Category Archives: 2013 Australia and Indonesia

After six months in Sydney we headed northward up the Eastern coast of Australia and around Cape York to Darwin. From there we joined a rally of yachts sailing through Indonesia towards Singapore

Traveling Vagabond: City to Savannah, Bush to Sea

A fateful meeting at Merrill Lynch in Seattle set in place the key elements that defined the next ten years of my life [Kia Koropp].

As was “the American Way,” I had spent above my earnings and sought out a financial advisor to help me reclaim fiscal balance. During that meeting I discovered a nest egg in my investments that freed me of all my debt plus left a large capital sum in reserve. Four days following that meeting I was on safari in east Africa, and within six months I had boxed up all my belongings and said my farewells with a one-way ticket in hand.

In 2004 I left Seattle on a return trip to Africa. I lived in Kenya as a youth and had always wanted to return as an adult; I finally had the opportunity. In route I visited my birth country, Puerto Rico, hopped on a yacht sailing through the West Indies, and spent time backpacking through Europe and Morocco. From there I joined an overland company that ran land tours through East Africa. I spent the first part of the year as an overland courier running trips through Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zanzibar. I experienced all the classics such as sighting game in the big parks, kayaking down the Nile, trekking the mountain gorilla, diving in Zanzibar. Misadventures included being chased down by a pissed off rhino, bitten in my arse by fire ants, malaria and septic infection, Highlights were sensory overload and opening my eyes to the delights of the amazing African continent.

My next stage was independent travel south through Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. After settling myself into a base in Cape Town, I started to look for my next opportunity for work. I was most attracted to dive opportunities in Mozambique. Connections led me to a mad South African (the pioneer in white shark diving in SA) who was running a dive shop in Inhambane, Mozambique and arrangements were quickly made.

I spent the next year running dive operations in a very remote area of Mozambique, taking sole charge of the dive centre that catered to visitors from Czech Republic. My only colleague was a local who spoke no English, and we managed on a linguistic foundation based on his understanding of Portuguese and mine of Spanish. The Czech business owner and I were equally disadvantaged, and we communicated with gestures and a translator – often ending in misunderstanding and comedy. The diving there was magnificent and I advise anyone with an interest in the underwater world to put this region on the top of the list. With two seasons of whale shark and humpback, manta and dolphin, the area was rich in marine life both in novelty and diversity. I had the honour of riding on the back of whale shark, swimming with humpback, gliding on the wing of manta, and caressing giant moray. I had the pleasure of meeting and befriending local villagers and becoming familiar with their ways. I fell in step with a very different way of life, and I am so privileged for the experience of it.

Deciding that it was time for a new stage in my travels, I left Africa in mid 2006 to fulfill a commitment to sail across the Pacific with a friend of mine. I returned to Seattle and departed in July (6/6/6 – somewhat ominous) on a 32’ sailboat set for adventures on the high seas. We were inexperienced in open ocean sailing and navigated ourselves across 12,000 miles on a six-month passage, crossing from San Francisco to Hawaii, south to the Society Islands, west to the Cook Islands, onward to Tonga and, finally, south to New Zealand.

We arrived in Auckland December 17, 2006 and I decided to extend my time in New Zealand. I spent my first year based in rural northland, then moved into the heart of Auckland city having been issued a work permit and authorization to stay. Auckland felt like both a step back in time and a welcome return to a tech-rich industrialized nation. I was once again in the world of cappuccinos and fine wine. It no longer took me a half-day to get to the markets or to provision the boat; staples were around the corner and I didn’t need to shop for a month’s supply. Fresh fruit ad infinitum, the endless supply of edible gold, was a luxury I had almost forgotten.

In August 2010 I met John on a kitesurfing holiday in Aitutaki. By early 2011 we decided to start two new adventures: Babies and boats. On 5 May 2011 we sailed north for Fiji and Tonga on our 50’ Ganley Solution, 17 weeks pregnant and a return for both of us to a life at sea.

