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simplelife

The book that changed our lives

Wondertime Girls at Cape Reinga

There are pivotal moments in a child’s life when a single hug is worth more than a dozen Hope Diamonds. Will you be there? Will you know? Will you be able to sense that moment and realize its importance? Will you have the wisdom to stop whatever mundane thing you are doing, embrace your child, and say, “I love you”?

—Gary “Cap’n Fatty” Goodlander, from the foreword to Voyaging With Kids

 

Voyaging With Kids Cover

Nearly a year has passed since we’ve returned to the U.S. from New Zealand.

It has been a busy and wonderful year. But it has not been an easy year.

We’ve manifested the idyllic home life we envisioned while afloat: cats and a dog and kids running around in the woods. Getting to spend time with our extended families again. A comfortable couch to put our feet up at the end of the day to watch Game of Thrones. All my books freed from their storage boxes and lined up neatly on shelves. Time to write, thanks to our local school district’s “school for homeschoolers.”

I have also spent most of the past year writing Voyaging With Kids with my two co-authors, Behan and Michael. Sometimes this was the most difficult thing of all, and for reasons completely unexpected. Sure there were the hours and hours of rewrites, sorting photos, interviewing other cruising families. The carpel tunnel in my right wrist flared up. My eyeballs bugged out, dry and gritty, from so many hours staring at my laptop screen. But this was not the difficult part: at the end of a long writing or editing day I’d fall asleep exhausted, but exhilarated, at what we were creating. It’s a really, really good book and anyone contemplating longer-term family travel–not just via boat–will find value in it.

No, the difficult part was writing about the time in our lives when we had…time. It seemed so simple, living and sailing aboard Wondertime. I know that many days were anything but that, and some days I wanted to jump overboard just to get a few moments to myself. But as our girls have grown, I see now that was due mostly to their ages. Now at 6 and 9 they entertain themselves for hours (they are doing just that right now as I type this). Which is what makes my heart hurt, the fact that they are growing up so, so fast and our time together just keeps speeding on. The weeks fly by with all our scheduled activities. Michael is at work 10 hours a day, what is required to pay for our new, idyllic life, and misses out on even more.

The difficult part was missing being a cruising family: slow meals together, hours to read aloud, playing games together, meandering down a warm, deserted beach, impromptu get-to-togethers with new friends. Watching our girls grow into fascinating, inquisitive people.

The difficult part is that the dreams won’t stop. Places we want to see, things we want to do… just keep coming. I felt like a fraud at times, writing about how amazing it is to travel as a family, how showing our girls the world and how other people live–and how much they are the same–was the best education we could possibly give them. How experiences are far more important than things. How time with people is more important than anything. All the while struggling to find these things in our new land life.

So a funny thing happened while writing a book that we hope will help many other families to let go of all that’s unimportant, take a chance, and go out and slowly explore the world.

It convinced me to do the same.

And then there’s something else. Another type of clock has been ticking, and as mid-June is approaching it’s been getting louder and louder. It’s the date our New Zealand residency will expire if we’re not back on NZ soil by then. When we flew back to the States last year we’d accepted that we were giving that up. Or so we thought.

Because, the truth be told, after all the soul-searching we’ve done the past year it’s become crystal clear: we’d rather live as paupers in a tiny RV in New Zealand, traveling around and getting some part-time work (or working part of the year) and having the rest to explore as a family. Time together again.

We left part of our hearts in that beautiful, friendly, socially-advanced country, but we thought we could let it go in favor of a “better” life. We didn’t get a better life, we got a different one. Some things are more difficult down there, some here. But one thing is for sure: we can’t let the dream, and the hope for the future, of our adoptive home of New Zealand go.

So we won’t. It’s time to let the wind blow us around again, for a little bit longer.

We spent our final week in NZ traveling in a small motorhome. The one will buy will not be even close to this luxurious. But no matter. We know what true luxury means: time together.

We spent our final week in NZ traveling in a small motorhome. The one we’ll buy when we’re back in early June will not be even close to this luxurious. But no matter. We know what true luxury means: time together.

