Sailing again!

Almost 4 weeks have passed since our accident. Christian’s as good as new and I’m now also making good progress after some set-backs. My ribs and lungs have healed well (I slept lying down in bed for the first time again!) and yesterday I got the results of the MRI scan of my elbow and the all-clear to start moving it gently!
So today we sailed Pitufa out of Suva harbour and to a nearby anchorage. Taking her in through the reef pass with a 1.5 m swell making her surf at times and breaking waves on both sides was quite an emotional challenge for me. Christian offered to take the wheel, but I knew I had to face my fears to get over the trauma. All went well and we went for a swim afterwards–I managed to climb the stern ladder without assistance :-)


Our Rapa Iti mooring project in Cruising World!

We installed 2 moorings for sailboats in the beautiful, but difficult anchorage in the bay of Rapa Iti (French Polynesia) together with the local community to protect the delicate staghorn coral. There are two strong, safe moorings for sailboats there now, so crews no longer have to risk their anchor and chain in the deep bay with plenty of coral heads.
The article can be read online for free!
If you make it there, please use the moorings and make sure to dive on them, check them and leave a donation for the community!


Slowed down

Yesterday we went to Suva to meet up with an NGO about the Tabu and to do some grocery shopping. We were quite astounded when strangers stopped us on the street to shake our hands and wish us well. Turns out we were on the cover of the Fiji Sun–we had given an interview the week before…
Despite all the cheering and good wishes, the mood is a bit gloomy on Pitufa. I still have no MRI results for my elbow and don’t know whether simply immobilising is the right course of action and my lungs and ribs are giving me trouble again. Bureaucratic hurdles for donations are slowing our x-ray project down, so we went to the ministry of Itaukei affairs yesterday and hope to make progress. The guidelines on applications for MAKING a donation are a dozen pages long and the first part is mainly threats what will happen if you don’t get it right ;-)


Matuku aid project – support is growing!

We are still determined to get some positive outcome for the islanders of Matuku from the boating accident we and Maikeli Tamani (the deceased headman) suffered there. 2 weeks have passed and we are making progress! We still have not decided on an x-ray machine, but several offers have come in. If you have ideas, contacts with medical equipment contacts, get in touch with us!
After comparing options it looks like goFundme will be the best platform to collect donations, we’ll keep you posted.
We are in touch with the doctor of Yaroi hospital (Matuku) and his superiors for practical issues (suitability of equipment, importing, etc.).
Tony Philp of Vuda Marina and Coprashed Marina has spontaneously offered to provide buoys, ground tackle and some fuel for the Tabu-fish protection zones in Matuku, thanks Tony!
John Hembrow, founder of Down under Ralley and their Ahoy Magazine has offered support, thanks John!
BoatingNZ magazine and Austrian Yachtrevue will run articles about the accident–thanks John and Judith!
Christian is almost back to full strength after some physio-therapy and injection into his inflamed shoulder, I’m still slowed down by my 5 broken ribs (healing nicely) and pneumothorax (almost gone according to the latest x-ray), but not being able to use my right arm due to a partial tear in the triceps tendon is more annoying than the other injuries as it keeps me from what I’m best at–writing.


Pitufa on the cover of Ahoy magazine!

John Hembrow of DownUnderRalley noticed our reports about our experience of spending the cyclone season cruising the Lau Group of Fiji. He got in touch with us to ask whether we wanted to contribute to the Ahoy online magazine and much to our surprise and delight, Pitufa’s on the cover of the current edition! The magazine’s free, so enjoy!


Aid for Matuku

Dear friends and followers of our blog,
we were overwhelmed by all the support and love you’ve sent us after our accident. Thank you all!
We nearly died two weeks ago, and we’re still aching, but we are recovering. Our friend Maikeli, the headman of Makadru, drowned and his death was a serious blow to the island community, who lost a generous, caring man who worked ambitiously for the island. We feel strongly that something positive should come out of the accident…

1. We went out with Maikeli to take pictures of the pass in order to include them in a government report to get funding for the installation of a tabu non-fishing area. To be honest, we kindled that idea with the headmen and chiefs of Matuku during our last visit–they still have areas with wonderful coral and a healthy fish population, but the signs of overfishing are already there. We convinced them that protecting early means securing the future of their subsistence fishing and were happy to see a wildfire of planned tabu areas going through all 7 villages. At the risk of sounding theatrical, Maikeli basically died for the idea of sustainable fishing for the future of the island–he wanted a night-time ban on spearfishing in a permanent tabu area and a smaller core zone with no spear-fishing at all. We would therefore like to organise funding to help them with the Tabu. It’s not much money probably, just to buy some buoys to mark it, a ceremony to start it off so people will know about it and respect it and fuel to do occasional patrols with a longboat around the island to ensure the night-time tabu is observed once installed.

