Fare-whale decade!

Recipe for the best day of 2019

Ingredients

  • 1 handsome multi-talented man
  • 2 kind, fun, resilient boys
  • 1 sturdy sail boat
  • 1 pinch of wind (not too strong, not too light, and preferably in the right direction)
  • slight sea
  • 1 whale
  • 1 island (not too far, not too close, and preferably with an iconic bay)
  • friends (as many as required)

Directions

  1. Wake up at 5 a.m. and realise it is still pitch black
  2. Wait for some light and start the engine
  3. Raise anchor
  4. Celebrate the engine endurance (cf. Christmas in the engine room)
  5. Hoist sails
  6. Watch sunrise eating breakfast in the cockpit
  7. Greet young sailors as they wake up
  8. Check speed with engine on neutral
  9. Switch off engine
  10. Sail!
  11. Plug autopilot
  12. Help young sailors as they vomit their breakfast
  13. Lift their spirits inventing stupid knock-knock jokes
  14. Take pictures and videos
  15. Spot a whale squirt and flip fins
  16. Try to spot other marine animals
  17. Sail. Sail. Sail.
  18. Watch coastline getting closer
  19. Find iconic bay and anchor (e.g. Smokehouse Bay)
  20. Get a surprise spotting some friends bright yellow ‘Goldfinger’ boat
  21. Have lunch and soak in the feeling of achievement
  22. Get visit from Goldfinger’s crew and have drinks onboard Obelix
  23. Get interrupted by Zephyr all excited that someone is calling us on the radio
  24. Struggle with VHF poor reception to make plans with friends who were indeed calling us from another bay
  25. Jump on dinghy to go ashore
  26. Watch kids have fun on the swings and take hot shower
  27. Greet other friends as they’ve made it to Smokehouse Bay
  28. Go back to Obelix altogether
  29. Dress up
  30. Dance tango on deck
  31. Eat festive dinner (e.g. salmon toasts & cream cheese stuffed chili peppers for starters, duck confit and fried potatoes for main, and scorched almonds for dessert)
  32. Go back to beach and socialise
  33. Watch Thomas’ fire poi dance
  34. Retreat back to the boat well before midnight
  35. Snuggle under the blankets
  36. Hear the final countdown in the distance
  37. Smile
  38. Sleep

Reviews

Well worth throwing up breakfast for.

Zephyr

♫ This is gonna be the best day of my life, my li-i-i-i-i-ife ! ♪

Cover by Zephyr & Azur

Mum: Are you ok, Azur? What are you doing?
Azur: Yes I’m fine, I’m playing the best game ever…
Mum (intrigued): Oh, cool, what is it?
Azur: Spot the marine animals!

Christmas in the engine room

Tuesday 24th December 2019 6:00am. We’re raising anchor from Bon Accord – Kawau, perfectly synchronised with our friends Marion & Borja on Ad Hoc, ready to sail to Great Barrier Island for Christmas. We’ve set our alarm early to strategically leave at dawn, kids still asleep in their cabin, sea still undisturbed by the sun’s energy. Despite its grey cloudy sky and chilly air, this is the day I’ve longed for. The one gift I’ve ordered Santa this year: sailing to Great Barrier Island. Close enough that you can see it from the mainland when the sky is clear, yet far enough that the passage qualifies as a crossing, with a sea that can get messy, and the land being a mere rumour when you’re half way there, in the middle of the water, with no other boat on the horizon. My rite of passage in a way, the much awaited proof we can defy the elements as a family, and get out the other way strong and proud.