Driving in New Zealand doesn't have all the drama of voyaging under sail...but it's close.

Driving in New Zealand doesn’t have all the drama of voyaging under sail…but it’s close.

Where else can you wake up to find miniature ponies outside your front door?

Where else can you wake up to find miniature ponies outside your front door?

There is so much cool shit to see.

There is so much cool shit to see.

"Mom, can we go back to Piha when we go back to New Zealand?" Yes, yes we can, Holly.

“Mom, can we go back to Piha when we go back to New Zealand?”

The Things We Are Bringing Ashore

The first salmon arrived in our creek last November. They are gone now, leaving only their bones and tiny pink salmon eggs that will hatch in the spring.

The first salmon swam up our creek last November. They are gone now; only their bones and the tiny pink salmon eggs that are their future remain.

It’s no fun to think about a long cruise coming to an end. As I’ve claimed before, I still think it’s the worst part of cruising although missing family and friends back home and lightening rank right up there. Cruising changes you, and it’s incredibly difficult to figure out how to fit yourself back among the things that don’t change and those that did while you were away at sea, when you’re not even sure how you’ve changed to begin with and can’t remember what you were like before. See? Fun times.

Part of the process that’s helped for us is to consider what we want to take from our sea life to our current land life. I don’t subscribe to the theory that cruising boats hold the patent on simple, environmentally-sensitive living (in fact, maintaining a big salt-encrusted boat is anything but simple and have you smelled bottom paint lately?) But there are many, many things about our liveaboard lives that we treasure, and those are what we will bring ashore with us. Here’s a few:

Small Living

Our house is a mere 1,100 square feet. For four people living under one roof in America that nearly qualifies us as a Tiny Home family. But not quite: we have two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with a ginormous bathtub), a kitchen, a living room, and an enclosed section of porch that is our cats’ room/my office/guest room/toy room/craft area. The people that built our house put in one of those 1980s intercom systems. We think that’s hilarious as we’re never more than 10 feet from each other, still. We can light up our living room pellet stove and the whole house is over 80F in an hour. It’s cozy in every sense of the word and we can’t imagine ever needing more space than this.

Our house is small, but the tub is big.

Our house is small, but the tub is big.

Less Stuff

I’ll admit this remains my nemesis. No matter how hard we try to resist it, stuff just keeps coming our lives and we must resist resist resist. It doesn’t help that you can buy anything and everything here in the U.S. and it’s practically all cheap. I’m a thrift shop junkie, but I have to keep reminding myself that just because that wool coat at Goodwill is only $15 doesn’t mean I need to add another to the lineup in our coat closet. The thing is, it took four months for our 26 boxes of stuff (yeah, I know) to arrive from New Zealand and I think I only missed maybe one box of it. For months we lived with what we’d carried with us on the plane and the couple of boxes of household goods we’d left in storage. One trip to the Goodwill for some plates and bowls and we were set. It was enough. More than enough, actually: the simplicity of a few loved items and pieces of clothing feels so much more liberating than having to look into overstuffed closets and wondering what to toss. Less is more. Except when it comes to books.

Energy Efficiencies

We will always love the self-sufficiency of living on a boat at anchor. We caught rain to drink, we made power from the sun. We dried our clothes on the lifelines. Now, we still catch rain to drink…technically (we have a well) and last summer I would hang our clothes out on a rack to dry in the sun. I do enjoy our dishwasher and my ancient washing machine, even though it shrieks like a banshee during the spin cycle. The house is brick, has 1-foot thick insulation on all sides, and an efficient heat pump. It’s very cozy. And we’ve been slowly replacing all the light bulbs in our house with LED versions, just like we did aboard Wondertime.

Winter Forest

Immersion in Nature

Another thing we loved about cruising was being fully immersed in nature. We felt a true part of the earth; there was no insulation against the beauty and the terror of nature. It was marvelous. While Auckland will always be our favorite city on earth, after 18 months there we knew we weren’t cut out for permanent city life. Now, we’re surrounded by acres of native forest, fresh air, wild animals (we saw a bobcat sneaking away at dusk the other night). Except: now we sleep like babies when the wind howls through the trees during these winter storms that roar through.

