Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Sailing on a Drua

So in doing research for the Fiji Staycation we were planning for the second term break, I checked out relatively new website I'd seen advertised at the airport when we'd been flying back from R&R...The Fiji Bula Bible. The site is getting there....it gives you the names of companies and activities to do, but most things are associated with the Nadi area (the tourist side). It's a good research starting point for the moment. Out of curiosity, I searched to see what there was to do in Suva....and found the Drua Experience! So I went a digging and found their website and Facebook page....lots of neat information (including a clip from a news story). I showed Richard and we were sold! There isn't much exciting stuff to do in Suva, so when you find something to do - it's a reason to celebrate. So I contacted them and got us set up for a Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, Mason had come down with a nasty cold and opted to stay home and rest.

We were told to meet at the Suva Yacht Club, so we headed down there and wondered where we find the drua....we were a bit early....but there was no question where to go when we saw it coming in....


Prior to departing, the crew told us some history (and we took some photos).....the drua is a sacred canoe belonging only to chiefs. They were built for 6,000 years around the Pacific Islands for deep blue water sailing. Nobody really knows from which Oceania island group they originated from, but some of the timber used for the drua only grows in the Lau group of the Fijian Islands. Drua could reach up to lengths of 36 meters (~120 feet!) and hold 200 warriors. Sadly, other than the drua we were about to board, there are no others sailing today! None have been built in over a 100 years! We were told that in building the boats, wood from high up in mountains of the island would be required. Part of the process of getting the wood from there for a chief would involve human sacrifice (also, according to the wiki's the blood of 10 men was needed to ensure the vessel had safe voyages and certain villages had the privilege of providing the men that would provide said honor). When the Christian missionaries began converting Fijians....human sacrifices/cannibalism were customs that were quickly stopped. Without the sacrifices deemed necessary for drua building....sadly drua building stopped as well. There is a drua on display at the unairconditioned Fijian Museum....that drua is preserved, but deteriorating.


In 2009, a group formed to try and revive this aspect of Fijian heritage of sailing/shipbuilding/star navigation. They began doing research into the culture/history of the drua builders before all this undocumented knowledge is lost, as it a skill not being passed on to another generation. In 2014, they began building the 51-foot Fijian double hulled replica and it was launched on October 30, 2016. Now it is available for 2 hour, half day and full day cruises. We opted for the 2 hour since the weather was a bit iffy/overcast and Mason wasn't able to join us.


Clarissa needed a little convincing as well....so we sold it to her as going sailing on a boat like Moana sailed....so she dressed the part, naturally.....


Not sure what she was talking about but this is a much cuter photo (but doesn't show all her dress...I couldn't pick a fave so I'm posting both...you know for the grandparents....).


In times of peace, the Tagaga at the top of the mast is open. In times of war, it would be closed warning of attack. Luckily, this drua comes in peace! (Fun fact, the Tagaga is used all over the country of Fiji as traditional symbol...even on phone booths).


We were told the chief would stand on the platform. For our trip, we were today's "chief" & family and were told to climb up there. Here is Richard looking quite chiefly!


One thought that went through my head, as we climb to the highest point on the boat, what happens when we catch wind in the sail. I was picturing a traditional sailboat heeling over and us taking a quick swim....lol. Once we got out of the marina, the crew raised the sail and explain how it worked to us!


The shape of the sail allows the wind to be pulled upward, which then propels the boat forward....so the boat doesn't lean at all....so our little platform was quite stable and chiefly. :) A local business has a model drua on display....(yep, that was me.....I was the big nerd that waited for everyone to walk by so I could back up far enough take a photo to get the whole thing with no one it). Since being on the boat we just didn't have a super wide-angle camera to get a good shot of the whole sail....I'll show you the model photo.


Uh, so my question is....if you don't have to worry about heeling over too far and capsizing....why doesn't every sailboat look into this sail shape?!?! I think one of the coolest things about the sail on the drua is when you are ready to changes directions, you don't need to turn the boat around! In the front and back of the same hull, are identical indentions that the sail fits into. When they were ready to change directions they called "dua, rua, tolu" (which Clarissa has taught me is 1, 2, 3) and suddenly the crew lifts the posts the sail is attached to out of here in the 'front',


squeeze past the mast in the middle,


and briskly walk it back to the indention here in the 'back'. Then you are sailing 180° in the other direction (and now your 'back' is the 'front').


Sorry the indention photo is blurry....I was going for the turtle carving....the detail on the boat was phenomenal! It took about two years for the boat to built. They tried to keep as true to the traditional design as possible, with a couple exceptions. The hull has been reinforced with fiberglass to hopefully increase longevity, some modern day regulation jackets/boat fenders, and it does have a motor to move under power while in marinas once the sail has been put down. The rope/line detail of how the platform was put together....


Shells of the common egg cowrie (Ovula ovum) are also used to decorate the drua.


Clarissa quickly got comfortable and then had a hard time sitting still....if you couldn't tell....





Deb taking the uli (steering paddle)....it is harder than it looks....it had a real strong pull. You lifted up to turn one way and pushed down to turn the other way (I've already forgotten). The smallest change really shifted the boat's course too. As to be expected, I had a helper for this!


Richard took a turn at the uli as well. (note, I appeared to navigating, Richard appears to be posing!!)


We noticed (and tried to get a photo of), but I don't recall if we asked and got an answer (and if we did, I forget what it was)...but the two hulls were different lengths.....


When underway, as you tell by the breeze in Clarissa's hair and the blur of water under my toes....we were going pretty quickly! Which isn't much of a surprise, as the Drua was known for it's speed and was rather legendary among western sailors!



All in all, it turned out to be a great afternoon! We had a blast, learned some super interesting Fijian history, got in some extra cuddles, and made some new friends.


We plan to go out again on one of the longer experiences (and take out any future visitors for an afternoon or day of fun too). I have told so many of our local friends about the Drua Experience....I think it is a real treasure in Suva! (Plus a fun place to take selfies from a platform on).