It’s been a wild week on the water and I’ve been feeling like such a billygoat. It began with oil exploding out of my engine and ended with the bolts that connect my drive shaft to my transmission shaking loose and me running aground. I’ve been towed three times in seven days, and I smell like sludge slime, and I’m talking about coolant in my sleep, and my life raft is loose, but I won a crab race and that’s all that matters.
The first engine mishap happened like this…. It’s 9 AM and I’m leading a caravan of catamarans to Navandra. It’s a small uninhabited island ruled by sharks and crabs. I’ve never been there before but people describe it like some aquatic fairytale.
“Hey Juniper, looks like we’re going to run low on wind, is your engine running good or do you need a tow,” says a rum and gravel British voice on channel 69.
“Yea, I just buttered her up, she should be fine,” I say. Why wouldn’t she be fine?
The boats in my water gang are; Shapeshifter, Wildside, and Zephyr. I’m the only Arkansan out here and lately I wish I‘d been born in Florida. Because I would be saltier and because all the news that comes out of that state is like a Murakami story. I just read that a Floridian man threw an alligator into a McDonalds drive-thru window! Can you imagine; french fry grease flying, teeth, women screaming, milkshakes dripping, and lots of leathery green scale skin.
Anyway, everyone else out on the water is from Europe or New Zealand or Mars and their English sometimes sounds like a foreign language to me. Together we are nine adults and two kids. One person in our gang used to own a dreadlock hair salon, another traded a venue party for a boob job, one is a former hot air balloon pilot, and another is three months away from being a mother. Hanging out with them I have the sensation that we will either touch the moon soon or end up in a cage.
The kids are on the radio telling jokes. “What do you call a giraffe with a short neck?” “What?” “Diarrhea.” That’s their answer to every joke. I’m dancing around like an octopus to some country tunes and thinking hard about the Fijian man who helped me carry my fuel jugs the other day. He was tall, and he dressed like Madonna, and he had muscles that would have made Davicinci drool, and he smelled like vanilla too. He was mesmerizing and confusing and I liked it.
I look down at my instrument gauges. I see 200 degrees Fahrenheit. I throttle back. I investigate. Water is coming out the back of boat and my alternator belt looks fine. Ten minutes later a dragon comes flying out of the cabin and everything is not fine. I kill the engine. “Shapeshifter, you jinxed me, my engine water is hot enough to boil a lizard and I’m smokin’. I’m definitely gonna need y’all to toss me a line,” I say on the VHF.
I walk up to the bow. Green islands glitter like a thousand grasshoppers off of port and the sea is all blue and beautiful. Somewhere, not far away, Survivor is being filmed, TV is a fake wilderness, don’t you know? I tie Shapeshifter’s tow line to my Sampson post. Juniper is sitting pretty and they’re pulling me at 5.5 knots.
I go down below. I throw cushions and paddleboards and snorkel gear and tools out of my way. I open up all the engine compartments and stare at it from every angle with fat eyes. Oil is all over the place, like cake icing; black as a cat, thick as a forest.
“Shapeshifter, I know what the problem is and I don’t think we can fix it. Oil is firecrackering out of my engine,” I say.
The Pirates of the Caribbean song starts blasting across channel 69 as Shapeshifter hoists their pirate flag- it’s bigger than Dallas with a skull and bones that would make the fish tremble. Then, the most pirate of the pirates- pirate Will- rides the tow line between me and Shapeshifter like a zip line. He’s like Tarzan and he’s moving across the rope like orangutans do in a zoo. Pirate Will monkeys his way up onto my bow sprit. He’s standing there, dripping wet. He’s a scallawag of the finest caliber and he’s magical and elfish and I feel like if I rub his head a genie is going to pop out of his ear and grant me a boat wish. I’m all, “I can’t believe I’m having to get towed. We only made it like 4 nautical miles.”
And Pirate Will’s all, “Argh! This is nothing. The engine on my last boat never worked. I’ve been towed all over Fiji. I once got towed all the way out to the Lau group.” He tells me many crazy stories like that, like one time he ran out of engine oil and floated for four days until he found someone that would trade four yellow fin tuna for some oil. He’s a true pirate, I tell ya. He’d fit right into the Florida scene.
Will starts poking around the engine. Juniper’s a total mess of tools and oil. I’m in the cockpit reading Nigel Calder books and calling my buddy Krishna on the phone. We think the oil’s bubbling out of the breather hose, we tighten the clamps. Krishna tells us to check the air intake too. We pop it off and it’s covered in oil and shredded alternator belt rubber and it’s all thick like mud and I’m rubbing it on my face in tribal patterns, because it’s important to have fun even when s*** hits the fan.
I clean the air intake with acetone and a coat hanger. I pour more oil into the engine and I fire it up. I’m on deck and Pirate Will’s down below. The machine is loud and everything is vibrating. Will yells, “I think the oil stopped leaking but I found a crack in your heat exchanger and this metal arm that holds a lot of your cables up is about to break.”I want Pirate Will to stop looking at the engine because he keeps finding stuff wrong with it and now he’s talking crazy talk, he’s all “let’s just bypass the heat exchanger” and I’m all “dude I don’t think that’s possible.”
Pirate Will rides the towline back to Shapeshifter and I’m alone on Juniper losing my head a little. I can’t take anything else breaking. I saw a boat the other day called “In 2 Deep” and that’s how I feel right now. I’m contemplating throwing the baby out with the bath water. To distract myself I wonder what you do when nobody else is looking. Dance naked? Pick your nose? Binge watch your fish tank? Sing like a bird? Talk to flowers?
Twenty nautical miles later we’re close to anchorage. I check the oil and coolant levels, both are bone dry. Again! Nothing’s fixed, everything is broken. I pour in as much juice as I got, start the engine, release the tow line, and anchor as fast as I can before I catch fire.
I’m fried, but Navandara is so mystical that I can’t care. It looks like this place has been painted into existence by an angel and if I could put this seashore in a shell and send it to you, I would, and it would make you happy for the rest of your days. Imagine thick sand that’s hard to shake and soft coral and pumice stone. Imagine deep colorful caves with kava offerings and emerald peaks and goat-covered forests. Imagine the sound of nothing but your own breath and the birds and the waves.
We feed bacon to the sharks and swim close to them. We surf. We hike the shore and collect rubbish that has drifted there; a high heel, water jugs, Adidas sandals, a bottle of morphine. We sit in the forest and stare at goats. We swing on vines. We use clam shells to cover our breasts and pretend to be mermaid-fish-aliens.
At night, the moon is surging inside of all of us, and we have a crab race. Go White Lightening, go Legs 11. I pick a rambunctious crab, the one that’s itching the most to get out of my hands, the one willing to bite me for freedom. I can tell that he’s a go getter and he goes and gets. I win, the best two out of three. My prize is a piece of food from every other boat; a pineapple, ginger, a cucumber, garlic, and an onion.
After the crab race, Pirate Will goes goat hunting with a spear gun. He doesn’t get a goat, but he does get wigged out inside of a spirit cave that drips with strange colors and when the tide rises, his dinghy and outboard get flooded. He tells us the story the next day over the VHF and I can’t figure out if he’s on some drug that’s psychedelic and heavy, or if it’s all some spooky joke the supernatural protectors or the island played on him. Either way it’s a good laugh.
Anyway, the ocean is looking at me like something looking at dinner, so I’ll tell you more later about running aground and whatnot. I think you will like that story. In the meantime love, please tell me what you do when nobody else is looking.