Wondertime. Rotating Header Image

kids on board

Interview With a Cruiser Project: our turn!

The Johnson Family 2017

I must interrupt my blogging sabbatical to bring you some exciting news! When our friend Livia Gilstrap of The Interview With a Cruiser Project asked us if we’d like to answer a few questions we said HELL YES. Michael and I have been getting ready for, actively cruising, or recovering from since 1999 and we’ve formed a few thoughts and opinions in that time. Head over to the site to read our interview. And if you do, you’ll find out what exactly it is we’re doing in the photo above.

Special Delivery

Tonga continues to charm us right up to departure.

Tonga continued to charm us right up to departure.

One of the joys–so I’ve always heard–of being an author is connecting in person with readers of your book. But since myself, as well as the other two authors of Voyaging With Kids (Behan and Michael), are in traveling mode, most of our reader interactions have been virtual (which is pretty fun too).

But then again we never know where readers will pop up…even in Tonga. In early December we were sitting around in the shade on Fetoko Island. The tradewinds were way up and we happened to have the VHF radio on, just in case something exciting happened.

And then it did: a scratchy distant call came in and the boat’s name and distinct Kiwi-Californian accent of our friend Daniel caught our attention. Evangeline, Evangeline…this is Wondertime…over!

It turned out that friends we met on our Pacific crossing in 2012 were just arriving in Tonga direct from the Marquesas, making swift time to New Zealand to welcome their new crew member. A week later we were sitting in their cockpit catching up in person, and making promises to meet in New Zealand when we returned ourselves in a few months.

So we did. We picked up Wing’n it at the Auckland airport where she’d been left for us after Ben & Lisa finished their New Zealand travels aboard her. We zipped up to the Bay of Islands where Dan and Michelle had landed weeks earlier.

And boy did they ever need a copy of Voyaging with Kids:

Baby on board...literally!

Baby on board!

I don’t think I’ve ever met a writer whose goal hasn’t been touching a reader in some way, whether it’s practical advice or just putting a smile on someone’s face. I can tell you that seeing the joy on our friends’ faces, holding the proof in their hands that they really aren’t crazy for looking forward to bringing up their new child on their boat made all work we put into this book well worth it. With family members already questioning their decision to raise a family afloat, they couldn’t wait to show them that yes! the world is indeed full of floating, traveling families. I can’t wait to meet their precious work-in-progress.

Sweetheart VWK Deal!

If you’ve not been able to get your hands on a hard copy of Voyaging with Kids (and it IS such a beautiful book that I hope you have) our publisher Lin Pardey has put the ebook on sale for only US$9.99 at Amazon.com, Google Books, and NOOK only through the month of February. Even if you do have the print version, now’s your chance to grab a digital copy to take with you everywhere. Since the ebooks are in full color and image-rich just like the print version, it’s a great way to gift a copy to a family member who might be, let’s just say, curious about the whole idea of taking kids to sea.

And if you have read the book, please please leave a review on Amazon.com or Goodreads!

 

Summer's still full-on here in New Zealand...but the water's a bit more chilly than in Tonga.

Summer’s still full-on here in New Zealand…but the water’s a bit more chilly than in Tonga.

 

Dinner for eight aboard Wing'n it...thank goodness for cruising friends!

Dinner for eight aboard Wing’n it…thank goodness for cruising friends!

 

Auckland now has a Ben & Jerry's. We'll make any sacrifice to make our new 10-year-old's birthday complete.

Auckland now has a Ben & Jerry’s. Our brand-new-to-10 Leah requested we stop in for her birthday. Well, Ok.

 

My happy place: just Wing'n it

My happy place: just Wing’n it

Will they remember?

South Pacific Departure - March 17, 2012

The photo above was taken by a friend of ours three years ago, on March 17th, 2012. We had just untied Wondertime’s docklines and were motoring towards the San Jose del Cabo marina entrance, towards we-had-no-idea what lay ahead for us in the Pacific Ocean. We were trying not to think about the 2600 miles left to go but focusing instead on all the stories that we were about to encounter. My hands probably shook as I coiled the docklines and stowed them deep in a locker. We wouldn’t be needing those again for months. I remember being mostly excited and a little bit terrified, what would become my usual state before a passage. The girls were probably below, looking at books or magazines, completely unaware of what their crazy parents were about to put them through.

