Silver Linings

[Written but not posted a week and a half ago….] The weather has been consistently disappointing since arriving in Fiji. Slow moving troughs of low pressure, bringing grey skies and pockets of showers, have dominated the last ten days. Some of the troughs packed a punch with thunderstorms and gusts into the 30 knot range. Occasionally the trough clouds break up and glorious sunshine pours over our bodies, the boat, the land and water. Mangrove forests and green hillsides dazzle in the sunlight, and lagoon waters that appeared gray under cloud cover show depth contours of deep blues blending into turquoise.

After receiving our cruising permit, we dabbled in the islands off of Nadi, visiting Musket Cove, the popular resort island, with a kiteboarding launch spot and world class surfing on the reef break. With no wind for kiteboarding, a crowded anchorage, and mediocre water clarity, our primary joy was meeting up with a cruising family we hadn’t seen since Tonga. We spent an evening enjoying an impromptu potluck dinner ashore, then wandered to a neighboring resort to see the fire dancing show. Skilled “Polynesian” dancers entertained the crowd of tourists (mostly white Aussies and Kiwis), culminating with a dramatic show of dancing with flaming sticks and balls. The dancers were impressive, but the context so different from the village dance practices in Fatu Hiva, local dance school recital in Nuku Hiva, and Heiva competition in Tahiti which we were so privileged to see. The same dance moves in different contexts, one evoking decolonization, the other resonating with tourist-economy neocolonialism. Our own cruising travels intersect with both currents, never flowing in pure streams, but mixed together with swirls and back-eddies confusing the waters.

We stayed one night at the crowded anchorage and then chose to move on to less populated islands. Storm clouds kept us from traveling far, and still the water clarity failed to entice us into the waters. Another short hop took us to Navadra island, where the movie Castaway was filmed. Small and uninhabited, we shared the anchorage with a local cruise ship and had our first snorkel in Fiji. Water clarity remained disappointing, but it was wonderful to see a profusion of soft corals, a few young, hard corals struggling to rebuild amongst bleached out elders, and clusters of our favorite tropical reef fish. Two white tipped reef sharks swam by, patrolling their territory, as we became water babies and frolicked. It was refreshing to be back in the water again, but all of us missed the clarity of the Tuamotu passes, Niue, Tonga and even New Zealand. We’ve been dreadfully spoiled!

A look at the weather showed no kite boarding winds for days, due to the troughs disrupting the SE trades, and an opportunity to make easterly progress in a dead calm towards the best known kite boarding island in Fiji. We motored through reef strewn waters for one day, and then through an inner passage for another ½ day to reach Nananui-i Ra, an island on the NE tip of Vitu Levu, the destination the boys have been waiting for. As we motored during days which would have been blissful snorkeling weather, I selfishly thought, “This is what love looks like.” For unlike some (many?) parents, I am not very self-sacrificing. Frankly, if the water clarity had been better, I would have argued long and hard to enjoy unprecedented snorkeling opportunities in calm, flat waters of the Yasawa Islands. But pushed by murkiness and pulled by the pleasure of seeing the boys light up from their adrenaline-filled kiting, I succumbed to the drone of the engine as we navigated safely to Nananu-i Ra.

And then we waited for wind. It came, in the face of a storm at midnight. The beautiful lightning show we enjoyed during dinner, with brilliant flashes illuminating towering white cumulonimbus clouds, journeyed our way. We spent a sleepless night monitoring our position in the anchorage, watching a boat that dragged multiple times pass by as it reset its anchor, and bracing ourselves when violent gusts of wind sent shudders down the mast and howled in the rigging. At 0300 the wind shut down and my eyes closed for a too short night sleep.

In the wind hole the next day, we enjoyed a brief snorkel trip to the outer reef, seeing glimpses of the beautiful soft corals and fan corals in brilliant red, orange, blue and black. Reef fish swam in and amongst the coral shelf, each of them a miracle of shape and color. With shallow dives Mark and I immersed ourselves in the upper levels, while Devon and Anson buddy dove to the depths. Back on board we checked the weather once again, and the forecast finally showed a kiting wind building.

The next morning Devon got out on the water and polished his skill set. He had a series of lovely reaches, wonderful transitions, and was on the verge of discovering the holy grail of kiting – how to kite upwind – when the wind shut down. After lunch the wind picked up and Anson had a half hour of running through his tricks, and then, once again, the wind died. Agony and frustration mixed with the taste of kiteboarding freedom. When Anson describes the exhilaration of skimming along the surface of the water, dancing the kite across the sky with flicks of his fingertips, following its lead and harnessing the energy to fly with the wind, I’m almost ready to go back to kite school. But then I realize that adrenaline rushes are not a match for me – give me sailing on Anthea for my freedom.

With hopes high for another day of kiting, we made arrangements with a local kiteboarding instructor to give Mark and Devon lessons. Multiple weather sources forecast 15 knot easterlies, except for one source, which called it right. It turned out we were in the only wind shadow in Fiji. Anson went out with Warren, the instructor, and some of his kiteboarding guests (he runs a small resort on the island, catering to windsurfers and kiteboarders, as the wind generally accelerates between the two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu), but their hoped for, dream-like, downwind run turned into a snorkel trip instead, as the edge of wind disappeared on the horizon.

The troughs just kept on making trouble. With no kiting wind in the near term forecast, and a window to go eastwards in the calm, we set out for a marine protected area. Three of us were ready to leave, and Anson, who tasted freedom and yearned hard for it, assented to the majority wish. The troughs of low pressure which plagued us helped us make easy progress eastwards, away from tourism central and murky waters. We claimed that silver lining and made the most of it with a beautiful, light wind sail across the reef-strewn Bligh* waters. After anchoring for the night in the bight of a reef, and motoring a few hours in the morning calm, we anchored off of Namena Island and enjoyed glorious snorkeling in crystalline waters. After ten days of cruising Fiji, I felt we arrived at last!

*Yep, the famed Captain Bligh, whose crew mutinied during his first attempt to transport breadfruit seedlings to the Caribbean. His plan was to introduce a cheap, fast growing source of filling food to feed slaves on the sugar plantations. Bligh barely escaped with his life as he and his officers fled Fijian warriors through this reef strewn passage of water. On his second voyage he was successful, and breadfruit trees now grace Caribbean isles.

One thought on “Silver Linings

  1. Hey — we snorkeled at Nananui-i Ra. Anson, that is the source of my famous toe-blister which turned into a monster.

    So fun to read about your adventures. But when are you coming home already??


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