The Bracarazzi

Sitting cross-legged in the sand next to a Russian Evangelist who was doing missionary work in Sumatra, I was enjoying some time with another traveler to chat about her experiences:

Her: I feel so dreadfully sorry for these poor local women.
Me: Oh? I didn’t quite understand.
Her: Yes, the women, the poor souls. Mothers have no babysitters, absolutely no support. They have to do it all on their own. I just don’t understand how the women can manage.
I smile at the innocence and ignorance of the comment.
Me: Ah, but they don’t. They have more readymade support in a small local village than an entire American city will offer.
She looked at me, puzzled, and added: And you, too. All on your own as well. How do you handle it?
Seeing that she hadn’t grasped my first statement, I gathered things weren’t sinking in. I just smiled.

See, it is impossible to travel through the islands and claim exemption from local custom. You do not own your children; they are the responsibility of the entire community. With a white-skinned towhead, you present a magnet irresistible to the local villagers. The cruising community came to call our local fan club the “Bracarazzi.” as other cruisers traveling behind us would be asked in awe if they knew Braca, opening their phones to proudly show a small Caucasian boy swamped in a crowd of grinning faces. I once had to chase down a woman who had swooped in on Braca, then eleven-months old, and ran as fast as she could into the bush with a screaming baby. When I heard my child’s cries and realized what had happened, I quickly took chase. There she was, clinging onto a child in full-fit, clicking off Selfies at fifty a second with a cheek-splitting grin and a red-faced toddler clearly in distress. When I approached she proudly looked up at me, clearly quite pleased with her efforts.

Finding your child is no problem; they are either trailing a long line of enthusiastic playmates or they are at the epicenter of a thick crowd of curious observers. It is reclaiming them than can provide some tricky negotiation. I’ve often had to clamber through a crowd five deep and watched the faces of disappointment when I’ve pulled my children away. Childcare is by no means difficult to procure as a local; nor by extension is it difficult to obtain as a guest to the community.

While I am not a mother willing to drop my child in the arms of strangers in my own neighborhood, vanuatu womanI am more than willing to do so on a small remote island hundreds of miles from home. Indeed, we have done so on many occasions and have returned to find them fully entrenched in local activity – dragging a cardboard car across the sand or playing naked in the shallows surrounded by a dozen kids. Doted on and adored, the villagers take your child into the fold with no hesitation or reservation. If you want the key to the door of local acceptance, travel with children. I left my Russian friend on the beach with her pity and her misconception. Perhaps she will come back one day as a mother herself and gain a totally different insight into the local culture.

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.

 

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.

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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Riding the EAC

They say a ship should never leave harbor on a Friday. It brings bad luck. I’m not sure who decided this was so, or why, but in seafaring ways you never tempt ill fortune.

Day 1: Saturday, 13 October

  • Departing Mackay Marina
  • Miles to Sydney: 950
  • Conditions: Wind SE 15 knots

0200 We decided to leave Mackay on a sunny Saturday afternoon after checking the weather gribs and discovering it was going to be a shit few days at sea. Strong southeasterly headwinds are expected for the first two days, but a high is expected to roll in behind it. We are determined to get to Sydney as soon as possible, so we are just going to go for it. We’ll take the headwinds to start, given it will afford us to hook into the back of this pending high and hopefully manage some smooth sailing. The winds should turn to the north as soon as we get out of the trade wind zone.

We had help from some of the rally boats to slip lines and wave us off to sea. John and I realized this was one of the few send-offs we’ve had with bodies left ashore waiving a farewell. It was a touching goodbye. We are not sure when we will see our shipmates again – people who’ve become family through the past six months. They provided support when we needed it and companionship when we wanted it; the friendships forged at sea are often short but sweet. We will miss these ocean allies.

Day 2: Sunday, 14 October

  •  At sea, heading south to Sydney
  • 1200 22°09’S, 150°38’E
  • Miles to Sydney: 840
  • Conditions: Wind SE 10 knots, 110 miles covered in the past 24 hours

0900 We motored throughout the night, partly due to headwinds and partly due to the labyrinth of shoals, islands and sand spits that are scattered inside the Cumberland Islands, south of Mackay. The weather is pleasant and the seas slight despite the constant headwinds. All are happy onboard and we are settling into our routines.

