Saturday, 22 March 2014

same song, different verse

Early days on Nyon
I’m an adventurer, but I do love cozying up in a blanket with a good book. I’m a nature lover, yet I relish immersing myself in a large city’s energy, the galleries, cafes, the gritty neighbourhoods, the whole-in-the wall shops… I can be the life of the party or a wallflower, it depends on my mood. Of course, I can talk your ear off but I’m just as happy spending a day by myself with my music and a sketchbook. And I’m a voyager yes, but the homebody in me is never far off.

One of our biggest projects
I started writing this blog as a way to explain to our loved ones the crazy adventure Rick and I had just begun. We had bought an old wooden sailboat and had started refitting it. All the while, we were rambling about going offshore with it. We were going to sail off into the sunset, that’s what we told anyone who would listen. I sometimes wonder whether people believed us. But I kept writing, and we kept dreaming while spending hours, weeks, months, fixing our old boat. That was 7 years ago.

Last glimpse as we
left Canada
If you are reading this, you know that we did leave. We embraced our inner adventurers. Call it what you will, we saw ourselves as footloose and fancy-free. The blog became a log of our discoveries, both geographical and cultural. I also began to write about my inner journey. I included some of the challenges we faced, like the time our mast broke. I also sometimes touched on the loneliness that crept up on us at times. As we travelled south, our readership expanded. People we met along the way began to read our stories. And then strangers did too. Anonymous readers wrote us asking questions or sending encouragement. I was no longer simply writing. At some point, this blog morphed into an exchange of ideas, experiences and philosophies.

Soaking in the city vibe
Lately, I’ve been wondering, what will I write about now? People expect adventures, anecdotes… How do I share my sense of wonder at the daily observations that come from staying put in one location? I won’t be travelling thousands of miles this coming year. What I’ll be doing, is journeying deeper into one country that is foreign to me. This is an opportunity. And I want to write about that while also taking the time to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned on the way here. 

Fiji and the Western South Pacific await, but this time when the grand exodus begins in April, we will be among those waving goodbye to the yachts sailing over the horizon. Soon after, we'll dig out our woolies and brace ourselves for our first winter in 3 years. And maybe, just maybe, I will have a story or two to tell.

Exploring the vicinity with friends we met thousands of
nautical miles away (with Barbera from SV Landfall)

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

paying attention

I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.
Looking I mean not just standing around,
but standing around as though with your arms open.
(Mary Oliver)

Rowing to shore for an early morning walk
(Photo courtesy of Fran Kelly)

Misty goodness

As the fog lifts: colour
The light at the end of the tunnel

The end

Sunday, 16 March 2014

an unwelcome visitor

Just a little bit windy for now
Lusi is coming to town this weekend, but we don’t want her to.

Friday 1100: The energy is charged around Opua this morning. We’re waiting for Lusi to make landfall on the northern tip of New Zealand. Boats have crammed themselves into the marina and then there are those of us tied to moorings with multiple lines and plenty of chafe guard. Our decks are cleared. Everything is tied down. And we have chocolate. We are ready. We’ve been through our share of storms, but never a cyclone or hurricane. We do expect Cyclone Lusi to shrink down to a storm before she graces us with her presence. We just wish she weren't coming at all.

Vanuatu has suffered because of Lusi. She has sadly been the cause of 3 confirmed deaths and a number of people have disappeared (likely due to mudslides) The damage a tropical cyclone can leave in its wake can be extensive. The recent Cyclone Ian is an example of the desolation that can be left behind. 

Friday 1400: The skies are overcast. Big thick clouds have been gathering since last night. The wind has begun to rise. But so far we’re in the 20 knot range with gusts only slightly higher. That’s just run of the mill winds. Rick is still at work. And I’m monitoring weather forecasts and working on some computer projects.

Live action while we still had Internet, can you see NZ?
(Click to enlarge)
Friday 2300: The wind has become very gusty, still only in the 30 knot range, but we don’t expect it to worsen for a few hours. After dawdling for a while, we go to bed.

