I’ve had so many men up my mast lately, one every day of the week. My Italian friend, Timo, who lives on an old race boat that’s painted silver with orange flames flaming off of it, is up there right now. He’s just below the spreaders shouting, “Mamma Mia, Mamma Mia!” (My mother, my mother!) The sun is shining as bright as a spotlight, seabirds are diving for fish off of port, and everything seemed to be going well… until now. I say, “What’s wrong?” He says, “Your mainsail track is very, very bad. It will break soon.” And now I’m saying “Mamma Mia!”
I traded some wine, baby toothpaste, and canned tomatoes for Timo to help tune my rigging. The rigging is what holds the mast up and you tune it as you would a musical instrument. The top of the mast is flexible, you can bend it forwards or backwards to change the performance of sail.
Anyway we’re both saying “Mamma Mia” and I’m frantically looking for the make and model of the sail track. I find it. I call. They ask what kind of boat I have. I tell them. Turns out they supplied a track for a TaShing Panda 34 back in 2005. It was for a boat in San Diego named Lorac. I get goosebumps. That is my exact boat. That was the name of Juniper before I named her Juniper. When I asked the old owners what the name meant they said, “Nothing, it’s Carol backwards.”
You can see why I renamed her even though a thousand other sailors would tell you never to rename a boat with feeding Poseidon some virgin blood. Why? Because it’s bad luck, like breaking a mirror, or walking under a ladder, or not spitting when a black cat crosses your path.
Anyway, I tell the track maker to send me that same track and ship it to Fiji as fast as they can. The shipping costs more than the track itself and I sink a little at the sound of it flying out of my bank account. Meanwhile, Timo and I start tuning the standing rigging.
He and I are both holding wenches that are bigger than our arms. I’m keeping mine steady while the he is twisting the turnbuckles. There is the sound of an Italian news report blaring from his phone. I don’t know what the reporter is saying- I assume they’re either talking about the next World War or some celebrity break up. Everything is fine with the rig until we get to the diagonal on my starboard side.
We’re using all of our might to get the turn buckle to budge, when the turnbuckle pin snaps in half. I start calling riggers. One in San Diego and the only one in Fiji. Ok well there are actually two in Fiji, one of them is 17 and the other 70. I call the latter. Anyway they’re all asking me, “How old is your rig?” And I say, “I don’t know, but the mainsail track was last replaced in 2005, so I can only assume it’s all that old.” Nobody is willing to just replace the part that broke. They say, “Your whole rig needs to be changed, it’s all going to break soon.”
The rigging is supposed to be replaced every ten years and ever since I bought my boat riggers have been telling me to replace it. Everywhere on earth I’ve been. They all say the same. It’s by some miracle of God that I’ve made it this far across the ocean without anything breaking. I get quotes. My heart sinks a lot more, but I suck it up because I have to do it. To make things easy I go with the rigger in Fiji.
Timo and I remove two of the stays on each side to send them over to the rigger so we can make sure the measurements are precise. Timo is up the mast still and it’s bending more with each stay that we remove. It’s as if he’s an elephant at the end of a small twig. He screams, “shit!” I hear something fall in the water. It’s my favorite little screwdriver with a wooden handle. Rest in Fish screwdriver!
There is a boat full of strangers leaving for Vuda Marina the next day, that’s where the rigger is. They take my rigging over to him for me. I sit here in paradise waiting among the palm trees, the smiling faces, the surf breaks, the blue skies, the island vibes.
At some point before my rigging broke, I decided to get my private pilots license. The day after my rig comes down, a small two-seater plane drops onto the dirt landing strip at the Musket Cove “airport.” I am there waiting for it along with a man in a blue tractor that has a bunch of fire extinguishers in the back of it. There are frogs hopping across the landing strip. The man has a megaphone. I ask him what it’s for. He says if people try to walk across the landing strip when a plane is coming he yells, “No crossing,” into it. He lets me yell that into the megaphone at the frogs.
The plane stops. I walk towards it. I’m barefoot. I’m always barefoot and my hair is always naughty ( I meant to spell it like that). I see a woman get out of the plane. I say, “Are you Rosie?” She says, “Yes are you Olivia?” She hands me a pile of books for me to start studying. I love all the poetic things the books say about air; “Because air has mass, we can stretch it, squash it, heat it, and cool it. This air is the life force of the engines, the aircraft, the wings, as well as the passengers…” And “Air is wonderful stuff; it is thick enough to carry us, we can see through it and, with some resistance, it is thin enough to let us pass through it.”
I’m studying even though I won’t be able to afford the classes yet due to my rig debacle. But I’m going to be ready to fly when life allows.
While I wait on the rigging, I’ve also been catching free rides out to the surf with this chunky Fijian man named Jonah- a lot of men in Fiji are named Jonah. This Jonah owns a bunch of boats and a speakeasy in the mangroves. He’s like Al Capone with a strong Rasta vibe. One, small wave day I surf cloudbreak. The reef sticks up there like shark teeth and I can’t imagine how people surf that break when the waves are mountains, but they bloody do. That same day, at the turn of the tide, two people went into anaphylactic shock from jellyfish stings. Nobody knows what kind of jellyfish it was. Some say the clear ones with tiny rainbowed lines in their bodies, others say it was the sea lice which is jellyfish larvae.
Beyond all of that, I’ve been riding the wave of heartbreak. For a week straight I hardly slept and when I did I was waking up from bad dreams. I couldn’t eat either, wasn’t hungry, had to force apples and crackers down my throat. My hair started falling out too, in massive chunks.
I’m always like this when I’m sailing through a squall. Sleepless. Hunger-less. Doing whatever I can to keep my ship from sinking. I wrote the following in the thickest part of the storm, “I want to run away somewhere, anywhere, but I can’t because my rigging broke and it’s cyclone season and my mast will fall down if I move. I want some celestial being to zap me up to the Milky Way so I can float around with all the dead sailors. I want some jellyfish to sting me and give me anaphylactic shock so that I can be seen in my suffering. I want a heart made of wood so that I can fix it with sandpaper and epoxy. I want a sea god to stuff me into a seashell and leave me there until I turn into a pearl and wash up on a palm tree splattered island that is inhabited by mermaids and mermen.”
Anyway this is just a tide change and I’m much better now. Did you know that when the tide changes in Fiji the wind dies down? My winds are starting to fill back in and there’s a rainbow crawling out of my clouds.
The rigger finished making my stays yesterday. He dropped them off to my friends on Code 0 over in Denarau and then they sailed over to Musket Cove to deliver them to me. This sailing community is amazing! It’s incredible that I’ve been able to accomplish this entire repair while sitting on a mooring in this paradise. I feel so blessed to be floating among all these gold-hearted sea-people.
*If you like what I write & the videos that I create, please also consider becoming a Patreon so that I can continue this voyage! I have plans to sail onto Vanuatu in late May or June. I am super excited to announce that I will be buddy boating with my friend Holly who also single-hands on her boat Gecko!
*I made a new Youtube. It’s 3 months of boat repairs in Hawaii reduced to 19 minutes. If you dig it please consider becoming a Youtube subscriber 🙂