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south pacific

Missing Pieces


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.

June – November 2012 Cruising Expenses

You will run out of arm strength long before you run out of money at the Tongan produce markets - this is about $20 worth.

You will run out of arm strength long before you run out of money at the Tongan produce markets – this is about $20US worth.

I promised you that we’d keep track of what we were spending during our cruise to the South Pacific and share the totals, good and bad. While I got a little behind on actually blogging the numbers, we did keep track all the way across and here are the final budget tallies.

Hopefully this will help future cruisers in planning their Mexico/South Pacific cruise budgets. I’m sure you can see areas where we could have saved a LOT of money (less beer and trips to Neiafu’s Aquarium Cafe perhaps?). But compared to what we’re spending now with a car to maintain, cell phones, marina moorage, etc. anchoring for free in front of a deserted South Pacific island munching on fresh papayas and mangoes just can’t be beat. Even if beer is $4/bottle.


S/V Wondertime’s June – November 2012 Cruising Expenses

June 2012 (French Polynesia)

alcohol – $305
books – $78
bus fare – $36
clothing – $91
dental care – $162
diesel – $262
eating out – $378
groceries – $1,044
internet – $131
laundry – $8
medical care -$27*
mooring -$144
museum -$12
petrol (dinghy outboard) – $39
pharmacy -$22
phone cards -$30
postage -$10
souvenirs -$493
stereo speaker replacements – $202
storage unit (annual) – $374
supplies – $122
toys – $24
web hosting (annual) – $122

total: $4,116

*This was my total bill for having an infected stye on my eyelid lanced by a French surgeon in Nuku Hiva on a Saturday night. I might be a fan of socialized healthcare….


July 2012 (French Polynesia)

alcohol – $176
butane/propane – $10
clothing – $25
diesel – $55
eating out – $183
galley – $18
groceries – $542
heiva tickets – $13
horse riding – $150
internet – $40
laundry – $45
mooring – $20
souvenirs – $30
supplies – $46
water – $10

total: $1,363


August 2012 (Niue & Tonga)

alcohol – $144
bank fees – $67
car rental – $45
eating out – $434
garbage disposal – $12
groceries – $329
laundry – $47
mooring – $142
Niue driver license – $19
Niue flag – $33
petrol (dinghy outboard) – $64
petrol (rental car) – $25
showers – $4
souvenirs – $90
theatre – $30
Tonga check-in fees – $129

total: $1,614


September 2012 (Tonga)

alcohol – $201
bank fees – $24
books – $49
cell phone – $30
eating out – $356
galley – $30
groceries – $456
internet – $4
ipod replacement – $230
laundry – $82
petrol (dinghy outboard) – $80
souvenirs – $23
Tonga tourist visa extensions – $120

total: $1,685


October 2012 (Tonga)

alcohol – $278
cell phone – $18
check-out port fee – $17
diesel – $300
dive tank fill – $12
eating out – $242
gifts – $22
groceries – $630
internet – $8
laundry – $90
mooring – $70
pharmacy – $52
propane/butane – $37
taxi – $18
water – $9

total: $1,803


November 2012 (Tonga only)

alcohol – $48
diesel – $270
eating out – $106
groceries – $228
laundry – $29

total: $681


Exploring Auckland’s One Tree Hill…free!

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.


Merry Christmas from the Crew of Wondertime!

Treats for Santa We arrived in Auckland last week, after Santa granted us an early Christmas gift of a new damper plate shipped from the UK which got us motoring along again. With the remains of Cyclone Evan hot on our heels, we had a quick overnight trip 130 miles down the coast from the Bay of Islands into our cozy slip here in downtown Auckland. Our first days in the city have been a blast with amazing playgrounds, parks, pools, libraries, museums and shopping just a short walk or bus ride from the boat.

This Christmas, we are thankful for arriving here safely and with so many stories and memories of the last 18 months of travelling together as a family that it seems overwhelming at times. The hardest part is definitely the wake of family and friends we’ve left behind and are missing very much this season. Just know we are thinking of each and every one of you and wish you a very merry season and the time to look back at all the amazing memories you’ve made this year.

Wondertime - Christmas 2012And look forward, as we are, with excitement and joy at all the memories to come in the coming year.