Doing Nothing

We believe–especially after experiencing how rushed everyone seems to be on land–that it’s so important to spend time doing, well, nothing. For a while, we’d get all worked up that we didn’t have any plans for the upcoming weekend. But then we took a step back and realized: who cares?? We enjoy just sitting around watching the moss grow together. The girls come up with all sorts of imaginary games on their own still. They build forts, open up “pet shops.” Letting them have unstructured time to just be kids is one of the best gifts we can give them. We used to do this for weeks on end, after all.

Immersed in new books after a trip to our local library.

Immersed in new books after a trip to our local library.

Homeschooling

We gave school a go. We really did. A year or so of school in New Zealand, and half a year here back in the States. But we don’t think it’s for us. Not now at least. Here’s how I know:

  • When I walk into the girls’ elementary school here, it feels exactly like the one I went to 30 years ago. True, they have far less recess and time for art now, but nothing else has changed. It’s all the same: curriculums, worksheets, standardized tests, naughty chairs. We know this doesn’t work and it’s no way to prepare kids for the “just in time” way we seek out knowledge and information in our modern world—why are we still teaching kids this way?
  • Leah told me that she’s the student responsible for putting up the window shade when their school does intruder (read: shooter) drills.
  • With the exception of recess and lunch, they really don’t like school.

But they love learning. So that’s what we’re going to let them do.

A New BHAG

All our friends laughed at us when we got back. “How long is this going to last?” they asked. Who knows? We sure don’t. But we know we love the Pacific Northwest, we love living in our little house in the woods, and we love sailing. We love traveling together. We love Mexico too. We love showing our girls all the possibility that the world offers, that’s theirs for the taking. We’re working on a plan to combine all those things for the long haul, to make our next Big Hairy Audacious Goal happen.

Michael has been working on finishing our basement. It will be a 1-bedroom apartment that we'll rent out to help fund more (part-time) cruising.

Michael has been working on finishing our basement. It will be a 1-bedroom apartment that we’ll rent out to help fund more (part-time) cruising.

I hope she likes riding in the dinghy.

I hope she likes riding in the dinghy.

 

Home Waters

Back on the water, Olympia, WA USA

We went sailing last weekend. It was late Sunday afternoon, on a friend’s small boat. We sailed back and forth in superlight summer breeze across the head of Olympia’s Budd Inlet. After a whirlwind past four months, we felt…done.

Back in May, still in New Zealand, we bought a house in our old, affordable Olympia neighborhood next to Capitol Forest, packed and shipped our stuff back to the U.S., moved Wondertime to the sales dock in Whangarei, kissed our good ship good-bye, took a quick RV trip up to Cape Reinga, jetted back to Washington State, signed our house papers, moved our eight bags in, unloaded our storage unit, bought some patio chairs, then sat back and listened to the birds twitter in the tops of our 7 acres of trees with a proper Pacific Northwest IPA in hand.

Was it as easy as that? God no. Many times during the process of returning home did I feel like I was going to explode into a thousand pieces. But it was necessary, and knowing that kept us going. Earlier this year, we tired of the struggle and pulled the plug. It was that simple. The lack of any kind of support system was wrecking havoc on our family. Struggling to make financial ends meet in one of the most expensive cities in the world was disheartening, with Michael trudging off to a well-paying job daily. We had to sneakaboard to sleep in our home. We couldn’t afford to visit our families, and they couldn’t afford to visit us. We missed them, and were sad they had missed so much of our girls growing up already. Our simple life aboard and abroad had become anything but. We love New Zealand so, it was a terrible decision to make.

