New Latitudes, New Attitudes!
Since leaving Bora Bora end of July, WindCutter has dropped her anchor in three countries in less than one month! Not bragging about that fact, because ‘in my book’, that means we went TOO fast and missed TOO much! But following “doctor’s orders”, we hurried along just in case Carol’s nasty health issue (mentioned in my last blog) resurfaced (which it didn’t). Here’s the scoop and where we’ve been:
We checked out of French Polynesian on a warm afternoon and set sail for Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. The week’s weather forecast called for clear, sunny skies with light winds and at first, this held true. Night fell, and a full moon lit the way as WindCutter happily clipped along (on a beam reach) averaging 7 knots! That night, I marveled at all the stars and the perfect sailing conditions and thanked God for being there! As Diane from “Sea Monkey” would say, “It was champagne sailing” (meaning, perfect brochure type sailing! ..We don’t drink and sail in case you are wondering)!
The near perfect sailing conditions continued for three days, but by day four, it all changed. Dark clouds blackened the sky, winds screamed (up to 35 kn), and high seas began breaking over the deck. We reefed the sails (down to a storm jib), and pulled out our foul weather gear (the temperature dropped to the low 70’s!). We tethered ourselves to the deck for the remainder of the trip (3 days) and didn’t get much sleep! By the time we pulled into Rarotonga, we were exhausted!
Roratonga is a beautiful place! Part of the Cooks, it is a self-governing island, comprised of mostly New Zealanders. It is a high island with no anchorages so we had to back WindCutter up to a sea wall, and dropped the anchor as we backed up! This was especially unsettling because we couldn’t get our anchor to ‘catch’ and there wasn’t much room for error! We were thankful to our friends from Sea Monkey (Diane and Gregg), Grasshopper (Cheri and Jeff) and Adamaster (Jesse and James) who assisted us (James used his dinghy to drop our anchor further out while the others grabbed lines to keep us off the cement wall!) Once settled, we hit the berth and fell into a deep sleep. We didn’t stir until the next day.
The next day, Rarotonga “officials’ came aboard. It was interesting, because to get to our boat, they had to climb down a very slippery, slanted ladder, board our dinghy, ride to our boat and climb out. Very friendly, one of them bragged that he had not fallen in the water since he started the job years ago when he was a “rookie”. That day, he fell in as he was leaving our boat (I tried not to laugh)!
It was still raining, so we put on raincoats (I pulled out the boots I had below) and went ashore. It happened to be market day. We had a blast walking around in the rain and mud (well, at least I did) sampling foods, and looking at all the beautiful art and craft displays. Although many of the people here appeared to have colds (even the officials that boarded our boat were coughing and sneezing), it didn’t stop them from being out and about!. This by far, was the best “market” place we have come across! They even had a stage for entertainment. Dancers dressed in coconut bras and grass skirts danced to the best drumming I have ever heard! Later that day, we found an awesome restaurant that had great food and internet! While Craig got online, I continued to explore the many shops!
We spent 5 days on this beautifully groomed island and had fun catching up with other sailors (mentioned above). Little ‘Rocket’ (from Adamaster) and I became great friends (she is one year old and has already crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific)! I got my “baby cuddles” and mom and dad got their hands free so they could do other things like, eat, and shop (lol)! The night before we left, we all went to dinner at the popular Trader Jacks and listened to a great band! I knew this might be the last time we saw each other (Adamaster and Grasshopper are heading to New Zealand) and it left me feeling rather nostalgic.. . Over the past few months, we have grown to be good friends and I’ve looked forward to seeing them in ports along the way! Jess and James aboard Adamaster, were the first cruisers we met (back in Mexico)! Hopefully, we will run into all these amazing couples again in the future (Fiji “next” season)?
We said goodbye to Rarotonga and headed towards Niue. Niue is a beautiful limestone plateau surrounded by gigantic cliffs and caves and a fringing reef. It is approachable only in good weather and a favorite of cruisers! Although the weather was still rainy when we left Rarotonga (with high winds), we were hopeful that it would settle down before we reached Niue (roughly a 5 day sail away).
You know, sailing is kind of like life. Things can be going really well and then suddenly the rug seems to be pulled out from under your feet! You know when you land on your rear that you will get back up; but sometimes you just want to roll over and stay “down” awhile.
