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Facing Cyclone Season In Fiji

I’m trying not to get too concerned that cyclone season in the South Pacific starts next month and we’re sailing in Fiji, which is slap bang in the middle of cyclone alley, with an average of three severe tropical cyclones each year.

By October, we had hoped to be getting Two Drifters ready to sail to safer havens, but Australia and New Zealand still have closed borders. Before we left French Polynesia for Fiji, we put applications in to both countries for visa exemptions, with the emphasis on humanitarian reasons and cyclone refuge – and we’re still awaiting a positive response.

We know that New Zealand is mainly considering applications from boats who agree to spend NZ$50,000 on refits and repairs. At around GBP£25,000, it’s a hefty price to pay out of an annual cruising kitty.

Sadly, our big-ticket item to help meet this requirement was to replace our rigging. Frustratingly, we had to do this sooner than expected in French Polynesia, when our first attempt to sail to Fiji in June was halted due to rigging failure 26 hours into the journey.

Bird’s eye view of Two Drifters as we replaced the rigging

Auckland in New Zealand has been in lockdown since August. Its border force personnel who oversee applications have been redirected to other areas and have advised they won’t process visa exemptions during this period. Bearing in mind, they usually require 20-30 working days to process an application, it’s a long, drawn-out process and the cyclone clock is ticking.

Meanwhile, in Australia, we’re on our third visa exemption application, completing more lengthy forms each time, in the hope they will consider us favourably for a three-month visa into Queensland.

Friday’s news that Australia will open its international borders in November – for states that have reached 80 per cent vaccination rates – is a good start. New South Wales and Victoria will be the first to open. But before we get too excited, this applies just to fully vaccinated Australian citizens and residents, not to foreigners like us. The press conference announcing the border opening was very vague about when it would allow other nationalities in, but it’s not expected to be until next year.

As always on Two Drifters, we have a back up plan. Should there be a cyclone warning in Fiji, we are on the list of boats that will head into the mangroves on the main island of Viti Levu. This area offers great protection and has previously proved a very effective hidey-hole for boats during cyclones.

Getting in and out of the mangroves is a well-oiled and managed process, overseen by Port Denarau Marina. All the sails on the boat will need to be taken off and, to reduce windage, the solar panels and paddleboards will have to be removed and placed inside the boat. Skipper is working hard at getting us insurance cover in the event we have to be in Fiji over the six-month-long cyclone season.

It will be very hard and exhausting work going in and out of the mangroves when a cyclone approaches and, I expect it will be a very scary experience to endure, but with the countries around us firmly shut, our options are very reduced.

Two Drifters in the Bay of Islands, Fiji

So, while we are posting photos of the amazing time we are having in Fiji – and I have to be honest, this place is seriously special and a highlight of our seven years of cruising – but behind the scenes we are pedalling frantically, filling in forms, making phone calls, dealing with bureaucratic red tape and fine-tuning our cyclone refuge plan as the beginning of the 2021 cyclone season looms on 1 November.

As it becomes harder and harder to plan our travel in the South Pacific, we’re considering our options on what to do next. Everyone had high hopes of a let up in the pandemic by now but, 18 months on, it’s impossible to call on when countries will fully open their maritime borders. We are desperate to see our families in the UK, but can’t fathom how we can leave the boat anywhere that’s safe, has international flights in operation and is easy to return to a month or so later.

Perhaps it’s time to press pause on the dream of circumnavigating the world for now, and we find another adventure instead…

Sailing into the sunset

© Two Drifters Travel

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