Leaving the Gold Coast on the 25th of May 2006 we headed up to the Brisbane port of Manly to clear Customs and Immigration for the trip to Fiji.
Aboard hull no: 9, the 44′ Assegai “Megumi” belonging to Garth and Maggie from Fiji. Captained by Greg Edwards, who built and ran the first Assegai from way back in 1992. Greg and I have fished together for many years all over the world, from Lizard Island, to the Bahamas and Caribbean, to a season in Bermuda. He asked me to join him on this trip and I jumped at the chance to go somewhere new and exciting. Also on the trip is one of Greg’s friends Jack, also from the Gold Coast. New to long trips, Jack was going to get the short course in delivery trips!!!
Clearing customs and immigration took a couple of hours, and we were out over South Passage bar around 5 pm and on our way to New Caledonia. A trip of around 780 miles of open ocean. We had been delayed a couple of weeks getting the boat finalized and also waiting for the next weather window to open. With 5-10 knots forecast by www.bouyweather.com, we were about 4 days from Noumea at 800 rpm, about 8 knots. The perfect trolling speed!!!
Jack had to come on the trip as damned if I was going to wind anything in!!! And it was a good thing he came, first day out we caught a 300 lb mako shark on a lure and missed a nice blue marlin late in the afternoon. One of the problems heading this way is that you have to pass over the Capel Bank, about half way across, this huge seamount comes out of 4000 meters of water up to 50 meters!!! 40 miles out from the bank we had new 3 foot SE swell, but only 5 knots of wind. Jack had to get back in the chair as we now had a 70 lb wahoo to contend with. On the NE side of Capel Bank, as the depth started to drop off a nice 400lb black marlin ate Lumo and put on a good show before swimming off with a nice new TBF tag in the shoulder. Next afternoon about 200 miles out of Noumea, the capitol of New Caledonia, Jack wound in a nice 60lb short bill spearfish which also ended up with a new tag in his shoulder.
This spearfish is the third of these in my career, Greg has only ever caught one up to this one, Jack was a little surprised by his range of species, and the last morning we caught a nice dolphin to round out the trip. 800 miles, 4 days, 2000 liters, a mako, blue marlin, short bill, big wahoo and dolphin a pretty good result.
Port Moselle is the main town of Noumea, and the port for arriving and clearing. Unlike most places in the Atlantic I have been, there is no charge to clear, and takes about 2 hours of lots of forms, but super friendly and so obliging. And our French is lousy!!! Dockage the first day is free, and only about AU $30 per day.
The constant rain and warm climate make for the greenest mountain sides and valleys. It reminded me of parts of Hawaii, with big mountains running down valleys into the reef surrounded islands. The towns cover the hills and are very much like Bermuda, with lots of styles of houses, buildings and apartments taking advantage of the views.
We had a nice meal out, as our food was all locked up by quarantine till we left in a couple of days!! The morning of the 30th found us wandering around the covered market next door to the marina, and the choice of fresh produce and seafood was vast. We loaded up on fruit and veggies, and a nice kilo of fresh green prawns for dinner.
Along walk through town, lots of cool shops, parks and old buildings dating back to the original French colonial days. The hospital dates back to the mid 1800’s, and looks about the same on the outside!!! We all headed to the shipping port to clear out for the following morning. Then on the way back we saw a huge French cable laying ship and a Japanese long liner taking on about 60000 liters. The good thing is that the fuel is duty free, which makes it about AU$1 per liter. We got our paperwork for the duty free fuel so we can fill up in the morning on the way out of town.
The supermarket Casino Johnston is typical European, beautiful fresh produce, lots of variety from all over the world, and they takes cash from Australia, New Zealand, the US and of course French francs. The deli was like being back in Paris, more cheese types than you can imagine, deli meats and fresh produces. The meat counter was also about 40 foot long with some of the finest aged meat I have ever seen. We just don’t get the same range at our supermarkets. And of course we bought some fresh baguettes for lunch with our new shopping goods.
The rain of the last couple of days eased up and the sky was clearing at last allowing the true colors and beauty of Noumea to shine in the afternoon light. Up early on the 31st, more prawns needed to survive the day from the market. After waiting a couple of hours for the fuel tanker to come and refill the tank we emptied half way through refueling, we were on our way south around the bottom of the island to Port de Goro, a beautiful mountain sided bay behind the outer reef on the SE side of New Caledonia. After some prawns and fresh bread we watched the moon rise for the first time of the trip. While the SE swell broke powerfully on the outer reef passes. With high expectations of surf the next morning we were all excited about the morning.
Of course we should have been there yesterday!!!! The swell had dropped and did not have the size of the previous night, so off we trolled to the island of Mare, the second largest of the Loyalty Islands about 60 miles to the NE of Port de Goro. We anchored the “Megumi” in Baie du Nord in 20 meters of crystal clear 26 degree Celsius sand covered water. Jack and I had a swim and watched a movie after dinner.
