Making House

I’ve lost a poppy and buried a trowel. I know – I’m quite surprised myself. I can’t find it anywhere. I even dug up the baby gem lettuces again to see if I could retrieve the trowel from their roots. But it’s not there. Vanished. Worst of all- it was borrowed. From my new landlords. I’m on my first weekend of a six-month lease and I’ve already lost their trowel. Some people have a favourite trowel that they keep for years. Mine didn’t last an hour.

It’s the first time I’ve ever even attempted gardening. I have a row of cos lettuce, then some silverbeet, then some poppies. But I lost a poppy. There were six little tubs when I emptied them but only five little shoots once I’d planted them. And now, with all the digging up on the missing trowel, their roots are probably shot anyway. All that love and care they got in their former home too, to grow them to this dizzyingly tiny height of a mini plant.

I lost a poppy and buried a trowel. On Monday I woke up in my new house to discover I had no hot water, or breakfast ingredients. On Tuesday, having fixed the hot water problem and visited a supermarket on my way home from work, I made a big sloppy bowl of muesli and yoghurt. A lack of any utensils (and some might say foresight) meant I had to drape a towel over my new work shirt and scoop the breakfast slop it into my mouth with a  measuring cup. Didn’t make me feel like the slick and efficient professional I was pretending to be.

Andy once promised that the first time we found ourselves with a plot of land he would build us a veggie patch. Alas, he’s not here right now so instead I rented a house that came with a plot ready to go. My part of that bargain was to grow food. I’ve never done that before and I think it’s something everyone should do at some point in his or her life.

It’s almost exactly six years since I last had a residential address where I actually lived. Many thanks to all of you in the mean-time who have provided an address, a spare room, the use of your washing machine, your internet, your kitchen…. and most importantly a sense of home.

To be fair, I bought Nooksak six years ago, and three years later moved onto Zephyrus. So I haven’t been homeless. Just houseless. And what a lot of stuff a house requires!

I just felt an earthquake. While typing. Just a mini one, but I’m pretty sure it was a tremble. This is Christchurch. A strange place to be moving to when so many people are leaving and losing, grieving for their former stability, making new plans. Everyone seems to be in a state of change. It could be their house is being demolished entirely, and the land not to be built on again (red zone). Or the house is being demolished but a new one will be built in its place (green zone). Or the house will be fixed, and that means moving out (that might be green-blue zone, I’m not really sure). Or the house is fine, but friends or family less well off have moved in. Or moved their stuff in. Or they are in the white zone – yet to be decided.

Stuff that has been kept in storage for years is being emptied out to make room for real valuables. Garage sales are hosted every weekend around the city – “everything must go -moving country”, “house being demolished – no price refused”.

It’s a strange time to be moving here. I have a beautiful house, freshly renovated, with garden and garage, conker tree, lemon tree, fuschia bush, and veggie patch. I have managed to pick up everything I need at the blink of a wish – fridge, table, bed, bike, cutlery, crockery, pots and pans. This morning, Sunday morning, I discovered an amazing farmers marker just down the road. That’s where I bought the plants.

It’s a strange time to be moving here, and several people wonder why I am. But I don’t have earthquake fatigue. A tremble is just a tremble to me. To them it’s a trigger for a flood of memories, preparations, fear, exhaustion, emergency planning. To these people, most of whom are operating beyond capacity in both their home life and work life, living in temporary locations, working in shipping containers, paying both their mortgage on the old place and rent on the new … it’s too much. In many cases breaking point has either been reached, or is not far away.

Far away, on the other side of the Pacific, Andy is visiting Robinson Crusoe Island, Juan Fernandez, in Chile. The two of us were there on Zephyrus just over two years ago when there was an enormous quake in Concepcion and a tsunami devastated the town that we were moored next to. They, too, are rebuilding.

So it’s not surprising that natural disasters have been on my mind lately. Things that seem to be unavoidable, unpredictable, and devastating. Things that you might be able to prepare for, but will be shocking none-the-less.

I’d like to say something philosophical now. Something that makes it all ok. I guess this is just another very real part of life. The skill is having the flexibility, or creativity, to keep going and to find a positive beyond.

So, for all those giving away houseplants and furniture at the moment, I’m planting lettuces. I think I might learn to bake as well. And I’m going to get some new clothes, and take up pilates, or maybe join a choir. I’m going to enjoy every moment of domestication for the novel, exciting, and temporary thing that it is. For today, this is my reality.

Simplicity

The opposite of simplicity, it seems to me, is not complexity, but laziness. Or maybe there is a spectrum that has at both ends a definition of simplicity, far removed from the chaotic middle, but also far removed from each other.

At one end of the spectrum is a form of simplicity that is a cover for convenience. The pre-made supermarket quiche; a dinner of expensive cheeses, soup, and bread; a consolidated debts repayment plan. These are all marketed as ‘simple’.

At the other end is a simplicity that is quite hard work. Baking bread, growing  vegetables, making clothes, creating gifts.

And then there’s the simplification that is associated with spending less money, or earning less. That can just be a false cover for being restrained.

The simplicity I used to enjoy resembled number one. Shop bought fresh pasta, sauce, and pre- shaved parmesan for dinner parties; use of a same-day laundry service; mobile internet from a dongle so I could check email from my houseboat; to-the-door delivery of eco-logs for the wood burning stove and, on Wednesdays, an organic veg box. All these luxuries, that enabled a truly comfortable crusty lifestyle, were really much simpler (and not that much more expensive) than the alternative. In which synonyms for ‘simple’ might be ‘less time consuming’, or ‘more convenient’.

These days we are striving for a simplicity that has components of the latter two definitions. We’re not earning: so we’re trying to spend less. We have time: so we can use it to create what might otherwise be bought. In all ways my experience so far is that this form of simplicity is more time consuming, and much less convenient, than life otherwise.

So. We are striving to lead a more simple life. This means, for instance, that we will handwash instead of using a coin laundry (note use of future tense). Another recent change aboard Zephyrus involves a fridge, or rather a 50L coolbox, large enough to hold a two sizeable ice- blocks plus whatever things we want to keep cold. I initially questioned the simplicity of this new luxury: cold beer, cold white wine, cold butter, cold milk on muesli… all definitely feel like luxuries. But it can be justified by the Simplify Mandate: many fewer trips to the shops, much less food going off, less overheated excursions in search of ice-cream, cold drinks, and beer on tap. More time away from the hubub of people-centres.

So simplify, thankfully, does not mean suffer. On reflection it might even be reducing a lot of the (pretty minor) suffering associated, for me at least, with supermarkets and general money evaporation.

I return from a  trip to the beach this morning and question Andy: if we’re simplifying does that mean we can’t get a dinghy anchor? (I hate dragging the dinghy on my own and on one occasion put my back out quite seriously in a bid for independence.) No: simplify does not need to mean endure pain. But it does mean we might use a pre-existing weight and chain for an anchor rather than buying a shiny new thing with prongs. Ok, so simplify might mean that functional wins over shiny. Guess I won’t be getting the latest MacBook Air anytime soon.

The zip on my backpack is bust. As a result I can’t use my equivalent of a handbag. It’s a good brand, Salomon…. don’t they have warranties on these things? they should. Really, I just want it to be replaced. Second place would be a new bag. Third place might be paying someone to mend it. Fourth, fixing it myself. While paralyzed by this dilemma, it remains unfixed. Perhaps fifth is going bag-less.

So, simplification might mean doing work instead of paying someone, or something, to do it for you. But why is that such a chore when you have time for such things? Why would I so much prefer to have a job that replaces my time with money so that I can now buy a washing machine, replace my bag, and eat in a restaurant, all while juggling numerous responsibilities and engagements? Is that so much preferable to the relatively stress-free alternative life?

I stayed with friends recently who live on a boat with their four children. Yes, you read right: four. The incredibly relaxed, welcoming, and easy-going atmosphere on board is not a façade for, but rather a result of, a strict regime of discipline that underpins every day. The kids do their school work, the parents do their chores, everyone knows what needs doing, and the most efficient way of doing those things, to then enable the maximum amount of time for fun and play. Which is when we get invited round.

Andy and I had apparrantly been the subject of a recent discussion so they asked me upon arrival – how is it you two are so hard core? What kind of childhood did you have? (I nearly spat out my tea.)

Hard-core? I am mystified. This is the family with four children. On a boat. I repeat: four children. And they only just fitted their first washing machine. Now that’s hard-core.

They were referring to our lack of shower, hot running water (or any running water), fridge, water maker…. um, I don’t really know what they were referring to. I think it was mostly the shower facilities (a bucket in the cockpit- not best in a crowded anchorage). Hard-core? I laughed, no, I love cold drinks and hot showers and would happily enjoy them both every day. Boat life isn’t some kind of pennance. We don’t deliberately go without them, we just haven’t yet figured out how to have them. And so it was, within two days, that we got a cool box on board.

We’re living a very sweet life these days. We’re at anchor in a quiet spot in the Bay of Islands. Andy just caught a fish, a blue maumau, and is cooking up some rice to accompany it for lunch. This morning, after a stretch on the beach, I worked my way through a mountain of washing up and cleaned out a sticky kitchen cupboard. We have both been polishing our c.v.’s and looking for work opportunities… but what work might we ever be able to find that doesn’t ruin this idyll?

Lunch was the kind no money could buy. Fresh fish (straight off the spear), fluffy rice (steamed in our pressure cooker), a delicious salad (not wilted, thanks to the coolbox), and two glasses of crisp local white wine, chilled to perfection.

If this is simplicity, I’ll keep trying.

[Afterword: two days later we returned to a marina where I spent NZ$18 on two loads of laundry at the self-service facilities, bought a new bag, and had a delicious dinner of fish and chips at the yacht club. A simple life, it seems, is also much easier to do when the alternative isn’t so readily available.]

Back on rhiansalmon.com

Zephyrus has been in a boatyard ‘on the hard’ for a couple of months now… and she’s looking beautiful. Before making the final polish, we’re going travelling for a few weeks with Andy’s parents around New Zealand. Thereafter we’ll have her floating again for adventures anew.

Since this latest adventure has found its destination, all the smilingfootprints entries and comments have been transferred here, to rhiansalmon.com, where I will continue writing, and where pre-Pacific posts are also held.

Smilingfootprints.com will remain accessible, and anyone who already subscribes to those posts via feedburner or email will continue to receive updates.

It’s been fun!

work on Zephyrus

Re-immersion

The house in Matapouri was a god-send, an amazing transition space, a place, a space, a beautiful spaceplacebase space. S p a c e . A time.

By most people’s standards it would be described as a compact two bedroom apartment. (The second bedroom was for two four-person families who were visiting during December.) For us, it was palatial. Excessive even. What do people do with all this space to knock around in? Briefly we turned on the TV and discovered the answer: they pump filler into it, expanding exactly to the room’s volume, with slight overflow.

Our first morning, while telling me a story over breakfast, Andy mentioned that I had a smudge of marmite on my cheek. Still listening, I wondered off to the bathroom to consult a mirror. In less than ten seconds he was beside me, tugging my arm: “where have you gone? What are you doing?” Dragging me back to the living room, placing me back on the backrest of the sofa, he explains, “don’t you know that you need to be right here, next to me, while I’m talking to you?” Attentive and present.

