INCIDENT ON THE WAINIBOKASI RIVER. CIRCA 1967?
This story has been pieced together from email received by Tony Snowsill.
By Bruce Snowsill
There’s another story but the shortened version is basically we were spear fishing off the Naseli light house when Sup decided to shoot a leopard ray. (Why I don’t know as there was no market for them) Anyway the ray objected and thrust two 6 inch barbs into his back puncturing his lungs. Brian Jefferson was with us and together we got him out of the water and eventually back to the Vuniwai (Doctor) at the dispensary on the Rewa River but at the end of road south of Nausori. I remember the unbearable pain he was in and his requests for us to knock him out. We didn’t oblige (how hard do you have to hit someone and what additional injuries will you inflict?) but found we could reduce the pain slightly by blocking the holes in his back was he breathed in. When he finally got to hospital they told him he would never dive again but 4 months later….
One day I’ll write a book about my young days fishing in Fiji so you’ll have to wait for the rest!!
By Carl Bay
The story is a true story. Bruce Snowsill, Grahame Southwick, and Brian Jefferson, were spearing at Toberua. Graham was hit in the back by a ray; the two 6″ barbs penetrated his back into his lungs. Brian and Bruce Pulled him into the 14′ boat with the 18HP.motor (big HP. in those days), threw all the fish over the side to lessen the weight, and set off for Wainibokasi Hospital late in the afternoon.
The trip was slow, Graham bleeding away on the floor, murmuring away, to be taken to the priest at Nailalili Church for the ‘last rites’. Big Snoz complied to his request by ‘full tabau ‘ (full speed) to the hospital. (lega the talatala).
However, the weight of the three guys, the small HP of the engine, rendered their progress very slow. So, to lighten the load, Brian “jumped ship”, and clambered up into the surrounding mangrove trees, where he spent a sleepless night, caking himself with mud, trying to ward of the friendly ‘bokasi’ mossies.
Grahame survived the night, lots of blood was drained from his lungs, Bruce went back to collect Brian from the dogo (mangrove), and everyone has lived happily ever after.
I know this story intimately, I could not make the trip that day, Brian took my place and as it was Snowsill’s boat, I would have been the one perching in the dogo all night—– but that’s another story.
By Tony Snowsill
Now wait a minute you blokes…..lets get this story absolutely straight….no vaka viti short cut style….
By the time I heard the story…that night……Sup (Southwick) had been hit on the head with a rum bottle (RSYC of course) to save him from the unbearable pain…one of the barbs/shafts had been extracted using a pair of rusty pliers (this is true because I saw the barb and the blood soaked pliers)…. because the barbs have sacks around them which contain poison (which they did according to all the experts)…no one who had been hit with one had ever lived to discuss the issue)….the barbs had been extracted while the boat was moving and avoiding other craft on the river…
Bruce you brought home one at least 6 inch barb… And the engine (the old 18 horse Johnson) had broken down at least twice and had to be repaired on the run up the Rewa…..to hell with the shortened version….lets make it interesting for the kai vata readers and young Ron Hunt was it who likes a good fishing tale…Full version, full feeling….Fiji Style….
Jefferson was enjoying the sun set over the Rewa Delta from the dogo……..too many fish…… and the last rights had been said by Fathers Jefferson and Snowsill who were so scared that Southwick might die on them had been checking out the fastest way to the bottom of the bottle of rum while saying several Hail Mary’s and any other prayers they might have suddenly remembered from there childhood..(Misguided of course)….
Sup was bleeding/bubbling from the mouth. His life was slipping away.
Now Doug and Ron are you fully informed here or is there anything you do not know?
And CARL…THIS WAS NO ORDINARY BOAT… This was the “Sea Fever” lovingly hand made in our Garage by the family and a semi skilled carpenter helper….the catholic carpenter’s neck rosary cross had broken, while we were working on the boat, just before the boat was finished being built and the cross was nailed to the prow under the steering wheel housing…there was know way Sup was going die in the boat with the cross there and Sup being a Catholic…anyway this crucial point was possibly missed by Bruce in all the excitement. Is there anything I have missed?
Crucial and vital issues that are yet to be clarified include:
To this day there has been no agreement on the numbers of bottles of Rum on board.