From here our story picks up in our first blog post and takes our readers through our first season in Fiji and Tonga; our second in Vanuatu, the Solomons, Papua New Guinea, and Sydney; the third in the Great Barrier, Northern Territories, and Indonesia. As we prepare for our fourth season toward Malaysia, Thailand and onward, our adventures will continue to be told through posts on sv-atea.com.

Welcome to our journey.

 

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First Sight of Snow

We took Braca and Ayla to Mount Ruapehu to show them their first sight of snow. The objective was to have fun, to sled down a hill and to build a snowman.

Our success was marginal.

Orangutan in the Wild

At the conclusion of our last season, we sailed north from Lombok to Kalimantan for the sole purpose of experiencing orangutan in the wild. We sailed 463 miles north/northwest to Kalimantan, and took Atea a further 40 miles inland up the Kumai River to join some of our cruising buddies for a four day riverboat trip up a subsidiary river to track and view orangutan in their natural habitat. It was well worth the trip to get there. After that, we made fast tracks – 600 miles – to get Atea to Malaysia as we had a flight in two weeks time to return to NZ for the birth of our daughter, Ayla Kai. We just made it!

Ocean Vagabond

sailing 6 The circumnavigation of VIOLETTA  1993 to 1997

 In some ways the voyage of ATEA started 20 years ago when John set out from England in a tiny sailboat….

After a successful time at school and then Durham University, I joined the Royal Navy in 1989 and transferred to the Submarine service in 1991.  It was a time of cutbacks in the Armed Forces and I felt that this was not the right path for me, so I applied for redundancy from the Navy in 1993.  At the age of 25 I simply wanted to travel and explore and was inspired by the stories I had read about long ocean voyages in the tropics.  It was a big change from the security of the Navy and the focus of my upbringing to date, but suddenly I had the time, the boat and the money to take off for adventure – so I did.

 

I asked my friend Clive to join me and we decided to sail my little boat “Violetta” to New Zealand.  Clive was another ex-service man who had always loved travel, and although he knew nothing of the sea, I didn’t think that this would be a problem.  We planned that the challenge was to be in the journey rather than in the sailing.  Violetta was a small and old boat, and we intended to enjoy the trip, so the route selected was easiest: the Tradewind classic of going “South until the butter melts” and then turn west to the West Indies, through Panama and across the wide warm reaches of Polynesia.  The boat was a 27 ft sloop, long keeled, quite traditional in design and very small compared with most modern cruising boats.  She had no long-range radio, a small engine, limited creature comforts and was cramped below, but she was sturdy, seaworthy, and would prove to be a very safe, simple and capable craft.  I had plenty of coastal sailing experience and a strong nautical background, but little small boat open ocean experience.  That was about to change and we sailed from Plymouth in August 1993.

 

Almost as soon as we had started, with England a mere six weeks and 2,000 miles astern, a tragic accident on the island of Madeira wrecked the plan.  Clive and I had separated to allow him to walk across the island, and so I sailed around to meet him on the other shore.  When Violetta and I reached the other side, we anchored in a heavy swell, and waited for him to arrive.  The afternoon passed and Clive did not appear, so I put to sea for the night, returned again in the morning, and waited once more, but there was still no sign of him.   Confused and worried,   I returned to the capital on the other side of the island, with the thought that he might have missed me and returned by road.  There was still no sign of him, so I went to the police and reported him missing in the hills.  Groups of yachtsmen helped me and we searched the island for days, but never found a trace.

 

My best friend had died in the hills and we had found nothing.  We had planned a sailing trip together but within a few weeks I was alone on the boat, and my fingerprints remain on an Interpol database since the circumstances were deemed ‘unusual’.  Many months later, after Violetta and I had left Madeira and sailed southwards, evidence of Clive’s body was found on the island and the best theory we have is that he fell off the path to his death.  I never considered abandoning the voyage since surely I could find crew somewhere en-route?  In fact I did not find crew until after we left New Zealand two years and 11,000 miles later and so, by unfortunate circumstance, I was about to become a long distance singlehander.

