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Sunday, August 20, 2000

August 20, 2000-The Tough Go Shopping

Heading West

As they say, "When the going gets tough..."

All this cruising is too tough for us, so we are heading off to Nandi to do some shopping. At this moment WINGS is anchored in Port Denerau, Fiji. Port Denerau is a large inland basin dredged out of the muddy delta of the Nandi River. It is sheltered and calm here and quiet since it is primarily a base for tourist boats and there are few tourists this year. Lined up on the pier are rows idle cruise boats, tour boats, and day trippers, sitting still and empty. We came here due to its proximity to Nandi town where some of the best shopping deals exist in Fiji for provisions and consumer electronics (we need a new VCR), but we find the peace enjoyable. Between shopping trips we sit on WINGS listening to soft music and reading, enjoying our rest after the energetic sail here.

Port Denerau, with its warmth and stillness, is a far cry from our last anchorage out east. On Thursday, after leaving Savusavu we stopped behind a reef in Savusavu Bay for the night. A few miles from the nearest land, anchored behind a submerged outer coral reef, we were protected from the waves but wide open to the wind off the Pacific. We knew that in that place, we were really "out there". Looking to leeward we could see the shoreline in the distance...more coral and breakers along a lee shore, and then nothing but jungle. Behind it the ridges disappeared in the smokey haze of sunlight shining down through the clouds. The wind moaned in rigging, sometimes raised to a howl, and we bobbed in the short chop there. We were hanging off the edge of the reef, anchored in 40 feet but with about 100 feet under our keel. If the anchor dragged we'd go into deep water fast. Even if that happened we would still be a safe distance from the distant shoreline, nevertheless, we felt exposed. The anchor seemed to hold well, but we slept fitfully. Getting up the next morning to go sailing was a relief.

Then we completed a mad dash around Fiji. We sailed 220 miles in little more than 24 hours, sailing around Viti Levu from the Eastern Division to the Western Division in perfect, if boisterous, conditions. We started out from Savusavu Bay close reaching with 24 knots, then as we rounded reefs and islands, we cracked off onto a beam reach, then a broad reach, then a run, and finally we jibed and turned the corner into Nandi waters, where Denerau is. We were hitting 7.5 to 8.5 knots most of the way and saw 10+ once or twice. The wind vane steered us and we never changed sail. That is as good as it gets.

We expect to go leave for Port Villa, Vanuatu, in a few days. We'll write to you from there.

Fred & Judy, S/V Wings, Port Denerau, Fiji

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Tuesday, August 15, 2000

August 15, 2000-More Cruising in Fiji

Albert Cove, Rambi Island

Anchored. Stillness all around, 360 degrees of nothing moving, nothing seen. Flat calm and featureless gray low cloud sky. We are in a different bay, a hidden one on Kioa Island. This bay is on the chart but not in the guide book. Doesn't even have a name. A big sea turtle lives here, plus quite a few herons. The shoreline is all mangrove. No people or sign of them. The main island is a gray mass 10 miles off. A solitary piling stands in the distance, a Fijian navigation aid, marking a reef. Why this one reef when so many others hide unmarked? There is open ocean just outside this bay, and it is usually rough but today it sleeps, WINGS hardly moves. It was rainy last night and we dropped the hook just before the mist closed in. Today the rain had stopped and we went ashore to burn trash. A pig family came to visit, 12 of them surprised us by wandering unannounced out of the bush. Judy ran to the shore, prepared to head out in the dingy in case they were unfriendly but they just snorted and plopped down in the sand around our fire. We figured they liked our company; we liked theirs.

The next day the wind came back up. Outside our little bay the world was turbulent. We had shelter but it was tenuous, the wind whistled overhead and we looked worriedly at the weather fax. When the wind swirled overhead WINGS drifted around, pulling the anchor chain over rocks and coral. For two nights we listened to the rumbling of the chain. Finally we had enough and headed for Albert Cove, on Rambi Island, 13 miles away. We waved goodbye to the pigs and sailed out into the windstorm, into the rain, into the whiteout. With a reefed main and no jib we still did 7.5 knots. One of us was on deck and one was below watching the GPS and charting our position every few moments, threading WINGS through the reef system. Stress...cusswords...but we made it, one more gamble beaten. Now the wind whistles in a new place; Judy liked the last one better; they call this cruising?

