Search This Blog


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Wyndcutter's Harrowing Passage

Craig and Carol Fleetwood made a decision that changed their lives. When they sailed past us in the Savusavu, Fiji anchorage in October 2015, we were waving our hands and blowing kisses. "We'll see you down the road!" one of us said. "We'll probably turn around and see you tomorrow," Carol said in a stage whisper.

But the Fleetwoods kept going and made remarkable time to the Marquesas from Savusavu. We smiled when we found out they were sharing Thanksgiving dinner with mutual friends in Nuku Hiva. "Maybe that's what we should have done," either Jim or I said. The Fleetwoods made it look easy.
Carol and Craig at my BIG 50 birthday dinner (Sept. 2015)

Making decisions... it's one of the hardest things cruisers face when cruising.
What is the weather pattern?
Where do we want to end up and when?
How long do we have left on our Visa?
How much longer can the boat stay in the country?
Have we finished our priority repairs?

And once a decision has been made, you prepare:
Is there enough food for X days?
We carry X amount of fuel - we can use it here, here and here.
Here are our back-up supplies... just in case.
Back up charts?
If this happens, we have this...
If that happens, we have that...

But, in real life you can't plan for everything. When Craig and Carol decided to throw the dice and route their 48' Island Packet to Mexico from the Marquesas, they had no idea what they were gambling. When I read Carol's account on her blog, the hair on my neck stood on end.


Friday, January 29, 2016

How A Gum Boil Sent Us on Vacation

Jim and I make an effort to maintain our health while traveling by booking yearly wellness exams and dental cleanings for the family. Our last visit to the dentist was in Mexico before we sailed to the South Pacific in 2014. (Yeah, I know... time got away from us.) We recently began asking around in Fiji. We heard there was an awesome dentist in Labasa. We made appointments and hopped on a $10 van to the big city.

The van stops at roadside fruit and veggie stands on the way back to Savusavu
Dr. Kumar's friendly chair-side manner put us at ease immediately. Our routine consultation and cleaning took a couple hours for the three of us. Carolyne, for all her junk food sneaking and candy crams, came out with a glowing report. And Jim's severe overcrowding is good for one thing - cavity causing bacteria can't divide and conquer. He finished with zero cavities and a dismissive warning from Dr. Kumar about a small area on his gums. And then my turn...
Dr. Kumar is very popular with the cruisers
“Ah, you have a gum boil,” Dr. Kumar said.
“I've never heard of a gum boil,” I said. It sounded scary, but it was almost Christmas so I imagined a red striped, liqueur-filled candy instead. But when Dr. Kumar said, “This is a serious infection. It's in the bone,” my Sugar Plum vision crumbled. After cleaning my teeth AND filling a cavity, I was sent home with a baggie of antibiotics. (Yeah, I know. Gross.)
Jim in Dr. Kumar's office in Labasa
I returned to Dr. Kumar's office 3 weeks later. “The antibiotics didn't work,” he said and sent me to the hospital for an X-ray. When I returned to his office with my film, he shook his head. “I recommend you see my colleague in Suva,” Dr. Kumar said.
And that's how we went on vacation.
Because I knew you were dying to see inside me
(All costs are in U.S. dollars)
Jim: Ultra-sonic cleaning and exam - $28
Carolyne: exam - $2.50 (yep - that's right)
Meri: Ultra-sonic cleaning, exam, compound filling and antibiotics - $45
X-ray at hospital - $17
Second and third consultation without appointment - free
TOTAL: $92.50

Suva is on the big island and meant either we flew, we sailed our boat or we took the ferry over. We chose the ferry, which crosses during the nighttime and is much cheaper than flying. We booked a “sleeper” room, a dormitory-style room with separate bunks in air-conditioning. It's a far cry from what the airlines call “first class”, but beats the heck out of sleeping on mats on the hard floor in the heat... which is what the economy class does.
COST: $35 one-way per person on either Bligh or Grounder Shipping
Scenes in Suva

Gorgeous flowers at the market

Mother and daughter puletasi

We arrived in Suva early – before 8am. After coffee and breakfast, we asked a taxi driver to recommend a safe, economical hotel. He took us to South Seas Private Hotel.

