Saturday 17th August 2013 - Hassle Across the Anti-meridian - Part I

Jon & Carol Dutton
Sat 17 Aug 2013 07:43

17:46.37S 177:22.92E

Saturday 17th August 2013 – Hassle Across the Anti-meridian – Part I

You’ll see from the chart that we are now in Port Denarau having briefly forayed across the Anti-meridian to Fulanga at the southern end of the Lau Group.  The timings will suggest to you that it probably wasn’t out of choice that we motored the 185NM from Savusavu to Fulanga (having waited for a suitable weather window in which to do so without beating into F5 winds) only to turn around two days later and sail the 300NM to Port Denarau on the western side of Viti Levu.  You’d be right.

We’d spent much longer than intended in Savusavu as various gremlins were chased out of the electrical systems aboard Arnamentia.  The biggest issue was the auxiliary generator and that was eventually re-fitted to the boat, having had its stator windings rewound by Savusavu Motor Winders (SSMW - proprietors Pillai and his son Rahul to those who know Savusavu) on 24th July.  The next week or so was spent contesting an absolutely absurd bill for a job that all who knew about these things were clear should have amounted to under $2,000 Fijian (say, £725) but initially came to $6,800 (around £2,500).  This followed hotfoot on a discussion with a pretty cross US cruising skipper who had just had his engine alternator rewound by the same guys at about three times the realistic cost of the work.  But, he had a tight schedule to meet, all to do with air flights or something similar, paid up under protest and departed.  We wanted to leave Savusavu as soon as practicable to get on with Fijian cruising.  But, unfortunately for SSMW, we didn’t actually have a schedule.

Battle commenced with our demanding a detailed invoice and report.  It arrived but looked to be fiction.  We demanded copies of the job cards.  They arrived and were obviously wildly inaccurate both in terms of the hours spent doing the job and in the cost of materials used.  In reaching that conclusion we’d, inter alia, taken detailed advice from other local people who do re-winding, Graham Johnson (Ocean Cruising Club Roving Rear Commodore and a chartered electrical engineer who has rewound many an alternator as well as being a great personal friend - also moored in Savusavu at the time) and the Fiji-based suppliers of materials used in such jobs.  We then demanded a detailed and costed materials list to justify the $1,880 worth of materials for which we were being charged.  Curiously enough that was not immediately to hand.  It arrived several days later and it was clear that its author had had to exercise considerable imagination in reaching a figure which, despite his best endeavours, failed to amount to $1,880 by over $400.  It was also patent nonsense.  So, we requested copies of his supply invoice relating to the purchase of the re-winding wire which accounted for about half of the revised material cost.  This was produced under protest (confidential, y’see) and it was immediately apparent that it related to well over double the wire that could be engineered into our generator.  And, on and on it went.  Fresh invoices were produced together with revised materials lists.  Still rubbish, albeit less toxic rubbish.  We were still not for budging.  The negotiating stance of SSMW became shrill, to say the least.  The statements purporting to be the truth became more and more incredible accompanied by rising pitch and volume of delivery.  We advised them to calm down and be prepared to negotiate sensibly on the morrow, notwithstanding which we now had in our possession quite a collection of falsified documents which we had already agreed to pass to the Police, together with a narrative – no matter what the outcome of negotiations.  We had already decided that we would settle at $3,000  - around £1,100 (and not a cent more – still well more than the job was worth) and SSMW had known this for days.  Whether SSMW took our declared intention to pass the documents to the Police as a threat or not is unknown.  It wasn’t – it was a promise.  There are several things that the current Fiji Government is apparently passionate about – encouraging tourism and stamping out corruption and crooked dealing feature very highly on the list.  So, the Police are really quite interested.  Whatever, SSMW immediately settled for $3,000 and we were able to record that vaguely satisfactory outcome in our narrative passed to the Police.

Advice to other cruisers?  If necessary, get the thing out of the boat yourself or use one of several good automotive engineering companies to do it for you (Faiz Khan of Cakaudrove Auto Repairs – Ph: 885 0225; Mob 997 0076 did us well).  Then get a Labasa-based firm to do it for you.  It might mean a $100 taxi ride to deliver it and a $7 bus ride back and a reversal of the sequence to collect.  It might not.  Many Labasa firms are well used to travelling to Savusavu in the normal course of their work and do not charge a great deal for doing so.

