We are leaving Fulaga for it’s sister island, Ogea. It’s six nautical miles to the southeast, beyond that you fall off the waters edge and into Tonga.
We haven’t seen my friends in two days. The ferry from Suva came with dozens of distant relatives and everybody is fishing frantically to feed the extra mouths. There is also a mad hunt in the lagoon for sea cucumbers. It feels like the gold rush. The ferry will stay for ten or so days, buy the sea cucumbers for a ridiculously low rate, then turn around and sell them to China.
In the meantime, Holly and I have been learning to wing-ding (I don’t even know how to spell it) from a kid named Zenon. We met him after he rescued me. I was trying to teach myself how to wing, got sucked too far down wind after a jibe, and along comes Zenon to save me. He’s 11, but seems as if he is as old as the sun, and is wiser than a forest of owls. He could start a revolution or make a great cult leader.
Now we’re disappearing and I’m heartbroken to leave this place, but I’m following the collective flow. And as much as I adore Fulaga, in particular the people, there is a strange and subtle feeling all of us cruisers are having here. An exhaustion, a twisted acidic burn in the belly, a slow but sinking force.
None of us can put our finger on it. It’s like the water in the lagoon is holding onto some historic piece of darkness that lingers doggedly despite the flush of tides. Maybe it’s connected to all the skulls in the cave that rests, like a crown of jewels, above the village?
I look like an idiot right now. I’m trying to get my main up inside the anchorage and I can’t. I’ve tried four times. All the boats can see me fail. I want to get on the VHF and say, “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, as you can see, I have no clue what I’m doing in life, ever, but hell I’ve made it this far!”
Maybe I’m not supposed to hoist until I’m outside the pass? I give up and motor on behind Paikan. We zig and zag. We reach the pass. What are they doing? They’re not following my track and their boat is almost on top of the northern reef.
There is a sailor man in the water. He’s diving the pass. He see us. He shouts, “You’ve gone too far! Steer towards me!” If it wasn’t for him, Paikan would have gotten reef in their teeth.
Is life made of fortuitous coincidences or is it all a perfectly arranged rhythm? That Pied Piper in the water, just when they needed him! I like to imagine that there is always an arrow of light waiting to guide me; if I look for it, if I listen for it, if I allow it. These arrows are everywhere and in all forms; bugs, clouds, ladies, birds, stones, children, trees, strangers, dreams.
We push our way outside the pass and I use the shelter of outer reef to hoist my main. I find the problem, one of my batons has busted loose and is getting caught on the lazy jacks. I drop the main. The swell is bucking, bumping, brooding. I grab my harness, tether to the jacklines, fix the baton, and hoist again.
The wind is blowing straight in our faces. Screaming from the exact direction of the Ogea pass. It’s yelling, “I hear you knocking, but you can’t come in!” We all make long tacks, hard on the wind, as east as we can. Paikan can sail so high and tight that it’s the closest close haul I’ve ever seen. I struggle to keep up. After beating for an hour, we make a final tack and fall off to a perfect beam reach.
Paikan and I are the middle of the Ongea pass now. Gecko is close behind. There is three knots of current against us. It’s too much for Gecko’s engine to handle. I radio Holly, “The tide just turned, I think you’ll have to hang tight until mid-tide, when the flow gets more mellow.” Holly radios, “Ok, I have a bigger issue. I can’t get my engine to start.” I tell her as soon as I drop the hook I will find a way to get her into this lagoon.
I don’t know how I will help Holly with only my paddleboard and Paikan’s dinghy can’t tow anything because it’s only 9.9 horse power. But I will find a way.
I’m almost to our chosen anchorage, wondering what to do, when a a two-meter tall German couple comes flying towards me. They’re on a boat called Scooter. I give them the skinny. They motor around and rally other boats to help Holly. Then out the pass we charge; five people and two dinghies. One of the guys on our rescue crew has a fishing pole and he’s trawling the entire way out the pass.
The sky is overcast and the current is creating a visible disturbance on the water. I’m so excited. I feel like liquid on the brink of bubbling. This type of mission really gets me where my fire is, especially when it’s got nothing to with my boat. Perhaps only when it’s got nothing to do with my boat!
We make it to Holly. I climb onto Gecko. I’m a star exploding and flaming. We tie a dinghy on either side, then move in unison towards the pass. We’re synchronized sailing like swans in the violet of twilight.
Holly and I take turns on Gecko’s tiller. We’re traveling at 3 knots and the dinghies are bouncing big and getting swamped with water. We give them pots, pans, buckets. Everybody in the dinghies is bailing out the sea, non-stop, except the guy fishing, he’s still fishing!
The dinghies look like bathtubs. The sun is dropping. The two-meter tall couple is getting waterfalled and they’re bailing water like a dog digging for a bone. Four-handed and fast-hearted. One of them yells, “We’re sinking. Release our lines!”
I go to the bow and let their lines go. The floor of their dinghy is a pool and saltwater is pouring off their faces like icicles melting from a tree. They drift away fast in the current, removing scoops of sea. Meanwhile the guy in the other dinghy is still fishing.
At the crescendo of the rescue mission, the catamaran, Swell, motors towards us with a tow line. I release the dinghy with the fishing man and Swell pulls Gecko into the anchorage, up close to Juniper, then let’s us go. The two-meter tall couple latches back on to us and helps with the final finesses needed to secure Holly’s hook.
I go back to Juniper and collapse into a dream. I dream that I’m going down some rapids in a tube, topless. The fishing man is there fishing, and Holly too and she has up and decided that Mickey Mouse is a better name for God, but I disagree.