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.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

sometimes, friend

Old friends. 'Nuff said.
Today, I was thinking about friends. Old friends. You know: the kind whose friendship is so comfortable, spending time with them is like slipping into a nicely worn pair of jeans. These friends are practically family, without the complications. They knew you when you were younger and stupider. (Then again, you knew them when they were younger and stupider too.) They are among the friends I still miss, along with those that were more recently in my every day before we left Canada. Then there are the friends that belong to a larger group. We liked them or we liked the same activities and that was that. We also had friendships that grew after we went offshore through letters and messages.  And of course, there are the friends I let go or that let me go, because things changed between us.

Our everyday peeps back in Canada
 Mentors turned friends, Bjarne and Barb (not pictured),
joined us in Mexico for some fun in the sun
(Sorry boys, I couldn't help it!)

More than one person has asked me, “But what about friendships among voyagers?” How are they different?

After climbing Mt. Otemanu
with the gang on Bora Bora 
There are the whirlwind friends, (usually a few boats that end up traveling in the same general area). Perhaps those connections are more superficial, but you have enough bodies to make for a dynamic group with whom you spend an intense but short time that you remember with a smile. We met such a group in Bora Bora. We hiked and played like a bunch of kids.

Two crazies we just don't want to
get rid of

Then there are the “couple” friends. We are two on our boat, and sometimes we’d meet another two we hit it off with on another yacht. Every now and then, we’d decide to travel together for a while. This happened to us more than once. It turns out that two-boat adventures were double the fun.

The guys and I on Isla Danzante

Most of the single-handers we’ve met are guys. I find that single-handers often don’t get a fair shake. There’s an attitude that maybe something is wrong with someone who chooses to sail the world alone. We’ve enjoyed meeting some pretty quirky and interesting solo travelers. We don’t need even numbers to call someone a friend. One solo sailor traveled with us for a summer in the Sea of Cortez. Of course, there are the anchorage friends: those definitely belong in the acquaintance category. A social butterfly in an anchorage decides to invite all the anchored boats to the beach for some type of social event, like a potluck. It’s a lot of, “I’m so and so from that boat, went here and here, and am going there, etc.” This can be a lot of fun and exhausting. 
Hanging out on Nyon with

In more isolated bays, we met locals who welcomed us into their homes, and shared the food they’d caught. And I met Sabine in Taiohae, the capital of the Marquesas. Before long we were laughing over Nyon’s stove about the language barrier between her partner Jonathan and Rick. (I was the only one that spoke both French and English.) After visits and hugs, we made promises and waved goodbye while wondering if we’d ever see each other again.

In Mexico: Rick and Holly (Wondertime)
relax after playing in the waves
There is one other type of friend we’ve made while cruising: they’re known as the kid boats. We call them that because, well, they’re boats with kids on them: families sailing the 7 seas with children of all ages, including babies and even teenagers, like our friends on Letitgo. Being a non-kid boat, we were not usually in their primary social hub, but we occasionally did “break in”. It’s a special thing to find a kindred spirit in an 8 year old artist or discover a new bay through the eyes of a 3 year old. We found that cruising kids are a neat bunch, the parents themselves tend to be pretty damn cool too.

I feel the need to mention “Internet” friends. Are they valid friendships? They have the potential to be. Through social media and blogs, we voyagers meet like-minded sailors or travelers who share some of our values and interests. While these friendships might not always run deep, they are one way to find support from people (when there is Internet access) who understand what weathering a storm on a yacht is like, or the emotions that run through you when you see land after 25 days at sea. These contacts are also great when it comes to sharing information about sailing into new countries or out-of-the way places.

Bella Star and Dream Time: 2 degrees of Separation
Occasionally, you end up meeting some of them along the way. It’s grand when you realize you like them even more in person than you thought you would. We were first in contact with Aaron and Nicole (Bella Star) through the crew of Estrellita whom we hadn’t met either. We all left from the Northeastern Pacific to go cruising around the same time and read each other’s blogs along the way. Rick and I eventually met both crews which was great fun, (though we didn’t meet one of the crews until 2 years after we’d left Canada, and only very briefly!) It was also because of Estrellita (thanks guys!) that we met the crews of Cariba and Dream Time. Forget the 6 degrees of separation, in the cruising community, make that 2.

