Love at First Sight

In December 2010 John was surfing the internet looking at avaliable yachts online – not with the intent to buy, but to spend a little time in dreamland, an ocean fantacy that neither of us were looking to create. He found a yacht, Taiko, and with it we began discussions of turning this dream into reality. We put those thoughts on hold as we traveled Vietnam at the end of December, but resumed discussions when we returned a month later. Taiko was sold to her first bidder, but the seed was planted and we begun our search for another suitable yacht. We found one in Viginia, and were to begin conversations with the broker when we found out that we were pregnant.

Determined to bring this child into the world without letting it stop our dream of cruising, we altered plans. A yacht on the other side of the globe posed complications we thought best not to take on at this stage, we began our search again locally. Within a week we put an offer on a Ganley Solution we’d seen in Auckland, and on the day we had our 7 week ultrasound confirming the pregnancy, we received an acceptance on our offer to purchase Atea.

And so our adventure began. Within two months of purchase we completed an intense execution phase and on 5th of May, 2011, we departed Auckland for the South Pacific.

Say Goodbye

How long will it take time
to fade the memory of a kiss?
To drain the potency of the passion
and the tenderness of our bliss?
A name not forgotten
but details of face will fade
into fleeting moments of reflection
on the connection that we made.

A poem once written for a man, now applied to a country. I have come to appreciate how much of a love affair with life is lived by the transient sailor. We get to know no country in depth or detail, but we flirt with the fringes of society and leave invigorated and passionate about the place and people we encounter along the way. Whereas most individuals live entrenched in a village their whole lives, we flit in and out of countries like migrating pelagic seabirds, never returning to the same place twice. It is this continuous exploration that brings with it an intensity born from the rawness of new surroundings and unexpected outcomes. We cast the mould aside and accept a life of constant flux and continual evolution. We shun normalcy to live a life of extremes. We seek out exploration and adventure. We try to make the most of each day, mindful of the clock ticking in the periphery. Tick tock. The countdown of the clock. We are always conscious that our time in country is on a running stopwatch, and as time closes in we try to fill every moment with the sweetness of a place we will most likely never return to. Tick tock, ping!

In the recency of our interlude
I can clearly see your face,
in that moment of silence
the minute before you wake.
Then follows the shattering of solitude
when your eyelids flicker blue
— alive we come in passion
as I crash into you.

Yet, while that clock is still ticking we get an intimacy of place that often eludes even the most resident of citizens. Days that flash past into weeks in a routine wind-down to the slow tick of minutes when that routine is gone. Tick tock. Tick tock. Once that pendulum is broken, the desire for its rhythmic beat is gone. As newcomers, we become completely involved in a place, consumed by the daily barrage of experience. Like a love affair, we dive in head first and bury ourselves in every nuance of culture and custom. With that intensity comes an addiction: An addiction to change, to unpredictable existences and to unforeseen futures.

With time against us, we fill in our days with a frenzy of activity, trying to eek out the most of our short interval in country. Time shifts and expands, and we define how we spend the hours in our day. We are allowed to fall into a slow routine of the undemanding life, with hours that aren’t gobbled up in commuting, meetings, schedules and commitments. A portion of time is spent ogling a country’s top landmarks and famous attractions, indulging in a “tourist brochure” exploration of a country. But as a cruising sailor you are more than a holiday-maker. We shop elbow-to-elbow in the street markets, bartering like locals over the cost of fruit and vegetables. We visit the community clinics looking for local remedies with fingers crossed on one hand and a translation book in the other. We wander through shady back alleys looking for an odd assortment of boat parts, smiling at the old men giving odd looks as if witness to a pare of doves in a badger den. Our kids chase their kids, not a common word between them but expressions of glee on their faces. In this knee-to-dirt experience of a country, we are exposed to her underbelly and we fall in love. We fall for all the things that aren’t advertised on the tourist brochures. We fall for her crooked streets and crooked houses, with the bad smells and the odd food, with the sly glances and the open laughter and the friendships that stem from curiosity and goodwill. We absorb the essence of a country into our pores and feel an intricate part of the fabric of life. In so short a period we feel an assimilation that generally happens in years. This is perhaps an overly romantic notion of a place, but every cruiser knows what it is like to feel the essence of a country under their skin, begot through the highs and lows of their experience. When the trip is behind us and we reflect on our time, it is the collection of these seemingly small, insignificant moments that defines our experience.

