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Fiji Aggressor Diving

Written by Cathy Siegismund
June-July 2003


Our last full day in Kadavu, we enjoyed an all-day three-tank dive trip to Cape Washington in Kadavu, the mountainous end of the island .

Cape Washington

We had been wanting to do this dive but the resort required a minimum of four divers. Our last full day in Kadavu, four other cruisers decided to join us so we were able to make the trip. The surge was fairly rough so the visibility wasn't as good as we had hopped, but the dives were nevertheless quite good.

The next day, we stowed our dive gear and prepared for our overnight passage to Musket Cove, a cruiser friendly marina/resort in the Mamanuca (pronounced mamanutha) island group to the west of Viti Levu. These islands are about 20 miles from the city centers of Lautoka and Nadi (pronounced Nandi) on Viti Levu. We left Kadavu late on the afternoon of June 24. We had good wind from behind us, and had a nice uneventful passage to the Mamanucas. Musket Cove is located on the small Malolo Lailai island, which is barely separated from Malolo. Malolo Lailai has two resorts Musket Cove and Plantation Resort.

Entering reef bay at Malolo LaiLai

Plantation Island Resort, one of the two resorts on Malolo Lailai

There is a small stern tie marina at Musket Cove and a large mooring field as well as anchoring.

Mooring field at Musket Cove with the small separation between Malolo and Malolo Lailai in the background

We had a mooring ball reserved for the time we would be on the Fiji Aggressor so we would worry less about leaving Felicity alone for eight days. Musket Cove got its name as the island was originally purchased from the Fijians for one musket, it was then later sold to the current owner (Dick Smith) for "many more muskets." Musket Cove is one of those cruiser locations, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. Cruisers seem to get stuck in places like this because of the conveniences; but often to the neglect of further exploring of the surrounding islands. You join the Musket Cove Yacht Club for a nominal fee and open a charge account with the office. You can then use and "merely sign" for anything at the Musket Cove resort. This includes things such as diving, Hobie cat rentals, windsurfer rentals, golf, tennis, laundry facilities, meals at the restaurants, spa and salon services, the gift shop, and items from the small but well stocked grocery store. Musket Cove is also a place to pick up water, fuel, and a good location to receive mail and packages. There is also a ferry service that makes three round trips daily to Port Denarau which is about a 10 minute taxi ride to Nadi and about a 45 minute ride to Lautoka. The ferry takes a bit over an hour each way and costs $20 Fijian dollars each way if you've joined the yacht club.

Musket Cove Resort with its timeshares, marina, and mooring field

We only had a couple of days before we had to leave for Nadi where we would be picked up for our dive trip. We did laundry, cleaned up the boat and packed for our trip. The Fiji Aggressor is moored at the Tradewinds Resort in Suva, but as most guests fly into Nadi, the international airport, a bus would pick us up there for the 3 1/2 hour drive along the southern Coral Coast of Viti Levu to Suva.

As the bus was picking us up at 0730, we had decided to take the ferry into Nadi the night before and stay at a hotel near the airport. We took the morning ferry in and then explored Lautoka some, ran some errands, and looked for boat parts we would need to buy after our dive trip. We had decided to go to the ritzy Sheraton hotel for a nice dinner. We were dressed and ready to go, as I wanted to explore the reportedly nice gift shops, when Ken started dragging his feet. We had to shoot a game of pool and have a drink. Finally, he agreed we could leave for the Sheraton, as we were heading out the door, to my stunned amazement Tami Connolley walked in! Tami is a good friend from Onyx, who we keep in contact with, but who had never visited us. I'm sure I had that stupefied expression of trying to place a familiar face out of context. It finally dawned on me that as an additional part of my birthday present, Ken and Tami had conspired to very successfully surprise me with her visit. She was to join us on the Fiji Aggressor and then spend another four days with us on Felicity. It was great, and such a wonderful surprise. Tami put her luggage in her room, changed and we all headed off to the Sheraton for dinner. We browsed the gift shops, where Tami and I bought a couple sulus and looked at wood carvings. We then enjoyed a nice dinner at the Sheraton's seafood buffet restaurant. Tami was tired from her flight, and as we had an early bus to catch; we turned in early.

