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Musket Cove and the Yasawas

Written by Cathy Siegismund
July - August 2003

Tami, Ken and I returned by bus from our dive trip out of Suva aboard the Fiji Aggressor. The rest of the group was heading to the airport, but we asked the bus driver to drop us off at Port Denarau where we could catch the ferry back to Felicity, which we hoped was still safely on the mooring at Musket Cove.

We had a few hours to kill before the 1400 ferry. We had lunch, and then while Ken watched our luggage, Tami and I did a whirlwind trip through Nadi. We picked up some fresh meat from a good butcher there, and a few items at the grocery store not available at the small grocery at Musket Cove.

We got back to Musket Cove in the late afternoon and found that everything was safe and sound on Felicity, the solar panels had kept up with the fridge, which we had left running. We did notice for the first time how close our mooring put us to the reef at low tide. But after being away from the boat for a week, we figured we were safe enough.

View from the cockpit of the very close reef at low tide

Tami and I went in to tackle a weeks worth of laundry, including our very ripe wetsuits and dive booties. We finally finished at about 2030. We were all quite tired, and went to bed early. Since Tami only had a few days left in Fiji, we decided to stay at Musket Cove and enjoy the sun and resort. Tami and I went to the beach on the sunny days, and had manicures and pedicures at the resort salon.

Tami and I working on our tans on the beach at Musket Cove Resort

We had had nice weather for several weeks, and had forgotten how cool and rainy Fiji can be. After a windy day on the beach, the clouds rolled in and we had quite a blustery rainy day and a half as a front passed over us. Tami was a little bummed about no beach time, but we had fun doing lazy stay-on-the-boat things. We all read, I was immersed in re-reading the first four Harry Potter books, as Tami had brought us the fifth. Tami and I also had some great fun with my new beading kit that Vernita had given me for my birthday. We drank wine, ate popcorn and made anklets, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. Since Tami had added to her sulu collection in Fiji, we had to get her a few anklets to complete the cruiser look. Maybe on her next visit we'll see if she'll get a tattoo. ;-)

Tami pouring rather larger glasses of wine on our beading day


Cath and Tami beading, and Tami modeling her new anklet

As Tami was still among the workforce back in Seattle, we had to introduce her to the cruiser's pace of life. We often call it "the one thing a day" pace. On this particular day we beaded and read -- so actually we did two things.

The weather cleared for the last day or so of Tami's visit, so we had a few more beach days. Paul and Suzette from Altair had flown through Nadi on their way back to New Zealand and their boat and got a layover to come out to Musket Cove and see friends. Nik and Jenn from Green Ghost and Garth and Wendy from Velella also had made it Musket Cove by now. These were all cruising buddies from the season we crossed the Pacific to New Zealand so it felt like old times. Every night at Musket Cove, there's a beach bar and BBQ pit with wood and plates and utensils provided. We all arranged to bring a side dish and our own meat to BBQ and met for a fun night ashore, where Tami got to get a taste of the cruising community.

The dock at Musket Cove Marina with the small bar and BBQ area at far right

Tami's flight home left Nadi at 1300, so as Ken and I had errands to run we all took the morning ferry into Denarau. We went to an air freight and packaging company at the airport and shipped our enormous collection of Fijian woodcarvings home. We had lunch with Tami at the airport, and then said a sad goodbye. We encouraged her to visit again soon. It was great having a visitor, especially someone who is so laid back and willing to share our very cozy 31 foot space with us.

We spent another several weeks playing at the Musket Cove resort with friends.

Jenn, Nik, Garth (the head in the pool), Wendy and Ken from Sunbow hanging out at the Musket Cove pool

Nik, Jenn, Ken & Cath at happy hour, before heading to the weekly pig roast at the resort

We swam in the pool, ate at the BBQ, played Mexican train dominoes and drank fruity overpriced umbrella drinks in the afternoons -- basic cruiser stuff. At one end of the pool at Musket Cove pool, they have placed a boat, which had been wrecked on a nearby reef. We hope never to see Felicity as a pool decoration!

A wrecked cruising boat, now a pool decoration

We were having great fun enjoying the resort, but we were also waiting for parts and Ken was doing projects. Our friend Drew was helping Ken find parts and ship them to us. Our watermaker was still producing slightly salty water, and the water pump for our engine needed replacing. We also were waiting for a West Marine order of various items. Musket Cove is a good place to have parts shipped, with most orders arriving from the US in five to seven days if shipped DHL or FedEx. Ken and I also made a trip in Nadi to pick up a new engine starting battery, which had died as we were leaving Suva.

