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

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

[Several days later…]

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

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

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

Holly: Yaaaaay!

Leah: I like when it rains.

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

Holly: Yaaaaay!

Leah: Sure.

Louis: How old are you both now?

Leah: I’m seven and a half.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louis: Do you like eating them?

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

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

Holly: I love Nemo.

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

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

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

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

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

Louis: What about you Holly?

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

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

Sara: Yes.

Michael: Yes it is.

(cut to Louis flying over the ocean in airplane)

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

 

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

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

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

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

Louis: Where are the girls now?

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

Louis: You have a move theater in your bed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sara: Yes. Often.

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

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

Louis: What’s so funny?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louis: Hm. Maybe it is.

to be continued…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sara: Yeah, that’s pretty normal.

Louis: So where’s Michael?

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

Louis: What’s he doing in there?

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

Louis: Hi Michael! (waves)

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

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

Sara: Right up here. Follow me.

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

Louis: Ouch!

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

Louis (rubbing forehead): I bet you are.

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

Louis: Head?

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

Louis: This here? Where’s the door?

Sara: We took it off.

Louis: Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sara: No, five.

Louis: Five?

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

Louis: No way!

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

Louis: That sounds pretty miserable.

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

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

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

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

Louis: Do you like it? Boat projects?

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

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

Michael: It’s pretty much out of hand.

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

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

to be continued…

 

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

Missing Pieces

20130520_piha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Raft-UP: Staying Sane in a Floating Closet

Best friends, 99% of the time.

I’ve just joined in with the Raft-UP writing group; each month a group of sailing bloggers muses about a specified topic which is a great way for readers to get a whole bunch of different perspectives on aspects of the sailing life. This month we’re writing about maintaining relationships onboard our boats, which amounts to getting along in a space the size of a large walk-in closet, oftentimes with nothing around but miles-deep water.

This is not easy.

I’m not going to lie to you and say things like “we love living so close together each and every day” and “our girls never fight, they are always the best of friends.” That is just silly. We all fight on certain days, we all need our space at times. Michael and I have lived aboard sailboats together for the better part of the past 14 years and have become pretty adept at giving each other space (whether that means physical or mental) for a few hours when either of us needs it. Even though we need a break from each other at times, after only a few hours apart we miss each other terribly and reunite with a freshness that causes us each to spill over with all the news that the other has missed out on.

But sailing with two young kids has added a whole other complexity to the “getting along in tight quarters” conundrum. The problem is that kids need their space too and coordinating the needs of four separate people’s space and time to recharge has proven to be the most challenging aspect of sailing as a family.

Like any family ashore, it can be difficult to find the balance, as well as the timing, of having family time together as well as personal space and time for our own interests. We recognize that we are a family of introverts (although time is proving that Holly might be the first extrovert in generations!) and it is essential that each of us takes the alone time necessary to recharge our spirits.

Unlike a lot of families ashore we find that we have ample time together as a family but have trouble getting the necessary time in to ourselves. The biggest difficulty is proving to be the actual timing of each of us getting some recharging time. Just because I really need a few hours to myself doesn’t mean that the rest of the family does (more often than not it seems these are the times they need my attention the most!) The girls might be working happily on a project or reading on their own but sometimes that has to be interrupted to make an appointment or get to a shop or office before it closes. What happens is the time we need by ourselves gets pushed into the future until it gets to a critical point and tempers explode.

Leah and Michael spend a memorable day hiking together (Kitekite Falls, Waitakere Ranges, NZ)

Leah and Michael spend a memorable day hiking together (Kitekite Falls, Waitakere Ranges, NZ)

Over the past 18 months, here’s what we’ve been working on to make sure our family/alone time is balanced:

We take the time to recharge on our own rather than putting it off. As I mentioned before, it’s all too easy to put off alone time when there are so many amazing things to do and see together as a family while cruising. But we’ve learned that you can’t do it all; I hate missing out on beach explorations or snorkeling expeditions with the girls but find that I’m a much happier mom if every now and then I let Michael take them exploring for a few hours while I read or write or just putter around the boat on my own for a bit. We even have code words for this now: I tell everyone I need to “clean” and Michael says he needs to do “engine maintenance” and the rest of the family is happy to get out of the way for the afternoon.