As the days at sea wore on and the miles passed quickly under our overladen keel our family and crew fell into our own comfortable routine. The girls were groggy that first day but by day 2 they were climbing the walls, rolling around in our double bunk laughing as the waves tossed them from side to side. I remember watching the stars go out one by one at dawn as I sipped from a steaming cup of Good Earth tea. I remember the streaks of phosphorescent light shooting around our boat in the pitch black night as nocturnal dolphins came by to say hello. I remember the hours and hours of cuddling with my two girls in our bunk reading aloud. We snuggled under a light blanket at the start. Two weeks later we were sweating under a rattling fan in our underwear. Those were the weeks we read the first five (or was it six?) in the “Series of Unfortunate Events.” I’ll never forget the most beautiful color in the world, of the deep deep South Pacific sea.

South Pacific blues

But what do our girls remember, now that all this time has passed since then, an eternity in a kid’s life? Holly is now 6, twice the age she was during our time in the Pacific. When the media was all abuzz last year with the tragic ending of our friends’ voyage aboard Rebel Heart, I couldn’t help noticing that among all the ignorant rancor was the oft-repeated sentiment “Why take your little kids across an ocean when they won’t even remember it?”

I have asked myself that same question, many times. Leah, who was 6, has rather random memories, but the ones she does have are deep and vivid. She remembers the giant napoleon wrasse we snorkeled with at Fakarava, and the sharks. She remembers dancing late at night under a full moon on Fetoko Island in Tonga and playing in the Corn Hole tournament. Most of her memories are from our time in New Zealand: Piha beach, the 100-year old bach we loved to stay in, her school and friends, the Auckland Museum, riding scooters to the computer lounge at our marina.

Holly remembers these things, too. She’s always begging to go back to New Zealand “where it’s sunny.” Her memories of our time getting there, however, are pretty dim. She says she remembers snorkeling with the infamous napoleon wrasse. She remembers being seasick (even though I’ve assured her it was really only the one time). She remembers burying her body in soft “cozy sand.” She remembers Wondertime, since we only said goodbye to her last year. But when I ask her what else she recalls about her trip through the South Pacific, her face draws a blank. It all happened when she was so young.

Shellback sisters

But even though Holly can’t articulate it with words, her soul remembers the wandering years of her babyhood. Last November, a few weeks before her 6th birthday, we were wandering boredly through the aisles of Target. Suddenly she spotted something, and rushed over to inspect it. It was a bright pink Hello Kitty rolling suitcase. She caressed it, then grabbed it off the shelf to try it out. We pulled out the extending handle then she rolled the obnoxious suitcase up and down the travel gear isle.

“Mom, I really, really, really want this suitcase,” she said.

“But we don’t have any trips planned soon, honey,” I replied.

“We need to plan one then.”

I told her that we couldn’t buy it that day, but we’d put it on her birthday wish list.

The Hello Kitty suitcase was eventually forgotten (thank god) but her travel plans have only ramped up since then. At Costco, she sits in the cart while I pick out sausage and cat food, thumbing slowly through the Costco travel brochure. Her dream destination is Hawaii (she vividly recalls swimming in the warm sea during our 24-hour layovers there two years ago on our visit home) and has spent hours watching the Hawaii travel channel via our Roku. In the meantime, she’s had to be content with the few small weekend road trips we’ve done over the past year, but she’s always the first in our family to have her backpack packed and waiting by the door.

Listening to our daughter’s travel dreams take shape (she’s going to move to Hawaii when she’s grown up, by the way, but also keep a house in Hollywood for when she’s working on movies. We’re welcome to visit anytime.) has made me see that our voyage was about much more than just racking up a pile of memories, especially for our kids. Even the youngest member of our little family has been irrevocably altered by the experience…mostly in the wanting to see more of this big beautiful world.

February 2015: Pacific Ocean, Washington, USA

February 2015: Pacific Ocean, Washington, USA

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.

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.

Aotearoa Trick or Treat

Auckland Trick or TreatAs we haven’t had a good trick or treating since we were in San Diego in 2011, the girls were on pins and needles for days leading up to this years All Hallows’ Eve in Auckland. They had their costumes planned out for weeks (Potato Bug Leah and Holly the Fairy, again). We invited one of Leah’s best girlfriends from school and her mum along with us for company (and to show us the best local spots for free candy). After a dinner of bloodied boiled brains (i.e. spaghetti) we set out into the bright evening springtime streets of Freeman’s Bay.

