The Dogs of Winter

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.

ICE in vudaI 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 …shiloh's houseI 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.

Frigates Passage

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 …

Geeta FoodPaul and Shiloh and Ryan all brought their guitars, so we set up in the living room and I played some with them. I sang:

"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 …

Vuda CloudsNow, 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 …

w.

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41 thoughts on “The Dogs of Winter

    • Odds are, that’s a dive boat. Platform for ingress and exit, cranes for lifting gear and working inflatables.

      • From the Original review of ICE …
        http://www.tradeboats.com.au/tradeaboat-reviews/boats/0912/mcintyre-50-motor-sailer-review/

        The aft targa has two swinging cranes on each side that lift outboards, the Flopper ‘Fish’ or anything we should recover from the deep!

        I have a big dive compressor, four complete dive sets and six cylinders (the dive buckets fit in the rack on the aft cockpit cover), underwater communications and metal detectors, a big black Zodiac, two long boards, a Walker 10 sailboat, inflatable kayak, folding bikes and my own Polaris flying inflatable amphibious boat (Google Polaris FIB). I hang the Polaris in the aft davit and then fit a second lower davit for the Zodiac. Did I mention the ice-cream maker?
        @Willis … is the Ice Cream maker still working? To wit …
        http://www.treatsandeatsblog.com/the-best-pina-colada/

      • http://www.tradeboats.com.au/tradeaboat-reviews/boats/0912/mcintyre-50-motor-sailer-review/

        The aft targa has two swinging cranes on each side that lift outboards, the Flopper ‘Fish’ or anything we should recover from the deep!

        I have a big dive compressor, four complete dive sets and six cylinders (the dive buckets fit in the rack on the aft cockpit cover), underwater communications and metal detectors, a big black Zodiac, two long boards, a Walker 10 sailboat, inflatable kayak, folding bikes and my own Polaris flying inflatable amphibious boat (Google Polaris FIB). I hang the Polaris in the aft davit and then fit a second lower davit for the Zodiac. Did I mention the ice-cream maker?
        @Willis … is the Ice Cream maker still working? To wit …
        http://www.treatsandeatsblog.com/the-best-pina-colada/

  1. I spent 6 idle weeks in Fiji (2002) on Global Marine’s Cable Ship “Pacific Guardian” on standby just in case the cable linking Fiji to Australia & New Zealand failed. “Southern Cross Cable Network”. Needless to say the ROV didn’t see the sea for more than once a month. In those days Merchant vessels had tax free bars, that was the only job i have ever had had where i spent more than I earned…
    I will never my lose my experience of Fiji (the ship’s marine crew where Fijian) – Kava every other night, Suva & Nadi for mayhem at the weekend. I have a couple of CD’s to re awaken the experience with the adittion of alcohol – kava is almost impossible to obtain in the UK now tho 🙁

  2. Just to say ;
    I am no one. Have no credentials, and so I don’t usually post. ( I do come to read, though ). But I can’t not thank Willis for this great post.
    Next time someone urges me to retire, and tells me I am too old to do all my housework on top of it all, and says my hsband and I should go to one of those assisted living places, “morideros ” ( as we call them in Spain), I will send them this, just to show them.
    Surfing for one’s 70 th, seems a great idea.
    Love from Madrid
    María

    • Mi amiga Jovencita, mil gracias pa’ tus palabras amables … ojala que te quedas joven pa’ siempre.
      w.

    • My wife’s uncle learned to water ski when he was 65. He bought a motorcycle and joined a club of older riders and made numerous cross-country trips with his friends. He lived to be 92, spending his last year living with us and his older sister who preceded him, passing when she was 95.

  3. 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.
    ===
    dinoflagellates zooxanthellae, the polyps don’t go anywhere

    • Coral bleaching events beg the old tree falling in the forest question –
      “if a reef bleaches and there’s no one there to see it, did it really bleach at all?”

  4. “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…”
    —————–
    —————–
    Amazing.
    For me, those short lyrics above, (written afaik by Hayes Carll and Darrell Scott,) represent one of the most righteous lyric stanzas ever put to song and from an album only made generally available to the public, just a couple of weeks ago. And here’s Willis, singing it with his friends and passing it along to us.
    Willis, you do get around.
    Thanks.

    • Thanks, Alan. I figure if a man is not learning new tunes, he should hang up his guitar. I heard “Sake Of The Song” on the radio last week and like you, I thought it was a superb piece of writing.
      w.

  5. Speaking of tax-free bars…. an acquaintence and her SO were in Fiji this winter, at a bar. The cost for two double Vodkas and water (1 each) was $89. So…. bring your own vodka!

  6. Wishing you a wonderful time on your get-a-way. Before I started practicing mindfulness/meditation I would be very impatient, even getting angry, if I had to wait or was stuck in traffic. Now I look at each instance as an opportunity for personal development. Eventually you learn that nothing or no one can upset you or make you angry. Only you can do that, or not.

  7. Regarding leaving the sea behind, we former Surface Warfare Officers say that if we ever get the urge to return to the sea we will tie two bricks together and hang them around our neck (to simulate heavy binoculars) and stand on our front porch after midnight for four hours in the rain to remind us of the joy of standing the midwatch during stormy weather. (Thick as mud stale coffee during the last hour is optional.) That usually kills the desire. However, there is nothing that can equal the experience of looking at the starry night sky and sunrise and sunset at sea. I once even saw the very rare green flash.

  8. 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.

    That sums up the CAGW personality: so future oriented that they neglect to Be Here Now.

