arrived early at the port. They then boarded a high speed cataraman bound for Mana island, where they would pick up the two masted schooner Fabienne had booked. They stopped at several remote tiny islands where tender boats delivered and received supplies and passengers. The stops provided an opportunity to revel in the splendour of the location, turquoise seas, white sands and rocky tree encrusted hills with palms scattered along the shoreline. The waters were crystal clear and a wide variety of fish could be seen circling underneath the catamaran.
As they boarded the “Pacific Peace”, however, they exchanged glances. There were perhaps forty people already on board and every single seat surrounding the deck was taken. As they moved out from Mana Island it became obvious that although sails were set, they were set mainly for effect, they remained slack and no attempt was made to catch the wind. The major mode of propulsion remained the undesirably noisy engine.
Fabienne sang the song again but with a completely different emphasis.
“ In Fiji marketing we believe in Qualiteee” she cut into the song with a hard note to her voice “This is not what I desired to purchase Roberre”.
Robert looked around him.
“ Relax and enjoy”, he said “there is nothing you can do about it now. There are too many people on board to put this boat under sail”.
Fabienne considered this statement. Robert could see that she was still determined to take action.
“Oc!”She replied, “ It will be difficicile to accommodate all these passengers on ze windward side of the boat to act against the force of the wind. In any case there are ze children and old people on board, under full sail they may find it difficult to walk on the sloping deck”
Robert nodded sagely, but too early, once again he underestimated Fabienne’s assertive instincts. She was on her feet, walking effortlessly down the heaving deck and started a long earnest conversation with the Captain. It must have been reasonably amicable as within a short period Fabinne was equipped with a huge fishing rod and was being taught to cast off the stern of the boat.
Once he was sure his prescence would not be a complication Robert strolled carefully down the deck to join her. He reflected that he found it nessecary to use frequent handholds in order to keep his feet and yet only ten minutes before Fabienne had walked the same path effortlessly without a single hand hold.
He leaned over the stern rail alongside Fabienne, who was now slowly drawing in the line.The lead weights were nearly 50 meters behind and nearly twenty metres below the surface, but could clearly be seen glistening as they spun round and round in the crystal clear water. A large bird which Robert guessed was an albatross glided effortlessly behind the boat. It did cross his mind that sailors considered these birds to be a bad omen and often tried to shoot them if they followed too closely. Unfortunately this was considered an even worse omen. Therefore if a boat acquired an albatross follower it was stuck with it! He looked around at the calm waters over the deep blue of the passage and the gentle waves breaking on the reefs in the near distance fringed with turquoise waters so bright it almost hurt the eye to look at them. The horizon was dotted with small islands each one rising precipitously from the sea, each one with a paper thin line of white, coral sand at its base. For a second he felt that once again he could smell the Frangipani, mixed perhaps with cypress. It could only come from the islands, perhaps they were nearer than they looked. He glanced up at the albatross.
‘ D’ont think you will do us much harm today, my friend”
“Quesque c’est, what?” asked Fabienne with a frown.
“ Oh I was just having a quiet chat with the albatross; How did you get on with the captain?”
“Eet is, as you say, impossible to use the sails today because the boat is carrying too many passengers. We have been unlucky. Some days there are only five or six people on board and the passengers set the sails. The captain told to me that he does not come to the boat on days when the sails are to be used. A younger man who sails for sport captains the vessel on these days” She smiled one of her most brilliant smiles.” It is OK Roberre, I have stopped to worry about it, now it is for enjoyment”
Just then the line snapped taught and a large silver fish jumped from the water. The jump was too late; the fish was firmly hooked. The Fijian crew gathered around her, fitting a bucket seat to a socket in the middle of the rear deck and making sure that Fabienne’s rod was firmly in the rod holder bracketed to the rear rail. The most enthusiastic of the crew turned to Robert with a smile nearly as big as the one Fabienne had just delivered.
“Lunch” he said through a mouthful of broken teeth.
It took nearly half an hour to land the fish. The crew shouted encouragement to Fabienne, as she painfully hauled the fish in and then let it run again until slowly it tired.
