Our single sideband radio, the thing we use for boat-to-boat communications and weather information while underway stopped working a few days out from New Zealand. This is not just an inconvenience but a safety issue as well. If we had suffered an emergency out in the open ocean, we could easily summon help via satellite phone and our new Delorme Inreach or as a last resort our emergency beacon, but a radio is the best way to contact nearby yachts or ships for more immediate help. For the next few weeks I spent part of every single day trying to troubleshoot it, getting Jack to inspect and renew all the cables and connections, testing various frequencies at different times, asking for advice on online forums and generally researching what could possibly have cause a perfectly good system to suddenly stop functioning. Nothing worked, and in addition to my worry about losing the radio, I grew frustrated with myself that I can’t fix it.
As the days and weeks ticked by and we continued to sit in the friendly but murky waters of Savusavu, EV’s newly antifouled bottom gathered the usual slime and other sea growth that accumulates on a boat that sits still for too long. Cleaning the bottom is Jack’s least favorite thing to do, and we began the push-pull dance we fall into when there’s a boat job to be done but no firm deadline.
We’ve been in the company of Toucan and as divers they were itching to get to clear waters and some of the world famous reefs people come to Fiji for. Diving is something Jack and I talked about for years, but somehow we let dive certification slip past us as we worked and saved and prepared for a life at sea. Bruce, as it turns out, is not only a diver but a dive instructor, and he generously offered to teach us and arrange certification. The more we talked about it, the more it became clear that Jack lost interest. That left me ambivalent because while I’m still interested, not doing it together takes a lot of the fun out of it. Of course we don’t have to do everything together, but I would certainly be less inclined to go diving without him rather than snorkel together. Sharing the experiences we have is one of the most rewarding aspects of our adventure, and choosing a divergent path somehow doesn’t feel right.
Bruce and Di are a perceptive lot and gently encouraged me to forge ahead anyway. I dutifully studied the training materials, sat with Bruce while he patiently talked me through dive tables and introduced the gear. I practiced assembling and testing the equipment, and then it was time to get in the water for my first practical lesson.
I consider myself a fairly graceful person but strapping into a bulky BCD and donning a heavy tank instantly makes you feel like a beached whale. It’s been a long time since I learned a new physical skill and my brain struggled to adjust to new sensations. After a few short exercises Bruce pointed toward deeper water and it was time to actually go down.
As soon as I was under water my ears began to pound, and Bruce motioned for me to equalize the pressure. It’s a technique I use even when driving in mountains or flying because I always have trouble with changes in elevation. I tried and tried, but my ears started hurting like crazy, and while I felt totally comfortable breathing with the regulator, the pain in my ears gave me a little bit of panic. Bruce helped me resurface and we abandoned the lesson, and for the rest of the day I struggled to get my ears back to normal. I went over this in my mind for hours, days. Was my ambivalence trying to give me an out? Are my ears too damaged from repeated ear infections as a kid? Or am I just too stupid to learn a new skill? Bruce gently urged me to practice the equalizing techniques but without trying to dive again I won’t know if my ears — or I — can manage.
While this was happening, our washer broke. Yes, having a washer onboard is a luxury most yachts of our size don’t have, but we do and I love it. I can wash clothes any time the sun shines because it runs off our batteries charged by solar panels. But the washer is 18 years old, installed in the boat when it was built, and we knew that one day it would cease to work. Of course any appliance is usually fixable, but when Jack and Bruce pulled it out of its installed location so Jack could troubleshoot, the bottom of the case crumbled away with rust. It seems the case was being held together by a thick coat of paint and once that was breached the bottom 3-4 inches of case just turned to dust. Jack dutifully tested the appropriate parts and we’re pretty sure he identified the culprit, but even if we had the replacement part, the now seriously compromised cabinet would have to be either welded or rebuilt with new material. Replacing the washer with a new one is probably impossible because the unit was placed inside the boat before the deck was installed and the doorways are too narrow to get it out and get a new one in. What’s more, we’re in the part of the world where mains power is 220v but our boat is North American 110v. Jack and Bruce wrestled the now completely defunct washer back into place and I have to resign myself to either schlepping laundry ashore and paying to wash it, or washing everything by hand in buckets.
I was not happy.
I haven’t seen my family in 19 months and I miss them desperately.
I miss old friends and rarely hear from them anymore.
I turn 65 next month.
The radio is broken and I can’t fix it.
The washer is dead and Jack can’t fix it.
I failed my first scuba lesson.
The wind is relentlessly keeping us from sailing to the top priority place we hope to visit while we’re in Fiji.
Life is not going well.
Ever the optimists, Bruce and Di convinced us to join them in the Sau Bay dive boat for a trip to rainbow reef. They would be diving an area they hadn’t visited yet and the boat would drop Jack and me at a fine snorkeling area called the cabbage patch. I was in no mood but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. “You should,” they said.
Dive boat drivers like to go fast and we pounded out to the reef. I got crankier as my still-sensitive back took a beating. We dropped Bruce and Di and the dive master off, then the driver took Jack and me to the cabbage patch. As soon as we got in the water my mask filled up. This is a mask I’ve been using successfully for years and now suddenly today every time I put my head in the water it leaked. I adjusted, reseated, tried again. I’d get 20-30 seconds in — ooh, pretty coral! — then glub, glub, choke, mask off, try again — look at the fish! — gurgle gurgle, choke, mask off, try again. I could feel all the stresses of the previous couple of days coming to a head. Meanwhile Jack happily pointed this way and that, getting further and further from me, as I felt buffeted by the considerable swell, struggling with a leaky mask, wondering what the hell is going on with me. I felt defeated on all fronts.
Jack swam back over to me just as my frustration came to a head and I ripped my mask off, slammed it on the water and wailed, “Normal people can do this! It’s just not my fucking sport!” I was in tears, sputtering just a meter or so above stunning live soft corals and an impressive array of colorful fish. How could I be this unhappy in such a beautiful place?
Jack had the good sense to keep his mouth shut and let me rage. So much was bubbling up to the surface and my tears mixed with the salty sea as I tread water in borrowed fins, letting the bottled up tension flow out of me.
Eventually the dive boat came back for us and we climbed aboard. I pasted a smile on my face and held up pretty well until Jack felt the need to share my meltdown with the others. When he relayed my ultimate outburst – “This is not my fucking sport!” — they all cracked up and Bruce dubbed it the winning line of the week, and even I had to laugh. I was cold, cranky and frustrated with problems that still aren’t solved, and it’ll still be a long time before I see my family again. But there was a rainbow in the sky above rainbow reef, and Bruce took one look at my mask and pronounced it the wrong type for my face, and there will be drinks ashore at Sau Bay when we get back and maybe life isn’t so bad after all.