I keep asking myself if everyone was jumping off a bridge would I do it? You know what? I think I might, because I’d just want to know what they’re all running from or jumping into. And also I wouldn’t really want to be the only person left on dry earth. Would you?
Anyway….. where am I? Denarau.
Denarau was a swamp until they stole a bunch of palm trees and mountain rocks and stuck them there to make the land stick into the shape of an island. I am here. In this old swamp. Fixing some busted things and trying hard not to be an illegal alien. My visa expired and the government can’t decide what to do with me. I feel so unfree.
I’ve been to this swamp so many times before, that when I go into shops the women and lady boys call me “gigi,” it means girlfriend. And the local guys who work on boats have a running joke they’ve been playing on me for six months. They taught me that “tuki” means hammer. It’s super fun to say, so I say it a lot, and sometimes the guys have me scream the word down the dock while they all laugh. I found out today that tuki does mean hammer, but it also means that thing that couples do when they’re alone in the bedroom. So I’ve pretty much been screaming profanities all across the swamp without knowing it and lord telling how many aunties I’ve offended along the way.
After two and a half days of work, I’m sliding out of the slip. It’s 3 PM and it’s a clear glass day. I’m leaving with a new dinghy towing behind me. Diarm bought it for me, along with a 3.3 HP Mercury outboard. He’s real nice and the dinghies real nice too, and I think I’ll name her Daisy in honor of my old dinghy that I capsized in a Hawaiian surf break while two girls onboard were tripping on mushrooms.
New Daisy works swell except when I throttle up the outboard is cavitating. I don’t really even know what that means, but basically the engine sounds funny, and the boat lurches, and it feels like the prop is out of the water, and I think air and vapor bubbles are also involved.
While in the swamp, Diarm and I fixed the cavitation issue by reducing the height of Daisy’s transom by two inches- you should have seen me with the power tools. I also scrubbed all the tiny crabs and seaweed and barnacles off the bottom of Juniper. Installed a new spinnaker halyard. Gathered food and fuel and water. And bought a glitter-filled blow-up pink flamingo. I still don’t have any navigation lights, but after six hours of labor and sending someone up the mast three times, I now at least have an anchor light.
I’m outside the marina channel now. I’m not heading far, just over to Musket Cove, 13 nautical miles away. I’ve traveled between the swamp and there so many times that I just barely pay attention to the blue road and the water beneath me feels bottomless.
I’m getting close. I can see the anchorage. It looks like the wind has blown everybody here. Hundreds of masts are in the sky. Some of my favorite friends are anchored out by the sand bar. I’ve never dropped the hook there before, I usually catch a mooring on the inside, but I want to be near them, so to them I go.
I’m moving along at 5.5 knots. I’m about .2 nautical miles away and my depth alarm just started going off. Beep. Beep. Beep. I turn hard to starboard. I hear the sound of sharp rocks smashing against my hull, shattering into sand. Bam, I’m stuck. I look down. There is only a foot of water beneath me and the coral is laughing.
For the first time ever, I have motored Juniper smack dap onto a reef, in an anchorage that I have been to twenty times before, with at least forty boats bearing witness to my sad display of seamanship. I don’t know what to do. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. The depth alarm is driving me mad. Beep. Beep. Beep. I kill the engine. I turn off my instruments. I wish that either I could disappear or all the other boats would turn from fire to dust. Maybe I should just blow up my pink flamingo and glitter off into the edge of existence?
I call my gals Romy on Shapeshifter, and Zara on Wildside. They dinghy over. Next this German man that nobody knows appears and he’s hot-headed and yelling at me, “Why are you on the reef?” Like I was there on purpose to meet up with a fish or a mermaid or a seahorse or something!
I feel like a total ding dong, and the tide is dropping, and the sun is setting, and then the couple on Wild Thing flys over with two of their tow-headed sons. I let them run the show. They grab my main halyard and pull it hard off my starboard side, while the three other dinghies push onto my port side, and I’m full throttle on Juniper’s engine. We go forward, then reverse, then forward. Juniper is all horizontal to the water and I’m an upside down pyramid, pulsing with visions of something snapping or flooding or sinking.
Fifteen minutes later I’m floating free with only a few cat scratches on Juniper’s belly to show for it. All the boats release from me- like ink from a squid. The German man is still yelling at me as he heads back to his boat “Why? Why were you in the reef?” And I’m like, “I’m wondering the same damn thing mister!” Because I made a mistake, because I wasn’t paying enough attention, because the charts in Fiji are all wrong, because the sun is almost gone, because the earth moved and that reef grew right beneath me, because Saturn made love to Mercury, because something sad happened to me this morning, because I am working full time and trying to sail a boat alone, because I needed a wake up call!
I’m all shook up inside and rattling around, but nobody can tell, my friends keep calling me cucumber and noting how mellow I am. One of the kids from Wild Thing hops onboard to help me anchor. He’s about 15 and he’ll be a lady killer one day. I tell him I feel real foolish. He says, “Don’t. We hit the reef a bunch in French Polynesia, that’s how we knew what to do to help you. Plus that super full moon made the tides extreme, and at this time of day you can’t even see the reefs.” I dig this kid, he was raised right!
Once the anchor is dropped and everyone is gone, I call Diarm and tell him what happened. He’s captained all sorts of fancy yachts and he says, “I’ve hit reef before.” I say, “You have?” He says, “Yea multiple times. I even sank a boat once.” I say, “Really? That makes me feel a lot better.” He says, “Yea, there are two types of sailors, the ones who have hit a reef, and the ones who will.”
Around 7 PM, I put my headlamp on and putter Daisy over to Wildside to hang with them and the Shapeshifter gang. They’re anchored upwind of me. I make it about 20 feet, then my brand spanking new engine dies. I can’t get it going again. There is gas and everything seems to be in order. I can’t figure out what’s wrong and the wind is blowing me hard the wrong way and I don’t have my oars.
I jump into the dark water on this dark night with all my clothes on and swim with the dinghy painter between my teeth. I make it over to Shapeshifter, but they’ve already gone to Wildside. I tie Daisy onto their boat, take a breath, and open the lid of the outboard. The gas lever is not pushed fully open. I jiggle it. The dinghy starts. I close the lid. I take another deep breath, and putter on. I arrive to Wildside dripping wet like a soaked-through sponge.
My life is an ever-evolving adventure made of a million crescendos, excuse me while I crash into the future.
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*JOB– I have taken on a new directing gig. As a result, I will have some travel coming up in the states, so I have made a plan to keep Juniper in Fiji for one more cyclone season.
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3 Replies to “I RAN RIGHT INTO A REEF”
And in the midst of it all, Olivia gets herself her very own pink, inflatable flamingo. Gotta admit . . . I did in fact pee myself laughing; Olivia, your communication skills are over the top. Look forward to your blogs, films . . . and podcasts!
Your first time to run a ground, and it may not be the last. I am thankful for your sailing neighbors that were able to extend a helping hand. A new dingy and motor! That is an extremely nice blessing and safety measure. Thank you, Diarm! BTW I love the pink flamingo. Plus I agree with rcameronbryce’s comment, your communication skills are over the top. Xoxo, mom
You got your reef hit out of the way, and took a few more pebbles out of the back of luck and put them in the bag of experience.
It’s a Win.