Cruising World

Fun Times in Fiji

A Gathering for Cruisers

- By Ronnie Simpson

With a stunning deepwater lagoon enclosed by an expansive maze of coral reefs nestled up next to a beautiful and picturesqu­e island in the heart of the sun-drenched Mamanuca island chain of western Fiji, Musket Cove—and the nearby Malolo and Malolo Lailai islands—are unlike anywhere else on the planet. Which makes it ideal for one of the cruising world’s great events: the annual South Pacific gathering known as Fiji Regatta Week.

“Years ago, when Dick Smith sailed in here on his cruising boat, he felt something in this place that really is still alive and well today,” says Russell Carylon of OC Tenders, a longtime sponsor of Fiji Regatta Week, invoking the name of the sailor who has become synonymous with Musket Cove. Carylon is right; Musket Cove is a special place indeed.

And Smith, founder of Musket Cove Resort and Marina, was a special sailor… not to mention a record-setting aviator and highly successful entreprene­ur. He left his native Australia aboard his yacht and searched the South Pacific for years with the goal of finding the perfect spot to set up a resort. When he discovered Musket Cove in the 1960s, he knew his search was over. More than 40 years since Smith first opened its doors for business in October 1976, Musket Cove Resort has become one of Fiji’s longest-running resort companies in a small island nation that now counts tourism as its largest industry.

As a cruising sailor, Smith wanted Musket Cove to become a haven for internatio­nal cruising yachts, so he establishe­d the Musket Cove Yacht Club, which celebrated its 40th anniversar­y in 2020. The rules for joining the yacht club are simple: Sail into Musket Cove from any port outside Fiji, and you’re eligible for a lifetime membership in the club for a nominal fee of around $2.50. Now counting more than 20,000 members from all over the world, the club is one of the oldest and most well-known in the South Pacific.

As well as starting the yacht club, Smith pondered how to use the club and its special location to get more yachts to cruise the South Pacific. The answer was relatively simple: Start a yacht race. Musket Cove Yacht Club commodore Jack Hargraves says: “It was all Dick Smith and his wife, Carol. He saw the benefits of what yachting brings to Fiji. [At the beginning] we would sail from Fiji to Vanuatu and estimate our own time. The one who guessed closest to his or her time would be the winner.” And so, the Musket Cove Regatta was born.

Now preparing for its 38th edition, the regatta—the formal name for which is now Fiji Regatta Week at Musket Cove, and which is tentativel­y scheduled again for this fall—is thriving. Since those early days of sailing to Vanuatu and taking one’s own time, the regatta has grown into a world-renowned event that in 2019 attracted more than 100 yachts and close to 400 crew from 20 countries on six continents. Like many famous events in the world of sailing, it was perhaps inevitable that this simple format and concept would eventually evolve into something far bigger.

The main thing is everybody comes to just have fun,” marina manager Patrick Tuiqereqer­e says. To cover that basic mantra, the event offers something for everyone, and has continued to modify its format throughout the years. From Hobie Cat match racing to big-boat racing, and even recently added kiteboard and foilboard divisions, the regatta attracts all types of sailors and boats from every corner of the sailing world.

Some sailors at Fiji Regatta Week have never raced their own boat before, or participat­ed in any yacht race whatsoever. Others are career or lifelong racing sailors who have competed in the Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cup; the participat­ing boats offer the same breadth of diversity. In 2019, the smallest boat was a tiny little Contessa 26 called Crazy Love that had been sailed from America to Fiji by a married couple with no racing experience at all. At the other end of the spectrum was the Open 66 NV, a former Vendée Globe ocean racer that had been lengthened to 66 feet from its original 60 feet, and was later retrofitte­d into a family cruiser in New Zealand (its owner is a profession­al boatbuilde­r who builds high-tech carbon-fiber components for Larry Ellison’s Sail GP series catamarans).

