Bring on the ‘feeling’: boatyards and expanding compassion



Whittling away at the deck paint preparation…this is when I wish Swell was about ten feet shorter!!


Our human compassion binds us to one another–not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”  –Nelson Mandela


I’m sitting on the bow of Swell in the yard. It’s 3pm and the sun’s heat is irritatingly persistent. Since my return from India, I’ve been up to my neck in this deck painting project. My fingers are aching and there’s a blister on my right thumb. I switch to my left hand, but it’s awkward and it bashes into the cleat as I work around its base. There’s still so much prep left to do before I can paint. I can hardly bear to look around. The rays pierce the spots that my hat doesn’t shade. The smell of resin and bottom paint wafts through the air. The nicked flesh on my hands burn. But I just keep sanding…


My mind drifts to family and friends…what they might be doing…and then keeps coming back to ‘compassion’ and ‘suffering’. “…If I never did this hard work, I could never relate to those in the world who work this hard everyday.” Amidst the sweat and fatigue and boredom, I felt connected to all those people out there working similar sorts of manual labor. That connection makes us feel richer, stronger, and more prone to making decisions that serve others and the planet.


Some of us are born compassionate; others have to work at it. The difficult situations we go through that can be turned into opportunities to expand our ability to ‘feel’ and connect to others if we choose to use them that way. Adversity can harden us and turn us inward, or it can soften us and open our hearts wider. The latter choice is scarier, but it keeps us ‘feeling’…for when we stop feeling, we’re like a sailboat without water under it—dry, boring, lifeless, and disengaged!

We must stay open to the lessons offered to us and use our hardships to empathize and understand others, in the hope that we can help heal each other. Because the truth is that no matter how happy we are in our individual lives, we cannot know complete peace and contentment when others in the world are suffering.

So yea, I hate sanding Swell’s deck, but I love the ‘feeling’ it brings me…



The chosen chisel.

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Midday papaya snack!


The neighborhood kids are happy I’m taking so long in the yard since they get to ride my skateboard!


Super moon setting, 6 am. Time to start sanding.

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Poor lil spidey got dusted…:(



Lil Temehani always finds a way to lighten the situation…


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6 hours of sanding later…contemplating a career change…:)



Lani shredding around after only a few weeks of skating.



Let the fun begin…


Reward for a long day on the job…





Free, so Free to be Me.

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Poema and I on a surf adventure…No wave out of reach in the double kayak!


“However rare true love may be, it is less so than true friendship.”  -Einstein


A few days after my arrival back to Swell in January, Poema du Prel walked into the boatyard wearing a huge smile. Mutual friends had been long trying to connect us, but both of our rigorous travel agendas had precluded our meeting until that day. Ten minutes later I was loading my board into the back of her truck and we were off to chase down some waves…It had been a rough week for matters of the heart, but in her presence, I was promptly feeling like myself again…

In lieu of sleeping aboard Swell in the boatyard (something I’ve done enough of for one lifetime!), she invited me to stay in her home and for two months we shared meals, stories, waves, laughter, work, and dreams like old friends. She understands when I’d rather pee in the bushes than the bathroom, enjoy eating a mango more when its all over my face, need to howl at the moon, wear mismatched clothes, cartwheel in the rain, swing my machete, cut my own hair, or cut open my sunscreen tube to get the very last bit. Just like I understand when she runs through house in a beekeepers hat with a hacksaw in her hand to attack the wasp nest on the roof overhang, gets excited about diving for the kayak anchor, comes home muddy from head to toe, skateboards in circles at 6am around the house, gets overly excited about yoga with David Swanson, climbs the guava tree like a spider monkey, and brings home every sort of roadside fruit known to Tahiti. She countered the sorrow of heartache with the joy of a truly kindred spirit friendship. Never judging–just letting me be me, so lovingly!

There’s no mistake when the universe leads you to people who make you feel like your BEST you…cherish them! In fact, surround yourself with them! Poema, and all my dear and wonderful friends, thank you for making me feel so free to be ME!! Click to follow Poema’s Odyssey.


