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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.

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


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.

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

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

Ghosts, Doubt, and a Green Corduroy Couch

Last night, during my almost-midnight watch they appeared again. We are nearly halfway across the Sea of Cortez. The water is smooth as glass and we are motoring along. Clouds are scattered around the almost-full moon and diffuse the light so it feels like it is a silvery version of twilight. The sea is soft ripples of various shades of silver and the air is so still the hazy shapes of the clouds are reflected in the glassy surface.

I sit in the cockpit underneath the dodger so as to avoid the quickly settling dew, and the noise of the engine, Deb Talen singing in my ears. Suddenly, I am surrounded by them, the ghosts I mistakenly thought I could leave behind when we left to go sailing last year. Here, completely alone a hundred miles from land they loom larger than ever: relationships that are unmendable, phone calls I can’t seem to make, people I’m losing touch with, the eternal absence of my mother.

Part of heading off to sea was to leave these things behind for a while, thinking the farther away from the location they first appeared the dimmer they will become. But that’s the funny thing about the sea: things you want to leave behind don’t fade in the distance, they get magnified and on a night when you are alone with nothing but the moon and a mirrored ocean, they are smothering.

I close my eyes and try to wish them away again, but that’s when the largest ghost of all creeps into the cockpit and sits down right next to me. Doubt. I was tucking Leah into bed last night and she told me, “Mom, I hate dawn watches,” referring to a book we’ve been reading her since she was a toddler about a girl helping her dad on his watch during an overnight passage. “I don’t like rolling around in my bed and the loud noises.” I tried to console her, saying we only had one more night until we reach La Paz, and then no more dawn watches for a couple more months.

But my daughter’s unhappiness haunts me. I know she still misses her friends back in Olympia, her grandpa and his new wife, her uncles. She misses snow and even rain. She is confused by the seemingly random way we say hello and goodbye to the new friends we are making in this nomadic life. I can relate, I miss all this too.

Michael and I have talked about whether this life is right for our children, to be constantly on the move without a real sense of home except for our small boat. Cruising is so full of highs and lows, amazing places and experiences. But these come at a cost that is sometimes very dear.

Then again, this will all be over before we know it. We’ll be at work and school again wistfully reviewing our memories and photos of the amazing years we spent on the sea. And be dreaming of leaving again. But still, some nights the doubt looms largest and it sounds so delicious to just stop, to settle in another cottage in the woods and spend the winter in front of a warm wood stove, safe and content. People that say, myself included, that the most difficult part of cruising is tossing off the dock lines forget that the hardest part is really keeping on.

When we lived ashore, we bought this used green overstuffed corduroy couch from Craigslist. We loved that couch; it was already well worn in when it came to live with us, so soft. A huge L shape, so it could hold everyone with their legs stretched out even. Sometimes, Michael and I will reminisce about sitting there again: warm, dry, still. But it was on that couch that this whole plan was hatched; we rented Michael Palin’s old BBC travel shows one winter, when Holly was just a newborn. We watched them sitting on that couch and a fire was lit. We realized our tucked-away dream of sailing again was what we really wanted, not the security of our small quiet home. We wanted adventure, to leave it all behind and sail the world with our small children. I’m sure you can see the irony too, of craving that couch while on the deck of our sailing boat.

So here I am, at sea, having adventures. So very far from any sense of home, so much more riding along in this boat with us than I ever thought there was room for.

Wondertime Visits Isla Isabel

Blue-footed Booby Birds (photo by Leah)

After nearly five weeks in Banderas Bay we’ve been craving some island time. Badly. So we pointed our bow north to one of our very favorite islands of all time, Isla Isabel, which lies about 18 miles west of the mainland coast, 90 miles or so south of Mazatlan. The weather forecast was perfect for a visit (10  knots or less of wind) since the anchorages are completely exposed and the bottom so rocky that the anchor’s grip on it is tenuous at best. We dropped our Rocna just south of the Los Monas rock sculptures on the east side of the island and it seemed to hold on the edge of a steep shelf that drops back into the sea.

Isla Isabel is home to millions of nesting birds, mainly blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds. Other than visiting yacht crews, the occasional motivated traveller, a handful of fishermen and research students, the island is relatively free from human intervention. As the birds have no predators on the island they are comfortable to nest literally anywhere and everywhere on the 2-mile square ex-volcano.

Leah, being a lover of both birds and wild islands, was enamored with the place. “I call this ‘Bird Island’!” she declared soon after setting off down the trail. She does not exaggerate: you literally have to watch your step at all times as you tiptoe amongst literally thousands and thousands of booby birds nesting right on the ground. It’s hard not to get too close and sometimes they are frightened off, squawking and waddling, leaving their two dusty blue eggs alone in their nests of dirt until they return a few minutes later, the coast clear.

Then you walk down paths through low shrubby trees that are finally clear of whistling boobies. Until you hear the cackling overhead that is the frigatebirds. You peer through the leaves and there they are, right above, in nests precariously balanced in the branches just a few feet over your head. The males have enormous red throat pouches that they inflate to impress a female; if she likes what she sees she caresses it deeply with her beak, and then her whole head. Suddenly you feel like a voyeur and continue walking, being careful now to not step on the large green iguanas that are lying in the grass in the sun.

It is the wild places we tiptoe through like Isla Isabel, places still owned by nature, that we observe with grateful eyes and we’ll always remember and hope our girls do too. I’m pretty sure Bird Island won’t be forgotten.

La Cruz: Where the Kids Are

We have been in La Cruz in Banderas Bay for nearly four weeks now. We had planned to leave a week ago — no matter what — with the goal to be in Barra de Navidad for Christmas (naturally!). But then the kids began to gather. There were four other kid boats here when we arrived, more than we’d encountered in one spot this past six months of cruising. Now, five days before Christmas there are at least 10 boats with kids onboard with more on the way.

So, we’ve stayed here in La Cruz so the girls can savor some major kid-time. Which gives their parents time to mingle with other sailing parents and chat about the challenges and thrills of cruising with little people. And, ahem, enjoy a cold happy hour margarita while our young crews play tag in the grass. We’ve known that cruisers are a tight bunch and friendships form quickly, especially in a foreign place. But we’ve also found here that cruising parents are attracted to each other just as quickly as our kids are. Maybe it’s because we all know how to eat quickly and understand each others stories even though it’s only every fourth sentence that gets finished.

While Holly is the youngest of the bunch she doesn’t mind tagging along with her big sister one bit. Leah currently has two other girlfriends with birthdays within weeks of hers and is in heaven. We’ve recognized the importance of just staying still for a while and letting Leah nuture her friendships. For nearly five months it felt like we were constantly on the move and it’s been nice to stop here for a bit and nurture our own as well. And to finally have time to simply let the kids run with their friends and just be kids, with games of tag, sleepovers, playing in the water. It’s like a Christmas summer camp here and it’s marvelous.

The La Cruz Kids Club (yes, it's really an official club!) holds a bake/book/smoothie sale at the cruiser's swap meet

Leah and Frances hold a swap meet of their own out of dock box treasures

Time for a little preschool, kindergarten and second grade in the (air conditioned!) La Cruz marina lounge

The sailing kids of La Cruz decorated a tree for the marina lounge

La Cruz Kids Club heads to the grass to play "What time is it, Mr. Fox?"