Ditto with dates. Michael and I usually get out on a “date” about once a year and frankly, this is just not good enough. We need time with just the two of us to connect to each other and recharge our relationship as a couple, not only as parents. It’s difficult though to find people we trust with the kids since our neighbors are always changing as we travel. We’ve found that if we are presented with the opportunity to leave the girls with trusted friends for an evening to jump on it as we may not have the chance next week. As the girls get older too they are having more opportunities for slumber parties away and time with their own friends. Ahhhh!

Michael and I each need to spend time with Holly/Leah on their own. Recently we’ve been seeing the value of spending “alone time together” which means that Michael spends time with just Leah and I spend time with Holly and vice versa. The girls (and their parents) truly treasure this time to connect individually without the rambunctiousness that can happen when the four of us are all together. The girls don’t have to compete for anyone’s attention – she gets it 100% for a few hours and we all treasure these special times.

Helping the girls respect that her sister needs time on her own. With the girls getting older, this seems to be coming up more and more. For example, Leah is now an avid reader and enjoys spending quiet time in her bunk looking at books. Of course, Holly loves to hang out with Leah in her bed and look at books too but we’ve had to explain to her that Leah just needs some quiet time on her own. The corollary of this is that the girls have learned to state “I need some alone time!” which usually is only a few minutes in which to recharge while we respect her wishes.

Acknowledging that we are all going to have disagreements/tempers/heated emotions, but we need to deal with these respectfully. When we don’t get the time we need to recharge/connect/relax/be heard tempers can get pretty ugly around here. All four of us are working on respectful signals to use whether it’s time by ourselves we need, time with a parent or just pure-fun time with all four of us.

Of course, now that we are back in working/school mode we are finding plenty of time for ourselves and have joined the rest of society in missing our time together as a family.

 

Mom's Night Out, Carnaval de La Paz, Mexico (OK, the kids were around somewhere; the dads were in charge)

Mom’s Night Out with Windy of Del Viento, Carnaval de La Paz, Mexico (OK, to be truthful the kids were running around somewhere nearby on the dark & crowded streets; the dads were in charge)

 

Check out what other Raft-UP writers have to say this month:


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.

 

Big Wind at Big Mamas

If there’s one thing we’ll always remember Tonga for, its the wind here. Glassy calm days, at least during this southern hemisphere springtime, are few and far between. If nothing else, it really makes us regret not putting a wind generator on the boat.

Anchored off Big Mama’s in Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu is not exactly the ideal place to ride out a major tropical depression. The bay is huge, 1.5 miles south to downtown Nuku’alofa and 5 miles of fetch to the west of us. The good thing is that the holding here is superb; it took quite a bit of muscling to crank our Rocna out of the sandy muck when the blow was over. There is an inner harbor with a breakwall you can stern tie to, Tahiti style, but we kept picturing boats piling up like dominoes as bow anchors dragged in the undoubtedly fouled harbour and chose to ride it out in the anchorage. (Thankfully, all the cruising boats whether in the harbour or anchored out  survived just fine with mostly just frazzled nerves.)

The photo to the right was taken on Tuesday afternoon. Here, you see cruisers playing Scrabble and riding the rope swing. One the far right side, just out of the picture are people swimming, taking shelter from the sweltering heat. Behind the picnic fale is a ping-pong table and volleyball court where we also spent time waiting for the weather to arrive. Mostly what we’re doing is talking about just that, the weather. A number of us were halfway to Minerva and turned around, wondering if this thing was going to materialize after all. Was it going to pass right over us as the models were predicting? How will the boats underway hold up? When will our weather window finally arrive? We are all very very anxious to finally reach N Zed.

The predicted tropical depression indeed arrived the following day. The typical SE wind shifted to the north as the depression approached Tongatapu but the wind was no biggie at around 15 knots. We sat below listening to boats underway south of us check into the Drifter’s net. Friends were starting to see winds in the 30-40 knot range. Our emotions were conflicted: we were very glad that we weren’t out in it but at the same time worried for the comfort and safety of the other vessels out there.

