Friday 24 June 2016

Makogai and Yadua - Lots of catching up, and Happy Fathers' Day


Had I sent this a few days ago when I was drafting it, I would have said, "Happy Fathers' Day from Yadua!" Ironically, it was Fijian Fathers' Day when were here in September, and we were back this week for the North American celebration :)

I will back up a bit ...

We were in Makogai for just over a week, helping Sea Mercy ( with the restoration of the village after Cyclone Winston. Two volunteers (Ian and Wendy on "Outsider"), having made several trips from Port Denarau to the island (as early as a few days after the cyclone) to deliver supplies, are now leading a three-month re-build project. They are currently being assisted by other cruisers, (folks like ourselves who stop in to help for a few days or a few weeks) and they will be joined soon by a group of Sea Mercy volunteers who will fly in from overseas and camp on-site for the specific purpose of helping with the project. While we were there, the group's main efforts were to make water, clear the space for the reconstruction of the concrete school (now on hold due to structural weakness in the remaining concrete), repair a floor near the school in preparation for the rest of the rebuild (all that was left of the original structure and will become the new school), and to clear out and make habitable a home near the beach.

The anchorage at Makogai was quite a distance from the village. On many mornings the "school bus" (aka fiberglass "long boat") came around to pick us up, offering a much faster (and more exhilarating) ride than we would have had in our dinghies; on the first morning, one of the men wore a wetsuit because he was used to getting so wet! Thankfully, the winds and seas became unusually calm during our stay, so it became easier to use our own dinghy. We had a few adventures during our commute: one morning, we were part-way there when our outboard stopped short. Being closer to the anchorage, we elected to turn around (much to the surprise of the Exodus dingy which was ahead of us with Johnathan onboard), and with full throttle and full choke, Max was able to get us back to Fluenta where he spent the rest of the morning clearing the carburetor of debris. After he had it back together, he found that it was now leaking: the drain nut, which had never been adjustable, was now completely corroded away. He coated the whole business in epoxy, and we crossed our fingers. The following day, as we were returning to the anchorage after a day in the village and a successful "road test" of the repaired outboard, and just as I was asking Max what it would be like if a fish bit on the lure we were trolling, we hooked a fish strong enough to pull the yoyo right out of my hands and out of the boat! At first, I thought it was just that I was a weakling fishing assistant (and that Max should have had Victoria or Johnathan with him), but when I saw the bent hook and the piece missing from the lure, I was just as happy we hadn't landed the creature :)

A highlight of the week was the visit to Fluenta of Richard Hackett, the president of Sea Mercy USA. He is in Fiji for several weeks while the immediate response settles down and the re-build projects get underway, with donated supplies and volunteer labour. The organization had just launched a landing craft/barge, and their maiden voyage was from Port Denarau to Makogai. With eight people, a load of supplies, and a high-capacity watermaker onboard, they set out early on Sunday morning with the expectation of arriving in the lagoon during the mid-afternoon (to give plenty of time to set everyone up in the tent site). Unfortunately, the journey took an additional 8 hours, and they arrived cold, wet, and tired late that evening. The whole fleet happened to be gathered at Exodus, so it was easy to organize billeting: Ian had hardly told us about the situation before there was a chorus of "I'll take one" / "I'll take two" / "I'll take three" from the group. Since Miriam had left the previous morning, it was easy for us to "take one" and our "one" was Richard. Not only was he a delightful guest, patiently answering my (many) questions, and generous with his insights on the ups and downs of starting a charity, but he was also a published author who gave a copy of his book to Johnathan and graciously spent some time talking with him seriously about heroes & villains, plot development, and other things to bear in mind when writing a book.

The barge spent all the following day off-loading equipment into the long boat and making water at the government dock. Max and the kids were able to have a look around - there's not much in the way of creature comforts, and it was hard to picture the group of eight bashing into the often-steep waves of the Koro Sea - but it should be a big help in delivering supplies and making water in the remote islands.