Saturday 0200: Actually, to be exact, it was 0150. All of a sudden the wind was very loud. And we were both startled awake. We had already decided to get up every 2 hours to check our lines, and it was nearly Rick’s turn to go out in the storm. The boat was straining on the lines, but everything was fine. We’ve experienced 40+ knot winds before. The worst part is the noise, and the potential of lines chafing through. But we know to keep a close eye on that. There can be a lot of friction on the lines that hold a boat to a mooring (a yacht’s anchor rode or dock lines can have the same issues). If there is enough wind, the resulting motion and friction can slice clear through thick lines. Have I mentioned chafe guard?

Saturday 0300: We no longer have an Internet connection. Luckily our cell phone has a mini data plan that allows us to keep checking weather reports. Oh, and our anamometer stopped working. Our transmitter needs fresh batteries, while they still charge on sunny days, a cloudy day means they don't last through the night. [We found out later that the winds went up to 58 knots in the middle of the night. This explains why the wind sounded so ominous, luckily, our location was well protected unlike some parts of the Bay of Island.]

Saturday 0800: The winds are back in the mid 40’s (our anamoter is working again). Rick is sleeping after we've both spent most of the night awake. I'm keeping watch and working on the computer. I'm incredibly productive. Maybe it's because there is no Internet to distract me.

Rick and Ernesto Trying to save
what's left of that sailin 40 knot winds
Saturday 0900: A nearby (unattended) yacht’s foresail unfurled in the wind and we watch helpless as it slowly starts to shred. We pass on the message through friends, but we only have a rowing dinghy, there is no way we could go over there to minimize the damage. Our neighbour Ernesto on Libertee calls on the VHF and asks Rick to come help him furl it back up, Libertee has a dinghy with an outboard. So the two set off against wind and rain. I watch from Nyon as they put a stop to the already extensive damage on the sail. 

Saturday 1900: We barely notice the gusts in the mid 20’s tonight. We filled our bellies with a delicious chicken and kumara curry and we'll likely fall asleep early. We're tired. 

Sunday 1000: Light breezes and sunshine greet us. 

Check out  this footage, you'll see what it looked like in Northland during the storm. 

If you are a sailor (or not) and you want to know how to prepare for a storm or what it's like in an actual hurricane, this is a great article written by someone who weathered  Hurricane Marty in the Sea of Cortez. There is a lot of great information, and our hurricane list is an adaptation of theirs.

Monday, 10 March 2014

pulling over to the side of the ocean

Late afternoon view from our mooring ball in Opua
That’s what I read. Switching gears from-full time cruising to settling in a community for an extended period of time can be difficult. “Not me, I’m going to love it”, I thought, “I can use a break, recharge my batteries, find steadiness in a more stable community.”  Well.

Yes, we are still sailing!
We haven’t returned to our home country, we are still living on our boat after 7 years, and we plan to continue exploring this big, wide world. Yet we feel like a chapter has ended. We cruised full time for 2 ½ years and we have sailed the largest body of water on the planet. Now, we are here. New Zealand is a lot like Canada, but it is also very different.  We’re used to different:  we like variety, we love discovering the quirks of other cultures, and we like pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones, but this stop is... more involved. We are now officially expats. We are still on the fringes of our new community but we have work visas! We have IRD tax numbers! Rick already has a job in the marine industry. I’m working on projects and looking for work. Most days, all this newness is exciting, other days, it’s overwhelming. Sometimes, I just feel a little bit lost. My purpose was clearly defined as a voyager. Keep the boat afloat, plan journeys, and discover foreign lands. I’m busy shifting those gears to a more constant environment and different types of responsibilities. The strangest part is that sailing is something I once again do on weekends. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word transition as a: “passage from one state, subject, or place to another.” It also defines it as “a musical passage leading from one section of a piece to another.” The latter speaks more to my state of mind. I’m still figuring out the notes, but I can hear a new melody.

