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Notes on New Zealand, Sailing to Fiji,
and Cruising in Fiji

Frank Robben - August 1988

Tutakaka is one of the many indentations on the East coast of Northern New Zealand, a beautiful and well protected harbor with a small marina. Quite a few tourist fishing and diving boats operate from here, the Poor Knights islands and the Hen and Chicken islands, not too many miles offshore, are well known for their fishing and diving opportunities. And it is a small enclave of both foreign and Kiwi cruising yachts, a quiet and beautiful place to call a temporary home. Kialoa had been in Tutukaka since March after finishing the paint repairs and touchup at Austral Marine in Whangarei, the major shopping and commercial city of the Northern portion of the North Island of New Zealand.

In April Cynthia and I, with Maria (now a precocious 10) toured New Zealand by car, staying in motels and Holiday Parks. A beautiful country, lots of farming, sheep especially, cattle and some deer. Prosperous, little poverty, the Southland has beautiful rain forest on the west coast, deep fjords and high mountains. And two glaciers that come down into the rain forest almost to sea level. We went as far south as possible and took a ferry to Stuart Island where we stayed for two days.

The names of the cities and places relate to the old country. Dunedin, Invercargill, Christchurch, the islands of the Marlborough Sounds, and beautiful Milford Sound at the northern end of Fjordland National Park, a well deserved World Heritage sight. A wonderful trip, I had not previously toured on land at that length to simply see the sights.

In May I returned to my home town Dixon, California. to visit my mother (now 90) and stepfather, and to attend to bothersome items such as income tax. Cynthia and Maria stayed on Kialoa at Tutukaka, Maria went to the local school at Ngunguru and Cynthia made a number of friends among the local people, especially those living on yachts. Winter encroached, lots of rain, cooler (but not cold) and shorter days. And Cynthia adjusted to driving our right hand drive car on the left side of the road, even venturing to navigate the 33 Km to Whangarei on a narrow, curving road often traveled by impatient commuters who will tailgate (by California standards) and pass on curves that I would not attempt.

In June I returned to New Zealand and began the round of maintenance for Kialoa for our voyage to Hawaii. However, a pleasant time, jogging in the early mornings along the bluff which leads out to the sea, and dinners and drinks with various friends. We especially enjoyed three Sri Lankan families that had settled in Whangarei, nice people, and Cynthia and Maria loved the chance to eat spicy Sri Lanka meals (which I also enjoy). Many small adventures, life passes pleasantly under such circumstances. We meet many interesting people and one gets glimpses into the character of the lives of others, families, children, their interests and passions, and often the adjustments they have had to make. And the feeling of the New Zealand countryside and people, after 6 months it seems more like home and we are somewhat sad to leave. Yet still the fact of our leaving, our temporary status, gives everything a special appeal, we perhaps see our friends in a brighter light, and are perceived in a similar manner.

It is always interesting how the various problems and conflicts seem to work out, with a steady push in a reasonable direction all the difficulties that could be perceived (and the ones unperceived) somehow are resolved with generally minor changes and adjustments. Cynthia's oldest son Anthony finally quit his job in Dixon, got a New Zealand Visa and arrived a couple of days before we left. His first time to really go sailing. A Scandinavian couple, Steinar and Birgitta on the yacht "Maria 2" were going to accompany us to Fiji. Then it turned out that the repairs they had anticipated were necessary to their yacht were only a few days job. We relieved them of their obligation to sail with us, felt we were a bit short on crew, and then a New Zealand couple who had previously wanted to sail with us to Pitcairn decided to join us. And so we had a nice crew, 5 adults and two children.

On 11 July, a rainy day, we left cold New Zealand and headed out into a somewhat rough South Atlantic ocean. Everyone except me, the captain, suffered from seasickness - why I was spared I do not know. We managed to leave at a time when we avoided any strong storm fronts moving through from Australia and the Tasman Sea and had a good and fairly comfortable trip. A fair amount of headwind so it was not too fast, but nice beam winds towards the end so that we flew along through the softer tropical nights and days. The air and water warmed a bit every day while the Southern Cross dropped in the sky. The southern sky seems more brilliant with richer stars than the northern sky, and I spent some time reviewing the constellations and stars which I seem to forget too easily these days.

Anthony had luck fishing and caught a pair of nice Mahi Mahi, promptly filleted and frozen, as well as a small tuna. Seven days out we sighted the southern island of Kandavu, rounded its tip and reefs, and almost 8 days out, 19 July, we anchored in Suva - ready for another culture, a page turned on our New Zealand life and a new page ready to be written on our experiences in Fiji.

Suva is the bustling capital of Fiji, more than 150,000 people, the largest of the South Pacific Islands. The Royal Suva Yacht Club is very hospitable to foreign yachts and help greatly to make staying in Suva a pleasant experience. We stayed a few days and then sailed the short distance to the nearby island of Beqa, to see the tropical island and beaches, and coral reefs with the multitudes of species of brilliantly colored tropical fish, and to visit a local Fijiian village.

