My mom flew back to Arkansas and it’s my first time living on the boat since arriving to Hawaii. My sea and land hallucinations have all subsided and life feels new but normal.
The mind is such a delicate thing when alone at sea. Mine were mostly auditory hallucinations, except for the odd things happening with lights, head lamps, and the sky. I have read accounts of people having their ships taken over by a uniformed sailor or two, often described wearing a red hat or coat, “Don’t worry, we are here. You rest.” Slocum hallucinated that one of Columbus’s crew members from the Pinta was assisting him at the helm during a gale. I would have gladly accepted help at the helm from some supernatural sailor.
I have moved around a lot in my life and it’s never been easy settling in or finding my way. I don’t know a soul on this island except for friends of friends of friends. I can honestly say, for the first time in my life, I don’t have that lonely feeling I can so easily get when I change locations.
Juniper’s slip is at the entrance gate of four docks in a state-operated marina. The marina is surrounded by surf breaks, fancy hotels, and transients. There is a constant flow of people coming and going to the docks. Some have fancy boats, others have dilapidated ones that have never seen the site of shore from sea. People walk by carrying; surfboards, buckets, cables for rigging, shopping bags, beer, frowns, bicycles, ukuleles, songs, kayaks, and laughter.
In order to get this slip, I had to do a sea trial to the number 1 buoy to prove that the boat could actually move. I said, “I just sailed the this thing from San Diego.” They didn’t care. The last thing I wanted to do was sail the boat so soon after arriving, but I did it. My mom was still here for the trial so I sailed her past the buoy towards diamond head, we watched a submarine rise to the surface, saw a turtle, and I taught her how to steer on a reach and dock Juniper.
The marina put me in a slip on F Dock after the sea trial. They called the following day to schedule an inspection and told me that I needed to permanently move Juniper to X dock. The few people that I met on F Dock said it was the most secure and that X Dock was a dangerous world filled with hooligans and druggies. “Be sure to lock your boat,” they warned. “That’s where the rats will get ya!”
There was no way around it, so I moved and got ready for the inspection. It took an hour to inspect the boat. The woman conducting it had a face of ice and the corners of her mouth drooped down towards her chin. Halfway through it she asked, “Why on earth did you sail here alone?”
The day was beating down hard on us. She sat in the cockpit with a pen in one hand and a paper filled with notes about Juniper in the other. She wore pants, a collard shirt, and a wide brimmed hat. I wondered how she could be so clothed and sit so rigidly in the heat. As I sat beneath her microscope of ink, I could smell sunscreen and lavender and her swollen pity.
How could I answer her honestly with brevity?
“I just haven’t found the right sailing partner yet,” I said.
I wanted to stop there, but she wanted more, “But alone? Why didn’t you just wait until you found someone to go with?”
I continued, “For me this crossing was about self-reliance. I have wanted to sail across an ocean for so long, but never thought I could do it on my own. There was such a desperation to find a romantic partner who would sail with me, that I have allowed myself to be treated poorly. I have allowed myself to be lowered to the holes that lead to the crust of this earth. I sat there in those holes along with the worms and the spiders and the troglobites and became one with all the subterranean creatures that long for the sun. One day I realized if I could sail to Hawaii on my own, I would no longer allow myself to be treated this way. And after a few days alone at sea you couldn’t have paid me to take another person. I am grateful that it was just me out there lassoing the wind.”
She was satisfied, “How many flares do you have onboard?”
By the end of the inspection she told me her sad love story, and it’s one of the saddest I’ve ever heard. Then we shook hands and she moved onto the next boat.
She came back 20 minutes later with some names and slip numbers of people that she said were going to look out for me and keep me safe on X dock.
I don’t know how to be anything other than honest. Lying never felt good and it never got me anywhere. I opened my heart to that woman and I watched the ice of her face melt into the petals of summer. She went from trying to find violations that kept me off the dock, to figuring out ways to keep me on it. That’s the power of speaking with an honest heart.
The inspector is Native Hawaiian. I thought about her ancestors building the double-hulled sailing canoes ( wa?a kaulua )and following the stars and whales to these islands of volcanoes. They were the true sailors. I am just a poser with the ease of modern technology guiding me. The only similarity is that I too, am following the whales.
It seems to me that there is a greater disconnection now between the people of this land and the sea. It is evident in the inspectors surprise an awe of my journey. In the way the marinas are run down and filled with non-traditional boats. And in the foreign tongues and fair skin tones of all the captains.
How can a culture loose the connection that rooted them to the sea? I think there are many things to blame; from missionaries who rip Gods and Goddesses out of the sky, to tourism which depletes a need for individuals gathering sustenance from the sea and replaces it with the selling of trinkets and cultural shows in exchange for coin and paper currency, to imperialism which spreads not only its power but it’s diseases.
The inspector now lives in a world surrounded by name brand shops only the most elite tourists can afford. Many people here have to work two or three jobs to survive. Food is expensive, housing is expensive, life is expensive.
It is no different on the mainland. Last summer, film work briefly dried up and I found myself working as a cashier in a ship chandlery for minimum wage. I hustled doing charters on nights and weekends to make ends meet and was eventually forced to sail elsewhere in search of a more affordable slip.
One job should be enough to survive anywhere in this world. I walk by empty apartment buildings advertising outrageous rents and beneath them I see homeless people sleeping in the streets. Why is this? What has happened to our sense of community? We let our brothers and sisters sleep on the concrete? We let them fill their bodies with booze and drugs instead of showing them how to fill it with love? It’s hard to see a woman in stilettos walk by a man who just pissed his pants.