We didn't have a reservation when we arrived at 9am, but were granted early check-in. Our room was spartan, but clean. The building was like a historic dormitory with polished wood floors and stair banisters. No A/C was in the room, but overhead fans were fine during summer in December. Nice, quiet grounds with tropical flora - Large community kitchen with ample seating and roomy fridge - Museum and Thurston Gardens next door.  It's within walking distance to downtown.
South Seas room

South Seas corridor
There are no electrical outlets in rooms to charge devices. None. However, you can sit in TV room and plug in if you have hours to keep an eye on your belongings. Also, we got locked INSIDE our room at 10:30pm when one of us got up to use the community bathroom. Half-an-hour later we'd jimmied the door with a pocket knife. The night manager said she had to get permission before allowing us into another room. We rigged the door that night so we could lock it, but get out if we needed. The manager on duty the next morning was upset the night manager hadn't moved us into another room when we told her of our "Hotel California" experience.
COST: $30 per night for all of us

In the window at Proud's Dept. Store

Suva locals
We moved the next day and ended up at Studio 6 Apartments in a “deluxe” accommodation. It's located on the other side of downtown from South Seas, but is within waking distance of downtown.

PROS: Air-conditioning! Kitchenette! Color TV! Refrigerator!
Good location and nice staff. Early check-ins allowed.

CONS: Floors were dirty; we wore flip flops inside. Hot water in shower is fickle. The breaker blows if you plug in too many things into the outlets.

COST: $75 per night for all of us
(Carolyne and I returned to Suva for my follow-up appointment a month later. We shared a double bed at Studio 6 Apartments in a smaller room with a fridge, A/C and TV. Cost was $42.)

Japanese lunch at Daikoku Restaurant - we highly recommend it!
Not all of Fiji is Third World

Dancing and music at the Fiji Museum

Carolyne in the large exhibit room

Carolyne's photo of our exquisite lunch 

Ladies selling flowers at the market in Suva

Dr. Singh has a lovely office downtown. His modern equipment and cutting edge technology made my diagnosis easy. I had a dead tooth (now an infected dead tooth) and I needed a root canal. I had a couple X-rays taken in his office and he scheduled the procedure immediately. He was so gentle I almost fell asleep in the chair - and that's without anesthesia. No joke.

COST: CT Scan $85.... Root Canal, follow-up and all other X-rays $300.

Contact info for Dr. Singh at Stewart Street Dental in Suva

Monday, January 4, 2016

Don't Rock the Boat? But KARMA Did!

Three days after 50+ knot winds blew s/v KARMA from her mooring, the full keel boat looked completely destitute. The beached vessel lay on her port side in the mangroves just above a shelf of dangerous reef. Our hearts sank just looking at her.

High tide in Savusavu, Fiji
Over the three days, discussion took place among cruisers and the marinas over KARMA's demise and what should be done - or not done. Luckily, the owner returned to Savusavu to survey the damage and make a decision himself and in the flesh.

Hotspur's Jim  and Lonnie from s/v GOOD NEWS doing something helpful

Jim preparing to add weight to the halyard while the dinghies rev their engines
At high tide on January 3rd, a handful of cruisers met at KARMA in their dinghies. Jim almost didn't go because - really - what good is our little 2HP outboard?? But he thought he might be some help land side, so he ran out to lend a hand. We've been in rescue situations before where too many "helpers" turned a stressful situation into pure chaos. But you never know when one extra hand makes all the difference, so Jim and Carolyne putt-putted over to see if they could offer theirs.

Jim helped fill a cluster of jerry cans with water and tied them to a halyard. When the weight wasn't enough, Jim and a couple other guys jumped on top of the cans and held fast, rocking the boat to help loosen her.
Discussing strategies
The pitiful power the dinghies put out was laughable. It was like a sled team of snails pulling an elephant's dead weight. Alastair on m/v CONTRABAND (a friend we met in Pago Pago) brought his trawler nearby and, without even gunning the engine, was able to heave KARMA into deep water and off the reef. Joy! KARMA's hull was solid and there were no leaks.

CONTRABAND can't take the snails any longer and comes to lend some horsepower

A few days later, Mark (KARMA's owner) was still cleaning up the topsy-turvy mess inside his vessel, but he said it didn't look like anything was missing. That's always a big fear when a boat runs aground and the owner is away - that thieves will help themselves to the spoils.

