Procrastination in paradise: book-writing on board

Typical afternoon in the mountain office.

Typical afternoon in the ‘mountain office’.

Blog updates have been limited this year because I’m writing a book! Last year, Patagonia Books proposed that I write the story of my voyage. The timing felt right, and now that I am more than halfway through, I have mustered the courage to announce it here. It’s been a about 11 months since I started trying to write what I hope will portray my personal story of growth and transformation since I started sailing Swell.

Everyone has a different approach to creative projects. In my case, the process has taken me through a gamut of emotions and phases. I spent the first four months with a heavy sense of dread, haunted by acute procrastination and approach avoidance. It felt as if I was attempting to roll a boulder up a steep hill. For a while I just had to walk around it and look at it from all sides, think, fret, and finally take a stab at it. Once I finally got started and I entered a period of self-doubt. I would make a little progress, but didn’t love what was surfacing, so I was happy to be distracted by anything else that arose, like boat tasks, my Nat Geo nomination, the new website, local friends, surf, etc. Any momentum I had could easily be halted, followed by regression into dread once more. I’d have to hype myself up to get the boulder moving again, but there was always an excuse not to write. Whether it was too hot or I was hungry, or I needed to scrub the hull or clip my fingernails, there was always something else to do.

One thing I’ve learned through this process is that, for me, the activities that appear to be completely dissociated pursuits, are actually contributing to my creative process in their own mysterious, but important way. Keeping the balance of life must remain first priority, and so the floor must be cleaned, the veggies chopped, the dishes done, the surf surfed, and yoga practiced in order to sit down in front of the screen and have the words flow properly.

At the outset of the project I decided I would need a separate workspace from my usual little navstation/dining table/everything space, where I could leave the computer and all my journals and log books without having to put everything away every time. So I removed the wooden door to the head (bathroom) and my friend Simon helped me convert it into a temporary desk space in the forward cabin. We then found an old three-legged school chair in the local dump which fit perfectly into the miniature space. I loved it. There was more air flow up there, and I could look up and see the sky out of the forward hatch. Plus, it felt so official—like I had a real ‘office’.

I wrote there for a few months during the ‘dread phase’, but come rainy season, the hatch above proved to have a stubborn leak, so the computer and all the hand written journals and diaries were constantly in jeopardy there. No amount of caulking or covers would stop the ceaseless drip in the heaviest of downpours, and it wasn’t the time for a major hatch overhaul. Gradually everything that couldn’t get wet was moved off the ‘desk’, and soon the old door was piled with dirty clothes and salty surfboards, instead of pens and books and papers.

I migrated back to my usual spot in the middle of the cabin. Mornings and evenings, I could sit outside in the cockpit without too much glare on the screen. But after Amelia the Tropicat returned from her island sabbatical I knew I had to find a way to spend more time on land where she could roam while I typed. So we started hiking into the mountains with my hammock, and I soon found that the different scenery, and maybe the oxygen boost from the forest, proved superb for my creative flow. Kitty was thrilled, and I felt freer too, without her staring at me wondering when we were going to go do something fun.

The project took a hiatus to a few tropical storms, the lost cat, some epic swells, visiting friends or strangers, a love affair or two, and a short trip to see my mom and sister. Deadlines came and went, but I realized that i could not go faster than was the nature of living on the boat in a remote place where I have to cook all my own meals, haul water in jerry cans, and keep up with basic maintenance aboard Swell to assure our safety. But by and by I kept just tapping away at it, little by little. Then one day i turned the corner and realized I was truly enjoying the process. My friend, Tahui, helped me build a table and bench in the forest, using only the fast-growing Purau tree and its bark to lash it all together. With of view of Swell and the reef, I suddenly had the office of my dreams. Until it rained one day and my backpack leaked and I lost about last six weeks of work due to my computer getting wet!? Data recovery places want a fortune to get it off the damaged drive, so hopefully the second draft of the 42 lost pages will be better than the first. Everything happens for a reason, right?

As I have pondered and peered at the story line, read though my diaries and log books, I am amazed to see just how far I have come. I now see how all the difficulties appeared so perfectly along my path for my growth and expansion. Moments that at the time felt like the end of the world, are now part of the beautiful mandala that is my story. Realizing this has opened me to sharing more than I ever thought I would, mostly in hopes that other people will be encouraged to affront their own challenges and see that I am not some superwoman to whom destiny opened the door to a perfect sailing dream life. I attempt to show my faults, reveal my thoughts, and help people understand just how challenging and rewarding following your dreams can be.