Eyes set on Great Barrier Island
Ad Hoc’s crew on Obelix

The anchor is nearly all the way up when suddenly the engine stops without warning. Holly sh*! Thomas promptly hoists the mainsail to get control of the boat in a bay fairly full of other vessels, while I’m thinking, let’s go and try to figure something out on the way. We’re on a sail boat after all and only need the engine to maneuver in and out of anchorage. Now that it’s broken down, we’ll have to anchor by sail anyway, whether it is right now to stay on Kawau, or in a few hours to anchor on Great Barrier. Besides, if it has to do with a low battery, it should have time to charge with the solar panels during the day and we could try again later and decide whether to carry on or turn back if is still not starting. (*yesterday we couldn’t start the engine because the engine battery was down and we had to charge it while plugged on Ad Hoc’s alternator, this is apparently an issue with both service and starter batteries plugged in parallel by mistake, an issue we’ll have to sort out). So off we go, with Ad Hoc following us closely behind. We communicate on VHF channel 6 explaining to our friends what has just happened and our intentions. They don’t seem so optimistic about our plan, explaining that the wind could die off half way through the crossing in which case we’d be a dire situation with no engine to propel us. Fair enough. We finally decide to anchor in Vivian Bay with Ad Hoc moored raft-style, and try charging the battery to the max as we did yesterday. An hour or so later, the battery is at its fullest yet the engine still refuses to start. Either there is something wrong with the battery system or the problem is elsewhere. It is still early in the day with plenty of time to find a solution. We bid our friends farewell as they set sails to Great Barrier as planned albeit a few hours delay in the initial schedule.
As for us, we decide to relocate to Algies Bay on the mainland, opposite Kawau to be closer to shops would we need anything or anyone’s help. We get hold of a marine mechanics who can sell us a brand new battery. The issue might be completely different, but we said we could do with an extra onde anyway and this will allow us to completely rule out the battery route. He’s open until midday which puts a bit of pressure given the very little wind blowing exactly from where we’re trying to go. Our internal clock is ticking loud and clear with each tack and at 11:30am, we’re finally there, anchoring for the second time under sail. A couple of rides on the dinghy later, Thomas brings the new battery on board, plugs it in, still no luck with then engine. Damn! Looks like there won’t be any Great Barrier for Christmas.

As a friend kindly reminds us, an engine needs three things to run: air, fuel and power. We’ve ruled out power, we quickly check the air way is not blocked, and an inspection of the tanks confirms we still have plenty of diesel. There must be something that prevents the fuel from making it to the injectors. Faulty injector pump or airlock? Let’s get our hands dirty and find out for ourselves. Given it’s Christmas, we have more than two days ahead of us without any hope for professional help anyway.

After having fed the hungry family, we still have to balance our lack of sleep (we got up at 5:30am this morning), our low morale (of all considered scenarios for the holidays, none featured Christmas eve spent alone at Algies’Bay in diesel fumes), and the kids’ need to let their energy out of the confined space, quickly cluttered with newspaper, tools, and rags everywhere. Christmas Eve isn’t celebrated as we’re used to with an orgy of decadent food, alcohol and chocolates. Instead we force ourselves out of the boat and onto shore late that 24th December afternoon, after many failed attempts to bring the engine to life. Thomas and Azur have a splash in the water, after which we treat ourselves to a hot shower at our friends Chris and Anne’s batch, conveniently located right on the beach, opposite where we are anchored. We’ve brought everything to fix ourselves a couple of home made pizzas eaten in between a game of cranium.

I don’t know how we gather the energy to wrap up the presents that night, write Zephyr and Azur a letter each, and hang Santa’s marshmallow legs from one of the hatches to surprise them in the morning, but I’m glad we did. For one they let us sleep in, and when they do wake up, it is with a merry energy, Zephyr announcing cheerfully “Santa’s been” and Azur quickly hurrying along to witness with his own eyes. They only have a couple of presents to unwrap each, yet they’re ecstatic about Santa’s accuracy, who’s brought Azur a handful of Pokemon cards, a couple of candy canes, and a Christmas jokes book, exactly as he’d asked for. And in a simliar fashion – Santa isn’t very creative this year, nor was he helped by Zephyr’s letter which evasively stated he’d be grateful to get about anything, or maybe he ‘s aimed for fairness and reached it with clockwork precision, Zephyr gets a handful of Pokemon cards, a couple of candy canes, and a book: “The Hundred Mile An Hour Dog” which he reads three times on Christmas day, a couple more the following one, and encourages his brother to read it too.