Poema, tending the vanilla plants...

Poema, tending the vanilla plants…


Rain or Shine, we're yours Mighty Pacific!!

Rain or Shine, we’re yours Mighty Pacific!!


Helmuth made a creative new handle for my teapot!

Helmuth made a creative new handle for my teapot!

Swelly got a new hat!

…and Swelly got a new hat!


More surf adventures, photo by Poema

Getting a pre-session shack in the cloud barrel with the girls! Photo by Poema

Going coconutty with Ema and Poema.

Going coconutty with Ema and Poema.


Let the sanding begin. New deck paint for Swell coming soon.

Let the sanding begin. New deck paint for Swell coming soon.


Surrounded by things I love!

Postcard living…


Boatyard sunset.

Boatyard afterhours.


Poema the anchor diving mermaid!

Poema the anchor diving mermaid!


New deck shower, yew!

New deck shower, yew!


Feeling back at home...

So happy to be healthy again…

You guys made a house a HOME!

You guys made a house a HOME!


You don't have to own it to call it home.

Grateful salutations to the SUN.



Ode to the Boatyard

Accept, and find Beauty. find Beauty, and love Now. love Now, and know Peace.

Swell was finally set afloat, leak-free!!, by my crew of boatyard friends, ending an era I won’t soon forget. 11 months in total spent there since August of 2008!? In the wake of my sea freedom, I got inspired to write a poem about the place that brought me so many character-building experiences and life-long friends:

Ode to the Boatyard

Toxic pimple on the face of Paradise,

rankled obnoxious yellow.

Dreams sail in from here and afar, a bit worn,

to be plucked from Sea.

Stacked still,

neat sailboat rows.

Lundi to Vendredi, Seven thirty,

On cue, Symphony commences:

Sanding, grinding, painting, glassing, soldering, patching, sawing, spraying

The tractor growls awake, Jacques always humbly focused.

Trades tickle the passing clouds.

Captains’ brows furrow,

And the green mountain bathes in passing rains.

Sweat beads,

Chickens cluck and scratch.

Arms ache,

Dragonflies inspect morning puddles.

Hammer, tap tap taps rusty steel cradles, Wil pounds away his troubles.

Ants find purpose among scattered debris:

Hardened brushes,

used masking tape wads,

stiff paint rollers,

discarded zincs,

yellowed latex gloves,

scraps of sandpaper and candy wrappers,

peppering pebbles and mud.

Powersander whines, Taputu–Marquesan Camel–operates in measured strokes across another faded hull, unabated by fatigue.

Tiare flowers casually open to this day.

Crescent wrenches ping and tink in Thierry’s bumbling wheelbarrow,

Angelfish flirt and twirl and flounce in his shadow below sagging dock slats.

Midday burns.

Heat stifles.

Gastric Intermezzo, one fleeting hour.

Skin cringes, eyes squint from Shade to patch of precious Shade.

Stray dogs wander in off the streets,

Yellow’s eyes haunted of hunger, ambivalence is his lumber.

Big brown Mami wheels in on the lunch truck, Bon appetite! Tama’a Maitai!

Break baguette,

calories, just calories to get me through this day…

Inaudible clock strikes, the secretary pulls one last heavy drag,

Flicks the butts.

Invisible magnet pulls her back to that seat in the office,

Feigns friendliness behind the glow of Computer Screen through an afternoon storm of clients.

Rats await darkness in the loft above.

Ariel quacks orders and waddles among the cloaked, masked resin rollers,

Silly as an angry duck.

Geckos giggle down from the rafters,

While Roots sip H20 from amongst spilled acetone, foul dust, septic stew.

Yachties climb and descend steel ladders,

Urgently paced and prodded.

Here Only to go There.

Splattered with paint, battered hands, sweat-matted hair, tired backs.
Tasks in perennial bloom.

Local teen lovers crouch in contented silence between abandoned hulls.