But can the people you meet as a transient become friend friends: the kind that you are heartbroken to say goodbye to as you sail off over a different horizon? The sort that you know are kindred spirits after a short time, where you tell each other as many of your favourite stories as you can, all the while wondering how it is that you already feel like old friends. Do those friends even exist out here? Yes, yes, they do. It’s not everyone, but you recognize them when you see them.

Reunited after 2 years!
In my naïveté, I had expected to meet more of them when we first began to sail abroad. I learned that those connections are something to be cherished. Because if you do meet kindred spirits, they may not be sailing in the same direction, or they might be living on the land you are passing through. You have days, (and if you’re lucky) weeks to get to know each other before the friendship becomes long-distance. What is it that makes you connect with another person like that? For us it’s when our interactions quickly become effortless, by reaching a certain level of candor through stories and laughter. Among other fine sailors, we experienced this with an Aussie boat called Storm Bay. Chris and Margie popped into our lives in Victoria (as they cruised through) and we met up again in the Northern Sea of Cortez 2 years later. They are now in Chile and we are in New Zealand. We still write and follow each other’s journeys. Maybe one day, our wakes will cross again, we’d really like that. (I just need to convince Rick that he wants to go around Cape Horn!)

Girl Time
One of my walking buddies
Some friendships take off with “that first talk”. I don’t know how many of you that cruise or travel have had that happen. You meet someone, and there’s an instant connection. Or maybe there wasn’t one right away, but a couple anchorages later, something clicks. You happened to be chilling out on the same beach, or agreed to meet for an early morning walk. One of you opens up, shares something a little more personal. And you both dive into a juicy conversation that is more raw and honest than what you’ve experienced in a few months of encounters. In the end, you leave each other with lighter hearts. It can be that you go your separate ways never to see each other again, or that conversation can be the seed for a newfound friendship.

Buddy boating with Gab (above) and Issy throughout the
the Society Island was awesome. 
While voyaging on the ocean and hopping from island to island, I learned to accept that friendships come and go. Some associations survive in a finite place and time. But some connections do have staying power, and those ones are worth the heartbreak of inevitable goodbyes. Because when you end up anchored in the same part of the world once again, it’s like you’re finding an old part of yourself. Sweet is the taste of meals shared with friends who last hugged you thousands of miles away. Sooner or later, you have to say goodbye all over again. Such is the life of a voyager.

Having said all that, it is undeniable that there were times on our journey when we felt awfully lonely. Short meetings with lovely people left us hungry for more. The intermittent contact with friends and family back home was not enough either.  In time, Rick and I realized that we had to work hard at being each other’s best friend because of our transitory lifestyle. And when you spend a lot of time together in sometimes challenging circumstances, it means you have to forgive easily and laugh a lot. There aren’t too many people I could share what I shared with Rick on this voyage so far. Yet we both do value our connection with the people around us. It’s important to reach out when you travel. Half the fun is the people you meet. Sometimes, they turn into a good story. Sometimes, they become friends. And sometimes, they’re both.

NOTE: Thank you for putting up with my need to cram as many photos as I could in this article. Many special people are missing, but you get the idea...

Monday, 21 April 2014

oh happy day

Morning light
One of  our favourite things to do while anchored out in the Bay of Islands is barefoot tramping. (Now before you let you mind run to the gutter...) Tramping is the Kiwi word for hiking or walking. And those Kiwis, they like tramping. Maybe that's why I like them so much. As far as we're concerned, when we're hiking here, shoes are optional. And other than a minor injury from a particularly razor sharp blade of grass, we ran around Moturua Island like happy hippies. Best. Day. Ever. 

"Rick, show me how you're feeling today!"

Colour bliss

Isn't this lovely? I wish you could hear the Tuis
Yup, awesome day

Another beach on Moturua (The hike around the island
consists of ridge-beach-ridge-beach, etc...

Me and my favourite

shades of blue

The clouds begin their takeover, but the water is still bright
The sun personified is a moody artist who paints the sea in various shades of turquoise, steel grey,  or deep indigo. Sometimes translucent and at other times opaque, the sea is transformed by light. I'm always amazed how a cloudy day or early morning light transforms my backyard. The following photos were all taken from the same anchorage, over a 3 day period: so many shades of blue...

It's beginning to rain
Hunkering down and letting it pass

Turquoise, the royal colour that re-emerges after the rain

Early morning, a deep blue


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