Passing time will soften
this yearning from within
and leaden the longing of desire
— memory of scent and skin.
So for now I cradle these lonely moments
without you by my side,
in the remembrance of your lips
I twist and wake inside.
For in the forgotten passion
that lay dormant
in the shadowed crevice of my soul,
you spoke and woke that part of me
with soft a gentle nudge.

What strikes me in this transient life we live is how potent but fleeting our experiences can be: intense, powerful, concentrated, all-consuming. You slip into the life that is in front of you at the moment and then – in the blink of an eye – it is gone. There are very few countries that we’ve visited that haven’t captivated me for some inherent quality. We know nothing of it other than the spelling of its name and in a small hop we land on site, amazed and awed and transfixed. In Tanzania it was the friendliness of the people. In the Seychelles it was the beauty of the land. In Madagascar it was the rawness of the on-the-brink existence. In South Africa it was the diversity. In Sumatra it was the intrepidness. In Mozambique it was the sea.

It was only yesterday that had you by my side,
wrestling beneath cotton sheets
and tying me up inside.
My singularity lost in that connection with you
— so sweet a tender place —
to banish morning solitude
in your butterfly embrace.

All places captivate you for some inherent quality; a few places consume you. For me, that place was Mozambique. It was as if the country, unknown to me all my life, opened its arms for a quick embrace and I fell headlong in love in that short moment of intimacy. I don’t know what led Mozambique to impress me with such a rare intensity of emotion. It was no single part of the country or specific moment in the trip, but a collective experience that left me raw and exposed. It was the infinite empty bays and the never-ending stretch of glistening white sand dunes. It was the myriad of single moments with strangers that we intersected with. It was the starlight shining down on unlit earth. It was the jellyfish that flashed and glowed beneath our hull with an intensity of a meteor shower. It was the slow rise and fall of a sleek back as a whale surfaced for air, exposing no more than a blowhole and an oval disk of flesh. It was the slow beat of a gull’s wing as it glided overhead, surveying us with a simple curiosity. It was the peace and quiet of the islands that dangled down the coast like a string of beaded pearls. My notes as we traveled down the coast captured the feeling at the time:

It is amazing out here, blue skies flanked by billowy white clouds on the fringes of a deep blue sky. We move through a patch of soft wind that ripples the surface on an otherwise flat, reflective sea. IMG_4744.pngWe’ve been passed by flocks of seabirds, and we’ve been assaulted by flying fish that shoot like arrows out of the water and bounce around the deck as if tossed by a novice archer. We’ve been joined by racing dolphins that play in our wake and sailed passed the solitary humpback resting on the surface of the sea. The serenity of our surrounding environment is exactly what the over-stressed office worker craves when dreaming of flinging off societal constraints. It isn’t always like this but when it is, you breathe it into your soul.

This was not my first time in Mozambique. I was lucky enough to land a position running a dive operation in a remote corner of the country a decade ago. I knew that it may be the last time I had the opportunity to spend an extended period on her shores and my farewell was an emotionally difficult one. At that stage in my life I was trying to carve every new experience out of the time I had; I’d severed the umbilical chord to my native country and the life I had established and was charging towards any unknown opportunity that presented itself. After two years in the African bush it was time for a change. I bought a ticket for America and a month later I was afloat in a small boat adrift in the Pacific Ocean. And that was the end of my time in Mozambique.

Or so I thought. Life has a way of throwing its curveballs and a decade later I was unexpectedly back on Mozambican turf, enchanted with the country all over again. Mozambique was not on the radar when we’d set out for the Indian Ocean, however the draw to return was a strong one. When we decided to sail to East Africa it was only natural that Mozambique would pop up on the radar… we were so close, too close, not to find a way to include it in our route. Of course, including it meant shaving off time in Madagascar and our time there had already been cut short by our detour to Tanzania. Tanzania or Madagascar? Well, let’s do both and while we are at it, how about Mozambique too?!