How Jefferson coped in the dogo with the mosquitos?
What the problem with the Johnson was on the day?
How many near misses were there involving other river craft because Bruce turning around checking on Sup all the while “speeding” for the Hospital and intermittently hitting him on the head as re regained consciousness?
Some have suggested that Rum was given to the engine in the vain hope it would speed it up
Did Sup have any lifelong problems because of the hits on the head?
How good was the Vuniwai (doctor) and what did he do when confronted with this situation?
Who specifically hit Sup on the head…Jefferson or Snowsill or both in turns and how often?
And what other prayers not mentioned here was said on the day? Clearly they were pretty good and worked and you should share them with us!
Now do we have a story?
Why did Sup decide to shoot the bloody ray which was twice as big as him anyway?
And most importantly…what fish had been caught and thrown away and what would have been the $ value of the fish.
By Ron Hunt
Vinaka Tony…..now that’s more like it!! I knew about the onboard surgery performed by the talented Dr Bruce….but I understood he was emitting rather loud gospel type prayers while extracting the one barb…..knowing that one of them missed Sup’s heart or spine by a mere half inch had us thinking that Bruce was extremely talented….and Graham was bloody lucky…also heard about the rum bottle but that it was used only after a couple of hay maker punches failed to put Sup to sleep. Never heard about the overnight in the dogo……….just as well you were not on board that day Carl!!
Tony bro….by all means please tell us more….and Bruce….as your brother suggests…no more short versions please….vaka viti style….full speed man!!
By Tony Snowsill
Grahame, in the spirit of good story telling, Fijian Style, please be so kind as to respond to our readership at the smart groups address above i.e. please reply all.
If you choose not to respond the story stands as it is and will live forever more as it is in the memories of 330 of your kai vata. Sorry Bro,
Brian Jefferson where are you?
Lolomas Tony Snowsill.
By Grahame Southwick
The True story is that this incident took place in the Nasilai Passage, only several hundred meters from where the sailing ship loaded with Indian indentured labourers struck and broke up (still bits there) and the sharks thought all their Christmas’s had come at once !
These ship sinking incidents was close in the back of our minds that day, as the sharks of Nasilai Passage have never forgotten that feast, and, were all around us that day as usual….waiting for a miss hit fish to swarm onto.
Of course we were young and stupid in those days….now we are old and stupid….still doing the same things we did 40 years ago, but with a little more urgency now I guess.
On this day, we already had so much fish in the boat, it would never have planed going home with or massive 18hp outboard but along came this flock of gigantic eagle rays and I picked the biggest and whacked a spear into its head. Seemed like a good idea at the time!
Anyway all hell broke loose and he (the Ray) took off out the passage mouth, heading for the open sea, dragging me sidewise as I tried to slow him down—-blood everywhere (his, the Rays) and sharks very excited !
Big Snoz, in his usual fearless manner, joined in and put another shaft into his head as did BJ, and all three of us were dragged for another 50 meters before we were able to slow the beast down…..At this point we took turn at bayoneting the monster with the short spikes we had on the end of our guns, and eventually it succumbed (we thought).
As I recall, we send BJ back up the reef 100 m to bring the boat to us, and Snoz and I swimming in a pool of eagle ray blood, stood guard over our kill as the Nasilai sharks got more and more excited, as indeed did we!!
BJ eventually arrived with the boat, and whilst Snoz kept the sharks at bay, I stood in chest high water, heaving the beast, as BJ hooked his fingers into its eyes and was trying to pull it over the side….
At this point, I guess the beast thought enough is enough and had the energy for one last kick, and drove his 3 spikes into my back….
My first thought at the impact, was that Snoz had accidentally shot me, and I put my hand behind my back and felt this great slimy tail……and I thought Oh, good golly, gosh!!
There was no pain at this point, and I looked down and saw a spike protruding from my upper right chest…..I thought,” this is not looking good!”
So there I was impaled by this beast and still attached…..
I reached behind me and gave it a good shove and apparently the three barbs detached themselves from the tail.
As I said, no great pain at this stage, but it was on its way……
The story gets a little blurry from now, and no doubt BJ and Snoz were having a clearer view as events unfolded.
