Friday, 14 August 2015

boats, boats, boats

Some years ago - never mind how long precisely -
 having little or no money in my purse, 
and nothing particular to interest me on shore, 
I thought I would sail about a little
 and see the watery part of the world.
 (H. Melville, Moby Dick)

Sailing in the Bay of Islands
(with our new sails!)
When you are on the move, a sea gypsy traveling on an old yacht at the whim of Mother Nature, you spend a lot of time thinking about your boat. You think about the leaks, the worn out sails, you calculate how long it might take you to sail to a speck of an island in the middle of the ocean, and then you just go. All the while, you try to take care of your boat, try not to chafe that reef line again, or you hope that she’ll be able to handle steering with the wind vane even though the wind is close to dead downwind. You keep an eye on corrosion, provisions…

More than one person has asked me, “Isn’t it overwhelming and scary out on the open ocean?” To which I have replied, “Well, it’s like this. You eat, you sleep, you navigate, mark your position, keep watch, download weather gribs, check the systems aboard – over and over. It’s easy for the yacht you’re traveling on and its very immediate surroundings to become your entire world." Fear is not part of the routine. Of course, there are those times when you look at the endless waves and think of bigger things, but mostly, you are working with your boat and thinking about your boat, and living on your boat. And she takes care of you.

Nyon anchored next to Moturua Island
Since we’ve been in New Zealand, Rick and I still think a lot about our boat. We still live on her. We still sail her. And this year we are tackling a lot of big projects – Nyon is due for an overhaul. We have been busy saving money, and now we’re taking care of her. But, here’s the catch. Other boats have crept into our thoughts and conversations.

We’re not buying a different boat, that’s not it. We both work with boats. We live in a tiny place that is all about boats (it’s a marine industry hub out in the boonies,) and the Bay of Islands is considered a cruising gem among boaters. In fact, I write this anchored off Moturua, one of my favourite islands in the Bay.

Sailing on a tall ship
Yet, I have now sailed some of this coast on a much bigger boat – as crew on a tall ship. That ship has crept into my mind, and I can’t deny I have a soft spot for her now too. She’s not home, but she’s a training vessel for adolescents. She’s taught me to love traditional sailing, and performing as part of a larger crew. Though I mostly work from the office and not aboard the ship, I still get to talk and think about a tall ship all day. And right now, Rick is part of a crew building a large alloy catamaran… And that’s only one boat-related responsibility he has at work.

From the ground up
We can’t help it, most days, we talk about boats. I wonder if it’s because we’ve had a real taste of life on the ocean – our desire to go on voyages has not dimmed, perhaps that’s why we seek anything that involves boats – it keeps us linked to our family of sea gypsies.

I remember when I first sailed on a boat. I don’t mean the large ship that took my family across the Atlantic from the Netherlands to Canada many years ago. An actual sailboat. I was 12 years old – family friends had a yacht, and we sailed it on Lake Michigan for the day. I climbed down below and sat in the cabin taking it all in, even though I became a little seasick. Back on deck, I felt the boat lean from the wind and push forward. I was captivated. Though it wasn’t until 20 years later that I sailed again, this time, on the West Coast of Canada, and only for an afternoon. Between that and a tall ship festival – the desire to jump on a boat grew. It led us to crew on a small yacht in the Mediterranean for a summer. We sailed and anchored off France’s southern shores and the west coast of Italy. We both fell in love with the simplicity of the lifestyle, the immediacy. That’s when we decided we needed to leave land to see the watery part of the world.

When I look back on my life so far, boats have only really been a part of it for 10 years. But talk about being front and centre now. To put it simply:

Love boats. Live on yacht. Will sail anywhere. 

Friday, 20 March 2015

from the land beyond beyond

That's 3 Crouzats, not one
When you live in New Zealand, Canada is a far, far away land. (It’s 13, 056 kilometres away to be exact.) It took us over 2 years to get here. Granted, we did take the scenic route. 

It took them 29 hours. They misplaced a day on the way, traded their winter boots for sandals, and had to slap on some sunscreen in less than 36 hours.

