Serendipity galore

Family impressions (part 2/2)

Azur & Zephyr busy reading while we’re sailing

And what about us, the parents? What is our take on this new lifestyle?

Thomas

  • He’s a natural, he’s been drawn to the sea his whole life, so, one might say he’s like a fish in the water! Being on a boat, stepping on the floating deck each morning, looking at the boats around, meeting people who talk and understand boats. Hard to single out what exactly he likes most about our new lifestyle. The whole package is what he likes!
  • One thing that stands out perhaps is the freedom to sail away on the week-ends. To travel with no carbon foot-print, using only the force of the wind, and the navigation skills he’s honed throughout his life, first as a kid with his grand-father and godfather, and later, on the many boats he’s crewed on. Glide on the water peacefully without any engine noise to disturb the picture, just the sound of the waves splashing against the hull and the wind whistling in our ears, be surrounded by boats once again, be it large sports beasts like Team New Zealand, smaller ones like the fleet of NACRA training for the world championships, or other cruising boats, against which we cannot help but try to compare Obelix performance.
  • And as our impact is becoming more and more top of mind, living nearly off the grid fills him with unequaled pride, with most of our energy needs powered by solar panels, except a tiny 3-way fridge (think plugged chilly bin) running on shore power while we’re at the marina, and our devices we tend to charge at work.

I’m sure there are things that are niggling him you might think, and you’d be right:

  • His aspirations to reduce our carbon footprint involve reducing our waste, so it won’t come as a surprise that one thing that bugs Thomas is the lack of composting system at the marina, and seeing our rubbish bags fill up way faster than they used to, due to the surge or organic waste.
  • Another factor that takes its toll on both his morale and energy level is the ever-expanding to-do list. We’ve just finished fixing something that something else breaks. Even so, Master Zen stays positive and focuses on the lessons learnt rather than dwell on the behemoth task of getting ourselves and our beloved boat ready for an offshore voyage next year.
  • And finally, so much for the sustainability, he wishes we could take a bath every now and then, you know, to soak in and relax after an exhausting week-end away, or after having ticked off on of those items on this bloody Mary-Poppins-bag-to-do list.

Salome

Maybe pressured by the need to make our transition a frank success, I am blind to what I miss or would change. Nevertheless, there are some annoyances that get in the way of total enjoyment:

  • Number one of daily life irritation is the discipline needed to rein in the mess. The mess that we can’t afford, because, primo, it is in your face straight away, and secundo, it delays any sailing trip by as much as it takes to tidy it up! This means dishes done as soon as we finish a meal, laundry folded and put away as soon as it comes out of the dryer, pajamas under the pillows and not in the middle of the hallway, games back in the cupboard as soon as we’ve finished playing with them, etc.
    God knows I don’t relish rules, but I’ve imposed one to the family which is clearly making our life hell challenging: The boat should always be ready to go within an hour. We’ll see how long it lasts…
  • Secondly, I f*** bump myself all the time! Head, shinbone, elbow, back. As soon as I think I’ve adapted to my new environment and become over-confident, BUMP! As if one scar wasn’t enough, the other day I woke up with a start, tried to sit up in the bed and hit my head against a wooden beam. And bing, a bump and a bruise on my forehead, still have it 😦
  • Finally, being closer than ever to what I’ve wished for all those years (sail away!!!) brings up a lot of existential questions, like, am I ready to tackle this crazy dream? And I feel a tad overwhelmed by the ever expanding list of things, not to do, but yet to learn. How to fish, how to adjust the sails, how to sail downwind with a good angle (and without zigzaging), how to fix this and that, how to decide it is the right weather system to go, you name it. I feel like everything I’ve learnt until now is coming to no use whatsoever for my sailing adventures ahead! Why have I spent so much time learning tango, and how to plot data gracefully, when I could have focused on knots, meteorology and engine anatomy ? Wait, I did study the latter, a long time ago, in another life, why have I not retained anything from those mechanics lessons???

Fortunately this cast only a faint shadow on our new life and the magic of ‘Banakuma‘ (sacred altering or the art of manifesting one’s thoughts into being) shines through, more vibrant than ever.

