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Sel and Andrew keep a sharp lookout!

A Fijian Christmas

Liveaboard diving on the Princess II

By Andrew Whitehead
Published in Dive Log Australasia March 2001


The Cathedral at E6 

During daylight we saw schools of barracuda, jacks, big tuna, mackerel, and the occasional small shark out in the blue near the 1,000 foot wall at “E6”.  However, at night it was just pitch black!  I tried not to think about what might be out there and shone my torch on the beautiful coral wall on my left.  We followed Tim our young Fijian guide along the wall to the rear entrance of our night dive objective, “The Cathedral”.  Neil Harris entered this triangular shaped grotto and switched on his battery pack.  The twin lights turned night into day as he filmed the large gorgonians on the walls of this unique dive site.  All I had to do was keep out of the way, look for other interesting subjects, and enjoy the dive!

At the beginning of the night dive we found two adult Common Lionfish in the coral garden.  Neil videoed one while I kept an eye on the other with my torch.  Tim nudged me on the arm to warn me.  A third Lionfish had snuck up beside me!  I eased away from those long, nasty spines and directed my torch onto the new arrival.  The final piece of excitement was getting into the skiff, a 5.8 metre NAIAD RIB, out in the deep dark water.  As the last person in, I handed over my torch, vaulted over the side, and rolled on the floor amongst the gear, much to everyone else’s amusement!

Luxury Liveaboard

Our Fijian Christmas adventure began when Selwyn Douglas, the owner of the luxury liveaboard M.V. Princess II, picked us up at the Nadi airport at 1.30 am a week before Christmas, and took us to the marina at Denarau Island.  The Princess has six air-conditioned staterooms accommodating twelve guests.  Sel showed my wife and I to Cabin No. 1 which is down the passageway from the big lounge.  We left the gear bags in the lounge, had a long hot shower in our bathroom, and went straight to bed.  Together with Neil and Jenny Harris of Absolute Scuba, we were to spend nine days on the Princess, a week at the Naigani Island Resort, and three days at the Outrigger Reef Fiji Resort.

Next morning, we met the Fijian crew of the Princess.  Pete (pronounced “Petay”) is the skipper, his wife Kelera is the superb chef.  Tui, Tim (“Radar”), Siga, Ema and Sarah made up the rest of the crew.  We headed north into Bligh Water and had our first taste of diving, Fijian style: the spectacular wall dive called “Hi 8”.  These wall dives were to become my favourite type of dive and we did quite a few of them including “Pacific Garden”, “Magic Mountain” and “E6”.

The Princess is equipped to handle twelve divers with a big dive deck and back-to-back wooden seats, tank holders and storage space underneath.  There are two whips and a big compressor which quickly fills the 80 cu ft tanks in place.  The dive guide gives a briefing in front of the whiteboard while Pete is positioning the ship for the dive.  We moved down to the dive platform, put on our fins, and jumped in right on top of the entry point.  Sel certainly runs a tight ship!

Wall Dives

With visibility of at least twenty metres at “Hi 8”, we were able to dive together as a group of four with Radar as guide.  We adopted a profile which we were to follow on all of these wall dives.  We descended slowly to about 25 metres, drifting along the wall with minimal effort, slowly ascending for a bottom time of 50 minutes to an hour.  We wore polypropylene suits, as the water was a constant 27 degrees Celsius.  You feel like you are floating in space as you drift along looking at the various soft corals, with reef fish near the coral and pelagics out in the blue.  When we finally surfaced, Princess II was right there waiting for us.  Pete swung her around in her own length and we climbed aboard.  As we stripped off our gear and had a shower, we were under way to the next dive site.


On pinnacle dives such as “Window of Dreams”, “The Chimneys”, “See & Sea”, we circled each coral sea mount, slowly ascending from base to summit, examining the caves, overhangs, soft coral, and prolific fish life.  The coral garden on the top of the pinnacle was usually at about three to five metres where we enjoyed long safety stops.  Since we were doing three or four dives per day, these profiles were a very safe way to dive.

The daily routine started around 6.30 am with a light breakfast and placing of orders for a hot breakfast after the early morning dive.  We learnt a little Fijian:  “Bula (hello). Two poached eggs please!  Vinaka (thankyou)!”  We usually had a dive before lunch at a different site.  Meals were announced by beating the small lali (drum, or dinner donger) in the lounge.  Dives were called by ringing the ships bell.  We had one or two dives in the afternoon (or a sleep!) and a night dive if the location was suitable.  In the evening we watched the day’s video footage on the TV in the lounge.

Shore Excursion

For a change of pace, Siga took us ashore on Vatu-i-ra where we explored this little island and took photographs of the thousands of nesting, feeding, wheeling seabirds.  On another day we were fortunate enough to encounter a school of pilot whales.  We set off quietly in the skiff and managed to snorkel fairly close to them.  It is an incredible feeling to be echo-located by their sonar!

One night we had a barbeque dinner on the sundeck to celebrate the departure of our first group of divers the following morning.  Kelera supervised the cooking of delicious New Zealand beef and lamb, vegetables au gratin, garlic bread and baked potatoes.  We washed it all down with a few bottles of good Aussie Chardonnay.

We picked up Jenny Harris and the second group at Ellington Wharf on Christmas Eve.  They arrived by car from Nadi at 2.15 am and Neil went ashore to collect them. I did not stir from our comfortable cabin.  We departed at first light for our last three dives on Princess II this trip.

Baptism of Fire

Our first dive that day was “See & Sea” which Neil and I had dived two days before and knew what to expect.  Mike joined us for his first dive this trip and it really was a baptism of fire!  There was a strong current in our faces as we crawled over the lower pinnacle down to thirty metres.  There were more white tipped reef sharks than last time!  Mike and I hung on while Neil attempted to get close enough to film them.  You can swim quite fast in those bio-fins, but not as fast as a shark!  We then made our ascent in the lee of the big pinnacle, out of the current.

Christmas dinner was a big party in the lounge with much duty free wine and spirits.  Kelera prepared a huge meal of turkey, ham and baked vegetables, followed by Christmas pudding with coconut custard, then Christmas cake. Whew!

On Boxing Day, Sel dropped us off at Naigani Island Resort where we were to spend a week enjoying a different style of diving.  But that is another story.

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