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


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