The Princess, the crew and, Amelia Earhart

Fiji Princess
Fiji Princess

The Fiji Princess, which I sailed on last month, is about to be part of one of the greatest mysteries of all time. With sixty guests on board, plus the crew, the catamaran becomes part of the “Voyage in Search of Amelia Earhart“.

Earhart,(1897-1937) was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and was an early supporter of the USA  Equal Rights Amendment.

During her attempt to circumnavigate the world in 1937 she disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean and fascination with her life, career and disappearance continues to this day.

Talking with some of the crew about their upcoming voyage to Tahiti it was obvious they had not realised the historic significance of being involved in the possible finding of her plane.

The Captain told me he would be on board for the thousand-mile journey but would not be in charge as the open, international waters require higher qualifications than he has.

Capt on the bidge
Capt on the bridge

One day, deciding not to go snorkeling on one trip out from the boat, especially as manta-ray had not appeared  I sat in the little boat and chatted with two of the crew as they followed the snorkelers while they explored a reef.

Imagine being part of history I enthused, fancy being able to tell your grandchildren “I was there when they found Amelia Earhart’s plane.”

We also talked rugby and dreams of the future. Jona tells me he comes from the last island in the Fiji chain of islands and its nickname is ‘little New Zealand’ as it’s the closest to NZ. He also tells me he supports the NSW Waratahs as he has a cousin in the team.

Both men were thrilled with the Fiji Sevens having beaten NZ a few days earlier, the Chiefs and Highlanders were their favourite NZ teams and both admire Richie McCawhh and richie

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He other young man, Colin, had been a carpenter before joining the Princess some three years earlier, and was studying to further his career: dreams of being the Captain of an even bigger vessel than the Princes is in his future.

Another topic I bought up was my concern about bread being fed to fish at Nanuya Lailai Island, that bread is not good for the fish. I suggested that they (i.e. the company buy) have fish food for them.

Although ,as Dan, a marine biologist who came on board to talk about corals and the local reefs, said ‘I’ve bought this up often but nothing has changed – however, I’d rather them feed the fish than kill them.”

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Back to Amelia and the Princess, this month (June 2015) a research vessel will investigate the area with a remotely operated vehicle, while divers will search the surrounding reef for other possible bits of wreckage and other researchers will scour the island for remains of a possible campsite.

I hope the crew of the Fiji Princess will be able to tell their grandchildren ‘I was there’.

NOTE: For more information about the research project see here and here

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Flying with Richie McCaw in a historic DC3

Not many can go flying with Richie McCaw; New Zealand’s much loved and admired All Blacks captain – I did!

However you can still fly in the historic ZK-AMY DC3 as I did, just without the benefit of a rugby hero companion as a fellow passenger.

Southern DC3 is committed to preserving this last plane in flying condition and as the trusts chair David Horsburgh (and AIR NZ airbus captain) said, “it’s thanks to passengers who help this happen” he continues, “its also the only plane where passengers can still go onto the flight-deck.”

This ‘old girl’ is only one of two still flying in New Zealand and interestingly, ZK-AMY was built by women and I’m told it has the same wing-size as a 737. The captain says it’s a “very soft ride’ almost like a “magic carpet”.

In this age of electronics they can fly this plane ‘with no instruments” , pretty good for a plane who is celebrating its 76th anniversary this month (December 2011) thirty years after the Wright brothers (and NZs Richard Pearse) first flew.

Richie (who is the patron of the Southern DC3) tells me the day before he had been gliding “one of the only places I can be alone”. Despite that he was very gracious with people who wanted his autograph or (like me) his photo.

But, back to the plane trip which left from Christchurch International Aiport: It was like a magic carpet, real curtains, great seats and walking up the aisle it felt like I was walking uphill and the views were fabulous as it flies so low. Only 3 weeks after the September 4th (7.1) earthquake it was good to fly over my city. The view will be very different now after the smaller, but more damaging February one.

The next flight with Southern DC3  is 11th December 2011. For more information about the DC3 Dakota see here – and enjoy these photos from my flight.

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