30 August 1996

Billy's Big Adventure

Wondering what we've been up to? Wondering if we were going to continue sending articles? Well, Micheal and I waited some months for an article to appear in the Herald written by Billy Hodge about his incredible vacation in Fiji last August. Nothing happened. How’s that for an excuse for not having written sooner? Anyway, here is our version of Billy’s Big Adventure.

Where do I begin? With Billy, I guess. We were scheduled to meet Billy in Nadi on the western side of Fiji with Vela Dare to begin his vacation. But we were having such a good time in Viani Bay over on the eastern side of the group, that we faxed him and asked him to meet us there. We knew that we might be asking too much since the change involved an overnight in Nadi and an additional flight to a remote island. But we pride ourselves on making our visiting friends push the envelope in the adventure department. It had been a bit of a worry trying to communicate with Billy to coordinate meeting up with us. The nearest fax machine, or phone for that matter, was eight miles away from our base in Viani bay. We weren't too worried though, as things in the tropics have a way of always working out, eventually. The secret is to not be in a hurry.

From our perspective, the change meant that we would take the local ferry eight miles across the Somosomo Strait to Taveuni where we would meet Billy. That is if the plane was running that day and if it was on time. I use the term "ferry" loosely here because it was a twenty year old eighteen foot plywood fishing boat powered by a one-cylinder diesel engine that was started by a hand crank, had no muffler or shock absorbing motor mounts! The owner, Jack, was one of the more enterprising locals who made extra money taking locals to Taveuni to shop and cruising folk out to the nearby reefs on dive/snorkel trips. Micheal and I would always get a good laugh sitting in the cockpit of Vela Dare watching Jack's boat chug across the lagoon on it's way to Taveuni overloaded with locals, most sitting on top of the cabin roof to avoid the noise and stench of the motor. So while Billy was winging his way to Taveuni, Micheal and I were chugging across the Somosomo Strait in Jack's overloaded boat with his eleven year old daughter at the helm.

If everything went according to schedule we figured we would arrive in Waievo about an hour before Billy. Of course the concept of a schedule is a bit different in Fiji than what it is in Dallas, Texas. So, we ended up arriving about an hour after Billy did. I don't think I have ever seen anyone so relieved to see a familiar face as Billy was to see us. He was almost ready to catch the next (and only, for several days) plane out of there. There he was, in a strange country, on a remote island, in the lobby of a hotel wondering if we would show up. Well, you can imagine the relief and joy that was written all over his face when we strolled into the lobby. It was a wonderfully tearful reunion.

After having lunch at the Cannibal Cafe, where the motto is "We'd love to have you for lunch", we filled the time waiting for the water taxi departure by grilling Billy with questions about all of you back there in Fleet 23 land. It felt great to get first hand and up to the minute reports about the days of your lives.

Because of the reef structure off Waiyevo, Jack anchors his taxi about one hundred meters off the beach and his thirteen year old daughter, Loi, shuttles passengers from the beach in his old leaky plywood john boat. Everyone holds their cargo on their laps while someone bails as fast as they can to keep us from sinking as Loi stands on the bow and poles/rows us out. It's great third world fun and it keeps everyone laughing.

The ride back was fairly uneventful. I managed to relieve a bit of the monotony by catching a ten pound trevally along the way. We were too excited about having Billy with us to be bothered cleaning the fish so I gave it to one of the locals. Besides I had been having good luck trolling in the early mornings and was looking forward to taking Billy out the next morning.

We spent our first night on Vela Dare celebrating Billy's arrival, unpacking all the stuff that he brought for us, getting a little drunk and catching up on old times.

The next four days were spent introducing Billy to paradise. The days would start at dawn when we would take the Zodiac to the outer reef and troll for an hour or two before heading back for breakfast. Then it would be time for a snorkle in the crystal clear waters of the teeming inner reef. It was Billy's first time to snorkle in natures aquarium and we had a hard time getting him out of the water. We would squeeze in a late lunch before hiking up into the jungle for a freshwater shower in a stream. What was left of the afternoon would be spent looking for shells visiting with the best part of this paradise: the Fijian people of Viani Bay. The evenings might include a beach barbeque, singing and talking around the kava bowl with our Fijian friends. Finally we would drag ourselves back to Vela Dare and fall into an exhausted sleep. Billy mentioned several times that he could use a bit more rest but our motto was "you can rest when your dead".

