Hammerheads, coral spawning and Village visits
Hammerheads, coral spawning and Village visits
With the Fiji Siren preparing for its fourth voyage on the 26th of October, we boarded our 14 new guests at 2pm everyone was excited to be aboard as we headed out for our 7-night liveaboard safari in Fiji. We had the divers in the water at 4:30pm for their checkout dive just off the reefs of Volivoli Beach Resort at the dive site called the Amazing Maze, after which we completed the lifejacket / emergency drill and rounded off our first dinner and delicious dessert from chef Iwan.
Sunday morning October 27th we lifted anchor at 4:30m after being checked out of port by the Marine Safety Authority of Fiji to begin our 2.5 hour journey out to Vatu-I-Ra for our first full day of diving. The sunrise was phenomena, and the seas had just a light chop which died down to next to nothing as the day went on. The divers (7 Russians, 1 Swiss, 1 Kiwi, 1 American and 4 Dutch) relaxed on the sun deck between dives whilst Colin Gans, a photographer from New Zealand brought out his new but very expensive toy for a trial run; an ultralight remote control helicopter with a GoPro Hero mounted on the bottom. Everyone loved the Demo, and Colin promised to put some footage together for viewing in the Salon later in the trip. For our first sunset dive only a few of the Russian contingent dropped in at the dive site we did first in the day (Mellow Yellow), as everyone else seems content with the Grey Reef Sharks, Schooling Barracuda, and Turtles seen on the 3rd dive of the afternoon. The colors were popping and the reefs were alive with the sun today, and the divers all seemed to be quite happy.
Our next destination was Gau Island – where our last visit brought us face to face with schooling Grey Reef Sharks. During the overnight passage, the guests that stayed up late were treated to a very spectacular phenomenon – the green bio-luminescence in the Fiji Sea’s. The tiny marine matter was lighting up the sea as the Fiji Siren made it’s way through the dark, but glowing water. Our fist dive of the day was at slack tide, so the visibility wasn’t the greatest, but with the plankton in the water, the divers were hoping for Manta Rays, but unfortunately none were seen. The dive groups switched dive sites, and they came back more enthusiastic as the Fiji Coral was showing its true colors. We had a nice lunch and sailed further south along the West Coast of Gau Island, heading toward Nigali Passage where we are timing our drop in to coincide with 2 hours after the high tide in the anticipation of coming face to face again with the Grey Reef Sharks, and their close relative the White Tip Reef Sharks. During our cruise south we see large patches of green and yellow ‘stuff’, which is explained to the guests to be left over biological material from the Corals which were spawning the night before. After the change of tide, and checking the current it is apparent that the water in Nigali Passage is not cooperating with us, so we decide to do the dive ‘backwards’. The sea never started flowing ‘into’ the lagoon, so we took a ride from the lagoon to the open ocean. Our friends the Grey Reef Sharks were there to not disappoint the guests! As daylight was fading, the waters continued to be glassy calm, and a few low clouds rolled in as the Fiji Siren once again lifted anchor to head North to Wakaya for diving tomorrow morning. It was a perfect night to have dinner while under way with the sun going down, and the beautiful island scenery all around.
Everyone is ready to dive by 6:30am anticipating our village visit to Mokagi later this afternoon. Julius briefs the dives and talks about the Hammerhead sharks we’ve seen here before. Although much was to be seen on the first dive of the day, only Matai (our DM/Guide) and Nick – one of our guests – were lucky enough to see a Hammerhead off in the distance. Dives 2 and 3 are more exciting for the guests as everyone in the first group gets to see the big hammerhead sharks on both dives. Other reef sharks were spotted as well as the usual small critters too. We had a very regimented dive schedule and were finished with our 3rd dive of the day by 2pm as we are heading for Mokagai to visit the local village and people. Arriving into the calm bay from the rough seas everyone was snapping photographs of the lush landscape on the island. We’re met at the jetty by a Fijian Man blowing a Conch Shell welcoming us in traditional Fijian Warrior Costume. After all the guests are on shore the many, many children who are just up the path begin singing and welcoming us also. The songs sound fantastic. After a few short tunes, the village Chief welcomes us and gives us a short tour of the Giant Clams they are farming for conservation efforts, and the baby turtles they are raising to be released back into the sea. Although the skies are overcast and there is a light rain, our guests do not seem bothered as they are enjoying the interaction of the local people. We are welcomed into the village meeting hall where we witness the traditional Sevusevu ( an offering of Kava from us to the village chief), the mixing of the Kava and sharing of it with our guest and ‘acting chief’ Mike, our spokesman Moe, and the village Chief and spokesman. After this we are delighted to watch the children of the village perform a traditional Meke (a ceremonial dance) with the boys and girls in their neatly kept traditional costumes. Our guests loved it as much as the people of the village loved having us there. When it came time to leave the village and head back to the boat, many of the guests linger about as the village children are running all around saying goodbye, grabbing and shaking hands over, and over again. As is usual in Fiji you can become very enamored of the land and the people quite quickly in the land of the ‘Bula Spirit’. As the evening was arriving we finally made it back to the Fiji Siren and the Salusalu’s (fresh flower garland / neckwear) made from Frangipani that the village ladies had adorned us with on our arrival were hung around the dining deck to add an beautiful aroma to the air and add to the ambiance during our dinner. Smiles, talking, and more stories over dessert before people are retiring for the evening. The Captain has a 4am ‘anchor’s up’ plan as we set our sights on heading to the Namena Marine Reserve in the morning.
