Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Helpful Voyage
By Windy

The girls searching for whales aboard Caro Vita.
Last week the girls and I had the good fortune to meet a guy named Don who invited us on an overnight trip out to Koro Island on his beautiful, spacious sailboat, Caro Vita. There couldn't have been a better weather window. The passage, normally a nauseating slog to windward, was on calm and sparkling seas beneath a blue sky. On the way, Frances spotted two humpbacks in the distance and we diverted to get a closer look. When we arrived roughly where the whales had been, all was quiet until we heard an exhale nearby and there they were, mom and babe, surfacing parallel to Caro Vita. A little later, we heard the fishing line zing and reeled in a mahi-mahi (which Don later prepared as sashimi, with filets for dinner). As we neared Koro Island we took a detour, nosing through a pass in a ring of brilliant turquoise coral. We anchored and jumped into the clear water of a protected offshore lagoon for a refreshing swim and an unanticipated reminder of why we were there.

Through my dive mask I saw a reef that was a leveled field of gray, pulverized, rubble strewn with the toppled carcasses of mushroom corals the size of cars. I kicked toward the few bright sprouts of newly grown coral and their company of tiny multi-colored fish. We were swimming off the village of Nabuna, one of the villages devastated by cyclone Winston last year when it hit Koro Island head on.

Cyclone Winston is the most powerful and devastating storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere with wind speeds nearing 200 miles per hour that powered massive storm waves. From my parents' home in California we watched as Winston zigged and zagged across the Pacific. At one point the storm headed directly toward Del Viento (then floating on a mooring in Tonga) but then it veered, hair-pinned, and intensified to a Category 5 cyclone as it bore down on Fiji, hitting Koro Island directly and at its peak intensity. Del Viento was spared, Fiji was not.

On Koro, villages are squeezed in between steep mountains and the sea, many homes sit just meters from the water's edge. Winston flattened whole villages, toppling sea walls and bringing down substantial concrete structures that had been used as cyclone shelters for decades. Of the 70 people killed by Winston, 35 died on sparsely populated Koro Island.

Leone, a new friend and Koro island resident.
Last year, in the aftermath of cyclone Winston, our host, Don Salthouse, arrived in Savusavu from New Zealand wanting to help. He went to Jolene (the lovely soon-to-be-ex-manager of Waitui Marina, who knows everything and everyone) and asked her where help was needed most. When Don arrived at Koro the people were just beginning to rebuild and were simultaneously devastated and overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead. Don has a no-nonsense way about him and an ability to get to the core of things. He asked people what they needed. He learned that aid was coming in but that efforts to build were hampered. Key things were missing, like strapping to hold the structures together and tools to build with. Skilled carpenters were spread thin, but essential to train builders and to ensure that new homes were strongly built. So Don set out to fill in the gaps. He purchased power tools, generators, and materials off-island, and even found a carpenter willing to travel to Koro. He anchored his boat off villages and brought supplies in by dinghy.

On our trip to Koro we visited two villages, Nabuna and Navaga. Don delivered a chainsaw, fuel, some plastic bins, and other various small bits. With a gaggle of adorable kids in tow, all eager to hold our hands, we were given tours.

It has been over a year now since cyclone Winston hit and though there is still work to do, there is a justified feeling of pride and accomplishment in the villages. Through hard work, cooperation, and a bit of help from the outside, the people of Koro Island have been rebuilding their communities. All around us we saw brightly colored new homes, sprouting up like the colorful patches of new coral on the nearby reef.

If you would like to help Don in his successful efforts to help the villagers of Koro Island to rebuild their homes you can donate through our Paypal account (PayPal.Me/delviento) and we will make sure all money gets to Don. Any amount helps and 100% will be used for tools and materials for Koro Island--more than 100% actually, as Don pays out of pocket for related expenses, taxes, and is not above leaning on businesses to get good deals on supplies. Add a note to your remittance that the money is for Koro, not that we regularly get unsolicited funds sent to us via PayPal.

Cyclone Winston, 2016--that's Koro at the eye. For
reference, Savusavu is almost due north of the eye,
on Vanua Levu.

Don and Frances in Savusavu.

Tasty treats from the Koro islanders.

On Koro, new homes in the background.

Broken concrete is what remains of the church where residents
sought shelter during Winston, and from where many just escaped before it collapsed.

Windy, Frances, and Koro kids.

Group photo.

Eleanor in a play circle.

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