Fiji: The Great Astrolabe Reef

Our plan was to island hop our way south to the Great Astrolabe Reef, world famous for its diving. The Total Devotions went on westward to Musket Cove to pick up a visiting friend so it was just the Imagines and us. Along the way, called into Koro, Ngau (see the last email for details of our excellent visit there), and finally North Astrolabe Reef. After a windy night anchored there with only the protection of a lighthouse on a small rock awash(=zero), and no prospect of diving, we moved on to the Great Astrolabe Reef. We anchored off the little island village on Dravuni and made our sevusevu with the chief there. As I mentioned before, sevusevu is a ceremony by visitors to pay respect to the Tui Ratu or chief of a village or island. Visitors typically give a gift of some kava root and in the case of yachties, we also presented to him our Fijian cruising permit. In exchange, the chief will grant permission to come ashore, swim and fish in their area, offer protection and assistance, yada, yada, yada. The chief was quite happy to get his grog and be done with us, so we moved on to the little island of Yaukuvelevu, a few miles south, and joined a fleet of yachties including our friends Aleta and John on “Holding Pattern.” They had been there for a few weeks, diving along the western edge of the reef, where there are numerous passes, spectacular walls and coral canyons, not to mention gazillions of fish, and an abundance of very healthy hard and soft corals. The Great Astrolabe Reef is feels quite remote, yet on a clear night, the glow of the lights from Suva, the capitol of Fiji, can be seen on the horizon.

Since they were all nearly out of diesel, veggies, rum and gasoline to power the dingies and dive compressors, we only got a day to socialize before they had to headed off west to reprovision in Musket Cove. We did get a lot of intel from them on the best dive sites in the area from all their personal experience. The weather had been unsettled for a few days so we had not been able to get into the water, other than for an occasional snorkel during a nice break.

There is a species of sea snake here called the “banded sea krait” that has unnerved us a bit. These little guys are amphibious and come to shore at this time of year to lay their eggs. According to our “Guide to Venomous and Toxic Marine Life of the World,” they are quite poisonous, producing enough venom in just one bite to kill more than 20 humans. The problem is that with their tiny little snake brains, they don’t know the difference between “shore” and “yacht.” One of these critters found its way into the cockpit scupper drains of Salacia last week and Tom on Imagine caught another attempting to crawl up his anchor chain. We are all hoping that one doesn’t try to lay its eggs under our pillow. The good news is that they are generally not dangerous unless provoked to attack, and their mouths are very small, their fangs well back in their mouth and they have a difficult time injecting venom into a human…not to mention swallowing one whole.

Finally, the day before yesterday, the sky cleared, the wind calmed, the whitecaps on the lagoon disappeared and Tom from Imagine shouted “OOOGA, OOOGA, DIVE, DIVE!” over the VHF radio. We loaded all of our gear into the dinks zipped out to nearby Herald Pass. The visibility was easily 150+ feet, and as advertised, the diving nothing short of spectacular. The coral gardens that form the barrier reef roll off into 100+ foot vertical walls that plunge to a rock and sand bottom. The coral canyons are deep with lots of pukas and interesting caves. The reef is teeming with fish of all types and sizes and the hard and soft corals come in infinite varieties, sizes and colors. Dives on this sort of site just never seem long enough. It was a bit of a bash getting back to the yachts from the dive site, but well worth the ten minute bone jarring dinghy ride. So far, we have made only five jumps, all absolutely first class, but we have some time to burn and will wait out the weather to get in as many as possible before we have to move on.

As usual, all is not diving and beach parties. Along with the fun comes at least an hour or two a day maintenance and repair. My ability to regenerate the skin on my knuckles is exceeded only by the ability of my autopilots, watermaker, heads, and other miscellaneous mechanical and electrical gear to regularly fail or require maintenance, causing epidermal sacrifices during the corrective process. Also, all of the dead skin, hair, and food particles we all drop, not to mention cat hair, mold, dust, kitty litter, sand, salt deposits, etc. that all accumulate in our 400-odd square feet of living space aboard Moonshadow require an accelerated cleaning schedule. That, along with cooking most of our 21 meals a week, making our own electricity and water, burning garbage ashore and doing the wash on board keep us pretty busy. When the anchor is grumbling on a bommie and/or we get 25-knot wind “bullets” that wake us up six times a night, we sometimes think fondly of our vacation where we had peace, quiet and a bed that didn’t move all night. No complaints, just some of the realities of cursing and we wouldn’t trade it for the world.


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