We were met at our hotel by the shuttle to drive us to Suva. The rest of the group was already aboard when we got on the bus. The Fiji Aggressor can accommodate ten guests, however, this trip only had eight. The boat was comprised of two groups. Ken, Tami and I, and another group of five from Colorado who were all work acquaintances and one woman's brother from California. Most of them were excellent divers who had dived in some of the world's best dive locations. Roger, an engineer, was an excellent videographer and diver. Randy, another engineer was just getting into photography, Roxanne, the most novice diver was also a work acquaintance. Sheri, also with the Colorado group was a very accomplished diver and photographer and her brother Rick, a professor at USC, was also an excellent diver.

The Fiji Aggressor

We were shown to the boat, met the crew and then separated out our dive gear and got settled into our rooms. The Aggressor was laid out with the crews quarters and bridge on the top deck, the main deck had one double cabin, where Ken and I stayed, as well as the living space with a lounge area with TV and video equipment, dining area, and camera area for everyone to dry and charge their video and still cameras.

Our cabin aboard the Fiji Aggressor

A door led out to the aft deck where our dive gear was stowed and where a table and lounge area was. This was where our dive briefings were held, and from where we descended a few steps to the diving platform. The lower deck held the other four double cabins, the galley, engine room and storage.

Once settled, we were introduced to the crew and given a briefing on the boat. We also took care of some required paperwork, showing dive cards, deciding if we would dive on air or Nitrox, signing up for any classes offered during the week, etc. The only class I had wanted to take was a videography class, which wasn't being offered. I opted out for any other classes as it was a PADI boat and I am a NAUI certified diver and wanted to continue my diving certifications with NAUI. Ken however, decided to get his advanced and Nitrox certifications.

The crew consisted of Fritz the captain, who had many years of operating all sorts of ships, and though was English had been in Fiji for many years.

Fritz in the wheelhouse

The rest of the crew were Sam, the engineer who also took care of our many tank fills, Luke was our wonderful always cheerful cook, Moses our divemaster, and Brett, our dive instructor.

Moses cleaning up the boat

Luke in the galley preparing another delicious meal

Brett, a relatively recent addition to the crew, was from New Zealand, but had spent the last few years working in the Caribbean; he had been in Fiji for about six weeks.

Brett teaching class in the lounge area

The Fiji Aggressor leaves Suva and heads up the east side of Viti Levu, and for seven days we would cruise the Koro Sea and the islands and reefs in the Lomaiviti group.

Dive map showing the dive locations of the Fiji Aggressor

Normally, the boat would immediately leave Suva and begin the 10 or so hour trip to the north, with dinner served underway. However, as it was predicted to be a bit of a rough ride, it was decided for us to eat in Suva and leave at about 2200, make an overnight passage and arrive in the morning at the first dive site. Ken, Tami, and I headed into Suva to see Finding Nemo, which we thought was a great movie and very appropriate to see at the start of a dive holiday. Most of us took seasick meds and turned in early hoping to be asleep before the boat left the pier. Our cabin was conveniently on the main deck with the living space, but it also was on the second deck of the boat and in the bow. This made for a pretty rough and bouncy night. No one got sick, but no one slept very well either. The Aggressor is a fairly shallow draft power boat and it really pitched and pounded as we made our way north into the seas.

I had only been on one other liveaboard dive boat in the Gulf of Mexico, which was nice, but didn't have quite as many amenities as the Aggressor. Something common to both trips however, was the amount of diving we did. It is eat, sleep, dive, repeat. We did between three and five dives each day. Doing so much diving is great, but it isn't a sit in the sun relaxing sort of vacation, everyone has come to dive! Each morning, usually sometime between 0530 and 0700 we would get up. Usually this was to a bell being rung, which was the 30 minutes to dive warning. We'd throw swimsuits on and grab something from a continental breakfast, which would be set out. We'd then make our way back to the aft deck where we'd have our dive briefing and start to gear up.

Each dive would be led by either Brett or Moses and sometimes both would be on the dive. The diving was fantastic, and once we master video editing we hope to have some footage that will do it justice. After our morning dive, as we came out of the water we would give Fritz our bottom time, max depth, and hot breakfast order for "second breakfast." We would rinse off and have breakfast. For me, this was almost always followed by a retreat into our air-conditioned cabin where I would read about a sentence in my book and fall asleep until the bell rang in what seemed like only minutes later. Trying to fit five dives into a day you only have 1.5-2.5 hours between each dive and then you're back in the water. We'd come out, rinse off and then be alerted to the fact it was lunch time by Luke playing a little wooden drum.

