I wake up like a live wire. I’ve been waiting all week for the wind to turn north of east and today it is turning. I’m going to ride it back out to Fulaga in the south eastern most part of the Lau group- where the women are wild and the limestone rocks are psychedelic.
It’s 7 AM and I’m weighing anchor. It’s a laborious process without an electric windlass. I switch back and forth between my arms so one doesn’t get bigger than the other. By the time I have the anchor up, I’m out of breath, and my face is wet, and I feel like I’ve just completed a Jane Fonda workout.
I set Juniper to course, hoist the main, and glide out to sea. I’m on my way to the Lau with Gecko and Paikan. Lilou and her family are on Paikan, and Holly (AKA Boat Lizard) is on Gecko.
Holly is my soul sea-sister. She singlehanded her boat all the way from Maine to Fiji and we share the same philosophy on sailing. We both sail under reefed main only when the weather is rough. We think that heaving-to is a dreadfully unnatural feeling. We both sail slow, so what? We aren’t into buddy boating offshore because it’s too much pressure. We rarely use our engine because we hardly know how to fix it. We love fish and moonshadows and pineapples. We are mesmerized by plants and hug trees as soon as we get to a new shore. And we both have reoccurring nightmares that our boats are on land and we are dragging them back to sea.
Sometimes it feels like she is me!
Before departing, Holly and I gathered items from our boats to give away to the villages; clothes, a blow up paddle board, a guitar. And we went on a shopping spree for them at the dollar store; soap, rice, underwear, flour, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, fish hooks, lipstick, feminine products, jewelry, diapers. And while we were out and about, Holly and I splurged and bought matching underwear for ourselves. It’s pink with a cat face painted on the derrière.
Our last stop was the fruit and vegetable market. It’s rows upon rows of colorful people and green things that my eyes have never seen before. I found the pineapple man and said, “Can I get a pineapple that will be ripe in two days and another one that will be ripe in five days.” That’s how you have to think when you provision for a boat. You don’t want everything to ripen all at once, otherwise you won’t be able to eat it all before it spoils. Think green baby, think green.
An old salt told me that sometimes the outgoing current in Fulaga is 7 knots with standing waves, so we have to time our arrival just so. We need daylight and an incoming high tide to enter. It’s 187 Nautical Miles. To catch the tide I can either average 5 knots and get there in a day and a half, or 4 knots and get there in two days.
Today is such a sailing dream that I don’t care how long it takes me to get there. I just made my way beyond the shadow of the islands. I can feel the trade winds on my face and in my hair, like a kiss. The sky is blue, the sea is flat, and the birds are salt bathing.
The wind is in the mid-teens and on my beam. I’ve got one reef in the main and the genoa. I’m moving at 5.5 to 6 knots. I’m sitting in the cockpit and starting at the sea. When I’m not staring at it, my eyes are closed and I’m listening to it.
I’m in open water now. My first way point is to the south of Vanua Vatu Island. Beyond that I’ll be in the thick of the Lau Group, which is splatter painted with reefs and islands, some you can’t even see on the charts unless you zoom in real close.
It’s 4 PM now and I’ve hardly eaten- just an apple and a granola bar. I think I’ve lost my appetite after the trauma of the Bligh Water incident. I should eat. I must eat.
I go down to the galley. I start to cook up a veggie burrito. The onions are sliced and in the frying pan, then the boat lurches and the knife flies and veggies go rolling across the counter.
I climb on deck. The wind is in the mid-twenties and rising. I fall off the wind, clip in, and go up to the mast. I toss the second reef in, but not without strife, and I don’t feel like cooking anymore. I leave the onions in the pan, grab my Rasta colored Mexican blanket, lay in the cockpit, and stare at the sea some more.
The sunset is sherbet desert surprise and then the sky catches blue fire with the big old full moon rise. The moon is so bright that it’s burning my eyes and I’m glowing-in-the-dark. I put on my sunglasses, and drift in and out of sleep.
It’s midnight. The wind has calmed and my speed is slow, 3.5 to 4 knots. I’m too lazy to shake the reefs. Plus the wind dropped more east and it’s at such a sharp and high angle to me that I prefer my boat more powered down, so that I can sleep with ease.
