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Four years on

Once again I have been encouraged to write a retrospective on our year of travelling. Steve has been nudging and hinting for many weeks! Reading is one of my favourite past time however writing is one of my least so I am taking a big breath to get this started.

I have just re read “One year on’ and “Two years on” and wondered why I never wrote “Three years on”. I believe that was the time we left the boat to visit family and friends in South Africa and the UK and I didn’t have the inclination or time to reflect.

Thinking back, our third year was another amazing year which is worth a brief mention. Although we spent our time in only two countries, New Zealand and Fji, we packed in a great deal and had some of the most unique and memorable experiences.

New Zealand is a beautiful country, with a temperate climate, stunning mountain scenery and no snakes! We spent nearly six months exploring both the South and North Islands and enjoyed some of the best hikes we’ve ever done. If New Zealand weren’t so far away from our families and the rest of the world, we would have seriously considered settling there.

Fiji was as beautiful but in a completely different way. Golden beaches, swaying palm trees, clear blue seas and some of the friendliest people we have met. We spent many weeks visiting remote islands and villages where the locals rarely see foreigners. We had the chance to get involved in village life, help out in our own way and enjoy their wonderful and generous hospitality.

Our fourth year of cruising started by sailing back to New Zealand from Fiji and putting Dignity on the hard in preparation for her diesel conversation and our trip to visit family in South Africa and the UK for Christmas and New Year. We extended our stay in the UK until mid February for the the birth of John’s daughter Bao (pronounced Bo), our first grandchild. What a wonderful event.

We returned to New Zealand and Dignity in time to meet the French technicians from Lagoon who were going to work on the hybrid to diesel conversion. Our two technicians have converted about fifty Lagoon 420s and with five crates of prepared parts, shipped from France, were able to complete the work in record time. We were extremely impressed with their skill and hard work.

In early March we splashed back into the water and tested out our new engines. They worked beautifully and were more powerful than our old electric motors but also a lot noisier. Still we were happy to have more powerful and reliable engines especially for some of the places we were planning to visit. We spent the next few weeks exploring the NE coastal waters, the Great Barrier Island, Waiheke and making our way down to Auckland to meet up with our youngest son Sam and to prepare for our departure from New Zealand.

Our cruising plan at that point was to sail from NZ to Australia via Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia with a short trip to the Solomon Islands for the Pacific Arts Festival. Sam our youngest son was to join us for this leg. John and Ben, his two older brothers had each done a six months trip with us so this was Sam’s opportunity to share in our adventure.

We left New Zealand for Fiji at the end of April with Paul our crew from last year joining us for the crossing again. Having four people on board made the passage so much easier. The watches were two hours on and six hours off allowing for plenty of sleep and free time. We had hoped to make landfall on 7th May which was Sams 22nd Birthday but instead arrived on the 8th. It didn’t matter, we were delighted to make landfall and go ashore to have a belated celebration.

Around this time I noticed that Steve was not quite his buoyant self. I wondered if it was the anticlimax of arriving in Savu Savu and finding none of our cruising friends there as we had last year. He was also staggering a little when walking and tripping over his feet quite often. Again I wondered if it was due to the new flip flops he was wearing that Sam had brought from the States.

After Paul left us to return to New Zealand, we headed north east towards Taveuni and the reefs beyond to share with Sam some of the places we enjoyed last year. By the time we arrived at the northern end of Taveuni Steve was getting dizzy spells and walking even more off balance. We decided at this point not to go to the remoter reefs but return to Savu Savu and see a doctor instead.

It took us about three days to get back to Savu Savu and by this time Steve was beginning to develop double vision. While we were away a few of our cruising friends had also arrived in Savu Savu and among them were some nurses and doctors. Our two doctor friends on Dreamtime were not impressed with the local doctors diagnosis of scurvy and advised Steve and I to fly to Australia to see a neurologist and get an MRI done as soon as possible.

We decided to make our way to Port Denaru on the western side of Fiji which was near the international airport and where we knew there were better doctors. Steve plotted a five day trip to Port Denaru but his symptoms and also his mental and emotional state was getting worse. I pushed each days sail and made it to Port Denaru in three days. The moment we were safely moored in the port, I made an appointment with the resort doctor recommended by the marina office.

After a general physical examination, ECG, blood test and skull xray, which all came back normal, the doctor advised us to fly to New Zealand or Australia or even back to to the UK for specialist help. He recommended a neurologist or an ophthalmologist and a CAT scan.