Max divided his time ashore between working on the new floor for the school by pulling nails out of old boards, hammering nails into different old boards, coaching junior tradesfolk on the use of a hammer, and fixing the two Sea Mercy watermakers. For once plumbing really was his favourite job: he got to work on a system he was familiar with, and he got to do it in the shade! Sea Mercy had obtained two "watermakers in a box" which were the land-versions of our Spectra watermaker aboard Fluenta, mounted into big waterproof shipping cases. The primary system had been set up in a shed above a well of brackish water, and one of the local men had been told that if it was sunny (and therefore the two big solar panels were churning out power), he was to turn the machine on. When we arrived, one of the pumps was making a funny sound and the other system wasn't working at all. When I asked him about the "Fix", Max told me that in true "Sea King" helicopter fashion, he had made one system work by putting all the good parts into it and putting all the faulty parts into the other. Once the primary system was working, he then spent the next day resurrecting and pickling the other system. It seems that our trials and tribulations with Fluenta's watermaker prepared him well...

It wouldn't be an anchorage with other boat kids without at least one sleepover. In this case, there were two: on one night, Victoria stayed over at Carpe Diem to watch "Annie" with six-year-old Sadie, and on another night, Johnathan stayed at Exodus and all the boys slept on the trampoline. I think Victoria enjoyed her role as the "big girl" with Sadie - she spent many hours with her, making braids, beaded bracelets, and other crafts. Johnathan commented at one point that he liked the routine the kids had developed: they went ashore to work (hard) all day in the sun (he, especially, seemed to relish the physicality of moving lumber, clearing trail and carrying heavy loads), they came back to swim from Fluenta (we had rigged our spinnaker pole for jumping overboard again), then they all dried off and played Minecraft until dinner.

I had a rather profound experience on our last afternoon ashore. I had become friends with a woman in the village who had a tiny breastfeeding baby. We had gotten talking the previous day, and when the subject of the cyclone came up, the tears were pretty near the surface for both of us, especially as she described the wind, the noise, and the sound of her five children crying out for her, while she worried about the baby she was carrying in her belly. I have been learning about "Tapping" for the last few years (in a curious but totally amateur / theoretical way), so after some reflection, both on my own, and in conversation with Wendy (Outsider) and Hannah (Carpe Diem), who will be staying on when we leave, I decided to be brave and introduce her to the technique. I went over to see her after lunch, told her that I had been thinking about our conversation since the day before, and that I knew something that might help. The play-by-play of what happened next would be pretty long, but suffice to say that I showed her the technique, she zeroed in on her strongest feeling from the Cyclone (being scared), we tapped on it together (using some of her words from our conversation the day before), and when we were done, she asked me if it was "Magic": she felt so much better that she couldn't believe it. Wow. We chatted for a bit longer (about how it could be considered energy, prayer, meridians, etc, but not magic - there actually was a scientific explanation for what was going on; how it could help her family and her community; and how she could tap at any time of the day or night). We eventually invited some children who had shown up on the porch after school to come and sit with us, and together we showed them how to tap. I spoke in English and my friend translated into Fijian. Their strongest feeling was also one of being scared. We showed them arms wide apart to mean lots of fear, and palms together to show the fear gone. I wasn't entirely sure of what was happening because it was all in Fijian, but there were intent looks of concentration on the faces of the children who were participating (some were just looking at me and smiling) and when they were done, the first girl who spoke put her hands together at her chest and also asked if this was "Magic". I don't know if anything more will come of this, but even if nothing does, it is gratifying to think that I might have given them a tool to help ease their post-cyclone suffering even a little bit.

With the days flying by, we decided to leave Makogai for Yadua (about which we had heard nothing post-Winston) on Friday afternoon, 24 hrs after our friends on Exodus left for the same passage. We had had no wind all week, and it was just beginning to fill in; this meant that we had a lovely, flat, calm sail, straight downwind, on flat seas. This is my kind of passage!!! Better yet, it is likely to be our last overnight passage for a while. The moon was finally moving towards full, so we had moonlight all night, and all we needed was the genoa to keep us moving along at 3-4 kts straight downwind.

