Jim Bandy has just announced that he is “giving up” The Rag of the Air SSB Net. The “Rag” is the best SSB Net for Cruisers in Fiji and is found on 8173 KHz at 7am local (1900z) and was run by Bandy for the past 10 years.
A Brief History
Jim & Kyoko Bandy aboard ALSO II, arrived in the Lau Island Group of Fiji in December of 2001 and began one of the toughest ongoing humanitarian projects in these parts.
In May of 2002, the village granted the Bandys’ the island Qaraicikobia (a small island just off shore from the main island and village) for their home, and accepted them as part of the village. They renamed the island – ALSO Island. Jim then began seeking investors to start up a boat building company that is still on Vanua Levu. He has succeeded against all odds; dealing with major political unrest, cultural mores consisting of little or no work ethic and setbacks around every corner.
“At this time, two hours a day is just more than I have to give at this point,” Jim told the CC in an email.
“Meanwhile back the boat yard we are working on the catamaran every day. There is more work than I thought but it is coming along. We have been lucky with the cyclones this year. We have not had one. We are nearing the end of the season and the only thing I have seen on the weather is some activity in the convergence zone North of us.”
Cruisers As Humanitarians
During our first years of cruising onboard Saga, we met folks as different as their boats were from ours. From nouveau riche “dot-comers” to DIYers who built their own boats and traveled on a serious budget. One thing they all had in common – their willingness to help others.
They might be teachers bringing much needed school supplies to poverty-stricken children in poor villages of Central or South America; doctors offering free care to remote locales around the globe; or folks like you and I, helping wherever there is a need, cruisers are generally a helpful lot and over the years, they have been busy setting up humanitarian projects the some pretty interesting places.
We first met Jim and Kyoko Bandy back in December of 1999. We had only been cruising for a few months, since leaving the San Francisco Bay Area in May. Having both started from the same place, it was inevitable that our wakes would cross.
Anchored off of Cabo San Lucas, Baja during a boisterous ‘norther’, the roadstead anchorage quickly became untenable and we decided it was time to head into the crowded marina and see if we could find a slip.
We tied up to the fuel dock and as it was Sunday, and thought we’d be able to grab a few hours of sleep before the rather long process of fueling began. After our naps we jumped ship to stretch our legs and found the Bandy’s a couple of slips away onboard their sailing yacht, ALSO II.
Shortly thereafter, the Bandy’s sailed west and we sailed south and it wasn’t until some years later that we got back in touch through the auspices of the Seven Seas Cruising Assoc. Jim was Net Control for the “Rags of the Sea” SSB Net covering the South Pacific. I was the Editor of the Commodores’ Bulletin for the SSCA, looking for new Cruising Stations to bring onboard.
They had cruised for two years ending up in Fiji in December of 2001. And so began their involvement with the people of Udu.
Landing in Fiji
They had planned to spend the cyclone season (six months) in Fiji and then continue their adventure around the world. Within the first three hours of clearing customs in Savusavu they had met more local people than they had met in their three-year cruise. “These people were very warm and friendly,” says Jim.
January of 2002 found them in the district Udu at Cawaro Village. There was no road, no telephone or electricity at the village. Their village boat had a broken engine, so naturally they decided to offer to fix it. After purchasing an engine for it and having it shipped from Tonga; Jim installed it and got the boat working again. This took four months. According to Jim, “time moves slower here then in most places.” Then Jim left for a month to visit his mother in the States. Upon his return Kyoko announced that she was not leaving and it became Jim’s responsibility to figure out how to get a long-term visa.
In May of 2002 the village asked them to stay, granted the Bandys’ the island called Qaraicikobia (a small island just off shore from the main island and village) for their home base, and made them a part of the village. About that time Jim met Vitu, then the Chief Executive Officer of Fiji Islands Trade and Investment Bureau (FTIB). He offered them the opportunity to become investors in Vanua Levu, as a boat building company.
By July of 2003 “ALSO Island Limited” had been incorporated and funded; FTIB had granted Jim and Kyoko a certificate to build and repair boats and by the end of the year they had secured a 50-year commercial lease on seven acres of Qaraicikobia Island. Their cruise was officially over and although one adventure had ended, another had begun.
Now the Work Begins
By the end of 2003, they had cleared the area for the current facility, built a tool storage shed and a workshop.
During the same time they rebuilt the village boats’ hull and repaired upwards of 40 outboard motors at no charge. Several yachts had come to visit to see what they were doing and enjoy the hospitality of the village.
