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Thursday, August 10, 2000

August 10, 2000-Sailing East in Fiji

Good Bye Jim and Jim's Family

At dawn we set the spinnaker. WINGS is heading to Fiji's eastern cruising grounds of Viani, Rabi, and Taveuni. Mostly the trade winds make this trip a beat, often a wet one, but we are lucky, the wind is from the NW. We take it to our best advantage beam reaching in flat seas. We haven't waited for a favorable wind on purpose but we spent a couple of days with a Fijian family and then had a day relaxing on a mooring off Cousteau's Resort so we left a few days later than planned. With this weather it is turning out to be good luck. Now we see to the south of us that there is a cloud line and rainsqualls but our course is easterly and we have clear skies ahead. Sea birds circle in our wake eyeing the two fishing lures skipping happily astern, which they are smart enough to leave alone. So are the fish apparently, we aren't catching anything.

The best part of our two days with a Fijian family was also the sailing we had with them on board. A six-mile fetch close hauled on port tack with the number four and a full main, and it was a great sail, fast and easy. Many of our cruiser friends have described wonderful experiences with local people in the native villages around the Pacific but we have been shy about these kinds of interactions. We are not opposed to it, its just not our style to seek them out. So when Jim, the Fijian man we'd met, brought his wife and the chief of his village over to see our boat at the Copra Shed Marina and virtually insisted that we visit their village, we agreed, but we were unsure if we'd enjoy it completely. We did thoroughly enjoy it. After we toured the village they served us with a wonderful, and wonderfully filling, lunch of Taro and Cassava, about six platters of delicious varieties of local Fijian cooking. Then we settled down with several elders to drink grog, (the Kava mixed with water which is a ritualistic drink of Fijians and other Pacific Islanders). They tried the Tongan kava powder we brought, and while it tasted the same to us as Fijian grog, it was evident by the faces they made that they could hardly stand the stuff. We talked about the boat and our lives and it seemed like a natural follow up to take Jim and his family on a two-day sail around the bay. By mid afternoon we had five of them in the dingy with us and we were heading out through the surf to board WINGS, waiting at anchor in the roads off their village.

Once onboard they were interested and observant and there were giggles when they had a try at steering or sat on the high side with their feet over the side, hiking like racers. They were intriqued when they realized we were sailing towards the wind. I liked it of course, it was sailing, but there were other great moments too, such as at anchor that night, when the husband, Jim, and I sat in the cockpit drinking gin while the kids slept and Judy and his wife, Kini, worked in the galley squeezing coconut and cooking dalo and taro and other Fijian goodies. Jim and I mashed a big pot of boiled taro outside in the cockpit. Or possibly the best was when we stopped at beautiful Matuku Bay and visited the workers building the traditional Fijian burre there while the worker's wives and kids set up camp nearby. Actually the whole two-day trip was fun, even when all seven of us queued up at the head to wash our faces and brush our teeth in the morning anchored off Cousteau.

By ten o'clock the wind has backed to SW and is building, plus there are rain squalls ahead of us, so we jibe the main and get ready to get the kite off. Just as the first rain drops started to fall we do a windward takedown-the first shorthanded one of these on WINGS, and it goes well enough. After the rain passes we set the number four, a bit short of sail area but enough for squally conditions. It looks like we'll be in Viani by 2:30.

We had to admit that after the coup in Fiji and the renewed repression of the Indian population by the Fijians we were not favorably disposed to the Fijian culture. It had seemed to us that the coup was an attempt to take back from the Indians some of what they had lost through their own lack of industriousness. But perhaps we gained some insight during the short time we spent in their village. The village Fijians live in a communal agrarian society. The houses are clustered together in a park like setting, and most of the food is grown in community gardens. They share cooked meals between households. The chief is the authority figure and considers the village to be part of his family. Except for TV and refrigeration this could have been the same village life they had 1000 years ago. It is possible that the people in these villages lack the drive and ambition of the Indian community but it was hard for us to judge them harshly for wanting to retain their traditional lifestyle. That makes the social problems of sharing their country with the 45% Indians even more difficult to solve.

As the morning wears on we reach comfortably on starboard up the coast. The wind continues to back and Judy gradually trims the sails in while, she watches the reef system on the Fijian coastline pass by to leeward. We are glad we have Nigel Caulder's sailing directions to use entering Viani because the overcast skies are going to make the pass difficult to spot.

Now the wind has settled solidly into a 25 knot Southwesterly and has turned the entire Viani Bay into a lee shore but the sky has cleared and the sun allows us to see the reefs and coral heads, which are everywhere. We can't imagine doing this if it was still overcast. We make one exploring circuit then decide to move on. It is just too rough here with the SW wind and there are too many reefs. Around the end of the island we find Milamila Bay and anchor in its welcoming shelter. There are reefs here too but at least the island stands between the sea breeze and us. It has been a long day but a good one as quite a lot of water and ever so many rocky hazards have passed under our keel without incident. Actually the whole week has been good, the sailing, the Fijian cultural experience, the whole thing. We are thankful.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Vanua Levu, Fiji

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