Sunday, October 5, 2014

Capital City - pun intended

Todays Weather Map
The marine weather forecast seemed to remain the same for days on end : a strong  wind warning for northern Vanua Levu , Vatu-i-ra and Kadavu Passages, and for everywhere else southeasterlies, 15 to 20 knots with moderate to rough seas.

At the north westerly corner of Koro, protected somewhat from these SE Trades, it was hard to know exactly what it was like out there, but my choices were limited if I didn’t want to go back the way I came. I had two weeks before I was supposed to be starting back at work in Lautoka and I didn’t want to get trapped somewhere by the weather, or be forced into sailing in risky weather to get back in time. I could go west to Makongai, an island that was once a leper colony, or to Ovalau which is where  Levuka, the former Capital of Fiji is, but from there, if the winds remained as they were, it would be impossible to sail south except rather slowly and uncomfortably by tacking into the “moderate to rough seas” something which I didn’t particularly want to do. So, instead I proceeded from Koro to the south west,  more or less on the same tack that had got me to Koro, close hauled making for Suva. This is a journey of about 80 nautical miles that would have to be an “overnighter” with a plan to arrive at the entrance to Suva harbor, a passage through the reef at daybreak the next morning.

The marker at the southern end of the reef surrounding Wakaya
The wind was a little stronger than forecast, with gusts to 23 knots but the seas weren’t rough. I stayed on Port tack the whole day, except for about half an hour on starboard to clear the reef extending south from Wakaya Island. During the night as we cleared the southernmost part of Viti Levu, Fijis main island , I  turned further westwards, eased the sheets and had a much smoother ride for the final 20 miles or so. It was so nice, in the dark, going a bit faster and rolling over the waves rather than going up and down them, that I  wished we could have just kept going like that, because now I could sleep better and it just all felt so nice.  Instead we had to heave to for an hour and wait for daylight.

I motored in to the area designated for yachts to anchor in front of the Royal Suva Yacht Club, and put the anchor down in 9 meters half way between another yacht and a sunken rusting wreck of a Japanese trawler, almost completely submerged , marked by a stick .

Daylight, and arrival provide a burst of energy that overrides the effects of an almost sleepless night and a long day of sailing – which is just as well because then I have to heave the rolled up dinghy out of the forward hatch, pump it up and launch it and then put the outboard motor on unless the distance to shore is less than 100 yards or so, in which case its simpler to row. Ashore, I paid my membership - $FJD20 – and got a key for the shower. After the shower, and arranging my laundry, I had a fruit smoothie and then a pie, and headed back to the boat to  rest, to tidy up, and to check email.
Anchored off Royal Suva Yacht Club
The correspondence I was most interested in was a trail now reaching nearly 40 emails between myself and various Customs and Taxation department officials : I had been trying to find out from them since August if they were going to make me pay for the privilege of working in their hospital for nothing, as they had the previous time, or would they consider waiving the Duty altogether. Their issue was the regulation that states that any foreigner with a boat in Fiji is only exempt from paying import Duty if he remains a “bona fide” tourist. If the owner becomes an “employee” – and they had decided that working for free at the hospital would make me an “employee”  and I would no longer be a “bona fide” tourist – then the owner becomes liable for the Duty. The Professor and the Departmental head at Lautoka had written  to the department, but still the emails went round and round from one bureaucrat to another and back again, and no decision was forthcoming: till now! Someone decided  finally that YES I would be expected to pay the duty but they would make it at a concessional rate!  I emailed back and asked them to specify  exactly what that would convert to in actual dollar terms, and after another 4 or 5 emails I finally had the answer, that Friday as I arrived in Suva : $FJD 12,450.00.

Yes, twelve thousand, four hundred and fifty dollars!

So I phoned the Professor and apologized to him – I could not work at Lautoka as planned. “Don’t worry” he said, no doubt thinking of all the connections he had with Government  ministers and officials “ We still have a week, leave it with me, I am sure we can sort something out”

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