In 2006 we held an informal workshop on our experiences in
sustainability planning with the people of Solodamu, Kadavu. We
had arrived in Fiji aboard our home, a 46ft sailing ketch from NZ.
A number of core issues were facing the
village associated with the need to generate a
sustainable cash income for the village.
• Kadavu is not on the main tourist routes of
• The village is located some distance from
good gardening areas
• The costs of transport for people and goods
both outgoing from the village (primarily kava
and honey) and incoming (basic food,
building and fuel supplies) is high and rapidly
The village has been a leader in Fiji in local conservation initiatives (a large bush
reserve containing the last remnant of dry lowland forest in Fiji/home to the Kadavu
parrot and a Local Marine Management Area/marine reserve.
The village had operated a small launch for many years, both for local hire to
neighbouring villages and to contractors (such as telecommunications companies)
but the vessel is now beached and in very poor repair.
Solodamu is seeking to increase income earning potential but is adamant that this
must not be at the expense of traditional values or customary village lifestyle.
A limited number of low impact tourists would be welcomed but a large scale
backpacker party resort would not, for example.
After several workshop sessions and much informal
discussion the concept of a village based sailing vessel
Solodamu, like most villages in Fiji (and throughout the South Pacific)
is heavily reliant on outboard powered fiberglass skiffs (fibers) for
transport of people and goods and for fishing.
While the South Pacific can
claim to have developed and
perfected sailing technology
over several thousands of
years of open-ocean
voyaging, sailing culture is
now almost entirely
restricted to recreational
sailing vessels by the urban
It is virtually unused for everyday village life except on some outer islands,
the camakau of the southern Lau group in the case of Fiji.
Fijian Sailing History
Traditionally the Fijian Drua was widely recognised as the pinnacle of
Pacific sailing design, combining the unique properties of the vesi timber
from the Lau with double hull design that utilised and advanced Tongan and
Polynesian design concepts and sail design and technology originating in
These large (up to 118feet) high performance vessels were capable of high
speeds (in excess of 20 knots), high performance on all points of sail (they
were able to sail within 45 degrees of the wind) and large payloads
(carrying up to 150 fully armed warriors and in later years large tonnages of
Both in terms of craftsmanship and operation they were complex pieces of
machinery requiring a high degree of skill to construct, maintain and
No full size drua have been built for over a century. In 1913 a half size vessel (45ft)
Ratu Finau was built, reportedly to ensure that the knowledge of design and construction
was not lost. That drua is now housed in the Fiji Museum in Suva. In the last 20 years a
smaller scale model was commissioned by an American expatriate and it operated as a
tourist novelty vessel in Suva and Nadi waters for some years but is now in a state of
disrepair and beached. It is arguable whether that vessel was a full copy of traditional
design. There are substantial historical records of Drua design, construction and
operation including detailed drawings and specifications from experienced European
naval officers. Restoration of the Drua, Ratu Finau by the Fiji National Museum has
meant substantive local knowledge of construction has been retained.
Drua are characterised by their construction from traditionally treated vesi
timber that is only found in the southern Lau islands. It is thought that
insufficient vesi now exists on Kabara (the traditional source of wood) but
may still be available on some of the smaller islands in the Lau. There has
been a major replanting initiative of vesi seedlings on Kabara in the past two
Camakau were the smaller inshore Fijian sailing vessel with an ama (outrigger)
as opposed to a full second hull. Very fast and versatile within the reef system,
they have been prone to capsize in open ocean waters. A comprehensive
study in the early 1990s of remaining camakau in the Lau group has recorded
both the history of the camakau and the construction techniques and process
still in use today.
In 2006 two camakau were brought to Suva from Kabara and used as models
to construct a further five vessels as part of the Melanesian Spearhead festival
of that year. Those vessels were built from mahogany rather than vesi. It is
arguable whether the craftsmanship is equal to that traditionally employed.
A number of other designs were also found throughout Fiji including small
single hulled vessels and rafts. Traditional sailing use declined rapidly with the
introduction of European displacement craft and then disappeared almost
entirely as motorised vessels were introduced. Small boat sailing (particularly
hobbie and laser class) is popular as a recreational activity in Suva.
