We pull up behind the island. The wind is mellow, but the anchorage is 25 meters deep! I don’t have enough chain for that. There is a mooring. I grab it. A red banana boat comes over to me. There are five men onboard. The man in charge is in his fifties and he looks like he’s been eating the plumpest part of the pig his whole life. Their boat is piled high with fishing nets. Their anchor is a chunk of coral with rope wrapped around it.
The man in charge says, “I am the chief of all the Meskalyne Islands. You must pay me 1,000 Vatu to be on this mooring.” I barter with him and give him half of my gas instead. He’s got a two-stroke, I’ve got a two-stroke. It’s perfect.
Dan goes to work. He’s the private chef for the guys on the Oyster boat. They’re anchored right behind me. Holly and I are supposed to go look for dugong with his bosses but they are taking their sweet time and plans keep changing so we put on our snorkel gear and drive my slow dinghy out to a sand bank to look for the dugong on our own.
It’s low tide. It smells like sea creatures drying. There is a man fishing off the sand bank. I say dugong and he points a confusing direction. Holly and I stow my dinghy on one sandbar and walk a mile across coral and blue starfish to get to another sandbar where we think the dugong are. The sun is a glistening thing. Holly is going, “What if we don’t see them. What if we made a mistake and should have waited and gone with everybody else on their fast dinghy?” I don’t know what to say, “If we see them we see them. If we don’t, we’ll look again tomorrow.”
We make it to the other sand bank. Within five minutes a bunch of mermaid tails flip out of the water. We dive in. A baitball swims around us as we watch nine, no twenty, no one hundred dugongs swim back and forth in front of our faces. There is a baby one tucked on top of her mom. There is a grandpa with scratches all across his back. There are some that swim right up to us and look us eye to eye to eye to eye. And all of them have sharksuckers hanging out beneath them.
We watched them for an hour, maybe more, eventually they float away and disappear into water. Holly and I swim back to my dinghy until the current makes us cling to coral and we have to tuna fish ourselves out of the water and walk like we are flamingos or some other awkward moving creature due to the chunks of coral beneath us.
Holly’s boat is still in the windy anchorage which is 3 nautical miles away. We dinghy over to it with my 3.3 horsepower, which is not exactly flying. We are gonna bring her boat over to my boat and use a long line to tie them together, that way we’re both riding on one mooring.
We get to her boat, it has a black gecko painted on the stern. I steer while she pulls her anchor up. Her chain is the same size as mine and she can lift it all by hand. She doesn’t even have a windlass or a fridge or a stack pack! I think she has more superpowers than She-Ra.
I’m still at the tiller. Holly’s boat smells real funny. I look off the stern and there is white smoke coming out fatter than it does a factory. I’m like, “Yo, I think something is wrong with the engine.” She’s like, “Yea, I’ve got an oil leak.” I’m like, “I think we need to put more oil in, you got a lot of white smoke coming out.” She’s like, “I hate engines.” I’m like, “Me too.” She’s like, “I wish we didn’t need them.” I’m like, “Me either, but we do.”
See we are sea-sisters!
She kills the engine and checks the oil level. Totally empty. She adds more. She turns the engine back on and we motor over to my boat We tie her to me and float three balls along the line between us, so that it doesn’t sink.
It’s almost sunset and I hitch a ride to the village to try and trade my old dinghy for food. The chief from the red banana boat, the one that took my gas, shows me all around. He gets me some pamplemousse for a fee. He takes me to a cute hut with a garden, and wood carvings, and homemade solar lanterns. It’s gorgeous. I could live there, except for the fact that it’s the local kava bar and strange men flock to it.
Inside there is a large slab of wood to sit on. I sit on it and they give me free kava and it’s more potent than the stuff they’ve got in Fiji. My whole face is numb and melting off my head.
The chief is asking where my husband is. I say, “He’s really sick. He’s at home in bed.” He asks, “Why didn’t I see him this morning?” I say, “Because he is so sick!” Then the chief’s son comes right up to me and says, “Hey are you that girl that’s sailing alone? I heard about you. Can I shake your hand.” The chief says, “You told me you had a husband.” I say, “In my dreams I do.” Then he says, “You’re a liar.” I say, “Well Jesus don’t mind if I lie for my own safety!”
The kava is helping me unwind. The chief’s granddaughter is four years old and she is dancing for me. He name is Balinda. I want to take her home.
The chief leans in real close and says, “Hey listen, I need you to get off that mooring.” I say, “Why?” He says, “I just found out that the cargo ship is coming tonight and they need to tie up to it.” I say, “Too bad because I paid you to be on it. Gave you all my gas. That mooring is mine.” He says, “Well, the thing is, I don’t own the mooring, the cargo ship does.” I say, “You charged me for a mooring you don’t even own?” He looks at me like he just got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. I say, “Now who’s the liar? I’ll move if you give me my gas back!” He says, “I can’t. I already used it. It was such a small amount anyway.” I say, “Well then I’m not moving and Jesus does mind when you lie out of greed.” The two of us are laughing about it all, but really it’s not cool because the sun is setting and I don’t know where I’d go.
I go back to the boat and tell Holly that we’ve been tricked by the chief. We decide to stay on the mooring. Around 9 PM banana boatloads of drunk stoned guys come banging on my boat, shining flashlights all around, and hollering. I try to hide. I can’t. They won’t go away. I go outside. Their boat is full of kava and their eyes are like the sandman’s. They say, “Get off the mooring.” I say, “The chief said I could be here. I paid him for it.” They go away. I fall asleep.
Around 10:30 I wake up to Holly calling me. She says, “We have to move. These dudes are getting more messed up and aggressive. They want us off the mooring. It’s not safe to stay here.” We decide to motor back over to the windy reef spot where we anchored last night. The same spot where I dragged anchor! The same spot we had moved Holly’s boat from only a few hours before!
I’m so tired. This is the last thing I want to do, but we don’t have a choice. It’s too deep to anchor where we are. Holly drops her line that’s tied to me. I reel it in, turn on my engine, drop the mooring lines, and follow Gecko out of the anchorage. She and Dan are blasting Eminem. It feels like I’m in high school taking bong rips.
It’s so black out that I might as well be blindfolded. There is a three knot current pushing against us, so I’m moving at like 1.5 knots and there are eddies everywhere! It’s all I can do to keep the boat straight and off the reef. It’s terrifying!
Somehow we make it. Somehow I successfully drop the hook in the dark and it sets without a mess. Somehow I finally fall asleep. Damn that lying greedy chief!
*I am sailing right now with limited phone service. I’ll have to post photos later. Please watch my Instagram stories and posts for visuals.
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