Dawn is here and I’m making coffee. Today is July 15th which happens to be my birthday. I’m still out at sea, where I love to be. Don’t ask how old I am, I’ve lost count, but don’t worry, I haven’t lost my fizz and pop.
I was told that Fijians only celebrate their 1st, 21st, and 70th birthdays. So all you need to know is that if I was Fijian, I would have decades of sunrises to go before I celebrate my final birthday.
I can’t see the sun today. The morning is muted by clouds and those clouds are rising high into the realms of goblins. I can see a band of squalls on the horizon. Marching fast and loose and banging on the gong of wind and rain. Please don’t let me see 55 knots of wind again, please!
I have 81 nautical miles to go and so far, this day is no carousel. There is too little wind, then too much wind, and it’s shifting around a lot too, like it’s got something to hide. I’m constantly adjusting the genoa to keep movement or slow movement and I don’t dare shake the mainsail knowing what the sky might do when it looks like it does.
I’m just off of Vanua Vatu island. Inside the wall of squalls. I get through one storm. Then another. Then another. They are mellow and mild but I’m still saying, “Dear God, please fill the sky with sun and blue. Please let this squall pass. Please let the wind be more north of east. Please!”
I see the sun and think it’s all over, then a powerful storm comes. The rig is whistling and humming and faint voices are reverberating in the waves. Sails are flapping. Rain falling. Water chopping. A few waves crash across my face in the cockpit. I fall off the wind and run with the storm.
I’m a little petrified. I suppose some part of me is never at ease out here. That part is always trembling and crumbling and fearing for it’s life. It’s shouting blasphemous words too. Beep. You beep. Beep. Why are you alone out here? Why do you make yourself endure stuff like this? Why can’t you just be content to sit on one patch of earth for the rest of your life?
The part of me that craves the sea knows that if I sat still, then I wouldn’t be living. And that days like this are a true treasure. They force me to be present, they don’t leave room in my head to think about what did and didn’t happen yesterday, all I can think about is surviving this moment and I’m more grateful for life when I do survive it.
The storm passes and the sky unzips it’s grey. I pinch the wind tight to stay on course, then go lay down inside the cabin and think about what in life I’m grateful for…
Thank you for fish and flowers and fireflies. Thank you for my eyes that give me the ability to see them. Thank you for the sea and the sun and the carnival in the clouds. Thank you for rain. Thank you for the color blue and the man on the moon. Thank you for the wind and the waves and the wild things. Thank you for my heartbeat. Thank you for the air in my lungs. Thank you for sunsets and sandcastles and Saturn. Thank you for the sensation of my lips and all the blood in my body. Thank you for coconuts. Thank you for coral. Thank you for prayers and mythologies and mermaids. God bless the mermaids! Thank you for dreams. Thank you for fire. Thank you for tropical islands. Thank you for mountains and mud and men. Thank you for life. Thank you for laughter. Thank you family. Thank you for my flesh and bones. Thank you for right now. Thank you for this odyssey and all my mystical unions. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.….
I sail slow and lazy and reach the edge of Fulaga island around 3 AM. I furl the genoa and drift under mainsail, moving one nautical mile an hour towards the pass, and sleeping thirty minutes at a time.
Just before sunrise I see Paikan pull up behind me, and Gecko is not far behind them. I can’t believe we’ve all arrived at the same high tide! It was never our intention.
I radio everyone on the VHF. It’s decided that I will lead the way through the pass because I have a track for it. We power up and float on. There is a storm off of port. I ask, “Should we wait until this rain passes.” Paikan says, “No, don’t wait, go go go!”
I’m so nervous about going first into the pass that I can’t stop running down to the head to pee. It’s nice to be in there doing my thing without the Golden Shower Ghost watching me.
I’m at the pass now. It’s no bigger than a piece of thread. Waves are crashing on the reef. The shallows are just to my left and my right. There are two knots of currents with us. I’m tired and it’s difficult for me to follow the pink track, sometimes I’m turning the wrong way. Total confusion.
I make it through without hitting anything. I don’t know how. We zig zag around coral bommies and limestone islands, turning in wide loops until we reach the anchorage. We drop the hooks in 15 feet of sand, tucked close behind a palm tree covered island. I feel like I’m home. My heart drops down from my throat, and I sleep a sleep that’s deep with soft dreams.