Namena is ruled by the blue and red footed boobies in the trees, frigate birds in the sky, and crabs on the land. The tail edge of a weak trough kept long ribbons of grey cumulus clouds hovering over Vanua Levu to the north, while Namena remained blissfully clear. But the wind freshened and snuck around the southwestern tip of the island in sharp gusts, while a gentle swell rocked us on board. Namena is a fair weather anchorage, and this felt a bit too far from fair, especially as the birds and crabs were our only company. In the middle of the night both Mark and I were beset by disturbed images of survival snorkeling on the reef. While I concluded we’d need to just sail onwards, Mark had visions of staying aboard Anthea to serve as a rescue vessel while the rest of us braved the wind and swell on the reef. We confessed our fears over coffee in the cockpit while watching another burnt orange sunrise. But by the time pancakes were made and the crew rousted, the wind had died down and the swell, broken by the reef at low tide, diminished.
We rushed into full preparations for a snorkeling trip, but still beset by middle of the night fears of survival snorkeling, and with no other boats nearby, I packed a dry bag with medical kit, extra sunscreen, water, biscuits, and the portable VHF, and we threw in another kayak paddle in case the dinghy engine failed and we were set adrift in the Bligh waters. Fortunately this preparation was over the top, as conditions were mostly calm at the reef.
We anchored amidst bleached and devastated coral, but were delighted to see schools of large parrot fish, their iridescent colors flashing against the white coral sand. Our fishy friends delighted us, but the contrast of coral wasteland after our visit to the old growth, kept me yearning for coral.
By the time we reached the outer reef, live coral, sponges and fans adorned the sheer wall plunging 60 feet to the sea floor. The visibility was exquisite into the lapis depths, and Anson and Devon became sea creatures free diving down amidst the layers of fish while the rest of us dove in shallow spurts along the edge. Fish darted around, and groupers, snappers and other edibles mingled with the small tropical fish. Schools of silvery fish darted en masse, and a white tipped reef shark patrolled, looking a bit too serious for my tastes, but staying a respectable distance away. While four of us swam against the current to reach the outer reef, Mark snorkeled through the bleached shallows, and then plunged over the edge into the magic of the outer wall, the contrast between the two worlds amplifying the beauty of the depths. We feasted on the life before us, and it was only fatigue that pulled us from the water and back on board Hektor. Our spirits were full, but our bodies depleted.
That evening we dinghied ashore to the crab filled beach and watched the blue and red footed boobies land precariously in their nests. The evening sky was filled with the sound of babies calling their parents, and soon we spied the white and grey blotches amongst the dense green foliage of the lush trees crowding the island’s sloping hill. Although one other boat had arrived with four people aboard, we, now nine, humans remain dwarfed by the density of bird, fish and plant life in this reserve.
(PS We’re slowly catching up on blogs – I had partially written this post about our brief visit to Namena in mid-June and finished it tonight, at anchor in Naqaiqai Creek, on the eastern coast of Vanua Levu. Kim)