Editor David Glenn is in Fiji with the Oyster World Rally enjoying the remote beauty of the Lau island group where a temporary official port of entry has been established
Pic 1: Rally anchored in Turquoise Bay
Pic 2: Yachts stern to in the newly opened up Lau Group. This is Turquoise Bay on the island of Vanua Balavu which was made a temporary port of entry for the Oyster World Rally.
Pic 3: The Royal Exploring Isles Yacht Squadron – the bar with no beer, apart from what you bring yourself!
I’m sitting on a yacht moored stern-to the Royal Exploring Isles Yacht Squadron in Turquoise Harbour on the island of Vanua Balavu (long island) in the northern Lau group, Fiji. There are 30 yachts anchored here, a record according to locals. Don’t get too excited by the Yacht Squadron; it’s a timber-built bar with no beer. Instead visitors are encouraged to bring their own and store it in the gas-fuelled fridges. There are loos and a barbecue which visitors are also invited to use. It’s a delightful meeting place for visiting yachtsmen. Tony Philp, an Australian whose father arrived in Fiji from Tasmania in the last century, owns the land around the Turquoise anchorage and he and his family have done much to make the yachts in the bay welcome. If you’re coming this way Philp’s your man along with half brother John and a host of other family members.
The reason for this unusually large gathering of yachts is two-fold. First, 24 Oysters have just arrived from Tonga on the latest leg of their inaugural Oyster World Rally and second, a new initiative by Customs and Immigration has turned this remote and outstandingly beautiful Fijian outpost into a temporary official port of entry.
Normally yachts coming from Tonga on a typical trans-Pacific route would sail on to Savusavu onVanua Levu 105 miles downwind to the west north west or to Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, 175 miles to the west. The problem is, once one has arrived, beating back against the trades makes a visit to the Lau Group unappealing.
The Lau islands are completely unspoilt, untouched by any form of substantial modernisation and inhabited by a scattering of extremely social and welcoming Fijians living on smallholding and existing on fishing and coconut plantations.
The local villagers are due on the yacht club lawn tonight to prepare a welcoming feast featuring a lovo – an underground oven – in which they will prepare pork, fish, lobster and possibly the much sought after coconut crab which literally scales palm trees and, using its extremely powerful claws, splits open the nut.
The sojourn in the Laus will last for a few days before the fleet picks its way through the reefs and shallows to other islands including Savusavu.
Getting around in a yacht here is not at all easy. The chart is liberally peppered with the words ‘numerous coral heads’ and not only that the Oyster fleet report that their Navionics chart plotting software is way out. Most yachts are currently moored ashore according to their plotters and there was at least one ‘exploratory touch’, as one wag put it, as the fleet made landfall here on 10 June. Another came to a dead stop when it hit what the owner reckoned was an unmarked coral head or rock. Initial checks showed that all was well but, like many yachts in the rally, she’ll be hauled in Fiji for a scrub and anti-foul. One yacht, however, is equipped with C-Map software which is apparently far more accurate and can almost be relied upon. But there’s no substitute for eye ball navigation and a good pair of polarised sunglasses to check for shallows and those coral heads once the sun is almost directly overhead. We’re at about 17 degrees south here so the latter isn’t a problem but today persistent drizzle and low cloud have spoiled things – if it wasn’t for the temperature hovering around 26 degrees C, you could be in Scotland….