And we had an example of what can happen when sailing - there were light winds before leaving so I put up the full mainsail and working jib, expecting a fairly easy downwind 3 hour sail. Once out the wind picked up considerably so we were going at nearly top speed, with somewhat too much sail to be comfortable but still OK. We rather quickly caught an Australian boat who left about an hour before us (and with whom we had shared drinks the night before). I called and teased them a bit "Are you dragging your anchor?" and, being Aussies, they had some snide remark in turn to make.

The seas had come up quite a bit, no problem, except I thought to be a bit concerned about our inflatable dinghy which we were towing. As I glance at it, it surged forward a bit on a wave, lifted on the windward side and a gust turned it over. I immediately submarined and broke the two towing lines - and our dinghy was lost! Luckily I had the foresight to remove the motor and gas tank, but the oars were in it.

So we had a "man overboard drill", in the rather large seas we rounded up Kialoa, dropped the jib, started the engine, dropped the main and headed back to find our dinghy, now long out of sight. When we lost the dinghy I saved the position on our satellite navigation receiver, called GPS, so that we could return fairy closely to that position. Our Australian friends, seeing us drop sails, called to find out what happened and offered to help look, but that was not necessary so they rather gloriously passed us. My just desserts for ribbing them about Kialoa's greater speed! We found the dinghy within 1/2 hour, hauled it aboard. Little damage except for the loss of the oars.

Had I been more alert, we could have pulled the dinghy close to Kialoa and avoided the submerging incident. But even better we should have deflated it and stored it on board.

It was rather windy in our anchorage in Beqa, with occasional rain squalls. But still very tropical and beautiful. We took our dinghy to the village, and one of the first ladies who came out of her house greeted us and took us to the chief so we could make the traditional request for permission to visit the village and anchor in their waters. This is a somewhat ceremonial occasion, with our presentation of a small gift of kava root to the chief, and perhaps 10 minutes of polite conversation. We did this in company with friends from another yacht. We found out there was a small hotel near to the village, and that there was to be a traditional firewalking ceremony performed by the villagers from the other side of Beqa that afternoon. And also a wedding at the hotel, and we were offered to be taken their by one of the sons of the chief, and also the nice lady who initially had greeted us.

This turned out to be a very interesting experience, they really seemed to walk on the hot stones that had been turned up out of the firepit. The wedding was between two foreigners, but was traditional Fijiian with a Methodist minister, very colorful. Singing by the church choir, very harmonious, and followed by traditional meke dancing. Unfortunately we had forgotten to bring out camera!

After another day at Beqa, we left early morning (4:00 AM) and headed west along the coast. On this day no wind and we used the engine the entire distance, passing through Navalu Passage into the protected western waters of Fiji about 2:00 PM and dropping anchor off the Vuda Pt. Marina by 4:00 PM.

Our friends the Adams who had sailed with us from New Zealand left here to return to their home and jobs, and we spent several days sanding and varnishing the external teak trim on Kialoa. Cynthia has become quite skilled with brushwork and did all the varnishing herself. And, as usual, we socialized with our yachting friends, some whom we had not seen since New Zealand.

Next we went to the island of Malolo Lailai - known as "Musket Cove" among the yachting set. There are two resorts on the island, and the owner of Musket Cove holds the door open to yachts - which is not so commonly the case with resorts on tropical islands who cater to guests who fly in. A beautiful anchorage, nice beaches and coral, only warm and no rain. The heat at this time of the year, winter here, is not uncomfortable and there is usually a refreshing breeze. We met up with friends from New Zealand on the yacht "Gungha", who have two teenage daughters. So Maria and Anthony were at home, friends to have fun, barbecues on the beach, windsurfing available, fishing and snorkeling. A good time.

And now we are anchored off Lautoka, the second largest city in Fiji. Shopping for food and supplies, welding repair to a pole. We have had dinner with an Indian family who work a small sugar cane farm - one of the brothers is a taxi driver for additional income - and have met the husband and daughter of a Fijiian lady who I met in my hometown of Dixon two years ago. A friend of my brother lives here and we had dinner with her two days ago - busy social life. The kids want to go to movies, Cynthia wants to buy trinkets, I want to fix things on Kialoa. And I found a place to get on the internet with my laptop - 40 pieces of email and now this addition to my web site.

It is interesting to reflect on this way of life - although I have lived on and sailed Kialoa for 13 years I have never had this sort of relaxed cruising with no imminent schedule. And we have only minor maintenance so I really can have quite a bit of time. Cynthia tends to busy herself with cooking, cleaning and sorting the endless items that seem to appear on board. I like to busy myself with repairs and future plans, I probably love more the energy and challenge of preparing for a trip than just relaxing and "hanging out". Under these circumstances I feel I tend to vegetate, read novels and magazines, put off writing, repairs, planning. And then not feel quite so satisfied and find myself being a bit sharp with the kids and Cynthia. I have this feeling that I should be doing more, finding a more important purpose.