There is a breeze of transcendence blowing across my body and a water lullaby lapping against my skull. It’s all so beautiful- the South Pacific sea colliding into me. I want to bottle it up and send it to you. I would wrap it in a silver ribbon and write a note along with it. The note would say, “I love all the shapes of you. Breathing next to you. Beating next to you. Expanding next to you. Whatever you do, don’t shrink.”
Never shrink. Shrinking is what the dying things do. That’s the truth of it, Tiger.
Parts of Juniper are dying and owning a boat is totally haunting my subconscious. I just woke up from a sleep that was not sleep, it was alive and foaming, and I had this reoccurring dream that I often have where my boat, Juniper, ends up on shore and I spend the whole dream dragging her back to sea. Sometimes her anchor breaks, sometimes she sails onto land, sometimes she is just there and I don’t know how she got there.
Last night, in my dreamland, Juniper ended up on Namotu Island next to a bunch of fish bones. In other dreams, Juniper has ended up on the streets of Arkansas, in strange forests, deep in the dirt next to the mud bugs, in outer space, in a parking lot full of dumpsters, and the oddest- a bank drive through.
I always pull Juniper back to sea and I pass other people, but nobody lifts a gosh darn finger they just smile and stare as if to say – you chose this life sweetheart now suck it up. So I suck it up and pull, and pull, and pull until Juniper is floating on blue crystals and I wake up.
The truth is that living the sailing dream is not always dreamy. There are ups and downs and sometimes I want to fling myself overboard. The past seven days have been up and down. I busted my knee, fried my fridge compressor, cooked my engine starter battery, and got hit by the massive wake of a ferry which broke the tiller off my new outboard and gouged a bunch of holes into my fiberglass. And my boat is like an extension of me, like a third arm or a second head, so all that breaking about broke me.
I’ll tell you about all the breaking in broken detail….
My sailboat neighbor, Mick, on Superb, who’s a big wave surfer with a shoulder that never stays in it’s socket- is standing in the cockpit of Juniper. It’s 7 AM. The water is a gemstone, but I can’t walk, and Mick looks like he might still be feeling the beers from the night before. He hands me a Green Whistle- a pain reliever that you huff and it’s so strong that it should be illegal. He says, “That kneecap has to get whacked back into place. Suck on this green whistle and be a hell bitch and get it done.” But I’m no hell bitch!
My body is running on Alieve and fog, and everything was all fine and dandy, until it wasn’t. The day before I was surfing at Namotu Lefts. There were five young American dudes in the water. I dropped in on one and he was about to mow me down, so I turned sharp left and danced my arms up and down like I always do- the locals call me the “dancing surfer.” Anyway, I’m regular footed, riding on my backside, and surfing waves bigger than I’m used to, so something about that turn did my knee in.
At first it felt like a bruise, but by sundown I couldn’t even walk on that leg, and by midnight I was hyperventilating on the phone with my little sister, Mary, whose a certified athletic trainer. She’s speaking to me in a very soothing voice and saying, “You’re ok, eat some anti-inflammatories, wrap it up, elevate it.” And I’m doing what she says and freaking out and she goes, “You’re being very dramatic. Are you in that much pain or are you that afraid?”
I don’t know, both, what’s the difference? I’m freaked out because I’m on this boat alone. Because I’m in so much pain that I can’t even operate this boat, and I’m anchored out, and the wind is supposed to pick up, and I feel vulnerable like a fish that lost it’s school and is surrounded by sharks. And what would I do if I got injured like this offshore? How would I even change the sails? Who would hear me cry?
Mary has me send her a bunch of photos of my knees. She says that the aching one appears to be slightly dislocated. What? I call Diarm. I ask if he can help me get Juniper over to Denarau and put my kneecap back where it belongs. It takes him an hour by fancy tinny tender to get to me. And it’s somewhere within that hour that Mick shows up with the Green Whistle and we get in a tiff because I refuse to be the hell bitch that he wants me to be. I want to be a goddamn princess right now. Is that ok with everybody?
Diarm puts my knee in a brace, weighs my anchor, and attaches a tow rope to Juniper while I lay on the settee in pure princess form. We get like 1 NM to nowhere because the wake of the tow drags Juniper’s stern halfway underwater and I think it’s gonna sink me. I release the lines and make my own slow way back to Denarau. Some how along the way my patella (kneecap) magically pops itself back where it belongs, but I’m still so out of it that I miss some of the channel markers and almost run aground.
Back on the dock, my sister guides us through some knee tests and determines I have a low grade MCL sprain. A Fijian Ortho says the same.
It’s the day after the knee debacle and I’m healing in the air conditioning comfort of a catamaran. My knee still hurts and I’m not supposed to move, but I have a hard time sitting still, so I hobble over to Juniper to check up on her.
The fridge is off and nothing happens when I flick the breaker. I call an electrician. He’s a cute Indian man that likes to fiddle with wires. The compressor is in the port side lazarette. He crawls in there and comes back up with some parts in his hands and says, “This thing’s no good. Water is leaking in from everywhere down there. You need a new compressor.” My compressor is only three years old and the part he’s holding looks some ancient artifact that was built in the time before Christ. I think that stern-dipping tow was the straw that broke the compressors back. I order a new one, it’s a thousand dollars and weeks away from arriving.
