More pilotage

Saturday morning we awoke early and after tea for the skipper, coffee for the first mate and toast Temptress crew was ready to go. Another lesson we have learnt in recent months is that anchor raising is not a press the button and direct the helm task. No it is a much slower art requiring patience and fortitude. Most bays are littered with coral, limestone blocks and dead tree trunks not to mention the rubbish man introduces like the old engines frequently used for tethering mooring buoys. 

To ensure the chain lifts cleanly without undue pressure on the windlass amused by the chain catching on an obstacle the foredeck crew (usually the skipper) must pull in some chain until there is no slack then maybe signal for some movement of the bow by pointing, a clenched fist meaning stop. The helm then gently eases the engine into forward or reverse steering in the direction requested but more often it pays to wait letting wind and current undo the tangle. Temptress will gradually come round to lie on the chain again and a little more can be retrieved. Slowly slowly team work manipulates the bow around the obstacles until the anchor is clear of the bottom. Anchor retrieval can take fifteen or twenty minutes and of course it helps if you can see the bottom. So it was on Saturday morning before we could leave the anchorage off Namena but soon we were motoring towards the reef.

The slight swell meant the reef was from a distance unseen, despite climbing the mast step to get a view from a metre or so higher and having the sun behind us no change in water colour could be spied. Then as we approached with less than a half mile to go, carefully following the track of other boats we spotted the gap deep blue water bookended by slightly brighter water either side. Temptress turned to port ten or fifteen degrees and we slid through the narrow unmarked South Save A Tack passage without a qualm as if the crew had been doing this all their lives!

Twenty miles later we got to do it all again. To enter the lagoon surrounding Makogai (ma-Kong-a-i) we’d chosen the western pass Daveta Yawa Levu mainly because the closer northern one faces more east and is much narrower. Just south of Daveta Yawa Levu is a large piece of reef that is marked on the charts as “always breaks” in other words what ever state of the sea the would be surf on it and there was big green blue breakers at wide intervals made Vatu Valu easy to spot from over a mile away. Meanwhile the reef that lay between us and our destination remained serenely hidden without even a small cluster of broken water to indicate its presence off to port.

As the skipper steered to the waypoints we’d created based yet again on the tracks of previous visiting boats, I stood in the bow straining to spot the differences in water colour. Off to starboard inside of Vatu Valu the reef was obvious; the sun shining from behind me ensured the water was a gorgeous turquoise fading off through aqua to murky greeny brown indicating the shallowing water and the top of the coral reef as it appeared closer to the surface, even a rowing boat would have difficulty crossing there. 

Off to our left or port hand side however was a clear lesson in why it is important to not have the sun in front of you – the wind ruffled dull navy water and the slight change that marked the edge of the reef was hard to spot even with polarised glasses. However we made it through without problem the water under the keel over 20m deep all the way. Half an hour or so later we dropped the hook once more joining two other yachts in the bay Carpe Diem a UK flagged Bavaria and a Canadian canoe sterned boat named Anahata. Neither had crew on board and we later learned that they had joined the crew of a third boat the Australian catamaran Outsider plus some of the local population to go shopping in Levuka some twenty miles away on the island of Ovalau.