Once underway, my sea legs came back to me and I was loving the ocean breeze and gentle waves. However, as soon as we made it past the reef and reached the open seas, the motion proved too rough for most passengers. On the first leg of the trip, nearly all passengers were sick, lying down on whatever deck space they could find. As it turns out, deck space was a first-come commodity. The ship is not equipped with cabins, bunks, or even seats for the passengers – just two open spaces with decks to roll out mats and blankets for the duration of the journey. The 11-member crew, however, had two berthing compartments, and the grey bearded, quiet, and stern-looking Captain had his own cabin.
Without going into any of the specifics, I’ll briefly mention the cargo, passengers, and operations of MV Liahona.
The cargo from Suva consisted of everything a small community would possibly need: 44 gal oil drums (for the small boats that were the ONLY means of transportation), kerosene containers, 50kg sacks of flour, sugar, and rice, and various personal belongings and construction material – such as children’s bikes, chain saws, water tanks, and PVC piping. The cargo onloaded from the islands consisted of empty 44 gal oil drums, a variety of woodwork (the specialty handicrafts of Kabara, Fulaga, and Ogea), pigs, copra (the only real export from Vatoa) and a variety of seafood (Ono-i-Lau has an amazing assortment of crabs and fish, not to mention the sea cucumbers that fetch a high price for the Chinese community back in the Suva market).
Passengers ranged from teachers, Methodist ministers, farmers, and fishermen to old men, mothers and newborns. A large number of passengers from Suva went to either see their children off at secondary school or visit the hospital for medical attention. The final leg of the voyage from Ono-i-Lau back to Suva, however, felt more like a refugee ship as an entire team of Cricket players embarked, bringing the total number of passengers to 84. Although the ship is nominally rated for 150 passengers and crew, the lack of accommodation and abundance of personal belongings made deck space a luxury. Many passengers slept on the weather decks or passageways – any horizontal space they could find.
As for the operation, the deck crew was highly effective at making do with the available resources – namely, one crane, one small boat, and a lot of physical labor. The onload and offload of cargo occurred simultaneously – loading and unloading small boats that they transferred passengers and cargo past the reef to the beaches nearest the villages. On all five islands, the ship could only come to a safe distance outside the reef, so the boats were essential in connecting the ship with the islands themselves.
Several tons of cargo passed through these boats, with the Chief Mate doing his best to track the receipts and cargo (nonetheless, at each islands disputes on the onload/offload arose). When the steel cable of the crane broke, the crew quickly rigged a line around the pulley system to create a makeshift, functional lifting device. The Greenheart Project is most suitable for this route and the operations it demands, provided that both a cargo hold and appropriate passenger accommodations are included.