A couple of times in your life, if you are lucky, you experience just what the world has to offer by way of natural beauty and connect with the humans who live upon and manage such a splendid stage.
Recently I travelled to Fiji for some maritime adventures on a rather lovely vessel, a Princess 54, belonging to a member of my family. The vessel’s home port is a marina close to Nadi International Airport, where she lives alongside various other splendid vessels.
The reasons for the adventure was to spend some time with our family, to experience the warmth and friendly nature of the Fijian people and to escape the media dust storm of the Federal Election for a few days.
Most of our days were spent on the crystal waters of the Mamanuca Group of islands, about 20 nautical miles West of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. On two or three occasions, we ventured out into the Pacific via the famous surf contest site – Cloud Break. The transition from the closed waters of the Mamanuca Group to the Pacific Ocean is not dramatic ; one moment are you in relatively calm waters and the next you can feel a primal surge through the vessel as the Pacific takes hold and tells you that you are now in the arms of giant who can play with you at will.
The Skipper of our vessel is a Fijian Sea Captain called Josaia Mar, his nickname is “ Dodo “, and he is greeted throughout the closed waters we travelled by delighted and friendly yells from young boys and girls from the villages – “ Bula Dodo “. He was well known and respected.
He is also bloody good at moving vessels over water and into and out of tricky little marinas without a sign of stress and tension, unlike me. I navigated, fruitlessly from the flybridge, worrying about the Pacific swells, hidden reefs, tidal surges etc., and, of course, our perspective Skipper picked up on that, asking, “ Is there anything you can do about it? “, to which I replied “ No. “ His open face smiled at me as he said “ So why worry about it? “
This man was born and grew to adulthood in the group of Islands mentioned above. He spent his young life in and around Malolo and Malolo Lai Lai [ Little Malolo ] and holds some wonderful tales about the development of a resort which has sprung from his ancestral home. I was captivated by the story of the ‘native carpet grass ‘ which grows, like a carpet, around the resort of Lomani. It seems as if this place, Lomani, was bereft of any ground covering grass as the resort was nearing completion. An empty beer carton, carried by his father, containing wads of carpet grass from around Nadi Airport, appeared on an inter-island boat at the port of Malolo Lai Lai. Thus the grass spread; the lush green carpet seen by International Tourists today was not the result of hours of painstaking landscaping, simply the result of some lateral thinking about the use of empty beer cartons.
I could tell, by looking at these waters through my Ray Bans, that there were various subtle shades of blue and green, indicating the presence of reefs, rocks and sand bars/banks which would be exposed as the tide rose and fell. These banks and reefs provided splendid lunch places where we could anchor and swim about looking for underwater adventures. His detailed local knowledge allowed our Skipper to pick his way delicately through these coloured patches, always arriving, without fuss, at the right place on time. A couple of times another boat of tourists was already in the location, a couple of quick mobile phone calls in the Fijian language sorted out the problem; it was obvious that many of the local charter skippers deferred to ‘ Dodo ‘ as the master of these waters.
Not because he was overbearing and arrogant, but simply he was one of them and they knew and respected his ability and reputation. In these times, in the world in which I reside, simple human respect for skills and human decency are hard to come by and seeing this occurring in the waters off Fiji affected me deeply and moved me to write this small story about an impressive man of his people.
I have always been proud of my sea legs, having run and skippered dive boats in the Arafura Sea of Australia’s North Shore, a shallow choppy fetch of water, quickly blown into spiky peaks by the Trade winds off the Indian Ocean. I made serene passage over these waters, many times in rough weather, never feeling the effects of sea sickness or the ‘ travel wobbles ‘ – my wife, however, admitted to hopeless sea legs and was apprehensive about spending several days on a vessel in tropical waters.
Oh ! how cruel can fate be ??
Day One of the maritime adventure took us on an eight hours cruise around some far-flung islands, nice places for lunch but a bloody long way back when the day was nearly done. Heading the vessel for our home port, Dodo indicated, quietly, as he always did, that things might get a bit ‘ bumpy ‘ on the return journey – due to a sudden and sharp rise in the wind coming from the South East. The fabled trade winds; winds which blew the British trade ships and the British Men of War into and out of the Pacific over the last hundred years.
“ Trade winds “, I thought, “ Pfft, so what? “ I suddenly found out “ So what.” Much to my pop-eyed horror I shortly found myself with my face in a fire bucket as the vessel bounced and reared her way across these calm tropical waters – it was a bit bloody ‘ bumpy ‘.
To add to the horror, my wife, admitting sea sickness and waiting for the inevitable, sailed calmly on, enjoying the ride and the spray, the jolting and the lurching in these cheeky and lumpy waters. Dignity returned fairly quickly, I managed to impress Dodo later after we moored as I consumed a Corona – I actually don’t remember the Corona – I presumed it stayed down !!
What I do remember about the episode was the incredible skill of the Skipper as we entered the Musket Cove Marina, night black as a dog’s guts, the wind pushing the vessel sideways, another vessel in our mooring space all apparently combining to make our day even more ‘ bumpy ‘ But no. Dodo had calm control over this large vessel, she moved sideways, aft and forwards at his light touch and sidled up to the marina just like a calf moves alongside its mother.
It is true that completing hard tasks quickly and easily, without too much bother, is the mark of an expert. On this occasion, it was obvious that an expert was on the bridge, broad smile in the night, a calm re-assuring word and it was time we all had a pizza !
Captain Josaia Mar is not the only Sea Captain in Fiji, there are others, many know him as we witnessed their welcoming acknowledgements as we made passage throughout these waters. What was special about him was his humanity, his concern for the young men and women of his island home, his calm observations of the word as he saw it – the presence of the Chinese in Fiji and other matters – brought attention to a dilemma which affects all of us who live around the Pacific. Empirical ambitions and the ever diminishing resources we have at our disposal.
Fiji, Captain Mar and the people of Fiji, are our neighbours in the Pacific, that Ocean touches our shores as well; we have a common heritage, being members of the Commonwealth of Nations.
I reckon I was lucky to meet one of our neighbours. A reminder of good men and women in the world; where ever we go!