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Goodbye, Dear Friend

No Voyage

by Mary Oliver

I wake earlier, now that the birds have come
And sing in the unfailing trees.
On a cot by an open window
I lie like land used up, while spring unfolds.

Now of all voyagers I remember, who among them
Did not board ship with grief among their maps?—
Till it seemed men never go somewhere, they only leave
Wherever they are, when the dying begins.

For myself, I find my wanting life
Implores no novelty and no disguise of distance;
Where, in what country, might I put down these thoughts,
Who still am citizen of this fallen city?

On a cot by an open window, I lie and remember
While the birds in the trees sing of the circle of time.
Let the dying go on, and let me, if I can,
Inherit from disaster before I move.

O, I go to see the great ships ride from harbor,
And my wounds leap with impatience; yet I turn back
To sort the weeping ruins of my house:
Here or nowhere I will make peace with the fact.

~From New and Selected Poems, Volume One




A Tour of My Writing Mind and Some News

Lulu, the ultimate writing distraction

Back when we were living in Auckland last January, I had a webpage open on my laptop. My finger was poised above my touchpad, nearly ready to click. The button the little white finger on my screen hovered over read: “Click here if you accept our offer of admission for the three years of hell that is nursing school” or something like that.

Just then, I saw a new email had arrived. I hesitated. I clicked over to my Gmail tab to read the message. It was from my friend, Michael Robertson. He had sent it to me and another cruising friend, Behan Gifford. In it, Michael wrote he had overdosed on chocolate covered espresso beans the night before during his watch. While he had since recovered, one of the delusional thoughts that had entered his brain the previous night remained when morning finally arrived. He explained his wild-haired idea to us as best he could. Did we think we could do it?

I promptly forgot about clicking that button for nursing school. I finally admitted to myself that while it will likely not bring fame, or money, but rather back spasms, tears, and frustration, this was the sign I was looking for. That I should do what I’ve always wanted, which is just to write stuff for other people to read and hopefully change something tiny about the world. Because while at the end of a full day of writing my wrists are kinked and my brain is sore, looking at those words on the page brings such personal fulfillment and joy. And then utter defeat, because they all suck and will need to be changed the next day.

Behan nominated me to answer a few questions for a writer’s blog tour that’s going around. I won’t nominate anyone else, because I don’t want to stress anyone out, but if you want to answer the questions on your own blog, do let me know and I’ll add a link.


What am I currently working on?

The project Michael envisioned while high on espresso beans is quickly coming to fruition: the three of us are coauthoring a book we’re calling Voyaging With Kids, a Guide to Family Life Afloat. It’s the book we all wished we’d had when we first cast off years ago. The book will be published by L&L Pardey Books when it’s completed. Our mission is to draft a guide as complete and up-to-date with as many differing viewpoints as possible with all the aspects of sail or power cruising with kids we can think of: from choosing a boat, homeschooling, laundry, health care, babies, teens, relationship issues, swallowing the anchor, and much more.

While this project is quickly hurtling towards deadline, I’ve also decided to write a novel as part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s like the marathon of the writing world. What seems to be developing before my bleary eyes is a middle grade (for 9-12s) fiction book. It involves a sailboat and a tropical island and cute boys, natch. I honestly have no idea what will come of these particular words, but I am having a hoot writing them down. I’ve also learned what it feels like to sit down and write when I swear I have nothing to say because in order to “win” NaNoWriMo (i.e. get 50K words down by November 30th) I have to average 1,667 words a day. I’ve discovered that once I sit down, fingers poised over the keyboard, a story clue will pop out of nowhere in an hour or two. I’ll start typing then and be off and away in my own invented world where I have very little control over my imaginary people for a few hours. It’s really, really fun.


How does my work differ from others in my genre?

Since I’m not really sure what my genre is, I have no idea. I like to keep it real, I like to tell stories, I like to make people feel like they are not alone. But that’s not all that different from other writers, is it? I’m still discovering what my genre is, but while I’m enjoying my non-fiction and various freelance writing projects, I’ve always been a lover of fiction and have a strong feeling that’s where I’m going to spend my writing time in the future. Maybe.


PegaLeah, age 5Why do I write what I do?

