It Is A Boat, It Is Not A Stone

I like Tahiti. Even though I haven’t found its honey holes. Even though I have not seen much beyond it’s ship chandleries. Even though it’s impossible to find any boat parts in stock at said chandleries. Even though there is nothing at my fingertips here, except for low lying fruit.

But it doesn’t matter. A feeling is a feeling and I can feel the entire island from where I sit. It feels good, like home. Peaceful. Paisley. Vivid. Muggy. Powerful. Like a sonic boom that got drunk on the scent of flowers before exploding into sound.

It feels as though I have lived here before. When? I don’t know. Perhaps in 1891 during the time of Paul Gaugin. Entire French sentences have started to flood my brain. Where did they come from? And I am able to comprehend every word on every sign that I see. It’s like I’m a Russian Doll and when you open me all up and get to the littlest doll- the one inside all of my other layers- that doll, she is French. Like the heart of me is French, but a French expat who prefers a colony to the motherland.

I have always loved a foreign country. Within them I can easily hide pieces of me. Sink beneath the pavement, so to speak, if needed.

Today I am jelly. Jiggling towards melting. Earlier I piled a wheelbarrow full of clothes and pillows and blankets and walked it over to the laundromat. The owner wanted $150 US dollars for everything! I danced around with my wheelbarrow and laughed at the price. She liked that, my performance. At one point she had me sit inside the wheelbarrow and she twirled me around her shop. After that, we made a deal. $50 bucks for everything.

Nothing is cheap here. Electricity and water come at the highest price.

On the way home, I wandered all languid and lost. I watched my shadow on the sidewalk. I listened to groups of men strum strings and sing. I watched women in floral crowns dance with bottles of booze in their hands. I didn’t pass any judgment on the fact that it was only 10 a.m.

Now I am lying down on Juniper’s settee, letting the world spin around me. Every ten minutes, a man on a nearby cruise ship announces over a loud speaker, “dix minutes” and the people scream. But this happens every dix minutes. That’s six times an hour, every hour. What is happening every dix minutes? I don’t know? Maybe someone, picked at random, gets slapped in the face with a pie.

I don’t have to lay here, I am officially in this country for 90 days. That’s as long as I can stay without a visa extension. Entry didn’t take much once I was honest with DPAM about arriving without permissions. All it took was four hours of paperwork and a phone call with a local nurse, then we were in.

The mermen have gone to a neighboring island to dive. I sit here repairing Juniper. If I don’t, she will continue to sail like a mis-sung lyric.

I wrote a letter to the men who designed her seeking advice (you can read it below.) Then I called her creators one by one, starting with Mr. Robert (Bob) Perry. The phone call went something like this.

Ring. Ring. Ring.

Mr. Perry, “Hello,” in a sleepy voice.

Me, “Hello, My name is Olivia Wyatt. I own a Ta Shing Panda and I need some advice.”

Mr. Perry, “I didn’t design that boat, people often abuse my name to sell boats. You have woken me up from nap for this?”

Me, “I’m sorry I thought you and Gary Grant worked on it together.”

Him, “No.”

Me, “But wasn’t he your apprentice?”

Him, “Yes, but I haven’t seen him since the 70s. What‘s your question?”

Me, “The boat leaks everywhere. I have recaulked everything, but nothing works. I can see that the balsa core is so wet that it has turned to mud. Some people say just glass over the wood. Others say remove the teak and bad balsa then glass. What do I do?”

Him, “You should have bought a Bob Perry boat, then you wouldn’t be having this problem. I have never heard of this issue with my boats.”

Me, “I understand sir, my next boat will be a boat designed by you.

Him, “You have to get rid of the teak, you will be better off without it. You can not glass over it. Remove it, then glass and put a non-skid on top. This is all assuming that your hull to deck joint is fine, but don’t worry about that yet.”

Me, “But what about the wet balsa?”

Him, “Just leave it.”

I thank him for his time and we hang up.

Teak decks on boats like mine are just smoke and mirrors. They give one the illusion of a classical stout boat, but they are weak. They leak water through every screw hole and compromise structural integrity over time.

