Currents, weather and seasons
Although sailors departing Australia and New Zealand at the beginning of the austral winter season and those lingering in the South Pacific islands in the early spring commonly push the limits, the safe sailing season is June 1 to Oct. 31, not late April to early December. Consistent tragic incidents underscore the logic of this time slot. The route across Tonga-Fiji-Vanuatu to Bundaberg, Australia, features predominantly easterly winds and the favorable South Equatorial and East Australian Currents. Voyage timing along this path requires little sophistication. Simply depart on the leading edge of the largest, weakest high-pressure systems you can find for long hops, and during any suitable lull in the winter trades for shorter hops.
From Tonga to western Fiji we relied on weatherfaxes from station KVM70 in Honolulu (9.982.5, 11090.0, 16135.0 or 23.331.5 MHz, specific products Significant Cloud Features at 0545 and 1745 Z and Pacific Surface Analysis at 0605 and 1805 Z).
From western Fiji to Australia we focused on station VMC in Charleville, Queensland (5.100, 11.030 and 13.920 MHz, particularly the weatherfaxes South Pacific Ocean MSL at 0800 and 2000 Z, and Australia MSL at 0830 and 2030 Z).
On land we found the projections available at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s website useful (http://www.bom.gov.au). The SSB voice forecast for Queensland Coastal Waters (4.483 and 6.507 MHz at 0335 Z) and the more frequent tide and weather updates of Volunteer Marine Rescue 488 Bundaberg (VHF 81) were helpful as we closed the Australian coast.
Useful cruising guides, maps and charts
Calder, Michael. 1993. A Yachtsman’s Fiji. ISBN 0-646-14682-3 (published by The Cruising Classroom, 20 Milham Crescent, Forestville, NSW 2087, Australia, also widely available at U.S. nautical outlets)
- Stanley, David. 1993. Fiji Islands Handbook, 3rd Edition. Moon Publications Inc., Chico, Calif. ISBN 0-918373-92-1
- Chesher, Richard & Frederique Lesne. 2002. Tusker Cruising Guide to Vanuatu (CD, available from firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Harcombe, David & Denis O’Byrne. 1995. Lonely Planet Vanuatu Travel Survival Kit. Lonely Planet Publications, Oakland, Calif. ISBN 0-86442-293-8
- Lucas, Alan. 2000. Cruising the Coral Coast, 7th ed. Halbooks Publishing, Avalon, NSW Australia. ISBN 0-646-27858-4
- Finlay, Hugh. 1998. Islands of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Lonely Planet Publications, Melbourne, Australia. ISBN 0-86442-563-5
- Campbell, Verity. et al. 2002. Lonely Planet East Coast Australia, Lonely Planet Publications, Melbourne, Australia. ISBN 1-74059-012-0
- Lonely Planet Australia, 2004, 12th ed, Lonely Planet Publications, Melbourne, Australia. ISBN 1-74059-447-9
Charts NZ (New Zealand) 14638 and 14602, and NIMA 83570, 83574, 83034, 82560, 82571, 82030, 74190, and 74191. For the adventure through the Great Sandy Straits to Mooloolaba, we highly recommend charts GSS1, GSS2 and MB1, all available from Queensland Transport, Maritime Division, GPO Box 2595, Brisbane 4001, Queensland, Australia, or Urangan office phone 61-7-4128-9555. You’ll also want Sunmap Tourist Map: Fraser Island (Queensland Government, Department of Natural Resources and Mines, Locked Bag 40, Coorparoo Delivery Centre, Qld. 4151, Australia, phone 61-7-3896-3216, fax 61-7-3896-3510, http://www.nrm.qld.gov.au).
The often-murky inshore waters and prolific coral growth of Fiji make carefully planned movements during the bright sunlight hours prudent. More yachts seem to hit the bricks here than in any of the other South Pacific islands. Customs and immigration outward and inward clearances in this country are by zone, so for example, you clear in and out of Suva, and then back in and out at Lautoka for the western side of Fiji. Note that the anchorage off the Royal Suva Yacht Club features very fine mud over a hard veneer, causing many vessels to drag in the event of a stiff southwesterly unless they fortuitously snag scattered wreckage on the bottom. The Tradewinds Hotel anchorage is small but offers better protection. Strong wind shear zones characterize both the northern and southwestern sides of Viti Levu. At Port-Vila, Vanuatu, the protected moorings between Iririki Island and the mainland of ï¿½fatï¿½ offer unparalleled security and convenience.
In Australia, Mooloolaba is considered the northernmost, warmest “almost cyclone-free” port of refuge on the east coast, although they do take an occasional, usually less-than-full-force hit. When this happens, the two marinas on the main channel of the Mooloolah River, The Wharf (phone 61-7-5444-7477, fax 61-7-5444-6299) and the Mooloolaba Yacht Club (phone 61-7-5444-1355, fax 61-7-5444-2829, http://www.mooloolabayachtclub.com.au” target=”_new”>http://www.mooloolabayachtclub.com.au), offer more exposure to flood currents and associated problems (the latter sustained considerable damage in 1983). Lawries Marina (phone 61-7-5444-1122, fax 61-7-5478-0265, email@example.com), located in a cul-de-sac in the canal network on the Buddina side of the area, offers a more sheltered though perhaps less scenic place to park. Different sailors find each of the marinas attractive for their own reasons. Regardless of which you choose, you’ll likely need a reservation to secure a slip during the busy sailboat months of December through April.
Scott and Wendy Bannerot