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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sharks & Sea Snakes and Running Aground, Oh My! Fiji July 5-7, 09

July 5th we returned to Navadra to find this anchorage becalmed as well.  This was a rarity and a big surprise because even the cruising guides state that this anchorage is always a bit of a challenge.  Third time's a charm?  Or maybe it was sailing with TDM that brought the good luck and these calm anchorages – perhaps Glen and Sally are charmed.  They certainly are charming and a lot of fun to be around. 


We donned snorkel gear and swam to shore – finally!  The coral here is beautiful and deep, but with very tall heads.  Visibility was just OK, so we thought we would get to shore and then "sight see" on the way back to the boat. I found so many pretty shells walking the beach I wondered how on Earth I was going to get them back to the boat. I placed them on top of my discarded fins and walked the island.  Frank had disappeared into the trees so I just explored the beach area.  It was littered with coconuts and debris that had washed up over time.  I couldn't figure out where "Survivor" tribes had been set up but made some suppositions in my mind based on the lay of the land.  I didn't venture too far into the treed areas because the mosquitoes were pretty dense once you got near foliage.  Eventually Sally and Glen swam to shore. He also disappeared into the interior.  Is that a "guy thing"?  She and I discovered a large sign declaring the island Sacred.  Nearby was a shrine/alter type structure covered with large and medium size sea shells, some coconut shells, a bundle of kava root and what looked like gifts and flowers that would be laid on a site honoring someone who had died.  Mysterious.  Glen came out of the woods.  Frank was down the beach walking in the surf while Glen was telling Sally and I that he had seen a black-tip shark swimming along the coral heads just off the beach.  Oh Lord!  My cowardly heart began palpitating thinking of how to get back on board without going back into the water.  Of course the guys didn't think anything of it saying, "He isn't here to bother us".  They forget that I attract things that bite!  The tide was coming back in so we began preparing to swim back.  I stuffed shells into Frank's pockets until they began to bulge, placing the better ones in first in case some floated out during the swim back.  We waded into the water, me kicking furiously to ward off aggressive shark attacks, with Frank lollygagging behind me.  What was he doing? I needed him to swim with me to defend me!  I kept swimming back to him, urging him on but he was more interested in looking at coral and pretty fish and ignored my pleadings.  In fear and frustration I swam hurriedly back to Destiny, praying for both our lives.  When I got up safely out of the water I planted myself on the sugar scoop ready to assist if Frank needed defending while getting to the boat.  He made it safely back, taking his time enjoying the swim and did not get attacked or eaten on the way.  Neither of us saw any sharks so I wonder if Glen was being serious or just pulling my leg.  I have a HUGE fear of sharks.


By the way, I forgot to put this in a previous journal:  Fiji is literally crawling or should I say slithering with deadly sea snakes.  Twice Jaime and Christine had returned to Morning Light while Erik and Gisela were visiting to find a sea snake on their sugar scoop (the back end of the boat).  While in Musket Cove, Frank and I had seen one or two in the water at the back of ours, but none had yet tried to come on board.  During our first trip to Somosomo with Jaime and Christine (ML) and Glen and Sally (TDM), we saw one in the water trying to swim up the side of Glen and Sally's dinghy while they were sitting in it beside our boat.  Glen kept swatting at it with an oar, while it persisted in trying to crawl up into the dinghy.  Finally they managed to thwart its attempts to board.  We don't know what their fascination is with getting onto boats and dinghies, but they are persistent.  Later on that same day we were all going to go to shore and were boarding our own dinghy while the others had come over in theirs and were waiting for us.  I was just about to get off our boat into the dinghy; Frank was already sitting in the back getting our motor started, when a sea snake crawled up the transom of our dinghy.  Frank watched it spellbound as it slinked its way right up over the motor into the back of our dinghy by his feet, while he began swatting at it with an oar.  He told me to stay on the boat. I froze.  He continued trying to lure it away from him with an oar.  It was utterly oblivious to the attempts and ignored him while it explored around the gasoline tank at Frank's feet.  Glen reached over with his giant machete and away they swung with their weapons, trying to abate the snake while not harming our fuel line, the motor connections or the tank.  Finally they managed to hack its head off and dump it over the side.  Sally had her camera and snapped a few photos of it but said she couldn't get a real good shot so we'll see if it turned out or not and if so will post it on the website.  It wasn't very large – maybe 18-20 inches long.  But that's big enough for us.


OK, so back to Navadra.  We spent a very pleasant night in the anchorage, yet by early morning with the rising tide the swells began to build.  The all too familiar roll had returned.  Frank and I re-anchored, moving closer to the spit between the two islands hoping for a little more calm.  A large motor yacht arrived and we watched him anchor and then set about pitching and rolling as we felt our own boat begin the dance.  Although having planned to spend the day and another night here we informed TDM that we were not going to take the chance of facing a rough day and night in this anchorage and were setting off for Malolo Lailai instead.  Although they had really wanted to stick around and were much more amenable to putting up with the roll, they decided to follow us out.  The forecast had called for light winds (under 10 knots) so we felt that it would be a decent travel day, although it probably meant a lot of motoring.  Forecasts are often wrong, however, and we spent a long, rough day of motoring, beating into 20+ knot headwinds, fighting a relatively strong current and large swells slamming us nearly all the way to the pass into the bay outside Musket Cove.  We felt badly for TDM because they were having to hand steer.  (Their autopilot had gone out during the crossing from NZ and they are still awaiting the parts to repair it.)  Normally I stay up top and "spot" for coral heads and shallows, but Frank felt confident that we were on a safe course, so I had gone down below to update my journal entries, which are weeks behind.  We were almost to the channel, when Frank called for me to come to the front of the boat to spot.  Just as I got topside, we high centered – ground to a halt!  I shouted "Oh Crap, Frank we've gone aground! What the hell!?"  Now we understand the reports we'd gotten from others who have done the same.  It had happened so fast.  Yes, we have charts – electronic and paper.  We have a depth gauge.  How does this happen?  We are careful.  We are diligent. We thought we had taken into account the "offset" on the charts. Frank is more confident than I.  I am the worrier who insists on always being up top and on watch.  This time I took it on faith that we were fine. I'd overcome my paranoia about hitting a reef or running aground. We had come and gone from here several times through both passes and thought we had a good fix on it.  Had we both become too confident? Unfortunately in sailing, and in particular in Fiji this is the curse of the cruiser.  We had veered just a tad off the track and a few yards is all it takes.  Thankfully we were inside of the bay and the waters were calm, Frank immediately threw the engine into reverse.  I had climbed on top of the mast pulpit and as I looked around, it seemed the bottom had closed in on us. With poor visibility we could not see whether the dark spots around us were coral or sea grass.   Frank has good instincts and managed to back us off veering to starboard and we broke free from the bottom – thankfully it was mostly sand, but we knew that there had been some coral, feeling it scrape underneath as we maneuvered off and prayed that our keel had not been damaged.  I stayed up high and continued to watch for clear pathways as Frank hailed Glen asking him to take the lead.  They had the advantage of some different software that seems to be more accurate than ours.  We humbly fell in behind them as we entered the pass into Musket Cove and headed for the safety of a mooring.  As soon as the weathered cleared, we intended to check the bottom, but for now a beer for the Captain and a trip to shore to see our friends was in order.

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