I will never forget Tahiti. It was like nothing I had ever seen or experienced before, and I loved it. For five months I was anchored in Arue, a tranquil lagoon, waiting out the South Pacific hurricane season. Visually, the island was stunning: coconut palms lined the beaches that were punctuated with hibiscus-laden grass huts, luxury hotels, and the occasional troupe of dancing girls; prolific and familiar-looking vegetation blanketed the landscape, enormous leaves exploding from every crack in the contrasting black volcanic rock. Waterfalls cascaded into tumbling rivers, and, with new friends, I sailed, snorkeled, swam, and rowed across lagoons stretching from point to point, while the wildly verdant peaks overlooked it all.
In those days, Arue had a small marina with showers, a large green field for neighborhood kids to play soccer, a shed housing native racing pirogues, and, at the end of the drive, on the main road, a Chinese takeout restaurant that provided a cheaper alternative to the plentiful finer fare that tempted me every time I got off the boat. The islands are also some of the last of France's colonies, and the European influence combines with the Polynesian to create an exotic blend of cuisines, not to mention plenty of guy watching. It is a place that is synonymous with dream, a dream to behold, a dream to experience. What more could a nineteen-year-old girl ask for?
The camera in my memory pans over all this good fortune, this paradise of all that was beautiful and fun for me. It takes in Arue slowly, lingering on the smiling faces of the wonderful friends I made, past the roaring fires under the woks cooking up my lomein, through the parking lot to where I learned how to drive a stick shift (on a rental). It zooms in on the adorable tabby kitten who became my companion, and then it sweeps back out, taking in the puffy clouds marching west and the sparkling waters stretching out beyond the white line of the distant reef. There I can see Varuna, my beautiful boat, my home, gracefully swinging at anchor in this panoramic postcard shot, and all of a sudden, the camera screeches to a halt. The soundtrack of idyllic and swaying island music stops midnote, replaced by some discordant, experimental stuff from the bargain bin.
What? What happened? What ruined the mood? The boat? No way. I loved my boat. I thought she was a thing of splendor, diminutive, yet regal, all 26 of her slender, burgundy feet. No. What ruined the mood was the work that had piled up. The thought of all the jobs I had saved for Tahiti is still incredibly effective in sanding away the veneer, to reveal the underlying work and responsibility that support my good memories. Varuna was my first home and also my first major responsibility, where I learned about the evils of procrastination, and how procrastinating too much is never a good idea, especially on a boat.
I know, we all know, that procrastination is never a virtue unless a delay sheds more light on what needs to be done. In my case, I used every delay to ensure clarity's reign. Whenever I looked out at Varuna
, I didn't see the ideal that has been saved in my memory. I saw the reality of a load of work that was waiting to be done. Before taking on the 6,000-mile-long shakedown cruise, Varuna
was a brand-new boat, and, by Tahiti, she was due for a bit of attention before I could continue sailing. The cockpit floor, which was removable and doubled as engine access (for an engine that was lifted out for a complete overhaul), had to be modified to prevent saltwater from seeping in and eating away at everything. The batteries had to be brought up out of the bilge, contained, and bolted down somewhere in the drier cabin, and a solar panel needed to be purchased and installed to ensure a reliable charging source for them.
Masthead light bulbs needed replacing, but not before a new solution was found for securing the mast steps to the mast (aluminum mast and screws with stainless-steel steps had created a dynamically corrosive duo). Varuna had to be hauled out for an antifouling, and something had to be done about the freshwater tanks that were tainting the taste of the water they carried. An extra length of anchor rode was waiting to be spliced on to the existing chain, and there were tons of other small domestic chores needing attention—building an addition to my bunk, fitting a new foam mattress, and sewing new cushion covers, to name a few. The list was there, but without the instructions on where to start.
The more I thought about the list, the more nothing got done, and the worse it got until time took matters into its own hands. When I dropped anchor in Tahiti, five months seemed like forever, 150 days stretched ahead, which was kind of like thinking oneself rich while holding a wad of bills after cashing a paycheck. I wasn't even 20 years old before all my Mondays, the day when I "can get back to work because the chandlery was closed on Sunday," began to melt into one another. I reached a matured understanding of the concept of time, and how it can only be measured by what we do with it.
I faced a challenge that got me on track as the distance between it and me closed, a concrete one that was impossible to avoid or change—I had to leave by the beginning of May to keep ahead of hurricane seasons in upcoming oceans. In Tahiti, I still had three-quarters of the world to go, the clock still hadn't stopped ticking, so I knew what I had to do and by when it had to be done. All that was left was to do it.
It took a bit of dithering, planning, and discussing the tasks from every imaginable angle before I got to work. Sure enough, I managed to drag myself from one job to the next, slowly checking each one off the list until the day I pulled up anchor and left Tahiti in May, not much later than planned. Having a sound, maintained, well-cared-for boat had a lot to do with her performance and my happiness, and my years on a boat were a hands-on education on life, myself, cause, and effect. In idyllic Tahiti, they all coalesced. While it was clear that my life depended upon timely maintenance and repairs, I also realized that procrastination would always dog me, that this was just a momentary victory.
After Tahiti, there were new islands to discover, people to meet, adventures to have, and, of course, the endless lists to chip away at. I remember them well, these lists, the dread of making them disappear and what it took to get them done. Tahiti may be the stuff of dreams, but I had to get there on a boat. Cruising is also the stuff of dreams, but boats require lots of care and work. So, if work is the reality, then a dream is the memory of what we have once the work gets done, and this is what keeps my internal camera rolling. Cut.