 

With the trade winds gathering strength and a long-term timetable in mind, I was committed to making the passage from Tenerife to Antigua by Christmas.  The North East Trades were steady across the Atlantic and the conditions were good for Violetta’s first ocean passage.  My routine at night would be to get up every hour on the hour to take the log reading and check our course, look out for squalls, lights and so on.  If all was well I would then sleep for another 50 minutes.  This routine still left me open to being run down by a ship or another yacht, but we were out of the major shipping lanes and one just has to take the chance.  After 25 days Violetta and I arrived in the beautiful English Harbour, Antigua, just in time for Christmas in the bars and the sunshine of this most lovely port.

 

There are literally thousands of yachts cruising in the warm waters of the world, and the Caribbean is one of the most popular areas.   I met many wonderful people whilst sailing, people from all walks of life and of every nationality.  There were computer technicians from the UK, a butcher from Switzerland, a university lecturer from San Diego, an Electrician from Sydney, café owners from Auckland, and many other escapees from the rat race of all ages.   There was the American military veteran who daily threw his cat overboard “so that he would know how to swim when the time comes”.   There was the Swiss ex Olympic canoeist whose bright pink homemade boat, plywood canoe, and beautiful girlfriend regularly drew heads on their paddles through the anchorage.  There were boats where the greeting onboard came with a glass of Pastis, whatever the hour. There were boats where the food was always beans, and the only the choice was ‘What sauce today?”.  It was a pleasant, large and social cruising community, we all had a common interest and we all helped each other.

 

From the Windward and Leeward islands of the Caribbean, Violetta and I travelled westward in strong trade winds to the port of Colon at the entrance to the Panama Canal arriving late in March ’94.  Very specific preparations are needed to keep a small yacht safe in locks designed for 900 ft vessels and with millions of gallons of water in motion.   We had to carry 4 line handlers, 4 heavy warps of 120 ft in length, a pilot and the skipper for the whole transit.  We shared the locks at Gatun with a cruise liner, her passengers crowding her rails many feet above my head. Transit of the locks went smoothly but when we entered the canal’s fresh water lakes, the reduced buoyancy of fresh water coupled to our full load of line handling ‘heavies’ caused the cockpit drains to submerge and our pilot was alarmed to find his feet getting wet.  This was also the day that we saw a crocodile, whilst drying off after a swim!  My first Pacific sunset was seen on 4 April 1994, and I was soon off westward again.    There was an unpleasant time adrift with  no engine in very thick fog off the Galapagos Islands.  It was quite eerie with no wind, no sun, no seas, no moon, no motion, no noise, no sky and no link at all with the outside world for 3 days – I felt helpless drifting in a strange ocean with no one to share it with.  I was alone, far from home, and had suffered some losses since leaving the UK, but my fortunes were about to change and the warm trade winds in the South Pacific were gently blowing us towards French Polynesia.

 

After 35 days at sea, Violetta reached these fabled islands of the southern pacific.  Memories of the months that followed will include enchanting native music drifting across a perfect sunset; beautiful wahine adorned with garlands of lush flowers; jade mountains jutting from azure seas; diving amid shimmering curtains of brightly coloured reef fish; and lazy days in calm lagoons. Tahiti has held a special place in the minds of European sailors ever since the first explorers waded ashore to their welcome, and I had timed my arrival to be there during the July festivals.  Every night the town square was filled with rows of beautiful dancing girls in grass skirts, all  with flowers in their long brown hair; it was quite entrancing.  As we progressed ever westward, my routines on the boat were becoming more refined and I was well adjusted to the life and within the yachting community one was rarely alone or without help.  The distances covered in the Pacific are worthy of note since we tend to forget the size of the world’s largest ocean.  By the time Violetta and I turned south from Fiji we would have covered 6,000 miles since Panama, and I recall setting out from Bora Bora to Tonga as if it was a routine passage – in reality that leg alone is 1400 miles, little short of the total length of the Mediterranean and a far cry from the mere 60 miles of English Channel that separates UK sailors from their closest foreign shore. Despite an engine that wouldn’t start we travelled safely through French Polynesia and the island groups of Tonga and Fiji during the sailing season of 1994.