Though it seems sudden from a sailor's perspective, this visit was a long time coming.*

Tramping about
Family is comfortable. Family is complicated. And family can give you a sense of belonging. Ultimately, family makes you realize there are others like you. When I see my mother walking in circles looking for her [fill in the blank], I realize how much alike we are. When my father gets excited about a new adventure (say, parasailing,) I recognize my appetite for new escapades. It’s interesting to see parts of yourself in your family. I have had three weeks to do just that. I have also had the chance to get to know my parents again. I can’t remember the last time I spent 21 days near them. It’s been many, many years. After all, we had lived 5000 km apart for over twenty years before Rick and I left Canada.

A memorable moment: parasailing with dad

Ready for adventure!
While my parents were here, we spent a weekend in the Bay of Islands aboard Nyon. For two landlubbers with mobility issues, I was glad to see how quickly they adapted. We added a step for them to climb aboard and borrowed a dinghy from Rick’s bosses, (a nice, stable inflatable dinghy as opposed to our unstable hard dinghy,) to help my parents’ transition onto Nyon. 

We showed them how to work the toilet, how to use a foot pump to get water, how to hop in and out of the dinghy at the beach. It was interesting to see my everyday life unfold before their surprised eyes. Rick and I had to laugh, we spent all winter rebuilding the settee so it could be used as a berth, and my parents begged us to sleep under the stars in the cockpit. They wanted an adventure.

Tramping on Urupukapuka

Sleeping under the stars... 
Mom at the helm

The gang of 4
We live a very simple life, and it’s an adjustment even for the most easy-going person. Yet, I knew my parents would feel the peace I feel when we are anchored out in the Bay. My love of nature is something I share with my them. They taught me to respect it and appreciate it. Sailing in the Bay was by far the highlight of their visit.

I miss my parents now that they are gone. And while I much prefer sailboats, planes are pretty cool too. It means loved ones can reach you in under 2 days, not 2 years.

Thanks for making the journey mama and papa Crouzat!

*I did spend a brief time with my mother in California prior to crossing the Pacific in 2013, but the last time I’d seen my father was in early 2011.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

outside the box

That day's neighbour
My pen hovers over the paper. I feel anxiety fill my chest. How do I answer that? The choices are always limited. Limited to a lifestyle I gave up long ago.

I hate filling out forms. Whenever I’m faced with bureaucracy, I simply cannot squeeze into a box. Repeated attempts at twisting and molding myself into a tiny definition of who I am and how I live, cause me to break out in a cold sweat. There are the obvious boxes. The ones that expect you to have utilities bills and a tenancy agreement. We make our own electricity and water, and we live on a boat that was paid for a long time ago. Though, we do drop a few dollars a month for a mooring, simply for the convenience of rowing to shore in less than 5 minutes, our needs are simple and few.

To tell you the truth, when officialdom knocks at my door, I want to go hide under the bed. But I don’t have a bed.

Then there are the boxes that want you to define yourself with a career. That one is a little easier for Rick. I, on the other hand, have worn many hats over the years. I don’t really have any clear answers when I’m asked about my future career aspirations. I work when I need to, and I certainly do not define myself by what I do. At 42, that gets me strange looks. You don’t want to be something? Don’t you have ambitions? You just want to live on a boat, draw pictures and write stories? That’s apparently cuter when you are twenty then when you are a mature adult. That’s not reality. Well, I have news, it’s my reality. Even if by necessity I have to go to work in the morning, my priorities are not about climbing the “ladder of success”.

Photo of Nyon courtesy of
s/v Calico Jack
For the sake of consistency and order, humans tend to want rules and parameters to function. But for those of us that have left the path of normalcy, these parameters are often like putting on ill-fitting clothes. We feel uncomfortable and we look a little strange.

Rick and I have dropped the hook in one community for the past year, and I’m finding it hard to make a place for myself. After letting the winds and seasons direct my path for nearly 3 years, I am now living with one foot on my boat and one foot on land again. I have the heart of a gypsy, but I’m in a world where defining myself is like trying to tick a box on a form. I hover around the perimeter and resist putting pen to paper.

The friends I have made tend to be hoverers like me. Unfortunately, hoverers don’t stick around and when they do, they can be difficult to find. I feel most at home when we’re anchored next to one of the 144 islands in the Bay. I love our barefoot tramps on our favourite islands and collecting green lipped mussels. Yet I have no idea how to find a space for myself as soon as I near civilization.

