Tuvalu 2015

Our passage from Fiji to Tuvalu.

Friday, 8th November…...We departed Savusavu, at 1730hours and motor sailed overnight to the top end of Taveuni Island. With neap tides, calm seas and little wind, we passed through the Somosomo Straight with ease. It seemed as though we had timed it perfectly with the NNE flood and the SSW ebb of the tides. Perhaps more good luck than good management. At other times this area of passage making has either been a real battle to get through or a dream run.

As forecast, the wind started to fill in from the SE and we had wind for the whole way to Tuvalu approx. 600nm. This is the first leg of our journey to the Marshall Islands. Swell is less than 1m and seas are calm. Boat motion is comfortable. We sail to our Thikombia Island Waypoint and then change course for a direct run to Tuvalu. It was downwind sailing with a poled out headsail whilst the wind remained SE. When the wind shifted to the East we were on a starboard tack all the way to Tuvalu.

SPCZ South Pacific Convergence Zone….It started as cloud and the occasional rain shower. The further north we travelled the more cloud and squalls we encountered. As we closed in on Tuvalu we noticed many large thunderheads in the distance. They seemed to get more active of a night time and travel in a line. Some of these systems form quickly and pass over us with blustery winds, rain and lightning. We see lightning in the sky but hear no thunder. Lightning always makes us nervous. It is said "If lightning wants your boat, there is nothing you can do to stop it". Sometimes we can use radar to sail or motor around the squalls. Avoidance is good.


We are surrounded by thunderheads on the horizon.

It is Monday and we receive an email saying our friend Sally is in Tuvalu. She is due to fly out on Thursday so we should hurry up and get there. With 140 miles to go and no desire to spend another night at sea we start the motor. With good wind and a little help from the iron horse we do our best to arrive at the Tuvaluan anchorage before dark. It was 1730 hours when we dropped anchor. Just in time for a good nights sleep. There is nothing like a good nights sleep after a passage at sea. Our passage was fast and we completed it in 4 days so we were very happy with that.

We have arrived at Funafuti, Tuvalu. 08.31'S, 179.12'E

Tuvalu islands lie just below the equator and west of the dateline. Their nearest neighbours are Kiribati being 200 miles north and Fiji 600 miles to the south. Tuvalu is one of the smallest countries in the world. It has a total land area of 11 square miles however its 9 islands are spread out in half a million square miles of ocean.

The view of the shoreline from our boat. This is a very low lying atoll under threat from Climate Change, rising seas and cyclones. They rely on rainwater to fill their tanks.


It was great to see Sally (left) again. You never know where you might bump into her these days. Also Deanne and Janet from S/V Navire. Photo courtesy of Exodus.


Thank you to Tim and Deanne for hosting sundowners on Exodus. Photo courtesy of Exodus.

Going ashore…


Strolling through town and checking it out. Everyone rides mopeds here. Breadfruit hangs from the tree to the right of Craig although fresh fruit and vegetables are limited as to what they can grow in their sandy soils.


There are 2 bakeries to choose from. With fresh bread in the bag, Craig is heading back to the dinghy dock.

The Airport is a big deal here in Tuvalu. It's great and not like any other airport I have ever experienced. Everyone hangs out on the airstrip. They exercise, play soccer and cricket, hang out, dry clothes, stargaze, ride their mopeds along the airstrip. There are 2 flights each week. 1/2 an hour before a plane arrives the local firetruck arrives with sirens blazing and runs up and down the airport strip clearing all the locals off it.


Nobody walks around here. They don't even ride push bikes. It's all about mopeds. Unfortunately this airport was placed on the most fertile strip of land, by the Americans for WW2. Now it is the centre of activity.

Airport happenings….we are at the airport. Paul (blue shirt) is waiting for his girlfriend to arrive and our friend Sally will be departing to Fiji on the same plane. The firetruck has cleared the runway and is standing by. That is Deanne from Exodus on the left as they are also going to the Marshall Islands.

The local Taiwanese growers market….


Market Day is Friday 0600hours and Tuesday 0700hours. However we have some very clever cruisers amongst us and they pre-order and arrange a time and day to collect.


The local growers market which is sponsored by the Taiwanese government. We were able to get fresh lettuce, bok choy, cucumber and green peppers. Green beans and papaya were also available with the pre-order system. Fresh is always best, if you can get it.

Commercial Fishing is big business here. Taiwanese fishing boats and tuna fishing. Wow! Check out these photos. The large fishing vessels come back in to harbour full of fish. They unload to a mother ship. Fishing vessels and mother ships are coming and going all the time. Combined with FADS (fish attracting devices) and helicopters this is a big $$$ industry.


A mother ship sitting high in the water, waiting to be loaded.


Loading a mother ship. I think that may be a FAD at the stern of the fishing vessel on the right.

There is aTropical Low sitting just above Tuvalu. Thunderstorms, squalls and heavy rain will be experienced within 150nm of it. And that is exactly the kind of weather we are getting. The good news is that everyone has a full water tank.


We just missed this shower as we sailed over to the northern pass where there are a couple of islets to explore….


but we are not going to miss this one.


