Since this story hasn’t had much media attention we wanted to put it here so other cruisers are aware. We all know pirates exist out here but they seem to be rather rare in this part of the world. It’s easy to let your guard down. Don’t!
Dan came across this story yesterday. It happened this week. For our fellow cruisers out here….please read it and stay aware of your surroundings.
I guess it could be said that we spend a lot of time venturing into the unknown but sometimes it seems a bit more daunting than others. Today we made the trip from Kia Island back through the coral reef highway into the bay at Malau. Unfortunately it was another motor day as the winds just weren’t there for us. Lutz & Gabi put their sail up and sailed a bit but Dazzler requires a bit more wind to move her. It wasn’t a long trip so it really wasn’t a big deal.
Malau was not a scheduled stop in our circumnavigation around Vanua Levu but we were all running low on supplies and Team Dazzler was out of beer. How can we continue our anchor down beer tradition if we don’t have beer? No, this was unacceptable so we all decided to make a little detour here at Malau.
The bay here is fairly large and is not typically a place where you will see yachties anchored. The water is a muddy green color that comes from the rivers that feed into it. On the northern shore of the bay is a large sugar plant. The land there is owned by the processing factory so there is no place to beach or tie up a dinghy so our plan was to head up the Labasa (prounounced La mbasa) River into the city center there.
Of course this doesn’t sound like a big deal until you realize it’s about five miles one way up a river that we have very little information about except what we can find on our charts. There are several spots where tributaries and little fingers go off in various directions and since we have limited fuel on our dinghies we have to be absolutely certain we don’t make a wrong turn. Once again we plan to take both dinghies for safety reasons.
We didn’t waste any time once we secured our anchors. Within a half an hour we were in our dinghies and making our way toward the mouth of the river. All of us were ready to make the trek up the river in hopes of finding the supplies we seek.
Here in the bay where the Labasa River comes out there are also two other rivers or tributaries that open up so Dan spent a great deal of time studying the chart to be sure we chose the right one. It really wasn’t that difficult to locate as there was a very large, yellow, metal marker of some sort. It isn’t like a normal nautical marker. It’s more like something that sank there and has been left there to mark the entrance to the river.
Having found our entrance point we point the dinks into the river and keep moving on. Just after we entered the river Dan was looking at the photos of the chart he had taken to help guide us when I noticed some swirling and a bit of chop in the water. As I was telling him we were headed into really shallow water, we bumped the muddy bottom. Oops! Thank goodness it was just soft mud and not sharp coral. Oh well, things happen. Got to keep moving on.
The ride up the river was absolutely beautiful. The sun was high and the sky was clear and everywhere we looked there were mangroves and lots of palm trees and untouched land. The river is fairly wide. In most spots it was 30-50 meters wide and was flat as glass. This made for a great, fast run. Of course we were continually on lookout for shallow spots. One bump in the mud was enough for the day. Along the way we saw a couple of fishing boats but for the most part we had the river all to ourselves.
Before we knew it we were entering the city of Labasa. The shoreline was dotted with tiny, rectangular homes with tin roofs and walls. There was laundry hanging out to dry and in many areas there were dilapidated boats half sunken in the black mud behind the homes. Along the way the people would come out to see who was coming up the river. They’d wave and called out to us in the Fijian way.
Once we found the city the trick was trying to find a safe place to tie up the dinks while we went to shore. There is a large fish market on the river that was literally crawling with people. Somehow we didn’t feel overly comfortable just tying the dinghies up on strange shore where so many people could see them left unattended so we went back and forth as to where to put the tenders.
We finally decided we’d tie them to a tree on the opposite side of the river, which had far less people walking around. Just about the time we started to tie Sparkle to this tree a rather nicely dressed man in a fishing boat came by and motioned for us to follow him. Not sure why exactly but we did.
He tied his boat up to a very rickety old dock and motioned for us to tie up on his port side. Dan pulled onto the beach and let me out and I followed the man up the shore. I thanked him and began to introduce myself when I realized he looked familiar. It was Mare from Kia Island. He remembered seeing us there. Who would have believed a fisherman from another island would show up to help us? What a wonderful surprise!
After the dinks were secured Mare led us through the fish market and the open-air market to the main road to show us where to find a bank and the store. We all felt much safer leaving our dinghies on that shore because everyone in the market knew Mare and was talking to him as we followed along. You know the old saying, “it’s not what you know it’s who you know.”
Once he was sure we were set Mare went on his way and we on ours. The streets of Labasa are hectic and full of people. It was sensory overload after spending a couple of weeks in remote villages around the island. We did manage to find a small Chinese restaurant where we stopped to grab lunch. We went to the busiest place we could find. After all, if the locals are there and it’s busy, it’s probably pretty good. It was!
Next on the agenda was finding a grocery store where we could pick up some beer and other provisions. We walked back to the very chaotic bus station and found a taxi. As it turns out the store was just a few blocks away but the taxi did make it a bit easier. The grocery store is practically brand new and very nice inside. Of course, as usual, it didn’t have everything we’d like to have found but it had the things we needed and most importantly, it had beer!
With our provisions in hand we had the taxi take us back to the wharf area. Gabi and I got out at the open-air market to look for some vegetables while the guys took the other provisions to the dinghies and waited on us. The open-air market is huge with lots of vegetables and fruits and there’s even a section with nothing but spices, mostly Indian. Of course there are lots of Indians here in Fiji. For those who don’t know, there are two main groups of people in Fiji. There’s the Fijians and the Indo-Fijians. So, yes, there is a lot of Indian influence here.
With our fresh booty in hand we headed back to the dinghies where we found the guys lounging in the sun testing a few of the freshly purchased brews. They told us they wanted to make sure it was all good before we took it back to the boats.
Now that we had a good lunch and picked up some much needed items it was time to head back down the river. We had another beautiful ride down the Labasa River. This time there were more people on the river and everyone waved and smiled as we passed by.
We made it back to the boats and that evening we enjoyed dinner aboard SV SuAn. We had a lovely dinner of fresh Snapper that we purchased from the fishermen on Kia Island. The sunset was perfect. The food was incredibly tasty. And, the company couldn’t be beat.
As Dan would say, “We headed into the unknown and cheated death once again.”