June 10, 2003

17?48.5 S, 178?43 E

Leleuvia, Fiji

Pacific Bliss Goes Snorkeling
By Lois Joy                                      

The day had dawned gray and gloomy—totally different than the sun-blessed day in Paradise we had experienced yesterday. We had snorkeled through colorful coral in crystal clear waters dappled with the refracted light of a beaming sun. We had swam from our anchored dinghy, Petit Bliss, to the palm-covered islet of Leleuvia in a sea of teal glass. We had ambled around the islet, blissfully digging our toes into the amber sun-baked sand, stooping now and then to examine a shell, a piece of driftwood, or one of the delicate pink-and-white magnolia blossoms that had wafted onto the shore. Perhaps Pacific Bliss had become jealous of us leaving her and going off in Petit Bliss for the day. Perhaps she wanted to go snorkeling as well. Why else would she allow herself to be pulled into a current and blown onto a coral bed? She had dared to venture into the very coral in which we had been snorkeling the day before…

Before 0500, still pitch dark, I awoke to a thumping sound. I went topside to check it out. It had just begun to rain. The sky was ink-black. Gone were the waxing half-moon and Southern Cross and Milky Way that set the stage for last night: Gunter and I sitting together at the helm seat listening to a taped KPBS program called ‘Space Music.’ I took the flashlight (called a ‘torch’ here) and checked the anchor line. It was pulling tightly; the wind had returned. I checked the stern. Petit Bliss was bobbing furiously, occasionally hitting the swim ladder; she had been the one making all the noise. Then I noticed the pale teal color of the water in the torch’s beam. It appeared ominously shallow. I turned on the instruments. Yes, the depth meter showed only 3.8 feet! I checked the wind direction. South now. It had been from the Northeast when we had anchored here. Then it had turned calm for two days. Gunter came up and I filled him in.

“We’ll have to take in some line,” he decided. We pulled in about 8 feet or so—not so easy now. (Our windlass control works only intermittently now and the chain stripper is no longer usable; it bent in a Force 5 re-anchoring off the North Coast of Viti Levu—another story. We are using the 2nd anchor now, the original French anchor with 30’ of chain and 240 feet of line. We have to pull it up manually.) “We’ll take in more when it’s light.” Gunter said.

“It needs to be done before low tide at 0900,” I cautioned.

During breakfast this morning, we talked about re-anchoring with our crew: German backpackers, Lydia, 23 and Helmut, 26. Helmut had helped us pull in more line, but now we were concerned about not having sufficient scope should a strong wind arise. “No rush,” we agreed, since we want to re-anchor in a different location after low tide. Our first mistake.

The seas were benign and the wind calm as we headed for another anchoring location that allowed us more swing room. We proceeded to a sandy area that we were familiar with, farther out to sea from our snorkeling area of yesterday. A South African Cat, Sea Rose, had anchored there before they left. Before we had dropped the hook, a wind came up and it began to ‘piss,’ (Gunter’s word for light rain). “We should have done this before when it was calm,” stated Gunter, Monday-morning quarterbacking. He stopped at the spot we had selected. “Drop anchor,” he commanded. The crew complied as the wind pushed Pacific Bliss toward the shore. Then we all realized that by the time the anchor hit bottom, we would be in too close to the reefs to allow swing room. “Pull anchor,” the Captain commanded. Not having a working windlass, Helmut was holding our 2nd anchor just below the bow. The engines were in neutral. Then things happened so fast that we still cannot sort them out.

A gust of wind came up. And we think we hit the area of strong current that the Fijians had warned us about. In any event, Pacific Bliss drifted backwards and sideways, and somehow the anchor line began paying out. We cleated it off. “Go forward Gunter,” I yelled, but the wind took my words. Gunter came up to the bow to understand the situation, the engines still in neutral. Then he rushed back, but it was too late. Pacific Bliss, stubborn as she can be sometimes, had belligerently stopped right in the spot where we had gone snorkeling the day before! What audacity! Her bottom was into coral and she wasn’t budging!

Helmut and Lydia jumped into the water with their snorkeling gear. They found no damage anywhere—so far. But the bottom tip of the starboard daggerboard had snagged a coral head. Gunter helped me try to winch Pacific Bliss forward, since the anchor was out and holding. No luck! Helmut was still in the water, trying to push Pacific Bliss off the coral head from the starboard hull. No luck!

Then we did get lucky, very lucky. The dive boat was coming back in due to the inclement weather. I waved frantically. They all waved back, nice and friendly. “Come here, pull us,” I yelled, standing at the bow at the port pulpit seat. Immediately—no questions asked--the Fijian boat roared closer as the driver threw me a long towline, which I tied to the bow cleat. The boat pulled, Helmut pushed, and Pacific Bliss jumped into deeper water, her snorkeling cut short. I guess there is always a first time for everything. This is the first time, though, that Pacific Bliss has gone snorkeling. In over 17,000 miles of sailing, in numerous anchorages half-way around the world, she has never touched a coral head. And if I have my way, she never will again!

Safely re-anchored in 38 feet of water, Gunter and Lydia donned snorkeling gear and checked the hull, daggerboards, props and rudder for damages. All was A-OK. Then we all sat around the salon table sipping hot chocolate and munching cookies, attempting to nourish our shook-up souls. Captain Gunter had finished beating himself up. Now he merely looked glum and dejected. “I don’t need this,” he said. “Lois, what do you think we would be doing if we were back in San Diego right now?”

“Thinking about snorkeling in crystal clear waters in a teal sea near a sandy palm-covered island somewhere in the South Seas?”

“Yesterday was one perfect day,” he said. “I wonder when the next one will be.”

“Perhaps Taveuni,” said Helmut. “We might have some sunny days there, away from the wet weather pattern of Viti Levu’s east side.”

Well, whenever we do get our next weather break, it’s on to Levuka, the old capital of Fiji, only 15 miles north, and then we may venture on to explore Taveuni, Fiji’s Garden Island. Until then, we’re just a sittin’ in the rain.

Photos: Leleuvia

          TheKidsSnorkeling                    Leleuvia_Reefs                          Our_Leleuvia_Snorkeling_Area

For more photos of our voyage around Northern and Western Viti Levu, see Crew Photos, Voyage 2B





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