I have never seen underwater realms as alive as I have seen here in Ahe. It’s like swimming in outer space. From the fish, to the coral, to the oysters. I saw three sharks in water that wouldn’t go past your ankles. That’s how lush even the shallows are.
Brianna and I spent our first day below the water. Swimming along the coral coast, capturing imagery for National Geographic.
That night the wind was a bull, blowing big. The waves climbed high and loud. They sounded like rain as they thundered against the pearl farm. The farm shook to and fro, still the harmony did not teeter between the rising and falling of the tides.
Patrick was talking a lot of story. He is a fire of intellect and a salted sage. We agree to disagree and disregard, when it comes to politics. Ears grow deaf or get plugged.
He tells me of all the insane sailors that he has met. One is a man who sailed a Finn, which is a 14-foot race boat, across the Pacific. The sailor made a suit out of bird feathers so he could sail through any weather and he would flip his boat upside down during bad weather. He ate plankton and other muck to survive.
Another is Bill Dunlop. He crossed oceans in a 9-foot boat. His boat got infested with cockroaches once, so he sank it, then resurrected it and kept sailing on, vermin free. Legendary! I should have done that with Juniper.
Between words, we realize that I forgot to put on my anchor light. Patrick was concerned that Juniper might bust loose from the mooring. It’s happened here before. Three months ago an aluminum boat broke free and ended up on the reef, destroyed inside- both the boat and the captain. Patrick said the man cried. I would too. I’d cry so hard that it would flood the lagoon and my tears would eat all of the trees and dead coral on the motus.
We were all a few beers deep when Patrick said, “Come on let’s go turn your anchor light on.” He wears his grey hair in a small pony tail. I don’t know his age, but he is a sprite with an abundance of vital energy. I think we both believe in aliens, I’m not sure yet, just a hunch.
Just after I wrote that, I worked up the courage to ask him, “Do you believe in aliens?” He holds up a glass bottle and says, “Is this made of glass? Of course I believe in aliens!” Then he starts calling me E.T.
Patrick and I crawled down into the dinghy that windy and moonless night. All we had with us was a flashlight. Water starts coming in over the bow as soon as we take off. Juniper is dead ahead in front of the farm, but Patrick hooks a hard right.
I don’t say anything. Patrick has owned the farm for 30 years and I imagine that he knows some short cut to Juniper’s mooring that dips him around all of the pearl farm buoys and eliminates danger.
Ten minutes later Patrick says, “Do you see your boat? Where is your boat?”
I’m thinking – this is your farm, where is my boat?! We are lost. I say, “Juniper is straight from the farm, but you turned right, she must be left and straight from here. But it’s ok, let’s forget Juniper and go back to the farm.”
Patrick says, “Shhh don’t talk and turn that light off, you are blinding me.” Then he says, “Wait point the light there.” He acts just like I do when something on the water is intense. In those moments I need all voices, except my inner voice, to stop. I need only me and my drowning thoughts and a life raft for them to float on. I know where he’s at, so I shut up.
Then he says, “I don’t understand, I’m following the buoys, they should lead to your boat, it should be right here.”
I’m getting nervous now. Frazzled, really. My exhaustion turns into evocation. I imagine Patrick and I on the water until sunrise. All wet with waves. Prop wrapped around an oyster buoy. Damp silence between us.
There are some very bright lights near to us. I feel that I could touch them with the end of my fingertip. Patrick says, “That’s the main village, don’t the lights seem close? I don’t understand, we shouldn’t be that close to the village.”
The main village is 6 km away from the pearl farm. That’s how far we have gone the wrong direction! Again I say, “Let’s just go back to the farm.”
Patrick swerves this way and that, still looking for Juniper. Telling me to “Shine the light here. Now there. Now turn it off.”
I plead again to abort this mission. Patrick agrees. We start moving a new direction. There are houses lit up on all the motus. Patrick says, “Now, I can’t find the farm.”
Him, “Yes, I don’t know which lights belong to it.”
Me, “Ok, want me to call someone there?”
Him, “Yes, it’s a good idea, ask them to turn on the light up top.”
I call Emma on the farm. She is me in 30 or so years. We both make all of our important decisions based on the movement of an amethyst pendulum. She sailed solo for years and she has lived all over the world – Morocco, Vietnam, Ahe- and she thrives and creates and accelerates, wherever she goes.
I tell Emma that we are lost. She laughs, “Lost? How?”
I say, “I don’t know, but it is the reality of this moment. Can you turn on the light at the top of the pearl farm?”
She says, “It’s already on.”
I say, “Well, you must do something so we know those lights from all the other lights.”
Emma flickers the lights on and off. We see them. We aren’t too far away now. We motor hard towards the flashes.
We get back to the farm with confused minds. Patrick says I messed with his head and that’s how we ended up lost. He also blames my wielding of the flashlight.
I say, “We have all made mistakes tonight. I forgot to turn on the anchor light and you went right.“ That much we can agree upon.
Mistakes always happen in the waters we know best. Those parts that we know with the back of the heart, with all the lights on or off. And of course, a boat never hesitates to teach one a good lesson.