So here’s why I decided to do NaNoWriMo at the last minute this year: Leah, at nearly 9, is having a world of trouble finding books that she likes. She’s a voracious reader, but she hates books about “stupid” girls like you find in “Dork Diaries,” and “stupid pony books” [she also hates being reminded that she was a pony from the ages of 4 to 5.] Her favorite characters are Coraline from “Coraline” and Violet from “A Series of Unfortunate Events” but she really prefers humor and adventure, over the  horror-for-children genre that seems to be popular. But check out this list of the most popular middle grade books: how many of those feature strong pre-teen girl characters? After struggling to find books featuring likeable, strong girls at her 7th-grade reading level but 9-year-old maturity, I thought what the heck? I’ll write a book for Leah. I’m not sure I’m succeeding at that, but I’m definitely learning a lot about writing in the process.

Voyaging With Kids follows a similar reasoning: the cruising world needs it, it will help people, we want to write it, so off we go. I’m loving writing this book too, except it makes me want to pack my swimsuit and jandals in a bag and fly back to my lonely boat. (But I just double-checked my piggy bank. Still empty except for a few paʻanga rolling around in there.)


How does my writing process work?

I sit down in a chair and I type on my laptop. Sometimes I just stay in bed in my jammies, or sit on the couch with my feet up on a bean bag. It’s a hard life. I’m drinking a lot of coffee lately (but maybe that’s because it’s dark by 4:30?)

Even if I manage to cobble down some notes or an outline, what I usually write is totally different. I don’t use notebooks. I’ve tried. I’ve got stacks of empty notebooks, both pretty and plain. Instead, I use Evernote since I can access notes on my phone and any computer I’m using. For coauthoring, we are using Word and Dropbox. For my fiction projects, I’m using Scrivener; it’s an amazing program for organizing all the bits and pieces that come out of thin air and maybe even into your brain someday.


Back to school, back to writing

The girls arrive home from school

This blog has been quiet lately. I suppose that’s normal, since Wondertime is still 7,000 miles away and we haven’t been doing much sailing here or anywhere. Both girls are back in school full-time, a kindergartener and a third grader. They ride the yellow school bus to and fro and are generally having a great time, making new friends and getting re-acquainted with old ones. They both rush home excited to complete their homework so we must have done something right as we fumbled along in our boatschooling.

Which leaves me, home alone, all by myself for seven — count ‘em! — SEVEN hours a day. For the first time in nearly nine years. It’s heaven, seriously. I’m not eating bon bons on the couch and watching daytime TV (is that even on still?), although I have picked up my Kindle during the day a few times. No, I’ve been pounding this keyboard like I’m trying to put it out of commission. And couldn’t be happier.

I’m loving writing full-time, and like anything, am finding the more that I do what I love, the more opportunities pop out of seemingly nowhere. I’ve been writing about sailing of course, but also touching on topics that I don’t like to write about, and finding those stories just as important.

Pacific Yachting Cover - November 2014

I’ve also been working on a much bigger writing project that I’m very excited about. More news on that will come in a month or two, so stay tuned.

When boats stop cruising and posts dwindle away to nothing, I’m always disappointed. I want to know what’s next for the people I’ve followed along across oceans. What are they doing now? How have they changed? What have they learned? I’m still trying to figure out that myself, so I’ll keep writing, with hopes to encourage others to take a chance, whether it’s cruising or anything else.

What are you wondering about? Let me know in the comments, or send an email. I’d love to write about it.

Leah writing a report for school. It’s not due for three more weeks. Maybe she didn’t get the procrastination gene?

My little brother finally gets hitched to his junior high sweetheart. Congratulations Cam and Katelyn!

My adorable baby brother finally gets hitched to his junior high sweetheart. Congratulations Cam and Katelyn!

Bubble girls

Bubble girls

It's been four years since our first real winter. It's coming, and we can't wait.

It’s been four years since we’ve experienced a real winter. It’s coming, and we can’t wait.


Home Waters

Back on the water, Olympia, WA USA

We went sailing last weekend. It was late Sunday afternoon, on a friend’s small boat. We sailed back and forth in superlight summer breeze across the head of Olympia’s Budd Inlet. After a whirlwind past four months, we felt…done.