Shortly after 0830, we anchored in the bay near the village, in almost the exact same spot as we were in last September. Once again, Exodus was the only boat with us, and they were in their familiar spot as well. We had a certain sense of deja vu :) As we were contemplating the possible schedule for the day (sevusevu? spearfishing? sleep?) a longboat from the village came by with both the headman and the minister onboard. Their message: no sevusevu on Saturday, as they were going fishing and they were in the midst of a one-week fasting period (no Kava, no smoking). We could stay in the anchorage (going ashore, etc) as if we had done our sevusevu, and then we could come to the village on Sunday afternoon for the formalities. This suited us just fine: spearfishing was on :) (In fact, not only was it on, but it was successful: Max shot his first snapper). We confirmed the timing of the church service the following morning, with some intention of attending, but when we realized that the tide would be too low in the morning to approach from across the reef, we decided to have a lazy brunch on Fluenta instead, and we went ashore in the afternoon for our sevusevu.

When we arrived, afternoon church was ongoing. For some reason, the chief's wife wasn't attending, so she invited us in for tea. When the chief arrived we made a bit of small talk, then we actually had to go search out the spokesman to do his part in the sevusevu. With the formalities completed, we were free to walk in the village. I was glad that almost immediately I ran into a lady I had really enjoyed meeting last September (Vinniana). She invited me into her sister's house for another cup of tea, so while Max and Tim enjoyed their first round of grog (kava) in a long while, I drank tea, ate scones, admired another newborn baby, and met most of her extended family. Benjamin was with me, and once he got the first bite of food into his tummy, he was quieter than he had been all afternoon. (In fact, when I tried to convince him to be quiet during the sevusevu, he replied vehemently, "No mummy! I no be quiet". Even nursing hadn't helped, and all I could do was hope that the usual Fijian patience for small children would apply. Of course, Benjamin had been hungry, and I was just out of practice in packing snacks!) It was well past sunset when we headed back to the boats, with a promise to return soon to look at some wiring (Tim and Max), to fix the Chief's spearguns (Tim), and to see Vinniana's new house (me).

Monday turned out to be too windy (+/- 30 kts) to comfortably leave the boats for the village, so we invited Exodus over for dinner instead. Victoria had been planning the menu for some time - she wanted to make parmesan puffs with choux pastry (like she had made for our anniversary dinner), sweet & sour meatballs with rice, and pumpkin pie. We had bought ten pumpkins in Savusavu, so we had plenty to make pie!! I eventually gave about half a dozen of them to the village, as I couldn't see eating them all in the next week! During the afternoon, the kids went ashore to build a fort in the mangroves and Max and Tim went spearfishing to test the the repairs to the Chief's spearguns. Max shot a nice sized sweetlips. With all this activity, dinner was a bit late, but no one seemed to mind, and everyone was full by the end of the night :)

We returned to the village on Tuesday. Given that we wanted to sail around to the other side of the island that afternoon for the more protected anchorage, we went ashore after breakfast for a "quick" visit before the tide would be too low to return (read - no snacks, Victoria stayed on the boat to bake bread, and we thought we would come back within the hour). Instead, it took Max and Tim several hours to troubleshoot the solar power system, by which time the tide was at its lowest ebb, so what was there to do but drink tea, drink grog, and wait for the tide to come back up?? After the solar troubleshooting reached its final assessment (bad panels - no fix without replacing them [Max adds: at that point we were told that the panels had been recovered from the beach following cyclone Evan...]), the headman's wife made us some fried cakes and some tea to tide us over. Their house was at the top of the "new" village, which had been reconstructed since our last visit. [We all got a different story/understanding, but we think that the village was destroyed by Cyclone Evan several years ago, and the +/- 18 houses were reconstructed through a government programme]. This was one of those days when I was glad that we had been flexible in our schedule: it seemed best to accept the proffered hospitality and push off our move until the following morning. This meant that we could relax and enjoy our visit in the headman's house, Deanne and I could drink (more) tea with the Chief's wife, sister, and daughters while the men accepted an invitation to drink grog, and I could visit my friend Vinniana's new house. Vinniana also showed me the worship space that is under construction beside her new home. It turns out that she is a Lay Minister (Methodist) who has studied in Lobasa and Suva, which explains some of her ease in dealing with visitors and speaking English. It was fun to find something in common with my new friend, as I had done some of the training to be a Lay Minister while we lived in England many years ago. I asked about the new minister in the main village, and she was very positive about how they were working together.

