Cruising the Yassawas - Part 2

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Category: Ships Log
  Somosomo Chris Alena fiji 150x  

October 9th - October 17th

Strong winds, a dragging boat with near misses, Sevusevu in the village, the Cave, a sunken warplane, bashing our way back, and seeking shelter. Fiji.

 

One of the nice features of the Blue Lagoon anchorage is that there are no wind waves even in strong winds, so it's easy to land your dinghy and go ashore. We were exploring the southern beach of Nanuya Lailai island which is owned by a cruise ship company. The small cruise ship left this morning so we were able to explore the beach (as the large sign on the beach explained), since no ship was present. We were doing just that, relaxing on one of the lounge chairs under the palm trees on the otherwise empty beach. We were talking about where to sail when the wind finally calms down tomorrow. All of a sudden Alena noticed that one of the sailboats, a 40 ft sloop under a US flag, was moving sideways through the anchorage and that Green Panther appeared to be directly in its path. "Oh crap, they are dragging anchor!" we screamed, but there was nothing we could do from the beach but watch helplessly as the boat slid closer and closer to Green Panther. Our dinghy was about a half mile away, tied up where we started our beach walk. By some wonderful stroke of luck, the sloop slid just behind Green Panther's transom, clearing it by about 10 ft we later heard. However, now the sloop drifted right towards the bow of the next boat, Merceley, while we were sprinting towards our dinghy. "They must be on board," I shouted "because their dinghy is tied to the stern. I have no idea why they are not trying to gain control of their boat!" We learned later that the skipper and two crew were on board, but did not notice they were dragging anchor. Neither did they react immediately to the frantic calls on the VHF radio from the other cruisers. The dragging sloop continued on its path and was about to crash into Merceley. The couple on Merceley reacted quick though, managing to fire up their engine and steer the boat to port under full throttle. All this was done while still at anchor since there was no time to hoist it. Luckily this maneuver was enough to avoid a collision with the sloop, which drifted further back towards the next boat. At this point, the crew of the dragging boat finally came on deck and managed to gain control over her and swing her around. When we reached Lil' Panther and motored towards the anchorage, the sloop had re-anchored a bit further away from Green Panther. They were rather shaken but assured us that this time they set their anchor very well, and indeed they didn't drag when some 30 kt wind gusts hit the anchorage that night. We were fine too, since we made sure that our 45 lb QCR anchor was dug well into the sand, and so far we've found once it is buried it holds its ground (knock on wood). The dragging incident was of course the number one topic among the cruisers from the Blue Lagoon for several days, and everybody was happy that it had a good ending.

 

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While the water was still pretty calm in the Blue Lagoon . . .

 

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. . .our attempt to walk around to the unprotected side of the beach met us with strong winds. The dog
and I were nearly blown away.

 

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Relaxing on beach chairs at the "cruise ship beach" in the blue lagoon was fantastic until . . .

 

BlueLagoon04 Dragging Boat time Lapse 700x
. . . we saw the American sloop dragging across the entire anchorage. From left to right; upper row: The sloop (red arrow)
clears Green Panther by a small margin and drifts further back. Right image: It goes right for Merceley. Lower rowleft:
Merceley can get out of the way just enough to avoid a collision. Right image: The sloop drifts behind Merceley.

 