The new spot has worked wonders on my productivity and I look forward to long hours in the forest—typing, doing yoga when my body needs, and cooking uru or heating tea on the fire. Except on rainy days!! The project has taken on a life of its own now and I feel as if I’m just the conduit. By adhering to what has gotten me this far, I’m doing my best to let what feels right be the guide.

SO without further delay, I return to task!!

TROPICAT UPDATE***For those of you curious as to how my relationship with Amelia the Tropicat has evolved since her return…all i can say is, Wow!…what an amazing experience it has been. In order to keep her feeling like her free and wild self, we continue taking land adventures, although each time I realize that she could decide to run off again at any moment, making each time we go ashore an amazing venture in trust. There have been at least a half dozen moments where I thought she was gone and I would have to launch the search efforts again, but each time she teaches me in her own way what she needs and likes, and we grow. I often end up sitting for an hour in the dark somewhere being bitten by mosquitoes because she’s not ready to come out, but in those times I’ve learned how to calm myself down, and connect with her through meditation. I first learned this meditation from my Animal Communication friends Jonquil and Thom’ s website when she had gone missing. The more I do it, the more she comes through louder and clearer in my mind, it’s so wild! So thank you, Amelia, you constantly keep me in check and have helped me expand my own borders of what I believed was possible. As I write this she is splayed across my arms in a deep sleep.

The infamous 3-legged school chair that i found at the local dump fit perfectly in my little forward cabin office space.

The infamous 3-legged school chair that i found at the local dump fit perfectly in my little forward cabin office space.

The forward cabin writing station made from the old door to the head (bathroom).

The forward cabin writing station made from the old door to the head (nautical term for bathroom).

At the mid-cabin workstation with Amelia in the first mate position.

At the mid-cabin workstation with Amelia in the first mate writing position.

Morning surfs with my barrel-riding coach Kepi to get the creativity flowing.

Morning surfs with my barrel-riding coach Kepi to get the creativity flowing. Plus she has kept me alive with her food deliveries when i’m on a roll and can’t stop typing to cook for myself!!

An epic birthday care package from my Auntie JulieAnn to keep the spirits high!

An epic birthday care package from my Auntie Julie Ann helped keep the spirits high!

Algae scrubbing makes for great procrastination.

Algae scrubbing makes for great procrastination.

An afternoon surf excursion every now and then too...

An afternoon surf excursion every now and then too…

The portable hammock office is sweet too.

The portable hammock office.

Got to take a little side trip to join Mom and sister Leen for their 65th & 30th birthdays!

Got to take a little side trip to join Mom and sister Leen for their 65th & 30th birthdays!

There's always some wonderful people passing thru...here, a visit from the unforgettable Spalding family!!

Gotta take a break when wonderful people are passing thru…here, a visit from the unforgettable Spalding family!!

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A few details of the bark lashings Tahui and I used to make the table in the forest…

 

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At work in the forest…

Hungry? Climb a tree and cook an uru (breadfruit).

Hungry? Climb a tree and cook an uru (breadfruit).

Reminder: back up your work often!! especially when you work in an office with no roof! Rain on the hard drive. Lost about six weeks worth of work... :(

Reminder: back up your work often!! especially when you work in an office with no roof! Rain on the hard drive. Lost about six weeks worth of work… 🙁

Happy homecoming.

Happy evening homecoming.

Took a break to climb a mountain...A few more months of book writing and we will have climbed that mountain too!

We all need a break sometimes…A few more months of book writing and we will have climbed both this and the book writing mountain too!

Reunited and it feels so Good!! Tropicat is BACK

 

Reunited after 42 days!!

 In case you haven’t heard via IG or FB, Amelia turned up about a week after I posted the blog about ‘letting go’!?! It’s ironic how often when we stop trying to control things, accept, and trust the Universe…beautiful surprises are in store! I was overjoyed to get a phone call from the manager of the bed & breakfast on the islet saying that Tropicat had shown up looking fit and healthy, but thirsty and ready for some love. She’d been on her own for 42 days!?

My experience with the pet psychic was interesting to say the least. I would never have thought to call one, until someone on Instagram suggested it. I did a Google search and found Animalhealings.com and set up an appointment via skype with Jonquil Williams. I certainly wasn’t sure it would do any good, but 3 weeks after she’d disappeared I was desperate to have any sort of lead or clarity on the situation. Jonquil ‘connected’ easily with Amelia and asked her the questions that I was hoping to have answered. Amelia was apparently alive and well and still on the islet, but just needed some land time. Amelia told Jonquil that she would come to me in a dream when she was ready to come home.