Since the start of Steve’s worrying symptoms we had been in contact with Lew, our doctor friend in New Zealand. He offered to arrange medical referrals and accommodation for us if we went to New Zealand. At this point I also contacted my cousin Sarah in Australia asking her for advice as to where she thought I would get the best medical help since she had lived both in New Zealand and Australia. She insisted we came to her in Melbourne where locally she had some of the best medical facilities in the country. At the time I needed family and also I really wanted to see her so the choice was Australia.

We left Sam in Port Denaru to look after the boat while we flew to Melbourne thinking we would be back in a couple of weeks. Sarah and her husband Russ were at the airport to meet us and soon we were settled in their lovely self contained flat at the back of their garden by the pool.

Sarah is wonderful and a very organized person. Before we arrived she had already arranged an appointment with her GP for Steve see. To cut a long story short, we saw the GP, had a CAT scan, saw an ophthalmologist who recommended an MRI and it was the MRI that finally showed abnormalities in Steve’s brain. A week after arriving in Melbourne, Steve was admitted into emergency at Monash hospital and into the care of Neurology department.

Over the next two weeks many tests were performed on Steve. Possible diagnoses were vasculitis, lymphoma, some form tropical disease and Multiple Sclerosis. During this time, Steve continued to deteriorate. With no definitive diagnosis, the doctors finally ordered another MRI and when they saw that the lesions were getting worse, decided it was worth risking a brain biopsy immediately.
So on Steve’s 48th birthday he went into theater for a brain biopsy.

Before the operation, Multiple Sclerosis was the most likely candidate. I had been doing some research on the disease and although not good to have, felt that we could deal with MS. So it was a terrible shock when the doctors confirmed that the result of the biopsy was lymphoma. Not only that but it was a very rare form of T-cell lymphoma of Primary Central Nervous System. The rarity and type made it difficult to detect just from earlier blood tests, the lumbar puncture and bone marrow biopsy. The doctors recommended a program of chemotherapy and radio therapy over the next few weeks. We asked what the prognosis would be if Steve did not have treatment. They said less than fifty percent chance he would survive 3 to 6 months so it was a no brainer to start treatment immediately. Steve was transferred to the Hematology department where he started his intense cocktail of chemotherapy which had to penetrate his blood brain barrier.

Meanwhile I was getting very concerned about Sam and Dignity in Fiji. Knowing that we would not be able to return to the boat for some time I decided that the best option was to get the boat to us here in Australia.

Fortunately many people offered to help including Peter on Nymph who was currently there in Fiji with his wife Christina and family. Peter was the boat yard manager in New Zealand where we had had all our major work done so I knew that he was very knowledgeable and an experienced sailor. I felt fully confident that Sam and Dignity would be safe in his hands.

Peter and Sam left Fiji for Australia around mid August with Christina keeping twice daily contact with them over the high frequency radio. She in turn kept me updated daily by email of their position and status. Steve at the time was midway through his rounds of chemotherapy, still very ill and extremely anxious about Peter, Sam and Dignity.

For three days I got excellent updates from Christina with the weather forecasting a good direct sail to Australia instead of stopping off in New Caledonia. On the morning of the fourth day I noticed that the email from Christina was marked important. Feeling a bit uneasy I open the email and read that Dignity had dismasted early that morning about 300 miles out at sea from New Caledonia, the nearest landfall. Fortunately neither Peter nor Sam were hurt due to Peters quick action and know how of cutting away the rigging and the sails, saving themselves and the boat from major damage. The cause was a fault in the swage which snapped and brought the shroud and then the whole of the mast down.

As one can imagine, I was in shock for most of the day and did not know how to or even if to tell Steve this news. I spent the day emailing and calling our insurance company, Lagoon, Christina and friends for help and advice. When I finally had confirmation that Peter and Sam were motoring safely to New Caledonia and that I had some sort of plan for Dignity, I was able to tell Steve the news. Obviously he did not take it well. A summary of the dismasting and the safe arrival of Peter, Sam and Dignity to Australia is written up at in our blog.

During this very difficult time, my cousin Sarah, Russ and family were our lifeline. They had given us a home, made us welcomed, supported and helped us through our darkest times. Sarah has been my strength and rock, especially at moments when I have felt truly desperate. I cannot begin to express how much they mean to us and how thankful we are to have such a wonderful family.

