9th September 2005: Tonga to Fiji - Fitful Democracies and Self-Sufficiency
Since Vavau, in northern Tonga, is at 19 South, 174 W, its only fair
to have tropical rain, but even so this was impressive - great walls of
water coming out of a looming grey sky onto deserted islands, the sort of
picture they dont want you to see in brochures. It could have been deeply
disappointing, but the Mouna Island Resort specialises in
up-market honeymoons, and the 4 couples seemed content, presumably with
other things on their mind. Nicky and I had dropped in for a good
dinner, and before that, not being honeymooners, I had done the next best
thing and taken the Duogen wind/water generator apart and replaced the
bearings and seals, while the rain splashed outside. The Duogen is a clever
concept enabling us to produce electricity when sailing by using the
movement of water past Intrepid to turn the generator, and when anchored, to use wind power. Duogen
have been really good on after sales service, and now the weather gave me
the excuse I
5 years ago I didn't really know what a bearing was, (a bullring, but
for bears?), a seal was a furry aquatic creature, I talked like a
psychologist to broken equipment, and paid people large sums to repair it.
But good marine technicians are rare, and not usually where you want them,
(like in mid ocean), and why pay other incompetents to make mistakes and
learn on your equipment, when you can learn for yourself ? So 4 hours later
the new seal should keep seawater out, and new ball bearings on its shaft
enables the Duogen to spin smoothly once
more, generating electricity which is important as modern sailing (to get
away from it all) demands 10+ amps of 12V power every hour - 2 amps for
instruments and electronic charts, 2 for radar, 3 for the fridge, 3 for the
autopilot that turns the rudder, and 2-8 for lights, water
pumps, laptops etc, Doesnt sound like much, but you would use up to 6 car
batteries just for 24 hours sailing at that rate, and then another 6 the
next day....But the Duogen will produce 10 amps continuously at 6.5 knots so
we can be .....more or less self sufficient.
Tongan Civil Servants are still on rotating strike, and the dispute has
already become political (the aims are now for a 80% pay rise AND a
change of Government from a King to a democratically elected system). Hard
to settle this sort of demand, and a NZ mediation team has just gone home.
However there is no hint of violence in Vavau, unlike the capital .
We sailed off past Late Island ( a recent volcano) 470 miles westward to
Suva, the capital of Fiji. After a few hours, the wind swung south and
increased and for the next 48 hours we had a lovely sail in wind increasing
to 35 knots - a full gale, doing 7 knots with reefed sails. Did you know
that wave height increases the longer the wind blows, up to a limit? So after 48 hours of 35 knot winds we also
had 5 metre waves (16 feet), huge towering monsters (Intrepid's deck is only
4 feet above water level, and our cockpit only 6 feet above the sea). So we
really do rely on Intrepid lifting to each wave - which she does unfailingly
and the monster rushes past, white foam splashing up. No moon - of course -
all our good intentions to arrange our overnights when the moon is full had
fallen foul of staying longer in Vavau.
Fiji consist of 1 big island, Viti Levu, about 120 miles long and 80 wide,
the next biggest, Vanua Levu north east of it, and about 300 smaller ones
including the primitive Lau group which lie between Tonga and Fiji like a
barrier 100 miles long. We could not visit, as yachts have to first check in
to Fiji at one of 4 ports of entry. The only passages through the Laus are very narrow,
reefy and not lit, so we went round the south. This was the first time Nicky
and I had sailed a long ( 3-4 overnights) passage by ourselves for some time.
Although this meant we had to do 5 hour watches (Nicky 9pm-2am and I 2am to 7am), it also
meant that when on watch we had the run of Intrepid apart from our aft cabin, so
brighter lights and being able to make more noise offset the
disadvantages to some extent. There is not much shipping - we didn't see
another ship, yacht, boat or raft in the 3.25 days it took to do 470 miles -
and only 3 birds! But we did pass 180 degrees East/West, so our position is
now 178E 18S - after 3.5 years, we are past halfway from Greenwich and Dover!
Drill through the centre of the earth from Fiji and you would come up in the
middle of the Sahara Desert (2W 18N).
The entrance to Suva Harbour is fairly easy, 1/4 mile wide between reefs,
and we anchored just off the Royal Suva Yacht Club, and radioed for Customs
and Immigration. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fiji is keen on immigration
controls, and has a reputation for being the most bureaucratic of all
islands in the Pacific. The formalities take a minimum of 2 hours, and
often very much longer. We arrived at 2pm, and weren't allowed off Intrepid
until we were reported to Customs at 8am next morning, where we filled in 8
different forms, then caught a taxi to the Fijian Affairs Board who gave us
a letter of introduction/cruising permit and we were all done by midday.
Smile, be polite and its OK, just a bit frustrating as much of the
information we gave was ludicrous, its an exercise in bureaucracy - but
I guess the British taught this.