Again Robert was lost in wonder at this woman, who was his wife. Sometime in the twenty years they had been apart she had become an athlete. When she had boarded the boat she had stripped down to her swimsuit. Now he had the opportunity to watch her working hard, pulling in the fish. He could see as perhaps never before the stong muscles in her arms and legs, rippling as she struggled with the fish. The crew too could see that she was capable of winning the battle and no longer interfered, contenting themselves to an exited babble and the occasional cheer. A large net was produced and a marlin spike, which were eventually used to haul the fish on board.
The boat pulled in to the leeward side of an island. This was oviously a regular stop as the crew picked up a tethering rope from a small bhoy. It seconds the boat was secured. The boat’s motorised tender was now brought into play, rapidly moving the passengers half a dozen at a time to the nearby beach. They insisted that all passengers went ashore so that the boat would be clear for the crew to prepare lunch, which of course now included the marlin which Fabienne had caught. A pleasant hour was spent either exploring the island or snorkling above the reef which surrounded it.
When the returned to the ship they were offered either champagne or Kava as a precursor to the meal. The man with broken teeth explained that Kava is the tradition drink of Fiji.
“Here in Fiji we do not produce the kava pulp by chewing on it, as they do on other islands. In fact the presence or otherwise of human spittle has no effect on Kava’s potency. Here on Fiji Kava is made by drying the root in the sun. It is then pounded into a fine powder. The powder is wrapped in muslin and squeezed in water. It is then served immediately in half a coconut shell. ” He again grinned widely showing the jagged topology of his teeth. “Kava is quite different to alcohol, it makes drinkers calm, sociable, accepting of all difficulties but at the same time can inspire religious and artistic thought. However I should warn you that it is also known as the Fijian contraceptive as it decrease sexual desire in both men and women”
The ceremonial drinking of Kava was then explained. It consisted of the recipient of hospitality clapping hands in a special way to make a hollow sound. The host then repeated the clap and offered the cava to the guest. The guest was required to drink the content of the cocnut shell in one gulp and then clap hands three times. The host then drinks his measure of Kava and completed the occasion with three claps.
Many of the passengers offered themselves to taste the Kava but Robert and Fabienne both declined once they knew that the drinking of kava reduced sexual desire and potency. Not what either of them wanted on their reunion holiday
The found a place to sit just aft of the bowsprit. Lunch was amazingly good, obviously someone amongst the crew had some culinary experience! A barbecue had been put to good use, and the marlin was the piece de resistance, but a variety of salads and sliced tropical fruit were served as accompaniments.
“Hmm “ Robert said several times. “ The crew certainly like their Kava”
Fabienne watched with interest. “Oc. I also see this. There are only three crew members acting as hosts and there are perhaps thirty people taking part in the ceremony. The Capitain in particular is drinking quite a lot of this Kava. I wonder how thees will affect his ability to perform as Captain?”
“Very little I would think” Robert replied. Modest swell and a motor driven vessel; not much to worry about I would think.”
Fabienne chuckled and sang the little song again. “At Fiji marketing we believe in Qualiteee”
The kava certain seemed to have worked. There was little desire to move on from either the passengers or crew. Some passengers decided to swim. The fact that Fabienne had caught lunch made her a minor celebrity in this tiny maritime world. Several groups of passengers came to introduce themselves. They were all so happy and sociable.
In between conversations, Fabienne leaned over and whispered in Robert’s ear. “ perhaps we should have tried these Kava, I would like to feel as they appear to be.”
There was no time; the boat’s engine started and the mooring line was cast off. The schooner circled the tiny bay and headed out beyond the headland for the return trip to Mana. Almost instantly the water roughened. A wave broke over the bow and Fabienne and Robert were deluged with water. Fabienne was swept along the deck but managed to catch hold of a rope and jump to her feet.
The water was warm and the air itself was still warm, so there was no feeling of discomfort. Nevertheless they were both a little shaken. Depending where they sat on the boat other passengers were either soaked to the skin by the wave itself or by the accompanying spray. Several scrambled down the rear hatch to take cover below decks, but the majority of them just laughed with delight at the unexpected drenching.
“ Kava” whispered Fabienne to Robert, “ now we know the effect it can have”
Robert turned and gazed out over the bowsprit.
