We arrived back in the USA a week ago, and just finished a fun family gathering at Yosemite National Park. We had some downtown last night to recover at “home” which is what we call Motel 6. When we don’t have time to camp, this is where we stay. After five months of living in hostel dorms or a camper van a Motel 6 is truly deluxe. It is cheap, the rooms are comfy (particularly the ones with the remodeled finishings), we enjoy the luxury of a cable TV and power outlets, and we know the tricks to stay safely while on the road (stay in a motel in a smaller town that is away from big city riff-raff, ask for a room near the check-in office, never leaves things in your car).
All along our plan was to stop at a tropical island (or two) on our way back to the USA from New Zealand. We thought about Hawaii, or perhaps someplace more exotic like the Marquesas or Fiji. Alison and I were both missing our dogs, so our time was limited. It would need to be a ten day trip at most. Yes, at this point 10 days really is a short amount of time. We realize that you need longer than you think to see places well.
As often has happened during our travels, our plans were to change. Jenna dropped me a note and asked if we would like to sail with their family to Fiji. Jenna, her husband Jamie and their two kids (Leo and Hazel) are on a multi-year around the world sailing journey. We had planned to meet them in New Zealand (where they were road tripping as well) but sailing to Fiji was a new idea. It would mean extending our travels by a few weeks. It took Alison and I all of five seconds to agree that this would be an epic way to close out this phase of our travels and promtply agreed to make the ocean crossing.
From Whangerei in the northern part of New Zealand, the journey was over a thousand miles and estimated to take a full week if we were lucky with weather. This stretch of ocean can be treacherous, with weather tough to predict beyond three days out. Jamie watched the weather reports like a hawk and set an April 30th departure.
We arrived in Whangerei a few days earlier and stayed on the boat while it was “on the hard,” a term referring to boats held up in a dry dock undergoing repairs. It was a weird sight to see a large boat hoisted up on land. We boarded via a ladder and everyone was eagerly awaiting Sophie’s slash into the water a few days later (Sophie is the name of the sailing vessel, a catamaran about 50ft long I think).
At the boat yard there were several other around the world sailing couples (including another family with two kids) getting work done on their boats. It seems that there is a decent community of people living this kind of lifestyle.
I won’t rehash the play-by-play of the entire journey, as Jenna and Jamie have full reports posted to their blog. Visit www.svsophie.com for details.
The ocean voyage was a new experience. It was very tough for me, despite the super calm seas we had. I was seasick about 80% of the time, and all but the first and last days of the voyage I kept an emergency “bucket” nearby in case my last meal decided to make a quick exit. I didn’t eat much for about five days as a result. Thank God Dan had some extra sea sickness medicine, in the form of a patch you wear for several days. That helped a little. Dan is another friend who flew in to help with the ocean crossing, and as we learned during the trip, a master fisherman who came upon great success in landing in landing a big one.
Neither of us are sailors. I have been on a sailboat five or six times, including a couple overnight journeys around Puget Sound. Alison has sailed even less. In all cases, we were very much passengers and didn’t really do anything productive on the boat aside perhaps making some drinks and vegan food for everyone. On rare occasions when sailing work was needed we just followed Jamie, Jenna or Dan’s orders.
For us, the coolest part of the journey was keeping night watch. Each night Alison and I would both keep separate watches on the bridge while everyone else slept. Alison had the Midnight – 2AM shift while I had the 2AM – 4AM shift. We basically sat there and looked at the stars while keeping an eye out for boats and heeding the three cardinal rules of sailing.
Rule #1 = don’t run over anything!
Rule #2 = don’t run into anything!
Rule #3 = don’t fall overboard!
We were always wearing life jackets and tethered to the boat while on the deck or bridge during the crossing.
They also had a few tablets with movies loaded on them. I went through the first two Lord of the Rings movies during my watches, while Alison plowed through several romantic comedies.
Despite me getting sick, it was worth it and Alison and I both would do an ocean crossing like this again if the opportunity arises. Knowing what I know now, I would bring appropriate medicine to help treat my nausea and some other foods, like soup, that I would have more success in keeping down.
We saw dolphins, night after night full of stars, and plenty of flying fish. We even bore witness to Dan and Jamie fighting (and catching) and massive (8-9ft long) striped marlin, of which every edible piece was saved and packed in the onboard freezer.
Most of the time we just saw endless stretches of deep blue sea.
After four days and nights, the weather started to change noticeably, and we packed away our warm New Zealand clothes and got excited for the tropics. After a week, we arrived in Savusavu, Fiji a town on Vuana Levu, a large island northeast of the big island where most people fly in/out of. After clearing customs and visiting town to gather more provisons (and fresh fruit and veggies from the daily farmers market), we were joined by, Ian and Becky, who flew in for a few weeks. We anchored off the shore near some corals gardens and a 5-star resort owned by the Cousteau Family. The next three days were full of lounging in the sun, swimming and paddle boarding.
Alison and I also did some decent cooking of vegan food on the boat. Phad Thai. Chana masala. Fajitas. Tofu and bok choy stri fry. Vietnamese spring roles. Pumkpin hummus. Vegan chocolate brownies (twice!). Jenna even made a really great Vegan chili that we had for a few nights.
We bid adieu to Sophie and our friends and boarded a small twin prop plane to Nadi, Fiji – en route to the Mamanuka and Yasawa island chain. It is from the Yasawas that I wrote the majority of this blog post, though I’m posting it from the USA (why rush?). It was a great spot to finish the first leg of our world travels.
Our next adventure will be a summer of galavanting around the USA and Canada visiting friends, family and the natural wonders of our National Parks, National Forests and of course, spending time with our dogs while on the road. That last part is the most important thing.
Thank Jenna and Jamie for the experience of a lifetime. We definitely plan to visit and sail with you again soon.