Did you see the super blue moon? The sky was all cloudy here so I didn’t see it, but I felt it. It hit me like some supersonic stone and made me go all kukoo bananas. It was probably better for you that you were not near me during this moon. I was too mutable and ugly to adore. I was like a feral cat in a bag trying to break out, and once I did break out you can imagine how ferocious I was. Like a little she-wolf. Lunar Lunacy. But the moon is waning and things are back to normal now.

I wish you were here to bare witness to the glamour of this day. The wind is on my tail at a perfect 19 knots and there is a frisky following sea. Juniper is surfing down the swell at 7 knots and it feels like I’m floating on some magic carpet ride. The sky and the sea are crystal and for the first time in a long time there is sun. God bless the blazing sun! Somebody told me recently that only mad dogs and lizards go out in the midday sun. The sun is such a rare occurrence these days that if your were here, you’d be the mad dog and I’d be the lizard.

Speaking of dogs, I made it to the dog island for the festival, but I got rag-dolled the entire way down. 27 to 30 knots on a close reach and a screaming sea spitting all over me. For days! Bashing! Hard on the wind. So many waves in the cockpit. A knot of current against me. A sea that was all soupy.

By the time it was all said and done I had blisters oozing all over my hands- like I would go to reef the genoa and the old blisters would pop and bleed and new ones would form. On top of it all I was also weighing and dropping anchor in a new harbor every day which I do by hand so you can imagine the workout. My entire body was a shipwreck. I was so shattered that I was having to use vice grips to open my potholes and hatches.

It takes a certain amount of masochism to sail solo, especially upwind. But it was worth it for the festival, plus I got to see a lot of islands along my way …..

After that barge almost murdered me I pulled into a harbor on Aoba island. It has a bunch of limestone sea caves along the shore and a village of ecstatic children. I had a dance party with them and they put “mini rastas” (little braids) in my hair. One of the kids said, “ I know where you stay, on the other side of the stone,” as she points to the cliff I am anchored behind. I love how her life revolves around natural objects. Also get this, Aoba has an active volcano on it and once there was an ash storm and the sky got so dark that the chickens thought it was night and they fell right to sleep!

I never intended on visiting this place, but the wind and swell abused me so bad as I was leaving Aoba that I only made it 11 nautical miles before seeking safe harbor on Maewo. The island has giant green volcanic mountains crashing into the sea and as I get closer the mountains whip the wind down onto me harder and everything gets even weirder. I find a bay on the southwest side of the island with a waterfall falling right into it! It’s so serene in the bay you wouldn’t know the wind was blowing at all; forests and birdsongs and white sand beaches. I anchor close enough to hear the waterfall from my v-berth.

I touch the waterfall and watch a grandpa teach the kids traditional dance moves, then I sit on the beach drinking a coconut and getting mad at myself for not making much distance on the water, I feel like a shit sailor. Then this French couple pulls up to the beach on their dinghy. I tell them that I’m there by mistake. They say, “Yes, us too. We were trying to get to another island but non. Sailing is complicated in Vanuatu.” I feel better.

The next morning, with more east in the wind, I set sail for Ambrym… the island I was meant to be at yesterday. There’s lots of wind, then no wind, then there’s this raging current coming from the Lolvavavana Passage (what a name!) I’m changing sails nonstop.

The wind starts blowing 30 knots and the ocean is throwing itself all over me. I see now how undesirable it is to throw oneself onto something. Like how much more appealing is the sea, when it’s not forcing itself onto me?

At one raging point, Juniper keeps stalling out and I can’t figure out why. I reef the genoa more, nothing changes. I put up the staysail, nothing changes. My blisters are pulsing and I don’t know what’s wrong with my boat! It takes me two hours to remember that earlier I had shaken the second reef in the mainsail and that’s why Juniper is acting wonky… I’ve got too much sail up! I gain 2 knots of speed when I put the reef back in. Reduced sail in higher winds equals more boat speed, which still, to this day, seems counterintuitive to me.

I pull up to the anchorage at night which begins at 5:45 PM because it’s winter here. There is the smile of the moon on an open sky. I count eight boats and not a lot of water between them. I squeeze in. Dropping anchor hurts my blistered hands and I move like a 90 year-old women. My South African friends from Aventure are here. A local took them egg hunting earlier that day. They show me photos of them laying down with their legs up in the air and their heads stuck inside a sand dune. I’m laughing like a loon. Then they tell me the awful news. They found out, far too late, that the eggs they hunted are the eggs of an endangered bird!