Back in May, still in New Zealand, we bought a house in our old, affordable Olympia neighborhood next to Capitol Forest, packed and shipped our stuff back to the U.S., moved Wondertime to the sales dock in Whangarei, kissed our good ship good-bye, took a quick RV trip up to Cape Reinga, jetted back to Washington State, signed our house papers, moved our eight bags in, unloaded our storage unit, bought some patio chairs, then sat back and listened to the birds twitter in the tops of our 7 acres of trees with a proper Pacific Northwest IPA in hand.

Was it as easy as that? God no. Many times during the process of returning home did I feel like I was going to explode into a thousand pieces. But it was necessary, and knowing that kept us going. Earlier this year, we tired of the struggle and pulled the plug. It was that simple. The lack of any kind of support system was wrecking havoc on our family. Struggling to make financial ends meet in one of the most expensive cities in the world was disheartening, with Michael trudging off to a well-paying job daily. We had to sneakaboard to sleep in our home. We couldn’t afford to visit our families, and they couldn’t afford to visit us. We missed them, and were sad they had missed so much of our girls growing up already. Our simple life aboard and abroad had become anything but. We love New Zealand so, it was a terrible decision to make.

Somehow, it all came together and we were back in Olympia by late May. In June, Michael started work again and the girls and I kept ourselves busy making our new house a home (o massive thrift shops! how I missed you!), rekindled old friendships, and played in our creek. It’s been a quiet summer: catching frogs, getting to know our new/old neighbors better, carving trails, camping in the backyard, fireworks, sprinklers, s’mores over the fire, watching the weeds grow. Settling back in. Missing New Zealand profoundly, as we knew we would. Everyone does.

It’s late August now, only two more weeks until school starts up. Michael’s been helping our good friend Garth (you might remember reading about him on our way south, he was our first brave crewmember) get the engine of his little Pearson 28 running before summer’s run out. We finally got the chance to head out with him last weekend, on a perfect PNW late-summer afternoon.

Sailing our favorite waters

Of course, the engine wouldn’t start when we got out to the boat. Not a problem for Michael MacGyver Johnson who jumped below, contorted his body in impossible ways in the tiny quarter cabin and rewired that sucker. He was determined to get us out on the water.

As expected, the engine purred to life soon after and we puttered out of the marina. In 5 knots of wind we put up the sails, cut the engine, and felt the weight of our world drop away at the so familiar sound of water trickling past the hull.

Leah had been below reading her kindle (having earlier refused to go out with us because “my sailing days are over” and “sailing is stupid”). She grabbed a life jacket and joined Holly on the bow. Not far ahead was Hope Island and she suddenly begged to go there, to see the Onion Tree once again, hike our trail again. We hated to break it to her that we were only out for a few hours, and besides we hadn’t a dinghy with us and weren’t going to swim ashore. Another day, we promised.

Sailing girls, Olympia

We zig-zagged back and forth several times, then Michael handed me the tiller. It had been a long, long time since I’d held a tiller on a small boat. Such a simple and true thing. Just a titch in one direction or the other and I could feel the exact moment when the boat was satisfied. I’d hold it there for a while, and then the wind would shift a bit, or change in velocity and I’d have to make the proper adjustment. Then we’d carry on.

With the tiller in my hand, I saw that everything I wanted is right here: two beautiful, happy children, a partner in life, love, and adventure who is willing to grow and change alongside me, a loving community, a cozy home, a daily shower, a desk of my own, cats sleeping under it, paid writing gigs, memories of grand adventures and seeds of more to come, and my beloved Salish sea, once again on our doorstep.

Our house. "It's shaped like a boat!" my Dad said when I emailed him the line drawings from NZ.

Our little house. “It’s shaped like a boat!” my Dad said when I emailed him the line drawings from NZ.


Brand new simple pleasures


Our backyard. No nature deficit disorder here.

Our backyard. No nature deficit disorder here. The creek will be filled with putrefying salmon come November. They swim from the ocean into Puget Sound, down into Mud Bay, and upstream to our little creek where they leave their little ones to grow.


My dream come true: a writing desk with a view

My dream come true: a writing desk with a view, and the sound of ravens outside.


Meet cat #3 (not a typo): Lulu. We love her.

Meet cat #3 (not a typo): Lulu. We love her. She joins Penny and Tui, older siblings we adopted from our local cat rescue.


Our Family Adventure Podcast

Wondertime family at Cape Reinga, NZ

The team at Family Adventure Podcast recently contacted us to talk about our sailing journey and we are thrilled that the podcast is up! Listen to us muse aloud about why we left to go sailing when our youngest was still in Pull-ups, how we paid for it all, what living in New Zealand was like, why we left, and what we’ve been up to for the past few months and what’s next.

