Friday 2nd 2011

I was sitting on deck the today, enjoying the sun and just looking around contemplating. The thought struck me that that we're here in Tonga, enjoying another island, but that “Ri-Ri”, the yacht that got washed onto the reef in Palmerston, wouldn't make it here. My legs are healing up and almost all the scars have gone, save for one that I got when I slipped down between the bow and the pulpit onboard “Ri-Ri” when a larger than average wave knocked us. I guess the physical scars are healing, but I can still remember vividly the feeling of being inside “Ri-Ri” as she was breaking up on the reef. I'd been wondering how Frank and Gail were going, when I received an email from Gail.

I read the email and tears welled up in my eyes. I know I'm a guy and I'm not meant to cry, but I did, I cried again thinking of all the things Frank had gone through. After all his tragedy and loss, that he'd have to fight to get his few remaining possessions off the island left me shocked. How could people be so cruel. But, and there's a big BUT here – as Gail rightly pointed out, in any place on earth, there's good and bad people, and most of the people on Palmerston were good. The number of people that helped when “Ri-Ri” was on the rocks was incredible. I saw school children helping pull lines, I saw women wading through the water to make human chains to ferry Frank and Gail's belongings ashore. They didn't just work for an hour or two, they worked all day and I never heard a word of complaint from anyone. Cruisers are amazing. The support and comraderie that rallied around this tragedy was inspirational. Cruisers, many of whom had never met Frank or Gail came to provide whatever assistance they could. After the tragedy, Frank and Gail were looked after by the island and were taken in like family.

Palmerston, for me, will always be bitter sweet. We met some wonderful people that we'll remember for a lifetime, but there'll always be a little black cloud in the back of my memory. Whenever I remember Palmerston, I'll always remember Frank and Gail and “Ri-Ri” and the tragedy there.

Sunday 4th 2011

Here we are, finally sailing after motoring in light winds for the last two days. We left Tonga last Thursday night in a rush. We'd originally planned to leave Friday lunchtime, but were told by some friends that the weather front that was scheduled to be coming in mid next week and bringing strong winds and large seas with it was coming sooner than expected and would be here Monday night. They say you should never have deadlines when sailing, however we're meeting our friends David and Michelle in Fiji on the 13th, so need to be there in time to collect them. The weather front looked like it'd shut us down for five to seven days, so we decided to grab the opportunity and leave quickly, lest we not make it to Fiji before our friends arrive.

The winds for the last couple of days have been too light to sail in, so we've been motor sailing, burning up our precious diesel. The winds are picking up now and we're sailing again which is nice.

Monday 5th September 2011

Before Sunday we had no winds, then Sunday they filled in with a vengence and we were wishing for a little less. Again it wasn't so much the wind that was making the trip uncomfortable but the seas. As soon as the wind came, the seas picked up to about 3m and were straight on the beam (the side). They were short and sharp and gave us no respite as they made us roll from side to side.

The day did have it's highlights though. We crossed the anti-meridian and sailed across the date line, crossing from today into tomorrow as we went from the western side of the world to the eastern side of the world … and back into our home quadrant (south and east). This is the final part of our sail and it's a milestone to be so close to home.

We made landfall in Suva, on the Fijian island of Viti Levu around 11:30pm after coming through the channel and into the quarantine zone. We radioed the Suva Port Control on VHF16 as we approached the harbour and were relieved to be given permission to enter through the pass and stop in the quarantine zone, a special area they've set aside for all the boats that haven't yet checked in. We were told that under no circumstances were we to disembark or to have any contact with anybody until after the officials had come and cleared us in. We were just happy to be in a sheltered bay and to get a good night's sleep!

Tuesday 6th September 2011

Check in traumas! I can't believe the running around. Fiji has got to be the hardest, most time consuming place we've ever been to when it comes to check in. I spent all day today checking in and I have about another day's worth of running around to do tomorrow. This is crazy! Worst of all, I have to do it all again every time I move from one port to another port. How crazy is that?

Thursday 8th September 2011

We put in some fuel and sailed an overnighter from Suva to Nadi on the south western coast of Viti Levu, where our friends David and Michelle are flying in to join us soon.

Saturday 10th September 2011

Work, Work Work … oh how I wish it would all end. We've got blistered hands from all the scrubbing and cleaning. We've been sorting, cleaning, tidying and polishing from dawn to dusk.

