It’s 5 AM. I wake up and wrap a piece of purple dynema on my head like I’m Tarzan or a hippie or a gal named Olivia whose lost at sea in search or herself. I do this ritual every morning on the ocean and every night I take it off and put a headlamp where the dynema used to be.
I go into the cockpit with my Tarzan gear on. I’m shattered. I set an alarm after the squall, but I slept straight through it. I’m a fool for this. I don’t know which ghost spirit was sailing my ship while I slept, but they must have forgotten their sextant because I’m going straight south. And I’ve been doing that for 15 NM.
Oh well! I suppose sometimes we have to go the wrong direction in order to figure out where we belong. Where do I belong? Sometimes I feel like I belong to a planet that nobodies discovered yet. A nameless planet light years from all the other planets surrounded by seventeen moons. And that planet is composed mostly of water so we ride dolphins like vehicles and tend to coral gardens and speak in bubble telepathy and we all have webbed toes like I do and we sleep on glowing orbs of light.
Anyway, why south is so bad is because with the light winds I can’t sail super low and it’s been difficult for me to make any north in my heading, thus the jibing. Sailing is like a game of chess and I lost my queen. I didn’t think ahead. I knew the trades were going to fill in and be light near the end of my journey. I knew that my boat is not optimized for light air downwind sailing- I have a whisker pole now, but it’s too small. In hindsight, when those southwest swells were pushing me north of rum at the beginning, I should have let them, instead of trying to stay on course. It would have been to my advantage to have that higher reaching angle to my destination during the last few days. I sail, I learn, I keep living.
I set my boat back on course. I’ve got 15 knots apparent and I’m moving good on a broad reach. After a while I jibe and jibe some more. I do five jibes before sunrise. Now the sun is rising. I see Futuna Island- it’s a big little island. Green and round and growing. I see the sun. I see a rainbow to the south and two to the north- all more vibrant than the neon galaxy I originate from. Then a tempest comes and everything around me disappears and she sucks the sky of air and the wind putters to a pity-pat-pat.
I set my sails to drift. I don’t feel like chasing the wind or trying to wrangle it. It’s a wild thing. If it wants to be elsewhere, let it be elsewhere, I’ll stay right here. I’ll just chill and let the wind come to me when it wants to and if it never comes, so what, I can swim. And I shall never again spend too much time trying to turn the wind into something it’s not. Wind is wind. God is god. Water is water. Stone is Stone. Day is day. Regardless of what I wish it was, it can only be what it is. Can I accept that?
I accept it, and as soon as I do, I feel a high flying freedom inside. I am adrift and it’s a delight. I clean up all the things in my cabin that flew out of their holes. I scrub the floors. I soak up that spilled shampoo. I shake the salt crystals off my head. I take a long cockpit shower until I’m no longer a scuzz bucket and feel as fresh as a daisy. I brush and floss my teeth for as long as a dentist would. I have a feast – pasta topped with a homemade tomato sauce and salad.
I think about me lesson from the night before. When I first saw that squall that took up three fourths of the sky, I was sort of stoked for it. I was thinking it would have some strong winds and get me moving. But the longer I looked at it, the more anxious I became of it. And when it didn’t have any wind, I was wondering where it all was and worried about how hard it was going to hit me when it did. I can’t see a squall without thinking about the 55 knot squall that slammed me in the Bligh Water of Fiji.
Anyway, after the squalls passed I had the perfect amount of wind, even though the ghost pirate sailed that wind the wrong direction. I think my lesson is that not every squall is that 55 knot squall. Just because it looks like it has potential to act the same way, doesn’t mean it’s gonna. A squall is a squall but not all squalls are that squall. I can be cautious, but paranoia will turn me into broken pieces that can’t be glued back together.
Guess what else I realized? I found comfort in sailing on a close reach after three days straight of doing it. I don’t mind it at all. In fact, I might prefer it to running. In fact, I’d go on a close reach right now if the wind would give it to me.
