We sailed from Tonga to Fiji with the intent of staying long enough to have our bottom painted and then run up through the Yasawas and be on our merry way to Vanuatu and Points West. I figgured four, maybe five weeks. Tops. We've now been in Fiji thirteen weeks.
I don't want to leave.
I've been all over the Pacific, from Japan to Australia, Panama to Singapore, several times. I've lived for extended periods in the Hawaiian, Marianas, Carolines, Queensland, British Columbia, American Samoa, French Polynesia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, California, Yap & the Philippines... and I can whole-heartedly say I've come to enjoy the islands of Fiji more than any of them, in terms of a cruising destination.
After an innitial sail around the main island of Veti Levu and her western islands, we hauled Gallivanter for an overdue coat of fresh bottom paint and polish the topsides at Vuda Point Marina. We contracted with Peter Painter of C-PROS to do the prep & painting while I attended to several other boat projects. We rented a nearby bungalow at the First Landing Resort next to the marina with a plan to be out for eight to ten days. My wife's dad decided to fly from Australia to join us the following week. He has little interest in sailing so we decided we'd simply stay on the boat for the remainder of his visit.
Gallivanter is 21 years old and her gel coat was beginning to wear thin in several places and I was afraid our polishing may do more harm than good to her overall appearance... so I asked Peter to give us a quote for painting the topsides, since we now had time to kill and I'd seen several shining examples of the quality of his work in the boatyard. His price was even better than I expected and gave him the go-ahead to move the boat to a pit for topside work as soon as the bottom paint was dry.
The dust began to fly! But no electric sanders were used as Peter and his crew (of relatives) prepared the hull for painting. The entire job was done by hand as if she were a Rolls Royce! Every scratch & dent suffered from 21 years' abuse, hurricanes, neglect & bad docking was plainly revealead. The old girl had more visable scars than Frankenstein's Monster! Her topsides were unsightly from stem to stern. But I couldn't feel any of the scars or dammage when I closed my eyes and rubbed the hull. Peter eventually applied two coats of epoxy primer, six coats of LPU finish paint and two coats of clear over the topsides and the end-product is flawless!
We launched a brand new looking boat after 33 days on the hard. Total cost of everything including resort accomadation, new graphics, yard bill, labor... everything came to just over $5000 USD, which in my opinion is a great deal for the results we have. We were planning to get this sort of work done upon our expected return to Langkawi or Phuket in a few years's time but I'm glad we did it now instead of later because I believe I not only got a great job done at a great price in a great location... but I also gained a great friend in Peter and his family with the deal.
We've now been in the water six weeks and we're getting lots of complements on our "new" boat everywhere we go. The most fun we've had in Fiji was participating in the 27th annual Fiji Sailing Week Regatta at Musket Cove. Mark the first half of September on your cruising calendar. A great time was had by all... especially Arrrr Boy because we were invited to be racing crew on an 83 year-old topsail schooner. It's always a pleasure just to be invited to go out for a sail on a traditional yacht but being asked to RACE her is a true honor!
So - we've overstayed our planned alotment of time in Fiji which means we'll have to hurry along to reach the safety of southeast Australia before Cyclone Season and our forthcoming visits to Vanuatu & New Caledonia will be brief. But the winds blow in two directions in this part of the South pacific and we can certainly sail back this way when the time feels right.
Fiji is Fine!