Our sail to Niue and Tonga was like that! After leaving Rarotonga, the weather continued to build. What made matters worse is that I caught a cold that quickly settled into my lungs (man! give me a break…) which turned into a fever and the worst headache I have ever had! It landed me in bed for 3 days (thus, the rug was pulled!)
For the first time since leaving California to go sailing, I did not (could not) get up!!! This left Craig alone (most of the time…except when I set the timer and crawled out of bed long enough to see if he was awake and alive! When we started on this adventure, “just the two of us”, getting sick my worst fear! If one of us became sick, the other was alone. Not bad if the weather was good, but what if it was not good (like now)? Well, Craig clocked the winds around 40, and the high, confused seas (7 – 10 feet) rocked us from every angle. I was so “out of it” that one time I woke up on the floor and didn’t know how I got there (I think a wave knocked me out of bed?)! Craig managed to keep us afloat (yea Craig) but was exhausted beyond description by the time my fever broke (I started back on antibiotics that I had left over from the kidney infection and they worked!). I came back to life just in time to see Niue passing us in the distance! There was no way we could approach her in this weather!
We sailed on towards Tonga and crossed the international date line on the way (we lost a day somewhere out there!) They call Tonga, “The place where time begins…” (let’s hope so…both of us were feeling tired, discouraged and anxious)!
Five days later, We arrived on the island of Lifuka, Tonga. The winds were still howling (30 knotts) and the seas were still unstable but the view was spectacular! There are 61 islands here (in the Haapai group)..most are surrounded by azure blue water, with drop dead gorgeous white, sandy beaches. Seeing the swaying coconut palms lifted our spirits!
Lifuka is part of the Haapai group (Tonga’s central anchipelago). Feeling better, I made enchiladas and we celebrated ( being half way to Fiji) with a candlelight dinner. Then we once again fell into our berth and slept like babies (even though the boat still rocked from the raging seas outside)!
The next morning, we peeked outside. We were the only boat anchored here. The town was a short dinghy ride away. It had one cafe, one market, and no banks. Pigs roamed the streets like dogs. Most of the trees were broken off at the top, and several palms lined the beach.This island was recently devastated by Hurricane Ian and many of the buildings are now roofless. The meek surroundings didn’t seem to detour the friendly atmosphere! Tongans are happy people! Captain Cook stopped on this island in 1777 and named it “The Friendly Island”! I can see why! Everywhere you go you are greeted with a smile! I thought, “If they can be happy after loosing so much, we have nothing to complain about!”
The men and woman wear “tupenu”, an ankle length skirt with a highly decorated waistband known as a “kiekie”. Tongans are very conservative in their manner of dress. I pulled out a long black skirt and wrapped a sarong around it that I wore here. We were able to purchase fresh bread and found a cute little cafe (owned by a polish woman who spoke english) who had internet!
We were on this island 5 days. On the 3rd day, we discovered a small restaurant, lodge and dive shop run by an American. It was a short distance from our boat. There was a group of 8 people from all over the world visiting who had come to experience ‘diving with the whales’ (still legal in Tonga). You can bet I was “all over that” but because the weather was still bad, I didn’t get to go!
One day, while Craig and I sat on the lawn in front of Kevin’s restaurant, I heard music coming from down the beach. I followed the sound (about a mile away) collecting seashells as I walked (I was the only one on the beach). I discovered it was coming from a small church that sat alone next to the beach. I sat on the sand and marveled at the quality of singing! Tonga people can sing!!!
The sun finally came back out on the day we left to visit other islands in Tonga. Staying within the Ha’apai group we literally “ sailed with the whales”! I sat on the bow and watched them splash and play all around the boat! It appeared that we had these islands all to ourselves! Many of them looked unoccupied and were not even on our maps! We had to keep a close look out for reefs and rocks in this area so I spent much of my time on deck. We didn’t see another sailboat the entire time we were there (except for one cat that was passing the other way)! Most of our friends headed for the more popular islands on the north side of Tonga. I can only respond to our choice by saying, “ THIS is what we were looking for!” It’s exactly what you expect to see.. long white (and I mean white white) sandy beaches with NO ONE on them, swaying palm trees, dozens of islands with NO people surrounded by crystal clear aqua water! You need a boat to experience Tonga like this! And once again, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that we were here!