We also had amazing help and support from our friends Janine and Brian who live not far from Melbourne. They have lent us their spare car for all these months which has been invaluable help to us for all the hospital trips, daily radio therapy sessions, local outing, airport trips and a few getaway weekends. Such a generous offer and so very much appreciated.

Although these past six months have been the most difficult we have faced, we have discovered how fortunate we are in the family and friends we have. How fortunate we are with the wonderful medical
staff and facilities we have here. How kind and generous so many ordinary people have been to us. We are extremely grateful for the many, many, many offers of help, messages of encouragement and good wishes, from family, friends, fellow cruisers and blog readers. They have all been of real comfort and so very heart warming to receive.

Now, more than four years after the start of our amazing voyage, our sailing adventure has come to an end. Dignity has been fixed up and is up for sale. We tested her new rigs and sails last week when we were up in Brisbane to finalise preparations for her sale. She performed better than ever and we are quite jealous of who ever will buy her. That is probably the last time we will sail her and now that we have left Brisbane with no plans to return, we may never see her again.

Steve has his final chemotherapy session between Christmas and New Year and that will be the end of his primary treatment. He has recovered so well that we hope the result of his MRI in early January will show full remission. The long term prognosis for this type of cancer is not that great but Steve and I are prepared to fight it in every way. We plan to leave Australia at the end of January to visit Steve’s family in South Africa where unfortunately his father is also ill with cancer. Then we will return to the UK to reestablish a home and make medical connections.

We are sad that our sailing life has ended sooner than planned but are so happy and fortuante to have had three and half years of the most incredible time and what a time we have had. The things we’ve seen, the people we’ve met, the fantastic experiences we have had, has changed us and helped us grow in so many ways. We are left with lasting impressions and marvelously wonderful memories.

This does not mean our adventuring life is at an end. That’s impossible if you live with Steve. We have many plans and a growing bucket list to get through. We are very excited about the next stage of our life, so continue to watch this space.

Lots of love

Helen & Steve

Desperate News

Please read the following link from our friends aboard Callypso.

A Night From Hell

We join Paul & Maureen sending our hopes up into the Pacific for a safe arrival for Peter.

From Helen

The admiral has made her decision and taken over. We are flying to Australia today. Our doctors have unanimously advised us to get MRI/CT scan and specialist help as soon as possible. My cousin Sarah has been arranging everything her end in Melbourne for our arrival. She is wonderful.

Steve is emotional and physically a little fragile but intellectually he is still all there. He is constantly reminding me of all the the things I need to do and where everything thing is. There is not much he misses.

We will continue to update the blog on his progress.

Helen writing the blog today

I have started the ball rolling for our trip to Australia to get specialists help for Steve if required. Our application for Australian visas have been approved so we are now free to book our flights there. We have been prepping the boat and instructing and organising Sam so that we can leave the boat safe, secure and easy to look after in his care.

Understandably Steve is very anxious about his situation and overwhelmed by the thought of leaving the boat, leaving Sam, traveling and expenses. I have held off confirming our flight until I get advice from three GP friends who have been given all of Steve’s symptoms and results from his medical examination here. If they recommend a specialist with MRI/CT scan we’re ready to go. We will be staying with my cousin in Melbourne who has already been in contact with her GP and a medical friend about Steve.

Thank you to all who have offered help or given Steve words of encouragements. He really needs it and it has certainly helped.

Sam and I are fine and coping well. Just worried about Steve.


A couple of days ago Sam and I managed to change out the impeller on the genset. Oddly, the old one still had all it’s teeth. But with the new one in the generator failed to cut out. Weird.

Still haven’t worked out what to do next with my health problems. Seems it would be best to fly off somewhere to see a neurologist. Easier said than done as the possible outcomes are so varied. Sadly, many of the outcomes suggest end game which is not at all simple here in Fiji. All part of the problem. It’s comforting to spend each day thinking rather than doing hoping, I guess, things just work out. Each day, though, my condition slightly deteriorates with no positive movements yet.

Financially we’re set up for the cruising life. Handing major expenses is not factored in. This all needs to be worked out too. We have health insurance but it is unwise to assume everything or anything will be covered. It would be nice to simply know my condition was fixable for a price. We don’t even know that0. We fire off emails to various folks and some get answered and those that are never definitively. Little encouragement.