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

Rock and Roll

Saturday 29th July 2017

It was a relief to finally find calm waters as we entered the area known as the Blue Lagoon. We had had two rolly nights and we were all ready to be rid of the swell and to enjoy some flat seas. It was a shame we had had to move on so quickly because the previous two anchorages had both been very picturesque and inviting.

Thursday morning we left Vuda, via a top up at the fuel dock and headed out towards the Yasawa islands, a string of volcanic islands that run down the western side of Fiji. It was a lovely sunny day, not quite enough wind to sail but onboard with us, were Matt and our friends freshly arrived from the UK, Tony and Gilly. Five eager people enjoying being out at sea and looking forward to a couple of weeks cruising. A great morning was topped off when the boys landed a large Wahoo just as we rounded the reefs off the Island of Navandra.


Navandra is two small islands at the south of the Yasawa chain, they are uninhabited and have white sand beaches surrounding a rocky interior, true 'out of the guide book', South Pacific scenery. The anchorage was a bit uncomfortable but it was too beautiful to leave. We settled Raya at anchor, made a salad and were eating the Wahoo about as fresh it comes, just an hour after it was caught.

It was great to be back swimming from the boat and the reef off the beach gave us some good snorkelling. That evening we joined cruisers from the half dozen boats in the bay for drinks around a beach bonfire. We discovered this was a very special island, the fading light cast a pale grey wash over everything, slowly it turned to pink in the setting sun, our surroundings made the rocky water worth while.

The morning brought more swell and the surf breaking onto the beach gave for an interesting dingy landing, but with five of us to control it and drag it clear up the beach we got ashore. The sand was powder soft and the huge boulders in the centre of the island gave the place a rugged feel. At one end a big jagged lump of rock was joined to the main island by a spit of sand. We paddled, shell spotting, watching hermit crabs and tiny white crabs that tumbled along the sand in the breeze.

Once back on the boat we reluctantly upped anchor in search of calmer waters. The plan was to gradually make our way north through the chain and the nearest likeliest looking bay was on the north end of the island of Waya. From the chart Nalauwaki Bay looked well protected from the forecast wind and swell direction. On arrival we found the dramatic hills, reminiscent of those in the Marquesas Islands, delivered visually and did a great job blocking the wind, however, the swell somehow was creeping around the headland, deflecting on the opposite shore and making us roll more than ever. Two late in the day to move on we made a bid, in the dingy, for a few hours ashore. There was a village, a nice beach and paths leading up into the hills, but despite the enthusiastic arm directions from a villager on the beach, the crunch of the bottom of the dingy on the coral dissuaded us from venturing in. 

Early the next morning we left and postponing stops along the way we headed for what has to be the most protected bay in the Yasawas, we are anchored off Nanuya-Sewa and very lovely and flat it is too.

Ready for the Islands

Tuesday 25th July 2017

Much as we like it in Vuda we are now more than ready to get away and out to the islands. We have had a couple of very hot, humid, windless days, we are being plagued by mosquitos and tiny biting noseeums and then there is still the ongoing challenge of being attached to the fixed dock, that often requires scaling a near vertical passerelle as you leave or return to the boat.

Good to have Matt onboard to help with all the provisions

Since our return from the UK we have been busy preparing things for our guests. Matt arrived yesterday and Tony and Gilly join us tomorrow. So it has been a week of cleaning and provisioning. Luckily we have had the help of Abdul the taxi driver to ferry us around to the shops and run us to and from the airport.

This part of Fiji is relatively built up, lining the road into town are houses and light industry interspersed with fields and fields of sugar cane. Sugar export is the countries primary source of income and the industries presence is very obvious in this part of the Island. Trucks loaded with canes pass us on their way north to the large sugar mill in Lautoka and smoke billows from the plant and scattered fields on the hillside, leaving a sticky dust on our decks. The development of the sugar industry has not only effected the landscape of Fiji, at the beginning of the 20th century as the plantations grew there was a massive influx of workers, most came from India and now their decendence make up nearly 40% of the countries population.

Once past the fields of sugar cane and just beyond the airport is the supermarket. By Pacific Island standards this is a good supermarket with a much wider range of food than we have seen before. Matt and I fill the trolley while Rick picks up our ordered frozen and vacuum packed meat and buys copious amounts of wine. Then it’s on to the large fresh fruit and veg market. Heaps of produce weighed heavily on the tables and stunning flower arrangements added to the colourful scene. One very full taxi returned us to the marina and the exhausting job of getting everything onto the boat and put away, begins.

Colourful Nadi market.

As always in between times I’m on the look out for exciting bird life. There is a tree with ripe red fruits next to the boat that is attracting Red Vented Bulbuls, starling like birds with a red patch under their tails and a crest on their heads. Scattered through the undergrowth are small brightly coloured Parrot Finches with bright green bodies, red heads and red tails. Then today perched on our neighbours rigging was a Pacific King Fisher. Hopefully in a couple of days we’ll be back amongst the sea birds.