Dirty Rags wear tales of tasks completed.

Old Boat Batteries gather near Used Oil Tank,

discussing former voyaging days in the shade of Corrosol Tree.

Weeds push out from under abandoned sea veterans:

Stack of Smashed Rudders,

snaking links of Rusty Chain,

Tired Steel Cables,

lay silent in retirement.

Four thirty,

Tools cleaned and laid to rest,

tall garage door squeals closed.

The Kids appear,

barefoot, grinning, loose,

Mischief abounds.

Afternoon sun melts their boatyard playground buttery gold.

Fishermen wander to the Jetty.

Do those grime-caked feet belong to me?

Sweat cools in Evening breeze,

Sky ripens,

Sweet mango orange.

Accept, and find Beauty.

find Beauty, and love Now.

love Now,

and know Peace.

And While I’m at it….

A zillion other projects at once that all finally came together in the end…

Winches needed greasing...

I made an extension for the mid-cabin berth and used an old cushion for a back rest, so while Swell is at anchor she's got a SOFA, yeah!!

After repainting the v-drive and reinstalling the transmission, I painted the rust on the engine, too...

New porthole shades which replaced piece of paper that I have used to block the sun for about 2 years now. My artistically-inclined friend, Tina, is to thank. I LOVE them...the other side is red, purple and orange!

Swell's new aft shade arch was assembled from scraps and traded items...notice the customs hearts on the side and my thriving lemongrass and basil plants (I've been having strange longings to have my hands in dirt lately?!)

What’s been cooking in the galley…

I took advantage of the yard time while waiting for the new tube to arrive, to make some improvements to Swell’s galley. Have a look…

Swell's floors were curved to the hull in the galley area which was causing knee and back aches...Olivier, master wood worker, helped me to build a small step on either side to make the floors flat.

The frames for the new steps.

Self-portrait of me decorating the new floors with mosaic-ed strips of scrap fabric. The intention was to make it # easy to see where the step starts, reduce slipping, and make it look pretty of course...:)

Then commenced an epoxy nightmare, where I poorly mixed the resin to seal the mosaic and spent three days scraping off the sticky, uncured epoxy...I miraculously managed to make them look okay in the end.

The steps finished and set in place...check out my refinished seafoam green countertops, too!

Tuuuuuuuuuuuube-yeeeeew-lar! A visual walk through Swell’s shaft tube replacement…

The new tube arrives and I have all the parts I need, thanks to Fin Beven and Doug Grant

The gaping hole in Swell is cleaned out and ready for the new epoxy tube to be glued in...

Fred slides Swell's new shaft tube in place.

Glued and glassed with two coats of primer.

Propeller shaft reassembled and ready for splashdown!!

Henoa, Polynesian Gentleman


“Leeeeeeez!!” I heard from behind me as I wandered back toward Swell at the end of a long day in the yard. Little Henoa came running over with an icy cold pineapple juice in hand. Dirt was smeared across his left arm and sweat dribbled down his cheek. I imagined how fun life must be for an eight year old in the islands.

“Pour toi (for you).” He said. “Prondre! (take it)”

“No, c’est vrai!? Tu est trop gentil! (No, really!? You are too nice!)” I replied enthusiastically.

Ever since the holiday party at the boatyard, when I’d taken the kids paddling on my surfboards, August’s son, Henoa, has been my most faithful little friend. Whenever he’s waiting for his dad to finish working, he comes over to say hello. This time, he’d bought me a juice from the vending machine…

He handed over the juice, but just as I reached for it, he pulled it back.

“Attendre. (wait)” He said. And in the true spirit of chivalry, he put the can to his mouth and pried the tab up with his front teeth. The can hissed open and a proud grin spread across his face as he handed it over the second time. His full Polynesian lips were glossy with sweat and saliva.

My heart melted. I took the can in my hand and hesitated a moment…His eye pinned on me…He could have had bubonic plague and I still would have taken a sip.