We wandered down the street and eventually ended up near an apartment complex. We were the only trick or treaters around. In fact, the street was so empty we wondered if we had the date wrong at first. Finally we spotted something — a picture of a pumpkin on the door of a nearby apartment. It was kind of difficult to see through the flower blossoms.

The three girls ran up to the door and knocked. They jumped back a bit when it opened and a nice looking woman poked her head out. Then they remembered to say “Trick or treat!” She smiled at them and tossed a handful of candy into each of their bags. Success!

Wandering around a bit more we came across a few other decorated doors. Eventually we passed another small group of trick or treaters, kids the girls’ recognized from school. They’d just come from Anglesea street, and told us that was the street to hit so we continued on that way.

Springtime All Hallows' Eve

Springtime All Hallows’ Eve

The first few houses were dark and the little white picket fence gates were closed so we continued on. Above us clouds were starting to spit out rain so we tried to hustle the girls along in case they decided to open up (which can happen at any moment in Auckland). We came to a little house that had a group of young chaps hanging out on the front porch, sipping glasses of white wine. One of them was dressed like a zombie so we figured they might be game. Our trick or treaters were rewarded with a bit more candy in their bags.

A little bit farther up the street we found a house with the gate open and a note tacked to the door: “Only knock IF you can answer a riddle…have you got what it takes to claim a reward?” The girls hesitated, unsure, but then knocked. The door was opened by a fellow wearing a bright yellow character suit. He grinned at them and asked if they knew which Pokemon he was. He was answered by blank stares, from all of us. We waited. Finally, he announced that he’d make an exception due to age (too young on the girls’ part, too old for ours, apparently) and candy was dished out.

By this time, it was raining full force and we hid under a carport for a few minutes while we waited for the cloud to pass. We looked into the window near us and watched a little Halloween party happening with everyone cozily sipping drinks and plates of treats on the tables. We were thinking those people had the right idea.

As we knew it would, the rain eased after 10 minutes or so and we continued on. More dark houses. Then we were thrilled to come across one that was decorated in the good old American style with huge fake spiders and cobwebs, a bloody “KEEP OUT” sign strung across the tall solid white gate. Which was locked. Hmm. We kept walking.

Another brightly lit house a few houses down. The girls walked up the path and knocked eagerly on the stained glass door, no longer nervous. An older fellow answered. We had hung back and overheard him saying things like “Oh dear, let me check,” and saw him go into the house. He came back a minute later. “I don’t seem to have anything. I’m so sorry. Oh wait a minute.” He was gone again for a minute and returned. “I have some money, but I only seem to have $50 notes…” Behind him a woman was wrapped in a towel, having just gotten out of the shower. We finally realized what was going on and waved to him, telling him not to worry about it. He appeared relieved.

It was dark by this time and the last few houses we’d visited while walking back on the other side of the street appeared to have emptied their candy bowls into the girls’ treat bags. Or as happened a number of times, the person who answered disappeared into the house for a bit and returned with a small bag of candy they must have retrieved from the pantry. Much of the candy in the girls bags were unwrapped chocolate pieces, marshmallows, gummy bits, pineapple lumps. We all ate some along the way.

We decided to try one last lit house on our way back to our flat. After the girls proudly declared “Trick or treat!” we could hear the woman who answered the door apologize profusely, saying that she’d just gotten home from work and didn’t have any candy. The girls didn’t mind; with their treat bags bulging and their feet and legs tired we continued on up the dark and empty street to bed.

It certainly wasn’t the San Diego Halloween of 2011, a thronging street party with houses decorated like Hollywood sets and people handing out full-sized Snickers bars and bags of M&Ms. Auckland Halloween 2013 was just as fun though, to experience people trying out this holiday that is a bit new to New Zealand and watching them see how fun a night of silliness with neighbors can be.

Louis Theroux Interview: Extreme Parenting – At Sea (Part III)

Louis Theroux is a BBC documentary fimmaker who exposes facets of life previously hidden to the average citizen. Most Americans, like us, have probably never heard of him because he typically exposes the absurd realities of fringe groups in the U.S., such as prostitutes, meth addicts, prison inmates, white supremacists, religious extremists, survivalists. And now, liveaboard sailors. He recently visited Wondertime to see what life is like for a family of four living and sailing on a 38-foot yacht. This is the final of three parts.*

[Several days later…]

Louis (voice over while driving): Today is my last day in Auckland. This afternoon I will board an aeroplane for the long haul back to London. But first, I’m going to make a final visit to the Wondertime family in their downtown Auckland marina.

