After a rough passage north from New Zealand in May ’08, the jungles and coral reefs of Fiji and Vanuatu were a wonderful treat!
We left the Bay of Islands at sunset on May 13, 2008 with a light southerly on Heretic‘s quarter. Wind ‘n’ wing, with albatrosses circling the boat, we glided north.
Not five days into the passage, though, we were hit with an unpredicted low pressure system, winds gusting over 40 knots. So much for our perfect weather window! We weren’t making any progress to windward and we were exhausting ourselves, so we hove-to, and when the wind shifted into the west we continued north on an uncomfortable beam reach.
After 1200 miles and ten days at sea we cleared Customs in Savusavu, a small town on the island of Vanua Levu. We had intended to explore many more islands in Fiji, but Vanua Levu and nearby Koro got a hold on us and we stayed six weeks.
In one bay–a hurricane hole surrounded by immense mangroves–we were welcomed almost as family into a tiny close-knit village. Together we harvested taro, hiked up to an ancient petroglyph site, drank kava (the local, rather anticlimactic, narcotic), and celebrated Sunday brunch.
No port is complete without boat work, of course: our hydraulic backstay broke on our sail returning to Savusavu from Koro, so when we sailed for Vanuatu we had a length of chain and a galvanized turnbuckle as a jury-rig repair. (We later replaced it with stainless steel chain and turnbuckle: it lasted the rest of the circumnavigation!)
Our passage to Vanuatu, the volcanic island nation between Fiji and Australia, was happily uneventful. Our first port of call was the capital, Port Vila. As we were approaching, a tiny open catamaran hailed us for assistance. She had broken the forward strut between her hulls and needed a tow into the harbor.
Sailing north from Vila, we made an overnight passage to Malekula, one of the most traditional islands, where the locals greeted us from sailing outrigger canoes and smaller dugouts. We then headed north again to Espiritu Santo, spotting Ambrym’s active volcano en route. Santo was a military base during World War II and the remnants of it can be seen today in Quonset huts, a huge pier, and the wreck of the SS President Coolidge, a luxury ocean liner turned troop transport. Our scuba diving on the wreck was our first real experience with wreck diving: being 140 feet down inside the ship and surrounded not only by the relics of war and luxury travel but also by sea turtles and lion fish was an unforgettable experience. Our favorite dive was a night excursion to the cargo hold where thousands of flashlight fish put on an otherworldly display.
Towards the end of August, we sailed the 1200 nautical miles to Cairns, Australia. The passage was bumpy, with a cross-swell coming up from the south, but we enjoyed the birds and cetaceans, as well as flying fish and bioluminescence.
After a few days anchored off Cairns, we moved Heretic to a marina in a hurricane hole where we prepared her for the cyclone season and for us to go back to the States to work and for me to finish Yale.
In April 2009 we returned to Heretic in Australia to resume her voyage ’round the world!
Read about earlier adventures on the New Zealand page 🙂 )
All text and photographs © Ellen Massey Leonard and Seton Leonard, 2015, All Rights Reserved.