We had followed a similar track to loyalists from the Bounty. The mutiny
occurred in Tonga, in the Ha'apai group south of Vavau, and Captain
Bligh piloted his small boat some 3000 miles west through the Fiji
islands,charting them roughly as he went and then came back to chart them
properly. Until then most ships avoided Fiji because of the horrendous
shoals around and the ferocity of the Fijian warriors. But Bligh's charts
and of all things sandalwood and beche de mer (smoked sea slugs) changed all
that - fortunes were made selling these in Asia, and British and American
traders flocked in until Fiji had logged all its sandalwood, and the various
warring chiefs had descended into such anarchy that Britain almost
regretfully it seems and at their request annexed Fiji as a colony.
Suva is home to 350,000 of the total +/- 850,000 Fijians.
However most tourists never see Suva and fly into and out of Nadi
(pronounced Nandi) which is the international airport on the west of the
island (Suva is in the south east of Viti Levu and is the main harbour). Its
not difficult to see why tourists avoid Suva - the wet trade winds blow from
the south east and drop what seems to be almost perpetual rain or drizzle on
Suva, whereas the mountains in the centre protect the west from most of the rain. Suva is home
to many Fijians of Indian descent and is also the place where 2 recent
coups took place (more of that later).
I don't want to inflate the title of 10 best bars in the world, but the
Royal Suva Yacht Club must also qualify. A large friendly double sided bar
area, beers at F$1.70 ($1), gin and tonic F$2.20($1.30), weekly membership
is F$38 ($20) including use of the dinghy dock and facilities. We were
there on Friday evening, and finally staggered away late in our dinghy 4
inches full of rain water, (did I say it rained in Suva?), returning on
Saturday to watch NZ thrillingly beat Australia in the final Trinations
rugby (South Africa is the 3rd nation). Sunday we had lunch at John (NZ) and
Catherine's (Aus) lovely house which has views of 270 degrees over Suva
waters. A lovely family (3 daughters) who now have Fijian nationality and
are at home here in every sense of the word.
I really like Suva, it may often be
raining, but at least the rain is warm and evaporates off you
quickly, and the central market is one of the best I have seen,
huge, lovely produce eg for F$1 ($0.50) we could buy: 6 cucumbers; or 1lb
tomatoes, or 2 lettuces all beautifully fresh (but watch the pesticides!).
Lots of internet cafes (of varying quality), cheap and good taxis, its the biggest
city in the Pacific and buzzes - although the majority Indian population are
worried, they are getting on with business, clothing shops and hardware
abound, the curries (try 'The Cottage') are special,and specialist
coffee shops are growing in number (no Starbucks yet). The Suva Museum seems to have dropped most of its
exhibits extolling cannibalism, (the record was 900 people eaten by one
chief), but there are still enough vicious war clubs with notches recording
how many deaths each had caused in close quarter fighting; and a specially
built double hulled seagoing canoe in which the Pacific was navigated. These
vessels were about 25 metres long, with central cabin and lateen sail - easy
to see how the Pacific was developed once these were built.
We drove north of Suva along the undeveloped East coast with Green
Turtle tours. They are just starting in Fiji, and we were their guinea pigs,
their first tourists from Suva. Seru had been with the Ministry
of Tourism promoting eco tourism. His home village is an island just off the
east coast renowned for the ferocity of its warriors, he had courted his
wife who lived on another island, and had swum to meet her secretly and they
fled together in a boat pursued by her father. Now he is worried because his
son who is in the British Army (he travelled to UK specially to enlist) has
just become engaged to a German lady.
Seru showed us the Eton of Fiji (the elite boarding school for indigenous
Fijians, where most of the leaders including the present PM Querase went to
school), the (long overdue) road being built along the east coast by a
Chinese contractor, his home island (where the first successful missionaries
landed) and his family's 'town house' in Suva where any member of the
extended family stay when they come from the island. He also showed us some
freehold land which had been farmed by Indians until the 2000 coup, during
which the local indigenous Fijians chased them away and the Indians have
never returned. The Fijians never tried work the farms, and the land is
slowly reverting to scrubby vines. The Fijian Constitution is being amended
to incorporate indigenous land rights, which Fijians see as the key to their
future power. Non-ethnic Fijians can lease land from communities for 30 or
99 years but not have freehold. There is an election in 2006 - and every
citizen is required to vote - this will probably favour ethnic Fijians who
find it harder to persuade their people to vote.
