End of a Chapter

The final chapter in our cruise with Andrea and Anson was spent around the island of Taveuni and the outlying islands of Rabi and Kioa. Taveuni’s north tip was the site of kiting joy last year, and we hoped for a repeat. But the winds had backed to the east and one frustrating day at the kiting spot made us realize that a SE trade was essential for kiting bliss at this locale.

The next day we set off on a road trip and hike to the three waterfalls in Bouma National Park. We pushed ourselves up the beautiful hike in hot sun, up and up and up and up to the top fall. Sweating and out of shape from our time at sea, we plunged into the pool at the base of the topmost waterfall and enjoyed the surreal beauty of tropical foliage surrounding a picture perfect cascade dropping into a round pool. We lounged like lizards on the warming rocks and ate a snack before hiking down, vacating the top pool just as the next party of hikers arrived. By the time we reached the bottom pool, church was out and local youth were playing water rugby. We swam again to cool off and enjoy the scene, then set out on the long bumpy ride back to the boat.

But the ride itself was another joy, for we quickly made friends with Mani, the taxi driver, by launching into Hindi and opening up worlds. We shared dinner that night with his wife and grandson at a local pizzeria by our anchorage. They are rebuilding their cyclone devastated kava plantation with hopes of retirement in a few years, to be followed by traveling. The first destination will be India to connect with relatives of his (great?) grandparents, people he knows only through Facebook. Our many worlds collide in Fiji, and at times, speaking Hindi as the world blurs by out the windows, it is hard to remember which side of the globe we are on.

The next day we set out for Albert’s Cove on Rabi Island, a picturesque semi-circular cove with good protection from the trades and a lovely white beach. We had a delightful reach northeast from Taveuni, then hardened up to parallel the southern edge of Rabi’s barrier reef, flying effortlessly along. We had a choice before us: cut through a pass in the reef and dodge corals along the way to and through another pass on the north side, then slip a few miles west to the anchorage, or journey to the tip of the reef, five miles further east, and sail 7 miles west back along the northern edge of the lagoon. With plenty of daylight and glorious sailing, choosing the longer path was easy. Besides, it set us up for our only spinnaker set of the trip.
Anson and Devon got in high gear on the foredeck; this time Devon ran all the lines for the spin set so he’d be prepared to take over the critical position of bow once Anson departed. Anson watched his brother master the complex run of lines and pole and then readied for the raise. With the chute popped, Anthea surged forward. We trimmed that spinnaker like we were racing, easing the sheet until the edge barely curled and calling for the muscle on the winch to help trim to every puff and lull. We set the pole for maximum power and ate up the 7 mile broad reach eastward. Too soon we arrived outside the cove and had to douse the chute and return to cruising life. We could have sailed with that spinnaker for hours!

Thankfully Albert’s Cove was a divine destination, with a beautiful crescent beach and calm water. Mark and I dinghied ashore to see if anyone was living in what our cruising guide described as a seasonal abode. To our astonishment we met Kaotha, a man in his late 60s living alone in a simple shelter with outdoor kitchen. He walked with a crutch to help support a leg that never recovered from a stroke a decade ago. We asked for his permission to anchor and set a time for our full crew to visit him the next morning. The next morning, after our banana pancake breakfast, all five of us journeyed ashore, offering a solar light and several pancakes as gratitude for his welcome into the cove. He was delighted by the light, a most welcome addition to his homestead, as he had no power source other than flashlight batteries. We sat on the platform he had erected from rough hewn timbers, centered in the yard that he had carefully swept that morning.

Early in our conversation, he shared two dates with us which helped us understand the significance of this unique island. The first was January 15, 1945, the day the first shipload of displaced Banaban Islanders (original residents of Banaba or “Ocean” Island near Kirabati) set foot on Rabi Island in Fiji. The second was his birthdate, in December of 1951. It struck us that he first offered the date of his people’s arrival, spurring us to learn more about the circumstances that led Britain to purchase the island from Fiji and settle thousands of refugees from their home thousands of miles away.