We had snorkel up in the shallows amongst the sandstone cliffs and then trolled off to the NE corner of the island to Cap Roussin. Greg dropped Jack and me in for a spear and although I only saw one coral trout, the reef structure is exactly like the out reef off Lizard Island, steep shelves of plate corals and reef fish such as parrots and fusiliers, and of course the main predator of the reef, the white tip shark. The point here is on front of a big lagoon and white sandy beach that is possible to get the boat behind and hang out for a day or two. The surf potential here looked really good with a perfectly formed left and right that only needed some more swell. A big southerly swell would be perfect here as it faces NE, so the trade winds would be offshore.
Then back to more trolling for the day and into the night to arrive at Tanna. At Sulphur Bay on the eastern side of the island before dawn to watch the volcano Mt Yasur erupting up from lush undisturbed rainforest and native tribes living on the island. Once light we anchored in Port Resolution and watched the steam vents rising from the sides of the hills and foreshore, bubbling up boiling water and that never forgotten sulphur smell in the immediate area.
A man in a tribal outrigger canoe came out to great us and us in to see his village of Irepuow and get the full tour. We met Stanley in the village and he went off to see if it was possible to get transport to Mt Yasur while Sam showed us all around the village and over to the White sand beach. 2.5 km of sand beach with reef break surf all along. Huge stands of pandanus trees line the paths and foreshore.
The tribe had a big week coming up with a big ceremony on the Wednesday for 3 boys to become men. When the boys are 10 they spend two weeks away from school (yea) with an elder before the big ceremony with the whole village which includes circumcision ( owee ). The main thing that struck us all was how clean the village is, the dirt floors and areas around the thatched huts are swept clean and was just beautiful, and the feeling was of total openness and welcome, but it really did feel like you were imposing on their space. You knew you were somewhere special. We could only go to Mt Yasur in the afternoon, and we had to leave for Fiji, so I will have to stay a few days next year and go see the volcano then. We did buy a few things and some fresh fruit from the village store for the next couple of days.
Megumi then set off on the last leg of our trip 340 miles for Fiji. We ran the afternoon and then settled in for the chug. The weather again is beautiful, 5-10 knots of wind and maybe up to 1 meter of swell if that. Early the next morning we caught a tiny little weehoo (small wahoo) and got some good shots of the color of the stripes on him.
Later that afternoon we tagged another shortbill for Jack about 200 miles out, and in the evening about 180 miles out Greg tagged a 50 lb shortbill on 30 whilst another one was free swimming around the boat wondering what had happened to his buddy. We saw more boats today than any other, 2 longliners about 150 and 200 miles out from Fiji. Later in the week we met the guy who owns the longliner fleet in Fiji, he has 16 all on Asian boats, that most target tuna for 3 weeks a month, and swordfish the week around the moon, most swordies they get are the pinkies. All these vessels are working outside Fijian waters, so out on the high seas. That was the last fish of the delivery, and we chugged the last night having a big roast rack of lamb and veggies in nice conditions.
6am on the 4th June saw us about 50 miles out and off we went at 25 knots heading for Fiji. Most places we have traveled too, you don’t see land till about 15-20 miles out, and in Fiji the islands are visible from at least 40. At least you know you found the right place!!!
Ran in between the islands of Tavarua and Noumoto, two of the most famous surf places on the planet. No surf there as we can through due to lack of swell, which we like for traveling. Now we are here it can blow or have huge swell now!!!
Spent a few days driving around Nadi and up into the hills etc, rugged mountains, wild sugar cane on the hills and a lot of subsistence living. Fiji has a split population of half Fijians, and half Indians, which creates a lot of problems, but also some pretty good food.
Greg and I went up to the resort at Yasawa, which the boats owners own. We each had our own bungalow, bigger than most apartments, which go for about US$1000 a night, and checked out the boats and watersports side of the resort for the owners. Spent a bunch of time in the water snorkeling in the cold winter waters of the South Pacific. It was 27.5-28 Celsius. Big potential for fishing which Greg is going to be exploring in the next few months. The locals fish from long boats or pangas and seem to do pretty well without going out to the edge and seamounts.
The food was exceptional, and most of the guests there had also been to Lizard Island, so it was easy to compare the two. Last day in Fiji after flying home from the resort we took the Megumi out to Tavarua and Noumoto Islands to look for some surf. Cloudbreak was the only wave at Tavarua, and is only for the surf resort there, so we were not able to get in the water. We putted over to the outside of Noumoto and had a couple of hours in the water with only us form our boat out. Not epic surf, but fun head high in crystal clear water and a nice soft reef below.
And today I jumped on the Air Pacific flight direct to Brisbane to go back to work on my boat, with a couple of weeks to finish a few jobs and off to Cairns. Still have a couple of openings so let me know if you want to join me.