16:31.75S 179:59.5W Dancing the Dateline to Rabi Island
At the present moment (Tuesday 7th August) we are sitting in sheltered Shoal Pass on Vanua Balavu, beyond where I have reached in the blog and I will tell you why I am taking this little aside route. At 6.00am, three hours ago, I could see Alison and Randall preparing to leave for Suva, ahead of schedule because one of Randall’s front upper teeth broke yesterday and through their limited internet with Digicel they were able to arrange a dental appointment for Thursday morning.
We had already planned a supper for six on Zoonie, to include Mark and his recently enlisted sailing companion Teri on Wavelength and so it became our farewell supper and a fun one it was too. I created a spag bol using onions and garlic, tinned tomatoes and mushrooms, peppers and spices, wine and sugar and TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein – dry vegemince) with egg free spaghetti. Alison had made an upside down chocolate pineapple cake (she has a delightful habit of leaving most of what is uneaten behind) and Teri brought an assortment of cheese, stuffed vine leaves, ploughman’s pickle and crackers for hors d’oeuvres.
Teri is an alternative medicine doctor from Mexico and certainly knows how to ‘treat’ an English couple with a classic ploughman’s snack. Mark was an anaesthetist in Vancouver, Washington State, USA before he retired, so they have a lot to chat about on the medical side of life. We first met Mark and his wife Eileen from Wavelength in Tonga back in 2016.
Somewhere in the early conversation it came out that we used up our last morsel of cheddar yesterday so the team were confronted with a vegan alternative of yeast extract flakes. Alison broke the dumbfounded silence with, “We’ve got plenty of cheese and you can have it as we’ll be in Suva in two days with all the supermarkets.” Such kindness. They had also brought their remaining kava (A gift for the local chiefs), an essential component of the required practice of sevusevu to access the shore in the more outlying Lau Islands that they would not now need.
So she and Rob hastened across the dark waters back to Tregoning to retrieve the valued packets and we had real cheese on our spag bol.
Now there is a physical and metaphoric hole where Tregoning had been moored that we must fill with new activities soon. I remember when Jeannie mentioned how she became weary of having to say goodbye to new found friends so many times on their 18 year Odyssey around the Pacific, but in this instance we already have tentative plans to meet up again soon. For now though we are soaking up the intense peace of this area which reminds us of Newtown Creek on the Isle of Wight, far from the madding crowd. So now back to the blog.
Leaving Viani after our colourful visit we did some lagoon navigation inside the reef towards the dateline. The anchor came straight up without a hitch to the relief of our anxious minds. The previous night we had a struggle extricating it from around a coral head, I used the bow thruster in the end, first to one side and then the other, which worked but I regretted any damage to the delicate coral. We thought we might move to a spot opposite the Dive Academy for ease of getting ashore to their restaurant for our arranged meal.
Sensibly Tregoning stayed put to await our outcome but as the only sizeable sandy areas appeared to be too close to shore we returned close to where we had been before.
Time Travellers Tregoning and Zoonie
Once crossing this invisible dateline in the length of Zoonie’s hull we would travel from being eleven hours ahead of you all to being 13 hours behind. It turned out to be quite painless. Tregoning was with us but decided by way of comparison to travel along the other side of Kioa Island and make use of the SE Trades. We took the sheltered inshore route past a pearl farm and through mirror like water until we reached the far end and there, just ahead of us, emerged Tregoning. They were on the other side of a reef we had to pass through at one of two possible places.
Suddenly, in the far distance I saw a whale breach, its white underbelly facing us as it splashed back into the water. Fortunately it obliged once more so Rob saw it too.
We approached the western most gap which involved a dogleg back down the other side of the island until we saw some green channel marker posts and so decided to carefully follow them and save at least four miles. The depths never reduced below 24 metres so we knew we could trust the markers that are surviving after Cyclone Winston’s passage in 2106.
When nearly through I spotted a roundish brown shape to the right of Zoonie and for one tummy churning moment thought we had just missed a coral head and could therefore be moving towards more, but then it raised its head for a look around, the first and only turtle of the day.
The massive church to the right of the entrance to Catharine Bay at the western tip of Rabi Island (pronounced Rambi) gave us a landmark from miles off but much closer we were astonished to find a reef stretching out from beneath the church with a mysterious concrete tank on it and a black warning post at the end. It was not shown on the chartplotter and the waypoint was sending us right across it. Constant vigilance and a questioning trust is needed in these waters and preferably only a daytime entry. The black markers are so useful, especially as I mentioned our electronic charts are inaccurate from this area onwards.
We had been invited to Tregoning in the evening for drinks and met three other cruisers. The lady, whom I shall call Mary, possessed the range and colour of words that our friend Barry of NautiBuoy refers to as offshore language and she entertained and alarmed us in equal measure. Alison’s globe artichokes baked in cheese and mayonnaise on crackers were to seriously die for.
The next morning we rowed ashore early to the neat little hamlet of Buakonikai, the name is almost longer than the village and may refer to the area, but it’s all we could find, for what turned out to be one of the most delightful and culturally engrossing days of our shared journey yet.