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Diving at the Aclarity Pass and a Damn Fine Curry

Again, in the morning, I picked up Siwa from the village to see if we could find any Mantas. We first called the village at Buliya. The elders had not seen any wisdom in discounting visiting fees for visiting sailboats. 40 Fijian Dollars may be reasonable to folks visiting from resorts or cruise ships but I doubt if this will help attract sail boats. Regardless, I took Siwa over to the island where they visit their cleaning station but they weren’t present. The location was also very choppy so there was no sense in waiting.

Back at the boat Siwa was booked to take the Ossos, Jacksters and John&Stuart (Sea Mist/Imagine) on a dive west of the island. We got ourselves in on the dive. It was a bit far, we weren’t prepared and we also had plans to move west so we killed three birds with one stone and took Dignity around to the west side of the island while we prepared the dive gear.

The other boats followed a short while later meeting up where we anchored. By then we were all ready. Helen stayed behind, Anne went aboard Osso’s large runabout and John and I followed in our dinghy. The surface waters by the dive were very choppy but down below the visibility was excellent as was the dive. The area was all canyons with lots of swim throughs. Siwa did a very good job as a dive master. I know the Jacksters and Ossos who have done quite a few trips with him have been equally pleased. We thoroughly recommend him. If you’re researching for your trip, look up Siwa in the village of Naqara in Ono. According to our dive nut buddies this area exceeds the more famous rainbow reef at the east end of Vanua Levu so we do recommend this.

Once back from the dive we washed down our gear, showered then at lunch. Straight after we set off. We were soon under sail with two lines out. Anne had chosen the lure for the fishing rod which I had prepared a few days previously. Half way to our destination the reel sang. We soon had the head sail in to reduce boat speed and John pulled in the handline to avoid a snarl up. We knew we had a mahi mahi early on as it had a lot of spirit and leapt out of the water a couple of times. I gave Anne the job of bringing the fish in. We didn’t lose it and soon had it aboard. It weighed in at 10 pounds. I tied a knot round it’s tail allowing us to bleed it out in the water behind the boat. As we were a few miles from our destination we left the fish on the back step so we could focus on arrival.

Soon after the catch we briefly spied dolphins in the water behind us. They didn’t approach the boat too closely but one did a flip out of the water to show off. We could see them splashing off into the distance behind us so perhaps they were hunting.

Given the time we left after lunch the most appropriate land fall was the bay west of the village of Daku. With Helen and John at the bow we threaded our way in between the reefs anchoring in very protected and calm waters.

Once we were safely anchored we turned our attention back to our mahi mahi. I lopped of the head and tail which we put into a bag along with some more of the Wahu of which we still have a fair amount. I cleaned the fish and cut it into four steaks. I filleted one side of one of the steaks leaving the other seven halves to Anne. John and I took the dinghy ashore navigating a shallow but vibrant reef to give sevusevu to the headman at Daku. We met the headman, Epi, on the beach. He took us to his home where Epi performed the ceremony. We learned we were the first boat here this year and felt really bad telling him we were only stopping for the night. We know how much the villagers like to hear from overseas people and it was a shame to have to stop by so briefly. I said that Helen and I would be coming back to Fiji next year and hopefully we could stop by then.

Back on Dignity the filleting and clean up was complete and the mahi mahi curry was progressing well. It turned out to be an excellent meal. Fresh deep water fish on the table in three hours. It doesn’t get much better.

We finished the evening off by watching a movie. Despite it being very engaging we all felt extremely tired and failed to reach the end of the movie. That will have to wait.

This evening we’ll be sailing north west to Musket Cove marina west of the main island. It will be an overnight sail so today we’ll be one of relaxation to prepare for the trip. We may move Dignity into the reef area in front of a nearby resort but nothing more taxing is planned for today.

