Since our last blog we’ve been perfecting the fine art of island hopping – Kadavu style.
Large high pressure weather systems over NZ have kept us on our toes producing enhanced SE trade winds up here. We island hop – hide from wind – island hop – hide from wind – island hop – hide from wind ….. you get the picture……
Fortunately the Great Astrolabe Reef provides ample opportunities to explore while still securing safe anchorages. The main reef fringes 6 or 8 reasonable sized islands – not all of which are inhabited.
Astrolabe Reef was named after the French explorer D’Urville who managed to ‘park‘ his vessel on the reef in 1827. His crew were very motivated to get her off asap as Fiji was still referred to as “The Cannibal Isles” back then. Even Captan Cook had heard of the Fiji’s fierce reputation and wasn’t game enough to come here at all! The last recorded feasting on “long pig” was in 1867. Luckily we now have paper charts, electronic charts and a good set of eyes ! As with most of Fiji waters – they are very beautiful but things (like reefs and bombies) aren’t always exactly where they’re supposed to be!
Villages here are relatively small – anywhere from 40 to 100 people in each – subsistence farming seemingly providing enough to keep everyone feed and watered. No one has what we would call a “proper job” but this doesn’t mean people aren’t industrious. The villagers are always up to something it seems. There are new houses and shelters to be built, gardens to be tended and trips to be made. Central to every village is what Fijian’s refer to as a “community building” where we are often taken to be greeted or meetings or other gatherings are held. Villages seem to have at least weekly meetings where I guess the “to do list” for the week is established and tasks allocated. Close-by is always the church and a shelter built over the village drums. Beating of drums is a rotating task and they are used not only to call people together (especially for church) but also to mark time (it’s not like anyone has a watch).
So every 6 hours (except for 6.00am when they actually do it at 4.00am where we are now – work that out), the drums call out and people are meant to stop what they are doing, and take a minute to pray or at least reflect on the day – particularly what we might have to be grateful for. You gotta admire the dedication and there’s plenty we can take on board from traditional village life.
As you can imagine, there are no roads or vehicles on these islands – the highway is the ocean and the cars are fibre-glass long boats – known as “fibre’s”. They are trucks really carrying at times an unreasonably large number of people, drums of fuel and anything that comes on the weekly ferry from Suva that needs to find its way to one of the islands. Children are ferried by “fibre” to board on the main island of Kadavu for schooling from age 6 which must be a big wrench for such little ones. At least there is a steady supply of more children to replace the ones not at home – the average number of kids per family is 5 we are told.
A few days ago while heading to the bay we are now anchored in with 25k whistling through our rigging – a fibre boat drifted into our path during a bit of a squall at the end of the day. On closer inspection we saw that there were 2 guys paddling with planks of wood and 1 with a stick. They had broken down, been anchored waiting for about an hour for a passing boat and along comes Navara.
We towed them into Nabouwalu Bay on Ono Island but to our surprise (and much later slight anxiety) they didn’t want to go ashore into the village. They were from the island of Dravuni – about 10 miles north. They reckoned that if they went ashore, local protocols would result in a massive grog drinking (kava) session and that they would have to stay the night. It seems that all they really wanted was to get home as soon as possible. They also reckoned they would never hear the end of being “rescued” by kaipalangi’s (white fellas) so if it was OK with us they would rather just stay on our boat!!
It wasn’t quite as serious as we had initially thought – they did have a plan to leave – they just needed to call family to come and get them. The good news was that carefully wrapped in a plastic bag they had a cell phone and a brand new scratch prepay card (especially for emergencies we were proudly told). The bad news was that the battery was long ago flat. The phone it appeared was indeed for “emergencies only” and there hadn’t been one of these for quite some time :-) We managed to find an old charger on Navara that worked so we settled in to firstly get it charged enough to make a call and secondly for the cavalry to arrive (by fibre boat – in the rain – in the dark – from miles away).
Three cups of tea each, 3 packets of biscuits, lots of cheese and crackers, 2 very long prayers in Fijian requesting god to protect us on all future voyages, 2 pairs of plus 1 reading glasses, 3 expired NZ marine flares and a whole lot of singing later – someone’s brother arrived and they disappeared into the night with not a torch between them. Apparently when we get to Dravuni on our way back to Suva there will be more fresh fruit and veggies than we can eat for which we will be very grateful to receive - Amen.
So now we are just waiting for the wind to back off a bit – hopefully on Tuesday and then we plan to sail back to Suva for top ups of diesel, LPG, Hare Khrishna takeaways and ice-cream before heading towards another group of further afield islands. With over 300 islands in the Fiji group to choose from the choices are endless – but we’ll just wait and see which way the wind blows us.
Until then …………….