  • The Power of Play
    Live on a boat and you suddenly expand your playground by 200% (as 2/3 of the globe is water), you also get to play Tetris all the time (trying to fit everything you need in such a confined space), or adult Lego spreading all your colourful electrical fittings on a table and trying to figure out the best combination to wire your bilge pump switch, and, like any other game, the better you become, the more you enjoy it, so it can only get better.
  • Reclaiming connections
    Living in a small space, with my three beloved men so close makes me connect back with my animal nature, and incidentally, we affectionately call our living quarters “the Den”. I also feel more aligned with my values and my younger self who dreamt all of this. I also tend to connect with other people more, family, friends or even strangers. I have a sense of belonging to the army of cyclists and ferry riders who commute every day. Conversations start by the mere fact of noticing each other. We also feel a strong connection to the elements and nature’s cycles. And being outside more, we notice the weather, the wind, the sea condition. We observe birds and sea life manifesting around us, jellyfish, flat worms, dolphins. I even have a talking tidal clock in Azur who calls out ‘high tide’ or ‘low tide’ every time we cross the bridge between the floating deck and the land!
  • Serendipity abundance
    Whether it is Gods dropping a lot more good surprises on our path, or us taking notice more, we truly feel blessed. Recent examples include:
    – our friends’ move not only from a boat to a house, but around the corner, next door to the school in fact, which meant they unburdened us of most of our furniture and appliances, Thomas can carpool to go to work, we get together quite often and feel at home in our new neighbourhood, and I could call them to the rescue the other day when I was late for after school care pick-up ;
    – Devonport Friday after 5 festival where Skylark was playing which drew a lot of our old friends there and made it look like the farewell/welcoming party we never got to organise ;
    – Free dolphins show on Burgess Bay (see Magic moments in Kawau)
    – the visit of Jean and Candice, a couple of french filmmakers who were looking for a family with a boat to feature in their next short movie about Auckland way of life, and went for a sail with us on a sunny and windy Saturday afternoon to shoot us in action ;
    – randomly meeting our friends Elodie and Nigel (see Antifouling part 1) at the lava caves on Rangitoto, who ended up trading their return ferry ticket for a sail back with us, and a family game of Guess Who with a sticky note on their forehead ;
    – having new ferry/bike-riders friends who commute on the same schedule as me every day ;
    – moving to pier E and meeting Carmen, Madeleine, Vicky, and Matt, in whom we’ve found, in order, a play mate for Zephyr & Azur, a baby-sitter, and fellow liveaboard parents to share boatlife hacks with, have good times on the water, and get precious assistance from when failing to park in the berth in one go, drifting scarily pushed by wind and tide, nearly destroying all the other boats on the pier in the process of regaining control of our baby ;
    – meeting tango friend and writer John Crana while fixing Zephyr’s bike who happens to be friend with another liveaboard met that same morning while fixing the bike, have a good chat with him about alternative lifestyles through his recounting of “corporate refugees” he gives creative writing workshops to, and guess what, I’ve signed up, as a 2020 good resolution ahead of time ;
    And the list goes on and on and on…
    Sounds a bit much to you? It certainly does to us too, but we won’t complain about this serendipity galore!

Floor is lava in 3, 2, 1, 0!

Family impressions (part 1/2)

One month in. Time to reflect: How is the family rating their new life aboard?
To get a qualitative answer to this, I asked each one of us to come up with our top likes and dislikes.

The first answer I got from Azur, was “But there is nothing that I don’t like”! Digging a bit more he could find things he didn’t quite appreciate though:

  • Our home is smaller – I tried to have him elaborate but to no avail
  • Stuff can fall off when we’re sailing – He’s quite true, and despite our careful tidy up before each navigation, we’ve had instances of a drawer that wasn’t locked properly opening in a loud “BANG” when we tacked, and a spice rack falling off the bulkheads in the galley because the double sided tape that held the hooks hadn’t been tested properly in sailing conditions.
  • We’re not allowed to climb the mast when we are sailing. So intense is our new feeling of freedom, that being forbidden to climb up the mast seems like a big restriction in this little fellow’s life. Think of all the children who don’t even have the opportunity to climb up any mast at all, you ungrateful child!!!
Zephyr up the mast (when it’s allowed and supervised)

He definitely displayed more enthusiasm sharing his new favourites:

