People on the water; they think different. They do different. They are different. I’m gonna ocean my eyes and salt my honey for forever.
I’m back in Musket Cove where everybody is on permanent vacation for the rest of their lives. Last night we had a birthday honky tonk with a blue-frosting octopus cake. I woke up on a sugar high and rode a long boat out to the surf breaks. Swimming Pools, Cloudbreak, Restaurants, Namotu Left’s, Wilkes. It’s a thirty minute journey across scattered reefs. Baby bonitos swimming alongside us.
The long boat belongs to my friend Anna. She’s a French dark-haired beauty with enough boats to form a flotilla. And you should see her behind the wheel of this skin-and-bones fast boat. Straw hat flopping, blue-lenses reflecting, black tank top that’s screaming “Never Fall Asleep.” She’s an angel and she’s looking at the blue saying, “It’s so magic.” It‘s like I’m inside a commercial that would make people wanna buy whatever was being sold. Coca-cola, Viagra, Tootsie-pops, Budweiser. You name it.
We had to wait a while for the tide to drop and give shape to the waves at Swimming Pools. So we waited. We waited with snorkel masks on in the breakneck current of Restaurants and I was clinging to mooring balls like a chimpanzee and little jellyfish were stinging my face as they floated by. We waited while chasing a pod of 40 dolphins in flying zig zag motions, them jumping up and smashing their bodies onto the water, us squealing. We waited while surfing on a line behind the long boat, a.k.a. skurfing.
By then the sun was sparkling on the water like a thousand stars, and the shadows of seabirds were riding the shores, and the waves were waving, and it was time to surf.
Look, is it totally awful that I ride the broken waves for a while before I get the fatal attraction that makes me paddle hard enough to catch the unbroken ones? I don’t think so. This is what I do. I don’t care how it looks. It doesn’t make me a good egg or a bad egg, I’m still just an egg.
The moon is new and the tides are higher than high and lower than low. When it’s like this, a sand bar just behind the anchorage is exposed. Sometimes I sit on its course crystals- with kite boarders flying behind me and Lollywater Lucy cartwheeling like an Olympian beside me- until the water erases the sand bar again. I try to cartwheel before the last strip of sand disappears, but end up looking like a broken flower with a bent stem.
The days are growing hotter and there’s never enough sunscreen and I’m as sunburnt as a cherry. I think I’m gonna have to start sleeping through the day and do everything under moonlight. I’ll be known as the vampire who sails in pink lipstick and summer dresses and howls at the moon. I’ll be so white you won’t see me. I’ll be a ghost floating on the ocean.
Ghosts…. I spent Halloween in the Yasawas, unpeeled and spilling like a spell inside of a cave ruled by a 10-headed God named Ulutini. He has one human head and 9 snake heads. His human head has a stone on the forehead that shimmers with mana (life force energy).
This snake cave is in Sawa-i-Lau and is said to be the heart and magic of Fiji. It’s limestone walls are a rainbow of colors rising in the soft morning light. At the base of the cave is a deep saltwater turquoise pool. The water is cold and home to two fish and an eel that never die. There are caverns you can swim into, holes that let sunbeams in, rocks to warm on, and graffiti walls that archeologists believe were crafted by higher beings.
Most of the anchorages in the Yasawas were empty. I spent two nights at every anchorage. As soon as my second work day was done I’d sail six or so hours to the next destination. It wasn’t really sailing. It was pounding into waves, sea spray flying, Juniper’s bow catching air and crashing down. Forever avoiding reefs through “incomplete survey” areas.
WAYA ISLAND- Work is heavy. But the scene is pleasant. A yellow school. A long beach. Tall and rounded mountains. I positively can not tell you anything else about the island because I never did leave the boat, but people of the village came to me.
One morning two boys kayak over with buckets of crawdads for sale. The boys are so cute that they could sell ice to an Eskimo, so I buy some of their bugs. I can’t believe it. These mud loving creatures must live everywhere on earth and if you’ve never fished one of them bugs out of some mud, then start digging. If you dig deep enough maybe you’ll find you one that crawdaddied its way down there from Fiji.