Waiting for CONTRABAND to hook up
The "rescue" was not well planned and it was on a Sunday to boot when all the government offices and businesses were closed. Mark had just arrived and had jet lag. There was not a lot of time due to the high tide arriving just an hour or so after Mark. It's a miracle that the rescue was successful and that KARMA is safe!

Jim watching KARMA motor away
Carolyne took video and pictures during the ordeal. Here's her video of KARMA's happy ending and her father performing halyard tricks.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Bringing in the New Year with 50+ Knots

Happy New Year! But if what we experienced New Year's Eve is foreshadowing 2016, we'd better grow a thicker skin.

We moved our boat a couple days before the blow to a large can mooring.
Even though we're told these moorings are "maintained", Jim dives on
them himself to check it out. He bought a huge shackle to replace this
sketchy one, but hadn't yet switched them out.

We did what we almost always do New Year's Eve. I was in bed by 10pm. There were several parties in town, but the 3 of us didn't feel like going out. The forecast had predicted rain and gallivanting about in wet weather was as good excuse as any to be recluse. In fairness, our solitary New Year's was planned a few days in advance.

We celebrated the day before New Year's Eve at The Captain's Table restaurant, where the poor waitress returned to tell us they were out of the New Zealand mussels we ordered, and would I like to wait until the lettuce was delivered to the restaurant for my Caesar Salad. No, I wouldn't. When my entree arrived, the Thai Chicken I ordered came as Thai Fish. Normally I would have said, "Hey, I didn't order this," but it was very clear to me that I could change the progression of the evening by just ordering another glass of wine. So, I ordered two glasses.
Christie sitting on the bow of SHEHERAZAD fending off HERITAGE

New Year's Eve aboard Hotspur was quiet- and then it wasn't. I was asleep when the wind kicked up nasty. I got up because Jim and Carolyne were scurrying around. The boat was shaking and shuddering. We clocked 40 knots on the anemometer. No biggie - we've seen that before. But many cruisers were off their boats at parties. There was no mention of a storm coming. Many cruisers were stranded on land unable to get back to their vessels.
Jim at SHEHERAZAD the morning after as HERITAGE swings her stern towards the bow.
Jim later tied the boogieing stern to a free mooring.
By 11:30 it was worse. Gusts over 50 knots were punching us. We couldn't see in front of the boat because of the pelting rain shooting sideways like spears. The boat moored to our port side called HERITAGE disappeared slowly up the creek. She was dragging her mooring. Friends of ours from Austria were on the radio and had broken free of their mooring and were tangled with another boat. We were too far away to assist them and our 2HP outboard was too wimpy for the weather.

Always a good idea when leaving your boat for extended periods of time
during hurricane/cyclone seasons to remove sails and canvas.
Jim put on his dive mask and went to the bow to drop our anchor as extra weight just in case we broke free and we had our engine running. At midnight, Jim and I were in the cockpit with the radar on to see if any loose boats were coming our way. The dinghy we'd raised was flailing and Carolyne went to the stern to secure it. It was mayhem. Just then, Copra Shed sent off a slew of fireworks in celebration of the New Year. Jim said, "You've got to be *^%%^# kidding me?" 
Sad news for KARMA

The owner has been contacted and a group of cruisers will try and re-float
the boat if there's no hull damage.

I woke up NYD with a monster sinus infection and fever. One boat ran aground on the reef and is still there this morning. I don't know the damage and the owner isn't here. Another boat left his sails up and left Fiji and his jib shredded to ribbons. HERITAGE had wandered up the creek and our friends on SHEHERAZAD had to fend her off their boat all night.

To our dear friend Umberto, if you're reading this your vessel
is in fine condition! Yay!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Feeling Depressed For the Holidays? Eat Cake! made a beautiful Depression Cake.
Click HERE to read all about it.
I'm feeling a little split this holiday season. A little Sybil-esque. We're spending this Thanksgiving and Christmas in Fiji aboard Hotspur, island hopping in the South Pacific. How in the world could that be depressing? Well, I'm afraid I've caught a touch of nostalgia.

