I’m so high on life right now that I’m afraid of how hard it’s gonna hurt when I crash down. The other day a man said to me, “I wish I had your spirit.” I don’t know how my spirit got like this. All I can say is grab life by the clouds. Take one dream at a time. Slow your pony down if you need to. Don’t worry, nobody’s gonna beat you to the Rodeo, because this Rodeo goes on forever. The secret to life is to give less of a damn, to stay fluid, to have fun and have faith, and do whatever it takes to set your soul free from the fire. Do it all with love and gratitude and don’t forget to breathe deep. Each breath as big as a grapefruit. Without breath we are nothing, might as well be dead. It’s our breath that connects us to all that is living and all that once lived, from cellular to stellar.
Follow the breath, follow the flow.
It took three and half days to get to Musket Cove on Malolo Lailai. North of Viti Levu is a ticking reef bomb and that’s the way I went. The charts say; Numerous Sunken Reefs, Foul Ground, Dries Up, Breaks Occasionally, Uncharted, Unsurveyed. It’s so dismal. I’m going to make my own nautical chart one day and somewhere on it, I will write “Empire of Fish.” Why not? It sounds nice, doesn’t it?
The charts have pink recommended tracks, but they can’t be trusted. There are channel markers, but most are bent or missing or unlit. Sailors record their tracks in Fiji and share them with each other. Then you sail your boat along someone else’s track, as if you were a hunter hunting a deer for dinner, or a pencil tracing a dotted line. Tracks or no tracks, without a boat to follow, I would’ve taken the south side of Viti Levu and entered from the west. It would’ve added many nautical miles to my journey, and I would’ve sailed through the night, and arrived exhausted, but there would have been far fewer obstacles along the way.
This is how the reef voyage went.
Day 1: SUNDAY
I leave Savusavu at sunrise and follow Aqua Brava down to the Nasonisoni Passage at the base of Vanua Levu. We are almost at the pass. They catch a fish. Birds are breaking open the sky, trying to steal it off the hook. I can see a vibrant green and yellow scaled body jumping out of the water as they reel it in. I pick up the VHF and say, “Get ready for fireworks, you just caught yourself a Mahi-Mahi.”
We enter a narrow passage, only .2 NM wide. The water is turbulent. Reef on both sides, so close that I can smell dried salt. I’m escorted by the current, such a rush. I throw Juniper in reverse for a hot second, I don’t want to hit Aqua Brava. I’m grateful to be behind them; the captain knows this pass and he walks me through everything before we do it. I didn’t know how this Buddy Boating journey with these strangers would go, better the devil you know and all, and I don’t know them at all. When I met them, the night before, the captain was a few sheets to the wind and sitting at a table surrounded by women. We got into a tiff when he tried to change my Navionics chartplotter settings. I snatch my phone and say, “Don’t you dare touch my instruments.” And he says, “Listen honey, there are better settings for viewing the charts.” And I say, “I don’t care, this is how I view mine.” And he says, “Fine, if you can’t take criticism.” I’m thinking that this guy has got some kind of nerve and I say, “I’ve survived this far with my settings the way they are, don’t touch my settings ever again without asking.” The girl crewing for him is Eli. She’s young, French Canadian, and she shines like a bubble blown straight into the sun during summertime. She leans over and whispers to me in her cute accent, “You’re such a badass.” (I later razz the captain about this interaction. He confesses that he wanted to change my chart so he could read it more easily and he believes that the way he sets it is safer.)
We pass the reef. Sailing inside the bay is top notch. Broad reach, wind in the mid-teens, but there is blood all over the boat. I look down. My foot is a fountain. I must have stubbed it while untangling the lazy jib sheet. I mummify it with toilet paper, then lay down with book in the cockpit. I get lost in words and absorbed by the soft sea air. I hear, “Aqua Brava to Juniper” on the VHF. Me, “Juniper here.” Them, “Just making sure that you are awake and see that reef straight in front of you.” I look up. Out on this water alone, I might have hit that reef.
We anchor at Nabouwalu. Right when I drop, the wind rises and sets my hook for me. I love my new anchor. There are no houses in the bay, only a pier with an industrial vibe and a freight ship with stadium lights. Something is burning, black smoke rising. We eat the fresh caught Mahi Mahi and sing. Eli and I are twins. She is me. I am her. The difference in years between us, meaningless. We like the same obscure things. She says, “Olivia you seem like the kind of girl who makes popcorn on the stove.” I say, “I do. My dad taught me how to pop it that way. She says, “I knew it.”
I might as well be walking on the moon.
DAY 2: MONDAY
I’m pushing against the current to enter Bligh Water. The wind is a hot cake. 20 knots apparent. Aqua Brava is way out there. I am getting hit with massive puffs funneling up through Broad Passage and into Bligh. Juniper keeps rounding up. I have one reef in the main and a full jib. I rip skin off my fingers furling the jib a smidge. More blood and a deep rope burn. I never sail with sailing gloves, this is why people sail with gloves. You should not sail like I do, never sail like I do. Get some gloves. Keep your hands like doves.