Seru took us to Natalei Village. 5 years ago the village as a whole had
pooled money and built an Eco-lodge - 4 Bures (Fijian style thatched houses) and 2 more
western style with a dining and entertainment area, all within 10 metres of
the black sand beach, and in the shade of 100 year old banyan trees. No-one
in the village owns a car, so no roads, cars, fumes, the village generator
is shut off until some villagers pay the F$1/week due, and the Eco Lodge
is run by the young people of Natalei. If ever you are looking for a place
away from almost all the stresses of western life I cannot recommend
Natalei too highly. Its quiet, genuine and well ordered. We were welcomed by
Ben (the young manager), then after lunch walked with Mary and 4 other
19 year olds up to a waterfall/pool where we swam/dived and played 'He'
(Tag) for what seemed like hours before wandering the 1/2 hour back to the
village for a great crab and prawn dinner, dancing with half the village
participating (mainly because the Eco Lodge had the only
working generator) and a full scale Kava ceremony with all genuine
seriousness to welcome us to the village. There were 5 young men
involved and this was serious stuff, as the 1/2 Kg Kava root we had brought
was formally presented and received, some previously ground Kava root was
doused in water and stirred in the big Kava bowl, and then handed to me to
drink. I clapped once before, drank then clapped 3 times. The Kava
tasted like washing up water, but produces a tingly then numb feeling around
the lips. Then Nicky (under protest) then the others, including Mary and Ben
(who had acted as our spokesman).
We woke next day to the sound of Minah birds in the roof, and cocks crowing,
and after breakfast walked along the beach to the primary school shared by 3
villages. It was the first day of term, and
assembly was in progress. The dynamic headmistress invited us in, and was so
excited that we came from England 'where Queen Elizabeth lives' that we felt
like royalty. 114 children, 4 teachers, beautifully run, the classrooms
looked just like those of my mother when she was teaching 4-5 year olds in
Walking back to Natalei, we quizzed our 19 year old friends about their plans and ambitions. Rachel has 2 brothers
working in Suva, and lives with them while she trains to be a teacher,
Nina's brother is a Policeman and her sister a nurse, both in Suva,
Mary (who is 26) finished school and came back to the village. A policeman
or nurse or teacher earns about F$100/2 weeks, about US$25 (15
pounds)/week - but this is still enough to make them well off and enable
them to buy presents of clothes and sometimes shoes for their younger brothers and
sisters. Mary goes barefoot, not having 'rich' brothers. We bought a woven
mat for F$90, ($45) partly to bring money in. But all the people in the
village emphasised that they did not want a full money economy - they had
enough land to grow all the food they needed, wood and palms for houses, clean water, and the
stress of finding enough money for the few items that required money, made
them realise that actually they preferred village life with less money and
less stress, to more money, possessions and stress.
There are 4 churches in the village for 100 houses and 500 souls, on average 10% of income goes to the churches.
Nicky asked the girls: "How do you want to grow up - do you want to be
like your mothers, and uphold the village customs?"
They were engagingly shy about it, they wanted to see the 'outside world'
but when they were in the big city (Suva) they were homesick, and Yes, they
would uphold village customs. Ben said that if he could just visit
Australia once, he could then remain in the village forever, because he
would have seen all that mattered in the world. When men marry the wife
moves into the fathers home, then the man asks permission from the elders to
build his own house, which he does with the help of another family, cutting down trees from
the community forests above the village, then chain-sawing them into planks
and using corrugated iron (F$20($9)/sheet) or palm fronds for the roof.
Money is acquired when needed by diving for beche de mer, or fishing or selling crops
or gifts from the family, but when the need has passed there is no attempt
to accumulate more money. Elderly parents live in their own house, and are
looked after by 1 or more children who remain in the village.
Natalei is off the beaten track - literally, there is no black top road.
Ben's phone is 679-8811168. Our accommodation including 3 full meals
was F$65/person ($30), the Green Turtle Tour to get there, with visits on
the way, F$73/person ($35).
Next day we explored the south coast. One of the 30 villages in the most powerful province in Fiji, the entire
village (100 people) are descended from a 19 year old Londoner,
John Danford who was stranded here in 1820's and became friend and advisor
to the Chief. After 30 years he took the Chief's paramount wife, and settled
next to the Navua River. We travelled up river in a long boat for about 15 minutes. The
village have embraced tourism, as well as Methodism (the main selling point
seemed to be that the Methodists allowed Kava, others did not), and we saw
crops planted, lovo lunch cooked in the ground, and then a wicked waterfall
and a ride on a (rather wet) bamboo raft. For the Kava ceremony I was
selected as 'Chief which sounds glamorous, until they explained
that they usually pick the eldest man.....still I get to have Kava first etc
James arrives today from a Round The World trip via Vietnam, Sydney and NZ.
He will be with us for 2 weeks - we are really excited. We are planning our
itinerary for 2006 and will put this in the next email - do let us know if
you want to sail on Intrepid for part of Brisbane (May 2006) to Thailand
(November 2006) for 14 days up to 14 weeks. We can't accommodate everyone,
so please tell us if you are interested, and where/when, no commitments. The
international airports are reasonably convenient, and cheaper to get to than
the Pacific. You pay your own airfares and share food/drink and marina (if
With all best wishes from an overcast Suva Harbour, and concern at the
effects on New Orleans society of Hurricane Katrina,
Andy and Nicky
(BTW, if anyone wants to buy a yacht, a friend in New York is selling a
really nicely designed Franchini 47 foot -built in Italy in 2002, it is in
NY/Annapolis - asking price is $420K).
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