Lagoon Life; Exploring the (mostly) Uncharted Vona Vona Lagoon

We weren’t sure how far we’d get. Beyond the depth soundings over the Katherine bar on the western edge, some details around the perimeter and a small scale chartlet of the port of Noro, home to the Sol Tuna factory, the rest the Vona Vona lagoon appeared as an empty grey expanse on both our electronic and paper charts. The few small islands enclosed within the lagoon looked as jagged yellow triangles, obviously not accurately drawn, and there was no indication of any reefs…at all. We were heading into uncharted waters, literally.

Well, kind of. We had an old guidebook that outlined some hazards we would have to watch out for. The author had drawn mud maps of his track through the lagoon, so we had some idea of where to go. And for the first time we started using some navigational software that incorporated Google Earth satellite photos. If taken on a clear, sunny day these images show incredible details; reefs, shoals, islets and sometimes even waves easily readable. But, if snapped on an overcast day, or too far into the evening, the pictures were muddy, hard to read and somewhat distracting. None the less, they proved to be another tool in our navigation arsenal as we heading into the abyss.

We usually move only when there is enough wind to sail but with incomplete charts, restricted room to manoeuvre and not great water visibility to spot hazards the slow and steady pace of motor seemed more sensible. That is besides the fact that we’d been having weeks of windless, blue sky weather, so there was no breeze to sail anyway. Our first two days inside the lagoon were fairly stress free; we made it across the bar, found a few nice places to anchor and had between 10-20M under the keel. It seemed like we had the lagoon to ourselves, only a small local boat now and then whizzed by on the distant horizon.

On the third day navigating in the lagoon things got a little more interesting. The water had gotten murky, in our anchorage the night before and I couldn’t see the bottom, despite the fact we had thrown the pick in only 6M. Steve drove the boat and I stood on the bow willing visibility to improve and straining my eyes looking for rocks and reefs ahead of us. We were passing through the shallowest part of the lagoon, a bottleneck where the maximum depths were 3-4M and rocks hid along the edges. Steve pulled back on the throttle and we crawled along at a snail’s pace, blindly groping our way forward, fingers crossed. Occasionally a turtle surfaced and I watched as it dove and quickly disappeared into the murky shadows, it’s presents both reassuring and troublesome. I turned and asked in our sign language how much water we had. Steve held up 1 finger, a closed fist and two fingers…1.2M below the keel, and it still looked like we were gliding through milk stained tea. Continue reading