Several weeks later, in Australia, we were both baffled and goggled as my whirlwind cousin wondered off mid-conversation, answered her phone, sent texts, arranged her wedding, and listened to our story at the same time. I used to be like her, a queen of multi-tasking. When did I become a one-thing-gal?

There was always time. Never an acceptable excuse for not listening. Or waiting for a right time to do the telling.

On another occasion I came out of the bathroom and Andy was gone. Not in the living room. Not in the kitchen. Or bedroom. Or hallway. Or garden, that I could see. He walked back in as I was looking for him inside the spare bedroom cupboard. “Why would I be in there?” he enquired. Dead seriously, while also realising its ridiculousness, I replied that I thought we were maybe playing hide-and-seek. It was the only reasonable thing I could think of to explain his complete absence. (Unreasonable would be him falling off the boat, a very real fear until that week.)

M u s t g e t a g r i p .

In the late afternoon he announced that he was going to the loo. You know what?, I replied, I don’t need to know. We’re in a house, with a door on the loo, and a window from the loo that you can open, and I don’t need to know. I don’t need to know. I don’t need to leave the building to give you your privacy, or figure out which way is upwind. I don’t need to subtly and apparently coincidentally evacuate the living room to ‘enjoy the scenery’. I don’t even need to acknowledge your current actions.

I n d e p e n d e n c e ! F r e e d o m !

In eleven months, with the exception of a few rare escapes, we had never been more than a few metres apart. At maximum, ten metres, and that only in extreme sail-change situations. When indoors, rarely more than two. That’s close.

We had a special way of speaking to each other, as though speaking with toddlers. I’m not sure why: I’ve never been much of a fan of baby-talk with kids, let alone adults, but it was funny, and comforting, endearing, and somehow reduced ourselves to our lowest common denominator. In reality the things we concerned ourselves with most were the same as a toddler: eating, sleeping, getting dressed, being tired, being hungry, being hurt, being scared, getting better, being happy, taking responsibility, regularly finding things hard, and getting things wrong. And trying to avoid melt-downs.

I’ve spent a lot of time this last month with toddlers and young children and now see them in a whole new light. Last week we went climbing on Mount Araplies, Australia. In the morning I helped my six year old friend ascend a boulder. Two-thirds of the way up she lost faith in her abilities. “I can’t do it.” You can. I can’t. Try. Focus. Just think of your next move. Don’t panic. Stay calm. You can do it. I can’t. You can. And she did.

In the afternoon it was me on the cliff-face, a little higher, and steeper, but on a rope, and Andy up above. I had done really well so far but now couldn’t figure out what next. I tried, I really tried. But I couldn’t do it. You can. I can’t. Try. Focus. Just think of your next move. Don’t panic. Stay calm. You can do it. I can’t. You can. And I did.

At what point do we force our kids to keep trying stuff they find hard, impossible even, but allow ourselves to give up? Now that’s not fair.

With time we happily eased into our new space. The double bed with access from both sides and enough space that we could sleep next to each other, both at full breadth, and not have enforced contact. The hot, hot, fresh, not at all salty, endless running water. The oven and fridge and freezer. What an exquisite pleasure each was. And I haven’t even left describing the house yet: the best was outside!

The location was incredible. From our bed we could hear waves caressing the beach. The new sound of security: breaking waves are only comforting when you’re on land.
In less than a minute we could be in the sea, via a picture perfect sandy beach.

Every morning and evening we would swim in the sea and play in the waves. We went snorkelling, exploring, Andy went spear-fishing and fossicking (my new word of the month). One morning dolphins visited the bay and swam with us. Large, inquisitive, playful, beautiful, and close. What a treat. I was on a high all day.

During the daytimes we would return to town, Whangarei, to work on Zephyrus. We had lived on board, in the yard, for about ten days before our friends arrived. It was fine, but after the delight of the house there was no going back.

Andy went for a couple of runs. I did t’ai ch’i on the beach. I cooked my first ever Sunday Roast complete with Yorkshire pudding, gravy, peas, carrots, and stuffing. Twice. And a lasagne. And we had cold beer and ice-cream every day.

After four weeks in the house, we left. I believed we had successfully re-integrated, re-socialised, re-normalised. It’s not a better or worse way of being, just a different tempo. The metronome will tick to whatever speed you set it to so explore them all and see which one resonates best.

We went to Australia for a fortnight. My cousin was having a wedding ceremony in Coff’s Harbour, followed by a celebration in Brisbane. Between and beyond these two events we visited friends around those parts of the country. I am loving seeing friends, in their own environment, just mooching on the sofa drinking tea and talking shit. That’s what I do with my friends. Andy and his friends, they go climbing and camping and skiing and adventuring. So we did a bit of that too. Except for skiing.

Along the way we both lost our passports, separately and independently. And spent a lot of effort trying to get them both back, or replace them. And we both got sick: fluey stuff most probably collected in airports and planes and air-conditioned rooms. We managed to get overdrawn on two different bank accounts despite the money being theoretically available. And returned to New Zealand to two speeding tickets from a month ago. I phoned my UK bank to arrange a transfer to New Zealand, on a special plan which means I pay only $2 for an hour talking overseas, and after the bank computer crashed three times I got cut off. My freshly topped-up $30 credit had run out. I phoned the phone company who checked the number- it’s a local rate in the UK but not a landline so I was paying through the nose to wait for computers in Lancashire to crash. And I still hadn’t arranged the transfer. Then my friend lost her phone and we spent an afternoon trying to find it again. (She eventually found it in the place I had looked twice.)

I spend a lot of time chasing my own tail, or so it seems. That’s the hard work of this easy life.

In the last two months I have been lucky to spend really valuable time with people spanning every stage of my life. So much so that arrival in the antipodes feels more like a homecoming than a journey to the distant beyond. We met up with a family friend who was a teenager with my dad, and who with her husband knew my parents before I did. My cousin who I grew up competing with, and her new husband with whom Andy crossed some treacherous ice two years ago . The first boy I flirted with at school, to whose daughter I am now godmother. House-mates and really close allies from every place I have lived since leaving home including Leeds, London, Toronto, Antarctica, and Cambridge. All I have known for at least ten years, and many for longer. Talking with them, they reflect back at me the person I was, and remind me of who I am.

The things they pick up on aren’t documented in the blogs. The fact that I never slept well (all ex-housemates can vouch for my amazing sleeping ability), or now can function in mornings (a worrying sign indeed) or, most confusingly, seem to have lost my ambition and focus completely. My new found empathy for women who throw their lives into cooking and children, because as much as anything it gives them a sense of purpose; or children who have temper-tantrums, because sometimes that’s the only thing you can think of to do. The fact that I was scared, a lot of the time, as well as bored or overwhelmed, and even dabbled in baking and crocheting socks! That I didn’t rise to the occasion, that I still don’t know how to sail, and often don’t really want to.

The journey brought out a lot of aspects of me that I don’t particularly like, and that are certainly not part of my sense of self. But they are part of me. For a month mid-Pacific I stopped making any decisions at all. I stopped even trying. I wouldn’t even choose between tea and coffee, rice or pasta. I became entirely subservient, and unhappy. How did it change? What did you do, I asked Andy. Ah yes, he gave me choice. Power. Complete control of our itinerary and activities with the only condition being that he wanted to visit Suvarow. That’s when we turned around and sailed into crashing seas to witness an eclipse. It’s when I woke up and started taking responsibility again.

It’s a relief to rediscover myself. Gradually I re-assemble my character, both the parts I have missed and new aspects that I would like to keep, discarding those I don’t wish to define me any more. And so we grow.

These are all changes and characteristics that we see in each other, in our friends, and in ourselves, but buried and hidden and easily deniable in this busy multi-tasking world. The sailing journey, that I truly thought was quite pointless before leaving, was in many ways an amazing metaphor for life. It contained a multitude of lessons and experiences in a very physical and real manner. We both learnt a lot about ourselves, and each other, that we could have hidden for years.

Now we need to decide what to do next. I’m balancing on a pin-head, looking down across the paths and options of my life. It’s feels wobbly. Five years from now I’ll know what I chose, and probably have an opinion about the wisdom of that choice. But right now I can’t hear the guidance of my future self. I know we can’t stay here, on the wobbly pin-head. The last bit is over and the next bit yet to start. Options on some days bewilder in number; on other days they are absent entirely and eerily silent.

Critically the choice is this. Do we reintegrate further, get jobs, become this-life savvy, go climbing and sailing in scheduled “time-off”, live what might look like an alternative life but in a mainstream world… or do we return to the alternative world with all its discomforts and risks and oceans and cliffs, and longings for the comfort and ease of mainstream society?

How much do I love crisp clean sheets, fresh running water, phones, the ability to see friends, and the security of others taking responsibility for me? Will I be happier if I feel safer? Or does it all just start feeling normal, and thereby go unappreciated?

Epilogue

We sailed into the Bay of Islands on a sunny Wednesday morning with a steady breeze, diving petrels, and penguins greeting the boat. I wanted to cry. At least, tears welled in my eyes. New Zealand. Beautiful, beautiful, destination.

In the first two days I dissolved in a fuzz of comfort; melted into a
comfort of familiarity. Our first evening took us to a pub with local
beer on tap and great fries, followed by a bar with posh pizza (superb
crust and toppings) and fantastic live music. The singer and guitarist,
supported by his extremely able bass player, rolling out old and new
favourites time after time. Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews, Pearl Jam,
Sublime, Bob Dylan, Hendrix… an eclectic combination that, combined
with the local wine, beer, rum, language, culture, ambience, mood, and
extreme exhaustion, all reacted explosively into a great night out.

On our first morning Andy returned from the local shop with ingredients
for breakfast. I coo’d and yaay’d with every item he pulled items out
the bag. Bacon! Mushrooms!! Toast! Orange Juice! Fresh Liquid Milk!
Carrots!!! Crunchy Apples! Live Yoghurt! Tomatoes! Fresh Crispy Green
Green lettuce! Avocadoes! And so on. We were laughing with expectation
before the first item was even tasted.

Next came the delights of many hot showers (really hot, really strong,
unlimited water at a price of $1 for 4 minutes), the industrial scale
laundromat (we washed everything, ev-ri-thing), the hose pressurised
with fresh water at the dock where we moored, the cafe with frothy
lattes, and the endless greenery in all directions where we could walk
and walk and walk. In the first days we both developed aches at the
bottom of our shins, where leg meets ankle.

For four days Andy emptied and scrubbed the boat while I took over the
washing machines. Recently worn clothes stank. Warm clothes stored in
bags for nine months were full of mildew. Sleeping bags, blankets,
pillows, woolen jumpers, hats, towels, sail covers, lee cloths…. they
all got washed, dried, folded, and put away. Books, food crates,
cupboards, kitchenware, cables and wires, drawers, charts and
navigational guides, were all cleaned and sorted out. During one
afternoon removing mould from a seldom-visited corner of the forepeak,
Andy found a leaflet appropriately entitled ‘how to grow a garden in
your galley’. It was about sprouting.

We gave away a big tarp and an inflatable dinghy, never used the whole
way across. We gave away books. We packed away clothes. We created
space, and a space in which to breathe again. We re-created a home in
our home. We phoned our families. And we caught up with lots of folk
we’d met along the way.

