26th September 2006: Fragile Fiji - Coups, Coral and Sugar Cane; and 2006/7 Intrepid Schedule.
A number of people have asked us for more details of where we are going to
be in 2006, so they can decide how best to join Intrepid. So we have done
our best, here is the draft plan for Intrepid's destinations in 2006, in
case you want to sail on her. If you do, email us with your 1st and 2nd choices,
and maybe we can meet to discuss before May 2006. We aim to arrive in Brisbane mid
November 2005, just before the start of the cyclone season, returning to UK
on 15th December 2005, staying in Somerset to see my mother, then in our
village of West Peckham in Kent during the first half of January 2006,
departing UK 1st February 2006, via West Coast USA and NZ.
Leg 1: Intrepid should depart Brisbane about 1st May 2006 (after the cyclone
season), going 800 miles north to Cairns (arriving about early June).
Leg 2: 1300 miles round the northern tip of
Australia and the Torres Straight to Darwin (August).
Leg 3 Continuing west 1000 miles through Indonesia to Bali (early
Leg 4: Cruising north 1200+ miles hopefully via parts of Borneo including
Kuching, and Bintulu and Miri where we used to live for 4 years, before
arriving in Singapore October 2006.
Leg 5: North from Singapore 400 miles to West Coast of Malaysia to Thailand
in November 2006, where Intrepid will take a break while we fly home.
Legs 6, 7, 8, 9 etc : We await the Monsoon winds in about January 2007 to
waft us west towards Sri Lanka, India and Oman during early 2007, arriving
south end of Red Sea about end March and Eastern Med early April 2007
As you can see this approximates to 100-200 miles/week, so there is plenty
of time to go ashore, explore, as well as a few longer passages. This is a
cruise not a race. If any part of this itinerary appeals to you, please
email us. We cannot take everyone, but we like sailing with friends, and
anyway would love to discuss it. When we have expressions of interest, we
can discuss airports to arrive and depart from, and timing,. You would need to pay your
airfare and travel insurance, and share food and drink costs, and marina and
car rental (depends where we
are - there aren't many marinas or rental cars!). That's it.
The itinerary depends as usual on all
sorts of family and weather factors including Avian Flu outbreaks, world
politics, cyclones, tsunamis, and other calamities. (Tsunamis are relatively
safe if you are in a boat as the wave just passes under you). So that's why
we cannot be completely definite about places and dates. But they should all be
nice places to visit.........................................................................................................
but back to Fiji:
Stress! I got up at 0630 on the final day of the Ashes Cricket
test match to listen to Australian radio to discover if England won. And the
reception was so bad, I couldn't tell, (maybe they were jamming their own
broadcast?) .... until I finally got a signal on NZ radio, to learn that
England had drawn and therefore 'won' (you have to be English to understand
that I am afraid). I guess when we are away from it all, its unfair to
expect to be able to tune in on demand, so I am just pleased that you had
such a thrilling series in UK. Later even Fijians
greeted me with the cricket news. What a shame that the BBC worldservice
keeps being downsized.
Our son James arrived in Fiji in good shape having gone through the Vietnam
tunnels, stayed with Chris and Jill in Sydney, and trekked up a NZ peak in a
blizzard. We stayed in Suva one more day, then left Suva Harbour at first
light for Levuka, the original capital of Fiji.
Levuka is on Ovalau island 10 miles by 5, off the east coast of the main
island, Viti Levu. It became the capital when the first westerners started
to discover Fiji, and the 'King' of Bau (a tiny island off the south coast)
discovered that he could acquire lots of muskets by 'giving' bits of Fiji to
the newcomers. Of course it was not his to give, but I guess he reckoned
that by the time this was discovered, his muskets would enable him to bluff
his way out of it. (Bit like Governments today perhaps). Anyway, one of his
first 'gifts' was Ovalau island, and the westerners therefore started the
first trading post there which grew into
the de facto capital. When the Ovalauans protested, there was a war which
Ovalau was winning until the King of Bau sent in the missionaries, who
persuaded the Ovalauans to come to a feast, where they were promptly sold
into slavery for 3 pounds each, until Queen Victoria intervened and they
were allowed back. Moral: 'Dont trust anyone' I suppose. After a bit it
became inconvenient to have a capital remote from the main island, and it
was moved to Suva, about 40 miles away.
