Savusavu to Rambi Island

Wed 8 Jul 2009 05:43
Position  16.46S  179.19E
A warm, humid afternoon in Savusavu, Storyteller V and occupants (Sue, John, Grant and myself) are settling in for post-journey chores after a fantastic trip that took us to Rabi Island and back.
But just to recap - Grant and I flew in to Savusavu on Sunday June 28. A great flight with terrific views of some of the countless reefs and 322 islands that make up the vast Fiji Group. On landing in Savusavu, Grant and I and the other passengers were whisked away to a little shed to be checked out by a couple of masked nurses and a doctor for swine flu symptons!!! "are you feeling OK?" "do you have a temperature?".All checked out we were greeted by Sue and John and set off for the village and the boat. Having been in Savusavu some 15 years earlier, it was great to see familiar sights and have that memory of a special time spent here slowly re-emerge!! Unpacked and settled onboard Storyteller, with Sue and John happy to receive the bits and pieces we had transported from NZ (parts for the boat, mail, NZ papers and mags, Easi-yo and booze), we joined crew members from the other boats in the rally for a de-brief on 'cruising' in Fiji. For G and I this was particularly informative. We heard about 'clearing in ' and 'clearing out', waypoints and Curly's notes, how to avoid hitting the reef and most importantly, local customs and the tradition of sevusevu. Sevusevu involves giving kava root to the chief of a village in exchange for anchoring in his bay, snorkelling, swimming etc
The next day most of the rally crew joined a one hour bus trip for a walk in the rainforest. Our guide, Jay, did a great job talking over the roaring engine of the bus, making jokes about the lack of synchro-mesh!!! and telling us about the area. He described  the local plants and their uses, the nature of village life and kept us entertained with his big cheery fijian smile. Everone in Fiji is so friendly, 'bula', waves and smiles are the order of the day.
The following morning we did some last minute preparation for our journey - buying supplies and purchasing our bundles of kava root from the local market for sevusevu. In no time we were anchored off Jean Michel Cousteau Resort at the entrance to Savusavu Bay, and where G and I had stayed on our previous visit. We tried to go ashore for lunch but fortunately for our wallets, they were fully booked!!! Here we were joined by Lady Kay and Harmonie and readied ourselves, checking the weather and maps continually, for our departure north. We were soon in blustery, rolling seas, 20-25 knot winds, the roughest seas I have been in but no doubt nothing compared to what Sue and John have experienced. Sue sensibly suggested we all take seasick tabs, but within half an hour Grant had succombed, sharing his  breakfast with the ocean and flaked on a bunk for the next few hours!!! Sue gave me the job of tracking our route on the map, which was a good distraction from the challenging seas and the rocking and rolling of the boat. Fawn Harbour was our first stop, and all eyes were on full alert as we looked for markers and John skilfully negotiated his way through the narrow pass in the reef. Lady Kay and Harmonie close behind, there was great joy when Michael (LK) radioed to say they had caught a sizeable mahi mahi on the way. We had our lines out but no bites. But we did pass a large pod of pilot whales and were entertained by the flying fish, which skim along the top of the water at great speed.So that night we all gathered on Storyteller for a huge feed of kokoda and BBQd fish.Almost forgot to mention that on arrving at our anchorage I discovered I hadn't latched the portholes correctly and so had some soaked clothing and pillow and passport!!! just hoping the airport officials believe my story when they see what remains of it!!!
Sea conditions the next day were totally different and we had a great journey passing between the mainland and Taveuni Island and eventually reaching Buca Bay. The binoculars are well used on the journey, checking out other boats and property along the coast, looking for landmarks and signs of FISH!!! we had our lines out again but this time only managed to capture a blue beaked boobie!! - took both John and I to reel it in and untangle it from the line, while Sue and Grant kept an eye on the GPS and our proximity to the reef. Thankfully the bird flew away appearing unharmed from its ordeal. I also managed to lose my sunglasses overboard, even tho they were on a band to stop that from happening!!!
