Friends and Fanfare

If I am to break down our time in Fiji into stages, I see three distinct segments. The first was as sailors within the cruising route, the second as intrepid explorers on the cultural route, and the third as tourists enjoying the “postcard Fijian experience.” All three are worth their weight in gold – or for a more nautical expression, worth their weight in salt – for what each allowed us to experience.

And so, we spent our final weeks in the company of good friends, based in Musket Cove and exploring the Mamanukas in more detail. Our first impression of this chain had been one of dismay, far from the explorative travel we were hoping for. However, on closer examination we found it to be a charming collection of anchorages, once away from the resort hubs. We experienced some of our best diving here, some stunning scenery, remote islands and a few scattered villages. We spent a wonderful couple of weeks discovering these pearls, as well as simply kicking our feet up poolside and indulging in all the luxuries of resort accommodations.

We had two sets of friends join us during our final days in Fiji. I comically define them as the “child haters” and “child lovers,” though both an exaggeration in descriptive label. This was because, after a season of travel where I was pretty isolated from feedback and influence concerning my pregnancy, I now shared time with friends who were both curious and interested in our child-to-be. This brought with it resolution on feeling blessed to get the experience of motherhood, and fear of the demand of what that actually required.

Where our first guests had made the active decision that having children was not a course they would choose, the second were enjoying their second year of parenthood. Our so-called “child haters” highlighted all the things around us that would limit us, demand of us, exclude us from. Ironically, this solidified for me the feeling that I had done all that I wanted to do without children, and this next step in life would be my next big learning curve – my next big adventure. Now, they weren’t really child haters per say, and to be fair Dena and I spent a number of wonderful moments talking theoretically about children and motherhood. It was the first time for me in all of my pregnancy that I had an outlet for these discussions, and I cherished it. It was good female bonding as well as time spent thinking in depth about a world I know nothing about. Alice’s tunnel – I am about to tumble through! I truly hope it is a Wonderland.

Our second visitors, following directly after Nick and Dena, were our “child lovers,” who were bringing their two year old to give us a taste of reality! Now, I do have to say up front that Max is one of the easiest children I have met, adorable, well tempered and in what I am sure most would say, a parent’s dream child. So, with that stated, I still felt exhausted watching the amount of energy it took to occupy the curiosities of a toddler… and to keep up with such a bundle of energy. There were a few moments when I looked at John and said, “I can’t do this!! I’m exhausted already and we aren’t doing any of the work!!!” – that, after ranting at length on the blessing and beauty of parenthood a week prior!

The time spent with both couples was wonderful, parenthood apprehensions aside. We got to explore some new territory, find some of the most beautiful corals and bump through vibrant schools of reef fish, watch sunsets over some of the most glorious remote islands and skip along long stretches of white sand beaches without sight of another human form. And then we indulged in the complete opposite; body messages, coconut cocktails, infinity pools, fresh seafood, entertainment that required nothing of us than to kick back and enjoy. It was the perfect conclusion to our cruising season– spent with good friends surrounded by luxury and indulgence.

John and I felt that we had experienced a wonderful mix during our time in the South Pacific islands. We were now prepared to return Atea to home base and welcome the next phase of our relationship, and our next adventure.

One last story before I conclude Atea’s 2011 South Pacific voyage. I stayed in Fiji four days after Atea’s departure for New Zealand so that I could help provision and prepare Atea for the delivery trip. We had accepted a request by a German backpacker to join on the passage south, and so a few days before departure we brought Toby onboard as crew for the delivery. That way John had a second onboard to help with shifts, Toby had a ride south, and I could escape passage duty guilt-free knowing that John had a second pair of hands. As we said our farewells, John’s last words to me were: “Stay safe while I am gone – and make sure you make it to the airport on time!”

Well, I’ve never been one to follow someone else’s command.

After their departure, I checked into a seaside hotel and prepared to relax and pamper myself through my last few days in Fiji. I looked quite the sight. A solo pregnant woman didn’t quite fit the ideal picture. I am sure the rumours amongst the staff and guests circulated – an abandoned woman left in her final stages of pregnancy. How sad. The poor woman. How miserable she must feel….