You can download the podcast from iTunes or directly here. And a HUGE thanks to our new friend-on-the-wrong-oops-I-mean-other-coast, Erik Hemingway for including us in his family’s project of inspiration. Do head over and listen to the other podcasts too but beware the wanderlust they will cause! Enjoy!

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A Good Voyage

last night at sea

Two years ago today we were sailing across the Pacific Ocean. Three adults, two kids on our 38-foot boat. We were almost there, in fact: the equatorial doldrums were behind us and the lush island of Hiva Oa was only four more sleeps away. The air was soft and warm. Our trusted ketch was charging along towards her landfall with the wind positioned perfectly on her side. The beam reach to paradise every sailor dreams of.

It still feels like a dream, even now. The kind you wake up from, disappointed to have been shaken out of it. You close your eyes and want to slide back into the land of dreams, back into the billows of sweetness that filled your sleep. But it’s slipped through your fingers and you’re suddenly wide awake and the dream is gone. But not really; the memory of it is vivid and it makes you smile as you lay there, remembering. The memory of it is enough.

It’s taken us two years to digest the enormity of the voyage we undertook when we departed Olympia in 2011. In a way, the past year and a half of sitting still has provided us more time for introspection than all the nights at sea put together. Truth be told, when we slipped into the dark Bay of Island waters, engineless, that night we arrived in New Zealand I knew the voyage was done. The four of us had succeeded, together, and made it safely to our destination with a million memories made along the way. Our dream had become real.

The satisfaction hasn’t waned since then. Sometimes I close my eyes and the memories are so vivid and real it’s like I’m right back there: snuggling in our bunk, reading to the girls as the boat rolls along with the swells, laughing late into the night with friends newly-met, Leah and Holly’s incredible sisterly bond, Holly dancing the hula in Bora Bora at 3, watching piglets scurry along a Tongan road, burying each other in beach sand because it’s the only thing we need to do that day.

I’ve wondered what our young daughters will remember of the journey, but now I know that’s not what’s important. They might not remember the details, but they each have gained a deep sense of possibility. They understand that you push onward through the challenges to get whatever it is you want. They are old enough to see the ones I plow through on a daily basis. They know there is so much more to see of the world, that it is a huge, fascinating place and we’re already dreaming up new adventures together, even if not aboard the deck of Wondertime. Leah wants to travel to India, Antarctica, and scuba dive in Fiji and I don’t doubt she will. Holly wants to be a singer and a dancer and we will help her make that real.

A few things have come to the forefront of the many hours of rumination Michael and I have shared together, and alone. What’s truly important is the lessons that we’ll all bring along with us in all our future endeavors. It’s not a long list, but it’s the only one we need:

The most important thing is the people who love us.

Life is everything.

This is true everywhere.

The open sea is not calling me as it once was. Just knowing she’s out there is enough. It’s time to go home. And give back.


Landfall, Hiva Oa. April 12, 2012.

1 comment

A New Adventure

I’ll write more later, but I just wanted to put a quick note up that we’ve officially put Wondertime on the market.

View her details here.

We’ve sailed as far as we needed to, but she’s ready to travel on with a new family.


99.9% Lucky

Girls in paradise

Recently, I’ve seen a few cruising-related internet memes something along the lines of this: “It’s not luck, that I’m out sailing my yacht around in paradise. It’s 100% pure hard work.” This kind of rubs me the wrong way and I can’t stop thinking about it.

I mean, it is sort of true really: we could just be armchair sailors reading sea stories by the fireplace wondering what it’s really like out there. We could be living in a comfy cozy house with all our loved ones an hour or three drive or flight away, wondering what it would be like to be on the other side of the world, never having made the sacrifices to actually get here. It does take a whole shitload of work to set sail; read some of my entries from June 2011 for a trip down crazy-stress-but-in-a-very-good-kind-of-way memory lane. We sold everything, spent everything, we’ve sacrificed time with beloved family members and friends back “home.” But we had to do it. There just wasn’t any other option for us.

So, I understand the hard work part. But before we could even make the “hey, let’s go cruising” decision a whole lot of other stuff happened. I can’t see how I can attribute them to anything but “luck.”