Whilst all this was going on we’d met Sergeant Sanaila Silimuana of the Savusavu CID.  Amongst other things he is the liaison officer for the Cakaudrove Rugby Club and he was looking for support.  Cakaudrove is a province of Fiji encompassing the eastern side of Vanua Levu (the northern main island) and its outlying islands.  It has a population of around 10,000 scattered between Savusavu and some 120 more or less remote villages.  Drug-related and sex crimes are something of an issue and the chief perpetrators appear to be young village-based men.  Employment opportunities in the villages are limited as is information about those elsewhere and what to do about it.  Under a Police-led initiative, rugby trials were held in January this year and 34 young men were selected from 20 scattered villages to come together for months at a time at a very basic training camp located in the grounds of the Savusavu Police Station and their married quarters.  They now comprise the Cakaudrove Rugby Club.  They undertake full-time rugby training under a senior coach, drawn from the Military, starting at 0500 daily (actually it’s 0400 but that’s for ‘Devotions’) and take part in 15-a-side and 7-a-side competitions (plenty of these in rugby-mad Fiji).  They aim to qualify to represent Vanua Levu against the principal island of Viti Levu.  So far they have done remarkably well in winning outright a number of competitions and scooping the prize money.  That’s kinda useful since they need money to feed and equip themselves – there is official support for the initiative but no public funding and the guys certainly have no money apart from that which they can win or earn in temporary labouring jobs organised for them with local businesses (unloading trucks and so on) by their liaison officer.  Most evenings, when in camp, the group will also hear, from relevant experts/authorities, presentations which range from crime in their areas, drug abuse, sexual responsibility, employment prospects and how to get help in training for and obtaining jobs.  Und so weiter.  The hope is that when they break camp and return to their villages between the various series of competitions they take back a more hopeful, socially responsible and positive message.  And, of course, encourage others to come forward next January for the 2014 squad trials.

We’d been very impressed by Jamie and Lucy Telfer (Royal Thames Yacht Club, no less) aboard their yacht Bamboozle.  Whilst in Savusavu, Jamie had contacted all his rugby playing mates with a proposition that, since they were happy to spend £75 on a ticket to Twickenham, they might consider sending him £50 to kit out one of these players with shirt, socks and shorts.  The result is a very smart 15-a-side strip worn by guys who have possibly never owned a new bit of clothing in their lives.  So, we got involved, visiting them during training, seeing the Spartan conditions in which they live, buying them food and athletic bandages, watching them play and addressing them on the eve of the latest 7-a-side competition (Good Lord!  But, Carol in her short ‘Ra, ra, up and at ‘em’ address got a great round of applause when she said that she’d always support Fiji except when they were playing Wales).  Anyway the address must have worked because one team won the competition and a second won the plate.  Altogether they scooped $4,400 which will keep the 34 of them in food for a few weeks at least.


The Cakaudrove Rugby Squad – splendid in their new strip and some of the old ones


Referees, like artillery, lend dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl.  Nice yellow wellies, ref

But, of course, it’s all very hand-to-mouth.  Jon felt that the most useful thing he could do was to draft a publicity notice or flier for Sanaila to use in engaging the interest and support of the peripatetic cruising community.  That done it now remains to be seen how well they manage to distribute and display it.  We tried obtaining a Paypal account for the Club to make things easier but Paypal will not play ball with Fijian currency.  Perhaps some other cruiser will pick up the matter and chase this one down – possibly using Paypal and an Australian bank as intermediary.  These guys deserve help but often do not know how to go about getting it.  No Fijian policeman will dare to accept cash in hand but there is a kosher Club bank account and a properly appointed treasurer.  But, a convenient way needs to be found to get donations into the account.

Whilst all the work on the generator and subsequent invoice battles were going on, we did not feel we could spend much time away from Arnamentia.  We got to know the small town of Savusavu pretty well.  Carol made friends with several of the ladies in the market.  She was particularly touched and upset when one of them, Nandani, told her one afternoon that she had been for a breast cancer related operation only that morning.  There are probably not many women in the West who would be back working on their stall only a few hours later.  We had met Nandani’s husband and twins – a three year old boy and girl at the summer fair and do hope that there will be good news for Nandani when results are back next month.

Savusavu is blessed with several hot springs and many of the locals exploit them to the full, cooking all manner of things in the boiling water.  Breadfruit is the most popular food of choice, though the crew of Arnamentia have yet to acquire a taste for this somewhat stodgy vegetable, however it is cooked!


                                                                            Yum – breadfruit cooking in old sacking!


On the way to the hot springs, one passes the Savusavu Disaster Preparedness Centre.  As you can see, these guys are ready for anything!



Message size restrictions mean that we have split this post into two parts.  Read on at Part 2.