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trip logs

Packing for life


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are bringing thousands of books with us.

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

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

Goodbye, Dear Friend

No Voyage

by Mary Oliver

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

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

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

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

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

~From New and Selected Poems, Volume One



Sailing to the Wild

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

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

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

Santa spotted at Kawau Island!

Santa spotted at Kawau Island!

Christmas Eve 2013

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

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

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

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

Sailing up the Whangarei river

Sailing up the Whangarei river

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

New Year's Eve at the overheated Whangarei River bridge

New Year’s Eve at the overheated Whangarei River bridge

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

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

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

The best bookswap in NZ (Whangarei)

The best bookswap in NZ (Whangarei)

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

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

Return to New Zealand (Bream Head)

Return to New Zealand (Bream Head)

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

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

Port Fitzroy anchorage, Great Barrier Island

Port Fitzroy anchorage, Great Barrier Island

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

Swing bridge, Great Barrier Island

Swing bridge on Great Barrier Island

Wondertime family, Great Barrier Island

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

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

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

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

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

Our magic carpet

Our magic carpet (Great Barrier Island)

Giving Thanks, New Zealand 2013

Sailing into the Hauraki GultIt has been three long years since we’ve had a proper Thanksgiving feast with our dear families. We both, Michael and I, come from families who gather each year and give thanks around a table sagging with roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes…the works. It’s not the food we miss, obviously, but the closeness of treasured grandparents, siblings, parents, cousins and the special feeling that a gathering of generations brings.

Perhaps it’s the time of year or maybe it’s that we’ve just passed the one-year mark since we first sailed into New Zealand waters. Whichever it is, we’ve been feeling so homesick lately. Painfully so. The other night I was a blubbering bawling mess, I wanted to be back home in Olympia so bad that the next morning I got online to get quotes to put our little ship on a big ship back home [I also learned that I’d have to start selling my organs to be able to afford that.]

We are getting pretty used to life here but I still crave the familiar so much it hurts sometimes. I want to hug my Grandma. I want my Dad to see how much his granddaughters grew last month and hear Holly’s latest “joke” live. Silly things too: I want to go to Costco and buy a tub of those salty smoked almonds I love so, I want to pop down the street and fill my growler with ice-cold Fish Tale organic pale ale. I want to drive down the street to Starbucks to have a coffee with my dear friend Stacy and talk about all the cute and annoying things our kids have been doing over vanilla lattes.

Bigger things too: sometimes, we admit, we look at Windermere.com and sigh at all the affordable houses and dream of having a little cabin of our own just a short walk to the beach. I look at Lincoln Elementary’s lunch menu and weep (our Auckland primary offers Subway on Fridays). Sometimes we just tire of the questions: “You’re not from here are you?” “You are American? What are you doing here?” “How long do you plan to stay here?” “You live on a boat?!?” Sometimes it’s fun to tell our story, but sometimes we just want to blend in. Sometimes we just feel exhausted with it all.

Now the Holidays loom which doesn’t make it any easier. I will say that the fact that it’s pretty much summertime and the sun is shining warm and bright and I’m living in jandals again does make this a bit more tolerable. And then we got a special invitation for a true American Thanksgiving up at Kawau Island. We tidied up our home and set sail just like old times.

We dropped our hook in North Cove, in front of Mickey Mouse Marine, the shop and home that Lin and Larry Pardey made over the past 30 years after they’d sailed their little boat into that bay once upon a time. There was another boat there, Ganesh, the new home of another well-salted pair, Carolyn and her husband Captain Fatty. At the dinner Saturday night, we learned Brion Toss was in town as well, along with the crew of Galactic, another cruising family from the NW. And a whole bunch of other interesting local characters.

It was as amazing as it would seem, to be in the company of such revered, friendly, funny and well-travelled writing sailors. A lot of the talk wasn’t about sailing at all it turned out. But I did pinch myself listening in to Larry and Brion banter about the merits of three-strand rope. Our daughters were playing with Lin’s slinky and got it all tangled up of course. Someone suggested “give it to Brion!” so we did. That kept him busy for a while. Lin whipped up a Thanksgiving feast of epic proportions in her small galley kitchen and when it started to rain we moved all the tables inside their cozy tidy home. We called all the kids up who had been running around somewhere playing in delight then all 35 of us stuffed ourselves around the tables sagging with roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes…and gave thanks that we were together here nearly at the end of the world. We realized we were with family this year after all: our family of sailors, a gathering of generations.

