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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.

Bliss

16 Things We Love About New Zealand That Surprised Us

Auckland pohutukawasI know my posts lately have been a little whiney. But while we’ve been feeling a bit homesick and have been missing our lazy, warm tropical island days (I know, cry me a river) there still is at least one moment of each day where I feel a sudden giddiness that we’re in New Zealand, indefinitely. There is so much to love here and I’m sure you know all about the good wine, scenery, famous movies and friendly people. Here are a few things that have surprised us about our adopted land that we’ve grown to love, in no particular order.

1. Pohutukawas are quiet green bushy trees most of the year, scattered throughout the country in city parks and on beaches alike. But then in early December, a few weeks before Christmas, KAPOW! They burst forth with bright red fluffy flowers all over, just in time to celebrate the season. The New Zealand Christmas trees are certainly the prettiest we’ve ever seen.

2. Christmas at the beach Despite retailer’s continued efforts, Christmas here is still less about the stuff and more about spending time with your family, usually at the beach and followed with a sausage sizzling on the grill. The Christmases of my childhood were always a huge affair with decorations everywhere, elaborate meals, parties, piles of gifts and my mother no doubt took years off her life preparing for it all. Not me: I love the simplicity of a few basic decorations (see “Pohutukawa” or “Look girls! A Christmas tree!”), a couple of gifts for the girls from Santa and a day of just being with friends and family with sandy toes under the sun and time to enjoy it all. It helps that the school summer break starts a few days before Christmas, a time of year so good that it even has the best name ever: Silly Season.

We Love Sand

3. Bare feet Apparently, even in the city and at primary school, shoes are completely optional.

4. Jandals If they are not barefoot then Kiwis protect their piggies with a pair of jandals, otherwise known as flip-flops or thongs. Even in winter here on the North Island. Which brings me to….

5. Winter in Auckland No snow. No frost. Lots of sunny days between rain and wind and thunderstorms (which keep it interesting). Just right.

Our Auckland slip on a sunny day last winter. Locals tell us it's *never* this nice usually.

Our Auckland slip on a sunny day last winter. Locals tell us it’s never this nice, usually.

A mid-winter hike in the Waitakere. The hats are just for fun and show, it's really not that cold out.

A mid-winter hike in the Waitakere. The hats are just for fun and show, it’s really not that cold out. Muddy and wet, yes.

6. Legends Aotearoa is a land of myth and legend: the taniwhas, Tāne Mahuta, Maui, Kupe, the first wakas to sail to NZ from Hawaiki. Maori stories live rich in this land and are interwoven into life everywhere. When you walk through a great forest, or gaze out at the Tasman from a clifftop, the spirit of the land is omnipresent and it’s easy to feel why this is the land of story.

The gannet colony at Muriwai beach. Amazing.

The gannet colony at Muriwai beach looking over the Tasman. Amazing.

Tāne Mahuta. Lord of the Forest.

Tāne Mahuta. Lord of the Forest.

7. Language On a planet where languages are disappearing at an alarming rate, it’s so refreshing to see Te Reo Māori, the original language of New Zealand, being studied and celebrated and respected here. The girls learn Māori words and songs at school, Universities offer tuition-free classes, there is even an entire TV station broadcast mainly in Te Reo Māori. Coming from a place where people are denigrated for speaking languages other than English, it’s incredibly hopeful to hear the words of the ancients freely spoken.

Holly learns about Maori traditions at Kindy during Matariki, celebration of the Maori new year which occurs in May/June.

Holly learns about Maori traditions at Kindy during Matariki, celebration of the Maori new year which occurs in May/June.

8. A Land of immigrants In Auckland at least, in addition to hearing Māori being spoken you are just as likely to hear Hindi, Bengali, Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog, Tongan, French, Spanish, German…you get the idea. Auckland is the most international city we’ve ever been to with residents coming from literally around the world. The girls’ central city school is a true united nations of students and we’ve got friends from South Africa, Pakistan, India, Philippines, Ireland, China. I’ll have to write more on this later because it’s the aspect that has had such a positive impact on the girl’s view of the world as well as really feeling what it is to be an American.