I can remember Snoz arriving and between he and BJ, pulling me over the gunnels into the boat.
At this point, for some reason, the barbs were beginning to aggravate me and all I wanted to do was to get them out.
I remember the discussion about not being a good idea to pull them out, more damage and all that, but when I threatened to pull them out myself ( Ho Ho ),big Snoz obliged with the trusty rusty old pair of pliers which was lying in the bottom of the boat—our tool kit !
I can still feel the grating as they came out as we discovered later, they had backward facing barbs along the spikes, to prevent such dislodging…..Nice!
About this time, the pain started to kick in, and Snoz and BJ decided to ditch all our fish—not to mention the Ray, all our diving gear, and anything that we didn’t need and run…….
I can remember the “rum’ discussion and whether or not it was a good thing to give me a shot or three…….I don’t recall the details much as by now the pain was excruciating, but I suspect that Snoz and BJ decided that the best thing was to drink the rum themselves, to kill my pain !!
I do recall, wanting them to try and knock me out, and I think there was more discussion about the wisdom or not of doing this, and that another shot of rum would be a better option.
We were about 3 miles off the river mouth, out on the reef and with the mighty 16hp Johnson outboard, cranked to the max, was screaming along at barely planing speed.
I as slipping in and out of consciousness at this point and the pain was unbearable.
I do recall Big Snoz sitting with his great foot pushed against the holes in my back trying to stop the blood, as I lay in bilge drowning in my own blood, and unable to breathe very well.
I do recall BJ telling Snoz to drop him off in the first mangrove we got to, to lighten the load—as I recall he was dropped off with 3 cigarettes and matches.
By this time I pretty well knew I was not going to make it, and being a good Catholic boy at the time, told him to, stop at the Catholic Church at Nailili, which was on our way.
I guess fortunately, he didn’t, and continued on to the Wainibokasi medical centre about one hour up the river and, somehow I managed to cling to life…….I think it was the rum!
By this time the pain and loss of blood, had rendered me semi conscious, but Snoz told me later that upon arrival at the medical centre, they found that the doctor had gone fishing!
Fortunately, a medical student was on hand and shot me full of antibiotics and morphine, threw me into a taxi, and I woke up 3 days later in the CWM, full of tubes and bilge pumps, and being attended to, as luck would have it by a Dr DeBeau—thank God for the Colonials !!
The sequel to this adventure, and you will need to get confirmation from BJ and Snoz, is that when Snoz eventually went back to find BJ, it was dark and as all the mangrove, miles and miles of it, looked the same, it took a long time to find him……..
I was told that he was in the very last stages of nicotine deprivation, having resorted to lighting up and smoking some dry grass that floods had deposited high in the tree tops……he says to keep the mossies away, but we knew BJ !!
I was 9 weeks in hospital………It could possibly have been only 6,except for my “friends”, Carl, BJ, Snoz and others, visiting me and smuggling in rum cans with pineapple labels stuck to them !
Every time they would visit, there would be so much laughing, that my poor lacerated lungs would let go again and I would start to bleed internally again………They had to banish me to solitary and, no “friends for three weeks!!
And finally………..The spikes had gone in one inch above my right kidney and missed my heart and spine by inches, lacerating and collapsing the lung.
I was told I would never dive again, but as most of you know I subsequently spent 12 years as a commercial abalone (paua to you Kiwis) diver….the lesson being never underestimate the power of Fiji Rum!
Oh and one more thing…………The boys presented me with the barbs and they lay on the hospital dressing table alongside me for all the time I was in.
The Fijian gentleman in the bed along side me was recounting my story to his friends with great gusto, one day, and waving the biggest spike around in the air in demonstration………..Somehow, in his excitement, he stuck it into his hand…..a mini operation and three stitches later, he learnt what I had !!!…………Well should have but of course THAT’S another story!!
Great to find you all again, especially you BJ….lost in the mists of time.
As most of you know, I have spent my whole life in or on the sea, and one day when you have run out of SEA stories, I will tell you about the great Moray adventure, which is almost a rerun of the Eagle Ray story, the “Tiger Shark in the jungle” and “Catching cane toads in 400 metres”….all TRUE STORIES!!!
