It has been eight months since our last blog post, which will leave this entry short of detail and broken into a three-part summary: Our thoughts of Sydney as a temporary home port, our impressions of cruising up the east coast of Australia, and of an unforeseen surprise that unfolded for us in Cairns.
I periodically traveled from Auckland to Sydney to source clients for my previous company and I knew from my first trip over that it had everything I loved in a city: Energy and variety wrapped up in a coastal metropolis with weather that suited my heat-craving constitution. I felt fortunate to get an opportunity to spend more time in Sydney, which was to be our base for the summer. We initially stayed with friends of John’s while we settled in and we soon found our home base at anchor in Manly, a small suburb on the northeastern coast from the city center.
I fell in love with everything about our temporary base. To me, it was a smaller version of San Diego, California – a city that has always ranked high on my list of favourites. There was a small collection of yachts claiming turf for the summer just as we had and it didn’t take long to establish a network of fellow yachties. On the weekends the little cove would turn from a haven for the two or three regular yachts into a swarm of boats clamoring for space. Life in Manly buzzed with activity on the weekends, and settled into a nice mellow routine for Braca and I during the week.
The locals were open, friendly, and welcoming. It took no time to develop friendships and two in particular I owe my deepest thanks: Dani Maia and Lauri Male.
I had the joy of these two close female friendships while Braca quickly bonded with their boys. My love for Sydney is directly a due to their open arms and the deep connection I shared with them. They remind me that no matter where you travel – how spectacular the sights or how outrageous the adventure – it is always the people you meet along the way that make it what it is.
John had a very different impression of Sydney: Too congested, too expensive, and too hot. Whilst my summer was spent meeting friends in seaside Manly, John will remember the city for hours and hours spent sitting on public transport. There were two opposing sentiments when it came time to leave. I would have been happy to stick our anchor in cement and establish Atea as a permanent fixture; John was keen to leave from the moment we arrived. Fortunate for one and unfortunate for the other, departure-day finally arrived on the 6th of May.
After leaving Sydney we turned our ship northwards towards warmer tropical waters once more. It’s a long flog, a 1,000 mile reversal of the voyage we did in October, but by mid-May we had resumed our cruising life. As quickly as weather, distance, and sanity of the crew allowed, we passed the long coastline of New South Wales and Queensland for the aquatic delights of the Great Barrier Reef. Along the way we’d expected to fall back into our typical cruising routine of a daily swim, snorkel and paddle boarding session. We have been regularly reminded, however, that we were indeed in Australia – home to the deadliest animals on the planet. In New South Whales the beaches posted signs stating “Warning: Sharks Sighted. Do Not Swim.” These weren’t placid reef shark, either; these were Great White, Hammerhead, Bulls… some of the most aggressive in their species. Across Queensland the assailant was less renowned but no less lethal; signs read “Warning: Stingers Present. Do Not Swim.” We were starting to get the hint. We are now heading into northern territory and definitely in croc territory. Again, we are reminded of threat by the ever-present sign post, warning of Australia’s most famous predator: “Warning: Crocodiles Sighted. Do Not Swim.” A fear of mutilation leads us to heed these warning with due diligence. Particularly when the sign is a permanent fixture.
I often reflect on a comment made to us by a fellow sailor, a single-hander who has cruised up the east coast of Australia four consecutive seasons but has yet to leave Australian waters. “Other than culture, is it any different out there than what you get off the Australian coast?” he asked with a curious, innocent blink of the eye. I blinked back – astonished. For one – yes, the globe isn’t represented in the coastal waters of Aussieland. Second, in my opinion – isn’t culture why you head off to explore? I have thought of this comment on so many occasions as we have made our passage north from Sydney up the coast. The coastline is truly beautiful – in places quite rugged and barren, in others lush and tropical. The islands hold some fantastic reef life and the vistas along the way have been breathtaking. But to me it all seems so…. Vanilla. It has been said that many of the iconic cruising areas are ghosts of their former selves, once buzzing with activity they are now quiet oases. Tourism is definitely down and it is evident all the empty resorts and sleepy tourist towns. I crave the noise and friendly invasion offered in so many of the other countries we have traveled through. I miss the rapping on the hull and the odd eyeball peaking in the cabin window. I miss purchasing fresh fruit and veg from the local in the dugout canoe. I miss going ashore and hearing the screech of children and the idle chatter of the village elders. For me, cruising is all about culture – it is the driving force for these aquatic exploits. Again, I am reminded that no matter how beautiful a place is, it is all about the people you meet along the way that enrich the experience and offer the true reward for the efforts made to get there.