Pacific King Fisher

Friends in Vuda

Vuda Marina

Thursday 6th July 2017

We have found the best spot to pass the time of day in the marina is sitting at the outer table in the Boatshed Restaurant and Bar. Not only is the view great but there seems to be a permanent cooling breeze even when there isn’t a breath of air onboard Raya. In the evening as the marina is full of cruisers, here to reprovision or get repairs, the atmosphere is very sociable, from 5.30 onwards the Boatshed is again the place to be.

View from the Boatshed Bar

The cruising community in the Pacific is really quite small, so when fifty or so boats are all in one place we can pretty much guarantee there will be boats around that we know. Just in the last week in the marina or nearby we have bumped into friends from Full Circle that had greeted us as we were towed into Opua last October, kindly giving us some food after the New Zealand customs had stripped our larder bare. 

On the oppposite wall to us is Freebird II skippered by the engineer who helped fix our engine and having left Opua, the day before us, shares the experiences of the horrendous trip up to Savusavu. 

Yesterday, Started with a Kiss sailed in, our first contact with them was on the radio when we spotted each other mid passage between Bora Bora and Tonga and have kept in touch ever since. We spent a convivial few hours together in the Boatshed when they lured us into an evening of rather too many Mai Tais and today they have shared their anchoring waypoints for the Yasawa Islands, our next port of call. 

Finally, a few boats around from them is Taistealai who we haven’t seen since they arrived into the berth next to us in St Lucia in the Cartibean, eighteen months ago, having both just finished the Atlantic crossing.

We have also met a whole new group of boats, having been so tightly squeezed together it would be impossible not to make friends. To starboard there is a large yacht that helped guide us in to our tight berth, they have a three year old red head, as I glimpse him running back and forth I keep getting flashes of Matt at his age. On the other side of us is a boat from the World ARC, a rally that circumnavigates the globe in just 16 months. We had a very enjoyable evening with a group of them on Friday, their timetable takes them off to Vanuatu this Saturday, they will be in South Africa by Christmas, it’s exhausting just chatting with them.

Unusually alot of this chat has been about the unfortunate catalogue of medical problems that is besetting the crews at present. One person has been laid low with a horrible viral infection caught from a mosquito bite in Tonga, Dengue Fever. Another has a serious intestinal problem and is having to be flown out to New Zealand and yet another guy is in hospital with a badly broken leg having somehow fallen off the dock walkway into the water. The rustle of papers fills the marina as its occupants are prompted to check out that their medical insurance documents are in order.

Talking of insurance, Vuda is known as a cyclone safe haven. On the protected side of the island and with numerous cyclone pits many people persuade their insurance companies to allow them to keep their boats here during the summer instead of sailing to lower latitudes as we do.  The cyclone pits are long thin 6ft deep trenches cut into the ground, where wedged in with tyres, boats sit hoping for some protection from the violent winds. They have proved effective in the past but I’m not sure we would feel happy enough to leave Raya in one. We have met people who were here during Cyclone Winston, Vuda was not hit badly but nearly twenty yachts dragged on to the reef further east in Savusavu. One captain told us how he motored against 130kt winds and zero visibility for four hours to keep his boat from breaking away from its mooring. 

Cyclone pit

I think we’ll keep to our plan of spending the summer in Australia.

Fender to Fender

Thursday 29th June 2017

Getting on and off the boat from our stern-to berth at Vuda Marina is, to say the least, interesting and each yacht is squeezed in literally fender to fender. Our view from the stern is of a boatyard, we are less than a hundred metres from the noisy boat lift and a fuel depot sits just outside the perimeter. However, the place has a friendly, ramshackle feel, there are plenty of trees to cheer things up and the marina staff were welcoming and seem efficient, we rather like it it here.

We arrived in Vuda Marina yesterday after a nice couple of days in Musket Cove. Musket Cove Resort, famous for its annual September regatta and the warm welcome it offers to yachts all year around, is on an island in front of a basin surrounded by reefs. The channel in is narrow and busy with yachts, resort dive boats and ferries, for the first time in Fiji, our charts were a bit off but luckily it was well marked and the day was bright.

Musket Cove

We arrived to a calm blue sea, white sand cays and a sprinkling of superyachts, Rick even managed, at the poolside bistro, to find that elusive burger, we decided to stay a day or three. But as is the way with living on a boat, by mid afternoon a breeze had sprung up, the tide had come in and we were bouncing about in a short chop and thoughts of snorkelling, dingy safari’s or finally breaking out the new kayak were put aside. I did try swimming my six laps around the boat but with each breath came a wave and a mouthful of water.

With the forecast set for it to stay on the windy side, after two nights we sailed over to Vuda. As we motored into the circular Marina we were shocked when they directed us to the smallest of spaces, about to protest, we looked around to see every boat squashed in cheek by jowl. Rick did a brilliant job squeezing us in while I repeatedly ran from bow to stern passing lines to the dock boys. Just occasionally it would be good to have some crew!