“Ahhhhhh,” I said after the first gulp, holding back laughter. “Fantastique! Merci!”

He beamed as only a kid can beam. We turned and continued down the road towards Swell, chatting about school and soccer…

Fred, Fin, and Doug…

Hope at last!!

With the tube removed, there was no more time to waste. I had to find someone to help me do the fiberglass work. I’d conceded to the realization that it was NOT going to be Laurent. It was beyond me why he didn’t want to do the job, but that didn’t matter anymore. I didn’t want to give it any more energy. And so I began the search for someone else…

Just across the road lies another boatyard, but the owners of the two yards detest each other and normally forbid their workers to ‘cross the tracks’ into the other yard. But at this point I was desperate…just maybe there was someone there that could help me?? I wandered onto the foreign yard grounds to see who I could find. A handsome older man in a grinding suit pulled off his respirator as I approached.

“Can I help you?” He asked.

“Um, yes…well you see…” I stuttered as I launched into my story. His eyebrows lifted and mouth pursed as I recounted the saga of the shaft tube removal.

“But you actually got it out?” He clarified.

“Yes. It’s OUT!” I replied.

“Well, you’ve done the hardest part. If you can get your yard’s approval, I’d be happy to do the work. I have fifteen years of experience doing that kind of job.”


“Yes,” he smiled casually. “I’m Fred. Come by later after you talk to them.”

Back in the land of yellow…

“Abzzzzoluteleeeeee NOT.” The second-in-command, Ariel, scowled. “Iteeezz forbeeeeeddin for zeeee-ozzther workerzz to work in zisssss yard.” “Yes, I understand, but…” I replied softly, but then, Karin, the secretary, piped in.

“You know she has been waiting for more than one month for Laurent.” Karin coaxed.

“Yez, but it teezz NOT posssibule unless he payzzzz thu percentaaaage to our sociiiieteeeeee.” Ariel said firmly.

Fred came to have a look later that afternoon. He said didn’t mind to give my boatyard the normal percentage. He looked over the task and surmised, “We could make the tube ourselves, but I think it actually might be cheaper in the end just to order one.”

That same day I received another email from, Fin Beven, who had originally given me the ‘slide hammer’ idea. His email read:

“My friend, Doug Grant of Marine Products Engineering Co, sells the exact tube you need with a cutlass bearing to go with it. I already spoke with him and he said he would sell it to you for half price…And if you send me your address. I’ll get it in the mail by Monday and cover the shipping.”

After a month of agonizing, everything had suddenly turned around! Shiny beams of hope were making the world twinkle again!! Fred seemed fantastic. Fin and Doug, neither of whom I had ever met, were like angles that had descended to carry me out of boatyard purgatory…


Adrian, the cheery 6’ 2” Canadian, was low on cash but full of spirit. He had been borrowing my bike for the prior week to ride to town for parts and pieces to fix up his newly acquired steel sloop. He dropped by just as Mike’s overtime charges were about to begin accumulating, so I thanked Mike profusely for getting things started, then turned the challenge over to Adrian. He needed cash; I needed help.  He accepted the challenge for a reasonable fee, but after a few more hours of struggling in our sleep-deprived haze, we decided to reconvene the following morning…

I added oil to the jack and we were back in business. We carefully set up Mike’s puzzle of wooden blocks and metal plates that made a safe pushing platform for the jack. Next, it was time to pull out the heavy artillery…My buddy, Kyber, on ‘Natty M’ had run me through a quick certification in the use of his pyromaniac’s delight—a hefty, flame-spitting, butane torch.  The idea was to repeatedly heat and cool the bronze tube from outside (without setting Swell on fire…) in hopes of breaking the tube’s bonds with the surrounding fiberglass. Adrian stood by with a bucket o’ water in the event I lost control of the torch. The tube turned rainbow colors under the heat and boiled the water that was soaked in the surrounding fiberglass. Fantastic! When we both agreed that any more heating might cause Swell to spontaneously combust, Adrian threw on some water to induce quick contraction of the metal.