And then we got ready to leave again. One more journey, taking Zephyrus
to a place where we will take her out of the water and give her a great
big thankyou birthday. Without going too crazy (I hope), we will remove
and replace the paint from the waterline down, repaint the topsides,
strip and varnish the cockpit, and maybe even slap some paint around
inside. Give her a great big thankyou while we still have the energy.
Make her a beautiful place to be again, and a boat that we’ll be able to
enjoy sailing around New Zealand without always thinking of the work
that needs doing.

We set off and had a lovely time. The first day we didn’t even take the
sail covers off despite fifteen knots on the beam. We motored for four
hours to a beautiful island and then tumbled up a hill. The second
day we sailed around the corner, not far at all, gently and slowly,
deliciously. The third day we rounded Cape Brett, temporarily leaving
the Bay of Islands and working our way down the coast towards Whangarei.
The whole journey could be done in a day but we chose to take five. On
each day we left in the morning, arrived shortly after lunch, had a
siesta, then went for walk. We slept, stretched, talked about nothing
much, and enjoyed the place so very much. A wonderful destination, New
Zealand.

However.

The unfortunate truth is that I don’t love sailing. I don’t mind it, at
times I quite like it, and I love what you can do with it, where you can
go, the nature of the travel. I even think that I understand,
hypothetically, what the fuss is all about. But I don’t love it for
itself. For the feeling of soaring along, the tilt of the boat, the
matching of fluttering tell-tales that make her fly just-so. I’m not
bothered if the luff flaps or we keep a reef in longer than necessary.
Infact, I’m happy going slower. The adrenalin of sailing I do feel, but
it’s not always invigorating. Rather, it triggers a sense of fear.
Playing on the limits of control is not my thing.

But I do love that we’re here. And New Zealand is beautiful. I would be
very happy living here and sailing Zephyrus around the country’s many
bays. She seems perfectly suited to day sails and night anchorages. Or,
maybe that’s me. Whenever we find a secluded bay, bracketed by green
rolling hills and empty beaches, I am in love with the moment. When, at
night, I see a skyful of southern stars and not a man-made light for
miles, I want to burst into song. Yes, I love it, I love it, and I feel
so very lucky to be here.

So there it is. One lifestyle, different loves. We are both having a
wonderful time exploring this area. The landscape is gorgeous, and
familiar. The coast reminds me a lot of Ireland and parts of Cornwall,
and the inland bits of Wales. Scenery that I’d never get tired of waking
up to, as long as the sun shines.

At times on the way down, I take the wheel. I raise the jib. I winch up
the mainsail. We do our usual anchoring duet. (When we anchor he’s at
the helm, I drop the hook, and tie up the chain with an upside-down
rolling hitch. When we leave, he winches it up while I flake the chain
inside.) Even as we sail Andy says -too close, mate- or -look at the
telltales-. Still gently teaching me because I’ve said I want to learn.
“I want to learn to sail in New Zealand”, I said.

But it’s not true. What I want, is to love it. Not just gain
proficiency. I want to love it love it love it, and want to be out there
living it loving it.

As he tells me to watch the sails I feel the petulance of a nine year
old welling up. Like for some reason I’m blocking my ability to love it
because he loves it so much. The navigation and weather, that so many
people rightly assume are my realm, surely interest me a lot. I think
they’re very cool indeed and can geek out with the best of the fanatics.
But I don’t love them.

What I love is that we just sailed nine thousand miles from southern
Chile to New Zealand in a thirty-seven foot concrete boat.

I phoned my brother in New York for a chat. He was simultaneously out
for dinner (asian fusion), babysitting a two yearold, juggling work
engagements, climbing a tree, and talking to his sister in New Zealand.
From behind the scenes the toddler’s mother asked when I would next be
in the City, to which I found myself divulging our latest daydream. New
Zealand- Japan-Kamkatcha- Aleutions-Alaska- northern B.C- Vancouver.
Then (take a breath), put the boat on a truck to the Great Lakes, sail
up the St Lawrence to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, then round the
corner and down the east coast to New York City, passing the Statue of
Liberty on the way in.

“Oscar will be in college by then!”, she exclaimed. And that may well be
so.

So, if I don’t like sailing, why are we, am I, not talking about
quitting? At this I can only guess. The lifestyle, if we can find a way
of making it sustainable, will be addictive. For all the hard times, and
scary seas, and frustration of dependency and lack of purpose, and the
days and days of ‘why am I here?’, it has an amazing, un-matchable,
freedom associated with it. As well as life-enriching adventures.

To travel by wind and wave, in your own home, across oceans and between
countries. To stay in foreign lands for as long as you’re welcome. And
be able to leave whenever the mood changes. To meet and make friends
around the globe, learn their stories, and share the stories. To
understand better the Earth as one physical place, our place, our home,
regardless of religion, race, climate, and politics. And also inclusive
of them.

Could it be that on some level adventurers and travellers are like
musicians and artists: while many of us can’t exactly say what the point
is, we know we wouldn’t want to live in a world without them.

I am in love. With this life, this country, my life, this area, all
people, everything.

We bought a car on a deposit of a chocolate bar (33% cocoa solids, with
almonds), rented an apartment for my friends on a handshake, bought
mobile phones with cheap international rates, hauled out in a yard where
showers are hot and everything is possible, and the sun shines every day.

Sometimes, there are times in your life when nothing seems to be going
right. You don’t meet the right people, everything is hard, life is at a
standstill and existence feels like stagnation in a murky swamp. Then
there are times on the other end of the spectrum when things run so
smoothly it’s hard to keep up. We barely think the need and a solution
appears.

Be wary what you wish for, it might just come true.

So I skip through my days of chores and admin, hardware shops and
supermarkets, with a smile on my face. Is it just the change in scenery,
the appreciation of finding ourselves in a western country where things
work and people speak our language, or is life actually silver-lined
right now?

And then I think about those days at sea, the months even, the times
that were amazing, and the times that were really hard, and I realise
that at no point did I feel like I was in a murky swamp, and at no point
did I not feel alive, and how much more did those experiences make me
appreciate the simple things, the easy things, the lovely things, and
the dull things, of this life that we used to call ordinary.

If you don’t want the easy life then, by default, it’s going to be hard.
Which isn’t the same as bad, though there are times when you wonder.

Already I can sense a rose-tinted hue infusing my memory. Crossing the
Pacific? Yeah- it was amazing, really amazing… absolutely you should
do it. Chance in a lifetime.

Quicksand Dreams and the Final Passage

"No more adventures, please", my only request before we leave.
"Just one more", he replies.

The feeling is one of standing on a diving board, looking down. My
ribcage full of butterflies. I am nervous. This time we know what we're
jumping in to.

Ignorance was bliss.

The weather forecast predicts… pumpy. Every cruiser around here is
heading south and I'm yet to meet anyone who is excited by the prospect.
Anyone who gets this far knows that the next bit will be harder.
Windier, wetter, colder. Hard work. But I retain faith that we'll get
there. And keep dreaming about the cup of tea on the other side.

The final leg.

October 27

The poltergeist is back. I've so far been taken out by a flying pressure
cooker, had scalding soup pour out of a pan down my leg, had a plastic
bowl crack, throwing different soup across my arm, and a kettle push me
with such force that I flew across the room in mid- fill.

The vengeance of a final trip, or maybe just a bumpy ride.

Days and nights pass as I stare at the sea, absorbing it all. No books,
no music, no conversation, not even writing. Just absorbing.

Delightfully, we remain in VHF contact with Brandy and Mark from
Restless. After much organising and weather-watching our two boats left
within the same hour and seem very well matched. They are slightly
faster than us but in three full days there is still only eight miles
between us.

Two things I never thought we'd do: cross an ocean in tandem with
another boat, and ask for professional weather forecasting advice.
Indeed, I laughed at people with their own professional 'weather
router', hanging on their every word before so much as changing a sail.

But that has been us these last few days: "are we too late?" was the
question posed to Bob McDavitt, senior forecaster at the New Zealand Met
Office. Most boats jumping on this weather window left three or four
days earlier, and were faster than us.. but at that stage we were still
recovering from the salvage mission. Now we were ready, had we missed
our chance? Bob McD thought not.

I could argue, with some degree of honesty, that the passage to New
Zealand takes us into previously unexplored (by us) meteorological
conditions. And that the Grib files leave us with more questions than
answers. And that this trip is notorious amongst sailors as one of the
less pleasant, with higher potential for getting pummeled.

Indeed, for most boats that have remained in tropical waters throughout,
starting their Pacific adventures in Panama or Mexico, these are the
scariest seas, or could be. And the collective trepidation is
contagious. (In light of this, many cruisers choose to leave their boats
buried in a hole in Fiji during the cyclone season so that their vessel
never has to leave the gentler cruising seas.)

But for Restless and Zephyrus, who both began their journeys in southern
Chile having previously rounded Cape Horn, what's to fear?

Frankly, a return of what we've seen. As Andy said the morning we left –
wasn't ignorance bliss? Truly. The Gribs we saw in Chile showed 20 and
30 knot winds and various passing pressure systems, and though we
understood them in theory, we didn't know how they would feel in
reality. Now I know to fear reds and purples (the colour coded wind
arrows over 20 knots) and passing lows with blue in the middle. And I
know that the forecast we see for this coming week will be… exciting.

Or, as Bob McDavitt predicted in his free weekly weathergram, 'spirited
and bumpy'.

nightshift:

In sailing-ese (how has it come that I can even write this stuff?):

/"With winds of 25 to 35 knots on the beam, we started those days with
two reefs in the main and a reefed jib but rapidly became overpowered
and switched the jib for our former staysail (Zeph no longer has an
inner forestay). Only a few hours later, in the mid of dark, did we
reduce again and the storm jib, by far our favourite and much-loved sail
– always welcome in times of need and fear- remained up for the next 48
hours."/

Or, in less technical terminology, 'conditions were a bit shit'. Other
terms that spring to mind: washing machine cycle, uncomfortable, too
strong, too big, overpowered, tiring.

On one of our regular radio chats Brandy said the conditions made her
dream of reaching New Zealand, and spending an entire year on land. I
had to confess in response that I'd spent much of my shifts staring at
the glory of the powerful ocean, bubbling and foaming to the horizon and
beyond, trying to conjure a sense of nostalgia for this special time at
sea. A sense of poignancy for the passing of time, enhanced alertness
that this was the final section. Maybe even a twinge of sadness.

But no, not an ounce. Land, Land, Land. I asked Andy for some words for
the day's tweet. Without pause for thought his response: "there's no
place like home, there's no place like home". If only we could click our
heels three times.

Around then we discovered that not only had I left the data cable that
connects our computer to the sat phone carelessly dangling but, thanks
to a newly sprung leak, the USB end had been gradually immersing itself
in a pool of salty sea water.

An end to comms, or at least email comms, just when we'd written to
Wizard McDavitt asking for an update. The subject line: 'should we run
or should we hide?'

Collectively, the decision was made to run as the weather files we had
so far seen showed no sign of improving conditions were we to wait a day
or three in Minerva Reef, our only potential stopover on the passage. A
shame in a way as I was intrigued to be anchored in the middle of an
ocean with no land in sight. Then again, it would mean going through the
whole 'gearing up to leave' process again which, despite anything we'd
be sent, was definitely the worst part of the process.