After the morning celebration accompanied with moist and fragrant italian Panettone, we resume our work in the engine room. And I quickly fall in to a cyclic pattern of hope-frustration-anger-despair with each try and failure. Haven’t we deserved to have a smooth sail after all the work we’ve put in? Thomas spending evenings and week-ends tidying up the engine, replacing corroded anodes, fixing a broken leg, getting a new leak-proof exhaust pipe, and painting the whole thing shiny silver to make it look nice (would we ever have to work on it further). Me taking care of the provisioning and end of year celebrations, making several trips to the supermarket, fruit and veges shops to buy staples in (what seemed to me) astronomical quantities to sustain us for three weeks, plus some treats for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. True we also had the self-imposed mandate to learn as much about the boat as possible, and break anything that was about to instead of in the middle of nowhere … But why now? Why not just a little later???

Fortunately we have access to a private 24-hour-7 mental support/personal coaching/diesel engine helpline which we use and abuse, calling our friends Thomas and Claire time and again. All in all, it takes us four days, no less than 20 phone calls, and a prayer (yes a prayer, hands clasped and all, as I’ve collapsed on the couch, taking a break from my mechanical duties, crying, and begging whoever is listening to make this engine run and soon, please) to diagnose the issue and find a viable solution to resume our cruise. All the while keeping a semi-interesting summer holiday program for Zephyr and Azur who’ve been extra patients, allowing us to work every day until 3 pm before begging us to go play ashore.

We haven’t completely identified where the air leak is and just bypassed a few parts in the diesel lines, running on one tank, with two less diesel/water separators before the fuel filter. Good enough for the couple of weeks cruising we’ve got left. She’ll be alright! In the process, we’ve also understood and fixed the issue of parallel batteries (the initial set up was smart with an emergency paralleling switch, although it got hijacked with wires plugged from both batteries directly on the solar panels regulator, putting the batteries in parallel permanently), got a clearer picture of our whole diesel system: input, filters, return, etc., and I can name all the parts of the engine and bleed it in the right sequence!

When on the 27th the engine has been running for a good hour (by the way, we are so exhausted by then we don’t even bother celebrating, not even a high five, although I later express my sincere gratitude gratitude to both our friends making them listen to the sweet hum of the engine, and to whoever heard me and answered my prayer in a few hours, why didn’t I pray earlier? ), we finally leave Algies Bay for North Cove, Kawau which we reach in less than an hour. All is not lost, the sun is shining, the water crystal clear, we make good use of Bentzon camp’s slack line and playground to stretch our legs, and kids from a nearby boat are quickly tamed and invited onto Obelix for a game of Catan with ours. And we still have more than two weeks ahead of us to fulfill our (my) sailing-to-Great-Barrier-Island dream! Although we’re taught patience once again, as strong winds and rough seas are all that is forecast in the coming days…

Obelix itchy feet

And crew on edge

More than a month has passed since Obelix’ last sailing adventure and this meant countless week-ends watching, with envy, surrounding boats vacate their berth for a few days, and their crew coming back on Sunday with a tan and a beaming smile, while we were stuck at the marina with either no anchor, or an engine into pieces, or, anyway, tons of work to prepare for our three-week holidays and first extended cruise.

The to-do list was long but we’ve chipped at it diligently (mostly Thomas) and knocked off the most crucial items, so we now have:

  • a newly galvanised anchor and anchor chain (that hopefully won’t get jammed in the hawse pipe as often),
  • a freshly vacuumed, and bleached V-berth
  • an on-board VHF in working order (which just needed to be switched to international wavelengths instead of its default USA setting)
  • relevant paper charts for the trip
  • a new life-jacket cartridge (the last one had popped when the life-jacket was thrown a bit too violently in the dinghy),
  • a cockpit with flash varnished (epoxied) wooden slates to give it a classic look
  • LED strips in aluminum channels, with switches (but still temporary dodgy wiring)
  • and last but not least: a refurbished engine!!! On hearing the humming of the engine when switching it on on Sunday afternoon, we were obviously delighted, but Azur not so much “Are we going? – No we’re just testing the engine. – Good! I don’t like sailing”. With Zephyr we agreed he might have landed in the wrong family ;P

