I’m eating a papaya and listening to Big Papa when I got a call from Timo, the Italian on the orange flamed race boat. He’s flipping out, “Olivia, there’s a tsunami warning. You need to go to shore and talk to the eel.” From the way Timo’s spewing his words all fast, but loose I can tell that he’s in such a twit that his eyes are bugging out and his veins are protruding from his neck like tree trunks and he’s probably rolling a little cigarette from a pile of already smoked cigarettes as he speaks. I say, “What? The eel?” And he says “Yes, go to the eel, the eel, you know the eel!” The sun is about to set and I can’t for the life of me figure out where this magic eel is and how it’s going to save me from a tsunami, but I hope it has a bigger-than-Dallas iridescent blue body that shimmers pink when the moonlight hits it. It takes me five minutes of wrestling Timo’s accent against my imagination to realize that there is no blue eel and he’s telling me to go “climb the hill.”
Turns out a 7.7 magnitude earthquake just blasted the Loyalty Islands in New Caledonia and this whole side of the South Pacific is under tsunami watch. I hear from other cruisers that the risk in Fiji is low and that they’ll fire off a siren on the island next to me if I need to go “talk to the eel.” So I relax and sink back into the ebb and flow and flux of my Utopia and of course I’m thinking about nature and all of her disasters.
Before I left Little Rock my mom and I drove around looking at the effects of the tornado. 10,000 trees gone. Homes, pure rubble. Bald-looking land. Bunny rabbits and bobcats running amuck. My mom is saying, “See Olivia, this is the kind of damage that high winds can do… look at these wide open spaces…. you know every time it rains or thunders every one of these people shake!”Imagine hiding out in your bathroom and then boom the roof gets blown off and all you can see is a murderous sky. Or driving and your car getting picked up, spun around, and then a tree going straight through your windshield! That’s a tornado for ya! Life is so very strange and heartbreaking sometimes.
I fly back to Fiji with some or my dad’s ashes in my backpack and a refurbished wind transducer/ anemometer in my lap—that thing ain’t cheap. I lie on the customs forms when it asks “Do you have any bodily remains?” NO! Am I a bad human for lying? I’d be crushed if customs took my dad away from me. I want to scatter him at sea, so he’s always with me.
I get back to Juniper, ashes and all, and start hustling. I’m preparing to depart for Vanuatu. It’s time to go. I’ve been here so long that my Fiji flag has disintegrated to threads.
I monkey up my mast and put the transducer on. The wake of each passing boat jolts me to and fro like a bug in a breeze and the stench of low tide is palpable even that high up. On the instrument the wind direction is reading 180 degrees off and there is no wind speed, in fact the spinny cups aren’t even spinning. I take it off and come back down.
My buddy Ravi bench tests it for me. Sparks are flying everywhere- it feels like the damn 4th of July! Ravi says the instrument works. But why don’t the cups spin? I take it to another guy. He holds it up to a fan. No action. He takes the cups off, greases them, now they spin. I go back up the mast. I got wind speed, but bad wind direction. I’m loosing my marbles. I email the seller and ask for money back for this half-working thing. They respond with a partial refund and a manual stating that I have to calibrate the wind direction- which involves turning the boat in two complete circles and pushing a button! I do it. It works. I’m a ding-dong.
Five hours later I hear something fall and hit the deck of the boat. I look around, it’s the spinny cups from my wind transducer! The bolt that holds them on never got screwed back in. I monkey back up the mast for the umpteenth time, now everything is fine.
It’s the morning after I’m a monkey. 6 a.m. to be exact. The air is flat. The water is a looking glass. The yellow sun is winking through the mangroves. I’m about to hop off a mooring ball and head to the dock for a day. I need to fix my alternator regulator yet again, and get my bottom scrubbed. I’m awake, but not wide awake. I turn the engine on. I walk to the bow and release the mooring lines. I walk back to the cockpit and put the boat in reverse. I hear an odd clunking sound and see my dinghy floating away from me- I look at it like a toad looks at anything. My dinghy painter (line) must have gotten wrapped around my prop and chopped off. If I keep the engine running I could destroy something, but I have no wind and there are boats and shallows all around me.
I motor in reverse for a hot second to a safer zone. I fling the engine in neutral. I freak out. I call a friend. The man on the swank catamaran next to me yells, “I hear you, I’m coming. I’m coming,” as he hops in his dinghy. My friend arrives just behind him. One of them grabs my dinghy. The other uses their dinghy to tow me into a slip. What the heck would I do without my neighbors! I’d be like covered in mud and coral somewhere praying for a magic blue eel.
I tell them I’m a fool. They tell me that every sailor wraps their prop at some point, just like every sailor hits a reef. I’ve done both in less than a year! Note to self: get a painter that floats and always shorten it before you get underway.
CHUB & BIRD
The diver shows up to clean the bottom of my boat. I have him cut the line off my prop. It looks burnt. He tells me there’s a white milky substance coming out of the shaft and some rubber. He hands me the rubber, it’s from my cutlass bearing. A mechanic tells me the white milky stuff is grease. No water is coming into the boat. No sounds are being made in gear.
