Safely in Fiji, our brains started the process of selectively erasing memories from the bad passage between New Zealand to Fiji while enhancing and embellishing all the good memories.
Part of the post-passage healing process is for cruisers to congregate together at the local bar after a passage to compare “top this” dramatic tales. Over a few frosty cold Fiji Bitter beers, we listened to stories of broken gear, expensive repairs, lost boats, at-sea rescues, seasickness, crew falling-outs, injuries, and storm tactics employed. With only a few bruises and minor boat repairs, we conclude “hey, our passage was not bad”. This is the first sign of cruiser “selective memory”: purge the bad memories, while retaining only the good memories.
The saddest story of the lot involved a French single-hander who lost the steering and rudder on his boat. Friends, Tom and Barb on Gosi, heard his mayday after attempts at calling mayday for five days without a response. Gosi turned around, sailed ten miles back, and affected an at-sea rescue of Pascal as his home-built trimaran drifted off to the southeast. Gosi’s new crew member was a delight, Fijian officials were very understanding of his plight. Alas, Pascal’s cruising ended with a flight back to Paris.
Okay, now for our passage story. On Duncan’s watch from 2am to 5am on the second night. After the sliver of a fingernail moon set, he spent an hour looking up at the cloud of stars illuminating the entire dome of sky. Through binoculars, dense clouds of stars both within and outside the Milky Way galaxy filled the lens. Exploring the mysterious “dark spot” in the Milky Way revealed it was not dark at all. Rather, a few billion stars appeared. Checking out the M42 and M43 Nebula in Orion’s sword displayed a few more galaxy-swirls well beyond the Milky Way.
Listening to Coldplay or Dave Mathews made the experience more intense, spiritual, and surreal. Being near exhaustion enhanced these emotions. Life was good. Passages are good. The sailing life is great. Tropics here we come.
On the morning of day three, the revised weather report from Commander’s weather. The low over New Zealand has expanded and deepened. It will reach another 5 degrees further north. Whisper will not escape its grasp in time. The weather-window 50/50 gamble did not pay off. The forecast predicted three days of gale force winds with gusts to 50 knots, huge seas, and rough going.
On the morning of day four at 10 am, Robin woke Duncan from his morning nap. “I think we have a squall coming on radar and you may want to come take a look”. I came into the cockpit ill prepared for the first 50 knot gust – then a second and a third.
The front accompanying the low arrived with a bang. Whisper, with only a storm staysail and triple reefed main heeled 30+ degrees with rail down on a beam reach and sustained winds of 35-45 knots. The seas built quickly to 15 to 20 feet with the boat was running nearly out of control at 8 to 10 knots. Attempting to steer Whisper downwind with the autopilot only resulted in rounding up as our beloved autopilot kept steering too far down.
Oh, the wind direction kept shifting, too. With that, Duncan decided to hand steer. Big mistake. While looking down and futzing with the auto-pilot to start hand steering, Robin yelled “watch the jibe!”
The triple-reefed main slammed to port and hit the wire running backstay. It felt like the rig was going to come down on our heads. The impact sent a few tiny (to be identified later) bits of Whisper flying into the air. Starting the engine, we got some control of the helm and resumed steering through the huge seas.
The damage assessment showed the boom vang no longer controlling the boom. In the one minute the boom sat against the wire running backstay, the boomed gouged a groove into the anodizing. Yes Scott Easom, all Spectra running backstays are a good idea. The cam cleat on the traveler broke broke and our sailing-egos displayed severe bruising.
After about six hours of cautious sailing, the boat remained stable, heading north, and doing fine. We revises our normal watch schedule for the next two days of continued gale force winds, squalls, thunderstorms, and slamming, boarding waves. We stood watch from below. With the timer set for 30 minutes, we alternately checked the radar, looked around us (not that we could see anything), ensured the wind did not shift and repeated this for the next couple days. Fun-factor was low. Duncan muttered “passages suck”, “I hate passages” or, “this is my last passage” at least 20 times during these three days.
On day two of the gale, videos show evidence of the now calming seas – 20 foot elevator waves riding up under Whisper’s stern, then dropping us back 20 feet down into the next trough. Although the waves look big on a tiny video screen, it’s nothing like being there. Videos of the event may help curtail the selective memory process.
Four days later, we arrived at Musket Cove. Musket Cove is a cruiser-friendly resort in the Mamanuca group of the Fiji islands off Nadi near the southwest corner of the big island of Viti Levu. We’ve had great, clear, sunny, warm, tropical weather. 85-degree air and clear 83-degree water. Warm breeze and rain showers freshened the air and washed the salt off Whisper. Perfect.
Over the last four days here we caught up with some friends and made some new ones. We have lounged in the shallows at a nearby sandbar in crystal-clear water, snorkeled an incredible reef nearby, sat by the pool reading our books, got a quick review of the 40+ dive sites in the area, Robin had an 80 minute massage yesterday, we’ve had two beach barbecues, drinks a few nights at the Island Bar, enjoyed the local’s Fijian dance, and I will probably go windsurfing tomorrow.
After a seven day passage with only three of those days worth forgetting, we called Fiji our new “home” for five months. The average traveler might only stay two weeks after two days of plane travel at each end. Maybe sailing a small boat across oceans is a good way to travel?
See how cruiser selective memory works? We rationalize that the pain of riding out a gale may be worth the destination pay-off. If it didn’t, who would ever choose to cross large oceans on small boats “for fun”!
Fiji kept us busy for four months. Initially worried about following the Fijian cultural protocols, being well informed and prepared made us prepared to be polite. We drank kava, met with village chiefs and wore proper attire.
Fish and coral consumed us for over 20 dives and lots of snorkeling which only scratched the surface of the underwater paradise.
Fijians are wonderful, friendly, resourceful and welcoming. We visited with families who invited us into their homes, cooked for us and drank kava with us. Schools put on performances. Chiefs shared their villages. Fijian women paddled by Whisper to give us gifts of taro and other vegetables.
Both land and sea are beautiful and bountiful.
Thank you Fiji and Fijians for a wonderful four months!