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Forever or failure?

5 years ago today. Motoring in typically glassy summer PNW waters to Canada.

5 years ago today. Motoring in typically glassy summer PNW waters to Canada.

My friend and Voyaging with Kids co-author Michael Robertson wrote a post back in April, one I’ve been thinking about ever since. It’s a good post; to me it says stop worrying about whether you will like cruising or not. Just go. You might like it or you might not but the only way to find out is to find out. Excellent advice.

But something about this concept bothers me–and it’s not Michael’s idea, but a common perception in the wider cruising community. And that is the idea that you’re cut out to be a full-time cruising sailor. Or you’re not. What, you only cruised for two years? And only to New Zealand? Too bad you couldn’t hack it.

I call b.s. on that. Who cruises forever anyway? Can you think of anybody besides Cap’n Fatty? I sure can’t.

But I’m guilty of thinking the same silly thing, over and over. They only sailed to Mexico? They must have chickened out and scrapped their plans for the South Pacific. They’re selling their boat after only a year? Must have been too hard. They couldn’t even get off the dock and they’re selling their boat? Ha! Another cruising-wannabe that couldn’t hack it.

These are terrible thoughts.

The reality is that people “stop” cruising for an infinite number of reasons but I don’t think any of them means they can’t hack cruising. We run out of money, or health. Or we just get tired of it and it’s not fun anymore. Boats break. Sometimes the kids we drag along really don’t like leaving their friends behind on a regular basis. It’s certainly not an easy or convenient way to live for months or years at a time. As Michael R. wrote, it is scary. We might miss home, and miss our families who can’t afford to fly around the world to meet us. Sometimes we’ve just had enough, dream fulfilled.

Cruising is not a forever or failure thing. Sometimes you go cruising for a while. And then you stop. You might go again one day, or not. This doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out for the cruising life. It means you did it, and then moved on to something else as we do just about everything in life. Michael J. and I have work-cruised-work-cruised-work-cruised-worked for over 17 years now and it’s a life that suits us. I’m sure we’re not done yet. (I can’t seem to hack staying put, either.)

I don’t think there’s anything such as failure when it comes to cruising. Cruising success is not measured in distance, or time. Even if you “only” take your boat out on the weekends, maybe a week out to the San Juans, you learn something about yourself, something important. And that’s the journey we’re all on.

Exploring our for-now backyard.

Exploring our for-now backyard.

Simple things.

Simple things.

Why we’re stuck in New Zealand: that’s Leah amongst her āpiti wearing her favourite pink sweatshirt, doing the kapa haka.


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.


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.


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.


Our Family Adventure Podcast

Wondertime family at Cape Reinga, NZ

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

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

How to Move to New Zealand in 31 Easy Steps


Want more? Good news! Full book now available with heaps more New Zealand immigration tips: “How to Move to New Zealand in 31 Easy Steps.”

Print book available at amazon.com and other online bookstores.

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I have, at times, found myself a bit frustrated with our oldest daughter Leah. She is quite a stubborn persistent child. If someone tells her that she can’t do something then there’s no stopping her until it’s done. It’s not a bad quality, to be sure. I guess you could say her parents are a bit like that too. We lost track of the number of times people told us over the past few years, when we’d mention that we might like to live and work in New Zealand, that it couldn’t be done.

“There are no jobs in NZ.”

“It’s impossible to get a visa there.”

“You guys are too old.”

“Your health is not good enough.”

I guess you could say there wasn’t any stopping us until it was done. Last month, the beautiful, friendly and peaceful little country of New Zealand granted us residency which means we can live, work, vote, enjoy affordable socialized healthcare, and go to any school here as long as we like. It’s an outstanding honour.

It certainly wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t all that difficult either. There was a lot of paperwork, fees, a lot of waiting and hand-wringing and stress. We’ve gotten a number of emails from friends asking how we did it so I’m going to tell you for three reasons: (1) we want all our friends to move here with us, (2) we wish we’d had this information 8 months ago, (3) to prove it really can be done and if it’s your goal too don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I want to add an important caveat here: we are not lawyers or immigration advisors of any kind. I am documenting how WE travelled down our New Zealand immigration path and yours may be completely different depending on your circumstances. Immigration laws and regulations change all the time as well and what I describe was only true at the time of our application process, the first half of 2013. However, the cruisers we know who have landed and stayed in NZ have pretty similar paths to residency.

So here you go, 31 easy steps to move to New Zealand:


We are off!

At 1820 PST last night we did it: a lovely group of our liveaboard dock friends gathered on our finger pier and tossed our lines aboard and we left.