I leave at sunrise. Weighing anchor takes a century. The clouds are all puffy and beautiful. The day starts out dark but now the sun is running the show and I am finally, after four days of close reaching, on a beam reach. Juniper is surfing the swell at 6.5 knots and the sun is in my face. God it doesn’t get any better than this right here. This feeling. I am loving living and flying fast towards Meskalyne islands which sit at the foot of the dog. I fly too fast and arrive at the eastern pass while the tide is still going out. I can see a line of current running 5 miles out to sea. Juniper putters through the pass and the tide rips with 3 knots of current against her, it’s like sailing in molasses. It takes me an hour and a half to go four nautical miles! I drop the hook in front of this reef I like. The day has gone grey and inside I feel deader than a doornail. I trade another sailor a bag of popcorn for a back massage and lay around until sunset with my head in some far out place.

I exit the western pass of the Meskalynes and even on the right tide it’s atrocious. I feel like I’m in some medieval torture chamber. Imagine pounding your boat down six foot standing waves in a narrow pass with rocks on either side of you. I rollercoaster my way up and down and my teeth are grinding and I hate it.

Hours later I’m in Metenover where the festival is taking place. It’s on the southwestern side of the dog. I drop the hook and go to shore. It’s the sexiest village I’ve ever done seen. It’s surrounded by a jungle of flowers and fruit trees and you feel like you’re own feet are gonna start growing roots if you stand on the earth there too long.

A man in the village tells me the biggest insult is to call someone a “dipstick.” Don’t be a dipstick, ok! I also learn that the word for tractor is creator because it creates roads and stuff but in this village there are no roads. I end up trading my old dinghy for some fruits and vegetables and a ride on a dugout canoe that’s painted pink. I love pink.

I canoe Pinkie through a green lagoon with a man named Petmasing. We go to an island with palm trees and cut some vines and palm fronds and make a sail for Pinkie. I’m up by the bow trimming the palm sail and Petmasing is on the stern using the oar like a rudder. Pinkie is flying fast downwind. Can you believe it? You can sail a canoe using palm fronds! Petmasing and I sing “I can see clearly now the rain is gone…“ while we sail around.

The sun, she comes and goes and so do the rainbows. It’s 9 am and the festival is happening right now on Fire beach. It begins with all the yachties getting lei’d by hibiscus flowers and fed coconuts.

Nalawan is the name for the small namba (penis sheath) tribes in this part of Malekula. We sit around the tribal dancing ground with the villagers, many of whom have colorful umbrellas. We watch as a man bang bang bangs on a human-tall man-headed drum made from a breadfruit tree. It’s played vertical, has a face at the top, and a long slit down the middle- that’s where the sound comes out of. They call it a tam tam. Behind the drummer there are stones placed on the ground, each one marks a pig that was ceremoniously killed. (The pigs with tusks have the most value.)

We watch as men dance the dances for their ancestor gods. There is one for different stages of life- like circumcisions, deaths, and yam harvests. The water yam harvest dance involves the two high chiefs moving in circles around each other. One holds a yam, the other a knife. The one with the knife slices the yam in the other chief’s hand, bit by bit, throughout the course of the dance.

Some of the dances have men painted in plant pollen and feathers, and all of them have somebody in a mask which represents a tribal god. My favorite dance is the funeral dance. I call it the two-faced God dance because the men wear masks with two-faces on them- one in the front, one in the back. I couldn’t get a straight answer on why there are two faces, but I think it has something to do with the afterlife.

Per usual, only the men dance and drum. Back in the day they used to hang out in the namakal (men’s sacred hut) for a month making their masks for the dances. But the tribal gods aren’t worshiped anymore and these dances are only done for tourists, so these days the men hang out in the namakal and drink kava and smoke cigarettes and chew candy.

The festival also includes string band performances, and men speaking on megaphones for far too long, and dugout canoe rides, and three root crop-filled feasts. Potatoes and yams- purple, yellow, white- cooked every way to Sunday, and fish and pork and grapefruit and coconut and bananas and salad.

Anyway I gotta jet, I am about to enter a pass and the chart says it’s a “Daylight and Fair Weather pass” and that I can expect up to 5 knots of current! Yowzers.

Love you. Stay bright and beautiful.

3 Replies to “JOURNEY TO THE DOG”

  1. Great adventures begin when fear falls away. It’s been a ,long time since lahaina. You ain’t the same woman we met there. So glad you found Vanuatu.

    You need a power windlass. It’s a safety thing. Totally super justifiable expense. It must also be useable as manual, but stepping on the button, or better still remote so you can run your boat while lifting … you are worthy of that. Could save your boat.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: