Passage to Fiji

After spending some days in Papeete fumbling with our French and preparing for our voyage direct to Fiji, we were ready for a 2,000nm+ voyage.

Plenty of miles since leaving Panama in March

Prior to departing Papeete, we’d filled out and emailed our C2-C form to the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service at least two days before departure. Details of costs associated with clearance are included at the end of the 13 page document. We wouldn’t use an agent for clearing in to Fiji.

While we would’ve liked to visit Bora Bora, Huahine, Moorea and other islands within French Polynesia, in order for me to return to Australia and to leave Wayne aboard Blue Heeler in a good location without having to attempt to extend his French Polynesian visa, it made sense to sail for two weeks to Port Denarau in Fiji and fly out from there.

So, about the trip. We departed Monday 20th June at around 1.00pm, once we had checked out with Customs and Immigration at the airport. The process was efficient and we had no trouble with anything; even getting some exercise by cycling to the airport, only 5kms south of Papeete. SY Kismet also left the same day and during the voyage we’d text each other and check on our daily progress.

At first, conditions were a little rough once we departed Papeete Port, with the wind a little higher on the beam than I usually like on my first day, but after a while the wind settled and we were into our trip.

Our Navionics route
Strong winds for the final few days

PredictWind forecasting suggested we head on a northerly course to avoid a large high rolling from west to east across the Pacific, bringing with it squalls and high winds, as well as high swell. So we did just that, heading as far up as 13deg Latitude (Tahiti around 17deg). The first couple of days were calm, but two days in conditions improved and we had good sailing. I’ve never seen so many rainbows as I did on this voyage.

A couple of challenges on this trip included having no working autopilot (that stopped working on the last passage); and no working fridge (slowly dying over the past six months). However, we have our trusty Wind Pilot, which we typically use to steer on ocean voyages, leaving the autopilot off mostly to conserve power. The issue is though, that in light wind we have no steering, and we have to hand steer through the calms. Not a huge problem as it’s pretty easy on the helm that we can steer with our feet.

‘Foot’ steering during the calms

Once we reached 13deg Latitude, we then began our direct line towards Fiji. Another high pressure system was rolling in from the west so we kept a cautious eye on that, as it was forecast to bring winds up to 40kn. Hard to dodge this one as it was rolling across our destination.

By end of June we were south of Samoa and within a couple of days were passing through the atolls and reefs dotted along the Pacific Ring of Fire – home to about 75% of the world’s volcanoes (over 450 volcanoes) and about 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur here.

Making good progress at this point, we were dodging squalls, and lucky enough to avoid most of them. The strongest wind we’d seen at this point was up to 30kn, but nothing more.

A couple more days of stronger winds and downwind sailing ‘winged out’, we passed through the eastern archipelago of Fiji through the Lakeba Pass. The same day we crossed from the Western Hemisphere to the Eastern Hemisphere and skipped across the International Date Line, effectively losing a day in the process. Seas eased a little for a day or so as the swell was tempered by the atolls and reefs, but the final two days of the passage, the wind was strong with fast flowing following seas.

During these two days we had to hand steer from time to time, as too much sail would slew the boat this way and that, with the following seas, trying to steer us in the wrong direction. Reefing the sails to a manageable size helped with the 30+kn winds and helped the WindPilot maintain control. We were surfing down waves, hitting over 12kn at times. But now and again the boat would begin to broach so we had to help out WillHelm (our WindPilot) by hand steering. The final night – our fifteenth night – was rough and we pretty much hand steered for around 24 hours.

The brilliant orange sunrise over Viti Levu on arrival in Fiji

Arriving on 6th July at a respectable hour, the orange sunrise over the big island of Viti Levu was simply stunning. We then entered the south pass and motored 17nm to Port Denarau.  SY Kismet arrived a couple of hours before us and it was good to catch up with them and swap stories of the voyage.

  • Voyage: Tahiti to Fiji
  • Distance Sailed: 2,104nm
  • Engine Hours: 46 hourscalm first couple of days
  • Days: 15 nights at sea
  • Strongest wind we noticed: 32kn (but may have been higher!)

Clearing into Fiji

Our clearance into Fiji was very good and everybody here greets with ‘Bula’. We didn’t use an agent, and although we’d booked a mooring for the duration of our stay (no berths available at this busy time of year), we were told to go to a spare berth so officials could come aboard. We took the opportunity to wash the salt from the boat and fill the water tanks. The dockmaster was great and within half an hour we had the health guys aboard. First the guys from the Ministry of Health performed an antigen test on us (FD$35 each); then completed boat pratique clearance (FD163.50 plus $40 for his travel); Customs didn’t charge us anything as we had arrived during working hours; but the Biosecurity guy charged us FD$85 for bio clearance, then another FD$106.28 for disposing garbage, which included just three cans of canned chicken and a small amount of plastic and washed cans. All up we paid FD$394 – approx. A$260. But be warned, if you check in out of hours you’ll pay hefty overtime rates. On my way to the ATM to get money for the clearance (cash only accepted), I was approached quietly by one of the officials to give each of the three of them $20 to cover their ‘lunch’ – After sailing for 15 days, very tired and getting used to greasing-palms at various corners of the globe, I cheerfully reminded him that it was only 12.30pm and his ‘lunchtime’ didn’t start until 1pm. So no, he wouldn’t be getting any lunch bonus from us. At least he laughed at that!

Once cleared in we visited the Marina office to check in. On the main reception is Mere. She’s a superstar, totally unflappable and very helpful and knowledgeable handling all sorts of inquiries from all sorts of cruisers and sailors. She can organise your Digical or Vodaphone sim cards too (FYI a whopping 125Gb plus another 100Gb for Netflix for only FD25 – about A$18 – absolute bargain). Nearby is a small supermarket, and there’s a larger one about 2kms away. Veggies are super expensive (FD$25 for a cos lettuce and FD$25/kilo for tomatoes). There’s a great bakery with real meat pies (Skipper is in his happy place here!), and at 4pm most of the bars and eateries have happy hour where the beers and wines are way cheaper than French Polynesia. Daily tourist boats of all shapes and sizes ferry hundreds of people to and from the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands located in Fiji’s Great Sea Reef – the third largest barrier reef in the world.

So now I’m flying to Melbourne this week and to keep skipper busy, he’s ordered replacement fridge parts from New Zealand which should arrive in a week or so. He also located an outlet in New Zealand where we can buy parts for the Raymarine autopilot. Foreign flagged yachts are allowed to import parts and spares as long as the Rotation Number from your Customs clearance is added to the waybill. So far we are pretty impressed with the way things are run here in Fiji.

Since departing the UK in June 2021, we’ve sailed over 14,600nm – half of this distance in the last four months alone. While we’ve come through the Pacific much faster than we expected to, things change and we have to be adaptable. This passage was one of our longest and also our last longest for some time. It’s funny to think we have only 1500nm to reach Australia and complete our circumnavigation after ten years. So close…

That’s about it for now. If you’re on your way to Fiji’s Port Denarau, say G’day to Wayne.

Until next time…

About blueheelerhr39

Sailing the world aboard Blue Heeler
This entry was posted in 2022, Fiji and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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