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Forever or failure?

5 years ago today. Motoring in typically glassy summer PNW waters to Canada.

5 years ago today. Motoring in typically glassy summer PNW waters to Canada.

My friend and Voyaging with Kids co-author Michael Robertson wrote a post back in April, one I’ve been thinking about ever since. It’s a good post; to me it says stop worrying about whether you will like cruising or not. Just go. You might like it or you might not but the only way to find out is to find out. Excellent advice.

But something about this concept bothers me–and it’s not Michael’s idea, but a common perception in the wider cruising community. And that is the idea that you’re cut out to be a full-time cruising sailor. Or you’re not. What, you only cruised for two years? And only to New Zealand? Too bad you couldn’t hack it.

I call b.s. on that. Who cruises forever anyway? Can you think of anybody besides Cap’n Fatty? I sure can’t.

But I’m guilty of thinking the same silly thing, over and over. They only sailed to Mexico? They must have chickened out and scrapped their plans for the South Pacific. They’re selling their boat after only a year? Must have been too hard. They couldn’t even get off the dock and they’re selling their boat? Ha! Another cruising-wannabe that couldn’t hack it.

These are terrible thoughts.

The reality is that people “stop” cruising for an infinite number of reasons but I don’t think any of them means they can’t hack cruising. We run out of money, or health. Or we just get tired of it and it’s not fun anymore. Boats break. Sometimes the kids we drag along really don’t like leaving their friends behind on a regular basis. It’s certainly not an easy or convenient way to live for months or years at a time. As Michael R. wrote, it is scary. We might miss home, and miss our families who can’t afford to fly around the world to meet us. Sometimes we’ve just had enough, dream fulfilled.

Cruising is not a forever or failure thing. Sometimes you go cruising for a while. And then you stop. You might go again one day, or not. This doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out for the cruising life. It means you did it, and then moved on to something else as we do just about everything in life. Michael J. and I have work-cruised-work-cruised-work-cruised-worked for over 17 years now and it’s a life that suits us. I’m sure we’re not done yet. (I can’t seem to hack staying put, either.)

I don’t think there’s anything such as failure when it comes to cruising. Cruising success is not measured in distance, or time. Even if you “only” take your boat out on the weekends, maybe a week out to the San Juans, you learn something about yourself, something important. And that’s the journey we’re all on.

Exploring our for-now backyard.

Exploring our for-now backyard.

Simple things.

Simple things.

Why we’re stuck in New Zealand: that’s Leah amongst her āpiti wearing her favourite pink sweatshirt, doing the kapa haka.


How to Move Back to New Zealand in 59 Easy Steps

Back in NZ!Despite all our years of writing about sailing, the most popular post on our blog ever remains How to Move to New Zealand in 31 Easy Steps. We’ve gotten hundreds (okay, maybe 99 or so) emails from people all over the world asking for more details on how we did it and how do they get started in their own immigration process. We’re not immigration consultants, so we can’t give any advice other than just do it, you won’t regret it. Which is but one of many, many reasons we decided to follow our own advice, again.

I’m typing this from the friends’ couch we’ve been surfing on for the past few days in Auckland, New Zealand. We arrived, bleary-eyed from our 14 hours of flying, two days ago and I can report with definity that it is SO good to be back in this beautiful, happy, peaceful country.

But it’s been a busy, busy, six weeks.

1. Decide to finally listen to the voice in my head that’s been screaming the past year this is not right! you were where you were supposed to be! sure the woods are beautiful and the house comfortable…but there is so much more out there….

2. Drink a wee dram or two of scotch on a late-April Friday night with Michael.

3. Fantasize about giving it all up and moving back to New Zealand to continue our residency.

4. Start planning to give it all up and move back to New Zealand to continue our residency.

5. Look up plane tickets online.

6. Find one-way tickets at a great price.

7. Decide to sleep on it.

8. Wake up.

9. Realize that we weren’t that drunk after all.

10. Buy plane tickets.

11. Decide to rent out house.

12. Realize there’s no way in hell we’d be able to rent house for enough to cover mortgage even if we worked day and night for six weeks to finish the basement doubling the size of the house.

13. Put house on the market.

14. Give stuff away.

15. Sell stuff on Craigslist.

16. Clean house.

17. Give our dog to the family who’d fostered her from the shelter originally and were over the moon to have her cuteness back.

18. Give our kitties to my sister-in-law’s mom who now adores them (thank you Lisa!!!).

19. Give stuff away.

20. Sell stuff on Craigslist.

21. Reopen our NZ bank account.

22. Wire some money over.

23. Michael quits job.

24. Get storage unit.

25. Start filling it with stuff.

26. Pack stuff.

27. Give stuff away.

28. Start making piles of stuff to bring, trying to stick to the essentials (clothes, shoes, toiletries, electronics, 4 stuffies per each kid, basic drawing supplies, journals, Legos, coats, books, sleeping bags, Kindles, Aeropress).