First of all, we were born in the United States of America to average middle-class families. We weren’t born in Tonga, where the average worker earns about $25 USD per day. Or Mexico, where the average monthly wage is under USD$1000/month and typically far less. Very very few people in either place own yachts. You are very lucky if your family owns a small skiff. Not everyone in the U.S. is as lucky as us of course: an obscene amount of the American population are homeless and/or lives in poverty.

Michael and I were each born to parents that were university educated and had well-paying jobs. They taught us the love of reading at very early ages, encouraged us to do our best and study hard both in and out of school. We were expected to continue learning after high school graduation. Most of all, we were encouraged to follow our dreams and made to believe that we could do anything we wanted. Our parents taught us that the world was our oyster. Not everyone is so lucky to be born into supportive families like ours.

Michael was lucky that his parents took him cruising at 13 and sparked a dream to cruise with his own family.

I was lucky to log on to in 1998 and spark up an “instant” message conversation with an interesting boy, which led to lunch at Dad Watsons in Fremont and 14 years of marriage.

It was our good fortune to land jobs in the IT field as the Seattle tech boom was exploding. This allowed us to buy our first yacht before either of us were 25.

We were lucky to be blessed with two perfectly healthy and delightful daughters.

I am lucky to still have my good health, despite almost 28 years of T1 diabetes.

We were lucky to sell our house in a downward-trending market. We’d put a lot of elbow grease into the property over the three years it was ours and were able to land enough profit to pay for a floating home and a trip across the Pacific.

In New Zealand, we feel outrageously lucky to be residents here now. We are friends with a family from Pakistan. Their daughter is the same age as Holly. They arrived here within days of us. The dad works with Michael at his IT company. It took them six years for New Zealand to approve their application for residency, the same process that took us six months. It’s hard to feel lucky, though, at something so unfair.

Things continue to happen, at a rather alarming pace, that are hurling us towards things that we’d envisioned but are now becoming real. It’s clear that we are exactly where we need to be. Maybe “luck” is not really the right word, but “fate.” Whichever it is, I am 100% grateful for all that the universe has given us, which is allowing us the chance to work to make our dreams real.



Back to School

First Day of School

While it seems like summer is finally getting underway here, it’s already back-to-school time. Yesterday, both girls started their new classes at their Auckland primary school. It was Holly’s first full-day of school, ever.

I was so looking forward to it. All of us were. We were all a bit tired of bumping into each other on the boat and looking forward to this week, when we could each head out into the city on our own to learn and explore. I was anxious to get started on writing down some of the stories that have been bouncing inside my head. Both girls were excited to see the friends we hadn’t been able to see over break again.

Today, after dropping them off at their new classrooms for the second morning in a row I came back to our empty, silent boat. I made myself a latte and sat down, the whole settee to myself. And felt the unease that had been looming settle in.

Yesterday after school I tried to coax the girls into telling me how their first day back at school was. “Oh, it was good,” Holly answered. “Fine,” was Leah’s response. They both had had fun at recess and were glad to be able to play together this year. After a little downtime with a snack and an audiobook, the girls threw on some ratty shorts and t-shirts. They grabbed their life jackets and jumped down to the dock and peered down into the water, their small fishing net poised to snatch any unsuspecting fishes that would soon swim by. I had dinner on the table before I was able to coax them back on the boat, each girl talking at such a rapid pace I could barely follow them: they’d seen tiny jellyfish with bright red middles, spent some time scraping invasive fanworms off the dock, caught some more shrimp, were certain they’d seen a nudibranch (“but it was dead”).

The memory of this wants to break me apart today.

Day 1 agenda

Year 1, day 1 agenda

I remember all that we experienced over the school break: hiking out at Great Barrier, Leah’s fascination with carnivorous plants (resulting in a pile of books from the library and our very own Venus Fly Trap that we miraculously haven’t killed yet), afternoons at the swimming pool, Holly singing along to friends jamming on ukeleles late into the summer’s night. It seems cruel to stuff them into these classrooms that seem boring even to me: a few books on a shelf, a couple buckets of blocks, a table of computers and some ipads stuck in the corner. Teachers that seem rushed and busy and overwhelmed, already. The days of dressups, sand boxes, fingerpaints at school gone for good. I can’t help but wonder: what are they actually learning? How to get along with others? How to sit quietly and wait your turn? How to sit in your cubicle and get your work done as told? The cynic in me sees what the end goal really is.