We do a water test on Juniper to identify the source of the leaks. It involves me standing on the dock, one-legged like a flamingo, and spraying a hose, while Diarm is inside the little lazarette- which he could easily get stuck in- with a flashlight. Turns out that water is just pouring in from the deck to hull joint and just about every bolt in sight. I hire someone to open the joint up, fill it with epoxy, and rebed the bolts with silkaflex.
We do another water test. The lazarette is leaking less, but it’s still leaking from a thousand other unknown places and this all feels heavy on top of my fragile flamingo leg. So I go lay down princess-style and pretend none of this is happening.
Two days later, I’m still waiting on the compressor, but I’m itching to go somewhere beyond the marina. I’m all provisioned up, my tanks are full, my dinghy is hoisted on the side of my boat, and I’m down in my cabin doing some last minute computer work before shoving off.
Out of nowhere, Juniper starts rocking back and forth in big motions, and things are flying across the boat, and there is a nasty crunching sound, and I think I’m getting hit by a tsunami or something.
I run up on deck. I see the Malolo Cat ferry passing by and there is a fisherman standing on the dock holding my dinghy to keep it from swinging. I say, “Is everything ok?” He points to the side of my boat and says, “No, there’s damage to your gel coat.” There are black streaks and seven holes going all the way down to the fiberglass where he’s pointing. It looks like some wild and black thing was trying to suck on Junipers blood and bite her bones. He goes on, “That ferry must have been doing 12 knots in a no wake zone, I hope you make them pay.”
I run around, find the ferry captain, drag him down to Juniper, show him the damage, and say, “Have mercy you must have been coming in hot.” He agrees to pay for the repairs and my slip fees. He sends someone over to quote the repair and that’s when I discover the full scope of the damage. Beyond the six holes in my fiberglass, the tiller of my new outboard is broken, the cowling of the outboard is broken, and there is a hole in the bottom of my dinghy. The repairs are going to cost over $1,000 Fijian dollars.
The next day I get a call from the ferry company and they say they are not going to help me repair the boat, that they weren’t making a wake, that it’s all hearsay, and if I feel that they were making a wake I will need to get security footage and prove it. So I flamingo leg my way around and get the security footage, and witness statements, and I prove it. But the ferry is not responding to me, and the marina has wiped their hands of the situation because clause blah blah blah in the marina contract states that they’re not responsible for any damages. I mean is there a hole where everyone’s human used to be, man?
Anyway, I repair what I can and this nice company named Baobab feels bad for me, so they fix my dinghy rip for free, lend me some old mercury outboard parts to get me up and running again, and give me the contact of their lawyer. I should let this whole thing go, but I can’t. I can’t let anything go, my mom says I’m like a snapping turtle- holding on till lightning strikes. And right now the hell bitch that’s hiding inside of me wants justice!
Two days after the ferry fiasco I decide to take it all with a smile and leave the slip. I’m motoring along when I see that my alternator is pumping 18 volts into the batteries. So I throttle down and limp back into the marina. That’s when I full on break down. It’s all too much. I want to peel off my skin and start over again in a new body with a good knee.
I spend the evening drinking pink and effervescent things. The next morning the Indian man who likes to play with wires comes back over. Turns out that the high voltage was due to operator error. I had my battery selector switch set to house-only, but the starter battery only had 11.8 volts, so the regulator was trying to charge it, but couldn’t, and it was over-charging my house bank.
BACK TO SEA
It’s a new week and the sun is out for the first time in seven days. I haven’t seen it in so long that it feels like witchcraft. We’ve been getting swamped by rain. The sky jostling, the water growing green, tenders sinking. Couldn’t stay dry if I tried. Now there is sun, sun, SUN, and my boat is blooming mushrooms, and we’ve all got heat rashes on random parts of our bodies, and sea snakes in our dinghies. But I’m all fixed up, and I’m dragging my boat back to sea like I do in my dreams, because living among the sunsets, and the rainbows, and the wind, and the waves, and the fish, is worth every down that crashes my
I finally started editing all of this sailing footage I am sitting on…. In 2019, Sam Holmes and I both sailed solo from California to Hawaii, me on a 34 ft. boat and him on a 23 ft. We meet up in the Ala Wai Harbor on Oahu and sail together over to Kauai. We talk about our transpacific crossings along the way, cook, have a bowline tying contest, make music out of plumbing pipes, meet a sea lion, and explore the bay of Hanalei. You can read more about the journey STARTING HERE!
4 Replies to “The Knee, The Fridge, The Ferry, The Battery”
Bula! Wonderful storytelling, as always! I so envy your life. As a sailor, and a surfer, and erstwhile Fiji explorer, hearing stories of Namotu annd other familiar places — gosh I miss that place. Hang in there Juniper!
By way of update: South African Kirsten Neuschäfer, the only female in the solo round-the-world Golden Globe Race continues to lead the fleet and could be on track to win!
Hey … and geeze girl! I’m happy these amazing people gravitate to support you. I’m sorry you’ve experienced the worst in people… yet the best in people seems around you too 🙂 Thanks for living your true nature. I hope your nervous system is calming and you are finding confidence in yourself and the journey ahead. Sending blessings from Powell River BC!… and as always I look forward to your next instalments.
Thank you for your writing! I feel like I am almost there as a fellow sailor! Still working to fulfill the dream… Your stories inspire in the meantime. Lynn B.