Fiji – the Mamanucas

Navadra Anchorage
June 21, 2008 (UTC + 12)

We spent six nights at Musket Cove on Malolo Lailai Island. It is a very comfortable place to spend time. The weather improved and we experienced clear skies every day after that stormy first day. At Musket Cove we socialized and snorkeled with Vera (Michael and Britta), Wombat of Sydney (Mike and Lynn), Horizon (Ray and Marilyn), and a few other boats.

We became “life members” of the Musket Cove Yacht Club which gave us the right to use the facilities of the resort. Laura swam in the pool, we ate some meals in the restaurant, shopped in the grocery store, and snorkeled. At low tide, a long sand bar would stick out from the water about one mile from where we were moored. Off of that sandy island, there is a beautiful and vibrant reef with fish in such abundance that it seemed like there were traffic jams of fish getting around coral heads. Some of the fish are varieties that we never saw before. The fish are very unafraid of humans because when the boats full of resort guests come out for a snorkel the guides feed the fish so the tourists get their money’s worth. We often took our dinghy to this reef just before noon. During the lunch hour, the resort guests are back at the resort standing in buffet lines, so the reef is less crowded.

Yesterday (June 20), Sabbatical III and Vera headed out for the western Mamanuca Islands. Our first destination was Monuriki Island, which along with the nearby Monu Island, was the setting for the Castaway movie starring Tom Hanks. The problem with sailing in the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands is that there are no good nautical charts. We bought the “Lautoka to Yasawa Islands” (F5) chart from the Fiji Hydographic Office, but this marks only those reefs that are visible from aerial photography. For much of the chart there are no depths noted. These waters are strewn with uncharted reefs and rocks and so the passage required constant attention. Laura sat up on the whisker pole about 15 feet above the water and scanned the clear blue water for color changes or other indications of depth changes. We wound our way through reefs into what we thought was deep water, and Laura got off of her perch to get out of the hot sun. It was a cloudless day. Of course, as soon as she got down, the depth sounder went from 65 meters under the keel to 2 meters. We were over a reef in water so clear we could make out the detail of the coral fans and fish. Fortunately, we turned around and made our way off the reef without touching bottom. Vera was 100 meters behind us so our sudden speed and course change, plus a radio call, alerted them to the danger. It was slow going the rest of the way to Monuriki Island. As we pulled up to Tom Hank’s beach, a schooner full of tourists was dropping anchoring and disgorging people ashore. They schooner sent a long boat out to us to tell us that they had exclusive rights to the island, granted by the chief on Yanuya Island. We could not go ashore until they left and even then we needed to visit the chief and obtain permission. Yanuya Island was a bit of a schlep from Monuriki, plus the anchoring depths and holding were only marginal, so we decided to proceed with Plan B, the anchorage at Navadra Island, about two hours away. This time Vera took the lead and we followed, allowing Laura to stay out of the sun.

The Navadra Island anchorage is very beautiful. Protected from the south and east by Vanua Levu Island and from the north and east by Navadra Island. Although these islands are uninhabited, every bit of Fiji “belongs” to a clan headed by a chief. This includes the reef, fish, beach, and water. These particular islands are uninhabited due to a lack of fresh water, but a fishing boat from the village on another island that owns them came by and asked us to perform sevusevu at the cave on the island. This entails leaving an offering of kava root, which we did (we brought 6 bundles of kava with us just for this purpose). The root is made into a drink that is mildly euphoric and intoxicating. The Veras also filled a water jug for the fisherman. We had a nice supper on Vera and watched an almost full moon rise. Sabbatical III and Vera are the only boats here.

We will spend the day here snorkeling and exploring. Tomorrow we will probably head northeast to the Yasawa Islands. The weather forecast looks very good for the next three days, after which the winds and seas will pick up. We plan to be in the Blue Lagoon of Matacawa Levu Island when that happens.