1100 We’ve adopted a three-hour watch routine, which we’ve both agreed strikes a good balance between enough sleep to make it through the next shift and not too long as to become clock watchers. Braca has learned to sleep through the night, which will make the evenings easier on us all. John is dawn watchman and as B tends to rise at the crack ‘o dawn, “baby-sitter” is added to his list of normal seafaring duties. The boys will keep good company. Chaos, I am sure – I’ve no doubt I will be rising to a cabin and cockpit in all sorts of disarray.

Braca will not be allowed on deck while at sea, and we’ve baby-proofed the cockpit so we have safe conditions onboard. Now the only matter is to keep us all entertained for an expected seven to ten days it should us to get down to Sydney.

Day 3: Monday, 15 October

  • At sea: 1200 23°15’S, 152°01.5’E
  • Miles to Sydney: 725
  • Conditions: Wind SE 10 knots, 115 miles covered in the past 24 hours

1600 We’ve been beating down the Capricorn Channel all day. This is the large southern entrance to the Great Barrier Reef and conditions remain quite reasonable despite the less than ideal light headwinds. We continue to motor, and the drone of the engine is starting to invade our dreams… Braca more than any of us, I am sure, as we’ve set his cot up on the pilot berth which is directly adjacent to the engine room. Turning the engine off would mean a much longer passage, so we are choosing the lesser of two evils. We would like to try and get as far south as quickly as possible as to take advantage of the back of the next high, which we are hoping will provide much-craved for northerlies. Atea is not able to carve her way to windward like a racing yacht. She is great on a reach or off the wind, but needs a little help in current conditions. Hence, we are resorting to what is often known as “the Iron Topsail.”

Day 4: Tuesday, 16 October

  • At sea: 1200 24°20’S, 153°11’E
  • Miles to Sydney: 629
  • Conditions: Wind SE 15 knots, 96 miles covered in the past 24 hours

0200 There are big merchant ships out here, line by line of light passing our little ship in the night. All dark but for a white light punctuated with a dot of red or green to indicate direction. As passages often mean not a sight of human existence for days on end, it is fun to have the repeat of silent passenger slip by us in the night.

0800 John dipped the fuel tank this morning, fetching a reading of 650 litres. Atea carries 850 litres of diesel at full tank, which under normal conditions should be enough for eight to ten days of continuous running. We should have enough fuel to motor all the way to Sydney if we have to, though we hope it doesn’t come to that. Too noisy, too wearing on the nerves and too damn expensive!

1300 Argh! We’ve had slow progress over the past 24-hours and are only just off Lady Elliot Island. Beautiful sight, however; the island is off our starboard side and a pretty to behold. The wind has increased and we bash into it as we continue to make ground to the southeast, directly into the wind. Slow progress. We tried motoring directly into it and we’ve also tried tacking, but neither is ideal and I wish there was another option. We considered tucking into Lady Musgrave to wait for better weather, but we’ve word that good friends are in Sydney this weekend and we are trying to make way to reach them by Sunday. Appropriate, as our guest is Braca’s godmother, Glenda, and partner Johnny. Besides, if we waited for the wind to change this time of year we could be waiting for weeks, and we can’t afford that. Onward we press, engine drumming a repetitive beat into our heads.

We are not alone out here, however. We are accompanied by humpback today, confirming earlier sightings of large sprays of water in the distance. This afternoon we had a spectacular sight of a whale repeatedly breeching, only a half mile away.

Day 5: Wednesday, 17 October

  • At sea: 1200 27°08’S, 153°36’E
  • Miles to Sydney: 469
  • Conditions: Wind E 15 knots, 160 miles covered in the past 24 hours

1000  I am not sure who coined the term, “miles and miles of Bloody Africa,” but they could easily have been talking about Australia. This coastline seems to stretch on and on without end, mile after bloody forever mile. Jet travel reduces one’s appreciation of distance, but travel by yacht and you certainly notice distance, and Australia offers plenty of that.

1400 Today is Braca’s first birthday! We’ve decided that his first birthday is as much a celebration for the parents and have been feasting on treats all day long. What a star he’s been! We received emails from both his maternal and paternal grandparents wishing him a merry one and raising a toast. I see that the excuse of claiming B’s first birthday as reason for one’s own self indulgence extends a generation! While we were opening a bottle of wine to celebrate, so were his grandparents.

1800 We are off Fraser Island. Long stretch of sandy shore. It is a beautiful evening with calm, clear sky and a rich blood-red sunset over the sand dunes that are just a few miles away. Atea is finally pointed due south and we are no longer hard on the wind. Still motoring, though – I wonder if we will ever get the sound of the engine drone out of our head and the vibrations out of our bones. Poor little Braca, so patient. It is no wonder he is waking so early….

