A Welcome Decision
A Welcome Decision
“Let’s Swap Boats”
I was up early the next morning, chores to be done, beautiful day to be enjoyed in our fabulous anchorage. The washing to be wrung out and the bread dough set to prove in its own little proving oven under the spray hood in the warmth of the early morning sun, with a seat swab stood behind it to prevent drafts.
The plan today was for Rob to clean the hull and Henry’s rudder and to inflate the canoe ready for a shoreline exploration and for Rob to go ashore and burn our rubbish below the high water line while I do what I am doing now.
Throughout our days we recall the latest viewing of Allo Allo and sometimes come out with sentences along the lines of Inspector Crabtree, the ‘French’ policeman, “Good Moaning”. A little nostalgic fun for us olds.
The only rubbish we have left on board is flattened tins, soft plastic and beer bottles. The only waste we discard into the water is organic and I cut papaya skins into small pieces first both to help it rot down and to comply with the regulations.
Sitting in the canoe enjoying our gentle paddle around the lagoon Rob said quietly, “No more fishing, I don’t want to catch any more fish, it doesn’t seem right.” I was delighted. The rod was duly walked from the stern into the forecabin for storage.
“But you’ll go on eating fish right?”
“Yes, but after yesterday I don’t want to take any more beautiful fish from the water.” I was relieved because now I can choose to not eat fish any more and be a vegetarian again.
At the top of one of the many beaches we explored were two long rusting metal tubes big enogh for a man to crawl inside and complete with anodes. They looked like some sort of floating platform used to transport items like wood planks to the island. They were well rusted and could have been there for decades.
You will see the photo of Rob holding a beautiful round undulated coarse sand structure, so delicate it was falling apart under its own weight so he gently laid it back in its home. A solitary turtle swam away from us, sensibly preferring his own company as we paddled back to the mother ship.
Teri and Mark were out for a sail in their pretty sailing tender and came alongside briefly to say they were off to the main anchorage in the morning to collect their order from the supply ship,
“Why don’t we swap,” I suggested, “You take our tender with the motor and we go for a nice sail in your dinghy, that way you don’t have to move Wavelength and we refresh our dinghy skills!!” So we were the proud owners of a beautiful little mover for just a few hours.
The once monthly supply ship is keenly awaited almost from the moment it leaves. As I have mentioned passage on it is expensive so most of the villagers can only watch as it arrives and leaves and wonder how their diaspora of family is fairing in Suva and on the other islands. Anyone travelling to Suva on village business has their fare paid by the communal fund.
I was well into making my own coconut milk now. Hand squeezing the coconut Jone had grated for us in a little water. It had no keeping quality as liquid, unlike the grated coconut that would keep in the fridge until we had finished it. The milk I used in curries, bread dough, Chinese cabbage and the residue coconut went into cakes and flapjacks. Only the shell went overboard.
One sad delivery on the supply ship the next day was a little girl, around ten years old, from the next village who had undergone a brain tumour removal in Suva hospital. She was now paralyzed from the neck down and was carried gently back home.
So the next morning, just after six am I saw a battered black vessel, with a Chinese sampan like gunwhale sheer rising to the stern, creep across the far lagoon towards the main anchorage and upon a summons from a fellow yacht we watched an assortment of dinghies and yachts making their way over the lagoon to collect their produce.
For us it was “hoist the mainsail me hearty, let’s go for a sail.” Our little white boat slid effortlessly over the smooth water with first one and then the other of us taking a turn at the helm. It is one thing we miss as cruisers, dinghy sailing and we often reminisce on little Zoonie our Heron dinghy that is nestling safely in Rob’s mum’s garage at the moment.
That evening we joined Mark and Teri on Wavelength and Kevin and May came along from Whistler HR out of Melbourne. Kevin told us he had chatted with a villager who he’d seen selling coconut crabs to a Chinese Restauranteur from Suva for $20 a kilo. We were all concerned considering their closeness to extinction. There is an email address we can use to pass on such reports. Not wanting to get any individuals into trouble it might instead provoke the environment group to come and do a survey in this area as they have done in Northern Lau and inform the locals of the need to conserve these crabs.
The next morning there was a little tap on Zoonie’s side and Gal had arrived and was clutching Zoonie’s toe-rail as he balanced on his paddleboard. He is from the 25 foot boat called ‘Ofek’ and he set out alone from Israel to sail to Australia. In Panama he was joined by Marlena from Poland. Together they plan to live on her while they work in Aussie. Gal is a qualified commercial skipper and hopes to get work in that profession.
We had often looked at the valiant little boat that has sailed so far and I reflected on my friend Henry Piggot of Shopley Southampton who has sailed around the world twice in his 20 foot Colvic Watson ‘Glory’. It can be done.
“So is the meaning of her name the expletive or something else?” I asked
“Ofek is Hebrew for Horizon.” Gal explained with a dead pan face. He asked if we had a big sewing needle he could borrow to sew two patches onto chaffed areas on his mainsail. We said we had a sewing machine so he could bring the sail over and we would see what we could do.
While he paddled back and took it off the boom and into his dinghy we set up the machine ready. Well I have never seen such thick sail fabric. Every time the needle went through it the sharp edge of the hole cut the thread. We didn’t have thicker thread, only whipping twine which was like overkill. So I made the holes with the machine and then Rob and I took it in turns to hand sew through the pre-made holes. We just did running stitch so suggested to Gal that he might like to go over ours filling in the alternate stitches but I don’t think it will be necessary. Hopefully it will suffice until they get to Australia.
