The wind finally abated at Nananu-i-Thake and the kiters stowed their gear. With the winds too light to sail to Namena Island, we called Volivoli beach resort and booked another snorkel trip. The sea was gentle and the clouds danced around the sun as we sped out of the anchorage on the skiff, skimming over reefs that would stop Anthea in her tracks. After talking about potential snorkel spots with Sethi, the dive master and captain of the skiff, he headed us towards a dive spot called Dream Maker.
Plunging over the edge of the boat into the lapis water, we swam towards the reef rising out of the ocean depths and found ourselves on the edge of old growth coral. Every space along the reef was filled with live, healthy coral, some rising like antlers with brilliant blue tips off of white branches, others with green or purple lobes poking up like hands alongside vibrant blue lumpy mats, or pink bursts of color. Spreading coral plates jutted off the reef’s edge, varying in hues of brown and cream, providing the horizontal planes to offset the vertical growth. A meter down the edge of the reef, large red fan corals branched from a single stem and swayed gently in the waters. Bursts of brilliant blue, yellow and purple soft corals poked between their hard coral cousins.
I swam in awe of the sight before me, sweeping my gaze over and around, up and down, visually consuming the majesty of this fragile ecosystem in large, joy-filled gulps. The reef dazzled as the clouds cleared from the sun and bursts of turquoise chromis fish darted among purple and lapis anthias, shimmering like jewels in the sea. This was the old growth of the sea.
For one and a half hours we swam and drifted along the edge of this extensive reef, venturing over the top to peer down on clown fish darting in and out of anemones, hovering over giant clams with their luscious lips filtering the ocean water, and following the constant flow of reef fish in and out of crevices and hidey holes. Small reef fish were everywhere: golden butterfly fish, rainbow wrasse, checkerboard wrasse, emperor angel fish, coachman and Moorish idols, parrot fish, convict tangs, and goat fish.
As we floated further we saw areas of reef bleaching and broken antlers, reminding us of the vulnerability of coral to heat and storm and the abuses humans so easily impart. Yet the overall health and diversity of this reef with its vast forests of coral, left me filled with hope for nature’s resilience if given the slightest chance.
The next day the wind was up a bit, so we set off for Namenalala. This small island in the middle of the Bligh waters is a marine protected area; in 2018 it was one of the few areas in Fiji where we saw large parrot fish, plump groupers, tasty snappers and other delicacies of the sea. We were unsure whether we could sail the course in one day, as our route lay mostly eastward, into the trades. Reveling in Anthea’s light wind performance to windward, we made good time until the wind shut down. A few hours of motoring helped to charge the batteries and power the watermaker, but Mr. Perkins is anything but quiet. As we reached the edge of Vatu-i-Ra reef we had to decide whether to face three more hours of motoring, racing the sunset across the open waters, or turn towards the shore of Fiji’s largest island of Vanua Levu and take refuge in a nearby anchorage. Namena called, so we transited the reef and blissfully found ourselves in a sailing breeze once again.
Anson, Mark and I vied for the helm as we sailed on a close reach to South Save a Tack Pass of Namena’s lagoon. Entering the lagoon with just enough visibility, we followed our prior tracks for safety, yet were still astonished to see how close we were to reef off to port. Thankfully, it was another good day onboard Anthea as we set our anchor in the lee of the island. Kim