Big Lolomas to all!! GB Southwick
By Brian J Jefferson
Hi Tony, Good to hear from you today and thanks for the material from the “forum” re the Leopard ray incident. Somewhere I have a faded cutting from the Fiji Times which I will dig out and forward if anyone is interested.
In essence, the story as related by Sup Southwick, Big Snoz and Carl Bay is correct, but I feel I can fill in some of the detail, background and provide answers to some of the scurrilous questions posed by others.
I recall Sup being towed past me, at about 30 knots by the ray, face mask down around his neck and clearly, even underwater, politely requesting assistance. I think it was me that sunk the second spear (into the ray, that is) and went for another Nasilai sleigh ride before my slide pulled off the end of the spear.
Snoz arrived, whacked in another spear so I left them wrestling the beastie and went back to the boat to reload, because, as related elsewhere, the local denizens were most interested in the proceedings. When I got back to them, they were thrashing around on top of the reef in chest deep water. It was about that time that I heard Sup utter the bit about “Golly, Gosh, and Darn”.
What he failed to mention was that he also said words to the effect “You procreating person of indiscriminate parentage – you’ve speared me!” (You’ve no idea how pleased I was to read that he thought it was Snoz. To this day, I always thought he was talking to me.)
I’m sure it was Snoz that had to go and bring the boat as he was the only one who could start it – a complicated procedure involving the use of a large shifting spanner, screwdriver, fencing wire and a spear gun rubber, all the while uttering a strange incantation known only to him.
Whatever the case, we dragged Sup into the boat, cut the spear gun lines which were hopelessly entangled (there was some argument and reluctance to do this due to the cost of replacement) and headed off for home.
True, there were three holes in his back, two with what looked like little black stubs sticking out. I couldn’t budge them by hand so the trusty (and rusty) pliers were applied. Eyeballs nearly popped when six inches of barbed spikes emerged.
True, the boat was overloaded and Snoz and I had earnest discussion as to how to lighten the load. Of the two options, the value of the catch was outweighed by the potential difficulties in explaining Sup’s absence, so the catch was thrown overboard.
After a while, Sup started complaining of some pain and there was some discussion re knocking him out. The use of fists was discarded on the basis that skinned knuckles could lead to awkward questions at a possible Coronial inquest. The use of the large shifter and then throwing it overboard was abandoned for the reason that it may be required to restart the motor. The use of a rum bottle, had there been one aboard, could not be considered in case the bottle broke and the contents were lost.
Once in the river, it was apparent that we still lacked pace, so further discussion about lightening the load. My suggestion that Snoz being the heaviest, should get out, was over-ruled using captain’s prerogative. Sup wasn’t keen to get out so yours truly was dumped. At the time, I said that if we’d had a bottle of rum, I’d like it to help with the mossies and sandflies. Snoz said that if we had a bottle of rum on board, he would have to keep it in case the motor got dunked and rum was the best thing for cleaning and drying sparkplugs. (No CRC in those days).
It gets very lonely climbing up a mangrove tree, watching the tide coming up, with no Bure for shelter and no one – I stress no one – but sand flies for company.
After some hours, just when I was thinking that Snoz had knocked off the bottle of rum (if we’d had a bottle of rum on board) and got lost, he came steaming around the corner, a bit like the African Queen, and retrieved me.
Someone asked the question how the Vuniwai handled the situation. I think it was with some difficulty. I have it on good authority that when Snoz arrived and spoke with a nurse, he got his consonants confused and whilst meaning to say that his mate had been hit by a “Big Cai”, actually said “my mate’s been hit by a big Kai” (type of fish). (Not sure of my spelling). Anyway, much hilarity!
I further have it on good authority that after the laughter stopped; the response was “We’ve heard of this man. He’s had plenty of those before, so why the problem now?”
Another question was “why shoot something like that with no value?”
I’m sure Snoz told me that when you get a bit old and reflexes are slow, you need a slow moving target, at least eight foot wide, to have at least a fifty fifty chance of scoring a hit!
Hope the foregoing adds some credence to the stories and helps dispel some of the unfounded rumours associated with it.
I will be happy to talk with anyone with further questions or just to catch up with old mates.