The sail to The Great Astrolabe Reef of Kadavu is a total bash into the wind and it takes all night, but the stars are falling. We do three-hour watches between the two of us. It’s 2 a.m. and my eyes are like petals breaking beneath the wind.

The captain of SeaGlub, Chris, requires me to wear a personal floatation device (PFD) in the cockpit at night, even when the wind is pussyfooting around and there is no swell. Even though his cockpit is the entire size of Juniper. I like that he cares about my safety, but a part of me would like to protest this rule. A part of me would like to say “let’s save this PFD-in-the-cockpit rule for 20 knots and up,” but it’s not my boat. I wish that my PFD would accidentally inflate so I could take it off.

I had a PFD inflate on me once. It was during the Martha’s Vineyard race. A hurricane had brewed and fizzed down to a tropical storm. The ocean was throwing itself over the bow and the boat was a waterfall. My PFD has a pill that dissolves when submerged, causing it to automatically inflate, just in case I bonk my head and fall overboard. So much water was pouring onto me during this race that my pill was dissolving. Then, just before we were going to tack, there was a deafening sound, and my PFD blew up to such a ginormous size that I couldn’t fit under the boom. Imagine my head on the body of a sumo wrestler. I had to waddle and roll around the mast to get to the starboard side while the captain was screaming, “Olivia get that donut off of you!” I’ll never forget it.

Morning wakes and land climbs into view. The peach sun is low and rising. We anchor in Cape Washington on the western edge of Kadavu Island. The day is a wash. One night of sailing isn’t enough to get me in a groove. I need two or three days out at sea to feel alive on the other side. I snorkel, and sleep, and stare at the King Kong mountain tops.

The next day I’m as fresh as a daisy. We climb lava and limestone rocks that bubble over the water like drip castles, honeycombed and sharp. One wrong move and I could muck it all up. Rip my skin. Fall in. We make it across and up and over. We are standing on a deserted island where an abandoned resort is being reclaimed by nature. I see passion fruit flowers, broken glass, and busted buildings covered in vines. Plants and trees are fighting for lost pieces of earth- bleeding emerald, sage, and acid green onto everything. Clifftop bungalows are crumbling back to the sea, beaten to bits by roots. There are holes where toilets used to be, safes with broken combinations sitting open and hungry, bed frames with mattresses missing, melted ceiling fans, and wires too loose to be alive.

We excavate one dilapidated building to the next. Chasing spiders back into their webs. When I pick up an old WiFi box, Bombshell Anna says, “I feel like I’m an archeologist staring at the remains of some future civilization.”

This is the future. Nature cannot be contained. Keep manicuring it if you must. One day, when we aren’t looking, all the lawns on earth will jungle us, and the deer will eat our gardens to nubs, and our homes will be turned into hives, and dandelions will tower over our heads as if we were cracks in the sidewalk.

Across the water from the deserted island, just a stones throw as the crow flies, is a hilltop village. We go there with a bundle of Kava for the chief. The village has a dirt road wide enough for two legs. Everybody walks around with umbrellas and they keep wild parrots in cages. I stare at one. It’s feathers, as green as grass and red like rubies. If the bird could talk to me, what would it say? What would I say? I would ask it to sing me a song that reveals the secret of forest tears.

It’s Sunday, everybody is decked out and on their way to church. We follow. It’s a wild Fijian church. A little bit African, part Polynesian, all Christian. The singing is so angelic that it makes me cry. The preacher is preaching all fire and brimstone with spit flying and I have absolutely no idea what he was saying, but I can feel the words beating on my bones. It’s like God has got me under the hot lights. I crumble. I cry again. Church ends.

We give the kava to the chief and there is some Sevusevu clap, clap, clapping. Then the rain comes. In the tropics the rain is always coming or going. We slip slide back to the boat and sail on to Vunisea, past the land of purple sand.


Vunisea is a stop-over. A place in-between us and the smaller islands of the Astrolabes. The water is aqua blue and there is reef everywhere. The town has got cars but the cars look out of place. Who needs a car at the end of the sand? We visit a store that sells all of the things; stereos, candy, uniforms, glue. It’s the size of two trailers and as dusty as Mars after a haboob. We buy fresh baked bread and hot fireworks. Lots of fireworks. Enough fireworks to make the 4th of July.

We sail on. Past lush landscapes. Beneath us there’s a fish boil of skipjacks and they are flapping the sea into a white-water whirlpool. The seabirds are going ape for it and then one of them poops all over my feather pillows which are still wet and smelling like rot after five days. We catch a skipjack. The hook goes right into it’s eye. Blue, blue, blue.

We make it to Vurolevu Island, it’s an empty island north of Ono, which is north of Kadavu. Imagine palm tree beaches covered in dreams and snow-white sand. We anchor so close to shore that we can hear birds, and the sound of waves crashing, and the crackle pop of the reef.

I go diving. The wind is manic and the visibility is low. I panic because my air tastes rotten still, but then I see a manta swimming out of a cloud of water like a flat-faced ghost and I forget all about the air. The manta does circles above me. Then comes another. And another. A sight so smashing that I pine for nothing more.

At sunset we build a bonfire on the beach. We lounge on the limbs of a weathered tree that lost its roots long ago. In a cyclone perhaps? I hope I don’t lose my roots that way. We cook roti and fish. We drink mezcal with orange slices. We shoot off fireworks. Boom. Bright light. Boom. Flash. Boom. Flash. Bright Light. Flash. Boom. Kids, who have never known fireworks, can see this patch of sky from islands nearby. They must think that the Beaver Moon lunar eclipse is giving birth to a glowing octopus.

Did you see the eclipse? Did you see how red the moon got? Did you feel how it felt when the earth blocked the sunlight from falling onto the moon? I did.

While I’m holding a sparkler and watching it burn, I realize how blessed I am to have seen all I’ve seen. My life feels like the perfect little star shapes that are flying off of the sparkler. My life is a sparkler star.


  1. Yikes . . . Vunisea is now a town with cars? I don’t know why we call that “progress” . . . as if “progress” is somehow coming to our rescue?

  2. The moon was amazing during the eclipse, true. I was thinking that entire Pacific was dark that night. Hawaii to Fiji is a big distance.

  3. I am glad Chris requires you to wear a PFD, as safety should always be 1st priority. Glad you saw the Beaver Moon and lunar eclipse. Xoxo

  4. You write with such vivid imagery that, even though the closest to sailing that I’ve ever come has been to passenger on pontoons and ferry’s, I feel as if I am there with you, living the experience vicariously. Great job!

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