I start construction on Monday to rip them out. I have to remove every stanchion, every chainplate, every prism, every track, in order to do so. Anything fastened to the deck must be unbolted and lifted. I feel a lot of different ways about this, but there is no way around it, it’s gotta be done.

Here, the work is not cheap, but I can’t wait for the next port. I can’t risk catching fire again nor can I afford to keep replacing valuable equipment that has been fried by saltwater.

A boat builder named Luc is helping me. He has two assistants; one who grew up on a sailboat in the Caribbean and another who is a performance artist by trade. They cut me a deal on the price, cut it right in half due to the fact that they “Like my vibe and my dream of circumnavigating.”

They know that I don’t know a soul here, so last week they took me for drinks and presented me with a Lei the size of a circus ring. I got really lifted on the scent of the leis flowers, more so than on the two frozen margaritas that I drank.

When I say things like, “Luc, the boat leaks in so many places.” He says, “Yes, but it is a boat, it is not a stone.” Or if I say, “Luc this machine died.” He says, “Yes, but before it died it was alive. Like everything that is now dead.”

I like his philosophies.

Someone told me that pacific islanders can see how genuine I am through my eyes. I too believe that bad blood can be seen in a persons eye. Luc and his crew have kind eyes. I trust them and their work.

Luc told me that if bird flies over you when you start work in Tahiti, it means success. But if you see an insect, like a butterfly, it means you will meet somebody and fall in love.

Birds keep landing on Juniper and she is still covered in insects. I take the latter as a bad omen, because the little black flying bugs born out of Juniper’s wet wood are fungus gnats. They like things in a state of decay; like rot and urine and funk. I don’t care if they live, but I don’t want them living here. I can’t stand them. Their little bodies. Their little bug eyes. Their fast flying wings.

I trap them with jars of apple cider vinegar and drown them with soap. I find delight in counting how many lay dead inside my jars. As of this morning I have captured 26 gnats. There are still hundreds of them. I can only deduce that most of them are smarter than me.

If I live with them much longer, I will be like soda water that has been left out for too long and lost all its effervescence. And me, I need my bubbles to stay afloat.


The Letter:

Dear Mr. Robert Perry,  Mr. Gary Grant, and Mr. Bob Berg

I am the proud owner of a 34 ft. Ta Shing Panda. I believe this boat was a collaboration, in some sense, between the the three of you, though to what extent I am not fully certain.  

I bought her four years ago, with the dream of circumnavigating, and named her Juniper.

Last year I single-handed Juniper from San Diego to Hawaii. This month I sailed to Tahiti from Hawaii. It is my hope to keep sailing around the world.

I love Juniper so much. The way she sails so steady and dreamy. The way she cuts through waves. The way she holds her course. The perfection of the genoa and staysail and main in unison. The curvature and wooden warmth of her interior. The rainbows her prisms capture and cascade all around. The little panda depicted on her mainsail. The comfort of her galley, her head, her v-berth. I could go on, for a long time. 

I suppose what I love most about Juniper is that she can take me way out into the middle of that blue, blue wilderness and aboard her, even there, I always feel at home. 

Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! 

I am reaching out because there is one element to her design that is causing a great bit of discomfort each time I set sail. In fact, on my last voyage, it nearly killed me by causing an electrical fire. I would love to know how any of you would recommend resolving this issue. It is the issue of the teak decks leaking no matter what I do. This issue has already cost me a lot of time and money and still it persists. 

I have pulled the tracks and stanchions and prisms and re-bedded them. I removed all the bungs and nails in the deck and resealed them with epoxy and caulking. I removed every inch of caulking between the seams of the teak and re-caulked them. Still they all leak.

The ocean pours into Juniper from everywhere no matter what I do. Salt water fried my new refrigerator, it fried my battery monitor- which is what caused the electrical fire. It has almost ruined my entire electrical panel. It has destroyed clothes and papers and mattresses and memories too. Salt water even comes in beneath the lazarets, leaks out of the stairs on a port tack and forms a river inside the cabin. Nothing is safe onboard Juniper as water seeps through every orifice.    

