After the drama of getting our daughter Emily back to Australia we set off early in the morning for our last overseas destination of New Caledonia. We were on a tight timeline as we needed to be back in Australia by November to arrive before the onset of the cyclone season, which meant only a couple of weeks in New Caledonia. Our first anchorage was gorgeous and we felt quite nostalgic for some of the previous anchorages we had discovered – this one was particularly beautiful and we still, after all these years, feel very privileged to have had these opportunities.
We sailed into Port Resolution in the southern Vanuatian island of Tanna at about 9pm in the pitch black! There was no moon, no stars and no lights from the land so we just dropped anchor and hoped for the best. The next morning we moved deeper into the bay and realised what a wonderful anchorage we had chosen. There were only a couple of other boats who had also come from Fiji.
We arrived at the island of Drawaqa as we wanted to swim with the manta rays that inhabit the channel between the two islands. There are two resorts here – one is a flash and expensive and the other less so. Both are very welcoming to cruisers which we really appreciate as it gives us an opportunity to act like real tourists! We spent a few memorable nights here with Rosie Skye & Genesis playing Mexican Train Dominoes, eating pizzas, drinking cocktails, and watching sunsets hoping to see a green flash. One night we think we saw one but….. nothing like the ones we saw in the Caribbean.
The snorkelling was great with a plethora of fish and recovering corals, a nice change from the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. Twice we went to see the manta rays and both times they were hiding from us so we were glad we saw them up close in French Polynesia. The weather was perfect – not too hot or muggy and our days were spent in the warm water enjoying the R & R.
We sailed into Savu Savu on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji at about 9am leaving plenty of time to check in within working hours. With our COVID tests done, and customs and immigration paperwork completed, we were free to go ashore by about 2pm. Savu Savu is the largest town on this island but it’s very small. We were surprised and pleased to see ANZ and Westpac banks and IGA supermarkets! We did the usual jobs when first arriving in a new country – ie took out cash, sorted out internet and sourced the supermarket and hardware shops – we were then able to relax and settle into our new Fijian life.
There are 5 archipelagos in French Polynesia. The Gambiers, The Marquesas, The Tuamotos, The Australs, and The Society Islands. Papeete the capital, is in the Society’s and also French Polynesia’s most famous island Bora Bora is in the Society’s. Most people who come to French Polynesia fly into Tahiti and then fly straight to Bora Bora which is a shame as there are so many more islands to see but because they are spread over such an enormous area it’s hard for people to see much more. We sailed into Tahiti and dropped anchor in the airport anchorage. We had to call the authorities and get permission to sail past the airport as we can’t go past if a plane is due. The anchorage was about 3 kms from the town but it was huge and comfortable and we anchored in only 2 meters so it appeared that we were floating in mid air.
We arrived at the pass of Raroia around 11 and Ian jumped in the dinghy to check out the current which had to be slack and preferably inflowing. As I watched, I realised I was more worried than I had ever been since living on board. The last time we had entered a pass we lost an engine and we had been warned about the dangers of getting through passes so I was really nervous. Ian came back all smiles and shouted ‘piece of cake’. We then proceeded to sail through without any problems at all. We were inside this beautiful lagoon and all we needed to do was find an anchorage. We were the only boat so had lots of choices and dropped anchor just off the village. There are bommies everywhere in the Tuamotos islands – and it’s highly recommended you float your chain. This means you need to add a heavy duty float every 5 or so meters to lift the chain from the bottom to prevent getting it entangled in the coral. Problem was we had no floats but we’re told that they often wash up on the shore and we may be in luck finding one, so we set off to walk the shore hunting for a float. The shore line is all coral so we needed sturdy shoes and within about 20 minutes we had found about 20 – we chose the five best ones and took them back and floated the chain. Now we were all set to go and explore.
We were quite pleased to eventually arrive somewhere where they had a boatyard so that we could get our engine fixed, our rigging report and be on our way. We only had a three month visa and many islands and atolls yet to explore so we thought we would be here for just 3 or 4 days….. How wrong were we!
The day after we arrived the boatyard sent out a couple of guys to check our rig and engine. The first bad news was that they couldn’t determine exactly what was wrong but the second bad news completely shocked us. They found a couple of broken strands in the starboard shroud – the stainless steel wire that hold a the mast up. Shrouds are made up of about 20 strands but when one breaks it weakens the others and has to be replaced. Ian had checked them before we left for the Galapagos so it must have broken since then. He then went up the mast and saw that the other parts of the rigging were starting to look worn. This meant we couldn’t sail any further as the risk of being dismasted was too great. We also couldn’t motor with one engine – it’s fine when you are going fast but slowly you just go round and round! No good for anchoring and getting into a marina. Both huge money of course…
Sailing from The Galapagos or Panama to French Polynesia is the longest stretch any curcumnavigator will do without landfall. It is one of the rites of passage and can take anywhere between 20 – 40 days depending on the winds. Halfway across we would be as far you are can be from humans as possible on the planet – not a place to have anything go wrong with your boat so we had checked and re-checked everything and felt confident we would be ok. One last check of the weather and with a beautiful sunny day, excellent winds and a fully stocked boat we were off…. this would be our longest sail of over 3,000nms to the stunning islands of French Polynesia. We had planned on going to Nuku Hiva but opted instead to go to Gambier – a group of islands further south as we knew we would not have backtracked to see them if we had gone straight to Nuku Hiva.
We had a good sail from the Las Perlas islands and had a few visitors en route. We were joined by lots of red footed boobies who would not leave – even when we put the hose on them… initially they were lovely to watch but as our boat got more and more covered in their crap – we decided they had to leave and that’s when the battle of wills began. Eventually we won and they did leave, but they hung around for ages!
We arrived back in Panama after an uneventful sail from Cuba and anchored for the night in the anchorage outside Shelter Bay Marina. The next morning we went in to check in and find our pen as we were going to be here until we crossed through to the Pacific.