    • Thanks for the invite, but we’re leaving port on Thursday so there will be very little time. However, if you are at the bar at the Vuda Marina near Nadi at sunset on Wednesday, you’ll get to meet the boys in the band … it’s an interesting crew of refugees and reprobates.
      w.

  9. Still not overly convinced by this thermic stress being the only cause of bleaching. According to the Grauniad newspaper, bleaching is all due to temperature and climate change – as you might expect.
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/17/great-barrier-reef-worst-destruction
    But according to the reef authority, much of the bleaching is due to an ongoing crown of thorns attack. And of course the crown of thorns will not attack dead coral. And the large numbers of crown of thorns is mainly due to agricultural run-off, which encourages their growth.
    http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/visit-the-reef/current-conditions-on-the-great-barrier-reef/latest-overview-of-current-conditions-on-the-reef
    And then there is the on-going problem of sun-tan lotion, which is good at bleaching corals. Although it has to be said that there is much less of this in the far north of the barrier reef. And the reports of bleaching in Western Australia are less expected, as the west is subject to a cold Antarctic ocean current, so has cooler temperatures even in the north.
    And as a reminder, the barrier reef is only 12,000 years old, as it did not exist during the last ice age. And corals have been around for hundreds of millions of years, through ice ages, interglacials, and various global mass extinction events including the Cretaceous extinction, so they are unlikely to die out because of a degree of warming.
    R

    • Thanks, Ralph. I’ve seen the Crown of Thorns while diving on the reefs, they are extremely ugly. Their main predator is the Triton snail, whose shell is prized by unaware divers … bad combo. However, while the CoT damages the reef, I’ve never heard that it causes bleaching. Even your citation doesn’t make that link, viz:

      Stressful conditions, such as excess heat or reduced salinity, can lead to coral bleaching and/or coral disease outbreaks, while poor water quality may make coral more susceptible to bleaching and lead to greater numbers of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

      Finally, the reef at Frigates Passage is very healthy, mostly because it is far from agricultural runoff and sunscreen. If it bleaches I’m betting that it is thermal stress. The Dogs of Winter said that ocean temperatures were pushing 90°F when the bleaching occurred.
      Best regards,
      w.

      • Indeed, on further reading it seems there are two separate threats, stress bIeaching and CoT decimation. Interestingly, this item from the Oz government marine department says that bleached corals are still alive, and will take up to two years to die after a bleaching event. Which is why they normally recover so quickly.
        Quote:
        Acute or prolonged stressful environmental conditions cause a breakdown in this symbiotic relationship, first revealing the fluorescent pigments and then leaving the white calcium carbonate skeleton visible through the coral tissue. Bleached corals can no longer gain energy from photosynthesis, and if bleaching persists for an extended period, corals will starve and die.
        http://www.aims.gov.au/docs/research/climate-change/coral-bleaching/coral-bleaching.html
        .
        But in 2012, they were still saying that the greatest threat to the GBR was the CoT starfish, not stress bleaching.
        Quote:
        In conclusion we can state unequivocally that COTS remain the greatest threat to the coral of the GBR and thus also indirectly to coral reef fish, although obviously of lesser threat to seagrass, dugongs, and some other megafauna.
        http://theconversation.com/great-barrier-reef-dying-beneath-its-crown-of-thorns-6383

  10. Google-earthing almost any geographical reference I see , I happened on an image “Fiji old and new: traditional village with wind generators” . Are wind generators rational there ?
    I’m wondering how wide spread the ” clear am — cloudy pm ( w maybe a bit of a shower at dusk ) ” pattern is . It’s the typical summer pattern here just north of Pikes Peak . Kind of annoying actually .

    • Bob Armstrong May 1, 2016 at 2:29 pm

      I’m wondering how wide spread the ” clear am — cloudy pm ( w maybe a bit of a shower at dusk ) ” pattern is . It’s the typical summer pattern here just north of Pikes Peak . Kind of annoying actually .

      Good question. It occurs in many, many places around the planet, and is one of the major thermoregulatory patterns of the climate system. When it is warmer you get more clouds and thunderstorms to cool the surface. When it is cool, clouds and thunderstorms form later or not at all, allowing the sun to heat the surface. This system inter alia has kept the planet from cooking or snowballing for … well, forever.
      See my post on Emergent Climate Phenomena for a deeper discussion.
      w.

      • I think that is typical weather pattern along Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida, usually culminating in a late afternoon thunderstorm followed by clear skies.

  11. Bob Armstrong May 1, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    Google-earthing almost any geographical reference I see , I happened on an image “Fiji old and new: traditional village with wind generators” . Are wind generators rational there ?

    On remote islands, if you want fuel you often have to transport it yourself in fifty-five gallon drums … and it is far, far from cheap.
    As a result, there are many Pacific islands where many kinds of renewable energy make some sense. However, you also need to recall that the tropical marine environment is among the most corrosive on the planet, due to the combination of heat, water, and salt … so given the choice, solar is a better bet than wind.
    Next, cyclones (hurricanes) hit Fiji on a regular basis, and anything above ground level (solar panels and wind generators) are at great risk.
    Next, in such an installation “the village” often owns the windmill, which means nobody owns it … not a good thing for longevity.
    Finally, Pacific islanders are generally not good at preventive maintenance … I think it has to do with the lack of winter, but for whatever reason it’s not generally among their skill set. So things that go round and round are not generally long-lived.
    So … with those caveats, the trade winds blow generally half the year, and blow weakly the other half. If I lived on an outer island I’d have a wind generator … but that doesn’t mean it’s a rational decision for a village.
    Regards,
    w.

  12. Willis
    Welcome back. There should be some yellowfin and dogtooth left for you.

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