Day 6: Thursday, 18 October

  • At sea: 1200 29°20’S, 153°37’E
  • Miles to Sydney: 330
  • Conditions: Wind NE 15 knots, 139 miles covered in the past 24 hours

1000 As forecast, the winds have backed to the northeast and we are finally sailing without the engine helping us along. The northerly winds mean that both Lucy Lister (our hard working diesel) and ourselves are getting a rest day. At long last!

2000 This evening we can see the glow of lights at Surfers Paradise. It really feels like we are making progress now and we have covered 1/3 of the distance. We seem to have found the Eastern Australian Current, giving us a healthy 1-2 knots of current boosting us southwards – “Grab shell dude. Here comes the ride!”

We are not the only one’s out here riding the EAC. We continue to have Humpback sightings along the way, providing us with a unique escort south.

2100 Braca is tucked in bed, our sleeping beauty. Routine has settled into a comfortable pace, and I’ve really enjoyed this past week at sea. I expected a hard dash to windward in heavy swells, strong winds, and poor weather. I expected to be holding Braca in arms all day to protect him from crashing about the boat. We’ve received very little of that. As such, we’ve been able to allow him his freedom to crawl, climb, and roam on his own. Toys are brought out and strewn throughout the saloon, jumbled in the cockpit. He enjoys standing at the companionway and holding onto the washboards, throwing random objects down the stairway. He has adopted a habit of stashing all variety of object in the bin, and we’ve adopted the unpleasant task of sorting the rubbish for hidden treasures before discarding it. This search is often quite cursory and so many an object has gone missing.

Day 7: Friday, 19 October

  • At sea: 1200 31°00’S, 153°01’E
  • Miles to Sydney: 193
  • Conditions: Wind S 25 knots, 137 miles covered in the past 24 hours

1100 Today we passed Cape Bryon, the easternmost point of Australia. Our luck with agreeable weather seems to have ended as today we’ve run into strong headwinds again. We are reefed down to just the staysail with two reefs in the main, and the day is grey and the seas hostile. Atea is a strong boat and seaworthy in these conditions, but we have to take extra care with Braca to keep him warm and safe. Mr. B seems perky though; I love how he is so indifferent to the bouncing of the boat and wants to play regardless of weather conditions. He seems not to notice the motion and he has none of the adult concepts of risk and fear that might cause upset when you consider the windy, wet and rough world outside.

We continue to be thrilled by plenty of Humpback sightings around us; today one sounded and showed his tail not 100 yards from the boat. We’ve also seen other whales breeching out of the water with a great crash of spray, thankfully these more rowdy displays at a distance. One doesn’t want to be too close to many tonnes of whale frolicking and leaping out of the sea.

2300 The wind has eased and the night is calm and placid. There is a lightening storm off to our port side in the distance, and we hope that it doesn’t make its way towards us. Two nights ago we had a new moon, and new moons mean dark nights. This allows us to see twinkling lights in the ocean rather than in the sky; the phosphorescence are out in force tonight, making each wave shimmer. That with the rise of a crescent moon has made this evening particularly beautiful.

Day 8: Saturday, 20 October

  • At sea, final stretch into Sydney Harbour
  • 1200 33°20’S, 153°00’E
  • Miles to Sydney: 63
  • Conditions: Wind E 20 knots, 130 miles covered in the past 24 hours

1000 It is a stunning day today, not as predicted. We’ve been hustling along at 8 knots with the engine on, but winds have been building and we were able to cut her and roll along in 18 – 20 knot winds off the starboard bow. Gribs have predicted the winds to turn late morning to south/south easterlies, rising to 25 knots. It is late morning now and very pleasant with SW15 knot. The angle could be better, but the sea state is calm, the sun shining, and winds moderate.  Right now we have 51 miles t go and at our current speed we are projected to arrive in Sydney Harbour at 8:30PM

While both John and I have spent weeks at sea before, it has always been on the open ocean – surrounded by the endless ocean. We left Mackay a week ago and have been traveling along Australia’s east coast ever since; her shore stretching alongside us as we trek south, sporadic lights dotting the coast at night reminding us of her presence.

Prior passages also bore the impression of isolation, of being the sole breath in a vast landscape. In comparison, this passage has brought us ships. It has brought us breeching whales. It feels as if we’ve been driving down a busy thoroughfare, in constant surveillance for other vessels traveling along our path.

