Friday 2nd November 2012 - Savusavu and Eastward with Dodgy Charts to a Beautiful Anchorage - Part 1

Jon & Carol Dutton
Fri 2 Nov 2012 05:14

16:43.54S 179:43.78E

Friday 2nd November 2012 – Savusavu and Eastward with Dodgy Charts to a Beautiful Anchorage

Later in the morning of Friday 19th October the customs/immigration and health officers boarded Arnamentia in Savusavu.  All went well, our having submitted the required entry forms on line before departing Tonga.  We had also prepared as much as possible of the Inward Report and printed out two copies whilst we were in Tonga.  As ever, much of the information required had already been submitted but this form wanted to know the size and make of all our engines (inboard and outboard), the make of our dinghies, radar and radios.  It’s all stuff we’ll have to regurgitate on an identical form for arrival in New Zealand.  We had to meet the Bio-security man ashore the next day but that was entirely painless apart from the fact that we had to pay him around 90 Fijian dollars (about 2.75 Fijian dollars to the pound sterling) for clearance.  Then we needed to get a taxi to the hospital a few miles out of town to cough up another 172 Fijian dollars or so for health inspections/services.  I’m sure it makes sense to someone and we don’t begrudge our contribution.

As ever we dallied longer than intended in Savusavu.  The town is small and engaging and there are plenty of cruising boats about.  We booked in to the Copra Shed Marina and found them very helpful and the whole setup well organised.  Carol undertook an advanced open water diving course to qualify her for diving to 30m.  Although she has been taken on many dives to below 18 m – her previously qualified depth – at least should she require medical treatment her insurance will now cover her.  She had to undertake 5 dives and a knowledge review on a variety of subjects.  One of the dives was a navigation one and as a long time orienteer she was pleased that she didn’t get lost.  The diving in Fiji is world class and is particularly renowned for soft coral.  These are very beautiful and harbour such wonderfully named creatures as nudibranches (soft-bodied, marine gastropod molluscs) rock mover wrasse and clown trigger fish.   Photos below care of Google Images.


                                                                                    Nudibranch – actual size about 3 cm


                                                Rock Mover Wrasse – he jumps around like a lamb gambolling in a field!


                                                                                                        Clown Triggerfish

We took a taxi for a day to see some of Vanua Levu island – it was cheaper, at 120 Fijian dollars, than hiring a car and it was more productive.  Our taxi driver was most informative and charming.  We saw a great deal of stunning countryside interspersed with somewhat ramshackle villages and did the, by now obligatory, wander through a forest to a waterfall.  There are several high class resorts close to the coast at various points offering chalet style accommodation in beautiful surroundings.  We visited a couple and it seems that all are struggling to attract punters in the current financial climate. 


                                                                        Vanau Levi Highlands looking towards Savusavu Bay


                                    Local carvings adorning a resort garden – not dissimilar to those sculptures found at Helligan

One day we were both down below and heard what we thought was a very noisy dinghy motoring past.  Popping up top we were amazed to find a small seaplane motoring by on its way to the Copra Shed where it picked up a mooring!  As you do.


                                    Well now – there’s a smart looking dinghy.  Outside the Copra Shed Marina buildings

The politics of Fiji are, as we know, pretty different.  There is a military government, the population is about half native Fijian (they own most of the land under traditional arrangements and apparently cannot sell it) and half Indian (descendants of the indentured workers on the cane farms of colonial days who now do most of the productive work either in farming cane – leasing the necessary land - or in business) and there is a debate going on (fuelled by ministers of the Wesleyan Church) about making Fiji a Christian state despite the fact that about half the population is Hindu.  Add into that mix a growing Chinese presence in delivering various infrastructure projects and obtaining fishing and mineral mining rights – not to mention, perhaps, a bit of an understanding about how voting in the UN is to work.  However, these facts seem to have little bearing on day-to-day lives of most people.  They are almost universally relaxed and extraordinarily friendly.  Life’s too short and politics is something other people do.   Keep calm and carry on.

The charting in Fijian waters is tricky stuff.  You do come across British Admiralty based paper charts which claim to be WGS84 compatible.  Hooray – so the GPS will work.  But, just take a look at the source diagram on the chart.  You may be surprised to note that, WGS84 compatible or not, the latest survey in some areas of the chart was conducted by someone like Lieut Slowpoke RN aboard the schooner HMS Misguided in about 1830 using a sextant, dodgy chronometer and leadline.  In an average year, one gathers, yotties hereabouts manage to chalk up 60 to 80 serious groundings on the reefs requiring urgent repair and 6 or 8 total losses.  This year has been good so far – only 2 total losses.