Packing for a year or more for a family of four? Not my most favorite step.

Packing for a year or more for a family of four? Not my most favorite step.

29. Make arrangements to stay with friends our first few nights.

30. Start researching motorhome market on trademe.

31. Sell our family car.

32. Cancel gymnastics & dance classes.

33. Cancel cell phones, internet, garbage service, car insurance.

34. Keep house clean between showings.

We made the last bubble bath in the house a good one.

We made sure the last bubble bath in the house was a good one.

35. Invite friends over for a final Bon Voyage Bonfire.

36. Give stuff away.

37. Return shitty mattress to Costco.

38. Pack everything into six large bags to check and four small backpacks to carry on plane.

...but I did it!!

…but I did it!!

39. Give food to neighbors.

40. Lots of teary goodbyes.

41. Load up our little old pickup and drive to Grandpa’s house.

42. Enjoy a last weekend with family.

43. Give pickup to Grandpa in exchange for a ride to the airport.

44. Pile in Grandpa’s car and head to airport which includes a ferry ride to Seattle.

45. Another teary goodbye.

46. Unload all 14 bags.

47. Check 6 of them.

48. Wait to board flight. Enjoy the first hours with nothing to do in weeks.

The secret to travelling long distances with kids? ELECTRONIC DEVICES.

The secret to traveling long distances with kids? ELECTRONIC DEVICES.

49. Enjoy the last free and fast Wifi we’ll see in a very long time.

50. First flight to Los Angeles (2 hours).

51. Second flight to Auckland (12 hours).

We flew on Air NZ's brand new Boeing 777. The economy seats are as small and agonizing as ever, but the entertainment can't be beat.

We flew on Air NZ’s brand new Boeing 777. The economy seats are as small and agonizing as ever, but the entertainment and free wine can’t be beat.

52. Arrive Auckland at 6:30 am.

53. Try not to jump up and down with giddiness when immigration officer stamps our passports and says “welcome back!”

54. Enjoy amazingly delicious flat white coffees.

55. Grab new sim cards right at the airport.

56. Shuttle to Jucy rental car facility to pick up our El Cheapo.

57. Upgrade car to next larger since can’t fit all bags in the super compact.

58. Drive to bank to see if debit card is there waiting for us as promised.

59. Disappointed that it’s not. But who cares? We’re back in New Zealand.

Best friends, reunited. Traveling has always been about the connections we make with people along the way and we are so grateful to be on this path again.

Best friends, reunited. Traveling has always been about the connections we make with people along the way and we are so grateful to be on this path again.

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.


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.

Tomorrow We Leap

It’s our last night in Mexico.

The produce is stowed, the anchors secure. Tomorrow morning we take our last land showers for a month, call our families, fill the water and diesel tanks and go.

We’ll motor out of the breakwater here at the San Jose del Cabo marina where we’ve been doing our final provisioning, eating our last fish tacos and ice-cream bars and received the stamps in our passports that say we’ve left Mexico. We’ll turn right, put up the sails and head straight into the middle of nowhere. We are elated and terrified all at once. A lot of the time we are just nothing: simply working on the list. Check, check, check. All the boxes are marked, it’s time to leave. Our friend and crewmember Matt described this feeling perfectly: it just feels inevitable. Like this huge ball got rolling sometime long ago and we’ve clung on and suddenly here we are: poised to sail across the biggest ocean on the planet.

We’ve prepared the girls for the long trip ahead, talked a lot together about how this is the longest we’ve ever sailed by far. They seem to take it in stride, as they do nearly all our cruising challenges now. Someone at the marina asked Leah how long she was going to be at sea. She just shrugged like an old salt and said, “Oh, about a month.” I think they are excited to get their busy and distracted parents all to themselves for weeks on end. I know we are all looking forward to the togetherness time at sea brings.

We try to imagine what it will feel like. Sailing day after day after day. We’ve read the blogs of other puddle jumpers for years and now that we are at the starting line it’s very surreal. This time it’s us. I can picture the start, the first few days of exhaustion while we get our sea legs. I can imagine the end, when we see that first bit of green on the horizon and pick up the sweet odor of land and our hearts soar with wonder. I know I will cry. The in-between though, that’s a mystery, unknown. A friend told me recently that he was excited to read what I write out at sea. I told him I can’t wait to see what is written either.

Tomorrow it begins.

