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Graduate Greg’s Adventures – Into The Yassawas

23rd August 2020, Follow Global Yacht Racing Traineeship Graduate Greg’s Adventures – Into The Yassawas!

Just after my last note we continued to head north into the Yassawas, reaching the northernmost island.

We sailed in company with another family boat called Moxie on the way up from Blue Lagoon, as our electric charts didn’t quite cover all of the area. There was one nasty moment when we came within a few boat lengths of a reef. Although the charted depth was later found to be three meters and there were no breakers about, it was a nasty moment all the same. Lessons were learnt, however, and we have now updated our charts.

The anchorage, the furthest properly safe haven in the group, was in the lee of a limestone monolith which could have done a decent stand in as a minutearised sort of Gibraltar. The trees which covered it were a different crowd to the jungle of the mainland; more deciduous looking. Indeed, the whole jagged edifice might have been transplanted from some soaring alpine peak, replete with eagles and paragliders rising high on the thermals. The fringe of white sand and palms, wonderfully detailed with weathered limestone, gave the lie to this illusion.

Some of the rocks on the shoreline had been sculpted by rainfall into wavy, tapering pinnacles, while the action of the lapping wavelets below had undermined them all around like mushrooms. Further south, the dry streams, wide bowls and general aspect of the country–the green verdure of the forests combined with the undulating grassy uplands–appeared to they eyes of the exlile very much like the limestone hills Derbyshire.

Our first port of call was a certain cave at the base of the monolith. From the beach, we ascended a long flight of concrete stairs, which made the setting all the more incongruous. Turning abruptly downward and landward, we came to the chasm itself; a large, sunlit pool of still and deliciously cool seawater. The clarity of the water; the bright sunlight playing upon the rocks and the smattering of dead leaves at the borders of the pool–all imparted a brilliant crispness and freshness to the scene. High above us, the light filtered through softly rustling leaves and struck obliquely the sheer walls of the chasm; the brisk easterly of our spray cluttered approach seemed boyish and tame when perceived so far aloft, and through such a lens as nature now afforded us.

Our attention quickly turned to exploration. Oddly enough, the water became warmer the deeper you went . Spotting a promising chink in the rocks, I dived down, fending off the walls of the cave as I pulled myself down. There was a narrowing either side of me, then the sudden sensation of open space above, and I surfaced gently at the opening of a flooded chamber. Behind me, bright daylight was abrubtly hemmed in, and the slanting limestone framed a slice of the outer world, through which I could see the others still splashing about.

Below me, the water showed a softly luminescent blue–somwhere between blue and turquoise–where light was seeping through under the shelves of rock. Save for that, the chamber was saturated with darkness, and even after my eyes had adjusted, the the only hint I had of the size of the place was the a clarity with which my splashes echoed and rumbled in the great void above me. After fumbling about blindly for a spell, I decided that the other four senses were really overrated, and, availing myself of the darkness, I surfaced once more in the bright and blinking sunshine.

I took possession of the group torch–a headtorch in a ziplock phone case–and plunged back into the face of the chasm with Alex following close behind. While the others were threading themselves through the gap, I pressed on further, liberating the darkness; illuminating the smoothed, weary undulations of the rock with the hazy and hesitant beam of the torch. Very soon, the chamber narrowed into a corridor, which brached out into three passageways–the suggestion was of a crypt, and rare, angular gleams of sunlight shone through in a couple of places from the high and aloof ceiling–here a cold and piercing white, there a rich, earthly orange, where the light cascaded down a stone chute.

Over the course of the next hour or two, Alex, Olly, Annaelle and I explored the myriad flooded chambers. It would take me hours to describe the whole thing, but suffice to say that the experience was other worldly. One one occasion, Alex and I were probing our way down an underwater tunnel; taking it in turns with the torch, and each time going a little further. A couple of times, I came across air holes, only to find them to be half an inch tall. We quickly decided to abandon that particular route, and just as well–we were later told that it came out under a reef a cable’s length to seaward. In another place, the entrance to a tunnel was underwater, with the rock above it like the beam over a fireplace. Diving down, fending off and swimming the length of the tunnel, I came to an opening and buoyed up, searching for reflections under the edge of the water, until I surfaced in a whole new cavern. For pure, heart thumping adrenaline, it equalled a nighttime sail change in a squall, but the echoing silence, broken only by the lapping of wavelets, made it all the more bizarre and exiting.

After leaving the cave, we took the dinghy over to the village to perform sevusevu, the kava ceremony. The village was a mixture of painted, tiled houses and breeze block and tin roof affairs, with grass thatched roofs making an appearance here and there. It was a Sunday, and the chief’s house was opposite the church, from which emenated the wonderful sound of the himinies (I don’t know if they’re called that in Fiji, but you get the idea) which the villagers were singing. I have no hesitation in saying that it was the most hauntingly beautiful sound that I have ever heard, and the whole effect–the harmonious, rolling melodies combined with the bright sunlight, sleepy village atmosphere, and coconut and breadfruit trees rustling in the gentle breeze–these produced the most agreeable impression upon the mind and senses.

The ceremony itself felt like a mere formality. We handed over our kava and exchanged pleasantries, but that was that. My own supposition is that this village, being on the periphery of the well beaten cruising track, probably has enough yachts in a decent year to reduce the kava ceremony to a sort of transaction. Not that there’s anything wrong with this–a few bundles of kava roots are hardly going to break the bank and, ostentatious as we are on a bloody yacht, decent manners are the least that can be expected of us. Nevertheless, I shall have to see how different sevusevu is when we get to the Lau group.

We returned the next day to visit the local school, which I was very impressed by. All very traditional learning–blackboards, backed books, school uniforms and the like–but the content itself was, at the very least, on par with UK schools for any given age. Mine was only a fleeting impression,so I’m hesitant to make broad remarks, but it seemed to me that the Fijian board of education was handling things very well indeed. On the way back from the school, our guide, through some chance suggestion, got onto explaining the story of Sampson to one of the nippers off Moxie. There was some subtle sense of irony in seeing the Fijian islanders teaching western children about the Bible.

Soon, we returned to Blue Lagoon so that we could download the aforementioned chart packs. While we were there, Yo and I spotted the perfect weather window to get across the Bligh Water, and, seizing the chance, we decided to go for it without returning to Denerau. Thus followed another day sail up to the cave anchorage, which was to be our jumping off point. Since we already knew the anchorage to be an easy one, we went in under sail, albeit with the props down and engines running. Everyone, Corrine and nippers included, performed their duties admirably, and we anchored close inshore so that we could swim to the beach.

Another trip to the cave was cut short by a local from the village which owned it, who had shown our friends Andrew and Julia around it for the princely sum of 50fjd each. They had made the mistake of doing sevusevu first, whereupon they were told that they had to do sevusevu at a different village, which then that village charged them visiting fees for the cave on top of that. We counted ourselves lucky to have got in for free the first time. Anyway, having returned from the cave, stinging ourselves on the jelly like creatures which formed the sea soup of the lagoon, we weighed anchor so as to complete our pilotage through the coral in good light.