I look at the buildings all around me and try to imagine life long ago. Life before western conquerers came. Life before ranchers and the industrial farming of sugar cane and pineapples. Life before the tread of tourism. Life before the carriers of the cross. Life before the “water of pearl” was filled with American naval ships that lured an attack by Japan and started a war. A life when land was borrowed not owned. A life when resourced were not abused to the point of depletion. A life when…
The first neighbor I met on X dock is named Vaughn. He and his son, Ky, live aboard two slips away. Their boat was crafted by the same designer and built in the same Taiwanese shipyard as mine. Vaughn told me that Ky is a big wave surfer who rides down 30 ft + waves as if they were the size of a pea. They both carry the spirit of the sea.
I told Vaughn that I was here for a project on humpback whale accoustics. It turns out Vaughn was the captain that took Roger Payne, the Godfather of humpback whale music, all around Hawaii to record the whales back in the 70s.
There was no doubt in my mind that my boat and I were in the right slip after this encounter. That is the flow of life. I am carried by currents to places I don’t necessarily want to go and realize, only after I’m there, that it is exactly where I need to be.
I next met a woman who is a retired school teacher. Everyone calls her Auntie Krista. She is solo on her boat and wants to single-hand across an ocean but said she has too much fear to do it.
“Weren’t you afraid out there,” Auntie Krista asked.
“I was afraid many times, but prayer and breath gave me comfort. I am not the first woman to do this, nor the youngest, nor the oldest, nor the last. And I most certainly haven’t done anything that you yourself could not do. Just keep gaining confidence on the water, get to know your boat, what she likes, what she doesn’t, what makes her move, what makes her stall, and little by little enough fear will subside for you to set sail.”
I went surfing that afternoon with a friend’s friend, Veronika, and her partner, Dan. She is from Slovakia and he is from Ecuador. Together they run a surf camp on the north shore. We surfed in front of Waikiki and stayed in the water until the sky grew pink and dark.
Afterwards we snuck into a hotel hot tub and played truth or dare. I dared Dan to walk all around the hotel flapping his arms like the wings of a chicken and “buk-buk-buk-bakuking” the guests. He instantly became a chicken, entertaining and startling all. It was a good laugh.
It is important to laugh in life. To not get too weighed down by what could have been and try to enjoy it for what it is now. We were enjoying the fruits of imperialism, but that evolution happened long ago and is beyond our control. All we can do is try to stop the negative impacts of it from extending further.
Previously that day, Dan had been in a court room, along with many other local business owners and residents, who were petitioning to stop the sale of single-use plastics on the islands. Because the beaches and sea are filled with plastic. Because the plastic straw that we sip from today could end up permanently lodged in the nose of a sea turtle that we will swim next to in the future. Because the plastic bag in our hand could end up in the stomach of a dolphin that might have one day liberated our spirit. Because the plastic fork we ate lunch with could end up in the bill of an albatross. And nobody wants to “hang an albatross around their neck.”
Plastic is already in our own belly’s from the fish that accidentally ate it, which in turn we eat. We are even inhaling particles of plastic in the very air that we breathe.
Plastic is like a hologram. It never fully breaks down. The pieces of it just get smaller and smaller and smaller, until they are microplastics. I worry that one day the packaging products of consumerism will be the death of humanity.
I returned home after the hot tub to find that my neighbors had dressed my boat in a fresh Lei. It smelled like a little bit of earth mixed with a whole lot of heaven. Also sitting in my cockpit was a box of chocolate covered macadamia nuts.
Leis now hang from every lamp and hook of my boat. Anyone who hears of my voyage presents one to me. The flowers strung together are a symbol of “The Aloha Spirit.”
I found this beautiful teaching on the meaning of Aloha: “Aloha is being a part of all, and all being a part of me. When there is pain – it is my pain. When there is joy – it is also mine. I respect all that is as part of the Creator and part of me. I will not willfully harm anyone or anything. When food is needed I will take only my need and explain why it is being taken. The earth, the sky, the sea are mine to care for, to cherish and to protect. This is Hawaiian – this is Aloha!”
The root meanings of the word when broken down are:
alo, 1. sharing 2. in the present
oha, joyous affection, joy
ha, life energy, life, breath
I passed a cemetery the other day and looked at all of the fresh flowers on the graves. I thought about the delicacy and ephemeral beauty of a flower. Plucked from the stem or dirt as soon as they bloom and wilting in the hands of the holder only minutes or hours or days later. To me flowers represent the cycle of life and death and of course letting go. No matter how much we want to hold onto their beauty we can’t keep it forever. We can’t keep anything forever. It is not ours to keep. They are a reminder not just of our own mortality, but also the mortality and vulnerability of everything on this earth. It seems only fitting to decorate all rituals pertaining to love, life, death, birth, worship, welcome, and celebration with them. Perhaps flowers are a great reminder too, that if we don’t live our lives with “Aloha” our world will wilt.
Now I sit on the stone of a stream and listen to the wind flowing through the bamboo trees. Polynesians brought bamboo to Hawaii and used it to make medicine, nose-flutes, rattles, fishing rods, houses, needles, knives, irrigation pipes, etc.
Before me water is falling, children are jumping, and empty shells are drying. My legs are covered in mud and it feels good, this combination of earth and water dressing me.