The story of Kaotha’s people is classic colonialism, with theft of land and extraction of resources at an obscene scale. Farmers of Australia and New Zealand, hungry for fertilizer, created the demand for the phosphate; Banaba Island was found to be one of the most phosphate rich islands in the Pacific. The New Zealander Albert Ellis, working for a British mining company, began exploiting the island, first with consent for mining a limited portion of land, and then through coercion and deceit. Finally an agent of the British government threatened the Banaban peoples with force and ended non-violent protests by Banaban women, who hugged their coconut trees in an attempt to stop the plunder of the land. The island was quickly being decimated by the mining, and then came WWII. In 1942 the Japanese landed on the island, sent most of the inhabitants to labor camps on neighboring islands, and massacred over 100 men. Upon the completion of the war, Britian vowed to prevent the Banabans from returning to their home so that they could mine every ounce of phosphate without interruption. The Crown turned to Fiji, bought an island, and resettled a traumatized people in a land far from home, while the plunder continued to the bitter end. In the 1960s and 70s several Banaban leaders went to London to seek justice, and after numerous meetings with bureaucrats resulted in no action, they launched the longest court case in British history, finally winning limited justice, but with no specification for compensation. A limited monetary settlement followed over a decade later, but money is not land, and the Banabans remain an isolated minority within Fiji, recrafting their lives in an environment much colder and wetter than their equatorial home. (If interested, see http://www.banaban.com/contents/en-us/d17_Banaban-historical-overview.html for a website by Banaban peoples on their history and current projects. The 1970s documentary/film “Tell it to the Judge” is at once a critique of colonialism and a reproduction of colonial discourse, with some excellent historic footage from the 1970s court case.)

Kaotha came of age during the fight for justice, but our Banaban is non-existant, and his English limited, so we were left to interact through word and gesture, sharing simple stories of family, land and sea. We made a plan for a fire on the beach and a shared dinner for the following day, and then left to explore the area.

Our walk along the beach stretching northward was magical. We were the only boat in the anchorage, and Kaotha the only resident in the cove, so we felt lost in space and time. Mark and I walked ahead and sat on the beach as Anson and Andrea searched for shells along the route (Devon opted for time home alone aboard Anthea). Before me I saw a pebble rise in the air, twirl and swirl in circles before landing again. After a short pause, it seemed to leap up into the air and dance some more. Spinning, leaping and twirling, the pebble danced inches above the sand, its movements as elegant as a ballerina. I let myself enter a fairy world of dancing rocks by a lagoon’s sandy shore, deferring the search for a rational explanation. And then my brain correlated breeze with leap, and I saw the delicate silk of a spider’s web ensnaring the pebble and attaching it to a small branch overhead. Mark and I watched the show and urged Anson and Andrea down the beach to witness this spider art sashayed by breeze. Small moments like these, senses touched by nature, soothe the soul.

A snorkel in the windy cove showed us many of our fishy friends, and some of the coral we have come to love, but the visibility was poor. The wind, however, inspired thoughts of kiting. The next day we returned to the beach and pulled off a first successful dinghy launch. Without a tangle in his lines, Anson took off beyond the lee of the island, but still within the protected lagoon, and powered upwind, one graceful sliding transition after another propelling him forward. Mark, the endlessly supportive father that he is, then returned to shore to help with dinghy launch number two. Devon had all his gear ready for the dinghy ride into the wind; he hopped in the water, swam his lines out, and up went the kite. But something was terribly wrong! He depowered the kite and wrestled with the bar to attempt to untwist lines, but soon found that he was in a potentially bad situation. Yanking the emergency release, the kite soared hundreds of feet in the air and then sank from the sky. Luckily it landed within the lagoon, within easy reach of the dinghy. Mark and Devon raced out to retrieve the kite and returned to shore.

By this time the clock was ticking for our beach fire and cookout date. Anson finally turned downwind, and we rushed to pack up all the gear and return to Anthea. Once aboard we frantically threw sausages, potatoes, cheese, pre-made rotis and mustard into a bag, along with a cutting board, knife and aluminum foil, and set off for shore. There we met up with Kaotha and one of his nephews. Kaotha coordinated the efforts of gathering dried palm leaves, and soon we realized we had competing visions of the meaning of beach fire. We had imagined a tidy little flame on the beach over which we roasted sausages on sticks and placed sliced potatoes and cheese in foil packets within the coals. Kaotha, however, had planned a massive conflagration. We followed his lead of course, and Devon and I helped him to shove dried palm fronds into the skeleton of a dead tree at the edge of the beach. After Kaotha determined that each frond was as high as it could possibly go, he handed Devon a strip of bark to secure the bundle to the branches. He then moved us down a limb and out to the side, concluding with a bundle of fronds layered at the base of the dead tree. The amount of fuel looked terrifying – the palm leaves needed only a spark to catch, and we imagined the dead tree would burn for days. But this was Kaotha’s home turf, so we followed his plan and hoped we wouldn’t burn his home down. Meanwhile Mark, Anson and Andrea worked on the cooking fire, in Kaotha’s fire pit fueled by coconut husks. Potato packets were lovingly stuffed in the coals while sticks were cut for roasting.

