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.”
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.
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,