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Posted by on Mar 5, 2016 in Blog, Sailing | 14 comments

She rises once again

BeforeAfterTropical Cyclone Winston blew through the islands of Fiji on Saturday and Sunday, February 20-21. We spent Saturday making our preparations and watching the marina crew work on all the other boats in the yard. When they finally got to us it was almost dark. They put straps on the boat to stakes in the ground, but they didn’t chain or strap the stands together. The reports were already coming in that Winston had reached Category 5 status and was predicted to be the strongest cyclone in the history of recorded storms (it ended up second strongest) with sustained winds topping 150 knots. In retrospect, we should have made more of a fuss about getting those stands strapped together.

Learnativity blew over just after midnight with us inside her, and in those first moments, we had no idea what damage had been done, but immediately we started saying to each other, she shall rise again. Our post-cyclone world here in Fiji is a mixed bag of great joy and some sorrow. The death toll has now climbed to 45, and there are tens of thousands of people who lost their homes. In addition, the beautiful green world we once knew is now brown and broken. You can get a little idea of the difference between the lush greenery behind our boat in the before shot and the shredded trees in the after shot. When you drive around now, it is a world of huge debris piles full of trash, cut up trees that fell over and all the cut and broken branches that shredded in those incredible winds. And as I write this two weeks after the cyclone hit, we still have no power, and we are told it will not return to this area until April sometime.

That has been our ongoing job of trying to get her back upright and back to where she was before the cyclone hit. You cannot imagine how difficult it is to move around on or in a boat that is lying on its side putting everything on a 45 degree angle.

With all the damage that was done to the islands here, we were incredibly fortunate that there is a construction company with two cranes just across the street from the boatyard. The marina manager Adam Wade contacted the crane operators first thing Monday morning, and since the cyclone recovery efforts were just beginning, they were still available, and he was able to book them right away.

CranesOn Tuesday morning, the two enormous cranes arrived, and we started the 5-6 hour process of lifting and righting our 33-ton steel home. While it might appear that it would be easy with those cranes, trying to make sure neither the booms nor the cables touched the mast and rigging was quite the exercise in geometry and physics.


The reason we were hauled out in the first place involved our desire to prep and paint the entire boat inside and out. That meant we had to empty out the boat and lots of stuff was stored under the hull. We had moved most of it inside the boat for the cyclone prep, but scaffolding, anchors, the propellor shaft, expensive paint and compressor were still on the ground and stored under the boat. So when they first started to lift the boat, one of the things we had to do was clear all the stuff out from under the boat.


Once the crew got everything cleared out from under the boat, they repositioned the straps and cranes so that each crane could lift from a side. The straps went down around the keel and then back up to each crane’s hoist. Still, though, we were having issues with the cables and straps coming in contact with the rigging, so they had to prop up the enormously heavy boat and then ease off the straps and reposition them.

While the cranes held the weight of the boat up, the guys worked under her and used stands and timbers to shore her up with all that weight of that 30+ ton boat leaning way over on her side.

firstblockingNotice where the stands are located in this first photo and then how they were able to move her up a little more before they moved in to reposition all the stands and timbers the second time. When the crane went to lift her again, Wayne stood next to me with a big grin on his face and said, “Take a video of it when the crane lifts her and all the timbers fall over.” While it was terrifying for me to watch all those men (including my husband) move in and work under that precariously balanced hull in order to move the straps, Wayne was having a grand time orchestrating this whole spectacle and getting to play with the two big cranes.


With the second dropping of the straps, they decided the boat and mast were at a good enough angle to allow the Travel Lift to take over.


When those guys had to work under that boat running the straps beneath the hull just forward and aft of the keel, my heart was in my throat. Wayne and I are both so thankful for the amazing efforts put forth by the marina crew, and the men who work for our friend Ian Wells on Summer Spirit. There were 17 in the crew, with Adam, the marina manger and Wayne who all worked together to get our boat upright. I’m so happy to say that it all went safely and smoothly.


Learnativity was upright again by 3:00 in the afternoon, and this time we are well strapped and we have more stands than before. The damage to the hull amounts to a slight crease below the waterline where we landed on one of the stands. Boy, do I love our steel boat.


The real nightmare once we got back upright again was the mess inside the boat. Yes, sailboats do heel over and should be able to take some angle, but not generally a 45 degree heel. And we were just starting to move all our stuff out of the boxes we had packed it into. Friday before the cyclone hit I had unpacked bottles of olive oil, chili sauce, soy sauce, etc. and they were resting on the counter in the galley. They were thrown through the air breaking on the low side of the boat and the galley was a messy soup of shattered glass, smashed papayas, sauces and dirty water. All the canned goods that were in cabinets got thrown against the doors and forced them open. Boxes toppled over that had been stored in the forepeak and our big TV that had just been unpacked had a shattered screen. I didn’t think to take a photo until day 2 of the clean-up.

galley mess

But the biggest clean-up is in the engine room.  All of Wayne’s tools, spare parts and thousands of screws, bolts, nuts and bits and pieces are now under the engine in an unbelievable mess.