By the end of 2004 they had installed a 20,000-liter water system, electrical system, added a kitchen, a deck and an extension to the shop floor to cover the boats they were working on. They decided to purchase a derelict local fisheries boat, then rebuilt it and installed an engine. It is now called the “Lady K”. It carries local fish to market and is the supply boat for ALSO Island and surrounding villages: Cawaro, Nukusa, Qaranivia, Lagi, Nubono, Nukondomo and Vunikundi.
Somewhere along the way they also built a 16ft punt for Isei, the chief, a 12ft punt called “ALSO IV”, a 19ft half-cabin runabout called “ALSO V”, a 15 ft punt named (wait for it…!) – “Banana Boat”, a nesting dinghy for the ALSO II, an 18 ft punt for one of the locals called “ALSO VIII”, a Takia, outrigger canoe, a 17ft fishing punt with shade cover, named “KOKO”, and another 24ft half-cabin, runabout affectionately called “ALSO XI”.
When Jim and Kyoko started their Humanitarian work, the locals had no experience with a job, much less with tools and equipment that one normally uses. Nor did they possess the discipline necessary to manage or sustain a business. They have now trained several men to use power wood-working tools, epoxy, fiberglass and paint in the repair, building and maintenance of boats. In addition, they have trained a couple of men to do mechanical work on outboard motors. Currently they have registered 15 employees with the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF). Similar to our Social Security, this project was established in 1966 to provide financial security for workers when they retire at age 55. The FNPF also provides for permanent incapacity, and survivor’s benefit in the event of the demise of the employee.
In 2005 the Bandys’ began construction on a new facility and purchased the equipment to press coconut oil. In June of 2006 the FTIB granted them a certificate to press oil and they proceeded to acquire all of the required licenses to run this new business. This project is awaiting final licenses before it can begin production.
In the past few years they have been awarded a number of contracts to rebuild and repair various boats. And although they have purchased engines and materials, the funds have been frozen and they were advised to stop work. They continue to repair punts and eventually when the funds are released they will finish those projects as well.
While they have enjoyed much success, they say that their efforts have been frustrated by difficulties they continue to experience with their visas, the Reserve Bank, FTIB and VAT. Although they have made every effort to fully comply with the rules and laws of Fiji, their efforts are often compounded by lack of information or unanswered correspondence or foot-dragging on the part of the bureaucracy. Their effort, although much appreciated by the locals, have been hard-won and difficult to achieve.
In a recent report Jim told me, “While we have made many friends in Fiji, and early on there seemed to be help and encouragement, the bureaucracy (particularly under the last government) seems to be determined to make it so difficult for us possibly hoping that we give up and leave!
But we stopped in Fiji and have decided to make it our home because we love the people and have found a place where we can make a much-needed, positive contribution. Here is a place where we can truly make a difference. And we have made a difference!”
In 2009, the Bandys’ were building a new supply boat, along with ice-boxes to expand the fish-buying operation to other villages and go on working with the current government to get an ice plant built in the area, which they want Jim to build and operate.
Says Jim, “Because we believe in what we are doing, we are convinced that with a continued, concerted effort on our part and some help from our friends, we wi1l continue to be successful and provide additional economic opportunities and employment for the local people.”
In addition to all the boatworks, Kyoko has devoted her time to the local children and women. They currently sponsor local students for schooling both locally and in Labasa.
As long-time members of the cruising community, Jim and Kyoko also manage to fit in hosting visiting yachts, (they are currently listed as an SSCA Cruising Station), backpackers, friends and family visitors. They provide accommodations for local and foreign business visitors as well as accommodations for government visitors.
What the future may hold
As tourism develops in the area Jim feels that there will be opportunities for some joint venture endeavors such as a diving operation. They are already looking for a local who could become skilled in diving enough to run a small dive operation to help attract backpackers and visiting yachts.
From the humble beginnings of a planned $50,000 investment, ALSO Island has now invested more than $400,000 to date. Jim and Kyoko have invested their retirement funds in ALSO Island and continue to enjoy seeing people learn and develop. It is their hope to be instrumental in assisting young people in learning how to provide for their families and care for their environment.
ALSO Island has turned into a rather significant development in the area and Jim and Kyoko hope to continue to bring some limited prosperity to the area. If you’re interested in finding out how you can help on ALSO Island, contact us me (cruisingeditor at gmail.com) and I will forward your email to Jim.
Jim and Kyoko were nominated by SSCA members Luc and Jackie Callebaut, Sloepmouche; Michael and Kendra Homsany; and myself, to receive the Seven Seas Clean Wake Award for Humanitarian or Environmental Efforts. I accepted this prestigious award on their behalf at the Annual SSCA Gam in Melbourne, FL in December 2008.