We'll have one more Magnum ice-cream bar in the morning before we go. We are going to miss Mexico, a lot.



Ready for the big old Pacific Ocean

Our friend and crewmember Matt, along with his wife Kristin, arrived in La Paz last weekend. This means several things: (1) the cockpit finally got cleaned out so they have a place to sleep, (2) the girls adore them both which has left Michael and I more time to prepare for the crossing, and (3) it’s nearly time for us to start our life-changing passage across the Pacific Ocean.

Kristin and Matt, our crew

Kristin will travel with us over the next week to San Jose del Cabo where we will check out of Mexico, complete a run to Costco, and load up our fresh produce. Matt will stay onboard with us for the next 2700 or so nautical miles to Hiva Oa. Having our friend along will be an enormous help, as each of us will take only one 4-hour watch at night, allowing us to get at least 8 hours of sleep a day for ample energy to cook, sail and take care of and enjoy time with our girls. Matt also likes to cook, splice and he is a much better fisherman than we are so we plan to put his skills to use. He is also hilarious and we already enjoy his (and Kristin’s) fresh company onboard.

Yesterday afternoon we motored out of La Paz in calm waters. We’d had a slip at the dock for the past two weeks while we got the boat ready and piled on six heaping grocery cartloads of food. It was quite like the day we left Olympia over eight months ago; we knew we were ready to go but kept feeling like we’d forgotten something, along with the knowing that we were starting out on something really really big. Our friends on Del Viento tossed our docklines onboard and I was torn between the sadness of not wanting to leave our good friends who we shared so many fantastic times with over the past few months and the excitement of us each going off on our own adventures and meeting up to share our stories in another year or two.

A few packages awaited us at our friends’ home in San Diego

We are now anchored one last time at Bahia San Gabriel at Isla Espiritu Santo showing our friends one of our favorite beaches ever. There are a few things remaining on our list of things to do before we step off the continent but today we are enjoying the chance to wind down after a truly whirlwind last three weeks of final preparations. At the end of February, we flew to San Diego for the weekend to pick up a number of items we didn’t trust to ship across the border (i.e. a new autopilot, our repaired HAM radio as well as a used spare purchased on ebay, a New Found Metals portlight to install at the end of our bed which opens into the cockpit, South Pacific guidebooks and charts, and most importantly: pounds and pounds of Trader Joes dark chocolate).

Back in La Paz we checked the boat over from top to bottom, installed the new autopilot and portlight, fixed loose stitches on our sails, got dental cleanings, fillings, a crown, and an eye exam, enjoyed five crazy days of Carnaval, filled the propane and dive tanks, went to meetings with the other La Paz Puddle Jumpers, helped with the girls’ bake sale for Baja Dogs, picked up more clean, dried and folded laundry, shopped for, piled on and stowed food, food, and more food, paper towels, toilet paper and sunscreen.

Even so, we definitely found ourselves on Mexican time: by 5 pm every day we’d wrap up our work, go and find Leah who was off playing with her girlfriends, and meander down the malecon to our favorite beach restaurant. Here, the margaritas were excellent and, more importantly, had an impressive playground right in the sand for the kids to run around in while their parents unwound.

It was sitting here two nights ago that I realized how truly much we are going to miss warm, easy Mexico. We’ll be back. But for now the Pacific is calling and we’re on our way.

Stella’s in La Paz: a restuarant in Mexico that serves amazing Italian food and wicked margaritas, complete with a playground on the beach. It does not get any better than this.

Leah and Frances, being 6. Leah is going to miss her good friend and so are we.

It took me three days to stow six grocery carts of food. And we haven’t even been to Costco yet.

The Hum of Southern California

We’ve been in Southern California for a week and a half now. We wanted to love it down here, what with all the sunshine and palm trees and beaches. Trips down here in years past hold memories of wild times. Perhaps we are different people now, as we find ourselves only wishing to experience the wild again.

It’s a bustling coastline, bursting with people, cars, stores, buildings, houses, highways and every now and then a green park. Every time we find ourselves in port, as we are now in San Diego, we can’t help but write out a list of Things That Must Be Done/Bought/Fixed Before Leaving wherever we happen to be. Then we walk around as fast as we can and check them off, dragging our young charges with us, dangling the promise of an ice-cream cone in front of them.

It’s enough to make one dream of islands, of deserted beaches, of quiet protected harbors, of silence. We remember all our weeks up in the splendor of British Columbia and our heart hurts for the memory of beauty and stillness that seems impossible now. Maybe that is homesickness.