(cut to Louis talking to family in cockpit of boat)

Louis: Well look at that! It finally stopped raining!

Holly: Yaaaaay!

Leah: I like when it rains.

Louis: Guys, I only have a little time this morning before I have to say goodbye and start on my way back to London. Can I ask the girls a few questions?

Holly: Yaaaaay!

Leah: Sure.

Louis: How old are you both now?

Leah: I’m seven and a half.

Holly: I’m…I’m… (whispers to Leah) How old am I again?

Leah (whispers to Holly): Hooooolly! I’ve told you a thousand times. You’re four and a half.

Holly (beaming, to Louis): I’m four and a half!

Louis: Ok then! What is your favorite thing about living on a boat?

Holly: I don’t like living on a boat. I want to live in a house.

Leah: Well, I like living on a boat. Most of my friends here live in apartments. That seems boring. Plus I loooove to fish.

Louis: Do you like eating them?

Leah: I do. But I like dissecting them better. You know, cutting them up.

Louis: What about you Holly? Do you like fish?

Holly: I love Nemo.

Louis: If you could sail anywhere, where would you sail?

Leah: I want to go to Fiji. It’s think it’s warm there and the water’s clear. I miss swimming and snorkeling.

Holly: I want to go to a beach. This city is not very cozy. There is no cozy sand here.

Louis: Well, it seems you are in agreement on that. Is there anything you don’t like about sailing on a boat?

Leah: Oh, I hate getting seasick. And I wish I didn’t have to share a room with my little sister. She’s always getting into my stuff.

Louis: What about you Holly?

Holly: Oh, I love everything about living on a boat.

Louis: Huh. Ok. Well, I want to wish good luck to all of you, where ever you sail to next. This is quite a life.

Sara: Yes.

Michael: Yes it is.

(cut to Louis flying over the ocean in airplane)

Louis (voice over): I wasn’t sure what I was expecting before meeting this intrepid little family that is crossing oceans in their home. It seems terrifying to me, and well, it sounds like it is to them too at times. But they also told me that the seven seas are full of cruising families like theirs and half the fun is seeing who they’ll meet up with in the next harbour. It’s a curious thing, really, how moving around the world at walking speed might just make it feel smaller.

 

*Not really. This is a work of fiction. But if Louis did interview us I’m sure it would have gone just like this.

Louis Theroux Interview: Extreme Parenting – At Sea (Part II)

Louis Theroux is a BBC documentary fimmaker who exposes facets of life previously hidden to the average citizen. Most Americans, like us, have probably never heard of him because he typically exposes the absurd realities of fringe groups in the U.S., such as prostitutes, meth addicts, prison inmates, white supremacists, religious extremists, survivalists. And now, liveaboard sailors. He recently visited Wondertime to see what life is like for a family of four living and sailing on a 38-foot yacht. This is the second of three parts.*

(Sara and Michael are sitting across from Louis at the back dinette with cups of coffee in front of each.)

Louis: Where are the girls now?

Sara: They are in our bed. Watching a movie.

Louis: You have a move theater in your bed?

Sara: No, no! (laughs) Just a TV screen velcroed to the wall with a hard drive full of movies attached.

Louis: It’s actually pretty posh here! I’m kind of surprised.

Michael: Yeah, it’s not exactly camping. Though everyone thinks it’s like that.

Sara: We pretty much have all the luxuries here. Except a shower, I sure miss that.

Louis: Oh yeah….where do you take a shower?

Sara: We have to go up and use the marina ones. In the tropics we used a sunshower. That was like camping. But at least it was hot and we swam all the time. Just had to rinse off basically.

Louis: That doesn’t sound very UN-luxurious either! (laughs)

Michael: No, I guess it wasn’t! Pretty blissful, actually.

Louis (face serious now): So, were you ever in any huge storms?

Michael: No, not really. We had a few big blows at anchor but otherwise we managed to time the weather really well. Nothing over 35 knots while sailing.

Louis: Weren’t you afraid for your children though? That they would drown in a terrible storm at sea?

Sara: Yes. Often.

Louis (matter of factly): And yet you chose to do it.

