Friday, July 19, 2019

Vanua Balavu Island (Lau Group, Fiji)

[Kyle]Our sail was an overnight leg to Vanua Balavu, largest of the Lau and closest to Savusavu. The wind was such that all we had to do was unroll ¾ of the jib and wait. That’s-a nice!

Sail north to Vanua Balavu

Most boats start their pass through the Lau Group at Vanua Balavu and some of the rallies even fly out officials so their boats can clear in here. Because of this, almost everybody we met there seemed to think we were going the other, usual way. We had more than a couple of people give us advice on what to do when we get to Vulaga, even though we had just told them we came from there. They must’ve been expecting us to say something else, because when we would remind them that we had just come from there, we would start to get detailed tips on things like where to find the trail to the village. Then we would just smile and nod politely.

Pretty Bavatu Harbour, and the stairs from the plantation Landing

We arrived first at Mbavatu Harbor. It is the usual beautiful and has a large plantation above, to which we had been given a letter of invitation by one of its owners. He also owns the Copra Shed Marina in Savusavu.

We went ashore and found the caretaker’s sister. She directed us to a path over the ridge of the island, where we would be able to get a view of part of the Bay of Islands, one of the Vanua Balavu’s beauty spots. Yep, it sure is.

A trail through the Plantation leads to our first glimpse of the Bay of Islands

On the way down, we stopped to meet Phillipe, the caretaker, and present our letter of introduction. He seemed to think it was unnecessary and told us to feel free to explore the grounds as we wished. We took the other trail down to the harbor and 'yacht club', walked back up to the plantation and then back down to the dinghy. That seemed like a good bit of exercise for the day.

Yacht Club - still under repair after the 2016 Cyclone Winston

It was still well before sunset, so we decided to head around the top of the island to the main village of Daliconi for the night. We were hoping we could get there in time to do sevusevu by dark.

We just made it. Daliconi gets a lot of people coming in to do sevusevu. The whole process is streamlined. The beach is right there. The village is on the beach and the Chief lives one house in. One room of his house is permanently set up as a receiving room. We were in and out and done, plus a walk around the little village within an hour. Then we had six kids who helped us launch the dinghy into the water.

Daliconi Village for Sevusevu, and after a short exploration, the local kids helped launch the dinghy

After a restless night hearing disconcerting scraping noises being telegraphed up our chain, we pulled up the anchor and headed to Ship’s Cove in the Bay of Islands. Being such a big draw for the boating crowd, we were expecting it to be pretty full. I was secretly wishing it wouldn’t be, because I was hoping we could find room within Ship’s Cove itself to drop our anchor, instead of having to settle for somewhere in the surrounding area.

We were in luck! Only one other boat was in the area and they were anchored in the outskirts. Ship’s Cove was all ours!

Arriving in Ship's cove

Ship’s Cove was a little like our favorite anchorage in Vulaga, only with all of the islands packed closer together. Or Fiji guide has a photo of Ship’s Cove with six anchored boats there. That’s nuts! Ship’s Cove is tight. There is no way six boats could fit in there unless they abandon all conventions of safe anchoring (it is deep water too). The boats in the picture look to be on a fair weather day stop. Even then, it looks like half of their anchor chains must be crossing.

It’s an amazing spot though, and I really wanted to figure out a way to anchor there. Maryanne and I carefully surveyed the area, noting every dangerous rock and coral head. We carefully measured out various distances and finally decided that if we put the anchor right behind that bommie and set it by backing right up to the edge of that wall, we could anchor in a reasonably shallow location, but only if we tied a stern line to that tree to keep us from swinging.

So that’s what we did. Setting the anchor was a little scary because if it dragged, even a little, we would go lurching toward the cliff right behind us. We used a lot of power to test the anchor because we really needed to know the anchor was well set.

Sights around the 'Bay of Islands'

We got sooo lucky with the weather. The skies were clear and the wind was calm. We dropped the dinghy and rowed into every nook and cranny within a mile, gaping at wild rock formations, caves and archways. On our next day, we dug out the Torqeedo, which took us into every single other hidey hole in the area. When it got too shallow, we would get out and push, or sometimes even pick up the dinghy to get into the furthest places.

As we were rounding the big island on the outside of the Bay of Islands, we noticed a lot of other boats heading to and from Daliconi. Presumably, they were all soon to be heading towards Ship’s Cove. Hmm…

Sure enough, when we got back to Begonia, there were already two other boats anchored there with two more milling around, looking for space. The first two anchored right in the middle of the recommended route through. It was deepest there. They both set bow and stern anchors that were parallel to each other and offset slightly. That works. The second two just went where they could, putting out just a little more chain than was necessary to touch the bottom. If the weather stayed calm, the weight of their anchors would keep them put, but if the wind picks up, they are going to go skittering into the rocks.

Then more boats showed up. Most just milled around, but a few tried to anchor before realizing they couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t hit anything or anyone. Then they went around the corner to find somewhere there.

It turned out we were lucky to have chosen our spot because we were off to one side of the main bay and our stern line kept us snug into a little cove that really was only big enough for us. I was worried some desperate late arrival would cross their anchor over ours and then try to tie to our stern line, but it never happened. We were the fourth boat in the whole Bay of Islands when we arrived. By sunset, there were about twenty-five.

Bat Cave (S17deg 10.9’, W179deg 1.06') - Big shame about all the graffiti

Snorkel Cave (S17deg 10.39', W179deg 1.23')

After that, the place started to take on a little too much of a Disneyland feel for me. There was constant traffic of dinghies, stand-up-paddleboards and swimmers crisscrossing. It was like being at one of those all-inclusive beach resorts on a sunny day. We actually knew most of the boats there, encountered somewhere in the last year or two. I couldn’t fault ‘em for coming. I mean, we were here, too, but the saturation had gone past some tipping point between peaceful and hectic.

While we were visiting one of our newly arrived friends on their boat, I asked him where the hell they had all come from at once. He gave me a one-word look (The word being “Duh!”) and said, “Two days of calm winds.”

Ah! I immediately knew what he meant. For all of the people going against the trade winds, two days of calms is their chance to motor eastwards. I don’t think he had yet learned that we were westbound and had been looking at all of the forecasts out of phase with the crowd.

A pretty patch to snorkel - just a short swim from the boat

The wind was about to pin everybody down for a few days, which meant it was the perfect opportunity for us to move on. The other boats will go clockwise, we’ll go counter-clockwise, and we’ll see them all again in a month.

[Maryanne]Vanua Balavu Island is much more connected to the rest of Fiji than the other Lau islands. It has a supply ship every 2 weeks and locals also can zip back and forth to the bigger nearby islands in their own boats. Once inside the reef there are various places to stop, but we focused on the scenic north and avoided the more populated areas on this trip.

1 comment:

SV-Footprint said...

The island to the South and West of bay of Islands is called Nukutagasa Island. We circumnavigated it in our dinghy (along with all the other little islands) in search of the caves and just for fun. It took me forever to find the name of the island - but this map site finally gave me the answer: