The Rose--Sun and Shadow
24 April 2015 | Naigani Island, Lomaviti, Fiji
Dear Friends and Family,
24 April 2015
Vaka Cakau- Go to the reef to collect or way of the reef.
Bula Bula! Today I awoke to rain pattering on the skylight hatch and after an instant of foggy enjoyment of the quiet rhythm, I leapt from sleep to bring the clothes in from the life line and put under cover all the scuba gear which had been air drying from its fresh water rinse. Not that the rain would hurt anything but on a boat things can't be put away wet or they will sour and mold not only themselves but everything in proximity. Outside the day was grey and delightfully blustery. Massive slate grey rain clouds extended their tendrils all the way down to the water's surface along the eastern horizon like Man-o-war jelly fish of the skies. Their darkness was exaggerated by the sun rising behind them trying to peek through on this edge and that and thereby casting a golden glow at edges and in-betweens.
On the western horizon the ferry "Spirit of Altruism" had been caught by a sunbeam and as though spot lit on a dark stage she gleamed bright as a bold star in the softer grey of that hemisphere. The sea was still gentle inside the reef, unperturbed but lazily rippling in the stormy wind like a mother unperturbed by her child's ecstatic play or tired tantrum. In the absence of the sun's brightening the water over the reefs and shallows had lost its translucency but still it painted teal into the foreground and threw in thin lines of frothy white where swells broke over the shallows.
Quiet lay over the jungle on the nearby shore except for the cooing of a dove and the early morning chatter of small birds checking in with each other and perhaps drawing up plans for the day. A sheer cliff face thickly draped with green vinery was only punctuated here and there by a palm or tree canopy which had managed to pop its way through to the light. One gnarly crook-shaped white trunk pushed up from the lower edge where most of the growth clears seeking relief from salt spray. The top branches of that trunk disappeared into the mélange of foliage above giving the odd appearance that the bent trunk carried the weight of the entire canopy above on its back.
Yesterday was a different kind of day beginning right away with bold sunshine which was sustained all day and made a great window for water play. We dove on the nearby coral bommie which towers as a pinnacle straight to the surface from forty feet of depth and supports an entire world exclusive unto itself. Its proximity made it an easy swim from the boat and spiraling slowly we made our way down and around its sides from the sunlit regions into the shadowed depths. All our favorite bright colored tropical fish were present contributing their bits of the rainbow and fashion statements to the scene. The wrasse cleaning station was very busy with a waiting line. In fact this community seemed able to support two stations side by side without competition.
At the base the bommie was undercut, disappearing from view into a shadowy cavern. Further inspection yielded two tunnels about thirty feet long and large enough for our in-file passage. Natural lighting filtered into the tunnels from each end making artificial light unnecessary--which was convenient as I had not thought to bring along a torch. (Flashlight in the local vernacular.) Of course, through we went, very carefully so as to not disturb the fine silt on the bottom which can make the world instantly disappear in a swirl of mud at the least provocation, take hours to settle and be disorienting when one is in a tunnel deep under water. We also always want to avoid bumping, scraping or smashing the delicate life covering the inside surface of the tunnel so neutral buoyancy control and careful going is essential. This takes some practice and can be trickier than it sounds since odd currents can stream in these tunnels. Midway through the tunnel, at the heart of the bommie, a large conch shell tipped back to look up at my passing. The eye stalks and delicate feelers of its massive hermit crab resident seemed awed by the event of our presence. In the coral crevices overhead, clusters of small cave fish peered down at us watchful but unflustered. I'm not sure any humans have passed this way before.
Exiting back to the sunlit world we noticed the wavy, plump, speckled brown lips of a giant clam nestled into a plateau on the side of the bommie and many familiar fish which were uncommonly large for their species. The bright yellow "monacled bream"-whose name is derived from the dark blue rings circling his eyes-was eight inches in comparison to his normal four inches which made him quite an impressive spectacle. A solitary juvenile "many spotted sweet lips" in all her finery was busy swishing and sacheting amongst the coral nubbins completely self absorbed as though delighting in her own frilly fin-work which rolls and swirls like the ruffle of a flamenco dancing dress in luscious cocoa brown strewn with large white polka dots. Color and pattern abounded everywhere. Even the soft coral puff balls-- common here and usually reminiscent of snowballs --were tinted an uncommon and lovely shade of aquamarine blue while other plateaus were covered with fields of mustard yellow or chartreuse green.
We soon found this entire landscape to be protected diligently-even aggressively-by a single remora. Remora are those flat headed fish which attach themselves to a host by way of suction thereby catching a free ride while surviving off their host's scraps. We often see them attached to sharks or whales or dolphins. Giant Mantas almost without exception carry two remora in what seems an attitude of camaraderie.
This particular remora was either territorial or having lost its original host was frantically in search of a new ride because he pursued us relentlessly. Swishing my fins at him only brought him on stronger as he scanned my surface for a site of attachment. My pursuing him offered only temporary respite while he turned to peruse John as an equally appealing alternative. Back and forth between the two of us he worked obsessively, occasionally nibbling at our edges if our attentions wandered elsewhere. The water's warmth negating the need for wet suits, our legs were bare skinned and vulnerable to his attentions. Amusement gave way to annoyance. Finally we succumbed and made our way to the surface and back to The Rose leaving him happily to his private kingdom or perhaps unhappily without a ride.
Aaaahhhh the sun is breaking through the shadows now and The Rose is tugging at her tether so it is time to get myself gathered. Today we are off into the sun and rain on our way to Makogai-a short trip to visit familiar folks who raise giant clams and endangered turtle species for repopulating the islands in protected habitats.
Wishing you all splendid adventures, Pat and John s/v The Rose, slowly making our way east.