“ The swell does not look much bigger than on the outward jouney but we are now heading into the wind. This is a small schooner heavily loaded and with most of the load here on the upper deck. We will roll and probably dig in depending on the pitch of the waves. At the very least we are all going to get very wet.” He glanced sideways a Fabienne’s bedraggled hair “Not that we can get very much wetter.” They both laughed out loud and felt much better for it.
Fabienne had now struggled back to Robert’s side and they both clung to the bowsprit rail. Just in time. The bow dug deep into the next wave and they were again covered by a wall of water. They hung on to the rail, but only just.
“ We must either tie ourselves to the rail or move towards the back of the boat” Robert told Fabienne.
She nodded not just in agreement but a second time towards the southern horizon where Mana, their destination, was just visible. The sky above the island was now black and streaked with lighter clouds which even as they looked reached out towards them.
“Higher winds” she said. “ We av no choice, Roberre we must make a return to the rear of the boat and we must do it now.”
Together the skittled down the deck and took shelter behind the hatchway, immediately in front of the captain. Not a moment too soon as yet another wave crashed over the bow and raced ankle deep across the deck. At that moment the engine cut out.
Without a moment’s hesitation Fabienne turned to the captain. “We must put up the mainsail right now or we will have no way to keep our bow into the wind. If we take one of these waves on our beam we could overturn”
The captain shrugged his shoulders. “ Do not worry the mechanics already looking at the engine, it will start again immediately”. But it did not start. Fabienne spoke again
“Non monsieur, il ne marche pas, it does not work” She leaned over to Robert. “We must take action Roberre, you must hoist the mainsail, can you do that?”Robert’s eyes bulged.
“ What? Well yes I can, in fact I played with the sheets earlier today”. He hesitated. “But Fabienne this is mutiny, you are taking control of a ship on the high seas against the will of the captain, you, we, could be jailed for life for this”
“It seems to me that the alternative is that fifty men women and children drown.” She grabbed Robert’s neck and forced him to look in her eyes. “ I could not carry that on my conscience, it is a matter of honour. Raise the mainsail. I will speak to the captain.” As he heaved on the sheets Robert was soon joined by a huge young man who introduced himself as Aaron. Aaron had impressive pulling power. Out of the corner of his eye Robert could see Fabienne in earnest conversation with the captain. She broke off and quickly examined the set of the mainsail. “Pull it tight on” she told Robert and Aaron, at the moment we are only going to use it to keep us with our bow firmly into the wind. But we have not got a lot of time” she pointed over her shoulder to where the waves were now breaking with increasing ferocity on the edges of the reef .
Suddenly she looked down at herself “ Regardez, I cannot do this dressed only in a swimsuit, Merci, take zee wheel Roberre” She vanished down the hatch to where she had stored her day bag earlier. She reappeared in a matter of seconds, in what appeared at first glance to be a lightweight boiler suit. There were several pockets in the suit and on the right breast pocket was a neat circular badge, “ Club Maritime D’Argeles” Roger could only blink. He recognised it for what it was, a high tech dry suit, beloved by the blue ocean yachtsmen. He could not imagine what combination of circumstances had led Fabienne to have it available, here, now. She had pulled a black beret over her hair. Her eyes flashed around her. She introduced herself to Aaron and asked him to take charge of the mainsail. She asked if there were any other sailors on board. The only volunteer was Nigel, by no means as impressive as Aaron but wiry and alert.
“ Nigel you are in charge of the jib. We will sail at least at the present moment on only the primary jib and the mainsail. Our current objective is survival not effectiveness”. She looked at the assembled passengers, who looked back in silent astonishment at this strange woman who had suddenly taken charge of their destiny. “I only want ten of you to stay on deck. Those who remain on deck will have to be agile enough to move from side to side as I tack the boat into the wind. I want the rest to go below. Please sit in the centre of the boat. I want volonteers to go below into the bilges and the engine room. It is not pleasant down there but the more weight we get lower down the more stable we will be. My husband Roberre, will go below with you to optimise you positions”
Robert simply nodded agreement and sheparded the majority of the passengers below.