Leah and favorite school friends

Leah and favorite school friends

9. The schools It took a while for me to get used to just handing the girls over to others to teach each day but thankfully the excellent schools here have made the transition easy. New Zealand schools are not bogged down in standards and testing and constant evaluations like US schools are. While they do have general guidelines to follow, schools here are free to experiment, adjust their teaching plans to suit their students’ specific needs and take on new ideas at a rapid pace. What this means for us is that both girls have learned a whole lot this past year, but more importantly they love school and think it is great fun which is the best lesson they could learn there.

Leah hated homework - or homelearning as they like to call it here - at the beginning of the year but now she thinks it's fun. Win! She turns in her last sheet tomorrow, summer break is coming!

Leah hated homework – or homelearning as they like to call it here – at the beginning of the year but now she thinks it’s fun. Win! She turns in her last sheet tomorrow, summer break is coming!

Holly's Kindy class visited a climbing gym this year for a field trip. Adventure sports starts early here.

Holly’s kindy class visited a climbing gym this year for a field trip. Adventure sports starts early here.

10. Swimming Knowing how to swim here is akin to knowing how to add 2 + 2. Starting at age 5 at primary school all kids spend two days a week during the summer/fall terms working on their swimming skills. Most primary schools have their own pools. The Auckland swimming pools even let kids in for free to swim anytime up to the age of 16. Makes sense when you are surrounded by ocean.

Holly at the Tepid Baths, Auckland

11. An unarmed society Want to know the most shocking thing we learned after arriving in NZ? Not even the police carry handguns. No kidding. Cops walking down the street in Auckland are noticeably firearm-free; they have to call in the special armed-force for any serious crimes. This is not a land of guns, but it’s not gun-free: there is a rigorous application, education and interview process to gain a firearms licence and the guns themselves are tightly controlled and monitored. As a result, gun crime is extremely rare. 2007 data shows that for every 100,000 New Zealanders there were 0.16 homicides by firearm. For every 100,000 Americans? Nearly 3.

12. Awesome signs

Stay Sober - Get the Boys Home

Kiwisaver? Or work 'till you die.

Danger

Cheese, Kindergarten or Timber?

13. Southernmost Polynesia Just like the islands of Hawaii are the northernmost Polynesian islands, the islands of New Zealand are the most southern. For some reason we thought when we left Tonga we were leaving Polynesia largely behind but were happily surprised to find that is definitely not the case. Maori culture is very similar to that of the Marquesans (some believe the Maori came from eastern Polynesia originally). They say Auckland is the largest Polynesian city with not only a large Maori population but people from Tahiti, the Cooks, Tonga, Samoa, Niue, Fiji also have made their home here now. While it’s regretful that they are unable to make a good living back in their home islands, we love the vibrant culture that Pacific islanders have added to the already Polynesian New Zealand: the food, music, art, tattoos and color of Polynesia is all around us here and we love it.

Maori carving at the Arataki Visitor Center, Waitakere Ranges

Maori carving at the Arataki Visitor Center, Waitakere Ranges

14. Panelbeaters Our first car here was a late-90s model Subaru station wagon, just like the many others we had back in Washington but with the steering wheel on the wrong side. Well, one day Michael was turning into the parking lot at our marina and the car behind him neglected to stop and dented the trunk fairly badly. Since the car was only worth about $2000 we thought for sure the insurance company would total the car and just give us the cash. Nope. They paid nearly $2500 to fix and repaint the whole aft end of the car by a local “panelbeater” shop. (We sold that car not long after for $1800. Sigh). The whole point of this is to illustrate that New Zealanders are loathe to just throw perfectly good things out if they can be fixed. Since we are stuck on two tiny islands thousands of kilometers from anywhere, people here don’t abandon things that are broken, they fix them. Or beat them back into shape, apparently.

