From the Uto ni Yalo at times adrift on a vast and windless ocean. We have experienced periods of almost 4 knots where we made southwesterly progress accompanied by equal periods of less than 1 knot! Rain squalls have been obvious on the horizon, but we have not been fortunate enough to encounter one. A near miss yesterday saw us prepared with rain catcher. At latitude 03 degrees plus we are still experiencing bouts of the doldrums - those breezeless hours that are accompanied by what seems a higher humidity and warmer air. During the day the sun's intensity reminds us what it must be like in a terrestrial desert!
Then last night at 0100 something special happened. The sea turned glass! There was narry a ripple to be observed. The only noticeable disturbance was the Uto ni Yalo as it sliced through the flat surface of the calm sea. With a cloudless night sky comes myriad stars. The Milky Way features as a swath of white through countless constellations. The brighter stars, often used as navigational pointers, actually reveal their reflections in this marine mirror! Flying fish [ika vuka] disturbed by the drua's passing propel themselves out over the surface with a burst of speed and quick flick of caudal fin. Their escape is highlighted by droplets of water that leave a trail in the rippleless sea and only cease when gravity intervenes.
As a result of the slow pace and calm seas, the six druas/vakas have been asked to rendez-vous for some additional videography in the doldrums. As the Uto ni Yalo was setting the pace we were asked to reduce speed and alter course for the sunrise summit! We haven't been close to sister canoes since we left Santa Isabela. Each captain is responsible for assisting his tradtional navigator in setting their own course. Seta checks in every evening with Master Navigator Captain Peia and gives him his calculated position based on ancient methods.
The Evohe [support filming yacht] brings with it Kate the current videographer and fresh frozen meat. Katie's job is to ride the wild zodiac between and around each vaka and our drua filming crews as they go about their daily chores - replete in their PacificVoyager uniforms. The theme of the session was to be what crews "do" during doldrums! However the vagueries of Oceania weather kindly or unkindly [depending upon your perspective] intervened and the doldrums evaporated as fast as chocolate candy on a vaka! What took its place was winds......winds blowing in the right direction and with sufficient intensity to propel us at 7 knots and into adjacent rain squalls. Out came the rain catcher, in went the uniforms and the morning shoot dissolved into a rain bath. The more theatrically inclined did an impromptu "rain dance" while Kate sought shelter with me in the deck house! I had been banished there for not having my PV gear handy. That's what you get when you are too efficient and pack away what was thought to be unrequired gear until Tuamotus in your dry bag bottom too far out of arm's reach! We collected fresh water and Kate got her candid [well almost candid] shots.
Today dawned, marked by a milestone of sorts. We have been away from our loved ones since that sad, but yet happy, Sunday in January when we sang "Isa lei" in the Nausori Airport that left not a dry eye in the reception area. The current crew has been away from their homeland for 72 days, the halfway point in our journey, as we expect to see the leading lights of Levuka sometime in early June followed by a second official welcome in Suva [Laucala Bay] the next day.What a sight it will be as the Uto ni Yalo leads the fleet of now seven vakas home. We can only imagine the thrill it will be as if we had won a gold medal for Fiji at the Olympics!
For some the voyage will end there, while others will complete the trip to Lautoka and then on to Honiara for the Pacific Arts Festival. For Master Mausio, known by his many friends met along his odyssey as Mario, it will mark his homecoming as we hope with fair winds to include the beautiful island of Rotuma on our return itinerary. Rotuma has a rich maritime history with many of its sons taking to the sea in ships. It is a pity that the knowledge of Rotuma's ocean going sailing vessels has been lost or has it? Was there a large sailing vessel called a "koria" that Rotumans built? How was it constructed? What ancient Rotuman navigational terms still exist today? If you have any information leading to additional knowledge on this important subject please contact FIVS.