Sara and Michael: We did. (look at each other and laugh)

Louis: What’s so funny?

Sara: I guess…it’s that life in this big city seems much more dangerous now. Kiwi drivers are crazy. They even sue pedestrians they hit to pay for damage to their cars. I actually have a game where I see how many times a day I can get honked at, you know, for hesitating at a green light or forgetting my turn signal or something. But don’t get me wrong, outside of their cars New Zealanders are the nicest people we’ve ever met.

Louis: You sound like you might be a little bored.

Sara: Sometimes. Sailing might be terrifying at times but it’s never boring. I get so tired of the day to day routine life. The kids do too. We miss all the time we had as a family together. The girls love to explore beaches, swim, snorkel. We all love to travel, it has been so amazing to experience all the different places and cultures that we’ve been able to.

Louis: Interesting. I guess I’m still trying to figure out why you guys do this? I love to travel too but it seems just absurd to me to be honest, to roll around at sea, eating crackers for days on end, stuffed in your bunks like battered prawns when you could take first class jets around the world for pretty much the same amount of money. Why?

Michael: I just hate working for the Man. I like to do my own thing, on my own terms.

Louis: Aren’t you working for the Man now?

Michael: Well, yes. But I’m just saving up for when I won’t have to work for the Man for a while.

Louis: So you’re not done then? Auckland isn’t the finish line?

Michael: No, Sara and I compared ourselves to addicts the other day. We know it’s probably better for us to just settle down, save up for the girls’ college, save for our retirement. But it’s just that what’s over the horizon is so tempting. We can’t stop wondering what’s over there. And being able to see it while being right in our own home too is just an awesome feeling.

Sara: We’re going to be in New Zealand for a good long time though. They said we could stay permanently, recently. So we will. For now. It will be a whole other experience doing some longer-term cruising with the girls when they are, say, 12 and 9. They will appreciate the places we visit so much more. Holly was only two when we left Washington! She had no idea that sailing was even weird. Besides we’ll be able to leave them home alone at those ages, for a few hours at least. Go and drink with our friends. Just kidding. Sort of. (laughs)

Louis: It sounds like you might be a little afraid of commitment.

Sara: Maybe so. But at least we are having fun. Most of the time. Isn’t that what life is about?

Louis: Hm. Maybe it is.

to be continued…

 

*Not really. This is a work of fiction. But if Louis did interview us I’m sure it would have gone just like this.

Louis Theroux Interview: Extreme Parenting – At Sea (Part I)

Louis Theroux is a BBC documentary fimmaker who exposes facets of life previously hidden to the average citizen. Most Americans, like us, have probably never heard of him because he typically exposes the absurd realities of fringe groups in the U.S., such as prostitutes, meth addicts, prison inmates, white supremacists, religious extremists, survivalists. And now, liveaboard sailors. He recently visited Wondertime to see what life is like for a family of four living and sailing on a 38-foot yacht. This is the first of three parts.*

Louis (voice over, walking down the dock to Wondertime): After a grueling 35 hour multi-leg flight from London, I’ve just arrived this morning in Auckland, New Zealand, a tiny green speck of land way down at the bottom of the South Pacific ocean. I’m here to visit a young family that has recently arrived from Seattle, Washington in the United States and are living here now. Normal people would simply hop aboard a jet and endure the long flight across the Pacific. But these two parents, along with their two small children, chose to sail their tiny yacht at walking pace across this enormous ocean. I’m curious to find out just why.

Louis (calls out from the dock): Ahoy! Is anybody home? It’s Louis from BBC Two.

Sara (pops her head out of companionway): Hi Louis! You’re here! Welcome aboard. Oops, watch your head there, that’s our rain cover. Careful on the stairs too, they are pretty steep.

Louis (climbs down ladder awkwardly, stands below in galley and looks around): Wow. So this is your home, huh? It’s even smaller than I had imagined.

Sara: Yeah, this is pretty much it. Kitchen, or galley, right there. This is our table where we eat, play games, do art, whatever. And this counter here is our home office. (laughs)

Louis: Interesting. I see you have an oven and everything. Do you have a fridge?

Sara: Yes, that’s it, right there (points at galley counter). If you lift the lid up that’s the fridge right in there.

Louis (continues to look around): Can you pretty much cook anything, or do you eat freeze-dried food. You know, like camping?

