Time in Fiji and Australia close out a cross-Pacific adventure for a happily cruising duet aboard a boat named, yep, Duet.
Upon arrival in Savusavu, our plans immediately underwent a change, because Ron got the local Savusavu flu bug. We’ve found that we are more susceptible to microbes in other countries, and our U.S. flu shot obviously didn’t work here. He got pretty sick, four to five days of running a temperature to 102 degrees and at least 10 days of coughing after that. Nancy, fortunately, only got the cough and Sean didn’t get anything, since he was still recovering from whatever he caught on the plane flight to Bora Bora.
The check-in process in Fiji was rather drawn out, especially as we were out of the reach of our agent. She was able, however, to prevent a bit of a mess with Customs when we first arrived, thank goodness. Fijian Customs requires you to send your nine-page form at least several days in advance of your arrival. Nancy had sent ours to our agent at least a month in advance, and she had forwarded them to Savusavu. So far, so good.
When we arrived, however, said form was nowhere to be found — or at least nowhere that our local Customs official was looking for it. Significant fines were mentioned, but we were able to get our agent on the phone and she got it straightened out. After that, it was relatively smooth sailing.
Soon after this, the weather moderated, Duet unwound herself from the commercial buoy, we recovered our dock lines from their role as dock tethers — a dock in the marina had broken loose and quick action by visitors and staff prevented damage to any boats — and set off for Port Denarau. The weather hadn’t moderated much, honestly. We saw winds in the mid-30s all way across the pass to the northern end of Vitu Levu, which is the main large island of Fiji. Duet chugged happily along, with conditions reminiscent of our 11-day trip from Bora Bora, but at least they only lasted about 10 hours this time.
The following morning we set off through the Makogai Channel toward Nagani Island. Just northeast of Nagani we crossed to the channel behind the reef that surrounds Viti Levu and began picking our way around to Port Denarau, which was about 85 miles away. The easiest way to reach Port Denarau from Savusavu is to continue up Broad Passage, through the Vatu-I-Ra Channel and along Bligh Water, but the Ra Channel acts as a serious wind funnel — winds were already in the high 20s early in the morning, which meant they could hit 40 knots in the Ra — so we gave it a pass and started along the rather opaque and poorly marked inside channel toward Nananu-I-Thake Island.
We traveled slowly and carefully to the anchorage off Nananu-I-Thake the first day. It turned out to be a kitesurfer’s paradise, with at least a half dozen kites in the air as we came around the corner, with more poised to take off. Duet rumbled serenely through them, although one rider did manage to fall off right in front of us.
Ron maneuvered carefully around him. We dropped the hook and spent a pleasant night in a beautiful anchorage we wish we could have spent more time in. “We wish we had more time” was the story of our first month in Fiji, between the delays in Savusavu and the need to reach Port Denarau and get Duet settled before we flew home, we didn’t see much. What we saw though, made us want to see more when we returned in September.
Our arrival in Port Denarau was relatively easy, as we arrived early in the day from a nearby anchorage. Our slip neighbor, who came later in the day, fell afoul of the brisk afternoon land breeze and had a rather eventful docking, getting a line tangled in his bow thruster and subsequently losing control of his bow, which then headed straight for Duet. No one was injured and Duet was not harmed, as the captain’s wife, at much risk to herself, fended off their bow pulpit as it slid down Duet’s port side.
Once all that excitement was over, we met with our agent, Jo, and set up various services,
including having Duet washed and hiring a diver to change her zincs. Ron had injured his ear diving in Tahiti and so hadn’t changed them. It turned out that our diver had never changed a zinc before, but, as he said when he arrived, “No worries, I watched it on YouTube, so it’s all good.” We generally found all our Fijian workers to be like that: willing, friendly and anxious to learn. Several came down to see Duet’s dive hookah in use, as they had not seen one before.
Several days later we the dock. We planned to travel through the Mamanucas and the Yasawas, which are a contiguous island chain between Viti Levu and the outer reef. These islands are quite close to the marina, and are about 100 miles long from end to end.
First we stopped at the famous Musket Cove Resort, where the annual Fiji Regatta is held. Like Papeete, Musket Cove is a gathering spot for boats from all over the world, so we saw a lot of different home-country flags. The regatta was held the week before we returned and Musket Cove was still pretty crowded, although the anchorage is quite large.