After our ‘session’ I had no Amelia dreams, but I was impatient to see her and camped out multiple times, calling for her and walking all over the island. I left food and clothes and still saw no sign of her. Time went on and I started to doubt Jonquil’s information. On my last search effort, a man on the islet told me that he’d found a tiger striped cat dead. My hopes were dashed and figured it was time to give up. Just a few days later I started having vivid dreams about reuniting with Tropicat for 4 or 5 nights in a row. I decided to schedule a follow up appt via skype with Jonquil and see what she thought.

 That very morning of our second appointment, I got the call from the manager of the pension saying they’d found her!? I kept my appointment with Jonquil anyway, hoping she could ask Amelia if she wanted to come home to Swell or stay on the island. Jonquil said Amelia was in high spirits and ready to come home to her ‘best friend’, but she asked Jonquil to tell me that she’s ever ready to go back for another island sabbatical she will let me know by ‘tapping on the porthole with her paw’!?

Overjoyed, I headed for the islet directly that afternoon. When I saw her for the first time again, she came running over and rubbed up on my legs and told me all kinds of meowing stories! I still couldn’t believe I was really seeing her again. The emptiness that I’d felt since she went missing was instantly gone. I still wasn’t sure what to do about bringing her back to the boat, though. I thought maybe she would be better off at the pension where she could happily help catch rats and lead a more normal cat life. But when I went to leave, she followed me all the way out the little dock. I got in the boat then looked at her and asked her if she was sure she wanted to come home. She looked at me for a moment, then casually stepped into the boat…

Since her return, our relationship has changed some. I appreciate her more and take her needs more seriously. I’ve promised her we’ll camp out on land more often, and a friend helped me build a little desk in the forest where I can work on my book and Tropicat can climb trees and chase chickens!! The more freedom I give her, the more she seems to trust me. She still follows me all over the mountains and on beach walks, and if I’m patient and let her do it in her cat-like way, she hops right in the dinghy when it’s time to go home.

So in the end, everything Jonquil had told me was correct! Although everybody laughed at me when I said ‘the pet psychic told me…’, I’m now even more certain that anything is possible and that people can develop their intuitive and clairvoyant powers just like we can learn to surf big waves or climb mountain peaks or learn to hear our own hearts more clearly. Thanks Jonquil for reminding me that it is only our beliefs that limit us!! Anything is possible and True Love always prevails!

And so far so good… no porthole tapping… pheew!! 😀 😀 😀

 

Amelia saying goodbye to her sabbatical paradise…

 

She was exhausted for about a week–kitty looking like she just came off a 42 day bender.

 

Amelia the Tropicat , queen of the forest.

 

Stretching her legs at sunset…

 

Building a table so i can work on the book in the forest while kitty climbs trees.

 

The new office !!

 

Ultra tired kitty after a long days hike.

 

SO grateful to have my adventure buddy back!!

 

 

Amelia the Tropicat: Sometimes love is letting go

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Amelia the Tropicat

 

I’ve had a few pets on Swell over the last 9 years, but most of them made their way aboard on their own. Aside from a lost baby seabird I found after a cyclone, my non-human guests have been uninvited. I don’t mind the geckos that often show up in a banana stock. They make cute coughing noises in the evening and cause no harm. I’ve hosted a wide variety of ants too—from teeny fuzzy black ones to enormous shiny red ones. They’re always extremely busy and don’t like being distracted, so I can’t say much for their company. A roving wasp colony lives in my spinnaker pole from time to time, but we tend to give each other our space. Once a cricket turned up out of nowhere. I never saw him but I adored his evening serenades until they were no more. While I was away on a trip to California, a newlywed rat couple from the boatyard where Swell was hauled thought they’d scored themselves a slick new pad. They promptly moved aboard and raised four handsome rat babies who explored, and chewed, and pooped inside Swell from bow to stern. Their story has a rather gruesome ending, but let’s just say it was either them or me…same song for the prolific cockroach family that sailed with me to Kiribati.

