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Coming Back from Teci
by David Perillo

To satisfy your need for more tales of open boat adventure I will tell of an episode in Fiji that I have the most vivid memories of (apart from a night with these couple of young, ooops perhaps that one will have to wait).

Anyway, once when I was in Fiji, I was coming back from Teci (pronounced Teethee) village on a trade wind so powerful it snapped my new mizzen like a twig (which of course is exactly what it was, only a pretty stout one). Well how did this happen, what was it like and how scary is it on a flat-ish bottom Navigator, (John Welsford's design) three up in 45- 50+ knots of wind.

Well, let me tell you. It was like this.

The day started pretty ominously as I looked out to windward from Teci's rocky coast at what was a solid 45 knot trade howling on shore. Huge seas (and I mean HUGE) pounded the reef and I thought I'm sure as hell glad I didn't come around to the windward side with the boat (which was ashore over at the lee of the Island) as was suggested by a couple of locals a few days prior, and in calmer conditions.

My cousin Jim was with me and he'd come on a bit of a jaunt leaving his wife back at the Blue Lagoon. We were already well over due back there so the decision to go was pretty final. Once at the boat and out of the blasting wind I could see that white caps were visible not far off shore.

Imagine that for a minute. The wind blowing offshore and you can see plainly how rough it is already. The one factor on our side was the direction, slight aft of beam for the 25 mile run back to our base at Tavewa.

Several Fijians who had come to see us off bolstered my confidence with tales of the many copra boats lost when the trades got up to these strengths but they assured me that the boats were usually severely overloaded and not to worry, God will protect me.

I looked at my little boat and the extra crew, cousin Jim, no great sailor but a bit of a madman, Watisoni a young Fijian guy who'd come with us to see his family and m'self. There was all the gear we were carrying and of course the water. I'm not too sure what John Welsford had in mind when he designed the Navigator but I'm pretty sure this wasn't it.

Anyways we're soon all aboard and smoking along on jib and mizzen only. I have no idea how fast we are going but I would say well over ten knots. The gusts spiralling down off the hills of Yasawa Island were ludicrous, when they struck whole sheets of surface water were lifted up and hurled at us in a most unsavoury fashion and soon enough `CRACK' the mizzen snaps off at the deck. It's trailing in the water behind us and thankfully slowing us down a bit. (but not that much)

As we arrived at 'Sawa I Lau' Passage (in incredible time I might add) we were well out from the coast. The tide racing through there was causing a huge jumble of crazy water that had us screaming down faces of around four meters, steep, breaking and bloody frightening. I experimented with rolling the jib up to slow us down but because when rolled the jib belly then sits a bout half way up the forestay, it was way too high to be safe as the extra leverage was threatening to capsize the boat (make a note- a small storm jib would be a really good idea ), not to mention the other problem. The wind was pushing us over by getting under the hull when we got to the tops of the waves. Quite unnerving to say the least.

Capsize out here in these conditions meant only one of two things a: Death or b: (and the one I was thinking about a lot at that moment) was a slow and if lucky capsize recovery, by which stage we'd be so far off shore that tacking back to the Yasawas would have been totally out of the question so a fast run to Vanuatu was the only post capsize recovery option. Five hundred miles downwind of our present position. (I'll also mention there were only two life jackets aboard, but hey this is Fiji) (I'll also also mention forget about rescue this is Fiji)

However, mostly luck and the fact that it's a short passage had us to the lee of the next Island, Nacula. We coasted really close here all of us totally horrified at what we'd just been through. Hard ashore we motored along the rocks still assaulted by filthy gusts that came straight down on top of us which had us swerving all over the place all the way to the last bit. Nacula Passage.

The Fijians prediction that God would protect us materialised in the form of the geography of that island which made it possible to coast lightly to windward of our final destination Tavewa. Again a small passage but still a couple of miles it was a direct run downwind once we left the safety of the shoreline. With home in sight and still trailing the mizzen I let out the whole of the jib and with all three all three of us well astern we surfed, screaming with adrenalin right to the door step of Kingfisher Lodges sandy beach.

A team of about ten big Fijians rushed down and helped push Margret H (the boat) out of the surf and onto a grassy lawn and we felt like, well, we felt incredible. It was a day I'll never forget in a hurry that's for sure. A crowd gathered and shook all our hands and marvelled at the fact that we arrived on that day from anywhere and we stood under the palm trees with the wind wailing through the leaves in a kind of shell shocked state. Speechless but so very alive.

It felt really really really good.

We ordered a few beers and they were good too.

I slept well that night.

Dave Perillo

If you are considering a cruise to those sunny Isles be aware. The trade winds (which can be strong anyway) are compressed by the two main islands of Fiji, The Yasawas lie right in the middle, especially the northern islands and winds like these are pretty regular. Don't say I didn't warn you…