Tea drinking deserves a bit of a mention in its own right. We have been offered tea in most villages at one time or another. It is usually made one cup at a time by pouring a big kettle of boiled water through a sieve full of tea leaves, and it is generally pretty strong. I think they open bags of tea to fill the sieve. Fijian cane sugar is generally available, and sometimes we are also offered a jar of milk powder. We always sit in a circle on a woven mat, usually around a tray or floral table cloth. Men sit cross-legged, and women sit either on one hip with their knees to one side and their ankles to the other, or with their feet straight out in front and strong old toes sticking straight up, or (less often, but more comfortable for nursing) cross-legged. Tea is often accompanied by something tasty, which may be Breakfast Crackers spread with a mixture of jam and butter, or fried cakes, scones, or bread & butter. Everyone drinks tea together, from the spoonfuls offered from mothers' cups to toddlers, through children getting their own milky cups, to old people dunking entire crackers and jam. Grog (kava) is the famous drink in Fiji, but tea seems to serve as a close second for building community. Unlike the grog drinking (which can have a bit of a party atmosphere but more often is done with minimal conversation), there is generally lots of laughter and conversation while tea is being shared. It must be said that we often seem to provide a source of great mirth and entertainment, although we rarely know what is being said :)

After our day in the village on Tuesday, we motored around to the other side of the island on Wednesday, and this is where we are now. This has to be one of our favourite anchorages in Fiji - easy to get in/out of, nice beach, no fetch, snorkelling and spearfishing, minimal reefs (all of which are at a respectable distance from the boats), and plenty of space for swinging room. It is kind of the polar opposite from the other anchorage, which was tight, rolly at high tide, full of reefs & bombies, and tricky to enter/exit! This anchorage does not have the stunning beauty of the previous one, and it is a three-hour hike to the village from here (which we did last year for our sevusevu), but it sure is nice to sleep through the night without waking to check the anchor, snubber, radar, etc (of course, this was Max's experience - I only seem to wake if it has to do with Benjamin!)

We celebrated our arrival at an anchorage with a beach by digging out some of the multiple packages of frozen hotdogs that I had bought in NZ and building a bonfire over which to cook them. I provisioned as if the kids would be camping ashore all the time like they did last year, and this has been the first suitable spot. Oh well. We will have lots of hotdogs between now and when we fly home:) The beach reminded me a bit of our cookout site in Tahanea in the Tuomotus, as it was sheltered from the wind, enclosed by lots of trees for firewood, and when we went ashore, we even found wooden 'tables' made from wooden poles laid over a frame of forked sticks. All four big kids jumped at the chance to stay ashore overnight, and their camp went up pretty quickly after we gave them our permission, even though it was already dark. Given that neither dinghy had been left ashore, I didn't expect to see them today, but around mid-day we looked out when we heard their shouts of laughter to see that the four of them had constructed a raft of sorts, and they had swum it out, first to Exodus and then to Fluenta, where they picked up hotdogs for lunch, before swimming their rig back upwind to the beach.

A highlight of staying at Yadua is the spearfishing. While we were at the village anchorage, Max and Tim went out a couple of times, and they wasted no time today leaving for a reef well-offshore (but closer to this anchorage than the other one). We enjoyed the fruits of their first trip this evening, covered in herbs, wrapped in foil, and cooked on the fire; walu from today is chilling in the fridge as I type.

Now that the moon has gone past full, it is pitch dark after sunset. We took advantage of this period this evening to experiment with the telescope my parents brought for the kids in April. It was a bit of an effort to make a somewhat sand-free space to set up the tripod and to keep Benjamin away from the evolution, but it was worth it and everyone got a chance to look at the stars. It will take some practice (and some research on what we are seeing), but it will be fun to become a family of stargazers :)

We'll stay here another day or so, and then start heading for Nadi to prepare the boat and ourselves for our trip to Canada.

Love to all,
At 2016-06-12 7:34 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 16°48.96'S 178°17.06'E

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Sunday 12 June 2016

A week in Savusavu, and now a few days in Makogai


The danger in not writing every day is that a lot will happen between letters. Such is the case this week!