The next day the wind calmed down as predicted so we decided to head north to visit Sawa-I-Lau. This is a beautiful anchorage next to a limestone hill which has eroded to form bizarre rock formations. There are also several caves, including a large one which can be visited for a fee of $10. It took us over 3 hours to motorsail the 10 nm north, mainly because the path was cluttered with reefs and the wind had shifted towards the north. We arrived around noon, too late to visit the cave which is only open in the morning. Anyway, we enjoyed the beautiful anchorage and met the couples on Merceley and Huck (both boats that had been in the Blue Lagoon with us). Alena suggested to do a sevusevu in the village next to the caves and everybody was excited and decided to go. We dinghied over to the village of Nabukeru and as soon as our dinghy hit the beach, several kids and a few adults came down to welcome us. It is tradition in Fiji, that whenever you visit a village or want to dive, snorkel, fish etc. close to it, you are supposed to do a "sevusevu." This is a central ritual of all social gatherings, community meetings and the way visitors seek acceptance into a Fijian village. Our guide book tells us that the visitor is expected to bring a half kilo of kava root and ask for the "Turaga ni Koro [too-ranga nee koro]," the village headman, who will present you and your gift of kava to the chief. In our case, the people who greeted us on beach led us to a large building in the center of the village which turned out to be the community hall and it seemed that almost everybody living here was packed into it for an important meeting. We were told to wait outside and after a few minutes a tall man in his fifties came out to greet us and gestured us to follow him into his house. It turned out that this was actually the chief of the village and he just abandoned the village meeting only to accept our kava and to welcome us into his village. We felt a little bit guilty about that, but the chief (called Abraham) explained that the main part of the meeting, a fundraiser for the local church, was already over. The chief's house was decorated in traditional Fijian style with woven mats on the floor and only very few furniture items, but it was rather large and of a solid concrete construction. The chief thanked us for the kava root , said some Fijian words over it, and said we were all welcome in his village, and we were welcome to use their beach, snorkel in their lagoon, and even explore a small island in the lagoon. Next the chief excused himself and told us he would be back in about ten minutes, then he smiled and added "ten minutes Fiji time." After a while he came back, we chatted some more, explored the village and finally Abraham gestured us to enter the community hall, were we sat down among the villagers and were served a bowl of kava in the traditional bilo, a drinking bowl made from the half shell of a coconut. As visitors, we sat amongst the men of the village while the women occupied the back of the building. We clapped our hands whenever we remembered it (you are supposed to clap one time before and three times after you drink the kava) and had a great time. The kava had a very fine but still somewhat muddy taste. After our sevusevu was complete we strolled along the beautiful beach and then headed back to Green Panther. The caves were on the schedule for the next day.

 

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The beautiful anchorage at Sawa-I-Lau with limestone rocks and caves.

 

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We are exploring the bizarre limestone formations at Sawa-I-Lau by dinghy.


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The village of Nabukeru starts right at a beautiful beach.

 

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Alena is exploring the village.

 

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One of the cutest locals around.

 

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Alena enjoying her bowl of kava in the community hall

 

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The village women were part of the meeting.

 

Around ten in the morning we took Lil' Panther over to "the cave" together with several other cruisers and were summoned over to a rock platform by a short man with a big belly, also named Abraham. He was dressed in a fancy purple shirt, black shorts and dark sunglasses and was a business man. One women in our group said "Wow, you look like a movie star," which caused a quick smile on his face but then he returned again to his serious appearance. "You will see the first cave which you can swim in, and then if you want you can explore the "spit cave" which is a dark cave. Looking at the tide right now you will have to hold your breath for about 5 seconds to swim under the ledge into the spit cave. So enjoy the caves." We nodded and were about to turn towards the stairs leading to the cave entrance when he added, "and it is $20 per person." "Twenty??!" was our response as we turned back to him. We had heard rumors that the price was raised since last year (it was $10 in 2013), but were hoping this wasn't true. Trying to talk Abraham into letting us into the cave for a group rate (there were 6 of us total) was hopeless, so we rounded up all our money and came to $32.90 for the two of us. Finally the promise to also bring him some fishing line, which we later did, let us get past Abraham. The entrance to the cave is protected by a massive steel door which was opened for us and after descending down a concrete staircase with badly corroded handrails we made it into the first cave. It was small but had a very high ceiling which was made out of beautiful bizarre limestone formations. After exploring the cave for a bit, we opted to do the underwater swim to the second cave. One guide literally pushed us down into the water, and after a short dive we emerged in a dark narrow cave with a low ceiling where a second guide waited with a flashlight. The guide led us (swimming) around several turns into the far back corner of the dark cave. While on our way through the dark he produced loud and deep shouts in Fijian. The shouts were echoed from the walls and ceiling , which made the experience a bit more spooky. It also scared a Japanese girl quite a bit and she started to scream in a high pitched voice, which amused the rest of us. Once we reached the darkest corner of the cave he explained to us that the legend says only one person at a time can go under the ledge and enter the dark cave. Pregnant women cannot enter - since it's two people. The way back was accompanied by Fijian shouts again. Once we were back in the bright cave, Alena started looking for the cave eels which other cruisers have reportedly seen. And sure enough we found three of them, about 2 feet long, on the bottom of the cave. So all in all we had fun at the cave. In the afternoon we went for a dive along the reef in front of the cave and got some great underwater images. That evening we enjoyed a sundowner, which went almost till midnight, on the beautiful ketch Huck with Heidi and Joe. Needless to say, we didn't get an early start for our bash back south the next day. :)

