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Packing for life


When Robert and I decided to take Bobs, our daughter of nine, and spend a summer cruising the intricate coastline of British Columbia, the procedure appeared to be comparatively simple. We’d buy a boat, stow supplies aboard and depart. Bobs had never been on shipboard, and Robert and I had never navigated or lived in a cruiser, but freshness would add zest to the adventure.

Having made our decision, we put it into execution in our usual forthright fashion, for we get on faster by trying out a scheme than thinking about it.

-Kathrene Pinkerton, Three’s a Crew (1940)

One of the things I miss the most while living on a boat is my books, or more accurately having my books where I can actually see them. Wondertime only had a single tiny bookshelf in the forward cabin. That didn’t stop us from having books aboard, of course. The girls had fabric bins at the base of their beds filled with them; they were also stuffed into their lockers and stacked next to their pillows. There were three plastic crates of books in the pilot[storage] berth in the hallway and baskets of library books in our aft “family room.” When we moved all of those books off the boat, the waterline went up three inches and we gained at least a knot and a half in boatspeed.

We left a great many behind in New Zealand, but shipped (too many) back to Washington. And it was a glorious day when those books met up with the ones I’d left behind in our storage unit in Olympia upon the shelves of an old china cabinet I found secondhand. I could stand and gaze at them all lined up there neatly, so happy, on those shelves for hours. I’ve actually read a lot of them. Our used cruising guides are all there, as are the first books that introduced me to the idea of voyaging under sail. But many just sit there, waiting, filled with promise of stories yet to read.

So it was with great sadness last week that I took each one down off their temporary shelves, held it in my hands for a moment, then tucked it back into a plastic storage crate. Another pile destined for the Goodwill grew, but not one of those was from the four shelves of travel/sailing books. (It only takes a glace at our bookshelves to see where my heart lies.)

One of those books was one I’d not yet read, but that I had found on a marina book exchange shelf years ago. It was a paperback reprint of a book written in the 1930s, before The Curve of Time even, of a small family that ups and moves from San Francisco onto a small power cruiser they’d just purchased in Seattle. They had suddenly got the crazy idea (“going foreign” Gasp!) to explore the B.C. and Alaska coasts for the summer. They didn’t stop for seven years. Kathrene Pinkerton wrote about her family’s adventures in the 1920s, in what is likely the first book ever to describe family adventuring on the sea.

On page 18, of Three’s a Crew, Kathrene writes:

For the first time I wondered if we had been sane on that day when we had so abruptly decided to cruise along the British Columbia and Alaska coasts. Twenty-two months of steady writing had entitled Robert to a vacation, and those months had completed five years in one locality. Almost unconsciously we had been relinquishing our foot-loose instincts and accepting the creed that a family should “stay put.” We deserved no credit for this attitude. By the time we had followed the usual parental routine of proper schools, dancing classes, the inevitable orthodentia for a growing child and a decent neighborhood in which to bring up a daughter, had added a few outlets for ourselves in golf, theaters, concerts and dinner parties, there were no funds with which to do anything but “stay put.” And after we had bought these routine requirements with our writing, there was no energy to expend in wandering.

It’s hard to believe that was written over 75 years ago, but it’s true. What’s even more true is that we feel the same way, 75 years later. Our money is finite. Our days are finite. The only thing that really makes sense is take full advantage of each and every one.

(As a side note: it never seems to fail that no matter if my books are on a shelf, or in boxes, or on my Kindle: just the right one always seems to land in front of me.)

And so I pack the books away. We sell the furniture. Give outgrown toys and clothes away. We tearily pass our cats and dog onto friends and relatives. We sell the cars and the house. There is a tiny pile in my closet of things to bring with us: we each get to check a 50 lb. bag on our Air New Zealand flight, along with a small carry-on.

It’s stressful, but we’re all tingly with excitement. All four of us. It’s invigorating to pare down to the truest essentials of living, what is all we need. I suppose we’ve finally accepted our wandering blues. It feels so good to shed the stuff that I thought we needed to make a home. The girls ask each and every day how much longer until they get to go back to New Zealand. They think they are going home. I think they may have been right all along.

All that matters in the world: our family and our tickets to freedom.

All that matters in the world: our little family and our tickets to freedom.

We are bringing thousands of books with us.

I always thought the birthmark on Holly's calf looked a little bit like a map of New Zealand. So I thought to compare it to an actual map. Am I crazy or...? (Wait. Don't answer that.)

I always thought the birthmark on Holly’s calf looked a little bit like a map of New Zealand. So I thought to compare it to an actual map of the South Island. Am I crazy or…? (Wait. Don’t answer that.)


  1. Niamh Kernan says:

    I love this post-that passage from the book rings so true to me too! We live in Auckland and are planning some liveaboard cruising with our little tribe soon. I’m keeping busy reading all your previous posts while eagerly awaiting your book on cruising with children. Best of luck with your travels to NZ!

  2. Laura Harrigan says:

    Good for you guys! All that matters is spending time with your kids when they are young. The rest will take care of itself.