The cousins and I pull into Toau around sunset. The pass is a piece of cake. I catch a mooring just in front of Inapo. I dive up and down the mooring to make sure it’s safe and there are so many sharks that I wet myself, but I’m already wet, so it doesn’t matter.
I attach five lines to the mooring, cause I ain’t going back to a boatyard anytime soon. I break my boat hook along the way, but c’est la vie de bateau.
Te Mana spears us an ume kaki (bluespine unicornfish) for supper, while I scrub all the charcoal marks off the hull and swab the deck. Inapo tried to spear some fish outside of the pass, but sharks kept eating them.
We fry our unicorn up and eat it with rice and sautéed onions. There are chess games too. Teiva is a little genius and he wins even with a stomach sick on the sea.
I wake up at 4 a.m. and there is rain and rainbows and the wind has clocked around and is pumping hard from the southeast, and that’s the direction we’re all heading. Inapo hoists their sail at 6 and I do the same. We sail off the moorings and out into a sea that feels like a washing machine with wind flapping in our faces. We sail beneath the shadow of a cloud. Beating right into everything. The prisms of the sky and the seabirds following, give me promise, even if it’s only a dollop of one.
Inapo is headed to the southeast pass of Toau, but we are headed almost 20 NM further, to Fakarava. I have to go there. I have work the next day and I need an internet connection.
This is the flow, this is the flux, of my nomadic existence.
It’s hellacious out and the cousins are both vomiting. There are guttural sounds as if their entire stomachs are about to fly out of them. I’m hand steering and tacking back and forth between the wind and I don’t feel sick, but I feel their sick. And I don’t dare pull out the jib cause it will only make them sicker.
So many hours pass. So many. Nobody can eat a morsel. Squalls galore too and the rain oh the wet, wet, wet, wet, wet, wet, rain. Te Mana and I begin to take turns steering, but Teiva is afraid to touch the helm. Around 2 p.m. I reach the last pass of Toau and a massive wave crashes all over us and Juniper stalls out and I want to go into that pass real bad. My nerves are cooked. My mind is jumbled. My body, a ball of haze. And against it all I realize that I am nothing more than what I am. But what am I?
Whatever I am, I can’t enter the last pass. I can’t because there is a river of current 3 NM long, going out from sea and into the pass. I can see the rips and they aren’t ripples, they’re full blown waves. Inapo is inside the pass already, we were left in their dust long ago.
Leo told me yesterday, to go past the rips and hug the southern edge of the pass, but I go all the way south and I don’t see a way to enter without getting eaten, so I make the decision to keep going towards Fakarava. Just as I decide, a rainbow beams over Fakarava and I know that my decision is right.
I estimate that we will arrive before sunset, but with all the tacks and currents pushing against us, we are still 10 NM away when the sun starts to dip at 5:15 p.m.
I look at the cousins and tell them we can’t enter until sunrise. It’s not safe. No pass in the Tuamotus is safe after dark. Teiva is still throwing up and freaking out. He doesn’t want to spend the night at sea. I tell him that I have spent many nights at sea and that it’s our only option. I point out the lights of the supply boat that is also waiting offshore. I tell him that we will heave to and let the boat drift. I tell him that all night we will see the lights of that supply ship. I tell him, if anything happens to us, they will save us.
Did I comfort him? I don’t know. But I did what I had to do for our safety and sometimes comfort has to be set aside for what is safe.
I heave to without the jib. The jib is just too much for all of us. I don’t even know if what I do is technically heaving to. Instead of counteracting the jib against the main, I counteract the rudder against the main.
Te Mana and I take turns every two hours watching for ships. Watching our drift. Watching for whatever.
All night I’m praying that the rudder, which took a massive hit when Juniper went ashore and which was recently repaired, doesn’t break. I’m praying too, that I get the boys to safe harbor. It is only their lives that I’m thinking of. Not mine. All I want is for them to see that sunrise.
The currents push us back towards Toau through the night. Around 4 a.m. I turn the engine on and start tacking us back the Fakarava way. When I’m in close range, I call a dive shop near the northern pass. It’s early and a man named Vincent, who sounds like he already gulped 5 cups of coffee, answers. I tell him that I’ve never been here before and I don’t know the pass or what the current is doing. He says it’s incoming until 8. He tells me there will be standing waves in the middle and that I need to hug the east or west side tight.
I wake the boys up. Drop the main. And we are almost at the pass. Their is a strong following sea with 5 knots of current pushing me towards the pass and I’m having to do a crazy dance with the helm to keep Juniper on course. We are surfing. Flying. Free falling.
I decide to hug the east because the wind is blowing from there and if I lose control I won’t get blown onto the reef. I’m as close to that east reef as feels safe. Te Mana is on the bow. Looking out. I get blown into the middle of the pass. A wave crushes us. Everything gets wet and Juniper gets tossed backwards. I’m freaking out in my mind but I can’t let Teiva see it. He’s in the cockpit next to me with seawater dripping off his curly hair.
I think fast. I think, turn hard left and throttle up. I do it. It works! I can’t believe it. I thought we were goners.
We make it inside the pass just in time for a white squall and I can’t see s***. So I’m following my chart-plotter only and there is coral to my left, to my right, dead ahead. And I’m texting work and stalling while steering through it all.
Finally, after more than 24 hours of leaving Toau, I make it to the anchorage in front of Fakarava’s main village. I get ready to drop the anchor and you won’t believe it! When I installed the new whisker stay, I trapped the anchor, so it can’t drop!
I had to put Teiva at the helm. He didn’t want to but I told him to steer in a circle and just pretend that he’s playing a video game. Meanwhile, I loosened the whisker, while Te Mana held the parts on with a sail tie. I got the anchor free, then tightened the whisker back on.
After the hook was set, the cousins packed their stuff up and I hailed a passing boat. I’ve never seen people go to shore faster. Teiva told me that was his first and last time ever sailing. I felt bad about their experience, but then again, I can’t control the weather.
I was a few hours late for work by that time. I called and said, “You won’t believe what I had to go through to get to this WiFi! I’ve been sailing upwind since yesterday. Had to drift offshore through the night, have hardly slept, battled massive waves inside a pass that almost destroyed us, and sailed through a white squall that left me visionless. All the while, I had two young passengers aboard that were vomiting.”
If I proved anything to them, it was my dedication.
A few hours later, I get an email from the same client, asking if I’m available to work on another project as soon as this one wraps.