Sara: No, no. I’ve never had freeze-dried food. I can pretty much cook anything on the boat. If I have the time and the right ingredients. You should stay for dinner.

Louis: I think I might. Where would I sit though? That table only looks like it seats four people.

Sara: Yeah, that’s about the max. But someone can sit on someone else’s lap.

Louis (looking perplexed): Ok. So where’s the rest of the family?

(At that moment, the two girls come running into the back of the boat from the front, Holly is growling and snarling at Leah and yielding a plastic unicorn. Leah reaches the settee and curls in a ball, covering her head with her hands. Holly starts hitting her sister with the unicorn. Both are screaming.)

Louis: That must be two of them. Do they always beat each other with unicorns?

Sara: Yeah, that’s pretty normal.

Louis: So where’s Michael?

Sara: He’s right over there. (points to Michael’s rear end hanging out into the hallway, his head is in the engine compartment.)

Louis: What’s he doing in there?

Sara: Well, he found some oil in the bilge a few hours ago. He’s been trying to track down the leak all morning.

Louis: Hi Michael! (waves)

Michael (head still obscured in engine room): Hi Louis! I’m almost done here, just a few more things to check.

Louis: No problem! Take your time. (turns to Sara) Where do you all sleep?

Sara: Right up here. Follow me.

(Sara steps over Michael’s aft end in the hallway swiftly. Louis tries to do the same but smacks his head on the overhead beam. He trips on Michael and just catches himself from falling. Camera also shakes and jars as cameraman tries to step over Michael and slams gear on the walls too.)

Louis: Ouch!

Sara: Sorry! Watch your head there. It’s kinda low here. We’re sure glad we’re short.

Louis (rubbing forehead): I bet you are.

Sara: This is the rest of our little home. Michael and I sleep in this double bunk here, the head is here and the girls each have a berth in the front cabin.

Louis: Head?

Sara: Toilet. “Head” is the boatie term for toilet.

Louis: This here? Where’s the door?

Sara: We took it off.

Louis: Why?

Sara: It just got in the way. There is this curtain to shut for privacy.

Louis: Ah, I see. Can I try it out?

Sara: Um, sure. Here, let me close the curtain for you.

Louis (from atop the head): Wow. This is certainly cozy. (finishes) What do I do now?

Sara: You just need to shut the lid then push that red button right there. That will flush it. We just put in an electric pump instead of the manual one. It was my birthday present.

Louis (over sound of pump running): Your birthday present? Really?

Sara: Yeah, the girls couldn’t handle the manual pump by themselves and I was getting sick of pumping it, like, 30 times a day. Now they can just push the button themselves. It’s very cool.

Louis: It is cool. Hmm. (looks around) So, you were on this boat for how many days sailing to get here?

Sara: Well, it was about 60 altogether. But the longest in a row was 26. Mexico to the Marquesas.

Louis (in disbelief): 26 days! The four of you all cooped up in here!

Sara: No, five.

Louis: Five?

Sara: Yeah, we had another crewmember, a friend, aboard on the 26-day trip.

Louis: No way!

Sara: Really! It was pretty crowded. And we ran out of peanut butter. But we all got plenty of sleep. That’s the worst part of sailing with kids, not being able to nap during the day as much after only getting five, six hours of sleep at night.

Louis: That sounds pretty miserable.

Sara: Well, yeah, it can be. But we like it anyway for some reason.

Michael (joins Louis and Sara in the front cabin): Phew. I’m finally done. It was just a loose hose. All fixed now.

Louis: That’s good news! How often do you have to work on the boat?

Michael: Um, constantly. Or else it gets out of hand.

Louis: Do you like it? Boat projects?

Michael: I do. It sure beats sitting in front of the computer screen. My day job.

Louis: I can understand that. How’s the project list looking these days?

Michael: It’s pretty much out of hand.

Sara: Want to go in the back and sit down? I can make some coffees with our Aeropress.

Louis: That sounds great. I’ll be sure to watch my head this time. (all laugh)

to be continued…

 

*Not really. This is a work of fiction. But if Louis did interview us I’m sure it would have gone just like this.

Missing Pieces

20130520_piha

My eldest daughter cried herself to sleep a few nights ago. She’d been acting up all day, you know, just generally being snotty and dramatic and teasing her younger sister to no end. After we finally tucked her in with a sigh she read to herself for a while. Michael went in to give her one last hug and that’s when the tears simply bubbled over.