One day passed and I defaulted on my promise to John. “Stay safe.” Right. In the late afternoon I took a walk around the neighbourhood to get a bit of exercise and was attacked by a stray dog. Charged by three, one decided to break the “stand-off” and lunged for my ankle, puncturing my skin with his four canines. My first was response was incredulous – “what do you think you are doing, you stupid dog?!?!” That quickly turned to panic as the dog made a second lunge. This time I screamed at the top of my lungs, “GET YOUR F@#*ING DOG INDOORS!” F@#*ING F@#* F@#* F@#*!!!

The shriek brought neigbhours to my rescue. As they scattered the mangy mob I hobbled down the street to safety, tucking into a bush to inspect my wounds. I had blood pouring from ankle to foot and throbbing pain mixed with panic – rabies? Just what could this mean at this stage in my pregnancy? Was the baby okay – forget the foot!

I spent several hours at the hospital, a jab of tetanus in my butt and medications to stop infection. To pull some good from the event, I got a pregnancy checkup confirming all was well with bubs in the belly.

I chose to fly two weeks after the airlines cut off for pregnant women. The rules dictated that I would not be permitted to fly five weeks before my due date; I’d book for three weeks prior. Hell, what fun is life if you don’t push the limits?! Regardless, I felt I was running a stroke of bad luck and I didn’t want that to carry through to check in. So, I told my story to the doctor and with a little nudge and wink, asked if she could write me a “doctor’s note.” Now, in New Zealand or America I wouldn’t dare suggest it with fear of lawsuits and legal ethics binding doctors tight. But hey, this was the islands – and rules tend to be a little more negotiable. We plotted an acceptable term, and I walked out with a punctured butt, a bandaged foot, and a doc’s note that said that I was 32 weeks pregnant. I received my “get out jail free” card, and I was getting on that flight to New Zealand!!

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Skippers Diary – Fiji to NZ Delivery

Day 1 – Just outside Musket Reefs, Log reading 20 miles, distance to run 1250 miles, wind SSE 15 knots

After all the hassle of custom’s and provisioning and fueling and checking weather and preparing crew and filling water, of packing up the boat and stacking the dinghy on deck and all the other preps that go into a departure, it is always such a relief when the ship’s bow is heading for open ocean and all you have to do is sail. I feel this every time I put to sea, but today is tinged with a new feeling; sadness and emptiness.  Kia is not here and I miss her already.  Despite all the logic about her not being onboard and going home safely by plane, it just doesn’t feel right to not have her with me. I feel like a part of me is missing.

The exit from the Fiji waters was pleasant. We sailed out of a narrow channel about an hour before dusk, and the boat was going well under full sail and a 15 knot beam reach. There was a kiter enjoying the evening, in the same spot Nick and I were kiting only 10 days ago, so it’s a fond farewall to Fiji as we head out into the open ocean and the first night.

Days 2 and 3 – first 300 miles, distance to run 950 miles, wind SSE 20 knots

I’m writing this later since I was in no state for diarising over the first 48 hours. Both Toby and I have been seasick, eating nothing and very low energy.  Watch handovers have been literally a time for handing the bucket over and exchanging little else. It wasn’t until the end of Day 3 that either of us were able to keep any food down, but noodle soup and crackers and water are gradually becoming attractive and staying down where they should.

Atea, however has been sailing strongly – the winds that have made for rough seas and clenched stomachs have given the boat a good boost. We’ve been sailing at 6 to 7 knots under staysail and reefed main only, with 20 to 25 knot winds fine on the port bow.

More worrisome, however, is that water now appearing in the fresh fuel that we purchased just before leaving. This has to be removed at the filters and I’ve spent a few unpleasant moments tending to this in a hot heaving engine room. After the saga of water contamination on the trip up to Tonga I’m damned if we’re going to have the same problem here. We will just keep on bleeding the water out at the filter until it runs clear.

I miss Kia and wish she was here to look after me.

Day 4 – Log reading 380 miles, distance to run 900 miles, wind variable

The day started well, with a 3 sail beam reach and Atea charging along at over 7 knots across seas that seem to be easing. We’ve both had Weetbix for breakfast, and my body is feeling fitter and stronger again.

Mid-morning – as the wind continued to rise I’ve had to take in the genoa since I’m worried about the state of the roller bearings. Our speed has dropped from over 8 knots to 6.5, but although this is slower, it’s safer and ocean passages are about getting boat and crew there in one piece.  This is why I’ve never been interested in ocean racing –  it seems like two incompatible activities to me.

PM – the good moring has turned to a very poor PM.  The wind gradually moved further and further to the south so that we have been left with a SW 25 to contend with. I expected some bad winds, but not so soon and not so far north. Real slow. Auckland seems a very long way away at 3 knots.