DRAWAQA (Manta Ray) ISLAND- I arrive to the anchorage well past the red sunset. The anchorage is deep and I have to side-tie to my friend’s boat. I’ve only done it a handful of times and never at night. Imagine docking to something that spins. I‘m blind in the dark and there is a fat chance that I can hit his big fancy boat in the process, so I turn my deck lights on and say a lot of prayers as I approach.
We are fine until a squall blows wind from the south and starts rocking the anchorage. It happens at midnight. I hear the dreadful sounds of our boats rubbing together and crawl out of bed half-naked. There‘s a fire burning on shore, and cows are mooing, and our fenders are breaking, and the boats are shaking. We don’t sleep but a wink. Spend hours preparing to disconnect the boats. Taking chain from his emergency anchor and connecting it to mine, putting boogie boards in between the boats in the meantime. Cringing at the crunching sounds of our boats tied together. We ride the storm out while connected, but the drama of the night eats my energy.
I never meet the manta rays, but I float the pass and see a lot of fish that are blue from one angle and green from another. And I walk the empty beaches too.
NANUYA LAILAI (Blue Lagoon)- On the way inside the pass my buddy boat is heading straight for a reef. I radio, “Look out for that reef off of starboard.” He thanks me. He would have smacked right into it. Navigating these waters is challenging. You have to stay on your toes, keep your eyes peeled. I’m not going to sail these waters without a buddy until I‘ve done it a thousand times.
Most of the boats in the Yasawas are in the Blue Lagoon. The lagoon is filled with sea grass and sea horses and sea worms, but I’m gonna call it the island of dogs. I get chased by a barking dog down a beach on a Sunday and it takes an entire church full of people to save me. God bless them. Then I go looking for an octopus but find a Dog-Faced puffer fish instead. It looks exactly like a dog with a fish body and it’s mouth is a terminal with four strong teeth. If you eat the dog-faced fish you can die of tetrodotoxin or appear dead according to all vital signs and get buried alive. It’s full of zombie making juice.
In the Blue Lagoon I meet a lady who broke three ribs on her sail to Fiji. When she arrived to Savusavu a Fijian man came down from the mountains, did his bone healing wizard tricks, and healed her! I don’t wish to break a bone, but I kind of do, so I can get healed by this man, just to say that I did.
While I‘m in the Blue Lagoon I get word that the waves were coming back and that Baobab burned down to the ground. Baobab is the ship chandlery that I ordered my new chain and anchor from and my order burned up along with it. I have to sail back south. I have to deal with all of that.
The sail back takes all day. It‘s Halloween weekend and flaming out. I wear a pink-sunset-palm-tree bathing suit and a flamingo on my head. It’s on days like these that I’m grateful that I sailed across the ocean with a lot of unnecessary items like: cowgirl boots, maroon high heels, and a flamingo costume.
The day is dandy until I get hit with a 30 knot tropical downpour on my nose. I throw my flamingo head down below cause it won’t ever dry if it gets wet. I only have one reef in the main and the sail is bashing back and forth on the verge of breaking everything. The rain is so heavy that frogs were drowning, the sea is the sky, and I’m a wet sponge. I can’t see straight, I’m freezing, and scared like I always am when it’s like this. Be still my heart. I need to drop the main but I can’t crawl up to the mast. I don’t know what to do or which way the storm is blowing, so I fall off the wind and head the wrong direction while my buddy boat does circles around me. We do this until the storm subsides.
There’s nothing like a squall to rattle you. And sometimes the wind is so strong that no ship can steer into it. And I promise you that every time I get to a new destination on the water, I’m like how in the hell did I just do that? How am I still alive? How is my boat still floating? A Fijian woman said it’s because I’m blessed, I’m guided, that I’ve got angels out on the water with me. It has to be true, she must be right.
You never know how to do something or if you can do it, until you do it.
It was a mud-honey type of day on the River of Grass. Hot, wet, swollen, and sticky. Subtropical summer clouds, were climbing vertical, calling thunder and tempting rain big enough to drown a toad.
The sky could drop today. Could drop tonight. Could drop tomorrow. Whenever it did, it’d be a sizzly sod-soaker, mud sender, gulley washer and Billy Jack knew that.
He knew all the wicked and wonderful ways the wind could shape the water, and he knew he should turn his boat back, but he didn’t. He stayed right out there with his cat, Wizard, curled at his feet and his fishing line in the water. Billy Jack was waiting for that big fish to bite.
