Friday, August 26, 2016

Yasawa Chain

We made the jump from Yadua Island, just off the western end of Vanua Levu, the northern of the two main islands of Fiji, to the Yasawa chain of islands that stretch down the western side of Fiji to the Mamanucas.

It was a brisk sail, in about 25 knots of wind. We used the No 2 genoa alone, without mainsail, and surged along at 7-8 knots. We caught a nice Spanish mackerel of about 10 kg. Fifty nautical miles to Sawa I Lau island. We left early, at 6.30 am, because we always like to arrive at new destination when the sun is still high, which makes it easier to see any reefs.

Nimrod under the cliffs of Sawa I Lau

The Yasawas are on the tourist circuit; cruise ships and resorts mix with relatively poor traditional villages.

Some of the limestone formations were similar to The Pinnacles in WA.

We went ashore to present sevusevu, and were guided by Moses

Tui, Amelia and Barbara.

The chief was not available, so we presented it to a senior woman Tui, who took it for him. 

Tui's grand-daughter Barbara

Amelia plaiting a pandanus mat

Moses cooked us some crabs

Kids watching from the door

George and local boys

The island of Sawa I Lau contains some amazing limestone caves, some of which require that you swim through a tunnel underwater. We were taken through by a guide called Esther.

Esther at the first cave.

Esther and George in the inner cave

From Sawa I Lau we went round to Nanuya Resort in Blue Lagoon. It looks to us as if it is being over-capitalised by a wealthy bored Australian truckie from the Gold Coast. Lots of earth-moving noise in the night.

Next to Somosomo Bay, which was quiet and peaceful.

Then further south to Drawaqa Island, famous for the option of snorkelling with Manta Rays. They tend to feed in the mornings around the time of high tide. So we set off in the RIB at daybreak, and spotted some tell-tale wing-tips breaking the water. George drove the RIB upstream of them and I jumped in with my wetsuit and snorkel gear.

Now this is not actually my photo, though this is very similar to what I saw. But in the excitement of a 5 metre wing-span monster coming right at me with a huge mouth wide open, I was so distracted by thoughts such as: 'What is the evidence that they are gentle vegans?' that I managed to press the wrong button on the underwater video camera. So when I got back to our boat excited that I was sure to get a contract from David Attenborough, it was something of a let-down to find that there was nothing on the camera! Bummer!

The staff of the Barefoot Resort were friendly. They had a staff volley-ball match at sunset. It was of an impressively high standard. Fiji just won a gold medal at the Rio Olympics, and ball-sports are a source of much national pride.

Sunset through trees broken by Cyclone Winston

Waya Island

Kids welcoming us to Nalauwaki village

We presented sevusevu to Tamatai, chief of Nalauwaki village

Nimrod under Mount Nakaukau

See that peak up there? Way too high to think of climbing, right? Well pressure appeared, and offers of a guide. Comments designed to make one feel a wimp if one didn't; you know the score?

So off we set, with Ame the guide.

Walking through the village on the way to the mountain, we saw this young couple with their baby having breakfast on their deck by the beach.

George and Ame tackle the summit

Sir George Hillary and Sherpa Ame

View from the summit

Nimrod in Nalauwaki Bay

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Presenting sevusevu

There is a curious requirement in certain islands and villages in Fiji. Visiting yachts must 'present sevusevu'.

This is a ritual in which one essentially makes a gift to the local chief and asks his permission to utilize his anchorage, bay, island, or village. We just went through this process on Yadua Island, just off the west coast of Vanua Levu, the northern of the two main islands of Fiji. 

We anchored in a bay on the west side of Yadua (pronounced Yandua). Pretty soon a boat loaded with people on a fishing trip arrived and came aboard. Very friendly. We showed them over the boat. George gave them some chocolate slices to eat. Nobody ate them. Then the senior man, fourth from left, said 'Grace' in Fijian, and then everybody got stuck in.

They then explained that 'sevusevu' was required. We needed to be taken by one of them to meet the chief in the village at the far side of the island. They nominated Labby, a thirteen-year-old girl, who would accompany us and arrange the formal introduction.


The options were a four hour trek overland or a two hour dinghy ride, in choppy conditions. We chose the dinghy.

Ratu Jone Cakau, chief of Yadua Island. See the bundles of kava roots we have given him. He and Labby's uncle Jerry went through a ritual involving speeches in Fijian, and clapping. At the end of it we were told we were welcome. We gave the chief and Jerry some reading glasses, which went over very well.


One of the fishing party.

Fishing party depart. French boat 'Ganesh' behind.

Sevusevu for Dummies.  A good overview.

Although our initial reaction was that it was all a bit weird to be required to hand over drugs as a price for anchoring, on reflection, we have come to see the process as having a real value. It formalizes the relationship between local inhabitants and visitors, and initiates a period of hospitality and cordial relations with the hosts. There is clarity about the roles, rights, and obligations of visitors.

When serious misunderstandings are apparent about these things, especially with migrants and host populations around the world, there might be something we could learn from the Fijians.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Intercourse with whales

No, silly! Not sexual intercourse. 

Intercourse: "Communication or dealings between individuals or groups."

We have had two profound interactions with whales since cruising; once in Hervey Bay, when two young humpbacks circled around Nimrod on a calm day, and more recently when we went snorkelling with humpbacks in Vava'u, Tonga.

Both events are on Vimeo.