There is a most engaging and helpful Kiwi-born cove in Savusavu called Curly.  He lives on a houseboat in the creek and has spent longer than he cares to recall doing so.  He specializes in producing detailed sailing instructions and safe waypoints to get you through the reefs into various anchorages and around the islands generally.  In addition you’ll get all sorts of advice on where to dive, snorkel and wander and with whom.  This is solid gold and he charges very little for his detailed advice and his e-mailed notes.

We decided to leave on the morning of Tuesday 30th October, armed with Curly’s notes and waypoints, for a delightful anchorage called Fawn Harbour, some 35 miles away and to the east of Savusavu.  To windward, obviously, and so Mr Perkins was going to be called upon to get us there.  Gentlemen don’t beat to weather and neither do we if we can help it.  We needed to leave by about 1000 to get to the anchorage, through a pretty twisty passage through the reef at its entrance, by 1600 latest.  Otherwise, the light was not going to be good enough to make pilotage through the reef safe.  Knowing assumption to be the mother of all the best foul-ups, just before we dropped our mooring lines Jon zoomed in on the anchorage in Fawn Harbour on the chart plotter.   He discovered to his horror that, using the Navionics digital charting used by it, at any resolution better than about 1:500,000, all detail in the area around Fawn Harbour disappeared.  The waypoints remained but the only charting information was in the form of a Mickey Mouse block diagram that bore no relation to reality.  It might as well have been a blank screen.  Hang on – 1:500,000 (five hundred thousand)?  That’s 1/10th the scale of a standard 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey Landranger map.  The bog standard UK A3-sized floppy road atlas you can buy at most UK petrol stations is typically at about 1:300,000 – so approaching twice the scale the chart plotter was offering.  And, you think we’d going reef-hopping using that?  I think not.  Anyway, at 1:500,000 you couldn’t make out anything of Fawn Harbour.  The whole thing was obliterated by about half a dozen waypoint symbols.  Urgent consultations with Curly followed.  He very kindly lent us a 1:150,000 scale paper chart and Jon dived off to the chandlery to buy a couple of 1:50,000 scale paper charts to cover Fawn Harbour and some others, further east, that we intended to visit.  The 1:50,000 charts are definitely not WGS84 compatible and you have to move any GPS derived WGS84 position about 200m (0.11 minutes) northwards and 500m (0.23 minutes) eastwards to make any sense of it.  But, that’s more than do-able.  We did toy with the idea of using one of our Garmin handheld GPS sets and telling it to use the Fijian datum but, of course, despite the fact that it recognises a hundred or more data it hasn’t heard of that one.  We also fired up the laptop with its C-Map and Open CPN charting.  This was a great deal more helpful and zoomed in to whatever resolution made sense – its ‘Over-Zoom’ notification telling you that your zooming in doesn’t mean that you are getting any more detailed information than you got at the last resolution.  You’ve got the same stuff but at a magnification the half blind can read.   That’s OK.  Of course, the laptop screen isn’t great for viewing in strong sunlight.  However, in the shade of the bimini it was just about readable by Jon at the helm.  So, the toolbox of choice became waypoints on an otherwise blank screen on the chart plotter, a laptop plus GPS for squinting at on top of the cockpit cushions and a paper chart that didn’t understand GPS.  Then there was the really important stuff; polarized sunglasses, open eyes and a lot of concentration, care and attention.

By the time we’d resolved all that it was too late to leave Savusavu that day and anyway it was very overcast.  Not good for reef-hopping.  So we delayed departure until Wednesday 31st.  That dawned clear and bright.  We left in good time and got to Fawn Harbour safely in even better time, anchoring close to the only other yacht in the bay – a Dutch boat called Drifter – at about 1500.  Being Dutch, its crew was likely to be extremely helpful and pleasant.  So Arnold and Coby Lelijveld turned out to be.  The bay is outstandingly beautiful and protected by a very significant reef.  Nothing we will be able to do with the camera will remotely do it justice.  End of description – sorry about that.

No sooner had we anchored but Arnold and Coby called by to welcome us and over a cup of tea (real English tea is, apparently, a real treat) passed on a great deal of useful information about how to get to the local village, Bagasau, by dinghy (inside the inner reef at half tide or better, hug the mangroves real tight and wind your way up a hidden creek, under the forest canopy to the top).  There was much more they had to tell us and they offered to let us have the downloads of Google Earth which they use to supplement the more conventional charting in Fiji.  Google Earth is definitely reality and Carol was able to get that lot the next day.