I read with great interest of the history of Solway Lass in the Galloway News and the longer I looked at the photograph of her tied up near Palnackie, the more certain I became that I had seen her before. A brief check provided me with evidence to fill a gap in her long career.
I left Kirkcudbright in 1974, to live and work in Fiji, and was quickly drawn to the waterfront in the capital city of Suva, where a colourful and varied fleet of trading vessels is based. Fiji is a group of several hundred islands, most of which are served by the Government of Fiji’s fleet of locally designed and built ships and a great array of privately owned trading vessels, which carry cargoes and passengers of every kind to some of the most idyllic places in the world. Among these ships were several sailing vessels, and one in particular, called Sundeved caught my eye with her rakish sheerline and minimal deckhouse. She had recently arrived from what were then the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, via Wallis and Fotuna and had begun to trade in Fiji’s waters with an English master/owner and a Fijian crew. Her Danish name of Sundeved was soon painted over and she was given the Fijian name of Lawendua. Lloyds register of shipping for 1968/1969 reveals that Sundeved (register No. 534473) was formerly Bent, and Bent was formerly none other than Solway Lass.
In 1976, I was sent by my employer the Government of Fiji, to the island of Kandavu, 65 miles south of the main island of Viti Levu, to arrange the siting of six new houses at the government station of Vunisea. Lawendua was chartered and we sailed at 5.00am on the 4th November with a Public Works Department supervisor called Motufanga and all the necessary materials, including six kitchen sinks! As we motored out of Suva Harbour through the main passage in the protecting coral reef, we met the long swell of the Pacific Ocean and even our cargo of concrete blocks and cement could not prevent us from rolling heavily.
Breakfast consisted of an animated fried egg, which the cook had intended to nestle in a bed of tinned spaghetti. A commotion broke out when a lee rigging screw came adrift and clanged against the wheelhouse before disappearing over the side. The cook’s best endeavours followed the rigging screw shortly afterwards. By lunchtime, we were in the lee of the great Astrolabe Reef, which is said to have some of the clearest water and most beautiful fish and coral anywhere, except of course for Palnackie!. Lunch of mutton curry, dalo and cassava was eaten on deck as the beautiful islands of Dravuni, Bulia and Ono were left to port. Before the sun had gone down we had steered cautiously through the jagged coral heads of Namalata reef, guided by a Polaroid bespectacled lookout aloft, and anchored at the tiny settlement of Vunisea. Motufanga and I went ashore to hire men from the village to unload our cargo into a fleet of canoe-like small craft, known in Fiji as punts, and work began immediately.
Three days later, on completion of unloading and our work ashore, we set sail for Suva with an empty hold, but one extra passenger in the form of a very excited pig.
The sails concerned consisted of a brand new mizzen and two elderly staysails, which the skipper hoped would add a knot or two to our leisurely pace. Due to the power and enthusiasm of the crew however, she was sheeted in far too hard, and with the wind on her beam, made nearly as much leeway as headway. We arrived at Suva wharf in the early hours of the morning of 7th November and Motufanga, the pig and I walked into town to find a taxi. A few days later, the pig was eaten and Motufanga was sent to prison, but that is another story! All three of us had good reason to savour our freedom and adventure aboard Lawendua.
David R. Collin
This article was first published in the Galloway News on 26th March 1987