Leah’s hope for school this year is that there is more science this year than last. In my heart I know she’s got years before they move on to the type of knowledge she regularly seeks out on her own, before they move on from the basics of reading, writing, and maths. I just tell her, “I hope so too. But we can learn about science on our own too.”

At the age of 8, I watch Leah invent projects for herself, get interested in subjects and want to research them to death. There’s a pile of notebooks in her bed that is filling with notes and drawings. She plans outings for us, museums she wants to go visit. She asks for certain books from the library and spends hours reading in bed to herself. Maybe this is all that learning is about. After years of feeling overwhelmed by the idea of homeschooling, I think I finally understand that my main job would be to just get out of the way.

Then again, it’s been eight looooong years since I’ve had this many hours all to myself so maybe it’s just something to get used to. It’s always difficult sending your last baby off to school. But now I’m writing this at 1 in the afternoon, not at 11 pm. The girls’ primary has allowed us to immerse ourselves in the community and culture here in ways that keeping them to myself wouldn’t. Everything comes with frustration, at some level. We’ll settle in. And then it will be time again for something new.


Sailing to the Wild

Kawau ForestOne of the things that is great about New Zealand is how seriously the country takes it’s holiday vacations. Many companies, like Michael’s does, completely shuts down from the week before Christmas to long after New Years. Even here in central Auckland countless cafes, doctor’s offices, and retail shops sport “back mid-January” signs on their windows a few days before Christmas. With three weeks of vacation ahead of us, we provisioned the boat and headed out of the city, just like in the old days.

It was blowing 25, gusting 35 knots from the southwest when we pulled out of our Auckland slip. This is, we were to find out, not unusual summertime conditions. We would also learn that the weather we’d had a year ago, during our first New Zealand summer, was highly unusual with day after day of calm, sunny conditions. We kept within the protected confines of Waitemata Harbour and tucked into Islington Bay of Rangitoto Island 12 miles away.

The wind howled over the low land protecting us in the bay all afternoon and evening. It finally let up overnight and we headed out into the completely calm Hauraki Gulf the next morning. And motored in glassy seas the 25 miles to our next anchorage, at Kawau Island. North Cove is quite protected and we spent a week there as the wind howled day after day. Santa found us, we hiked around, we met some of the local neighbors and visited with Lin and Larry some more.

Santa spotted at Kawau Island!

Santa spotted at Kawau Island!

Christmas Eve 2013

Christmas Eve 2013 (The notebook is Leah’s, full of trick questions for Santa to answer…thank goodness for Wikipedia.)

Screams echoed throughout the bay when the girls spotted the hitchhiker on our dinghy - a massive stick bug!

Screams echoed throughout the bay when the girls spotted the hitchhiker on our dinghy – a massive stick bug!

After a week we thought we had an opening to sail further north to Whangarei but once we rounded the top of Kawau we were greeted with wind and waves right on the nose. Whangarei was 40 miles directly into the wind. We’ve learned enough by now, finally, that it’s perfectly fine to turn around and wait another day. So we did. The following morning we were greeted with 18 knots from the west, directly from the beach, and had a fast, flat beam reach all the way into the river. We made such good time that we decided to keep going — it was New Years Eve after all — and head into the town basin instead of anchoring near Bream Head as we had planned. Incredibly, the wind cooperated and we sailed nearly the entire way up the meandering shallow waterway in a very light breeze (admittedly, the 2 knots of current with us helped).

Sailing up the Whangarei river

Sailing up the Whangarei river

There is a new drawbridge just before you reach the Whangarei town basin. We tied up to the courtesy float there around 1700 and called the bridge operator on the VHF. “I’m really sorry,” he said. “The bridge is too hot. There is not enough clearance to open it due to the expansion. I will check it in a few hours to see if it’s cooled and shrunk a bit. Also, the bridge is closed for peak traffic until 5:30.” We watched a single car pass over the bridge in front of us. Scratching our heads, we cracked a cold beer, heated up some beans and sausages and ate our New Year’s dinner waiting for the hot sun to set on the murky green river.