We’re not sure how his tool box in the engine room workshop ended up in this position, but one day when Wayne had gone to town, I got a couple of the guys who were working on the boat to go into the engine room, and with one guy on either side, they were able to lift this incredibly heavy box and get it back up onto the workbench. It was fun to surprise Wayne when he got back – “Look, you have a walk-in engine room once again!”

So, little by little, the clean-up continues and we are getting our home back into shape. Wayne got our solar panels hooked up, and now we are able to recharge our computers, phones and battery operated tools (since the power has not come back on yet. The crew is back at work prepping the exterior to paint, and we’ve located a generator to rent that will help us run the compressor to spray the hull when the time comes. But every time we open a cabinet we discover some new thing – like the fact that we have very little glassware remaining.


We also discovered that the cans of fancy (read expensive) blue polyurethane paint for the hull were crushed, our 75 kg Rocna anchor has a new kink in her roll bar, and our favorite cooler is two inches shorter than it used to be. We will be carrying evidence of Winston for a while.

In the end, though, it has been quite the adventure. It will be a story to tell our grandkids, for sure. And one more reason for us to say we love our metal boat. Every evening we still manage to enjoy a (plastic) glass of wine and walk our dogs out to watch the sunset over the reef. We have so much to be thankful for—neither we nor the boat suffered any serious damage, and we have our health and each other.

And even after a cyclone, Fiji is wonderful place to live.

Fair winds!




  1. So glad you are okay and in good spirits. Thank you for sharing this experience. They say a burden shared is a burden eased. Hoping that is true for you.

  2. Thanks for this lovely comment Stephanie. Yes, we are in very good spirits and since I am a story teller at heart, it always makes me feel better to tell a tale. 🙂

  3. Remarkable feat getting her upright once again. You tend to expect everything to have a tendency to fly around in a storm at sea but not when you’re on the hard.

    One step at a time getting shipshape again. Be grateful you two are unhurt.

    • Hi Richard – We are very grateful. Really it has been quite the adventure. This is one thing I have learned from living through many hurricanes in Florida. Difficult times seem to bring out the best in most people. These are trying times for Fiji, but almost everyone I’ve seen has been nothing less than smiling and positive. This is an amazing country.

  4. Christine,

    Yes it was great to have some big Fijian Men who got in there in potentialy a quite dangerous situation. – Placing the huge support timbers under the hull and attaching the straps to the crane at 45degs.

    I was just the “Drink Boy” in this adventure, but at the same time took lots a photos, who might also like. Ian

    • Ian – We thank you so much for all your help!!!! You gave us a place to stay when our boat wasn’t habitable and you fed us and offered the hospitality of your beautiful boat Summer Spirit. You are the real hero of the story!

  5. Read about what happened in Fiji here in Chicagoland, but really had no idea of the devastation. So glad that you are well and your boat is getting there. Take care.

    a fan of both of your series.

    • Hi Margaret – Thanks so much for being a fan! I love to hear from readers!! I’m very pleased that there was some reporting of this storm back in the USA. In all the headlines here I have seen millions of dollars of aid pouring in from Australia, NZ, India, and China – but I’ve not seen a thing about any help from the USA. I hope I’ve just missed it. Yes, our boat is getting there and we feel very good about employing a work crew here. Every little bit helps.

      • I’m afraid Christine that there wasn’t much mention of the cyclone here in the US. It seems that most of what the media is reporting is what Donald Trump says in the Presidential campaign. However, I did read about the cyclone hitting both in the newspaper and online. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much follow-up unless one Googled it. Nice to see the photos of your boat straight up again. Margaret

  6. A sea story with a happy ending (after a lot of hard work!) Living on the bulkhad of a boat is no fun. I only did it once in West End, Bahamas, when we were aground much of the night. Def a new perspective! Glad all is well and look forward to more of your books–it’s how I liveaboard again, vicariously speaking. 🙂

    • Susan – So you know what it’s like to be over at 45 degrees, even if it was just for one tide. Not easy! Love to hear that you look forward to more of my stories. Lucky me 🙂

  7. So glad to hear you and the dogs are unhurt and the damage is not severe to the boat.

    • Hi Sue – Yes, Learnativity is a tough old girl and it seems it takes more than a Cat. 5 cyclone to cause her much damage. When she was over on her side and I’d catch a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye, my heart would ache. It was like I had let down a good friend. So glad she is upright again and the crew is back to work with the grinders and sanders getting her topsides ready to paint. We are running them off the boat’s massive inverter and using solar. Amazing what can be accomplished with a bit of ingenuity.

  8. All I can say is wow! You two certainly have had quite the mess and anxiety to deal with. I’m glad to hear you’ve got support from the folks around you, that makes a big difference and really helps I’m sure. We’re thinking of you guys and glad to hear you are in good spirits despite the ordeal.
    Mary & Mike