The morning we left I had had full butterflies in my stomach. Andy went
green and silent. Brandy felt seasick before even lifting the anchor.
And Mark was last seen pulling out his hair with the indecision of
departure, or not. None of us wanted to go through that again.

So last night we turned left, into the waves and the wind, bypassing
Minerva reef, and set a direct course for New Zealand.

For two days the ocean overpowered us and all we could do was go slow
and stay safe. Such a weird sensation when replacing the staysail with
the storm jib – in effect a tough handkerchief for a headsail.

The world went into slow motion. The ocean moved like treacle. And we
moved like a slug. It was the sensation of a strobe light pulsing down
on our entire surroundings, to the horizon. I don't entirely understand
it. Our reduced sail meant we were no longer surfing waves, hurtling
along at the speed of the water. Slower than the waves, our relative
frequencies had changed, and the ocean became a standing wave across
which we crawled.

Until we were slammed back to real-time by gusts, and waves pouring into
the cockpit. But the sensation recurred, periodically.

That night I slept deeply but woke gasping for air. I had been in
zero-gravity, and some kind of survival competition. Some of my
colleagues had mastered the art of floating and finding air, others of
us were battling between the two sensations of outer space and
suffocation. It was with relief that I woke to find I was back on Earth,
safely tucked up in a boat that was merely throwing me between mid-air
and my pillow.

Meanwhile, outside in the cockpit, Andy was gazing out to starboard, the
direction in which the waves and wind were rolling fast. For a moment he
too experienced a change in perception. The waves appeared motionless
and he felt himself and the boat hurtling backwards, at speed.

During my next shift of sleeping the winds miraculously calmed. I dreamt
that Madonna had stolen my only posh dress (the bitch!) and I kept
missing hair and beauty appointments. Worse, she gave the dress away to
another really famous person (who everyone knew the name of but me), who
cut it up and wore only the bodice part with bright red hot-pants,
discarding the beautiful long silk skirt. And someone had taken my
tickets to the ball.

Once again I woke with relief to find that I was still in the middle of
the ocean, this time place of no mirrors, dresses, haircuts, or beauty
salons. I guess there are some things that I'll miss about this life
after all.

These are the quicksand dreams of the sea- swallowing you up and
impossible to climb out of.

October 28, 5pm

At last! I feel alive again. We've had our first nutritional meal of the
journey (pasta pesto), caught up on sleep (dreamless), and settled into
the new wind regime (20 knots on the beam, 1-2m seas). And we're making
headway.

Remarkably, I feel so alive I'm even happy, laughing, cracking jokes,
making tea. We both had a wash today too so that might be a factor-
three buckets of sea water (brisk) followed by three litres of fresh.

And it's day four. Critical. Two days ago the end couldn't come soon
enough. Today I feel like we could keep going for weeks. Explore the
world even- how exciting, what freedom! Yes, for this moment I'm in love
with life. No squalls, flying implements, or seasickness to contend with
for six hours and I'm a new woman. Let's hope just these conditions last
for a few more days.

638 miles to go.


Midnight.

Holy Moly. This is like some kind of final test of our mettle, or mine
at least. The wind turned more southerly and picked up, ten minutes
after my 11pm shift started. I was on the verge of tears. Then started
deep and focused breathing. Just keep breathing.

We're screaming along, or that's how it feels. The extent of wildness
increases as you point closer to the wind and we really now should keep
'beating' (sailing close to the wind) in order to maintain our course.
If only my nerves can hold out.

The person breaks before the ship.

Occasional dancing phosphorescence reminds me to smile. Deep breaths,
white light, dancing phosphorescence, smile. Deep breaths, smile. Smile.
Breathe… and it gradually becomes manageable. I can do this. Keep
breathing.

No, I can do this. It's almost calm now- amazing, the power of the mind.
But no, a quick glance at the GPS and I see it has calmed. Dramatically.
We've dropped from a speed of 8 knots to 4. Weird.

I'm counting down until my midnight sched with Brandy. Ironic to have
developed such a dependency now, at the end of the trip when I should
feel the most competent. Six hourly radio check-ins with a friend
near-by and email advice from a professional forecaster, who have I
become? I laughed at those people before I even got here.

I think that's the point.

I give thanks that conditions remain calm over sched o'clock and hail
Restless. Brandy, my fairy godmother since I first arrived in Chile, has
a deep gravelly voice, warm and comforting in even the craziest
conditions, and a wonderful ability to laugh through wildness. I really
have been counting down to hear her; Andy's not much use right now. He
clearly wants me to tough it out and stop asking inane panicky things
about things I really, after nine months of sailing, should know about.

But in truth, I feel like the learning is only just beginning. It's
taken this long to start mastering my fear. Or at least acknowledging it
and continuing to function.

I was a bit down-hearted earlier when I realised that every sail change
we have done since leaving Chile, without exception, has been done by
Andy. I have winched sails up and down at the start and end of journeys,
but I hate carrying the heavy cumbersome sail-bag up to the bow. I'm
scared I'll drop it in the sea, or go in with it, so I kick and squeeze
and drag it along the deck, one hand always on a stay, and generally
make a dog's ear of the whole affair. At a time when time and grace are
usually of the essence.

But I have improved a lot, I think, at steering at least, and other
cock-pit located jobs. And I demand to be awake and outside when a sail
change occurs. He used to ignore me on that point but really, if
anything did happen to him and, at worst, he fell overboard, I want at
least to know about it and be suitably dressed, and awake, before losing
the plot.

So, there are a few things I've decided if we're to continue with this
sailing malarkey, either long or short term. First, I need to enjoy it.
It has to be a choice, a positive life choice, for us both. Second, I
have to know how to operate the boat by myself, even if it isn't pretty.

Right now I'm not sure how I feel about either of those.

I'm zipping between other boats in a sailing dinghy, a fast one. Like a
laser. Having a great time. The wind acts like gravity and I'm flying
along, playing with it, up, down, in, out, across, over, left, right.
Hang on, I'm surfing. This is gravity I'm playing with. No, I'm
snowboarding. I'm snowboarding on my laser. Yee-ha.

"Hey, that's cheating", one guy shouts across at me, with a grin, and
promptly turns his boat into a surfboard to join in the fun. A snowboard
surfboard. Wind like gravity. Is that all I ever needed to understand?

If only one had the ability to step outside such dreams. If so, surely
this one would have spelled warning. Instead, I am woken by Andy's
voice, firmer than usual, "Rhian, get up mate, it's getting pretty crazy
out here… time to reduce sail."


October 29^th

"Grandpa", I shout with joy, a huge smile warming my face. How long has
it been since I've so much as touched or seen this beloved old cashmere?
Embroidered holes in both armpits and around the collar, this jumper has
accompanied me on every outdoor expedition since I inherited it, age 14.
It even came back to me after being given away during the tsunami in
February- the grateful recipient posted it to await us in Easter Island!

Ironically, Grandpa the man was not the outdoors type. More likely found
enjoying a good opera, port, or a round of Bridge. And he certainly
wouldn't have worn holes in his armpits, with pride. Still, as I slip
the old top over my head it's like receiving a hug from across generations.

Andy has his comfort clothes too, most especially a chunky woolen hat
from Chiloe that he demands at all times of stress or bother, even in
the tropics. All is well if Chiloe is on his head.

My underlayer is another hug- a green merino wool t-shirt, a departure
gift from a good friend. Come to think of it, all my remaining clothes
remind me of specific people. Even down to the thick stripey socks on my
feet.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that it's getting colder,
deliciously so, and I'm all snugged up.

The crazy winds appear to have abated and we're bang on course. Plus, a
huge bowl of cold pasta, a mug of hot Milo, and a couple of hours kip,
have made me a content human again. We are such base creatures.

The waning moon is just over half illuminated, a slight belly on its
fuzzy edge. We'll be in New Zealand before it has disappeared entirely.
Moonlit passages are the best.

Plus, we crossed two significant landmarks while I slept. A nice surprise.

1. The 600-mile mark, now only 568 miles to go. Almost half way. At a 5
knot average speed we'll arrive in… four or five days. Damn. Longer
than I thought.

2. The East-West Meridian. Hooray! In the eastern hemisphere at last.
179 deg 53' to be precise, and counting down. I was kind of hoping to
see the change myself but won't go back for it. I wonder if Andy even
noticed.

—-

It's 3.30am and the second time this night that I've been woken two
hours into my three hour sleep for a sail change. The first, at 2145
(while surfing on lasers), was to drop the jib and replace it with the
former staysail: we were being overpowered. By the time the sail change
was fully implemented and course tweaked it was 2215 and made sense for
me to just start my shift.

"Spirited and bumpy", predicted Wizard McDavitt. –Spirited and Bumpy-
Brandy reminded me on our midnight sched.

Indeed. Thank god we reduced sail. Most of that shift was spent with me
staring wide-eyed at the looming clouds, bracing for our increased
speeds of 7 and 8 knots, with the staysail! Average wind speeds were
25-30 knots, gusting 38.

Finally, these numbers begin to mean something to me as I understand how
the effect is intensified the closer you sail to the wind. Add 5 or 10
knots to a downwind route and you just glide faster and better (to a
point). Add it when you're beating and you effectively double your
relative speed. That is, for a 5 knot wind increase you might go 2 knots
faster in the direction of the wind. Which means it feels like the wind
is coming at you 7 knots faster. So the boat tips up more, ropes
tighten, sails are taut, and everything screams together a pitch higher,
both in reality and on your nerves.

"The boat is stronger than the person. The person breaks before the
ship." My mantra.

A couple of hours later and the black clouds finally remain behind us,
the winds becoming more consistent. The moon starts to rise orange,
stars fill the heavens, phosphorous flashes in waves, and we're making
good speed, on course. It's momentarily glorious. It is glorious. "Oh
for the life on the open sea" (chorus of a song stuck in my head all
night).

I've been thinking about what makes us do this. Not us- Andy and Rhian-
that I think I know. But this mysterious collective of 'cruisers' we
have met along the way. I like many individuals a lot but remain
skeptical about the community as a whole. Something just doesn't sit
right. It's like their presence makes the whole experience less of an
adventure, more 'normal'. And therefore easy.

And it's not normal. Really. It's hard work. Mostly it's not about
sundowners, baking, and pot-lucks. Or at least not when you're at sea.
And I am incredulous that all these perfect smiling people are going
through the same experience as us.

Are their souls thrilling with the expansiveness and power of the ocean?
If so, wouldn't you expect to meet a different type of person on the
other side? More like the great solo sailors and explorers of the last
century. And with a compulsory twinkle in every eye.

Sieze the Day.

Or is this what 21^st century day-siezing looks like? Complete with
EPIRBs, GPS navigation, satellite phones, life-rafts, and national
rescue services.

How deflating.

Another thing that struck me as strange, but I now empathise with (at
times), is how many cruisers don't like sailing. Or sailing passages at
least. Anything with an overnight in. It's like they go out of their way
to do short hops, stay in kind seas, and pay people to tell them when to
go and in which direction.

I thought this was all about sailing. About being out there, on the open
sea. Absorbing its magnificence.

No. A collective dread is currently mounting in Tonga and Fiji as people
prepare themselves, mostly mentally, for the passage ahead. And on the
radio huge whoops of congratulations are passed on whenever a boat
safely reaches the other side.

