Our anchor is hooked in to a narrow strip of sand just inside the outer reef.
A four minute ride in the dinghy gets us to Namotu.
Today we tied up to a mooring in the pass and paddled across to the Namotu Left.
A storied surf break mainly enjoyed by guests on Namotu island.
The waves are head high and peeling down the reef in regular sets.
Nobody else is there, except a passing pod of pilot whales.
Me and my very happy crew enjoy the moment, too good to last.
If it’s good here, you don’t get it to yourself for long.
We are joined by a few of the Namotu crew. There always seems to be a friendly vibe in the water and there are certainly plenty of waves to go round.
We surf until sunset. All smiles back on the boat that night.
The Escapade take-over.
I am adjusting to this new way of living on the boat.
Escapade has been our little private bubble for so long.
Just Dawn and I, with the occasional guest or two, barely enough to ruffle our usual routine.
But this is very different, we are six on board now, that’s a full boat.
Auriane arrived from France to be reunited with Bryan, and Wyatt flew in from US with even more boardbags, full of new gear to be photographed.
So there’s no longer any point in me even trying to keep everything neat and tidy, or impose any kind of normality.
Escapade is bristling with foiling gear, every locker overflowing.
I cannot walk anywhere around the deck without stepping over hydrofoils, wings, pumps and boardbags.
The guardrails are festooned with drying boardshorts, bikinis and towels.
The saloon is full of cameras, housings, bags, drones. So the inverter is on all day keeping all those batteries charged.
The dinghy has been re-purposed as a full-time tow vehicle. Pulling foil boards into perfect waves.
It’s fine, I am letting it all wash over me, it’s only for a week or so.
Then there’s the provisioning.
We stocked up at a supermarket in Denarau before heading out to the reefs.
While I was filling a cart with fresh fruits, veg and salad to last a week, the boys were busy with their own essentials.
Wyatt’s cart contained hundreds of bottles of beer and enough bags of processed snacks and junk food to fill a cabin.
His finishing touch was three freshly baked 26” pizzas to go.
Like I said, it’s all fine. it’s just washing right over me.
On the plus side, I am riding some beautiful waves on all kinds of boards and foils.
The waves here are superb.
Within a couple of miles the outer reef features three passes, the two tiny islands of Tavarua and Namotu, and a cluster of world class surf breaks.
Once we worked out a spot to anchor Escapade within an easy dinghy ride of all that, nobody wanted to leave.
It’s a sandbank just inside the reef, quite exposed, but in settled weather we can stay out here for days. Trying to be at the right surf spots at the right state of each tide.
Taking care of business.
For two weeks Escapade has been the mobile base for a photoshoot.
The crew are working through all of the new Slingshot gear, ticking off photos and video required for each product, lining up the right combination of gear for the day’s conditions.
If the wind and waves are up, they are at it all day long, it’s relentless. Riding, shooting, changing foils, wings, lenses, drones, back out for more.
Then hoping for the magic light of sunset for a few last action shots.
I’m impressed with their work rate, but I also get recruited. First to deliver them and the boat to the selected location for the day, but also to ride the gear and ferry the crew around in the dinghy. I seem to have a full time job, how did that happen?
The Foil Garden
A favourite spot is on the inside of Wilkes Passage, a wave that starts as a fast right hand wall and then bends around and reforms for half a mile over shallow sand and coral, now known as ‘The Foil Garden’.
This morning I was being towed in to glassy waves.
Long foilable walls wrapping in over sand and coral, no wind, nobody else here, very beautiful.
I’ve been asked to ride a new foil board as everyone else seems to be busy. Bryan driving, Eric shooting from the water, Wyatt filming with his drone from the mothership.
Bryan tows me behind Escapade’s dinghy, he puts me into position on the approaching swell, I whip in to the wave face and drop the rope.
Some of the rides were ridiculously long, flying down the wall, straight past Eric who is swimming with his housing, into the inside section then turning left and right as the wave reforms across the beautiful reef. It just goes on and on. I towed Bryan into one and chased him in the dinghy for half a mile, we estimated it as a 5 minute ride!
