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Wednesday, September 30, 1998

October 1, 1998-Fires of Fiji

The Fires of Fiji

Behind the low green stand of Mangroves rise

the Fires of Fiji.

On blacken'd and dry volcanic plug hills
where sugar cane grows,

burn fields.

Daytime columns of rising grey
at night turn silent flickering orange glow.

Winter's drought starved Brahmin cows
wander roadside

to hindi worker's music echoing
sad hopes of rain

to put the fires out.

Until today, when the rain started, we sat at anchor in a bay called Masweni and watched the fires of Fiji. Behind low green islands of Mangrove close to our boat and out of which grow solitary palm trees standing lonely against the grey cloudy skies we could see silver columns of smoke rising slowly on the mountains behind. This side of Fiji, with its dry, blackened hills covered with eroded volcanic plugs, has been silently burning. At night the fires turned into flickering orange glows which snaked along the black contours of the land and occasionally turned into brief uprising sheets of flame, easily seen even at this distance. This scene gave us shivers as we sat here on WINGS and watched it in an erie fascination. We heard in the foreground faint sounds of dogs barking on shore, or the noises children make, and among the mangroves at dusk, we could see the splash of two fishermen's feet, as they walked the shoreline towards home. Above them, in the foothills, we saw but couldn't hear the slowly moving lights of cars on Queen's Highway as it winds around the rocky humps which make up much of the land here. Behind that, behind and still farther above, are the fires. It's is this country and its people, living their daily existences, and while life goes on here, in the distance, a scary creature is living, and it is burning the country.

I think that the fires of Fiji are normal, not anything really significant, just a controlled burn without threat, a way of preparing the field or somehow saving nutrients for next year, and maybe even also a way to increase prices by removing crops from the market. But it adds to the foreign-ness of this country. We see the variety of costumes of the people on the streets, and we look into the small dark shops with four or five standing people, seemingly with nothing better to do than wait for hours for one customer to wander in off the street. We hear the exotic music echoing out of doorways, and smell the curries and the cooking lamb or fish, and we really feel like we have ventured off the normal cruiser's path into a different place. The fires in the surrounding hills add to the overall impression of strangeness.

But we also sometimes wonder if the fires we are watching are not something symbolic too.

For weeks we have been hearing about the drought from the people here, predominately from the hindi and english speaking Indians whose families own the farms and work the fields, but also from the muslims, europeans and the Fijians we meet. Everyone talks about the drought. They count the days since rain had gotten up to 9 months the day before yesterday. Mixed up in the talk of the drought however is a underlying background of political dissatisfaction. On the subject of the drought the newspapers provide some coverage, minimal and skimpy in the way of factual information but they are filled with reports about pending governmental plans for relief and with opposition complaints about inadequate or untimely action. If you talk to a cab driver or a shop merchant, the conversation soon turns to the drought, and it's affects on families, farms,
workers, and in general, the economy. If the person is Indian, the conversation also turns into a criticism of the government. Since two coups occurred in 1987 the government, we've been told, has been dominated by Fijians, and is perceived as "anti-Indian". We are told that Indians are excluded from certain kinds of land ownership and certain governmental roles by the new constitution which was adopted after the coups, themselves a backlash against the Indian population's growing political influence and economic success. The concerns of the Indian farmers and farm workers now get a lot of attention in the speeches, but not so much in the way of real action, according to the Indian segment of the population. The Fijians, on the other hand, are again worried about the growing Indian population, its increasing domination of business and the economy, they have also been worried about loss of their country's cultural identity. So they favor the suppression of the Indians.

Some Fijians apparently do recognize that the governmental swing might have been too far to the right, and that the country, longer a true democracy, is going in the wrong direction. There is now, we hear, another "new" constitution in the works, where the races are given equality, where a person is not viewed as a Fijian or and Indian, but as a "Fiji Islander".

There is an expectation on the part of the Indian population that with this new constitution, things for them will improve, however some Fijians apparently are opposed to any change to the current status quo, and are trying to delay or water down the revisions to the constitution. When there is a struggle to obtain the symbols of success in a modern world, to get ahead, as well as to secure the basics such as housing, health, and education, it is easy to look towards other social groups as part of the problem. In Fiji, there is a lot of this going on between the Fijians and the Indians.

Finally the rains that everyone seems to been anxious for to put an end to the drought have come and today the fires in the hills are getting dampened and must be smoldering lower, but maybe in the long term the political and racial issues are the real fires of Fiji, ones that rain will not put out.

Fred Roswold, SV Wings, Fiji


Monday, September 14, 1998

September 15, 1998-Musket Cove Regatta

Musket Cove, Fiji

Musket Cove? Where’s that?


