During the cyclone season, Frank & I flew back to Australia and spent over 4 months away from the yacht which we left moored in Vuda Point Marina in Fiji. It may seem a long time to twiddle thumbs on land, but we kept pretty busy.
We arrived home just in time to help Paul & Jenny finish their upstairs renovations, so we spent the first few days madly painting to be ready to celebrate Christmas with the family on their great new outdoor deck. We saw in the New Year and Gp (Grandpa’s) 88th birthday before driving down to NSW to catch up with Avery & Chantelle on their stunning 45 acre Misty Mountain homestead, where we fell in love with their rural paradise and helped with more painting & renovations. (see https://starsend2.com/2016/01/17/misty-mountain-magic/)
Having kept a close eye on the South Pacific weather patterns, we have watched TC Ula and Zena narrowly miss Fiji, but on February 20th we experienced the nail biting fury of Cat 5 Cyclone Winston as she bore down with 300+ km winds.
Whilst I spent the day enjoying Kylie’s baby shower in sunny Scarborough, Frank had flown over to Fiji the day before to be on hand at the marina.
Saturday night, he hunkered down on board the yacht and fended off a neighboring power boat that broke a rope and rammed into SE2 at the height of the storm in the middle of the night, as the yacht heeled over at 40 degrees. Frank & I were remarkably able to communicate all night via mobile, so we spoke regularly whilst I monitored the cyclone’s path online and Frank checked in during the longest, loudest & scariest night of his life.
Thankfully both Frank & the yacht survived unscathed bar one bent stanchion and some leaking from the driving rain unlike the terrible devastation that left only 1 out of 10 homes in its path still standing and many islands and villages wiped out.
He flew back to Brisbane a week later after completing a few minor repairs on SE2, and less than 24 hours later, Kylie went into early labour and little Arni Frank Keller was born on February 27th, a healthy placid natured baby brother to 5 year old Dante.
The following day, was Jenny’s baby shower full of friends, fun and laughter and I was on such a high being a proud new grandma.
When Arni was just 5 days old, Kylie & Michael being such laid back parents were happy to drive the 6 hours down to Misty Mountain with Dante & us for a whirlwind few days of quality family time on the farm with Avery & Channie. (see pictures on https://www.facebook.com/keller.nikki/media_set?set=a.10153979289741617.669666616&type=3)
On our way back to Brisbane, Frank & I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary with a relaxing few days in a quaint little flat perched precariously on the clifftop at Yamba, NSW.
A friend kindly offered for us to house sit her home in Scarborough whilst she was away traveling, so until we flew back to Fiji, Frank & I enjoyed the luxury of a pool plus all the comforts of home.
Frank booked a quick stay in hospital to fix some issues that had been an ongoing problem for a couple of years & had become worse since we had been home, so they needed to be addressed before we took off traveling again. We also made sure all other appointments like dental, optometrist etc were up to date and purchased enough medication to stock a small pharmacy on board in order to cope with all eventualities for the coming year.
When Frank drove me over to Paul & Jenny’s house, once Jenny’s labour pains had started in the early hours of April 11th, there was no time to lose. Jenny was bundled in the back of our car and we rushed her to the nearby hospital. Just 40 minutes later both Frank & I had the proud privilege of watching our new grandson Max Eric Keller being born. Jenny & Paul are devoted parents to the dear little man who can pull such expressive faces to display his feelings.
My father, also known as Gp (Grandpa), has renamed himself Ggp (GREAT grandpa), embracing his position as patriarch of our growing family and he just loves Dante, the new babies, plus his 3 furry grand-puppies in NSW!
He finds it hard being so isolated in his nursing home and is not very mobile anymore, but he has rediscovered his love of classical music by installing a new sound system and is busy blasting all the other residents with his vast library of CD’s long into the night.
He has also taken on the role of vocal advocate for all complaints of the ‘inmates’ (as he calls them in the nursing home), and proudly talks about the better quality of food he has instigated, and how he has become a ‘ leader’ for the first time in his life.
Frank & I have taught Ggp how to write emails and Skype on his iPad, which he manages with spasmodic success, but we have encouraged him to keep in regular communication. This will give him an interest and offer me the reassurance I need to know that all is well. He enjoys reading my blogs online (are you reading this one Gp?) and I make a big effort to keep in constant contact with him, even when we are out of internet range.