Wondertime girls - Christmas 2012

Landfall New Zealand

The Wondertime crew has landed safe and sound in New Zealand! Once the wind reached us it built and built and built until Wondertime was absolutely flying along at 7 knots with a double-reefed main and tiny scrap of genoa. We made the last 75 miles to the Bay of Islands in record time. The conditions were exhilarating and knowing we were rocketing along towards the landfall we’ve been dreaming about for years and years, the feeling was indescribable.

It was dark, late evening, as we sailed into the bay but we had good visibility with the light of the half moon. And of course the charts and navigation aids here are top rate. The wind and seas subsided quickly and we found ourselves drifting slowly along towards the small town of Paihia. Once we were out of the main channel and the depth sounder read 30 feet we dropped the hook into the mud and slept like we’d never slept before.

We made it.

Big Wind at Big Mamas

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the story from our log book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Friends With Uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost in the Islands of Tomorrow

Why hello there.

I’ve stepped out from underneath the palm trees we’ve been lounging under here in the Vava’u Group of the Kingdom of Tonga for a few minutes as it’s rather time to send you an update.

First off, the most exciting thing to happen on our sail here was that we got to skip Thursday and sailed straight into Friday which the girls where thrilled about (being Friday movie night after all). Somewhere along the way here we crossed the International Dateline moving us a day ahead of all of you back in the U.S. While you’ll be waking up to Friday morning it will already be Saturday here and well into the weekend.

Which means nothing here to us, of course, excepting that I have to remember to get to the amazingly fresh and gorgeous (and we’re talking California-gorgeous) produce market before it closes by noon as it does on Saturdays. Other than that, we’re living the old cruiser’s life of “every night’s a Friday night, every day’s a Saturday.”

This amazing scattered group of islands – there are 60 of them – are nestled together like puzzle pieces in an area only 16 x 18 nautical miles. You weave through them, around them, through channels and there’s a spot to anchor about every few miles. The whole group is surrounded by reefs that keep out any annoying ocean swell and it’s like sailing and anchoring in the Gulf Islands again. Only with palm trees and turquoise water and the soft warm breezes I think I’ve written about before. You can reach just about every anchorage in two hours or so. In the past two weeks, we’ve been to three of them.

This place doesn’t affect everyone the same way, but to us, it’s called us to slow down, stop for a while and just experience the life and place around us without the sense of movement we’ve become so accustomed to. Our first few days in Neiafu, the main town here, were spent catching up with boatloads of friends, some of whom we hadn’t seen for months. Just about everyone heading west passes through Tonga sooner or later and there have been grand kid-boat reunions here.

With Wondertime loaded down with delightful fresh produce from the local market, the likes we haven’t seen since La Cruz, we headed out to the islands. Or, one island in particular, that of our amazing longtime friends Ben and Lisa who we met in California while we were all on our way to Mexico in 2002 and sailed all over with that winter. They continued on to Tonga in their boat Waking Dream in 2004 and have stayed here ever since, opening up a number of businesses over the years and becoming a true part of the community. They currently have a lease on an adorable 2.5 acre island where they are busy living and building a small restaurant and eco-lodging amongst the palm trees. In their spare time they run the non-profit Regatta Vava’u coming up here in a few weeks.

We’ve been anchored off their island for the past week and have had a blast watching them get to know our new crew members as well as hearing their stories of life on a Tongan island. The girls, of course, adore Ben and Lisa as well as their island home. Countless hours have been spent just talking and pontificating and reminiscing and watching the palm trees sway. We’ve shared many meals together with Ben and Lisa, their local friends, and our cruising friends that have stopped by as well. We’ve danced under the clear light of the full moon while Ben – still the party king — spun tunes on his DJ gear. Michael has helped out with several of the countless projects underway on the island. The girls and I have napped in a hammock. We’ve read, daydreamed, had scavenger hunts. The beach has been combed for shells, many times. The girls have swung on the “hip ball.” We’ve messed around in boats. One clear night, we sat on a roof watching enormous flying foxes swoop overhead in the dark and listened to the crickets sing.

You never know what will pass by when you stop and watch and listen for a while.

The Wondertime Girls in Neiafu, Vava’u