We were still awaiting for some parts, but decided as the weather looked good we could make a quick trip up to the Yasawas for a week or so. The Yasawas are a group of islands that run northeast from the west side of Viti Levu. They are full of white sand beaches and turquoise water, and range from uninhabited to exclusive luxury resorts. We would return to Musket Cove to finish our boat projects and check out to go to Vanuatu. We provisioned and were ready to go, only to be held in Musket Cove by two days of fairly strong winds. We kept hearing how rolly many of the anchorages were in the Yasawas when the wind was howling, so we decided to wait for more settled weather. Green Ghost took off a couple of days before we did, as we needed to get fuel and needed settled weather for that as well.

We finally left Musket Cove late morning, picking our way through the many reefs that claim cruising boats each year in Fiji. To navigate, we checked two sets of paper charts, one printed in Fiji and a DMA chart, as well as our C-Map electronic charts, and drawings and descriptions in Michael Calder's book A Yachtsman's Fiji. It is a little disconcerting when all of these sources seem to tell you something different. The advised method for winding through these hazardous reefs, some of which appear from nowhere in the middle of deep water, is to sail toward a hazard you can see because of breakers or visible land and then make your way to the next visible hazard. This method is knows as "rock hopping" and worked well for us. We would see some breakers or an exposed rock and then often have to eye-ball the halfway mark between the visible reef and our guess of the location of an invisible one, threading between the two. Although the distances among the Yasawa islands are relatively short, the sails can be tiring and a little stressful. Most of the time, we both had to be on deck looking for reefs with our polarized sunglasses and binoculars, sometimes one of us was on the bow. We also needed to make sure we had the sun above or behind us if we were entering a particularly tricky part, as the lighter color water covering reefs is invisible with the sun in your eyes.


Our route from Musket Cove up to the Blue Lagoon in the Yasawas

Despite it being fairly windy, we left and had a short 14-mile motor inside the surrounding reef on Malolo then out into the open water to the lee side of Yanuya in the northern Mamanucas. We anchored off the beach in a small bight, which was protected from the SE swell. We left the next morning at about 0900, as soon as the sun was high enough in the sky to see the reefs. We had a 27-mile trip the next day to make it to Naviti. Naviti is in the Yasawas and was supposed to have a nice pass to snorkel where you could see manta rays. Nik and Jenn were there, and we were looking forward to catching up with them. We had a lovely sunny sail with brisk 20-25 knot winds, with a few gusts higher. Although the seas were not too big, there were white caps, which made seeing breakers on the reefs more difficult. It was such a beautiful sail, we even decided to throw out a fishing line, and to our utter amazement caught a little fish.

Cath pulling in the hand line after our shock at having a fish on the hook

The hook pulled loose as were just getting him to the boat, but as this was our first try at fishing in Fiji and our fist catch since Mexico, we were more excited about the possibilities of successful fishing. Our last cruising season, we rarely threw out the line, as on long passages I don't feel like bothering with fish and our fishing attempts on day hops were unsuccessful.

We arrived at Naviti at about 1400. There were only two other boats in the slightly rolly anchorage, one of them being Green Ghost. We had talked to Nik and Jenn as we were approaching, and they were going to try for a third attempt to see the manta rays in the pass. As soon as we got the hook down, Ken took a nap and I started doing some cooking. We were going over to Green Ghost for dinner, and I was bringing dessert. We had only been anchored for about 30 minutes, when I heard shouts of bula!. When I looked out I saw a 20 foot open boat with a large outboard and three Fijians coming along side us. I quickly got Ken up, so we could throw out fenders, as they seemed fairly intent on tying up to us. They were shouting that there was some sort of "big problem." The first thing we thought was that we were in trouble for not immediately going ashore to sevusevu with the chief, and therefore didn't have permission to anchor there. We were a little miffed by this, as there was no village at this end of the island and we had been told by Nik and Jenn as well as others that you didn't need to sevusevu unless you went to the bays on the north end of the island.

We grabbed lines from the little boat and one of the Fijians jumped aboard; and after introductions in rather sketchy English kept saying there was a big problem. We were rather tired and didn't even have our dink in the water, so were trying to say we would visit tomorrow. We finally got the idea of what he was saying. He and his friends were fishermen for bche-de-mer, sea cucumbers, which the Fijians fish and sell to Japan and other Asian markets where they are considered a delicacy. These fisherman come out to the Yasawas from Lautoka, over 20 miles of open sea, in these small open plywood and fiberglass boats with no radios. They stay in small fishing huts on the beach for a few days, scuba diving for sea cucumbers and then returning to Lautoka. We were amazed they had been out in the 3-foot short chop and 20-25 knot winds in these little open boats. Our new friend's big problem was that he had holed his boat on the reef on the other side of the pass just south of Naviti. He was asking us for supplies to fix the hole in his boat.