As promised by our captain Julian, I hear the anchor being raised at 3:51am and the Siren slowly starts to sail out of the bay at Mokogai by 4am on the morning of October 30th. There has been some rain again overnight, but as the sun begins to rise it looks like it’s more blue sky than clouds. The day is looking fine…… and as we arrive inside the barrier reef at Namena Marine Reserve, the seas are becoming flat and the clouds are burning off to mostly sunshine. The divers come back from the first dive saying is was an active, GREAT dive. Between our first and second dives everyone enjoys a hearty breakfast and the Fiji Siren moves from South Save A Tack Passage to North Save A Tack Passage, once again following the currents and tide to set up for our second and third dives of the day. The Russian contingent is really hoping to see some of the Grey Reef Sharks we’ve told them about at “Grand Central” as their luck in spotting the sharks has been less than stellar – although on their first dive today they were extremely pleased with the Ribbon Eels at “Black Forest” which was in its Blue / Yellow phase for their viewing. The second dive of the day, and the third after lunch had everyone back on board smiling because of the shark encounters, as well as the schooling Trevally, HUGE Tuna (bigger than some of the sharks), and variety of aquatic life present during the dives. North Save A Tack is definitely a guest favorite. After the dives on the barrier reef we headed to the bay on the North Side of Namena to anchor for the evening, to relax, and prepare for the sunset dive at Ju’s Blue Forest. Just after the night dive began the tropical Fijian skies opened up for a HUGE downpour. The rain lasted only about an hour, and was quite refreshing. The divers made it back to the boat ok with Alex and Svetlana being especially excited as they had just completed their ‘Night Dive’ working towards the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver Certification. Ju our onboard instructor has been having a good time working with the communication between the Russians and himself!.
The following morning – HALLOWEEN in the U.S. but no one except for the C.D. Jon and Jenny from Holland seem too excited about a costume part in the evening – is Thursday October 31st. There is a light wind in the morning, but it settled down by about 7:30am when the divers are already in the water at South Save A Tack Passage. The Russian group is extremely pleased when they return with a sighting of a Black Manta! The day looks promising, and the divers are looking forward to diving North Save A Tack Passage again for the 2nd and 3rd dives of the day. The currents were mild all day, and although the sharks weren’t around in huge numbers, there were several sightings of singles and pairs, and the schooling Trevally and Jacks were the main focus for the photographers and guests. Nick, Jenny, Marcian and Sandra took advantage of the Kayaks in the afternoon to paddle around Namena and explore the southern beach for some Fijian Beach Photo opportunities. We had 8 divers drop in for the night dive – the most participants for the entire trip – as everyone seemed to want to get in on the ‘last chance’ to do it. A nice dinner, followed by plenty of jokes and gentle natured ‘ribbing’ as the guests and crew are all comfortable with each other after 6 days on board the Fiji Siren. The skipper lifted the anchor at about 9:30pm as we set our sights on heading back north to Vatu-I-Ra for our final 2 dives in the morning.
November has arrived, and there is a brisk wind blowing over the Reef/Pinnacle we call E-6. Named by the early divers (Jaques Cousteau et. al.) that visited the area for the photographic paper used for underwater photography. Much developing of photos was done on board the vessels in the early days as they photographers had to know if they had good shots or not before moving on to new sites / destinations. Jon woke up the guests at 6:30am (affording them a little sleep in) and had them in the water by 7:45am . This site is nice as we moor the Siren right to the reef (on a mooring line used by other vessels in the area) so the divers can giant stride right into the water off the dive platform. The main attraction is ‘The Cathedral’, a swim through / large area covered with Gorgonian Sea Fans, and fissures to the surface which let the sun light filter in for awesome photo opportunities, and nice lighting for those just looking around. We move to High 8 (named again for photo processing and material type from the earlier days – prior to digital photography) for dive 2 and then begin our process for the final day of sailing. Rinsing and drying gear, bringing up luggage from down below for the guests to start packing up, and relaxing in the afternoon during our slow cruise back to the Rakiraki and Volivoli Beach Resort area for our final night on board the Fiji Siren and for the farewell Bar-B-Que Dinner. The day turned out to be nearly picture perfect, and the wind died down so we were able to raise the sails on the Fiji Siren for photo ops for all the guests. Great practice for the crew also as the weather hadn’t cooperated for the past two trips. A fantastic dinner was enjoyed by all. Everyone stayed up late talking and exchanging e-mail addresses, and just relaxing.
November 2nd the crew and guests shared a big breakfast and everyone got together for crew photos, and grew/guest photos up on the sun deck. Fiji Weather was HOT, with calm winds, and mirror glassy seas. Final goodbyes, and farewells were said, and some tears were shed as the local Fijian Crew sang the good bye song ((Isa Isa). Safe travels to all our guests, and we look forward to seeing you again on the FIJI SIREN!!!! Moce mada.