The topic of our discussion today is Purse Seining. With it comes the interesting "what if" question. What would you do if you were expected to make a split second decision concerning the following? An encounter with fishermen from the purse seiner you had been observing from a distance. We had that opportunity late yesterday afternoon and a decision was made. Was it the correct one? Would you have acted the way we did? Read on. But first what is a Purse Seiner? Is it the same as a Long Liner?
They have one malevolent thing in common. They indiscriminately catch a variety of marine life in their avaricious quest for tuna fish! The lesser of two evils is the Long Liner. As its name implies it uses a series of hundreds of stainless steel barbed and baited hooks that stretch for hundreds of meters and without an ecological conscience hauls in whatever hapless species bites the baited hooks. The Marine Park Rangers at Cocos Island have done an admirable job in policing their protected waters by confiscating kilometers and kilometers of lines and hooks and often impounding fishing boats and fining their crews. Many of us are privileged to wear a stainless steel hook bent closed as a symbol of solidarity with the rangers and our efforts at encouraging a cessation to this environmentally unsound practice.
The Purse Seiner takes the word indiscriminate to a new low. Instead of a line of baited hooks, they drag a huge fine meshed net behind their boat. The net, called a purse seine because of its shape, is weighted so that it sinks to the depths where it can catch its target species, the tuna. However just like many weapons of war, there is as much collateral destruction as tuna catch! The seiner, like some voracious large mouthed monster, scoops up everything and anything in its path. It has been reported that one not so lucky seiner dredged up a submarine that in turn dove and took the vessel to Davey Jones with it! Unfortunately for the variety of marine life destroyed by the seiner, it doesn't happen often enough!
The living or once living contents of a single purse net may contain in addition to tuna and some other edible varieties an array of innocent creatures that include porpoises, small whales, sea turtles, non-edible fish species, sharks, rays, squid and even sea birds. Those not exploited are left to die an ignominious death and then unceremoniously cast overboard.
The Plot :: At 1700 hours two fishermen from a Purse Seiner that we could barely see on the horizon were observed by our watch crew as they sped their way directly at us in their 175 HP "speed" boat. It was more like a home made fiberglassed yellow dinghy powered by this huge engine. We guessed right! They wanted to trade albacore tuna for tobacco. Tobacco was in short supply as smoking is verbotten[tabu] on board or was it that we 16 were all non-smokers! Whatever the case a gift pack of Mexican tobacco was produced, as was two Tee-shirts that unnoticed by them carried a message of marine conservation. They also received several brochures that told the purse seining world we do not condone their actions followed today by this unfriendly article.
Hey these two guys were simply hourly paid fishermen and not our target, the purse seine owners! Thus we didn't berate them or repulse them, but did accept their offering of four tuna. Why you might ask? If we are committed to the conservation ethic how could we accept such a prize when it was actually the epitome of all we were fighting against?
Here's our explanation. You'll have your own opinion based on your feelings about tuna fishing methods. We take the tuna. We do NOT eat the tuna. We ceremoniously and symbolically return the fish to the sea from whence they came to allow them to provide sustenance for other marine organisms. The Lion King proclaimed it - "It's the Circle of life". Ecologists teach it.....it's part of the chain of energy as it is recycled from the sun through producers, consumers and eventually decomposers.
Were we correct? We think so even though we were not close enough to the Purse Seiner to make a more definitive statement. We are not ecoterrorists. Our methods for proselytizing marine conservation are somewhat more subtle than confronting the opposition, posturing for the TV cameras and gaining all too needed publicity for the cause. We look at this cause as part of a continuum begun many generations ago by our forefathers, carried on by us and passed on to those who will carry the torch when are no longer able. The key of course is education starting with the young, but reaching all including those who we are opposed to. However for a better understanding of our methods we invite you to sail kilometers on our drua. Subtle yes, but easy no!
tabu soro Viti......if you want to make an impact and help the plight of our fellow marine organisms read the label on your tuna can. If it reads taken by purse seine or long line, don't buy it. Our journey continues.