Should I replace the cutlass bearing? If it’s bad I could ruin my transmission, but replacing it means express shipping a cutlass to Fiji and hauling out. I don’t even know what size cutlass I need, there is one dimension that can only be measured out of water. I call the shipyard in Hawaii that replaced mine last. They tell me my cutlass is named “Chub.” These things have names! Chub is 5 inches long and I’ve only lost half an inch of it’s rubber. Do I need to replace it? I call a shop in San Diego and ask if they have Chub. They don’t have Chub, but they have an equivalent sized one named “Bird.” I freaking love these names! I order Bird.
I still don’t know if I want to pay to haul out before I go. I call my friend Holly a.k.a. Boat Lizard. I ask her what she would do. She says she’d ask her dad. Her dad says, “Tell Olivia not to stress, loosing a little rubber is not critical…..” Hot damn!
In the midst of all of this the alternator regulator gets sorted. My RPM gauge (tachometer) is faulty and causing the regulator to misbehave. We disconnect the wires between the two and now the regulator is back in action, but I’ll never again know how many RPMs I’m doing.
I try not to look at anything else on the boat too close, ‘cause you know once you start looking at a problem, you find more problems. A boat is the biggest can of worms!
The boat is ready and now I’m just waiting on a decent weather window to depart. I drive to Suva to say goodbye to my friend Talei. I met her in Fulaga and according to her she’s “as black as the ace of spades.” We motor around the city singing “Flowers” by Miley Cyrus. We go to a museum. Talei shows me shark rattles that are used to summons sharks, and a seashell stringed instrument that is used to lure an octopus. I ask her how these things work. She says it’s all about the vibration, that her ancestors connected to nature through frequency.
And get this! There are these white sand worms that hide deep, but make good fishing bate, so her ancestors used to sing a song to get them to surface. The song goes, “Which path, the path to the top, please hear me as I speak, as you sit in your hole, follow the sound on my voice.”
Talei and I go to a rainforest, green with birds and flowers and reflections. We talk about the past, present, and future. I say, “I think they happen simultaneously.” She says, “I think it’s a circular.” I say, “If it’s a circle then the future can come before the present.” She agrees.
On my four hour drive back to the boat I stop at a bay to gallop an old race horse down a beach. It gives me a free-flow-dragonfly feeling and makes my body throb with living breathing. I wish I could strap a horse to my stern and sail with it wherever I go.
Ever since my dad died I’ve been having the craziest dizzy spells. Like fall down dizzy. Like can’t move dizzy. Like out of body dizzy. Like vertigo dizzy. It feels like my spirit is hanging onto my body by a vein. One of my French sailing neighbors is an osteopath. It’s night and a bunch of us are on shore and I’m begging him to save me. He tells me to go sit on top of a picnic table. He’s an attractive looking thing and the grieve has also caused severe arousal in me which I must beat back into the root of the earth at this very moment. The man has me lay down fast onto one side. The floating falling feeling intensifies. I see fifteen moons in the sky. My body twitches like I’m in the midst of an exorcism. I moan. He flips me to the other side. Same thing. I can’t walk straight afterwards. I have to hold onto trees and people. By morning the vertigo is gone.
It’s 7 a.m. There is a steady 8 knots of wind and I want to go spinnaker riding! I’ve been dreaming of it ever since I read about it in a book. You essentially use a spinnaker to bird your body up into the air. All you need is 8-10 knots of wind, a spinnaker, and three adventurous friends.
I call my boat tribe and tell them to meet me on Juniper in 30 minutes and convince one them to bring a spinnaker. They have nothing better to do because like me, they’re waiting for a window to leave Fiji.
Six people show up. None of us have ever flown before, it’s the blind leading the blind and I’m the blindest. We sit in my cockpit. I read the instructions for flying out loud, between sips of coffee. We’re supposed to do this from a boat no less than 40 ft. but we go ahead rig up my 34 footer anyway.
I attach my stern to mooring that’s at least three boat lengths away from any other boats. We run a line between the clews of the spinnaker and another line from one of those clews back to the boat. We hoist the spinnaker. My friend Tess jumps in the water and sits on the middle of the line that runs between the clews, 30 seconds later she gets lifted as high as my spreaders. She’s giggling with a contagious delight that gets us all jazzed. I fly next. I fly sitting, then standing. Sometime’s I fly high then crash hard into the water. Sometimes I don’t fly high enough and want to fly higher. Sometimes I fly too high and don’t know how to come down, so I just hang in the sky like a scared sun. It’s the best carousel ride I’ve ever been on.
THE WAITING GAME
I’m ready to go to sea and stare at the stars and Venus and Mars. I spend too much of my day looking at the wind, my eyes burning with GRIB files, and my insides feeling like a bunch of crocodiles in a barn chomping to get out. The more I look at the wind, the more it’s freaking me out. The conditions are evolving into something different every day, lots of lows and highs and squalls and lows turning into windless highs and highs turning into turbulent lows. Nothing is stable, there are no knowns! It’s an El Niño year and this sea is squirrelly.
As of today- Sunday, I reckon I’ll be peeling out of Fiji on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning. My weather router agrees with my decision, except near the end of the week they said a low might develop over Vanuatu, so I have to monitor that.
All that’s left to do is fill up my fuel tanks, fill up my fridge, buy gifts for the chiefs, stow my dinghy, set up my hydrovane, put on my jacklines, and clear out of this country. Then the race is on babe, ‘cause dreams aren’t just for dreamin’ they’re for livin’!
*If you like my writing & youtube & Instagram, please consider becoming a Patreon so I can keep this voyage going
*Check out my latest YOUTUBE video