Familiar Bays, New Adventures

Sunday 17th September 2017

The wind continues to howl past the boat for the fourth day running and we are beginning to feel a bit tired of it. This morning hoping for a drop in the winds we came up from Blue Lagoon to Buasali Bay and are anchored off Sawa I Lau. It is incredibly beautiful and although the island and the reef are protecting us from the swell, it is still extremely blowy and the fetch rough enough to make dingy rides rather wet, swimming from the boat unpleasant and use of the kayak tricky.

Sawa I Lau is unusual amongst the Yasawa Islands as instead of being composed of volcanic rock it is a slab of limestone that has been thrust upwards by past geological activity. Being limestone it’s cliffs have been eroded to form an encircling notch, reminiscent of the islands in Tonga and the rocks are scarred with caves, cracks and vertical grooves. We took the dingy for a closer look and marvelled at the fascinating shapes created by a millennia of erosion.

Sawa I Lau

Sawa I Lau is where we came a month or so ago to visit the caves, in fact we have been revisiting, with Sasha and Julia, many of the places we have been to before but we are finding plenty of new and interesting things to do. At Manta Bay for instance, we found a different snorkelling spot just off the beach along from the resort and had one of the best snorkels we’ve had all season. Instead of the normal walls of coral, the area was dotted with bommies, these were in turn surrounded by fish. The reef fish were larger than we often see and in the bright afternoon sun and clear waters their colours shone out. We watched a blue spotted ray emerge from its sandy resting place, a giant moray eel slink from one rocky hole to another and a pair of pennant banner fish dance in unison.

Blue spotted Ray

As always the rolly conditions quickly drove us north to Blue Lagoon, but even here and despite the windy conditions we found plenty of new adventures to entertain us. About a mile and a half across the Lagoon from the anchorage is an mangrove, lined inlet. Undeterred by the conditions we dressed suitably for a wet ride and set off to to take a look. At its head there is a small village, a tiny resort nestled amongst the trees and a little way up the valley a fruit and veg farm. The village vegetable boat had topped up our fresh supplies the day before so we didn’t venture inland but we decided we needed sustenance before we faced the wet upwind ride back to Raya, so we headed for the resort. We were welcomed first by a metre long Octopus that was swimming in the shallows where we landed the dingy, it swam straight under the dingy for cover and spread its legs out into the sand in all directions, cartoon like, to stay still in the current that was washing over it, as we drew the dingy away it elongated itself and headed off into deeper waters.

Octopus on the beach at Waitui Basecamp

After wading from the sand bank across a mini Lagoon to the resort, Waitui Basecamp, we were enthusiastically greeted by the young Australian owner. We spent a pleasant couple of hours drinking beer, enjoying the rather different view and eating a slightly dubious baked rice and vegetable lunch.

The next day, accompanied by the crew from Crazy Daisy, we took the path to Lo’s Tea House on the windward side of Nanuya Island. As the track reached the summit the full strength of the easterly wind hit us. At about 25 maybe 30kts it felt quite strong and we all remarked how it was impossible to imagine the 185kt winds that have just hit the Caribbean.

Windward side of Nanuya

After the hot walk, down by the beach the breeze was very welcome, Lo’s donuts were as sugary as always and we enjoyed the cleansing effect of the lemon tea, before settiing off on the return journey. Instead of continuing on the track across the top of the island we turned left and followed an alternative path that dropped down towards a valley. The upper track passes through mainly grasses and areas of sugar cane, the valley path had many more trees, gullies were crossed by makeshift bridges, it had a much more jungly feel. After about half an hour and just as we were beginning to feel like intrepid explorers the illusion was broken as we emerged out from the tress into the tended grassy area of palms and huts at the beach used by the Blue Lagoon cruise ship. A ten minute stroll up the beach led us back to the dingy.

Intrepid explorers

Hoping to sail south tomorrow, fingers crossed for the Mantas and less wind.

Where Next ?

Monday 11th September 2017

As we start to plan the details of our next move from Fiji to New Caledonia and onwards to Australia, lurking at the back of our minds is the question of where we should go next year. From the beginning, this trip, had been about getting to and sailing in the Pacific, as we near our first continental landfall since leaving the Americas we have to face up to the fact that the Pacific crossing is almost complete.

The journey so far.

