I lay my head of wet, freshly shampoo’d hair on my pillow, body flat against the cool crisp sheets, and let out an audible sigh. A sigh that represented exhaustion, disbelief, shock, questions and gratitude for life and for the amazing feeling of sheets. Clean dry sheets. I had been drenched in salt water out on Tanda Malaika for so long that my fingers and toes had become wrinkled, and here in my borrowed bed I could feel that the wrinkles were finally going away. I closed my eyes for a moment and saw Tanda Malaika from above as I was raised up into the helicopter.
I heard her shudder and scrape as she hit the reef and I felt the cold spray from the pounding waves as they poured in through open hatches. I wanted to just wake up from this all. Surely it hadn’t happened. If only I could turn back the clock a few hours, if only we had arrived in Huahine during daylight hours, if only we had used different navigation charts, if only I were in my own bed in my own home on the water. I felt Danny move in the bed beside me and told him how grateful I was for him, for his strength and that he was there beside and not crushed beneath Tanda Malaika or thrown out into the ocean as we had raised up high then slammed back down over and over again. He turned to me in the darkness and quietly said, ‘I just can’t believe this has happened.’ All I could say in return, was ‘me neither, my Love.’ We spoke about our plan for the morning and how we wanted to get moving as early as possible to get out to Tanda Malaika before locals boarded her and stole everything. The hostel manager, Lawrence, had said we could have full use of the kitchen and that the grocery store opened at 5:30am, so I set my alarm for 6. Though I was so completely exhausted, I couldn’t sleep and knew I wouldn’t be able to for a long time. My back ached and I could feel sharp pain the entire length of my sciatic nerve – from my L4 all the way to the under side of my foot, and no position brought me relief. I thought about our situation and though I felt devastated, I knew I was not heart broken. My heart could only break once, and it already had been when my brother died. This overwhelming feeling was intense sadness. We were homeless now. Shipwrecked. Then the thought hit me!!! On this night in one foul swoop I had accomplished so many things on my bucketlist! I had survived a shipwreck…I was a castaway…I had flown in a helicopter! Check, check, check! Three things in one night off the bucketlist!!!I was still wide awake when my alarm went off at 6am, woke Jude as she’d requested, and her and I slipped out the hostel and onto the street. It was a beautiful day with a soft morning glow resting on the scene before us. There was a calm bay with several sleepy sailboats resting on the water, and in the center of them all, was a Leopard 46 just like Tanda Malaika. She was beautiful. She was there, safe at anchor all in one piece. She had a family fast asleep in their beds down in her hulls, and I imagined them resting without a care in the world. I was so happy for them and knew how they felt, because just 24 hours ago I had felt it too. I blinked back tears and stepped with Jude onto the street, which was already busy with locals walking back and forth, chatting and stopping to shop at produce and baguette stands. I felt like singing the song that Belle sang in the Disney movie, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, as she stepped out onto the street in the beginning of the movie…’There goes the baker with his tray like always….” We found the grocery store a few doors down, and bought bacon, eggs, baguettes, brie, fruit and juice, then returned and cooked breakfast for everyone. A sleepy, docile tribe entered the kitchen and thanked us for cooking breakfast. We talked about the plans for the day which included Lawrence driving us to the anchorage across from where Tanda Malaika lay, and once we got there the cruisers that had contacted us the night before would retrieve our dinghy from Tanda Malaika and tie it to the dock at the resort so we could use it to get out to our home on the reef. The creatures had many questions about whether we thought she was going to be ok or not, what would we do if she wasn’t, how long we thought it would be till we knew for sure…all we could tell them was, lets get out there in the daylight and see what we’re dealing with and continue to say lots of prayers that everything would be ok. We again expressed our gratitude concerning that fact that we were all alive and safe. After cleaning up the kitchen we gathered all our belongings and took them out to the front sitting area where Emma was going to stay and watch over them. Our sweet friends on Makara, Ian and Erika, has decided to completely change their travel plans and travel from Mo’orea through the night to hurry and get to us to help.The plan was that Emma would wait there for them and once they arrived, load all our stuff on their boat and travel with them to where we were. As soon as Lawrence was ready, we loaded into her pickup and drove the 30 minutes from Fare to the Le Mahana Resort, where the anchorage was. While driving we all felt great uneasiness and braced ourselves for the sight we were about to see. I tried to focus on the beautiful scenery but found myself straining to see around every corner as we approached it, just incase I would get a view of the reef where our girl lay. Finally she came into view. Her beautiful white hulls and tall mast so still as if she were a monument on the reef, with tall angry waves curling and crash on her port side. I quietly prayed, begging that she be ok then realized I had been holding my breath since I first spotted her. We thanked Lawrence once she’d stopped at the resort then walked out onto the long dock overlooking the bay and about a half a mile out was Tanda Malaika.