Kaotha called everyone for the lighting ceremony, and we gathered on the beach for the show. Flames leapt, dried palm crackled, and sparks burst into the sky. Soon the air above us was peppered with glowing orange and red sparks, causing us to stare in disbelief at the firework-like show. Occasionally dodging a falling ember or stamping out a rogue flame, we watched as the sky cleared and then crept forward towards the roaring remnants of the fire. The heat pushed us back, and we soon realized that even in its death throws, this fire would not be for cooking.

While the fire was spectacular, the dinner was abysmal. Sausages in Fiji are a far cry from gourmet California cuisine, and even mustard couldn’t hide that fact. Meanwhile the potato packets were either charred or raw. We served the best of the lot to Kaotha and his nephew, who seemed to enjoy the unusual dinner (or at least the spectacle of a bunch of foreigners roasting sausages and extracting potatoes and cheese from the fire). Fortunately the food was the only disaster: the palm frond flames died out and the dead tree stood tall; even the rogue sparks, flying hundreds of feet into the forest, were fended off by the moist tropical foliage.

The next day we set sail for the protection of Naqaiqai Bay, as a significant trough was forecast with the slight possibility of a tropical depression forming, so we set out for ultimate safety in this mud and mangrove bay at the mouth of a creek. Our sail along Rabi was raucous, as the winds had already built. We dashed across the channel between Rabi and Kioa and found ourselves in the protection of Kioa’s high peak. Here we glided slowly in flat water and watched the green hills slip slowly by. Too soon we shot out the other side and were beating into wind and wave once again, finally arriving at the cyclone hole of Naqaiqai Bay. The snorkeling was over for Anson and Andrea, as were the sails. This anchorage marked the tail end of a month-long chapter of five aboard Anthea.

The Time before Mr. Perkins Ran Away

There are stories we have yet to tell from the time before Mr. Perkins ran away, the type of stories we all hope for on a cruise in Fiji. We were still five aboard Anthea and were focused on making our way eastward, against the trades, to the beauty of Fiji’s farther shores. After the glorious snorkeling and birdwatching at Namena, we made a fast but wet passage, close hauled to close reaching, to the garden Island of Taveuni. There we picked up a mooring at Paradise resort and spent three days taking care of the basics – provisioning, laundry, trash disposal, and buying fuel – while analyzing the weather for a window to sail to the fabled Lau group on the eastern edge of the nation. We cooked up a scheme for beating into moderate to rough seas in 20 knots of trade winds, for we had just made our way eastward in such winds, and Anthea responded like a sleek tiger dashing across a rocky plain. But after talking with an Australian couple who had surfed their way back from Vanua Balavu, the northern most island in the Lau group, we came to our senses.

Cruisers often say that gentlemen (and gentle people of all genders, I might add) don’t go to windward in more than 15 knots. We’re happy to beat into 20 knots, as Anthea is perfectly balanced with a double reefed main and single to double reefed jib in such winds. But only in 1 to 1.5 meter seas. Out in the broader ocean, beating into 3 or 4 meter seas is another story all together. It’s a pounding that is hard on the boat and much, much harder on her crew. So we abandoned the plan for the Lau and focused our sights nearby – Viani Bay and the famed Rainbow Reef snorkeling, Taveuni’s northern tip for kiteboarding and hikes to beautiful waterfalls, and the protected anchorage of Albert’s Cove on Rabi Island.

During our three rainy days at Paradise resort (the garden island gets more than its share of Fiji’s rain), taking care of basic needs, we met delightful staff who shared their experiences of weathering Cyclone Winston and stories of hybrid Hindu and Fijian gods. One man, John, was in a cyclone shelter with hundreds of people when a man entered in shock. When John asked him what was wrong, he said his cousin, who was blind, was home alone in a neighboring village. John, along with several other young men, dashed into the cyclone force winds and made their way to the house of this man’s cousin. They found him sitting in the middle of his home, alone, and together they weathered the force of the storm. From another staff member who loved history and mythology, we learned of a Hindu snake god high in a cave in the hills; we also learned that the octopus deity protected this area of Taveuni from the neighboring shark deity who tried to conquer these lands. When I saw an octopus while snorkeling off the resort, I felt quite protected!

