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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.


Special Delivery

Tonga continues to charm us right up to departure.

Tonga continued to charm us right up to departure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baby on board...literally!

Baby on board!

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

Sweetheart VWK Deal!

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


My happy place: just Wing'n it

My happy place: just Wing’n it

Living in the slow lane

Somewhere over the rainbow

Motorhomes and caravans all have names here, just like boats do (perhaps this is true everywhere though?). Ours is called “Wing’n It” which we at first thought was kind of silly and planned to change it as soon as we could. Until we realized it pretty much fits our situation perfectly as we’ve been taking each day as it comes. Wing’n it. We know we’ll settle into a little corner of New Zealand sooner rather than later, but for now we’re letting our path come into focus as it will.

But I woke up the other morning and had no idea where I was. My arm was freezing, having escaped the warmth of Michael’s and my zipped-together mummy bags sometime in the early morning. I tucked it back inside to warm it up again. Then I heard the Tui bird in a tree outside. The Tui’s call is the most fantastic bird call I’ve ever heard: a chorus of high and low, short and long notes, chattering and chuckling. A hundred birds all in one. Then I remembered exactly where I was and curled up to sleep a few minutes more before the girls woke up.

Michael was up a short while later to make coffee. It’s not a fast process: he grinds the beans by hand (unless, by chance, we’ve remembered to do that the night before). The kettle is put on the gas hob to boil and he measures the grounds into the Aeropress. Once the water is near boiling, he pours it in and presses the steaming espresso into a mug. He divides it between our two mugs, then pours hot water into both for perfect Americanos. We lay in bed for at least another half-hour, sipping our rapidly cooling coffees. The rest of each day is much the same: slow, measured, and just enough to make it a full one.

One of the wonderful things about NZ is that you never know just who will stop by for Tea. Here, my publisher, Lin Pardey stopped by when we were camped in Auckland. I'm sure she's used to small spaces.

One of the wonderful things about NZ is that you never know just who will stop by for tea. Here, my publisher and mentor Lin Pardey stopped by while we were camped in downtown Auckland. I’m sure glad she’s used to small spaces.

My friend and coauthor Michael Robertson asked me a few weeks ago if it is taking time to acclimate to our new life or have we just fallen into it? It’s taken this long, but I think I finally have the answer: it’s both. This experience is both familiar and completely new at the same time.

What I’ve found most interesting is how moving back to a foreign country can be so familiar. I know which brands of cheap Pinot Noir are the best (admittedly that’s an easy one as I haven’t really found a bad one yet). We’ve got our Sistema box full of Whittaker’s chocolate bars stashed in the cupboard again. The girls feel right at home swimming at the Tepid Baths and remember all of their favorite parks and playgrounds. After a day or two we recalled our way around the roads and are even remembering not to switch on the turn signal when it starts to rain. Everyone’s Kiwi accent is like a familiar singsong, joyous to our ears. The best part is we’ve been meeting up with friends all over; even Gloria who works at the Freeman’s Bay laundry was happy to see us, lugging our bulging Ikea bag of laundry in (“The girls are so big now!”). We’ve had dinner nearly every night with old or new friends…something that just doesn’t seem to happen often enough when we’re not traveling. But it should.

This may be familiar to us, but, as always, the girls always notice something new.

This scene may be familiar to us but the girls always notice something new. (Opua to Paihia trail in Bay of Islands)

What is different is living life in a tiny motorhome, but even that feels oddly familiar. Land cruising is a whole lot like water cruising, right down to spending a good majority of our time filling and dumping tanks and looking for free internet and showers. We look for places we can “freedom camp” rather than spend big $$ at holiday parks (just like we tried to avoid marinas). I make simple meals with fresh food purchased from farmer’s markets. My galley is the simplest yet, with a few pots and pans, a handful of utensils, and a bowl and plate for everyone. The girls occupy themselves with Legos, or a notepad and a pencil. Or better yet, I can toss them out the door and they can go and run play…without a dinghy ride or a swim.

