Benauiwa Narrows and Viani Bay 16 45.799S 179 53.503E

Mike and Liz Downing
Thu 31 May 2012 09:30
The anchorage in Nasasobu Bay is again deep - we anchored in 50-60 feet and, as we expected with all the mangroves around, in mud. So it's great holding and a great place, except for the mud! It's of the very gooey kind and it sticks like glue to the chain. It seemed like we bought half the bottom of the bay up on deck when lifting the anchor. Not so good! The aim today was to follow the Benauiwa passage inside the reef (between the barrier reef and fringing reef on land) to Viani Bay right at the south-east tip of Vanua Levu. The bay is big, but the passage inside the reef is a bit tricky. So with Liz on the helm,we used every navigation aid we had - waypoints I plotted from Google Earth, information we had from boat guides (sort of pilots) showing transits to follow and me on the bow pointing directions with a boat hook! It's only 3 miles long but it twists and turns a bit and there are isolated bommies (coral heads) to look out for. Also one of the gaps in the reef is only 32 metres wide and looks half that size when you go through it! Just to make it even more 'interesting' the wind started blowing 20kts on the beam just as we were committed and approaching the most tricky bit.  But we got through okay and the Google earth waypoints were spot on. We've used it twice now and so far it's been good.
Not good, and very very sad, was the tragic loss of one of the yachts on the reef. Both people on the yacht were okay, but it was a harrowing experience. The details of what happened are a little sketchy, but we think it went something like this. While 4 of the 5 boats went on to Viani bay, the other boat had commitments back in Savusavu and after we had left they headed back out the Dakuniba Boat Pass into an onshore wind and swell. When going through the pass they came down in a wave trough and hit something. Thinking all was okay they continued and headed out only to find that they were taking on water. So to get into calm water they headed for the next pass in the reef a few miles west along the coast only to take a wave over the stern, adding yet more water. Thinking that they might not make it, one of them took to the dinghy with all their key possessions (passports, computers etc in a waterproof bag) while the other continued on. However, as tends to be the way with boating tragedies, problems compound and in this case the dinghy painter (rope) got caught round the prop of the yacht, tipping the person in the dinghy and their possessions into the water and stopping the yacht's engine. Once the person in the water was safely back in the dinghy, the person on the yacht tried using the headsail to sail on into the pass, but didn't make it and the boat ended up on the reef. They activated their EPIRB (emergency beacon) and the New Zealand authorities got in touch with the Fijian authorities to alert them. One of the other boats we were with picked up the Mayday call and helped to get the assistance from one of the local dive boats. We were only 8-10 miles or so away, but in those seas and winds it would have taken 2 hours to get back there and with onshore winds and swell we could not have approached the reef without a high risk of ending up on it. The local dive boats that could go fast inside the reef and know the waters were the best option and rescued the two people, taking them to one of the resorts close by. Apparently the yacht, which was a GRP over marine ply construction, started breaking up almost immediately and is a total loss. We first met them in Tauranga in New Zealand, their berth was only a few boats down the pontoon from us, so we saw all the love and care that had gone into the boat. It was their home and it's such a shame. They're now back in Savusavu, deeply shocked and sorting out all that they have to do with the authorities before flying back to New Zealand to stay with family. 
Having made it to Viani Bay we've anchored in the south west corner of the bay to shelter from the southerly wind. Another deep anchorage (70ft) and again on coral. Tomorrow the wind should shift to the south east and we hope to head for a much more protected part of the bay giving more shelter.
Anchored just round the headland inside the bay. The fringe reef is clearly visible off the headland. The
hills/mountains (up to 4,000ft) in the background and under cloud are across the Somosomo Strait on
Taveuni, the 3rd largest of the Fijian islands after Viti Levu (the largest) and Vanua Levu (the second
largest and the one we're on).
One of the other yachts anchored closer in. The hills in this part of the bay are clear of trees as they're
burnt by the locals (there's a fire going now). Clearly it clears the trees and other vegetation, but
we're not sure why they do it. We'll have to find out. 
Looking into Viani Bay.