The Boatyard I Believe in Angels

Rust chips fly as anchor chain spews out of Swell’s chain locker into the bay in front of the Bora Bora Yacht Club. My hotel holiday is over. Looking more closely, I find that some of the links have only an eighth of an inch of steel remaining, so when a cruising boat nearby vacates a mooring, I haul the compromised chain back up and tie off to the mooring ball instead. I will have to pull all 300 feet of chain onto the deck, cut out the rusted links, then splice whatever is usable onto my length of nylon rode. But first, I must go ashore and check in with the yacht club.

The young, friendly owners of the club greet me at the dock. Jessica is from California and Teiva is Tahitian and speaks perfect English. Upon learning I’ve arrived from Kiribati alone, they take extra care to make me feel welcome. Jessica invites me to ride with her to the market. As I’m loading my dinghy with the grocery purchases, she and Teiva insist I return for dinner with them that evening.

Between meals at the yacht club in the coming days, I face the daunting task of putting Swell back together after the passage. At least the laundry is clean: Just before checkout, I’d gathered the heap of dirty washing aboard Swell, and stomped it clean in the hotel bathtub. If not for Jess and Teiva’s kindness and those blessed days Chris had provided at Le Meridien, I might have packed a backpack and surfboard and given up this whole sailing gig.

The Boatyard I Believe in Angels Photo Gallery




Once the anchoring gear is dialed, it’s time to figure out why the head-stay is so loose. I dig out the bosun’s chair and pull myself up the mast with the clever four-to-one pulley system that rigger Marty devised back in California. The one-way pulley ticks as I heave myself higher and higher above the bay. At the top, I peer over the furler sleeve to find a chilling sight. Most of the individual wires of the headstay cable are broken. I count them: Only six of the nineteen wires are still intact, holding up the mast and furling headsail! It looks as if the protective plastic sleeve at the top of the furler had worn through and the aluminum beneath it was rubbing directly on the cable.

Visions of that final day at sea flash through my mind. It’s a miracle that the whole mast hadn’t come down while I was pushing Swell so hard. Slightly dazed, I lower myself slowly to the deck, again grateful to whichever angels had been watching over me. I will have to order a new cable and maybe even a new furler.

While I work out how to proceed, Jess and Teiva make it clear that I have an open invitation to share every meal with them. They need an extra hand behind the bar one evening, so I gladly help serve drinks and food for a party of 200 Spanish hairdressers. A few of them talk me into hosting a bay cruise aboard Swell, so the following afternoon I secure an extra halyard to the foredeck to take the weight off the severed cable, and pick up the fun-loving group of Spaniards at their hotel. After a fine sunset cruise, they load me up with donated cash and well wishes.

I lie in my bunk that evening, feeling glad I had listened to my heart and not rushed west to New Zealand all those months ago. Thanks to the generosity of the blog readers and supporters sending occasional donations, I’m staying financially afloat. And today, another charitable surprise arrived: After reading a mass email I sent out about my distressing headstay situation, a yacht captain I met in Kiribati wrote back offering to help me get a discount on a brand new furler and headstay. Yay!

But there’s another pressing problem: Swell is taking on water. The pace of the leak has increased slowly over the five months since I first noticed water in the bilge, and it’s now nearly six gallons a day. There’s a tiny space below the transmission where I can shine a flashlight and see persistent wetness, but the engine’s position blocks me from tracing the actual source of the leak. I checked the hull below the waterline when I first noticed the issue, and I found a crack along the base of a small skeg which a previous owner had thru-bolted onto the hull between the keel and the rudder (likely intended for better tracking downwind). Maybe the force of waves hitting the skeg broke the seals around the bolts that hold it to the hull? Maybe the seawater is seeping in around those bolts?

I can’t sail on like this. Swell and I prep to leave Bora Bora for the nearest boatyard. Jess and Teiva wish me well and refuse to accept any payment for use of their mooring and the many meals.

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