A sleepy Opua (to the left is Ashby's Boatyard)
Melody aside, if I am to be perfectly honest I’m still finding my footing. Why should a more stable environment cause me so much unrest? I feel like my compass is spinning. This morning, while drinking my coffee, I paused mid-sip. I realized how much I have learned about myself since I left Canadian shores in 2011. I realized that loneliness won’t kill me. I worked through my fears of storms or hitting containers out on the big blue. I climbed mountains I thought my body couldn’t climb because of my Ankylosing Spondylitis. I befriended people I may never have crossed paths with in my past life. I am a little less afraid of sharks and I feel a strong affinity with the rhythms of the ocean, the moon, and the sun. I now recognize my strength and resourcefulness. I also truly understand what it means to say “this too shall pass”. 

Rejoicing in our new backyard:
The beautiful Urupukapuka
in the Bay of Islands
The uneasiness I’m feeling right now is obviously part of being in transition. When we were sailing through one of the worst storms we’d faced offshore and I cried in frustration and fatigue, I hit a low. But after weathering the storm, and dropping the hook in turquoise waters, the exhilaration I felt erased the anxiety. It comes down to this, whatever is happening, it’s only happening now. It will pass. Something else will take its place. A wonderful anchorage can become a dangerous lee shore. A stormy night can see the sun rise with a light breeze. Slowing down after sailing 15000 nautical miles can give us a well earned rest. Nothing is static. Nothing is permanent. The sooner I accept that, the easier it is to open myself up to what I am experiencing right now, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I know that eventually, I will feel part of this community. I will enjoy the stability, at least for a while. And I will feel more grounded. For now, I shall sit with my spinning compass, breathe deep, and peruse the classifieds.

Monday, 20 January 2014

a question of dollars

A tiny speck in the South Pacific: Beautiful Suwarrow
How much does it cost? That was the first question typed in the comments section of our Facebook Page, after I opened the floor to inquiries regarding our life as voyagers. And while I didn’t mean to sound flippant, my immediate response was “It costs as much as you have.” That’s what it comes down to, really. You spend what’s in your wallet. We have cruised with folks that own newer, bigger boats with many luxuries. They mostly hire people to maintain or repair their boats. Wherever they go, they often eat out, go on costly tours or rent cars to explore inland, all because they can. We have also cruised with boats that didn’t have anything but bare bones. Our sister ship “Clover” that left for the South Pacific the year before us, was a minimalist’s dream. I met her friendly captain Shane very briefly, and I know one shouldn’t believe everything they read, but an article written about him in Latitude 38 said he left North America with $300. We also met a boat that would catch fish for your next supper in exchange for charging their Kindle, the young couple also swam to get to shore. I’m not kidding. Most of us out here are neither extreme, but how much we spend to explore this great, big world still significantly varies. And it's doable, even if you don't have a lot of money.

“But you guys sold a house!” is the comment I have often heard from others. Yes we did, and it would have taken a lot longer to get out here if we hadn’t. Yet there are many ways to make voyaging happen. It depends on what your expectations are, where you wish to go, what type of boat you have, and how well it withstands the demands of offshore sailing, (if that’s what you’re planning on doing). Sometimes, it’s just timing. Our buddy Ben managed to find an affordable, decent boat which he purchased with a friend. They then learned to sail it and took turns to take it across the Pacific from San Diego to Australia! He’s 26 years old and didn’t sell a house to go sailing.

How much it costs depends on what you can’t live without. When I say “what you can’t live without”, I mean what you don’t want to live without. It’s your choice if you want a certified liferaft (for some that’s a no-brainer), or if you refuse to sail under 4 knots. We have friends we love dearly, who categorically refuse to sail under 4 knots… That is unimaginable to us. First, that means you burn a lot of fuel as light winds are common. And diesel costs money. On Nyon, we only carry 35 gallons of it, that’s including our Gerry cans. We have to be choosy about when we turn on the iron jib. But that’s not the only reason we sometimes sail at less than 2 knots, we much prefer the sound of the wind and waves over the roar of a diesel engine.

