The World ARC 2014 Blog, Tonga to Fiji
The Kingdom of Tonga was named the friendly isles by Captain Cook, who was in many ways ahead of his time, or perhaps he began a self fulfilling prophecy. Today they are indeed some of the friendliest people we have come across but back when he anchored in the bay in 1777 and was invited to and entertained at local feast, the plan was it would be his last! The feast was a ruse, by gathering all the sailors together, they could be more easily dispatched and the ships looted! Local chief Finau couldn't agree with his nobles on the details of Capt Cooks earthly demise and he left non the wiser. Not quite so lucky was the crew of the ship Port au Prince who in 1806 was attacked and looted with the loss of all hands, but one - William Mariner, who believed to be the captains son was taken in by the chief Finau and became his political aid - he wrote a good book!
Anyway here we are, in the northern group of islands around Vavau, the shape of which creates protected channels for sailing without waves or swell and dotted in amongst are smaller islands with sandy beaches and coral reefs, lots of vegetation and small hills. It is really rather picture perfect. There are no resorts or developments to be seen, just the occasional village living a subsistence life style with pigs and piglets everywhere.
There is no tourism to speak of here, and apart from the ex pats bars and restaurants in the main 'town' there is no interest in a tourist industry - which is refreshing! Cycling through a local village, people seem genuinely interested in what you're doing, why we are here, no one offers anything for sale, or asks for anything in return. After trying our luck at a rather muddy track, which proved impassable, the local children were very amused at the state of us and our bikes but quickly produced a hose pipe and helped clean us down. Obviously well brought up and told not to accept sweets from strangers they turned down our proffered chocolate cookies!
Back on the water having said good bye to Gerard, Chris and David and welcomed back onboard Birgit (Dan's mum) we have began cruising around. Our first stop was Port Maurelle, this is one of the few places Em managed to stop on her Skye 51 pacific delivery in 2007, the spark that began choosing Skyelark and this adventure. From there we dinghied into Swallow's cave which through a narrow entrance opens up into a tiny harbour, beyond which is a larger dry chamber that was used for noble feasts. A small opening above creates dramatic lighting and allowed food and drinks to be passed down to the guests. On from there we snorkelled around the island of Nuku, whose white sand beach entertained our very own Queen Elizabeth and whose waters were host to the most vibrant purple starfish and yellow coral we have seen. Next stop Tapana, on which we found the restaurant Paella, a little piece of Spanish paradise, which if in Spain would have a million euro view! We ambled up the path serenaded by flamenco guitar and were greeted by Chiquita the tame house goat! The menu looked great, and the food smelled sublime, a set menu of 8 courses of tapas, followed by Paella and home made desert! Imagine our dismay when we learnt they need 24 hours notice and they are booked up until Tuesday! So now we find ourselves anchored in turquoise waters, off the private resort and kite beach of Mounu island, and we are booked in for supper!
Adieu to Fiji and Skyelark
In her earlier blog Debbie has talked very eloquently about the important culture and rituals of Fiji and I don't really need to say more on the topic. We have all been humbled by the warm welcome of villagers to strangers arriving on their shores and demanding to be taken to the leader.......Makogai and the village of Soso are poignant reminders of local Fijians happy to open their villages and schools for our visits. But just as the remote villages typify the true Fijian lifestyle, it was delightful to reach modern bustling Port Denarau where we docked for a few days to carry out some essential maintenance. The marina was well supplied with modern stores, wifi, laundry and the essential cappuccino and ice cream. While Dan and Em were busy onboard the rest of us visited the nearby town of Nadi, sufficiently untouched by tourism to offer a wonderful cheap fruit and vegetable market, lively shops and the pre-eminent Hindu temple in the South Pacific. We garbed ourselves in borrowed sarongs for modesty and watched a 'pooja' ceremony before enjoying a lovely vegetarian lunch. After 3 days in the Port there were claw marks on the pontoon as we were dragged away from Lulus Bar and free wifi but the Yasawa chain of islands awaited. Arriving off the island of Waya, the Bower family sized up the mountain pinnacle of the islands Sleeping Giant and excitedly planned their next big adventure. Knowing that for me the ascent would simply be a repetition of watching them disappear like mountain goats into the distance I opted for a quiet morning on the boat. Waya also offered us a delightful snorkel opportunity with stunning branch and brain coral and many coral reef fishes. Absent an unfortunate jellyfish encounter it's easy to see why its popular with visitors. The next day, further around the coast we landed at Soso and went through the traditional kava ceremony before visiting the school, village, houses and buying some crafts. The villagers had more modern homes, beautifully manicured lawns and a well maintained school, probably the benefit of popular tourist resorts and the resulting employment.
Leaving the Yasawas we sailed onwards towards Vuda Point where we planned a walk to the marina and ice cream. On route as we entered calm waters Dan began to plan a man overboard exercise. Right on cue a large bull shark appeared in the water beside us, one of few wildlife sightings. Suddenly there were no volunteers for the exercise and it was postponed...... But we motored onwards through narrow reef points which we knew had recently grounded a catamaran and during this time it became common to see Dan up the mast guiding us through. Deprived of the opportunity to launch his mother Birgitte into shark infested waters, Dan eventually sent her up the mast instead - I watched enviously as years of climbing had her scurrying up the mast like a seasoned foretopman...
At Vuda Point our ice cream search was rewarded after a three mile stroll down a narrow single gauge railway line and a lively (some might say heated) discussion regarding its usage. We narrowly avoided bloodshed before confirming it was still used during the sugar cane harvest beginning next month...
I leave Skyelark tomorrow after 5 months on board and several thousand miles of ocean beneath (although Im returning at the end of July to sail onwards to Vanuatu and Australia) Being part of the World Arc has given me the chance to see and visit bigger, newer yachts perhaps with more shiny "mod cons" and push button everything. But Skyelark combines an amazing sailing history, real character and solid endurance. Dan and Em provide a masterclass of professionalism, patience and great humour which in turn means a happy vibrant mix of crew. I wouldnt have done this trip on any other boat and I couldnt have done it without them...