At home on the water
I remember reading about other long time travelers’ struggles with adapting to a more static lifestyle, even if temporarily. I didn’t understand. I hadn’t been free yet, so free that floating in the middle of an enormous ocean had become my “normal”. When you have experienced that, the world will always seem a little off kilter when you reach shore.

I am grateful for what I have lived out there, and for what I have yet to experience. Yes, I am also grateful for this chapter. I know it seems like I am contradicting myself, but the life of a sea-gypsy has taught me to work through the discomforts and fears I face. I just haven't found something that fits yet. And I still want to write a story when I am expected to simply tick a box. I realize now, that it's okay. And I'm okay.

An island we love

Sunday, 4 January 2015

goin' old school

View from the bowsprit
I hadn’t sailed on someone else's boat in a long time. And unlike Rick, I had never sailed on a tall ship. A little while ago, I was offered the opportunity to spend a day sailing in the Bay of Islands on the R. Tucker Thompson. It was too good to say no to, so we said yes. 

There is nothing like a beautiful ship
doing what it does best

There are many more lines than Nyon

The Tucker from Roberton Island

In his element

The view from my perch

Climbing the rigging and loving it

In awe

Happy sailors

Monday, 3 November 2014

the road files: feeling restless

One of our many tangents: Sandy Bay

Sailing in familiar waters
After nearly a year in New Zealand, we've settled into this little community. Over the winter, our focus has shrunken to daily tasks and work. We finally saw just how worn out Nyon was from intense voyaging, and how much love she needed. We started saving up money, and got our tools out. Our world grew small. Routine became our new normal. 

For those that know me, it will hardly come as a surprise that I've been feeling increasingly restless. Actually, we both have been craving the unfamiliar. Yes, we chose to live here and work here. And yes, we regularly go sailing on weekends in the Bay of Islands. We now have favourite anchorages. But we miss discovering new places. 

Making room for our inner gypsies
That's why this past weekend, we climbed in the car (so kindly loaned to us by our friends who are cruising in Fiji), and hopped on the ferry to Russell. We then drove south along the coast. We weren't going far, we were simply going somewhere new.

On the road again...
Jack's Bay: A landlubber's eye view
We were both giddy, here we were exploring and absorbing this beautiful country from a different angle. For a while, we forgot that we had responsibilities, that we weren't full-time voyagers, and we turned on our curiosity. We rediscovered our gypsy ways, even if only for a brief time. 

This road trip reminded us that there is a lot to discover right here in New Zealand, we won't forget too look again.

Boats out there

Northland's beautiful coastline

There are other ways of living small

Token artsy shot

Our view from the Gallery & Cafe

Happy as a clam

Feeling good

Whale Bay

Whale Bay from up high

Woolley's Beach

Sunday, 26 October 2014

it ain't all shitty

That morning, we were doing it. After three months of being land-locked, we were finally going sailing once more in the Bay of Islands. We had 4 glorious days of leisure planned. The forecast mentioned gales and rain, but we didn’t care. Nyon can handle 30 knot gusts and being from the north-eastern Pacific, we knew we wouldn’t melt if it rained. Our plan was to just tuck away in a little anchorage and hunker down. It was going to be bliss.

That’s when it happened.

The skies cleared for a brief time,
we were still in denial about the head...

The toilet rebelled. Warning: when you talk about the head*, there is nothing pretty about it. I mean really, how can one make shit sound pretty? So here we were. The toilet was out of order. It wouldn’t flush. We decided we’d deal with it at anchor. “We’ll just pee in a bucket on the way!”

After a boisterous sail, we tucked into Pipi Bay as it is locally known, (oh the irony). The wind was gusting and the rain fought patches of blue skies. The blue skies put up a good fight. And for a brief time, the water glowed turquoise. We opted to procrastinate a little longer. By mid-afternoon, we decided we really should tackle the head. There was obviously a clog somewhere. We took apart the toilet, cleaned things up, and changed the joker valve. After everything was put back together, we tried to flush the toilet: Nothing. This had now become one of those boat chores.

The welcoming committee lulled
us into a false sense of
"it'll be fine"
By then it was dark. We realized that we would have to take the next day to rip apart our plumbing system and find the problem. 

Oh by the way, the next day? It was my birthday.   