The economy depended on sugar by this time. Plantation owners when they
found that indigenous Fijians (even slaves) were not keen to work in sugar
plantations, first used 'blackbirds' - Solomon, and other
islanders who were trapped drugged, sold or duped into becoming virtual
slaves, then when this was banned, in about 1880 - 1910 brought in
indentured workers from the poorer parts of India for 5 year contracts. To
qualify for a return ticket home they had to sign
up for a 2nd 5 year term. Understandably, many chose to just stay and do
what they could to start their own small farms. Meanwhile the indigenous
Fijians had their numbers reduced by diseases such as measles and by vicious
campaigns by British troops against the interior tribes who still resisted
Move the calendar forward to 1990's and people of Indian descent living
mainly in the cities especially Suva, and following their religion, language
and customs make up about 50% of Fiji's electorate, worrying if you are an indigenous Fijian
who thought Fiji had been restored to its local people at independence in
1970, only to find that the British Colonists without asking you, have
brought in 100,000 foreigners and given them citizenship, and almost a majority.
The Fijian army has always been an effective commando force, and a
number of counter terrorist units have been deployed under UN authority in
places such as (interestingly) Israel. The first coup in Fiji was in 1987,
and another in 2000 when an election produced a coalition of the multiracial Fijian Labour Party with
the Fijian Association, and Mahendra Chaudry (of Indian descent) became
Prime Minister. Ex soldiers from the army's counter terrorist units entered
Parliament and took the Government including the PM hostage for 8 weeks.
Finally the rebels leader, failed businessman George Speight, and the Head
of the Army, Bainimarama (an indigenous Fijian in spite of his name)
negotiated a deal whereby a new President and PM acceptable to the rebels
would be nominated. When the President chose Querase, a PM not favoured by
the rebels, George Speight phoned the President and threatened his life.
This enabled Bainimarama to arrest Speight and 300 rebels on
charges of treason, and they were put in prison. However the rebels
clearly had a great of support from the indigenous Fijians, and 'prison' was
actually a pretty island near Suva used mainly for picnics. Now Fiji has a
Reconciliation Bill modelled very closely on South Africa's which enables
the President to grant amnesty to the rebels after due process of
forgiveness, and at least one 'convict' came out of prison this week and was the next day
made a Minister in the Government. All this has badly scared the Indian
population - when we talked to them they generally just want to get out, but
dont know where to go, so they continue to trade and the Fijian's land
rights are now protected by a Land Trust.
Levuka in 2005 is like a one horse cowboy town largely unchanged from the
1880's - a few dusty stores, a few small hotels, a single main street. The
tuna canning factory has about 1 Chinese fishing boat every 3 days, and 33
yachts have visited this year. This keeps the Customs force of 6 'very'
busy, it took over one hour to prepare forms etc. Customs is a prize job,
and its easy to see why - the equivalent of 5000 UK pounds/year and little to do.
We visited the Lovoni village in the central crater of Ovalau with Epi,
whose family were the Advisors to the Chief, until they were all sold into
slavery (each tribe had different clans responsible for some aspect of
village life - Advisor seems a pretty good one - I suppose we would say
Consultant now). Epi showed us the medicinal plants including the bark of
the Fijian LiChee tree which cures Hepatitis, and the Lantana plant (pretty
multicoloured flowers), whose leaves when crushed produce a green liquid
that cures infections and mosquito bites. Epi is married to Joanna, a
business graduate from Sunderland in UK - they have 3 children, and Joanna is on good
terms with the other ladies in this remote village - and seems genuinely
happy - I suppose thats one thing to do with a business degree.........
We continued round the east coast of Fiji, anchored off Naigani Island for
the night. Good snorkelling, we found and spared a family of
lobsters......Naigani was given to the Riley family in 1820's, now most has reverted to Fijians.
There are not many navigational marks in Fiji now. We therefore chose to go
north round the awful NE reefs, rather than thread through the inner
passage, and aimed towards an entrance to Nananu-I Ra island that our 2
pilot books and charts assured us had not only leading marks but also 4
Until we got closer and closer to the 'entrance' and not one mark or beacon
could we see. So slowly closer.......and closer......and suddenly we were
within 5 metres of a wicked reef. Very hurried reverse, back to sea, what to do?
There is no other entrance for 20 miles and its dark in 2 hours..............
And we spot a small ferry coming our way. So we wait, and then follow our
'guide ferry' through the entrance in the reef - he's using a different approach
angle (205T rather than the 169T the pilot books recommend) and God knows
what navigational marks, but they work. We go west round the island and
narrowly avoiding more coral heads, anchor next to a deserted resort just as
Next day James and I snorkel to see just how close we have anchored to coral
(5 metres), and move south to a beautiful sand beach, and walk round the island admiring the
homes. Only problem is water.....many resorts have to barge in drinking
water, and even the toilets are restricted. But the Bures (chalets) at
Bethams (www.bethams.com.fj) are within 5 metres of the white sand beach
Next day, we went out following our pink line track on our chart plotter
that shows where we have been - the only way we could navigate out - and
sailed west outside the reef that surrounds the north of Viti Levu, admiring the terrific view of the hills
and valleys and farms, then inside just east of Ba, the northern town
threading through big reefs with, this time, a few essential posts acting as
markers. We walked through farms that were almost perfect Indian tradition - ploughing
is usually by pairs of oxen, or a rusty tractor, the fields are small and
varied, some sugar cane but also tomatoes, cattle, goats...., the people
friendly, we met Dick, the ex mayor of Ba and discussed wind turbines, (he
wants to start tourist eco friendly accommodation); I had left my wallet
behind and had only F$1.20 in coins, but we could still buy ice lollies each
for F$0.35 (15 US cents).
