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life aboard

The Things We Are Bringing Ashore

The first salmon arrived in our creek last November. They are gone now, leaving only their bones and tiny pink salmon eggs that will hatch in the spring.

The first salmon swam up our creek last November. They are gone now; only their bones and the tiny pink salmon eggs that are their future remain.

It’s no fun to think about a long cruise coming to an end. As I’ve claimed before, I still think it’s the worst part of cruising although missing family and friends back home and lightening rank right up there. Cruising changes you, and it’s incredibly difficult to figure out how to fit yourself back among the things that don’t change and those that did while you were away at sea, when you’re not even sure how you’ve changed to begin with and can’t remember what you were like before. See? Fun times.

Part of the process that’s helped for us is to consider what we want to take from our sea life to our current land life. I don’t subscribe to the theory that cruising boats hold the patent on simple, environmentally-sensitive living (in fact, maintaining a big salt-encrusted boat is anything but simple and have you smelled bottom paint lately?) But there are many, many things about our liveaboard lives that we treasure, and those are what we will bring ashore with us. Here’s a few:

Small Living

Our house is a mere 1,100 square feet. For four people living under one roof in America that nearly qualifies us as a Tiny Home family. But not quite: we have two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with a ginormous bathtub), a kitchen, a living room, and an enclosed section of porch that is our cats’ room/my office/guest room/toy room/craft area. The people that built our house put in one of those 1980s intercom systems. We think that’s hilarious as we’re never more than 10 feet from each other, still. We can light up our living room pellet stove and the whole house is over 80F in an hour. It’s cozy in every sense of the word and we can’t imagine ever needing more space than this.

Our house is small, but the tub is big.

Our house is small, but the tub is big.

Less Stuff

I’ll admit this remains my nemesis. No matter how hard we try to resist it, stuff just keeps coming our lives and we must resist resist resist. It doesn’t help that you can buy anything and everything here in the U.S. and it’s practically all cheap. I’m a thrift shop junkie, but I have to keep reminding myself that just because that wool coat at Goodwill is only $15 doesn’t mean I need to add another to the lineup in our coat closet. The thing is, it took four months for our 26 boxes of stuff (yeah, I know) to arrive from New Zealand and I think I only missed maybe one box of it. For months we lived with what we’d carried with us on the plane and the couple of boxes of household goods we’d left in storage. One trip to the Goodwill for some plates and bowls and we were set. It was enough. More than enough, actually: the simplicity of a few loved items and pieces of clothing feels so much more liberating than having to look into overstuffed closets and wondering what to toss. Less is more. Except when it comes to books.

Energy Efficiencies

We will always love the self-sufficiency of living on a boat at anchor. We caught rain to drink, we made power from the sun. We dried our clothes on the lifelines. Now, we still catch rain to drink…technically (we have a well) and last summer I would hang our clothes out on a rack to dry in the sun. I do enjoy our dishwasher and my ancient washing machine, even though it shrieks like a banshee during the spin cycle. The house is brick, has 1-foot thick insulation on all sides, and an efficient heat pump. It’s very cozy. And we’ve been slowly replacing all the light bulbs in our house with LED versions, just like we did aboard Wondertime.

Winter Forest

Immersion in Nature

Another thing we loved about cruising was being fully immersed in nature. We felt a true part of the earth; there was no insulation against the beauty and the terror of nature. It was marvelous. While Auckland will always be our favorite city on earth, after 18 months there we knew we weren’t cut out for permanent city life. Now, we’re surrounded by acres of native forest, fresh air, wild animals (we saw a bobcat sneaking away at dusk the other night). Except: now we sleep like babies when the wind howls through the trees during these winter storms that roar through.

Doing Nothing

We believe–especially after experiencing how rushed everyone seems to be on land–that it’s so important to spend time doing, well, nothing. For a while, we’d get all worked up that we didn’t have any plans for the upcoming weekend. But then we took a step back and realized: who cares?? We enjoy just sitting around watching the moss grow together. The girls come up with all sorts of imaginary games on their own still. They build forts, open up “pet shops.” Letting them have unstructured time to just be kids is one of the best gifts we can give them. We used to do this for weeks on end, after all.

Immersed in new books after a trip to our local library.

Immersed in new books after a trip to our local library.

Homeschooling

We gave school a go. We really did. A year or so of school in New Zealand, and half a year here back in the States. But we don’t think it’s for us. Not now at least. Here’s how I know:

  • When I walk into the girls’ elementary school here, it feels exactly like the one I went to 30 years ago. True, they have far less recess and time for art now, but nothing else has changed. It’s all the same: curriculums, worksheets, standardized tests, naughty chairs. We know this doesn’t work and it’s no way to prepare kids for the “just in time” way we seek out knowledge and information in our modern world—why are we still teaching kids this way?
  • Leah told me that she’s the student responsible for putting up the window shade when their school does intruder (read: shooter) drills.
  • With the exception of recess and lunch, they really don’t like school.

But they love learning. So that’s what we’re going to let them do.