Having agreed “Why not?” we sailed down the coast from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to the Quirimbas, a small archipelago of 32 islands in the Cabo Delgado province of northern Mozambique. We were about to hit the stretch of ocean that cruisers avoid altogether – the currents rip along the coast making southward progress impossible as the 2-knot current sweeps you north. Our strategy was to hug the coast, keeping no more than 10 meters below us. Grazing the seabed with our keel, we tiptoed Atea through a slice of coastline peppered with free-diving fisherman; while hair-raising from a clearance perspective, it was a sociable stretch with men popping up from their hunt to wave to us in passing. So, although the threat of a northern push to Somalia is the common fear, we found a way to avoid the strong current and had a relatively simple passage south. Having built up a brazen confidence over the previous 300 miles, our cockiness was dashed in the last 30 miles as the current wrapped around the Ponto Delgado headland and completely stopped our progress. With an unreliable engine that left us unable to power through the current, we tacked back and forth in the same mile-wide band of water for five hours, pacing over the same ground like a caged bear. We watched the slow crawl of the midday sun from the same spot. We witnessed a glorious but underappreciated sunset in the same spot. Night descended while we were in the same spot. Determined not to spend another night at sea with our destination only five miles ahead of us, we pushed on into the darkness with the brilliance of phosphorescent jellyfish laying a glittering path to our anchorage and will forever hold a lasting impression of their underwater brilliance – Atea walking on stars.

We pulled into uncharted territory as illegal trespassers at 10:00pm, drawn by the call of a good night’s sleep and the calm of a boat brought back in from sea. We dropped anchor at Isla Tecomagi, the northernmost island in the Quirimbas. With the anchor down at long last, there was only one problem: We’d tucked in but not cleared into the country. Mozambique has a reputation for corrupt officials, something I’d had a lot of experience with ten years earlier. Avoiding bribes is easiest Continue reading “Say Goodbye”

My Feet On Your Soil

I’m sitting here on a grassy spot in the middle of New Zealand, lounging in front of a stage surrounded by fellow melophiles all belting out the lyrics to Toto’s signature song, “Africa.” The moment is surreal. I was calling out the name to a continent that I had been living in only six months before. As I look right and left, ahead and back of me, I watched around as a thousand open mouths cried out for the wild dogs and the rain: “The wild dogs cry out in the night, as they grow restless….” Did anyone around me know what it felt like to listen the howl of those wild dogs while laying listless on a hot, muggy night? Could anyone around me possibly know the distinct smell of the rain as it hit the red-baked soil? “As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti….” Did they imagine or did they know the awesome sight of Kilimanjaro looming over the Serengeti?

I felt as though my particular cry was grounded in a long-forgotten yearning for a place I’d been pulled from, even though the only African roots I can claim are as far removed as Lucy. But I’d been there. I’d lived there in my youth and in my adulthood. I’d spent time there on my own and with my family. I’d been on and off the continent six times throughout my life, and I know what it feels like to have the love for a country seep into your bones. “Africa, it’s gonna take a lot to take me away from you. There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do…”

Rewind sixteen months to where this particular African adventure starts. We had made the choice to sail to South Africa based on the fact that there was relatively no choice. There are only two options to choose from when departing the Indian Ocean to enter the Atlantic Ocean by sea: Sail north through pirate-infested waters into the Mediterranean or sail twice the distance and face some of the toughest sailing conditions by rounding the tip of South Africa.

We chose south. We took this option not because of the threat of piracy (the threat in current years is considered contained), but because I couldn’t come this close to Africa and bypass it. There was too much on offer to refuse. Africa is a world like no other. It is rich, diverse, difficult, challenging… and there are things to experience there that no other content can offer: Zoo animals living outside the confines of the zoo. Travelling with a four and six-year old, this was a huge draw card. We were going to Africa to watch the elephants roam, the antelope bound, the warthogs furrow and the flamingos take flight. And there is no better base to explore the game reserves from than Richards Bay, our first port of call.

