Saturday, July 23, 2011

Namena, Bligh Water, Yasawas, and Lautoka, Fiji

what we look out for- reef

Big fire in Namena

Dry country in the Yasawas

Head-high razor grass

Fish trap, Yasawas



Funny algae in Yasawas

Limestone island in Yasawas

Yasawa Island

Limestone island, Yasawas

Burning candlenuts for a torch

Blue Lagoon, Yasawas


Savusavu to Namena Reef anchorage
Up around 0800 and left Savusavu anchorage in the company of 3 other boats that soon turned for Somosomo.  Anchor got caught up a bit on coral clearly vis in the 35’ water in dawn light, easily untangled.
Sailed upwind- NW winds as soon as we started this way.  There is a low to the south of us, and we’re catching the upper side of the clockwise flow into it.  It’s slow moving and over SW Fiji for a few days.  Hoping to get rain to wash clothes.
Very still early in day, a couple dolphins seen very briefly.  Tons of fish poison fruit, shore leaves and grass floating in water.  Calm seas.  Skies are sunny with high clouds of change overhead, and some cumulous building on southern and western horizon.  After 3 hours the sky is still bright but there is more cumulous in the west, and a few few-moving fluffy lower clouds cross the sun occasionally.  I go below to grab a bite and use the head before we go through the pass into Namena barrier reef, after which we will have to keep a constant watch for reefs.  The wind is 10-15 knots.
Five minutes later I come back up, and it’s blowing 25 knots.  The western sky is a fast-approaching wall of grey, the land and water below the cloud front last in a pall of rain.  I look at a big trash fire I’d noticed earlier, a few miles away on shore.  It’s really kicked up, and the wind is doing weird things with the smoke, curling it up into a big funnel before driving it out in a thick yellow-grey cloud across the bay.  It reminds me of fire activity picking up on a big western wildfire.  Something unpleasant is coming our way. 
Cpt doesn’t’ like the look of things either.  The pass is upwind anyway, and I steer into the wind as he goes forward and takes the jib down.  The main is still secured from last night.  The wind rapidly increases to 30 knots, with gusts to 35.  Cpt: “These are the worst possible conditions for going through a pass.  This is how people lose boats”.  We bob on the rapidly growing steep little seas and watch the thick rain front approaching.  The little boat image on the electronic chart plotter gets closer to the reef passage.  It’s a pretty wide passage, but long, and we can’t see where it is in this weather.  The chart plotter is usually wrong about where reef passages are.  I can’t tell if this is just a squall, or the front of a big rain system.
“Turn around” Cpt says.  We’ll put on the autopilot and go below”
It’s calm and cozy feeling in the dim interior, with the sudden rough weather lashing away outside.  In 10 minutes the rain stops, and after 20 we turn back around and start on the approach to the pass again.  I can see the long line of the squall moving away to the east.  By the time we get to the pass, the wind is back down to 20 knots steady, the seas have calmed, and the fire onshore is chugging away calmly again.  The sun comes out, no squall clouds threaten, and we have an easy time picking out the dark blue water of the pass from the vivid greens of the reef in perfect visibility. 
NW winds at 20 knots pull us across the huge inner lagoon of Namena Reef, but when we near our chosen anchorage on the western side, Cpt decides its too exposed and we backtrack a bit.  We motor upwind towards the good-sized brush fire burning upwind and downhill in pine forest on the hills above the water.  It’s in the swirling air in the lee of a ridge, and quickens and slows in fits of activity in the disturbed late afternoon air.  The flame front is occasionally visible at the lower edge of the pine grove.  No human habitations are visible near it, but the bush is dense and I hope no one is losing their home in the fire.  Probably lit by a runaway trash fire or sparks, maybe lightning.  The surrounding hills look like they’re covered in old burns.  At first we think the smoke will force us to anchor in the exposed location, but then we pass through the haze and see our destination in clear air upwind of the fire.
Unfortunately the wind is blowing right down a big river valley into the broad shallow harbor we’ve chosen for the night. Sunset is near so we anchor in unsheltered water in 20-25 knots and resolve to keep an anchor watch if necessary.  At least there is plenty of room is something happens. 
Later the wind drops to 10-15, and we have an easy night.