Squashed in Fender to Fender

There is a two metre tide here and the dock is a concrete wall with a short, rickety wooden pier  built out to each berthing spot. Most boats are using the narrow marina planks to disembark, luckily we have our slightly wider passerelle but at very low tide that becomes too steep so we are using the dingy as a stepping stone to a ladder. 

Getting off the boat is a bit of a challenge

In fact being attached to a fixed dock with the rising and falling of the tide makes everything more complicated. It took a while to work out all the lines but we got there in the end and having rid ourselves of two weeks worth of rubbish and washed down the decks, things began to feel better. Next job is to figure out how to restock our supplies, then we will spend a couple of days getting a few maintanence jobs done.

But for now, it’s time for a cold beer, we are are off to investigate the bar.

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

South from Savusavu.

Thursday 22st June 2017

Undoubtably one of the loveliest parts of our life is waking continually to a different view. This morning we are anchored off Makogai Island in the middle of the Koro sea to the northeast of the main island of Fiji, Vitu Levu. My view is limited by the low cloud that is bringing us showers, but brightened by the arch of a complete bright rainbow bridging the main island and a small rocky outcrop.

Last weekends view was very different, we sat just east of the Cousteau resort, about 3 miles out of Savusavu. A road lay between the narrow beach and the hills behind. Buses, trucks and taxis ran frequently out to the resort, the newly surfaced road crunching under their tyres. About three times a day we were surprised to see a small tanker that drove slowly past and, with what seemed like the Fijian equivalent to salting, sprayed the new surface with water. Dotted through the hill above the road were upmarket western style villas, with large verandas, cultivated gardens and four wheel drive cars tucked in the garages, above them, was woodland. One patch particularly fascinated us, a group of large trees were swamped with vines, these seem to have completely taken over the crowns and were draped and running off the branches. It made us think of bright greeen, melting ice cream cones

Vine covered trees looked like they were melting in the heat

Once we had sat out the high winds, Tuesday we ventured outside Savusavu Bay and sailed the 20nm to Namena island. Namena is a tiny island in the middle of a oblong lagoon edged with reef, it is a marine reserve and one of Fiji’s top diving spots. It was a fast broad reach, in a beam sea and we we’re looking forward to a smoother time once we got inside the pass but we were to be disappointed. The Fijian reefs systems all seem to be a couple of meters lower than the similar structures we encountered in French Polynesia, the consequence of which is that the ocean swell enters much more easily over top.  The lea of the island gave us some protection but with breaking waves, snorkelling and diving on the passes or reef walls was not going to be feasible.

We were relieved when we spotted the one mooring buoy in the bay, anchoring in the windy conditions with choppy waters in a sea bed littered with coral heads was not inviting. Just over a year ago this area of Fiji was right in the eye of Cyclone Winston and Namena Island was hit by winds of up to 145mph. Many trees were lost and still litter the island and the resort that perched on the hill above the beach was completely destroyed. The Island is now derserted, but our friends on Blowin Bubbles who are very keen divers were here a couple of weeks ago, had checked the mooring out, added new floats and given us its coordinates. 

The view from the cockpit was again different, a craggy limestone headland sits at the end of the otherwise palm covered island. There are reportedly 600 breeding red footed boobies nesting on Namena and we had a great time watching all the avian activity. We assumed the main flocks of birds were the boobies although we never spotted their red feet or their characteristic fish catching method of formation diving. In fact they didn’t seem to be feeding at all, all their time was spent with dramatic inflight dancing (flirting?) or protecting their nests from flocks of frigatebirds and a couple of very determined hawks.

Loved the dead tree, looking like it had been splattered onto the rock

In search of calmer waters we sailed on towards Makogai Island, with lessening winds our crossing was slower but very pleasant as we gently pushed further south. Makogai Island was also hit hard by Cyclone Winston and is still trying to recover. For nearly seventy years the island was used as a leper colony and people from all over the Pacific were sent here to be cared for by the nuns and priests that ran the hospital. The ruins of an obviously sophisticated settlement are scattered everywhere across the island, along with, we are told, an extremely poignant grave yard. More recently this bay at Dalice on the western side of the island has been taken over by the Fisheries Dept as a research and conservation centre. A lookout post was positioned on one of the highest hills for counting and cataloguing passing whales and in the bay was a large turtle and giant clam hatchery. Since Clyclone Winston these activities have been reduced to just one family, slowly, trying to restart the program. They kindly showed us the tanks containing hundreds of half inch long baby clams. In about six months time they will be big enough to be transferred to cages and put out into the bay and then eventually transplanted to marine reserves all around Fiji.

Sadly for now the only giant clam we saw was an empty shell, a meter across, sitting on the beach. The four clams that were reportedly on the bommie in the bay have all gone. They are a delicacy in Fiji and a giant clam can be worth thousands of dollars and in the hunger that followed the cyclone anything edible was no doubt fair game. The Goverment is beginning to rebuild the infrastructure at the site, so the tiny clams we saw today should have a more protected future.

We may not of seen clams when we snorkelled in the bay but there was plenty of colourful reef fish including this clutch of anemone fish. 

Anemone fish off Makogai Island