After claiming line honors in both of that week’s main big-boat races aboard his Craig Schionning-designed Spirited 480 catamaran, Australian Mick Hoult said, “That was actually our first race with Roam. We’ve done quite a bit of passagemak­ing, but that was our first race.” Having built and then subsequent­ly cruised his cat for years all over the Pacific, Fiji Regatta Week was the first time that he and his wife, Larissa, had been able to actually “race the house.”

With a couple of fast catamarans, a handful of ultra-high-performanc­e racer/ cruiser monohulls, and some fast production cruisers from Hanse, Beneteau, Jeanneau and more, there were fun and close battles all over the racecourse.

In the first race toward the famed surf island of Namotu and back, which took place on a blustery 25- to 30-knot day, Roam battled all the way to the finish line with Nica—a high-tech

This collection of photos from Fiji Regatta Week at Musket Cove showcases the breadth of personalit­ies and activities that happen every fall. While competitio­n is a key component, the event has stayed true to its original ethos of fun and inclusion, and of encouragin­g more yachts to cruise the South Pacific. On top of the racing, there are beach games for young and old, plenty of places to take in the action from shore, music and parties late into the night, and an ever-changing cast of true characters enjoying it all.

Finot-conq-designed FC53C owned by a circumnavi­gating couple from Germany—winning by just a handful of boat lengths. On the final race of the week, the Around Malolo Island Classic, Roam again came out on top of a close tacking duel to the finish, this time against the locally owned 8.5-meter racing catamaran Miss Minnie. In the monohulls, the two fastest entries, NV and Nica, dueled all the way to the finish, with the larger NV just nipping the bright green racer/cruiser from Germany. “Cruiser regatta” or not, the racing was red-hot all over the racecourse, all the way to the back end of the fleet, where tubby, double-ended 30-footers were trading tacks to the finish line. Most importantl­y, everyone finished with a smile on their face and their boat in one piece.

While competitiv­e racing is certainly a key component to the event, it has stayed true to its original ethos of fun and inclusion, and of encouragin­g more yachts to cruise Fiji and the South Pacific. The event’s major sponsors read like a who’s who of marinas and marine-industry firms from New Zealand’s Northland. Like the regatta itself, the sponsors feel like one big family, hailing mostly from Port Opua and Whangarei, both local hubs of cruising activity that, in pre-pandemic times, eventually ended up receiving and hosting many of the regatta’s participat­ing yachts come cyclone season. In years past—and hopefully again in the not-too-distant future—the majority of the fleet that participat­ed in Fiji Regatta Week went on to make the 1,100-nautical-mile trek to Opua, New Zealand, and beyond (many others participat­ed in the Go West rally to Vanuatu and New Caledonia before sailing on to Australia).

While the regatta might be aimed toward cruisers, in Fiji you truly never know what world-class sailing and racing talent is going to show up or what they will later go on to achieve in life. The 2019 winners in the overwhelmi­ngly popular Hobie Cat match-racing event was married couple Rod and Kerry Waterhouse of Sydney, Australia. While cruising around the world for four years in the ’90s, they sailed through Musket Cove with their two children and competed in this very same regatta, each racing Hobie Cats with one child on board. Rod scored the win with 4-year-old son Jason crewing, while Kerry and daughter Bridget came

As far as the world-class sailing goes, Fiji Regatta Week has something for everyone: kiteboardi­ng, windsurfin­g, fleet racing and, of course, even a dedicated class of Hobie beach cats (opposite). in a close second. For young Jason, Fiji Regatta Week was his first-ever sailboat race, and he’s since kept up his winning ways; he is now an Olympic silver medalist and America’s Cup sailor, and sister Bridget is quite an accomplish­ed sailor in her own right.