Several times at the resort we looked for a break in the weather, gathered our snorkeling gear and set out in Hektor. The rain water cascaded off the black volcanic rock along the shore, leaving a lens of cool fresh water hovering over the warmer salt water below, reminding us of snorkeling Niue. There, as on the southern tip of Taveuni, no rivers muddy the coastal waters, so visibility below the fresh water lens was spectacular. All along the black rocks baby corals were growing – greens, pinks, purples, spikey and flat, orange sponges and black and gold fans – I felt as if I was in a coral nursery, for there was not a dead or bleached coral in sight, but neither was there a large plate or reef. Some rocks were so densely covered with diverse specimens that it looked like a miniature coral garden. Others were sparsely spaced, but healthy. All around us our brilliantly colored tropical fish friends darted about. We ventured into rocky pools along the edge of the shore, letting the waves gently rock us in and out, moving with the schools of fish, then, chilled from the cold fresh water lens, we turned and swam a bit offshore into the warmth of the salty sea. While not the high drama of old growth coral reefs, and while lacking the sparkle and shimmer of sunshine on scales, just being in the water with our fishy friends and seeing coral growing, rather than dying, buoyed our spirits.

With good snorkeling weather arriving we left Paradise and headed for Viani Bay, a short hop across to the southern shores of Vanua Levu. A sweet, light air sail along Taveuni’s coast turned into a motor as we left the shore breeze and were smack in the lee of the garden island, its high peaks blocking the trades from entering the protected waters inside Rainbow reef and the inner sanctum of Viani Bay. But the motor got us to where the sun shone daily, while clouds dumped their rain on Taveuni and the high peaks of the big island.

Once anchored, Anson and Devon set up the spinnaker pole for a rope swing, and we frolicked in the clear waters around Anthea. With whoops of joy we launched our bodies off Anthea’s toerail and swung out for a plunge. Tens were awarded for legs held above head and hands and for fancy spins and jumps. I set the bar low, with legs dangling and dragging in the water followed by an inglorious flop.

For the next several days we ventured out to the famed Rainbow reef for snorkeling. Apex, a Fijian man who grew up in this bay and worked for one of the resorts, noticed us circling the region in our dinghy; he brought us aboard the resort’s launch and dropped us off in the most healthy patches of coral. Later he directed us towards the famed cabbage patch.

This first day’s snorkel was the most magical – clear water, large schools of fish along the edge of the reef, and stunning coral. Unlike the long, flat reefs of Dreammaker, this reef was comprised of multi-level coral mounds with sand in between. Each mound had its unique architecture comprised of a whimsical blend of plate corals, staghorn antlers, globular mounds, gentle rounded fingers, small red fans, black fans, delicate cabbages, soft purple and red coral blooms, anemones, brain corals, leather corals, and more. Shallow dives revealed fish passages among and between these species. Fish were everywhere, wearing their shimmering scales in rainbow colors, darting, chasing, grazing, cleaning, and some, like the clownfish, staring at us with such seriousness that we felt a kinship grow. Purple and lapis anthias rose above white coral spikes, while turquoise chromis schooled nearby. Parrot fish, groupers and snappers were the bigger fish, with the occasional white tipped reef shark patrolling the waters.

Some areas of the reef were dominated by massive plate corals in pastel green; other regions were comprised of greyish blue mounding coral interspersed with burnt orange, corduroy-textured, brain coral, evoking 1970s dĂ©cor. Following Apex’s directions, we found the field of old growth green coral, 40 feet below us, growing in spiraling formation reminiscent of cabbages. We had visited this dramatic site last year, and seeing it again, this time with better visibility, was like seeing an old friend.

Apex came to Anthea that afternoon and we made a plan for a return journey to Rainbow reef and then a trip to the White Wall. That famous dive site would be out of reach for all but Anson, but with his freediving skills he hoped to get a peak of the soft white corals covering the plunging reef wall along the straits between Vanua Levu and Taveuni. We invited the Australian couple to join us. While we tried a few new spots on Rainbow Reef, we ultimately re-visited the sites we enjoyed before. They are simply the best.