Fabienne addressed those remaining on deck. When I shout “about” you must slide to the far side of the boat which will be below you. If you time it right you will be able to walk across a level deck. I can give you no further advice, we must commence immediatement” she glanced anxiously at the surf growing ever closer. “Please to commence on the port, hmm, left hand side of the boat.”
She then turned her attention to Aaron and Nicholas “ Before we go about I will give you the command “ tack” you must then pull the sails tight so that there is the minimum movement as we come about. As soon as we have come about they must immediately be loosened. We are not racing and I want to make it as comfortable as possible for our inexperience passengers. Now please make sure your sails are tight I am about to turn to starboard.”
As she turned the wheel the sails caught the wind. Those who were not sailors were astonished at how much the deck tilted and how fast the boat accelerated.
“Slacken the sails, slacken the sails” Fabienne shouted frantically. Immediately the deck returned to a gentle incline and the speed slowed.
Robert returned from below decks. “I was a bit concered when we heeled over but every thing now seems under control.” He looked around.” Wow we are making really good speed.” He looked at her admiringly “You have obviously done this before”
“ I told you I had.” she said “Now Robert please take the wheel, I must plot a course. She departed and spent the next ten minutes with the captain, heads down pouring over charts. She then returned “ Navigation is easy with all these islands as navigation points, stay at the wheel Roberrre, i will call the turns.” The rest of the crew emerged from whatever hiding holes they had vanished into and initially helped with hauling on the sheets. After a short time they hoisted the other jibs and the sail between the masts. Soon they were all working as a team. Fabienne gained confidence in the way the ship handled and asked for tighter and tighter sails for each of the reaches. In a remarkable short time they came into the lee of Mana Island. Fabienne made a decision not to attempt a circumnavigation and so, after the anchor had dropped, the tender transported everyone to the beach and they all walked across the island to the jetty where they could pick up the Catararan back to port Denarau. Robert and Fabienne decided they had enough sea air for the day and retired to the air conditioned cabin. It was for all the world like being in an aircraft as the catararan skidded over the waves. It was hard to believe that they had been in mortal danger only two hours previously.
Another hour and they were back in their hotel room. After they had showered and dressed for dinner they opened a bottle of champagne. Robert eyed his wife somewhat cautiously. “ You told me that you had learned to sail not that you were a champion sailor”
Fabienne laughed. “ Roberre, I am not the champion”, she continued to laugh “ but I have sailed with the le meillure, the best”
There was a knock on the door. When Robert opened it there was a rather serious looking Fijian in a business suit standing there. Robert invited him in. He turned to Fabienne.
“You are Fabienne King” he asked. Fabienne confirmed her identity. The man flashed a police ID card. “ Mrs Fabienne King, I am arresting you on a charge of Mutiny, in that you unlawfully took possession of a Fijian owned vessel in Fijian waters. This is a very serious change and you must accompany me to the police station in Nadi.
Fabienne glided smoothly across the room and positioned herself between the policeman and Robert. “ I believe you have made a mistake” she said “The company which owns the boat hired me as a consultant to evaluate their performance on safety procedures. The Captain willingly relinquished control of the boat to me when we were in a difficult situation. Please go back and check the company records.”
The policemen looked confused. “I am sorry but I must take you into custody until your statement is verified.”
Fabienne put one hand on her hip and raised the champagne glass to her lips.
“That is simply not possible. Call you superior in Nadi and ask them to call the French embassy in Suva. Here is the number. Use the code “Tigre”. You will find I have diplomatic immunity and I have no intention of being taken into custody.”
Robert walked though the sliding door and sank into the suberbly comfortable chair. The sun was sinking into the most beautiful end to the day. He hardly noticed it. French Embassy; Diplomatic immunity; suberb athlete; vast range of skills. It all meant that his wife was an agent of the French government, probably a spy and judging by the way she handled a crisis probable a field operative, not part of the support system. He had a lot of adjusting to do and he probably had to do it fast. He groaned. He was too old for all this.
Fabienne appeared through the doorway and kissed him gently on the forehead.
“Rapidement Roberre, he has gone, we must leave immediately before the press get here.