We’ve even managed to throw in some fun and educational activities in the mix. Some to keep us sane, others to entertain the kids and leave Thomas undisturbed while sweating hard, cooped up inside the engine room in his blue overalls. These included:

  • a 9th birthday celebration learning how to make chocolate from roasted cocoa beans with Zephyr’s best friends at Chocola,
  • a visit from Juli, my 15-year friend from Montreal, and her digital nomad partner Matt (check out his movie about Kiribati: Anote’s Ark)
  • learning the ropes with our pier neighbour Rod, who volunteered to help us optimise Obelix spider web for easy mooring next time we land at the marina (unlike the Sunday he witnessed us panicking as Obelix was drifting away from its berth and menacingly towards the rocks and Vicky had to tow us to let the boat pivot back in the right direction for us to regain control of it).
  • 2-year old Tara’s birthday party
  • a special camping trip with our Big House family, which led to another golden comment by Azur who helped me set up the tent: “I thought it would be boring to mount the tent with you mum, but it was actually fun. I like tents, you can take them places like boats, but they don’t move from side to side”,
  • an afternoon cycling to Narrowneck beach and back, where the kids spent the afternoon in a pattern of rolling in the sand and washing it all off with a swim. It made me wonder why we go at lengths in an attempt to take them to exotic places where New Zealand fit the bill and they seemed perfectly happy here.
  • flying the Tello drone Zephyr received for his birthday, taking our first aerial view of the marina and successfully managing a hand landing,
  • a concert of Skylark at Tiny Triumphs
  • a well-deserved nap after checking the engine, alternator, etc. were all working
  • a musical barbecue at Rocio & Gaspar’s
  • an arts & crafts session (yesterday before dinner) to create a Christmas tree, much to Azur’s relief, who was becoming very anxious Santa wouldn’t visit us for lack of tree signposting where to deliver the presents…

Chocola workshop

Tapapakanga camping trip

So no sailing lately but a lot going on, so much that we are on edge and exhausted before even starting our summer sailing adventures. No need to say that, during that time, the rule of having the boat tidy and ready to go within the hour was thrown out the window. Instead, we evolved in an uninterrupted state of chaos, with visual and physical clutter everywhere in the boat, with tools, parts, origami by dozens brought back from Kelly Club (after school care program), and makeshift Christmas trees and huts tirelessly built by Azur using any items found in his cabin. We’re slowly reining in the mess and sending love & kindness messages to our overloaded brains, that everything gonna be alright. And since we’ve finally made sense of the on-board VHF (yesterday eve), I believe we’re safe indeed.

This culminated though with an episode on Monday morning where I woke up profusely sweating, dizzy, the world spinning around me, and extremely nauseous (although when trying to empty my stomach I could only puke the glass of water Thomas had offered me a few minutes before when I told him I was unwell). Could be food poisoning, heat stroke, or vertigo due to sustained stress, I’m not sure. It went away with a few hours extra sleep, and fortunately, as we feel reasonably ready now, going forward it should be smooth sailing…

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

Pour une traduction optimale (bien meilleure que Google translate), copiez-collez le texte sur Deepl Translator.

Happy Bday Obelix!

Blessing ceremony family picture

At 8 am on Sunday the 13th, at high tide, after a full-moon night, our dear friend Naomi rocked up all dressed up with orchids and hibiscus flowers around her neck and arms ready to lead Obelix’ blessing ceremony. We showed her and Dave around, had a quick chat, and finished to prepare ourselves. Our outfits were carefully chosen for the occasion, a T-shirt brought back from my trip to Argentina for Zephyr, an “I’m the captain of my own life” T-shirt offered by Mamidou for Azur, a black and red Fijian shirt bought just before a delivery trip for Thomas, and the colourful Desigual dress bought during our trip to Canada for me. The boys insisted on wearing their gems and surfboard necklaces which I had to untangled from the mess in my jewellery box, and I even found a couple of fake flower necklaces in our dress-up bag to brighten things up. We then each took our position on the jetty, next to Obelix anchor and Naomi started creating a sacred space with a nice prayer-song and distributed the four hibiscus flower bracelets she had weaved for us. We shared our boat stories and intentions, sang Nga Iwi E as a family (on Azur’s explicit request, and you should hear him on the “Tamatu, tamatu”!), all took part in Mahalo call and response song, and finally we interlaced our individual lays with Obelix big orchid necklace to obtain a colourful flower composition which we hang off the pulpit.

