Friday, June 28, 2013

Hiking and Snorkeling at Viani Bay

Well we had a break from all our fun yesterday with a heck of a thunder and rain storm. Collected 80 liters of water from the scuppers and had one lightening strike in the bay a few hundred meters away - Yikes!

The day before we had a strenuous but rewarding hike through very tall (2 meter high) grasses along a ridge above the bay and back down through a forest and taro plantations to the shore. Today we snorkeled again at the Cabbage Patch and also at a deeper spot called the Fish Factory. The latter had a current running at 1-2 knots, but gave us some good sightings of sharks and even a turtle. Pictures follow.

Rani and Pat from 'The Rose' in the grasses at the top of the hill above the anchorage.

Pat from 'The Rose' had been up the hill once before and was our leader on this hike.

The grass was very tall and in places we followed what we think are wild pig trails.

Come out with your hands up.

View from the grassy ridge looking out to Taveuni Island - taken with our new Olympus camera's panorama mode 

View from the forest edge on our way down

The path to the first look-off is in the center. We landed our dinghy near the white house to the left.

This island is leased by the families that live there from the government. It has been occupied by the same Fijians for 80 years and we met four generations who lived there.

View from our anchorage - the island above is to the left.

Rani and Jona. Jona is a civil engineering student in Suva. He was visiting Jack, our guide for the snorkeling trips. 

Outrigger dugout canoe.

More lovely corals - the red ones are soft.

Parrot fish.

Lovely shell

Long-nosed butterfly fish

Jack called these ''bait fish". They are used by fisherman to catch bigger fish and are themselves about 25 cms long.

Bait fish feeding/

Somewhat grainy shot of a white tipped shark - about 1.75 meters long.

Peek-a-boo. I think this is a type of damsel fish?

Rich from "Legacy"uses his 'James Bond"style  hand-held sled. This uses an electric motor and propeller to pull you along , permitting deeper and longer sessions under water.

Rani goes for a shallow dive with  Kari from "Merilelu"

Butterfly fish.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Snorkeling on the Cabbage Patch at the Rainbow Reef

Following are some pictures taken on our first snorkel on the Rainbow Reef off Viani Bay (Vanua Levu, Fiji). This was also the first time we took our new Olympus Tough TG-820 camera under the water. It is not easy to capture fish pictures, but the camera worked like a top and the colours it reproduced are quite true to what we saw.

We motored out to the reef on 'The Rose'with Jack, a local guide, steering. Seven of the passengers dived and the rest of us snorkeled.

Lovely corals right beside the sand shelf where we anchored the boat

Giant clam - about a foot across

More lovely corals

Rani swims down over the cabbages for which the patch is named. These are huge hard corals many feet across.

Christmas tree worms filter their food from the water at the face of a coral

This shows how close to the surface much of the reef is. There was quite a surge at times over the reef.

These blue fish use the pronged coral as a hideout when danger approaches.

Anemonefish in its anemone home.

Anemonefish warning me off. Note a glimpse of its baby below.

I love the textures of these corals.

Fiji has many soft corals - these are quite small but colorful.

Hard coral with stunning pattern.

Parrot fish - this one is about 10 inches long, but we have seen them over two feet.

Batting 1000

We left Bakabaka Inlet with no navigational excitement around 9:30 am, setting full sail and beating 20 miles to Fawn Harbour. The seas were down and the sailing very pleasant in 6-10 knots of light northeasterly breeze. We closed the coral reef close by the pass into Fawn Harbour on our fourth tack. As we did so, we passed just behind a small flotilla of motoring sailboats that were taking advantage of the light winds and flat seas to make the passage directly from Savusavu. The entry to Fawn Harbour dog-legs between reefs, but the channel is wide, the turns marked by posts, and visibility good. In addition we had accurate way-points from a previous visitor (S/V Billabong). Our hearts remained in our chests.

Our friends Rich and Cindy on Legacy were among the motoring flotilla and had caught a huge dorado on their passage . Other friends, Craig and Bruce on 'Gato Go' invited all the boats in the Fawn Harbour anchorage to a potluck on their roomy catamaran. The dorado was delicious, barbecued and soaked in a Thai curry sauce concocted by Craig. We contributed a potato squash curry, while other cruisers brought marinated eggplant/garlic appetizers, brussel sprouts, and a superb chocolate cake. A very pleasant evening, catching up with old friends.

Today was eco-adventure day - an unexpected bonus, for we had planned this as a work day, continuing to paint Ladybug's sheer stripe. We awoke to a perfectly still anchorage - no wind and clear skies. We both agreed that this would be a painting day, but wanted to move over to nearby Dakuniba Bay. So we raised the hook shortly after breakfast and motored out the pass and eastward along the fringing reef.

About 15 minutes out we came up to a pod of what we believe were false killer whales, some of which swam alongside for a few minutes. The small whales were leaping clear of the water at times - spy hopping - and we watched them until they swam away, closer to the reef where the fishing must have been better. A few minutes later I called Rani up on deck again when I saw a much larger spout than that of the false killers. We turned Ladybug in towards the reef and as we approached it became clear that there were two much larger whales, surrounded by the pod of smaller ones. The big whales turned out to be humpbacks - a mother and calf we think - and they put on a great show, rolling around together, sometimes with their barnacled fins in the air and sometimes sounding shallowly. We followed them for 20 minutes, idling along at 1 or 2 knots, Rani shooting a video, while I kept Ladybug at a respectful distance.

