and reverse maneuvers, back very nicely into her slot. Way to go Phylis!!
Approaching Malololailai and Musket Cove in perfect conditions, flat seas and sunny skies
Cruising through the reefs to enter Musket Cove where we needed to find a free mooring while we waited for mid-rising tide in order to enter the marina
Phylis on the dock, med-moored, at Musket Cove Marina - and yet again the bar is only 100ft away
So here we are then. Musket Cove is a luxury resort as well as a marina and as marina guests we get full use of all the facilities. Paradise we have found and we aint moving for quite a while!
Looking out across Musket Cover Resort to the small marina and mooring field, mega yachts anchor out beyond the moorings - the large power boat is the 78m Dragonfly, supposedly the fastest mega yacht in the world and owned by one of the founders of Google
The island has a series of trails you can walk or cycle, but when crossing the end of the landing strip don't forget to check for planes!