Monday 12th September 2011

Some days are good days and some days are sad days. Cruising is a great way to live, to spend time with the family and to explore the world However there's always costs with being so far from home. Today I received an email from my father that my Uncle Sep had passed away. We'd known it was going to happen for a while, but secretly I was holding out hope that perhaps he would still be alive when I returned so I could see him once more. I feel so far away from my family and from everything in my world back home in Australia. It's confusing some days because right now my world is here, on “Connect4” with my family, but I know there's a life going on in Adelaide that I used to be a part of, a world that's continuing even though I'm not there. I know there'll be mourning that I'm not a part of. I know there'll be planning and catching up with relatives that I'm not a part of. I know that the family will be rallying around my aunty and my cousins, but I'm not there to help.

Uncle Sep was the sailor in the family, he used to be in the navy and loved the sea. When I first showed him the photographs of “Connect4” when we were negotiating to buy her, I could see the twinkle in his eye and the excitement in his voice as I told him of our dreams to move aboard and sail to the great places of the world. I'd hoped that when I got back to Australia, perhaps I could have shown him aboard “Connect4” and let him watch the DVD's that we've made of our voyages so that he could have shared in our adventure. I'll never forget his words of encouragement for our wild dream, nor the excitement that was so vivid in his eyes as I told him of our dreams to sail.

Tuesday 13th September 2011

We woke up early and caught a taxi to the airport to meet our best friends David and Michelle, and their three children Jessica, Teagan and Tyson, who are flying in to spend a week with us. Cheryl's known Michelle since high school and our two families have been closest friends for many years. Our Friday night cards nights have been a remedy to a hard week for many years and just having each other in our lives gives us a chance to vent frustrations and share highlights with each other. We've sharing many memorable life experiences other over the years as we all grew up, then married, then had children so it's special that they get to see and to share in our adventure while we're on “Connect4”.

Of all the things we go without when cruising I'd have to say that missing our closest friends has been the biggest cost. Some friends help balance your life and make life all the richer for just being your friends. David and Michelle are all this and more, so to finally see them again after nearly 2 years apart is very very exciting.

After getting told off by airport security for waiting outside the visitor waiting zone a couple of times, our friends finally came through customs and we were all back together again. The three children looked a bit taller and talked a bit more, but after 10 minutes we'd forgotten that it had been almost 2 years since we'd last seen each other.

Back onboard “Connect4” we excitedly showed our new crew every corner of “Connect4” then made them comfy before heading off for a short sail to find a perfect deserted island for the night. Sadly, despite out best efforts in finding the perfect hideaway, we were foiled. Everywhere we went we either had bad holding, little shelter from the wind or both, so we ended up checking in to Musket Cove Marina for the night. I don't know about them, but after being away for so long, I just wanted to find somewhere to park the boat, feed and get the kids into bed and then spend some “adult” time catching up and hearing all that had happened since we'd last seen them. While we've been gone, David and Michelle moved to Hong Kong for work, so a lot has changed for them also.

Thursday 15th September 2011

Yesterday all nine of us sailed from Musket Cove up around Castaway Island and over to Honeymoon Island where we anchored and went ashore to explore and snorkel.

We had a nice 15-20 knots of wind off our beam and since we stayed inside the reef we had beautiful smooth water. Perfect conditions for our friends to get the feeling of sailing as we skimmed across the crystalline turquoise waters, weaving between the shoals. Sailing in perfect conditions with the sun shining and the wind warm on our skin we were all happy. We watched as we whizzed by the islands, fringed with rings of pristine golden sand; “Connect4” was bounding along at over 8 knots, no doubt enjoying herself as much as we were in these tropical waters.

We left Honeymoon island late in the afternoon and found a sheltered little bay off the corner of Castaway Island. We anchored in around 17m of water then launched the dinghy and went ashore to have a little bonfire and enjoy a quiet drink. We'd collected some coconuts on Honeymoon Island earlier, so we cut them open with the machete and made tropical drinks of fresh coconut milk, rum and grenadine as we watched the sun set and the kids roasted marshmallows over the fire. What a perfect way to end a perfect day with our best friends.

Back onboard “Connect4” we enjoyed a feast of spaghetti bolognese served in two rounds. With nine onboard at the moment meals from our little galley are a fairly hectic.

With dinner over, the kids fed and tucked into bed, the adults got some quality time chatting and catching up in the cockpit, as the lights of the tiny islands flickered and sparkled around us. Words can't describe how nice it was that night for the four of us to be back together again. Our friends have travelled half way around the world, just to see us. We're so blessed to have such great friends. It's so nice to be back together again.

Friday 16th September 2011

We sailed from Castaway Island back down to Musket Cove after a nice pizza lunch on the island. The sail back was uneventful, but as we were motoring in through the bay to the marina we received a PAN-PAN from another cruiser who had spotted a large (100') yacht dragging anchor in the small bay, right onto a reef in the gusty 20+ knot winds.