2. We experienced how dreadful it feels to have seriuos injuries and no way to diagnose them. Matuku has a hospital, doctor and nurse, but no medical equipment apart from some hospital beds and a small pharmacy. Talking to the islanders we found many who had suffered fractures during a fall or similar accident, which went untreated and only were diagnosed too late when they eventually made it to Suva. E.g. our host Jiko, the chief of Lomati, broke his jaw once, survived drinking milk for a month and when he got to Suva finally (he was already to chew soft things at that point) the doctors told him they could either leave the jaw, or break and reset it–of course he took the first option… We are wondering whether we could get a used x-ray machine for the hospital to help the doc with diagnoses. This would serve not only Matuku, but also the neighbouring islands of Totoya and Moala. Dr. Etuwate was thrilled about our idea and has approached his superiors about it.

If you would like to help us organise these projects for Matuku,
if you would like to support the funding,
if you have contacts with companies of medical equipment,
if you know doctors/medical centres who might want to donate a used x-ray machine as they are upgrading their equipment,
please get in touch!

Europe is struggling to help the victims of the dreadful war in the Ukraine and with the aftermath of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, but hopefully we can still raise interest in the hardships and problems of the little islands of Fiji…

Here’s a picture of Maikeli and me working on the Tabu report just 2 days before the accident…



Interestingly enough my 5 broken ribs and damaged lung are hardly giving me trouble, but my right elbow kept swelling up, so I had an ultrasound done yesterday and they discovered a tear in the triceps tendon. Having my right arm immobilised slows me down much more than the ribs. Being single-handed sucks ashore, but much more aboard. I cannot close overhead hatches when it rains, open the heavy lid of the fridge, or even pump the toilet, so poor Christian has to constantly lend me a hand. Worst for me though is writing with 5 fingers only ;-)
Luckily I can do dishes (and I HATE doing that) and I managed to wipe the ceiling with vinegar as mold started growing after a rainy week…
Fortunately we’re on a good mooring in a calm spot.


Medical miracle me…

Yesterday I had a CT-Scan done and when I took the CD back to the Pacific Specialist Healthcare centre, experienced Dr. Delasau couldn’t believe the images. “Looking at the scans I would schedule you for immediate surgery, but looking at you walking and talking like you do, I just say, keep doing what you’ve been doing!”
Turns out I have 5 broken ribs (broken in a line down the back where the boat’s side must have hit me when it crashed down on me with the breaking wave) and a “substantial” pneumothorax. Listening to my description of the events, the surgeon concluded that the right side of my lung must have collapsed during/after the ordeal when I could only gasp in shallow breaths and had no air to talk or scream. Somehow my body has healed itself during the last week to a degree that still looks scary on the scan, but enables me already to move around and have my first session of physio-therapy at the hospital!
Dr. Jack, the cardiologist I had visited earlier this month for a check-up, also wanted to see the scan and called me a “very tough lady” and my recovery “a miracle”.
Christian’s injuries are not quite so severe, but his shoulders still hurt badly, he can hardly lift his arms. Having to care for me doesn’t help him resting and recovering… Thanks smurfy-darling!


Underway back to Suva

The passing cyclone left us with NW winds for the last few days, but today the wind swapped to the S and got light. We waited half a day for the seas to calm down, asked some local friends to help preparing Pitufa (dinghy up, poles out) and then headed out towards Suva. Birgit’s wedged in on the sofa and I’m single-handing an unfortunately rather rolly Pitufa as the seas are still quite rough.



Two days ago we nearly drowned. Our friend Maikeli (from the island of Matuku) did not make it. He was buried yesterday. We are sad, shocked and in pain. We did not go on a risky adventure, he just wanted us to take some underwater pictures of a reef pass put them in a report to the government about the installation of no-fishing Tabu zone there.