By the time we made it out to the open waters off the White Wall, the wind had picked up and the current was swift. Andrea, Mark and I jumped off the boat and swam over the top of the reef, hoping to see larger fish and new sights; Devon and Anson plunged in along the famed wall. The experience felt much more like survival snorkeling than pleasure. The top layer of reef was damaged and barely re-growing, so there was little for the three of us to see. The waters felt quite sharky as we hovered over the depths, but not far from the shallow top, waves broke over the exposed reef. The shallows were not our friend. So we simply treaded water while waiting for Anson to have his glimpse. With Devon as safety, Anson dove against current three times. He got the tiniest taste of the beauty, but the current was so strong he was unable to access the meditative space and relaxed muscles essential for long, deep free dives. Exhausted, we all climbed aboard Apex’s skiff and collapsed upon our arrival at Anthea.

P.S. We’re slowly catching up on our blog while enjoying the stunning beauty of Vanua Balavu in the northern Lau group, all thanks to Mark’s amazing success with Mr. Perkins. More stories to follow.

Engine Trauma

I have an engine yarn to share. It’s about our Perkins 4-108 diesel auxiliary engine on Anthea, whom we affectionately call Mr. Perkins.

Spoiler alert: it ends well, as demonstrated by the fact that we motored into an 18-20 knot head wind for two hours today and Mr. Perkins performed just fine. That’s the first good workout we’ve given him since the traumatic incident.

It all began last Monday, nine days ago. We were just motoring out of Ngaigai Creek – a protected anchorage where we had hidden out during a mild storm that came with rain and gusts to 30 knots. We were setting off for the north tip of Taveuni Island, about 12 miles away, from where Anson and Andrea would catch their island hopping flight to Nandi, and from there to California and Finland, respectively. As usual, I had checked Mr. Perkins’ fluid levels before weighing anchor – oil and coolant levels were normal.

After clearing the coral reefs on either side of the narrow bay entrance, we started a slow turn to starboard to make for Taveuni. Mr. Perkins had been running at a sedate 1,100 rpms. Suddenly, with no warning or any indication that anything was awry, the rpms skyrocketed. It was as if someone had pushed the throttle to beyond full open, yet pulling back on the throttle position made no difference to the engine’s madcap racing. I realized we had a runaway motor. Seeing clouds of smoke emanating from the corner of my eye I sprang down below to investigate. I flung aside the trash and recycling stored on the engine cover, raised the ladder that rests on the cover and removed the heavy, cumbersome cover. Now the noise really was deafening. Flecks of oil escaping from seals were increasingly visible around the engine. I saw that the throttle control on the high pressure fuel pump was in full open position, but try as I might, I could not manually move it. The only way to put a stop to this possessed machine was to suffocate it. Resisting the temptation to say I couldn’t deal with this, I grabbed a slot screwdriver from inside the chart table tool bag, bent over the roaring machine and loosed the hose clamp that secures the air cleaner. I then pulled the air cleaner off the intake manifold and covered the manifold with my gloved hand. Thankfully, the out of control beast went quiet almost immediately.

But no time to catch my breath. We were now drifting with light wind, nearby reefs and no engine. Fortunately, work on these issues was well underway by the time I came topsides. Anson and Devon were putting Hector, our inflatable dinghy, overboard and Kim and Andrea were readying the Nissan outboard to lower to Hector. In a matter of minutes Anson had converted Hector into a serviceable tugboat. We were able to sail under jib alone to the entrance to the anchorage and from there Hector was our tugboat.

Once anchored, I went below to investigate. Operator error being a common cause of problems aboard, I wondered if the throttle cable had somehow caught on the drive unit of the auto pilot, which I had re-installed while at anchor. A quick glance under the steering quadrant revealed no such entanglements. Kim, being a firm believer in the written word, suggested reading Nigel Calder on runaway engines. We have three of his tomes on board. I consulted the appropriate one and learned that one of the many causes of runaway engines is too much oil in the crankcase; this can allow the motor to run on its own oil until it runs out and seizes. What a horrifying thought. I checked the oil dipstick. To my amazement and almost disbelief, the oil level registered at least three inches above the full mark! How could that be when it read within normal limits less than two hours previously? I looked and smelled the fluid on the dipstick and concluded that somehow a significant amount of diesel fuel had got into the crankcase.

