Buttercups, it happened, I twisted around the sun and am no longer melting down. To celebrate my birth, I ate chocolate cake for breakfast with nine of my anchorage friends. It had sprinkles on it. There were handmade cards that sparked tears. “Happy Birthday” banners strung up with depictions of Juniper, sharks, fish, and rainbows. The day was washed in dinghy skurfing sessions followed by surfing. We ate burgers and drank sunset-colored cocktails on the lagoon and I was gifted a boat hook. The greatest gift a gal living on the water with a broken boat hook could get.
As I write to you, I am sailing to The Sailor’s Islands. Raitea and Taha’a. The islands share a lagoon and the main village is “Long Mouth.”
It’s only 26 nautical miles to get to the leeward side. I am alone, but not alone. My friends on S/V Wilderness are out here somewhere, but I can’t see them because the swell is sinking the sky. 7 feet high. White-laced crests rising, shattering. Blue touching blue, rinsing the clouds.
The wind is blowing in a vast range, sometimes 12, sometimes 22 knots. I’ve got Juniper on the edge of running. I like the edge of running, that’s the edge that I exist on. Escape. Adventure is my escape. Adventure is sometimes my pitfall too.
I’m sailing jib only and it’s reefed. I don’t know why I did that. My boat is less stable in a swell of sea without the mainsail. I did it because my friends are doing it, but they have a 50 ft. catamaran, so it’s a different ballgame. A fast one, a luxurious one, with a plethora of peanuts and crackerjacks.
I’m fishtailing in tropical turbulence. Sometimes Juniper is lifted out of the water so high that the depth alarm goes off because it’s crystals think I’m floating shallow. Sometimes I fall down the waves, 7 knots. Sometimes they slow me down, 4 knots. Sometimes I am afraid that Juniper won’t land right, negative all knots.
Today I made peace with the fact that paradise is a paradox. My life on the water can be both enchanting and heartbreaking. If life was always peachy keen how would I know how sweet the juice is? Dichotomy reigns in all the wild places on earth. Look at the sea, for every fish that will feed you, there is one that will poison you, or eat you, or sting you.
I’ve been sleeping with one eye open, like most aquatic animals. Awakened by wind and tarnished dreams. Dreams where Juniper ends up on shore and I’m dragging her back to the pink water through sludge mud. I pass dream people, hands full, nobody helps me, but they talk my ear off. Everybody’s got an opinion.
I’ve been spending daylight underwater, in silence, staring at fish glitter. I’m trying to figure this heart out. I figured some things out; I don’t like places with lots of people, dark gives birth to light, and I am paralyzed by time. Clocks and calendars and sand grains falling between an hour glass, make me twitch. Growing up, I failed every timed standardized test that I was given. Too frozen by tics and tocs to answer a question.
Time is a heavy weight and I prefer realms in which it doesn’t matter, but I have two weeks left before my French Polynesian visa runs out. Time. My birthday came and I grew older. Time. There is so much more that I must do in life. Time. Time. Time.
But what would it matter to anyone if I spent the rest of my days as a wildflower hunter?
I have been so stuck on the loss of time, that I have lost time, and the other day I missed a whale blowing beneath a double rainbow as it passed by my mooring in the lagoon of Huahine.
I’ve been praying to see a whale today to make up for the one that I missed. I want it to come close, but not too close, just close enough to feel. I close my eyes at the helm and visualize this.
I’m 3 nautical miles form the pass into Raitea. I’m watching Wilderness sail into it on the chart plotter. I wish that I was following them through it.
Thirty minutes feels like thirty days. I’m almost to the first channel marker. I lock the windvane and turn my engine on. I leave the jib out, just in case. My body is a distasteful ensemble. Nerves and pulse and thoughts bashing together out of rhythm. I could hit the reef and sink, I think.
The waves gain power as they narrow through the channel. I’m beep-bopping, pulled towards one side, then pushed into the other. It’s all I can do to steer down the middle. I‘m a lost needle. I‘m a whacked out doodle. I‘m a jagged bolt.
There is an outgoing current. I throttle up. I see the Long Mouth village. I see windsurfers catching air. I see a pine branch floating nowhere. The lagoon fizzes around me. I jibe. I wrap the wench wrong and the sheet does nothing. It takes me a minute to clear the fog.
I’m about to round the north corner of Raitea. I jibe again. The jib gets caught around the staysail. I’m in a gust of 25 knots and the sail is a cluster. Juniper is getting pulled in wicked ways. I‘m loosing control. I turn towards the wind. I can’t get the jib untangled. Juniper is heading diagonal towards the water. God, make me a hologram. I blow the sheet and furl. Engine don’t fail me now.
As I turn the north corner, a whale pops up two feet away. It’s spray blesses me and Juniper. Dreams really do come true.
The wind is almost too hot to handle. Boats are anchored everywhere. I see Wilderness at the edge of the motu closest to the pass.
They radio me. “Wilderness to Juniper. Do you copy.” Me, “Juniper here, I see you.” Them, “Anchor off our port, drop in the 30 feet zone and backdown over the sand bar.” Me, “Ok.”
A catamaran snags the spot next to them, before I can get there. I’m circling the anchorage. I’m on top of the sand bar and the depth alarm is going bonkers. I loop back to the 30 ft. deep zone. I steer head to wind. Shift to neutral. Run up to the bow. Let the anchor fall hand over hand. I stop the chain at 50 feet. Run back to the cockpit, throttle up until I feel her catch. Neutral. Run back to the bow, drop 120 more feet. Run back to the cockpit, reverse, throttle, back down again. Coral bommies behind me, don’t hit them! Neutral. Run back to bow, secure my bridle.
Wilderness radios, “Yea girl, get it, do that solo sailing thing.” Me, “It’s freaking hell raising, dude.”
The sun sets. The sky blows thunder. I radio Wilderness, “Juniper to Wilderness. Will you keep your radio on? I can’t sleep. What if I drag?” Wilderness, “I promise you that there is no way your anchor is going to drag up the sand bar. Get some rest.”
5 Replies to “PARADISE IS A PARADOX”
I was on the edge of my seat, heart pounding as I read this post. Good to know you made the journey safely and your wish to see a whale came true! I am so happy you spent your birthday celebrating with friends. It was especially kind for your sailing friends to help you have a grand birthday. Xoxo, mom
Here I am with a cornucopia of anchors, none a CQR and no way the global supply chain is going to work for sharing one with you.
Go get Em, Olivia. So glad you are having such a grand adventure!
Hau’oli la hanau!
Olivia, you are my hero – in writing, in sailing, in life.