I’m mid-bite- and damn the food is good, when the sails start bashing around and the wind is doing that spinning circle thing again and the sky looks like the armpit of the devil’s baby. I throw my food in the sink. I think to myself- this squall is not that squall.
I’m 20 NM from Tanna island and I’ve been drifting in a direction away from it for most of the day. It’s 4:30 PM. I could drop my main, let the squall pass and hope for the right wind tonight or tomorrow. Or I could keep the main up, turn the engine on and motor towards Tanna. I feel guilty about it but I choose to turn the engine on. I’m sort of a purist. I’ve done every solo sail without an engine- well technically that was not by choice, it was due to me being mechanically incompetent, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is I know I can wait for the wind and sail the whole way in and I choose not to.
I motor-sail and the wind never comes so I just keep motor-sailing because I’m getting closer and closer and closer and I’m thinking about a long deep sleep on still water. Out of a four and a half day sail, I’ve only motored for 4.5 hours total and other sailors I know motor any the time the wind dies. It’s ok that I’m doing this. Right? It doesn’t mean I’m not a sailor. Right? It is what it is and I’ve don’t it now and I am who I am and motoring such a tiny fraction of the way can’t change that. Right?
I watch the sun set at 6 PM. I see the green flash and it melts me all over. Alleluia! Land Ho! I see Tanna. The volcano is glowing from 15 NM away. A red nature goddess with smoke for hair. I’ve only seen a volcano like that in magazines and movies. It’s the most eye-popping, jaw-dropping, head-loosing thing ever. I melt some more and more and more and now I’m a pile of wax and you can mold me into a candle and put a wick in me and light me up and I’ll light your world up until I melt again and we can begin the candle dance all over again.
I get to the pass. It’s 8 PM and the volcano is glowing right above me. I can see the shapes of land but I don’t know where it ends and the water begins. It’s all running into each other. I feel blind. The smell of dirt and bugs and things decomposing and rooting and growing, is thick. I don’t want to run into any of it. It would be foolish to come all this way on the water and wind up on the earth.
I drop my mainsail. I do circles, seeking courage within. I radio a friend in the anchorage. “This is Juniper to SV Libre do you copy.” I hear a bunch of static. Then his voice. “Is the pass easy,” I ask. “Yea. You can trust your charts. Stay in the middle of the pass. Watch your depth. And don’t hit the mooring ball in the the pass.” What the heck. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I want to do this. At night? I can just make circles until morning. I don’t want to end up like some offering at the foot of the volcano goddess.
If something happens, Libre doesn’t have a working dinghy. Complicity has a dinghy big enough for a family of twenty but they are already asleep on anchor. The racing flame boat is somewhere at sea still behind me and they also don’t have a working dinghy. If I hit anything, that’s that.
You can’t do this. I can do this. I can do this. No you can’t. But I’ve done it before. But it doesn’t mean you can do it again. I did it all over Fiji. But you are alone now. I was alone when I entered Savu Savu at night. So that pass was marked. So what, I’m alone. I’m alone. I have to do it alone. If I can’t do it alone then I’ll never do anything. I’m a f****ing rolling stone. I can’t not do anything.
I follow the chart. I hear waves. I go slow. I steer the wrong way, then the right way. It’s hard to stay straight with the incoming tide. I make it in the pass. I go right up and drop my hook in 15 feet of mud just off the sterns of Complicity and Libre.
I drink a beer to celebrate. The water is made of ripples and the moonlight moves in silver across them. I fall into my bunk. I’m in a daze. I’m high. I’m here. In Vanuatu. My new home… for now.
After this crossing I can say that I’ve spent more than fifty nights alone at sea. This is the shortest crossing I’ve ever made, but a journey doesn’t have to be long to have a lasting impact, as long as you savor every moment of it- the highs and the lows, the saltwater and the stars, the glam and the punk, the yellow and the black, the stillness, the effervescence, the sunrises, the depths and the shallows, the emptiness, the flooding, the waves and the waveless. It’s all part of the transcendence.
P.S.- I love your comments. It makes me want to keep writing to you even though I don’t even know who you are or what you look like, it’s enough just for me to know that you are there.