I stopped an old man along the way,
hoping to find some long forgotten
words or ancient melodies.
He turned to me as if to say,
“Hurry, it’s waiting there for you.”

Hell yeah, you don’t have to ask me twice!

Skipper’s Notes: November 3, 2018
Atea spent all 24-hours today slowly progressing towards shore, ship and crew battered by rough seas, strong headwinds and an adverse current. We roll into port in Richard Bay at midnight, exhausted but relived to tether ourselves and our ship to land. Day one and South Africa had already upheld all John’s expectations of the country: Beating and battery, hardship and heartache. Our final leg from Mozambique to South Africa had been one of our most trying days in six years of cruising: The conditions were rough, Braca suffered a major face injury, Atea was laid down with a force that bent the stanchions and we’d received news that John’s mom had passed away that morning. Not a warm welcome into the country.

In the morning we cleared in, the process efficient to German precision and the officer no-nonsense direct with a fuck-with-me-and-I-shoot attitude. I was starting to think that battling pirates would have been the better call. But once the paperwork was processed and we were sitting shore-side with gargantuan servings of beef and beer in Boer-sized proportions we started to see the light. First-world luxuries served at a fraction of the price – for a family on a perpetual budget, we were about to live like royalty.

First few steps ticked off the list: Clearance and immigration process completed; copious amounts of beer drunk; a fresh meal and an extended hot shower done. Next step in our tour of South Africa: See alive in the veld what was being served up dead on our plates.

What we discovered that most aren’t aware of until you get there is that South African game parks are affordable. Correction: Dirt cheap (on a Western budget). Most tourists flock to East Africa due to its international acclaim as THE destination for game viewing, a fact of which East Africa is well aware. Year by year the prices inflate and the cost of entry into Kenyan and Tanzanian game parks continue to balloon. Entry into the parks ranges, but you’d be hard pressed to find something less than US$300 per person for any of the tier-one parks. On average, a non-citizen will pay between $2500 (budget) to $7500 (luxury) for a week in the game reserves. Conversely, entry into the regional game parks in South Africa are $10-15 for adults, pocket change for children, and you didn’t need to attach yourself to a game warden and a truck full of other tourists at an additional cost. In South Africa it was just you, your pack lunch and your rental car. And don’t fall for the old sell of following a trained eye – there is so much magic in discovering what’s out there on your own and remaining as long as you choose to watch it in the quiet of your own space.

Now, without a guide operating on rote/automatic recall, self-catering rarely goes to plan. You have to be prepared for the unexpected and accept all setbacks. We prepared. We spent a few days identifying the parks we wanted to explore, booked accommodation and set off with our overnight bags and a mobile phone in our pint-sized rental car. We drove north, following directions from Google on our phone. Enthusiastic about the adventure ahead, we drove out of town on the main road, diverged onto a minor road, through a forest track, onto a muddy path across sugarcane plantations. It wasn’t until Google insisted that we drive across a sizable river with no bridge in sight that we realized we’d placed too much faith in the magic of technology. With no map and no internal radar, I got out of the car to assess our options. With sugarcane as far as the eye could see and no human in sight, this was starting to feel like a significant setback… one I wasn’t prepared to accept. Finally, a man wandered into sight and I plodded down the dirt track to ask him how best to proceed. He was in total agreement with Google. “Yes mama. You go straight,” his finger pointing across the riverbank. I looked left and down along the muddy river, and right along the opposite stretch. The only thing that bridged the water was a broken footpath with frayed ropes and missing planks, something that wouldn’t bare the weight of our fourteen kilo child, let alone a two-ton vehicle. I looked at him again, then pointed at the car. “Yes mama,” he nodded, “you go straight.” I looked back at the car again… had he mistaken it for a donkey? I always believe in following local advice, but this was one of those rare times you decide it best to proceed on your own.