 

By late October we were in Fiji, and it was time to leave the tropics before the oncoming cyclone season and head south to New Zealand.  It was a rough and cold passage, with either headwinds or calms.  Violetta’s engine had starter motor problems and had been out of action for many weeks, so we were helpless in the calms, and it was on this leg that I logged our lowest ever 24 hrs run, a mere 10 miles.  But after 14 days, on 4 November 1994, I sighted Rangitoto island, the squat and brooding volcano that marks the entrance to Auckland Harbour.  An escort of dolphins played around Violetta as she romped towards the goal Clive and I had set out for 15 months and 13,000 miles before.

 

Having sailed half way around the world and thrived on the voyage, Violetta and I were never really going to stop until we had completed the full circumnavigation.  The boat was quite capable of going on, and I had time and money still to spare, so after a year in NZ, we sailed on for Australia in December ’95.  The Tasman Sea showed a little of its reputation for tough waters and hard crossings and I was cold, wet and tired when we arrived after a 14-day passage in Sydney on Christmas Eve .  After two months it was northward up the Australian coast, away from the temperate winter and back to the warmth and pleasures of the tropics.  A very significant change to life on the boat was the addition of a charming New Zealand girl who was tolerant enough of the cramped conditions onboard to sail with Violetta and me.  Having Karen onboard added the touch of a woman to my cooking, the touch of a friend to share sights with, the touch of extra safety in reef-strewn waters, and most of all, the touch of love to my life.

 

As we travelled northwards along this vast coast and the Great Barrier Reef, life on board had never been so good; we caught fish, we dived at some of the top dive sites in the world.  We travelled inland to the wonders of the Northern Territory. By August ’96 Karen and I found ourselves in the islands of Indonesia, a land where the locals still regard white people as something of a novelty.    It was sometimes tiring to have a trail of local children whenever one set foot ashore, but with so much laughter and interest sparkling in their brown faces one couldn’t complain.   One evening in particular remains in my mind from these happy months:  Violetta was at Fitzroy Lagoon, a submerged atoll of the Barrier Reef; we were anchored in calm water with no land and no other vessels in sight; the sky was clear and like black velvet studded with the diamonds of stars from horizon to horizon in all directions; music playing gently on the stereo; the achievements of a good days sailing behind us; a glass of wine to hand; the aromas wafting upwards gently from the fresh fish in the frying pan; a beautiful girl sitting beside me. What more could a man ask?

 

After Karen had returned to NZ in September 1996, Violetta and I carried on through Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, to the Bay of Bengal, Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean.  Although it was a fascinating experience going ashore in these far off lands, sometimes  I wished we were back in more familiar waters.  Violetta was showing the signs of her 20,000 miles voyaging with leaks from the stern gland and problems with the roller furling.  To keep her going was a constant task, and I would need to replace the sink, patch the water tank, fix an autopilot, rig a new VHF aerial, reattach halyard winches, stitch worn sails;  the general wear and tear never ceased.   An American called Fred joined me for an idyllic passage across the Indian Ocean and by March 1997 we were in Aden, ready to tackle the northward passage up the Red Sea.

 

This area has a tough reputation for cruising yachts, with few facilities, strong headwinds, conflicts and war on the coast.  It was the time that the yachting community really came to the fore and I travelled in close company with another yacht all the way.  It was on this leg of the voyage that Violetta had her most serious breakage, when the forestay broke one hard windy morning.  I was so proud of my little boat after we stopped, rigged a jury stay and sailed onwards independent of support, always pressing north to the Suez Canal.  As a team we towed, encouraged, assisted and led each other northwards.  By the time we got to Suez, boats of the fleet had been rammed and fired upon, masts and stays had been broken, engines and instruments were faulty on some, food supplies were low, and the extra stocks of fuel and water that we carried were also getting low. However, there were the pleasures of diving in crystal clear waters, the sights of camels at the waters’ edge, the exploring of the ancient temples of Luxor, and everywhere the sand and clarity of a harsh yet beautiful land.