As many cruisers in little dinghies raced out to assist the yacht, we turned “Connect4” around and motored over to where the yacht was. By the time we got there, the yacht was sideways against the reef, with the wind blowing it onto the reef – not a great place to be in.

I quickly rigged up a line from the anchor snubber which I secured to the bow of “Connect4” then left coiled on the deck in case we were needed. With the wind blowing and the swell starting to bounce us around, I took the helm from Cheryl and she went on deck to spot. It was getting hard holding our position near the yacht.

We brought “Connect4” in as close to the stern of the yacht as we could, waiting to see if we could be of assistance. About this time, the crew who had all been onshore came racing out in a dinghy and scampered onboard. It's funny the images you remember. I can vividly remember seeing four or five of the crew frozen in mid air for a split second as they simultaneously leapt from the tender to the transom of the yacht, arms wide, faces alarmed; Lemmings following a lead, not sure if they would span the gap or fall in.

With the crew safely aboard “Antares III”, a brave cruiser in a small dingy approached the bow of “Connect4” and gave us a mooring line from the stricken yacht. Cheryl took the line and cleated it off and in return passed them the end of our mooring line we'd set up on deck.

With one line tied mid-ship on “Antares III” and the second line on the stern of the yacht, I tensioned the lines then powered “Connect4” in reverse; both engines at maximum, yelling their protest. I could feel the engines labouring and the whole of “Connect4” was shuddering against the strain of the massive yacht as we tried valiantly to pull it sideways off the reef.

Cheryl, David and Michelle were all on deck, keeping watch on the lines and the reef that we were getting dangerously close to; not wanting to give up but also not wanting to end up wrecked on a reef it was a fine line to walk. At one stage we drifted over some reef or rock and the depth sounder squealed an alarm of 1.5m at me. We draw 1.35m! The strain on the deck cleats was significant but “Connect4” held her own and performed valiantly against the wind and the swell and the weight of the massive yacht. With the engines still holding full power in reverse and the whole of “Connect4” reverberating with the exertion our little boat performed a miracle and her efforts slowly brought the stern of the yacht around into the wind, clear of the reef just enough for the crew to start the engines and reverse the yacht away from the reef. As soon as they were backing up and free of the reef, we released the lines and moved off to a safe distance. With our lines safely back on deck but our hearts still in our mouth, we slowly turned around and motored into the marina and tied up.

Once safely tied up on the dock, David and Michelle commented that we certainly were giving them an exciting introduction to sailing life.

The week in Musket Cove with David and Michelle went all too fast. David and Michelle stayed in the resort and we stayed onboard “Connect4” in the marina. We went to the beach together, we swam at the pool together, had BBQ's together and shared nearly all our meals together. The kids took turns having sleep overs in each other's rooms and the adults got together nearly every night to play cards, to talk and to just hang out. We swapped stories, we laughed, the girls got to exchange their daily quota of words as only girls can, while us boys just enjoyed some guy time together talking about “blokey” things, catching up on the last 18 months.

It's so nice being together again – some friends fit like an old pair of jeans and we're very blessed to have such trusting and special friends that we can share not only our highs with, but also our lows, and know that they'll love us no matter what.

The only thing we've decided, that perhaps we'll do next time we all catch up, is that Michelle's going into forced quarantine for a couple of weeks before we let her mix with the general population. When she arrived she brought with her the remnants of a cold from Hong Kong that she generously passed around between each of us. I guess that's the cost of being so close. It's probably not really Michelle's fault, but we've blamed her anyway.

Friday 23rd September 2011

With sad hearts, we loaded up all of David and Michelle's belongings and after a final swim in the pool, we cast off our lines and motored away from Musket Cove and back towards Denarau. We picked up our now familiar berth in the marina then David and I took a taxi ride to the hotel to drop off the bags and to set up the room for the children. Back at the marina we met with Cheryl's mum Virginia, who's joining us onboard “Connect4” for a couple of weeks holiday here and in Vanuatu.

We went out to dinner with David and Michelle at the Hard Rock Cafe – what a treat. I'd never been to a Hard Rock Cafe for a meal before and the food was exceptional. The best part was that David shouted the whole meal, what a great friend!

After dinner we said our goodbyes, but it wasn't so bad because David's project in Hong Kong is finishing up after Christmas, so they'll be moving back to Adelaide mid January, about the same time we will be, so we'll see each other again very soon.

This visit has been great because it just reinforced the fact that our friendship isn't diminished by time or distance - real friends are still there for you and you really do pick up from where you leave off.

