“The traveler is active:
he goes strenuously in search of people,
of adventure, of experience.
The tourist is passive:
he expects interesting things to happen to him.”
- Daniel J. Boorstin (354-430)
Volcanic Late Island.
Zoom out to see where we are.
Suspended in an otherwise cerulean sky, sparsely scattered and puffy cumulus hung propitiously above the face of the gentle seas. But a low-lying haze prevented us from sighting volcanic Late Island until we were within a dozen miles of it. A gentle, late August quartering breeze filled the cruising spinnaker and loafed the brig along effortlessly at 5 knots. Thus we traveled pleasantly beneath chute alone for two days.
Then at sunrise, while passing between the islands of Ongea Levu and Vatoa, and now in Melanesian waters, we encountered a weather trough. The wind slackened and the dark skies burst forth a copious downpour. We dowsed the spinnaker, which only wrapped tenaciously about the bowsprit, and for the next several minutes we had to coax the drenched spread of ethereal nylon back into captivity.
The helmsman in the rain.
The weather conditions suggested a turn for the worse, so we steered north and motored for Ongea Levu in hopes of finding protected anchorage in the event of a sudden blow. But by noon the wind steadied and the skies began clearing, so we pressed on toward Suva. Unbeknown to us, some of the yachts that had departed Tonga a day ahead of us, were being hammered in a vicious on-shore gale near Suva, so our decision to linger the extra day in Tonga proved a timely one.
In the south-west Pacific one encounters a noteworthy atmospheric phenomenon. With the passing of a trough, the wind will slowly back around the compass, full circle. We had first experienced this in Bora Bora, and had witnessed it many times since. The south-east trade winds will be blowing strongly when clouds will speedily form and begin sputtering rain. Then the south-easterlies will shift east, north-east, and so on. When they are blowing due south the trough is supposedly directly overhead.
The many beautiful islands we were passing by were altogether enticing, but Fijian regulations forbade one's stopping at any of these before clearing-in at an official port of entry on the big island of Viti Levu. Nevertheless, as we made way toward Moala Island we decided to find an anchorage for the evening.
We attempted to enter a pass through the reef on the east side of the island. The wind was now favorable, but a late afternoon sun glared from directly ahead, and obscured whatever lay beneath the water's surface. In our path we could see nothing of the sea bed, even though here the water was pellucid and somewhat shallow. Nevertheless, it seemed safe to ease our way in at a snail's pace, until suddenly we found ourselves in shoal waters strewn with sinister coral heads. Suddenly we became aware of Suka's motion as she heaved in the incoming swell, and that this swell was shoving her into the lagoon. The next few moments were dire ones. Jenny hollered her precipitate warnings and I swung the helm hard over and gunned the engine. We narrowly averted wrecking the ship.
Shaken, we sailed around the island to its north and west, and regaining the offing we resumed our journey to Viti Levu.
The following day dawned clear. The wind had slackened so we motor-sailed toward the big island, now clearly visible on the horizon. I was sitting idly at the helm when suddenly I saw an uncharted reef a short distance ahead. I swung the helm hard over, and the "reef" blew a cloud of hissing steam. A whale, perhaps twice Suka's length remained motionless at the surface, appearing as a glistening black submarine bereft of its conning tower. Due to its great mass, it was not bobbing with the swell as was Suka. Rather, the swells were breaking over its back like surf on a beach. After going around it, we left behind this massive, mobile navigational hazard, feeling duly reminded of the hazards of sailing at night.
The harbor from outside the reef.
Zoom out to see where we are.
Mid afternoon we entered the harbor and anchored in 5 fathoms of murky water off the Royal Suva Yacht Club, among perhaps 30 other yachts. The health officials came out in a skiff, granted us pratique, then asked us to lower our yellow Q Flag. As the day was late, customs and immigration would not see us until the following morning, when we were to move to the wharf at their convenience. Meanwhile, we were constrained aboard. Nevertheless, not to miss our sailor's "Saturday" night, after dark we slipped ashore and attended the yacht club's Sunday barbecue.
The barbecue proved a low key and a most enjoyable affair. We were glad to visit with old friends and meet new ones, to compare travel notes, and to learn of the city's vagaries from the "old-timers" - our antecedents of one or two days.
The next morning we rose early and found a thick fog pervading the scene. The conditions were perfect for shrouding me from the allegedly nefarious customs officials, said to be fond of wielding international maritime law with a poetic license. So I engaged in the time-honored technique of illicitly delivering our sack of grog to a neighboring yacht. Later that same morning the hapless crew of another yacht, Bali Hai, declared their booze and was penalized 30 dollars duty. Legally, dutiable stores are to be sealed in the bond locker during the ship's stay in port, and duty is to be paid only on what is otherwise consumed. But one of the hallmarks of petty officialdom is the padding of pockets at the yachtee's expense. So like foxes venturing into unfamiliar territory we were learning to beware the snares.
Suka tied to the wharf, awaiting immigration clearance.
After we had waited for the arrival of the immigration functionaries nearly all day, while fending Suka away from the under-cut wharf, built for large ships, the officials finally came and cleared us.
Returning to the anchorage, we set the CQR well out from the shallows, and then ventured ashore and sped into town on a taxi ride that cost the equivalent of 20 cents each. Little of the afternoon remained, and we used it to best advantage, sauntering about Albert Park while intermingling with the crowds at some sort of a festivity. The grassy square was lined with hundreds of makeshift booths, the vendors of which were proffering generally savory morsels of what we did not know, but 20 cents for three. The indulgence left us wondering whether our gastrointestinal tracts would survive the night.
In a Suva market with Bruce, buying kava root for the native people of Ndravuni Island.
In the ensuing few days the city's ambiance drew us to it almost magnetically. We wandered among the bewildering variety of duty-free shops, and frequented the occasional Indian restaurant. This was the week of the Hibiscus Festival and the place bustled with activities, including parades, ceremonies, and programs at the fairgrounds.
Island Night at the Civic Center proved a favorite. The show comprised about a dozen dance troupes representing various Pacific Island nations, and we enjoyed the entertainment. Although some were reminiscent of Hollywood acts, others were genuine: the dancers from the Gilbert Islands, from the Tuvalus, and from Rotuma were obviously singing and dancing as they did at home. Their performances were enthralling, and these simple and unassuming people had us imagining we were sitting on the beaches of their islands or atolls. I've never heard a professional sing with such euphony as did these warm people of the mighty South Pacific.
Island Night at the Civic Center.
A lack of musical instruments was no obstacle to those who knew how to dance and sing. For the majority, the only implement needed was a cardboard box, thoroughly brutalized with the rhythmic pounding and knocking of many large sticks. Sometimes a box was "played" with a slow, measured thwacking of a single stick. And some groups used sticks against the wood stage floor to hammer out their lusty rhythms.
Men of Solomon Islands
“How those fellows managed to avoid crushing at least one skull in the melee defied the imagination.”
The finale was a spell binding stick dance by a group of blue-black skinned men of the Solomon Islands, who ran onto the stage painted with black and white stripes and circles, and clad in brief loincloths that left the buttocks bare. The costumes, or rather the lack of them and the sensuous dancing sent women in the audience into shrieks. Fifteen wild and brutish men, entirely savage in appearance, jumped about furiously in a seemingly unrestrained but unaccountably orderly fashion. They bashed stout and colorfully embellished staves against the floor and against each other's staves to an aggressive, throbbing cadence wailed upon a gallon-size tin can. How those fellows managed to avoid crushing at least one skull in the melee defied the imagination.