|The beautiful Toberua Island Resort|
|Not so easy to see the reef in low light...|
|Much better lighting for reef spotting!|
So with those words ringing often in our ears, we have proceeded with the utmost caution while navigating here in Fiji and have often had to call on every ounce of experience we’ve had to get out of a hairy situation. But unfortunately, all the experience in the world can’t help you every time and so it was that just after 7am on August 12th, we found ourselves completely aground on a reef just after high tide. This is the story of one of our worst nightmares come true.
|The view at water level where we grounded.|
With the bottom of the boat banging against the hard ground, we immediately lowered the dinghy and did everything we could think of to kedge ourselves off, knowing that the tide was falling with every minute that passed. Unfortunately there were no other cruising boats nearby to help us. There was, however, the Toberua Island Resort, so when it became obvious that our dinghy and sails were not going to be enough, Brett left to enlist their help.
|Bella Vita on her side as the tide goes out.|
Working along side the local Fijians from the resort, we did what we could to shore Bella Vita up, but as the tide continued to drop and the weight of the boat continued to shift, it became clear that the materials wouldn’t be strong enough to support the full 36,000 pounds of the boats’ weight. We had already kedged two anchors perpendicular to the boat in an effort to relieve some of this weight – one mid-ship and one from the bow with a line to the stern, but even that was not enough. So as our dear Bella Vita continued to drop we shoved everything we could think of (extra sails, fenders, even the inflatable kayak) under the boat to keep her angle as high as possible. As the water dropped we prayed that our efforts would be enough.
|We used everything we could to prop|
her up, including fenders and our kayak.
Over the next six hours as the water started to rise, we did our best to determine a plan of action. The tide would not be high until 7:30 pm and it would be dark, so we needed to have every duck in a row. We ran long lines off the forward cleats for the two boats that would try to pull us off the reef and tried to secure everything left below for the return to upright. We tried to eat a meager meal I’d prepared (hard to fix food when the boat is 90 degrees to normal) but I couldn’t eat, sick with worry and thoughts about having just witnessed the super moon, which means the highest of tides is past and if we couldn’t get Bella off the reef that night….….our dream was over.
|This is a picture I'd hoped we'd never take.|
Toberua Island Resort brought out two of their strongest boats armed with an amazing 500 horsepower each – which we tied to our two forward cleats, meant to handle extreme pressure loads. In complete darkness I pulled in on our anchor while Brett pushed our motor to its max RPMs and the two resort boats pulled with all their strength. After approximately 15 minutes we had turned around but were still not off the reef. The feeling of dread was overpowering as I contemplated the very real possibility that we would not be able to get off. It was horrible to feel so powerless to save our home.
|Almost all the way down now.|
I can honestly say I’ve never experienced anything so emotionally and physically draining. I imagine it's a little like watching you house burn down. Knowing that everything you have may be lost. Knowing that the dream we worked for and saved so long to live could be over that quickly. But through some sort of miracle, and through the help of some incredible people, our boat (and dream) remains intact with amazingly little damage - just some scratches on the keel and worn off bottom paint. We are very, very lucky and owe the local Fijians and the resort managers a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
|We can't thank Max and Sandy enough.|
|Who knew we could seat 7!!? :)|
As with all bad days, I never for a minute forgot (and reminded myself often throughout the long hours) that no matter what happened, the important thing was that Brett and I were safe, unharmed and we still had each other, even if we lost the boat AND the dream. At the end of the day, the love we share and the life we’ve built together is the only thing that really matters. However I am definitely relieved that our dream has not come to an end and we will be able to continue our explorations and travel.
|From the left - Mata, Charles and Saula - Vinaka (thank you)!|
While it’s often difficult not to dwell on the things we did wrong that allowed this to happen, Charles’ attitude and the giving nature of the people we've met because of it have gone a long way towards turning a horrible situation into something much more meaningful. We would like to take this opportunity to thank them all again for their help and support and to highly recommend that if you ever come to Fiji, you include the Toberua Island Resort and their amazing staff as a part of your visit. They are a truly wonderful group of people.
Vinaka Vakalevu TBR!
Thank you very much TBR!