As I said in 191. Tramp of the South Seas (5) I was due to leave in Fiji the yacht I was on as crew since Tahiti. It was July 1997 and I had been away from home in New Caledonia since December 1995. Sailing from Tahiti westward I was finding that Fiji had a familiar look. It felt more Melanesian than Polynesian. The yacht rally around the world counted Fiji as the end of a 'leg' for all yachts, racing or otherwise. However the finish line was not in Suva but on a small island called Malololailai off Nadi (pronounced Nandi) on the west coast.
So after a couple of days in Suva and promising to return to Suva for my next job as crew to a Kiwi guy sailing to New Caledonia, we set sails to the island of Bega (pronounced Benga) on the way to Malololailai.
I am writing this from fading memories of what happened 13 years ago without maps or charts or photos. What I say might not be terribly accurate. Maybe one day I'll check with the yacht's log if I manage to get in touch with the owners of that boat again.
We sailed through a pass across a reef belt in sunny warm weather with a cool wind. As it looked dodgy I was sent up in the rigging to have a better look at the surface of the sea. I gestured to indicate where it looked shallow and this is how we entered a deep bay on the lee (downwind) of Benga.
There was a group of people living there obviously used to see foreign yachts moore there on anchor for a night or two. They were very friendly. The English captain decided to make them honorary citizens of some town in England and gave them a piece of carving with the name of the township on it as a souvenir. What they really would have appreciated is the loan of a couple of the video tapes of films we had on board. The story was that one member of their community had worked in New Zealand and had brought back a video tape recorder. Together with a homemade power plant for electricity they used it to view films as in a cinema. I think the captain gave them a number of video tapes for their 'cinema'. They gave us a treat of their local bevarage called 'kava'...
We sailed the next morning further west and anchored for the night in a some bay. According to the GPS the spot where we dropped the anchor was 2 miles inland. I remembered that when a few weeks later I sailed with another yacht to Vanuatu.
When we finally made it to Malololailai to the venue where all yachts of the rally were assembled it was a relief. Sailing due west in late afternoon through tricky reef passes with the sun in our eyes... was fun! I could joke about sophisticated instruments not giving the accurate information. The depth sounder used to send warnings on and off with the wrong depth information. At one stage the captain who by then did not trust his GPS all that much could not make out where we were. He actually asked me to recognise the marine landscape checking it against the chart. Luckily there was a small plane taking off from an unseen strip and so we were able to identify the spot we were sailing in from that.
The welcome party was grand! Plenty of food, drinks, yachties and people of all kinds. Most sailboats were of English speaking nations. I found one who was French and crewed by French sailors. They felt socially isolated, they said, not because of language problems as all of them spoke English. I could identify with that.