Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Savausavu, Namena Island and Viani Bay

Copra Shed Marina Docks and Moorings

Savusavu Town Market

Savusavu Market

Moored Yachts and Local Boaters

Adorable Kids

Anne with Fresh Produce

Yagona Root for Sevusevu (Kava Ceremonies)

Anne's Magnificent Carved Turtle Bowl

Savusavu Sunset

Viani Bay "School Bus"

Anne and Friend Alicia with Local Guide Jack Fisher
Towing Dinghies to Reef Dive Site

Grocery Run to Taveuni Island
Our ten days in Savusavu seemed to fly by.  While Mark attended to the never-ending “fix-it” list aboard “Blue Rodeo”.  Anne ferried loads of laundry ashore and explored the town with cruiser girlfriends getting familiar with store inventories and restocking our supply of fresh fruits and vegetables for the next leg of our trip.  One evening, friend Lisa, from the catamaran “Orcinius”, celebrated her 50th birthday at our favorite restaurant with the company of about a dozen of our cruising friends.  Also while there, a group of us got together with an ex-pat American, local cruising guru named “Curly” who is quite the character and looks a bit like a tropical Santa Claus with long white hair and beard to match.  His years of cruising Fiji’s waters make him an authority on the area and, for a small fee, shares the detailed information in the form of a seminar with each year’s crop of new arrivals.

While our Savusavu stay proved pleasant in most ways, one evening was filled with the kind of excitement and drama that we always hope to avoid.  While watching a DVD movie, snug and dry below decks in “Blue Rodeo” cabin, we noted the sounds and motion caused by a rain squall that had descended over the harbor.  Safely, so we thought, attached to a permanently anchored mooring block, we felt little concern as the wind gusts shrieked through our rigging and relief that we’d chosen not to go ashore by dinghy for dinner that night.  While our boat yawed back and forth and tugged at it’s mooring lines, we continued to enjoy our movie figuring that as was well until we felt a bit of a crunch and began heeling over a few degrees to starboard.  What was happening...had someone hit us?  Springing from the cabin into the darkness, howling winds and driving rain, we struggled to access the situation.  Blinded by the rain and light from the buildings ashore, Mark soon realized that we were no longer where we had been moored and, upon joining him topside, Anne exclaimed that she recognized a nearby boat as one that had been moored hundreds of yards downwind of us.  We had dragged our mooring through the crowded field of boats, narrowly missing several and ended up aground on a shoal near the harbor entrance.  At that time, there was no point wondering why but only time for immediate action to save “Blue Rodeo” from damage.  Mark quickly put out a call on the emergency VHF radio channel and, within minutes, a dozen of our fellow cruisers were speeding through the storm toward us to lend a hand.
For the next 30 minutes, a coordinated effort, hampered by the sever conditions, allowed us to maneuver free of the shoal and tie up to a vacant mooring that was spotted just three boat lengths to windward.  Too many words would be required to describe the combined efforts of all involved but everyone pitched-in to insure a successful outcome.  Wow...what and experience!  It was later determined that none of the mooring lines had failed but that the strength of the wind had simply caused us to drag our inadequately-sized mooring block.  We have always felt a bit uncomfortable using pre-established moorings, as opposed to anchoring, as one has to place a lot of faith in someone else’s equipment.  Unfortunately, due to small crowded harbors or areas with water too deep to anchor, moorings are sometimes the only choice.

Our next stop after leaving Savusavu was the small island of Namena about 20 miles to the sourhwest that is surrounded by an extensive barrier reef and lagoon.  We shared the anchorage there with friends Richard and Ali from the yacht “Vulcan Spirt”.  Our three days there included snorkeling near shore in an area where giant clams, nearly three feet across, are being nurtured and protected by a conservation group.  We also SCUBA dived two of the deep reef passes (openings) where we had a chance to see a splendid assortment of colorful soft corals and bigger fish including some inquisitive Grey and White Tip Reef sharks.  Before leaving, we made a mental note that we’d love to return to this place for more diving in the future.

From Namena, it was on to Viani Bay back on the east end of the island of Vanua Levu. 
The bay sits adjacent to the famous Rainbow Reef where, bordering the Somo Somo Strait, some of the world’s-best dive sites are located.  Viani Bay is also home to a gregarious local gentleman named Jack Fisher who lives with his family in a very modest home along it’s shore.  He is known for his hospitality and his service of escorting groups of divers out to the reef’s best dive sites.  Each day, he rows his aluminum skiff out to the anchored yachts and organizes trips to the reef for diving and snorkeling.  Since navigating the reef-strewn waters is challenging and anchoring in the best dive locations is nearly impossible due to currents and water depth, his service is invaluable.  His fee is just $10 Fijian (about $5.50 USD) per person.  Typically, one sailing yacht will offer to serve as “mother ship”, with Jack at the helm, taking as many divers as possible and towing multiple dinghies loaded with SCUBA equipment. Over the course of the two weeks we spent there, we volunteered “Blue Rodeo” three times as did many of our friends with their vessels.  In the short period of time, we did nearly a dozen dives and were rewarded with splendid sights along the reef’s walls.  Due to the strait’s strong currents that change directions several times daily, proper timing is important in order to see the area’s soft corals in all of their splendor.  When the currents increase the flow of the nutrient-rich water, the colorful soft corals inflate their branches to gather the microscopic food particles as they pass buy.  At times, the coral coverings of the reef’s sides are so complete that two of the sites are known among the international diving community as the “Purple Wall” and “White Wall”.  Diving among these incredible formations proved to be a 3-dimensional treat for the senses.

While our entire season could have easily be spent diving the reefs near Viani Bay,  our goal had always been to sail further southeast into the remote and relatively primitive Lau Group of Fiji’s islands.  The area has, until recently, been off-limits to foreign visitors so, going there was an opportunity to experience unspoiled Fijian village life and see sights that few outsiders have ever seen.  So, when the weather cooperated to allow us to make the 180 mile trip without bashing into the normal prevailing trade winds, we jumped at the chance.  After an early morning departure, we were soon making way toward the southernmost island of Fulaga in hopes of arriving in time to enter it’s lagoon’s narrow reef pass with slack currents during the next morning’s high tide.  Once again, new adventure awaited us.

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