Sultry weather in the tropics.

Exploring the atoll…There are up to 10 boats here in Funafuti at present. Most of us are travelling north to the Marshall Islands although some are heading to the Phillipines via Micronesia and some have Kiribati as their destination for the cyclone season.


It is only an hour or so across the the lagoon but once you arrive there are deserted islands to explore.


True Blue V is anchored alongside the reef.


Hermit crabs gather to feed along the sandy beach.


I never thought I would see Craig go up a coconut tree to get green drinking coconuts but this tree made it easy for him.


This small island is surprising lush and green and appears to be a nesting site for birds but in amongst it we find some WWII remains.

World War 2 American military bases were established at Funafuti, Nukufetau, and Nanumea during WWII. Funafuti was home to the B-24 Liberator bombers of the US Seventh Air Force, which launched raids against Japanese bases in the Gilberts and Marshalls. Warplanes enroute from Wallis Island to the Gilberts were refueled here. Japanese planes did manage to drop a few bombs in return. Local Funafuti holidays include Bomb Day, which commemorates April 23, 1943, when a Japanese bomb fell through Funafuti's church roof and destroyed the interior. An American corporal had evacuated the building only 10 minutes before, thus averting a major tragedy.

On a deserted island near the pass, we found shells and bullets; a magazine rack with many unexploded bullets. They had been put in a sand pit and a fire burnt on them. Perhaps not the recommended way to dispose of them.


We found a couple of sandpits like these on the island.


A magazine rack of large bullets.


You can see the size of them. They are quite large and meant for destruction.


I wouldn't want to be sitting by the fire when that goes off.

Travelling north to Kiribati….we have asked permission to be able to clear out of Tuvalu and still be able to stop at Nanumea which is one of their islands 250miles northwest. It would break up the 700nm trip nicely. It is a special request and not one that is granted lightly. Unfortunately some cruisers have done the wrong thing in the past and it always makes it difficult for those who follow. However, we have been granted permission for a very short visit to Nanumea! Thank you Tuvalu Immigration and Customs.

Our passage to Nanumea Atoll…...We sailed through the first night but the wind dropped to 6knots on the nose. We have had many hours of motoring over glassy seas with no sea chop and a light swell. The weather has been blue sky and sunshine up until today. The gribs show us we are in between 2 lows. Today was overcast and squally. We had wind again today and were able to sail right up to Nanamea Atoll however we will have to wait until tomorrow before we can enter the lagoon.It is 2am and we are currently hove-to off Nanumea Island. It is our 3rd night at sea but it is calm. We are still doing night watches but at least we can sleep when we are off watch.

Nov 23….arrival at Nanumea Atoll.

Fishing Report….about 2 miles offshore we hooked up with a Sailfish. It was about 7 feet in length and the biggest fish we have caught. Some local fishermen arrived just in time to help us land it.


See the whole story by watching our I'm a Big Sailish movie. I am glad these guys arrived when they did as I am not sure how we would have got it on board. We took some fillets from the fish and gave the rest to the fishermen. Everyone was happy.

Push Play for the movie "I'm a Big Sailfish"

The Nanumea Pass

In WWII the Americans blasted a pass for small boats to access the lagoon. it is reportedly only 5 feet deep and 60 feet wide. Our draft is 5 feet so we will wait for slack water after high tide at 2pm before we enter the lagoon. We have some waypoints for the pass but they only go to show that our Navionics Charts are inaccurate and will have us anchoring on land. We downloaded SAS Planit satellite images before we left Fiji and along with eyeball navigation we are confident of having our anchor down safely tomorrow afternoon.

23rd November….Entering the Pass….is rather scary. We looked at it at low tide and we could see the reefs lining the pass in. The reef extended out from the markers and had breaking waves. We could see there was still water flowing out. We waited for Exodus to arrive which was then about mid tide. Tim and Craig went in through the pass in the dinghy and reported a 2-3 knot current. Locals that they spoke to said to wait for high tide and the best time with least current would be around 2pm. So it was as good as it was going to get. With Craig at the bow watching for breaking waves and bringing us in through the centre of the channel by pointing left or right, I was at the helm with positive acceleration surfing through the entrance. One wave hit the starboard stern and pushed us to port as Craigs arm started waving frantically to starboard. I corrected to starboard and he waved to port. Then we were in the channel where it was protected from waves with no current. Depth was good with 10 feet+ under the keel at high tide, showing 7 feet briefly on the lagoon side. It was a spring tide. All of our depths are under the keel and we have a draft of 5 feet.


This photo shows True Blue V inside of the lagoon waiting at the end of the channel for Exodus which is about to come through. Photo courtesy of Exodus.

We pulled up in the lagoon and turned to watch Exodus Catamaran approach the pass for their entry. We were not the only ones watching. The locals and fishermen had lined up to watch too. I'm sure when they said small boats they were not thinking keeled yachts and catamarans. Exodus arrived at the pass and I saw their bows rise high as they surfed over a swell as they came to the entrance. The same breaking wave that caught our starboard stern caught their starboard stern and I saw them get pushed to port too. Then they straightened up and were in. We moved further into the lagoon and dropped anchor off the village. After a passage it is nice to relax, eat and sleep. Tomorrow is another day.

