Cruising the South Pacific with Tackless II
Tackless II, along with her two captains, Don and Gwen, cruise from Fiji to Australia
Sunday, July 22, 2007
July 18-20, 2007 – Diving from Viani Bay
The last stop on our circumnavigation of Vanua Levu is many people's first stop. Viani Bay is a large, multi-lobed bay right at the east "corner" of the south coast fronting directly onto the reefs of the Somosomo straights, the locations of Fiji's world famous scuba dives.

We picked our way through the reefs on our way in from Buca Bay, grateful for the full sun, because our CMap charts are still off. Conveniently, the NZ sloop Steelheart motored right past us, so, since they'd been to Viani before, we followed them in to the center anchorage right below the home of the Fisher family, who own much of the acreage here. Jack Fisher, a stout man of about sixty, is known for guiding visiting yachties whether on treks in the hills or to the delights of the reefs. Jack came by shortly after we got the hook down, and we made a plan to dive the next day.

However, within an hour, two more boats arrived in the anchorage. Another Kiwi boat called Tokimata and the American 44-foot Voyage catamaran Wind Pony. The Voyage cats' charter base is in Soper's Hole, Tortola, so every time one of these handsome craft sails by we enjoy a little nostalgia. The crew on Wind Pony, Dick and Lynn of St. Paul, MN, and their visiting friends Joe and Molly were also interested in a trip out to the reefs, so pretty soon the plan was modified for us ALL to go aboard Wind Pony.

For this kind of thing, cats just can't be beat. There we were, eleven people including Jack, with an absurd amount of space to enjoy the ride. And, in a way that wouldn't have happened easily otherwise, we all quickly got to know one another.

The good news from our point of view is they weren't all divers. On our first trip out, only three of us, Don, Peter of Tokimata, and I, dove the famous Purple Wall, while the others snorkeled the top of the reef. Jack gives a briefing on the site, and then he takes you out in your own dinghies, following your bubbles as you go with the current. For this service, he charges F$10pp. For experienced divers with their own equipment and an onboard compressor like us, this is a deal that is hard to beat! But for more novice divers or for people without gear, there is a professional dive operation at the east end on the bay called Dolphin Divers, so no one need miss out

The Purple Wall is one of the most beautiful dives I have ever done, and as you can guess, that is saying a lot. Ever since my trip to the Red Sea in 1984, I have had a soft spot for soft corals. Up until this dive, I have been disappointed that the soft corals we've been seeing have been the leather corals and other spongier sorts -- interesting, but usually drab. The soft corals I remember from the Red Sea were inflated bouquets of color – pinks, oranges and yellows.

Jack dropped us in up current, and we swam down the reef to about forty feet. For the first few minutes I was unimpressed. Then we rounded a bend and the wall exploded with a profusion of soft corals, which for some reason are all in purple hues! They were dark purple, lavender or white with purple trim! It was a spectacular display. Plus there were loads of fish, and lots of crinoids, relatives of feather starfish that filter feed at night but curl up in the day. Most eye-catching were the little orange basslets that mass around the corals providing quite the color contrast, and at one spot I saw a pair brilliant yellow goatfish against the purple. Talk about Nature's palette! We also saw two huge Napoleon wrasse, thousands of butterfly fish, and enough fish of "shootable size" to satisfy Don's meaty fancies. (It seems he doesn't need to actually be spear-fishing, he just likes to see something he could!) At the end of the dive was a swim-thru cavern, clad in every color soft and cup coral you can imagine, along with beautiful sea fans, wire corals, and gorgonians. Since this cave both ends the Purple Wall dive and begins the famous White Wall dive, you have seen it photographed in dozens of divemagazines.

Then, as if all this weren't enough, as we did our safety stop, what should swim up but a manta ray! He was not huge, probably about 10' wide, but he was deeply black and feeding at the surface. The snorkelers all jumped back in the water to see him.

The next day, we dived the Cabbage Patch. Relatively new divers, Dick and Lynn of Wind Pony had opted to snorkel yesterday, but encouraged by our great dive, they decided to give it a shot. Unfortunately, the current was much stronger here than we'd had yesterday, which made things a bit more challenging, but Jack put our dinghy anchor down so that Lynn would have a descent line. It was a good move for all of us. We crept up and over the edge of the wall and again enjoyed the profusion of soft corals, these of mixed colors, purples and yellows with lots of colorful fish. The soft coral wall was over too quickly thanks to the current, so the second half of the dive was up on the ledge going from bommie to bommie. A bommie is an isolated coral patch, often attaining significant height, each providing shelter for a huge range of fish. On this stretch, we saw many large fish between the bommies -- groupers and snappers and god knows what! We also had several sharks, including a 10' lemon shark resting on the bottom.

This dive ended a bit short when Lynn experienced some buoyancy problems. Her instructor back in Tobago had, for some reason, fitted her with a bit of belt carrying eight pounds of lead across the top part of her tank, "to help her swim more horizontally." I've never seen anything like it, and certainly saw no reason why she would need it. Apparently, she lost this weight during the dive, and of course, could not get back down. Once on the surface, she was caught up in the current, and had to be picked up by Jack. Before we found the explanation, Lynn was a little spooked that she had some incurable issues with buoyancy control. Jack kept saying she needed more weight, but on the dive itself I was fairly sure she was over-weighted. It turned out we were both right. When we got back to the anchorage, she and I got in the water and did buoyancy check. Discovering the missing weights, the mystery of her inability to get back down was solved, and after the buoyancy check, I was confirmed that she was carrying too much weight to start, hence many of her issues. We took several pounds off, and did a little tour under the boat, and she looked like a pro to me. It felt good to be back in the role of helpful instructor, however minor a lesson.

And it sure felt good to be diving again. Diving fabulous diving! Have I mentioned how much I love scuba diving?

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