Cruising the South Pacific with Tackless II
Tackless II, along with her two captains, Don and Gwen, cruise from Fiji to Australia
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
July 14-16, 2007 – Albert Cove
We had a nice stay at Albert Cove, largely due to getting to know Marjetka, the single-hander aboard the Little Mermaid. We had seen the Little Mermaid, a diminutive 28' sloop, regularly in Savusavu as she came and went from town to a spot a mile or so down the coast out towards Cousteau. Her skipper didn't come into the yacht club, and in town she wasmoored at the other end of the harbor. With the small cockpit shrouded with canvas, we knew little more than that the skipper was a woman and she had a dog. I suppose we jumped to a conclusion that she was some sort of reclusive eccentric.

Not by half! Marjetka rowed up to Tackless II the morning after our arrival with two gutted and scaled mackerel -- "a gift from the old man on the beach." Don's knee has been hurting him since it popped during the scrambling on the muddy hillside at Cawaro, so we had not even been sure we would bother to go ashore, especially since the cruising guides suggest that the Rabi people like their privacy. But Marjetka has been here for two weeks and is likely to stay another two weeks. She has gotten quite involved with the two local "families" (no young children here since the school is in Nuku), and rows them out fishing in her small patched dinghy, a big service since they have no working boat of their own.

In the afternoon Marjetka and her "Lady Tramp" dog Cherie came back, and we spent a most pleasant evening over wine and cheese learning their story. Marjetka hails from Slovenia (just east of Italy), and five years ago she gave up her job as a computer programmer and bought the Little Mermaid on Germany's Baltic coast. She thought she was embarking on a three-year circumnavigation, but like some other sailors we know, she is finding it is taking longer. The personable Cherie came into her life in Martinique, when Marjetka rescued the puppy by buying it off the owners who were carrying it by its hind leg. Having a dog aboard solved all Marjetka's problems of uninvited nighttime visitors who were sure they were doing her some favor, and once Cherie even woke her when she'd fallen asleep on watch and strayed too near a reef. Don and I were most taken with Cherie.

Marjetka has a Norwegian friend who flies in here and there to visit (har to imagine on the tiny boat!), but all in all she is content traveling solo. Alone she can spend whatever time she chooses in whatever place takes her fancy, and build whatever relationships there she wants. Clearly it brings her some special experiences. Don and I have been reading a collection of interviews of "travel writers" titled A Sense of Place, edited by Michael Shapiro and published by the Traveler's Tales folks. I say "travel writers" in quotes, because most of them see themselves less as "travel" writers than writers about place. However, a steady theme throughout the interviews was that when they are traveling for work, they travel alone, because when you are part of a couple, it changes the way you interact with people. Having been single for so many years, I think we both understand this intuitively, and while I for one sometimes miss that, I wouldn't trade back.

So Sunday morning I go ashore with Marjetka. Our first stop, after determining that "the old man is out fishing" is to feed our slop to two tethered pigs, who happily switch from munching coconut to chicken bones and mackerel heads! The "old man" paddles in from snorkeling with the bodies of three giant clams tethered to his belt. Lunch for his household, a son and another young man.

We enter the very low hut from the cooking area, the only eave I can get under. Inside I am surprised to see the complex "architecture" of the L-shaped abode, built of sticks lashed together, with open areas for windows, and complicated gables supporting a roof of thatch and corrugated mixed. It is a bit dark, but cool. After putting some pots to cook on the fire in the raised hearth in the cooking nook, the son opted for the hammock that swung a few inches off the ground and a newspaper from May, and we sat with Panea (the old man) on some comfy cushions over the ubiquitous mats.

Panea's English is pretty good, and he has a book he lends me for the evening telling the history and stories of the Banaban people of Rabi. However, Marjetka tells me Panea himself is actually of the Polynesian Ellis Island people that bought the next Fijian island south called Kioa to reduce population pressure on their own island. Panea definitely has a different look than Tina and her husband in the other hut down the beach who are of Micronesian stock and much darker and more angular. Panea keeps a log of the people who stop in Albert Cove to visit. There aren't so many, since it is slightly off the beaten track to Taveuni, but the boat signing the log ahead of Marjetka were the Swiss family, Andy and Marion we'd just met in Cawaro.

I stay and visit a bit with Panea, while Marjetka goes to put an epoxy patch on Tina's leaky canoe. Afterwards we pick up Don and go snorkeling on Albert Cove's inner reef. While Marjetka, Don and I are mostly sightseeing, it is all business for Panea. Over his shorts he dons a short-sleeve shirt over which he ties on a thin belt of twine. He's got mask and fins and is armed with a homemade Hawaiian sling made from a piece of 1/4-inch stainless-steel rod about five feet long fitted with a point at one end and strap, and an elastic arrangement I can't explain. From the pretty corals of the shoal, Panea sets off toward deeper water with Don working hard to keep up.

When Panea takes a shot at a fish, the whole spear goes flying free, dropping with or without fish wherever it may. Thus one must be careful about not shooting out into the deep! Don was impressed that Panea retrieves his spear on the same breath with which he shoots it! When he hits a fish, he runs a wire from his belt through the eyes before he slips it off the spear, so that he ends up wearing his catch around his middle. If he finds an edible shellfish on the bottom, he tucks that inside his belted shirt! Quite the system.

We'd already been in the water an hour when I realized I'd lost track of Don. Marjetka and I swam back to the anchored dinghy and still no sight of them. I had to swim back to Tackless, and climb up on the deck box with the binoculars to locate them in the glitter of the afternoon sun. By the time Don swam back to the boat, he'd been in the water two hours. As Marjetka rowed by with Panea (who had the decency to look frozen), he had added an octopus to his catch which he said he would cook up for our dinner!

All this, mind you, from a man who had a stroke a year ago and who still struggles to walk down the beach!

It is after dark when Marjetka rows back with the octopus in a blue plastic pail. It has been beaten tender and cooked in lolo (coconut milk). At first glance it appears intact, but, no, Marjetka says, Panea kept the head which is their favorite part. What we have is all eight legs attached to the throat! It was a big octopus! Marjetka, bless her, takes on the job of slicing him up into more manageable pieces, while I make rice and green beans. And afterwards we each have two legs left for another day!!!! We had a lovely dinner which only ended when, Cherie, taking a break in the dinghy, got overly excited about the fish jumping around the boat and plunged in after it. It took a little coordination of lights from T2 and Marjetka in the dinghy to fish her out of the dark.

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