Our love affair with Fiji continued. We sailed to Vanuatu. We visited an active volcano.
SURF. Family surfs. This is how we roll: I’m in the water with fins pushing Willow onto waves. Dale is on a board with Hazel catching waves and standing her up on the front. We can’t wait for family surfs with four boards in the water.
Solo surfs. Dale and I share the dinghy. Dale has priority on the swell peaks, I have priority on the troughs. Life would be tough if we wanted the same waves.
THOUGHTFUL KINDNESS. One Saturday morning the family on VIVACE did the sweetest thing. It brings me joy, remembering. We met Robin, Miranda and their daughter in the Lau Group. We reunited a month later at Musket Cove. Our girls became lovely friends.
This particular day, Dale surfed Cloudbreak early. The girls and I enjoyed a lazy start, reading in bed. Around 8am we heard a knock on the hull. It was Robin asking if I wanted to surf Namotu Lefts. My heart jumped. I looked at Willow and Hazel ready to say: Wow thank you, but I’m on the girls today – when Robin said Miranda noticed our dinghy was gone, Miranda would watch the girls if I wanted to surf. I nearly cried at this thoughtful and generous offer. Entertaining three kids on a boat for a few hours is challenging. Miranda, you are a saint. Thank you. And an extra person joining a five mile dinghy ride into 10 knots of wind isn’t pleasant. Thank you Robin. I loved every second of this unexpected surf.
SIBLINGS. Willow and Hazel loved each other until they hated each other. The intensity of their relationship is fierce. This year they’ve spent an abnormal amount of time together. Dale and I pray this turns out for the best, but you never know with siblings. It can be a strange relationship, of love, friendship, memories, competition, resentment, and dogs, that do or do not shed hair.
LIFE. Bogan braids out.
Hazel is the only great-grandchild my dear ‘Little Nana’ didn’t meet. In Hazel I see Little Nana every day and I love this. Guess who in this photo is Little Nana…
Enjoying a large icy beverage with friends snuggling my big girl at sunset.
Coconut tree bruises.
Burning around in the dinghy at every opportunity. Willow knows she can’t do this when we’re in Australia.
Day trip to the reef with yachty friends.
Training a bar fly. Gosh.
MUMMYLAND MUSKET COVE. I met a sensational squadron of sailing mums at Musket Cove, inspiring women who love adventure, the ocean and spending time with their kids.
Sunsets on the sandbar.
MORE SURF. The girls had a sleepover.* Dale and I dined late and surfed early. This may sound perfect. It should have been. The night out was pleasant, the surf however… Dale paddled too far up the point – 150m from me – and stayed there, stubbornly, waiting for a wave that didn’t arrive, while I surfed with my random buddies. I might as well have surfed by myself, as I always do. Romance. Blah.
*Thank you Kirsten, you’re a star, another kindness we’ll always remember.
Skurfing to surfing.
Watching Daddy surf Cloudbreak.
GOODBYE FIJI. Cyclone season loomed*, our visas would soon expire, and a weather window to sail to Vanuatu presented.
*In the South Pacific, cyclone season officially begins 1 November and extends to 30 April. Cyclones are more likely in April than in November, and generally form between January and March. Outliers are possible.
We said a sad goodbye to Musket Cove. How adorable are these gorgeous friends?!
We sailed to Port Denarau to provision and check out of Fiji. Hazel was Hazel. Sigh.
But then the weather window didn’t look as promising.
We use two forecasting models – GFS (the American model) and ECMWF (the European model). Anecdotally, this year, we’ve found the European model most accurate for the South Pacific. There’s chatter the American model is less accurate because Trump has pulled funding, because he isn’t interested in the world or weather forecasting or data collection generally. But who’d believe this? He’s such a rad dude. The best. He makes America so darn great.
Anyway, the models continued to show completely different forecasts; this is not uncommon, but usually the forecasts match up as real time approaches. We refreshed our apps… Thursday morning? No. Maybe Thursday afternoon? No. Friday morning perhaps then? No. Friday afternoon? No. Boo.
My poor old mate at Customs was patient with the constant updates to our estimated time and date of departure.
The forecast winds were light, but the European model showed a wacky rain event following our track to Vanuatu, the entire way. The American model didn’t show this. We were confused.
Rain events usually bring strong variable winds, often up to 40 knots. We’re familiar with these conditions from sailing on ZINC near the equator in Asia for five years. It’s tough sailing, to be avoided if you can. In the South Pacific, we’re in the trade wind belt, generally blessed with constant trade winds from behind. There’s no reason to leave port in anything else.
We decided to wait.
We sailed back to Musket Cove, ate ice cream, and drank cocktails with friends.
Two days later, we returned to Port Denarau to leave on the next weather window, which lined up nicely. We stayed overnight in Denarau marina, beside the largest catamaran in the world.