 

Violetta and I reached Cyprus in April ’97 and after a period of maintenance for the boat, rest and cold beer for me, I sailed with a girl called Alison for the last leg of the voyage back through the Mediterranean.  It has been said of the Med that “There is either no wind or it is blowing a gale.  And it’s always a headwind”.   This isn’t far from the truth, but we got to the south of France without too much trouble, lowered the mast, went into the canals of Bordeaux, and left the oceans behind for a few weeks. After months in blue seas and sandy tropical islands, it was fun to be motoring along canals lined with trees and flowers.  It was fun to be working the locks rather than the sails, and fun to be enjoying fine French wine and cheese as opposed to an assortment of warm beers, rum, tinned food and vegetables kept for too long in a small boat.  My mother was onboard for this leg, spending time with her son who had been overseas for four years and who she knew was due to leave on a one way ticket for New Zealand within weeks of getting back to England.  The whole voyage had taken me to 35 different countries but I had loved New Zealand most of all, and decided to return there to continue life after the sailing was completed.

 

In August ’97 we left the canals, sailed around Ushant and into the Channel.   I was used to making landfalls by now, and vastly more experienced than when Clive and I set out four years previously, but I was shaking with emotion when the English coast rose slowly above the horizon.  My tiny little boat had sailed around the world.  From her decks I had seen countless tropical sunsets, endless rollers blowing in the trade winds, swaying palm trees and deserted white sand beaches; we had anchored in azure lagoons, in sandy inlets with camels standing at the waters edge, and in rainforest with crocodiles lurking in the muddy depths; on her decks I had caught fish, eaten lush fruits, drunk rum with friends from all nations and fallen in love under starry skies.  Violetta had sailed over 29,000 miles, but my own journey had been infinitely longer, taking me far from a comfortable childhood and out to the wide world.   This landfall was the end of it all, the circle had been closed and the sailor was home from the sea.

Crossing the Line: King Neptune and his Catch

As all sailors knew well, crossing the equatorial line for the first time is a seafarer’s “right of passage,” in which a “pollywog” (a sailor who has not previously crossed the line) become a “shellbacks” (a fit subject of King Neptune).

Having sailed almost 11,500 nautical miles by his second birthday, Braca crossed the from southern to northern hemisphere a day before he turns 2. This captures Braca’s initiation ceremony. Enjoy!

I Do

Wedding Vows

 We are gathered here today to witness the marriage of John and Kia.

Marriage is an honorable state and not to be entered lightly or merely to satisfy man’s carnal lust or woman’s need for a pet slave … although both are pretty good reasons.

A cruising marriage is a binding union where two people agree to sacrifice style in favour of lifestyle; to sacrifice all-inclusive vacations for a luxury-depleted retreat; to sacrifice disposable income in place of flexible time frames.

A cruising marriage is a commitment to curse the wind and charts, and not each other. A willingness to stand by each other as First Mates, and not be tempted to toss the other over the side-rail.

John, will you have Kia to be your Galley Gal? Will you love her, comfort her, and pretend to know how to work the sextant, do the oil changes, fix the heads, and never give her the longest night watch?

Kia, will you have John to be your Maintenance Man?  Will you love him, comfort him, never tell others about his seasickness, commend him on his “fix it jobs” (even if they are continually being re-fixed), write the blog, and always remember where he left his sunglasses?

John, repeat after me: I take you, Kia, as my Galley Gal, First Mate and Best Mate. I affirm my love for you and will do all I can to keep us safe out there.

Kia, repeat after me: I take you, John, as my Maintenance Man, First Mate and Best Mate.  I affirm my love for you and will do all I can to ensure that we have fun out there.

As you leave your homeport further astern and seek adventures across friendly seas, I call upon Neptune to grant Atea safe passage and to deliver her crew safely to exotic shores.

John and Kia – through foul weather and raging storms, through flat seas and balmy weather, through broken engines, expired stores, screeching babies, confined spaces with no escape in sight, through a never-ending to-do list and never-ending wander lust, — may you always arrive safe and sound.

I now pronounce you Husband and Wife.

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BEWARE: Blue Bottles, Crocodiles and Babies Present

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.

P1240944I 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.

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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.

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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. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 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. 18 weeks pregnantWe 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.

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