A Week Later

Albert Cove is another remote spot on another remote island but there are six yachts anchored here. A few families live in Albert Cove, living off the land mostly. At midnight I go on deck. Nearby I see a fisherman. He is in a small canoe, he works a hand line with the light of a Coleman lantern...I can see the mantle glowing. He is hunched over and works his line silently, the light of the lantern lets me see his face: cragged and dark. He is wearing a heavy hooded coat. I hear his cough and I wonder if he can hear my stereo. Surely he can. Maybe that is why he fishes so close to my boat. Then a shadow passes between us, a second fisherman. They must be sharing the light.

We spent over a week at Rambi Island, in various anchorages. This island is rugged and jungle covered, the people are not Fijians but Banabans from the island of Bananba, in the Gilberts. The British resettled them on Rambi after the war. Their own island had been ravaged by years of phosphate mining was no longer a suitable home for the Banabans. Or maybe the British just felt it was going to be easier to get the rest of the phosphate without the people being in the way. The Banabans got a pretty nice place for a new home however, at least we thought it was beautiful, and they seem to have adjusted to it OK. None of the Banabans we talked to had much interest in going back to Banaba and unlike the Indians they don't seem to have any conflict with the Fijians. Of course they haven't posed any economic or political threat to the Fijians either. The families live at Albert Cove are there mainly to maintain a presence when the yachts come. Albert Cove is a popular anchorage for visiting cruisers and the people of Rambi recognized both that there is the need to keep an eye on the place and that there is some potential to make some money off the yachts by giving dance exhibitions and trading. When we were there they put on a dance program for 13 of us yachties and we enjoyed the nice music and great dancing. They asked for a donation that we were happy to give.

We also spent several days at Katherine Cove at the other end of Rambi Island where we visited the primary school on exam day. On a walk in the jungle we were attracted by the sound of a band playing military marches. We followed the sound and came to the school, where they were having a big event. We met the head master and some parents, and saw a hundred or so school kids dressed in colorful and clean school uniforms taking tests in five subjects. The parents were fixing a big lunch and the boy's brass band which we had heard was playing during the lunch break. There was a big feast planned for later in the afternoon. The activity, sounds and color of this school in the middle of the steaming green jungle left us with strong images.

Next we anchored in the roadstead off SomoSomo on Taveuni Island, our last stop on this cruise before pointing WINGS back toward the civilization of SavuSavu. The high backbone of mountainous Taveuni blocks most of the trade wind but a few strong gusts and some of the ocean's swells were present in our anchorage. We were not complaining, the holding was good and being open, at least we could get out quickly if we had to in a weather change. The same mountain which blocks the wind causes a lot of rain to fall and SomoSomo is a drizzly, wet place. Rainbows are common on the hills over the town. There is a fast running river in town and the local kids play in the rapids under the bridge on the main road. We walked to an Indian store and bought fresh bread, frozen meat, wine, and fresh veggies. We didn't see any way to get water onboard however and our water tanks are low, so we were reduced to the water we could make with the watermaker. Time to turn to the southwest.

Another day’s sail found us on the way back in Nasasobu Bay. This is another treasure not in the cruising guide with 360 degree protection and good holding for the anchor. There are two other boats here who have been here for weeks. They have made friends with the four local families who own 800 acres here including the entire bay. This is not a Fijian village, it is a plantation owned by black Fijian citizens who immigrated here some generations ago, from where we are not sure. They have trimmed lawns and cultivated gardens. The land is fenced and they have cattle. It has a different feel from a traditional Fijian village. The other cruisers are adventuresome divers and we went with them on a dive on the outer reef, looking for game fish and sharks. We shot one big wahoo that unfortuately got away with the spear, and we saw three white tip sharks who left us alone, but mostly is was an uneventful dive and the others were disappointed. We learned quite a bit about free-diving however and were glad we made the trip. Later we went on a hike around the bay and picked a bag of wild lemons.

Fred & Judy, S/V Wings, Nasasobu Bay, Fiji

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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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Sunday, July 16, 2000

July 17, 2000-Life In The Enclave

Savu Savu Fiji, July 2000

Right now we are living our life in a foreign enclave, the Copra Shed Marina, a small insular world of the european yachty community in this part of Fiji. Outside of our enclave there is unrest and turmoil. The police station in town is in the hands of rebel terrorists and the shops are closed with regular irregularity, but here at the Copra Shed we are safe, protected, and insulated. We drink at the Yacht Club bar, eat at the Cafe, have our laundry done by the girls in the back room, and do our email at the computer center. All these and more are behind the guarded wall facing the town and the street. Other than an occasional expedition to the local bank for money or to the supermarket for provisions we have little need to go offsite from the Copra Shed Marina. This is not to say that it is unsafe to go to town. Not in the least. Today Judy and I went for a long walk through town and into the neighborhoods and everywhere we were greeted by smiles and pleasant hello's. But when we passed the police station the villagers occuping it watched us closely. We knew we were five feet from a hostage situation. What keeps us safe then? Just the good will of the rebels, or maybe their fear of pulling the tiger's tail by molesting American tourists. Whatever, we are in the middle, or at least on the periphery, of a nation undergoing major turmoil.