I’ve enjoyed the company and the sense of solidarity: Pack travel. Shadow shipmates. Silent partners. All of us with our own itinerary, individual accountabilities, personal objectives. But I feel intimate when passing each other at night, each of us in our own secluded space doing the same thing: watching the night, monitoring our instruments, observing the weather and scrutinizing our progress in it. I’ve enjoyed the companionship, perceived as it might be, and the change of scene.

I’d better start getting used to it, an indication of the shift we are all about to make from the sleepy cruising lifestyle to the bustle of a rushing, busy city. I’m prepared. Bring it on. I’ll miss this blue ocean and the wide-open space, but change is a good thing and in my back pocket is the knowledge that our departure from blue water will be short lived. A summer ashore and then we cast lines again for a new adventure, turning Atea back out to sea.

2000 Well, the southerly change arrived as predicted and as often happens, the last 50 miles are proving to be the hardest!  We had to reef right down for a while, and are now bouncing along making slow progress to windward along the coast with the lights of Sydney visible and tantalizingly close, but there is another few hours of night passage before we can get into shelter.  Frustrating since if the wind had changed just a few hours later we’d be happily at anchor in calm waters celebrating, instead of still crashing into waves and wind straining to reach our goal.  Just a few more hours now.  Patience.

One Hour into Day 8: Sunday, 21 October

  • Final Destination: Sydney Harbour – we set anchor on Australian shores at 1:30AM
  • Miles to Sydney: Zero
  • Conditions: Shimmering lights of the city and the glow of Sydney Opera House in view; calm in the protection of the harbor and Kia buzzing with enthusiasm for this next stint of Adventure Ashore.  

We slipped into the welcome shelter of Port Jackson at 1:30AM. Tomorrow we will happily embrace the new city, but tonight is time for the bliss of a quiet boat, a flat anchorage and, finally, rest from the noise and vibration of a hard working diesel engine. Peace surrounds us, and at the moment it feels all of Australia is out there waiting for us to explore and enjoy.

Atea has logged close to 6,000 miles over the last 6 months. This has been a very good season for us. We have had some fantastic adventures and got time in three splendid countries, all of which we knew relatively little about before hitting their shores. Atea has performed very well and has had no major mechanical issues, and she is proving to be an excellent little ship for blue water cruising. The main engine, electrics, sails, AIS, watermaker, hull maintenance are all in good order and last year’s refit seems to have been money well spent. More expenses are coming up since both of our GPS screens are virtually unreadable, we’ve had two water pumps fail, the genoa roller furler is having issues and various other items are on the list that will need repair. But alas, it isn’t a boat if you aren’t bleeding money. At least we are gaining wealth in the lifestyle she has afforded us. As they say, “owning a boat is like standing in a cold shower naked, ripping up $100 bills.” But they never tell you just how much fun that cold shower can be!

Seeing Green

Prior to our 1,500 mile passage from PNG to Australia, I hit up a storm in the galley to prepare for the trip. While many find the exercise therapeutic, I find the work true to the term, “slaving in the galley.” I like to cook, don’t take me wrong. There is nothing like the earthy smell of garlic and onion sautéd over melting butter, the floral hint of rosemary and thyme filling the air around you, the kick of cayenne and red chilies pricking your nose. But herein lay my problem: I hadn’t seen sight or smell of these culinary building blocks for many, many months. In fact, in our six-month stint in the tropics we’d occasion to purchase rudimentary essentials in very few places along the way. Three towns held their promises of selection and variety (Port Vila and Luganville in Vanuatu, Honiara in the Solomons), but we’d hit these grub stops early in the trip. We also had a weevil epidemicon board that stripped us of many of our dried stores, leaving a larger hole in our supplies than planned for. Thus, when it came to cooking meals for the passage there was no mouth-watering aroma spilling out from our galley.

While we had very little opportunity to provision at stores along the way, the locals did lend a hand in keeping us fed. While we never lacked opportunity here, we did lack variety. You could cross anything green off your list, unless limes fulfilled this dietary requirement. Keen on yams? Not a problem. Starch was easy to come by; in fact, is seems local diet is comprised of exclusively fish and root. Two of my favourites were on ready supply, and but I quickly tired of pawpaw [papaya] in the morning. Every morning. And if you thought you could never get your fill of bananas, let me assure you – you definitely can.

And so, we wasted little ink and paper when filling out our list. As goes, this is all you can expect when filling up that shopping basket:

Grocery List:

  • Coconuts
  • Pawpaw
  • Banana
  • Lime
  • Yam

You like it? … You got it. But don’t dare dream of adding anything else to that shopping list!