What also is decidedly different is that we took off five days after buying the motorhome, which we’ve certainly never done in a boat. That, and we sleep soundly each and every night. Space is tight (have you seen that Portlandia sketch about life in a tiny home? That’s pretty much what it’s like for us right now. You’ll have to google it to find it. My internet is dog-slow too.) This entire experience has made me give daily thanks to my years of living aboard small boats; mere mortals may have been driven mad by now. But I know we’ll move on eventually to a bigger space and will miss all this closeness and the freedom of the open road. A flat? A boat? Who knows? We’re just wing’n it.

P.S. Just for fun, follow our NZ wanderings via our friend Tucker’s amazing new website, Farkwar. It’s designed for boats…but why not land yachts? http://farkwar.com/boats/wing-n-it

We've help our friends aboard Nyon with their mast a number of times over the years (the last being after their mast breakage in Mexico in 2011). This time the stick was out for a touch of varnish and Michael was glad to lend a hand again.

We’ve helped our friends aboard Nyon with their mast a few times over the years (the last being after their mast breakage in Mexico in 2011). This time the stick was out for a touch of varnish and Michael was glad to lend a hand getting her aloft again. (Opua, Bay of Islands)

See? Can't seem to get away from boats.

Still can’t seem to get away from boats. (Paihia, Bay of Islands)

Will they remember?

South Pacific Departure - March 17, 2012

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

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

South Pacific blues

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

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

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

Shellback sisters

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

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

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

“We need to plan one then.”

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

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

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

February 2015: Pacific Ocean, Washington, USA

February 2015: Pacific Ocean, Washington, USA

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



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, 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.


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.

The Worst Thing About Cruising

WarmA few months ago, there was a thread on a Facebook women’s sailing group that was something along the lines of “what do you dislike most about cruising?” Common complaints were rolly anchorages, the necessity of doing laundry by hand, the lack of hairdryers and bathtubs in which to properly shave one’s salty legs. Here I was, after eight months or so of fighting honking traffic, liveaboard regulations, the high price of New Zealand cheese, school donations, car WoFing, $8/gallon petrol, $7 lattes, “free” healthcare that doesn’t cover any modern-ish medical devices, lack of vacation time to actually tour this land, missing family and friends, and absurd moorage rates and I just wanted to shake them and scream:

The worst thing about cruising is not cruising!

The worst thing about cruising is when it’s over and you look back through all the photos and videos and wonder how it went by so fast. The worst thing is when you are so ready to head back up to the islands but you are so broke and the longer you live in a first-world society the more money gets sucked from you and the broker you get. The worst thing is when you can’t shake the feeling that all this city stuff is just fabricated bullshit with all these abstract rules and costs and regulations and the only thing that seems real anymore is what actually is: the sand between your toes, the sun on your body, the feeling of diving in to saltwater so warm it’s like returning to the womb. You can close your eyes and feel the movement of your boat, her gentle rocking as the ocean breathes underneath her and the wind pulls her across the planet and you want to feel that feeling again so bad right now that it’s almost painful.

Sandy joy!But you can’t. We’re now 11 months in of living a “regular life” and years away from having any sort of cruising kitty and I’m marking things on Wondertime’s to-do list “not done” that were marked “done” several years ago. True, we are in New Zealand but we’re definitely not on holiday here. It feels like we’re right back to where we left from, some days: Michael’s back in the 9-5 IT world, I’m ferrying the girls back and forth to school. It’s what we know, I guess.

A little over a month ago, we moved into a lovely flat here in Auckland, just to have a break from the boat. Maybe haul her out and get some painting done we’ve been putting off (note to self: get painting quotes before signing an apartment lease). To see what a land life might be like. Unstuff ourselves from 38 crowded feet for a while. Cruising again seems so far and away — plus we really do like living in New Zealand, most of the time. Maybe we should just join the rest of the normal people and see what it’s like.

Well, five weeks have passed and it’s clearly not for us. This flat has an amazing view of the city but I think cruising ruined that too: if our view doesn’t change it gets kind of boring after a while. Half of Michael’s earnings go towards the rent, electricity, hot water, internet bills, plus Wondertime’s moorage. We saved $500 last month. I guess that’s something. But now, the city seems more absurdly routined than ever.

This may be an expensive lesson in the end but for the first time in months the future looks clearer than it has in some time. I don’t know how, or when but we will get back out there. Thankfully the worst thing about cruising is that more cruising solves that problem.

The clues are all around us.

The clues are all around us.