Manta rays dancing

Trip Start Sep 27, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Island Prism

Flag of Fiji  , Viti Levu,
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We spent four days diving round Ono, eight dives in all, with a rest day in the middle, spent reading, drinking Glenlivet and practicing adjusting the colour balance on dive photos to stop everything looking quite so blue... Jim proved very good at making pancakes and hot chocolate, so I was well-catered for during breakfasts. Especially when we added fresh mango or tinned pineapple to the mix... After a couple of days moored at the resort, the wind had picked up, creating a swell despite the protective reefs. Jim checked the anchors regularly, to ensure that they stayed set, and we programmed the GPS and depth sounder so we would hear about it the instant the boat moved. The rocking wasn't very condusive to a good night's sleep, and Jim was convinced that we would be able to find a more protected site. After conferring with Jason and Abel, we motored east to couple of bays which we hoped would give us a more sheltered mooring, but wind and swell were no better, and the depth and bottom composition were not ideal. I did manage to navigate another reverse course using range finders, and used compass and depth sounder to keep us off hidden reefs and bommies; I quickly learned how to take action when the bottom rose frighteningly quickly. Jim was up on the spreaders keeping watch, but it was amazing how much could remain unseen. We took another rest day, and ventured through shallow reefs to a pleasant and sheltered site past Turtle Island (which I thought looked more like a resting dragon, and renamed appropriately) and a second unnamed island (which we christened Sleeping Giant). The navigation was challenging, as the bottom kept rising very sharply,and there were reefs on both sides, but we managed it, with Jim on watch and me on helm, glued to the depth sounder. We found a nice mooring spot, with a smooth looking bottom, and found that it was indeed a much calmer and more sheltered place to stay.

Our dive days had been marked by some very variable weather. Conditions calmed down after our mid-diving rest day, and when we had finished our dives we were left with perfect sailing weather- beaming sun, a stiff breeze and very little swell. We took Prism out to the outer reef to go fishing. I warned Jim that I was fishing bad luck; he didn't believe me. We saw large groups of blue-footed boobies diving for fish; this was a good sign, but nothing took our apparently deadly Canadian lure. The boobies were the only things that showed any interest; thankfully they restrained themselves from attempting to make the catch. I did not fancy prising a hook from the gullet of a large and angry sea bird, and did not want these comical but beautiful birds to injure themselves.Although we returned empty handed, my helming was improving, and it was good to get both sails up. I was helming and did ok, though I still seemed to be constantly working very hard when the boat was under sail. I was getting better at keeping up a steady speed and trying to feel how the boat the wind, which changed and gusted around the islands. Noticing that I was struggling, Jim managed to explain what I was doing wrong- constantly oversteering then coming too close to the wind to compensate. The mechanics finally made sense, and I found that my helming made big improvements and became a lot easier.

In the afternoon, we moored near Turtle Island, to try to catch a glimpse of the manta rays which gathered to be cleaned by the reef fish off the aptly named Manta Point. We saw the wing tips of a couple of rays emerging from the water as we sailed past. We found a decent mooring easily enough, then hopped into the zodiac with our snorkelling gear. Within a few minutes of entering the water we spotted one of these amazing creatures, wheeling through the water beneath us, but soon it flapped off into the blue, leaving us alone. We continued exploring; the reef was reasonable though not spectacular, and the reef fish were not really what we were interested in seeing. We wondered whether it was time to give up, but remained in the water; our patience paid off as a second manta approached. It came close, unfazed by our presence, gliding beneath us. At such proximity, its size became evident; about four metres between wingtips. Wrasse and other reef fish clustered beneath its belly, munching on parasites. Occasionally it held its mandibles stiff, cartwheeling through the water to scoop up plankton. This giant soon became small fry, however, as a gigantic black manta ray swept in. Pure black, this was a graceful and awesome beast, with a five metre wingspan. It, too, seemed totally unconcerned by our presence, and it passed by so close that we could almost touch it. The two rays together formed an underwater ballet, gliding and banking above the shallow reef, and eventually flapping off into the open ocean, with surprising speed, leaving Jim and I far behind.
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