The next day, Cpt downloads a weather gram via the radio.  The gribs show a large low to the south of Fiji, and another approaching from the west.  NW winds 20-25knots for the next day or two.  It would be a losing endeavor to try and motor through the pass and across Bligh Water in this, so we stay for the day.  I make yogurt and read about 19th century Pacific islands history and molluscs.   Cpt reseals some access ports on the starboard side, kills about 30 flies, and charts our course.  My magic polishing potion has left some disturbing green oxidation residue on the hard-to-clean screw slots etc on the stainless, and I’m left with nothing to do.  We’ll leave in the morning tomorrow and cross Bligh Water during the afternoon and night, on a course for the northern Yasawas.
Our nice cool nights have disappeared, replaced with warmth and heavy humid air.  The northern valley wind has shifted to a west wind that is mostly blocked and provides us only the occasional lazy breeze.  I chug iced coffee in search of motivation for the day.  I think I’ll sleep on deck tonight if it doesn’t rain.  Although some rainwater for washing clothes would be nice. 
Got some weird veggiess at market in Taveuni - okra, toroi, lumpy grapefruit like citrus.

Eventually, the wind shifts to SE and we manage to leave Namena Reef.  We cross Bligh water so quickly that near nightfall we take down the sails and cross the remaining distance to the Yasawas on bare poles at 3 knots.   I stay up on watch all night, watching a meteor shower and rigatebirds flying very low over the boat.  It was dark and cloudy and one flew right into the topping lift. 
Beaut dawn with slowly fading stars.  Yasawas in sight- we’d passed through the channel south of the hard-to-see-in-all-conditions and should be avoided by a wide margin Pascal reefs.  Expected some sort of weirdness out of Bligh water for some reason- maybe the name- but didn’t’ get it, other than the fast poles trip.  Pictured derelicts drifting around the seas at 3 knots in the darkness.
After sun came up, wind increased to 20-25 knots and seas built up until we got into the shelter of Yasawa island.  There was a long line of rocks coming off the NW point that wasn’t on the chart.  Low hills behind our anchorage in the north weren’t enough to block the wind-  whitecaps right up to the beach.  It was only 9am and we continued on, me happy to enjoy the seas motion without sickness again finally and relaxing with eyes closed, listening to Joshua Slocum.  Next anchorage south better- 2 boats there, one celadon- Aussie racing boat.  Bigger hills and it dropped to 10-15knots inside.  Lots lil islands with reefs, nice clear blue and green water, volcanic cliffs islands and headlands, and lots and lots of white sand beach backed by a thin strip of beach vegetation and rolling golden grass hills.  Cpt hoping for greener, says this is like Mexico.  I like it.  Anchored in 35’ sand.  It’s blowing hard out of the SE when we anchor.  Unfortunately the island funnels the wind rather than blocking it, and we spend 3 days unable to leave, getting buffeted by alternating calm and 35+ gusts. 