Friday Night Disco

In the morning I went ashore to pick up Siwa, the villager who is an occasional dive master at a nearby resort. There is a manta ray spot nearby that the village at Buliya charges $40 per head to visit. This is a lot of money for something that is free elsewhere. Many of the cruisers here are keen to see the mantas and although we are willing to pay the $40 (on a no show no pay basis) we are trying to get a concession for the cruisers here. The thinking being that they are more likely to attract cruisers to the area (Naqara had none last year and one the year before, they say) if they can drop the price for us. The village elders were out so a decision could not be made on our request. Nevertheless, I took Sila over to the spot where the mantas show. We searched for a while, as did another pair of locals in their dinghy. Unfortunately, no mantas were there so our plan for the morning was scratched. Instead, Anne and John took the dinghy to go snorkeling nearby while Helen and I rested.

In the afternoon, we had hoped to go diving. All the good spots are on the west coast of Ono. Siwa had gone out with the Osso Blancos and Jacksters in the morning. They’d had a rough time in the area where the winds had shifted to the SW. He had decided that an afternoon dive would be untenable so that idea was scratched too.

However, the day wasn’t a complete washout. The weather was definitely improving. Although we had a few patched of rain, we did have more than a few patches of sunshine which warmed us up. In the evening, a beach party with bonfires and dancing had been planned by the villagers. We all prepared some snacks for the villagers and headed ashore at 7pm. Due to increased winds, the bonfire idea had been abandoned. We were taken to one of the nearby huts where the villagers were all set up. As we approached they fired up their instruments and went into song. I was asked to share the message that when each song started we could select one of the locals to dance with. And that we did.

Grog (cava) was freely flowing. Somehow we decided we would sing them a song in return. However we could not find a song for which we all knew the words. In the end we picked Let It Be. I went back to the boat to pick up some beer to give to the villagers (for which they were very well chuffed) and to print out some lyrics. Our eventual rendition went pretty well I think.

The evening ended with the now familiar Isa Lei being sung. By the time we returned to the boat it was 11pm – very late for us cruisers.

Weather permitting we’re going to have another try for the mantas this morning. We need to make the trip to Musket Cove either this afternoon or tomorrow afternoon. The trade winds are beginning to reestablish themselves so either day should work well for us. The ocean swell is looking better, in terms of being lower, tomorrow and the direction should improve. With the winds also expected to be more easterly I’m expecting it to be warmer. So I’m plumping for a Sunday/Monday overnight passage. The only question now is whether to leave from here or to sail somewhere a little further west this afternoon to improve our wind angle and shorten the distance. We’ll see.

Up To and Up the Tower

At 9am a group of us (John: Sea Mist, Stuart: Imagine, Jo: Osso Blanco + all of us) headed ashore for our hike up to the top of the hill where the vodafone cellphone tower sits.

The hike took us through some very lush landscape taking us just over an hour to climb the 338m hill. At the top we were let into the vodafone tower complex and shown the equipment comprising a wind generator, a vast array of solar panels, a generator, some power/switch boxes and the tower itself. We were then offered the opportunity to climb the 25m tower which was quite a surprise. Jo, John (Sea Mist), Helen and myself took on the challenge reaching the top of the tower holding onto the lightening conductor for support. The climb was tricky as the tower became narrower and narrower as we reached the top making the space we were climbing in awkward. On the positive side it was good to have something at our back in case we needed to rest. The view from the very top was awesome.

By the time we made it back down and to the boat it was already 1pm. We ate lunch then had a brief nap before going snorkeling. Only it wasn’t so brief and and afternoon disappeared. Unfortunately, earlier hopes of a clearing sky failed to turn into reality. While this was good for the morning hike, we are all beginning to miss the sunshine. John and I prepared for a snorkel but it started to rain so we called it off.

At six, all the boats here headed ashore in our dinghies for a meke – a dance and music put on by the village. We met up in the community hall. Here we were given plates of food that had been prepared for us and some delicious lemon tea. The cava bowl had been broken out and the cava was flowing. We were first entertained by five of the younger men who performed an energetic dance largely sitting down.

After the dancing we mingled with the villagers in the room chatting with them while a group sang Fijian songs. The evening ended with the farewell song Isa Lei.