We have received many messages of appreciation and admiration about these experiences, but also some commentary about the ethics of close encounters with whales, and, in particular, swimming with them.

I thought I would discuss the matter for anyone interested.

During my life, whaling has been an active political controversy. Those not familiar with the history might like to read about it, for example in this Wikipedia article.

In the 1970s, when I first became active in the environmental movement, there were still large numbers of whales being slaughtered by industrial scale whaling ships, especially by the Soviet Union and Japan. The Greenpeace pressure group was founded, in part, to combat whaling. The book 'Warriors of the Rainbow: A Chronicle of the Greenpeace Movement' is a fantastic read. Download the iBook here.

To a large extent, the battle to stop whaling has been a success, although not complete. Japan, in particular, continues to flaunt the legal restrictions on whaling. The Japanese whaling story is here. The success of the campaign has depended on engaging public opinion by demonstrations, consciousness-raising and education. The development of a whale-watching tourism industry around the world has played a valuable part in this. Thus it is not possible to address the negative possibilities of whale-watching tourism, without also considering the political benefits to the whales from an electorate mobilized to want to watch and protect them from the resumption of slaughter.

But there remains a significant concern that this industry risks harming the very animals that it is supposedly trying to celebrate. How should this be managed?

In most of the world, whale-watching is regulated by distance between the boats and the whales. The Australian regulations specify distance and relative position.

Many other countries have similar regulations.

The trouble with this approach is that it is 'gameable'. We have seen it happen repeatedly in Australia and also recently in Tonga. The whale-watch boats position themselves more than 100 metres from the whales in the direction that the whales are travelling, and then turn off their motors. The skippers twiddle their thumbs and look innocent, rehearsing the line for the wild-life protection officer: 'Honestly ossifer, the whales came to us! We wasn't doing nuffink!'

When there are several whale-boats all in the same area, the game takes the form of roulette. Each boat makes a bet on which direction the whales will move and stops there, just outside the 100 metre limit. The lucky boat gets the prize when the whales move towards them.The other boats break away and move off and take up position further away in the direction the whales are going.

My objection to this form of regulation is that it basically doesn't work. Secondly, it effectively leads to a situation which really is bad; that is of encirclement of whales who want to evade contact with boats. Adults can escape by diving deep. They can hold their breath for an hour. But young calves need to breathe every 15 minutes.

I think the regulations should shift from an emphasis on distance, to one which guarantees that encirclement and entrapment does not occur.

I have thought a bit about this. I think the best way would be to define an arc of 180˚ in which no boat may approach, and in fact are obliged to motor away from the whales. A zone which is 'off-side'. I suggest that it should be defined by the closest shore-line. Thus boats are allowed on the in-shore side of the whales, but not between them and the open sea, so that whales who did not want human proximity could easily avoid it.

Any boat that is off-side, but not actively motoring away from the whales, might be photographed and penalized. 

The next question is whether swimming with whales should occur. It does in a few countries; Tonga, the Dominican Republic, and recently, West Australia. But many countries do not permit it. There are two issues: safety for the whales and safety for the humans.

From the whales perspective, it is hard to see why a swimmer is more hazardous than a boat. As long as the limit discussed above applies, such that the whales have a clear option of disengagement, I see no problem.

Safety for humans is a different matter. In the second half of our 'Swimming with Whales' video above, there is the beginnings of a 'heat run'. This is a collection of frisky males jostling each other and jumping around to attract the favour of the single female who we had been following with her calf. Swimming with these males might indeed be hazardous.

In summary, IMHO, swimming with whales and the whale-watch industry should be permitted and encouraged, as long as there are clear rules to prevent entrapment and encirclement. Intercourse is OK, but only with consenting cetaceans, who have a clear and obvious escape route.

Footnote. When we were in Neiafu, Vava'u, we asked which was the best whale-swim tour to go with. We were told the name of the best one, but the boat was unavailable, because it had been booked out for the whole season by a professional Japanese underwater photographer who was flying in tours of Japanese photographers to film the whales.

About the best possible way to help the Japanese opposition to the whale slaughtering industry.

Here is a lovely poem, Whale Nation, by the late Heathcote Williams, performed by Roy Hutchins.

Friday, August 19, 2016


We have been in Savusavu for the last four days, hiding from the constant rain, and reprovisioning.

The rain reflects the fact that the SPCZ is draped across Fiji.

Savusavu is a fun place, a major port of call on the international yacht cruising circuit, with about 100 western yachts here, some staying here for years. Their crews are an interesting collection of people from lots of different countries. They hang out in the local watering-holes and shoot the breeze.

One particular character is Curly Carswell, a Kiwi Vietnam vet who is one of the yachting gurus of the South Pacific. A most entertaining and jovial man who runs seminars on navigating around Fiji's complex and dangerous coral reefs. He also wakes the anchorage every morning to host the local VHF net, a sort of weather and mutual help and discussion group on the radio for the cruising fleet.

This is his wake-up call.


He is restoring one of 22 yachts that were wrecked by TC Winston six months ago. 

There were many repair jobs going on in the area.

Tropical cyclone Winston - February 20th 2016

Cousteau Dive Resort jetty being repaired 

Plenty of damaged boats going for a song for dreamers with practical skills who want to go cruising.

Dinghy on mudflats off Hibiscus Highway

Rainforest in the Savusavu Bay caldera

Fishing in the rain, Savusavu Bay

Everywhere friendliness

Some pretty classy boats

Nice walks along the shore