I REMEMBER getting the call a little after midnight on Friday asking if "Miss South Pacific" would like to be a part of the Uto ni Yalo's crew.
There was no time to think, no time to consider the pros and cons or weigh my options. An answer was needed right there and then and mine was yes! Whether it was that I was looking for some away time from everything or the call of excitement and adventure that influenced my hasty decision, one thing was for sure, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and there was no looking back.
Three of the 16-strong crew of the Uto ni Yalo had disembarked which gave space for Teddy Fong, a biogeographer at USP, Manasa Narita, a hearing and speech impaired professional welder who also plays rugby league for the Fiji National Disabled team, and I. In two short days, I had to get all my affairs in order - mostly sending out apologies for all the engagements I would be missing out on for the next two months, packing my things, saying my goodbyes and we would be off.
Although I had been aboard the Fuji Maru cruising for six weeks around the Pacific for the 23rd Ship for the World Youth Program, the experience of actually sailing a drua is something I still, as of yet, haven't found the right words to describe. It is definitely exhilarating. Granted my undergrad years at the University of the South Pacific taught me a thing or two about plotting graphs, GPS readings, tying knots and the like. What they say about learning hands-on outweighing anything you learn in a classroom or read in a book, proved itself true yet again.
The daily three-hour shifts, six-hour break routines are quite challenging considering I kept losing all my meals to Davy Jones for the first 48 hours but I thank all the sympathetic "sailing doctors" on board and their remedies, which were eating raw ginger, smelling lemon rinds, and eating dry crackers.
I'm unsure which I should give credit to but I felt much better very quickly and found my sea legs somewhere along the way.
Being on deck was always exciting, especially for a newbie sailor like me for there was always something happening. The events may not be in chronological order but I remember skipper reeling in a wahoo which Ben Sorby our cook made the most delicious sashimi I have ever had out in the open ocean.
The more memorable one for me though was when they reeled in the albacore and skipper gave me its raw, beating heart, for me to eat. It is part of the initiation process on board the Uto ni Yalo plus I got a lot of iron as well, a total win-win in any case. But there were times when everyone was out on deck telling stories, singing songs and just waiting for the wind to fill our sails so we could continue on our journey.
The early hours as we approached Vanuatu presented a new challenge as we were met with lashing winds, heavy rain and waves so huge I was certain it would throw me off the drua if I did not have a safety harness on.
However, through all that, not once did I fear being aboard a 22-metre long and 6.5 metre wide canoe, using only the wind on its sails to move it forward, the stars to plot its path and the uli to guide it across the magnificent Pacific Ocean.
For that, I have the crew of Uto ni Yalo who have become my family and of course the six other vaka carrying our Pacific Island brothers and sisters to thank.
I would like to finish off with something that I not only learnt but felt on this voyage - Te Mana O Te Moana which means The Spirit of the Ocean is the theme of the voyage, the message that we are taking on this journey is being stewards of our ocean.
Each drua has a name that relates to this theme and the Uto ni Yalo as you all know means the Heart of the Spirit and this is truly what I have seen and my hope is that we, not only on this journey but everyone back home in Fiji keep this message and this heart beating for Te Mana O Te Moana depends on it.