I wake up feeling like I’ve been cooked in hot fat and lookin like something that the cat drug in. There are no squalls as far as I can see, but I can’t see that far. The gang is all here at anchorage; Complicity, Libre, and NV (with the orange flames). Volcano ash laces the fiberglass of all our boats. And there is the constant smell of a BBQ from the burning lava above us.
The anchorage is surrounded by metamorphic or igneous rock cliffs-I can’t tell which, I’m no geologist. The cliffs are covered in trees and moonflowers. I can see beaches at the base of them and the steam of hot lava-warmed water colliding into the sea.
I want to go to the beach, dig a hole, and bathe in that warm water. I’m shivering. It’s colder here than Fiji. I slept under five blankets last night. I didn’t dream. I haven’t dreamt in ten days. My friend Emily on Libre tells me that she’s glad I made it to Vanuatu because she dreamt that my boat sank the night before we set sail from Fiji. And I had that dream before we left that I was sailing inside a barrel. It is a wonder I made it here with those dreams lurking around. But maybe some parts of me did sink at sea. The old used up parts. The rotten parts. The crab parts. The hideous parts. The grey-brown parts. You know, the parts that can’t be fixed and most certainly should be erased… like my self-loathing and jealousy.
None of us can leave the boats. We have to wait for customs and biosecurity to come clear us in. A man in one of the villages named Stanley has a “Yacht Club” on a hilltop. We arrange for clearance with him on a fuzz-filled VHF call. He says he’ll radio us when the officials arrive. We wait and wait and wait and talk to each other on the VHF about all the things we want to do here in Vanuatu. The volcano, the hot springs, a pig hunt, a snorkel in search of the dugong who lives in this bay and is rumored to hate men.
I hoist my yellow quarantine flag, do my laundry in a bucket, tuck my sails away, cook, and put my offshore life back in anchorage order. All across the water villagers with fishing nets are paddling around in homemade wooden outrigger canoes. I wave, they smile, they are shy people, reserved people, distant people. I’m no longer in the land of Bula.
It’s 3 PM and the officials have arrived. We all motor to shore, stow our dinghies on a the beach, and climb up to the yacht club. I’m loosing my head to be here. The trees, the earth, the chickens, the huts, the pigs, all the kids with their coconuts, the blast of the sun, the chill of the breeze. I can’t believe I rode the wind here, that my home can carry me to these new worlds. That my life doesn’t have to be lived in one fixed place on earth. That I am a water vagabond, a sea creature of the waves, traversing latitudes and longitudes, made free by the flight of my three wings.
There are two men standing in front of the yacht club. One is Stanley, the other, his friend. There is music playing from the friend’s phone. I’m in a trance over it. I start dancing. “What is this cool music?” He tells me it’s John Frum music and that I can go see it live in a village on Friday.
John Frum is a cargo cult involving the worship of a mythological American World War II serviceman and practitioners can only be found on this island in Vanuatu! Different cargo cults popped up all across the South Pacific during the war because remote tribes saw Western goods “cargo” for the first time. Cult followers believe that performing rituals will cause technologically advanced societies to shower them in goods and prosperity. I know an American filmmaker who came to Tanna pretending to be John Frum and he was worshiped like a God. It was a cruel thing to pretend.
The Yacht Club is a small shack with flags on the ceiling. It leans sideways and it’s roof is half-caved in after a cyclone ramshackled it. Clearing in cost $150 USD. It’s a lot of paperwork and the guys don’t care that my handwriting is illegible nor how much cheese I’ve got onboard. They tell me just to keep it onboard and eat it until it’s gone. They ask me how long I’m staying in Vanuatu. I say, “Until John Frum returns.” They laugh. They love it. They can’t believe I sailed alone. I say, “Me either.” They tell me there are lots of available men in the village who will sail with me. Nobody can fathom this being a choice I made, they assume it’s my misfortune.
Clearing in takes hours. Afterwards we all go to NV for a cockpit party. We swap stories about our voyages. Each one of us had the extreme high winds to start and low winds to end and some of these folks never want to sail offshore again. I could have kept sailing for weeks, I was just starting to get in the grove when the journey ended. Turns out a lot of people got seasick the first few days and half the people on NV vomited. They tell me everyone was throwing up in the galley bowels. We are currently eating food out of those bowels. I lose my appetite.
I watch as a bird-sized red moth flutters around the cockpit lights. The freedom of its flight reminding me of the freedom of mine. The captain of Complicity says, “I can’t believe you kept up with us on the water. Our boat is ten feet longer than yours and I was sailing it hard as I could, making constant adjustments to maintain 7 knots.” I told him I was surprised too. That I sail slow. That I only make sail adjustments when I have to. That I freak out at the sight of speeds higher than six and half knots when I’m alone. I tell him it felt like a twilight zone when they passed me one day and the morning after I woke up to see them behind me again. I tell him I blame the ghost pirates who steer my ship at night.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter how fast you go, or how hard you work to get there, in the end our destination is the same. We’ll arrive there when we’re meant to and when we do it won’t matter who got there first.