Not many folk check in with –it's great to be out here-. Even Brandy and
I are talking about hotels with clean sheets and hot bubble baths, fish
and chips, and going to the movies.

But yet I still want to sail in Patagonia and Alaska. My heart doesn't
listen to my brain when it tries to explain how much harder that would
be, because of the weather. Harder than this is off my scale of
comprehension.

It's now 0615 and the sun is rising. The second sail changed hailed a
return to the jib, conditions having settled again. Still strong, but
steady.

We've done more sail changes on this passage than any other. To the
point that we now just do them rather than me saying first- wait, how
will this work again? What do you want me to do?

On the most recent change I was toasty warm and deeply sleepy. Andy said
he could do it on his own and I very almost let him. After all, it's my
rule, not his, that demands I'm outside and dressed for such events. And
surely I can break my own rules?

He's already dropped the staysail by the time I've pulled on my 15 soggy
layers plus wet weather gear, boots, and harness. And in truth I'm still
asleep.

I spend a minute or so blinking up at the windvane just trying to
understand where we are, where the wind is, what we're trying to do, and
why, and how I can help.

It's okay, he's not done anything fancy so I can let out some main and
turn us downwind to blanket the jib area and make it easier for him to
winch up the new sail.

But don't turn too far downwind or we'll crash jibe. And watch for those
metal halyards flying around the mast and rigging.

Something snags, I look to see what's happened, and we crash jibe. But,
amazingly, I remembered to put on the preventer so no great damage was
done. No decapitating booms this time. At least I'm learning how to
predict and deal with my mistakes, if not how to prevent them entirely.

You know, there is another way, and it's what most people do. It's
called roller furling and involves having just one headsail that can be
rolled up completely, let out completely, or only partially let out…
and all done from the safety of the cockpit. No flying halyards, no
lumping sails up and down the deck, no stuffing sails in and out of
bags, no need to leave the cockpit. Genius.

Andy 'old school' Whittaker remains skeptical. "When roller-furling goes
wrong, it goes spectacularly wrong." Probably so. But I keep dreaming of
this other life.

Some folk tell me that this boat is great training – if you can sail
this, you can sail anything. But that's the point: I can't sail this.
And I've never done a sail change on my own.

In this age of technology you don't just need pure brawn to be a
competent sailor. Install bigger winches, self-tailers no less, put up
roller-furling, hell, go all out and build a hard dodger so you don't
get soaked every time it rains or the boat takes a wave. I'm not talking
about buying a winnebago here, just enabling. We do, after all, carry
the EPIRB, the GPS, the satellite phone, life-raft, and every kind of
weather forecasting software and technology. We are sailing in the 21^st
century whether we like it or not.

Is this a slippery slope? Definitely. Without all these modern
developments there would, without a doubt, be fewer cruisers out here.
The removal of GPS alone, returning navigation to sextant and compass,
would send most people back to their houses and cars.

The remaining 'old school' must be despairing. Things aren't what they
used to be. Indeed not. This weekend sees a huge party in Tonga and Fiji
followed by a 'raleigh' as people sail collectively to New Zealand. For
many of the participants, there is comfort in numbers.

I'm torn. I don't know what I think anymore. I think the old school
moved to higher latitudes a long time ago, and these were Andy's
mentors. The life they lead, and led, is one that we aspired to.

However, I also think it made sense to 'crack our teeth' in more
temperate waters, with more people around. To learn in gentler
conditions and also know about the bigger cruising picture.

And I think that anyone who is attempting a journey like this on a
relatively small, family-sized, boat, without professional crew, is
brave. No matter how tricked-out their ship, no matter how experienced
or not. And especially the women. The many women who never had a dream
to sail the Pacific but are accompanying their partners and enabling
them to fulfill a life's ambition, together.

These women find big seas scary. Some get very seasick. Several have
children on board and so are also looking out for their safety. And
feeding them. And schooling them. And doing night-watch. And playing
number two to the skipper- a role that for many of us emancipated career
types does not, quite frankly, come naturally.

When things go crazy on the boat Andy looks after the outside and I do
inside. Yes, I'd rather be able to do both but outside is still a scary
place for me when seas are metres high or cables are flying that
shouldn't be. That's why he gets the title 'Captain' and it suits me
fine. It's his dream after all.

So I was surprised yesterday when I asked if he enjoyed the passages and
he said, after some thought –Not really, no.

There's too much unknown and we're only at the beginning of our learning
and experience. When it comes to climbing, or ski-ing, or hanging off
ropes, or surfing, or any other adrenalin sport he has tried, he knows
his limits.

Out here, the weather doesn't really care what your limits are, or how
well you know them.

So, until the limits are higher and experience longer, we will continue
to use GPS and email, to receive weather files, to tune into the HF
radio networks, and to carry a life-raft and EPIRB.

This is the 21^st century and technology does enable us to go to places
we would have previously not attempted without further training. The
ocean is still magnificent, both in power and expanse. Coming here gives
me a glimmer of what it must have been like in the Age of Adventure, 50
years ago, in relatively empty seas.

It's pretty amazing that so many people, untrained as I, are
experiencing it today.

Oct 30 1330

Glorious conditions, glorious sailing. And all because we discovered how
to use the traveler (traveler: sliding bar along which pivotal point of
the boom attaches).

During that first horrific introduction to sailing in Chiloe, a friend
joined us on Zephyrus to 'bash her about a bit' and taught me at that
time: Sheet for Shape, Travel for Trim.

Which is all well and good if you know what it means. I got about half
(Shape- shape of the sail, but how do you know when it's right? You just
know. Great). Trim left me stranded.

But today Andy woke me with a bounce and a grin (I was dreaming about
cabbages). "I've discovered something you're going to love." We're
nearly there? Alas, no. The Traveler.

It's pumped up again, we're overpowered, and continually turning up into
the wind. At a stage where we might have to change sail, but neither of
us want to lose the associated speed. We just want to get there now.
Letting out the mainsheet (Sheet for Shape) changes our course but it
remains a bumpy ride. Letting out the traveler (Travel for Trim) has
calmed our motion dramatically and also improved our course.

Wow. That's amazing. I was dreaming about cabbages. No, really. It was a
great dream. We were in San Francisco and we'd found this enormous
amazing allotment. And some very cool people who worked there, growing
food for this whole huge city community. And we arranged a great deal –
they got to spend a night on a small, cute, boat called Zephyrus, and we
got to camp in this amazing, huge, secret allotment garden. There was
just one tiny door in a hidden wooden fence, innocuous, but once behind
it the city smell and bustle was instantly halted and replaced by Fresh
Green. The smell of growing food, greenhouses, and muddy potatoes. And
huge green cabbages. And we got to sleep in a tent immersed in that
delicious aroma.

Andy by now has taken off his foul weather gear and is attempting to
kick me outside for my watch. "Nice. Yep. That does sound nice. Fresh
aroma. Just what I think when pulling off these stinking boots."

Back to reality, catapulted outside, and indeed it's glorious. Yaay for
Trim. Travel for Trim.

We've been on the go for six days now. Four to go. We never seem to get
any closer.

Oct 31^st

Strong winds, rain, big seas, we just want to get there now. The number
of remaining miles reduces every day but continues to feel
dishearteningly high.

I've had several emails lately from women who just arrived in New
Zealand. They each were on boats that left two or three days before us,
and would take two or three days less time to get there as well. For
each, the relief associated with arrival has been immense. Not one of
them seemed to enjoy the passage. Did, the men, I wonder? It's not said-
in so many cases the whole adventure is the man's idea so maybe he's not
allowed to admit when it's shit. Then the whole family would revolt.

So it's a relief to me that Andy's not loving this either (though it's a
shame as well). In a backwards kind of a way. At least we remain
compatible in what we enjoy and endure.

One lovely thing has sprung up this last day. Two actually. The first-
visits from the Wandering Albatross. So beautiful, makes your spirit
soar watching them fly. We've seen a few now, all quite young, probably
on their first five year exploration of the world. What an adventure. We
wondered why they're so far north and figured their parents told them to
go and explore the foreign lands first, with gentler conditions, before
settling in the South. Like backpackers, student exchanges, gap year
kids, and apprenticeships, the world over.

The second is making a new friend. She's called Lynnis and 'though we've
never met she's is only 50 miles from us, and has started joining some
of the radio scheds we have with Restless. It came about last night on
the 'Penguin Net' when she broke in, slightly panicky, requesting an
early check-in because they had broken a shroud (one of the thick metal
wires on the side of the boat that holds the mast up, or down I guess.
Pretty fundamental to keeping the mast vertical anyway). She, her
husband, and the crew member were all okay, and the boat had a temporary
fix, but she clearly wanted people to just- know.

The Penguin Net started in March when a small group of boats left the
Galapagos together, sailing west. It has since expanded organically and
now includes people checking in from across Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia,
and Vanuatu en route to Australia and New Zealand.

It turns out that we were the closest boat to Lynnis, and we even carry
spare rigging on board, so we arranged to check in independently with
her via HF. Twenty-four hours later all is well but we certainly have a
new friend, and it's a nice feeling. Puts a smile on my face. She joins
our scheds where we share conditions, positions, and weather forecasts,
and just have a chat. Mark has re-branded it the 'ladies morning coffee
net' and he's not far off. It's more about companionship than anything
else. The last thing I thought I'd be seeking mid-ocean.

But here's a thing. Lynnis had a problem. She shared it on an HF network
where maybe 20 boats, widely dispersed, check in. She was fine, but was
comforted to have people knowing about their concerns. It also led, very
quickly, to a potential close source for help should they need it, in
this case us. And we now keep in contact and will continue to do so
until the boat reaches safety. No need for a MayDay, SOS, or other
emergency call.

Now, take the case of our friends who lost their boat. They were very
well prepared with excellent safety equipment on board. They, too, had a
problem with their rigging. Which triggered a chain of other events.
Their emergency and communication equipment was, some might argue, more
up-to-date than that which Lynnis and her boat carry (who don't have any
form of email or weather services on board), including satellite phone
and an EPIRB. And when the situation went beyond their comfort level
they phoned the appropriate number in France. Who, rightly, triggered
the local emergency rescue services to come to their aid.

The first that the local boating community knew of their troubles was a
MayDay alert followed by reports of a Navy rescue operation and a
sinking ship.

Only after the events had unfolded did we realise that there might have
been a different outcome, if only the local community had been
contactable earlier. At the very least there might have been someone
nearby with whom they could have talked through the situation with.

That was one of the things that made me saddest. That she might still be
floating.

Satellite phones are gradually replacing long range radio as a primary
means of communication. We have one, and in truth we would have likely
not bought an HF/SSB (single-sideband radio) had it not come equipped
with the boat. I would now think twice about that decision.

Though we have a phone, there is no standard protocol about how to use
it (unlike the well-established HF communication). We always keep our
phone off except to send emails. And we only have a few numbers
programmed in. We never even thought to swap numbers with our friends.
And even if we had, our phone wouldn't have rung had they called. Not so
with a radio. Even if you don't check in regularly on a net it's usually
possible to track someone down on one of the most-used frequencies. And
that triggers local helping local.

Food for thought in this world that is increasingly globalised, even on
the ocean.


November 1

SQUALL! WIND ON!