Shades of blue in Makemo, Tuamotus
If it looks like I’m avoiding giving you actual numbers, it’s because I am. I am not comfortable sharing my finances on the Internet.* But I understand the question. Many wonder how we could afford to not work for 2 ½ years while voyaging nearly 15000 nautical miles. I’ll tell you: we sacrificed a lot, and to be honest, most of the time it was easy for us. We generally choose to live very simply. Still, we are at the point where we also have to start working again. We need to put some money into the boat and into the cruising kitty. As we settle into life in New Zealand for the time being, we apply the same approach we have had while travelling. We ask ourselves these kinds of questions: Do we need it or do we want it badly? Is there a cheaper option? Is there a free option? Can we trade for it? Of course, we did treat ourselves to the occasional meal out, but in Mexico that usually meant taco stands while in the South Pacific, it meant going to a roulotte.  We learned the art of using Sikaflex to fix our hiking sandals. We mended our clothes and washed all our laundry by hand. We anchored out 99% of the time. (Although in the South Pacific, we did use moorings more frequently due to the depths of certain anchorages.)
Heading to Moorea, as seen from Tahiti
Now that we’re in New Zealand, we live on a mooring, not a dock. (It’s much cheaper.) We live in a tiny village where there just aren’t many places to buy things (unless you’re buying boat bits). There are plenty of free anchorages within a couple hour sail. Do we feel isolated? A little. But we like going for walks and hikes, sailing, and storytelling. Those are all pretty much free. We might eventually have to buy a car, but we’re holding off for as long as we can. We walk everywhere and borrow other (kind) people’s cars and bikes when we need groceries. Sometimes we rent a car for the day. We discuss every major expense to death, and we each have a spending “allowance” that we can use as we wish without prior discussion with the other. (I’m talking about $20 a week here.) As we make money again, we will split it in three categories: 1) Day-to-day living, 2) Savings 3) Boat repairs/maintenance. We note everything we spend. Sometimes we let loose, and splurge, we’re only human after all. But living simply is a goal for us, not just a necessity. The fact that we don’t want to be sucked onto the consumerist train encourages us to make the choices we make.
Nyon leaves La Paz, Mexico
Photo courtesy of SV Eagle
Owning a boat costs money, and travelling costs money. How much money you have saved will dictate what kind of boat you buy, how old the boat is, and how much of the work you do yourself. How much money you have might lead you to cruise Mexico for very few pesos, or spend a little or a lot more to explore the South Pacific Islands. Depending on your interests, you may explore foreign countries by enjoying free activities. We hiked a lot, spent as much time as possible in the water and we shared homemade meals with new friends. If you like being in marinas, checking out local restaurants and organized activities, you will want to budget accordingly.

If you’re dreaming of sailing over the horizon, and you actually make it out there, how much money you have will not change the fact that one day, you will likely find yourself in an anchorage with both a multimillion dollar yacht and a tiny hippie boat with no refrigeration. Trust me: the sunset will look the same from both cockpits. So allow me to answer your question with a question, Rob: "When you say, how much does it cost?" I say, "How much have you got?" (And what are you waiting for?)

Tahanea, Tuamotus

*If youre interested in some proper number crunching here are a few links of other cruisers' budgets. While they vary a lot (due to the size of the crew, personal preferences and priorities, etc), they will give you a more concrete image of the costs of cruising. 

For Scream's budget in 2011-2012. Click here.

For Wondertime's South Pacific budget (2012). Click here.

Further reading:
Voyaging with Velella. Click here.
Estrellita 5.10B has linked to a number of sources on their blog. Click here.

If you have any links to recommend on this topic, please include them in the comments below..

Sunday, 12 January 2014

wishing you a wish

Pretty Okahu Island
Another year, another adventure. We want to wish you (a little belatedly) a fantastic new year! We hope 2014 is the year you reach an important goal (to you), may it also be the year you try something that scares you and succeed, and perhaps this year, you will impress yourself by learning a new skill. And finally, let's all make it a year we support and encourage another who may simply need someone to believe in them. And that's as close as we get to resolutions on this boat.