When I removed the prisms, most recently, I found that the balsa wood is soaking wet beneath it all. It resembles mud more than wood now. 

I am not the kind of sailor who likes to sit for too long near any shore. Nor can I afford to keep replacing and repairing parts. Each time I sail somewhere I spend more time repairing than experiencing this new world that I have sailed to.

I would love to resolve this issue before setting sail again. Some people have recommended removing all of the teak and bad balsa and placing fiberglass on top. Others have suggested sanding down the decks, removing the caulking, putting a putty in replace of it, and fiberglassing on top of the teak. I am not sure what is best. Any way you skin it, it’s an expensive predicament.

I am writing to ask, what would each of you recommend doing? 

Sincerely, with all the wind the blows from my heart,

Olivia Wyatt 

15 Replies to “It Is A Boat, It Is Not A Stone”

  1. you[re amazing. i envy you, that you can do what you’re doing. in my blood perhaps i would do it, but it’s not in my brain or heart. I like sitting in my hole in the world while the world spins and writing my poems. you are in the spin of the world. all i have is that time my father, me, and my two brothers took our 40 ft. criss craft from new orleans to biloxi, wearthered a gulf of mexico storm, docked in some harbor and caught fish off the pier by using a flashlight to attract them, then cooked them on the little stove in the galley. I don’t like fish, but that was a meal i’ve never forgotten. We slept on the boat in the harbor in tight cramped quarters, but it was magic. In another sense, I AM a fish. I swam when I was 2 years old, in the bathtub, having my mother count how long i could stay underwater. I could live in the water. Just sink like a stone to the bottom of the sea and lie there at peace. I swam competitively for years but gave it up in college for football and boxing. I read your posts and wish I were there with you. Away from the world for awhile, but not away from gnats and leakage. There’s a price, it seems, for everything. Your writing is always deep and real and amazing. I am wishing you continued good sailing, hope Juniper gets fixed so your continued sailing will be safe and pleasant. Are you going around the world? I am here in my hole writing my poems, started one yesterday but the phone rang and all i had was four lines. It began with an image of pulling the rip cord on my parachute and creeping over the landscape below, scapegoating something, i forget the rest. I was in the air, as you are on the water; I was falling to earth, you were going around it. How do we get to know each other when our circles are so far apart. But be well, sweet Olivia, be safe: good sailing ahead, safe harbors all your life. jack

    1. Jack! I love reading your comments on here! You and your brothers catching a fish with light. That’s the beauty of a memory, it lets us escape our holes 🙂 Have you read The Seas? She is always in the bathtub counting how long she can hold her breath. She throws in every tonal dynamic along the way! I am emailing you now. x

  2. Many sailors who loved their teak have found much peace without it! Best of luck. Bob Perry gave you sound advice (not surprising).

  3. As I sit in my slip here on Harbor Island on my Pacific Seacraft 37′, that loves to sail as much as I do, and I study Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice for my state mandated real estate appraisal license… the idea of dealing with dirty laundry and bugs in Fiji sounds lovely. But, not the “dix minutes” announcement, or being overcharged… for anything. Good going on the wheelbarrow dance and laughter as a negotiating strategy! Laughter leads people to their compassionate tendencies. I hope to follow your bubbles westward but, with a course toward Alaska after HI. I love your writing as it gives temporary escape to a recurring feeling of being trapped in San Diego. An hour or two of meditation here and there serves as my SodaStream refill to keep my effervescence renewed. However, I don’t know how I’d do with “dix minutes” and loud applause being burped by a cruise ship in the background.

  4. Captian Olivia,
    So sorry about your teak deck, i love teak decks my 1974 45′ pacifica triton has teak i could not imagine taking on that task. Labor of love. I know you can do everything you stated on juniper it’s in your spirit. best of luck and sail on.