As it approaches, the wind increases by an octave. We are surfing up
waves, like a snowboarder or skateboarder attempting a half-pipe. Go
directly perpendicular and SLAM! you fall off the other side. Go too
shallow and you tilt right over, barely reaching the peak, water pouring
in over the lower side and filling the cockpit.

Dolphins surfing. Albatrosses. Small highlights that keep my faith.

Three, four, five, six metre seas. A wall of wave so big it's all you
can do just to look at it.

I am mostly wide eyes, adrenalin, and Milo.

Neptune has not paid us much attention lately, busy concentrating on
more important Matters Oceanic, but he must have just realised that we
have two days left to go and got out his check-list. Tsunami- check.
Storm- check. Downwind- check. Heat- check. Rain- triple check. Cold-
check.

Then he reached the section entitled Big Seas. We had only two out of
three: running with the waves off the coast of Chile (three days in,
still the most terrifying part of this trip), and running across them
from Suvarow to Tonga. But no 'bashing right into them', facing them
head-on.

Right, he realised in the nick of time, must send them some weather
immediately. For their own good.

Gee, thanks.

And that's how it came to be that we were beating into five metre
breaking seas, for two days. An entirely new experience for me, and not
one I really felt needed remedying. But hey, it will make seeing land
all the sweeter.

November 2

Our last day at sea and – at last – a good one. Lovely, in fact. I am so
glad. And relieved. The relief came first, awash with tiredness. Then
peace. Then being glad. Glad because this last day will give me overall
happy memories of the trip. We will arrive tomorrow morning refreshed
and excited rather than battered and knackered. Which was us twelve
hours ago. A long, hard, night bashing into big seas and being knocked
off course.

I finished my book (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) this morning, did
the washing up, spoke with Lynnis on the radio, and made crepes. After
Andy woke (he had had an even longer and harder night than I), and we
enjoyed breakfast , we both washed. ICY! It appears that our fridge (the
bilge) has become a fridge again. As have the tanks where our water jugs
are stowed. Even the tinned butter came out hard rather than like
margarine.

Cold. Last night turned cold. Wonderfully, chillingly, so. The kind of
cold where people from cold places say – brrr, it's cold-. I can't
imagine how most folk are faring who set off from Florida or Panama with
barely a long-sleeved cotton shirt in their cupboard! But I'm loving it.
My brain has more clarity. I feel more me. No longer sweaty and lethargic.

How long ago that seems already.

And now it's our last day at sea. Am I sad? Nostalgic? Nervous? Not at
all. Pleased, proud, surprised,- maybe even happy. Not because land is
in site, metaphorically (though there is an element of that), but
because- we did it. Simple as that. We did it. And we did it for no
other reason than to give it a go. Not to save the world. Certainly not
to save money. And not for the c.v. either. That's a good thing.
Refreshing. And it's taken me this long to get used to the idea. Now
that I finally have, how much harder will it be to now look for work,
think up some kind of life-plan, fill in the –what next?-

But all that is in the future. First we will have a cup of tea. And
before that we need to reach Opua where we'll put the kettle on. One
thing at a time.

I got thinking about phrases this morning. Step by step. Weather a
storm. Let it blow over. Such passive concepts meaning – wait. But a
more accurate translation would be –live- or –live now-. While
weathering a real storm your only thoughts are on today. But not by
passively waiting. Rather, actively engaging in every aspect of today,
to the exclusion of all other factors in your life.

Hm.

The greatest achievement in reaching New Zealand, for me, is that we're
both still alive and happy. Not a day has passed these ten months when I
haven't worried about Andy falling overboard. The fear is huge, and
valid, as I'm pretty sure my response wouldn't be the correct and
rational action. I would panic. Not only for the loss of him, but also
my lack of skill in managing the boat in order to go back and get him.
At least on land I'll be back in my comfort zone regarding emergency
response. And Andy, as a result, may feel more free again.

?


October 2, 1930

The last night in Zephyrus, at sea, on a passage, for a long time.
Forever? For a couple of months? Who knows. I don't want to know what
happens next. Not yet. These last hours feel precious.

Dusk has an extra shine to her hue, Andy is three times himself, all the
best bits amplified. The sound of sailing noises, creaks and bumps, one
time spooks and ghouls in the night, are now familiar friends to me.
What a magical opportunity this has been: highs and lows. Filling our
capacity for living, and on some occasions expanding it, to the maximum.

With the colder air and approaching end I feel more alive, more vibrant,
more excited for the future. This journey is reaching its destination at
exactly the right moment, not a day too soon, not a day too late. We
can't yet see land but I know it's close. Sixty miles. Maybe it'll be
waiting for us in the morning.

Tonight I shall relish being at sea for one more night.

(THE END)

Thinking Forward

Last Sunday we left the Ha'apai Group of Tonga and arrived in the
capital, Nuku'alofa. Our friends flew back to France on Tuesday, ten
days after their boat had hit a reef. Back to France to start a new
life. Leaving their beloved home, their previous life, on the ocean floor.

In all we spent six nights and seven days at the site, working hard to
make it both physically and environmentally safe. During that time
friends from different boats, as well as locals, helped enormously.
Everyone had a role, and everyone had a different motivation. The trick
was to interweave them, like a dance, a tapestry, for the best possible
outcome.

Some wanted to lift the boat, and breathe new life into her.
Resurrection. Certainly an option worth considering.
Those who loved her most wanted to let the boat rest, dissolve into the
sea floor, let her become one with Nature.
Locals wanted food, clothes, and tools. Things of practical use.
Others were pirates, interested in what they might find. Objects of
value. Anchors, chain, the engine.
Men of the Sea wanted to ensure that the boat wasn't a navigational
hazard, that the masts wouldn't shear off and become a danger to other
boats.
Friends of the owners wanted to remove equipment that might have resale
value after all that they had invested.
Environmentalists wanted to protect marine life where the boat lay.
And the owners, understandably, wanted to say goodbye and move on.

You can imagine the discussions, the tensions, the organisation. The
sadness.
On the night when the owners returned, our new local friends killed two
pigs and hosted a roast on the beach. Thus, it was also a time of
community. Of working together for many best outcomes.

I wrote a mountain of words describing events during that week but now
is not the time for such stories. Now is a time for respect, and learning.

We are driven by our passions, and though the week was sad we were
passionate about the task we were faced with. Sometimes it seemed
mammoth, at other times straight-forward, and always necessary. We
couldn't walk away. I couldn't, he couldn't. It wasn't right. I would
hope someone would do that for us, and for the environment, if we were
spent.

I was overwhelmed by the concept alone: that it was even possible to
sink a boat and leave it. That we are even able to be here, all of us on
private boats, without so much as an exam, an insurance document, or any
proof of our ability (or liability). Who do we think we are? But isn't
that also a beauty of the life,- one final place in the world where
we're not subject to continual rules and assessments. Where you just
need to go out there and do it, try it, take a risk, and learn along the
way.

An incredibly unfortunate combination of incidents occurred that led to
this conclusion. How often so many of us have had a close shave, and
lived to tell the tale. Or to not tell the tale. How many of these tales
go unsaid. No-one (with cruising experience) told me – be careful out
there, be prepared, be aware, it's a constant risk. Stay alert. Never
become complacent. No, they said –go for it, you'll have a great time,
you'll learn so much, you'll pick it up as you go along, good for you,
live the dream.

All I could think of was stuff, and getting it out of the sea. So Much
Stuff. Not just on that boat, but on every boat, on our boat. It got me
thinking, and swimming. Plastic bags, bottles of glue, acids and paints,
plastic tubs, medicines, cosmetics and shampoo. Chasing after cotton
buds, straws, disposable latex gloves (the cardboard box dissolving on
contact), and multi-coloured spatulas. Recovering cans of diesel and
petrol, epoxy paint and contact cement. Chasing after plastic bottles,
and a cupboardful of plastic bottle lids. Yoghurt pots. Disposable
contact lenses. Insulation. Mattresses. Kitchen equipment. Bags.
Cleaning utensils. Foods, spices, and individually sealed plastic
sachets of dried coconut or parmesan cheese. Jars of olives. Not even
food will decompose the way our culture packages it.

Andy first wanted to float the boat. When that decision was rejected, he
was focussed on making the boat safe and retrieving equipment. His
combination of impressive freediving skills, foraging expertise, and
willingness to give away treasure made him a local hero. A symbiosis
quickly developed between us and the locals: in exchange for much
treasure (tools, food, clothes, pots, pans, solar panels, a
generator…) they also took away lots of rubbish and hazards to the
environment. We kept only deck fittings and other boat-specific objects
with potential resale value.

When joined by other boats, larger tasks were approached. With the crew
of Taee and Jangada, both masts were taken down and floated to the
shore. Quite an epic task, from the dismantling of the masts themselves
to floating them so carefully that the beautiful fan corals in shallow
water near the beach were not so much as scraped. And the rig no longer
a navigational hazard.

In the afternoon, the environmental clean-up mission began. That was the
day that the owners joined us. After a respectful and sad goodbye, it
felt terrible that they then should witness so much stuff being pulled
out of the boat. But it would have felt even worse leaving it in there.
With time and hindsight, they'll be glad to know she was emptied as much
as possible. That the fish can make a home in her cabins, unpolluted by
leaking fuels and solvents.

After Taee and Jangada left, Andy continued the salvage mission by
freediving with local boys. Mostly tools, chain, anchors, rope, and
remaining solvents. In the afternoon we were joined by our friends on
Bamboozle who made possible a second full day of diving (Taee and
Bamboozle carry scuba gear), the focuses being on salvaging deck
equipment and removing final contaminants and plastics. Over a soup
lunch, Jamie told me with a wink- this morning's dive was for the
owners, the afternoon will be for you. – Not for me, I cried… for the
sea! Cringing and hitting him with a pillow as the words tumbled out.

The nights were the worst. Treacherous anchorage, godforsaken place.
Barreling surf breaks frame the entrance to the pass, not something you
wish to navigate through at night. Wind shifts from every direction
pushing us towards ominous coral heads in the dark. Rain pummels down
hard. When it began I imagined, romantically, that the powers that be
were crying with the sunken boat, the lost dreams. Not so, they have no
empathy, no love, no hate, they are just what they are, and they are
full of power. They are the Elements, and elemental. It's up to us to
understand that, and read their signs.

Every morning at 5am we said – we're out of here, this place is
horrible-. But each day the sun brought calm and more opportunities for
retrieving items and making safe. Every bag saved was one less bird choked.

And the work got done, amazingly quickly. And finally we left.

I know of three other boats that, during that week, hit coral nearby in
treacherous bays. All three are still floating, but in each case it was
a close call. One was a catamaran with a very shallow and flat keel.
Another, a monohull, also made first impact with their keel and had
friends anchored nearby who came to the rescue before the boat fell over
and received a punctured hull. Friends who joined them in the depth of
night and rain to pull the boat off the coral, diving in a storm,
setting anchors, winching the boat out of danger just in time. The third
was just hold-your-breath damn lucky.

Luck aside, there are always lessons to be learnt. We learnt that our
satellite phone stops ringing after two rings, and struggles to call
other sat phones. And that we didn't have all the right emergency
numbers programmed in. And that we didn't have anyone programmed in (or
even written down) who might be able to talk me through a tricky
situation in an event that I didn't think I wanted a rescue, but equally
didn't know what to do. And that often people break before the boat.