We love you guys!!

Tuesday 27th September 2011

With our fuel tanks full and our water tanks at capacity, we dropped the mooring lines at Denarau and motored out through the narrow pass and headed out towards the south western entrance on our way down to Robinson Crusoe Island, a distance of about 25NM.

We raised sails since we had a nice northerly blowing, but no sooner had we cleared the reefs surrounding Viti Levu than the wind turned onto our nose and the black rain clouds came. We dropped sails as the wind increased and pretty soon we were motoring into 28knots of headwind as the sky turned black and we were engulfed in rain as we slowly made our way down the coast towards Robinson Crusoe Island.

We arrived and anchored in about 4m of water in the lee of the island then went ashore to have a look around and listen to some island music.

Wednesday 28th September 2011

We're getting closer to home now and I know that when I get home things are going to change. Some days I look forward to getting home and integrating back into life, while other days I wish that this sailing life could continue indefinitely. The closer we get to home, it's almost like the pull of life back in Adelaide is reaching out to grab us and suck us back into its web. I've been thinking about work and school for the kids and all the many things we'll need to do to reintegrate back into society. I'm not sure I want to, but I know I have to.

Over the last few weeks I've been working hard putting an inventory and description of “Conenct4” together so that I can get her advertised for sale. Ideally we'd love to have somebody, another family, who'll buy her from us when we arrive in Australia. That would be the best thing for us. We've mixed emotions about selling her. We know we can't afford to keep her once we move back home. But even if we could, I'm not sure we'd want to. I know that we'd only get to sail her perhaps one weekend a fortnight at best and the thought that she'd be sitting in some marina growing barnacles on her hulls and slowly deteriorating would break our hearts. She's meant to be sailed, she's meant to be in the blue water, taking her family from one exciting place to another, not to be tied to a dock somewhere. “Connect4” is a fantastic yacht and she's sailed us safely for almost 16,000NM. She's taken us to some amazing places and has given us amazing experiences. We've been to more places in the last 2 years than most people see in a lifetime. Travelling by yacht has given us an inroad to see the real side of the countries we've visited rather than the touristy sides. We've had an amazing experience and I'm so grateful for the opportunity.

In some ways I feel like we've seen so much of the world and had so many incredible experiences. In other ways though some of the things I've hoped for haven't happened as I'd hoped. It's hard to put into words what I feel now as I get closer to home and the reality is dawning that it's almost over. Two years away sounds like a dream come true. Sailing, for us, has been a fantastic way to see the world. It's taken us away from our daily rush of life, however I've realised that the choice to rush and fill every day is a choice we make, conscious or subconscious. We've slowed down since we've left Australia, but in some ways I feel like we're still rushing and filling our days. Perhaps there's never a real utopia. Even on a yacht, 2000NM from land, there's always meals to be made, schooling to teach, things to be repaired, jobs to be done. Many times we'll fill our days with lists of jobs just so we can leave the dock. Some days I think it might be easier being back at work.

One of my goals was that we'd be closer together as a family. Perhaps I'm not the best person to judge if our family is closer or not. I know we've been together through a lot over the last two years. Are we closer as a family? I think so, but perhaps not as close as I'd like. Perhaps I'm expecting utopia again? Perhaps we'll never be as close as I dream of. Some experiences in life get stored up and have more value later in life. Perhaps this trip is something that will have paybacks in years to come. Some days we have great adventures, some days it feels like all we do is correct our children. Perhaps that's just parenting.

As for Cheryl and I, I think we're definitely closer. We understand what makes each other tick better and we've learned how each of us behaves under pressure. Learning how each of us behaves under pressure and learning how to communicate through these times has been perhaps the biggest thing we've learned. My problem is that when I'm under pressure I become an engineer (yeah .. shock horror). My left brain kicks in and I become very fact and outcome driven. Emotion has no place. This works well for me when I'm engineering and I'm surrounded by other engineers who are also also outcome driven. As an Ambulance Officer, this worked very well for me because I had to detach myself from the scene in order to be able to get the best outcomes for my patient. If I'd allowed myself to get emotional with a patient, then I wouldn't have been able to handle the situation. When I'm in a stressful situation with Cheryl and “Connect4” my first response is to get matter of fact and forget the emotions. I become outcome driven and the only thing that matters is getting organisation, actions and outcomes in a timely manner. This doesn't work when Cheryl's involved - in fact, if I try it, I've learned that after the stressful situation has finished, there's another equally stressful situation awaiting me as I have to deal with Cheryl and make good for all the lack of emotional consideration I inflicted on her.

