We could easily have stayed a lot longer. The outer reef here is a lot closer to the anchorage than anywhere else along the north side we stopped, and we were itching for a dive out there. Jim himself was interested in our professional take on it, but it just didn't work out where he was free to run us out. We did make an attempt Wednesday to check out the diving in our own dinghy, but it proved just a little too far to get all the way out to the outer reef. Instead we scoped out some of the inner reefs, finding if not a good dive site, a very nice mound to snorkel.
We have also been pushing our luck with the settled weather. After Thursdays rain, when Friday dawned clear with continued light winds, we just felt we couldn't gamble any longer. Should the trades finally fill back in to 15-20 out of the southeast, getting around Udu Point would be a real challenge.
So we were underway early Friday, picking our way gingerly east out the Nukusa Pass. The rising sun in our eyes made the water and reefs hard to read, and we had a few moments of anxiety when shoals loomed up unexpectedly under the bow. But once clear, we had a lovely motorsail along the peninsula, finally landing a beautiful mahi mahi.
Udu Peninsular sticks out about sixteen miles beyond Lagi Bay, but the reef off its tip continues yet another four miles! It is quite the sight, but almost impossible to capture with a camera. Another surprise of Udu Point is the fact that we cross back into the Western Hemisphere! Once we rounded the reef point, we made a sharp tack to the right to beat hard southward 26 miles to the nearest anchorage – Albert Cove on Rabi (Rambi) Island.
As was inevitable, the wind increased as the afternoon wore on, and the sky filled with cloud. We arrived at Rabi around four o'clock, but without the sun the reefs were hard to see. We found the opening in the outer reef easily from the intermittent curl of a wave on its edge, but the entrance through the inner reef was another thing. Without the sunlight we could barely see the reef, let alone the narrow entrance to the protected cove that our charts showed. One other boat was at anchor, but no one answered our radio call. So we crept in with Don high in the rigging talking me in via the handheld radio.
Once in, Albert Cove is a picturesque anchorage with a white sand beach and waving palms, a refreshing change from the dark water mangrove coastline of the north side. A few simple thatch huts are visible ashore, and the fishermen on the reef are in canoes, not the punts or rafts typical to Fiji. That's because the residents of this island are not Fijian. They are Micronesians transplanted here from Banaba Island (also known as Ocean Island) in Kiribati.
The Banaban islanders had a rough time of it in the 20th century. First the island's rich phosphate reserves were discovered and mined by the British until World War II when the Japanese occupied the island and deported most of its residents. The deportees turned out to be the lucky ones, because the few that remained were exterminated by the hard-hearted occupying force! After the war, the island was so damaged that the displaced Banabans were offered resettlement on Rabi by a British company that had purchased the island. They are now Fijian citizens but mostly keep to themselves, still speaking a Kiribati dialect The main village of Rabi is Nuka about four miles down the coast. Only a few people live permanently along the narrow beach fof Albert Cove
Our cruising guide painted a charming picture of the anchorage but made one serious error. It described the anchoring depths at 10 meters, where the reality is more like 20-30 meters with lots of coral. The other boat here, the diminutive "Little Mermaid" which we recognized from Savusavu as the boat belonging to single-handing woman, was sitting over 90 feet of water as we passed her! Yikes. After much careful circling, we finally found a spot about half that depth to put the hook down, but we are hanging back over much deeper water.
A days travel is hardly a major passage in this part of the world, especially one with as easy conditions as we had today, but there is always something special about the first evening in a totally new place. And the dinner of fresh mahi in salsa Veracruz didn't hurt either.
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