15. Cussing and boobs If you are offended by hearing f-bombs on the radio in the middle of the day or nekked boobies on your television after the kids are in bed, well, you should probably keep your radio and TV off here because no one else seems to mind. We get Hell Pizza delivered right to our boat on a regular basis and I nearly neglected to stop my own car on Ponsonby road one day when I looked up and saw this billboard:

Traffic Stopping Billboard

16. Kids in bars The first time we visited the local sailors pub to grab a pint and a bite to eat we tentatively stepped into the dusty dim room and asked if kids could eat inside. “Sure,” the barkeep said, “As long as they don’t drink or smoke!” Yeah, I think we’ll stay for a while.

The can get their own drinks.

They can get their own drinks.

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.

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.

Autumn in Auckland

Westhaven Summer

It’s officially autumn here in the southern hemisphere. The days continue to be sunny and warm in Auckland. The locals tell us that this is very unusual, that they haven’t had a summer at all for the past several years. I think it might just be the typical Kiwi humbleness showing through again. We were led to believe that the weather here was terrible, blustery and cold every day, sideways rain. Maybe that’s just our newbie ignorance showing through. The season is early.

Truth be told, we’re all sideways when it comes to the seasons and can’t tell which month it is, which season we’re in exactly without consulting the calendar on a daily basis. You take it for granted how innate it is in your own hemisphere. Back home, March means daffodils coming up, Easter chocolates, fresh green leaves on the trees, longer days and more sun. Here, March means back to school, autumn leaves, rain squalls, crisper mornings. It feels like Halloween, and Thanksgiving, and Christmas carols are right around the corner, but they surely aren’t.

Holly bikes Auckland

Easter is coming up and I’m not sure (if I was the decorating kind anyway) if I should be scattering autumn leaves around the boat or Easter flowers. It just feels all wrong. But anyway, this will be our first winter in two years and we’re actually looking forward to turning on a heater again, donning our cozy fleeces and jeans. I’m not sure about the socks though, the “jandals” may have to stay all year.

One thing we do know is that this is the time of year that is buzzing with cruising excitement, wherever you happen to be on your boat. Over on the west coast of North America, boat crews are busy prepping and jumping off for the South Pacific. (It’s impossible for us to believe that it’s been exactly a year since we did the same!) In the Northwest, boats are getting ready for a summer shakedown then a boogie down the coast to Mexico in a few months. Even here in New Zealand it’s already time for the finishing touches of pricey refits to be completed and passages north, whether to Fiji, Tonga, or Tahiti to be charted out for April and May.

We nearly forgot about the joys of daysailing, especially how special it is to see the smile on a first-timer's face as the wind begins to pull us along.

We nearly forgot about the joys of daysailing, especially how cool it is to see the smile on a first-timer’s face as the wind begins to pull us along.

We can feel all this energy, even though we sit in a quiet marina, many of the Kiwi boats having been put away for the winter already in a winding-down season of furious sailing in the Hauraki Gulf. We want to be there too, in that crazy haze of stress-excitement-joy that is the weeks leading up to a big departure. I think we may have become addicted to that feeling, and then the one after where you are on your way to somewhere new and exciting aboard the little ship you lovingly prepared. Now, to be staying still for a while feels just like when you step onto an escalator that is out of order, when you expect your body to be carried upwards but instead there is just that lurching feeling and your legs feel heavy as they plod up the stairs.

We’ve been told that the long Easter weekend is the last hurrah for sailing, kind of like Labor Day weekend in the States. We’ve actually spent most of our weekends off the boat, or at least out and about exploring the city or the nearby beaches and forests. Looks like we might have to go out sailing too. Winter is on her way, so the calendar says.

We spent a weekend "baching it" at wild and gorgeous Piha beach. Less than an hour's drive from the city it feels like a world away. But New Zealand is like that and that's why we love her.