A large and increasing number of cruising yachts visit Fiji waters every year but
the cost of this activity is prohibitive to the average Fijian villager. However, a
significant number of overseas cruisers that we have discussed this project with
have expressed a strong desire to assist, either by contributing labour,
expertise and ideas, surplus equipment and even possible sponsorship
g fuel and engine costs mean that the outboard’s tenure as a c
Sailing for Sustainability
ible form of transport is limited. Given the island and coastal natur
r many villagers boat transport is far more important than land
rt is essential for daily movement, fishing, access to schools and he
. Either village revenue will need to increase, a cheap local alte
in Solodamu, Fiji
ards will need to be developed (possibly coconut oil for diesel
ugarcane), government or aid subsidies for fuel will need to be inc
ssil-fuel powered water transport will have to decline.
of village sailing culture appears to be a valid solution, in part at lea
SAIL OPTIONS FOR SOLODAMU
We have identified at least five main options for sourcing a sail powered vessel to
service Solodamu (and Kadavu);
(a) an existing second-hand vessel, either displacement hull or catamaran,
(b) A ply over stringer version of a Polynesian catamaran could be built in
(c) a planked hull catamaran using local hardwood could be built in Fiji
(d) a new purpose built vessel could be commissioned
(e) a traditional drua could be built.
Each of these options has its own advantages and drawbacks
No matter which option was chosen there are a set of common issues, in particular
whether the construction should be “in survey” and how the project could be funded.
Whichever option was decided, there would have to be a number of phases:
(1) buying or construction of the vessel
(2) commissioning and operating the vessel
(3) maintaining the vessel.
Option 1: Purchase An Existing Vessel
PROS No time delay due to construction time.
CONS A second-hand vessel is likely to require significant modifications,
refit or maintenance.
Vessel will not involve village labour or input in its construction.
Not purpose built for the job.
Is second-hand, likely to be high maintenance (and expensive).
Would need to be transported/imported to Fiji (probably)
$ Ball-park figure $70 – 150,000 + (for 50 ft & 3 tonne load capacity).
Option 2: Build a plywood Polynesian -style Catamaran
PROS • Proven design, easy to construct (plywood and resorcinol glues),
• Shallow draught – allowing beach access.
Build in New Zealand or Fiji.
CONS Slow (but stable).
Not particularly high load carrying capacity.
$ Ball park $100,000 + (for 50 – 60 ft & 3 – 5 tonne load capacity)
Option 3: Build a Planked Hull Catamaran
PROS Cheap, low-technology, build on the beach from local materials.
Shallow draught – allowing beach access.
Based on traditional design and construction.
Maintenance friendly and low cost.
Combines speed and high performance with big load capacity.
CONS Hard to survey.
$ Ball park $50 - 75,000 (for 70 ft & 7 tonne load capacity)
Option 4: Commission Purpose-Built Vessel
PROS Custom-built, all bells and whistles, state of the art.
CONS Expensive, probably unaffordable for any Fiji village.
(not considered further)
$ Ball park $800,00 - 1,000,000 +
Option 5: Build a Traditional Drua
PROS Iconic, flagship, cultural re-vitalisation.
Proven high performance, speed and load carrying capacity.
Guaranteed support from local, national and international community.
Multi-use (tourism, cultural flagship, trade, education), highly marketable.
Construction and operation well documented historically.
Soft target for sponsorship.
CONS Requires vesi (currently rare resource).
Requires incredibly high level of craftsmanship.
Politics of ownership and use likely to be intense.
Day to day use as common trading vessel limited due to iconic status.
• Funding (Aid, Sponsorship or Private Enterprise?)
• In Survey or Pirate Vessel
• Operation and Maintenance
• Vessel ownership
Regardless of which option were to be selected there are a number of issues
to be considered under these four headings (see attached paper for more
Climate change, spiraling fuel and technology costs mean sail powered
transport must be considered as a viable tool in the search for sustainability.
We have focused here on its use for trade and transport but there are many
other uses e.g. education, delivery of health and social services, as a platform
to support research and other aid projects (FLMMA). We see strong potential
for this project to support and collaborate with a number of existing
Whichever of the options presented are pursued the project should be well-
documented and analysed in its entirety.
This presentation is offered to spark and encourage debate and we welcome
comment, criticism, ideas and discussion.
Loloma, Pete and Ali
A number of options were considered and subject to very
preliminary discussion over the type of vessel that might be
(a trading schooner, conventional catamaran capable of carrying passengers and goods,
a traditional drua for tourist use) and the means of paying for such an enterprise (as an
aid project, private enterprise or private donation). No firm conclusions were reached
(although the majority of Fijian opinion strongly favoured a traditional drua). Since then I
have discussed the concept at some length with sailing and boatbuilding colleagues in