Half of me misses the "Ho! Ho! Ho!" of Colorado.
Heaps of panoramic, powder-white snow,
crackling fireplace warming my backside.
Snuggled in my favorite Norwegian wool sweater with the pewter clasps while singing carols and baking old-fashioned goodies whipped up with my KitchenAid stand-up mixer and baked to Betty Crocker perfection in my convection oven.

The other half of me says, "Ha! Ha! Ha!"
I'm half-naked in the tropics; it's hotter than sin.
And, our refrigerator quit working a week ago and we had to toss out ruined produce.
Now I have...
the perfect excuse NOT to cook for the holidays!

Several variations of the Depression Cake can be found on
Click HERE to read all about them! Carrot, Spice, Kahlua, Lemon... yum!

But, the holidays remind me of the Texas women in my family -- maybe not so much the year that my mother fell on the Christmas tree trying to put the enormous Lone Star topper on it (my father laughed and she cried). But, the tradition of smells that emanated from the kitchens of my mother, grandmothers and aunties lives strong within me. Their smiles, their laughter, an occasional swear word whispered when an ingredient went AWOL or a dollop of something dropped from a spoon to the floor... nothing says "holiday" more to me than those flashbacks of my favorite southern busy-bodies swishing around the kitchen creating magic and memories. 

Really get in the "spirit" of the holidays and try this
gorgeous Bailey's Depression Cake. I found it on

I remember my grandmother telling stories about her "bringing up" in Paris,Texas during the Great Depression. How she carried her lunch to school wrapped in butcher paper, a skinny scrap of pork salt sandwiched between a slice of stale bread rubbed once with a butter knife coated in lard. How neighbors, not much better off, brought her family opossum stew as a charitable act. It tasted so greasy, she told me, they could barely eat it. The slim rations of food to feed six kids (would have been eight if two babies hadn't died) didn't stretch far. Then, Grandmother caught diphtheria and they didn't think she'd make it.

In memory of my grandmother and her siblings, now no more, I share a slice of history for anyone who's without. Whether you're:
without a doubt...
without a clue...
without 2 bills to rub together (modern-day inflation)...
or, in my case, without refrigeration... the Depression Cake (or War Cake) is super easy and surprisingly tasty. A Depression Cake doesn't require expensive or hard-to-get or refrigerated ingredients like eggs and butter and milk. Nowadays, the recipe has been upgraded to "Vegan Cake" or "Dairy-free Cake", but I still call it the Depression Cake. What's more, it's a great boat cake because you can mix it up in the same container you bake in. One less bowl to wash.

Depression Cake
1 ½ cups flour
3 Tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 Tablespoons oil
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350*. Grease an 8x8 square pan. Sift first five ingredients into the pan. (And this may be a meme, but I do it anyway because my great-great grandmother's biscuit recipe also calls for creating a "well") – make three indentations or “wells” with your fingers in the sifted ingredients, two smallish and the third larger. Pour the vanilla in one well, the vinegar in the other well and the oil in the largest well. Pour water over everything and mix up good (or well). Bake for 25-30 minutes, center rack.

There is a group of American cruisers meeting for an un-traditional Thanksgiving get-together tomorrow in Savusavu. I'll be bringing... cake.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Vinyl and canvas signs were waving "Happy Diwali" as early as September in Savusavu. Not having a clue about Diwali, we asked a few locals. We were told:
"It's a very big Indian party."
"You'll see lots of lights and fireworks. It's an Indian holiday."
"You'll have invitations to Indian homes and you'll be offered sweets."
"You will walk down the street and Indian people will hand you goodies."

As Diwali approached, painted pictures and colorful posters popped up in store windows. Ladies appeared days ahead of time wearing gauzy flowing sarees, chudidars and kurtis. Colors swirled. Fireworks went on sale for months ahead of time. Little clay pots (diyas) used as candle holders filled with coconut oil and small wicks sold by the pallets.

Diwali, we learned, is the Hindu New Year, the Festival of Light. We were invited to homes to share food and conversation. We were blessed with many treats, Indian cookies and candies. Before the vegetarian dishes, battle of the fireworks burst skyward in glitter explosions. If not to wrestle for the fanciest firework, then for the loudest boom.

Carolyne and I dressed up for the fun!