Dolphins off the bow!

Trip Start Sep 27, 2008
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Fiji  , Viti Levu,
Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The following day was the one where my sailing really seemed to all come together. Watching me and the little mistakes that I kept making, Jim succeeded in explaining the mechanics of sailing in terms that I could understand. Finally I could recognise when I was too close to the wind on a close haul. I could feel the wind changing as we passed islands on a broad reach, and reacted in time to prevent us losing speed. I sailed through passes, learning to stay closer to the reef on the windward side of us, as coral on the leeward side posed the biggest threat. I even hove to for lunch at the outer reachesof the reef, taking the boat through the wind into a tack, then bringing her back into the wind so main and jib would work at cross purposes, and Prism would stop until we reset the sails. Our adventure to the remote, unpopulated areas of the reef led us to amazing snorkelling sites, with coral-encrusted bommies and vast schools of fish, seeking safety in the shallows. We saw a shark, cruising for lunch, and were amazed by the colours and density of life, both fish and invertebrates. It was so isolated, so untouched, and brought home to me how lucky I was to be seeing all this from a boat that could go wherever it wanted.

For our last night, we returned to where we had started; that perfect uninhabited island. As we passed islands and reefs, Jim sighted a splash just ahead of us. We were about to sail through a pod of dolphins. He took the helm; like a flash I was on the bow. The group sped joyfully through the water beneath me, keeping pace with
Prism with ease. They jumped, crossed our bow, and were gone. We saw them behind us, playful and exuberant, somersaulting their entire bodies out of the water. We tacked and passed back through the pod; they returned to join in the game, and this time I was fast enough with my camera to get photos of them in waters such a bright blue they could come from a child's paint box. Nothing shows the speed, power and grace of a dolphin like standing above them on the bowsprit of a yacht flying at six knots, and knowing they could easily outswim you any time they chose. Five times we tacked, and each time the dolphins returned. On our fifth and final tack we knew we couldn't linger, the sun was getting low, we had to moor. The dolphins knew it too, they made one final pass, as if bidding us good night. Then they vanished completely, and the only ripples on the sea were the tiny lapping waves.
We spent our final night on the Great Astrolabe Reef drinking wine under the stars, staring at the waxing moon, and what we think was Jupiter. Tomorrow was another ocean crossing; it looked like the trade winds would take us and we should have an easy beam reach. We reflected on how pristine and unspoilt the islands here were. For the best part of two weeks, the only Westerners we had seen were Jason's family, and other folk on the dive boat. There were no other yachts, no other sails. It came as a shock the next day when I carried out my routine scan of the horizon and saw the shape of another vessel. My second ocean crossing was carried out under sail, with a good wind to carry us. With such a steady breeze we could set up the wind vane, which used the wind to set the rudder. Jim and I basked in the sun, read and kept an eye on the point where the sea and sky meet, but we didn't see anything else until we reached smoggy Suva and I had to contemplate a return to reality
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