We were reluctant to go, the weather was overcast, we both had a cold, but we didn’t want to disappoint Maikeli and were eager to help with the good environmental intentions of our favourite island here in the Lau group. So we went down South to the Daku passage in his 24 ft open boat. Approaching the pass we saw that the swell was much higher than expected and we would never have taken our dinghy out in such conditions, but we thought Maikeli, who had spent all his 58 year on Matuku, knew how to judge the situation. The pass is short and exiting it on the ocean side, it became clear that the current wasn’t going in as we had thought, it was going out already because of the high swell! Additionally a current set us sideways, towards the breaking surf.

Suddenly this gigantic wave built up ahead of the boat–a 5 meter vertical wall. Maikeli gave full throttle, trying to climb it, but we had no chance. The boat was flipped backwards and crashed down on us together with tons and tons of frothing Pacific. Nobody who hasn’t been swallowed by such surf can imagine the panic of being whirled around, the thundering noise incredible loud, foaming turquoise everywhere, impossible to tell up from down, no more air, coming up coughing, struggling. Then the next wave breaking, the same struggle again and yet another one until we were back in shallower water on the reef. The capsized boat had righted itself, the anchor must have fallen out and so it anchored itself on the reef. Christian managed to climb up on it, shouting and waving for us to come, but Maikeli and I were grabbed by the current and swept out of the pass again, towards the Pacific and certain death. Looking back at Christian I thought that I was getting my last glimpse of him. It seemed so surreal, what a senseless way to die. This couldn’t be the end. My only chance was to swim sideways out of the 4 knot current. Maikeli was drifting next to me, holding on to the gasoline tank–that was the last time I saw him. I swam for my life, reached the breaking surf and got rolled and tossed across the reef again. Somehow I managed to reach the boat and Christian pulled me in, but we were still not safe. The boat was anchored in a precarious position: close enough to the drop-off into the pass to have a ripping current trying to suck us out and close enough to the outer edge of the barrier reef to have occasional waves breaking over the submerged boat–only the bow was sticking out and we were holding on to a line for dear life while I could feel broken ribs in my right side moving and grinding against each other. Christian was standing most of the time, looking for Maikeli, shouting, but no sign of him. We had to wait for another hour until a boat was passing by in the lagoon and spotted us.

They went back to Maikeli’s village Makadru first, we gave a breathless report and then were taken to Pitufa while the search for Maikeli was slowly organised. We washed our wounds and then Christian arranged cushions for me to lean/lie against on the sofa (where I’ve spent the last two days now). The doctor is currently in Suva and the hospital here has no x-ray machine anyway, but Ron, the friendly and very helpful nurse from the main village Yaroi, came to Pitufa, checked my vitals, agreed that at least 2 maybe 4 of my ribs are broken, put a bandage around my chest and supplied me with pain killers and antibiotics. As I’m able to breathe and not coughing blood it seems my lungs are okay. In the meantime Christian was called to shore twice to make phone calls to the police and navy to help organising a search, but it took another few hours until we could finally hear a search and rescue plane (or drone, we weren’t sure). During the night we were still hoping against hope, but in the morning Maikeli’s body was found.

It is simply ungraspable how quickly a routine excursion turned into a disaster. We are cautious, careful people, never have been in severe danger throughout the last 11 years of journey. To face death a few times in a row was a rattling experience. Our plans of leisurly cruising the Lau group are canceled, we have to sail to Suva as soon as the weather allows to get me to a hospital and then there’s a long path of recovery ahead–ribs heal very slowly (6 weeks our offline-wikipedia claims). Christian is also bruised all over, has hurt both his shoulders and is on pain killers as well. But we are certainly not complaining. Against all odds we are still here, still have each other.


Recipes: Kefir

It’s simply great to have a milk-Kefir culture on the boat. Those little cauliflower-shaped buggers turn milk over night into something very similar to yogurt–no special temperature required, no special procedure. I just throw a bunch of them into a jar with (stirred-up powder) milk, the creamier the thicker the resulting yogurt. About 12 hours later the yogurt is forming, but still a bit liquid and mild. 12 more hours in the cupboard and the yogurt has turned thick with the liquid separated below.
Depending on how thick/creamy I want, I stop the process sooner or later. I pour off the transparent liquid and strain the creamy part through a mosquito net into another jar. The yogurt slips through, the little kefir balls remain in the net.
I rinse them (still in the net) under running water, stir up a new cup of milk, throw them in and they get to work immediately again!