One surprising thing we learned was that last year the bay had no boats visit and the year before only one. This rare run of southerlies has now brought seven boats into the anchorage which is very rare.

There was mild panic at the end when reports of our dinghies drifting off started circulating. I’m not entirely sure what the problem ended up being. I think one had drifted a short distance. Ours ended up being stuck where we’d anchored it. Because the evening had gone on longer than we’d expected I had a bit of a wade out to it to bring it back to the beach. It had gone nowhere. I towed in Sea Mist’s dinghy who was in a similar spot.

Today we’re hoping to go swimming with the mantas and maybe go for a dive this afternoon. The weather continues to be a bit depressing and the forecasts are not overly encouraging. The villagers are planning to put on music and more dancing this evening so we’re looking forward to that.

Where the wind blows (or doesn’t) – Naqara

The day started with a dilemma. The skies were gray and it was drizzling. The weather forecast called for the northerlies to turn into southerlies later in the day and for the weather to improve. However, the northerlies had already turned to southerlies and the anchorage was getting rolly. Perhaps this meant the weather would soon improve. We wanted to see the mantas but not in poor light so we decided to wait for a while and see how it played out.

As the morning progressed the chop picked up but the weather showed no sign of improvement. On the first sign of queasiness aboard we set off heading for Naqara on the north side of Ono. The prediction was for several days of southerlies so this was our best bet. We set off and as Sea Mist and Imagine had much the same idea, off they went too.

Naqara had not been on our list of possible places to go but this is how it goes. The weather often dictates our actions and that can bring surprises. It wasn’t far to go so soon we were anchored in a tranquil bay, protected from the chop and swell.

Ashore we could see a few buildings but there were hints of more behind. It was now late morning. The three vessels agreed we should do sevusevu but decided to go a little later in the day.

Aboard dignity we rested and relaxed. I did a little handlining and caught a small grouper which was eventually released once all had seen it was possible to catch fish.

After lunch we all (including Sea Misters and Imagineers) all headed ashore to see if there was anyone with whom we could offer our respects via sevusevu.

It turned out there was village of 60 tucked behind the palm trees. We were greeted at the beach by one of the locals, Siwa, and taken to the community hut where we gave sevusevu to the chief via his head man. Here the ceremony was taken quite seriously with long speeches in Fijian followed by the formal welcome into the village in English.

We were then taken around the village by Siwa. The real highlight was visiting the school for the 6-12 year olds. 60% of the students were from Naqara and the remainder from the next village having to board each week. Some of the children were taking a maths exam so we quietly left them to it. In another block the teachers organised the children to give us a presentation. We all shared our names and backgrounds with the children and each of them, in turned, shared theirs. Some were bold, many were nervous. It was all good character building. Then the children sang two songs for us which was a wonderful surprise.

For their efforts Anne handed out the sweeties which were welcomed. We said our goodbyes and headed back to the beach. Along the way we made arrangements for the next day, at least the morning. We have a hike planned to the cell phone tower at the top of the hill. In the afternoon we may go to see the mantas.

Back at the beach the locals were collecting coconuts for us. One chap was up the tree tossing fresh ones down and others were cutting the tops off and giving them us to drink. We’ve not had this done since Tonga so this was all a nice surprise too.

Soon we were off back to our boats. On the beach we met the Jacksters and Ossa Blancos who had just arrived with the same need to shelter from the southerlies. It was nice to greet them again. We’ll be meeting up soon.

Back on the boat Anne and John tried out some fishing. John almost landed an octopus but Anne did well catching three fish with the fishing line. Four if you count the rock fish she hauled in which looked remarkably like a lump of coral.

As the sun was setting I took Anne ashore to give the fish she’d caught the last fisherman to go ashore. The fisherman appeared very pleased with the extra fish as he didn’t have too many himself.

We had a quiet dinner aboard followed by cards which didn’t last very long due to tiredness.

The new day has started with better weather. The water is very calm. The skies are a little cloudy which is perfect for our walk. Should be a good one.