“GGGGGOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOODDDDDDDD MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRNING, SAAAVUSAVU, this is your morning net, hosted by Curley.” I am rustled awake by this blaring greeting over VHF 16, Andrew and Leslie are sipping their morning tea. They switch stations so we can hear the morning net with announcements, weather and other valuable local information. I give a huff.
Curley’s morning net gives me anxiety since the day I saw Curley’s sailboat tied up and nestled next to H/V Curley. “H/V Curley, H/V Curley…” I say aloud, “what does that mean?” I think for a minute, “Home Vessel! Oh, no!” The potted plants and patio set really should have given that away.
I listen to Curley’s weather report, and when he says “sunny, 15 - 20 knots from the East, Southeast” I start sailing on my mooring again. “Can we go? Can we go? Let’s go, we should go.”
Andrew and Leslie consult the charts. Everywhere is at least 50 miles from here, meaning at my five knot average it’s just a bit too far to do in one daylight period. So, we either have to wake up early and leave around 5:00 a.m. (again) or we have to leave at night to arrive the next morning. “What if we left this evening, sailed around Namena (in open water away from reefs) and over to the West Coast of Viti Levu?” Leslie asks. Our ten hour period of daylight can start as we enter the reefs by Viti Levu.
“Yeah!” I cheer.
Andrew thinks. “Yeah, that makes sense. Let’s do that.”
So, they head ashore to refill diesel tanks and take on a few more veggies for the trip. We say goodbye to our friends one more time, hoist Grin and lash him on deck as a mist of rain comes over the hilltops. Our friends at Waitui wave goodbye from balcony at the bar. I know Leslie is a little sad to leave. But she knows she is saddled with Andrew and me - two itchy footed/keeled travelers who can’t sit still.
Soon, we are out of the bay, sailing directly upwind again. The wind is heavy, the waves sharp, and we bounce around in the dark. The first leg of this trip is Eastward until we can turn the corner around Namena reef and wrap around into the Bligh Pass. For a few hours, the wind seems to be pushing us into Namena Reef, and it looks like we are going to run into it on the chart. As we get closer, though, the wind changes angles ever so slightly and Leslie adjusts my course a little bit at a time. We squeeze up-wind, pinching as tight as we can before we lose speed. Leslie is obsessing over the chart, checking every minute or two to see if our angle is good enough to get around Namena Reef.
I appreciate her concern. Fiji’s reefs are scare me, too. I prefer clear, open, blue water. In the dark, I can hear Leslie’s imagination working overtime. She pictures me hitting an uncharted reef no one knows about. “Pssst! Leslie! Stop!” I don’t want her giving the Universe any bright ideas.
Once we make the turn around Namena, we go (mostly) downwind. The wind is flukey and the waves are big. My sail collapses in a crumple, flops around restlessly, then suddenly inflates with a loud “POP.” My rigging and mast shake, I shudder all the way down to my keel. We let this happen a time or two, then we have to wake Andrew up. Andrew and Leslie go on deck in the dark, headlamps on, clamping their hands on my handrails one at a time. They are going to attach a pole from my mast outward 90 degrees to hold the loose end of the sail out. Andrew stands on top of the life raft, trying to attach the pole while I pitch and rock in the waves.
“Whoa! Whoa!” the pole just missing its mount by an inch or two as I swing. He fixes it while Leslie rides my bow up and down, attaching the other end to the sail’s sheet (rope). He goes back to bed. We sail an hour or two more, then the wind shifts. The pole isn’t good anymore. Leslie waits a while, but with the pole up, the sail drags us more downwind and off in a direction we aren’t supposed to go. She waits as long as she can, then she wakes Andrew up again. They wrestle the pole down, clipping it tightly into its spot on deck.
It’s shift change, anyway. So, sleepy Andrew takes over while Leslie shuffles off to bed. She gets the lucky sleep-shift. As the evening progresses, the wind and waves calm and the sail becomes more pleasant. I am rocking her like a baby. Andrew and I watch the phosphorescence together. When it rains, he goes below to change into his swimming suit. I like Andrew best; with Andrew, there is significantly less grousing.
By the next morning, we are sailing along Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, still in open water. The sky is cloudless, the waves are calm, and the morning sun is warm.
Andrew and Leslie are drinking tea and eating ginger snaps when a grey military ship approaches us from our starboard stern quarter. We eye it warily as a smaller boat is dropped from its side, into the water and catches up to us. It pulls alongside.
“Bulla!” One Fijian and four other men either from NZ, Australia or the US wave. “This is a customs inspection, may we come aboard?”
“Sure, no problem.” Captain Andrew tells them, but there is a problem. I am very wiggly. They instruct us to hold our course, swing back, then approach to allow the Fijian Officer to hop from the tender onto my deck. The waves aren’t huge, but we are down wind so we are rocking back and forth. “oooh, steady, steady…..” I tell myself, but it’s no use. The officer leans forward and reaches to grab a life line. At just the same time, I swing away from him and his hands flail in the air. His colleague grabs the back of his life vest just in time, and hauls him back toward the center of the tender before he end up in the drink. A few more tries, a try on my other side, and another try.
“Are you sure you don’t want us to alter course or take down sails?” Leslie asks, and they instruct us to sail more down wind. This time, the jump is successful. Now, we have a Fijian customs agent aboard. What should we do with him? Andrew takes him below where he inspects our boat documents, passports, and customs papers. I sail along, Leslie chats with the others in the tender, keeping me on track, and drinks tea. I try to eavesdrop — is everything okay? Yes. He finds all is in order, and we repeat the harrowing process of getting him back on the tender. It is not long until they are back at the big grey gun-boat being hoisted alongside. There is some excitement for our morning.
By the time we turn our attention back to the sea, we are at the entrance of the reef. We weave through the opening, around some shallow spots and into a bay surrounded by shimmering green hills, palm trees and idyllic Fijian grass huts. Not a bad spot for the night.