Rather than trying to press on the few miles forward, we decided our best strategy was to retrace our steps and get back to familiar territory, aka a tarmac road. The heat outside was building and the morning shadows were starting to be devoured by the midday sun; our plans to view game in the cool temperatures of early dawn were being burnt to oblivion and we were driving away from the game parks. Frustration was mounting with the heat. Then, while we were retracing one of the dusty rutted roads a swarm of screaming children ran up, excited by our foreignness. Their enthusiasm shook us back into our sensibilities: We were already in the middle of our adventure. Had we followed the signs on the motorway direct to the reserve gate, we would have missed the local interaction that had surrounded us all along the way: The inquisitive looks as people watched us roll past, the warm smiles, the children squawking at us as they ran behind our vehicle, the interaction as all sort of random item was pushed at us for sale: charcoal, metal pots, clay bowls, chopped wood, and on. We were traveling down roads only used by locals. We were a novelty among their midst and therein lies the best part of travel – exploring places where you can experience life as the locals live it, outside the influence of tourism.

Eventually, we retraced our steps and rejoined the main road. By ditching Google and relying on a map we finally pulled up to the reserve gates and entered. “I bless the rains down in Africa. Gonna take some time to do the things we never had.” They say you have to sit and stare for hours at a lot of dried grass before getting sight of an animal in the wild, but we got to feel that sweeping ground shake during our first hour in the park. While cruising down the road looking out the side windows of our rental car to spot game in the distance, we turned a corner and came directly upon two male elephants in full battle. Wide-eyed and gape-mouthed, we watched as they charged each other and clashed head on, rammed tusk into flank and shouldered each other to push the weaker aside. We watched in amazement at the intensity of the fight, aware that the force they were exerting on each other would crush our car into a squashed tin can – us inside like flattened sardines. It was only later when we watched these two males drink from a watering hole and spray mud on each others backs that we realized the fight was only a mock battle, a frolic in comparison to the real thing. Having observed the aggressiveness of elephant play, I never want to bear witness to the brutality of a fully engaged battle.

I should have double-downed at the casino that day. Not only did we get to watch two feisty boys duke it out right in front of our vehicle, we caught our first leopard sighting on our first day in the park. Catching sight of a leopard is one of the rarest and most sought-after experiences in game viewing. When you do, it is usually through binoculars at a cat laying in the far-distance asleep under a bush. That day, it was chow-time. We were barreling down the road at dusk trying get to the gate before lock-down and I spotted a leopard in the middle of the road in front of us, slowing ambling our way. We screeched to a halt and I flung my window down and my arm out, camera ready. The cat continued her slow march forward, heading directly for us. It was only when her head came abreast of our bonnet that I recognized chow-time could mean me-chow and I pulled myself in and rolled up the window. It was a heart-stopping moment when I realized how sluggishly a window winds up on automatic control. She pulled abreast, took a few more steps forward then stopped and turned around to look directly at me. It was a moment where the tables turn, and you are aware that you are being witnessed rather than witnessing. It was a spellbinding nano-second, then she broke the connection and strolled off down the road behind us, leaving a buzz in the air at the realization that for a moment in time we were inches apart from a wild leopard – not only close in proximity, but but mutually aware and connected.

A few days later we were to have another eye-to-eye encounter – a less “we are as one” and more “oh my god I am about die!” moment. The elephants were back. Rather than two hot-headed males, this time we ran up upon a heard of agitated females… mad mums with babes. Not a good place to be. Twice. On the same day.

