To satisfy your need for more tales of open boat adventure
I will tell of an episode in Fiji that I have the most vivid
memories of (apart from a night with these couple of young,
ooops perhaps that one will have to wait).
Anyway, once when I was in Fiji, I was coming back from Teci
(pronounced Teethee) village on a trade wind so powerful it
snapped my new mizzen like a twig (which of course is exactly
what it was, only a pretty stout one). Well how did this happen,
what was it like and how scary is it on a flat-ish bottom Navigator,
(John Welsford's design) three up in 45- 50+ knots of wind.
Well, let me tell you. It was like this.
The day started pretty ominously as I looked out to windward
from Teci's rocky coast at what was a solid 45 knot trade howling
on shore. Huge seas (and I mean HUGE) pounded the reef and I
thought I'm sure as hell glad I didn't come around to the windward
side with the boat (which was ashore over at the lee of the
Island) as was suggested by a couple of locals a few days prior,
and in calmer conditions.
My cousin Jim was with me and he'd come on a bit of a jaunt
leaving his wife back at the Blue Lagoon. We were already well
over due back there so the decision to go was pretty final.
Once at the boat and out of the blasting wind I could see that
white caps were visible not far off shore.
Imagine that for a minute. The wind blowing offshore and you
can see plainly how rough it is already. The one factor on our
side was the direction, slight aft of beam for the 25 mile run
back to our base at Tavewa.
Several Fijians who had come to see us off bolstered my confidence
with tales of the many copra boats lost when the trades got
up to these strengths but they assured me that the boats were
usually severely overloaded and not to worry, God will protect
I looked at my little boat and the extra crew, cousin Jim,
no great sailor but a bit of a madman, Watisoni a young Fijian
guy who'd come with us to see his family and m'self. There was
all the gear we were carrying and of course the water. I'm not
too sure what John
Welsford had in mind when he designed the Navigator
but I'm pretty sure this wasn't it.
Anyways we're soon all aboard and smoking along on jib and
mizzen only. I have no idea how fast we are going but I would
say well over ten knots. The gusts spiralling down off the hills
of Yasawa Island were ludicrous, when they struck whole sheets
of surface water were lifted up and hurled at us in a most unsavoury
fashion and soon enough `CRACK' the mizzen snaps off at the
deck. It's trailing in the water behind us and thankfully slowing
us down a bit. (but not that much)
we arrived at 'Sawa I Lau' Passage (in incredible time I might
add) we were well out from the coast. The tide racing through
there was causing a huge jumble of crazy water that had us screaming
down faces of around four meters, steep, breaking and bloody
frightening. I experimented with rolling the jib up to slow
us down but because when rolled the jib belly then sits a bout
half way up the forestay, it was way too high to be safe as
the extra leverage was threatening to capsize the boat (make
a note- a small storm jib would be a really good idea ), not
to mention the other problem. The wind was pushing us over by
getting under the hull when we got to the tops of the waves.
Quite unnerving to say the least.
Capsize out here in these conditions meant only one of two
things a: Death or b: (and the one I was thinking about a lot
at that moment) was a slow and if lucky capsize recovery, by
which stage we'd be so far off shore that tacking back to the
Yasawas would have been totally out of the question so a fast
run to Vanuatu was the only post capsize recovery option. Five
hundred miles downwind of our present position. (I'll also mention
there were only two life jackets aboard, but hey this is Fiji)
(I'll also also mention forget about rescue this is Fiji)
However, mostly luck and the fact that it's a short passage
had us to the lee of the next Island, Nacula. We coasted really
close here all of us totally horrified at what we'd just been
through. Hard ashore we motored along the rocks still assaulted
by filthy gusts that came straight down on top of us which had
us swerving all over the place all the way to the last bit.
The Fijians prediction that God would protect us materialised
in the form of the geography of that island which made it possible
to coast lightly to windward of our final destination Tavewa.
Again a small passage but still a couple of miles it was a direct
run downwind once we left the safety of the shoreline. With
home in sight and still trailing the mizzen I let out the whole
of the jib and with all three all three of us well astern we
surfed, screaming with adrenalin right to the door step of Kingfisher
Lodges sandy beach.
A team of about ten big Fijians rushed down and helped push
Margret H (the boat) out of the surf and onto a grassy lawn
and we felt like, well, we felt incredible. It was a day I'll
never forget in a hurry that's for sure. A crowd gathered and
shook all our hands and marvelled at the fact that we arrived
on that day from anywhere and we stood under the palm trees
with the wind wailing through the leaves in a kind of shell
shocked state. Speechless but so very alive.
It felt really really really good.
We ordered a few beers and they were good too.
I slept well that night.
If you are considering a cruise to those sunny Isles be aware.
The trade winds (which can be strong anyway) are compressed
by the two main islands of Fiji, The Yasawas lie right in the
middle, especially the northern islands and winds like these
are pretty regular. Don't say I didn't warn you…