Luke announcing it was time for us to eat... again

We became somewhat like Pavlov's dogs, as after a while, it was a blur of bell - dive, drum - eat, and sleep in between. It was an exhausting pace, but you were almost never willing to give up the chance to get back in the water to do more great diving. Brett had gone to university in Dunedin, New Zealand with some sort of marine biology degree and was always excited and helpful to not only show us things on each dive but to go through our photos, video, and the fish/coral identification books with us after each dive to help us identify what we had just seen.

A few of the guests took advantage of the sun deck on the bow of the Aggressor.

Sun deck on the bow of the Fiji Aggressor

Ken, Sheri and Rick were all taking classes, so during our short surface intervals and after our last dive they were also squeezing in studying and classes with Brett.

Ken studying in the lounge

Sheri and Rick having their final class review on the bow with Brett

It is hard to pick a favorite dive site, as overall we had great visibility and amazing weather. It only rained a few times at night, and during the day while we were diving it was as flat as a mill pond. Some of our favorite dives were off Namenalala, Wakaya, and Gau islands. Being on a large liveaboard boat, we also had the chance to dive some unique spots. Two of these sites were called E-6 and Hi-8 named for the large amounts of film and video footage usually shot on these dives. These sites are on pinnacles that start at a depth of 3,000 feet and rise to just below the surface. The pinnacles are a fair distance from any of the surrounding islands and with the deep water and sheer walls there is a good chance of seeing some of the larger pelagics. We did wonderful shallow dives teeming with tropical fish, drift dives, wall dives, a pass dive, night dives and a thrilling shark dive. The abundance and diversity of corals and fishes are truly amazing. I continued to practice with my video camera and slowly started to take better footage, although I see a lot of editing time ahead of me.

Swimming through reef fish so thick it's like confetti

Giant clam and some lovely purple soft coral

Lettuce coral

   

Beautiful coral and fans

   

Ken diving

Tami diving a large bommie

Tami hanging on in some very strong current in Nigali Passage after our shark dive

On our second to last night aboard the Aggressor, we were anchored off the island of Gau (pronounced "now"). We had spent a full day and half diving off the reef, and that night were going ashore to meet the village.

Ken and I were familiar with village and kava ceremony etiquette, but we were all briefed on what to expect and how to modestly dress and act so as not to offend. Part of the conservative dress is for both men and women to wear sulus and shirts that do not expose bare shoulders. A few other points of etiquette are shoes are taken off before entering any house, no sunglasses or hats should be worn, and bags should not be carried over your shoulders.

Sheri helping Rick and Roger pick out and learn the finer points of sulu tying

After we cleaned up from diving, we got dressed an then proceeded to horse around on the foredeck and take photos. Sheri was trying to educate Brett on alternative sulu tying options. In French Polynesia, we had seen the men tie a sulu or pareo into a pair of shorts. I don't think Brett quite got the hang of this as his looked more like a napi.

Brett going for the diaper or napi-look

   

Ken and Cath and Tami, Brett, and Sheri dressed up for our village visit

   

Tami and Cath and the brother and sister dive team Rick and Sheri

Part of our village visit was to present the chief with Kava and we had to select a chief of our own to represent us. We chose Roger.

Roger, the Fiji Aggressor chief for the night

Each week, the Aggressor stops at this village and the divers are met by villagers, given a tour, take part in the Kava ceremony, and are given a dance performance. The village also cooks some traditional Fijian food in a lovo or earth oven. A similar method is common throughout Polynesia. A pit is dug in the earth, where a very hot fire is built. When the coals are hot, food is laid in the pit and then covered with palm fronds and dirt, and left to bake. After the dance performance, we were to return to the Aggressor and eat the dinner, which had been cooked in the lovo.

Ken and I weren't quite sure what to expect. You'd think that a village, which is visited every week by a dive boat with ten guests would be rather blasť about the whole affair. Nothing could be further from the truth. Several of the village women met us at a small dock where the Aggressor tender dropped us off. We were introduced to everyone and given flowers to put behind our ears.

