Lying to a mooring ball just off Savusavu, Fiji, which is up Nakama Creek, it’s hard to imagine bashing into 25kts of wind and waves but that’s what has been going on out in the Koro sea lately. Tomorrow the weather gods have promised light winds from the wrong direction but it should allow us to sneak up the Somosomo Strait to some of the world’s most legendary diving reefs. But first we want to stage Escape Velocity at Lesiaceva Point just off the remnants of Jean-Michel Cousteau’s resort, which was hammered in cyclone Winston. Careful anchoring techniques are called for in most Fijian waters because of bommies, which are columns or pillars of coral and reefs that raise up out of the depths posing obvious danger to the boat, anchor and chain. The usual techniques are to tie floats to the anchor chain and deploy an anchor marker. We’ve been using our “shiny pants” twin scope fish finder which shows the bottom under the boat and displays its density in a cheerful palette of colors. What Yours Truly is trying to say is that we look for a flat spot to anchor in. There are other worries to add to the fun in Fiji, like the charts which have very little detail and are often just plain wrong.
So where was I, dear Escapees?
Oh yes, it was a short, sunny afternoon motor down the creek into calm waters at JMCs torn-up resort where we found work proceeding at a Fijian pace. So good so far.
The following morning the anchor reluctantly came up with the sun and we were off in company with five other boats. Now I’m not saying we were first out but when the weather gods smile, you roll with it. The passage up this beautiful coast is about 50 miles with several alternate anchorages on the way in case the sun isn’t giving us good visibility of the bottom. As we approached Viani Bay we overheard two boats on the VHF radio talking about a shortcut through the protective reef. Normally I would never try this but it’s getting late and if two monohulls can get through surely EV could as well. The problem was they were about an hour ahead of us, somewhere off in the haze. They both had their AIS system broadcasting so we thought we could plot their passage through the reef and put waypoints on our chart plotter. By the time we arrived at the waypoint for the shortcut, the surface was roiling about the reef. With sweaty palms I had to correct for the feints and slides as we were pushed about but no harm no foul except for my heart rate.
Turning into the bay I glanced down at the fancy color fish finder which was lit up with a rainbow of psychedelic colors, looking for all the world like a light show at a Grateful Dead concert. I froze when I realized the colors went right up to the surface! Surely that can’t be right. Slowly the rainbows coalesced into long curved vertical spikes, pillars, and columns all reaching up towards the surface. Cautiously EV drew a track on the chart plotter that looked like the scribbles of a preschool child. Too deep, too many bommies, too close to a reef. Finally in a Goldielocks moment the fish finder flashed flat at 60 feet. Splash! Close enough. The anchor held, although the float, tied to the anchor with seventy five feet of line, never showed up on the surface.
We found life here in the northeast corner of Viani Bay to be rolly and a little too exposed to the Pacific swell. Our friends on Toucan were a quarter mile away, tucked far back into the northwest corner of the bay. They were on one of two mooring balls managed by a classic Pacific third generation Fijian guy named Jack; round, thick, tattooed and mustachioed, wearing a beat-up straw hat as he rowed out to show us a good spot to anchor. He sat facing forward in his small old jonboat, dipping one oar at a time into the water with the most economic stroke I’ve ever seen. He was not in a rush. I guess you’d have to call Jack a dive guide. For ten dollars a head he’ll ride on your boat and guide you to good dive spots out on the reef. His humble house is nestled back in the trees and some say it actually is a tree house.
We watched yachts and even superyachts come and go, carefully sniffing around the bommies, searching for someplace safe to anchor. Every morning a boat passed by with a load of school kids, laughing and joking and like kids everywhere just goofing around on the “school bus.”
Having sundowners on EV with the Toucans one evening we all realized that we had pushed the pause button in this beautiful bay without a care in the world, but it was time for a spot of exploring. Fiji, after all, is a big place.