The next day we replenished Suka's fresh water and diesel tanks with several trips ashore with an assortment of plastic jugs. We planned to depart for the Astrolabe Reef that morning, but the day was fog-bound. That, and the sniveling colds we had acquired in the city suggested we postponed the trip a few days.
Suka's crew studies the chart in anticipation of the coming trip to Ndravuni Island.
View of the salon.
Two thirty a.m, September 9, we weighed and made way slowly out of the harbor in the blackness of night. Suka showed only a small masthead light in order that her skipper and mate might glean the most of their night vision. At one point we saw a light undulating strangely close off the starboard beam. Drawing closer, we discerned an apprehensive native fisherman, flashlight in hand, paddling out of our way. A few times we stopped dead in the water to shoot a round of flashing buoy light bearings. I had carefully identified and plotted the harbor buoys the night previously, and now used this data to more safely exit the channel.
Gaining the offing, we motored until first light, whereupon a breeze sprang to life. The billowing sails worked nicely to curb Suka's odious rolling, and sent her ambling along at a cheery five knots.
Reaching Ndravuni Island.
Zoom out to see where we are.
The beacon on the northern sector of the Astrolabe Reef is easily discerned from afar, despite the fact that it stands atop a rock only ten feet high; for the obelisk itself stands 103 feet tall. We closed the reef at mid day and entered one of the passes. Then closing Ndravuni (dra-voo'-nee) Island, we lowered the 45 pound CQR into three and a half fathoms of crystal clear, aquamarine water. Behind the dazzling white sand beach stood a small village, where resided the king of the principality. We had come to clear-in with him.
The following morning we motored the dinghy ashore against stiff headwinds and dashes of spray, intent on paying our respects to the king and meeting some of the people.
We strolled through the ramshackle village comprising widely spaced, cement-walled and tin-roofed houses encompassed with tidy yards. A few islanders sat in the shade of a tin-roofed portico, weaving baskets of green coconut fronds. Bob, as he introduced himself, was a slightly built fellow in his thirties perhaps. He assumed the role of ambassador and escorted us to one of the small buildings to meet with the king. Bob followed us in, sat unobtrusively to one side, and kindly translated.
"They caught some large fish last night," the interpreter beamed.
"That's great," I replied, "what kind were they?"
Thus the conversation proceeded, while the king remained indifferent, for as it happened he was suffering the flu. We learned that a few islanders had unknowingly imported the epidemic when they had last visited Suva.
Eventually we made gestures to go, and I could see that the king's face bore certain misgivings, no doubt at our having neglected to present him with the traditional kava root. In a Suva market we had purchased a batch for this occasion, but I had been withholding it to test his reaction. From my pack I withdrew the large bouquet of kava root and laid it before him. Relieved that we had indeed remembered this formality, he broke into a grin and gestured appreciatively. Thanking us for the weedy fodder, he remarked that this was indeed a fine batch. To us, though, it seemed about as appealing as a bundle of tumbleweeds.
“Catch fish, collect shells, but please do not shoot the goats.”
"You are welcome to come and go on our islands as you please," the king granted, via his translator. "Catch fish, collect shells, but please do not shoot the goats."
A card game.
Bob led us through the village to another dwelling, where we found eight men seated cross legged, playing a card game. The men invited us to sit with them on the matting, and an attendant handed me a half-coconut shell of kava. Down in one draft, hand the cup back, and clap - and try not to think of any possible flu germs on the cup. Same cat-o'-nine-tails for Jenny.
In halting English, a fellow named Max expounded some of the social particulars and customs of the local populace. The traditional Fijian thatched-roofed house, the "mbure," he explained, has become a relic of the past due to its weakness in withstanding hurricanes. A few years ago, the government supplied the expertise and materials to build these much stronger concrete walled and tin roofed structures. The population of Ndravuni stood at 103, and most of those were small children. When a house was to be built, a plantation cleared and planted, or whatever the task, the villagers worked together as a family, Max explained.
The local coconut trees stood largely bereft of their fronds, in the wake of a few particularly vehement cyclones that two years ago had struck copra from the list of the local mainstays. Aside from any government aid, fishing was presently one of the two occupations. Once a week a few intrepid souls would deliver the community's catch to Suva by launch, and return with a modest cargo of ice, used to preserve the next week's fishing harvest. Also they would bring a few barrels of diesel oil to power the newly-installed electric generator, which most Ndravunians admitted to having little use for. During the most recent excursion they had also imported the aforementioned flu virus.