We anchored Duet some way from t he primary anchorage, in deep water, and offloaded the dinghy. Our first step was to join the Musket Cove Yacht Club for $10 Fijian ($5 U.S.), which gave us the run of the property. And a nice property it was, with multiple restaurants, a pool with a great bar and miles of hiking trails on the island. A number of high-end houses are being built at Musket Cove, and it has the feel of a resort on its way up.
We arranged to do some scuba diving with Subsurface Fiji. Our time in the South Pacific has rekindled our interest in diving, which we hadn’t really done since our time in the Caribbean some 20 years ago. We did a checkout dive at the Plantation Pinnacles, which was a fascinating rock formation in the middle of the sand.
The Pinnacles were surrounded by colorful fish, and at the bottom, at a depth of about 80 feet, was a tunnel we all swam through several times. That was a first for us and we really enjoyed it. The highlight of this dive, however, was the schooling behavior of the local amber jacks, which love the divers’ bubbles. A hundred or more of them traveled in a tight clockwise funnel just above our head while we lay on our back looking up.
This experience of Fiji’s world-famous diving kept us at Musket Cove for several days, while we dove local sites such as the Supermarket, known for its sharks, and the Malolu Wall, which had some amazing fish. Soon enough, however, we felt we should move on and see something of the Yasawas, so we raised the anchor one morning and trundled north, bound for one of the many anchorages in the Yasawa chain.
When visiting one of the outlying islands, it is common to go ashore to the nearest village and perform sevusevu, a ceremony during which the village chief grants you permission to visit the island, fish the waters and anchor. Visitors, in return, gift the chief something, often kava root, a local delicacy that is made into a mildly intoxicating drink.
We didn’t actually visit a village, as we didn’t anchor near any, but the villagers in Somosomo came out to us. We bought fruit from them and Ron gave them some line and tubing to fix a spear. Everyone was quite happy with the exchange.
Over the next couple of weeks we visited various places, including the Blue Lagoon that Brooke Shields made so famous years ago in the film of the same name. We didn’t do any more diving, but we did a lot of snorkeling and general hanging out on the hook. We even tried, twice, to find the sunken airplane snorkeling site that everyone talked about, but that was not to be. The path across the island from the Somosomo anchorage was so overgrown that we got lost every time we tried to get anywhere, but we did get some really good exercise bushwhacking our way in and out of the center of the island.
While we were cruising the Yasawas, a true miracle occurred: Nancy caught a fish. Actually, she caught several, proving it wasn’t a fluke. For some reason, fishing on Duet has not been successful thus far, even though we hauled in many a mahi mahi aboard the previous Duet (a Nordhavn 46). Nancy, as usual, consulted the local fishermen before we departed for the Yasawas, and they told her, “Spanish mackerel are biting on the red/white Rapala lures.” So in went our red/white Rapala lure and, bingo, out came a Spanish mackerel.
Ron was astounded, Nancy was vindicated and we had several great meals. Then, perchance, we happened to research the incidence of ciguatera — a type of nerve poisoning caused by eating certain reef fish — in Fiji. Turns out that larger Spanish mackerel have been implicated in cases of ciguatera in Fiji. Ron banned all Spanish mackerel aboard Duet immediately. But the jinx was broken and Nancy expects to catch many fish on this Duet in the future. In the meantime, she enjoyed running various lure combinations in search of a tuna, while returning all Spanish mackerel, unharmed, to the deep.
To cross Wide Bay Bar, you make a hard starboard turn, between 6- to 8-foot seas breaking on the shoals to either side. It’s almost impossible to see the turn until you are right on top of it. We were doing just fine, although conditions were worsening as we got closer to the exit. The main engine temperature was steady at about eight degrees higher than normal and we were pretty comfortable. Nothing had come loose, and the boat was running quietly, except for the crashing as the bulbous bow hammered through the short seas. We hung on and trusted Duet to get us there.
Ron made the turn perfectly and lined up between the shoals, where depths were about 11 feet, as expected. We could see the calm water beyond the exit and the shoaling. At that point the main navigation computer crashed, so the screen in front of him went blank. We could see outside, but it is easy to get disoriented when making a turn like this, as the channel is not really visible in all the sloshing water from the shoaling all around the exit. There were no buoys on this bar, because the shoaling makes it impractical to use them.
