Conkers grow upside down

Who knew – conkers grow upside down.

It’s been a long time since I was in the garden. At all.
Occasionally I go out back to pick a lettuce leaf or two for my sandwich – and that’s always a joy – but that’s about my only reason to go out there. That, and to empty the compost bin: a weekly event. And it’s now far too cold to hang out washing on the line. This is Christchurch, in winter.

But today I went a-weedin. And what did I find there, amidst the jungle of green? That’s right – lettuces! And purple kale! And poppy plants. And I have no idea where the rhubarb has got to. And sprouted conkers.

Who knew – they grow upside down! I’m sure I was meant to pull them up (I’m reasonably confident that my landlord doesn’t want three fully grown horse chestnuts in his vegetable patch) but I just didn’t have the heart. Conker trees are dying all across the UK and I’m asked to willfully stop these ones from having a chance? I don’t the think we want them here (non-native species), so can I dig them up and post them home? Is New Zealand a repository of healthy conkers, like South Georgia is for healthy [Norwegian] reindeer?


I’m having a homealone day. Check out my teapot. Says it all. Drinking litres of hot lemon in an attempt to convince my body that I’m not gestating anything more than a sound dose of hypochondria.

It’s good to have a homealone day though – seems like an age since I had nothing planned and nowhere to be. Or do. Ever noticed how a head cold makes everything that mattered yesterday entirely unimportant today?

Andy and I have both been busily getting on with whatever we do with our days, and continuing to be in different places most of the time. But the good news is that he’s heading this way. This morning he and a mate set off in S/V Baltazar. They left the Bay of Islands (north of NZ) and are heading south.

As I was weeding I started daydreaming. How delicious it will be, when he’s here, to nonchalantly say, “honey, could you please go out back and pick some lettuce leaves for  dinner?” Like it’s the most normal thing in the world.

Introducing Baltazar

There’s something I haven’t told you. While I’ve been enjoying my lettuces, juicer, farmers market, and solid foundations in general, Andy has been enjoying the high seas again. On a boat, of course. But more – on our boat. Our new boat, that is. She’s called Baltazar and she’s very beautiful (I am told) and strong (I am hoping) and is currently making her way here (New Zealand) from Puerto Montt (sound familiar?) under the trusted steerage of Andy, Angus, and Mitch. You can follow their progress here:


View Baltazar in a larger map

This is what she looks like –  old pics but I don’t suppose she’s changed that much since she was first up for sale..

As and when I get updates, I’ll post them here. In the mean-time, I’ll get back to my lettuces.

Conkers (and mice)

I’m so enjoying domestication I can’t tell you. Today, between flexible work hours, I mowed the lawn and watered my lettuces, but I also went out to the commercial part of town, spent a reasonable sum of money, and came back with absolutely nothing. Except, apparently, peace of mind (contents insurance), the right to drive legally (a NZ drivers license), and the ability to phone my Mum affordably (a new phone plan).

But I had nothing new in my hands- and better yet, that didn’t upset me. No, indeed, with my newfound roots (one week into my lease), I have discovered a deep urge to sign up for things – not because I can, but because it proves I exist. Yes please, send me an electricity bill, verify my address, show me my monthly bank balance on paper.

Do you know how hard it is to explain to authorities that you’re a regular, reasonable, (qualified even, though by that they read certified), upstanding member of society when you appear to have had no bills, no debt, no proof of residency, no joint possessions, and no dependencies, or dependency for that matter, for [insert timeframe here].

So, for these sweet six months I have slapped Andy and my name on every bill I can come up with, have redirected mail, have applied for a credit card, have sought to tick every box that immigration requires, and have generally willingly sacrificed myself to The System. And I’m loving it.

There are other aspects of domesticity that I’m also loving. First and foremost the wonderfully healthy horse chestnut tree in my garden. Yes- you read right, “my” garden. And, more to the point, the slippery, glistening, fresh-out-of-their-shells conkers that appear every day. One enormous wooden salad bowl is already almost full to brimming with them- the centrepiece of my living room.

I love conkers. I really, really love conkers. I love them on the ground, in my pocket, fresh, shrinkled, on bits of string, in bowls, on trees. I once almost got evicted from Australia (and seriously fined) for trying to smuggle a conker from the UK to my dying aunt. Two were found but I got a third in (admittedly, by mistake). She loved it. But I felt so guilty that I took it back out with me afterwards again. (I’m not sure if that’s true. Let’s pretend it is.)

That incident must have had a lasting effect on me. That, and my new found respect for the New Zealand ecowarriers, ecosystem, and the hatred that folk here have for introduced species. I would never, never, never, consider bringing in either a conker, or a shamrock, to these lands.

What joy then, to discover both in my very own garden. The shamrock here is even a weed!

I’ll be arrested for writing that. My kiwi friends will never speak to me again. It’s wrong, I tell you. Wrong wrong wrong. These things should not be here and are evil. This is NOT joyful or good. Like mice. Also like rats and stoats and possums (those, at least, are not from the UK but were probably still brought here by Brits) and rabbits and weasels and pine trees and daisies. And cats.

But I want to talk about mice.

My latest adventure took me back to Antarctica – it made me want to sing. I love that place. The light, the ice, the air, the space, the place, the magic, the everything about it. It made me want to cry as well. Anyway, on the way back (travelling on a ship), we visited some of the NZ sub-Antarctic islands, a different kind of paradise.

The one which is pest-free, Campbell Island, is also home to an albatross colony. I lay on my back for hours watching them swoop across my vision.

There is another set of islands, the Antipodes, which only have one pest on them: mice. And we’re going to kill them all. One million NZ dollars, of which one third needs to come from the public, and five days of good weather helicopter time, and that island can be set on its way to whichever way pest-free evolution takes it. Pretty simple really.

Warning lights went off for me when the project was first thought of – it was almost too easy, and if we succeeded then it would also be too easy to be self-congratulatory. To think the whole trip had been worth it and justified. No. There are far more complex, larger, harder, problems facing that area. Climate change, stress on ecosystems, fishing, resource management….  but what do you want to hear more about, genuinely?

Given that choice, let’s exterminate mice!

And you know what, sometimes it’s good just to do something achievable. It’s still a big ask – a million dollars and a rigorous campaign involving ships, helicopters, bait, ground staff, air staff, logistics, on-going monitoring…. but it’s do-able. And how great is that? In the light of so many unfathomable problems, riddled like a nest of squirming worms with difficulties and repercussions, let’s kill some mice and save some penguins and albatrosses.

You know, even if a family has huge financial and relationship issues, it’s still a good thing to bake a birthday cake for the kid. Or, better, teach him to swim, or ski, or dance, or fly. He’ll carry that with him forever. Like the Antipodes.

 

 

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.