Fijian Soldiers on Board

The conversations among the yachties and expatriates at the bar at the Copra Shed are mostly about the rumors of what is going on in town that day, which place had armed men threatening it, which bank was closing for good, which family was run off their land. We also voice our opinions about how stupid it all is and what should be done about it. Of course this is all a waste of time. This problem won't be solved by foreigners sitting in the bar at the Copra Shed. It will be solved, or at least concluded, if it ever is, by the people of Fiji, according to their rules and preferences. All we can really do is watch and wait, or leave. Maybe we should.

Junior Sailing In Fiji

But we don't leave. We keep to our wishfull thinking that it will all be better tomorrow, that all of this doesn't affect us, and that we can keep to our cruising plan which includes a couple of months in Fiji. Besides, it is stunningly beautifull here and we don't want to leave. Right now it is late afternoon. This is a mountainous region and as the sun's rays get lower the jungles on the mountainsides turn into more intense, deeper, shades of green. The rows of peaks in the distance are each more hazy than the one before, and nearby a lazy column of smoke from some burning vegitation wafts our way. A local named Curly and his partner stand motionless on their pontoon boat dingy as their 3.3 hp outboard powers them sedately up Nakama Creek towards their floating home upstream. We sit in WINGS' cockpit on our recliner deck chairs drinking rum and pinapple juice, watching the pastoral scene unfold. We think it will be alright. We hope it will. We stay.

Wings at the Copra Shed Marina, Savu Savu

What is behind the political problem in Fiji, and how serious is it? In the first place it is deadly serious, and we wonder if the worst is yet to come. The background, in a nutshell, is that the native Fijians are watching the wealth and power shift to Indian immigrants, people brought here 150 years ago by the British to work the sugar cane fields. The Fijians own the land and occupy most of the government, police, and military positions, and the Indians own the shops, have the professional jobs, and do most of the raw labor. Whenever the Indians have won elections and taken real political power, twice since independance in 1970, the Fijians use strong arm politics to wrest it back. First in 1987 and now in May of this year Fijian strongmen have taken over and kicked out Indian elected governments. This time it was triggered when the new Indian government uncovered a kickback scheme on a government Mahagony lumber deal. They stopped it and the Fijians who were set to make a bundle took matters in their own hands. They deposed the Indian led government, revoked the constitution, and are arguing amongst themselves about how they are going to set up a new government. The natives figure this is a perfect time to draw attention to every real or imagined grievance they have suffered in the last 100 years, usually at the hands of their own Fijian governments, and throughout the land they have taken to reoccupy traditional lands, set up roadblocks, taken over schools, burned shops and terrorized their Indian neighbors. The Police and Army have generally done little to stop this lawlessness which has enboldened the natives. The tourism and manufacturing economy is in ruin, the country is deep into deficit spending, and overseas governments are invoking sanctions against Fiji. It is hard to see how this coup will ever result in any improvement for the Fijians. More likely it will set back their country by 30 years, however, they at least have gotten the power back in the hands of their corrupt insiders, the powerful few can fill their pockets with timber bribes, and they can certainly break the backs of the Indians. Of course this latter move will probably ruin the sugar industry as well, but who cares as long as the upstart Indians aren't getting ahead of the Fijians.

Do we sound cynical? Of course we do. Originally we were saddened by the events in this country, now we are just disgusted and angry. Right now we are waiting for some parts to be shipped in and then we aren't sure what we'll do or where we'll go. One thing is for sure, life in the enclave, while seemingly safe and easy, is an awfull lot like keeping your head in the sand. In order to enjoy yourself you have to ignore what is going on outside.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Savu Savu

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Friday, November 06, 1998

November 7, 1998-Touring Fiji


We knew there was a path through these reefs, the chart clearly showed one, but it also showed several navigation markers. Where were those?

Finally I spotted some broken posts, one with a drooping metal sign. Ahah! These must be the markers. We proceeded carefully through the narrow, twisting passage, past missing markers, with reefs on both sides. It took the two of us, both fully attentive, to keep Wings safe, and it took three days!

