On February 23, 1988, the Fiji Meteorological Service’s Nadi Tropical Cyclone Warning Center (TCWC Nadi) started to monitor a shallow tropical depression that had developed within the South Pacific Convergence Zone, about 540 km (340 mi) to the north-northeast of Suva, Fiji.
By March 4, Bola had completed the transition into an extra tropical cyclone, which turned south and began to affect the North Island of New Zealand on March 6. The day just happened to be the date when after 3 months of sailing experience, that I was due to skipper the Alkira from Thames to its Auckland mooring under the Harbor Bridge.
Alkira needed repair work on her hull. I arranged to do so in the Thames Estuary, a gorgeous inlet on the coastline of the Pacific Ocean. She was raised on the hard, with stilts to support her underneath, and I set to work. It was clear to me that a new front was rapidly approaching that didn’t auger well for sailors. My friend David hadn’t checked the radio, which I now urged him to do.
The coast guards had radioed a report of a few missing boats still out at sea, we were one of them! The safety of Islington Bay had passed and we were now fully committed to try and navigate a safe passage through a boiling sea with over towering waves, to reach the harbor.
To his immense credit, David managed to calm down and proved to be an excellent help. We were literally surfing on our homeward attempt. The engine was next to useless, as the yacht was riding high on the stern. My efforts were based on those few valuable lessons I received from Penny Whiting and her recommended books that I had since studied. Also my basic army training kicked in. I managed to break down activity into simple steps. The smallest sail proved to be the right choice, together with lashing the boom down, after wrapping its large sail around it.
On the North Bank of the harbor I spotted police cars, seemingly training their lights on our approach. However, the cyclone was now rising in intensity and a mist had engulfed us. Too late, I noticed the shape of another yacht that had broken loose from its mooring. Alkira jumped onto the side of her, before a huge wave swept us apart and past that danger. It was now clear that we needed to find a better anchorage as my mooring close to other vessels would no longer be safe enough to secure. I decided to head for a yacht basin that was surrounded by high concrete walls, which would at least offer a degree of safety from the hurricane. After some incredible seamanship from David, we navigated our way through the storm and slid past the opening rocks and closer to our sanctuary.