Finally we dinghy back to Escapade, as we are tying up there is a bit of panic, the drone batteries are running out. Wyatt has brought it back to the boat, but he can’t see it, so he can’t land it. He thinks his drone is right above our mast. We are all looking up, no drone.
Then Eric sees it. Half a mile away is one other catamaran, anchored while the crew go surfing. The drone is above their mast…
Great flying Wyatt, but wrong boat!
Eric and I jump in the dinghy and speed over there in time to see the batteries finally die, the drone falls out of the sky and crash-lands gently in their lazyjacks, like a fly in a spider’s web.
But we’re not out of the woods yet. The two women on board had been sunbathing naked and they are not at all happy about this invasion of their privacy.
We assure them that Wyatt was far too busy panicking to be taking photos of them. The drone is returned to its pilot.
The photo embargo.
Hundreds of images are being edited and filed on board every night, amazing shots of the crew performing on all the new gear.
I have also been photographed winging and wind-foiling in waves. Spectacular photos, but here’s the thing, I can’t put them on the blog!
All these new products are under wraps until they launch in September, so the only ones I can post are of my gear.
Once again I am very grateful to Eric for the superb photography, so at least I have something I’m allowed to put on the blog!
Eric also had a long portrait session with this juvenile brown booby who stowed away on our solar panel. The bird seemed to enjoy posing for the close-ups.
One rainy day the team took a break from filming and we all went inland to the local market.
Lots of local produce and whole hall full of kava. Kava is the mildly narcotic root consumed here for ritual and recreational purposes.
We bought some to present to our hosts, we have a lunch date with our new friend Kula.
She has invited us to her family home where her mother Mere is cooking for us.
The whole family greet us and we sit on coconut mats beneath a tin roof as the rain falls into the mud all around us.
Brothers, uncles, and in-laws join us, they all have houses on the family land.
I present the bundle of kava root to the grandfather. the ‘headman’ of the family.
This is the ritual of Sevusevu, after which we will be officially welcome in this family.
He starts the ceremony with some chanting and clapping, then the family joining in. At this point it all seemed quite solemn, but it soon became much more jolly as the ground kava root was mixed in the bowl by hand and the first coconut cup of muddy looking water was offered for me to drink.
I had to choose between a ‘high tide’ or ‘low tide’ serving, so naturally I ended up with a good half pint, to be downed in one, with some more clapping.
The cup was refilled and offered in turn to one of our crew and one of the family, until everyone had drunk a few times.
The taste was earthy but not unpleasant. We thought maybe a hint of aniseed.
The mood was very convivial as we all sat on the floor, eating, chatting and drinking kava.
I could not really describe the effect the drink had on me, except that I was happy and relaxed, eventually we all felt our mouths going a bit numb.
We learned about their life on the land handed down to them through the generations, growing their fruit and vegetables as their grandparents did, although this generation also have jobs in the restaurants and hotels of Port Denarau. The whole experience was so warm and friendly, I know we haven’t been here long but we all feel that the Fijian people are the most welcoming we have encountered anywhere.
The next day I was very tired all day, a condition I described as ‘long kava’.
The rain passed and it was back to our routine. One morning we anchored just inside another stretch of reef which produces breathtaking surf.
We sat and watched as pro surfers charged huge barrelling waves and winced at the horrific looking wipe outs.
Cloudbreak. Definitely not for me. Bryan and Eric are up for the challenge. They bravely paddled out, caught their first Cloudbreak rides and came back unharmed.
Namotu Left is more my cup of tea. A sensible take off for a goofy-foot, long satisfying rides without too much stress. The other day I surfed it for hours with just a few paddleboarders and the resident pod of spinner dolphins who put on a great aerial show for us between sets.
We have been in Fiji for three weeks and the swell has not stopped.
Now finally the size and period is dropping, the photoshoot is over, Wyatt has flown off with fully loaded hard drives.
It was great fun Wyatt come back sometime!
We have a few things to fix in port while we re-provision and plan our next bit of island hopping…
The Sacred Isles
Half of the Mamanuca islands are currently out of bounds as they have been leased to a TV company producing the Survivor show.
