Operation Sea Mercy - Day Three

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Sat 7 May 2016 08:24
Noon position: 17 28.01 S 178 57.89 E
At anchor off Nasau Village, Makogai Island
Wind: South East, F2 – light air
Sea: calm Swell: nil
Weather: sunny, hot
Day’s Run: 73 nm (40 nm made good)

We arrived off the entrance into Makagai’s coral lagoon shortly after sunrise in a fading breeze, perfect for slowly feeling our way in with the depth sounder and polarised sunglasses, just to be sure in case the GPS or the electronic charts were not entirely accurate, which I have it on good advice is often the case in Fijian waters. The entrance in fact proved pretty straight forward and the GPS accurate and once inside we altered course to the south east to seek the village of Nasau which my cargo was bound for. Once again we approached slowly for the chart is not very detailed nor accurate for such close inshore navigation. This time the sunglasses proved invaluable in finding a good depth of water to anchor in some 90 meters off the beach adjacent to the village.

As we approached much of the cyclone damage was very obvious though clearly the tropical flora was working fast at covering over a lot of the damage. Patrick had told me that when he had visited the island immediately after the cyclone the landscape had the appearance of being shot blasted, everything was brown with not a leaf nor a blade of grass to be seen. On my arrival, however, while most of the trees were still bare, the hillsides were covered in a bright green carpet of growth.

From the anchorage I could see the skeletons of a few structures, some
uprooted trees and two long boats moored in a small boat harbour carved out of the reef that fringed the shoreline. All was quiet, the village sounded as if it were asleep, so I decided to give Sylph a tidy up and wait to see what happened. If nobody came out to greet me than I would put the dinghy in the water and go in search of the village headman, Fili. Some loud laughter rung out and told me that the village was indeed alive and well. I had the dinghy in the water when I sighted some activity among the boats. One of them pushed out from the shore, drove past Sylph waving and weaved out into the sea, then did a large sweeping turn and returned to Sylph, gently coming alongside where I had placed some fenders. There were two men on board, an elderly man and a young man. I asked the elder of the two whether he might be Fili, which turned out to be the case, the younger being his son, David.

I introduced myself and explained the purpose of my visit. Both men were clearly delighted to see me. After some brief courtesies, which included devouring a couple of blueberry muffins (gluten free) that I had made the day before, we decided that it would be wise to make the most of the idyllic weather and waste no time getting all the Sea Mercy cargo ashore. Their open long boat easily carried Sylph’s payload and with Fili and David’s assistance we soon had it all transferred into the long boat and delivered ashore. I followed them in in my little tender armed with camera and notepad to record an assessment of their current situation so as to allow Sea Mercy to address their needs as effectively as possible. I walked along a track which I assumed led to the village, on either side of me several buildings lay flattened, their remains being neatly piled up upon their foundations, and their surrounds were neatly mown. The villagers had clearly not been idle in the last few weeks. Walking over a small creek via means of a rickety bridge made up of two old doors, I came into a clearing where four stone buildings stood, the only structures left standing after the cyclone. They had housed eight families prior to the cyclone but Fili told me were now housing the better part of the twenty families that made up the village. It seemed that upon my arrival that pretty much all the village residents were gathered on one verandah divvying up the day’s unexpected and welcome gifts.

Again after a brief exchange of pleasantries with some of the villagers, Fili and I grabbed a couple of school chairs sitting out in the open sun and made for some shade so that we could discuss the current situation and immediate needs of his village. Unfortunately my reconnoitre and assessment could only be very cursory as I had limited time. The wind was due to pick up in the evening and the spot where I had anchored Sylph would be exposed to the fresh winds and on a lee shore that was far too close for comfort, especially at night, so I needed to get my work done and then back to Sylph to move her to as much safer bay on the north west side of the island. Overall the morale of the village seemed very high and every one in good health, which Fili was at pains to assure me was in no small measure due to Sea Mercy’s rapid and effective response immediately post Cyclone Winston. Perhaps one of the most important things that the first responders, Ian and Wendy from SY Outsider, had established was a very efficient water filtration system running on solar power. Fili showed me the installation in the remains of what looked like a long disused unroofed pump house, the large plastic water tank was full of clean water, the filtration plant was clearly meeting the villagers need for clean safe drinking water. Fili’s gratitude made me feel very pleased that I had volunteered to help out with this low key organisation, even if it could only be in some small way.

But, with the forecast in the back of my mind, I had to be on my way, so, at a little before four, I got the anchor inboard and motored two miles north to the more secure anchorage off the old quarantine station. Tomorrow I might try to get ashore there for a look around. My understanding is that most of the men folk from the village are employed here restoring a fisheries research facility. If the weather allows I will also return to the village to make a more thorough needs assessment to allow Sea Mercy to do its work more effectively. Then, with luck, we will have completed our mission and be resuming our voyage home by Monday.

And now I think it is time to catch up on a little sleep.

All is well.