We were driving around in our tinny Barbie-sized rental car when we pulled up in front of a grazing herd of elephants; we slowed, then stopped, transfixed by the peaceful scene around us. My head should have been ringing “Sensible-human with a functioning mind, get the hell out of this,” but the tourist side of my brain said “Stay! Take as many irritating click-click-snap shots that your memory card will hold.” The un-sensible side won, as it always will. Click. Her head turns. Click. Her ears flare. Snap. Her trunk goes up and she trumpets an ear-splitting warning. Then the stand off… she took a few fast steps towards us and halted. We held our ground. Not because we were calling her bluff, but because we had nowhere to go. Her male bodyguard pulled a tactical move and lumbered out from the bush behind us, his massive frame blocking us in. Oh, and we’d turned the car off – probably one of the stupidest mzungu moves I’ve done in all my years of travelling. We had an enraged elephant in a standoff we would never win – her month-old baby in front of us and her fully-grown son behind, with a herd on the periphery watching and waiting for a signal to demolish us. And so, with no option, I lowered my camera and urgently told the kids not to move a muscle… not to breathe… something very unnatural for a four- and six- year old to accomplish. The male elephant brushed up against the back of the car, sizing up his opposition. His ears flapped and his trunk explored the framework. Mad Mama was still stomping the ground in front of us, head wagging low and ears flapping like two raised battle flags. All of us sat frozen in position, four petrified statues. Mercifully, an escape route finally opened; the male elephant moved off to our side and slowly rambled into the bush to our right. Seizing our moment, John turned the ignition and the meek engine purred to life. At the same moment John kicked the gear into reverse and stomped on the pedal, the mammoth in front of us charged, clearly agitated by the noise. As John floored it and the car zipped backward, I stared gape-mouthed at the sight of a pissed-off elephant charging toward us – there is no doubt that size does nothing to diminish speed. As a whirlwind of muscle and dust closed in on us, we gained distance between us and the herd – and most significantly – between us and calf. The intensity of the moment eased as we raced backward in reverse through windy, wild terrain – we had gained enough distance to satisfy the offended and she eased off the charge, stopping and swaggering as if to say “I dare you.” We decided not to take her on twice.

It was not the last time we were charged by elephants that day; it was, however, the last time we turned off the engine. We also took care to never allow our escape route to get blocked again.

Over the next few weeks we explored the numerous eastern South African game parks from our basecamp in Richards Bay – each so very unique in topography from the other. We explored wetland parks, highland parks, lowland parks, expansive plateaus, steep escarpments, arid grassland, dense bush… all within a small geographical footprint; some worked on the protection of targeted species, some held a large representation of all the African wildlife – we saw rhino, buffalo, wildebeest, lion, elephant, zebra, giraffe, a myriad of different antelope – kudu, springbok, gerenuk, gazelle, waterbuck, eland, impala, nyala. Could Tanzania and several thousand dollars debited from our bank account offer any better? Naaa… I don’t think so.

I could have set up camp in Richard Bay and made it home for the foreseeable future… it offered an ideal base to explore the national parks and game reserves of South Africa from and the marina offered great facilities to make our stay a comfortable one. However, we were on a sailboat with the intention of sailing around from Ocean A to Ocean B – or rather, Ocean I to Ocean A – and it was time to get a move on. Three factors drove this: We were out of money, our South African visa only allowed us three months in country, and we had a thousand nautical miles to travel before reaching the other side. It was time to get a move on.

Africa, do you remember me?
Or have you forgotten the feel
of my feet on your soil?
For me, you are forever etched into my soul.

Toto – you pegged it.

Images: Animals of South Africa

 

Say Goodbye

How long will it take time
to fade the memory of a kiss?
To drain the potency of the passion
and the tenderness of our bliss?
A name not forgotten
but details of face will fade
into fleeting moments of reflection
on the connection that we made.

A poem once written for a man, now applied to a country. I have come to appreciate how much of a love affair with life is lived by the transient sailor. We get to know no country in depth or detail, but we flirt with the fringes of society and leave invigorated and passionate about the place and people we encounter along the way. Whereas most individuals live entrenched in a village their whole lives, we flit in and out of countries like migrating pelagic seabirds, never returning to the same place twice. It is this continuous exploration that brings with it an intensity born from the rawness of new surroundings and unexpected outcomes. We cast the mould aside and accept a life of constant flux and continual evolution. We shun normalcy to live a life of extremes. We seek out exploration and adventure. We try to make the most of each day, mindful of the clock ticking in the periphery. Tick tock. The countdown of the clock. We are always conscious that our time in country is on a running stopwatch, and as time closes in we try to fill every moment with the sweetness of a place we will most likely never return to. Tick tock, ping!

