This is my 57th time to see the sun rise alone at sea. I am scared all the time out here. My heart was like some magic jumping bean and my stomach was all tornado twisted just before I left Vanuatu. I don’t know why. It’s not like this is even a long sail- only 200 some odd nautical miles. I suppose it’s because I never really know what I’m gonna get out on the water and I just gotta be prepared for anything. Anyway, when I’m all twisted in my head out here and the sea seems like a monster that wants to murder me and I just want to give up, I say to myself “Olivia, just make it to the next sunrise and then see how you feel.” And I always feel 100 percent better by the next sunrise.
Last night I escaped the giant ship by going almost direct down wind for twenty minutes and I didn’t even end up furling the jib. I just let it luff. The whole night was glowing. Stars. The ship. The bioluminescence in my wake. I passed with the ship half a nautical mile of water between us. Starboard to starboard. Even against the expansive jet black horizon it was a massive looking thing. It had lights indicating that it was towing something and whatever it was towing was moving behind it like a little rattlesnake tail and it had a light flashing on it. I wonder what it is? Anyway, slow they went onwards, at 4 knots, towards Tonga. At that speed it will take them almost 12 days to get there.
It’s morning now and I didn’t sleep very well at all. Maybe an hour or two. I’m tired, but I can’t sleep, but it doesn’t matter because this day is the bluest. No dangerous clouds. Birds hunting. Fish jumping. Thirteen knots of wind. A sparkling sea. An easy breezy motion feeling of the boat. But me, I am laying on the settee hardly moving because my body feels sick. My energy is low, and I’m in a bad mood, and my stomach is still tornado twisted. At first I thought it was nerves but this is day two and the coast is crystal clear and enough time has passed for my nerves to settle. I don’t know what’s up. Doc? What’s up doc?
I want chocolate. I don’t have any. What I do have is a tub of Betty Crocker chocolate cake icing. I put some spoonfuls of it in a bowl with peanut butter and eat it. Damn it’s good. Like some melted cookie.
Now my stomach hurts even more. All I can do is lay around and write to you and play chess against the robot that lives in my phone and read my book. I’m reading “The Long Way” by Bernard Moitessier about his sail around the world and half way again.
I just got to this part where this pod of dolphins comes up to one side of his boat and starts doing ninety degree turns in unison, an unusual dance for dolphins, and they look afraid. Why are they afraid? Moitessier looks down at his compass and realizes that the wind has shifted and he is on a course heading smack dab for an island in the middle of the ocean. He must turn his boat to get back on course. Guess which way he has to turn it? The exact direction the dolphins were pointing to with their right turn body dance. After he turns his boat the dolphins stay but the dancing stops. They were there to warn him! I could just cry reading that. It’s so gosh darn beautiful. Nature. Life. This life. At sea. All that interconnectivity.
The sun is setting and I am getting close to the island in the Solomon’s that I am heading for. It’s called Nendo and if you ask me it’s shaped like a bunny rabbit. If all goes well I’ll be there by morning.
I just jibed for the first time. The wind and swell are on my starboard side now and my boat is not allowing me to sail very deep. I am having to sail 30 degrees higher than I do on the other side, otherwise the sails are luffing, the ocean feels horrific, and Juniper is clunking all around. I feel like a shit sailor…again, always, forever. What is wrong with me? What is wrong with Junie? The sun is almost gone and I don’t like this feeling. I jibe back the other way. I really need to optimize my boat for light air downwind sailing. I want to go dead downwind!
I just looked at my chart plotter. I can see Libre. Yay! They are only 5 nautical miles away. I lost sight of them at some point this morning, they just dissolved into the distance, but now they’re back. I like knowing that they are near. They’re on the bad jibe and sailing due west, which is a lot higher than I was having to sail on that side. I feel so much better knowing that they can’t sail deep either! Is that wrong of me?
I radio them. “Libre. Libre. Libre. This is Juniper.” Them, “Libre here.” Me, “Just a heads up, because night is near, I’m 5 nautical miles behind you but on the other jibe.” Them, “Oh ok.” Me, “Dude that jibe that your own is so weird. I can’t even get my headsail to work on that side.” Them, “Yea. I’m having to sail really high to keep the headsail full. I don’t know why.” Me, “I think it’s the swell. I don’t know, but I don’t like it.” Them, “We caught a tuna.” Me, “Nice.”
It’s a no moon night. The waves are glowing green. I think I see a shooting star. There is heat lightning hanging over the island. It gives me the willies. Ask any sailor what the scariest thing at sea is and they’ll tell you it’s lightning. Nobody wants to get struck. God, if you must strike me may I walk away with some magical power like the ability to speak telepathically to dolphins and trees.
Juniper has been going along just fine on my favorite jibe, but now she isn’t and I’m heading towards a patch of small islands. I jibe again. And again. And again. Throughout the night. I am tired. I sleep. 40 minutes at a time.
I just woke up to the sails sounding like thunder. Juniper is accidentally jibing, my preventer has stopped it, but the wind is pulling hard for the sail to go to the wrong way. What if my boom breaks! I unlock the helm. I steer the boat back to the other side. I set the windvane a touch higher so it won’t happen again.
I go back to my dream. I was dreaming that I was talking to a god or some omniscient presence like that and I said to the god, “I don’t want to leave the Solomon’s at the beginning of October because that only gives me four weeks to explore the country.” And the god said “You have until October 31st.” And I said, “Hey that’s Halloween.” And the god said, “Yes.”
That dream probably isn’t cool to you but it’s cool to me because I need to get over to Indonesia before the NW monsoon season starts. Once it starts the wind and currents go contrary (west to east) and I will be stuck in either the Solomon’s or Papua New Guinea. As a woman alone, neither option feels safe to me. Anyway, nobody knows exactly when the shift happens, but usually it’s around the beginning of October. Then again with climate change sailing routes are evolving just like everything else is. My guess is only the god in my dreams knows exactly when and what the winds will do.
It’s 5 AM. The sails are flapping back and forth violently. There is no wind. I furl the genoa and drop the main. My depth is only 10 meters. I look at the chart. I’m on some part of the chart that says “Caution.” It spans a massive area and tells me to navigate here during daylight hours because coral pinnacles have been recorded by Ariel photography and the depths are uncertain. Great. No wind and there is coral of unknown depths beneath me and it’s still night. God of my dreams where art thou now?!
Shoot, my moon time has just started. Let me tell you, it’s really pleasant to be a woman in moments like this. I make coffee. I turn the engine on. The sun rises. I motor for twenty minutes tops. I’m back in the wind and my depth is still shallow. I don’t bother hoisting the main, I go genoa only. In this light wind and big swell the dance is too delicate to have both sails up and I’m too tired to deal with them. Plus I cringe every time the genoa gets back winded and my body can’t take any more cringing. In the past two days I’ve slept a total of five hours. I’m beat, but I can see the finish line. A few more hours and I’ll be standing on the soil of some Solomon island.