We anchored in Savusavu on Tuesday, 31 May (18 years and a Fiji date-line day after we got married in Halifax). Rather than going onto the tiny Q dock, where we cleared last year, we were able to piggy-back with Fluenta's much larger friend Rewa, and all the officials came to visit both boats in the anchorage. Dave was kind enough to do all the dinghy shuttling. It was a good feeling to be back in Fiji, where even the officials are friendly :)

Victoria, Johnathan, and Miriam continued the tradition started by the kids in 2014 in French Polynesia, and repeated with Jesus's help in Savusavu in 2015, with a lovely three-course meal aboard Fluenta that evening. When I tried to suggest getting together with some folks for dinner (thinking that the little cakes Victoria had made on passage on the Fijian 30th were sufficient celebration) she quickly made me see the error of my ways, so we elected to have drinks at the Copra Shed Marina instead. This fit with Victoria's plan, as it gave her the time and space needed to turn our boat into a posh waterfront restaurant. I had no idea what would be on the menu, but I had strict instructions to return from the market with sugar, eggs, lettuce, tomatoes, limes, and ice. At the appointed time, we returned to find a white tablecloth on the cockpit table, hand-made (parchment paper and pipe-cleaner) flowers in a vase, fancy rum drinks complete with straws, muddled limes, and ice, and a plate of choux-pastry cheese puffs all waiting for us. These were followed by hamburgers (with hand-made buns and all the trimmings) and a decorated cake for dessert. It turned out that Victoria had been poring over cookbooks for the last several days of our passage, and had been working on the meal since the day before (the tiny anniversary mini-cakes were a cover for the batter for the main cake, and she had set the buns to rise when the rest of us went to sleep after our 0400 anchoring. It was delicious, and the evening was a nice progression that reminded me of married life in general - a drinks party with grownups, some time to ourselves after they went into town, a first course in our own company, and the gradual addition of children to the table as they were all drawn to the family meal. By the time we were enjoying our dessert, the whole family, including Miriam, was in the cockpit, and Benjamin was (in typical third-child, free-range fashion) ignoring the piece we had cut for him and using his finger to eat the icing directly from the cake!

It turned out that our first night in Savusavu was indicative of the good things to come, at least in a culinary sense: I never did cook an evening meal on board in the entire week that we stayed there! The following evening, we were invited to sample "St Helena Fish Cakes" with old-but-new friends on Carpe Diem - we had met them briefly in Bora Bora in 2014 during our Pacific Puddle Jump, but we hadn't seen them since, as they had spent the last year living near family in Wellington, NZ. They also have three kids (one big one and two smaller ones), and it didn't take the group of them very long to find common ground (Lego, hair decorations, and Minecraft form a shared international language). We were soon joined by Moana (Swiss family with three young boys whom we had met in Auckland) and Hotspur (friends for many years who spent the cyclone season in Savusavu). Their delightful daughter, Caroline (16) was soon like the pied piper
with a trail of children following behind her.

The usual arrival administration and logistics easily filled the rest of our week. Having spent about a month in Savusavu last year at the end of the season, it was a bit like "coming home" to return to the fruit and veg market and be recognized by the vendors. I made the mistake of walking over during nap time, however, and they were a bit insulted that I hadn't brought the baby to see them :) There are enough tasty, budget-friendly restaurants in Savusavu that we could eat out every night at a different place. (For anyone following in our footsteps, our favourites are Hidden Paradise for curry, Waitui marina for buffets, fish & chips (first time we have ever seen yellow-fin tuna used in fish & chips!), and chow mein/chop suey, Hong Kong Seafood for "Bird's Nest" Stirfries, and Grace Road for Korean). Ever since last fall, we had been compiling an "Ahmed" list, and soon after we arrived, we brought our tired and torn fabric to his shop across from the Copra Shed for repairs. He was really busy this week with a six-month job to replace 700 seat cushions for one of the passenger vessels that comes through Savusavu, but he made time to fix three cushions and our life-sling cover. We will likely ask him to replace the tops of our cockpit cushions when we return in October. It is nice to look at the leather cushion in our saloon without cringing to see that one of the seams is not only tearing but getting progressively worse!

The highlight of the week was our reunion with Exodus (Deanne, Tim, Alex, and Brenden) and Breeze (Per, Sabina, and Ella), both of whom showed up from different directions three days after we arrived. As I lay peacefully in Savasana under the palm trees at the Copra Shed on Friday morning, two very excited kids came bounding up to say that Exodus had arrived. As I walked down the dock to Fluenta, Exodus was gliding by our stern with Brenden waving from high up in the rigging. As they passed, I wondered absentmindedly where Johnathan was, only to look up to see him also descending on a line from the level of our spreaders! The two boys were of one mind and were mirror images of each other. Johnathan had been sitting on our boom looking out to sea since first light.

A focus for many yachts this year is to assist with Sea Mercy, a charitable organization that enables yachts to offer help with disaster relief, either by delivering supplies or personnel to remote islands or by directly working on rebuilding projects. A shipment of pallets arrived in Savusavu on Saturday morning, so Max, Victoria, and Johnathan went along to help unload it. When they arrived, there was a bit of confusion, because Dave (our friend from Rewa, and then the current "Savusavu Commodore") was expecting five pallets, and there were only three on the dock. Max's first thought was a sinking "oh no" feeling that somehow two pallets of goods had walked away by themselves. There are many countries in the world where this might have been the case, but in Fiji, it turned out that the pallets hadn't walked away, they had been broken them down and delivered directly into the warehouse down the road by the local taxi drivers! Once again, it was nice to be in Fiji :) Dave and the group of cruisers made quick work of the remaining three pallets, and Victoria further helped by setting up the clipboard with the chart of information that the organizers needed to track supplies that were leaving the warehouse (vessel, items, destination). The other grownups were quite impressed that she even put the pen on a string so that it wouldn't walk away.

In addition to this minor assistance in Savusavu, we also wanted to help Sea Mercy during the month of June before our flights to Canada. At first, we thought we would go to a tiny island called Batiki to help with the construction of a dam, but when we looked at the pass and the anchorage, we decided this would be untenable for Fluenta (given our draft and maneuverability) so we chose to come to Makogai to help rebuild a school instead.

It wouldn't be a gathering of kid boats without at least one potluck. This time, Moana, a 59-foot catamaran, kindly invited us all aboard. We were 10 parents, 13 kids, three crew, a lot of delicious food, and some great visiting :) Unfortunately we also got an expensive lesson in knot-tying that night when our paddle board slipped its line and slipped away into the dark. Three dinghies went out on a search, but it was a dark evening, the tide was ebbing, the wind was howling, and the distance around the bay was over 25 nm, so it was a long shot. Thankfully, it was our oldest board, and it was a thing, not a child, that was lost. We just hope that it has washed up on a beach where a local family can enjoy it :) (Once again, it was a change of habit that taught us our lesson - it is usually Max who inflates and prepares the boards, but this time he was working on the boat when the kids wanted to use it, so they inflated it and tied a small line to it just to keep it by the dock. It was this line that Miriam used to tie the board to Moana, not knowing that it wasn't really intended to be used in anything but benign, dockside conditions. Unfortunately, as ever, this sequence of errors/changes led to us having one less thing to store onboard).

Ever since I have known Deanne on Exodus, she has been a dedicated runner (in fact, she keeps her own running/cruising blog at By the end of last season, my former running legs were starting to think that she was onto a good thing, but I didn't take any action the entire time we were in NZ. When Deanne mentioned one morning that she would be running that afternoon, I asked if I could tag along, and she agreed. Over the next three days, we made a daily habit of running down the coast from the Marina just as the sun was about to set (one day we hiked to the ridge near town), and I was instantly transported back to days in Halifax running with my friend Lucie, where the miles disappeared as we chatted, caught up, and "solved the world's problems". I can't guarantee that I will maintain this new habit, but I do know that I will be reminded of these marvelous runs with Deanne even when our journeys have taken us in different directions. In a similar way, I am connected to my yoga friends each time I roll out my mat and turn on my Eoin Finn podcast - I am instantly brought back to other practices in other places with other people. Somehow, we are far apart geographically but close in spirit; this is what helps to keep me sane :)