While we were reveling in the warmth of our safely anchored home, we heard the wind pick up outside, suddenly. Michael ran up to grab a bucket we’d left on the side deck. The next thing I knew he was shouting down at me “It’s blowing 50 knots out here!”

Here’s the story from our log book:

Noticed wind picking up here a few minutes before 1800 then suddenly a wall of wind hits us along with absolutely deluging rain. Can’t see a thing outside – everything white, spray and mist covering the surface of the water. Run around turning on GPS (off because listening to radio and it causes interference), depth sounder, engine. Boat absolutely pummeled by wind. Solar panels break free from tie down lines, flapping up and down. Dinghy hoisted alongside boat flies up against rigging as we’d feared it’d do. Wind hits starboard side, heels WAY over to port, rail underwater! Shit flying across boat below (totally messy from day in – not prepared for this type of blast at all!)

Wind then catches us on port and stuff flies in other direction, including HP laptop onto floor! M. finally gets oriented and motors into wind, but anchor appears to have held (have all 300’ of chain out in 60’ of water). Yell out to girls in forecabin if they are OK, they yell back they are fine, both in Holly’s bed. Tell them to stay put. M. is outside, soaking wet, securing solar panels and lines that got washed over. Rain leaking in ports, pours down back hatch when I open it to look out at wall of white.

Wind shifting from N to S to W so quickly. It’s probably only 5 minutes of crazy wind then calms to ~25 from W. Boats talking back and forth on VHF; everyone OK and in good spaces still. Aleris reports highest windspeed was 74 knots! Lightening now passing directly overhead, very scary.

Get busy cleaning up crazy mess now that worst is over – broken glasses on floor, entire bookshelf dumped on floor in forward cabin, toys, food, all covered with layer of rainwater. Counters had been emptied, cupboards flown open that we latch while sailing. Incredible!

Help M. secure sun cover flapping around but huge lightening flash overhead and we quickly jump below. Girls have moved into our bunk, playing with puppets and flashlights (now getting dark). They are just giddy with all the excitement.

What happens next is really eerie and kinda freaks out all of the boat crews. The wind dies down within an hour and it is completely still. The wind ceases, the sky clears and the stars come out. Like nothing had happened at all. Apparently the low passed right over Tongatapu after all and here we are right in the middle of it. What would happen next?

By 2 am however the wind indeed picked up again, and right from the west too as was predicted. With 5 miles of fetch the waves built quickly and by daylight Wondertime was bucking up and down unpleasantly in the 4-6 foot wind waves. We had 30-45 knots the whole livelong day. While I was cooking breakfast there was a pop and a shudder at the bow: our snubber had parted after holding our anchor chain for nearly 18 months straight. Michael and I spent the next two hours fashioning a replacement bridle-type snubber (our snubber attaches at the waterline to a bow eye and had simply exploded due to age and/or strain). The strain on our bow was immense and we had to get the replacement snubber lines just right so they wouldn’t chafe on our bowsprit whisker stays or bobstay. Long story short, it was a long long day constantly checking the snubber for chafe while being doused with sea water spraying over the plunging bow.

Happily the wind started to subside by dinner and we awoke the next morning to another peaceful sunny day with only a light SE wind rippling the water around us. We made it.

Tonight, the crews of at least 15 boats gathered again at Big Mama’s. While the shorter crews of the six (!) kid boats here chased each other around the palm trees, this time the adults chatted about how we’d fared during the big blow and celebrated making it through safely. And of course talked about the coming weather: it looks like a fantastic week to sail to New Zealand has finally arrived and all of us will be heading out tomorrow or Monday. We wished each other good luck and made plans for our reunion in Opua.

Both our bow snubber and our Tongan courtesy flag have seen enough wind, thank you. Besides these two items, the only other casualties onboard were two glass drinking glasses that broke. Our dinghy, solar panels and even our cheap old HP laptop (which I’ve wanted to throw to the floor myself many times) survived just fine. We later learned that the 75 knot wind blast was likely a microburst.

