Visiting the islands was truly rewarding. Kinijoji took me with him on the first two islands – Kabara and Fulaga – to show me how he meets with the village headman as a government representative to ensure an agreement of ship arrival, cargo delivery, and proper service. Just the few hours spent on these islands highlighted the laid-back, tranquil environment of life on a small island. Although, I must admit the difficulties of such a life are apparent as well – lack of access to skilled medical care, no fresh water sources (rainwater collection is the only method of accessing potable water), no electricity – aside from the handful of solar panels for limited light use in the evenings as well as a small number of diesel generators, and just the sense of isolation from the services and conveniences of Suva. Many islanders believe that once-a-month trips are not frequent enough to provide decent goods and services.
On the island of Vatoa, Sunil and his partner Joji invited me to climb the lighthouse with them as they did a survey. The decrepit, dilapidated lighthouse has been in a state of disrepair for a couple years – but it did afford gorgeous views of Vatoa and the surrounding reef. The flora and fauna were stunning, with an untold number and variety of birds flying about, and clear water that allowed us to spot five large sea turtles and two royal blue fish from quite a distance. The villagers were most welcoming, providing great fish, coconut-based vegetable dishes, and cassava, and the obligatory grog session prior to departure.
Although I did not go ashore on Ogea or Ono-i-Lau, my time aboard MV Liahona was a rewarding experience that leaves me wanting to return to these stunning islands in the Pacific. The variety of people that were eager to talk with me, share their opinions and views, and discuss their lives was without a doubt the best part of the trip. While I now have engineering and logistical data as well as a survey from a sampling of the passengers to keep me busy as I delve into my master’s thesis, I will always think back on this past week aboard an old, weathered vessel traveling to the remote lower southern Lau islands of Kabara, Fulaga, Ogea, Vatoa, and Ono-i-Lau. The crew – from the salty, regal Captain and jovial, friendly Chief Engineer to Felipe the cook who managed to whip up some meals in an impossibly small galley – were a pleasure to get to know.
With this experience fresh in my mind, I can easily imagine a Greenheart vessel servicing these islands effectively, answering the urgent call of our planet for implementing zero-emissions solutions to prevent future catastrophe. This route is one of many that Greenheart vessels can service in a clean and safe manner that I imagine all islanders would appreciate. The only way to truly evaluate its effectiveness, however, will be to get this vessel operational as soon as possible and put it through the wringer. I am positive it will be a great success, and I hope that in the not-too-distant future the Lau islanders will be reaping the benefits of Greenheart transport.