But to focus merely on the racing would be a disservice to the regatta and a gross misreprese­ntation of the event. After all, Fiji Regatta Week is as much a celebratio­n of the cruising lifestyle as it is a sailing competitio­n, if not more so. With morning yoga sessions on the beach, a marine swap meet, weather and seamanship seminars, epic parties lasting long into the night, as well as good food, drink and company, Regatta Week truly boasts something for everyone. With such a wide variety of activities focusing on fun in the sun and living our best lives, racing sailboats merely represents the catalyst for such a unique gathering to take place year in and year out. As one of the oldest continuous­ly running resorts in the country, Musket Cove and its staff of over 170 Fijian locals know how to throw a hell of a party.

Let me be the first to tell you: If you’ve never seen a Fijian cover band from Suva—with a female lead vocalist—cover the Cranberrie­s live in concert with 500 of your closest friends, you haven’t truly lived.

Around the same time that Musket Cove began to become known as a fantastic place to moor one’s yacht, there were some other stunning waterborne discoverie­s made right around the corner that would change things in Fiji forever. An intrepid American surfer named John Ritter (not to be confused with the late actor) was sailing his cruising yacht through the South Pacific in 1978 when he discovered a freak wave breaking just a handful of miles away from Musket Cove. It became known to the locals as

Nakuru Kuru, or “thunder from above.” In the surfing world today, it is now known simply as Cloudbreak and is one of the most famous waves on Earth.

Right next door at what is now the resort island of Tavarua, another very famous left-hand breaking wave would soon be discovered. Restaurant­s, as that wave is now known, is regarded by many as the best wave on Earth. On nearby Malolo Barrier Reef, there are seven more unique surfing breaks—four lefts and three rights—that can all be worldclass waves on any given day. Cloudbreak and Restaurant­s in particular are two of those extra-special waves that create picture-perfect barrels at a variety of sizes and remain almost perfectly offshore in the prevailing southeast trade winds of the region.

A few short years after world-class surf was discovered right in Musket Cove’s backyard, people began to combine surfing and sailing, and thus windsurfin­g and eventually kiteboardi­ng were born. Musket Cove, naturally, became ideal for these activities as well. With a low-tide sandbar that presents itself almost perfectly to both the prevailing southeaste­rly trade-wind flow and to the onshore northweste­rlies that frequently build when the trades don’t blow, Musket continues to be redefined as the perfect place to rock up on your yacht and get wet. Whatever you want your Fijian experience to be, this magical little cove seems to have it in spades.

Having sailed my own yacht there twice, in both 2014 and 2019, I’ve yet to tire of waking up early in the morning and looking at the wind, wave and weather conditions before deciding what I wanted to do that day. Peeking out the companionw­ay of my own yacht, Quiver, I might see a handful of kites in the sky zipping back and forth in flat water and consistent breeze. Or perhaps I’d be joining some friends to make the daily 5-mile pilgrimage to our own world-class wave. If the wind and waves both go flat, no worries—one can don a mask, hop into the crystal-clear water, and enjoy a seemingly private aquarium at one of the many coral heads that boasts its own small ecosystem teeming with life. Regardless of the day’s activities, it’s pretty likely that you’ll end up barefoot under the stars at Musket Cove’s famed island bar, recounting the adventures of the day with friends both new and old.

While the resort and regatta founder, Dick Smith, passed away nearly 10 years ago, his legacy and vision remain alive and well today. That idyllic little cove and island that he first stumbled upon more than half a century earlier has now become one of the most active cruising hotspots on the planet, with a long and well-earned reputation as a pro-cruiser establishm­ent while also flourishin­g as a successful resort. With the resort still family-owned and -operated to this day, Smith can look down from above, surely beaming with pride when he sees more than 100 foreign yachts moored up and enjoying life for a week every fall before hoisting sails and continuing on their own respective journeys. Vinaka vaka levu, Dick. Thanks for all the memories, both past and yet to come.

Voyager and media profession­al Ronnie Simpson is a contributi­ng editor to Cruising World.

 ??  ?? The author’s Peterson 34, Quiver, carves a course to weather in the clear, inviting waters off Fiji.
The author’s Peterson 34, Quiver, carves a course to weather in the clear, inviting waters off Fiji.
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