Later, after the dishes were cleared and our bellies were stuffed yet again with pumpkin pie and apple pie and zucchini bread and chocolates and more wine we sat back and listened to Captain Fatty play his guitar and sing with his sweet wife Carolyn’s voice filling in.

Our view of our world shifted a bit then in that beautiful wooden room Larry built with his weathered hands now filled with music played by legends. How lucky we are to be in this place, far from home. Experiencing things that we’d once dreamed of, things we’d never even been able to imagine. The feeling that things are unfolding as they should, that we just need to be open to them and not afraid.

Thankful for the fortune that our lives are filled with the wonder we craved when we set off into the world.

Out and about in the Hauraki Gulf

Rangitoto summit boardwalk, Auckland, New Zealand

After three months of being tied to our Auckland dock, we found ourselves staring at the long Easter weekend on our calendar and knew it was time to head out. While the temperature has cooled a bit here, the days continue to be long and sunny with the occasional rain squall thrown in just to remind us we are still in the South Pacific ocean. It took me a week to stow away all the land-life things that littered the boat: library books, school bags, art projects, shoes. Good Friday arrived and we munched on hot cross buns for breakfast (racks and racks of them were on sale at the grocery store and I guessed — accurately — that they were somewhat of a tradition here). We took off the sail covers, heaved off the docklines and returned to our sea-life.

Holly's lost her sea legs

Holly’s lost her sea legs

The wind was light and blowing directly into Waitemata Harbour so we worked our way out by (sigh) tacking. Going upwind displeases Wondertime so but she sailed on anyway. There was a little chop due to the opposing current, both of which slowed us down even more. But as there was only 8 nautical miles or so to go to our planned anchorage we didn’t mind.

After a dozen tacks we were finally free of Auckland’s inner harbour and officially in the gulf. Now, a little background might be in order here: it was morning when we arrived in Auckland last December after our overnight sail down from the Bay of Islands. I was still asleep after my dark early-morning watch and Michael didn’t call me up on deck until we were right off the city’s downtown. Michael himself had only been concentrating on our route through the channel and avoiding shipping traffic and hadn’t fully appreciated the view. This was the first time we’d really seen the Hauraki.

Our first thought was, now we could see why all our marina neighbors went out sailing every weekend! We were in a totally protected inland waterway, chock-full of sailboats but with plenty of room for us all to glide around. We were surrounded by islands indented on all sides with cozy anchorages; clearly the most difficult part of sailing around here was choosing one. It reminded us very much of the San Francisco Bay area but with volcanoes.

Islington Bay, Rangitoto Island, Auckland, New Zealand

Which is where we pointed our bow to drop our hook, in Islington Bay off Rangitoto Island, home of Mount Rangitoto which last erupted only 700ish years ago. The girls joined us in the cockpit for our final tacks toting a packet of crackers with them, both of them looking a little green after watching a movie in our bunk during the sail.

We still had an hour or two to go until sunset when we dropped the anchor in the crowded, but thankfully roomy bay. Michael and I cracked a couple of cold beers and relaxed in the cockpit, taking in the fresh and lovely view around us. Suddenly we were giddy like we hadn’t felt in months, like anything was possible. Here was our family right in our ever so familiar home but surrounded by a completely new world. I don’t think we’ll ever get tired of that paradox.

Exploring the Rangitoto lava caves

Exploring the Rangitoto lava caves

The original plan was to explore several anchorages in the gulf, maybe to sail over to Waiheke and see if it was really true that you could take your dinghy to a wine tasting. We’ll have to find out next time though as we spent all three of our nights at Rangitoto. The entire island is a nature reserve and is covered with tracks; we did our best to explore just a tiny portion of them. We were successful at reaching the summit with amazing views all around, including our new home-for-now city of Auckland. One of the things that has blown us away time and again in New Zealand is the quality of the public parks, tracks (hiking trails) and facilities and Rangitoto’s summit paths, lookouts, boardwalk and information signs were no exception. We peered into the volcano’s crater, currently covered with vegetation and wondered when it would erupt again. We crept through the dark lava caves formed from the last eruption– like something out of Indiana Jones, or well, Lord of the Rings I should say!