Day 5 – Log reading 450 miles,  900 miles to run, wind SW 10 knots

Midnight – ugh, more fuel problems and the filters were full of water when I checked. We’ve had the motor on to try to keep some progress against these F**%^ king headwinds. I hate these situations.  It teaches you patience, and some might say its beneficial. I bet none of those people have been here crashing up and down for 24 hours.

I’m very tired since I have to check the fuel filters every hour. Every now and then I find one of the little notes Kia left around the boat. Such sweet little comments, they make my heart leap and I smile. But like an addict without my drugs I’m soon wanting the real thing. I don’t wish she was here with me; I wish we were both somewhere else.

Both headfurlers seem to be u/s.  We had to unroll the staysail manually and I’m worried about how to manage those sails when we get into the strong winds that we will surely encounter near NZ. On a sailboat there are so many little things to keep track of,  how much simpler would it be if someone else was looking after all these items? Next trip I’m going to be at 40,000 ft with a Gin and Tonic.

Day 6 – Log reading 550 miles, distance to run – 650, wind variable

We spoke with NZ radio last night to pass over a position report and listen for any updated weather comments. They told us that favourable winds were coming and we’ve just persevered all night as the headwinds gradually faded away. We’re left with a calm and have been motoring across it for 24 hours now.  I don’t mind burning up all that dodgy Fiji diesel and most of the water seems to have come out of it now.

With the calm has come sunshine and a general chance to catch up. We are half way, and have had coffee and omelette, a morning shower and a pleasurable day. I’ve rerun the main reefing lines so that we can put in the 3rd reef if needed in the strong winds that I know await us further south. It’s nice today and I love it out here.  Tempted to stop for a swim.  We needed this little break, even if it is ‘the calm before the storm.’

Day 7 – Log Reading 670 miles, distance to run – 520, wind Wly 20 knots

Well, it was the calm before the storm and we’ve been in some thick weather for 24 hours now. The wind started building from the NW by late PM, and we were moving along at a good speed by midnight. The wind has built further to 20-25 knots from the west and we reefed down to match, finally getting some good fast progress to the south and bringing Atea closer to loved ones.

At about 7AM today we passed through the front of this system – 30 knots of westerly winds and heavy rain; I was out to take in the 3rd reef and got soaked and cold. Tiring as this might be, it’s nothing compared to the task we had to do two hours later. I had to climb the mast – this is a dangerous task at sea in these conditions – but it had to be done since the running backstay had popped out and without it we cannot set our small headsail.

We hove-to so that the boat was as stable as possible and I put on my kitesurfing helmet and impact-vest on for bodily protection (designed to absorb shock and impact when  kiting stunts go wrong). If the climb went wrong and I was thown loose of the mast, the chance of injury would be very high and could end in cuts, bruises or worse.  In the end, the task went relatively easily. I reached the top without too much problem and refitted the stay whilst clinging on tightly as the mast gyrated wildly in the rough seas. With the mast now properly supported, we could set our small staysail which is our best heavy weather sail and roll up the genoa.

Rolling up the genoa was not so simple either. My earlier worries about the furler bearings were well founded,  and the furler is now u/s so I had to go to the end of the bowsprit to roll up the sail by hand. There will be no more use of this sail until we can repair the furler in Auckland. After having been to the top of the mast and out on the tip of the bowsprit,  it was only fitting that we should have one more drama at the other end of the boat. To finish off this morning with one final drama, the BBQ had been swept off by rough seas and was dragging along in our wake, held only by the gas hose. Luckily Toby was able to save it and lash it on board again.  Another job for the repair list when we get in – we can’t have a good Kiwi summer without a functioning BBQ.

All day we’ve been sailing along in sunshine but very strong westerly winds. Looking out to sea, one sees line after line of white rollers and heaving seas. Atea is riding well and we’re making good progress, but it’s a sobering sight to see such a vast ocean and endless array of breakers all coming our way. Toby is learning quickly and becoming a very helpful person to have on board, but he did admit to being a little scared last night and I can understand why. For my part I’m not scared, but I do feel vulnerable and it feels as if we’re being tested by the elements. I just want my boat to hold up without any more breakages, my body to keep warm, strong and uninjured, and my spirit to give me patience and courage to get through this.  I am very glad Kia is not here and also glad that I am getting closer to her with every mile.

