Last Pacific Sunset
Sitting on the bow pulpit seat, I can barely hear the throb of the motor. In these calm waters, the last few hundred miles to Australia, all that’s up here with me is the blood stained sky and a gun metal sea. The clean, uncut water rushes under my feet to be cleaved by the bow. It’s hullrush and then a pause as we slide into the next watery valley. The girls are finishing up the putting away of dishes from dinner, Helen tucked in our berth into her book. I love sitting up here, the deck is empty and clean washed by a squall. Lots and lots of thinking has happened here. You can’t sit here and not appreciate your place in the world, on the planet. The seat’s perfect for one, and very tight for two. Which is just right.
For me, there is a sense of melancholy when something is finished. Especially before something begins again. Thousands of miles separate us from Panama. The other side of this immense pond. The memories can only collapse into a feeling at the end of something. It’s hard to know what it means when you’re in the middle of it. And so we’re “here,” and it should mean something. Perhaps it’s too fresh. I’ve noticed of late what was new and exhilarating has lost a bit of the sparkle. What happens when you’ve seen the fiftieth waterfall? or thousandth? Caught the thousandth fish? Trimmed the thousandth sail? Fixed the thousandth mechanical failure? Held the thousandth hand? Watched the thousandth sun sink into the sea? I have said to myself and others the only way to feed the dream, is more dream. But I’m not sure that’s true. Perhaps it’s to wake up.
Fiji has been a dream. A spectacular exposition on what life is. What it can be. There is no way you can spend time there and not be awed. The beauty is overwhelming for certain. The people inspire you to re-evaluate the depths of generosity possible, even within scarcity. They give freely. Places like Vanua Balavu, or Fulanga are Edenesque. The last island in the chain of out islands, worlds beyond the world. Forgotten and literally timeless. Untouched. Fields and valleys of technicolor corals and fish. Tapestries of fish in banded silver. And then at the mouth of the pass, a few islanders out in a canoe, fishing. Arms up waving as you come into the safety of the atoll. Bula! Later Samson stops buy to trade a coconut crab for some fuel.
It is not uncommon, as the afternoon waxes on, stomach rumbling, to hop in the dinghy, often with my hunting pal, Lilly and motor out to a good spot and slip into the sea, speargun in hand to bring home dinner. We tie to a bit of rock, or find a sandy spot for the anchor. It’s cold and alarming at first and then the senses equilibrate and we become aware of the scene around us. 10 minutes later, we’re no longer the focus of the reef. Just some visiting mammals. Up for a sip of air and then down and quietly exploring. Being a part of it. Lilly shows me a shell, or a starfish the size of a toenail. Minutes turn into a hours. The light changes, the colors warm, draped in the curtains of late afternoon skies. A school of barracuda move into the channel under us and we slip down, down and behind a coral head. We drift into the school like a rag, limp, threatless. They are now the visitors, we the visited. We are with them. Their eyes wander over us, there is no fear. Which adds to the welling body of shame and gravity that comes with every shot. Taking a life like this is visceral. As it should be. I never have this feeling reaching for my wallet at the grocery. But I should.
There’s a feeling before a shot, before a good shot. Its a feeling of certainty, alignment and then almost without thinking the spear is released. From the cloud of mayhem, tension on the line and gun, and I turn my attention to the struggling weight as I kick to the mirrored surface miles above. I spin as I climb, scanning for sharks, there is no hurry. If its a good shot, in the brain or spine there is no struggle, and the sharks take no notice, despite the trail of green smoke. I slow down now, its no longer a rush, and in the calm my breath extends out. I have minutes more to take this in. A few barracuda follow me, the events curious and unconscionable to them. I see Lilly, across the valley giving me a thumbs up. The sun motes shimmy in slow motion. And then I pierce into the cold air and take a deep, rejuvenating breath. A few reef sharks take notice and cruise a bit closer. They know whats happened, and that they are too late. I see them eyeing my mass, and calculating if they could take the fish from me so I hold it out of the water as I swim on my back to the dinghy.
“You cold?” asks Lilly. “Yeah! you?”
“Frozen! lets head back.”
This isn’t a new experience. It is an amazing experience. Each time. I am cold, but I don’t want this moment to end, so we motor slowly, methodically back to Ibis. I drink it it, laminate it into my mind. The wind has died. And Lilly sits huddled deep in the dinghy hull, in the lee. She has no idea how precious this is for me. The mooring light is on and the laundry is hung. It feels like home, it is home. As I grab a quick shower, Grace scales and steaks the barracuda and starts the grill, and then we chat as I sip a beer and we grill this beautiful fish together. It’s Wednesday, but no one knows it or cares.
That’s what I’m thinking about on the pulpit seat. The water has gone dark now. Its just blackness under my bare feet and Ibis surges on into the ink. Is it over? It has to end sometime doesn’t it? Grace takes the SAT in a few weeks. I think she’ll rock it. Damn it. Wake up man! Don’t be asleep for these last moments. Wake up! Feel the change in the air, the pungent, fecund whiffs of land coming off this strange continent. Inhabit the moment. Notice the ruddy Mars, sitting atop the crescent moon. Be awake for the extraordinary.
Gone is the anxiety now, the fear baked into the newness. The insecurity of not knowing the innards of this complicated ship is gone. Our lives depended on our building knowledge but now we know our way around her, understand her nuances. Her sounds and motions are familiar now. Impellers and belts, seals and bearings. I can feel the spring in metal before it bends. My hands know the knots in the dark. I can put her back together again.
I can see the running lights in the distance, of massive ships, barely manned. We’ve seen nothing on this crossing. No signs of humanity for 1400 miles. No contrails, no radar signatures until this shipping lane. No AIS. Its just us and Argo, a buddy boat from Fiji out here. Enormous spans of distance. A warm wind flickers through the sails, and bends us a bit further to port. We’re sailing in the blackness now, I can hear the salty sheets croak with their load of wind. I wander back to the cockpit, and kill the engine. The quiet spectacular as we slip through the sea. I pinch myself. The ladies wander up into the cockpit, Helen too. What are the opportunity costs of this moment? All the things that had to happen and all the things that didn’t. The myriad million permutations that lead to foreign places. The fears overcome, the leaps taken. The alignment of intention, blessings and luck. Needle after needle after needle threaded.
Helen and I discuss this all the time. The life afforded by accepting risks. There is not freedom without risk. And now the girls are starting to understand as well. With their limited experience of life “back in the world” it’s hard for them to comprehend the sacrifices made. But I think it’s sinking in. I catch them deep in thought.
This is the end of this voyage. We’ll be there tomorrow. There will be no thousand mile journeys for a while. Life will have a new rhythm in a new land.