I am sitting on deck as I write this. It has been raining for three days and even though it is late afternoon, I can’t see past the end of our boat. Billowing dark clouds dance in the sky. The temperature has dropped to the low 70’s (cool by our standards) and white crested waves splash all around. I am tethered to the deck taking my “watch” while Craig gets some needed sleep. The weather forecast promised clear, sunny skies but once again, it was wrong. Although this ride has been uncomfortable, I know it could be much worse and thankful we made the choice to head southwest rather than north! It was a decision we did not agree on. I reluctantly “yielded” to the captain and regretfully prepared to sail to Hawaii. To help me commit, I purchased a large gift in Tahiti for one of our children (too large for carry-on). Still not convinced this was the right move, I did what I always do when in doubt…I prayed! Thankfully, my prayers were answered when circumstances out of our control changed that decision for us!
We are now headed to the Cook islands, with a stop in Tonga before we continue on to Fiji! The stormy weather around me pales to the two hurricanes that currently threaten Hawaii. Who would have known? Our research claimed no hurricanes have hit Hawaii (in August) in over 22 years! I am sure the 3 sailors who were plucked from a sinking boat near Hawaii this week were looking at the same statistics! I am thankful that Wind Cutter was steered out of harms way!
The story begins after leaving Cook’s Bay and sailing to the beautiful island of Huahine. This by far, is the most beautiful island we have encountered. A Leeward island, it was also discovered by Captain Cook in 1769 but reluctantly attached to France in 1888. It holds the tropical charm of the Marquesses (rich vegetation, and florals amidst luscious, green hills and valleys) as well as the lure of crystal clear, turquoise waters found in the Tuamotus. Waterfalls abound on the island and a fresh water stream boasts giant fresh water eels ( some up to 12 feel long)! White sand beaches combed fresh by the sea surround the island. Stone temples, and ancient marae dot the land and vanilla plantations abound. People here are the friendliest we have encountered and greet you with a kiss! We rented a car for several days to explore the island and made fabulous friends along the way.
One of the friends we met (we sat next to each other on a beach one day) happened to be retired doctors from the United States. Mark and Catrina have lived on Huahine (half the year) for 7 years. They have been “adopted” by the islanders who lovingly call them mama and papa. Mark is the island photographer and well loved by the locals. He is greeted by a hug and kiss where ever he goes and speaks fluent tahitian. He generously gave us a tour of beautiful Huahine and taught us about ancient traditions. He included us in a local village celebration where he was invited to take pictures. We attended a sacred ceremony as his special guests which included food and feast to welcome Hawaiian canoes that recently crossed the Pacific. We got to tour the canoes (they crossed without modern technology) and meet the local chief and mayor! Another day, he took us walking in a jungle to see ancient ceremonial sites, where human sacrifices were made. That day, while hiking deep in the woods, we came across a man collecting cocoanuts who was in need of exchanging American dollars for francs. We made the “banking transition” right there in the jungle using Mark’s excellent mastery of tahitian language! Afterwards, Mark and Catrina invited us to their lovely, beach front home, where more tahitian “family” arrived with fresh fish and delicious side dishes. We had a wonderful afternoon visiting with these beautiful people! To say we were “blessed” by this couple is putting it mildly and their influence on our lives will never be forgotten!
You are probably wondering, how this story ties into our decision to head southwest rather than north to Hawaii? Well, right around the time we met Mark and Catrina, we were preparing to head for Hawaii (with or without our main sail but that’s another story). Our developing friendship with the above mentioned couple, made me comfortable enough to mention a nagging, lower back ache that had been interfering with my sleep for several days. Mark quickly tapped on my back and diagnosed my pain as a possible kidney infection. He suggested I see a local doctor immediately and start taking the antibiotics I carried on board Wind Cutter. I started the medicine, but declined seeing the doctor. After a few days, when I didn’t improve, (I developed a slight fever), Mark urged me to get to a hospital for more tests and to take stronger antibiotics (which I had on board). He even paddled out to our boat to check on me. His concern made me take my pain seriously. Since the nearest hospital was across the bay on the island of Raiatea, we set sail the next day.
Mark’s diagnosis proved correct. The hospital in Raiatea diagnosed me with an infected kidney and a stone which they said was “too large to pass”. The hospital on the island was ill equipped to help me. As a matter of fact, the procedure I needed was not offered on any of the neighboring islands. I was told that I should have a “shunt” temporally installed to hold the stone in place and catch a flight to New Zealand or the USA to have it surgically removed. I was warned that it was dangerous to travel by boat or plane until I had a shunt in place and that it could be life threatening if I did. Unsatisfied, I saw another doctor who gave me the same diagnosis. Not comfortable having surgery in another country (the chickens running around the hallway made me nervous), I opted to stay on antibiotics and hope for a miracle. I was also worried that if I got on an airplane, Craig might attempt to solo Wind Cutter to Hawaii (our visa was due to expire in two weeks and we had to move our boat out of French Polynesia by then)!