OK, Where’s that?

I can honestly say that I was pretty ignorant of the island countries of the South Pacific. In fact, as far as I knew, with my only images of Fiji being big cook pots full of white explorers surrounded by frizzie haired natives; Fiji could have been in Africa.

But we were game. When Carol suggested that we come to Fiji in September and sail in the Musket Cove Regatta, we said, “OK”. That was it, period. We’re going to Musket Cove wherever it is, and we’re going to get there by September.

Well, by the end of August, we had found Fiji, and had arrived at Savu Savu in the country’s East. We’d met up with Carol and soon we had her on board and were headed around to Musket Cove at the island of Malolo Lailai, on the west side, where the regatta was going to be held a week later.

We figured two days, and it took all of that. Fiji is a big place, by South Pacific standards. I was thinking as we sailed past its shores for a couple of days and nights, “This isn’t just a little Pacific island, it’s a whole country.” As we got to the west side the terrain and flora changed. It was drier, with rolling hills, brown grass, and only patchy trees. A rain shadow, cool!

Momi Bay

We anchored the second night in Momi Bay, inside the reef system in the West, and motored to Malolo Lailai the next morning. The scene which greeted us was another eye-opener: A few hundred anchored yachts anchored in a large bay of clear aquamarine water. Behind, we could see what looked like a five star island resort nestled among palm trees.

This looked promising.
Malolo Lailai

We went ashore to have some fun, and we ran into some friends.

Ed & Julie were there with their Valiant 40 Cinnabar. They were going to crew for us in the regatta. Back in Papeete I’d signed Ed on to do foredeck here. Julie was not so enthusiastic about racing, but she agreed to try it out too. They said they’d make to Fiji and they did. They both proved to be great crew.

John Neal and Amanda Swan were there on Mahina Tiare, as were Amanda’s parents Robert & Lesley who had sailed there from New Zealand on the family boat, Tiatoa. John and Amanda were getting married here at Malolo Lailai and I agreed to take the wedding photos.

John & Amanda

There were lots of folks here.

Dick Smith was there too, as he would be, since he’s the resort’s owner and this is the big event of the year for them.

I sought out Dick and asked him about ratings, since I didn’t see any mention of them in the instructions, thereby identifying myself to him as a guy who was “not in the proper spirit of the event.” Dick sort of stalled me a bit on the question of ratings, as he would. There are no ratings in the Musket Cove Regatta, and I’d find that out soon enough. Also, there were few rules; even use of engines was permitted. It was great fun for anybody who had that figured out, but we still had it in our minds that this was a race. We had arranged for crew. We had a practice. We put on the racing sails. We tried very hard. We nearly made fools out of ourselves for not “getting it” sooner.

Our first real clue about the nature of the event was that a lot of boats simply turned on their motors and roared past us at the start of the first race. Naive Fred and Judy were shocked.

But the regatta was a fun. There was great sailing around the islands, great lunches and drinking at the stopovers, and we did pretty good against the other boats. Our mostly pick-up crew of international cruising sailors were super. We did sail changes, spinnaker changes, jibes, the whole ball of wax. And, it was good having Carol back on the boat; she’d been one of our core crew members in Seattle.

Wings' Great International Crew

We were hot, but the rest of the fleet was having a blast.

Then came the awards party: we didn’t get any. Not even a participation plaque, which everybody else got. It seemed that they ran out of participation plaques before they got to “W”.

So Judy and I learned a lesson. We obviously had the wrong expectations. But we know now that you go to Musket Cove to party and sail and to have fun, not to race and get trophys. That's OK too, once you know.

And the rest of our stay at Malolo Lailai was terrific. The weather and climate was wonderful for cruisers, but not so good for farmers, The place was dry, too dry. Fiji caught fire while we were there. Even the Island of Malolo Lailai had a fire. Most of the cruisers pitched in to form a fire brigade and we all spent a day clamoring around on the nearby hills fighting the grass fire and saving homes.

Fires of Fiji

In other places, on the main Island of Viti Levu, the fires of Fiji were more serious. Mostly it was sugar fields burning, and we watched the hillsides alight with fires for night after night. It made a big impression on us.

After we finished racing and firefighting we tried windsurfing. We all fell down a lot and Ed got a cut on his face when the mast of his board fell on him a bit too hard once. Judy and Julie and Carol relaxed.

Finally our week at Malolo Lailai was over. Carol flew back to Savu Savu to rejoin husband Bob on Elyxir.

So that was Musket Cove.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Fiji

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