Mostly though we just enjoyed the peace and fulfillment of sitting at anchor in a place we had sailed ourselves to. Why do we seem to forget how much we enjoy this? But isn’t it wonderful that sailing only a handful of miles in a couple hours away from what is becoming familiar can seem so exotic and exciting. Maybe it’s the remembering why we like this so much again and again that keeps us exploring. And the feeling that all is right in our little world.

 Video: Sailing in the Hauraki Gulf

Rangitoto hike, Auckland, New Zealand

Leah sketches the Rangitoto summit marker

Leah sketches the Rangitoto summit marker

Wondertime family at Mount Rangitoto summit, Auckland, New Zealand

I think we’ve summited our first mountain!

Blood Draw

In the cloudsThe phlebotomist tightened the strap on my right arm. She was getting ready to draw three tubes of my blood, the last step of my immigration medical exam. She double checked my passport which lay on the desk in front of her. Then suddenly she asked me what seemed like a simple question: “Do you like the United States or New Zealand better?”

The young woman’s slight accent hinted that she had learned English at a very young age, her golden skin and dark hair told that her family was from another sunny island in the Pacific. Her belly was huge, she clearly was due to have a child of her own any day now. I found I didn’t know how to answer her so I stalled. “Have you ever been to the United States?”

“No, but I would like to someday,” she replied.

“It’s very big,” I stated randomly and wracked my brain for the answer to her question, when all I could think of was how surprised I was that I suddenly couldn’t answer such a simple thing. “Everyone in New Zealand has health care. That’s really nice,” I finally blurted out.

“Just look at the poster on the wall. I’m going to draw your blood now,” she suggested.

I looked up at the poster. It was a government notice that all children going into school at age 5 were eligible for a free health checkup. It reminded me how thankful I was that since Michael has a two-year work visa that he and the girls are in New Zealand’s public health system now. It’s the first health care we’ve had in nearly two years.

“They actually seem quite similar to me,” I finally said. “They are beautiful countries.”

“I think Americans are so friendly,” she pondered aloud. I wasn’t sure if she was suggesting that New Zealanders were otherwise so I just agreed, “Yes, I think they are too. Kiwis can be a bit more, um, reserved.” I could relate to most Kiwis in this regard though, being one of the shyer Americans myself.

The poster in front of me blurred as she silently filled the tubes of blood. All the reasons I love America came flooding in suddenly but I didn’t think it was the type of answer she was looking for: my Dad, my step-mom, my brothers and their wives, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, Michael’s family, our friends, the girls’ friends they’ve known since they were infants. This was all I could feel that America had that New Zealand didn’t.

The woman withdrew the needle and placed a cotton ball on the wound. “Hold this for a moment,” she said and got a piece of tape ready. “That’s it! You’re done,” she declared. “Best of luck with your visa.”

“Thank you,” I replied, “Good luck with your new baby!” She smiled as I walked out the door back into the lobby, then out the glass sliding doors into the bluish glare of the Aotearoa sunlight.

Transitioning to the world of to-dos

Wondertime girls at Roberton Island, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Wonder. Time.

I realized yesterday what it is that has been driving me crazy lately. Anxiety has been creeping into my soul once again, a sense of hurry that starts as soon as I open my eyes each morning. The feeling that there is not enough time in the day. Going to bed each night thinking of what I didn’t get done that day and wondering if I can get it done tomorrow.

It’s my new to-do list.

One of our most favorite places in Auckland so far? The library!

One of our most favorite places in Auckland so far? The library!

I haven’t had a to-do list for well over a year now and as we head out of cruising mode and into – what? – work/school/errand/shop/whatever-you-call-this-not-moving mode I’ve starting making the lists that ruled my life before we spent all our days exploring little bits of land by sea. It seems there’s a lot to do to fit in to city life, and more importantly, make and spend money which is mostly what every metropolis seems about. I’ve got lists of things to buy, places to explore, homeschool activities to sign up for, items to complete for our work and student visas, books to read, blog posts to write, boat projects, appointments to make….