  5. Loved the Instagram videos.
    Fungus gnats? Dang! Had to go read up on those. Nasty! They must have laid eggs in Hawaii that hatched at sea. What a weird thing to have happen.
    Soon as I heard you mention balsa core decks in your blog, I knew that was likely the issue causing your leaks.
    Losing the teak and sealing the decks is a big job and time consuming, but not that difficult. You and your guys will be able to handle that with aplomb. Sealing them in like that will akin be making a fungus gnat sarcophagus. Sure would be nice to get all that balsa out of there and use foam or something that doesn’t soak up the water, but that’s even more of a major. Just not practical at this point due to the expense in FP. If you’re of-a-mind to do more of a permanent job some day, New Zealand boat builders are first class.
    Good to hear you are enjoying FP. Beautiful place, wonderful people.
    Oh, almost forgot to ask, Did running down wind make it easier to get the jib up?

  6. I like how your doing such serious stuff with a constant comedy track. Glad you’re all getting reset and fixed up in port.

    It probably wouldn’t be as fun if you won the lottery and bought a state of the art 34ft bob perry boat, right? 🙂

  7. The laundromat scene . . . I about peed myself laughing. Re: Juniper restoration. Tip #367 — do whatever is minimally necessary in Tahiti to get the boat ready for a safe NZ passage. Arrive NZ October (good timing): join Panmure Y&B Club as visiting yacht, they have attached haul-out facilities for members; club members uber boat knowledgeable (savants?). Chandleries in NZ brimming with good stuff at good prices. Kiwis FRIENDLY and smart. Kiwis very clever about boat restoration solutions. Prices: reasonable. No need for laundromat wheel barrel dances (although, the next time you’re involved in one could you please upload footage?)

  8. the wallet vacuum is now full on and you are stuck in Papeete, a former swamp. so sorry to hear that. this will test your resolve and perhaps get you fit to travel on… or even back to where the mermen would have been in their heaven and you would have found safe respite. don’t forget the ‘old pearl farmer’ and the packets of seeds. they have importance you may not understand.
    meanwhile find the Te Hoa, Chinese food in the alley. and the pizza place along the main road is still great too.
    and look up Alex Decian. He has a hardware store and loves sailing. surely he could help you.
    Take a trip to the Vaipoiri in Tahiti-iti, a long walk past Teahupo. There is a grotto a ways up the river that could be special in your art.

    1. Hi Barry! I am knee deep in the snake pit! Split tongues and fangs are everywhere! I just finished reconstructing the bow, I have two more areas to go and some new gear that arrives September 9th. I am heading to Ahe as soon as the gear is installed. I have the seeds and am very excited to meet your friend. One of the boat builders working with me here is also a friend of his! The water is pushing me there, no matter how hard on the wind I gotta be to get there. Thank you for all of your advice along this journey. It means the world to me.

  9. olivia
    don’t miss the grotto at the Vaipoiri. ask around. it is a long day trip between the truck and the walking. there are people who take folks out there as well. or, better still, bfore you leave Tahiti, you can sail out there and anchor in a whacko special spot . there are two passes in to where you anchor. the outer, or more on the reef side is challenging unless the sea is calm. the pass along the coast leading in from the south end. brian and kerstin sailed the Sea Dragon in hat way and had no issues. you might contact them and ask if there are any hints.
    there is an abandoned civilization up that valley. lots of stone terrace/foundations, amazing trail up the river/stream that you can take your dinghy up a ways to the tumbling waters. rainbows and flowers floating down the river every afternoon.
    the dark waters of the grotto will wash away any troubles you might have.

  10. and…..there is the legend of the Vaipoiri, to pique your interest.
    a long time ago the kimg’s daughter fell in love with a gardener, a commoner.
    they could never be together.
    a dragon guarded a secret entrance through the grotto.
    the gardener drove the dragon away and left his lover in the secret chamber.
    meanwhile, the king was distraught, missing his daughter and said who would find her could marry her.
    i’ll bet you can guess the rest.
    we went with masks and snorkels and dive lights but could never hold our breath long enough to find the secret entrance. remember, when you are at the water, there is no light. just cool dark energy.
    it’ll blow your mind… maybe

  11. Kia ora Olivia, good luck with all the repairs to Juniper, as the old saying goes (not sure how old or who says it!) it will all be ok in the end, and if it’s not ok it’s not the end. Assuming the NZ borders open up and you can make it down here, if you need any assistance I’d be happy to help. Safe travels and fair winds…David

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