When something goes haywire on Nyon, we don’t call the plumber or electrician. That’s why the morning of my 42nd birthday, after fortifying ourselves with toast and scrambled eggs, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. Oh yeah, living the dream. First the toilet came out. The Lectra Scan** was next. Following that, the hoses were taken apart…  Yeah. It was as shitty as it sounds. At least the holding tank was allowed to stay put. We found the problem and went into full repair mode. In the process, we accidentally broke a couple bits and replaced them with other bits. (There are times when I’m grateful that Rick’s father taught him to keep stuff, “‘cause you never know”. Rick is the king of recycling and repurposing. This comes in handy when you are on a budget and you live on an older boat.)

No need to see us do the dirty
work, we'll let your imagination
do the work
I am happy to report that by 1430, everything was back in place, the head was fully functioning, and the boat was cleaner than it was when we left port.

The best part was that we still had two days left of actual relaxation at anchor. And we decided that my birthday hadn’t happened yet. All we had to do was pretend we were on the other side of the dateline. It’s all about perspective.

It’s funny what a flushing toilet can do for your state of mind. When we returned to port and friends asked us about our time in the Bay, we sincerely replied: “It was awesome!” It just goes to show you, it isn’t always cocktails at sunset, but it sure ain’t all shitty either.

Nyon, after the excitement
First barefoot tramp of the season: Best birthday present ever!
(Well, that and a functioning head!)

Making a wish

*Reminder for our landlubber friends: The toilet is referred to as the head on a boat.
**The Lectra Scan is our sanitation system.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

the complicatedness of simplicity

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”
Henri David Thoreau

Home Sweet Home
I have a confession to make: my personal style includes a certain amount of clutter and I’m a proponent for simple living. It’s just that my life doesn’t fit between the covers of a simple lifestyle magazine. Yes, there are entire magazines that preach the gospel of minimalism and de-cluttering. Sleek spreads show you immaculate homes with only three items on a desk and a flawless bunch of organic produce on an otherwise bare kitchen counter. The phrase “simple living” has reached mythical proportions. If we are to believe the media, it is synonymous with perfection. And the colour white.

But we do live simply aboard our old Nyon, and there is nothing further from perfection than our sailboat: all you need to look at are her fifty-something year old wood floors, her leaks, and the piles of homemade throw pillows. To be honest, I prefer the term living consciously. The Epicureans of 4th century BC also tried to live by that mantra. The philosopher Epicurius was the founder of the movement that called for living modestly and limiting one’s desire for material things.

There are many more recent examples of people moving away from materialism and embracing self-sustaining lifestyles: Shakers and Mennonites come to mind. And have you ever read Rousseau, or Thoreau’s “Walden”? This concept is a recurring one. However, the images now associated with choosing to live simply have glossed over the realities of what it means.

The actuality of “simplifying your life” is that it’s more work, it’s often time consuming, and everything happens slowly, especially on a boat. So why do it? What’s so bad about material things and convenience? Nothing. I just found that for myself, when everything is at my fingertips, I tend to go on auto-pilot. When I don’t have to think about water consumption or space, I become less conscious of what is around me or of what I may choose to acquire. When I have to plan to make water on a sunny day, when I can’t accumulate food in a freezer (because I don’t have one), or when there is nowhere to put that last item, I am forced to think about how my actions impact my resources. I notice the finite edge of things and I shift my priorities. Convenience no longer takes precedence, things just become things.

The advantage of living on a boat is that even if you have pack-rat tendencies, the limitations are very clear. There is no attic, no shed. And if you actually sail that boat, everything needs an “away”. It’s almost cheating. We live the simple life in part because we have to. When you live aboard, you cannot replicate your land life, period.

Simple moments
From my perspective, living consciously isn’t just about limiting material things and becoming self-sustaining. It’s also about being in the present moment. That’s challenging, especially now that we once more have access to first world comforts and technology. Regular access to the Internet and media fills every crevasse of the day. I can’t think of a happier time than our stay in Suwarrow in the Cook Islands. There was no Internet there, no cell phones, and no stores. We could send e-mails, but we’d check our inbox every few days via our satellite phone, not every hour. If we were restless, we didn’t pick up the iPad and check what our friend had for breakfast on Facebook. I got my art supplies out. We took apart our winches and serviced them. We did yoga on the beach and swam with manta rays. Life was rich with possibilities.* I miss the quiet of that disconnected world.

