We had a nice motorsail up here outside the Great Sea Reef. T2 never cares to go to windward, but the wind was light enough, the seas small enough, and the angle just off enough that we made excellent time with a pleasant ride, although, despite being on the outside of the reef, we caught no fish! The day was gorgeous, cooll without a cloud in the sky, and we arrived at Nukudamu Pass with good light for the complicated reefs we had to negotiate to get in.
Our Cmap-based chartplotter did a good job getting us through the maze all the way to the last bit. We got close enough to see Also Island, with the Also II, the Passport 42 that brought Jim and Kyoko here in the first place, on its mooring, but some river outflow turned the water abruptly brown in a broad band right across our route, and, of the promised pairs of markers, only one of each remained with no topmarks. Should that marker be taken to port or to starboard? What is reef and what is mud? We came to a standstill while Jim ran with his handheld radio to the top of his island and talked us through. Quite honestly, I'm pretty sure we didn't go where we were supposed to go, and when the depth sounder hit seven feet (we draw 5+) my heart about quit. Fortunately, it was dead low tide and, right or wrong, the rising tide would have rescued us, but we squeaked through with nary a bump.
The geology of Also Island seems very different than elsewhere on Vanua Levu. The island rises about twenty feet above sea level with sides of what looks like sculpted grey sandstone, and the topside of the island hangs over the edges for a rather Alice-in-Wonderland cartoon effect. Jim's base is in a sort of gorge on the west end of the island with a hodgepodge of buildings ascending from the beach landing to his living quarters at the top. At beach level are the sheds for his boat building business and fuel drums for the fuel service he provides, next a tool shed, then a separate kitchen with a deck known as the "deck of knowledge and responsibility", above that a generator shack, then a little store he maintains for the local village, then a guesthouse, a bathhouse, his coconut pressing set-up, and finally the main "house" which is also his office, all connected by cement pathways, steps and elaborate flower gardens. Above the buildings to either side are cleared lawn-like slopes, randomly planted with pineapple, pawpaw, banana and other shrubs, with a water tank at the very top and a bench pleasantly placed for an overlook. Quite the little domain
We came ashore mid-afternoon for tea. Tea was actually tea flavored with fresh mint leaves served with biscuits and pineapple jam. We were introduced to the main characters of Jim's regular staff, men, women and children from the nearby village on the "mainland", and, as it was payday, a lot of little envelopes were changing hands, most of it then being spent in the store. A couple of hours after tea, came the end-of-week grog. Grog is the colloquial name for kava, and although not quite a traditional venue, it was the most informal and authentic kava experience we've yet had. Over the kava we learned the history of how Jim came to this remote spot and it is quite a tale.
Here's the short version. Jim and his wife Kyoko crossed the Pacific in 2001 from California and Mexico on the Also II. They sailed into Lagi Bay (Lagi is pronounced Lang-ee) some five years ago, and like many handy cruisers he started fixing things, engines and outboards, for the local villagers. That grew to funding the bringing in of fuel and helping with boat building and other repair projects. One thing led to another and they soon found themselves completely entwined in village life and business. What really makes this story special is how the villagers reciprocated. They essentially gave Jim and Kyoko the island in the bay to keep them here!
It sounds simple and idyllic, but of course, nothing ever is completely. The red tape of the government seems constantly to throw obstacles in the path of all Jim's various efforts, virtually all conceived for the benefit of the villagers, while the villagers themselves have such a laissez-faire attitude, that Jim never knows who will show up to work, the man he has spent weeks training, or someone totally new.
As the afternoon wore on, Jim became distracted over the delayed arrival of the Lady K. The Lady K (named for Kyoko) is part of a fishing cooperative Kyoko set up. Every day, the Lady K tows the village punts like a line of ducklings out to the reef for the day's fishing, and at night she brings them back in again, and once a week she makes the run to Labasa as a transport ship, ferrying villagers back and forth and bringing in fuel for the depot and goods for the store. Labasa is three hours away by dirt road (it is currently closed by a landslide), but for the Lady K it is about an eight hour trip each way. Due around 4pm, she was late, but not only had her skipper not called to say he was running late, he was not answering the radio. Was the volume just turned down or was the boat in trouble amongst the reefs? Fortunately, just about dark, the Lady K finally pulled up to the beach.
Finally, after the boat was unloaded and the crowd dispersed back to the village, only Jim and 15-year-old Jali (pronounced like Charlie without the "R") remained, and they offered to share with us the supper that had been left for them. Jale turns out to be another interesting story. Several years ago a couple of cruisers visiting Also Island became aware of Jale's ambitions to become a doctor. After much consultation with Jale, his family and his teachers, the cruising couple determined to sponsor his education as far as he chooses to go. His side of the deal is he must make good grades. For this reason it was decided that he would live on Also Island in order to improve his English (the language in which all advanced studies is taught) and for Jim to help him with homework. In return, he helps out in the many ways a son would, setting the table and then doing the dishes afterward.
How easy it seems to make a difference here!
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