Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
After a very long night, with a ten-hour flight somewhere in the middle, I blew into Fiji at about five in the morning.
I was reminded during my trip of the old story about the guy who decided to leave the ocean behind. He said he was going to put an anchor on his shoulder and walk inland until someone asked him what kind of crop you use that funny-looking plow on, and that’s where he’d settle … the trip was relatively uneventful, except for the part where I had to convince the TSA folks that a sextant is not a weapon of mass destruction. Someone watching asked if they could take a picture of the sextant, said they’d never seen one and figured they’d never see another one.
I grabbed a cab to Vuda Point Marina. Since it is in Fiji, the “d” is pronounced “nd”, so it’s actually called “Vunda Point”. I found the boat, but there was no one there, so I just took a photo of the boat and kicked back to watch the world go by.
I wasn’t waiting, you understand. I gave up waiting not long after I first moved to the South Pacific. I was in a traffic jam riding a bus in Suva. I looked around. All the expatriates in their cars were all sitting and obviously fuming, waiting for the jam to clear. The Fijians, on the other hand, were leaning out their windows and talking to people on the streets, or in discussions with people in their cars … but none of the Fijians were waiting. I realized that waiting is a state of mind where the future is the only subject, and all it does is make me crabby … so instead, I walked around and looked at the ships up on the hard. Ships out of water are like naked people, all of their faults and strengths are on display.
After while, one of the crew woke up on the boat, and we went to the cabin where my mad mate Mike is staying. The boys on the boat said there was nothing for us to do for a couple of days, so Mike decided to roll with me to Pacific Harbour, where I had some business to transact and some friends to catch up with. It’s been six years since I’ve gone to Fiji, so I wanted to see the guys that Mike calls “The Dogs of Winter”. The sobriquet refers to the fact that most of them spend their summers in the US making money, which lets them spend their winters in Fiji …
As you might imagine, almost all of my Fiji friends are surfers like myself. Mike and I showed up on their hill unannounced, where the jungle argues with the ocean …I had to break the sad news to them that I didn’t have time for a surf trip this go-round, but that I’d be back in February. Here’s why. There are lots of small breaks alongshore, but our main big-wave spot is called “Frigates Passage”. It’s on the far eastern end of the barrier reef that surrounds Beqa Island (pronounced “Mbengga”, it’s Fiji), about 17 miles (30 km) offshore of the main island of Viti Levu. It’s a magic spot out in the middle of the ocean, full of life, and it will hold a good-sized wave.
A few years ago, I went to Fiji in order to surf Frigates on my 60th birthday … and at the time, I swore a big swear that I would come back and surf Frigates on my 70th birthday, which is this coming February. So I was able to fend of their importuning me to stick around and surf by saying that a) I’m leaving Fiji in a couple days, no time and b) I’ll be back to surf Frigates in about ten months.
I asked them about whether the current coral reef bleaching episode affected Frigates, and they confirmed my own experience. A few years back, there was bleaching in Kadavu, one of the outer islands of Fiji. I dove there about a year later, and the reef was well on its way back to recovery.
The Dogs told me that they’d been out surfing Frigates almost every day, both before and after the bleaching. They said the water got hotter and hotter, and as it did, the reef got brighter and brighter and full of life. But then as the temperatures continued to rise, literally overnight the reef turned white—one day full color and radiant, the next day white.
But now, they said, a couple of months have passed and the reef is already recolonizing. They can see the new polyps. I said this was because they don’t have to build the structure of the reef, that’s the white skeleton that remains after bleaching. It’s the perfect home for coral polyps, which settle down out of the water when they find such a spot and set up housekeeping. since they don’t have to build a new skeleton, they start flourishing right away and in a surprisingly short time, the reef is back in business. People think coral bleaching is the death of the reef, but nothing could be further from the truth. All that happens is that a species of coral polyps which is more heat-tolerant will colonize the homesites, and the life of the reef will continue.
Anyhow, Eric and Geeta were having a potluck barbecue, so naturally the Dogs rounded me and Mike up and took us to the BBQ. There, we had one of Geeta’s famous Indian dinners that she learned to make from her mom, full of tomato chutney and rotis and whatever else. My great thanks for their hospitality to wandering miscreants and minstrels …
"If you're nobody's business or you're front-page news Folk, rock, country, or Delta blues Tell your truth however you choose And do it all for the sake of the song. Well, it's hitchhike, bus ride, or rental car Living rooms, coffee houses, rundown bars Ten thousand people, or alone under the stars, It's all for the sake of the song ..."
That’s about all of the news that’s fit to print. The usual diurnal tropical cycle is going on here, clear in the morning, clouding up in the afternoon …
Now, it’s about 5 PM. A few minutes ago it got that hot, sticky feeling that presages a thunderstorm, and now the rain has come to cool the surface. The weather is working exactly as it should and as it has for millions of years. The sky is blue between the clouds, the ocean is bluer yet, so all I can say is, keep singing, dear friends, it is definitely all for the sake of the song …