But there are islands ahead, and beaches and beauty and wildness. One more week of checking the items off our list, a night of trick-or-treating, then we’ll sail to Mexico. There is a hum of excitement aboard, that sometimes drowns out the exhaustion. We are surrounded by boats at the police dock here also in the last throes of preparations to head south, to a country that really feels foreign and doesn’t have fog. The energy is contagious. We’re almost there.

Two Months.

how we hope to spend next week

We left Olympia two months ago today. In some ways it seems like we left E dock yesterday, but the heavy weight of our buckets of memories makes it feel like years ago.

Our friend and crewmember Garth will join us on Friday. If the weather forecast is still clear we will sail due south from Ucluelet towards San Francisco. Our plan is to stick to the inshore route, that is, 10-20 miles off the coast. This area typically has lighter winds although we will have to contend with more shipping traffic and possibly more fog. However should the forecast turn unfavorable we can easily stop in Grays Harbor, Newport, Coos Bay, Crescent City, Eureka.

We’re extremely grateful that we decided to sail down the west coast of Vancouver Island after all; the trip has given the girls and us valuable experience sailing in ocean swells and much greater confidence in sailing together as a family. It’s going to be a whole different ballgame sailing 24/7 for six or seven or eight days straight though without the chance to stretch our legs. I’m thinking it will be like our other long days off the coast have been with lots of naps and much of my time just spent preparing food and cleaning up the aftermath of meals. And hanging on.

For weeks I’ve been quite nervous about our upcoming passage, to the point where I’d be nearly shaking with anxious chills. This is my third trip down this coast and I know how ugly it can get out there. But as the time to depart has come closer I (we) have gotten more and more excited about simply being in California and all the new and old friends we are anxious to meet up with. Weather forecasting has gotten a lot better in the past 10 years and we’ve certainly gotten better at reading it. And after navigating around all these treacherous rocks and islets off Vancouver Island the past few weeks I’m truly looking forward to being out in clear open water for a while.

It’s been becoming more and more of a struggle to stay focused on the present, to savor these last days in the Northwest. At least five times an hour I think of the upcoming trip and what’s on our to-do list before we depart on Saturday and get a little shiver of nervousness and a flutter of excitement about the long glorious hours of sailing ahead and our landfall in an entirely new landscape.

So, today, two months after leaving in Olympia, we pulled back into Ucluelet which is our last Canadian port. We’ll do laundry again, buy some provisions, sew up some leecloths for the girl’s bunks, inspect the rigging, restock our ditch bag, button up down below, and head to the playground in town a few more times. The shakedown is over, now it’s time to sail.

Countdown to cruising: 1 day to go

That’s it. Our final full day in town is done. Last items have been put into our 5’x5′ storage unit, trip to Trader Joes complete (I had no idea you could even haul $400 worth of food in one of those tiny carts! Must be all the chocolate I stocked up on). We also picked up a netbook to use for navigation so our main laptop won’t have to carry all the computing duties. Leah and I got haircuts, we visited some treasured friends in our old neighborhood, made one last trip to West Marine, hauled home a 15 lb. bag of cat food (that should last our 8 lb. cat a while at least), ran through the car wash, unloaded the car one last time, delivered our dear old Subaru to her new owner, visited with some dock neighbors, tucked our exhausted girls into bed, and I headed out for one final Mom’s Night Out at our favorite pub.

I came home to this:

I’ll get on it in the morning.

Countdown to cruising: 2 days to go

Today was provisioning day (well, provisioning day #1 since it continues tomorrow too). Completed today were my trips to Fred Meyer and Costco. Tomorrow I hit Trader Joes for all our true favorites. We are expecting food up on Vancouver Island to carry a hefty price tag since it’s 1. an island and 2. the exchange rate is pretty poor right now for us Americans. While I know that we’ll be gathering fresh bits here and there I am trying to fit as much as I can on the boat now since it’s so much cheaper to buy it down here.

I’m not a meal planning type of person, and my strategy is simply to stock up on the things we use normally that are easily stored onboard: diced tomatoes, onions, beans, ground turkey, tofu, oatmeal, soy milk, cornmeal, Cholula hot sauce, white and wheat flour, white and brown sugar, rice, dried fruit, nuts, pasta sauces, ramen noodles, coffee, Good Earth tea, and of course, Annie’s Mac & Cheese. And on and on.

Earlier today, I was on hour three, or maybe four, and pushing a 500 lb. cart past the pasta sauces in Costco when fatigue really started to set in. I thought: I don’t think I’m going to make it to the checkout counter. But then I remembered what I was doing: I wasn’t just grocery shopping. I was provisioning. As in, we are leaving with this food (unlikely put away yet) in two days on the trip we’ve been dreaming about for years and years. The cart felt a lot lighter after that illumination.