“(S)He who is not everyday conquering some fear, has not learned the secret or life.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The closer I get to land, the more fevered I become. I’m sailing the Koro Sea towards Savusavu all swivel-eyed and slack-jawed. The swell is surging, the wind is rising, and the sun is sinking west of west.
I can feel the turbulence of cold air colliding with warm. I’m still 10 NM away from the entrance to the harbor and night is erasing the last light of gold from the sky. If ever I could freeze time, it would be now. Without the sun, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.
I don’t want to enter a strange harbor at night and I also don’t want to heave-to and spend another night at sea. It would be a sleepless sleep and I’m already slipping into some strange madness. Shriveling, like flowers do, when exposed to too much sun and salt and wind. Though I realize, one must move almost past the point of resilience, in order to embody self-reliance. That is what I have come to sea to obtain, isn’t it?
I have three nautical miles to go. The sky is moonless, starless, lightless. The air is 25 frosted knots with icicle lips and a biting tongue. The sea is wet glass, breaking behind me, onto me, into me.
My natural instincts are no longer trustworthy. I call my friend Kerstin. She’s in Savusavu and has arranged for the navy to tow me to anchorage no matter when I arrive.
Kerstin is a peach. She and I met in Maui a year ago, aboard Juniper, an hour before I set sail towards Tahiti. She gifted me star fruit and print outs on Polynesian Wayfinding for my journey. Almost every day that I have been at sea since, she speaks to me through satellites. Sometimes she sends a short story, sometimes a recipe, sometimes a sailing tactic, sometimes weather reports.
She’s the one that sailed here via 10 S, the magic latitude where the trade winds are consistent and mild. I wonder what lessons would have been lost and gained had I gone that far north and taken that more tender journey? I suppose that the path does not matter, that a lesson is never lost, that if we seek truth, the lesson will seek us, wherever we are, until we gain it.
Me: “Kerstin, I don’t want to sleep out here tonight and I’m terrified to come into the channel without daylight. I can’t do it. I can’t do any of it.”
Kerstin (something along the lines of): “You just sailed all this way by yourself. You can do this. It’s not like the Tuamotus. It’s not a pass. There’s no current. Your arriving at the end of incoming tide. We’ve been in a few times at night. Nothing’s lit. Just follow the chart. Favor the starboard side, stay just a few miles off the reef. It’s flat water once your in.”
I don’t want to do it, but I am going to do it. I’m going to sail into an unlit, unmarked harbor for the first time, at night. Without an engine! All I can picture is me coming all this way and getting wrecked on a reef.
It’s 7 p.m. I’m one nautical mile away from the mouth. I can see the black outline of dangerous things against an even blacker sky. I can feel the pink coral pinnacles rising beneath me. I have to pee. I have to jump overboard. I have to fly with the fish.
Déjà rêvé. Already dreamed. That dream I had where I was sailing into Savusavu blind, foreshadowed this. I love a precognitive dream. What happened in the dream? My subconscious revealed that I made it into Savusavu, but nothing about it was serene.
I can do this! I already did it once in a dream.
I need no light from Space. Everything that surrounds me, everything inside of me, everything I consume, everything I breathe, everything I see; is stardust. The ocean, coral reefs, the earth. My body, my blood, my bones; your body, your blood, your bones. Oxygen, fish, insects, trees, birds, air, crystals, flowers, raindrops mushrooms, stones. All of it fell from space. I am the luminous explosion of a supernova, the tail of a comet reflecting the sun, the romance that fell from the heart of the sky, the glow of the Milky Way that intoxicates eyes.
I furl the jib. I turn the engine on but keep it in neutral, to ease my mind. I lock off the hydrovane. I take the helm. I turn up into Point Passage. I’m on a beam reach getting tossed around by the elements. The instrument panel for the engine fogs up within minutes. I turn it off.
As I weave further into the pass, the wind whips forward to a close reach. I’m now sailing to weather between reefs and I see 26 knots. I can’t do this. I feel out of control. I want the navy now.
But I have to keep going. I need to harden the main. I need to get the staysail up, but the autopilot isn’t holding course and I can’t let the helm go. Whenever I try, the boat rounds up towards the reef. I’m moving at 1 knot speed over ground. I release the helm and run up to sheet in the main.
As I get further in, Kerstin’s partner, Brian, dinghies out to me. We’ve never met. He doesn’t know how depleted I am. He sees me giving up.
He’s not allowed to touch Juniper due to COVID restrictions, so he’s coaching me from alongside. Him (something along the lines of), “You have to keep the boat in motion. You have to gain speed. You have to sail further in for the navy to get you. You have to get closer to shore where the water is flatter.” I say, “I know. I need my staysail for speed, the jib won’t work with this amount of wind.” Him, “So get the staysail up.”
I don’t have the energy to explain that I can’t. That it’s a hank on. That it will take me 15 to 20 minutes to run up to the mast and set it up and I can’t steer and do that at the same time. And furthermore, that my head is about to roll off my body and into the mouth of a fang-toothed fish, and nobody wants to see the squish that results from that.
I keep sailing, main only, riding the puffs of wind up closer to shore. Brian alongside, guiding me around pearl farm buoys and other hazards.
I hear the Fijian Navy on channel 16. “Juniper, Can you see us? We can’t see you.” I see their lights flashing from across the water. I get out my spotlight and flash it back. Me, “This is Juniper, I can see you, can you see me?” Navy, “Yes, we are on our way. We are coming to you. Stay there.”
They come with two boats. I toss a line off the bow to the bigger of the two boats. They are taking photos of me, I am taking photos of them. None of us can believe this is happening.
Once I’m tied on to the navy, I look at Brian, “Are you leaving now?” Brian, “Do you want me to go?” Me, “No you‘re a good asset.”
We are two nautical miles from the anchorage and I now have an entourage of three support boats; one navy boat towing me off the bow, one navy boat off my stern, and my coach off of starboard between me and the shore.
They tow me through Nakama Creek and up into the anchorage near Copra Shed marina. Land smells delicious- like a warm pie- after twenty days offshore.
I’m glad Brian is there, he becomes the conductor of the anchoring orchestra. Telling the Navy where to go and me when to drop. I drop the hook, but it sets me too close to another boat. We start all over again.
The Navy guys see me cranking up the anchor by hand, hop onboard, and push me aside to assist. It takes three of them to get the anchor up. I don’t mind the help one bit.
After the second anchor drop, Brian sets the hook, by attaching his dinghy to the stern of Juniper and tugging her in reverse.
Meanwhile one of the Navy guys brings me a cold beer. He says, “You sail alone?” Me, “Yes.” Him bug-eyed, “Why?” I shrug. Another one says, “She must be a mermaid.”
Then everyone disappears.
I’m alone. I made it. I’m here. I’m alive. I hope my new anchor holds. I don’t want to end up in the mangroves!
I lay down and close my eyes and evaporate like all water does before it falls back to earth.
*I couldn’t have made it into Savusavu without the help of Kerstin arranging things with the Navy, and Brian orchestrating the anchoring. I am so eternally grateful for their help! They have a sailing co-op, check it out here:
*Also writing to all of you everyday and knowing that your were out there in the waves with me; kept me going, kept me alive, kept me looking forward to sunrise. I love you, I miss you, thank you.
*Barry, the work you did in the bimini held strong through all the weather. I thought of you every time the wind made it sing.