When we choose to strip our lives from unnecessary things and distractions, it can be challenging. Often, there is the need to overcome feelings of emptiness that come from removing the usual distractions. The resulting quietness lets the noise of our minds take over, which can be unsettling. It’s certainly not all Zen all the time. My personal hurdle is managing the available technology in a way that it doesn’t eat me up.** For other live-aboard sailors (cruisers), the lack of a washing machine or not having a seemingly endless supply of water is especially difficult. I imagine landlubbers have their own demons to wrestle with. Still, I am an advocate for the simple lifestyle in its many incarnations.

I also realize that I am writing this from a place of privilege. I can make the choice to strip my life from luxuries; I was not forced by circumstances. Though I never had the option to buy the big house or the latest toys, I still recognize how fortunate Rick and I are to voluntarily choose to live simply. 

There are many ways to bring your life to its core essentials, and to be present. While it’s a sometimes challenging path, it is freeing in ways you can’t imagine until you do it. It’s like taking a deep breath after being underwater for too long. Though I can guarantee that for most of us, it will not look like the glossy photo in that magazine.

*Of course, it was easier to do “fun” things as we did not have work commitments at the time, however, we are working now and the advantages of simple living are still evident to us.

** We have reduced our Internet use to what our phone plan offers: up to 1GB each per month, plus the occasional free Wi-Fi connection ashore. This makes a big difference to our time spent online. 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

the vortex that is land

This was a good sunrise.
My life sounds very different than it did only 2 months ago. There is the whirr of a sewing machine, the grumblings of a “real fridge”, the splash of running water. Most strange of all though, is the muffled hum of the wind. It seems so far away

Sunday at the races
I had forgotten how insular life on land could feel. As we enter our second month of house-sitting, our life also looks very different now. We have a lovely view of the channel from the house. And the Tuis keep us entertained during the day, while the Moreporks hoot at night. We look down at yachts sailing by and occasionally feel a twinge of jealousy. Though, we do relish our perch on the hillside. It is after all, still a novelty. And we have so much space: storage space, work space, wasted space. The first week we were in the house, Rick would wander from room to room like a lost puppy, repeating: “This is so luxurious…” We sometimes have to walk three boat-lengths just to go pee.

Tearing Nyon apart
Don’t get me wrong, we are grateful to spend time in a house during the worst of this New Zealand winter. And we are happy to share our space with a spirited cat named Davey. Yet, we miss Nyon, but Nyon is a mess right now anyway. What better time for a makeover, right? When we agreed to house-sit for 3 months, we realized it was an opportunity to get some long overdue work done in the cabin: work that would have been pure hell on our marriage had we tried to live aboard at the same time.

Rick has been working on Nyon every chance he gets. He redesigned our saloon settee/berth and has been tearing things apart. Judging from the photos, he’s begun putting things back together again. He’s also building in refrigeration and adding lockers so we can finally hide our mess. We don’t own much, but our belongings have the irritating habit of spreading out all over the cabin. We hope that with extra lockers, we can hide the fact that our boat is not always shipshape.

The settee that could:
Adding a berth on Nyon

Thank you Sailrite (and Ariel)
Since our settee will have a different outline, we decided it was time to get new cushions. Gone are the tired old velvet cushions. Enter the Sailrite sewing machine and multi-coloured fabrics. Rick’s boss Ariel, kindly lent me her old sewing machine, so that I could sew new cushion covers. It’s been one steep learning curve, surprisingly it has been fun too. (No really, it has, except for a few tears and cusses.) The dining room is my sewing room. The garage is my workshop. There, I am refinishing Nyon’s sole (floor) and cabinetry that we have removed from the boat. 

Our to-do lists are long. Wish us luck. As long as we are mostly finished by September 24, we’ll be able to move back aboard. I want to spend my birthday at anchor in the Bay of Islands. And then… Well, there is the outside of Nyon to tackle. It will be time to haul out again before all the cruisers make their way back to New Zealand and the busy "work" season begins.

First three cushions.
Yes, we are embracing our inner gypsies.
Now you know why we have been silent on the blog front. This is the longest we have been off the boat in seven years. Already, we are dreaming of being at anchor on a sunny spring day. Home for me is Rick, but Nyon is the icing on the cake. There is no doubt in my mind, I miss the sweetness of life on the water.


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