Wishing you good health, love, and a juicy adventure or two, the Nyon crew.

Sending our love to you, you know who you are!

Gnarly tree strikes my fancy

Who needs television when there are sunsets?

the land files: imaginary scenery

Cape Reinga Lighthouse, really.
Happy to be together, rain or shine
We went to Cape Reinga and all we got was a lousy wall of fog. Well that’s not entirely true. We also got lashed with rain and hail, but who’s counting. It was a long way to drive and we’re a stubborn lot. We parked the car and walked to the lighthouse anyway. We weren’t the only ones: quite a few other brave souls hunched their shoulders and pressed on as well. We couldn’t see the nearby islands. We barely distinguished a sliver of ocean, right near shore. We had to imagine the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean swirling together. And we came back to the car soaked. Perhaps we should have paid closer attention to the forecast, but this was a LAND activity, we didn’t need to worry about the weather right? 
(Silly, silly sailors…)

Water! We see water!

And they call me weird...

We refused to be outdone by the lousy weather, and headed for the sand dunes of 90 mile beach. Our luck improved and the skies while still grey stopped dumping on us. 

We kicked off our jandals (flip flops) and scampered among the giant mountains of sand, and lo and behold, we saw the Tasman Sea at last!

Sea-ho! The Tasman Sea shows us her colours after all!
Road trips are fun. Rain or shine. I was glad I was not sailing around the northern tip of New Zealand that day, it would have been ghastly. But we faked it as landlubbers and we did have fun. The day ended with an impromptu stop at the Ngawha Hot Springs.

In case you're wondering, this is no fancy spa. To quote Rick: “It brings the term shabby chic to new extremes.” A little run down but with a friendly atmosphere, the rustic wooden baths still beckoned our weary bones at the end of a long day on the road. A fine, cold mist filled the air as we relaxed into the warmth of thermal energy. And it was good.

That's the Tasman Sea.

Rick: pure and simple

Note: For sunny photos of these locations, check out SV Bella Star's blog post. Just scroll down, you'll see what I mean.

Monday, 6 January 2014

islanding it, again

View from Waewaetorea Island
Our idea of a perfect Christmas is dropping the hook somewhere pretty and chilling out. (Now if we could beam our families there, that'd be even better.) We did have one of our choice family members with us this year, and that was a treat. We drank cheap wine, hiked barefoot in the hills, and ate fresh seafood given to us by friendly Kiwis...  All in all, it was a fabulous way to end the year.

Following are a few gratuitous photos for our loved ones.

A beautiful sunny day...
(Photo courtesy of Dana)
Rick and I enjoying the fresh air
(Photo courtesy of Dana)

Stockings bring a little Christmas cheer to Nyon
Barefoot hiking, it's awesome!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

the land files: the other side of the coin

View from a bus: a little greener a
little smoother
My backpacking partner
in crime and I
I put flip flops on my feet, threw a backpack on my back and tied my hiking shoes to it. Then I hopped on a bus, and went back in time. Before I was a sailor and voyager, I was a different kind of traveller. I was a backpacker: hopping from hostel or pension to hostel, and seeing the world from a train or bus window. Did I like travelling that way? I loved it. As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t do enough of it. It was great to see the world with dusty feet and a worn language phrasebook in my hand.

There are so many ways to experience foreign lands, voyaging by sea is one and backpacking is another. I have spent the past two and a half years voyaging between countries and within them by boat. When my friend Dana suggested going back to my landlubber ways for a girls’ getaway, I jumped at the chance. It got me thinking: how would I compare the two? Is backpacking really so different from voyaging?


In Rotorua, land of thermal activity
Voyaging is all about weather (and fixing things, but that’s another story). Is it safe to stay in that anchorage? Can you leave today for your next destination? What does it look like 3 days from now for longer passages? Is it so windy you can’t leave the boat, or so rolly you can’t sleep at night? Secondly, when you scan a new town, it is to know where the locals buy food and if there is a farmers’ market nearby. You also want to know where there is potable water (if you don’t have a watermaker), and where the nearest hardware store/chandlery/petrol station/Laundromat is. And then you explore what is interesting in the area. This usually includes hiking, historic sites and the best snorkelling holes. To reach town you have to get into a dinghy and row or motor to shore and find a safe spot to leave the dinghy while you’re traipsing on land. (This is harder than you might think in some places.) You cook in your own kitchen (galley) and sleep in your own bed (berth) every night. If Laundromats are absent, or too expensive, you hand wash your linens and clothing. Depending on where you are, you shower in salt water off the boat and rinse with fresh water or you have a sponge bath in the cabin. (Many boats have showers, but we are among those who don’t.) When you’re cruising, it’s true, you are constantly doing maintenance or fixing stuff on your boat, but you have the best seat in the house for viewing sunsets and visiting dolphins. Because all sailors are dependent on the seasons and weather windows, boats tend to cluster in similar areas (unless you choose less trodden locations, we do a bit of both.) You meet many sailors from all over the world. (Though, in Mexico, the majority of sailors are American or Canadian.) As a voyager, it can be easier to assimilate yourself into a community (if you stay long enough) and to meet locals. Voyaging also demands more investment up front. While you’re traveling, you can live very cheaply, but first you need a boat. That costs money, how much depends on your budget and what you think you can’t live without.


Hanging out by the lakeside in Taupo
When you’re backpacking, your main concern is where the bus stops and when it leaves. The weather is irrelevant. You carry everything you need on your back between destinations. You eat out a lot, or you cook in communal kitchens if you are the hostelling type. You typically sleep in bunk beds with an international array of mostly young people (unless you get a private room). You shower in communal bathrooms. You step out of the hostel, and walk everywhere. You visit the sites and join in adrenaline inducing activities. (Although many cruisers do this too, there are plenty of built-in adrenaline boosters simply while sailing in bad weather.) There are countless opportunities to meet other travellers. In a way it’s easier to meet others as you share long tables and sleeping areas. They come from everywhere, but in New Zealand at least, the majority of them are German and Dutch. As a backpacker, you don’t always mix with locals, you tend to clump your way through towns with other backpackers. Again, just like cruisers, it depends on your personality and preferences. When you travel and meet strangers, you have the ability to quickly bond and form strong friendships. Personally, I find that the friendships I have made as a cruiser are longer lasting, than the passing friendships in the backpacking crowd.

Hunting for graffiti art
Voyagers share similar experiences and have their own lingo. So do backpackers. And both groups do experience a lot of the similar pleasures and challenges that come with being a foreigner in a new country. For many years, we have spent a lot of time with other sailors. Since 2011, we've been sailing offshore, that’s “our normal”. It has been a while since our form of travelling has been considered crazy, odd, or wild. When I recently hung out with adventurous backpackers who thought sailing across the Pacific was the coolest thing since the invention of toast, it reminded me that I belong to a rather small subculture of wanderers.

Resting after a very demanding dip
in the Spa park hot pools
The more you travel, the more you see the world for what it is, not what you think it is. Your journey can be with a backpack or on a sailboat, and when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter which you choose. They differ in important respects, but ultimately, they both reflect a thirst for adventure and a love of travel. Basically, they are two sides of the same coin. While I am hooked on voyaging, I will always have a bit of the backpacker in me.

All these photos were taken on our road trip to Taupo and Rotorua. We stayed in hostels, and explored the nearby Waitomo Caves as well. Good times were had, and while Dana forged ahead for a few more days, I returned to Rick and the boat, content.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

a landlubber's eye view

Dana, our friend and photographer

A lovely old friend joined us on Nyon for the month of December. Of course we took her sailing and explored some of the islands in the Bay of Islands. The following photos were all taken by Dana, in the islands of Urupukapuka and Moturua.


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