It was at this time that I wrote my blog, “You Know You are A Sailor When…” and followed it up with “You Know You Are Not a Sailor When…” Sailing is not all about “easy and beautiful” but when it is easy and beautiful, it makes up for the “ugly and hard” (at least for those of us who like to sail it does!) It’s more about “attitudes” than “latitudes”!
One island we anchored at that was especially beautiful did have a name, it was called “Uoleva Island”. We also had this island to ourselves. We anchored here for three days and explored it mostly by kayak. We did find an abandoned hut but no people anywhere.
One day, I took the kayak alone to shore (craig was working on the boat) and plopped myself down on the most perfect beach I’ve ever seen! I spent the morning relaxing, basking in the sun, and swimming in warm, clear (shark free) water. I decided at that moment that this island is my favorite destination so far! I knew we had to leave soon but I could have stayed here a month (or a lifetime)!
Craig pointed out that we were breaking our promise to the Dr. (about sticking to islands with airports and hospitals), so we needed to get going. We set sail for Fiji the next day. As we left this area, it was really hard to sail past all the other remote islands on the way, and I had to bite my tongue so I wouldn’t beg Craig to stop! I stayed on deck (on the bow) watching the islands, and the whales.. until I couldn’t see them any longer.
The sail to Fiji made up for all the horrible weather we had encountered since leaving Rarotonga! It was once again, “Champagne sailing”! Winds were 15 – 20 kts (perfect for Wind Cutter), seas were FLAT!! We ‘set’ the sails and left them alone almost the entire way, averaging 6-7 knots on a beam reach. The weather was sunny and warm again with a cool offshore breeze that kept us comfortable. At night, the moon cast a silvery glow on the water that seemed to point the way. I found myself again sitting on deck for hours at a time marveling at the beauty here. The seas had that milky substance that reminds me of pudding (only turquoise in color)! The sunsets and sunrises were some of the best I’ve seen ranging from brilliant pinks, to layers of gold, yellow and orange. It seemed God was blessing us one more time before we put WindCutter to bed for the hurricane season! .. This would be our last passage until springtime.
We dropped anchor in Fiji at the nearest port of call (near the wharf) so that we could clear customs quickly and head to our final destination (the marina) nearby. Unfortunately, they put us in quarantine for 3 days because of a dangerous flu virus that had broken out on the Cook and Tonga islands (no kidding?)
Our first morning in Fiji, we woke to a strange “smokey smell”. Popping my head up the hatch, I noticed black soot had covered the deck! On closer inspection, I noticed it had seeped inside (furniture and bedding was covered!) It didn’t take long to spot the culprit…we were anchored right next to a sugar cane mill. The soot came from a huge chimney that smoke was billowing out of ! Although officially “still in quarantine”, we called customs and asked permission to move closer to the marina where we had reservations. Permission granted, we cleaned up, moved, and reset the anchor just outside of a reef near the marina.
That night the winds picked up again. Around 3am, the anchor alarm went off! We were drifting! Craig quickly raised the anchor and motored around the bay until the sun came up (it was too dark to see well enough to re-anchor).The next morning, customs boarded our boat to see if anyone was sick (thank goodness I had recovered or we would still be anchored ..lol). Although we both had dark circles under our eyes, they declared us “healthy”. We were allowed to move WindCutter into the Marina, and for the first time in over 6 months, tied up to a dock.
We are now on the island of Viti Levu in Fiji where we are preparing WindCutter for the hurricane season (taking down the sails, pickling the water system, etc). We have hired someone to watch her while we head back to the United States to visit friends and family! We have a wedding to plan! Our daughter is getting married in a few months! They are planning a honeymoon in Fiji and island hopping with us is on the agenda! 🙂
I will miss WindCutter. She truly is our “home” and has been a good and faithful vessel to us! It has been a blessing we didn’t deserve. It has been a season full of surprises, most of them good!
I hope and pray that God will allow us to continue this adventure in a few months and that we will have many more island adventures and stories to tell. For now, I will say “Bula” (goodbye) and put this blog on “hold” until we sail again. To all of you who followed us, thank you! Especially to our families, who have never wavered from showing us love and support (we can’t wait to see you)!
Until later… Carol Fleetwood
Footnote: Future plans include: Sailing the fijian islands….Australia or New Zealand (?)