The Sisterhood

“It looks a bit tricky ahead,” Lea calls from halfway up the mast, scanning for coral heads from her perch on the spreader. We have been dodging them for a few miles across the lagoon, but now they’re becoming thicker.

“It’s getting harder to see with the afternoon glare. Let’s just stop here for tonight,” I reply.

I circle back to drop the anchor. Lea helps me locate an area with a sandy bottom, then climbs down while I pay out the chain and set the anchor. When I shut down the engine, we find ourselves in perfect silence. We look at each other and grin; it’s magical. It’s real. It’s all ours. The ocean lagoon is calm and there isn’t another boat or human in sight.

“The beach across the way looks divine,” she says in her endearing accent. She’s a French surf adventurer, and a fellow Patagonia ambassador.

“Let’s go ashore,” I reply. “We can bring the soap and bathe in the shallows.”

“And cook over a fire!” she adds. The miles of deserted sand call. We enthusiastically prep for an evening ashore.

The Sisterhood Photo Gallery

Amelia rides eagerly on the bow of the dinghy as we motor toward a patch of palms. Approaching the beach, the cat makes an enormous leap over the shallows to be first on the rosy-pink sand. A turquoise ocean rivulet flows through the reef from the open Pacific into a variety of sand-lined pools, and then gushes out into the lagoon. Lea and I quickly unload the gear and anchor the dinghy. These are the most gorgeous bathing pools imaginable!

We strip down to bare skin, grab the eco soap, and slip into the water. I can sense that Lea also feels that this moment is holy. As sunset dyes the whole sky pink and red, vibrant reflections dance around us in the pools and saturate the evening scene with rosy light. Amelia races up nearby palms and stalks crabs, while we exfoliate our skin with the fine sands and massage our scalps with soap, laughing and joyful. There couldn’t be more royal baths for two mermaid queens.

We don’t want it to end, but we set out to collect firewood before it’s too dark. Lea lights the fire, and once the leaping flames have settled, we cook some local sweet potatoes and the fish that Lea had speared. With full bellies, we throw more wood on the fire and lounge in the sand nearby to stare at the broad night sky and the mango-orange flames. Amelia chases the leaping shadows. The campfire of my heart is ablaze, too. Ever since I left Rainui my immediate world has been overflowing with strong, spirited, open-hearted women of course Kepi the brave; then gracious matron Monique and the Spanish goddesses, Paula and Lucia; then my wild and righteous sea sisters Anna, Leah, Leane, and Lauren, at the Hen House in Hawai’i; my hilarious and loving blood sister, Kathleen, who put me up en route; and now Lea and Kimi.

Patagonia had kindly arranged an outer island rendezvous with two of my fellow female Patagonia ambassadors to shoot photos. It took some scrambling to prepare Swell, and then seven days and two island stops to arrive at the remote locale where a sleek catamaran hosted Lea and Kimi and the crew. But after only a few hours, it felt as if I’d known them in another lifetime maybe as lions or seabirds, warriors, brash maids, or “witches” burned at the stake.

When the Patagonia crew headed home, Lea hopped aboard Swell. She’d like to buy a sailboat, and hopes to learn a bit while she’s with me. Amelia and I are delighted to have her company. She shares my unquenchable thirst for adventure and wild places. The way that she looks out at the open horizon, it’s clear that she gets why I do this. It feels good to be so deeply understood.

In contrast to so many female relationships that are implicitly based on competition for attractiveness, men, talent, and status these ladies are pure love. They are fearless, confident women who want the best for others, and consider themselves part of a great, unlimited sisterhood. They are honest and direct and too busy bettering themselves to gossip. They feel more, think less, and are not afraid to seek their own truth and manifest big dreams. They know their power and use it wisely. While they don’t settle, they do compromise. They are stewards for Mother Earth, ready to make sacrifices for her, and explore new ways to love her. They can pee in the bushes, and often prefer to. They embrace their femininity however it feels right. They focus on loving others better, more than how to be loved more. With them, as with my best old girlfriends and Swell crewmates, daily life is a celebration. Lying back in the sand near our dying fire, I wink back at the stars above, grateful for all my beautiful sisters.

In the coming days, Lea and I make no plans just flow with the weather and swell. We howl at the moon and don’t brush our hair. We find ourselves backflipping underwater with manta rays, breathing in sync through morning yoga, and hooting each other into waves.

On a two-day passage to another island, Lea, Amelia, and I slog through the first night of sloppy seas and relentless rain all of us seasick. Throughout her misery, Lea smiles and makes sure I know that she’s deeply contented despite needing to puke at any second. When a downpour arrives, I hop up to install the canvas tarp over the cockpit to shelter her makeshift bed from the heavy rain. She can’t even contemplate leaving the fresh air to go below. She lies flat, indifferent, immobilized by the daemon of motion sickness while the rain pummels her lower half. I struggle to get the zippers lined up in the tugging wind, blinding rain, and darkness.

“I’m so sorry I can’t help you. I can’t move,” she says.

“Don’t!” I tell her, not holding back my laughter.

Normally, she wants to help with everything. But even now, her determination to love voyaging refuses to surrender, exhibited by her unrelenting grin. I love her for that grin. I understand all too well. No matter how awful the seasickness feels, the adventure, the freedom, and the wildness feel better. I finally succeed at installing the cover, and go back to my soggy position at the wheel. We giggle at each other’s plight off and on through the night. When one of Monita’s steering lines breaks, I hang over the stern, topless, trying to run a new line in the bucking seas. Now she’s the one laughing. Our mutual discomfort both nauseous, wet, cold, exhausted, and hungry is simultaneously hilarious and glorious. We re way out here, all on our own!

From the corner of my dive mask a few days later, I see Lea reaching out for me. I kick my fins harder to catch up and take her hand. She knows I’ve been dreaming of this moment for years. As we swim across the surface of the translucent blue, the sun’s rays shoot light pillars into the depths of the dropoff. I peer down in excitement, but see nothing unusual. Then Lea squeezes tighter, pointing. To our left a female humpback whale is watching us only a few meters below the surface.

Her pectoral fins hang softly by her sides. She hovers in stillness as if evaluating us. Lea and I both instinctively relax, breathe slowly through our snorkels, and gaze back at her earnestly, motionless. A full minute passes until, with a slow, effortless push of her tail, she glides across the canvas of blue underneath us.

Lea squeezes me again, this time pointing down as two enormous males approach. We clutch each other, exhilarated. The girth of their bodies alone renders me instantly breathless. All three whales meet in the middle like it’s been choreographed, then together they glide majestically toward the surface. Grace, intelligence, humility, power all conveyed without a word. “Pssssshhhhhh! Pssssshhhhhh! Pssssshhhhhh!” Their mighty exhales vibrate through us. My mind turns inside out; the whales are only a few meters away. Lea and I look on with sheer awe.

They observe us for another moment, then descend to forty feet below, where they hover horizontally heads in the middle, tails out forming a symmetrical, three-pointed star. Every cell in my body thrills!

Lea’s whale specialist friend, who’s holding onto my dinghy, swims over to explain that the whales are resting. “If they didn’t approve of you, they wouldn’t have surfaced beside you like that,” he adds. We’re completely honored.

Lea and I dive among the plunging rays of light, until the whales surface again ten minutes later. One of them nears, making eye contact while passing slowly. Boundless respect stirs my spirit. I’m suddenly reminded of my purpose: the Earth, the kids, the plants, trees, cows, corals, and whales need my voice.

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