He tried to soothe her, asked her gentle questions, trying to garner a clue about what it was she was feeling so emotional about. She was sad about all the toys we gave away when we moved onto the boat she said. She never wanted to give away Teddy. She loved Teddy with all her heart, squeezing him to her chest tightly. She missed her friend B. She missed all the people we’ve left behind. There was that My Little Pony toy that didn’t make the cut onto the boat and was passed on. No, she didn’t remember what it looked like. But she wished we had kept it.

A lot of what she blubbered out didn’t make a whit of sense but we understood perfectly.

There’s been an unrelenting hum of questions aboard the boat for months as Michael and I try to make plans amidst the uncertainty of our lives in New Zealand. Do we really want to stay here, so far away from the rest of our families and old friends, or should we sail back to Washington? But we really do like it here on this peaceful little life raft of a land in the South Pacific. Will they let us stay for longer than the two years of our work visas? If we do stay, and they let us do we want to do more sailing, say a little trip up to Tonga and Fiji and back before really getting serious about saving for retirement? And then what? Nursing school for me? Finishing that novel I’ve always wanted to write? Perhaps a screenplay for my neighbor Peter Jackson? A boat business for IT-weary Michael? Where? Opua? Auckland? Wellington? Invercargill? (The only place we could ever dream of moving off the boat into a house here in NZ. Forget Auckland.) Maybe we should just resign ourselves (again) to a forever liveaboard life, pick up a bigger boat for cheap in Mexico and sail it right back across the Pacific?

The adults onboard try to keep these questions hushed but little girls have keen ears. I imagine that Leah is already worried about having to say goodbye to her new best friend at school, as she has had to do with all the other friends she’s made on this journey. I watch her and S. together, two giggling 7-year-olds lost in their own private world of whispered secrets and notes written in code, imaginary stories told above the earth in the branches of trees. I clean out Leah’s school backpack and find little cards and drawings with “I love you” and “Best Friends Forever” written on them, with lots of hearts and smiling cartoon girls. I give them to Leah to tuck away under her bunk with her other “special things.”

Friendships at this age are formed so quickly but they go deep. They are the truest kind there is: face to face, hand in hand, simultaneous smiles. Leah makes (or has learned to make, perhaps) friends fast and the leap to “best friend” status happens in days. These friendships aren’t the type that most adults have nowadays – nurtured though the joy and annoyance of Facebook, emails, texts, sometimes an actual phone call. But when Leah’s friends are gone, they are really gone for a good long time. Might as well be forever, to a 7-year-old’s scale of time.

Our daughter’s tears reminds us that traipsing around on the big blue all footloose and fancy free is not really. Every place we’ve been we have made friends, set down ties. Then just when we get comfortable we promptly leave all of it behind. Including part of ourselves.

I’ve been thinking about my daughter’s sadness ever since. Wondering if it’s really fair to her to know such difficulty because of a dream of her parents. Sure, it’s true that she has loved and benefited greatly from our months of sailing together. The time we’ve spent as a family together has been priceless and we are closer than we ever dreamed. She’s experienced the wonder of nature first hand, the beauty of untouched places. She’s seen how our fellow humans really are the same as us, even with different languages, foods, cultures. She values experiences and friendships far above material “things.” But I have to wonder, isn’t it possible, though, to find these things without leaving so much behind?

All the uncertainly of our chosen lives makes us want to bubble over too, at times. Maybe saying goodbye is just a life lesson that everyone learns at Leah’s age. Friends come and go, even if you don’t move anywhere yourself. Some of our life questions will resolve themselves whether or not we are patient. Maybe it’s time to put down some roots again, to show the girls that staying put is full of it’s own special joys. Maybe the islands will hold more mystery and intrigue if we sail over to them every now and then. I don’t know.

This is but one example of Holly's "house art" series. Nearly all her drawings include a cozy cabin of some sort. In the corner you can see a postcard we recently received from our friend Frances all the way up in Canada. "I can't wait to see Frances again," is what Leah said upon finding it in our mailbox. I agree.

This is but one example of Holly’s “house art” series. Nearly all her drawings include a cozy cabin of some sort. In the corner you can see a postcard we recently received from our friend Frances all the way up in Canada. “I can’t wait to see Frances again,” is what Leah said upon finding it in our mailbox. I agree.