If I want to slow down the process, I put the milk jar into the fridge, there they still make yogurt, but take much longer.
If I want to take a break (e.g. when not on the boat) I put them into very watery milk, container into the fridge and they go to sleep until I wake them, rinse them, put them into creamy milk and let them play in warm temperatures again (you can tell that those easy-going, low maintenance thingies have something like a pet status on Pitufa ;-) )

Kefir is perfect for smoothies, yogurt dips and to replace yogurt in pies, etc. According to Wikipedia “milk kefir (to distinguish it from water kefir) or búlgaros, is a fermented milk drink made with a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter of kefir grains, that originated in the Caucasus Mountains of West Asia.”


Shopping frenzy

Shopping for basic things is really cheap in Suva, so we stocked up for the next few months, but then we got carried away with all the special, imported goodies at the posh supermarkets… With some searching there’s everything available here, even gluten-free products and smelly cheese ;-) Of course we also stocked up on boat repair/maintenance parts and then we did a last round buying some things for our friends out on the islands!


Photos of Fiji’s capital Suva

Suva, Fiji

Suva is an ideal stop-over to stock up on provisioning with cheap supermarkets and market as well as well-stocked hard-ware stores and posh supermarkets with a wide array of goodies. We stayed there two weeks, renewed our visa and did way too much shopping.

(24 photos)


Visa in Fiji

As we’re staying a longer time in Fiji than most yachties, we have to renew our visa. First we got 4 months (clearance fees are about 160 USD), then we applied for an extension, which costs about 40 USD (per person), but is only valid for 2 months. After those initial months we had the choice of either getting another extension (more pricey, 290 USD per person) or clear out of Fiji, sail up to Wallis and Futuna and return to start a new clearance and visa cycle.
We were really tempted to sail, see Futuna and save some money, but it’s the middle of the cyclone season and we are just having a rather active weather phase, so in the end we decided to go for the 6 month’s extension.

Reading cruiser’s reports we were worried that it would be complicated to do the application, but it’s very straightforward. You go to https://www.immigration.gov.fj/ and fill in the online form.
For the first 2 month extension we had to do the “visitor’s permit extension” which requires
- an informal letter requesting the visa
- the filled in form
- custom’s and immigration clearance
- itaukei cruising permit
- passport copy
All went well with the upload, but the next step is to do an online payment–credit card doesn’t work, it has to be a bank transfer… Doing the transfer from a European account would mean higher fees than the actual transfer sum and we couldn’t simply go to a bank to do the transfer for us, as there are no banks in Vanua Balavu (from where we tried to do the application). In the end a helpful local did the transfer for us. All done, it took a few weeks until we got the confirmation of payment, then nothing happened over the Christmas holidays and our visa were long expired, when we phoned to inquire about the status. “All done, you’ve been approved” was the friendly answer–they had just forgotten to write an email.

The 6 month extension is called “Residence permit for yachtees” (yes, with two ees) and requires uploading the same documents as the other one. We were quite surprised when the online form demanded a medical report and a police report as well and would not let us send the form off without uploading those. I called the immigration office in Suva: “Yes, there’s a mistake in the form. Simply upload a blank pdf instead” — problem solved the Fijian way. This time we were in Suva, so we simply went to a local bank with cash in hand and did the transfer from there. All done, no big deal and we’re legal until past the end of the cyclone season again :-)


Breadfruit season

It’s breadfruit season around the Pacific and we love it! When used green breadfruit tastes a bit like potato and can be used in potato dishes, but it has a creamier texture and a nutty flavour. We steam it first (takes only about 20 min), then make breadfruit fritters, tortilla espanola, salad, curries, stews etc.
Yesterday I mashed freshly steamed breadfruit and mixed it with eggs, to get a smooth dough for breadfruit gnocchi–I fried them, but boiled they would work as well. We had them with an Italian-style eggplant/tomato sauce and fresh basil from the boat garden :-)

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