Long-term passage planning requires more than just familiarizing yourself with the seasonal weather patterns and entry requirements for countries you plan to visit. Every boat needs regular maintenance and seasonal haulouts, not to mention a backup plan in case unexpected repairs are needed.
Many sailors who follow the popular Coconut Milk Run think it’s necessary to sail to Australia or New Zealand to find proper facilities to address both regular and unexpected boat issues, but that is hardly the case. Nor is it necessary to flee the tropics during the cyclone season; safe refuge can be found for your vessel to weather approaching cyclones.
Scattered throughout the South Pacific are several reputable and reliable boatyards that offer cruising sailors everything from fiberglass repair to bottom paint, and short-term haulouts to long-term dry storage. We have found, and used the services at, these hidden haulouts while sailing in Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.
Vuda Point Marina, Fiji
Vuda Point Marina, which recently celebrated its 20th year in operation, is located on the picturesque southwestern shore of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu. We arrived at Vuda Marina (pronounced vunda) in late 2011 by way of a recommendation from a fellow cruiser. We spent 10 hectic days getting Kate, our Newport 41, ready to leave on the hard for the cyclone season while we filled the cruising kitty. When we returned 12 months later — longer than we’d expected to be away — we decided to spend a second cyclone season in the hole, this time taking advantage of the facilities available and tackling a full list of boat jobs. We hired a local contractor to do a full topside paint job, resurface the deck and completely refinish the bottom. We also removed the engine, gave it a bit of love and had the engine bed rebuilt. We had a new aluminum arch custom-made for the solar array, and had some woodwork, fiberglassing, sail repair and machining done, all by local craftsmen.
Vuda Point Marina
Besides the work that we were doing on board, I was impressed with the improvements we saw around the marina. The aesthetics started to change: Staff wore new uniforms, the gardens were tended and the travel hoist got a fresh coat of paint. Practical changes were also made: A more comprehensive firefighting system was installed, a waste-oil tank appeared and security was tightened.
Adam Wade had recently taken over the post of marina manager, and most afternoons we’d see him walking through the yard, stopping to chat with cruisers as he made his daily inspection. Wade admitted that, “Prior to joining the marina, I didn’t know my jibs from my jibes.” But his strong background in hotel hospitality and a love of surfing made the steep learning curve a little easier to overcome, even when faced with Cyclone Evan bearing down on Fiji only two months after he took the position.
Although located in the cyclone belt, Vuda Point Marina is very popular due to its 35 in-ground cyclone pits for seasonal or long-term storage. This unique approach to boat storage ensures minimal damage in a storm if the vessel is stowed properly. Marry that with the fact that many insurance companies will cover vessels during cyclone season if left in-ground, and you can bet these “graveyard berths” fill up quickly.
Vuda Marina has 78 in-water Med-mooring berths with 240-volt, 10-amp single-phase power and shared access to a freshwater tap on each dock. The 63-ton travel hoist is the largest in Fiji and can accommodate vessels with a 19-foot beam. There are 30 hardstand spaces in the boatyard where boat owners are able to do work on vessels themselves or select from a list of contractors that are approved to work on the marina’s premises. Local day laborers or fully qualified and respected marine companies are available for hire to help with projects, depending on your budget.
We spent a total of four cyclone seasons at Vuda Point, and services continued to improve each time we returned. The marina regularly holds staff training for fire, first aid, CPR and customer service, and recently sent the apprentice travel-hoist driver to Australia to complete a “travel-hoist operators course.” Vuda Point Marina is now an official port of entry and offers full customs-and-immigration- clearance services, making our arrival and departure from Western Province an absolute pleasure. In 2016, the marina purchased a catamaran haulout trailer, making it one of the few places in the South Pacific able to service multihulls.
Located 30 minutes from Nadi International Airport, the hub of the Pacific, Vuda Point Marina is an easy-to-reach destination for guests or those who leave a vessel for the season. There is a well-stocked chandlery, store and ATM on site, and there are accommodations available at the marina if you’d like to leave the mess in the boatyard and get a good night’s sleep. And after a long, hot day ticking off items on the to-do list, you can join the crowd at the Boatshed Bar and Restaurant to enjoy a tasty meal, a cold beer and a sunset you’ll never forget.
Port Vila Boatyard, Vanuatu
Port Vila Boatyard is tucked away in the southern corner of Pontoon Bay on the island of Efate in Vanuatu. The small but professional boatyard offers moorings, haulouts, hardstand storage and a host of repairs and maintenance services to visiting cruisers.
We discovered the Port Vila Boatyard in 2015 when we were looking for a mooring for Kate during the sailing season. As always, we wanted somewhere quiet but convenient, and above all, safe. The cyclone moorings in front of the Port Vila Boatyard were the perfect fit.
Justin Jenkins, the owner and operator of Port Vila Boatyard since 2012, is a man who knows the business of boats. At age 15, he set sail from South Africa with his parents. He worked in the Caribbean as captain of a day-charter catamaran, then returned to school to earn his Master of Yachts 3,000GT certificate. He captained 40- to 50-meter superyachts in the Mediterranean, the United States and the Caribbean for more than a decade before moving to Vanuatu — where his parents had settled — bringing along his wife and young children. Jenkins’ love of Vanuatu and his experience in the marine industry are reflected in the care and attention he shows to his boatyard, staff, customers and yachts.
Haulouts at the boatyard are done on a New Zealand-built custom trailer and cradle that is lowered into the water via a rail system. A vessel is floated over the trailer, and a diver secures the boat to the cradle before it is slowly pulled up the beach and into the yard. Each vessel stays secured to its cradle while in the yard.