Adrian finishes the battle...

...millimeter by sweet millimeter...

THRILLED. And look...those holes in the tube were the culprit of the leak.

Next came the final showdown. Back inside the cabin, a few pumps of the jack’s lever placed 20-tons of pressure against that stubborn ol’ shaft tube. At first it didn’t budge at all…

I couldn’t bear to watch. If this failed I would have to concede to ‘open-fiberglass surgical tube removal’. Being rather nervous around pressurized jacks after my accident last year, I decided it was better for me to go down and survey what was happening on the other end.

“Hit it with the sledgehammer!!” Adrian called from above.

“Okay!!” I hollered back, slinging the beastly tool over my shoulder and unloading on the exposed part of the tube.

“It moved!!” He yelled.

“It MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVEEED!” I shrieked back in delight. The tube had officially broken from the fiberglass and moved 1mm in the right direction!

We carried on like this for the better part of the day: Adrian loading up pressure with the jack from the top, while I occasionally hammered from below. When the jack reached its maximum length, we’d pull it out and shove some other piece of steel inside, re-assemble the support, and continue to push. Millimeter by sweeeeeeet millimeter, we pushed it out of the hull! That afternoon, the final 6 inches of the tube slid out to expose a series of corroded holes, meaning it was certain that the corroded tube WAS in fact the culprit of all this leaky madness!!

Hallelujah!! It was OUT!!

20-ton Hydraulic Jack + Tsunami + Hollywood Director + 6’2” Canadian + Butane Torch= GREAT SUCCESS!

Mike from 'Apple', the successful Hollywood director, directing the 'Swell Shaft Tube Extraction Challenge'!

I woke in the middle of the night to a pounding on Swell’s hull. I shook myself from a dream and looked up at the clock. It was 3 am. “Who the heck drops by for a visit at this hour?” I thought.

I peered over the side and saw Taputu standing below with a flashlight.

“Sorry to wake you,” he said quickly in French. “But there is a tsunami coming. It’s supposed to arrive at 6 in the morning.”

“Quoi?” I replied in shock, rubbing my eyes.

“Tsunami,” he repeated. “Go to Simona’s house and drive with her up on the mountain. I’m going to tell the other boats.” His light shrunk as he disappeared across the yard.

Tsunami? Come on, really? I couldn’t believe it…but soon the lights of other boats flickered on and my phone began to ring…It was true!? A severe tsunami warning had been issued for the entire Pacific!? For the second time in less than 2 months, I packed up a survival bag with my passport and a few precious items, secured Swell as best possible, and wandered down the road to Simona’s house.

We drove up onto the mountain overlooking the lagoon and waited…and waited…breath fogged windows but opening them meant an instant invasion of mutant mountain mosquitos. We opted for recycled breath. By 8 am the local radio declared that the wave had passed through the Marquesas at less than 30 centimeters, so we thought it safe to descend to sea level. Thankfully, all that the ‘great wave’ washed away was any chance of a normal Saturday as I crumpled into a wad on my bunk and shut my eyes at 9am.

I rolled over at 9:45am, hoping that Mike would have had read my mind and postponed our appointment for ‘Mike vs. Swell’s Shaft Tube: Challenge 2010’. But no, the lively Hollywood director rolled onto the ‘Swell scene’ right on time. I was just about to douse myself in the hose when he came bounding through the gate…I didn’t get my rinse. Instead, moments later, Mike had me running about the yard in search of scraps of wood and metal that would work to brace the jack.

Tick…tock…tick…tock…he would give exactly two hours of his time…it was like some sort of twisted scavenger hunt. I was exhausted, sweaty, and hungry while searching for two pieces of wood 5” by 2 ½” under the blaring tropical sun?!…I thought I might throw up.

The clock struck noon and we’d only just finished fitting out the mish mash of metal and wood scraps to support the jack against the fiberglass bulkhead behind the v-drive…but just then, a 6’2” Canadian appeared on the scene…