So mixed into these many weeks back in Brisbane, we have enjoyed copious social activities, been wined & dined by all & sundry, caught up with many friends, and sadly missed out seeing a number of others. We have had many family visits, and countless cuddles and kisses with our grandchildren. Frank & I even enjoyed babysitting 8week old Arni and Dante overnight whilst Michael & Kylie attended a wedding in town.
However time is a marching on. Despite heart wrenching last hugs with our loved ones, especially with Dante, 4 week old Max and 10 week old Arni, Frank & I knew it was time to resume our cruising lifestyle.
It is a good feeling knowing that our children have rich fulfilling lives of their own to lead, now busier and more complete than ever. We have cherished spending quality time with each of them and their partners and we look forward to many family holidays over the coming years both on the yacht and when we fly home to Australia from whichever location we decide to wait out the cyclone season between December and April.
It was a bit stressful trying to pack everything bar the kitchen sink into our extra boxes and bags we were taking back to Fiji.
The 25kilo Rocna Vulcan anchor was always going to be an unknown quantity, but Frank packaged it up well (taking the weight to almost 28 kilos) and we were happy to pay $120 overweight penalty instead of the $1,000 charges we had been quoted to freight it into Fiji.
Our excess boxes and baggage allowance were just within the allowed weight but we had hundreds of miscellaneous items and I dreaded being asked to unpack for inspection.
Among our baggage were generator spare parts, solar panel regulators, solar lights & mobile chargers, inverters, LED torches, electronic and electrical spare parts. We had a new masthead light, remote control anchor winch relay, 12 volt charger, fiberglass fabric & computer cables. There were multi rolls of masking tape & adhesive sealant, disposable face masks & overalls.
Aware that so many products are either outrageously expensive or impossible to find in Fiji, I had managed to find room for multiple packets of yogurt mix, sauces, cuppa soups, herbs, baking paper and zip lock bags. I had even bought a comprehensive cheese making kit so I can now produce many kilos of soft and hard cheeses.
I was so excited to finally bring back on board all my artists gear- hundreds of tubes of paints, mediums, brushes and crayons. Then I had replaced some worn out saucepans with new ones, plus a myriad of sewing needs for donating and continuous zipping & Velcro. Paul had given us a huge roll of magnificent lures he had set up on lines to entice all the big fish, and once caught, & for my birthday I had been given a extravagant set of knives in a sheath for filleting them up and providing us with many delectable fish feasts.
Frank had even bought me a new folding chair for using in the cockpit, so we didn’t fight anymore for the one that had come with the yacht.
As it was, Fiji customs checked over my comprehensive printed list of all our luggage contents and simply waved us through. We breathed a big sigh of relief.
Once again, we must acclimatize to the sultry, humid conditions and the relaxed laid back lifestyle the Fijians so enjoy.
When we arrived back at Stars End 2, there was only enough day left to lift the dinghy off the deck and place it in the water, so we could open hatches & air the boat from the pungent smell of mothballs and months of being closed up. We shifted enough gear from inside the yacht to make up our bed and be able to move in and out of the yacht unobstructed with all our gear that had been stored below decks.
The last couple of days, we have worked slowly and methodically through a daunting list of jobs to restore SE2 back to being a functional yacht. Frank concentrated on getting solar panels & life raft back on deck, lifting the dinghy up on the davits and setting up the boat whilst I have organized (my favorite word and pastime!) all the vacuum sealed bags of clothing, bedding & pantry goods. I am cleaning up & trying to de-clutter as I re establish my galley, and improve on storage space ideas from last year.
We have only used the fridge so far but it has cooled down well and Frank has been able to enjoy a well deserved icy beer at the end of each day’s hard work in sweltering conditions.
We had some refrigeration mechanics out to check out our system today and they feel confident that by flushing out the old oil and gas with high pressured nitrogen, and refilling with fresh refrigerant & oil they should be able to fix the humidity problem. We feel it is worth a go before reverting to plan B of an entirely new and costly 12 volt system.
So over the next few weeks, Frank & I will be busy preparing Stars End 2 for another season of cruising. Our good friend Dave Gooding will fly out to cruise with us through the Yasawa Islands and on to Vanua Levu, hopefully enjoying some good fishing en route and sharing some good sailing. At some stage we will decide on a plan as to where we will cruise next, so watch this space!