The second primary source of income was the selling of handicrafts. Eight times a year a cruise ship anchored in the lagoon and disgorged some 1500 tourists. For the occasion, villagers would arrive from the surrounding islands to sell their assorted sea shells and handicrafts.
After enduring three cups of kava and hoping that the drink's supposed narcotic was potent enough to subdue any flu viruses, against the obvious fact that it was not, we bid our Ndravunian hosts good by and set off; but not before withdrawing a large bag of popcorn from my pack and presenting it to the group. All eyes brightened with interest.
A Snorkeling Excursion
Later that afternoon Jenny and I set off in the dinghy for a snorkeling excursion among the fringing reefs. Among the profusion of colorful coral, sponges and smaller reef fish, in two hours of diving I saw one large Triton shell, two moray eels, one barracuda about my size, and one five-foot reef shark. Engrossed in our fishing, the shark and I discovered one another at the same moment. A sudden jolt throughout my autonomic nervous system caused my body to jump with a start, as though struck with high voltage: known as panic. This was not unusual. But the shark's reaction was unusual. With my sudden start, the aquatic beast did the same, only amplified.
With my new spear gun, I put the bead on three or four tantalizing fish, but in each instance the gun's safety mechanism malfunctioned, preventing the gun from firing at the appropriate moment - much to the good fortune of my intended prey. So spaghetti was once again the evening's bill of fare.
Ashore, the power was switched on, as indicated by a few fluorescent bulbs glowing into the sultry, tropical night.
Sunday morning we visit the little village.
A traditional outrigger canoe.
Attending Church Service
Sunday morning we ventured ashore dressed in our church-going best: reasonably clean shirts, shorts for me, and a skirt for Jenny. At the church we met Kiti, a woman we had talked with previously, and who was busy teaching a group of well-mannered children their Sunday school lessons. Kiti welcomed us warmly, then turned and continued her lesson.
At ten o'clock the bell ringer struck the split drums a few times, and the church began filling. After the usher had shown Jenny and I to seats directly in front of pulpit, the service began. The islanders sung a-capella a few standard hymns, and we were able to sing along by knowing the tunes and by reading the native words in a hymn-book. This performance surprised the natives, who for a few moments thought that we might be conversant in their language. Then the women stood in a ring and performed a few strange incantations in monotone, traditional chants that seemed to amalgamate the old and the comparatively new. And at last a distinguished gentleman came forward, and extended to us a formal welcome in English.
“Mr. Ray and Jenny, The congregation is very pleased to welcome you to our services. May God bless you and grant you safety in your travels.”
"Mr. Ray and Jenny, I presume." We nodded. "The congregation is very pleased to welcome you to our services. May God bless you and grant you safety in your travels."
With no little enthusiasm the pastor presented his sermon in their language, while Kiti sat alongside of us, pointing out the scriptural references in her Fijian Bible, which we then matched in ours.
Coffee with Kiti and neighbors.
At the conclusion of the service Kiti invited us to her home for lunch. She lived in a two room house with her niece, who helped prepare today's lunch over a kerosene burner. They were both apologetic about not having much food of interest. "There is a small grocery shop here," Kiti explained, "but I have no money to buy." Giggling with embarrassment, she spread her small table with plates brought from a linen closet for the occasion. The meal was delicious. It comprised two types of fish, one broiled and the other baked in coconut juice with Chinese cabbage, and a dish of tapioca. And Kiti's neighbor, Max, happened by and contributed a bowl of fried fish and more tapioca.
After lunch we gave Kiti several women's magazines, and two meters of tapa-printed cloth, purchased in Suva. She studied the magazine attentively, and with a gleam in her brown eyes, pointed out a picture of a model. "Look, blue eyes," she exclaimed to Jenny.
Hiking around the small island of Ndravuni.
Suka lies anchored in the offing.
View from the highest point of the island, looking north-east.
The white line in the distance is the surf breaking upon the fringing Astrolabe Reef.
Looking southwest to Kadavu island.
A round of spear fishing produced dinner for the evening.