The beginning of June brought with it the requirement to submit my 39th, and last, set of school updates (a.k.a. Learning Reflections). As the kids get older, they will have more of a hand in preparing these, but so far, I have submitted "reflections" on their week of learning every Sunday night (or thereabouts!) since September. I love the concept of "observing for learning" that SelfDesign practices, and I will continue my habit of making notes every day or so on what I see happening within the boat for my own selfish reasons, but I must say that there is a certain relief in not being obliged to prepare them for submission again until the end of August. {For anyone who cares, we are loving "Life of Fred" for Math and "Brave Writer" for Language Arts...}

After much deliberation, both on destination and day of travel, we departed Savusavu in the dark on the morning of Wednesday, 8 Jun, for the island of Makogai. This island used to have a couple of villages and a government research station specializing in giant clams and sea turtles, but it was devastated by Cyclone Winston. It turned out to be a good thing that we were exiting the reef in the wee hours of the morning (daylight was still a hope on the eastern sky), because as we approached the end of the sheltered waters of the bay, we heard a sort of distress call from a vessel entering from the open sea. His engine had stopped working, he was passing near the reef under mainsail only, and he was hoping for a tow. We, along with two other vessels (another Canadian boat called "Q" and the kid-boat "Carpe Diem"), stood by to make sure that he stayed in safe waters, and eventually a local power boat came to tow him to a nearby anchorage. After this delayed start, we had a fast, bumpy ride (one of my least favourites - close hauled in short sharp seas) and arrived shortly after mid-day. We had planned to "stand watches", but it turned out that the autopilot wasn't happy with the conditions, Max was more comfortable at the wheel, and I was more comfortable downstairs with Benjamin, so his watch was the departure until 1400 watch, and mine was the 1400 til dinner watch (ie his watch was the on-passage one and mine was the at-anchor one!) There are many ways to be a team... As for Miriam, she loved the more exciting conditions, and I think it was more like what she had been expecting from our off-shore journey from NZ, which had turned out to be generally more benign. For those who love lumpy seas, it was a fun daysail, as we were within visual range of Q and Carpe Diem most of the way.

Thursday morning saw us travelling in a local "long boat" (in Mexico, it would have been a panga) to the village, where Sea Mercy is rebuilding the school, and through their ongoing physical presence, helping the 14 families to know that the outside world cares about them. Throughout the day, Max and Miriam hammered salvaged boards onto a damaged floor, Victoria and Johnathan helped to sweep up concrete and deposit it at the back of the building where it will be used to form a drainage ditch, Victoria helped make flatbreads for lunch, both kids painted signs for the toilet doors ("toilet" or "shower" in both English and Fijian, with "out of order" on the other side), and Victoria, Johnathan, Benjamin and I helped to hand-carry boards from where a roof had flown about a km up into the hills down to the work site. There were about 20 people from four boats, and everyone pitched in to do what was necessary. The lead volunteers (Ian and Wendy from "Outsider") have made several trips between here and Denerau since Winston (in fact, they first arrived within a week of the Cyclone), and will stay now for about three months; Ian used to be in construction, so he has a good sense for what needs to be done. After we arrived home that evening, Miriam was surprised to hear that we had probably spent more time in the sun that day than on any other in our four years in the tropics, as we usually seek out roofs and shade during the hottest parts of the day; we have often commented that this is the difference between tourists and cruisers!

The wind came up and a trough passed on Thursday night, so we stayed aboard doing chores on Friday as the worksite would have been a mess. Exodus had made a last-minute decision (yeah!!) to join us in Makogai, so Tim, Max, Victoria, Johnathan, Miriam, and Brenden all took advantage of the slow day to go spearfishing. Brenden caught a big fish, but unfortunately a nearby shark was quick to steal it as a snack so they came back empty-handed (but thankfully, all intact!!)

Saturday almost deserves its own email, but I will try to be succinct here, given how far you have already read!! Ian announced on the evening "net" that we would be going in our own dinghies to the village in the morning for a short work session, a shared lunch with the village, sevusevu, and a games afternoon. The wind had come down, so we were able to travel all the way to the village beach in our dinghies (rather than bringing them part-way and hiking cross-country on a new path that a recently-departed Sea Mercy boat had just cut through the jungle). We were met at the beach by a little girl, who seemed a bit too shy to say much to us in English, but who had a beautiful smile that lit up her whole face whenever I looked at her. I would look, and she would smile. I would look away and back again, and she would smile more broadly. I would look away and back once more, and she would laugh. It turned out that we had a common language - and we didn't need words :)

In addition to the Thursday floor-installation crew, Max found himself surrounded on Saturday by junior carpenters, both boat-kids and Fijians. Joined by Tim (Exodus), who had actually done this kind of work before, he patiently lined up boards, started nails, and passed off the hammer to the nearest small hands that wanted to have a go. At any one time, they probably had upwards of a dozen helpers. All the kids gained some practical skills both with hammers and saws (this is where you hold it, put your arm like this, your elbow like that, saw like this, hammer like that, etc), as well as developed a bit of camaraderie. Construction, as well as team sports (soccer, cricket - who knew that you could fit five people, a big tent, and a cricket set on a 41-foot boat, but Carpe Diem has done it - rugby, and volleyball) and eating (a nice variety of breads, watermelon, and one-pot meals) filled the day.

For me, the highlight was listening to their spokesman, both before the grace at lunch time, and before the official "Fijian" part of the sevusevu, as he spoke about the effect of the Cyclone on his village and the effect of Sea Mercy coming to "give them back their hearts". Even writing about this brings tears back to my eyes as I think about our abundance and the rare opportunity to share and interact directly. As ever, sharing a meal offers the chance to share stories: I met a woman with eight children and 31 grandchildren, a woman nursing a three-week old baby (when I asked if it was her first, she laughed - it was her sixth: the previous five were all at least ten years old, so like ourselves, she was delighted to be starting again).

When finally Benjamin nursed to sleep just before the sevusevu, I laid him on the mat while I ran for my skirt. When I came back, the ladies had covered him with a floral cloth. When the sun came out, the "grandma" of the village passed me her umbrella so that I could shade him. As the afternoon was winding down, Carpe Diem pulled out yet another toy - this time a trainer kite, and Max and I both got to brush off some of the skills we had begun to learn in Auckland. It turns out that one of the other volunteers is a kiting instructor, so that may be a connection we will encourage as well :)

You might have noticed that I didn't mention Miriam on Saturday. This is because she was able to arrange transport in an open-but-roofed boat all the way to Suva for that morning. Her flight is later this week, and she was glad to get away before timings became critical. We enjoyed having her with us, and having a glimpse of German culture, and we wish her well as she continues her year of work/travel before going back to school in Germany. She is back to NZ for a few months, then on to South America and Canada. It was fun to talk with her about possible itineraries / destinations between her inbound flight to Toronto and her outbound flight five weeks later from Vancouver :)

Finally, I have caught up to today - Sunday, a day of quiet rest both for ourselves and the villagers. We didn't have to go to church this morning, as church came to us, in the form of an evangelical/country service played at great volume over a radio speaker ashore :) This afternoon, Max, Victoria, and Johnathan have gone spearfishing with Tim and Brenden, Benjamin is hanging out with me, (watching videos, building stuff in Minecraft, moving things around in "Scratch", and generally proving the theory that iPads are so intuitive that even a toddler can use them), and I am enjoying the peace and quiet to write, as this is usually an activity that can only happen in the late evening when the rest of the family is asleep. In fact, I started writing last evening after we came back from the village, realized that I was so tired that I was falling asleep at the keyboard, noticed (Byron Katie-style) that I didn't have to believe the thought that "if I don't do this now, I will never have the chance to do it", and went to bed. Now, this next day has presented me with the opportunity to finish - lovely.

The sun is shining, the spinnakers are drying on the foredeck after their month outside in the wet, we will go to Exodus for sunset socializing this evening, and in general it is as good a day as I could imagine at anchor. I even used some of our Iridium GO minutes (of which we have 150/month) to call my Dad to wish him a happy early (vice my usual belated) birthday this week. Now if only those dishes and laundry would wash themselves ...

Sending love and hugs wherever you may be,


PS we are counting down the days until we visit Canada - we arrive in BC on 5 Jul and in NS on 27 Jul. We come "home" to Fiji on 1 Sep.
At 2016-06-12 11:33 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 17°26.43'S 178°57.11'E
At 2016-06-12 7:07 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 17°26.43'S 178°57.11'E

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