We stood quietly watching her for a while, each absorbed in their own thoughts. Each fighting the urge to burst into tears. Our dinghy wasn’t at the dock yet so we used the resort wifi and made contact with family while we waited. My mother cried with me on the phone as I expressed my love for our home and the torture she had endured just a few hours ago. Some may think she’s a luxury and not a home, but we had lost everything on land when all that was in our storage unit after moving onto her was stolen in California. We owned nothing on land except for a ford excursion we’d been trying to sell. Most buy homes on land, we bought ours on water for a very low price out of charter and had put time and money into her over the two years as we lived on her – our goal was to take her and do humanitarian work all over the world and we loved all we’d be able to accomplish thus far. We had always been the givers, the hard workers, the receivers of so much love and friendship as we served. We suddenly found ourselves in a very different situation – temporarily unable to help others like we were used to. As I watched her I wondered what miracle it was going to take to get her off that reef. Our insurance had dropped us in Galapagos even though we had 12000 nautical miles of sailing experience, saying we didn’t have enough experience to make the 3000 nm journey from Galapagos to Marquesas. My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of our dinghy approaching, with two cruisers we’d never met in it. They pulled up and introduced themselves as the ones who had tried to come to our aid the night before. We thanked them for their bravery and compassion and asked how Tanda Malaika looked. They said she was solidly stuck on the reef but didn’t look terrible – they’d seen worse, and it gave us hope. We dropped them off at their boats so they could get their dinghies, and set out in the direction of our beloved home. The resort had kindly offered for us to use their dock to temporarily dump our belongings on as we retrieved the most important things from the boat – just in case. The closer we got, the more my heart sank, and I looked at my children and Danny and could see they felt the same way.
Tanda Malaika was in such a terrible spot. There was so much reef all around her and I knew that if she could be towed off she would suffer so much more damage. Her sacrificial keels and rudders were already gone. The paddle board racks were already so bent to starboard from the waves. Our poor, poor Tanda Malaika. We each quietly made comment about dreading what we were going to see inside her. Dinner would still be on the stove, school books still in their places ready for the days lessons, chore chart still taped up in the galley for all to have access to, but what else were we going to find?
Making our way to her from the dinghy was treacherous as we had to work through a minefield of jagged coral. This poor reef. I felt so terrible for the reef, for the coral we had killed.
As I climbed the swim steps I talked gently to her telling her I’d missed her and how much I loved her. We are going to get you off this reef, Tanda Malaika, and everything is going to be ok. Our adventures will continue. We will raise your sails, fish from your stern, lay on your trampoline and look up at the stars and talk about my brother and Dad that are out there watching over us. We will play guitars and ukuleles and sing as usual, we will take aid to those in need, we will scrub your decks and keep your tanks full. Smells of delicious food would continue to come from your galley and writing and creativity would abound in your hulls and at your table. I love you, my strong, beautiful home. My Tanda Malaika.