The pass into Dakuniba Bay was straightforward, but we had some problems identifying the anchorage mentioned in one of our guides, because I had not thought to note its way-point. We spent a half hour poking around a reef-strewn palm fringed bay before correctly identifying another much more enclosed bay a little to the north. This bay is ringed by mangroves and has a nice mud bottom. A few houses lie to the south side and a mangrove-lined river channel runs into its east side. There is a pervasive musky, skunky smell through the bay and around dusk we learned its source and the source of the high pitched chattering we had heard through the afternoon. When we rowed over to the river mouth, we came upon tree after tree filled with fruit bats, squeaking and squawking to each other. When they saw us, they rose into the air in great wheeling masses, showering us with what we at first thought was bat piss, but later realized was just the recent rain shaken off their wings.

These bats are large and look just like crows from the distance. If you did not know they were bats you would swear they were birds. However, up close, you can see their cinnamon coloured bodies and little squirrel-like heads. They point their feet back as they fly and with their broad fabric-like wings, look for all the world like hang-gliding tailless squirrels.

We rowed up the small river channel, listening to the bat chatter and the calls of birds that we could not see, off deep into the mangrove swamp. Schools of tiny fish leapt clear of the water at our approach and crabs scuttled over the mangrove roots. Spider webs hung from the boughs of larger trees and in places the vegetation closed in and I had to draw in the oars and row with them crossed. The channel ended in a swampy clearing where two open sided shelters had been built, perhaps as part of a copra plantation.

We never did get any painting done. Ominous black clouds crowded over the eastern hills shortly after we arrived and the afternoon was an alternation of showers and sunshine. It was muggy and hot in the boat when we were forced to close the hatches - around 90 degrees F and as much as 83 percent humidity.

We plan to be here for a couple of days and then move around the corner to Viani bay where Rani hopes to do some diving on the world-class 35 km long Rainbow Reef.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sailimg 40 miles to make good 7

We set off today under sail at dawn - 6:20 am - from the anchorage off the Jean Michel Cousteau resort, sailing quietly out of the anchorage so as not to disturb our slumbering neighbors. The wind was from the east - dead in our face, so we set full sail and sheeted everything in for a run to the SE. The sea were still sloppy from the higher trade winds of the past week and when the wind died out for a few minutes, the motion was so awful that Rani was sick. She lay down for an hour and was back to at least functional form after that.

Around 11 am we tacked, only 10 miles north of Koro island, with more than 26 miles still remaining to our intended destination of Fawn Harbour. The wind was now up to 15 knots, gusting 20 and we bowled along for a few hours at 20 degrees of heel before I pulled down a second reef. Ladybug, who had been so clean when she left in the morning was now coated in salt spray right up to and over the dodger.

Then as so often happens, the wind came around dead in our face. The day was waning and it is dangerous to enter through passes in the coral reefs late in the day, for the sun shines at too low an angle to show up any dangers. Having 12 miles left to go to Fawn Harbour (requiring maybe 18 miles of tacking to make good) we made the decision to bear off for Bakabaka, where we had a sketch map and entrance way point from our 1993 Calder cruising guide.

The pass into Bakabaka lies between between two islands and is quite narrow. We motored in with Rani at the helm while I climbed the ratlines to the spreaders. Even from this height I could not see far in advance because the sun was low and in my eyes. The surf pounded reefs on either side were obvious, but we were on top of a large coral head, no more than 5 feet below our keel, before I could see it. I hollered for Rani to turn and run back at this point, but she judged the pass too narrow for this maneuver and carried on into safety in deeper water just beyond the isolated coral. If you try this pass yourself, keep to the starboard side at the entrance to avoid a large detached coral head. Better still - come in the late morning with the sun behind you!

After we pushed our hearts back into our chests we continued a little way toward the river, dropping the hook in between the two islands. There are plantations on the mainland and a few homes on the larger island. The highway runs nearby, crossing the river below a large salt 'lake'. At dusk we saw some fishermen wading waist deep in the water, but there is no village here and no obvious public landing.

As the fruit bat flies (and there were hundreds of these huge bats overhead near sunset) it is only 7 miles from the anchorage off the Jean Michel Cousteau resort to Bakabaka inlet. Rani pointed out that we could have taken the bus from Savusavu in an hour - a journey that took us more than 9 hours of tiring sailing.

We will likely carry on to the east tomorrow, to Dakuniba or Fawn harbour, using the predicted light NE to N winds.

Friday, June 14, 2013

First photos from Fiji

Rani exercises during the NZ to Fiji crossing

Chris playing uke on a quieter day during the crossing. Bracing  legs was necessary just to stay on the settee.

Arrival at Savusavu

Yay - Land!

Copra shed marina at Savusavu

Waitui marina - these were the folks we took a mooring from - $10 Fijian per day (about $6 Canadian)

Local boys use a bamboo marina to cross to the island

Charisma arrived a week before us after a very rough passage.

Sunset over Vanua Levu from our cockpit

Saturday at the market in Savusavu - very busy!

We bought one of the melons here - 1 Fiji dollar - 60 Canadian cents for a small one.

We also bought a large pineapple and 6 bundles of Kava roots which we will use when going to smaller villages to do sevu sevu (an introductory gift/ceremony).

Andre's Symbiosis anchored just behind us in the harbour at Savusavu

Last Photos From New Zealand

Following are a few photos from our last weeks in New Zealand.

Possum visits Ladybug in Docklands 5 work yard

I shooed it away, but it came back to see what the fuss was about. Photo taken inside our cabin looking out with possum looking in.

We enjoyed a last weekend with Holger and Roz at their lovely farm.

Fresh veggies - some from the HomePort gardens

Rani picks hot peppers with Roz.

Rat Bag frees herself from the navigation buoy she dragged onto one windy night in the river near Whangarei. 

Annie Hill visited us and I asked her to sign my much-read copy of her fantastic book - "Voyaging on a  Small Income"- our cruising bible.

Annie Hill's 26 foot junk-rigged boat - ''Fantail'' was anchored just upstream from us.