The fabulous South Pacific yacht charter location – Fiji boasts 322 islands, of which only 106 are inhabited, and is spread over 75,000 square miles. The two most significant islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, which account for around three-quarters of the population. The Fijian Islands are well known as one of the most fabulous locations on Earth, with remote tropical islands, scattered across the azure southern Pacific Ocean.
The Oyster World Rally had a truly special arrival in the Lau Group – the most eastern of the Fiji Island chain. Until recently these islands had been completely off-limits for yachts; they are still little-visited due to the necessity to check into one of Fiji’s main islands, arrange permits, then sail back upwind to Lau. The Oyster World Rally however managed to arrange permits in advance, and chartered a plane to fly the customs, immigration and quarantine officials to Lau to process the fleet there.
“Our first landfall was Vanua Balavu a small island in the Lau group”, explained Andrew Lock, skipper of Oyster 54 yacht Pearl of Persia. “As we approached the island, with Susanne looking for the break in the reef, it became clear that our charts and what we saw before us didn’t match up. So it was back to old-fashioned navigation and some very tense moments as we made our way through the reefs, looking for the posts and markers, which guided the way.
Villages in Fiji, particularly when so remote, still run on traditional lines with a village chief and elders, and there is a requirement, even obligation, for a formal welcome to the village, called Sevusevu. In the whole of the Lau group of islands there are no shops and no tourists so visitors are rare and a great fuss was made of us, with the traditional ‘kava’ welcoming ceremony.
Sitting in a circle in the main hut, the kava drink is prepared by pounding the kava roots and mixing with water in a large wooden bowl, speeches of welcome are made and coconut shell full of kava passed around to drink. Finally we are told that we may swim and fish in the waters, walk anywhere in the village and we are no longer strangers. The children were dancing and singing and that evening a great feast was prepared all cooked in the traditional underground oven.”
The British explorer James Cook reached the Lau Group in 1774 and little has changed, Lauan villages remain very traditional and chart data for navigation often dates back centuries. The Oyster World Rally daily radio schedule became invaluable, as Stephen Gratton, skipper of Oyster 53 yacht Amelie explained “With skippers sharing waypoints between the islands which were free of unmarked hazards. Ian Davis from Oyster 56, Yantina operates the radio-net and Yantina’s forward looking sonar became a popular lead boat when making passages through tricky reefs.”
Fiji is known as the Soft Coral Capital of the World, a network of brilliant coral reefs surround the islands with a thousand species of tropical fish and several hundred types of coral and sponges, Fiji offers a unique diving experience, as Stephen and Debbie Gratton from Amelie found out.
“Snorkelling around the reef off Navadra was excellent as the coral was varied and healthy. The fish were plentiful and we observed a Nurse Shark dozing on the seabed. We ended up diving in the bay to release our anchor chain that had become wrapped and trapped around an enormous coral head. The exertion used up our air and a few coral lacerations later we were ready to lift the anchor. The sky had darkened and visibility was not perfect, so we re-anchored and stayed another night – a real hardship!”
“The following day we followed other members of the Oyster fleet to a bay off Naviti, in the Yasawa group. We swam with Manta Rays in Tokatokaunu Pass, between Drawaqa Island and Naviti. We observed these huge, majestic creatures gracefully swimming over and past us. Later that evening, Amelie hosted a roast lamb supper for several of the Oyster World Rally fleet.
The next day, we travelled to the Blue Lagoon anchorage, Matacawalevu (where the film of the same name was made starring Brooke Shields). We had a wonderful supper ashore in true Fijian style; pork, chicken and fish in coconut frond woven baskets, are placed on the heated rocks buried in the ground. Banana leaves and more coconut fronds are placed over the top and left to cook for a few hours. The food was succulent and plentiful with a selection of sauces and vegetables plus home baked bread.
We sat crossed legged on the ground and devoured our feast, with flame torches and the stars for light whilst our host Semme and his family serenaded us. We returned the next day to offer gifts for their hospitality and warm welcome. It was an absolute delight to see the children gnawing on ice-cold chocolate from Amelie’s fridge.
We made one last visit to the Manta Rays, although they were shy this time and then had a magnificent sail to Musket Cove, Malolo Lailai Island. Amelie became a lifelong member of the Musket Cove Yacht Club on arrival and we had a memorable stay in yet another beautiful spot.
We moored stern to overlooking the bar on the sandy island opposite. We had our final Fijian party on the beach with a buffet dinner and a live band. We danced the night away on the sand with the additional sight of Debbie with a tambourine dancing to Mustang Sally and Dancing Queen.”
The final stopover in Fiji at Musket Cove Resort was rated by rally participants as ‘one of the best yet’,” smiled Debbie Johnson, Oyster World Rally Project Manager. “A great opportunity to catch up with everyone after a month of independently cruising the beautiful islands of Fiji. Tales of amazing diving amongst pristine soft coral, snorkelling through passes with Manta Rays on the incoming tide, white-water rafting, visiting remote villages, narrowly avoiding uncharted reefs, and of course weeks of perfect sailing conditions were shared.
The rally party was held at the resort, an elegant but relaxed evening where we were treated to a sublime dinner of Indo-Fijian specialities and slideshow showing some of the highlights of our stay in Fiji by photographer Mark Snyder of Wet Art Productions. After dinner ‘The Culture Band’ played an energetic playlist that had the whole rally dancing on the beach under the stars.
Following a few days of relaxation at the Musket Cove Yacht Club dock, and, we have to admit, a few evenings of BBQs and late nights at the Island Bar, fresh provisions were taken on board for the short hop to Vanuatu.
MCYC and Yacht Help Fiji helped to arrange for customs and immigration to come to the island to complete checkout facilities at the club – an extremely efficient process, and the experienced team on the dock led the fleet out through the tricky reef to start the passage in safety.”
Whilst the Oyster World Rally fleet has been exploring hundreds of locations throughout Fiji, several places on the main island of Vanua Levu and also Denarau Island deserve a special mention. Copra Shed Marina, Yacht Help Fiji and Port Denarau Marina gave invaluable assistance with all manner of logistics and some of the best facilities in Fiji, also a big thank from Oyster to the stunning eco-friendly Jean Michel Cousteau Resort on Savusavu Bay and Musket Cove.
After seven months and thousands of miles of sailing, the Oyster World Rally is about to visit its first continent! The next scheduled stop over for the Oyster Fleet will be Mackay, Queensland, a short distance from the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.