A New BHAG

All our friends laughed at us when we got back. “How long is this going to last?” they asked. Who knows? We sure don’t. But we know we love the Pacific Northwest, we love living in our little house in the woods, and we love sailing. We love traveling together. We love Mexico too. We love showing our girls all the possibility that the world offers, that’s theirs for the taking. We’re working on a plan to combine all those things for the long haul, to make our next Big Hairy Audacious Goal happen.

Michael has been working on finishing our basement. It will be a 1-bedroom apartment that we'll rent out to help fund more (part-time) cruising.

Michael has been working on finishing our basement. It will be a 1-bedroom apartment that we’ll rent out to help fund more (part-time) cruising.

I hope she likes riding in the dinghy.

I hope she likes riding in the dinghy.

 

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

Landfall, Hiva Oa. April 12, 2012.

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 webpersonals.com 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.

Bliss

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.

Autumn in Auckland

Westhaven Summer

It’s officially autumn here in the southern hemisphere. The days continue to be sunny and warm in Auckland. The locals tell us that this is very unusual, that they haven’t had a summer at all for the past several years. I think it might just be the typical Kiwi humbleness showing through again. We were led to believe that the weather here was terrible, blustery and cold every day, sideways rain. Maybe that’s just our newbie ignorance showing through. The season is early.

Truth be told, we’re all sideways when it comes to the seasons and can’t tell which month it is, which season we’re in exactly without consulting the calendar on a daily basis. You take it for granted how innate it is in your own hemisphere. Back home, March means daffodils coming up, Easter chocolates, fresh green leaves on the trees, longer days and more sun. Here, March means back to school, autumn leaves, rain squalls, crisper mornings. It feels like Halloween, and Thanksgiving, and Christmas carols are right around the corner, but they surely aren’t.

Holly bikes Auckland

Easter is coming up and I’m not sure (if I was the decorating kind anyway) if I should be scattering autumn leaves around the boat or Easter flowers. It just feels all wrong. But anyway, this will be our first winter in two years and we’re actually looking forward to turning on a heater again, donning our cozy fleeces and jeans. I’m not sure about the socks though, the “jandals” may have to stay all year.

One thing we do know is that this is the time of year that is buzzing with cruising excitement, wherever you happen to be on your boat. Over on the west coast of North America, boat crews are busy prepping and jumping off for the South Pacific. (It’s impossible for us to believe that it’s been exactly a year since we did the same!) In the Northwest, boats are getting ready for a summer shakedown then a boogie down the coast to Mexico in a few months. Even here in New Zealand it’s already time for the finishing touches of pricey refits to be completed and passages north, whether to Fiji, Tonga, or Tahiti to be charted out for April and May.

We nearly forgot about the joys of daysailing, especially how special it is to see the smile on a first-timer's face as the wind begins to pull us along.

We nearly forgot about the joys of daysailing, especially how cool it is to see the smile on a first-timer’s face as the wind begins to pull us along.

We can feel all this energy, even though we sit in a quiet marina, many of the Kiwi boats having been put away for the winter already in a winding-down season of furious sailing in the Hauraki Gulf. We want to be there too, in that crazy haze of stress-excitement-joy that is the weeks leading up to a big departure. I think we may have become addicted to that feeling, and then the one after where you are on your way to somewhere new and exciting aboard the little ship you lovingly prepared. Now, to be staying still for a while feels just like when you step onto an escalator that is out of order, when you expect your body to be carried upwards but instead there is just that lurching feeling and your legs feel heavy as they plod up the stairs.

We’ve been told that the long Easter weekend is the last hurrah for sailing, kind of like Labor Day weekend in the States. We’ve actually spent most of our weekends off the boat, or at least out and about exploring the city or the nearby beaches and forests. Looks like we might have to go out sailing too. Winter is on her way, so the calendar says.

We spent a weekend "baching it" at wild and gorgeous Piha beach. Less than an hour's drive from the city it feels like a world away. But New Zealand is like that and that's why we love her.

We spent a weekend “baching it” at wild and gorgeous Piha beach on the Tasman sea. Less than an hour’s drive from the city it feels like a world away. But New Zealand is like that and that’s why we love her.

Our little "bach" at Piha beach. The girls are sandy and wet and running for the bathtub soon to be filled with hot water and bubbles. The simple things are the best.

Our little “bach” at Piha beach. The girls are sandy and wet and running for the bathtub soon to be filled with hot water and bubbles. This simple little nearly 100-year-old house felt like a mansion to us.

Yesterday was the first day of autumn. I think change is in the air.

Yesterday was the first day of autumn. I think change is in the air.

Raft-UP: UN-moving afloat

Off to school

“Back when I was a kid I had to walk three kilometers down the dock to school…”

The Raft-UP topic for March is “Moving Aboard” – making the transition from land to sea, from deciding to go cruising to moving aboard the boat to dealing with slack-jawed family and friends and finally cutting the lines to head to sea. But this topic is well covered on just about every sailing blog out there (including ours: see this and this and this); it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s thrilling to think and write about and share.