Day 8 and 9 – Log reading 900 miles, distance remaining 400, wind Wly 25 knots

Groundhog days – still blowing 20-25 from the west, still bouncing our way south, still hanging on, doing our watches and passing the time. Changed the trash bin tray today – is that as exciting as its going to get?

I’ve been reporting to Russell Radio every evening with our position, course and speed.  They give us an expected weather for the next 24 hours, but today they also had a message from Kia.  She’s in Auckland (good news since we were worried about getting on the flight in her 9th month), and the ultrasound went well.  Bubba is healthy and, most importantly, “still in the oven.” Little titbits of news like this make me happy and sad at the same time. Good to hear from her, but it makes me want to be there rather than bouncing about out here.

The winds eased a little to the west which has made our­ progress southward pick up pace and we’re doing 5 to 6 knots straight down the line. It’s bouncy and cold but sunny. Things are getting quite wet below and we’ll need a good few drying days when we get in (Auckland in the spring?? Huh!!).

Toby has grown into this – he is standing a good watch, putting in and taking out reefs, and an asset to have on board. He says he loves the “great learning experience” but he keeps asking when we will see land; I think is as keen as I am to reach Auckland.

Day 10 – Log reading 1050, distance to go 180 miles, wind SW 20 knots

Major blow today – the engine has stopped. I’m 95% certain that it is the water in the fuel that has been nagging us since the last fuel fill. I could kill those Vuda point suppliers who gave us this dodgy diesel, such a waste of money – not to mention the extra stress and hassle. The only good news from our previous fuel woes (see “All for a $5 Washer”) is that I’ve learnt a lot about water in the fuel and I’m pretty sure that I can fix it and get Lucy running again. However, I need to have flat water before I’m going to get too far into that job. It is another unwanted complication for our last 24 hours.

The good news is that our progress is holding strong. We are now 45 miles east of North Cape and should make landfall on Cape Brett tonight. Then it’s just 120 miles down the coast to Auckland, things should be calmer as we get closer in so I’ll try to get the engine going then.

Soon I will be in cellphone range – can’t wait to ring her!

Day 11 – Log reading 1300, distance to run 50 miles, wind Wly 15 knots

This will be the last entry since we are only 2 hours out of Auckland.  We’ve been in the shelter of NZ for the last 24 hours, and man o’ man does it make a difference to the sea state and the level of comfort on board. Toby and I are washed, dressed in dry clothes and waiting to get ashore.

I had to empty about 100 litres of murky water out of the fuel tank and clean/prime all the filters, but the engine is running again. We hand-steered last night through a calm moonlit night down past the Northlandcoast – quiet, beautiful, but my god its cold. This morning the sail across Bream Bay was glorious with 15 knots wind on the beam, 3 sails set, and Atea romping home at top speed. Dolphins played under our bowsprit – the very same welcome that I had on my first entry to NZ, by sail, nearly 20 years ago. I love NZ, and returning to this country is always a pleasure, always makes me feel at home, and always makes me appreciate the beauty of life and realise how lucky I am.

Re-reading this log, it paints a fairly gloomy picture – seasickness, headwinds, cold, rain, boredom, frustration, mechanical failures, crashing waves, dampness, etc. In truth, when we realised that we’d have to return to NZ at the tail-end of winter, we expected a tough voyage and were even told “Don’t do it – leave the boat in Fiji and wait until December.” In recompense for the low moments are the times when you stand on the deck of your yacht approaching landfall, knowing that she and you have done everything that was asked for.  I’m bursting with pride at this tough little ship – she has taken a beating from the weather, but she has fought her way to safe harbour; she has protected her crew and delivered them safely to their loved ones without mishap. She deserves to rest in quiet harbour, to dry out, and enjoy a calm summer in preparation for next year’s adventure.

Who Pilots Ships

Who pilots ships knows all a man can know of beauty,

And his eyes may close in death and be content.

There is no wind to blow whiter than foam white wind,

And no winds breath sweeter than tropic wind.

There is no star that throbs with cold white fire as north stars do.

No golden moon path lovlier than the far path burning on the sea when the dusk is blue.

There is no rain so swift, as rain that flies in bright battalions with a storm begun

No song that shakes the heart, like amber cries of gulls with wings turned yellow in the sun.

Who pilots ships, when life’s last heart beat stop, has drained the cup of beauty drop by drop.