When the wind finally dies a little- gusts less frequent and only in low 20s,  we raise anchor easier than expected (patch reef close behind us) and headed out.  We head to Wai I Sala, a beautiful anchorage next to a high, sculpted limestone island  which makes an unexpected appearance in the middle of all the dark basalt of the Yasawas.  Outside the wind picked up to 20-25knots, seas low-moderate.  Blowing straight down passage in here at 25 knots.  Pretty trip, with grassy slopes topping 150’ black volcanic cliffs.  Unfortunately it’s still blowing harder here than hoped, with no protection behind high limestone island and whitecaps going all the way to shore.  A bit of wave action as tide comes up.  Shoaled up quick; anchor is in 48’ of sand.  Two boats are behind us and we drag about 20 min after setting, fortunately I was outside and noticed quick- we were getting pushed back fast by 25-30 knot winds.  A lil better than the other place though, as long as we hold. 
Standing watch for a few hours now, a pleasure since this place is real beautiful.  Cpt says reminds him of Vava’u.  We pondered the existence of big block of limestone island- reef that grew over hot spot area of up thrust and subsidence?  Yasawas are linear vent, did their rising create horsts and grabens, then subsidence and up thrust of a limestone block?  Also sea level changeto consider..  Wai I Sala has lots of overhanging cliffs with eroded bottoms, and eroded limestone blocks lining hanging over the sea.  Beaut lil shallow channel between it and a second island, which I hope to kayak when it gets calmer. 
Next day went to a local church 1030-1230.  The village shoreline was full of abandoned stone houses- various hurricanes blew off the roofs- there was a recent yr when they had 3 hurricanes, cassava rotted, lots crop damage, govt helped some but not much.  We went to new Pentacostal church in town (which makes 3 large churches in this tiny village), Church was open shelter of big poles, 2x4s, tin roof with plywood strapping about 5’ apart- said cost $2000 form local collections, plan  proper church after November collections- need $20,000 for wood, or $30,000 for stone.  Used to be one church, but now 3 in town of 150, everyone chooses what they think is best .  Service is outside under tin roof on poles, lots emotion, women wailing, paster making a loud, impassioned speech, wiping his sweating face with a handkerchief periodically.  I could picture his great grandfather rousing the village to war against neighbors.  H gave us a special welcome in English, then the rest was in Fijian except a couple phrases, ‘local ministry’, ‘who told you to be naked’.  Guitars, kids and everyone sitting real close, felt pretty welcomed.  Beaut setting.  Had eucharist - funny feeling eating christ with former cannibals.  They figure the last cannabalism act here was in 1927 J

After church we were invited for a lunch of cassava, canned corned beef opened with machete, papaya, cassava cake and lemon leaf tea.  Men had some green curry stuff with beef and a lot of bones too.  Everyone was working in garden this am, lunch, work afternoon, but not too hard!  Half the 6 people there spoke English.  We ate in a very humble tin shack, 1.5 rooms, where everyone cooks, eats, sleeps, stove on one wall of firewood on shelf, I’m offered one of the few spoons and the last piece cassava cake.  Suddenly pastors cell phone rings and then everyone pulls out cells and starts talking and texting… surreal.

Sail to Blue Lagoon short - not even worth raising sails.  Winds 5-15 knots, sunny, seas fairly calm.  Passages mostly wide and easy, but one big unmarked shoal on the way into the western passage into Blue Lagoon.  Anchored in 55’ feet.
In the morning we went to a small store at resort on other island.  No beer since it was $120 Fiji/case.  PM kayaked around Nanuyu island - very pretty.  Huge areas shallow brilliant green lagoon stretching way out from shore, several other low budget resorts on other side, tea house.  Surfed a couple waves, got out and swam a bit. 

Yasawas - Blue Lagoon to Naviti
Chart plotter didn’t show passage south out of Blue Lagoon at all- only shoal.  Low-mod seas, wind 15 knots south, overcast so vis not great, but we could see well enough to make our way out.  Passage was broad and deep at high tide.  Motored down to Naviti in 4 hrs.  Anchored in 30’ sand in the northern Naviti anchorage, north of the village of Somosomo.  Better sheltered from the south wind 20-25 knots that night than the anchorage by the village, even tho only low hills by us.  Pretty bay with colorful coral and a long sand beach with good shells.
Paddled in to beach.  Looked for trail to WWII plane snorkel on other side.  Someone had bamboo marker at W end beach, but this was nav mark and not trail mark.  We walked down to other end.  The beach had funny runoff channels and was composed almost entirely of puka shells in places.  We collected some for necklaces, and some nice purple cowries and bright red coral. 
Nice walk across thru new type of jungle- very dense with lots of vines in shore zone.  Coconut burn piles and papayas, lots lil tracks going off in dif directions.  Emerged into long grass highlands of rolling hills - pretty view.  Back down into shore zone 10 min later, walked alongside barbed wire plantation.  Nice homestead with open park like short grass with trees than sandy ground with coconuts.  Broad sandy shallows stretching out ot islands ½ mile offshore.  Swam out, rain recently and vis only 15’.  Plane was lil Spitfire, lower half tail, part fuselage, and fuel tanks or something left.  Not much to see. 

