I’m in the cockpit of Epiphany off an island called Mama (pronounced: Mana). I just blew the conch shell and said “goodnight sun.” Imagine the quack of a dying duck, that’s how the conch sounds when played by my lips.
I see rolling jade hills against a salmon sky and the mango moon is on the rise. It’s such a sliver. I can hear the sound of summertime; the roll of waves, the song of cicadas.
There’s a squall creeping it’s way into the anchorage. It‘s coming in sharp with a bitter breeze that blows the salad right off my fork and sends shivers down my backbone….. shaking all over.
People wonder what I do at night. This is what I do, sit in cockpits and stare at the sky, or read, or roll the dice, or go out to eat. Do I dance? Yes, all the time. At the Island Bar to live music strummed by a man who was in a Jackie Chan movie, to songs tossed onto speakers by bartenders, to local music by local players, to the ocean.
On Mama there is no bar. There is a run down backpackers hotel that looks like an unsolved crime scene. A store with soda pops and fat snacks. Colorful houses with windows eternally boarded up in preparation for a cyclone that may or may not be coming. And patches of green mowed down by the TV show Survivor.
I came to this island looking for a baby turtle. Really, that was my only reason. I dream to watch a baby turtle take its first swim. I walk around the village talking to the local women. I ask “Have you seen a baby turtle?” And “Which side of the island do they prefer?” And “Is it the most cutest sacred thing you’ve ever seen?” Or “Where do the octopuses play?” And “Did one ever turn blue for you?“
I’m with friends, Bill and Chris. Bill says that all of my conversations with the people of Mama make him feel like he’s on mushrooms. I can’t fully hear what he’s saying because beneath me a huge Sand Shifting Starfish is crawling like water towards a tiny Sand Shifting Starfish. They touch. They put their arms around each other. Then the big starfish mounts the little starfish in a piggy back fashion. It’s not sex, but it looks like sex.
Speaking of sex. Do you know about argonaut squid sex? The males penis is longer than his body and he keeps it in a pouch under his left eye. When he sees a female, he pulls his penis out of the pouch, detaches it from his body, and tosses it. Then the penis swims by itself until it plugs and impregnates the female. Unfortunately for her the severed squid penis will protrude from her body for rest of her life. Can you imagine? Flying penis! I’d pay a lot of money to see that go down.
Every day I dinghy over to a sand dune rising up out of the deep blue nothing. A cay that takes 7 minutes to walk around. And it’s surrounded by coral and covered in terns with white wings. The water is crystal-turquoise, like a swimming pool but greener. Something about the shade seems as delicate as insect wings. Standing there I’m in a desert ocean daydream riding a camel into a pyramid and eating clouds like candy.
When the wind is calm the ocean is the sky. When the wind is wild the waves rip the reef into more sand and crash on top of the cay in all directions. I love the chaos. I swim inside of it. Two petite striped fish follow me like puppies and a moray eel gets an inch from my face with it’s shards-of-glass teeth.
I swim past something that looks like a cactus, it’s a coral polyp-eating Crown of Thorns Starfish. Poisonous. It’s destroying Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and corrupting the bleeding spirts of fish. You know why? Humans and agriculture. River run-off is carrying farm fertilizer into the ocean. The fertilizer is making coral polyps explode, which is driving the Crown of Thorns Starfish population up.
Every little thing that we do has an impact.
To get back to the anchorage I weave the reef passage of Mama. It’s a shallow serpentine shape with a mishmash of channel markers that jumble the mind. I watch and yell as a sailor almost runs his sailboat right into the reef. He was taking the first green marker to port, like you do in American waters. Red right return, but not here. The waters around Fiji will sink you if you’re not careful.
Juniper is trying to sink herself all of the time. She wants to sink. She is sinking. Sink. Sink. Sink. I caught her shaft packing leaking again. I caught it too late, after Juniper’s bilge had been turned into a flooded salt lake slosh of slime. My pipe wrenches have handles the size of broomsticks, so they never fit right under the transmission and I have to borrow tools and hands to fix it.
The hands I borrow this time belong to a man named Kurt. He said, “My shaft leaks 7 drops a minute.” And I said, “When on and in gear, right?” And he said, “No all the time, even with the engine off.” And I said, “Well that ain’t right.” I offered to help him tighten his up, but he said he’s fine with it as is. I, on the other hand, don’t have that much faith in my busted bilge pump.
You know what other devastating discovery I made on Juniper last week? I was anchored out at Cloudbreak with Swell, Macushla, Renegade, Sea Glub, and Wild Thing 3. I was about to make my way back to Musket Cove when I heard the click of a transmission slip and all forward motion of the boat stopped. A lot of jiggling and throttling got the gear back, but something is shot. Reverse works but forward does not. The prop spins but nothing happens unless I throttle up and down a bunch. It’s not the throttle cable. It’s something inside the tranny. The pressure plate or something.
Lordy, me and my tranny. I don’t even know which model she is. All I can tell you is she’s a Hurth. I’m going to ignore the cost of this problem for this moment. I’m going to drive in reverse if I have to. I’m going to keep going to my deserted island in Mama and not think about it.
It’s been three days and I’m blistered by the sun and I haven’t found one baby turtle. But my quest has taught me to stop looking for things in life. I just have to let life happen in surprises.