Somehow, it all came together and we were back in Olympia by late May. In June, Michael started work again and the girls and I kept ourselves busy making our new house a home (o massive thrift shops! how I missed you!), rekindled old friendships, and played in our creek. It’s been a quiet summer: catching frogs, getting to know our new/old neighbors better, carving trails, camping in the backyard, fireworks, sprinklers, s’mores over the fire, watching the weeds grow. Settling back in. Missing New Zealand profoundly, as we knew we would. Everyone does.

It’s late August now, only two more weeks until school starts up. Michael’s been helping our good friend Garth (you might remember reading about him on our way south, he was our first brave crewmember) get the engine of his little Pearson 28 running before summer’s run out. We finally got the chance to head out with him last weekend, on a perfect PNW late-summer afternoon.

Sailing our favorite waters

Of course, the engine wouldn’t start when we got out to the boat. Not a problem for Michael MacGyver Johnson who jumped below, contorted his body in impossible ways in the tiny quarter cabin and rewired that sucker. He was determined to get us out on the water.

As expected, the engine purred to life soon after and we puttered out of the marina. In 5 knots of wind we put up the sails, cut the engine, and felt the weight of our world drop away at the so familiar sound of water trickling past the hull.

Leah had been below reading her kindle (having earlier refused to go out with us because “my sailing days are over” and “sailing is stupid”). She grabbed a life jacket and joined Holly on the bow. Not far ahead was Hope Island and she suddenly begged to go there, to see the Onion Tree once again, hike our trail again. We hated to break it to her that we were only out for a few hours, and besides we hadn’t a dinghy with us and weren’t going to swim ashore. Another day, we promised.

Sailing girls, Olympia

We zig-zagged back and forth several times, then Michael handed me the tiller. It had been a long, long time since I’d held a tiller on a small boat. Such a simple and true thing. Just a titch in one direction or the other and I could feel the exact moment when the boat was satisfied. I’d hold it there for a while, and then the wind would shift a bit, or change in velocity and I’d have to make the proper adjustment. Then we’d carry on.

With the tiller in my hand, I saw that everything I wanted is right here: two beautiful, happy children, a partner in life, love, and adventure who is willing to grow and change alongside me, a loving community, a cozy home, a daily shower, a desk of my own, cats sleeping under it, paid writing gigs, memories of grand adventures and seeds of more to come, and my beloved Salish sea, once again on our doorstep.

Our house. "It's shaped like a boat!" my Dad said when I emailed him the line drawings from NZ.

Our little house. “It’s shaped like a boat!” my Dad said when I emailed him the line drawings from NZ.

 

Brand new simple pleasures

 

Our backyard. No nature deficit disorder here.

Our backyard. No nature deficit disorder here. The creek will be filled with putrefying salmon come November. They swim from the ocean into Puget Sound, down into Mud Bay, and upstream to our little creek where they leave their little ones to grow.

 

My dream come true: a writing desk with a view

My dream come true: a writing desk with a view, and the sound of ravens outside.

 

Meet cat #3 (not a typo): Lulu. We love her.

Meet cat #3 (not a typo): Lulu. We love her. She joins Penny and Tui, older siblings we adopted from our local cat rescue.

A Good Voyage

last night at sea

Two years ago today we were sailing across the Pacific Ocean. Three adults, two kids on our 38-foot boat. We were almost there, in fact: the equatorial doldrums were behind us and the lush island of Hiva Oa was only four more sleeps away. The air was soft and warm. Our trusted ketch was charging along towards her landfall with the wind positioned perfectly on her side. The beam reach to paradise every sailor dreams of.

It still feels like a dream, even now. The kind you wake up from, disappointed to have been shaken out of it. You close your eyes and want to slide back into the land of dreams, back into the billows of sweetness that filled your sleep. But it’s slipped through your fingers and you’re suddenly wide awake and the dream is gone. But not really; the memory of it is vivid and it makes you smile as you lay there, remembering. The memory of it is enough.

It’s taken us two years to digest the enormity of the voyage we undertook when we departed Olympia in 2011. In a way, the past year and a half of sitting still has provided us more time for introspection than all the nights at sea put together. Truth be told, when we slipped into the dark Bay of Island waters, engineless, that night we arrived in New Zealand I knew the voyage was done. The four of us had succeeded, together, and made it safely to our destination with a million memories made along the way. Our dream had become real.