New Year's Eve at the overheated Whangarei River bridge

New Year’s Eve at the overheated Whangarei River bridge

It was 2100 by the time we were tied up at the town basin wharf. But on our way in, we fell in love with this place. Funky cruising boats like ours tied up everywhere! Not a sleek, white racing boat to be seen! The river is lined with boatyards and marine shops and dilapidated boat sheds. Heaven! Quiet! As you might expect, the town didn’t get too crazy for New Years and the carpets were rolled up early. Our family sat below, aboard Wondertime talking about our favorite memories of the year while sipping cold glasses of bubbly drinks (champagne for Michael and I, fizzy apple juice for the girls). Holly didn’t quite make it and stumbled to her bed at 11:30. Leah did fine and blew our airhorn with gusto at midnight. Then we joined the rest of the dark town already in bed.

At least it's a warm rain, Whangarei town basin

At least it’s a warm rain (Whangarei town basin)

The best bookswap in NZ (Whangarei)

The best bookswap in NZ (Whangarei)

We only had a day to meander around town but that’s pretty much all you need. We took some hot showers, did a few loads of laundry, picked up some fresh fruit and salad greens at the Pak ‘N Save across the street, chatted with the super friendly locals, then floated on back down the river.

At Marsden Cove we met a customs officer and checked out of New Zealand. Then we headed straight out 25 miles, bound for the closest waypoint in international waters, turned around, and motor-sailed back in, with a breathtaking sunset guiding us back to shore. The next day the same customs fellow welcomed us back to New Zealand, stamped our passports and gave us a fancy paper stating that Wondertime was officially imported as part of our resident belongings, GST-free.

Return to New Zealand (Bream Head)

Return to New Zealand (Bream Head)

Relieved to have our “business” officially done we finally felt like we were on holiday. The next day brought the perfect wind: 20 knots from the northwest. We pointed the bow to Great Barrier Island and covered the 50 miles out to the edge of the Hauraki in no time. The wind gusted to 25 at times, the seas were bouncy and steep — the gulf is shallow — but thankfully aft of the beam. There may have been an accidental jibe (it’s the autopilot’s fault) followed by a few choice words, but at least no one was sea sick and nothing broke.

Which made coming into the calm, protected harbour of Port Fitzroy all the more sweet. We really didn’t know what to expect, but had only been told that the Barrier was amazing. Port Fitzroy is a completely landlocked harbour, about 5 or so miles long with smaller bays to anchor in scattered all around the perimeter. Most of it is Department of Conservation land, with only a handful of private houses scattered around and the teeny tiny settlement of Port Fitzroy itself. It was green and mountainous. We hadn’t seen anything quite like it since Canada. Inside, the wind was gloriously calm.

Port Fitzroy anchorage, Great Barrier Island

Port Fitzroy anchorage, Great Barrier Island

We only had a week here, which was not at all long enough to fully explore this wonderland. Every day the four of us hiked through native bush on immaculate tracks, all nikau palms and fern trees and giant kauri, past waterfalls, old logging dams. We swam and snorkeled — briefly! This island is pest-free which means native birds flourish and their incredible songs woke us each morning. We spied nests in the mud walls right alongside of the trail and tiptoed around them, as the tiny birds inside peeped for food. And the bugs! The treetops literally screamed with the sound of cicadas and our ears rang with the cry of them calling for mates. There were giant stickbugs and beetles. Right from the shore we watched an octopus drift from rock to rock, hunting. It is a wild, wild place and we never wanted to leave.

Swing bridge, Great Barrier Island

Swing bridge on Great Barrier Island

Wondertime family, Great Barrier Island

Smokehouse Bay, Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier. You can heat water on the wood stove and then have a private hot bath inside, or in one of the outside tubs. Or just swing, as we did.

Smokehouse Bay, Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier. You can heat water on the wood stove and then have a private hot bath inside, or in one of the outside tubs. Or just swing, as we did.

Post-snorkel cozy up (Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier)

Post-snorkel cozy up (Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier)

But the city called us back. There is money to be made, for now, and school will start up again in a few weeks. With days of strong southwesterlies in the forecast, a parade of boats motored along with us, due SW, back to Auckland. Along the way, we found cell service again and got the news that our friends in Vava’u, Tonga were safe after cyclone Ian passed, despite 100 knot winds in the area and were incredibly relieved. We arrived back to our slip safely, and didn’t check the forecast again for weeks.

Our magic carpet

Our magic carpet (Great Barrier Island)

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