Gal wants to sell her for a bigger boat at some stage but as she had osmosis in her hull and water damage inside he won’t be looking at making much money from her. “Best live on her cheaply while you are working, “Rob said, “and sell her when you have your next one to move on to.”
That afternoon Teri and I went for a two hour paddle in the canoe and chatted non-stop for the duration. On top of a rock was a grey heron with long yellow legs, or was it two? They were almost exactly in line so we weren’t sure until we glided around behind them. It was a pair like bookends!
The next day we made our way, carrying a sliced cake baked that morning, to Mere’s house for what we thought was going to be our farewell party. Mere was pouring the finishing touch of custard onto her signature dish, custard sponge and looked surprised to see us.
“On Thursday we had a staff meeting at the school and decided that today we would all go to visit the sick little girl in the next village, so that is what we are doing this afternoon. I am so sorry for the mix-up, could we have your party on Monday instead?”
Of course that was no problem, we had plenty of time, but very sadly the little girl did not.
Every day the boats in the anchorage change. Ofek left early the next morning on her dicky batteries, faulty charger and repaired main and her timing would give her a bumpy ride at the seaward end of the passage. A few hours later she radioed from the next island asking for an up to date weather forecast so we know she was ok.
“Bula Mere, how was school today?”
“We spent all morning trying to remember what they learned last term!” Well that rang some bells, from my teaching days!
“Rob you shall be king,” Bill exclaimed as we sat ready for the kava session at our party. That meant he should say “Taki” to the kavaman to start the next round. The session had started gently with Jone doing the honours and dispensing the drink to us, then gradually 15 or so others joined us, seeing from the path outside that a party was underway. Children came in and shook hands with us, some of them knew our names by now and we theirs.
It was an interesting time because we had some discussions about life in Suva versus life here. Tui and Bill became serious over the tensions with the Indian Fijians. Bill said that Fijians don’t see skin colour as a basis for prejudice and resentment and Tui must have genuine cause to feel as strongly as he did. “I understand, I have read about some of the issues,” I said.
Some of the young girls stay on in Suva and marry there, finding jobs in shops and offices, whereas it is harder for young men to find jobs and the pressure to earn money is something they are not used to. Tangy took over serving the kava, he is showing off his Fiji T-shirt in the photo. He was so very polite each time he gave us our cup “Bula Barbara and vinaka” he went on to explain, softly “Why would I live in Suva and have to earn money when here I can work for all I need.” They are so blissfully unambitious and place little value on money, which is so unlike the world we have grown up in.
Sometimes the conversation would quieten and Bula would give me the wink and I nudged Rob to call “Taki” which would immediately liven things up again.
Some of the expanding group shifted to one corner and started playing cards with the RNLI pack we had presented to Mere. A little boy fell fast asleep on his mum’s lap despite the loud slapping down of the cards. Many skewer like cigarettes were being smoked and as the doors were closed against the cool of the evening the atmosphere was becoming heady. A fusion of western and Fijian music was playing on a little speaker, blue-toothed from Mere’s phone.
I caught Mere’s eye to say we were ready to feast, Bill having told me this was the form and we ate alone, being watched by some of the ladies. I asked them to eat with us but this was their custom so I had to put up with my feeling awkward.
“We have something for you but I need to finish it. Can we meet you at the beach at 12.30 tomorrow Barbara?” I like a surprise I said as we prepared to leave, turning on our torches for the after dark walk back to the beach.
We waited on board the next morning until we saw them arrive and motored ashore in the dinghy. Mere unloaded a plastic box with some more lovely grated coconut fresh that morning and we transferred it into our box. Then from her back pack she pulled a pandanus mat, yes a real pandanus mat trimmed with brightly coloured wool (Mere’s work) for us to keep. I was overwhelmed with pleasure, the thought of our own mat made with such care and precision by these clever village women, to keep forever was stunning.
“Will you leave today?” Mere asked.
“There is a 25 knot wind coming soon so we’ll probably wait over in Sandspit until it has passed.” Rob explained.
We thanked them, also for the breadfruit, Chinese cabbage and papayas and after big hugs stumbled back to the tender, lost for more words.
The wind was the result of a squash zone forming between two weather systems to the south of us. Wavelength had anchored in a new place and we felt as we motored past that we would be more exposed near her so we spent the night where we had planned and then motored to a spot near Wavelength the next morning.
Well Wavelength was like the Marie Celeste, deserted. I busied myself making a vegan casserole, the norm now on Zoonie, and added a taco sauce mix to it for flavouring. Now, I thought as I did a 360 look around through Zoonie’s deckhouse windows looking for our wandering sailors, a Mexican casserole needs a Mexican lady and as Teri is Mexican we shall invite the two of them for supper. Eventually their pretty little tender, now named Minnie because of the mouse on her sail, appeared from behind some rocks, this time with Mark manning the oars.
We waved them over and together we enjoyed a lovely last spontaneous evening together.
It was finding I was down to the last batch of flour for bread-making the next morning that clinched it for me and I broached Rob with a suggested change of plan for the next few days. We had been six weeks out of Savusavu and were running out of various food items and money and I was also aware dear reader that you have been deprived of photographic evidence of our meanderings for far too long. So we needed some strong internet connection too. Rob agreed we should head for Suva, and start with an overnight crossing to Matuku which is on route. Then after a few days in Suva we would spend a few weeks around Kandavu an island to the south before returning to Suva to clear out with Immigration and Customs and leave for New Zealand.
I was beginning to feel excited.