If we could conjure ourselves back to Panama we would happily do it all again. The reality, however, is that we have no magic wand and an eastward sail, more or less back the way we have come, would mean long periods against the prevailing winds, not something we particularly want to do. Another alternative is to sail up past Japan to Alaska and down the west coast of Canada and the States, for us wimpy warm weather sailors that all sounds a bit cold. We could of course just stay this side of the Pacific sailing the circuit from New Zealand or Australia to Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. This is a tempting option, but the cyclone season is seven months long, which means we end up spending a lot of time and money just kicking our heals waiting to get back to the Islands. We are therefore facing up to the fact that we have to start to plan our departure from the Pacific and into the Indian Ocean. With access to the Suez Canal still a no-go area, the route home is via South Africa and the Caribbean.

Basic route back to Europe

This route is rather heavy on long ocean passages but provides plenty more exciting places to visit and possible diversions but making the decision to leave the Pacific is a hard one.

Rick contemplating the future.

Back in real time we are having a final trip through the Yasawas with our last set of guests, Sasha and Julia. Their first day started well with the wind behind us and strong enough for us to actually sail from Vuda to Musket Cove. Unfortunately, that evening, those same winds bought thunder, lightening and heavy rain. With all the hatches closed it was too hot to stay below so we all perched under the sprayhood counting the seconds between the flashes of lightening and claps of thunder, noting that the masts from the couple of super yachts close by would make much higher and better lightening conductors than Raya’s. In the lulls we took it in turns to check the aft pole light for signs of the Manta and made plans for the following couple of weeks.

Today has dawned hazy and serene, I still marvel at how one place can be transformed over a few short hours, last nights stormy sky and sea is today’s calm idyll. It’s an early start as we have a six hour trip north, no sailing today I think.

Sasha and Julia enjoying the calm sea.

Hair and High Winds

Tuesday 5th Aug 2017

My news feed is full of tales from the Caribbean sailing community preparing, the best they can, to sit out Hurricane Irma. We have a soft spot for the BVI, as while chartering there, many years ago, the first small seeds were sown for our current adventure. Irma, at cat 5, is the strongest type of hurricane and due to hit these beautiful Islands later today. It is difficult to imagine how terrible it must be for the people there, as well as the cruisers abandoning their yachts for safer ground.

The weather in Fiji has been much more benign, I’m glad to say, but not wall to wall sunshine, last week it was mostly cloudy and wet. As we motored in light winds out of a downpour we had on a much smaller scale our own weather phenominum, as we looked behind us we were alarmed to see a water spout forming down from the clouds. Fortunately we were sailing away from it not towards it, we watched as it gradually faded as the cloud reached the land.

Water spout just a mile behind us

Out in the Yasawa Islands it has been the normal cat and mouse game hiding from the wind and swell. With both of us fighting a cold we could have done with a bit of a lull. We have to thank Ashley for being an extremely undemanding guest, as we coughed and spluttered our way through the week. In between showers and doses of paracetamol we have done some very good snorkelling. No mantas at Manta Bay but again a great drift snorkel through the pass, then in Blue Lagoon we enjoyed the fantastic coral on the north reef and had fun once more at the beach reef. We took bread to feed the Sargent majors and some parrot fish came to join the party, painfully they didn’t seem to be able to distinguish between the bread and my extremities! Having got a few shots of Ashley in the feeding frenzy I decided it would be safer to turn my attention to the reef. It is nice and shallow here and easy to take good close ups of the fish.

Back onboard Raya we put Ashley to work, one of her many skills is as a hairdresser, this was not a opportunity to be missed. Now there are some moments in life when you expect to be able to get five minutes peace. Sitting with a hair colour on your head is one of them, in a hair salon you’d sit with a cup of tea and a gossipy magazine, at home you’d expect to relax or chat, on a boat however you end up on the bows resetting the anchor. We had arrived in Blue Lagoon a few hours earlier and anchored comfortably to the side and behind a 120ft superyacht. Just as I relaxed for the required half hour the colour takes to hide my grey bits, a strong southerly appeared from no where and the superyacht suddenly became perilously close. She had been sitting over her 100m of anchor chain in the light breeze and the higher winds had stretched it out moving her right on top of us. Moving a superyacht is quite an effort, Rick offered to move instead and so up on deck I came, looking totally ridiculous, hair dye splattering in the 20kt wind, at least it wasn’t raining

Trim for Rick

As one of our yachting friends says, champagne problems, especially when compared to the disaster about to strike the Caribbean. We are now back in Vuda Marina feeling safe and ready for a few days rest.

Ash in control

Mantas at Musket

Wednesday 6th August 2017

Our spotlight that illuminates the back of the boat, makes for easy landing from the dingy at night and also casts a pool of light off of the stern into the water. This light attracts insects, tiny fish and krill, these in turn lure in other creatures looking for an easy meal. It has provided hours of entertainment over our travels but none so much as our experience last night. We returned from our BBQ at the bar to find a beautiful black and white Manta Ray dancing in the spot light. It swooped and rolled scooping up the mass of krill as it went, oblivious to us watching and filming it or the dingy almost on top of it. Mesmerised we watched its graceful twists and tumbles often right on the surface, other times it went deep only to re emerge ghostlike from the darkness. As it rose to the surface we could see the huge cavity with which it filters the food rich sea water and as it rolled it exposed its white underbelly with two remora stuck fast.

Scooping up the krill has he comes to the surface.

Back flips exposing the white underbelly and two remora.

The only disappointment was that Charlie and George, still drinking at the bar, missed the show, especially as the Mantas didn’t put in an appearance the two days we were at Manta Ray Bay. Luckily the drift snorkel through the Tokatokanu passage is one of the best snorkels we have found here with or without Manta. We take the dingy up current through the pass, jump in and drift with the strong current back over the coral towing the dingy behind. It is a fantastic sensation as you fly over the reef passing over a million fish big and small, spotting eagle rays and sharks on the way. At one area of the reef shoals of chromis, small turquoise fish, form dense lines of a thousand individuals that sweep and undulate around the contours of the coral looking like fast flowing underwater rivers. When we pop out the other end we just jump back into the dingy and do it all again, and again, and again.

Rivers of Chromis sweep over the coral

For our final day with the boys, we motored out with our friends on Knockando to a sandy cay, surrounded by nothing but turquoise sea. The snorkelling was a bit of a disappointment but the location was so remarkable in the calm conditions that we just swam and floated about enjoying the view. We moved on to the outer reef at Musket Cove in search of better coral but a sudden dramatic increase in wind drove us back to the anchorage and an evening in the bar.

At anchor off Sandy Cay

George and Charlie hopefully had a great time with us, they were fun to be with and they appear to have remembered to take all there belongings with them but have kindly left us with the colds they bought from Sydney. As we all coughed and sneezed our way into Denarau harbour, Raya sounded much like a plague boat. We swapped the boys for Ricks niece Ashley, the poor girl will have to put up with two ill old people for a day or two.

The extreme beer drinking experiment was not really a success

Musket Cove

Friday 25th August 2017

We have spent a pleasant four days in Musket Cove sat in the resort’s small marina. With three restaurants, a large pool, beaches to explore and a bustling activities centre it feels like being on holiday. Some of the time at least. Unfortunately we have had a lot of cloud, some rain and a cool wind that has, due to the direction we are tied to the pontoon, been screaming into the cockpit, at times, keeping us hiding below. Jumpers have been worn!

Pretty place to tie up to the dock – Musket Cove Marina

The weather started to change last Sunday. After a nice day spent Saturday off Octopus resort, meeting up with our friends from Crazy Daisy, Sunday morning we headed South. There was zero wind, the calm flat sea was dark and oily and with clouds building, the atmosphere was heavy and oppressive. Rick slightly under the weather with a tummy bug, snoozed in the cockpit, everything was so still and the ocean so empty it felt like I was the only living thing around. Then has happens in the tropics, the rain starts and the world comes back life. So it was, a very bedraggled Raya and crew tied up at the dock.

Monday dawned dry but windy. Musket Cove is connected to the mainland by the Malolo Cat, an hour ferry journey across to Denarau Port. While I stayed aboard cleaning and preparing for the arrival of our next guests, Charlie and George, Rick took the ferry across to complete some chores and have a look around the chandlers. With a shuttle from the airport to the ferry it was also an easy way for the boys to reach us the next day.

Moored one boat down from us on the dock were Clare and Darren from Knockando and frequent visitors to Musket, over a drink at the bar they filled us in on all the local information, including the best snorkel spots, a run down on the restaurants and how to buy cheaper beer.

