Back at Musket Cove the lush green hills of Molololailai island now have a warm yellow tinge from the seeding grasses, the days are a bit shorter and nights a degree or two cooler. As we are preparing to leave Fiji within the next week for Indonesia, we look back on the last two months, which we mostly spent enjoying the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands on the western side of Fiji.
Once Cyclone Codi by passed us, whilst at anchor at Musket Cove, we headed north for Manta Pass. As the wind was light, we threaded our way up the eastern side of the chain, making night stops at some small islands along the way.
Manta Pass is formed by the channel between Drawaqa and Naviti islands, which is well-known for the presence of manta rays, who come to feed in the plankton rich tidal currents that run between the two islands. The rays are present mostly from May to October and, though we were out of season, we were still hoping to see them.
This time round we were unlucky but we saw some exquisite coral, both in the pass and on the surrounding reefs.
The weather was almost unbearably hot and humid after 11:00, so we preferred to snorkel in the 30 degree water during the heat of the day. The reflective silver camping sheets that we erected on the sunny side of the cockpit, and our little fan, made the remainder of these days a little more bearable. After a while at the pass a nice southeaster blew in and, as no cyclones were predicted, we headed further north. Pete’s day was made when we first caught a beautiful mackerel and then a barracuda almost as big as me! As these apex predators of reef fish are notorious carriers of the accumulative ciguatera toxin, we passed a local fishing boat and got the go ahead from the fishermen regarding its edibility.
We anchored at the foot of a 222m high volcanic rock, which is also home to the Sawa-i-Lau caves. This anchorage at the most southern end of the island is the most picturesque I have seen in Fiji.
The main Sawa-i-Lau cave is quite spectacular, with orange and green stained walls, contrasting with the turquoise water, which to our surprise was sweet despite being slightly tidal. The roof of the cave has a slit that lets in some light, although not enough to permit one to swim through the pitch dark underwater tunnel without a torch, to the smaller, adjacent cave. The local community relies on this attraction as a source of income from tourists and charges a modest fee for visitors.
As we ran out of fresh fruit and vegetables we headed south again to Blue Lagoon. We had to weave our way through quite a few white-capped reefs to anchor in the big lagoon, surrounded by five islands. This setting derived its name from the famous movie, starring Brooke Shields, which was filmed here in 1980.
As there were many bugs and mosquitoes, we didn’t stay long, but headed south again for our favourite spot, Manta Pass.
This time we were lucky enough to see manta rays, the most gracious creatures of the sea!
Belgian sailors, Bau and Karine of Skybird, whom we met at Blue Lagoon, joined us and were kind enough to take us scuba diving with their equipment.
Bau and Karine showed us an extensive reef close to our anchorage with the most beautiful corals that we have yet seen.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Thuva Bay, mostly snorkeling and fishing. Pete managed to catch a few nice ones, trolling with the dinghy in the bay.
As Pete’s birthday present, Bau and Karine invited us to scuba with them at Babylon Caves off a nearby island. However, as we lifted the anchor we found that both engines refused to start, so we had to sail back into the bay and re-anchor. Pete and Bau spent about three days trying to diagnose the electrical problem, before finally realising that we’d have to get professional help.
Sailing the 50nm back to Denarau without engines would be easy enough, but getting into the marina and onto a mooring without any power would be challenging! As Bau and Karine were also heading to Denarau, they offered to assist us. The plan was to sail up the channel leading into the marina and anchor just outside its entrance. From there we would secure Moondust alongside Skybird, and they would motor us to a mooring. All went according to plan, but just as we were safely rafted together, a huge rainstorm threatened, most likely with high winds. We had to quickly release the boats so that Skybird could go to their mooring while the squall lasted.
In the meantime, Karine alerted Jeff, the marina manager, about our predicament, who in turn notified the harbor master that, due to an emergency, we were temporarily anchored in the passage that the ferries use. Jeff commandeered three other cruisers and as soon as the weather passed, they helped us to get to our mooring. Three dinghies were tied to Moondust, acting as her engines, whilst Pete steered her to our appointed mooring. It was heartwarming to see how the cruising community stands together to help fellow cruisers.
One of our helpers recommended Benjamin, a good electrician, and within three minutes of being on board, he diagnosed the problem: both started motors had failed within three key turns of each other. This coincidence was almost unbelievable, considering they had been functioning for 17 years!
Whilst at Denerau we were invited to dinner by Avi, whom Pete had come to know quite well, following an introduction from Swedish cruising friends Ulla and Pele. We spent a lovely evening at his house, meeting his family and enjoying Roshni’s tasty Indian cooking.
All too soon it was time to haul Moondust out for her annual maintenance, which we did at Vuda Marina near Lautoka. Their boatyard is situated next to the marina and even though we had a tough ten days of non-stop work in hot and humid conditions, the rain stayed away, the setting was beautiful and we enjoyed their excellent facilities; especially the Tuesday night pizza specials.
Heading to Indonesia
It turned out that we were extremely fortunate with this recent cyclone season; we only had one cyclone skirting us, whilst up to three had been expected over Fijian waters this year.
We chose to spend our last week at Musket Cove while we were doing our final preparations for the 3000nm crossing to Indonesia. This will be among our longest non-stop passages, partly due to Covid border restriction, as we would have enjoyed stopping at Vanuatu on the way, but the island is still closed to tourists.
We hope to leave on 3rd May and will be sad to say goodbye to beautiful Fiji with her warmhearted people. However, we are looking forward to a new chapter in our adventure. We hope to be back home in Cape Town around the end of 2022. It’s taken over four years to sail half way around the world but circumstances, geography and cyclone seasons dictate that we complete the other half in just six months.
Vinaka Vakalevu, Fiji!