Tried to leave the next day and go down eastern side of island between shoal and islands, but no luck - rough seas and blowing 25knots.  We motored straight into and watched our speed decrease from 5 knots to 0.7.  Steering dif, watched ourselves nearly stand in place for 2 hrs, then gave up and returned to Naviti.
Somosomo village- built on sand ridge with tidal swamp behind it, running right thru middle village.  Nursing clinic and school, nice houses, sevu sevu brief and impersonal, row of women with trinkets waiting for us outside after.  Gave us coconuts, showed us woman with bad knee infection and swollen leg, asked for help.  Not sure where nurse was but she had daily hours posted outside nice well maintained clinic.  Tried to call local clinic on radio with no luck, then advised the woman to take a fast boat in to hospital.
Next day left Naviti 8 am and arrived Waya 3 pm.  Calm at first, then wind picked up from 10-23 knots in first two hours.  Sea built up to rough very quickly.  Tacked way out to west, then back to Waya- long trip of 20 miles, nice to sail instead of motoring, and only way we could have reached it against the wind anyway.
Anchored in 35’ sand in prettiest anchorage so far, with green and gold hills and very steep black volcanic face rearing up right above us.  Very well sheltered from wind, a lil rolly at times with E/N swell.
We need to get to Lautoka and then Vanuatu, but it’s blowing 20-30 out of the east today, so not possible yet.  Lautoka is 30 miles from here.  Deceptively peaceful and sunny inside right now.
After three days of waiting we woke up to calm weather- and got the hell out of there.  Nice calm easy trip down E side Waya, wind 15 knots dies to nothing 5 miles from Lautoka- perfect sailing.  Sea calm, wind f SE to E.  Reefs all not visible, none marked.  Couple big channel markers once we got right up to city. 

Looked for the old marina in Lautoka but it’s not there anymore.  Anchored by sugar factory, got covered in black soot by next morning.   I sat outside having coffee with breakfast, and when I got up and brushed the soot off myself I saw that I had left a soot shadow on the deck.  Eek.
 Harbor fairly open and not sheltered, ended up with lil 2-3’ wind waves when wind shifted north later.   Mud, poor holding, dropped anchor in 25’, dragged a couple times, then held.  We go in to talk to customs, and when we come back out a guy on the boat next to us says we’re in bad spot.  The tide falls a little further and I see the big rusty metal post we’re anchored almost on top of just off to port- good thing we missed it with the dingy.  Moved to a safe spot. 
Lautoka hot and dusty, all the shops ordered into districts according to their type of business - engineering, money exchange, auto repair, tailors, restaurants…
Decided to get out of Lautoka and go to Vuda Point for rest of time here.  Fortunately we’ve had some unseasonal pouring rains, and the wind’s been in the right direction, so all the soot’s been rinsed off and stayed off. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Viani Bay, Savusavu, and Taveuni, Fiji

Viani Bay resort

Fish Poison tree flowers

Fish poison tree fruits- these are to be found floating on the ocean and washed up on beaches everywhere in Fiji