Ron was hand-steering Duet at this point. Normally we let the autopilot handle the boat, as it can steer much straighter than we can — it takes into account currents that push the boat off course — but this was a tight, rolly, confused exit and the autopilot doesn’t do so well with those, especially if the set course is very short, which this one was.
Duet hand-steers pretty well, once you get used to her, but it takes some practice to keep her going straight. Fortunately the seas were ahead and on her beam, rather than behind her, as stern seas make her harder to control. Also, Ron has had a lot of practice guiding her in and out of tight entrances during the last two years, so he is pretty dialed in to how she will behave in a given situation.
Ron kept steering the compass course he had before the computer crashed, while Nancy rebooted the balky system and confirmed he was doing OK by following our course on the laptop, which was to his right. It’s hard to steer straight while looking right, so he stuck with the compass, which was right in front of him, while Nancy watched our progress on the laptop. The main system came back up relatively quickly, Ron confirmed we were still going the right way and out we bashed, into calm waters off the Australian coast.
We had a quiet evening, ate at one of Mooloolaba’s many fine dining establishments and slept late the next morning. At that point we found out that not only is Panacea [a Nordhavn 50 owned by friends of the Goldbergs] based in Mooloolaba Marina, but so is the Nordhavn 46 Kanaloa, which is a bit of a legend in Nordhavn circles, because the boat and its owners, Heidi and Wolfgang, have circumnavigated the world three and half times and traveled more than 100,000 nautical miles.
Wolfgang stopped by to say hello, so we dug out a decent bottle of wine and trotted over that evening to hear some incredible stories told by an incredible couple. Kanaloa looks showroom new, and Heidi and Wolfgang did their best to convince us to follow in their footsteps across the Indian Ocean. Not something we want to do, but it was fun to talk about.
We spent about a week in Mooloolaba and enjoyed it very much. We found we like Australia and Australians a lot, and look forward to spending more time there, although we shall probably arrive by plane rather than aboard Duet next time. Nancy summed it up in an email to a friend: Just like Canada, but in a thong. She stole this headline from a timely New York Times opinion piece of the same name.
Brisbane is a busy harbor, so we picked our way carefully past the loading docks, passing where the Yacht Express ship that would take Duet back to the U.S. would tie up, and trundled slowly upriver to our chosen marina. The competent team at Rivergate Marina got us settled in record time, in a nice berth that would be easy to get out of when the time came. They also gave us the goody bag to end all goody bags, likely because the manager is a bit of a Nordhavn fan. They even provided shuttle service to the nearby markets, where we stocked up with a few essentials.
After several days aboard Duet at Rivergate, we moved to downtown Brisbane. The boat was ready to be loaded and we wanted to see a little of the area before we flew home, which was scheduled for about a week after the ship arrived, assuming it arrived generally when it was supposed to. Brisbane is a beautiful, livable, walkable city, with great dining.
We stayed in a small apartment right in the center of town, with a kitchen and a washer/dryer, so Nancy chugged through endless loads of Duet laundry, rather than doing it on the boat. We ate out every night, walked all over town, took Uber rides to visit Duet and generally had a great time.
Ron even managed to drive on the left-hand side of the road for several days, when we went to visit Mark and Carol on Panacea, and made a memorable trip to Australia Zoo, which was founded by Steve Irwin and is home to a number of saltwater crocodiles, which are Australia’s apex predator. We learned a lot about the crocs.
We watched several shows, during which the zoo team explained why the crocs act as they do, and why it is so important to learn to live among them. The problems Australia has with the crocs are similar to issues we have with black bears in our hometown. In any interaction with people, the animal usually loses.
Last, but definitely not least, we finally met face to face with Robbie and Jo, previous owners of Nordhavn 47 Southern Star. They bought Southern Star in New Zealand, cruised her to Thailand, shipped her to Turkey, cruised the Med, crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean and finally sold her in Florida. We’ve corresponded with them for years, so it was wonderful to finally meet them.
Soon enough, the Yacht Express ship showed up and Duet headed home.