As we look back the last six months the term “like a fish out of water” comes to mind. As a family we’ve been uprooted from our small steel home and deposited in an increasingly alien environment, reliant on others for our survival – all the while looking back enviously at those still swimming around in the pond. We are slowly but surely working our way back toward the edge. Very shortly, with one final effort, we hope to jump back where we belong and swim out into the blue.
This year has been a fast reminder that no plan is ever set in stone, and that regardless of effort things just never turn out as you quite expect them. We rolled into 2015 expecting to travel eastward to Malaysia, Borneo and the Philippines, but good sailing friends caused us to start looking westward. Soon Pacific plans were exchanged for Atlantic plans and we started looking at the Indian Ocean to get there. An unexpected third pregnancy early in the year caused us to abandon cruising plans and turn our sights from isolated atolls to the security of medical care. With a pregnancy pulling the strings and work contacts providing the anchor we found ourselves drawn back to a place neither of us expected: New Zealand in the winter.
By March Atea was dry-docked in Pangkor and we were wrapped-up in Auckland and it was cold. Very cold. Or at least that is how if felt after being spoilt and acclimatised to the Malaysian heat. As the winter approached we shivered in our woolly hats, huddled around heaters and sniffed our way into our new normal. John was strapped back into his work harness and I was adjusting to the domestic scene as our shore lives started to be reestablished. We settled into a rented house as our own home was under a tenancy agreement, with a six-month work contract ahead of us. All this was done in preparation for another child, but all for naught as we lost the baby early in pregnancy – after all this re-planning, resettling and readjusting, we’d lost the reason to be ashore.
As ever, it is the children who adjust with most ease to a new environment. While John and I do luxuriate in first world indulgences, we find that a few short weeks purges us of our cravings and we are ready to head back out to sea. For the kids the adjustment is quick and the past quickly forgotten – a valuable lesson in living in the present. Whether it is adjusting to a new house, a new culture, new friends or new routines, they are the first to find the fun in it and live fully in the current moment. This is a thing John and I struggle to do as we yearn for wide open spaces, flexible routines, constant change and adventure. Each season we’ve fallen more in step with the cruising lifestyle and we find our time ashore more constrained, our shore life an encroaching foreign territory. Slowly we find our comfort and our desire resides in a life afloat, and it is this pull that calls us back to sea.
By June we lost a second pregnancy due to another miscarriage and I was sick of loss, let down and a confined domestic scene. After four months in New Zealand, I was in need of change, the sun, and a new chapter. I flew myself and our youngest members to America while John stayed behind to finish out the work contract.
On my departure the intention was a two month separation: I got time with my family in California and some sunshine to boost the spirit, John couch-surfed with friends for the two remaining month of his contract. We were to reinstate our family and reconvene our cruising life at the end of September but a one month extension on John’s contract was soon offered and he accepted, a little extra money to boost the next cruising season a good thing. Plans were made and tickets purchased for a mid-October departure – all sights set for a return to Atea and an Indian Ocean adventure. As they say, “never count your chickens before they hatch” and true to the saying our plans, once again, unraveled.
For us in California, a two-month holiday turned into a four-month temporary residency. Whilst on holiday I was advised to look into local specialist hospital, Shriner’s Hospital for Children, for treatment for Ayla and I began the process without ever expecting it would go anywhere. Boy was I wrong! Not only did things happen, but they happened quick. Within a week of the application being accepted we were in consultation; within a day of consultation Ayla was under the scalpel. Surgery happened before we’d had a chance to consider the implications of it, but the opportunity for Ayla outweighed all other considerations.
And here we are now: A week before John’s departure and another five weeks for us to go before our fifth season begins. We’ve been closely watching our friends swim westward on the wide reaches of the Indian Ocean, straining against the confines of society’s net for our freedom. That said, it was not an easy ride for many of them. One boat was wrecked on an uncharted island, one lost their mast but lost no lives, one lost their mast and abandoned ship, one was struck by lightning, one was blown up on a reef. Plenty have reported minor breakages from breaking waves and strong winds, yet despite this carnage we are eager to dive in and resume our own journey.
I’ve no idea how best to predict this next cruising season. I know our intentions, but if this year has reminded me of one thing it is that all plans will soon be under a redesign. But that is immaterial; change is inevitable. What I do know is that we will be out there pursuing our passion, following our dreams and living our lives as we most enjoy it.