The result is new changes aboard Zeph, and we keep learning. And I dream
of steel.

Now in Nuku'alofa friends on boats have been continually helping and
feeding us. We are fuelled up, watered up, and are energizing up. We are
finding buyers for some of the salvaged equipment. And we are starting
to contemplate the next step, the final leg, Tonga to New Zealand. It's
a long one, about 1000 miles, and will take us back to colder, windier
places. After the events of last week all complacency has gone. No
longer do I think 'we're nearly there'. We won't be there until we're
there. Tied up. Safe. Laughing. Feet on land.

Meanwhile, the highlight of my day today was waking up, for the first
time in over six months, snuggled up under a duvet. Bring it on. We're
going South.

Happenings in the Vava’u

'On the road again'. Crescent moon, first planet, blue dusk, rolly
boat. I suspect this will be the longest section we'll motor in this
entire Pacific journey. Potentially the full 120 miles but hopefully
not. Hopefully we'll find some wind. Ordinarily we would never leave in
such calm conditions, or if we did we would just enjoy going really
slowly and the extra two or three nights at sea that might involve.

But times are not ordinary. And that, I guess, is a fundamental essence
of life. Life's force. How quickly things can change. Spontaneity, an
ability to respond quickly and flexibly. Whether to something good or
bad, the engagement is something that makes me feel alive.

Not that I feel very alive and inspired right now. The nature of this
leg is hot, noisy, still, and dull. Weary-making, but happily
uneventful. The engine rumbles the boat loudly, everything vibrates. We
both have bright orange earplugs in so we can only mouth at each other,
and then only important things like – is the engine too hot?-
toast?-hello (that upon one waking). Every now and then I take out a
plug to let the thoughts tumble out and the air cleanse my brain. We
recently heard tell that you can avoid sea-sickness by blocking up one
ear- in my case the left ear as I'm right-handed. So I always unplug the
right just to see. Even if its a psychological ploy I don't really mind-
it amuses me for another few minutes and that's another few minutes less
to fill.

Sea-sickness is a funny thing. Somewhere between Chile and French
Polynesia I stopped feeling sea-sick . I attribute this to longer
passages and greater fear. These short hops are the worst. Even if we're
not physically ill (which I usually am if over-doing it by staring at an
electronic chart or GPS) then we're definitely both lethargic. A friend
here in Tonga described it well: "I don't chuck, I just lie inside
wanting to die for a couple of days." Thankfully we're ok at the moment,
just lethargic, and over half way to our destination (about 27 hours in
total).

The Vava'u group of islands in the north of Tonga was gorgeous. I would
recommend it to anyone looking for a sailing holiday, especially people
interested in chartering a boat for a fortnight or so. Wide channels
winding around steep-sided wooded islets that hide caves and springs and
occasionally blow holes from the ocean. Whales. A steady breeze, not
too strong, plenty of places for shelter, minimal swell, and not too
many hazards. We have tacked more in the last week than the last eight
months, and finally I've started to appreciate the finer points of sailing.

Dropping the foresail gracefully, when to release the sheet on a tack,
knowing how close you can sail to the wind, and where to point when you
turn, reading ripples on the water for approaching gusts that can be
beneficial, played with even, rather than fear-inducing squalls. I've
even improved at anchoring, catching mooring balls, and working with the
genoa pole. None of these, even those that are an option, are things you
want to practice mid-ocean. Because practice implies sometimes getting
it wrong.

Watching ripples on the sea is the baby version of watching a squall
coming before being pummeled. Responding to changing breezes by the
minute and toying with the sails so they sit just right, that's so much
more helpful to intuitive learning than changing sails once a day, or
sometimes by the week. Steering too close to the wind, see what happens,
falling off too far, feel how the boat responds. Heading tighter and
tighter so that water washes along the decks but it's not scary, it's
fun. Just a tweak of the wheel or the ropes and we'll be horizontal again.

We've also rigged up our little sailing rowboat and I've taken it out on
my own returning (a first) with a smile on my face. Slowly, glacially
slowly, sailing concepts seem to be trickling in. It is agreed on board
that I'm not a natural, it's certainly not intuitive, but I'm trying
again at least. And it's so much more fun when you aren't scared for
your life, feeling sea-sick, or trying to cook.

Yes, the Vava'u Group was great, I'd go back in a flash. The town,
Neiafu, also ticked all my boxes. A big fresh fruit and veg market,
numerous western-style cafes with wifi and cheese sandwiches, delicious
fresh BROWN bread (unlike the French Polynesian baguettes with zero
nutritional value), a limited but fine range of tinned and dried
supplies (no supermarket), ample restaurants, great pizza, and the best
burgers in the south pacific.

It's true, I've barely mentioned Tonga, or Tongans. That would be the
down-side: it's a major cruising destination. Everything within our
immediate zone is catering to us, to the yachty community, to taking our
money and fuelling our fun. Admittedly, we saw a local Tongan dance
show, listened to Tongan music, watched an evening's entertainment by
the Fakaleitis…. but this is still all playing to the people. In
truth, when I saw the number of boats in the harbour I accepted what
this part of the journey would be about: sailing and other yachties, not
much interaction with locals, and a limited development of my
appreciation for Tonga as a nation and culture. That may yet change; we
are now headed to more remote and less visited islands in the middle of
the Kingdom.

The increase in boats in Neiafu also raised my awareness of how many
near- misses we all have. When alone on a boat in the ocean, life can be
sweet. The something changes in an instant and life is terrifying. Then
that situation passes and life becomes sweet again. Sometimes in the
middle life is just neutral. We should learn to appreciate those times
too. Whatever the current mode, n=1. There is just one vessel, we are
the centre of the universe, we have no sense of our own probability of
hitting sweet, neutral, or terrifying.

Gather together a multitude of boats with a wide range of starting
points, destinations, sails, motors, budgets, and intentions. Put them
all in one place. Observe. This is a much clearer representation of the
risk and variation we live within.

In just two weeks we know of one boat that arrived full of smoke, its
engine area having caught on fire about 60 miles off shore, one cruiser
who was hospitalised for three days after a finger infection turned
nasty, one small plywood boat that received a hole in its hull after
being hit by a local fisherman, one couple looking for medical
facilities after discovering she was pregnant, and several people
waiting for spare parts. We contributed to the list by discovering that
our four jerry cans of fuel on deck were in fact full of petrol
(gasoline) rather than diesel due to a mis-communication in French
Polynesia. (In French petrol/gasoline = gasoline, diesel= gas-oil. Don't
ask.)

Andy filled our tank with the not quite right smelling fuel but
thankfully didn't start the engine- a suspicious nose and practical mind
I am continually thankful for (the mind, not the nose). The result was
an abandoned adventure, a calling together of six independent noses to
assess our fuel composition (tests included smell, viscosity, touch, and
combustibility), the loan of a spare diesel jug from a fellow boat
(thankyou Dignity), and return to Neiafu where the tank had to be
drained completely before cleaning and refilling.

I am very, very, glad to have discovered this at the only place we've
been to in two months that has facilities both to receive dodgy fuel,
and replace with good. And also that the fuel wasn't just poured into
the tank while the engine was running, as I've seen Andy do twice on
this trip already. BOOM.

The unplanned return to Neiafu wasn't all bad. In addition to diesel we
refilled with fresh food and water and met some old friends just
arrived. In fact, one couple loaned us a 12V oil pump for emptying the
tank (the same guardian angels from Restless who saved us when we
arrived in Suvarow with a broken windvane shaft) and another set of
newly arrived friends (Pursuit) gave us 150L of diesel ready to go. And
everyone had lots of beer and sympathy.

Greatly appreciative of the help we received from various friends and
new acquaintances, I thought of the other incidents and how quickly the
community would jump to action and offer help where they could. Indeed,
thanks to the whale-watching tours and other yachts, the boat with smoke
was towed to safety without New Zealand needing to send out air or sea
rescue services (they estimate a saving of NZ$100k).

Which is all to say, bad stuff does happen but good people make it less
bad. And, considering how many boats were in the Vava'u at the time,
surprisingly little bad stuff actually happened. (Again, empirical data
required. I estimate about 300 boats currently in Vava'u, Andy's
estimate is 50. Either way it feels like a lot but maybe we're at higher
risk than I am suggesting.)

We left earlier than expected, with less than a days notice. Some
friends of ours are in trouble, or rather, their boat is in trouble. Our
friends are safe, they have evacuated their boat (last seen anchored,
floating, but filling with water) and we are headed to its location to
assess the situation and help out. And keep scavengers away while our
friends have time to take a breath.

I wish I had enjoyed my complacency more during the last fortnight. That
time in neutral. It's not neutral, it's re-fueling, resting, having an
easy time of things. Because things will change, always, and sometimes
quickly. And its good to be ready, able to respond, and available. These
things make us feel alive.

Still, as we approach the island I am nervous about what we will find.

Wifi’d Up

Oh yeah, my dreams have been answered: here I sit in a wifi cafe, local beer in my hand while folk all around me enjoy a range of western delights from pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, to chocolate brownies and lattes, to hamburger and chips. It’s lunchtime, a great time to test the internet it seems as everyone is eating rather than surfing. Andy’s on the boat, I think, working on the engine. Or at least that’s where I left him. INDEPENDENCE is delightful!

I hitched a lift to land this morning on a passing dinghy and have meanwhile eaten a delicious breakfast of eggs benedict and a latte while watching a presentation on humpback whales, dropped off an enormous bag of sheets and towels at a laundry service, visited immigrattion, customs, and the harbour master for various paperwork necessities, had a couple of t-shirts custom screen-printed, and had a thorough immersion in Gmail and Facebook. Alas, the latter wasn’t quite as exciting as my dreams from mid-ocean, but I’m loving the concept.

We arrived in the Vava’u area of Tonga on Saturday after an easy 2 day sail – just in time to join in the annual Full Moon Party and spend the night howling and dancing. In truth, we were avoiding ‘regatta week’ because it sounded awful.. yet more potlucks, smalltalk, and overcrowded bays…. but changed our minds when we heard about the Party. You know the best thing about proper parties? Too loud for chitchat, perfect for grinning faces and good vibes. Plus, turns out there’s plenty of space here for everyone, and some.

Yes, life is good, and the Vava’u is sailing paradise. Loads of small islands (an archipelago?), a reliable wind, low swell, plenty of protection. On the way into town (we hadn’t seen a shop for 7 weeks and were keen for fresh food) we tacked and jibed our way around islands and up wide channels, me at the wheel, Andy on the sails… in truth my first real opportunity to learn sailing, enjoy it, and risk making mistakes. Crazy (after how many thousand miles?). But good.

All is well.

Rose Island, Ethical Conundrums, and Rain

Blob tweet*:
Sep 14 _14.278S, 167.160W _ Very Bored Of Shit Weather At Sea

Diary entry:
Not a fun few days. But not the adrenalin rush of our first
encounters with bad weather either. First, boredom. Second, just wanting
to have it over and done with. I don’t even want to describe it, don’t
want to remember it. Perhaps that’s what keeps the long-time voyagers
going: a well-honed ability to forget how incredibly rubbish the bad
bits are.

Not that this was really bad, not scared for life or anything (though
when the lightning started I did do a mental check of all our emergency
gear). No, primarily: bored.