On putting down the anchor in Buca Bay we noticed that the seemingly idyllic waters were alive with bright blue frilly edged jellyfish!!! and then the generator suddenly stopped, ,jellyfish having been sucked into the intake filter!!! so dreams of swimming and staying a few days were dashed. Thinking we wouldn't need to go ashore to do sevusevu if we weren't going to stay more than a night in the bay, we suddenly noticed a dinghy heading our way....the chief came to us!!! Mr Esala Qalivere from Loa Village was soon on board, introducing himself and assuring us it was OK to do sevusevu on the boat... and also trying to assure us that swimming with the myriads of jellyfish was OK!!! Sevusevu involved us all sitting in a circle on the back of the boat, John gave Esala the kava root, he smiled, said a few words in his language and clapped a few times. He translated for us, telling us he had welcomed us to Buca Bay as his friends, had given thanks for our safe journey  and invited us to come ashore and join in his village life. In no time, we were sitting in the galley with him drinking tea and sharing cookies, an experience I won't forget.
The next morning all 3 boats limped out of Buca Bay on ancilliary engines for fear of more jellyfish misadventures. A short 3 hour motor and we really were in Paradise - Albert Cove on the north western side of Rabi Island - a hilly, lusciously wooded island with an interesting history. It was purchased in March 1942 by the British Govt for the resettlement of the the Micronesian inhabitants of Ocean Island (Banaba) in the Gilbert Islands.Craftily tho, the BG used 25,000 pounds of phosphate royalties from the Banaban Provident Fund to purchase the island from the Lever Brothers, who had earlier purchased the island from the Fijians and were using it for coconut plantations.So, the 4500 inhabitants of Rabi Island are Banaban, and live according to a different set of rules than the rest of Fiji. They have a 9 member Council to administer the island, the local language is Gilbertese, but they do drink kava!!!
Coming into the bay, once again through a narrow coral pass, we were greeted with turquoise blue water and a white sandy beach lined with palm trees. It wasn't until we were quite close in that you could see a few grass huts among the trees and the odd person on the beach, only five families live in the Bay. With Don and Michael, Sue and John, we went ashore for sevusevu, this time sitting on the sandy floor of a low grass hut!!! The next few days were filled with snorkelling, swimming, kayaking, sunbathing, reading and socialising. July 4 saw us all on Harmonie for drinks, with American hosts Don and Ann complete with our American flag, a card made by Grant and a lttle poem by Sue A. We were a bit dismayed when we saw 9 other boats from the rally heading our way, but miraculously there was room in the bay for everyone and they only stayed one night!!! Grant and I went ashore one morning and had a great chat with the chief and his family ( see the photo below). The tarpaulin we are sitting on is exactly what we buy at the Warehouse, only it has seen better days!! Their living conditions are unbelievably primitive, cooking is done on an open fire, the pigs and chooks roam freely, fish are caught with handlines from outrigger canoes. When hurricanes come they have to take shelter. They are friendly, happy smiling people. They have to walk for 2 miles along the rocky and sandy shoreline to get to Nuku bay where there is a Post office and a mission house, Catholisicm and Methodism are practised. We could have stayed there forever but our good skipper John was watching the weather and yesterday we motored the 9 hour journey from Albert Cove to Savusavu, in all conditions from perfectly flat seas to rough, lumpy seas. Just as well tho as the sea and wind today is far worse. We had the excitement of landing a huge mahimahi which we ate last night - 2 ways, sashimi and grilled steaks. Its a beautifully moist white fish.
For Grant and I the holiday is ending, for Sue and John, their incredible adventure on the sea continues. We have become used to the gentle motion that sends you to sleep each night, the compulsory beer when we reach a destination, the happy hour on different boats, listening to the NZ and Aussie news on the shortwave in the morning, playing rumikub at night, Sue's delicious meals, John keeping us up to speed with weather and boat conditions. It has been wonderful to have another Storyteller experience.
While writing this on the laptop in the wheelhouse, a tiny twin prop seaplane has landed alongside us in the marina!!! There's always something happening!!!
Mothe, Sue Alexander
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