Did I not have these things before? What has changed exactly? Sure, some days were busy during our time in the islands. When we got to town there were provisions to buy, laundry to drop off, ice-cream cones to eat. Emails to write. Um. Hmm. I guess that’s it. Must be why I hadn’t had to jot down any tasks – there really weren’t any.

But we must have eaten a lot of ice-cream because here we are working on that cruising kitty again. And doing that in a new country requires a bit of red tape. And the price of not having a to-do list for a while simply means that quite a few things just got pushed into the future and we’ve finally met up with them. Then again, I just like making lists and tend to jot down any old thing that crosses my mind to do.

But then those lists tend to rule my days: I check my daily tasks in the morning and plan out how I’m going to get them done. The girls beg for pancakes but I make oatmeal again because pancakes take too long to make and clean up. I feel anxious when the girls want to get out the paint when I’m planning on heading out in an hour to the laundromat. Everyone wants to walk to the playground but I am struggling with the fact that I have 10 starred emails in my inbox…. By the end of the day I am exhausted and – of course – I check my to-do list and defer the four undone items for tomorrow.

Pt. Erin Community Pool

We love hot summer December days at the pool

One of the lessons that cruising has taught me is to take the lessons that cruising has taught me and bring them to the life we live when we are not moving. This one: that the best days are not the ones where I get the most things done. The best days are the ones without a list leading the way, where we just let the day unfold and explore the world however we feel that day and let whatever happens, happen. They are the days when we take the time to wonder.

We had such a day last weekend: Saturday morning dawned with a list of things we needed to do to go visit friends who live several hours up the coast for the weekend. We packed, made a treat to bring, showered. Out in the parking lot we found a screw embedded in the front tire of our car and drove out to a tire shop on the way out of the city (resulting in four brand-new tires to replace the bald ones). At noon, we found ourselves sitting in northbound traffic with the rest of Auckland’s residents heading out for a long New Year’s weekend. After taking nearly two hours to travel what normally takes 20 minutes, we phoned our friends and regretfully made plans to visit after the holidays. We felt terrible.

Nothing to do!It was a beautiful sunny summer December day so we headed over to the community pool for an afternoon swim. On the way home we got an invite from some new friends for a BBQ dinner at their Auckland home and drove over that evening. The wonderful visit and dinner culminated with a night stroll under the full moon to a park reserve near their home. We walked in the dark into the trees which led to rock caverns that were illuminated with the tiny fairy-lights of glowworms. It was absolute magic, an unforgettable evening for everyone. I couldn’t have planned that day if I tried and tried.

So this morning when I woke up I did the best thing I could think of to reduce all the weight these to-dos have been putting on my soul and our days: I started deleting them.

The view from our cockpit - our new playground!

The view from our cockpit – our new playground!

With her rust stains, chipped paint and bowsprit, Wondertime sticks out like a sore thumb amongst all the other slick and fast New Zealand boats. But we love her anyway.

Here’s Wondertime in her new Auckland slip. With her rust stains, chipped paint and bowsprit, she sticks out like a sore thumb amongst all the other slick and fast New Zealand boats. But we love her anyway.


Merry Christmas from the Crew of Wondertime!

Treats for Santa We arrived in Auckland last week, after Santa granted us an early Christmas gift of a new damper plate shipped from the UK which got us motoring along again. With the remains of Cyclone Evan hot on our heels, we had a quick overnight trip 130 miles down the coast from the Bay of Islands into our cozy slip here in downtown Auckland. Our first days in the city have been a blast with amazing playgrounds, parks, pools, libraries, museums and shopping just a short walk or bus ride from the boat.

This Christmas, we are thankful for arriving here safely and with so many stories and memories of the last 18 months of travelling together as a family that it seems overwhelming at times. The hardest part is definitely the wake of family and friends we’ve left behind and are missing very much this season. Just know we are thinking of each and every one of you and wish you a very merry season and the time to look back at all the amazing memories you’ve made this year.

Wondertime - Christmas 2012And look forward, as we are, with excitement and joy at all the memories to come in the coming year.