 

Caves07 looking down maincave Sawa-I-Lau fiji Yassawas  480x
Looking down the concrete staircase leading to the main cave.

 

Caves08 main cave 700x The Cave Fiji Yassawas cruising sailing
The ceiling and walls of the cave are beautiful and are enjoyed by Alena and others.

 

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The dark cave is small and narrow and it helps to bring a flashlight or have a strong flash on your camera.

 

blue lagoon sailfin tang
Diving on the reef in front of the caves was great too. A Pacific sailfin tang hiding in a crevice.

 

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Alena spotted our first nudibranch, a Willan's chromodoris.

 

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The reef fauna at Sawa-I-Lau was among the most diverse we have seen in Fiji.

 

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A beautiful leather coral.

 

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Close-up of a large boulder coral.

 

Our way back was slow as we motor sailed against wind and waves, however we were still in for a treat, a nice hike and a WWII plane wreck. Our plan was to sail as far south as possible and we made it to the island of Naviti and the bay of Somosomo. We anchored in the eastern lobe which was well protected from the swell and the south winds and on top of that, uninhabited. We snorkeled to the breathtaking beach and found it to be excellent snorkeling with a healthy and diverse reef fauna. After some beachcombing we found the fallen coconut tree and the path leading into the jungle right behind it, exactly as cruising friends described it to us. We followed the path and after a 15 minute hike we ended up on a bizarre hill. The soil looked fertile but nothing was growing here except short grass. It seemed that the entire landscape got burned down a while ago and is only slowly recovering.

 

Somosome01 beach Fiji Yassawas cruising sailing anchorage
The eastern of the three lobes of Somosomo Bay is uninhabited and has a gorgeous beach.

 

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Snorkeling on the reef was excellent. We saw our first lionfish here in Fiji (it's nice to see them when they are not invasive).

 

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A shrimp goby in front of its hole. He seems a bit worried about our approach. :)

 

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The hike of the bizarre burned hills.

 

After crossing the hill the path led back into the jungle and ended at a beach on the other side of the island near a small settlement. The buoy behind the reef was there as described and we jumped in for a snorkel. First there wasn't much to see except lots of sand and some mean looking puffer fish. But eventually we found what we came for. In about 2-3 meters depth sat the remains of a World War II hellcat airplane. The wings were mostly gone, but the fuselage, tail and engine casing were all there. Plus the entire wreck was taken over by sea anemones and their symbiotic buddies the clownfish.

 

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The mean looking narrow striped puffer.

 

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The shipwreck of the hellcat airplane is located in shallow water.

 

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Clownfish and sea anemones have taken over the wreck.

 

The blog is supposed to end here with "and the next day we made it back to Vuda Point Marina." However the wind didn't allow it. It was blowing harder from the south by the hour and the wind waves kept building. Finally at 4pm, after smashing into waves the entire day, we realized we would not make it to Vuda Point before midnight. We decided to run for shelter and found the island of Navadra within reach. We made it there before sunset and squeezed in between four other yachts seeking shelter there. Too bad we didn't have much time, since the beach looked very inviting. After a calm night we made it back to Vuda Point just fine the next day and in time for 2 for 1 pizza night.

 

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Navadra island is uninhabited and looks very inviting.

 

Somosome08 sv Green Panther sailing Back in VudaPoint fiji
Back in Vuda Point Marina.

 

 

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