The injector pump is in the Owl’s hot hands finally and the engine is sounding superb. Time to leave Savusavu and head to where previously planned, the Lau group in the Eastern waters of Fiji. All set to depart and corrosion is discovered in the water trap. I won’t bother going into it but the Owl and Cat did leave finally the next day, after running with sweaty faces backwards, forwards, in between and upside down to welders and mechanics. The definition of cruising suggested, by other sailors with seemingly efficiently running boats and calm, carefree, smug little faces, is ‘fixing things in exotic places’-Oh yes we agree.
As the sail is hoisted bits of twigs fall down and the pair realise they have been here a while as a couple of birds had made a start in home construction. Poor birds. Their real estate is demolished in the swift motion of canvas spreading it’s consertinaed folds, rocketing up with eager arms to the sky. Goodbye Savusavu and on a beautiful afternoon Darth Vader exits the bay, turning left out of the reef and heads for Vanua Balavu. The sun disappears behind leaving purple vaporous strands, still in the dead air, but the crew dare not look there but forward as the stars expand and the engine lulls them into quiet. There is no wind and for the next 24 hours the boat motors towards the island of which they know little about.
Cat “ Chewbacca is steering a good course and the Owl sleeps with tongue from beak lolling. Time to listen to some audio voices and oh yes how about a discussion on alien abduction for this evenings listening. What a good idea. Oh it is strange when land is far away and you enter a liquid realm of shifting airs and waters how the paranormal can seem more possible.” 6 hours and two watches later of listening to the same conversations in the dark “What nonsense but could it be ? Could it be? I am glad there is ten minutes to go until I wake Monsieur Owl. The fur on the back of my neck is prickly raised.”
Owl “ The cat seems shifty but has gone to bed and where is the wind? Oh Yanick the engine, my ship’s heart, keep purring away because there is not a breath to sail to…blow. Yes please blow, just a little bit. Dawn breaks in glorious clarity and Vanua Balavu is immediately a cobalt silhouette on a opal green sea. The entrance to the reef draws closer on the charts. I must wake the Cat to help me steer through the narrow pass and where in earth are we going anyway?”
Cat “Digging in the book shelf for the 1970’s cruising guide complete with tea stains and original retro dust. Where to anchor? Good idea to be thinking about this now as we go through the pass and have been up half the night but the still winds should give us time and Admiralty charts will keep us from dangers, if our eyes stay wide. Turn left, to Port, turn left.”
Owl “Narrow passages indeed, sandy coloured seas lie either side with breaking waves as we pass. Cat go up on the bow and keep your eyes out for Bommies (Coral boulders, sticking up from the ocean bed). The chart just shows a hazy unknown now and we will steer with eyes and depth sounder. A glorious morning and not a person or boat in site, huge cliffs with light falling through the growth on their sides. I spy a village on the western shores, a small settlement with a large red roof but we have turned to Port after the Cat’s research and head towards a bay with the English name of ‘Bay of Islands’.”
Cat “After a month in a small creek and dusty town my head is changed, charged at this paradisical (a bike used in a street parade) scene we have entered. Small coral islands of differing shapes and sizes with sharp sides jut out of the shallow sandy bottomed bay. Turn to starboard! We weave our way through the small islands and there are masts of other boats here…I thought for a moment there, hand holding on to forestay, head held high, we had discovered it”
A few notes from Vanua Balavu and on.
-Arrival. A passing elegant hawk, named Honey, with wings open wide from flying motor boat shouts “welcome to paradise!” and her voice is echoed and carried from the steep cliffs of the surrounding mainland shrouded in rainforest and sparkling in the slanted morning light. The motor boat disappears with that white stream to another far away place.
-The world is alive, clean, breathing. No rubbish, many sleepy turtles, fish feeding mouths open around our boat in huge choreographed schools, not a care we are there. The water is soft, warm, translucent, clean. The soil is fertile, bats are feeding on the bugs on the cliffs ridge line, swooping in at dusk in a timely manner. Fruit and flowers bursts in pregnant fullness from trees and apocalyptic thoughts disperse and are forgotten. Ripe, lush, alive alive, no rubbish, no human-ness.
-Pouches on halyards on cruising boats, containing mobile phones, are hoisted to the tops of masts to get something from the outside world.