 

Amelia was different, though. I’m not sure whether I found her or she found me that fateful afternoon in November of 2013, but it felt fairly clear that we were meant to be together. She was a skinny little adolescent then–about 6 months old and hungry for food and love. Something about her commanding lioness air and carefree bravado made me want to give her both. I can’t estimate the innumerable forlorn cats and dogs I’ve longed to adopt over my years of travel, but it never seemed fair to drag them into my nomadic, non-routine lifestyle. Nor was I sure that I had time to properly care for a pet with my already full plate of captain’s duties. So, I don’t exactly know what got into me that day, I only remember it being unbearable to leave without her. I called her, Amelia, after the revered Miss Earhart, sensing right away that we shared a similar thirst for adventure.

 

Adjusting to boat life wasn’t easy at first. Life on a slippery, 40’ by 11’ hunk of fiberglass surrounded by ocean was a radical contrast to the lonesome jungle living she knew at the empty mountain mansion where we met. The new backdrop didn’t seem to phase her for long, and she adored the constant supply of cat food and caresses. She scoured every nook and locker of Swell daily for any living thing to torment. She resorted to ambushing flies, although she despised their buzzing antics. She nuzzled her food dish, watched sunsets from atop the dodger, and spent twilight dawns on the bow eyeing our fish neighbors. Her high-fangled, over-the-water acrobatics routines, soon led to a few ‘kitty overboard’ incidents. She quickly learned to dread the sea. Despite her distaste for swimming, she was amazingly good at it. She’d claw her way up my rubber dinghy to get back on board. I worried she might fall over when I was away, though, so I devised a ‘ladder’ made from a long strip of old towel that hung over the side and dangled into the sea. I came back from surfing one morning to find her wet and madly preening; she had obviously made good use of that ladder.

 

Amelia liked to run the show, and whenever possible, I let her. She always had a wily, determined look in her eye–as if the world was out to get her, but she was going to get it first. She was the star of her own mystery film–a sexy, heartless secret agent always on a mission. Business was business. She would constantly stalk me from above the dodger as I came out of the cabin, pouncing viciously on my head or come flying at me from across the cabin out of nowhere as I walked through innocently. She’d stalk fish over the side and birds flying above. I built her a ‘tree’ from a yoga mat wrapped around the mast, tied strings everywhere, made her a fishing platform, and often brought home fresh palm fronds to whip around and let her chase. She did enjoy a bit of luxury in her down time, though, sprawling indulgently across her pillows. On visits to various fancy yachts–after a thorough search for anything to kill—she would always post herself assertively smack in the middle of the scene. For the most part, Amelia the Tropicat had a one-track mind–it was all about the ‘hunt’.

 

I knew she missed climbing trees and bounding through tall grasses, so I started bringing her ashore on beach walks and jungle hikes. I figured if she really disliked life afloat, she’d just run away, but by and by she followed. We found a flat, shady spot in the mountain on one of our explorations, and returned often in the late afternoons so she could play in the forest, while I practiced yoga. She started coming with me to parties, outdoor restaurants, and friends’ houses. She never much enjoyed the rides in the dinghy, canoe, car, and even a few times on a motor scooter, but she was  happy to arrive and discover new turf. After a few months of these sorts of adventures, she seemed to understand the routine, and she’d climb in and out of the dinghy on her own.

I’m sure she had psychic powers, too. Nothing else could explain the way she knew exactly which drawer or locker I needed to open before I even got near it. She’d casually make her way there in time to plop herself boldly in front of the access just before I arrived, then stare off coolly, like she was busy daydreaming. I was constantly obligated to coax or nudge her begrudgingly out of the way.

She charmed most and ignored the others. Either she hated being coddled and kissed, or was too proud to show it. She’d let me snuggle her for a few fleeting moments, then I’d feel her body tense up and she’d become desperate for a way to escape. I understood…a warrior princess secret agent couldn’t be seen as weak or needy. Now and then she’d curl up on me as if she’d finally found a few moments between her unrelenting quests for a bit of affection, but it was always on her time. We understood each other. We both needed freedom and love, we both got seasick, and we both loved challenge and exploration.

She taught me how to wait patiently for something you want (to kill in her case), how to relax now and then, and the importance of carrying oneself as distinguished and unphased as a noble Lioness–no matter the conditions or company. She could be viscous. Dogs feared her. I didn’t trust her around babies. I was constantly marred with scratches and even got Cat Scratch Fever from her! Once she killed a seabird about her size while I was ashore. The poor unsuspecting fellow had landed aboard Swell for a brief rest, only to be stalked, hauled down into the cabin, and massacred. Sigh. In fact, I’m sure that if she were big enough, she would have killed me too. I know she loved me, and might have regretted it afterward, but her merciless nature was just too strong.