Soggie putting a flower behind my ear

Flowers are worn by everyone, and Brett was sporting a lovely one as well

It was starting to get dark, but we were led on a tour of the village, which sits along a large bay. As almost everywhere in Fiji, we were immediately swarmed by a large group of village children. At first, they kept a shy distance but as soon as we started saying bula they all want to meet us and shake our hands.

Ken with a group of the village kids

The kids are always thrilled when you take their pictures with a digital camera or video and then show them their pictures.

 

Once the temporary shyness abates, they are all happy to pose for pictures

We were all led to the community hall, where we sat along one wall and it seemed that most of the villagers were sitting across from us. The chief and village elders were on one side, the village children on the other, and everyone else between them.

The village children were on one side of the room

First was a welcome speech carefully given by the head of the village primary school in English, followed by a welcome blessing and an exchange between one of the village elders and Brett. Roger than presented the yaqona. The chief accepted with the ceremonial response. Most of this was in Fijian.

The gift of kava being accepted

As the kava was being prepared, and we were all taking our turns drinking it, all of the guests stood up and introduced themselves to the village, telling them where we were from, and thanking them for their hospitality. We all were given different sorts of floral leis and then the dancing and singing performance began.

   

   

Villagers performing great singing and dancing for us

After a few dances, the women were asked to come up and embarrass ourselves by joining in some of the dancing, followed by the guys.

   

Trying to join the villagers in some local dancing and singing

It was good fun and no doubt provided some good humor for the locals. Some of the local ladies sat with us in the community hall. I sat next to a woman named Soggie, who kept asking me to take pictures of her friends and family as they danced, she also gave a running commentary on how well everyone was dancing, who was making mistakes and how fat her sister had become. It was quite funny. She enjoyed all the photos. I was also given an address and asked to write to another one of the younger women in the village. When we returned to Felicity, we printed out a number of the photos from that evening and sent them to the village.

Soggie and her son

After all the dancing and singing and more thank you's and farewells, we were escorted back to the dock where Luke and Moses met us to take us and our lovo cooked dinner on the Aggressor.

Tami and I with Fritz after we returned from the village

We had a nice dinner of Fijian food, and turned in fairly early as we had one more early morning dive the following day, before the boat would head back to Suva. The following day we did quite a nice wall dive. As soon as we were on the boat we were as usual shuffled into breakfast, and were told to leave all of our dive gear and it would all be washed and set out to dry on our trip back to Suva.

Small dinghy sailboats practicing for the South Pacific Games regattas

We had a beautiful calm sunny return trip to Suva. We arrived in the late afternoon, and most of the group asked to be dropped off in downtown Suva. The Aggressor would then be fuelled and we would meet back aboard for a farewell cocktail hour with the crew. The South Pacific Games were in full swing, so Suva was hopping. Ken and I were the only two who had been there before, so we acted as tour guides and took everyone around to buy souvenirs, postcards, etc. We had told Max and Prassad from the craft centre that we would stop back in Suva after our dive trip to look at some kava bowls. A kava bowl has a distinct shape and can be decorated with inlaid shell and different carvings. We found a huge bowl that we liked and bought it.

Tami and I explored the market while Ken was surfing at the Internet cafe

Soon it was time to return to the Aggressor at the Tradewinds Hotel for our cocktail party. During the trip you can only drink after your last dive of the day, and usually by that time we were all so tired we could hardly manage a glass of wine or a beer with dinner. However, as our last night aboard the Aggressor and no diving the following day we all cut loose. We had wine and beer and Luke mixed up a batch of Kava breaking in our new kava bowl.

 

Luke preparing kava in our new bowl

Tami having her bowl of Kava, aka grog. As this was our last night aboard, Luke made sure all of the cups were filled to "high tide".

Moses and Luke enjoying the party

After getting a little giddy with quite a bit of wine and a number of high tide bowls of Kava, a large group of us headed back into Suva. After hearing Ken and Tami and I rave about how cute Finding Nemo was, a large group of us including Brett all went to see it again.

We got back rather late and slept extremely well. The next morning we had to be off the boat by 8am to catch the bus back to Nadi. We were sorry to say goodbye to the Fiji Aggressor crew who really made the trip unforgettable.

On the bus ride, we all chatted about the trip and the possibility of putting together a trip in 2004 to Chuck (aka Truk) in the Caroline Islands, Micronesia for another Aggressor trip.

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