You see, Cheryl, despite being able to cope well in high pressure situations, performs a lot better when I can remember to insert a little emotional consideration into my left brain. This is something I've had to learn. Cheryl's also had to learn that when we're in a stressful situation, my matter-of-fact manner bears no personal reflection on how I'm feeling with her. If I check if she's done a job I asked her to do previously, it's only to ensure that it's done so I can check it off my list, not because I think she hasn't or that I don't trust her to do it.

We've both learned that we're different in many situations and that's ok. It's just that we're made up differently and that's something we can both respect each other for. That's the key. Learning to work with each other's differences. More than anything else on this trip, Cheryl and I have come, not only to realise that we're different, but to be able to quantify how and where we're different so that we can know how to handle each other and bring out the best in each other.

Thursday 29th September 2011

Robinson Crusoe Island was an amazingly friendly and happy little island. It felt more like a family than a resort and we loved the feel of place. We spent the day onshore using the island's facilities and getting involved in the activities. One of the islanders gave a talk about coconut palms and how they used to use absolutely every part of the coconut tree in their everyday life. Affectionately he called the coconut palm “The Tree of Life” because they use the coconut juice for drinking, they use the coconut milk and coconut cream for cooking and for washing their hair in, they use the coconut skin for eating, they burn the husks and the palms and various parts of the palm are used for building shelters.

Our guide asked if anyone wanted to climb a coconut tree to collect a coconut, half expecting nobody to offer. Nick, however, was the first one to respond and picking a much larger tree than any of us would have liked, he promptly climbed his way up to the top, resting a number of times to get his breath. We half hoped that Nick would get half way and decide he'd gone far enough, but he kept going, soundly defeating one other man who only made it half way up before retiring. Nick's coconut palm was about 25m high and Nick went right to the top, no safety line, nothing to catch his fall if he slipped. It was a nerve wracking time for both Cheryl and I. We hoped Nick would make it safely to the top, and safely back down again. But we worried for the consequences of a slip. Cheryl and I were both very relieved when Nick made it back down safely again.

Safely back on the ground, Nick's coconut juice never tasted so good.

Our guide told us stories about his descendants and explained that the early Fijians were in fact cannibals and although they are all Christians now, they ate the first few missionaries that came to the island. He told a funny story about how they used to eat everything, but struggled with the leather boots of the first missionaries as regardless of how many days they boiled them, they were still tough to chew.

In the evening we were invited to join a Kava ceremony. Kava is a traditional drink enjoyed by the locals most evenings. I'm not sure exactly what there is to enjoy about this brown peppery water though. Made from the roots of a local bush it has a mild narcotic effect and tends to make your tongue go numb. Truthfully, it looks and tastes pretty much like dirty sock water with a hint of pepper.

You know what's left in the sink after you've washed out your dirty socks? Right, next time you've got a sink full of dirty sock water, or for that matter what gets pumped into the sink from your washing machine after the wash cycle. Grab the pepper grinder from the kitchen, add a few turns of pepper to the mixture, stir thoroughly then drink to your heart's content. Mmmm .. now that's the nearest us white men can get to kava.

After the kava ceremony, we enjoyed a lovo (underground oven) feast and watched a traditional dance which included fire dancers, sword dancers and some very vigorous and beautiful dances put on by the staff. The men and the women dance with incredible enthusiasm and it was breathtaking to watch. The locals love dancing and the men and women all dance with amazing energy. To watch the locals dance really reaffirms the view that “White Men Can't Dance”

Although we would have loved to stay longer, we left Robinson Crusoe Island early Thursday morning and motor sailed the 34NM to Mana Island.

The weather was rainy and windy and on the nose again. There wasn't much to report about the sail except that it was more motoring than sailing, however one exciting highlight was a small water spout that came within 5m of the bow of “Connect4”.

I first spotted it as a dark vertical line in the clouds, rising like an ominous black shadow. I've never seen a water spout in real life, but just the shadow in the clouds made my spine tingle. It just looked wrong!

A couple of minutes later I saw a disturbance on the water and grabbing the binoculars I saw the water being swirled and thrown around like swarf off a drill. A minute or two later, it was clearly visible and was heading straight for “Connect4”. We altered course to let it pass in front of us, but no sooner had we changed course than it did too. We backed off the engines and the water spout passed just in front of our bow. It was only a small one, but it was spectacular none the less.

We arrived in Mana Island late afternoon and we went ashore and enjoyed the pool and local facilities.

We'd stayed in Mana Island some 9 years earlier, but we couldn't quite remember exactly where our bure was. We looked, but couldn't find it. Lots had changed, so perhaps our bure had been moved or demolished.