A few weeks ago, Tropicat and I got invited on a little surf excursion on the other side of the island. Due to a mix of unexpected follies, we found ourselves on the back of a kind stranger’s canoe, headed for an islet about 300 yards offshore. She slipped off the shiny angled canoe twice on the way. I quickly scooped her aboard both times, but I knew she was horrified. I don’t think it helped that I found it impossible not to giggle at her drenched, rat-like body. We safely reached the other side, where she followed me out a palm-lined trail to the surf spot. I dropped my bag and spread out my pareo so she’d have a notion of ‘home base’, then paddled out for a quick surf. When I came in Amelia was nowhere to be found. I didn’t want the others to wait around, so they headed home while I tromped around the 1/2 mile squared islet, calling her name and apologizing for laughing at her earlier. She never appeared.

That afternoon, a stiff west wind was mounting. I grew worried about Swell, as she was anchored in a fairly exposed bay. I knew there was a cute little bed & breakfast on the island, I figured she would be happy chasing rats and lizards for the night, and could go see the people there if she was lonely or hungry.

I went back the next day and numerous times since. I camped out multiple times where she was last seen, left my stinky clothes for her to smell, and piles of cat food and fish. I even called a pet psychic. She still has not surfaced. All I can figure is that she is either enjoying the endless game of chasing lizards, rats, and crabs, or she may have been picked up by another visitor? Her disappearance remains a mystery; maybe it was fated in the name? I can only hope she loves her newfound paradise, or chose her new home well. I haven’t been able to put away the reminders of her company; the litter box is empty and her toys lie still and lifeless scattered about. I miss her.

Part of me is stunned by the loss I feel without my beloved little companion, but another part of me knows that, like me, she needs to feel free. I never owned her; we chose each other. I did my best to keep her happy during her spell afloat, but as the rainy season and my book project kept us more and more often aboard Swell over the last month or so, I would notice a far-off look of longing and boredom in her eyes. Maybe the string of calamities that happened at the motu that day was meant to be? As much as I badly want to see her again, there’s a part of me that thinks she’s likely happier in her new land life.

Her untamable spirit will always stay with me. But I believe that true love is wanting for the other, what she or he truly desires for her/himself. So be free, Amelia the Tropicat…I wish you endless new adventures, a full belly, loving new hands to caress you, and a life of the non-stop ever-thrilling ‘hunt’ that I know keeps the fire blazing in your feline goddess heart.

Women and cats

“Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.” –Robert Heinlein

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Tropicat was always the life of the party, even if she peed in the planter box… Photo by Lea Brassy during the epic Swell/Patagonia/Cabrihna Quest rendezvous in the outer islands.

 

Land Ho!!

Kitty on watch duty.

She would never admit it, but she loved the limelight.

She would never admit it, but she loved the limelight.

 

She also enjoyed long walks on the beach...

She also enjoyed long walks on the beach…

And always managed to be right in my way...

And always managed to be right in my way…

Navigator

Her job as navigator got a lot easier when I got our amazing new B&G chartplotter installed.

She taught me a lot about relaxing...

She taught me a lot about relaxing…

 

And was always up for land excursions...

But she was always ready to seize the moment…heading ashore with my beloved fellow Patagonia Surf Ambassador, Lea Brassy, to stretch our sea legs.

Afternoons in the mountains for yoga and tree climbing...

We spent many afternoons in the mountain together for yoga and tree climbing…

 

Boat, car, dinghy, canoe, or motor scooter...no limits to adventure for Tropicat.

Boat, car, dinghy, canoe, or motor scooter…there were no limits to adventure for Tropicat.

 

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The only times she was desperate to cuddle were underway…kitty and captain taking a rest at sea.

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She was endlessly curious…

Swimming was not her favorite activity.

But she quickly discovered that swimming was NOT her favorite activity.

 

Nor did she care much for my plant-based diet...

Nor did she care much for my plant-based diet…

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She made herself right at home aboard the yachts we visited, especially the splendid Josefina…

She loved climbing trees, but this particular one frustrated her...

She adored climbing trees, but this particular one frustrated the hell out of her…

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“Now who’s looking up…?”

 

Always right in the middle of things...

Always right in the middle of things…

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Damn birds…

She wanted my job...

Kitty mutiny? She really wished she could be in charge…

Her new home...

Kitty’s new paradise…