Then inside the reef to Fiji's 2nd city, Lautoka where there is a
marina..........or not. Both pilot books showed it, but a cyclone
must have trashed it, there is no trace now. So we anchored beyond the large
port, near the small fishing boat harbour, had pizza, and I watched the
semi final of the Fiji rugby cup - the interest was so high that crowds had
broken down the surrounding fence and everyone spilled in, including I am
afraid me. Fiji are world 7's champions in rugby, and it was a superb game,
played to a high standard, flying tackles. Not an Indian Fijian to be seen
though, on the pitch or the crowd. We then sailed the 7 miles to Vuda Point Marina, which
wasn't in the Pilot Books, but was for real.
If you leave your yacht in Vuda Point through the cyclone season, you have
to have it taken out of the water, and the keel is buried in the ground.
Reasonable precaution I guess. Its a pleasant marina, one of the few in the
Pacific, not expensive (F$120/week, ($60)) definitely a working place, lots
of repairs going on, good yacht club overlooking the bay, great for
sundowners and beyond.
We hired a 4x4 next day (F$140/d incl ($70)) and drove back along the north
coast to Ba, then turned south on the only 'road' to cross the island north/south. I say
'road', maybe track would be a better description, James enjoyed driving,
throwing his poor parents around like coconuts in a cyclone. We stayed at
Navai Village, with Makereta Laulau and her parents, Tom and Caracia.
Makereta is training to be an eco guide (she is 19) and her mother cooked a superb
village meal of cassava, taro, and assorted leaves.We donated some meat, and
then went to the community hall where we had already presented our savu savu
(welcome gift -1/2 Kg of Kava root) to the Village Chief. Our Kava had
already been soaked in water and we were sat next to the Deputy Chief and
each had 1 cup of Kava to drink. 100 students from the University of West
Pacific were also there on a field trip - 12 nationalities including
Italian, American, Japanese, a real melting pot. The Kava flowed freely that
night, and by 4am Tom and some friends were still wandering round like
But our main objective was to climb Mt Victoria, the highest peak in Fiji.
We were up early to get ahead of the students, and Makereta guided us along
the valley then up some 60 degree slopes 'where there should have been a
rope' to the top - tremendous views. Coming down we met the students
straggled out like ink stains on a blotting paper, fittest first, then down
to the heaviest a few miles behind, who had to walk in the mud created by
90 students preceding them.
Carrying on south, James must have beaten the cross Fiji record for a 4x4 by
several hours, and we made it to the Raintree Lodge just north of Suva
before sundown. The Raintree (email@example.com) is built beside
a flooded quarry,and went bust just after the last coup, but an enterprising
European bought it, and it is now almost full with NZ student tour groups. It has a great restaurant
overlooking the lake and forest. F$60 for a double room ($30), F$22 ($11)
for dorm beds.
We continued our drive round the south of the island to Sigatoka where our
friends the Davis's had introduced us to Alex and Alice Hill who run the
Diveaway operation. We chatted and Alex took James on a good dive (Fiji has
something like 100 diving companies, and with all its reefs and coral is one
of the top diving locations in the world - indeed 5 of the 'Best in the
World' sites are here), then through the massive Sigatoka
sand dunes where remains of the Lapita people have been found, and huge
sculptured sand dunes frame waves crashing onto reefs, and as we got further
north west towards Latauka, admired the sugar trains - tiny narrow gauge
engines running on rails that are often laid directly onto the fields, then
removed later, small trucks laden with raw sugar cane.
We had a great 2 weeks with James, but he has his final year at Bath
University so next day we sadly sent him off to Nadi Airport, and returned to a suddenly quiet
Intrepid. We will now cruise the Mamanucas and Yasawas, north west of Viti
Levu, before Bernard and Beryl arrive to crew with us to Brisbane.
We hope you are all enjoying fine autumnal fruits (or melting snow and
spring flowers depending on the hemisphere), and have not been battered by
any of these awful hurricanes. The website www.intrepidofdover.co.uk has
been updated to include new photos of whales etc....
With all best wishes,
Andy and Nicky Gibb.
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