Supernumerary in the South Pacific – Fiji

On a bit of a lighter note than my last couple of posts…

This is the third in what I’m grandly calling an occasional series, about my life as a wife in the Merchant Navy, with my first husband. It was all a long time ago – the early 80s. Long ago and far away. I feel like it all happened to someone else, someone I used to know a long time ago.

I was officially listed on the paperwork as a ‘Supernumerary’ – someone surplus to requirements, not needed. Thanks guys.

We’d sailed from Hull, stopped off at the European ports and headed for Panama, then we spent time in Tahiti.

We left Tahiti at six in the morning, having seen diddly squat of the island – but just sailing around it was amazing. Sunrise in the South Pacific.

I liked to be on deck when we sailed. There would be a change in the engine noise, then almost imperceptibly the ship would start to move. There was something about leaving the land behind and watching it disappear over the horizon – a sense of perspective, a sense of just how small we are.

Next stop was Fiji, and the port of Suva. We arrived during daylight, there was money on board. We could go up the road!! Yay!!

A quick word about money – the guys had their salaries paid in two amounts. An amount went into their bank accounts in the normal way, and another amount was paid onto the ship to cover day-to-day expenses. But every country has its own currency, so the Shipping Agent in each port would bring cash on board which could then be taken as required, like a mini bank.

We had money, and we had daylight, and I was determined to make the most of it.

After discharging and loading cargo in Suva, the ship was going to sail around the island to the second port of Lautoka. We had passengers on board, and they’d found out that they could get a bus across the island (a 6 hour journey), arriving in Lautoka at the same time as the ship. It sounded like a great idea – and I’d arranged to go with them.

In the end, they decided not to do it, which left me with a dilemma. Should I just go back to the ship with them, like a good girl – or should I take the bus anyway? I was aware, even at the time, that this was truly, probably, a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

I decided to do it, and I asked them to tell my husband what I was doing.

I’d like to say it felt like an adventure – but really, to begin with, it just felt like a bus ride. It was a normal service bus, full of people who take the trip across the island all the time. A few more chickens than on a normal service bus in the UK, but other than that, nothing out of the ordinary. Well, not until we got out of the town anyway. Then the metalled road ended and we were on a dirt track, surrounded by rainforest. Small villages, trees I’d never seen before, birds I’d never seen before. And one particularly narrow bridge, where even the locals sat up and took notice.

I got chatting to a student from the States who was on a gap year and heading for the airport. He was studying botany, so I asked him what all the trees were that we could see. ‘I’m not that sort of botanist’, he said.

We stopped at the market in Sigatoka (pronounced Singatoka), where there was the opportunity for a hole-in-the-ground break. I bought some Ugli fruit to eat (like a grapefruit, but sweeter).

My friend, the wrong-sort-of-botanist, disembarked at Nadi (pronounced Nandi – I don’t know why they do that). Then next stop was Lautoka. It was dark by the time we arrived. Darkness happens quickly, and early, in the tropics.

When I arrived, the ship was standing off – I could see her in the distance, lit up. It was the first time I’d seen her properly. In port, you only really see half a ship – a bit like trains if you only ever see them from the platform.

I chatted to the dockers while I waited, and politely declined their offer of betel nut to pass the time while the ship came alongside.

It was only when I got back on board that I discovered that the message that I would meet the ship in Lautoka hadn’t got through to my husband, or anyone else. This was 1980 – no mobile phones. The ship had had to sail without me…

There was a fair amount of explaining to do.

Regardless of the fact that I’d effectively jumped ship, should I have gone on my own? Had I taken a huge risk? I don’t know. It certainly never felt like a risk.

But I do know that if I hadn’t done it, if I’d just meekly gone back to the ship, I would have regretted it then and I would still be regretting it now.

You only regret the things you don’t do.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Joan Mudd says:

    Fabulous!

    Like

  2. oldhowie says:

    Lovely story did… but… you missed the ship so what happened next? On the edge of my seat here lol

    Like

    1. Haha – I crossed the island from Suva to Lautoka, and the shipped sailed round the island from Suva to Lautoka, and came alongside – and I got back on board. Then there was hell to pay. Hey ho.

      Like

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