From Viani Bay we sailed over to the island of Rambi where we managed to time our arrival with local celebrations commemorating the completion of the new church in the village. It only took fourteen years to build the church, all by hand. Rambi was settled by the people of Ocean Island during the 1940's when the British decimated their island mining for phosphates. Their culture and language is totally different from the Fijians. We were lucky enough to attend a series of dances in the basement of the new church which were awesome. As distinguished visitors, we were given front row seats to the festivities and dusted with scented talcum powder as a symbol of acceptance by the locals.

Then it was off to Albert Cove, another incredibly beautiful anchorage on the northern side of Rambi. Billy caught a 17 pound Trevally on the way and Micheal yelled at me for not saving the head to give to the locals. I should mention that the head is considered the best part of the fish by most islanders.

Albert cove was a beautiful anchorage where we did some snorkling and had a nice trevally dinner. Early next morning we left Allbert cove to sail around Texas reef and to the islands in the Budd reef area. The water at Budd reef was unbelievably clear, with visibility over a hundred feet. Unfortunately, we weren't able to swim there because of our tight schedule. However, Billy and I did manage to do a quick musical demonstration for the village school. There were storm force winds (over fifty knots) blasting other parts of Fiji that night and we didn't get much sleep waiting for it to get to us. Fortunately, the storm passed south of us.

The next stop was the island of Gamea, another day sail from Budd Reef. We spent three nights there waiting for favorable weather for our 24 hour sail to Suva. The people of Gamea treated us in the usual Fijian way to singing, food, kava and good company. All in a lush tropical setting that is best described as "King Kong country".

Our sail to Suva, Billy's first open ocean passage, began with an early morning sail down the twenty five mile windward side of the island of Taviuni. The mist shrouded peaks and lush green dropoffs were studded with numerous waterfalls. It was a spectacular sail. The conditions were moderate with a 25 knot wind about sixty degrees off the bow and two to three meter seas. You'll have to ask Billy what he thought of open ocean sailing; suffice it to say that we were not on the lake anymore. The overnighter marked a milestone in Billy's visit: we were nightsailing! This was our first overnight sail with Billy on board. Oh how I had waited to go night sailing with Billy again. Many of you may not know of Billy and Micheal's escapades night sailing on Lake Lewisville on the 18. I was lucky to go with them the few times that I could stay awake late enough, always after a very full day of sailing on the lake. The best time to go sailing in late summer was always at night; when the traffic eased, the temperature dropped and that dependable night breeze kicked in well after midnight. Those guys drank tons of beer and laughed like kids as they perfected the art of sailing the 18 without rudders. Ah, the good old days. Anyway, with our course set to arrive in Suva just after dawn we plowed through a moderate sea with about 20 knots of wind just forward of the beam. It was really a great sail for everyone except Billy, who took a Dramamine and crashed for most of the night missing out on all the fun I had planned for him. He did manage an appearance in the cockpit around midnight only to remark, " It's dark out here!"

We arrived in the major south Pacific port of Suva at dawn. After anchoring off the Royal Suva Yacht Club, we checked into the club and took a taxi into town for heaps of cheap Indian food and shopping. Billy fell in love with the Yacht Club where there was a pool table just a few steps from the bar. We spent four nights in Suva during which: we attended a major party at he Yacht Club, Billy fell in love (or was it lust?) at first sight, Micheal participated in an emergency medical transfer at sea involving some good friends of ours, we got to spent some time with good friends we won't see for a long time, Billy got to explore Suva city and play lots of pool at the club (not to mention grocery shopping, doing laundry, etc). It was a gruelling pace but hey, you can rest when your dead.

Billy had a blast in Suva, had a blast and almost had a heart attack at Kandavu and sailed a 16 all over the lagoon at Musket Cove on the island of Malololailai in the company of a beautiful lady ( he mooned us, can you believe that?). All in all, we put over 500 miles under the keel while he was on board. It was hard to say good-bye and a few tears were shed. But we knew that Billy had to get back to Dallas for a much needed rest! Having fun is hard work.

The pace and style of living in tropical countries is so different from the rat race in Dallas, Texas that it's really hard to explain to someone who has not experienced it. While Billy was with us, it was interesting to see the change come over him. He arrived wearing a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. By the time he left us, he had taken to wearing a huge grin, a sulu (a piece of brightly colored cloth wrapped around the waist resembling a skirt) and a flower behind his ear. That attire is totally acceptable most places in Fiji. Before he left I made him promise me that he would wear his sulu and a flower behind his ear on his first day back on the job. Well, Billy?

Cruising August 1996

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