We have to stay 2 miles offshore so we don’t ruin the castaway illusion.
So we sail past those and arrive in the Sacred Isles, said to be the birthplace of all Fijian culture.
Another spectacular stop for the night. Next morning a breeze blows through. The photoshoot is over but the guys can’t resist this backdrop, so once again we are foiling round the anchorage for the cameras.
Now we have left the Mamanucas to the south and arrive at the first of the Yasawas, which stretch for another 50 miles to the north. The island of Waya has a few villages, no roads and some impressive rock spires.
We anchor off a little resort and swim in to reserve a table for dinner. At some point a hike was mentioned. The girls are keen. I have decided that walking up and down hills is just not my thing. Having recovered from the ordeal of the Three Peaks Race a few years ago I vowed not to do any more of that. But somehow I keep getting roped in to these things. I endured an arduous descent from the top of Bequia in January which reminded me that it’s bad for my knees, but now here I am again on a ‘sporty 2 hour hike’. Will I never learn?
Well, yes of course the views from the top are stunning, but Eric could send a drone up for that while I drink coffee on the boat.
Anyway it was more like 4 hours.
Next stop is a few islands North, a famous dive site to watch manta rays feeding in the current. We eventually find a peaceful spot to anchor for the night. Next morning we are in the dinghy for the 3 minute ride to the pass, one hour before high water, nobody else there. Did we get the timing wrong?
We jump in anyway, into the most beautiful underwater world that any of us have seen for a long time. A blizzard of little fish all around us, multicoloured corals, starfish and the whole cast of reef fish. The healthiest looking reef I have seen since the uninhabited Tuamotus. It’s like jumping in to a different reality.
As we drift along the pass with the dinghy, we come to a deeper chasm where the tide is running fast. Out of the gloom, a giant white form appears, flying towards us.
The biggest manta I have seen. It is clearly feeding in the fast flowing current, such size and grace so close, our presence is tolerated as we all swim together for several minutes before the manta performs a last banking turn and fades away into the blue.
Back to Cloudbreak
It’s windy. Solid 20 knots as we anchor inside the reef. Feels like we’re way out at sea. Three miles from the main island, a mile from Tavarua island, but just a 5 minutes from Cloudbreak on a windsurf board. What an anchorage! It looks quiet, a few surfers and a couple of kites. Bryan and Eric rig wing foil gear, I rig my battered old 4.7 windsurf sail. Comfortably powered as I approach the wave, I very cautiously start feeling my way around. It’s not huge but still a powerful break and a bit daunting. I’m trying to be on the last wave of the set and not taking any risks. After a few rides I start to get more confident. Dropping in deeper and later, the wave sucking up over the shallow reef but just peeling. Predictable, so it seems easy to stay out of trouble. The surfers and kites have had their session, so now it’s just us. Bryan and Eric picking off any wave they want on the foil boards. A pretty special time for me. Windsurfing Cloudbreak! Dropping in to perfect waves with Escapade anchored just there beyond the whitewater. It feels like the whole of my windsurfing life and my Escapade life have perfectly aligned in this moment with this crew.
When we arrived in Fiji mid April it was hot and steamy, lots of rain and thunder, not much wind.
One morning in May we woke up and it had all changed. Winter’s here! The air is cooler, I’m sleeping better, and the trades are blowing.
Wind every day. We take advantage of the empty Namotu Left. Too windy for surfing, so we sail it. This time, just us and resident kite-legend Ben Wilson.
What a great windsurfing wave, I savoured every turn.
Time to go
It’s great to have some crew around when it’s time to pack up the boat. We are all moving on. Wyatt’s already scoring waves in Baja. Eric and Delia are returning to Mexico. Bryan and Auriane are leaving for France.
We all feel the real world crowding back in after our long stay in the Escapade bubble. I’m so grateful to my crew for getting me across that big chunk of the South Pacific.
I am missing my wife and looking forward to seeing Guernsey after so many months away.
Escapade is gleaming inside and out, safely tied up in the inner harbour at Vuda Point. Another chapter over.
Thanks once again to Eric for all the beautiful images.
More at www.ericduranphoto.com