In the recency of our interlude
I can clearly see your face,
in that moment of silence
the minute before you wake.
Then follows the shattering of solitude
when your eyelids flicker blue
— alive we come in passion
as I crash into you.

Yet, while that clock is still ticking we get an intimacy of place that often eludes even the most resident of citizens. Days that flash past into weeks in a routine wind-down to the slow tick of minutes when that routine is gone. Tick tock. Tick tock. Once that pendulum is broken, the desire for its rhythmic beat is gone. As newcomers, we become completely involved in a place, consumed by the daily barrage of experience. Like a love affair, we dive in head first and bury ourselves in every nuance of culture and custom. With that intensity comes an addiction: An addiction to change, to unpredictable existences and to unforeseen futures.

With time against us, we fill in our days with a frenzy of activity, trying to eek out the most of our short interval in country. Time shifts and expands, and we define how we spend the hours in our day. We are allowed to fall into a slow routine of the undemanding life, with hours that aren’t gobbled up in commuting, meetings, schedules and commitments. A portion of time is spent ogling a country’s top landmarks and famous attractions, indulging in a “tourist brochure” exploration of a country. But as a cruising sailor you are more than a holiday-maker. We shop elbow-to-elbow in the street markets, bartering like locals over the cost of fruit and vegetables. We visit the community clinics looking for local remedies with fingers crossed on one hand and a translation book in the other. We wander through shady back alleys looking for an odd assortment of boat parts, smiling at the old men giving odd looks as if witness to a pare of doves in a badger den. Our kids chase their kids, not a common word between them but expressions of glee on their faces. In this knee-to-dirt experience of a country, we are exposed to her underbelly and we fall in love. We fall for all the things that aren’t advertised on the tourist brochures. We fall for her crooked streets and crooked houses, with the bad smells and the odd food, with the sly glances and the open laughter and the friendships that stem from curiosity and goodwill. We absorb the essence of a country into our pores and feel an intricate part of the fabric of life. In so short a period we feel an assimilation that generally happens in years. This is perhaps an overly romantic notion of a place, but every cruiser knows what it is like to feel the essence of a country under their skin, begot through the highs and lows of their experience. When the trip is behind us and we reflect on our time, it is the collection of these seemingly small, insignificant moments that defines our experience.

Passing time will soften
this yearning from within
and leaden the longing of desire
— memory of scent and skin.
So for now I cradle these lonely moments
without you by my side,
in the remembrance of your lips
I twist and wake inside.
For in the forgotten passion
that lay dormant
in the shadowed crevice of my soul,
you spoke and woke that part of me
with soft a gentle nudge.

What strikes me in this transient life we live is how potent but fleeting our experiences can be: intense, powerful, concentrated, all-consuming. You slip into the life that is in front of you at the moment and then – in the blink of an eye – it is gone. There are very few countries that we’ve visited that haven’t captivated me for some inherent quality. We know nothing of it other than the spelling of its name and in a small hop we land on site, amazed and awed and transfixed. In Tanzania it was the friendliness of the people. In the Seychelles it was the beauty of the land. In Madagascar it was the rawness of the on-the-brink existence. In South Africa it was the diversity. In Sumatra it was the intrepidness. In Mozambique it was the sea.

It was only yesterday that had you by my side,
wrestling beneath cotton sheets
and tying me up inside.
My singularity lost in that connection with you
— so sweet a tender place —
to banish morning solitude
in your butterfly embrace.

