I wake up the day after Ella was set to arrive with an ear worm. I hum: “Welcome to the Hotel California…..such a lovely place.” The crew did sing that song at Kareoke night, but I don’t think that is why it’s in my head. “Plenty of room at the Hotel…..
As soon as everyone in the fleet learned that Ella was going to miss Fiji, Andrew and Leslie started hauling all my sails back up from down below. They reattach this and that, they put my solar panels back on, and I’m feeling complete again.
As my genoa flutters in the breeze halfway through the hoist, our friends Margret and Niels on UnWind go flying through the anchorage already put back together, already leaving. I watch UnWind go and sail right, then I sail left until I reach the end of my tether and am snapped back into place by my mooring ball. “Are we leaving today, too?”
Andrew says he really wants to, but we still have the Main, and the Jib to install and the first anchorage Northeast is a whole 40 miles away, upwind. If we average 5mph, that is 8 hours as the crow flies and upwind we will have to zig and zag. So, I guess I know the answer already. No. We aren’t leaving until tomorrow.
“You can check out any time you like, but YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE!” I sing at the top of my lungs a little off key.
“Oh don’t be so dramatic,” Leslie says, “We will leave bright and early tomorrow morning." I pout.
Neils says Savusavu is known as the Hotel California of the South Pacific. It is quite protected, graced with several good restaurants, plenty of cheap beer and good provision stores. It is close to some decent scuba diving, waterfalls, Labassa, and some smaller villages. The people are friendly, it caters to sailors, and it is just so comfortable, fun and easy....easy to get stuck. It's just a matter of time until Andrew and Leslie sell me to a(nother) gypsy and buy land overlooking a sunset. We have to get out of here! Andrew unfolds Grin and rows ashore to pay Savusavu Marina for the cyclone mooring; then we relocate back to Waitui’s last mooring ball at the mouth of the bay so we can get a quicker jump tomorrow. One last buffet night at Waitui, and then early to bed.
Leslie made good on her word. I could hear the alarm on the phone going at 5:00 a.m. sharp. Leslie and Andrew drag themselves out of bed, make coffee, fold and lash Grin through bleary eyes. We are going to sea!
Pretty soon, we are bouncing along heading Northeast into a Northeast wind and current. The wind is not to light, not too heavy, and the waves are not too bad. I’m enjoying myself, I don’t know about my crew. Sixty miles and nine hours later (after zigging and zagging), we arrive at the mouth of Fawn Harbor.
“Suck it in, Sonrisa!” Leslie calls out from the helm.
“RUDE! I can’t very well suck in these voluptuous hips, you know.” I look at the Fawn Harbor entrance and I see what she means. It’s a little skinny! The winds and waves are blocked by the shape of the land, and the entrance is calm. Leslie fires up Iron-Jenny (my engine) and we dodge and weave through the reef.
Two giant spotted eagle rays guard the outer gate. We swerve right, then left and right again to a calm anchorage. A curious sea turtle pops his nose of twice to see what we are all about then dives beneath my hull. Andrew drops the hook. We are the only ones there, a few houses dot the hillside. A little village is supposed to be nestled in the jungle somewhere.
Andrew and Leslie enjoy the evening sitting on my bow, looking up at the stars. “Sonrisa, hold still!” Leslie is lying on her back, holding her breath, trying to steady her camera skyward as I rock in the still anchorage. I am quite bad at holding still, but I try. This is the best we could do:
The next morning, we wake bright and early to leave and reach Viani Bay. As we leave the anchorage, a narrow, three foot long fish jumps out of the water, runs across the surface on his tail fins, dives back in the water, jumps out and runs across the surface again. “WOW!” Even at my advanced age of 35 (going on 36!) the sea still brings me surprises. I dub thee the Jesus-Fish.
A quick dash another fifteen miles Northeast, and we arrive in Viani Bay. As we enter the reef, I get the first glimpse of what we are here to see: beautiful, colorful soft corals, giant cabbage patch coral, the White Wall, and Rainbow Reef in the depths below my hull. “Oooh,” I think, “Andrew and Leslie are going to love diving this!” I see swim through tunnels and millions of colorful fish.
We get anchored, and pretty soon, the Famous Jack is paddling in my direction. Jack is the “magician of Viani Bay”. For forty years, he has been welcoming and guiding yachties in and around the bay. You have your own scuba gear? $10, and he will take you to dive the white wall. Snorkel? $10. Trip across the Somosomo Strait to see Tevanui? $10 + Gas. He is a “Jack of All Trades” having tried his hand at copra farming (farming the coconuts used to press coconut oil), business accounting, fishing, scuba guide, mega-yacht captain, procurer of boat building wood, ferryman, house builder, real estate broker, and tour guide. With all of these “lives” Jack has plenty of detail with which to spin a yarn or two.
As he reaches my hull, he pulls his aluminum boat aside and places a large bucket on my side deck. “Bulla!” He says, beaming a cheerful smile. “Welcome to Viani Bay! I brought you some Papaya.” Leslie takes one from the bucket and thanks him, but he tips his head back and laughs one long high pitched squeal and says “Oh, no! They are all for you!” “The WHOLE BUCKET?” Yes. That is a lot of papaya. Pretty soon a bucket of papaya is loaded into my hammocks down below, and my whole cabin smells like fruit. Later that afternoon, I see Jack returning with bananas. I cringe with horror. Oh no, NOT BANANAS! Yes, bunches and bunches of bananas.
The next day, Andrew and Leslie, Niels and Margaret head out with Fiji Dive Academy to try to dive Fiji's most famous dive site: The White Wall. But the wind has come up again, making diving rather uncomfortable. A few hours later, I see their crestfallen faces peeking over the bow of the dive boat as it zips back in my direction.
"How was the dive?" I ask.
"Meh." They both shrug. Nuku Reef was beautiful, but the second dive was grey, dead coral covered in algae. Apparently that was the only place protected enough by the wind to dive.
Niels and Margret come over for dinner, and we all enjoy the company. The next morning, UnWind ups anchor again and takes off to a new anchorage - they are movers and shakers. Andrew and Leslie decide to stay on. They are going to give the White Wall another try. As luck would have it, they came up smelling like roses.
The White Wall performed in all her glory. Andrew and Leslie descended into the depths through a narrow swim through lined with fern coral that led to about 26 Meters or (80FT) below the surface. Picture windows looked out of the tunnel to pretty coral and millions of colorful, tiny fish. At the end, they popped through the opening and found themselves on the edge of an 80 Meter (or 240 Foot) vertical wall that stretched so high and so low, they could not see the end in either direction. The current and their timing was perfect. Soft white coral were blooming from the wall, looking like a million white feathers waving in the wind. Andrew and Leslie ride the current for a stretch along the wall, overwhelmed and stunned at the immensity of the view.
At a break in the wall, they swim against the current through a maze of ledges, overhangs, and soft purple coral. Two reef sharks skulk by. When the dive instructor checks their air quantity, she realizes everyone has enough to do a second loop. So, they enjoyed a second lap. When they surface, I can hear whooping and hollers of joy all the way from my mooring inside the bay.
Out here, there is a rule. You must pay your dues before you can capture lightening in a bottle. There is no escaping it. You must be seasick, sail up wind, dive to see hammerheads and miss them, dive on a blustery day and end up seeing only algae covered dead reef. If you can cheerfully accept these less than perfect days and find the good in them, sooner or later you arrive at the perfect day, the perfect time, in the perfect current and experience something you didn’t even expect to see in its most beautiful incarnation.