Sunday, September 27, 2009

North through the Yasawa Islands

September 27, 2009--On Monday Morning we had good weather, so we left Musket Cove and headed north to Vanua Levu Island--not the same Vanua Levu that we visited last month. I had to keep watch on the bow for the first hour or so until we were in deeper water. We passed through the Mamanuca Islands, which includes Monu Island which is where the movie Castaway was filmed.

We arrived in Vanua Levu around noon and had to anchor in 65 feet of water. The island is beautiful with a white sandy beach. Vanua Lailai Island is a very small island just west of Vanua Levu, and the two islands are connected by a sand spit that is covered with water at high tide. We went ashore just after low tide to walk the beach, and we found quite a few good shells. The sand was so soft, and the views to the south were really spectacular. We were returning to the dinghy when we stopped to talk with Mike, the owner, and Justin and Hazel, the crew, from the lovely yacht sv Cheshire Cat that had anchored soon after us.

The next morning we went to the other beach but found no shells so we decided to go snorkeling instead. We took our gear to the coral reef right in front of the main beach. The coral was in excellent condition, and there were quite a few fish, so we spent a good hour covering a fairly large area. After lunch we did another snorkel out toward the point. The visibility was not very good, and the coral was not nearly as pretty; however, we did get our exercise for the day.

Wednesday morning we left early to move up to the western anchorage on Waya Island. The trip was fairly easy except that when we turned east to go into the anchorage, the visibility was not good. We came close to a patch of coral, but, luckily, we saw it in time. We anchored and then went ashore to the Oyster Bay Resort for lunch. This resort is probably the nicest one we have seen. It is more remote and low key than Musket Cove, but the island is beautiful and peaceful. Cheshire Cat arrived in the afternoon, and we all ended up at the restaurant later on. We stayed for a curry dinner and ended up sitting at a table with a couple from Australia, a couple from Boston, and two guys from Australia. It was a very entertaining evening.

We snorkeled the next morning just off the beach; however, it was very murky with few fish. Mike had asked us to have dinner with them for Justin's birthday, so at seven o'clock we went ashore with our balloon bouquet for him. We joined them at the table, and a few minutes later a young couple, Gaspar and Samantha from sv Octobasso, joined us. We enjoyed a wonderful fish dinner topped off with chocolate cake. It was a great evening.

Thursday was our day to move up to Manta Ray Bay on the west coast of Drawaqa Island. The wind was blowing 20 knots--right on the nose, of course--and the seas were a bit rough; however, we motor sailed and tacked our way up. The entry to the anchorage was a bit tricky because we had to weave our way around a few small reefs and coral heads, but the sun was out, and we could clearly see everything. We anchored and sat for just a few minutes before we decided that we had to put our our "flopper-stopper." This is used to reduce the roll of the boat in an anchorage with swells coming in. We have not used it since Mexico, but it certainly helped make the motion of the boat more comfortable. This anchorage is called Manta Ray Bay because there is a pass between Drawaqa Island and the much larger Naviti Island where Manta Rays, some of which are quite large, come to feed. It was too late in the day for us to snorkel so we planned to go out early in the morning.

Around 8:30 the next morning we got our gear and headed to the pass. We went through the pass and then got into the water to drift with the tide. I held the dinghy line while Steve took the camera. The coral was beautiful and the fish were so abundant that there were large schools all the way through the pass. It was just amazing--so amazing that we decided to do it again. Unfortunately, we did not see any rays, and now it was time for lunch.

Right after lunch a local was fishing very close to our boat so Steve said hello and began talking with him. His name was Jay, and he is a caretaker at the Captain Cook Drawaqa Island Resort. He said that the rays would come to feed around two o'clock and that he would give us a call on the radio. Around 1:30 we returned to the pass, and about an hour later, a snorkeler spotted a large ray. We swam to the center of the pass and spotted a 5- or 6-foot Manta Ray. He swam by us headed west, and I followed him for a few minutes. When I lost him, I rested for a minute and looked down in the water. There he was right below me! I followed him again until I got back to Steve, an then I took the gear while Steve followed him taking pictures and movies. It was a fantastic experience, and I will post some pictures next week when I have Internet again.

After another rolly night, we left Drawaqa Island to go to Blue Lagoon on Matacawa Island. This route took us along the west coast of Naviti, which is in uncharted waters. We had pretty good light, but clouds were moving overhead. We were motor sailing again with light winds on the nose. About 45 minutes later, I was on the bow keeping watch, and Steve called out that the water was getting shallower. At 27 feet, he turned the boat 180 degrees and followed our track back toward deeper water. With the adrenalin pumping, we returned to our course line, only a little further west. The rest of the trip was through areas with reefs and one stretch where we were in about 25 feet of water, but this time everything was shown on the chart so we had no surprises.

We arrived in Blue Lagoon around 2 o'clock and anchored with three other sailboats. This large bay is filled with resorts so it is a bit too developed for us. We plan to stay only a short time before moving on. We have one week left before we return to Vuda Point, and we want to see a few more places.

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