I’m zipping around at 7.7 knots over ground. I pass Aqua Brava. He doesn’t care that I dirty his air. I jibe. I jibe again. They pass me. We begin the entrance into Manava Passage on the north side of Vanua Levu. I’m sailing between the Sali Sali and Cakua Wili reefs and the wind is hard on my nose. My autopilot is glitching and it’s all I can do to get the main down. Waves are coming over the bow, crashing onto my body. I’m pushing into 28 knots. Salt stinging my eyes. Everything burns. It takes me a year to go nowhere. Eight minutes feels like 80. Drenched. I can’t keep Juniper straight, I’m squiggling outside the lines. I pretend I am back in Viani Bay riding the horse. The rough reins in my hands; just a rope wrapped inside the horse’s mouth.
I would be in real shit if the engine failed me now. I don’t know what I would do. I don’t even have time to think about what I would do. I finally make it in. I follow Aqua Brava west inside the reef. The force of nature is behind us again, propelling us forward. Everything feels freer. The mountains are Aztec, I’m a siren, and the sun is falling. I see turtle rock. I sail past Vatia Wharf. We pull up somewhere off Rawarawa, and drop anchor. My anchor won’t set. My new, sparkling anchor, won’t set! I’m dragging away. What the bless? I pick it up, the mud on it is slick and loose and it stains me and the deck. I drop it again. I drag. The captain of Aqua Brava dinghies over to me. Together, we try to set it in the shallow of shallows. I drag, and drag, and drag, and drag. What a drag. We decide to run a line from Juniper’s portside bow and tie it to the stern of Aqua Brava. Two boats, riding the night out on one good anchor. For a measure unknown, we set my anchor off Juniper’s starboard side.
My skin sticks to itself. I want to shower, but there’s a hole in my bucket. It doesn’t matter. There is lightening in the sky. There are the red flames of fire on shore. There is moonlight making shapes on the water. There is a sunken hole in me where a trusted anchor needs to be. I pass out, soaked, and sleep inside a sand castle.
DAY 3: TUESDAY
It’s 5 a.m. I check my bilge. Saltwater is so high inside that the floorboards are about to float away. I pump it out. I check the fuel, 20 gallons. I check the engine. Oil and coolant and transmission levels are good, but the shaft packing is spewing. Aqua Brava helps me adjust it. The locking nut is so loose that we don’t even need my pipe wrenches. I’m such a mess, I might as well be shipwrecked.
It’s a short sail over to Port Denarau. I try to anchor outside the entrance, but it’s soft mud, and my new anchor can’t handle it, and Juniper is dragging again. I’m about to hit the boat behind me. Somehow, I feel unflustered. I’m running back and forth, cockpit to bow. Cranking the anchor, reversing the boat, cranking the anchor, turning the boat.
I get the anchor up without an increase in heartbeat. I motor up the river into Port Denarau. I radio to request a mooring. There isn’t one free. “We can put you on T Dock,” they say. “Which one is T dock,” I ask. “The one that looks like a T,” they say. I’M SUCH AN IDIOT! “I am singlehanded, can somebody catch my lines,” I say. A new voice comes over the radio, it’s a man, “I will fetch her lines.”
I do loops while I set up the fenders. The last time I docked was in Bora Bora, on a concrete pier that ripped my rub rail off. I don’t want to dock, but it’s the only option. I put Juniper in forward. I feel calm as I approach, no needless thoughts. I don’t recognize myself. Who is this woman? This woman who has become so connected with her boat, that the maneuvering of it is as thoughtless as lifting an arm? This woman who is so fluid with the float of life? I dock. It’s smooth and perfect and I am shocked.
Two men catch my lines for me. One of them manages the boats that pile up into the mangroves during cyclones. I’ve been emailing him, trying to get a spot. He’s been saying that maybe there is room for me, maybe there is not. After I dock, he tells me that he will squeeze me into the mangroves. My boat is secure, my cyclone plan is secure, I am secure.
DAY 4: WEDNESDAY
I run around getting fuel, ordering a new anchor, ordering more chain, provisioning, filling my water tanks, swabbing the decks. I bump into all sorts of sailors that I met in French Polynesia. They are getting ready to head to New Zealand or Australia. They had to pay a pretty penny to get in wherever they are going. New Zealand requires that you spend up to $50K Kiwi dollars re-outfitting your boat or that you sell your boat there, so they can benefit from the sales tax. A pandemic turned into a profit.
I’m going to stick to Fiji, like a cloud sticks to land. I’m going to stay here long enough to know all of it’s flavors. I feel like I just got here. I love it here.
I set sail for Malolo Lailai around 2 p.m. Aqua Brava needs another day in the city, so I follow a boat named Sea Glub through the reef. As I pull into anchorage, Lolly-water Lucy, who I went to Fulaga with, dinghies out to meet me. She climbs aboard, ties her dinghy to Juniper and we are hugging and giggling. Her dinghy breaks loose. I rescue it with a boat hook. A man rows out with his cat and helps us catch a mooring.
I am here, in Musket Cove.