The satisfaction hasn’t waned since then. Sometimes I close my eyes and the memories are so vivid and real it’s like I’m right back there: snuggling in our bunk, reading to the girls as the boat rolls along with the swells, laughing late into the night with friends newly-met, Leah and Holly’s incredible sisterly bond, Holly dancing the hula in Bora Bora at 3, watching piglets scurry along a Tongan road, burying each other in beach sand because it’s the only thing we need to do that day.

I’ve wondered what our young daughters will remember of the journey, but now I know that’s not what’s important. They might not remember the details, but they each have gained a deep sense of possibility. They understand that you push onward through the challenges to get whatever it is you want. They are old enough to see the ones I plow through on a daily basis. They know there is so much more to see of the world, that it is a huge, fascinating place and we’re already dreaming up new adventures together, even if not aboard the deck of Wondertime. Leah wants to travel to India, Antarctica, and scuba dive in Fiji and I don’t doubt she will. Holly wants to be a singer and a dancer and we will help her make that real.

A few things have come to the forefront of the many hours of rumination Michael and I have shared together, and alone. What’s truly important is the lessons that we’ll all bring along with us in all our future endeavors. It’s not a long list, but it’s the only one we need:

The most important thing is the people who love us.

Life is everything.

This is true everywhere.

The open sea is not calling me as it once was. Just knowing she’s out there is enough. It’s time to go home. And give back.

landfall

Landfall, Hiva Oa. April 12, 2012.

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.

Blood Draw

In the cloudsThe phlebotomist tightened the strap on my right arm. She was getting ready to draw three tubes of my blood, the last step of my immigration medical exam. She double checked my passport which lay on the desk in front of her. Then suddenly she asked me what seemed like a simple question: “Do you like the United States or New Zealand better?”

The young woman’s slight accent hinted that she had learned English at a very young age, her golden skin and dark hair told that her family was from another sunny island in the Pacific. Her belly was huge, she clearly was due to have a child of her own any day now. I found I didn’t know how to answer her so I stalled. “Have you ever been to the United States?”

“No, but I would like to someday,” she replied.

“It’s very big,” I stated randomly and wracked my brain for the answer to her question, when all I could think of was how surprised I was that I suddenly couldn’t answer such a simple thing. “Everyone in New Zealand has health care. That’s really nice,” I finally blurted out.

“Just look at the poster on the wall. I’m going to draw your blood now,” she suggested.

I looked up at the poster. It was a government notice that all children going into school at age 5 were eligible for a free health checkup. It reminded me how thankful I was that since Michael has a two-year work visa that he and the girls are in New Zealand’s public health system now. It’s the first health care we’ve had in nearly two years.

“They actually seem quite similar to me,” I finally said. “They are beautiful countries.”

“I think Americans are so friendly,” she pondered aloud. I wasn’t sure if she was suggesting that New Zealanders were otherwise so I just agreed, “Yes, I think they are too. Kiwis can be a bit more, um, reserved.” I could relate to most Kiwis in this regard though, being one of the shyer Americans myself.

The poster in front of me blurred as she silently filled the tubes of blood. All the reasons I love America came flooding in suddenly but I didn’t think it was the type of answer she was looking for: my Dad, my step-mom, my brothers and their wives, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, Michael’s family, our friends, the girls’ friends they’ve known since they were infants. This was all I could feel that America had that New Zealand didn’t.

The woman withdrew the needle and placed a cotton ball on the wound. “Hold this for a moment,” she said and got a piece of tape ready. “That’s it! You’re done,” she declared. “Best of luck with your visa.”

“Thank you,” I replied, “Good luck with your new baby!” She smiled as I walked out the door back into the lobby, then out the glass sliding doors into the bluish glare of the Aotearoa sunlight.

Transitioning to the world of to-dos

Wondertime girls at Roberton Island, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Wonder. Time.