This turned out to be invaluable, Charlie and George arrived exhausted from their exploits in Indonesia and Sydney but still able to sink a can or two of Fiji Gold and keen to get into the water. A mile off the marina is a long sandbar, as the sunshine appeared from the morning cloud, the white sand glowed in a turquoise sea. We took the dingy, sluggish under the load of four people, out through the shallow marina channel, through the anchored cruising yachts and past four or five super yachts. One giant, Dragonfly, is a sleek 240ft long by only 32ft wide motor yacht and Google tells me is the fastest superyacht around and Google should know, it is owned by one of their co-founders.

Charlie and George on the sandbank, Musket Cove

The snorkelling off the bank was murky but the lack of visibility was compensated for by the thousands of fish. Along side the normal array of reef dwellers we spotted a group of 2ft long trumpet fish and numerous trigger fish, including a group of my favourites, Picasso triggers.

Picasso Trigger Fish

We availed ourselves of the resort facilities for another couple of days. The boys went diving, we all enjoyed the self cook BBQ at Pirates bar, we swam in the pool and stocked up on the slightly pricey supplies at the shop. Then having made Raya shipshape yesterday evening, we plan to leave on the high tide at 9am this morning and head for a night at Navandra.

A last thought, I spotted this article on the BBC news website and it made me smile.

The problem of having to ration your energy requirements to make that essential cup of tea was big news in the real world, for us in Raya World, this is an everyday feature, just replace electric car with water maker/water heater/toaster.

Busy Blue Lagoon

Saturday 19th August 2017

We spent another 4 days at anchor in Blue Lagoon doing nothing very much but watching the world go by. Sandwiched between three islands this seems to be one of the few spots in the Yasawas that is free of the effects of ocean swell and so an ideal place to catch up on some sleep, do a few small jobs and relax while a trough passes over the area . Quite a few other boats obviously agreed and the anchorage was relatively full.

As we entered through the reef last week one boat name caught our attention and led to a ‘what a small world’ moment. Onboard, having sailed up from their New Zealand base, was the sister and brother in law of some friends of ours from our old home town of Cranbrook. In fact it turned into a very sociable couple of days with all the crews getting together most evenings at the Yacht Club bar in the small Nanuya resort.

Raya at anchor in the Blue Lagoon

Despite its uncrowded feel it’s a busy area. Surrounding the large lagoon hidden amongst the trees are two or three villages, three or four backpacker and more up market resorts, a glamping site and a beach area used by a small cruise ship that comes in once a week. All the resorts in the Yasawa and Mamanuka islands are fairly small and they blend well into the unspoilt landscape.

In fact the whole economy of the area revolves around the tourist industry, the villages provide the staff, grow a lot of the fresh food and are involved in the transport of goods, locals and tourists between one island and another. There seemed permanently to be one boat or another crossing the lagoon.

The villagers whizz about in their all purpose longboats that convert into everything from the school bus, to a fishing boat, a taxi or goods delivery van.

Fridge delivery

The villages and resorts are kept supplied by landing craft that ply back and forth from the mainland. In such treacherous waters, even with their shallow drafts delivery is dependent on the tide. We watch in admiration at the skill with which these large boats are navigated through the anchorages and complex reef systems.

The larger of the two landing craft keeping the islands supplied with goods.

A few tourists arrive daily on seaplanes that noisily land frighteningly close to the yachts. However most people arrive on the Flyer, a bright yellow catamaran that will be forever synonymous with our trip here, it daily delivers and picks up passengers from almost every resort in the island group. Bringing in its wake not just waves that set us rocking but a fleet of small boats that act as go betweens, transporting goods and guests from the Flyer to the shore.

The Yasawa Flyer

On Wednesday we added another form of floating transport to the Lagoon, setting out on our kayak to feed the fish off the reef half a mile away at the other end of the island. We could see the sky was darkening but the sea was calm and the wind nonexistent, we didn’t think a little rain would harm us. About halfway a sudden deluge began, it brought so much rain we could hardly see even the few metres in front of us. We paddled to shore and hid under a palm tree, five minutes later it stopped and we carried on our way. Then through the trees we saw another band of rain approaching, the wind had began to pick up, the signs weren’t good, so we quickly turned for home. Not being particularly proficient paddlers the trip back was rather, shall we say, challenging, especially as we kept getting fits of the giggles. By the time we reached Raya there were 2ft waves running and it was blowing 25kts, thank goodness we were upwind, I think had we paddled out the other way we might still be out there!