Wondertime girls - Christmas 2012

Familiar But Foreign

Our first days in New Zealand were not very glamorous, or should I say glamourous, but it has been thrilling to be here even though our first orders of business were to get started on our long list of chores that have piled up during our time lazing around in tropical paradise. We’re in rural country up here in Opua with miles kilometers kilometres of roads winding crazily through rolling green hills dotted with sheep exactly like we’d pictured it here. You can’t really do much without a car so that’s the first thing we bought (after plunking our $2 coins in the shower meters, our first hot showers since Niue in August). We picked up a sweet late 90s Subaru (this may be something like our 10th Subaru) and immediately drove to the grocery store where we gleefully filled our cart with fresh NZ strawberries, blueberries, apples, avocados, zucchini, and bottles and bottles of cheap delicious wine. Which I thoroughly enjoyed after the 10 loads of laundry finished this week….

Meet “Kiwisube”…she blends in.

Beautiful spring produce, all NZ grown

While walking around dainty little Kerikeri we felt a little scruffy, even for laid-back Kiwi standards, and made the hair salon our next stop where all four of us got a little snip snip. Here’s Holly getting her first haircut ever:

Holly’s curls get an adjustment

Our cruising kitty is not really set up for 1st world living so we pretty much had to get on the job-search program right off the bat. Thanks to old cruising friends who lived in Auckland for several years after sailing here, Michael had appointments set up with several IT recruiters practically moments after we tied off our docklines. As you may have guessed, one of the tricks of this lifestyle is to combine the many chores that seem to pile up with pleasure, so we took a field trip down to the metropolis of Auckland last week.

“Look! It’s a school of sheep!” -Holly

It was a grey, drizzly three-hour drive to the city from Opua and as we crossed over the bridge into downtown Auckland we had complete deja-vu: with the weather, the sailboats scattered across the waterways of the city we could have sworn we were driving into our hometown of Seattle. But not the Seattle of today, more like the Seattle of my childhood: New Zealand’s largest city has half of Seattle’s population and although we were warned about all the terrible traffic, we found ourselves cruising easily through the downtown in the middle of the workday. The city was incredibly clean and largely populated with small, local businesses. We grabbed coffees and warm milks at a hip cafe in Ponsonby and then toured the nearby Westhaven marina which we hope will be home soon.

Wondertime family in Auckland

While Michael was at his meetings the girls and I window-shopped and lunched at a tiny sushi restaurant together. We gleefully visited every bookstore in a 5-block radius.

Sushi lunch in Auckland with my girls

Holly happily buried in books

This week we are still in Opua, waiting for the arrival of our new damper plate which is being shipped in from the U.K. We hope to get the boat down to Auckland by Christmas, but in the meantime are enjoying kicking around in Northland. We drove to Whangarei for the day and explored the local parks which included the beautiful Whangarei falls and a lovely Kauri forest. On the way we also toured an ancient cave which is populated by glowworms – one of the many life forms unique to New Zealand. Leah is fascinated with caves and hopes to do more challenging spelunking in the future.

About to enter the amazing Kawiti glowworm caves

Wondertime girls at Whangarei Falls

It’s been wonderful to be back in the land of forests again. At first, it felt like we were back home in the Pacific Northwest. But then the details begin to come into focus. Instead of giant Douglas Firs there are ancient Kauri trees. The song of Tui birds ring out through the treetops, marvelous tree ferns tower over our heads. The greens everywhere are more vivid shades than we’ve seen before. It smells like the forests we remember, damp and mossy, but there are scents in there of spices and flowers that are all new to us.

We visit the fantastic giant Kauri trees of the Puketi forest

A tree fern

We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of all the beautiful new things this lovely country has to offer.

Landfall New Zealand

The Wondertime crew has landed safe and sound in New Zealand! Once the wind reached us it built and built and built until Wondertime was absolutely flying along at 7 knots with a double-reefed main and tiny scrap of genoa. We made the last 75 miles to the Bay of Islands in record time. The conditions were exhilarating and knowing we were rocketing along towards the landfall we’ve been dreaming about for years and years, the feeling was indescribable.

It was dark, late evening, as we sailed into the bay but we had good visibility with the light of the half moon. And of course the charts and navigation aids here are top rate. The wind and seas subsided quickly and we found ourselves drifting slowly along towards the small town of Paihia. Once we were out of the main channel and the depth sounder read 30 feet we dropped the hook into the mud and slept like we’d never slept before.

We made it.