Ken started pulling out our repair kit of epoxy and fiberglass and was trying to assess what would be needed to fix the unseen "hole." We pulled a chart out to make sure we knew where his boat was and that Ken wasn't going off to an island 20 miles away. The boat was just a couple of miles around the corner of the island, and after Ken grabbed more tools, supplies and our handheld VHF he jumped on the boat with the Fijians and headed off at about 1500.

Nik and Jenn had just returned from snorkeling, and were asking us on the VHF what was up with the little Fijian boat. They stopped at Green Ghost, and Nik joined Ken in the repair operation. Jenn and I told them we'd start to worry if they weren't back by dark. The guys finally returned at about 1900, after dark, covered with epoxy and sand. The boat had a hole with a 12" gash from hitting the reef. The guys made a patch using some plywood from a seat in the boat held on with thickened epoxy and galvanized nails. Over the patch, they also put on one layer of fiberglass cloth. Ken and Nik did most of the epoxy work, with about 15 Fijians crowded around observing the process. The Fijians pitched in to prep the surfaces for the epoxy. Ken and Nik said the patch job wasn't pretty, but it should hold until they got back to Lautoka.

After Ken and Nik cleaned up, we headed over to Green Ghost for some dinner and compared notes on the anchorages we had visited so far. Nik and Jenn had seen mantas in the pass on their third try, but said it was so rough, the dinghy ride to the pass was rather extreme, and the current was so strong that they really only got a fleeting glimpse of the manta rays. It didn't really sound worth it to us. However, the next morning was sunny and calm, so we decided to give it a try with Nik and Jenn anyway.

Jenn on manta ray lookout in the pass

We unfortunately, didn't see any mantas, but stopped about halfway back to the boat for a nice snorkel.



We found a few clown fish, which are one of our favorites, so we took some pictures and watched the fish dart in and out of their anemones.




Nik on the left and Cath on the right playing with the nervy little clownfish

Jenn has been bitten by the shell collecting bug, so as she was off looking for empty shells for her collection, Ken and I were looking for the little creatures we had really learned to appreciate since starting underwater photography. We saw a school of squid, which was a first for us. We are always finding them dead on the decks in the form of squid-jerky on passages, but had never seen them snorkeling.



School of squid

After about an hour of snorkeling, we were getting a little chilly and decided to head back to the boats.

Heading back to the boats anchored off Naviti

We again had dinner with Nik and Jenn and played cards. We had decided to head off the next day after spending several nights in rather rolly anchorages. We decided to head north another 20 miles or so to what was supposed to be the most protected anchorage in the Yasawas.

 We set off the next day for Nanuya-sewa anchorage. It is an area extremely well protected from almost every direction as it is nestled in the middle of the islands of Matacawalevu, Nanuya-sewa, and Tavewa. We decided to try our luck at fishing again, and after a couple hours of trolling, we had caught another small fish. This time we got him aboard, we think it was a sort of mackerel. The fish we caught was small, but was a good size for two for dinner.


Ken gaffing and me cleaning our small but tasty catch

We pulled into the Nanuya-sewa anchorage in the early afternoon with about 10 other boats. The bay was pretty with sand beaches on all the surrounding islands. A huge yellow cat-hulled ferry that docked on one side of us and the small cruise ship that was usually on the other side of us, did detract a bit. However, we went ashore and did a sevusevu with Nik and Jenn and met the family that lived on the island off which we were anchored. They gave us permission to walk the island, snorkel around their beach and another beach across the channel. They also would take trash and sell fresh bread for a modest fee. We periodically had the open fiberglass boats usually with a man and several kids stop by to ask if we wanted to buy fresh produce or in one case a boat loaded with lobster. We spent the days snorkeling and most evenings having dinner and playing cards or watching movies with Nik and Jenn.

We were planning on heading south in the next couple of days, when I was hit with a rather nasty cold that had been making the rounds at Musket Cove. Our refrigerator had also just stopped working. I had a fever and a very sore throat, however, the weather was very settled and we as well as Green Ghost decided to leave the Yasawas. When the usual tradewinds are blowing, it is often a rough beat all the way back to Musket Cove. We both left a little after noon the following day, and stopped again at Naviti. Ken went over to Green Ghost and I laid around feeling sick and watching movies.

The next day, we both left early. We were going to try and make it all the way back to Musket Cove and Nik and Jenn were headed for Lautoka to prepare to leave for Vanuatu. We had a calm, sunny motor most of the way back to the Mamanucas.

A patch of sand barely above water, sitting atop a reef out in open water, is one of the more visible hazards Fiji

Just as we had entered the surrounding reef of Malolo, the wind started to pick up and the sky got very dark. We motored the rest of the way back to another mooring at Musket Cove in squally rainy weather.

We were back at Musket Cove in a bit of a holding pattern. I was down with a cold, we were waiting for parts, had decided to order a new refrigerator from West Marine in the US, and had a laundry list of boat projects to do before we could leave for Vanuatu.

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