Sailing With The Winds.
29 November, 2022, 6:42 pm
WATCHING Seru Saumakidonu calmly control his two-man crew onboard a vessel held together by coconut sinew and ropes, is like watching a maestro conduct an orchestra.
As the swell in waters off Leuleuvia Island began to toss the I Vola Siga Vou, a traditional iTaukei catamaran around, the Bua native began issuing orders on how the sail should be set and rudder positioned.
As the crew raced back and forth, Saumakidonu stood, well-balanced and arms crossed with a smile on his face as his passengers, including this writer, clung on for dear life.
There was something about his demeanour that just wasn’t right.
The wind had picked up and tearing at the sails, and the swells were rocking the drua like a roller coaster.
After a quickly muttered introduction, I quickly learned Saumakidonu was no stranger to sea voyages on wind-powered vessels.
He was part of the crew that travelled on the bigger ocean-going vessel Uto Ni Yalo that had journeyed to a handful of countries and 10 cities in 2003 under the watchful eye of the legendary Jonathan “Skipper” Smith (now deceased).
“If you think this sea is rough, this is nothing, when we went on the 2003 trip on the Uto Ni Yalo, the swells were so big, it was like being on the top a big building looking down and when we dipped down it was like being surrounding by a wall of water,” the 36-year-old laughed.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.” His words of reassurance did nothing to quell the fear that had taken hold of me as visions of sharks circling the vessel began going round my head.
Sensing my predicament, Saumakidonu began explaining about his 2003 trip.
“Our destination was the Americas but to get there we had to follow the winds and open sea currents so our first destination was New Zealand followed by Tahiti, French Polynesia, Hawaii, San Francisco then Mexico, Galpagos Islands and Ecuador.
“And like I said, I have seen and experienced winds and swells you would not believe but the Uto Ni Yalo took us safely to all those countries and safely brought us back home.”
Saumakidonu said he overcame any miniscule doubts or fears about the journey because he learnt how to sail from two of the country’s greats – Jonathan Smith and Colin Philp – who had both passed away since.
“They gave me a good foundation and I have worked my way up from the knowledge and skills they passed on to me.”
Determined to share his experiences and to keep the tradition of wind-powered sailing alive, the Bua man sailed the I Vola Siga Vou to Lau upon his return from the Uto Ni Yalo trip.
“We were sponsored by Tony Philp and went to schools in Lau and did awareness.
“Surprisingly, there was a lot of interest from kids.
“They use camakau almost every day – these are single hulled canoes and a handful were only used to outboard engine powered fiberglass punts.”
He said they did a similar sojourn to Ovalau and there was also a lot of interest from students there.
In March next year, Saumakidonu said there were plans to do climate change awareness under a program facilitated by the University of Fiji.
“I am really looking forward to that because it will mean interacting with students and communities and teaching them about the drua and our sailing techniques and sharing our experiences with them.”