... the toughest pass yet …
27 September 2011 | South Coast Vanua Levu, Fiji
I’ve been through several tough passes over the past few years – Suzanne and I vividly recall the exit at the north end of Makemo with SV Kaumoana’s favorite 14 knot plunge into the air. Yes, the Tuamotos certainly provided their fair share of challenging passes but what proved to be the most exciting of them is the Nasonisoni Passage on the southcoast of Vanua Levu in Fiji, located at about 16*56 S 178*59 E. We had crossed Wainunu Bay after leaving the anchorage of Nadi Bay motoring straight into 12 knots of wind.
The actual pass on paper looked tight but definitely possible. A pass of 1.8 nm through a mile wide reef – the point of entry was calm but wind had picked up to 16 knots on the nose and the tide was going out. The best way to describe this pass is a lovely flowing river about 200 yards wide with not much of a velocity to it, surrounded by coral reefs and the ever changing shades of turquoise.
About a mile into the pass going 5 knots, I switched on the starboard engine to aid in navigating the pass as it narrowed. Looking on the horizon was a series of white caps which turned out to be standing waves. The depth sounder went from 200 feet at the beginning of Nasonisoni Passage to about 65 at the bar but the width narrowed down to 50 yards with water ebbing and spidering around the reefs. Based on what happened at the Makemo Pass, I slowed Carinthia down to about 4.5 knots as the standing waves started bashing into the hulls. At first the motion was typical hobby horsing but at the end of the pass the seas where BIG 8-10 foot short steep waves and the wind hauling around the cape, really nasty stuff! I reduced both engines to about 1400 PM’s and managed to get about 3 knots and good hand steering out of her.
With the 3-5 second bashes in between – Carinthia shuttered but progressed slowly into the deeper waters – 400 600 – 1000 feet – but waves surrounded us from 3 directions – the first the basic swell from the SE – the second set multiple refractions of the encircling reef and the third the reef’s outflow.
Now those squiggles on the chart made sense. The entire Coral See was moving sea power through this one pass – a massive body of water after a few days of a minor low - pushing its fluid weight against a reef and a steep shore therefore with a funnel at the end. And us riding – bouncing – slamming – surfing – bashing on top of it – to call it disturbed water would be an understatement – my adrenalin was pumping and Suzanne – while balancing herself with one hand took lot’s of pictures of the bash - while Vienna was looking for a chance to catch a fish – a salty sea dog has her priorities!
After it all calmed down and we gradually turned to have the waves come from abaft about 45 minutes of helter-skelter. The entrance to the next passage gave-up a lovely Spanish Mackerel . So whilst dodging coral heads in the sheltered water behind another massive reef we managed to remove the head and tail cut it in half and stuffed Mr. Fish in the freezer for post-processing.
After exiting the Kubulau Passage and re-entering the Navau Passage we saw a somber shadow of a Wreck , confirmed to be the hull of SV Quest, a ship on the reef which ran aground just under 3 weeks ago while attempting to enter Savu Savu Bay at night. A solemn reminder of how treacherous these water can be.
In conclusion – if there is one - a very technical day of seafaring with a mooring ball in SavuSavu bay, giving us a calm night to help the dreams of another day of voyaging.
As Kurt would say - we lived to sail another day !
FYI Taveuni beckons !