Make Lemonade from your Lemon Tree

I feel like I have spent the last year chomping on a mouth full of acidic fruit, lemon after rotten lemon passed over on a chipped plate. Fingers pinch my nose tight as I slowly dissect the rotten flesh and eat my way through its bitterness. Just as I rid my mouth of its sour taste another is put in front of me. Each time I am convinced this will be the last piece of spoiled, bitter fruit that will be served. Each time look up from my empty plate to be served another.

“How have you coped?!” asked a close friend.
“The universe is trying to tell you something,” said the next.
“Give up when you are ahead,” coached my neighbor.
“Redefine your happiness,” pleaded my mother.
“Learn to cook,” said myself.

With optimism, stubbornness and bull headedness, I decided that I would turn that chipped plate upside-down, denying a diet of disappointment. Rather than consume each lemon, I would collect them and turn it into a bartender’s #1 drink. After stockpiling them, I would transform them. I pulled out my largest mixing bowl, grabbed my best kitchen knife and my biggest wooden spoon and I started to concoct a beverage that would make something beautiful out of something debauched. I cried when I cut into my lemons; I froze when I sunk my hands into the ice; I despaired when I lost sight of the recipe; I exhausted myself when I waited for it to mix. At the end of a long day of cooking, I poured my concoction into tall glasses and served it up for friends and family to taste.
“Ahhh…. !!” they said in union, “The Perfect Lemonade!”

The ingredients to a tasty lemonade made from a batch of bitter lemons are as follows:
2 miscarriages
2 complex arm surgeries
1 damaged pancreas
2 determined parents
a pinch of supportive friendships
a dash of resolve

Put both miscarriages in a bowl and mix with a gallon of gratitude. Let sit until fully absorbed. In a separate bowl, add one wrist surgery and one hand surgery and douse with a litre of amazing medical ingenuity. Combine one diabetic son with a year’s supply of insulin, a crate full of syringes and 2,016 testing strips, add a satellite phone and a 24-hour emergency hotline; bring to a boil and simmer gently, uncovered, until tender. Remove from heat and cover with two dog-headed and determined parents committed to a dream.

The batch is ready to serve when you have a daughter with a redesigned limb, a son with an injection-supported pancreas, and two parents with their dreams still intact. Transfer everything to a serving platter and garnish with a twist of humour.

Lemon after lemon, my family has been tossed a succession of hurdles this year that have significantly affected our well-laid plans; each time we redefine our way forward to be hit with another obstacle. When I look back on the year I see that with every trial we carved out sweet memories, with every hardship we found beauty and adventure, with every lemon we squeezed out a few more drops of lemonade.

The first lemon was a miscarriage that changed our plans to cross the Indian Ocean in 2015, putting us back in New Zealand for a six-month contract and a delivery that never happened. Our next lemon was dropped three months later with a second miscarriage, which resulted in a trip to America to escape the New Zealand winter for the sunshine of California and the comfort of family in an attempt to put the two losses behind us.

During those first two months in California my daughter was given an opportunity to undergo a wrist operation to stabilize her right limb, turning our two-month holiday into a four-month separation from John who had remained on contract in New Zealand. At the end of that period Braca, Ayla and I flew to join John in Malaysia to resume our life afloat. We spent a furious two months getting work completed on Atea and the ship out of the boatyard, provisions purchased and last-minute purchases done to prepare for a year at sea.

At the conclusion of all our hard work and preparation, my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and our trip across the Indian Ocean aborted a second time. What was expected to be a year that would see us drifting through the Indian Ocean with sand in our belly buttons and seawater in our ears instead had us wiping grit from our mouths and salt from our eyes; is was a succession of hard hits for our family and we were finding our way forward step by step by holding onto perspective to keep our lives on course and emotions in check.

We turned our hospital-tainted lemons into exotic tropical lemonade by taking the opportunity to explore Bangkok while awaiting our repatriation to New Zealand for further medical support and education. Rather than waiting out those weeks in the safety of a controlled environment, we packed up our insulin and our resources and hit the tourist circuit to explore temples and palaces, frenzied markets and congested riverboat taxis. This may sound little to most, but taking this on during our first days of caring for a diabetic without a team of medical support personnel was a daunting exercise. We found an unexpected pocket of pleasure through exploring the city and escaping the emotional trials we’d been through during the weeks stabilizing Braca; we cast aside our dependency on the medical community and put faith in ourselves that we would be capable of managing Braca’s condition whilst bringing laughter and play back into our world – and we did it with spectacular success.

Reality returned to us when we landed in Auckland and began our diabetic training within the New Zealand system. We spent our first month under the care of the pediatric diabetes team, re-learning how to care for Braca under a different system; gaining our understanding of the disease under two different systems gave us the advantage of additional resources. Again taking our lemons and converting it to lemonade, we completed our last course of training a month after arrival and immediately flew to the South Island to test our knowledge; we needed a good trial of glucose control on the road. If we could succeed on our own in the South Island, we would be prepared to succeed on our own in the Indian Ocean. Our camper van tour took us to all four corners of the South Island and the result was a fantastic month spent exploring one of the most beautiful countries in the world and being reminded of all that home holds for us.

At the end of our South Island tour, Ayla and I flew to California to complete her next operation, expecting to follow John and Braca a month later to Malaysia. Our post op recommendation was that we extend our stay an additional month, and with that extra time we jumped in the car four days after surgery for an epic coastal tour of the Californian seaside. Rather than moaning the extended time away from John and Braca or the delay to our cruising season, we had a fantastic girls trip with the company of some of my closest and dearest friends from my high school and college days. Again, lemons to lemonade; friends that I met and loved in the eighties and nineties opened their arms and their doors with a warm welcome a decade or two later. I have not had the opportunity in years to revisit these long-time friendships and it was rejuvenating to be surrounded by these golden friends again.

For those who don’t understand my ingredients, or the context to this story, I’d like to simplify: I believe hardship is a process to get through, and it is important not to forget the small moments along the way. What drives me to make a sweet drink from bitter fruit is the determination I have always had to see something through to the end, regardless of the hardships that present along the way. I have never been one to stop when the path gets rough or the road gets swept away by tsunami. In fact, I believe my biggest successes have come by way of failure first. Through this, I have learned that the hard times are to be navigated rather than run from, and I feel learning this has allowed us as a family to embrace some very special moments through some incredibly difficult times. The tough times always come; it is how we deal with it that allows us to stand tall or crumble, laugh or cry, take things head on or run from them.

Whether you see it coming or it finds you hiding behind the bushes, change is an inevitable part of life – and when hardship comes with it, I believe it is best to find your way rather than turn away. By taking events head on and embracing the change that comes with it I believe a person is best able to cope with the situation and move forward. For those friends who advised us to give up or redefine our goals and ambitions, I believe we can find a new reality in the context of our current passion. Philippe Petit once said in an interview “passion should be your motto” (in a very sexy French voice). I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more – life is too short not to live it on the edge of your seat and challenges need to taken as they come. I believe you should pursue your dreams the moment you have them, and change them when they fade into something different. Cruising is that part of “living the dream” for us at the present moment and I believe the obstacles we’ve been presented with lately can be navigated safely whilst still in pursuit of our passions.

Each of us must find our own way to make lemonade from our lemon tree, and this post shares the ways we have sought to make ours. I hope the conclusion of this year equips us with enough citrus to last the years ahead without any more fallen fruit and may this be the start of a new consciousness of travel as we forge forward as a family to pursue our lifestyle choice. May the misadventures of this past year lead us towards the adventures of the year ahead and let’s hope third time lucky as we begin our next attempt to set sail for the Indian Ocean!

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!

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!