  • We can be monkeys and we have a bigger play room, no a smaller one but we have a playroom – By being monkeys he means swinging around and going from one place in the boat to the other without touching the ground which they certainly do on a daily basis (see pictures below).
  • To go to school bike riding – Indeed, we do and it’s a shared pleasure, even when it’s pouring rain and we arrive at school completely soaked, like yesterday.
  • I get to play with Carmen – Carmen is the little girl that lives with her parents and teenage sister on a launch on our pier, just a few (seven says Zephyr) boats away. A real blessing to have another family nearby, which means children can play together and parents can relax a bit. And it makes for precious moments too when you hear Azur say to Carmen “I love staring at you” to which she casually replies “I know, you’ve got a crush on me”. With Carmen, the adventures have just begun but already include playing Lego on Obelix or Mytyme, countless bike rides on the parking lot or to the school and back, fireworks on Guy Fawkes’ night, and a shared dinner on Obelix last Friday followed by yet another bike ride (walk for the adults) at dusk.
  • I can get to sleep whenever I want to, because I don’t get scared because in the marina there is always light on. And so it is. We still read a bedtime story most nights, but there is no more cheeky little boy showing up in the middle of the evening saying “I’m scared” with a half-frown, half-smile on his face.
Kids playing with fireworks on Guy Fawkes Day

As for Zephyr, his concerns were more sobering:

  • Our house can sink – Yup, and we got a taster of that when we realised the bilges were full of water after our last navigation the week-end before last. It turned out the propeller shaft wasn’t sealed or greased properly and the bilge pump, which had worked reliably until then, had come unplugged due to a faulty wiring. No more sailing until we’ve got that under control!
  • We would be moving to lots of cities and countries and continent so we’ll need to make lots of new friends which is harder – Although from an outside eye, making new friends shouldn’t be much of a concern, given the speed at which he’s made friends at his new school and know all the school’s pupils by name already.
  • And I don’t like that we’re not close to as many people, so if we call for help it would take much longer – When we’re sailing in the middle of the ocean that is. We still have time to prepare for that, and don’t you worry my boy, or maybe do, cause mum is as scared as you!

Nevertheless, Zephyr’s appreciation of his new life is unequivocal:

  • We can sail anywhere – And yes, in a month aboard, we’ve sailed 3 week-ends out of four and already ventured in places not visited before.
  • We get to discover new things at a different school – Indeed their new school bears many differences with their previous one, they don’t wear uniforms, get to call teachers by their first name, school assembly is on Friday mornings and not afternoons, and much more I’m sure…
  • It’s much easier to play “floor is lava” – In this game, any player can announce at any time “Floor is lava in 3, 2, 1” and from then on, all the other players should avoid touching the floor or they die.

Floor is lava in 3, 2, 1, 0 !
… I win! Tucked in the central cockpit, the sun caressing my neck, with an enviable view on a clear blue sky, striped vertically by the marina masts, feet resting on a hatch frame, I am not touching the ground…

My view from the cockpit this morning

Magic moments in Kawau

Initially, our ambitious plans for the Labour week-end was to go to Great Barrier Island… Thomas had even taken his Friday off to give us four full days of adventures. However, our religiously watching the weather situation the week leading up to our mini-holidays, did nothing to slow down the wind, which was still howling loudly on Friday, to the great delight of the Coastal Classic sailors.

As for us, we took it easy, relaxed at Takapuna swimming pool (hammam, sauna and spa), had a rest, and Thomas took the children to the Bayswater Halloween trail after school while I was preparing the boat for an early start on Saturday. We would head towards Kawau Island, under more reasonable conditions, and meet our friends on Cirrus. Nothing to be disappointed about with the turn of events, as we had quite a few magic moments all through the week-end that completely made up for the plan downgrade…

Magic moment #1 – Guests for breakfast
As we passed Northhead, I saw a couple of kayaks who were getting scaringly close to Obelix. I was at the helm and altered my course to ensure we were not going to crush them, but they followed, got closer, and settled right behind us! I could in fact clearly hear them casually converse. They were delighted to surf in our furrow and enjoy a record speed with little effort. As we were having breakfast in the cockpit, it almost felt like we ought to offer them a cup of tea! We had a bit of a chat while they enjoyed the ride, until our course not longer suited them. Unless they decided it was time for them to really start exercising…

Obelix’ pilot-kayaks

Magic moment #2 – Team New Zealand foiling show
Soon after, we noticed a tall and slim silhouette on the water, and recognised Team New Zealand’s sci-fi looking boat. As we didn’t want to miss the show about to happen, Azur took the binoculars to carefully monitor their progress. It wasn’t long until they got started and actually zoomed very close to us, flying above the water, one foil up, one foil down at great speed, followed by their escort of power boats. Being in the front row like that and, above all, hearing the sound of speed was exhilarating, so of course I screamed with excitement. Well, apparently, this was too painful for Zephyr’s ears and he retreated inside missing most of the action…