I realized yesterday what it is that has been driving me crazy lately. Anxiety has been creeping into my soul once again, a sense of hurry that starts as soon as I open my eyes each morning. The feeling that there is not enough time in the day. Going to bed each night thinking of what I didn’t get done that day and wondering if I can get it done tomorrow.

It’s my new to-do list.

One of our most favorite places in Auckland so far? The library!

One of our most favorite places in Auckland so far? The library!

I haven’t had a to-do list for well over a year now and as we head out of cruising mode and into – what? – work/school/errand/shop/whatever-you-call-this-not-moving mode I’ve starting making the lists that ruled my life before we spent all our days exploring little bits of land by sea. It seems there’s a lot to do to fit in to city life, and more importantly, make and spend money which is mostly what every metropolis seems about. I’ve got lists of things to buy, places to explore, homeschool activities to sign up for, items to complete for our work and student visas, books to read, blog posts to write, boat projects, appointments to make….

Did I not have these things before? What has changed exactly? Sure, some days were busy during our time in the islands. When we got to town there were provisions to buy, laundry to drop off, ice-cream cones to eat. Emails to write. Um. Hmm. I guess that’s it. Must be why I hadn’t had to jot down any tasks – there really weren’t any.

But we must have eaten a lot of ice-cream because here we are working on that cruising kitty again. And doing that in a new country requires a bit of red tape. And the price of not having a to-do list for a while simply means that quite a few things just got pushed into the future and we’ve finally met up with them. Then again, I just like making lists and tend to jot down any old thing that crosses my mind to do.

But then those lists tend to rule my days: I check my daily tasks in the morning and plan out how I’m going to get them done. The girls beg for pancakes but I make oatmeal again because pancakes take too long to make and clean up. I feel anxious when the girls want to get out the paint when I’m planning on heading out in an hour to the laundromat. Everyone wants to walk to the playground but I am struggling with the fact that I have 10 starred emails in my inbox…. By the end of the day I am exhausted and – of course – I check my to-do list and defer the four undone items for tomorrow.

Pt. Erin Community Pool

We love hot summer December days at the pool

One of the lessons that cruising has taught me is to take the lessons that cruising has taught me and bring them to the life we live when we are not moving. This one: that the best days are not the ones where I get the most things done. The best days are the ones without a list leading the way, where we just let the day unfold and explore the world however we feel that day and let whatever happens, happen. They are the days when we take the time to wonder.

We had such a day last weekend: Saturday morning dawned with a list of things we needed to do to go visit friends who live several hours up the coast for the weekend. We packed, made a treat to bring, showered. Out in the parking lot we found a screw embedded in the front tire of our car and drove out to a tire shop on the way out of the city (resulting in four brand-new tires to replace the bald ones). At noon, we found ourselves sitting in northbound traffic with the rest of Auckland’s residents heading out for a long New Year’s weekend. After taking nearly two hours to travel what normally takes 20 minutes, we phoned our friends and regretfully made plans to visit after the holidays. We felt terrible.

Nothing to do!It was a beautiful sunny summer December day so we headed over to the community pool for an afternoon swim. On the way home we got an invite from some new friends for a BBQ dinner at their Auckland home and drove over that evening. The wonderful visit and dinner culminated with a night stroll under the full moon to a park reserve near their home. We walked in the dark into the trees which led to rock caverns that were illuminated with the tiny fairy-lights of glowworms. It was absolute magic, an unforgettable evening for everyone. I couldn’t have planned that day if I tried and tried.

So this morning when I woke up I did the best thing I could think of to reduce all the weight these to-dos have been putting on my soul and our days: I started deleting them.

The view from our cockpit - our new playground!

The view from our cockpit – our new playground!

With her rust stains, chipped paint and bowsprit, Wondertime sticks out like a sore thumb amongst all the other slick and fast New Zealand boats. But we love her anyway.

Here’s Wondertime in her new Auckland slip. With her rust stains, chipped paint and bowsprit, she sticks out like a sore thumb amongst all the other slick and fast New Zealand boats. But we love her anyway.