The first time I went to Fiji, I was just eight. Before we sailed to Castaway Island, we spent a few days at the Regent of Fiji, a resort in Nadi which is now the Westin, I think. I know… it sounds like we were rich globetrotters, but the reality was that my mom was a teacher who got involved in the exchange program and we got incredible discounts on everything. On the road, we lived like royalty, but back at home we were just an underpaid school teacher, a social worker, and a couple of kids.
At the luxurious Regent of Fiji, we mostly just soaked in the glistening pool. It was there, perched on the bar stools in the refreshing water, we met a family from Sydney. Alicia and Scott were just a few years older than my brother and I, and we became quick friends. By the time we left, all of us were inseparable, even our parents. We promised to visit when we passed through Sydney, and we kept that promise.
Over the next few years, our friends from Sydney would come to visit us in Canada a couple of times, and we kept in touch like clockwork. When we heard the news that we’d been given a second exchange to Australia, we were ecstatic that we would be able to stay with them once again. This time, I was 15 and Scott and Alicia were just about adults. Seeing them this time around, we hardly recognized them, but it was like no time had passed at all. They were their usual warm selves and we took up right where we left off.
On one sunny morning during our visit with them, we decided to go out on their yacht in the Harbour. Yeah… their yacht. I know.
We packed bathing suits and towels and snacks and drinks and hopped on their massive boat. We sailed through the green-blue water and found little coves to anchor in. We dove from the deck of the boat into the water and swam in the Aussie sun at every stop. Dripping dry, we ate our lunch on the deck and lay back to watch the clouds as the boat rocked us back and forth. It was the most beautiful day, on a gorgeous boat, in breathtaking Sydney.
As the afternoon wore on, we decided to head back. On our way, the winds picked up. We noticed several sail boats whipping by as the wind became stronger and stronger. Soon, the waters emptied. No boats were around us. We sped home as fast as we could.
As we sailed on, we noticed something floating in the water in the distance. Nearing, it became obvious what it was: a sail boat had capsized and the passengers were in the water, clinging desperately to the hull. Immediately, I saw Alicia spring to action. She was grabbing life rings and life vests and got herself propped up on the rail as we neared. Getting closer we saw one of the people floating was a small girl. Shouting at her father to bring her closer, Alicia held on to the rail, ready to jump.
Finally close enough, she dove into the water with a life ring. Within moments, she had the little girl in her arms, clinging to the ring, as we pulled her around back to the ladder. We had to lift the exhausted child onto the deck, as Alicia went back for the father. She swam like Phelps to get to him, and we pulled him aboard, too, where he collapsed, so tired he couldn’t even stand.
I watched with pride as my friends gave them blankets and water and pillows. The father and daughter seemed to be fine, save for their exhaustion but our friends radioed to shore for an ambulance, just to be safe. When we got them there, they’d regained some energy and the emergency crew gave them the all clear. Standing in the marina, the father began to cry in appreciation as we said our goodbyes.
We left Sydney pretty soon after that, and spent a year in Perth and South East Asia and the Cook Islands and Fiji once again, and everywhere we stopped we bragged about our friends and the great Aussie rescue at sea.