Not the best time to chose to take out the kayak.

A Day in our Life at Anchor

Sunday 12th August 2016

Of course a large part of the charm, and the challenge, of our life afloat is that we don't really have typical days, but sometimes it is good to take ones eyes off the highs and lows of life and focus on the everyday.

Saturday we were anchored off the beautiful island of Navandra, we had arrived the afternoon before, sailing north to escape the crowds and choppy waters at Musket Cove. I find I wake early most mornings and love to catch the sunrise, this Saturday morning, the sky was streaked with high clouds that lit up long before the sun appeared above the hills on the eastern side of the bay. The sea is calm but overnight a swell has begun to creep in. Navandra is a remote uninhabited Island and the early morning sounds were restricted to the childlike bleating from a couple of goats somewhere on the island and the distant roar of waves crashing on the reef. I search with the binoculars but I can't spot the goats on the shore or perched on the large rocky outcrops that poke out from the undergrowth. They sound close and must be hidden amongst the trees.

I make myself a cup of tea, turn off the anchor light, unfurl our ensign and settle down to check my messages and look at today's weather forecasts. There is only a weak 3G signal here so things are slow, but it soon becomes clear that despite the roll we are anchored in quite a good spot. The tall mountains on the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu cast a wind shadow that, depending on the direction and strength of the wind, falls generally across the Lasawas. Its size and exact position changes from day to day and appears on the wind maps in blue, representing light winds. Today a thin finger of blue stretches out and falls over Navandra, either side of us is swathed in the oranges and reds of forecast high winds. When Rick wakes we take the decision to stay another night in the bay.

Unfortunately yesterday when we came in, keen to tuck as far in as possible out of the wind, we anchored a little close to the reef, we were probably fine but all night we were slightly anxious of our position, especially if the wind direction changed. If we wanted to stay and relax we needed to move, so we pulled the anchor up, motored backwards and reset it a bit further out.

Once settled we got on with some jobs, Rick checked and topped up the engine oil and then turned on and checked the newly reinstalled watermaker high pressure pump. I wash a line that was used to attach us to the mooring buoys in Vuda. Sitting submerged in the unclean marina water for the month we were there, it has languished, avoided, in various spots on the boat looking and smelling disgusting ever since. As the boat swings with the breeze we are turned broadside to the swell, which rocks the boat uncomfortably, my bucket sloshes soapy water, Rick wedges himself to avoid spilt oil.

The white beach beckons but we can see the surf rolling in and know from experience that, in these conditions, it will be too difficult to land and relaunch the dingy with just the two of us, so we opt instead on going snorkelling. It feels refreshing to be in the water, we have great visibility below the surface and the view above the water is stunning. It's a pleasant half hour, we see nothing particularly spectacular, I spot a large grouper however I can't catch him for a close up look and the coral is not in good condition but there are plenty of reef fish. Particularly abundant are the pretty striped surgeon fish that seem to be everywhere we look.

Snorkelling in Navandra Bay

Back onboard Raya it's time for a beer and to make some lunch. Rick knocks up some French Onion soup while I make some cheese scones. I carelessly, in these rolly condition, tidy last nights wine glasses to a basket on the counter. Just as I am about to put the scones in the oven, the boat lurches, the wine glass tumbles and the scones are lightly sprinkled with shards of broken glass. We are much more conscious of waste than we were before we entered the Pacific and instead of rejecting them we spend ten minutes picking over the tray before popping them in the oven.

We survive lunch without lacerating our mouths and spend, as we often do, a few hours in the afternoon relaxing. It's not easy laying on the bed when it's rolly, Rick lies star like across the bed to read his book, I take a brochure, about the delights of spending the cyclone season in Australia, on deck and start planning our period 'down under'. I look up every now and again to marvel at my surroundings. In the mid afternoon sun the colours seem to have, if possible, intensified, the trees even greener, the beach even whiter, the sea even bluer. The only sign of activity is a group of children from some of the five other boats in the anchorage clambering on the rocks and running on a far away beach, now at low tide even the surf is quiet. The swell however continues to roll in.