Speaking of people, we’ve recently discovered that yet another has tucked themselves onboard unbeknownst to the rest of the crew. Another little stowaway. While we had an inkling of the possibility, John and I received confirmation that I was pregnant again on our arrival in Cairns. The news came as a shock to us, but equally a very welcome surprise. We took bets on gender and expected due date. We celebrated and toasted our fortune and checked in with a doctor the following day to get a referral for an ultrasound. Being a Friday, we scheduled a scan for the following week and had the weekend to firm up our bets. John put his stakes on a boy, based on its no-fuss entrance, quietly making himself at home. Having no witty postulation, I took the opposite position. In regard to due date, our best guess was that we conceived prior to my holiday in New Zealand. During that trip I was a total exhausted mess, a similar morning-sickness symptom that I’d experienced with Braca. I calculated a Scorpio with an early December delivery. John claimed a November baby, due on the 20th. If this were true, we would have cleared through my first trimester totally unaware. As it turns out John was bang on for a date, but 100% out on gender. She was going to be far from simple, and soon showed that she had her own plans for our future.
What we didn’t question was the health of the child. While I am aware of the complications that can happen to a fetus, I never dreamed that we would be on the receiving end of bad news. We went to the ultrasound with thoughts focused on birth date and gender. After what seemed a successful ultrasound, we were called back into the room to speak with a doctor who told us that abnormalities had been found in my umbilical chord and the child’s right arm. We would need to seek out a specialist. Our world was immediately turned upside down.
We went directly from that appointment to the general practitioner who recommended a specialist for us to consult. We were able to get an appointment with him later in the week, which lead to another ultrasound and an amniocentesis the following week. The end result of the consultations and tests was that our daughter has a malformed right lower arm and hand, most likely due to a blood clot that developed at the critical stage of limb development. I was told that the compromised umbilical chord poses no threat to either the child or myself.
This information would be upsetting for any parent to receive. All parents want the best for their children, and to know that our little girl will be starting life out with a handicap is very distressing. We have gone through a few weeks of heavy tears, uncertainty and confusion as to the best course for us to take with this news. Our plan was to head up the coast of Australia and across the northern territories to arrive in Darwin mid-July. From there we would join a rally heading through Indonesia and end the year in Singapore with the hopes of attaining work for a year. Given a pregnancy with complications, we had to rethink our plan and decide what was in the best interests of our daughter, who might require specialist care after delivery.
From a healthcare perspective, the simplest option would be to have the birth and post natal care in New Zealand where we have health coverage. However, this introduces other complications. How would we get there? It’s a hard windward passage by sea, but if going by plane then would I have to fly back in October, leaving John, Atea, and perhaps Braca in Singapore until they were able to lay-up the boat and join me. Where would we live? The house in NZ is rented out and Atea is my home now.
The other option is that we end the rally in Indonesia mid-October and sail hard for Malaysia. The medical care there is deemed to be affordable and is highly regarded. I have engaged a doctor in Penang who shares my birth methodology and he has agreed to work with us. The disadvantages of this might be getting a birth certificate and passport for the baby, paying for all our medical costs and being away from the ‘safe option’ in New Zealand. But at least we would all be together.
After weighing up our options we have decided to sail north to Darwin and Indonesia as per our original plan. We will investigate the Malaysia situation in more detail as we go, and we keep the option of a New Zealand birth open. This seems to be the best of both worlds – safe for the baby, allows us to still get some good cruising in this season, and keeps us all together for the challenges that lie ahead.