Thursday, September 22, 2016

Exploring around Mana Island

We had been in Fiji for three months, and we needed to extend our visas or leave the country. Now that we were having fun with Chuck and Lauri on Free Spirit and with Tom and Lynn on Roxanne, we figured we’d stay a bit longer. This meant we had to head to the Immigration office in Latoka. All three boats left Robinson Crusoe Island and had a lovely sail north. We passed Cloudbreak and saw some surfers out there, but it was much quieter than during the competition we’d seen a few months ago. As we entered the main lagoon, Free Spirit headed off to Musket Cove for a big regatta that was starting there. The wind was still good, as Good as Gold and Roxanne continued sailing the 10 nautical miles across the lagoon towards Latoka.

Roxanne sailing past us on the way to Latoka

It was sugar cane harvesting season, and there is a large sugar processing plant next to the anchorage in Latoka. It was interesting to see the train cars and trucks bringing in lots and lots of sugar cane, but it wasn’t so nice to get a mild dusting of ash from the continual burning of the cane. We decided to make it as quick a stay in Latoka as possible, so we spent the day extending our visas and buying some provisions. The next morning we headed back out to the islands. Tom and Lynn had the same idea, so the two boats headed over to Mana Island. We arrived late in the afternoon, so we anchored on the north side of the island for the evening and moved to the lagoon in the morning. After negotiating the tight pass into the lagoon at Mana, we dropped the anchor near the Backpackers Resort which is run by the villagers on Mana. We were close enough to shore that some local children came out on their raft to say Hello. We invited them onboard and shared lots of laughs as we all took turns jumping off the bimini into the water.

Local kids on board

Local kids heading home
Jumping off the Bimini

When Roxanne came into the lagoon at Mana, we decided anchor the two boats in a quieter part of the lagoon. The island is small, with no rivers, so the water in the lagoon is very clear and the coral is pretty healthy. We went for a swim from the back of the boat and found a small lobster hiding in the coral.

Lobster hiding

We spent a couple of days at Mana, along with Roxanne. On a couple of occasions, we went on Roxanne for little day trips to nearby snorkelling destinations and beaches. The first was to a tiny island called Sand Cay and Nukuimana Reef, where we snorkelled the reef and saw some awesome coral and fish. The second was to Navadra Island which was also pretty good.

Clown fish and a protective neighbour

After about a week, Free Spirit joined us and the three boats made a plan to head north to a location known for Manta Rays.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Oops

With SV Roxanne and SV Free Spirit, we motored to Kavala Bay on the NW side of Kadavu island to get ready for the sail to Beqa Lagoon. As we motor-sailed through Ono Strait, dolphins joined us.




After an amazing pizza dinner on SV Roxanne, we got an early start the next morning so we could get to Beqa in the daylight. We hoisted the main sail before hoisting the anchor and Dina was motoring out of the bay while Malcolm was down below. The charts here are not very good, and depth went from 17 metres to 1.8 metres – Good as Gold draws 2 metres. We hit a reef.

Fortunately, we were not moving too fast. Malcolm dropped the main sail and jumped in the water to assess the situation. He could see there was no damage to the boat. Tom, from SV Roxanne, and a local fisherman, took a couple of lines in their dinghies and drove away to heel us over and we were able to drive back into deep water. Dina was relieved there was no damage to our boat, but she felt terrible about hurting the reef.

We continued on to Beqa sailing downwind with the main sail and gennaker, a 7-8 knot breeze and sunshine. The wind picked up (not predicted) and we were soon overpowered with the stern being pushed around in the large swells. We wrestled the gennaker down as Roxanne passed us and took some photos.
Malcolm at the mast, after releasing the sheet

Snuffer coming down over the sail

Snuffer half way


 After a few hours, the seas calmed down for a lovely sail to Yanuca Island in Beqa Lagoon.
Sunset in Beqa Lagoon

The next day we continued on to Robinson Crusoe Island.  It was almost directly downwind, so we sailed with just the genoa. It looked like it was going to be an awesome 6-7 hour sail. Again, the winds picked up higher than predicted and the last two hours turned into a hairy ride as the winds gusted over 30 knots. The bay at Robinson Crusoe has good protection, there was still lots of wind but the water was calm. We anchored and dinghied ashore. The staff remembered us from our visit in June! We had drinks and stayed for the weekly feast and fire dancing show.
Free Spirit sailing along towards Robinson Crusoe Island


Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Great Astrolabe Reef


We left Matuku before sunset. Once we were outside of the reef, we raised the genoa (head sail). It was very rolly, overcast, rainy and cool. The wind was much stronger than predicted and we were a bit concerned about waves breaking over the stern of the boat. We hoped it would calm down once we were further from the island. The waves did settle into a pattern, but were still very large. A small pod of dolphins joined us until the sun was gone. The boat sailed very well, maybe too well, as we once again were going to arrive at the entrance to Astrolabe Reef earlier than planned. Throughout the night, especially during Dina’s watches, the boat was doing 10-11 knots and she saw 14.6 at one point!

Although we tried to dump wind and slow down, we arrived 4 hours earlier than expected (3 hours before sunrise). We still had lots of wind, but a least the water was calmer because we were downwind of the reef. We gybed back and forth outside the pass for a few hours until we had enough light to see, entered the reef at Usborne Pass and anchored off Dravuni Island. The Chief was away working at a nearby resort (we later learned the village had negotiated with the Australian resort owners that they could use the land as long as they employed the locals at the resort). We did sevusevu with the local Mayor, Isaac. Once we were welcomed, we walked almost all the way around the island.

We met the local Chair of the Village Tourism Committee, Marika. He explained to us that the village had negotiated with Holland America cruise lines to stop at Dravuni Island. Apart from the main island of Fiji, Dravuni is the only other island that receives cruise ships. The village is notified before the ship’s arrival and the locals ready the dock, the beach massage huts and tables, the traditional dance area and craft stalls. It is a very organised island. We stayed for another day, had more fresh coconut and another walk on the beach. It was a lovely place to spend some time while waiting for our friends on SV Free Spirit and SV Roxanne to catch up to us.
Yaukuelailai island anchorage

Before our friends showed up, we motored just a few nautical miles south to Yaukuelailai Island. It was a lovely secluded island with secluded beaches and wonderful snorkelling right from the boat. The first day the snorkelling was great, but the next day, after the morning rain, we encountered swarms of tiny, clear, jelly fish. They did not sting, but there were so many, it was impossible to see anything!
LOTS of Jellyfish, plus a leaf

After four nights in beautiful seclusion, we motored less than an hour south to Vurolevu Island. We snorkelled in the bay and explored a couple of beaches while Tom and Lynn, on SV Roxanne, arrived. We had not seen them since Tonga, almost a year before, so it was a wonderful reunion. Chuck and Lauri, on SV Free Spirit, arrived the next day and we all dinghied over to the NE point where we had heard that manta rays are often seen. We swam with three mantas – one was very large with no tail, another was large with a tear in its flap and a third was smaller (younger?).  The six of us all swam with them until we were too cold or too tired to keep up with them.



We wanted to dive the famous Naigoro Pass in the Astrolabe Reef, so we motored around to Naigoro Bay in the rain and cold. The next day, Gerald, from Matava Resort, picked us up, along with Tom from SV Roxanne, to dive. There was an out-going current in the pass, which we thought was not good for diving, but the guides returned from a scouting swim and said all was fine.

Dina was having trouble with her buoyancy and mask, so one guide took her back up to the boat a few minutes before the others were finished. The current seemed to get stronger and just before the dive ended, Malcolm and another guide were swept around a corner of the reef and out into the active pass. With the other divers and guides on the dive boat, everyone was looking for Malcolm and the guide. The waves were now so high, it was difficult to see them and the dive boat was having trouble manoeuvring. After 15-20 minutes, Tom said, “There they are!” It still took the dive boat a while to reach them. A rope with a float was tossed out, but the current was so strong, the rope burned Malcolm’s hands and then snapped. The dive boat circled again and tossed another line and this time Malcolm and the guide made it aboard.
Wall dive at Naigoro Pass
After a rest and some snacks, we went to a shallower, inner reef (not out the passage) called, Ozzi Reef. The sun was trying to come out and as this was not as deep, it appeared more colourful. We all thought it was better than the Naigoro Pass.