Bracing against the rolling of the boat

The sun sets undramatically behind a build up of cloud on the horizon but leaves behind a splendid pink glow that fills the sky. We had read of the dramatic Perseid Meteor shower due over the next few days, so as soon as it is dark enough, with all lights extinguished, we sit on deck to see if we can spot some shooting stars. With the moon yet to rise it is a spectacular scene, Jupiter shines brightly low in the sky, Antares a red twinkle to our West, the cloudy expanse of the Milky Way stretches above us. We spot the Southern Cross and the plough, upside down this side of the equator, but no shooting stars. (We learn later that the shower is only visible in the Northern Hemisphere).

We tidy and check everything is shipshape on deck, lock on the dingy and go below to begin watching the TV series of the Crown, which with the cheap telephone data here, I managed to slowly download while in the marina. Rick has the last of the cheese muffins and with an uncomfortable crunch finds the inevitable chip of glass that slipped us by.

Then at what is commonly known as cruisers midnight – 9pm, we jostle for enough bed space to assume our star shapes and attempt to sleep. Rock and roll, rock and roll.

Fairwells and Favours

Thursday 10th August 2017

We stayed in Manta Ray Bay one more night, not only to swim again with these wonderful creatures but also in the morning to fulfil Matts ambition to dive with sharks. Sharks and many other large fish often gather in areas of the ocean where, in a form of symbiosis, much smaller fish swim around them removing parasites and algae. These smaller fish, often small varieties of wrasse will even enter and clean inside the sharks gills and mouths. One such cleaning station exists on the reefs that run in the passsage just south of the Manta Ray Resort and is almost guaranteed to have sharks present.

Matt and I signed up for two dives, it was a bit early on the tide for the sharks so they took us first for a cave dive. Personally I find caves a little barren, much preferring the coral gardens and walls with all their colour and life, but it was fun twisting our way through the narrow passages, each turn revealing a change in the light, dark corners or bright shafts of sunshine. Unfortunately near the end of the dive the route took us sharply down and through an archway, Matts ear didn't equalise adequately and he was left in a lot of pain. Between dives I called Rick and he bought us over some chewing gum, Matt desperate to do the shark dive chewed energetically to loosen the ear area as much as possible. Still in pain he managed to clear his ears enough to get down to the cleaning station and was rewarded with close encounters with white and black tip sharks and a large grey shark that cruised back and forth with his mouth wide open allowing the tiny yellow wrasse to clean his teeth.

Saturday dawned with hardly a breadth of wind, we were headed to Musket Cove where Tony and Gilly were leaving us for a couple of days of luxury at the resort there. It had been a shame that the wind had never been right for us and they never got a proper sail. Especially as when we started to approach our destination and its surrounding reefs, where it's too tricky to sail, it suddenly picked up. By the time we were anchoring in the cove it was blowing 20kts and white horses topped the choppy waves. Not the best conditions for dinging people and their suitcases into shore but all were landed safely, if a little damp. Later that evening we joined them in the resort restaurant for a final supper and discussed what a good couple of weeks it had been. They had been perfect guests.

Tony and Gilly enjoying the snorkelling

The next evening it was time for a last meal with Matt, now back in Vuda we had an enjoyable time listening to another really good band playing at the Boatshed. Still with earache we waved him off armed with Ibuprofen for the plane. We will miss him, especially his enjoyment and knowledge of the fish and coral and his youthful energy helping around the boat and dingy.

Great having Matt onboard

Our second reason for returning to Vuda was to overhaul our high pressure pump for the watermaker. Just as we were leaving a few weeks ago Rick discovered an expert in Laukota, a town just fifteen minutes up the road, the pump was beginning to become a bit unreliable, a service was overdue. With a bit of nudging, they finished the job in two days and Wednesday afternoon Rick with our ever helpful taxi driver Abdul drove up to pick it up. Then a complication, there always seems to be a complication the company would only except cash. Since our return to the UK we seem to have triggered multiple security alerts and our cards are being continually blocked. After no luck at the ATM Rick tried the bank but they had no facilities for international exchange. While, frustrated, Rick called me to see how much cash I had, Abdul appeared out of his bank with F$2000 to lend us, what amazing generosity. While Rick recovered the pump, I called the banks in the UK and armed with a stash of all our cards I managed between them to make the marina ATM give me just enough money to pay him back.

We are now back at Musket Cove to catch up with friends before heading back up to the Yasawas and a bit of a break before our next guests arrive.