Can you f*#king believe it? Seriously. This is obscene. MUSCAT 7 is a comfortable living space for a family with two young kids. And look at her! You can hardly see her. The competition in life should be who can live leanest and simplest. Herein lies the true challenge and joy. Anyone can do big and brash. It’s not cool. It’s laughable and sad. Blah.
PASSAGE: PORT DENARAU, FIJI TO PORT RESOLUTION, VANUATU.
It was as pleasant as a passage can be.
We offered Birds of Paradise to the ocean gods.
Hoisted the main sail (one reef).
Sent the screecher.
And advanced at 7 to 8 knots for 60 hours until we anchored in Vanuatu.
Now this is my kind of sailing: Set a straight line. Set the sails – not too fast, not too slow. And be done with it.
The passage was uneventful.
[To the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas]
Twelve simple meals.
Eleven night shifts.
Ten window wave slaps.
Nine Netflix binge shows.
Eight flying fish.
Seven birthday cake snakes.
Six fishing boats.
FIVE. EXERCISE. CIRCUITS.
Four spewy bellies.
Two rain patches.
And a year’s worth of screeeeeen time.
Year 3 poetry exercise; assisted, it was a family effort.
And, yes, homeschooling is worked into everything. We haven’t done much formal schooling this year and I’m terrified the girls are behind.
TANNA ISLAND, VANUATU. Port Resolution.
There’s a ‘yacht club’. We left a flag.
A cute village.
We boiled eggs.
Willow went offroad. I whinged. She said I taught her. Touche.
STERN ANCHOR. Port Resolution is not the best anchorage. The trade wind lays you parallel to the swell. When you’re parallel to swell, your boat rolls, it’s unpleasant, awful, maddening (depending on the number of nights you endure). One day when the trade had more south in it, we put out a stern anchor to hold our position, more perpendicular to the swell. It was our first go at a stern anchor. It worked. Who would have thought? Why didn’t we try this years ago? Fyi, the stern anchor sits under the white buoy in the photo below.
LIFE. We met a local guy on the beach. He invited us to his home for lunch. We hiked an hour there (and back).
Unfortunately, old mate was absent. His family welcomed us.
We ate on the floor of a small veranda next to a pot plant (both meanings…).
Hazel immediately complained of a sore stomach. It seemed too soon to be the food.
Hazel rarely complains of physical pain and when she does, we worry. She vomited on and off for days and then complained of a sore stomach for a couple of weeks. Google Doctor Jeunesse diagnosed appendicitis, which is my nightmare, living remotely with the girls. When we arrived back in Australia, long after Hazel had stopped complaining, I took her to the doctor, just to check. No appendicitis. Phew.
LENAKEL. We went to market, via the volcano.
The market was a rainbow of fruit and vegetables.
The girls didn’t notice the poor old chicken next to Hazel’s foot. They were too busy bickering about which pumpkin to purchase. Sigh.
Fiji followed us! Gee we miss Fijians, they are special people. We were standing under a tree, waiting for our transport (for three hours!?!?), when a group of Fijian missionaries found us. They asked where we’d come from and we interpreted this literally. “Um… Fiji…” Ha! We became part of their celebration.
CAVE FREEDIVING. The girls and I found this spot while snorkelling one day. I’m taking license describing the gap in the coral as a ‘cave’, but anyway…
I swam through the ‘cave’ both ways. Willow was keen. I followed her. No worries. Hazel of course wanted to do it too. Buzzing with confidence, the girls swam through over and over and over and over again.
We returned the next day with Dale and the GoPro.
Dale didn’t really believe the girls had done what they’d told him. He was amazed.
MT YASUR. We hiked the rim of an active volcano (Alert Level 2). Unbeknownst to us there had been a landslide on the rim the night before our visit. We were lucky. We won’t push our luck on an active volcano again. The White Island volcano tragedy in New Zealand feels horribly close to home. We will remember the unlucky ones when we look at our photos. May they rest in peace.
I loved The Testaments, which was a joy because I was worried it would disappoint, like Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s companion to To Kill a Mockingbird. How do you trump The Handmaid’s Tale, 15 years on, with the TV series and all the pressure? Anyway, the prose, the perspective, the tone, the voices. It was perfect. So good.
I didn’t love We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. I knew the spoiler. It wasn’t great and it happened too early. It failed to drive the narrative. It all seemed too unbelievable to engage.
Willow enjoyed these books. She said Kay Cottee is brave and funny, and is good at poetry. Willow enjoyed Kay’s poems in the book. Ice Monster, Willow highly recommends. She said it’s fascinating and has great information about history, you learn about Queen Victoria and mammoths and the past and how poor many people were. It has lots of interesting facts.