Making Friends With Uncertainty

Family and friends keep asking what is next for us, when this jaunt across the Pacific comes to a halt in New Zealand sometime in the coming weeks. We keep saying we don’t know, which is exactly true.

Right now, there are a few things we know for sure however:

  1. Cyclone season is upon us soon and it’s time to get out of the way
  2. We are really, really, really anxious for a draft IPA, jeans, a hike in the woods, and a real supermarket
  3. Our cruising kitty is down to its final dregs and it’s time to go back to work for a while

For a couple of people who like to have at least the next few years of our life mapped out, that’s not much of a chart.

We have far more questions than answers: will we be able to find work in New Zealand and then get the proper visas? Will we like NZ enough to want to stay for a few years? Forever? Will NZ like us? What city will we be living in? How is Leah going to adjust to regular school after a year of free-roaming school? How will we adjust to wearing socks again? Having cell phones? Having bills? Will we want to return to the Northwest and if so do we want to sail back or sell the boat and fly ourselves home? If we sail back, can we swing by Mexico? (I really really want a taco.)

We’ve been around long enough to know that the answers to these questions will be sorted out in time. Decisions will be made for us, things will happen. And we’ll have to make some tough decisions, too. We haven’t always been comfortable with so much ambiguity about the future; in fact, a few years ago we would have been a nervous wreck with so much uncertainty ahead. But now it feels rather invigorating, exciting even, at the unknown adventure that lies ahead, still.

Maybe it’s because we’re getting older and hopefully a little wiser. But I like to think that cruising has shown us how to be flexible, to go into the unknown without expectation and with an openness for whatever happens next. Most importantly, having faith that everything will turn out all right.

There is another thing we know and it actually surprises us a little, after being so positive a few months ago that we’d have had our fill of sailing after all these miles. We’ve been here in Tonga, spending a lot of time looking back over the past 16 months kind of disbelieving that we are practically at the end of this journey already. We’ve enjoyed the introspection that comes with being perched on the brink of the unknown. I thought for sure I’d be done with this ocean sailing traveling thing by the time we got here. But our quiet time in Tonga, with so much more of the world to see (Fiji! Vanuatu! Thailand!) just over the horizon has shown us that we haven’t got our fill at all.

Maybe what little we do know for certain is enough: that with a few more coins in our pocket, we could keep going and going and going.

365 Days Later

Wondertimers in Moorea (Photo by Tucker Bradford, S/V Convivia)

A year ago today, we woke up at anchor off Hope Island, our first stop after departing our former home of Olympia, Washington. This morning, we woke up at anchor 4000 miles away, in Cook’s Bay, Moorea.

What a year this has been.

Departure day, 29 June 2011

We spent some time tonight looking back at some of the photos from a year ago. I was taken aback at how young the girls look. Holly has grown from a toddler to a busy, funny, imaginative little girl who absolutely adores her big sister. Leah especially has changed to me; her 6-year old self is so much more mature, more wise than the 5-year old we left with. The more she discovers about this world we are traveling through the more she wants to learn about it. We keep lists of things to look up on Google when we are away from the internet. She has struggled with the goodbyes that come with this life, trying to make sense of why we should leave such good friends behind. It used to take a while for her to warm up to new people but now she can make a fast friend in a heartbeat and strike up an interesting conversation with just about anyone. She adores her little sister, too.

Only time will tell how this journey will truly affect the girls, all of us, in our futures. We get clues every now and then as to how this time of traveling on the sea, seeing all the different – and similar — ways people live and speak, is shaping how they see the world.

Sailing on our way to Tahiti from the Tuamotus Holly asked me: “Mama, when are we going to be home?”

“What do you mean?” I asked her, a little puzzled.

“What I mean is, when are we going to be anchored?”

I realized that Holly, at 3, has already learned the lesson that it’s taken me 37 years to learn: that home is wherever the people who love you are.

Our current home, Cook’s Bay, Moorea