It was very special to hear Zephyr and Azur’s not only singing but also express their views and concerns, Azur really wasn’t happy with the prospect of flowers falling off Obelix, he also asked me to voice his intention for him “Be cool”, as for Zephyr, he exposed his intention very clearly but has requested on several occasions that it remained private so I’ll leave you ask him when you get a chance!

Elodie was there too to witness the ceremony (you try to bribe her too), and we finished things off with a big breakfast buffet on the open cockpit. There was croissants, bread and jam, as per the french tradition, but also cheese and crackers in a more kiwi style. I had even found a “Rond du Val Papillon”, all the way from Villefranche-de-Panat (the village I spent all my summers as a child), which stood tall and proud next to a Baby Kikorangi from New Zealand. That set us up for a very good day indeed.

And while our morning guests departed, the celebration continued in the afternoon with the visit of Julia and her children Noah and Keziah. With them, we got out in the harbour for Obelix to stretch his sails and to throw the flower lays in the water to make our intentions known to the Universe.

Happy Blessing Day Obelix!

PS: If you feel like sending your own blessings to Obelix or its crew, they now receive mail at:
S/Y Obelix, Bayswater Marina
21 Sir Peter Blake Parade
Bayswater, Auckland 0622
New Zealand

I wonder whom Obelix will have the honour to receive the first postcard from…

Sharing our intentions with the Universe

Bye-bye St Heliers!

Last week-end was one of transition, endings and new beginnings.
Marcia and Camille, neighbours and friends, took the kids for a sleepover on Friday so we could have the night off and release a bit of the pressure accumulated over the past few weeks. Watching The Dust Palace and the APO’s epic production ‘Dawn’, then dancing some salsa at Tomtom definitely helped. We could even indulge in sleeping in the next morning. Still the sound of Camille’s baritone voice through the fine walls of our unit reminded me I should check on our kids. Marcia assured me they were fine, playing with Theo and Arthur on their new board game Pandemic, trying to save the world against a fast-spreading disease, and she was making breakfast for them, so why not enjoy the peace and quiet a bit longer with Thomas. But frankly, a breakfast just the two of us, in an empty house (except from the mattress we slept on, temporarily borrowed from the aforementioned neighbours) with nothing left to make tea or coffee, let alone eat off, wasn’t so appealing. So, we invited ourselves at theirs and gratefully enjoyed their morning buffet 🙂

Then, some final loading of the truck, vacuuming and mopping of the floors later it was time to go. Leaving St Heliers wasn’t easy, we reluctantly said our goodbyes to the neighbours (both side), took a few last group photos on our (ex-)deck, promising to catch up with each other soon, and I dropped the keys at the Real Estate Agency. Vacating 2/31 Vale road, ticked.

Last picture before the big jump

Ensued a gloomy ride from the house to the marina, Thomas in his work’s ute, and me in the car with the boys at the back not uttering a sound. I wish I could have lifted their spirits up but I was heavy-hearted myself. Fortunately, by the time we reached the boat and emptied our last truck-load of stuff, it was time to… eat again! Nothing like food to take our minds off our early nostalgia. Indian takeaway eaten at the nearest park under a glorious sun did the trick, and, inspired by summery vibe, we then headed straight to Narrow Neck beach to soak in the holiday feel, with a detour to the marina for me to deal with the laundry, and get my first bike ride in our new neighbourhood.