It was so surreal, we were ecstatic, exhausted, giddy. It was one of the most difficult things we have ever done, but definitely the fourth most amazing day of our lives. After eight years of dreaming, scheming, planning and doing we are finally out here.

It was overcast when we motored away from Swantown for the last time. As we made our way through the channel markers the sun peeked out and Olympia’s skyline was aglow. Once clear of the channel we unfurled the genoa and hoisted our mizzen in the perfect 12-15 knots of wind on our beam. We sailed north, watching the skyline of our former home get smaller and smaller. Wondertime was clearly happy to be on her way too; even weighted down with thousands of extra pounds of stuff we were making 6.5 knots over ground.

Two hours later, we dropped our hook off Hope Island for a final visit to our favorite island. We’ll stay here for a day, unwinding, napping, sorting all the piles of stuff below, folding laundry and taking a last hike around the island. After setting the anchor we looked back towards Budd Inlet one last time. The sun had found a break in the clouds and a rainbow was on the horizon. We went below to eat dinner and crash into bed. Our first sleep, cruising.

P.S. We’ll be updating our position daily via Yotreps — see the link to the right on the sidebar.

Pirates: not so cute anymore

It was inevitable I think: having kids who live on a boat must automatically mean that pirate gear comes along too. Truthfully, the simple fact that we have girls means that our pirate paraphernalia is fairly limited. But I’ve been surprised a number of times at the bounty of pink pirate adornments out there. And of course whenever I come across a rose-colored skull-and-bones it comes home with me each and every time. There’s just something adorable, slightly sassy, about a 2-year-old in a pink pirate bib, no?

“Mom, what’s a pirate?” Leah asked me one day after we had just finished reading one of our favorite pirate tales.

That one was a toughie, actually. Do I go with the Wikipedia definition, that “piracy is a war-like act committed by private parties (not affiliated with any government) that engage in acts of robbery and/or criminal violence at sea?” Or do I go with the version more preferred by children, that pirates bury their treasure chests on deserted islands or hide it in drippy caves, leaving mysterious maps behind for treasure-hunters to decipher?

Not wanting to add to the nightmares of my 5-year-old’s extremely active imagination, I went with the fully G-rated version. Nothing wrong with a little pirate fun, right? It’s everywhere, after all. We have pirate books (friendly ones, of course), socks, bibs, cat collars. We even have a copy of Dora’s Pirate Adventure on board.

My girls are perfectly happy with Jolly Old Pirates. Myself, however, hasn’t always been so sure. I mean, I think I know where Leah gets her active imagination from. I can’t help but picture David Shannon’s sneering cartoon pirates doing what they really do: attacking ships, killing the crew and taking the spoils. I welcomed our friendly childhood pirates onboard, but with my conscience a little irritated, wondering if it’s right to make such terrible criminals, well, cute.

And then the worst real-life thing happened: two weeks ago Real Pirates took four Americans hostage on their yacht off Somalia, hoping for the millions in ransom those in the West are naturally willing to pay for the return of their families and friends. When Navy forces tried to rescue the hostages, all four Americans were killed by the ruthless thugs. Even worse, not a week later, Pirates took a Danish cruising family hostage, including their three teenaged children.


I cannot stop thinking of these children, the terror they must be feeling at this very moment is unfathomable to me. Held captive by brutal thugs who will not think twice about shooting them and their parents dead if it means avoiding their own capture. Or if the payment doesn’t come.

It’s made me think long and hard about adorning my own precious children with the symbols of piracy.

Pirates are not the stuff of cutesy fairy tales. They are not swashbuckling heroes, only out to steal the fair maiden’s heart. Pirates still exist, they are real and they are terrifying, murderous criminals.

They are walking our plank, for good.

An Update Via the HF Airwaves

If you can read this, then it means that we have successfully updated our blog via the HF airwaves! We are pretty excited to be back on HAM radio after what has essentially been an 8 year hiatus. The installation of our Icom IC-7000 HAM radio and PACTOR modem is pretty much complete, other than permanently mounting our longwire antenna which is currently hoisted up with the main halyard.

It has been a real challenge to hear the nets over all the interference in our marina. We are really looking forward to (among a hundred other reasons) nicer weather so we can leave the dock and actually test out our rig without all the shoreside noise.

-Sara (KD7ORY) and Michael (N7UDM)


our new neighborhood

Our new neighborhood….

our new neighborhood

Our front porch…

our front porch

Our backyard…

our backyard

our backyard

our backyard