Less than 150 nm from Fiji waters. The SE winds are pushing us along at clips of 9-11 knots causing soaking amounts of sea spray to bathe those on watch! Crew either ducks and gets wet or if quick enough they can avoid direct hits by deftly moving across the slippery deck.
Several years ago I taught a lesson on time management and organisational skills by having the class consider what a day is like for them. Initially I intentionally did not mention the concept of a 24 hour day. I simply asked each student to make a two column table. Column 1 listed the activity and column 2 listed how long in hours or parts of hours each took. The results were interesting. Most students recalled everything they did from morning to morning - sleep, eat, cleanup, go out etc.....however when I asked them to add up their time consumed column, more often than not their 24 hour cycles turned into anything between 19 and 28 hour days!
Students quickly understood that we are often not aware of the duration of things we do or if we are they are inaccurately recalled! So what is time then? Is it a concept or is it real? Is it something scientists can talk at length about or is it a man made convention? While we matuas on board the Uto ni Yalo were at one time pretty good time managers we have had to readjust our rhythms to match those of the Uto. There are no 8AM to 5PM jobs. Work commitment centers around 3 hour watch shifts starting at 0000 hrs. and progressing by 3 hours after that. With three watch groups it is conceivable to get 9 hours of watch in a day. Most crew members sleep when not on watch or do drua related jobs. Some read, others simply enjoy socialising.
For Joe Brown, Mafi Mausio and I this has been challenging at times, but as "drua elders" one of our jobs is to act as role models and thus we cannot afford to be late for our watches! We share much in common even though we come from different origins. Our love and respect for the ocean and its inhabitants is unquestioned. Our belief in alternate forms of energy has been strengthened by our experiences on board. The Uto has sailed over 22,000 nautical miles without fossil fuels often accelerating to 18 knots and once to 25 before having her sails reefed for mast safety. She easily averages 8 knots thus making her an ideal intra-island vessel for Fiji and similar island countries.
The matuas, those three "not so holy trinity", whose combined age is almost as much as the entire remaining crew combined enjoy sharing their visions of reviving Fiji and Rotuma's rich sailing culture and traditions. You can imagine after a few "high tide" bilos the talk turns to envisaging a time, hopefully within their lifetime, when a full size drua will sail Fiji waters before venturing further afloat as Fiji's Flagship - its Goodwill Message to the the world. If people thought a 72 foot vaka was impressive [and indeed it is!] what will they think of a traditionally designed and culturally prepared drua of 100-120 feet!?! The medium will most assuredly become our first message.
If Hawaii can have their Hokulea and its resurgence in 2013 and the Cook Islands can resurrect Te o auTonga, then Fiji must have their own "connector". You already know that those three maritime musketeers will be the first to volunteer to do whatever it takes to get it sailing. With the advent of modern materials and using solar and wind power with modern reinforcement of technologically superior ancient designs the "Drua mai Viti kei Rotuma" will be the trademark of pride as it represents not only the vibrant i-Taukei heritage BUT embraces the multi-ethnicity that has become a hallmark of "Fijianness". [sorry for inventing word!!!!].
Unlike many island states who have to almost reinvent their connectors - those traditions, mores and ceremonies that bind their fenua to their moana [vanua to wasawasa][expanded concept of land to ocean], Fiji is proud that the knowledge and practice of most of those connections have not been lost in the mists of time and changing cultural priorities. Fijian mana is not something that has to be manufactured when needed, it simply is, has been and always will be there as a signpost, guide and inspiration. A drua will be a physical manifestation of all that is "Fijian" from captain to crew and from traditional navigation to keeping matuas on board.
FIVS has not been idle. With the foresight and kind assistance of the Fiji Government, The University of the South Pacific, many NGO's and a host of passionate volunteers we have laid the groundwork for the construction of our drua. This was done with knowledge of traditional protocol consulting many mataisau [traditional boat builders], visiting southern Lau, undertaking extensive literature and archival research and through a UNESCO grant collecting and collating all vernacular references to traditional navigation from star and wind charts, to drua parts and virtually any nautical and marine term. This has been a daunting task and all the answers are not in place. We speak with confidence however that by the time the drua has been built [each step following ancient protocol - except for the pre-Christian human sacrifices - is there an acceptable sublimation?] we will have all navigational aids in both English and the vernacular and all maritime designs carved with traditional care into its many wooden spaces on the rara [deck], domodomo [masthead], vana [mast],mua levu [bow], vugakoto [mast stop], valevale [deck house], uli [steering paddle, ubi ni dreke [hatch cover], AND think of the fantastic design that could be integrated into the huge laca [sail]!
With the Uto ni Yalo's homecoming, as part of the impressive Pacific Voyagers Fleet, we hope a greater impetus and perhaps urgency will follow the visit and "Drua Construction" will be a national symbol of our country's desire for reconstruction and reconciliation. As the drua becomes a reality our people will rally behind it as they have so wonderfully followed the Uto and its crew and their exploits, experiences and messages of hope. We would be remiss if we didn't acknowledge and praise the man of vision, Mr. Dieter Paulman, the father and benefactor of this entire Pacific wide project. His philanthropy has enabled fledgling voyaging societies to form, focus energies and goals and formulate future plans. The three year in the making documentary film to be released in 2013, Our Blue Canoe, will capture Pacific images hitherto ignored or overlooked. It will personalise the plight of our ocean without scare tactics or ecoterrorist threats. It is a reflection of the ethos and mana of the Pacific people it portrays. It's subliminal message being the renaissance of traditional wind generated sail power using modern materials and incorporating solar panels for clean electricity production. Wouldn't it be prophetic and symbolic if Fiji via FIVS could launch their drua simultaneously with the launch of Our Blue Canoe?
Colin Philp and his FIVS organising committee have enlisted the help and assistance of representatives of every Fiji community to make the Uto's homecoming and the Pacific Voyager's welcome a set of special and memorable events. It will be uniquely Fijian as we experienced a variety of different welcomes in every country we visited during our incredible journey. Sailing into Levuka first shows support for Fiji's first capitol and the ceremonies and events there will be an interesting contrast to the one planned for Suva at USP's lower campus - Laucala Bay. With Friday being the start of a holiday weekend and Monday June 11 being a national holiday we hope that people in both areas will make an effort to be there. The presence of young people will be a blessing as we hope to impart our enthusiasm and sense of commitment to them! Viti kei Rotuma this is an interim stopover for the Pacific Fleet as they will continue on to Vanuatu and the Solomons. Let's make their stay with us a positive memory. Tabu soro.......the journey never ends.