Fw: Peter the big Australian
Peter the Big Australian
And his warm hearted wife Martina
It was time for another farewell, this time as Peter and Martina prepared to sail to Suva and greet the first group of guests they were expecting to visit in a few days.
I am pretty sure that Peter will not mind my describing him as ‘big’ as in many senses that is just what he is. In stature he stands tall and slim, in business he used cranes to make a living, he and Martina have four children, by today’s standards quite a big family. Havachat is 51 foot long, 102 foot when you add both of her hulls lengthwise, and her size was key to the family of six having fun sailing passages and holidays together.
Not only does he think big through his mind but also through his heart. He and Martina, as we found out to our pleasure, frequently host great parties on their lovely yacht and given any opportunity to assist others he is ready and willing. From their anecdotes of family life it is obvious their children had an upbringing filled with the love and adventurous spirit of their parents. We constantly felt fortunate to have met them.
So we were a little sad when the day came for their moce (farewell) party.
Firstly Rob and I snorkelled around the beach landing anchorage. Two enticing corals had been tempting us since our first arrival so we wanted to explore them while we could.
Then the four of us walked once more to the village, clutching baskets of food as our contribution. The occasion started with the usual rounds of Kava as we chatted for a couple of hours with Bill and Simon, who is Bill’s Uncle and the deceased chief’s nephew. Others popped in and out for a few minutes each and then word came that the feast was ready, but no hurry.
Tara, Bill’s mum, had been working all morning with Zula to prepare the feast.
“Come and look at this,” Bill took two mighty blocks of concrete weights off a thick plastic lid that sat on a barrel containing a coconut crab (Latin Birgus latro, Fijian ugavule) the biggest crab I have ever seen. That is one of their problems, they are very slow growing so their numbers take many years to grow too. This one was not happy at being held hostage despite his prison being full with coconuts.
They are the world’s largest arthropod and can weigh in at 4Kg and have a leg spread of one metre, but it was the two front claws that attracted my attention, they were massive!
Imagine, these beauties are active day and night, roaming the shores and woods for fallen coconuts which they open with these two powerful claws, achieving what it takes a skilled native to do with a machete. They can also climb palms and suck the flesh from inside ripe papaya. These were a very special addition to the party spread in honour of Peter and Martina and the high esteem in which the hosts held them. A second one had already been cooked and its flesh half-filled a large bowl. Peter was given the bright red shell as a memento to take with him and was deeply moved by the gesture.
The spread was their typical fare as I have described before with the addition of Martina’s roast pork and potatoes and my veggie burgers and of course the crabmeat which was tender and tasty. Although we were all aware we were eating a rare animal and given the choice would likely have asked the villagers to leave them alone.
Over fishing has resulted in the drastic decline of these terrestrial crabs that can live to 60 years old and they are endangered and protected. Export of them is illegal and they only survive on outlying islands and in protected areas. I am sure the villagers know all this and are well aware of the need to harvest them sparingly. Which means it was a real delicacy they were sharing with us.
Our hosts didn’t eat with us straightaway as it is the custom for guests to eat first and to our surprise we actually sat at a table on chairs, the first time we had done so in the village.
Simon’s sister Cilla was sitting in the corner by a cool doorway weaving bangles with strips of thin black and natural coloured pandanus leaf. To start with she cut a strip less than 1 centimetre wide from the rim of a margarine punnet and then wove the pattern around it.
As she finished one she gave it to Martina and another one to me. They fit perfectly on the upper arm and Cilla uses a bigger diameter punnet rim for anklets.
Then, to Martina’s surprise and delight Cilla presented her with two large placemats woven in the traditional style with Fulanga incorporated in the weave with black pandanus strips. Big hugs of gratitude, farewell and just because these Fijians are very huggable and then we wandered back to the landing beach in full moonlight.
There was just one more incident of note on that auspicious day. Rob and I lifted the tender, complete with heavy old motor on the back, down the beach to the water’s edge. Rob was looking a little like a Welsh miner wearing his head torch but I thank goodness for that because as he looked down into the water the torch beam showed us he was about to tread on a Seas Snake resting as they do in the shallows.
Pretty little black and white stripped thing it was with a wide black bandana but they are quite deadly, if they can bite the unwary with their tiny mouthparts, which is in questionable doubt, but not something we wanted to put to the test because their venom is 20 times more poisonous than any land snake.
I remembered when my little Cocker Spaniel, Meggy was in the last year of her life, she was bitten by an adder while she was making enquiries in a hedgerow. As soon as she got home and as a result of natural instinct I am sure, she went to bed and stayed there for 24 hours, in effect comatose. She recovered fully and the halfpenny shaped bite wound under her skin gradually disappeared. The treatment for a sea snake bite is the same. Immobilisation of the victim, a pressure bandage over the bite and a person on hand ready to administer CPR.
Don’t worry dear reader, I was ready and willing! This was the first of Rob’s three incidents of a venomous kind and fortunately it ended well.
Better than the best Fairground Ride.
True to his generous nature, the next day Peter radioed us to ask if we’d like to join them in their big powerful dinghy to go and snorkel the main and side passages at the entrance to the lagoon, through which we had arrived. They were planning to leave in Havachat in the last hour of the rising tide later in the day, to give themselves plenty of water depth and a little tide to steer into.
We didn’t need to be asked twice. The turbulence caused by the water from the two passages clashing together as they emptied from the lagoon was still too rough, so we motored up to the top of the side channel to give the area at the outer end a chance to settle. We flopped into the water and swam seaward sensing the first of the rising tide as we approached the convergence.
The water was quite cloudy and the area outside was still a bit too busy for our liking so we clambered back into the dinghy and motored around to the entrance of the main passage. There were lots of smooth surfaced circling eddies but the waves were settling down nicely as we fell back into the water. Then the fun really started. We felt the new flood tide gently moving us into the safety of the lagoon. It was like flying in water and we had a quarter mile to go. Beneath us a world of vast, pristine corals supported their forest habitat. A pile of upturned beaten coppery cup corals, stacked one on top of another and at least 30 foot in diameter and olive green cabbage coral with its uplifted leaves more like 50 foot across, this really was a vast and colourful forest.
The current was building rapidly and I made a mental note of the timing to use when we would plan our departure. There was no chance of us turning around and swimming against the force of water and it was not even possible to stop and stare. As we sped along above the submarine world, up to 30 feet below us, we moved our heads rapidly from side to side just to take in as much as we had time for and used our hands like paddles to stop us being shoved against the coral.
Kevin and May from Whistler HR were also enjoying the ride and cruising yachts passed us safely in the centre of the channel, waving as they went and no doubt looking forward to their turn.
All too soon Peter was back in the dinghy he had been towing by hand and that was a sign for us to join him. Then to our relief he suggested, beaming,
“Shall we do that all over again? The water will be clearer this time.” He wasn’t wrong, the water looked polished and in the perfect clarity we saw three sharks, giant fat potato cod and lots of other fishes we had seen before but this time in flowing shoals. No Acute jawed mackerel though!
We flew up the main passage again and then the side passage before climbing back in to the dinghy. What a gift. We would not have tried what we had just achieved in our dinghy and so we may well have missed the whole experience if it hadn’t been for our friends. Back on board we showered and had the hot chocolate we always enjoyed after a snorkel.
Later that afternoon Peter radioed from outside Fulanga to say he could do without the present north wind for getting to Suva and after we sympathised we made our way back to the Sandspit anchorage, with the shared hope we would visit them in Australia later in the year.