Skirting the Reefs

Sunday 25th June 2017

We realised how fast we’d been sailing when we both noticed a drop in wind and speed, we looked up to discover we had only slowed to 7.5 kts, our normal cruising speed. For the previous two hours Raya had been comfortably sailing at over 9kts, in fact for a while we were gliding along at over 10 kts. As we entered the notorious wind acceleration zone that is created by the squash of air running between the two main islands of Fiji, the breeze that was at first struggling to fill our sails quickly increased to around 25kts. The area leading up to the narrow Vatu-Ra Channel and into Bligh water is surrounded by reef and so despite the increased wind the sea stayed relatively calm. We had found Raya’s sweet spot, a force 5/6 wind, hitting us at 110 degrees, in calm seas, fantastic sailing.

We had woken early for a prompt start for the 50nm from Makogai Island to Volivoli Bay on the NE corner of Vitu Levu. Unfortunatley it was pouring with rain and we sat in a dripping cockpit waiting for a break in the clouds. We had, as is our habit now, recorded our track on our entry in through the reef so the lack of light was not too much of a problem for our exit but we didn’t fancy sailing in the torrential downpour, we made a cup of tea. Finally a little after 8am the rain started to ease and we raised the anchor. Our late start luckily turned out not to be a problem, our high speeds soon made up for lost time and as we approached Nanano Passage the sun broke through spectacular clouds and the reef systems were easy to see. 

We had decided on this spot off Volivoli Point as our next stop because in the cruising guide it was revealed that the resort here was cruiser friendly and had the best cheese burgers in Fiji. Having been in small remote anchorages for quite a while now the promise of a cheese burger was embarrassingly exciting. Much to our disappointment burgers were no longer on the menu, in fact the food was a bit of a let down all round. However our surroundings more than made up for the lack of culinary excellence. The wind had dropped and the sea was still and shiny, like an oily soup, there were reefs to explore with our snorkels and in the distance the most spectacular backdrop of escarpments. As the sun moved and the shadows of a few clouds skidded across their surface, the colour and texture of the rock was set in constantly changing relief.

Anchored off Volivoli

We were gradually working our way to the West and a bit more civilisation, so this morning we took off again to wend our way through the reefs on the inner passage along the north coast. It was an interesting route, the arid hills backed by rugged mountains a complete contrast to the jungle covered slopes we were use to. The weather was very calm in the quiet between two weather systems, a haze lay around us and with perfectly flat seas produced a surreal and relaxing environment. But this was not a journey for napping, the route took us skirting past and around numerous submerged reef systems, concentration and frequent direction changes were the order of the day.

We are using a combination of things to navigate the reefs, firstly of course are our eyes, in good light with the sun behind you most shallows are easy to spot. Then of course we have our charts and they prove, most of the time, to be extremely accurate. But occasionally they can be a bit off, so as a check we also plot waypoints taken from other cruisers websites, such as the essential Pacific guide put together by SV Soggy Paws, official cruising guides and often just from friends that have been places before us. And this year we are also increasingly using Google Earth, the satellite pictures show reefs and shallows that are often difficult to see from sea level. 

Reefs around Volivoli showing up clearly on Google Earth but hardly visible at sea level.

Having safely negotiated the string of hazards along the north of the island we sailed on towards Lautoka. It became depressingly obvious that we were approaching more populated areas when the normal collection of leaves, branches and coconuts that float by us all the time, were now joined first by polystyrene take-out trays, then by old carrier bags and an assortment of colourful plastic waste. The traffic picked up as well, since we have left Savusavu a couple of weeks ago, except for the odd yacht or local longboat, we have hardly seen another boat. Lautoka docks were busy with tankers, ferries and tourist boats, we sailed on past and although quite crowded with yachts have found a peaceful anchorage for the night in Saweni Bay. More reefs tomorrow however, as we head for Musket Cove

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