Busy week ("busy" by island time) - 17:26.860S 177:08.291E

Alex Belmont
Thu 23 Aug 2012 00:39
It has been a very eventful week since the last update. Malolo Lailai was
pretty, but turned out not to be very interesting, so we left the next
morning. We decided to sail to Tai, a tiny sandy island, more often called
Beachcomber Island. Beachcomber is the home of a very popular backpacker
resort with a reputation for parties and some light debauchery. Sounded fun
to us.

Well, it was fun. We quickly made friends with a couple of very fun young
English women, Becci and Jess, and proceeded to dance to sometimes crappy (but always
fun) top-40 tunes in the sand-floored bar. As it turned out, Jess and Becci
had reservations at another backpackers hostel the next night on Mana
island. Carley and I wanted to visit Mana as well, so we all climbed aboard
Moondance for a beautiful sail.

As you can imagine, I was just loving life. I was enjoying a perfect
daysail, sitting back, relaxing while three beautiful women sailed my boat.
What could be better?

I guess like Icarus, I flew a little too close to the sun though. The
cruising guide I've been using describes the entrance to Mana Lagoon as
straightforward and well-marked. This was anything but the case. There were
a mix of different bouys and posts, most painted white by the birds, and
looking like the posts used to mark shoals in other passes, but not the pass
itself. I can use the misleading channel markers and very twisty passage as
excuses, but in the end, I was just stupid coming through a reef with the
sun in our faces. I think you can all guess where this is going. You would
be correct if you guessed I put Moondance on the reef.

We had a bit of heart-stopping bumping and grinding as Moondance came to a
halt. Ughhhh. The tide was just right that we scraped over a bit of reef and
then stopped in a slightly deeper spot. We couldn't go back and we couldn't
get over the little ridge ahead to get back into the channel. Not a nice
feeling. Although I made a completely foolish and potentially disastrous
mistake, luck was on our side. We were in very flat water, so at least we
weren't bouncing and smashing on the reef. It was just after low tide, so we
soon floated high enough to get back into the passage. And there was a guy
with a 60hp skiff there to help pull us in the right direction. We were soon
off the reef, in the lagoon, and with the anchor safely buried in fine sand.

It was not an experience I wish to repeat, but it actually came out better
than I could have hoped. As always, after Moondance shrugs off the abuse
encountered while cruising, I am so impressed by how strong and well built
she is. Like after the big storm we went through a couple years ago, I am
filled with a new confidence in my boat. It felt like a pretty hard bump
with the reef, but Moony never felt stressed or made any angry sounds of
flexing or cracking. There are no signs of stress anywhere around the
bulkheads, and when I dove to check out the damage to the bottom of the
keel, I came back to the surface practically with tears of admiration for my
little ship. I actually feel sorry for the reef now. The bottom of the keel
has a few shallow scratches and rough spots. The reef managed to take off a
few dollars worth of bottom paint (again, I'm sorry reef, I know that stuff
is nasty), but It didn't even make it through the gel-coat. No exposed
fiberglass. No stress cracks. No damage at all that can't be sanded smooth
in a few minutes and painted over with some fresh antifouling. Moondance
really takes better care of me than I deserve.

With the great joy and relief of having scraped past the mess I almost put
us in, we had a good day hanging out on Mana, hiking around the island,
swimming, and snorkeling. Becci and Jess had to get back to Nadi the next
day, Carley and I wanted to restock on fruits and veges, and none of us were
ready to say goodbye yet, so we decided to sail to Denarau (a 15 minute bus
ride from Nadi). We had to motor a few hours through calms, but still had a
lovely ~15 mile trip. Carley and I filled our bags with produce and said sad
goodbyes as Jess and Becci got on a bus to the airport.

Not wanting to waste time getting out of the dirty water at the mouth of the
Nadi river, we got an early start the next morning on our way to the Yasawa
group. With all the reefs and poor charts of the area, it would be unwise to
sail here at night unless you are very familiar with the area, so we stopped
for the night at Tokoriki, one of the more northern islands of the Mamanuca
group. We had good holding in sand with just a few coral heads for the chain
to scrape on, but the wind shifted and built through the night, giving us a
very rolly night. Of course the wind died as soon as we were ready to pick
up the anchor, so now we are motoring though very sloppy, confused chop on
our way to Waya.