The Rose--Approaching Bligh Water
21 September 2014 | Bligh water, Fiji
21 September 2014 Dear Friends and Family,
Viti LevuFiji Big or Mainland Vanua LevuBig Island The sky is a bright sunlit blue with only a few grey, wet looking clouds rolling lazily along the horizons and we are gliding over a deep pass of cool dark turquoise water. The pass occurs naturally between the extensive reef which was at one time the fringing reef for the island long ago when the island was much larger and the fringing reef for the current island which has sunk somewhat and is consequently smaller. The reefs on both sides of us lie shallow just beneath the surface, bright tan topped with light-filled pale turquoise water. This turquoise color is the same color as The Rose's bow wave as it bubbles up into sunlight and is the color of my favorite crayon in the crayon box of my childhood which was perfectly named "Sea Foam Green". It is also the very same color as the oxidized bronze port light windows on our cabin top. Perhaps you've seen the color on a copper church steeple which aged to green.
The reef to our left extends for miles enclosing deep water in a lagoon so big it is almost a sea of its own and a sea mountain top which is the island of Namena. To our right, beyond the reef, stretch a broad expanse of sand flats until they abut the mangroves lining the shore of the big island of Vanua Levu. This seemingly never-ending shoreline rises to meet the sunlit green hills and forested mountains over which occasional cool pensive cloud shadows drift. Between the two reefs the tide is strong and going against us and against the wind which sometimes can cause the waves in this area to push up steep and rough but it's early and the wind is gentle yet today and we glide along easily riding before the breeze.
It is very quiet. A brown booby is fishing nearby circling and crashing and circling and crashing. I wonder if he gets a headache with all that crashing headfirst into the sea. The flying fish skitter away at our approach skimming along over the water's surface until they smack into a wind wavelet. Perhaps they also have headaches. We approach a patch of disturbed water where upwelling current mounds the surface up smoother and higher than the surrounding. A whirlpool swirls past and a tide-line where the rapid current of the deep water slows as it drags along the edge of the reef shallows. Caught in the tide-line, floating pods, leaves and coconuts bob merrily like spectators lined up street-side at a parade and we slip by like a grand float.
At sea I often refer to my experience of sailing as similar to sailing within a snow globe-you know the kind that sit like a paperweight with a winter scene inside and snow that swirls about like a blizzard when youshake it. Or I could liken it to sailing across the big compass on the boat which is a fluid filled heavy glass globe with a planar disc floating horizontal in it. On land I always experience the horizon in little bits. The horizon lies between two mountains or the horizon is only in the East because my back is up against mountains to the West. Even looking out over the vast horizon of the Pacific Ocean from the west coast, it's still a horizon in one direction only. In contrast, on a boat at sea the horizon is all around me. It is the circumference of a circle as far as my eyes can reach and completely round. This sense of circularity is probably another thing which makes the feeling of being at sea so different. Presently within this circular horizon-- which of course continually moves along with me-- from 1:00 to 6:00 I am flanked on the right by the long parenthetic curve of Vanua Levu's low green mountains. Ahead at 12:00 a pronounced point obscures the pass between the two big islands of Vanua Levu and far away Viti Levu. On the left initially the horizon looks like a 180 degree semicircle of wind and rippled sea but a steady gaze will soon discern behind a veil of pale haze the tall jagged peaks of distant land at 10:00, a low lying triplet like an emerging molar at 9:00, a distant smudge of low peaks at 8:00 extending almost to a more defined hump of island at 7:30 and in sharp contrast in the near foreground very low coral crags like the tiny sharp pointy teeth of a carnivorous bottom feeding fish just awash and close by at 7:00.
We are approaching "Bligh Water", the water in the pass between the two big islands which is named in honor of the more than 3000 mile voyage of Captain Bligh and 19 crew in a long boat in which they were set adrift following the Mutiny of The Bounty off the island of Tofua in Tonga about the same era as the American Revolution. Two years ago we spent time anchored off Tofua-- an island with which I became quite enamored. It is an active volcano whose jungled slopes are rent by steamy vents and whose center cradles a deep crater-lake extending well below sea level and swirled with boiling currents of water issued from thermal hot springs. Some books claim passing ships report a fiery glow from the crater at night but I cannot claim to have seen this myself. The approach by boat is difficult, necessitating swimming to the steep volcanic, cave-pocked shore from a pass between two islands where wind and waves funnel dramatically. During our visit the wind refused to abate making the swim ill advised at best and this year during a second attempt the winds howled during our entire stay in Tonga prohibiting the sail to the island altogether. Still, that first year, as we explored an anchorage some distance from the access trail to the peak, we enjoyed a delightful visit by a humpback whale and her calf whose playful antics very close at hand amused us for hours.
At some point tomorrow we will cross Bligh's logged track as he made his way in the long boat through the islands of Fiji without daring to stop for fear of the cannibals. His journey remains among the great feats of seamanship in recorded maritime history -despite the misrepresentation by Hollywood-- paralleling the unrecorded but awe inspiring voyages of the Polynesians and Melanesians who settled these islands long before. Bligh's long boat was not nearly so romantic a vessel as those great, huge, hand-carved vakas steered by ancient navigators using age old practiced wisdom and even older well honed intuitions to see and feel beyond the scope of the horizon. Bligh's well trained intellect and hand held sextant, however, stood him in good stead and he kept boat and crew afloat to arrive at Timor, Indonesia relatively intact. Having sailed recently from the same general area of Tonga across to and then through the islands of Fiji, we have continued to enjoy following Bligh's general track.
Tonight we will spend at the little island of Yadua a lovely remote spot off the northwest corner of Vanua Levu, the only place in the world the crested green iguana calls home and a great anchorage from which to make the early morning jump into Bligh Water and on to Sawa-i-lau the southern-most tip of Yasawa island north west of the big island Viti Levu. And that will be another story. All is well. Pat and John s/v The Rose