We spent a weekend “baching it” at wild and gorgeous Piha beach on the Tasman sea. Less than an hour’s drive from the city it feels like a world away. But New Zealand is like that and that’s why we love her.

Our little "bach" at Piha beach. The girls are sandy and wet and running for the bathtub soon to be filled with hot water and bubbles. The simple things are the best.

Our little “bach” at Piha beach. The girls are sandy and wet and running for the bathtub soon to be filled with hot water and bubbles. This simple little nearly 100-year-old house felt like a mansion to us.

Yesterday was the first day of autumn. I think change is in the air.

Yesterday was the first day of autumn. I think change is in the air.

Raft-UP: UN-moving afloat

Off to school

“Back when I was a kid I had to walk three kilometers down the dock to school…”

The Raft-UP topic for March is “Moving Aboard” – making the transition from land to sea, from deciding to go cruising to moving aboard the boat to dealing with slack-jawed family and friends and finally cutting the lines to head to sea. But this topic is well covered on just about every sailing blog out there (including ours: see this and this and this); it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s thrilling to think and write about and share.

What you don’t read much about however is what happens when it is all over, or at least when a long hiatus from long-distance sailing looms. This is not a fun topic to think about, write, or share but it’s probably more important than the beginning simply because nothing can quite prepare you for what happens after the dream has been achieved. With our South Pacific adventure on Wondertime coming to a close for now, this is the third time we’ve made the transition from sea to land and I can say that for us, this is much much more difficult than leaving.

At first, life on land seems thrilling and novel. Well stocked grocery stores are right down the street and I can fill up the back of the car with our weekly stores and drive the whole lot practically to our boat without breaking a hint of a sweat. I’m still getting used to the fact that I don’t need to stock up on everything; if I run out one of us can pop over to the nearby dairy to grab a dozen eggs. Internet is fast and I’m learning where all the free spots are. I’ve got a cell phone again and can get mail anytime right at our post office box up the street. Our library card gets weekly use and our sheets are always clean thanks to the abundance of laundries around town. Even “cask” [so much nicer than “boxed”] wine is plentiful and cheap here.

For the first time in over seven years the Wondertime family is spread across the city, off on their very own separate adventures. Michael has been busy collecting paychecks through his IT consulting gig. Leah started Year 3 at a local primary school a few weeks ago, a wonderful happy place with students from all over the world. (She has three best friends already.) This week, Holly started preschool (or “kindy” as they call it here) and is over the moon to get to paint each and every day. She attends for a few hours in the mornings which gives me some time to myself each day, the delights of which I haven’t experienced since 2005.

As usual, Holly is the one that vocalizes what the rest of us are unable to put into words. “How many more days does Dad have to go to work for? How much longer does Leah have to go to school?” She sees this as something temporary, a break from our real life up in the islands where we were together each and every day. Where we slept until we weren’t tired any more, read books together and alone, explored the infinite beaches, swam, watched fish, had dinners with friends most nights. We heard new languages, tried new fruits, listened to new music and danced together. We always knew what phase of the moon it was.

Now we have alarms, schedules, traffic, and only a few hours in which to gather together each night to share how we spent our days. I tackle my daily list of to-dos, rush around from one activity to the next. To cope, we tell ourselves that Holly must be right, maybe this is temporary. But maybe it’s not. We like New Zealand, quite a lot, and we might have the opportunity to live here for a very long time. Leah loves her school and her teacher, loves seeing  friends her age every day and having a routine to count on – things she needed but that we couldn’t give her while sailing from place to place.

We all miss what we had though, as I knew we would. Many times a day memories will come flashing over me and I am transported for a few seconds with visions so real and vivid I am almost back to the islands, to the white sand beaches, the hot green mountains, my hands sticky with sweet pamplemousse. There is a frangipani tree next to our marina office and each time I pass I am walking down a road wet from rain in the Marquesas, island music pouring from every home. Some days it’s impossible to tell what is temporary and what is real.

 

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: