Our visit to an island community in Fiji is cut short as we are forced to bail out at night
Cruising under sail can take you to places you would probably never
reach as a land tourist, islands you’d barely imagine still exist, but it can
take you back out again very quickly. The sailing itinerary is full of
We arrived this weekend at the Fijiian island of Waya on a
well-planned visit, part of our project to video a series of demonstrations of
blue water cruising techniques. But we departed in a hurry in the darkness as
the wind rose and we found ourselves anchored on a lee shore, the boat pitching
uncomfortably in choppy seas in a spot that was increasingly untenable.
But to start at the beginning: the we means me, IPC’s creative
director, Brett Lewis, cameraman Mike Deppe and Jonathan Reynolds from series
sponsors Pantaenius (the intrepid Jonathan also accompanied us round Cape Horn
for Skip Novak’s Storm Series). We have joined Dan and Em Bower, who operate
adventure charters on their 51ft Skyelark of London, and who have been cruising
across the Pacific with the World ARC.
They took us out to Waya, a small, hilly and very beautiful island,
part of the Yasawa group on the western side of the Fijian archipelago. We
anchored off the village of Yalobi, population 150, a hamlet that fronts a
white sand beach. During the night, the wind went very light and at times we
were lying beam on to a slight scend that sent us rolling uncomfortably. So in
the morning we decided it was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate how to use
a tender to lay a kedge anchor and hold the yacht bows to the swell.
No sooner had we started preparing than, sure enough, a light breeze
ruffled the bay and Skyelark swung into wind and sea. The forecast was for
light winds for the next few days so we carried on, videoing Dan laying out the
kedge astern. A tripping line was attached to the anchor and paid out, but at
some point later on the buoy at the end of the line came loose and floated
away. Later that was to be an inconvenience that could have been a real
With that done, we went ashore. Island life in Yalobi is still much
as it might have might existed for centuries. The villagers live a barefoot
life, in small tin-roofed houses, mainly one room, with the living area
separated from the sleeping area by a curtain and, in most cases, one light bulb
that can be used when the village generator is run for three hours each
Cooking is done on a raised platform outside, and water taken from
standpipes. The villagers have a subsistence life, growing fruit and vegetables
such as kasava, plantain, mango and bananas in their garden and travelling by
boat on Fridays to market on the main island of Viti Levu to sell any surplus.
Some fishing goes on and occasionally yachtsmen or tourists arrive who will buy
fruit or a few trinkets, but otherwise this is a simple, basic lifestyle.
Ironically enough, the first person we met was Australian Carolyn
Mowbray who, with her husband Tony, have lived in Yalobi on and off for the
last three years. Tony is a round the world sailor who visited the island in
his yacht, found the village so friendly and so beautiful that he decided to
return and now lives here for much of each year. That day he was completing a
two-year project to install solar power in the village school.
Carolyn introduced to Atu, a local fishermen, who took us hunting
for octopus among the reefs. He caught several, using a local metal rod to poke
them out of their hiding holes beneath rocks and then emptying out the ink sacs
before giving them a thorough bashing. Later, after several more hours of heavy
battering to tenderise the meat, he cooked them in coconut cream and took us to
his house to eat them. Delicious.
After a traditional Fijian sevu sevu ceremony, where we were
welcomed to the village by the chief and elders and drank kava with them, we
went to have a meal with a local family. Carolyn had arranged for us to go to
the home of Andy and Tai Sita. They are among the poorer families in the
village. Andy’s husband Tom died last year at the age of 42 of liver cancer,
leaving her to care for her son, five-year-old young Tom, along with her
mother-in-law, Tai Sita, and her family.
We sat together in their house as it got dark, the single room lit
by a paraffin lamp, and ate the meal they had prepared: kasava, sweet potato
and plantain, sea grapes and tuna, stewed mutton and curried papaya. Andi’s
father Tui kept us entertained, telling us about life on the island, the way of
life there, and other interesting topics, such as the problem of kava addiction
in Fijian communities.
As were making our way back to the beach we could see the wind in
the palms. A full moon was lighting up the bay and it was clear right away that
the wind, which had been light when we came ashore a few hours earlier, was up:
maybe 20 knots, and driving a short chop that was now running into the bay. It
was pretty clear that we were going to have to get
back on board and leave, sharpish.
The six of us got back on board in two wet dinghy trips. Getting
back on board from alongside required careful timing: Skyelark was now
hobbyhorsing enthusiastically in the swell. The problem now was that we were
lying to both bower anchor and kedge, so the stern anchor had to be retrieved
(or, if not, buoyed and left behind) before we could leave. Dan and Jonathan
drove out to it in the moonlight.
The tripping line, minus its buoy, had sunk, so it was a matter of
pulling along the rode and giving a huge heave. Fortunately, Jonathan was able
to muscle it out, and the two brought the anchor and tackle back aboard. There
was no safe opportunity to get the outboard off the dinghy in the swell and
darkness; we just had to go. We weighed anchor, slowly motoring ahead as the
windlass wound back in the 80m of chain we had payed out, and finally were off.
The bail-out involved several hours of motoring to windward through
the night back to Viti Levu and a safe, protected bay behind a line of
mangroves. By the time we arrived at about 0200 the wind was calm again. Sod’s
There is no great moral to this story, other than the most obvious
one, which every cruising fule doth kno, that forecasts are not to be relied on
and the only good sailing plan is one that can be adapted or even totally
changed at a moment’s notice.
A few days later, we are
heading for Manuriki, an uninhabited island reportedly very quiet and
beautiful. This is where the movie Cast Away was shot, the one in which Tom
Hanks was washed up after a plane crash and fell in love with a football called
Wilson. We do have a plan, but anything could happen.
Read more from Elaine’s trip: Fiji bluewater cruising