Majestic Mantas

Thursday 4th August 2017

The banging of the drums summoned the resort guests to the boats, Manta Rays had been spotted in the channel. All around us cruisers jumped into their dingies and we all raced to the shallow passage that runs between Naviti and Drawaqa Islands where the Mantas come to feed.

The scene above water was fairly chaotic five or six resort boats, half a dozen dingies, two or three large groups of snorkellers and a couple of dozen individual swimmers all jostled for space. Our hopes of a close up sighting were not that high, we couldn't imagine the Rays would join this melee. But then a resort guide raised his hand nearby, everyone swam towards him, we slipped into the water from our dingy and there just a few feet below us was a huge Manta. A gasp from Gilly, a squeal from me, we could hardly believe what we were seeing.

We spent over an hour swimming with these majestic creatures, at over 4m across they filled our vision, they glided over the coral with just the slightest undulation of their wings, swooping gracefully to turn, ignoring the excited crowds above them. Effortlessly flying against a current that took significant energy for us to overcome, gradually the crowds fell away and the years of pounding up and down swimming pools gave Matt and I the advantage, we swam alone with one Ray, escorting it out towards the open sea. At one point it drifted to the surface coming within touching distance and revealing a community of cleaning fish on its underside, he seemed unbothered as Matt dived around him snapping photos. Such an amazing experience and a real privilege.

When we managed to drag our eyes from the Mantas we realised that the pass was brimming with other fish. Shoals of a thousand Blue Chromis, Yellow Tailed Snapper and an almost translucent, filter feeding, rather scary, unidentified fish that seemed to dislocate its jaws to open them abnormally wide in its bid to scope up as much plankton as possible.

N.B. Apparently the filter feeders mentioned above and pictured below are Long Jawed Mackerel, thanks Cindy.

Team Raya returned to the boat awestruck, decision taken to go again tomorrow.

The Blue Lagoon

STOP PRESS : Wow! Just swam with Manta Rays – pictures and details to follow.

Wednesday 2nd July 2017

The Blue Lagoon has kept us captive for a few more days than expected. The waters have remained calm despite some high winds, the beach is long, with white sand and backed with palms, the snorkelling is great and the resort has a cruiser friendly beach bar, why leave?

To encourage a tentative Gilly to join us, we started with a gentle snorkel off the beach. Our expectations weren't high but the few people already there seemed to be enjoying themselves. What a great surprise, the small reef was teeming with fish and when Matt started feeding them with the bread we had bought we were inundated with Sargent Major's. The next day we stepped up the level and took the dingy out to the large reefs in the channel where we found pretty coral, a huge variety of small fish, Matt even spotted a turtle chomping on the reef.

. Gilly feeding the Sargent Major's

Sunday at lunch in the Boathouse Bar, despite the rain it was still warm and pleasant, we saw the resort ran tours up to some limestone caves. We could have sailed up in Raya but thought it would be nice to let someone else take the strain for the day. What we hadn't counted on was that this meant we would arrive with all the other resort boats. Our hearts sank, the beach was full, luckily nobody on our trip was in a hurry, so we waited in the shade until things cleared. The caves were reached by following a path around the cliffs and then descending down some steep steps. The water that filled the first cave was lit by a large gash in its side letting in daylight, the second cave, reached by diving down through an entrance in the rock, was in complete darkness. Rather eerie until the guide shone his touch upwards and light filled a smaller cavern. Luckily Matt had his dive torch as well to light the many crevices. Fun but not an unmissable experience.

Limestone caves at Saw-I-Lau

Tuesday we felt it was time to stretch our legs, we had been told that the path up and over the island led to, bizarrely, a tea house that sold chocolate donuts. The view from the top of the hills was magnificent, revealing clearly the reefs we had painstakingly navigated around just a few days previously. After a hot but pleasant 40mins we descended into a small village of tidy gardens and colourful dwellings and right on the beach, Lo's Tea House. In true Fijian style most of the items on the menu were unavailable, we settled on lemon tea and, of course, donuts. The tea comprised of three lemon leaves, freshly picked from the tree outside the back door and boiling water, it was surprisingly tasty and very refreshing. In contrast the donuts were probably the most wicked things you could eat, dripping in oil and sugar, they were delicious.

Lo's Tea House

In between all these activities we have finally got out the kayak and actually managed to steer it around the bay. A good couple of days