This was a serious problem. Questions flooded me. What was the cause? Did I have the knowledge and spare parts to repair the problem(s), if/when they were properly diagnosed? Was the engine irreparably damaged during the run-away incident? Would we have to sail without an engine to Vuda Pt. marina on Viti Levu (about two hundred reef-strewn miles away) where mechanic support was available? Was this the end of the summer’s cruise? Would we have to send to Suva for parts while waiting for weeks here? Suddenly, our quiet, protected anchorage, which we had to ourselves, felt very remote and isolated.

But first things first. We needed to arrange local transport for Anson and Andrea to Taveuni for their Tuesday morning flight. We called Apex, a kind local man with a small launch from a nearby bay, whom we had met while snorkeling. He agreed to ferry them across Somosomo Strait to Taveuni the next morning, where our Indo-Fijian friend Mani would meet them and take them to the airstrip. Devon and Kim were to also accompany then to purchase provisions. We had finished our last onion the day before and other fresh veggies had run out before that.

Right on time, Apex arrived at dawn Tuesday morning. As the loaded launch disappeared at the head of the bay, I cried. It had been so marvelous to have Anson with us for the last month. Now he was gone, on to other summer adventures, and I was already missing him intensely. And, while everyone was safe, there were grave uncertainties about what the future held for those of us who remained on Anthea.

To make an already long story less long, let me say that the rest of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I was in full mechanic mode. Let me also say that our friend, Diego – currently cruising in Vanuatu – was an invaluable source of mechanical guidance and support, with whom I texted so frequently on whatsapp that I’m now a pretty good one-fingered texter. I was also able to contact Bryan Lowe, of British Marine, in Oakland, CA who is a working encyclopedia about Perkins engines. He contributed his valuable perspective about the probable cause of the problem. There were several competing hypotheses about the problem. Apparently, there are limited pathways for diesel fuel to enter the crankcase, especially on a motor with external fuel lines, like a Perkins. Three potential pathways were most likely: the low pressure lift pump which provides fuel to the secondary fuel filter, the high pressure fuel pump, which is the heart of the fuel injection system, and thirdly, the fuel injectors themselves. The first and third options I could probably remedy, the second was well beyond my skill level. Bryan thought a fuel injector might have gone bad, dumping fuel into the cylinder. Diego thought that was unlikely and that the high pressure fuel pump was the culprit – based on all the symptoms I had described to him. I’m still uncertain about the exact cause of the runaway.

In summary, the order of operations went something like this. Much of Tuesday was spent draining and storing the crankcase oil and diesel mixture (two gallons of it!) – a task made more onerous as the oil extractor was left in a locker at Vuda Pt. to save space on board, changing the oil filter and adding fresh oil. I then removed the low pressure lift pump and inspected the diaphragm; no apparent holes or tears, so it checked out. The high pressure fuel pump, being off limits to an amateur like me, I left alone. So Wednesday was spent changing out all four fuel injectors. Fortunately, I had the spare parts I needed. Before we left on the cruise in January of 2017 I had discussed with Bryan what spares we might need and we purchased them, including four rebuilt injectors and a lift pump. The injector replacement job went fine. Two of them were coated in fresh diesel fuel – was this a smoking gun? But how could two injectors have gone bad at the same time? Diego thought that was quite unlikely, or else that I was very lucky. Wednesday evening I began bleeding the air out of the fuel system – precursor to trying to start the motor – but I could not get the hand operated lift pump lever arm to pump fuel. More communication with Diego. Thursday I again removed the lift pump, tested it against the new spare one, and confirmed that it was not working, even though the diaphragm was intact. Another smoking gun? The new lift pump went in fine and after properly bleeding the air out of the fuel system, we were ready to try starting Mr. Perkins. Would he run away again? We were on pins and needles, ready with contingency plans to address another run-away event, or worse yet, an engine fire.

To our amazement, Mr. Perkins fired right up. Thus began a series of tests on Thursday. Each one entailed running the engine while at anchor for longer period of time, then checking the oil level. Each time the dipstick read normal, we felt a little more hope that perhaps the problem had been resolved and we would get our summer back. Finally, Diego texted that we were ready to take a “tour of the fjord” and so we weighed anchor and motored around the anchorage. Again, no change in oil level and the engine ran fine. Was the problem fixed? I could hardly believe that it might be, yet it seemed that Mr. Perkins’ trauma had been resolved. My own trauma from this event lingered longer, but with each successful use of our engine, it is slowly dissipating. We have been given back our summer cruise.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Daliconi Village, Vanua Balavu

Wild Namena

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)

Dream Maker

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