Magic moment #3 – Zephyr saving the planet
We arrived in Kawau at noon, less than 5 hours after leaving Bayswater and were greeted by Gaspar, Rocio & crew on their dinghy, off to explore the island. As for us, we took it slow, or tried to. After anchoring next to Cirrus, and fixing us a laid back pique-nique aboard, Thomas went for a nap, and the boys, who had slept most of the way, were full of energy and harassed me to launch the dinghy to rescue what they thought was a plastic plate floating around. Zephyr, chief of operations, took us there and back. It turned out to be a biodegradable paper plate but still, I could read pride in Zephyr’s eco-wise eyes, who had set his mind on a mission and had accomplished it without failing, rowing courageously against tide and wind to retrieve rubbish from the sea.

Magic moment #4 – Unexpected morning visit
The kids then left me alone and I took a well deserved rest lying in the cockpit (Thomas was still sleeping) until our Cirrus friends came back from their expedition. We had apero on their boat and dinner on ours. But a speedy one as they wanted to watch the rugby semi-final at the only pub on the island, as did all the other boaties who by then had filled the bay which looked like a floating village. I stayed behind to look after the kids and realised after all the grown-ups had left that I wouldn’t have a clue what to do, was anything to go wrong with the boat!!! Fortunately it was a quiet evening and by the time Thomas got dropped off by Cirrus crew, I was falling asleep in our berth in front of Rita & Chico. In the morning the sun was shining, I knew I ought to take a dip in the water before breakfast, but the fresh breeze was deterring me to jump in, when I saw Cormack and Sacha – Thomas’ workmate and his girlfriend, who I had met at their last work function, approaching on their dinghy. I then dived before they could reach our boat, not to show off (or maybe a bit), but mainly because I craved the alive feeling it provides and knew too well I would have lost the momentum after their visit. So they came onboard while I was still dripping, and even though we knew Obelix wouldn’t compare to the super yachts they’re both used to, we were proud to give them the tour of our new floating-mobile-home.

Obelix in Kawau
Zephyr & Azur on “magic” log

Magic moment #5 – Gaspar’s voice on Channel 6
After our own exploration of Kawau by foot and lunch break at the Governor’s garden under the hoot of peacocks, all the while observing Cirrus heading off North with their bright yellow spinnaker, around 4pm we set off ourselves and resolved to find them. Started a very laid back circumnavigation of the island under a barely noticeable breeze which allowed me to refine my landmarks identification skills. Approaching the northern bay where we were expecting our friends, everyone got a bit discouraged as we couldn’t spot any sailboat. But the sailing was pleasant enough, so we decided to carry on and go all the way to Burgess Bay, further South, to anchor for the night. We were nearly there when we heard a familiar voice on the radio. The VHF is not like a phone, you don’t know if or when someone will try to communicate with you, so in doubt I had ours on channel 6 (the one we had decided we’d use), but it had been silent until then and we had completely forgotten about it. So what a surprise to hear Gaspar telling us they were heading towards Burgess Bay too and would be there soon. Hallelujah, we would be reunited with our friends for the evening!

Cirrus appearing behind dragon rock, from Burgess Bay

Magic moment #6 – Dolphins party in Burgess Bay
We anchored just before sunset, in a very cute little bay with only one other sailboat and two pods of motor boats, just in time for another swim under the sun. I just went in and out in a blink, and started making dinner while the boys all set off for the beach on their different embarkations. Stand-up paddle board for Thomas, surf board for Azur and dinghy for Zephyr. And when I came back up on deck, I could hear strange heavy breathing as if someone with asthma was snorkeling nearby, I looked and then saw grey fins coming in and out of the water in cadence next to the boat. I immediately yelled “DOLPHINS!!!” to draw my mens’ attention, and the family fleet quickly came over paddling and rowing to look out for them as they they kept disappearing under the water and reappearing somewhere else. Zephyr took me on the dinghy and stopped rowing as they swam towards us and underneath the boat, letting us admire their grey and white graceful bodies. Definitely the highlight of the day, especially when, later on, when Cirrus had finally arrived, they started jumping around, and doing their trademark back flips. The camera battery was down so I didn’t capture the moment but Azur wonderfully illustrated it.

Spot the dolphins!
Five dolphins by Azur
Kawau Island chart + Obelix course

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