Too Much Excitement! Vitogo Bay 17 33.73S 177 29.43E
Mike and Liz Downing
Wed 25 Jul 2012 08:21
With a forecast of winds going from the southeast round to the northeast we decided it probably wasn't a good idea to make the 50 mile passage along the north coast of Viti Levu, between the fringing reefs and the outer barrier reef, to Lautoka (Fiji's second largest city). The route has some twists and turns with few markers and not having done it before, the added complication of an onshore wind was not something we wanted, particularly as it was due to come back round to the southeast in a couple of days. So it was a couple more days anchored at Nananu-I-Ra island. The northeasterly didn't happen and the wind actually dropped out completely and the sun shone. So 2 lovely sunny days with a flat sea. It would have been the ideal time to motor along the channel. Never mind, with a south easterly of 15kts forecast for today everything was set for the passage, that was until 04.00 this morning when the wind alarm woke us and it was blowing 20+ kts from the south. By 08.00 it was blowing 30kts gusting to 40kts and shortly after 35kts, gusting anywhere between 40 and 50kts. The anchorage has a long fetch to the south so although protected the seas quickly built up causing the bows to pitch up and down in what was now a surf of white horses and spray. Just to make it even more 'interesting', with winds from the south the anchorage became a lee shore with not a huge distance behind us and the reef. It was clearly not the day to go - it was totally overcast with just too much wind, waves, white horses - it would be impossible to see the reefs, but we did have to move to a more protected anchorage, and one with more clear water behind us, in case the anchor dragged in the high winds.
Getting the anchor up in winds of that strength is definitely not fun! It has to be a team effort. Me on the pitching bows operating the windlass and giving sign-language directions to Liz on the helm. It's essential to motor forward in the right direction and at just the right speed to ease the strain on the chain so the windlass stands a chance of bringing it on board. In 35 to 45kts of wind there's absolutely no point in trying to shout instructions! But we got it up and got away from the shore, heading west along the channel a few miles to what seemed on paper a much better anchorage. However, once there the fetch seemed almost as great and anchoring in those winds and seas with coral potentially all around was too much of a lottery. So keeping going west along the channel seemed the safest option, following waypoints on the chartplotter and following our position and track on Google Earth on the laptop. Luckily the channel is generally wider than it looks on the chart, but it would have been nice to see the reefs either side of us. The seas were too big and rough to see anything under the water. Even with no sail the gusts were strong enough on the beam to heel us well over. So it was on a further 8 miles to the next possible anchorage, but it was the same situation and safer to keep going. It was the same story again at the next two potential anchoring spots, until 6 hours later when 1 mile to the west of Vatia Wharf, having travelled 31 miles! Within 10 minutes the wind changed from 25 to 30kts from just east of south, to 6kts from the west, the seas calmed down and we could anchor, but there didn't seem much point; with only 19 miles to Lautoka we might as well continue. And so it was that we did our longest ever passage within the reef in appalling conditions and didn't see the reef once all day! At 17.30, just before reaching Lautoka, we pulled into a deserted Vitogo Bay (pronounced Vitongo). It's about 2 miles long and 2 miles wide and surrounded by mangroves. Generally where there's mangroves, there's mud and where there's mud there's no coral. The anchor was dropped right in the middle of the bay - so loads of room all round us! At 30ft, it's the shallowest anchorage we've found since arriving in Fiji and the lovely mud should make it excellent holding. Having dropped down, the wind and sea stayed down and after the noise and turmoil of wind and sea earlier in the day, it is so quiet and peaceful here, all on our own.
How the chartplotter shows part of the north coast. Green is reef and our track is in red (we
saved our track as a course and the software inserts lots of waypoints, the crosses, to create
the course, many more than we had or needed).
The Google Earth picture of the start (eastern end) of the passage with the waypoints that
we actually used.
The western end of the passage. With all these blocks on Google Earth pictures and chartplotter
you build up a 3D picture of the route in your head, but when out there it is of course all under
the water, so completely flat, and nothing like you imagined. On a good day you can see the
reefs under the water which is a great help, but with our conditions we didn't see a thing - just
waves, white horses and lots of spray!
Peace and quiet, anchored all on our own in the middle of Vitogo Bay, just north of Lautoka.