Of course, seafood was on plentiful supply and lobster was a popular “meat of trade.” Our freezer was filled with a selection of eye fillet, scotch fillet and sirloin which made a great accompaniment to this saltwater delicacy. Rumor had it that I was purported to be a vegetarian, which made us laugh given the excessive number of nights we had “surf and turf.” After rationing meat earlier in the trip, we had excessive quantities remaining due to the shortened cruise and we didn’t want any of it to be confiscated by Australian quarantine. Unfortunately, neither steak nor lobster are convenient meals to cook at sea, and therefore I was a bit limited on culinary options. As such, we ate beans.

I prepared two weeks worth of ready-made meals out of the dried kidney beans we had onboard. Bean a la Pasta, Bean a la Chile, Refried Bean a la Mexicana, Bean a la Just for the Hell of Being Bean, Sopa Bean, Bean a la Boring Bean, Bean a la Going Mental Bean. Bean a la Bleck Going to be Sick Never Going to Eat Another Bean, Bean.

With a dozen coconuts and every concoction of bean you could think of, we set to sea. Heading south, we didn’t know if the trip was going to take us four days (a quick sprint to Mackay) or two weeks (in for the long haul to Sydney); it would depend on the conditions when we got out there.

While the cruising season was not yet closing, John and I decided that time was of essence in getting down to Sydney. Our intention is to try and find work in Australia over the summer and restock our travel kitty, and we deemed Sydney the best city to try and do so. Given we are quickly heading into the holidays, the sooner we are get there the better are our chances of landing something before the Christmas shut-down begins.

It took me two days out before I starting feeling beans oozing through every inch of my body, seeping out my pores. I could have taken knock-down seas, 40-mile headwinds, back-to-back squalls and a pirate attack, but I simply could not handle one more meal of bean a la anything. Before mutiny, we agreed that we’d head into Mackay, our nearest port of entry and treat ourselves to a white fluffy coffee and a meal of Not Beans.

We pulled into Mackay marina after four and a half days of open-ocean sailing across the Coral Sea. Our first 24-hours had Atea and crew bouncing through some of the biggest swell either of us have come across, rocking up out of one trough to slide off its peak and crash into the wall of the next wave. John was sick from the haphazard motion, I was exhausted from taking care of two men and a vessel, and Braca, nonplussed by the seas, carried on in his usual manner. After an initial hard run, the seas calmed and the weather settled and we slid our way south in what is termed, “champagne weather.”

Sailing into Mackay, we pulled up to the custom’s dock and not five minutes later heard my name called out from a neighbouring dock. Low and behold, friends of ours from New Zealand were on a work dock fixing up their own yacht after a rough sail north from Sydney a few days earlier. Such pleasant surprise! After clearing customs and agriculture, we raced ashore for our first cappuccino in many moons. I won’t belabor our disappointment in a receiving a shit coffee – perhaps too much hype – but the first item on our wish list was satisfied. Next: A hop to town to hit up the local grocer.

Now let me tell you, there is nothing so Purely Spectacular as a green grocer after months denied these succulent beauties: Red apples that shimmer in their wax coating, grapes that drip their vine juices to the touch, oranges that gleam their vibrant orange colour, just to reinforce the beauty of their name. Grapefruit. Kiwifruit. Starfruit. For that matter, fruit by any name was thrown in the cart in reckless abandon – the randomness was bliss in itself. Carrots. Cucumber. Cabbage. Broccoli and cauliflower. Avocado and artichoke. Spinach. Rocket. Mescaline. We were seeing green around each corner. Fresh, beautiful, succulent, glimmering green plucked straight from the heavens and delivered to our greedy palm.

We spent $200 in the fruit and veggie isle, never making it to past those fresh stalls to fill our cart with any of the other necessities – practicality could come later. We were depleted in items down every isle in the store but we couldn’t see past our immediate craving to put order in our spree. For the moment, we were like kids in a candy store with mum’s bill-lined wallet. I know we made a spectacle, as no ‘normal’ shopper was so gleeful when picking an apple out of the pallet. But hell, dampening our enthusiasm would have been near impossible, and who would’ve wanted to anyway?!

We recouped in Mackay, running on three café lattes a day, filling ourselves on an exclusive diet of fruit and vegetables, and catching up with old friends. On day three we decided it was time to press on. After tossing all the beans in the bin and boasting a galley full of green, we press on southbound for Sydney.