What you don’t read much about however is what happens when it is all over, or at least when a long hiatus from long-distance sailing looms. This is not a fun topic to think about, write, or share but it’s probably more important than the beginning simply because nothing can quite prepare you for what happens after the dream has been achieved. With our South Pacific adventure on Wondertime coming to a close for now, this is the third time we’ve made the transition from sea to land and I can say that for us, this is much much more difficult than leaving.

At first, life on land seems thrilling and novel. Well stocked grocery stores are right down the street and I can fill up the back of the car with our weekly stores and drive the whole lot practically to our boat without breaking a hint of a sweat. I’m still getting used to the fact that I don’t need to stock up on everything; if I run out one of us can pop over to the nearby dairy to grab a dozen eggs. Internet is fast and I’m learning where all the free spots are. I’ve got a cell phone again and can get mail anytime right at our post office box up the street. Our library card gets weekly use and our sheets are always clean thanks to the abundance of laundries around town. Even “cask” [so much nicer than “boxed”] wine is plentiful and cheap here.

For the first time in over seven years the Wondertime family is spread across the city, off on their very own separate adventures. Michael has been busy collecting paychecks through his IT consulting gig. Leah started Year 3 at a local primary school a few weeks ago, a wonderful happy place with students from all over the world. (She has three best friends already.) This week, Holly started preschool (or “kindy” as they call it here) and is over the moon to get to paint each and every day. She attends for a few hours in the mornings which gives me some time to myself each day, the delights of which I haven’t experienced since 2005.

As usual, Holly is the one that vocalizes what the rest of us are unable to put into words. “How many more days does Dad have to go to work for? How much longer does Leah have to go to school?” She sees this as something temporary, a break from our real life up in the islands where we were together each and every day. Where we slept until we weren’t tired any more, read books together and alone, explored the infinite beaches, swam, watched fish, had dinners with friends most nights. We heard new languages, tried new fruits, listened to new music and danced together. We always knew what phase of the moon it was.

Now we have alarms, schedules, traffic, and only a few hours in which to gather together each night to share how we spent our days. I tackle my daily list of to-dos, rush around from one activity to the next. To cope, we tell ourselves that Holly must be right, maybe this is temporary. But maybe it’s not. We like New Zealand, quite a lot, and we might have the opportunity to live here for a very long time. Leah loves her school and her teacher, loves seeing  friends her age every day and having a routine to count on – things she needed but that we couldn’t give her while sailing from place to place.

We all miss what we had though, as I knew we would. Many times a day memories will come flashing over me and I am transported for a few seconds with visions so real and vivid I am almost back to the islands, to the white sand beaches, the hot green mountains, my hands sticky with sweet pamplemousse. There is a frangipani tree next to our marina office and each time I pass I am walking down a road wet from rain in the Marquesas, island music pouring from every home. Some days it’s impossible to tell what is temporary and what is real.

 

Two Months.

how we hope to spend next week

We left Olympia two months ago today. In some ways it seems like we left E dock yesterday, but the heavy weight of our buckets of memories makes it feel like years ago.

Our friend and crewmember Garth will join us on Friday. If the weather forecast is still clear we will sail due south from Ucluelet towards San Francisco. Our plan is to stick to the inshore route, that is, 10-20 miles off the coast. This area typically has lighter winds although we will have to contend with more shipping traffic and possibly more fog. However should the forecast turn unfavorable we can easily stop in Grays Harbor, Newport, Coos Bay, Crescent City, Eureka.

We’re extremely grateful that we decided to sail down the west coast of Vancouver Island after all; the trip has given the girls and us valuable experience sailing in ocean swells and much greater confidence in sailing together as a family. It’s going to be a whole different ballgame sailing 24/7 for six or seven or eight days straight though without the chance to stretch our legs. I’m thinking it will be like our other long days off the coast have been with lots of naps and much of my time just spent preparing food and cleaning up the aftermath of meals. And hanging on.

For weeks I’ve been quite nervous about our upcoming passage, to the point where I’d be nearly shaking with anxious chills. This is my third trip down this coast and I know how ugly it can get out there. But as the time to depart has come closer I (we) have gotten more and more excited about simply being in California and all the new and old friends we are anxious to meet up with. Weather forecasting has gotten a lot better in the past 10 years and we’ve certainly gotten better at reading it. And after navigating around all these treacherous rocks and islets off Vancouver Island the past few weeks I’m truly looking forward to being out in clear open water for a while.

It’s been becoming more and more of a struggle to stay focused on the present, to savor these last days in the Northwest. At least five times an hour I think of the upcoming trip and what’s on our to-do list before we depart on Saturday and get a little shiver of nervousness and a flutter of excitement about the long glorious hours of sailing ahead and our landfall in an entirely new landscape.

So, today, two months after leaving in Olympia, we pulled back into Ucluelet which is our last Canadian port. We’ll do laundry again, buy some provisions, sew up some leecloths for the girl’s bunks, inspect the rigging, restock our ditch bag, button up down below, and head to the playground in town a few more times. The shakedown is over, now it’s time to sail.