There is also a new element to this trip, considerations not just
physical, emotional and psychological, but also ethical. Rose Island.

Rose Island; Wildlife Sanctuary.

I interject; you need some background.

Rose Island. Directly en route between Suvarow and northern Tonga, and
the thing that entirely consumed my thoughts during those first three
days of the journey. A simple internet search, sent to us by email by a
good friend, will tell you:

“Rose Atoll, sometimes called Rose Island or Motu O Manu by people of
the nearby Manu’a Islands, is an oceanic atoll within the U.S. territory
of American Samoa. It is an uninhabited wildlife refuge. It is the
southernmost point in the United States.

“…Rose Atoll contains the largest populations of giant clams, nesting
seabirds and rare reef fish in all of American Samoa. The fish
population is unique from the rest of the region due to a high
concentration of carnivorous fish and low concentration of herbivorous
fish. Almost 270 different species of fish have been recorded in the
last 15 years. Tuna, mahi-mahi, billfish, barracuda and sharks reside
outside the lagoon. In deeper waters, tunicate and stalked crinoid have
been spotted by scuba expeditions. Sea mammals such as the endangered
humpback whale and the stenella genus of dolphin also use the waters.

“The atoll is a critical nesting habitat for the threatened green turtle
and the endangered hawksbill turtle. The turtles migrate between
American Samoa and other Pacific Island nations. Their nesting season is
between the months of August and February.

“Approximately 97% of American Samoa’s seabird population resides on
Rose Atoll. Each of the 12 bird species is federally protected.
Red-footed boobies and greater and lesser frigate birds nest in the buka
trees. Black noddies and white terns nest in the middle and lower
branches. The root system is used by the reef herons and red-tailed
tropic birds. Other birds can be found in the Pisonia forest, the only
one left in Samoa….”

In other words, Pacific Paradise.

We know of boats that have visited, and of boats with intentions to go.
We have whispered its name since we first pored over charts in Chile.
Indeed, it must be exactly the paradise that everyone here has been
seeking, and not discovering. We even heard of a boat that stayed there
for three weeks several years ago. Imagine! An atoll to yourself.
Suvarow without the summer camp. Is it possible?

Andy was naturally intrigued to visit. In search of solitude. At one
with nature. And far from other people.

I was also intrigued (who wouldn’t be?), but also conflicted. I kept
thinking of my lab in Antarctica, the Clean Air Sector Laboratory, the
only place with any kind of scientific’out of bounds’ for thousands of
miles. A place that my companions would generally ignore and avoid,
mainly because it was too much effort to walk the 2km to get there. But
occasionally, just occasionally, we’d discover a telling pee-hole in the
snow, or see footsteps beneath an instrument that measured snow
smoothness. And I’d rage

“WHY DO YOU HAVE TO PEE HERE, OF ALL PLACES, WHEN YOU HAVE THE ENTIRE
ANTARCTIC CONTINENT TO PEE ON. why here? because it’s the only place
you’ve been told not to go?”

A friend asked me, do you always respect Keep Out signs? I laughed- I do
if I write them.

If Rose was restricted for weird political reasons, I probably wouldn’t
have been so bothered. But it is designated as a Wildlife Sanctuary, and
goodness knows we’ve seen a lot of decimated wildlife on this trip so
far: lagoons full of ciguatera, dead reef, a sparsity of fish or
colourful coral… of course people want to see what every place would
look like if it weren’t for the people… but therein lies the problem.

We thankfully side-stepped the Rose Debate . A few days before our
departure some friends en route to Tonga sent us news that there was a
scientific research campaign occurring there, and that the entrance was
clearly barred by a large US ship. Andy was disappointed, I was relieved.

And then I became curious. What a great opportunity to find out about
local habitats from experts. And interesting to see how this kind of
remote campaign was organised. And how much would I enjoy talking to
scientists there, honestly, about this issue of visiting yachts… and,
well, everything.

I wrote an email to the chief scientist responsible for the region, not
really expecting a reply. Almost by return of mail however, she sent a
very friendly note clearly not authorising our visit, but saying she’d
contact those in charge. I liked the fact that all the people mentioned
were women. (Not that I was surprised, was it maybe just a refreshing
change to come across women in charge again?!)

The morning we were due to leave I checked email one more time. Another
scientist had written: the ship has left, the campaign was over, the
island was out of bounds.

“Please respect that the atoll is closed to visitation. A primary
reason for the closure is to ensure quarantine procedures are followed
including ship hull cleaning/ inspection, rodent, insect, plant, and
seed inspections and quarantines. One of our biggest challenges on our
island refuges is destructive introduced invasive species. Most of which
were unintentionally introduced.”

Spontaneously grinning, Andy told me to put the coordinates for Rose
Island into our GPS.

“No”
“Yes”
“No”
“Yes”
“No”
“Yes”
“No”
“Yes”
“I’m going for a swim”
“Good plan”

We swam in opposite directions, me with vigour. Ranting with each
stroke. By the time I returned, after a long sweep of the anchorage, I
was in full inside-voice torrade. “How can we convince the world’s
population to change its ways with regard to climate change if I can’t
even convince my own husband to not go to Rose Island?” “How can society
ever move in the direction of communal good over individual interest?”
“Why do cruisers have to go and visit the only [tiny] prohibited area
for thousands of miles when they have the entire Pacific to ruin?” etc
etc. The issue had escalated to huge moral proportions.

I climbed on board. In silence we prepared to leave. “You worried?”, he
asked me. “What about?”, I retorted. “About the passage, the journey,
the sailing?” “Ha! I have bigger things on my mind than mere sailing!”
“You do, like what?” “Like Rose Island.”

“We’re not going there”, he told me laughing, “I know you can’t go there”.

I love him. And felt awash with gratitude.

Thus was our course decided: anywhere but Rose Island. I opted for Niue,
the furthest south, and therefore furthest from Rose, but we both knew
the strong south-easterly waves and winds would make that a hard
passage. The Vava’u Group in Tonga was the next option, requiring a path
far to the south of Rose. Niuatoputapu, to the north of Vava’u, was now
third choice solely because Rose Island was directly en route.

We departed wonderful Suvarow, course set for Vava’u. Conditions were
not great, but not too bad. There were a few squalls and seas were quite
big, but we had left, and were sailing. It was good to be free again.

A big swell rose from the south east, consistent rolling waves about 3m
in height that kept knocking us off our course, sending us too far
north. After about six hours we gave up fighting and changed our
destination (we didn’t really care where we’d end up). New destination:
Niuatupotapu. Translation: Very Sacred Coconuts. Seemed as good a reason
as any to go there.

The squalls really hit on the second day. Torrential rain, strong gusts
of wind, lashing conditions, seas of 4-6m with occasional big breakers.
We were taking shifts, day and night, in full foul weather gear, sea
boots, thermals, woolly hat… and still soaked through. It lasted for
two full days, and by the end we were thoroughly exhausted, and keen for
land. Any land.

All this time Rose Island was always getting closer. Worse, when we set
a route south of it the winds sent us north. When we set a course to the
north, the winds sent us south. However hard we tried, we seemed to be
heading straight for it. No longer was it a paradise refuge, it was
rapidly becoming a collision risk.

diary entry cont’d..
We have changed our mind about Rose so many times that I truly didn’t
know what the outcome would be until right now- three full days into
this journey.

First, no question, we wanted to go.
Then we heard we couldn’t.
So I wrote and asked if we could.
And was told we couldn’t.
So we headed anywhere but there.
Except the winds pushed us exactly there. So much it became a concern
not to hit it.
And then the weather got stronger and we got tireder and the waves got
bigger and the rain got louder and we ripped a sail…

… and things got so bad that we started considering going there after
all, despite our best intentions not to, just to find brief shelter, and
rest, and fix the sail, and re-prepare, all under the protection of
‘force mayeur’.

And I was so tired and the weather was so wild that even though my brain
said –no, it’s not right-, my body said –please, just a few hours, just
one night-.

A far cry from the weeks of solitary paradise we had earlier dreamed of.

And so I caved, and said yes and plotted our course. And on the chart I
re-read the words WILDLIFE SANCTUARY; ACCESS PROHIBITED.

And not long after Andy said, we’re no going there, I can’t do it. This
isn’t Force Mayeur.

And we changed course for the umpteenth time. Tired, desperate for a
break, but not going to Rose.

He would go where my ethics wouldn’t allow. I would have gone where his
ethics didn’t allow. I couldn’t go to a wildlife sanctuary except under
Force Mayeur. He couldn’t call Force Mayeur unless we were endangering
our lives or the boat. Strictly speaking no-one need have known but
ourselves. But we are the ones¸ ultimately, who have to live with
ourselves.

And so at last, after three painful days of ethical wrangling, we passed
Rose Island, and we didn’t visit.

diary entry con’t
When the system of incessant squalls has seemingly passed, the
relief is tangible. We both collapse and I sleep a sleep heretofore
unknown to me in transit. Is this a second skill I’ve learnt en route?
First: to forget; second: to obtain oblivion.

I’m tired now. Two or three nights to go and I just want to be there,
anywhere, anywhere with land. In truth, I’d like that land to be New
Zealand and this be the end of the adventure. I want to stop. I want
some home comforts. And to see my friends. I want to sleep in a large
double bed that is comfortable and doesn’t need to be packed away. I
want a holiday from sailing and living on a boat. I’m done. Eight months
is enough.
__

It’s the fourth night and the squalls seem to have passed. We are now
sailing well, and quite fast, in steady winds and what feels like a firm
sea below. Strong and steady- much more like what I was expecting from
the weather reports.

Amusingly, I find myself dreaming of being in a friends house in NZ,
wifi’d up, new macbook in my lap, frothy latte by my side (from a cafe
conveniently next door), immersing myself completely in Facebook. For
days. Writing to old friends, tracking people down, reconnecting, maybe
even meeting again. My daydreams take me back to old friendships that
make Andy feel like a very new arrival in my life. People who were a
daily part of my life but I have now lost contact with.

I’m loving my Starbucks internet facebook employment and audibly laugh
as I scan the horizon for yet more no boats. How the hell did I get
here- ocean all around and days away from the Kingdom of Tonga, a place
I couldn’t even put on the map a year ago. I thought that once I had
habituated into this life I might never want to return.The catchments of
modern life would seem so fickle. We would choose to sail forever, in
love with the ocean and the albatrosses. I would feel a revulsion for
the old world and all its trappings.

But no. I crave Facebook and a cafe latte.

As it turns out, the last two nights of the passage were glorious. Clear
starry nights, strong and steady winds, a relatively flat sea, good
speed, and comfortable sailing motion. On the last day we even had a
Good Life moment: sat side- by- side in the cockpit watching Zephyrus
sail herself bang on course through trauma-less conditions, eating pizza
freshly made by Andy and drinking my latest batch of home-made ginger
beer while the Tongan flag I was creating indoors lacked only a final
cross and some loops for hoisting up in the morning.

With first light I saw a perfect volcano on the horizon and Andy was
woken to my whooping and cheering: “LAND AHOY!” It was a spectacular
view made only better, a few hours later, by the sight of mother and
calf humpback whales breaching in the entrance to Very Sacred Coconuts.


*georeferenced blobs appears on the smilingfootprints map