Navigating in Fiji around Viti Levu’s North Coast to rejoin Elyxir at Ovalau had seemed like a good idea, surely an unusual one in the minds of our friends back at Malolo Lailai, but motoring inside the reefs instead of sailing farther north in Bligh waters, made it one of our more stressful trips. We were lucky to make it without mishap.

The pay off was being able to visit some out of the way places, well off the tourist path.

We anchored each afternoon and stayed overnight tucked behind points of land and in small bays, and we went ashore to explore the empty shorelines. Walking down lonely roads surrounded by sugar cane fields we saw only a cow here and there and an occasional house among the rolling hills. From time to time we could hear a car or bus roar by on the highway, on their way around the big island, but we saw few people.

Road to Rakiraki

This part of Fiji is a very quiet place.


One day we made it to the highway and hitched a ride into Ba, one of the sugar towns on this coast. Here we found a few Indian department stores and curry restaurants, and all the women were dressed in sari’s.


We had it in mind to go to Rakiraki, simply because the exotic name attracted us, but the day wore on and we headed back to Vitia Wharf, behind which Wings was anchored. When we got there we found the tide had gone out and left our dingy stranded by 100 yards of thick mud and sharp barnacled rocks.

Getting through that mess to the water was a struggle.

Another day we anchored in Ellington Bay and met a couple of Indian men who had turned from sugar farming to fishing. They stopped their 14’ plywood craft alongside and came aboard for a tour. They expressed wonderment at the winches and other equipment on Wings. At Ellington Bay there was a large passenger ferry, the “Ovalau”, tied to a pier, and appearing disused. We could hear a gen. set running, and saw laundry hanging out on the upper deck. There must be some residents.

The biggest town was Lautoka, a bustling city with an economy based on sugar mills. We found our way to the central market and smelled the rich aromas of bulk spices, and we had lunches in the curry houses. We found supermarkets for provisioning, and great prices at shops of all kinds. When we got back to the boat we found black snowflake sized ashes from the mills covering our decks, and it was a continuing struggle to clean off the sooty stains.

We enjoyed this part of the coast, more than the Yasawas, the popular island group in Nadi Waters where most of the cruisers headed after race week. There we’d found traveling dangerous in the vast uncharted areas and, with the exception of the “Blue Lagoon”, poor harbors. The contrast between the peoples who lived there and those on the North Coast was also educational. In the Yasawa’s there were Fijian villages, with grass houses and a communal live style little changed for centuries. Children ran naked in the village and the adults frequently demanded fees from yachts. On the North Coast the Indian people had frame or brick houses, and their kids were sent off to school every day dressed in neat clothes and shined shoes, packing bundles of school books. We saw these two divergent cultures first hand and could see for ourselves why clashes were going to be inevitable as the industrious Indians gradually accumulated wealth and the Fijians stagnated.

Waya Island

Rounding the NE corner of Viti Levu we finally reached open waters and could again set sail. Elixir awaited us at Naigani Island. This was again land occupied by Fijians, and after we anchored we made our way to the chief’s house to perform Sevu Sevu with the village elders, a ceremony in which we made an offer of Yagona, the bundled roots of the Kava plant, and they in turn shared a bowl of Kava, the narcotic drink prepared from those roots. The ceremony completed, we received permission to stay the night. Afterwards one elder took us aside and told us that the poor quality of our Yagona was an insult to the chief, and we were lucky not to be snubbed because of it. The requirement to do the Sevu Sevu at every island aggravated us.

Going to do Sevu Sevu

During colonial times the capital of Fiji was the town of Levuka, on Ovalau Island, and we anchored there off the main street, and then went ashore and walked along the older wooden buildings. For a price, a taxi driver took us on a tour of the island, where we saw a white church standing stark against the green jungles.

Ovalau Boats

There was more to our tour of Fiji, including visits to Vuda Point, Port Denerau, and Nadi, all in the West, and a stay in the Gnau Islands, in the East, where the Fijians turned Sevu Sevu into a full on press for cash donations. We completed our circumnavigation of Viti Levu when we arrived in Suva, the capital.


Royal Suva Yacht Club

In Suva we stayed at the Royal Suva Yacht Club, shopped in town, went to western movies, and enjoyed cool drinks at the yacht club bar. We also participated in a race in with the local boats, a hair raising affair among reefs and other obstacles, and were happy to get through unscathed.

Suva Market

As much as we’d seen of Fiji in nearly three months, we’d hardly scratched the surface, but it was time to prepare for the passage to New Zealand. As we got ready to depart, we made a promise to return.


Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Fiji


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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