Seaspray by Robyn Boswell
The South Pacific runs deep in my veins. It’s been the view from my windows, the place where I have spent many days of my life sailing its sapphire seas and camping on its sandy shores. The Pacific Islands feel like our backyard and I’m instantly at home there. Fiji was a perfect place for a family holiday. We spent a couple of days inhaling the scents and sounds of Suva, then drove very carefully across the rugged hills where a recent cyclone had scoured out the land and rolled boulders across the road. It was a much longer, more dangerous drive than we’d anticipated to our next hotel on the Coral Coast.
A photo on a brochure by the hotel desk leapt out at me instantly. Could it really be the Seaspray? As a teenager my favourite TV programme was ‘Seaspray’, which followed the crew of a sailing ship on their Pacific adventures. I had immersed myself in the crew’s adventures, dreaming of one day sailing off to enjoy the freedom and adventure of a seafaring life. Now, here it was, the sailing ship of my dreams, offering day trips off the coast. I had to book a trip right there and then.
The morning of our sail to a resort on an off-shore island didn’t dawn with a great deal of promise, with grey skies, but the gentle winds were just tickling the ocean into tiny waves and the weather was tropical-warm. We settled ourselves on the wooden benches lining the rails and cabin top, although it didn’t take the two youngest members of our family long to discover the fun of flirting with the charming, fun-filled Fijian crewmembers down below in the saloon.
As we left the dock, we barely noticed a line of darker cloud smudged across the horizon; a harbinger of things to come. We’ve been at sea all our lives so weren’t particularly worried. The sails barely filled as we slid out of the shelter of the harbour and relaxed into the voyage. As we sailed further out to sea, the dark clouds advanced and we enjoyed sailing at a much faster fast clip in gathering winds, until, like a shark attacking its prey, a sudden squall bit into us. The sails cracked as they took on the burden of the extra wind and the boat heeled over as the waves rose and the wind whipped frothy white caps off the top of them. It was exhilarating as the Seaspray took up the challenge, shook herself, heeled to port and tackled the waves. The rain hit next, dumping bucket loads of drenching water over the deck. The side curtains gave us a little protection but we were slowly soaked in the spray drift and warm rain. The waves reared up further, slamming us from side to side. Some of the passengers began to discover that perhaps a large breakfast hadn’t been such a good idea and down below in the saloon, sick bags were handed about as people began to panic and refused to come up on deck, which would have been a much better place for them.
My uncle and I, neither of us small people by any means, were sharing a wooden bench by the rail and opposite us, a young German woman huddled on a seat with her back against the cabin top. As a particularly large wave felt like it was about to tip us onto our beam-ends, there was a crack, our seat came adrift and began to slide across the deck towards the young tourist. All these years later I can still see the look of sheer horror on her face as we bore down inexorably on her, unable to get off our seat. I was certain we were about to smash her kneecaps. We were all powerless against the force of nature and fortunately just as we were about to crash into her, the next wave flung us in the opposite direction and we slid right back to our starting point.
We were reveling in the exhilaration of the wild sailing and the screaming winds and sea, although it was obvious we were in the minority. Several of the crew were gathered on the deck, working the sails, whooping and hollering in the rain and making jokes about our passage through the reefs surrounding the islands. All of a sudden a few more crewmembers rushed forward. The big Fijians, who had been so full of laughter and fun, were suddenly serious as they gathered rapidly on the foredeck. The visibility was close to zero and they were all staring fixedly ahead of the boat. One climbed out on the bowsprit whilst a couple of others held tight to his ankles. They were all peering into the foaming mist that surrounded us and were looking decidedly worried. Suddenly one of them let out a huge yell and waved his arms frantically. The yacht tacked fiercely, almost ejecting us all from our seats on the deck. We looked over the side and no more than a few metres away was a marker buoy and waves slamming against a reef, snarling and white. Suddenly the whole adventure seemed a little less fun.
As tropical squalls do, it dropped away quickly and we ended up motoring to our destination, somewhat damp and a little battered. The resort on the island did a roaring trade in t-shirts, but I suspect their food sales were down that day. We finished the trip with a sedate ferry trip back to the mainland, accompanied by the Seapsray crew who were back to their beaming, jocular selves.