Papaya tree with blossoms

Viani Bay

Viani Bay

Locals regularly burn out the hillsides in Fiji

Rain over Taveuni

Giant Clam shell holy water container, Taveuni church

Looking across the Somosomo Strait from Taveuni

Taveuni church

Taveuni church

The grand monument on the 180th parallel, Taveuni

the 2nd kayak finds an akward home

Savusavu sunset
Viani Bay, and the White Wall and Rainbow Reef
We left the deceptive calm of Fawn Harbor on the south side of Vanua Levu and headed out into 25knot headwinds and big swells.  After a rough ride out through the narrow reef passage we seemed to sit still for a long time as the engine fought the effects of wind and swells steepened by the shallow water.  Once out, we turned and spent a long day beating our way west towards Viani Bay.  Things got a little wet inside as saltwater found its way through the leaky spots we haven’t located and fixed yet.
The prospect of navigating the reef passage into Viani Bay in this weather was a little daunting; fortunately we found that the wind fell off to almost nothing once we got into the lee of Taveuni Island.  To our surprise, the Raymarine electronic chart plotter was missing information on the entire eastern and northern portions of Vanua Lavu.  We ended up going in blind, trying to discern the location of the White Wall’s abrupt rise in dark water swirling with strange currents.  The 3D info showing up on the twinscope depth sounder screen was greek to me.  Cpt used some sort of sixth-sense sailor intuition to parallel the invisible reef and then turn in at the right point.
Inside Viani Bay was the largest gathering of cruising boats we had seen in Fiji, outside of Savusavu.  The bay was deep and good anchor space was a bit scarce.  Most boats were at the north end of the bay, near a resort and the home of the legendary Jack Fisher.  A couple were on moorings.  There was one other boat on the west side of the bay about a mile in from the point.  We found a spot on the east side, south of a small island.  There was a nice white sand beach lined with tropical forest and bordered by mangroves growing in sand.  We anchored in 30’ with a white sand and coral bottom, and put out a stern anchor to keep from dragging off the steep slope.  The stern anchor had mostly rhode on it, and Dave ended up diving for it when we left several days later, as it was well wrapped up in the coral heads below us. 
The weather stayed nice for us.  Every day we could look across the straight and watch the rain showers falling on the Taveuni rainforests.  The clouds were always empty by the time they reached us.  The hills around Viani Bay were mostly dry grass.  Occasionally the locals would set fire to portions of this grass, and the bush fires would race up the steep hills for a little way before losing steam.  Jack, a colorful local character who was full of tall tales, told us that a local family set the fires so fresh grass would grow and attract cattle from a neighboring family, which they would then steal.  We enjoyed Jack’s company and went to his family’s place one night for a really excellent $5 curry buffet held for the yachties. 
I didn’t have diving gear, so we just did a couple snorkels.  Once we anchored inside the reef then swam out over it to the white wall.  There were some nice trumpet fish and schools of some kind of feeding silver fish, though this would be a better SCUBA dive.  On a different day we went out with Jack, who took us to a really great snorkel spot.  The current was quite strong and we ended up getting back in the boats at the beginning and going back up-current.  It would pay to be very cautious of currents here if snorkeling without an attendant.  We drifted over gorgeous soft corals and saw several small blacktip sharks.  The corals were especially good if we dived and looked inside grottos and under overhangs- a real living rainbow.
Fiji interior landscape

Vanua Levu interior

Vanua Levu interior

Mesh that the babies oysters start off on

Pearl farm tending boat

Savusavu anchorage at dusk

Drier Vanua Levu landscape around Labasa

Pearl seeds

Sugarcane around Labasa

Savusavu anchorage

Geothermal steam rising along the shoreline, Savusavu anchorage

Savusavu hotsprings

Walking to school on a new bridge over the hotsprings

Savusavu anchorage and hotsprings
Some sailors took a short boat trip over to Taveuni for supplies when the weather was nice.  We found no stores or vegetable markets in Viani Bay.   There was one dive shop a couple miles west of Viani Bay on Vanua Lava, and several others on Taveuni.  On the point southeast of the bay was a large estate owned by an American from California who visits briefly only once or twice a year.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Makongai. Fiji

A former leper colony with interesting colony ruins, a fisheries research station, and a popular anchorage.
The old theatre

The old jail

The village bell

Reef seeding

Funny shiny ball algae