Having failed to find a seven or eight day weather window of easterlies for the thousand odd nautical miles to Vanatu we gave up looking and grabbed the first set of easterlies coming along to head west to Tonga’s neighbour Fiji. It’s a three day trip of four hundred and thirty nautical miles via the Oneata Passage between the reef encircled Southern Lau islands, longer if you take the more northerly Nanuku Passage that has the advantage of being wider and if they are working, light houses. After studying the wind and the journey timings Temptress’ navigator settled on the Oneata Passage as we could arrive east of there at dawn and it would mean a downwind leg north to the Fijian island of Vanua Levu and the town of Savusavu which is a port of entry.
Fijian paperwork is a nightmare – yachties have to submit in advance a C2C form eight pages long declaring everything from our last ten ports to our cruising itinerary for Fiji to our mother’s shoe size. Well not the last item but you get the idea. Greg at Tropicana Cafe in Vava’u is happy to help scan and email this plus a copy of the skipper’s passport and a photo of the yacht to the Fijian authorities for the princely sum of Twenty Pa’anga (about £6 sterling) which as he also helps with advice on how to fill in the more obscure sections of the form is a bargain. It took us an afternoon!
Around ten boats checked out of Tonga on Friday morning, some like us taking advantage of the duty free fuel at around 32 pence sterling a litre, making this some of the cheapest we’ve purchased since Morocco; Temptress set off with full tanks. Having motored around the corner and dropped the hook for an hour or so to have lunch and sort ourselves and the boat out we said farewell to Tonga in the early afternoon and followed the Swedish yacht Else sailing west. Their destination is the capital Suva on Viti Levu the largest of the Fijian islands via the same Oneata Passage. We passed them early evening and during the night the lights of Tallulah Ruby steadily overhauled us. With the winds on Saturday ranging from a fitful F5 from the south east to a bare breath of wind from the east both boats seemed to be alternating sailing and motoring when we spoke on the VHF. Saturday night we mostly motored and experienced some heavy showers of rain most watches.
Around 5am Tongan time (GMT +13) on Sunday as the moon set in a blaze of gold below the thick clouds we approached the east end of the passage. Tallulah Ruby has been this way last year and carried on. We out of prudence stood off for half an hour or so then stood back in again reaching our approach waypoint just as the dawn broke behind us. Carefully as the sun rose we steered Temptress into the five mile gap between the reef encircled Oneata island and the tiny atoll of Cakau Lekaleka (C is pronounced th as in that) to the south that we never spotted despite searching the waters abeam of us for breaking waves. Fijian islands are low lying and wooded much like those of Vava’u; the island of Moce further south rises to 160m whilst Oneata’s highest point is just 51m.
A large fish snatched our line sending the reel screeching out as it bucked and jumped. Sadly the wire leader on the lure snapped before we could retrieve our catch, another large lure gone. Tallulah Ruby told us later that they’d hooked a tuna and would be enjoying sashimi for lunch. We listened in as the other boats chatted at noon on the SSB, Stephane and Ilja on Sabir had taken the more northern passage. We also heard Bravado and we think Dulcinea both of whom estimated they will arrive on Monday. There was a snippet of conversation about Fijian quarantine wanting to spray boats for insects, presumably not wanting any potential zykia or dengue ridden mossies to enter Fiji. We’ll find out no doubt when we arrive on Monday afternoon, along with the other great unknowns of how much fruit, veg and other galley stores will be impounded and will we be able to keep our supplies of spirits which possibly exceed Fiji’s strict duty free allowances?