Life jackets, throw pillows and shoes were scattered about the stern salon, and we opened the sliding glass doors and entered the main salon and galley. The floor was wet and cluttered with books, flash lights, items from the ‘blue basket’ of sunscreens, ointments and allergy meds. Battery chargers and various other items were on the opposite of the boat from where they were supposed to be. A wave hit the port side and I heard water running, and looked down into the port hull. The bilge in the forward cabin was exposed and the hull was breached allowing me to see the ocean below.
The floor in my room was covered in oil and the shelves where clothing had been under my bed were filled with oily water. The head floor was one giant puddle with rolls and tiny pieces of fresh toilet paper rolls.
Everything was going to be ok. Wasn’t it? Just be positive. Is that realistic or am I just setting myself up for heartache? Be strong for the creatures Belinda, be strong for Danny. Be strong for yourself.
I made my way into the galley, reached into the cupboard where we stored the garbage bags and got busy gathering items we needed to use in the next week. Some clothes, the dripping wet school books, toiletries etc. Other items that were important were gathered too. Thank goodness Danny’s Teton guitar was still dry. I looked at my big jar of brewing kombucha that my friend, Cheri, had given me a few months earlier, and told the scoby I’d rescue it as soon as possible. We worked quickly, bracing ourselves periodically as a wave hit the port side with great force. Tanda Malaika was slowing being pounded…how much of this could she take? Our new brave and selfless friends that’d come to the rescue carried the bags we filled to the dinghies and ran loads to the dock at the resort, only to return for load after load. The day was long and exhausting and I looked around thinking that we hadn’t even made a dent. Luckily we won’t have to take everything off because the salvage company who we still hadn’t been able to get a hold of, would tow her to the haul out in Raitea and we’d have access to everything there. Right? I reassured myself and the creatures that that was what was going to happen. Not once did they complain, they just worked and worked. Danny dismantled things that he wanted to protect and save from the constant bashing of waves. How do we get through all this? Just one bag at a time. Everything is going to be ok.
Finally it was time to head back and sort through the things on the dock. Where were we going to put everything? Would the resort have a shed or spare room we could rent? How long till we knew when Tanda Malaika could be towed to safety? So many unknowns – that’s the worst part. The unknown. I walked across the reef toward the dinghy, my sore back bent over like I was an old woman, and I clung to our new friend from Cape D. He comforted me with encouraging comments as I teared up when leaving our home behind once again. He caught me and pulled me up as I fell on the coral and bloodied my legs up again.
As we pulled into the anchorage and turned in to get to the dock we noticed a familiar Leopard 46 at anchor. Friends, Dave and Janet, whom we’d met a few months earlier were standing at their stern, and waved to us. Their boats name is ‘Geniet Lewe’, which is Afrikaans and means ‘Enjoy life.’ Dave and Janet spoke to us with loving concern and offered for us to stay with them. We could split up between Makara and them to allow for more room, and store our belongings on her as we sorted through things. We were so grateful for their offer and humbly accepted. We immediately got to work laying school books out in the sun, turning pages one by one to help them dry out. Night time came and we were still turning pages and sorting. Janet and Emma had started the endless task of doing laundry, using their washer and hanging things out to dry on lines on the bow. Mycah’s back was so sore from being thrown about the boat the previous night and Janet, who is also a trauma nurse, massaged it and also doctored our wounds from the coral.
When we finally all lay in our various beds between the two boats that night, we were so exhausted from lack of sleep the night before, from working hard all day, and from the emotional rollercoaster we were riding on. The room Danny and I had been offered was the exact location that ours was on Tanda Malaika, and in many ways it made us feel instantly at home, but also miss our own home. We hoped we’d only have to take advantage of Dave and Janet’s generous offer for a couple days, then we’d be in Raitea and could rent a place there while Tanda Malaika was worked on. This nightmare would end and soon we would once again be on our way with one heck of a journal entry and a few more things checked off my bucket list. Right?