All places captivate you for some inherent quality; a few places consume you. For me, that place was Mozambique. It was as if the country, unknown to me all my life, opened its arms for a quick embrace and I fell headlong in love in that short moment of intimacy. I don’t know what led Mozambique to impress me with such a rare intensity of emotion. It was no single part of the country or specific moment in the trip, but a collective experience that left me raw and exposed. It was the infinite empty bays and the never-ending stretch of glistening white sand dunes. It was the myriad of single moments with strangers that we intersected with. It was the starlight shining down on unlit earth. It was the jellyfish that flashed and glowed beneath our hull with an intensity of a meteor shower. It was the slow rise and fall of a sleek back as a whale surfaced for air, exposing no more than a blowhole and an oval disk of flesh. It was the slow beat of a gull’s wing as it glided overhead, surveying us with a simple curiosity. It was the peace and quiet of the islands that dangled down the coast like a string of beaded pearls. My notes as we traveled down the coast captured the feeling at the time:

It is amazing out here, blue skies flanked by billowy white clouds on the fringes of a deep blue sky. We move through a patch of soft wind that ripples the surface on an otherwise flat, reflective sea. IMG_4744.pngWe’ve been passed by flocks of seabirds, and we’ve been assaulted by flying fish that shoot like arrows out of the water and bounce around the deck as if tossed by a novice archer. We’ve been joined by racing dolphins that play in our wake and sailed passed the solitary humpback resting on the surface of the sea. The serenity of our surrounding environment is exactly what the over-stressed office worker craves when dreaming of flinging off societal constraints. It isn’t always like this but when it is, you breathe it into your soul.

This was not my first time in Mozambique. I was lucky enough to land a position running a dive operation in a remote corner of the country a decade ago. I knew that it may be the last time I had the opportunity to spend an extended period on her shores and my farewell was an emotionally difficult one. At that stage in my life I was trying to carve every new experience out of the time I had; I’d severed the umbilical chord to my native country and the life I had established and was charging towards any unknown opportunity that presented itself. After two years in the African bush it was time for a change. I bought a ticket for America and a month later I was afloat in a small boat adrift in the Pacific Ocean. And that was the end of my time in Mozambique.

Or so I thought. Life has a way of throwing its curveballs and a decade later I was unexpectedly back on Mozambican turf, enchanted with the country all over again. Mozambique was not on the radar when we’d set out for the Indian Ocean, however the draw to return was a strong one. When we decided to sail to East Africa it was only natural that Mozambique would pop up on the radar… we were so close, too close, not to find a way to include it in our route. Of course, including it meant shaving off time in Madagascar and our time there had already been cut short by our detour to Tanzania. Tanzania or Madagascar? Well, let’s do both and while we are at it, how about Mozambique too?!

Having agreed “Why not?” we sailed down the coast from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to the Quirimbas, a small archipelago of 32 islands in the Cabo Delgado province of northern Mozambique. We were about to hit the stretch of ocean that cruisers avoid altogether – the currents rip along the coast making southward progress impossible as the 2-knot current sweeps you north. Our strategy was to hug the coast, keeping no more than 10 meters below us. Grazing the seabed with our keel, we tiptoed Atea through a slice of coastline peppered with free-diving fisherman; while hair-raising from a clearance perspective, it was a sociable stretch with men popping up from their hunt to wave to us in passing. So, although the threat of a northern push to Somalia is the common fear, we found a way to avoid the strong current and had arelatively simple passage south. Having built up a brazen confidence over the previous 300 miles, our cockiness was dashed in the last 30 miles as the current wrapped around the Ponto Delgado headland and completely stopped our progress. With an unreliable engine that left us unable to power through the current, we tacked back and forth in the same mile-wide band of water for five hours, pacing over the same ground like a caged bear. We watched the slow crawl of the midday sun from the same spot. We witnessed a glorious but underappreciated sunset in the same spot. Night descended while we were in the same spot. Determined not to spend another night at sea with our destination only five miles ahead of us, we pushed on into the darkness with the brilliance of phosphorescent jellyfish laying a glittering path to our anchorage and will forever hold a lasting impression of their underwater brilliance – Atea walking on stars.

We pulled into uncharted territory as illegal trespassers at 10:00pm, drawn by the call of a good night’s sleep and the calm of a boat brought back in from sea. We dropped anchor at Isla Tecomagi, the northernmost island in the Quirimbas. With the anchor down at long last, there was only one problem: We’d tucked in but not cleared into the country. Mozambique has a reputation for corrupt officials, something I’d had a lot of experience with ten years earlier. Avoiding bribes is easiest wh Continue reading “Say Goodbye”