Craig rented a car so that we could make daily trips to see a urologist and monitor the infected kidney and ‘stone’. A nurse friend (on another boat) was anchored nearby and checked on me often. I recruited family and friends to keep us in their prayers and waited. By the end of the week (a few days shy of our expired visa), the infection cleared, the pain subsided, and the stone began to shrink! Amazingly, it did not show up on a final ultrasound and I was “cleared” to travel as long as I stayed within a few miles of islands that had hospitals and airports (after all, it could be hiding in there the doc said) .
Thus, our decision to sail to Hawaii was bagged, and we began to head for Fiji (via islands with hospitals and airports). To date, I am off antibiotics and have zero pain!
Fiji was furthermore confirmed by our daughter’s same week announcement that she is engaged and planning on a honeymoon in Fiji and gee…would we like to show them around? Of coarse we would!! We plan to be in Fiji by September 1st and leave Wind Cutter in a hurricane shelter until after our daughter’s honeymoon in the Spring!
It should be noted that before we left Raitia, we took the time to tour the island by car. It too is a beautiful island, rich in tropical splendor and charm! Bougainvillea flowers (in a variety of colors) are abundant and waterfalls dot the hillside. White, sandy beaches dot the coastline. I regret we didn’t get to spend more time on this island as she is equally as beautiful as Huahine and Moorea!
Also, after Raitia, we made a quick stop on the neighboring island of Tahaa (Raitia and Tahaa share a lagoon) where we met a British couple sailing with their young family. This island has a small village and several good anchorage sites. Again, we didn’t take the time to explore this island but the snorkeling looked fantastic! Heeding doctors orders, we hurried along.
We ended our visit in French Polynesia in a timely manner on the island of Bora, Bora. This island, discovered by Captain Cook in 1769 is surrounded by motu islets and can be entered through the Teavanui Pass. While entering this Pass was easy, I must say that leaving Tapaa through the Paipai Pass (to get to Bora Bora) was not! With huge waves crashing over the bow, the narrow pass yielded a knee shaking experience! High winds and seas continued the entire way, giving my kidney a good shaking and surely breaking up any stones hiding there!
Once safely inside the reef on Bora, Bora, we carefully motored through the shallow waters (average 6 feet) on the northeast side where we “dropped the hook” in front of the famous Four Seasons Hotel. Traveling to this side of the island is well worth the risk (you have to dodge coral heads the entire way) but the view is spectacular! Deserted beaches line the numerous motu along this route and water visibility is incredible!
Good friends Guy and Patsy landed at the airport (build by Americans in 1941 during the war of the Pacific) on one of these isolated motu. They flew all the way from California to hand deliver our sail (they called it a rescue mission and insist that “someone had to do it!”) We had a marvelous time with our buddies; snorkeling with rays, exploring deserted atolls (our favorite was called ‘Tabu island’), and trying out great restaurants such as the famous “Bloody Mary’s” . One happy memory is dressing up for a night out at the Saint Regis. We moved our boat (only hitting sand once) to anchor near this classy hotel. The restaurant was only a short dinghy ride away. Of coarse it started to rain just as we left, and once docked, we giggled trying to dry ourselves off and look presentable at this lovely restaurant! We had a wonderful evening and although the rain continued for a few more days, the good times rolled. Great friends who think nothing of traveling thousands of miles to help! We are blessed, and can’t wait to see our buds again soon.
We left French Polynesia the day after Guy and Patsy headed home. First stop, Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. And although I have no more pain, I am keeping my promise to the Polynesian doctors in that we travel no more then 4-5 days and stay on islands with airports and hospitals. I can see the island in the distance now, but you will have to wait for my next blog to hear all about it!
We will rest on Rarotonga a few days and then head further south towards Fiji stopping along the way on the island of Niue (also equipped with an airport and hospital 🙂 Weather permitting, we plan to arrive in Fiji by September 1st where we will leave Wind Cutter for hurricane season.
So you see, our path is never “set”. This world of sailing is much about the unknown and very much an act of faith. It’s about being flexible; to change your mind based on an unseen force. It’s humbling really because never before have Craig and I not “had control”. But in this watery world, it’s much easier to let that go! We chose to go where others dare not go and hope beyond hope that our choices will be safe and sound. But truthfully, we are at the mercy of the sea, and a God who we believe directs our path. It would seem that He indeed turned us around this month. It’s knee bending and heart retching to consider where we might have been had that kidney not acted up (hurricanes continue to plummet Hawaii)!
I am still not convinced that I am “out of the woods” yet (or water – ha ha) but I do know God gave us a clear direction to follow! I am hopeful that if the problem is still there, it will abate until we get back to the good old USA (where there is a ‘no chicken sign’ outside of every emergency room!) I AM convinced that my infliction changed our path for a very good reason! What that means for our future, I do not know. But I do feel a peace about it and have no fear.
Jeremiah 29:ll “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not evil, to give you a future and a hope”.
PS A footnote to this story is that we recently learned of another sailor that entered that same hospital for minor surgery and ended up with a flesh eating disease (she is on her way back to the states)! Yikes!
FYI: Craig is hanging in there with his sore hip and jokes that when we return to the states, the two of us can share a hospital room! It stinks to grow older! (LOL!)
His father continues to improve in Oregon and we look forward to seeing him soon!