-Rubbish festers, hidden slightly under palm wood, at the water’s edge of the village. Bored waves of Bula (hello) from villagers, a sincere reception from the chief’s spokesman. Two Dutch couples from other boats join us in our Sevusevu, gifting to the village, we fill in a guest book and I wish I could read the back log. Large seed pod painted necklaces hang on nails on the walls and the village spokesman and his Aunty sit on the floor with backs against elaborate red and giant patterned floral wallpaper. The gifts are Kava root wrapped in newspaper and noodles and jam and tea.
-The roof is newly rebuilt, plywood smell. Aunty was in the house when the roof was ripped off by Winston.
-I read about ‘Draunikau’ a witch craft practice in Fiji before Christianity came and the art of banned by the government. If someone desired another person dead they went to the local sorcerer with something that belonged to that person; a lock of hair, a scrap of food and best of all their excreta. The sorcerer then placed the object in leaves with magical properties and buried the parcel in the victims property. The person then began to sicken, unless the parcel was found or a counter spell made, then die. This supposedly kept the villages very clean ‘it filled in fact the place of a system of sanitation’ because the people were so afraid of a curse all rubbish etc. was dealt with, not left to fester.
-A lemon yellow buoy with the Owl’s lucky number inscribed, 7, is pulled out of the water.
-We swim, read books, imagine fictional societies inhabiting the coral islands and explore the coastlines. We do little else and the sun has made us happy.
-A squall comes at night and Darth Vader tugs at her anchor. We sit nervously not wanting to sleep as many coral Bommies lie around just meters away. The next morning the engine does not start well and with caution we move to a safer anchorage and near to our friend who has arrived and is the captain of a huge super yacht with things onboard like engineers, spare fuel, chocolate and coffee.
-On the radio we hear the announcement that a guest is going for a bike ride. Please launch the bike. A women dressed in a sort of bee keepers outfit, we find out later a UV suit, swings her leg over the saddle and starts to cycle around the bay. Amused faces peer out and watch from other boats. The bicycle sits on two carbon canoe hulls. The cyclist traverses backwards and forth with head held high, body language stating complete confidence and sanity.
-Secret lagoons open up. There must be treasure around somewhere. Orange and pink coral flowers line the edges of the coast, just out of reach from picking, under the water. A huge red fan coral sways and hides electric blue fish in it’s fronds. A turtle lies head submerged just looking down, not moving.
-A women paddles over to us and says it sometimes makes you more human to talk to others. What are we all doing isolated on our own floating worlds.
-The captain of the super yacht invites us to take a walk with it’s owners and crew. The engineer was never delivered but we are very happy with the chocolate, honey and coffee which was sent over. We climb up a steep slope through a plantation, although their are just grazing cows, sheep with mangy coats and horses. A plantation worker with headphones on and cutting grasses with a machete is approached from the rear. Don’t approach a man listening to music operating a machete I think. A women with sad eyes and long arms walks slowly past, Later we see her walking further at the same pace in the distance on the other side of the pastures. The view over the cliff is disturbed by the owners jostling in sweaty plastic synthetics, UV suits and active wear, holding phones out. They are accompanied by a private expedition and dive guide, the captain, two deck hands and someone to carry their packs. An extravagant short walk. Their white leather upholstered tender is waiting with skipper to take them back to the mega ship. We wave and with clambering animal actions climb into our dingy, after them.
The engine takes along time again to start accompanied by clunking out of order sounds. The Owl and the weather decides departure is necessary and they need to head somewhere with mechanics. The Owl and Cat are both glum, faces sucking on sour lemons, as Suva, the capital city of Fiji on the island of Viti Levu, is the best option from here. The boat sails easily off the anchor and out of the narrow passages. Goodbye to paradise (two dice placed opposite each other). 18 hours of beautiful sailing later, past a giant’s lost shoe (island) and a lengthy battle, in vain, with a Mahi Mahi they arrive at the reef entrance of Suva. A Chinese fishing boat is followed through the pass and overtaken by the Owl and Cat sailing fast with the wind on a reach. A Fijian crew wave from the grotty ship and paws and feathers wave back. The Owl makes a paddling action and they laugh and gesture wildly but Darth Vader speeds on. A brown dawn with smoke stained buildings appear. High rises in construction, cranes and industrial paraphernalia, strange to see after many months, indicate the city. Sewage pipes, muddy waters and dockyards- Good morning Suva.