He motors into a forest of cypress trees, figuring that if the sky fell, the trees would be as good of an umbrella as any. Then he strikes a deal with God. “God, don’t let them clouds fall on me tills I catch me a fish, and if I don’t catch me a fish, ‘least let me done see a fight between a crocodile and an alligator, so I got me some kinda story to shares with the grandkids, ‘cause I reckon this right here is the only place on earth where’s I could see me sumthin like that.”
Billy Jack could eat corn through a picket fence, teeth like a horse, and when he spoke his words tripped out of his mouth half-formed, vowels hanging. He crossed his fingers on both hands, held them towards the sky, hoping God could hear him clear enough.
Billy Jack was way deep in the outlaw country of the Everglades now. Deep enough that he was low on the pecking order. Deep enough that mysteries misted the air. Deep enough that sightings of pirate ghost ships and gator-men (half-gator, half-man), were frequent. Deep enough that every creature slinking around him had hungry eyes and open mouths, ready to eat a heart without thinking.
The water he was floating on moves like a herd of turtles, so slow that you would have thought the river was a swamp. And it’s a liquid labyrinth that goes on forever, 50 miles wide, a hundred miles long and four feet deep. In some places it’s so green with sawgrass and thick with mud, that you’d mistake it for a mush-mash of earth, in others places so clear that it’s a looking glass that heaven falls into it, reflecting sunbursts like shooting stars.
Billy Jack was half-naked, blue short shorts, and a bare chest that an eagle feather necklace hung low on. The mosquitos were buzzing around, biting. He was swatting them away while watching two ducks go at it on the water.
Billy Jack couldn’t help but think about duck penises and how he’d read that they spiral like a corkscrew and come in so many varieties from ribbed to toothed that they’re “Like a selection of sex toys from a vending machine in a strange alien bar.” He got excited thinking about that, started wishing he could corkscrew it into some honey.
All of a sudden, there was a splash over yonder and Wizard started meowing as constant as a grasshopper sings. Legs bowed, back arched, hair jutting out like a porcupine. Billy Jack looks at Wizard and says, “What’s got your panties twisted?”
Up ahead on the water, just beyond a clearing, he sees a pile of pink. He motors towards it. Shapes get fuller as he gets closer and he sees that it’s a flock of flamingos, wings flapping like flames fire.
One of the flamingos is getting swallowed by a python. Back in 1992 Hurricane Andrew broke a bunch of Burmese Pythons free from a breeding cage. Ever since then, they’ve been swallowing up the Everglades.
Wizard kept right on meowing and while Billy Jack was watching the python chow down, a pelican came and slurped Wizard in one fell swoop; from beak to gular to gullet. Billy Jack started jabbing his fishing pole towards the pelican like a sword, but the bird got away.
Billy Jack was deep enough that every creature was slinking around with hungry eyes and open mouths, ready to eat a heart without thinking.
Billy Jack wanted to cry something fierce for the loss of his feline. Then he figured God must have been listening, and that God can’t give you something without taking something else away.
The sun started sinking. Billy Jack reeled his empty line in and began motoring home. He wanted to get there before the water was full of moon, or worse yet, lightening. He passed patches of purple flowers and panthers and peacocks. Ducking his head beneath branches and vines. Twisting his helm this way, then that.
The sun had sunk and he was still 10 nautical miles from home. It turned into a no moon night and he couldn’t tell the water from the sky and the sky from a cave. Billy Jack was pulling his flashlight out when something thudded against his boat.
He switched the flashlight on, there was another thud, then another, then another, coming from all directions. He shone his light down and could have sworn that he saw human hands rising up out of the water.
His light started flashing as rapid as a firefly flickers, until it flashed off. Billy Jack tried to smack the light back on, shaking the batteries, banging it against the aluminum edge of the boat. But it wouldn’t turn back on and the world stayed black.
The thuds kept thudding as a song of sirens rose into the air. The thuds grew louder, the song rose higher, dark and deafening, and then there was nothing.
Billy Jack sure was deep enough that every creature was slinking around with hungry eyes and open mouths, ready to eat a heart without thinking.