24th November…What a great day in Nanumea. We went ashore to visit the local policeman with our official papers from Funafuti. He welcomed us and we went for a walk around town meeting the locals.


Big smiles. This is the local pastors kitchen. It used to extend out towards the reef but it also suffered cyclone damage. Still it is a pretty cool tropical kitchen with a great oven.


These girls made us smile. They have been playing with lipstick and have it all over their face.


There is a lineup at the local bank. At the other end of the building is the police station although crime is not an issue here.


The local church

The local church has the best view from the pointed spire which is one of the highest in the South Pacific. The Pastor gives us permission to go up and check it out. With a 360 degree view we can see our boat in the lagoon, the ends of the island and out to sea. The beautiful leadlight throughout the church is also a feature.

I thought we were the tourists…

We were invited to a big lunch for the 70 tourists who would be arriving by a boat name Silver Discovery. They specialise in expedition cruises visiting remote islands. The last tourist boat to visit was here in 2010! It was obvious to us that the locals spent alot of time preparing for them.


Everyone was welcomed with coconut drinks and a big smile. Talofa!


Everyone was involved and happy to get their photos taken. Of course that was the moment when my camera announced the battery was exhausted. Luckily we had the GoPro as a backup.


Young and old turned up to make the tourists welcome. Nanumea Atoll is really off the beaten track and they don't get many visitors. It is not the easiest place to visit. Ideally you will visit the island and then go back 250nm to Funafuti to clear out. Not going to happen for most of us cruisers.


Decorations were made and poles were wrapped in pandanus leaves.


Once everyone was welcomed we all walked 300m to the Meeting Hall for lunch, singing and dancing. The tourists on Silver Discovery only had a very short time on the island 12pm-4pm. 4 hours! Way too short. Many of them went off snorkelling and diving or sightseeing around the island, missing the singing and dancing which we thoroughly enjoyed! Thank you Namumeans for putting on a great show for Silver Discovery and inviting us to enjoy it with you.


Tim, Craig and me inside the Meeting Hall waiting for speeches to begin. Photo courtesy of Exodus.

Watch our movie to see the effort the locals put in to welcome the big boat tourists.

Push Play for Tourist Day in Nanumea.

Thursday 26th November…a day exploring around the island and sharing Thanksgiving with our American friends on Exodus.


Tim organised transport to take us on a tour of the island to see WWII wreckage and the southern end of the island. Photo courtesy of Exodus.


There are a couple of US plane wrecks and old tanks scattered throughout the bush. We would never have found them on our own.


We found a local who knew where to find the WWII tanks and plane wrecks.


This plane wreckage is quite mangled and looks like bits are missing. I remembered admiring the Pastors outdoor kitchen oven and it reminded me of this plane. Perhaps some innovative recycling went into that oven.


There was alot of erosion with sand and palm trees washed away. Cyclone Pam came through here last year and caused damage to the beaches and housing.


Some of the tourists on Silver Discovery were coming to check out the local cemetery as part of their sight seeing. I am not sure why, perhaps there is something of interest there. We zoomed past as there was a storm approaching and we were keen to get back to the boat before it arrived. We still have time to check it out on another day.

The end of the day was spent celebrating Thanksgiving with a potluck on Exodus which included a baked stuffed chicken, roast pumpkin and onions, mashed potato, beans, gravy, bread, corn dish, meatballs and tomato sauce. Delicious and quite a treat.

Some of the local boys paddle out to say hello.


These boys are regular visitors to us and Exodus in their homemade canoe.

Departing Nanumea Pass….I really recommend waiting for slack high tide. It wasn't quite slack tide but we committed to going through. Once you start, there is no changing your mind. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of current right at the entrance and it was pushing our long keel to port. Craig's arm started waving frantically to starboard and although we were travelling at 6knots and turning to starboard it seemed to me like we were still going to port. The water was like a washing machine and by the time we popped through to deeper water my arms and legs felt like jelly. That pass is definately not for the faint hearted. Of course, Craig was laughing and saying "it was fine, we were in the middle of the channel."

Update on the Pass….Another 6-8 boats arrived in Nanumea after we left. One boat, Free Spirit got into serious trouble entering the pass. They thought they were going to lose their boat when they landed on the reef and were on their side with the propeller out of the water. One wave pushed them further on the reef but by some miracle a larger wave came and pushed them back off and into the entrance where they manouvred back out to safe water. A second boat scraped along the reef as they departed the Nanumea pass. Both boats were OK although perhaps a little traumatised. So if 10 boats went in and 2 hit, that is a 20% strike rate. You might want to really think about whether or not you stop here. That is the most dangerous pass we have taken True Blue V into and I have no desire to do it again. If you decide to stop, then take your time to check out the pass and only enter or depart at a slack high tide with someone on the bow ensuring you are in the centre of the channel at all times.

We are bound for Tarawa, Kiribati which is 470nm NW. Bon Voyage!

True Blue V 2016