The yard strives to support the local economy and employs ni-Vanuatu (local) laborers, whose rates vary depending on their skill sets. It offers mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering services; structural repairs on steel, aluminum, composite and timber; and a host of cosmetic work, such as painting and polishing. It is possible to live aboard during your time at the yard, and for a small fee, have use of water, power, showers and Wi-Fi.
There is a small but well-stocked chandlery on the premises, and it is Vanuatu’s dealer and service agent for Spectra and Katadyn reverse-osmosis systems, Hyundai SeasAll marine engines and BLA, an Australian-based marine supplier. If the chandlery doesn’t stock an item you need, Jenkins can help you find it in Port Vila or help you import parts from overseas.
With space for 20 monohulls and three to four multihulls, Port Vila Boatyard is definitely a place to consider not only for maintenance and repairs but for seasonal or long-term storage. During the cyclone season, vessels in the yard are supported with additional props and strapped to their cradles. The cradles are then fastened to strong points buried in the ground for added security. Taking these extra precautions gives Jenkins bragging rights: Not one of the vessels in Port Vila Boatyard was damaged by the furious Cyclone Pam (one of Vanuatu’s most intense recorded storms). The insurance companies like it too.
The yard is located outside of the noise and commotion of Port Vila’s city center, but it’s on a local bus route, so finding transportation isn’t difficult. It is home to the Vanuatu Cruising Club and sponsors Vanuatu’s Junior sailing team. There is a cozy bar and seating area beside the office, as well as private, well-cared-for beach access. At the end of a busy day, you can kick back and unwind with a cold one while watching the kids dart about the bay during sailing practice.
I was alone on board during our eight-week stay on the mooring, and what impressed me most about the Port Vila Boatyard was the sense of community that I felt about the place. I was encouraged to leave our dinghy inside the main gate, and if I came home after dark, I was greeted by one of the 24-hour security staff members, who not only escorted me to the beach with a flashlight but waited to see that I arrived at the boat safely. Jenkins and his family invited me to yoga classes, art exhibitions and to share meals. I was always met with smiles and a helping hand, and considered the Port Vila Boatyard my home away from home while we were in Vanuatu.
Liapari Ltd., Solomon Islands
Liapari Island and its shoreside facilities are hidden gems of the Solomon Islands. Located at the southern tip of the large island Vella Lavella and just 12 nautical miles from the main town of Gizo, Liapari is protected by an extensive reef that shelters it from the weather. At first glance, the approach may seem a little intimidating because the charting in the Solomons is not great. But the entrance is obvious and well-marked.
Last year, we decided to explore the Solomon Islands, an island group with the reputation of spawning revolving tropical storms but not usually being affected by them. Nevertheless, we wanted a backup plan in case Mother Nature changed her mind and sent some nasty weather our way. Like many other places where we’ve sought refuge, Liapari was suggested by fellow cruisers who had firsthand experience there during an unseasonal blow and gave it glowing reports. We expected to find a well-protected bay and good holding away from the dirt and grime of Gizo. What we didn’t expect was to be welcomed into someone’s home.
Noel Hudson has been involved with Liapari Island since 1984, when he joined the then-booming coconut plantation that still occupies most of the property as a mechanic. A small fleet of ships, several vehicles and diesel generators that provided the station and its community of local laborers with power all needed to be maintained. As the copra (dried coconut kernel) industry in the South Pacific declined, Liapari Ltd. shifted its focus to providing haulout and repair services to local shipping vessels. In 2014, Hudson and his wife, Rosie, took ownership of the property, and it has become the go-to spot in the Solomon Islands for visiting yachts.
Operating two simple rail-and-cradle slipways, the yard can haul out vessels up to 5 meters wide, and with a 3-meter draft on the smaller unit. The larger slipway was under repair when we visited but can accommodate vessels up to 7 meters wide. Functioning as more of a labor and machinery hire, there isn’t much in the way of marine supplies at Liapari, nor in most of the Solomons, for that matter. However, as a place for an emergency haulout, it could be the difference between saving your boat and ending your cruising career.
Hudson runs a competent machine shop and offers welding and fabrication services, specializing in aluminum. There is also an on-site carpentry workshop and electricians, mechanics and general laborers for hire. For regular maintenance projects, it’s necessary to either carry all parts and supplies or ship them in from overseas. Liapari is an agent for BLA marine products and has offices in Honiara, the capital of the Solomons, so it can help with logistics and contacting suppliers. With a little forethought, Liapari can be an ideal spot for an annual haulout.
Hudson also offers an invaluable service to cruisers: a safe haven to leave a boat unattended. A sturdy 100-foot wharf can accommodate eight to 10 Med-moored monohulls. The extremely well-protected harbor and 24-hour security ensure your vessel will stay out of harm’s way while you’re gone. Competitive pricing makes Liapari an attractive alternative to sailing south during the offseason. There are four reasonably priced cabins for rent on the island, so you can sleep in comfort during transition times or while your boat is on the hard.
There is a small store on the island, and local ladies often visited our boat to sell or trade produce. For major provisioning, we caught the weekly supply boat to nearby Gizo. Airport drop-offs and chartered trips are also available. Liapari still depends on generators for power, and rain collection for the majority of its water supply, so come prepared if you plan on an extended stay.
The Hudsons also extend their island home and hospitality to transient yachts. Guests are invited to roam and explore the many trails that crisscross the island. A family-style potluck lunch is often held on the weekends, and most days at 5 o’clock, people gather at the Round House, where bad jokes and good stories flow freely over cold beer. The idyllic surroundings, friendly faces and warm welcome make Liapari a hard place to leave.
Canadian-born sailor Heather Francis has been living aboard full time since 2008 with her Aussie partner, Steve. Follow their adventures at yachtkate.com.