The evening was spent helping Obelix gulp down all the stuff dumped on him in the morning, grooming him for his blessing the next day, and getting some well deserved rest…

Spring cleaning in progress for imminent downsizing…

Obelix may be a fat bastard, but there is no way we could fit all the stuff we’ve accumulated over the years (and that will mainly have lived through the time of their negotiation*) on board. Nor is it our intention to keep things for later, when we decide to return to landbound life. Indeed we want to spread our wings and sails as wide and free as possible, not being pressed by this idea of a return. Where and when, anyway?

*approximate recollection and translation of a quote from Yasmina Reza’s l’Homme du Hasard.

So, we’ve toughened up, and armed with a ruthlessly selective mindset, have gone through our belongings, identified the must-keep, and accepted to let go of the rest, deciding for each item the best “life-after-us” path, using all means we could think of to dispose of them: friends, neighbours, garage sale, TradeMe, “Mamans à Auckland” Facebook group, charity shops, bucket full of free stuff left at the end of the driveway – firm believers of the reuse/recycle motto, our rubbish bins have only taken the strict minimum, though I wish I had lived by the refuse/reduce part of the hymn even more!

Carrying out our “empty-the-house-everything-must-go” mission is not without drawbacks. We get dizzy, hit moments of utter doubt, sky-rocketing stress, and record-low energy levels, catch ourselves losing patience more, yelling more, postponed a party we were suppose to organise, not to mention the missed milongas, and the fact I caught a cold over the weekend… So definitely not an easy task to part from things that once provided us great comfort and stability, but a necessary one, and how satisfying and liberating to execute a plan drawn out for so long, and feel closer to our dream by the minute!

I can now say that, with our armchair, dining table, chairs, bathroom cabinet, full-length mirror, dresser, chest, piano, and fridge gone, and our beds just about to, we’ve past the point of no return. Did I mention our car decided to give up too? Windscreen to replace, couldn’t be done without changing the whole frame which was too corroded to fit a new windscreen. Too much $, not worth repairing. That’s a sign. The Universe doesn’t want us on the roads but on the sea…

Brunch on Obelix with Paul, Margo and their parents

If I had to pick one thing that we won’t bring on the boat and I will sorely miss, I would say the framed puzzle, pictures, and paintings from siblings that are still hanging on our walls. Runner up is my favourite arm chair (found on the street and refurbished, with the perfect angle and which arms can hold a cup of tea, though not fully horizontal, without letting it slide) I get comfort in the thought it is now taking the sun in the patio of a good home.
Thomas will miss his piano.
Zéphyr will miss his school.
Azur will miss his parents’ big bouncy bed!

The missing piece of the puzzle

What about you? Can you think of something you would miss if moving on a boat?

Celebrating Obelix first times

With a Margaux, Château Marquis De Terme, which was waiting all those years for the right occasion…

  • First cruise on Obelix as a family, just the four of us, for the pleasure.
  • First time without having to go all the way to the marina toilets to pooh.
  • First time communicating on the VHF with another boat (“Cirrus, Cirrus, Cirrus for Obelix, is it you behind us with the yellow spinnaker? Over” […] “Obelix, Obelix, Obelix, for Cirrus, you’re going too fast, stop your engine! Over” Our engine had been off for a long time NDLR).
  • First time anchoring, in a nice little bay (Waikarapupu Bay, on Motutapu).
  • First time getting ashore on Idefix, our grey and yellow dinghy, with a working outboard!
  • First time getting a sight of Obelix from the shore, while taking a walk up the headlands of Motutapu.
  • First time having visitors over for dinner who came and went with their own dinghy.
  • First night aboard while anchored and not moored to a marina deck.
  • First time …, no that wasn’t the first time.
  • First time diving off Obelix, braving the cold water for a morning swim.
  • First mosquito inside (and God knows the damage it did on Azur who got bitten all over his legs!)
  • First time cooking pancakes aboard Obelix.
  • First time having breakfast in the half open cockpit.
  • First Father’s day celebrated on the water.
  • First time rehearsing lines (acting) while lying on the deck in the sun.
  • First handstands on the flush deck (still hard to find one’s balance though).
  • First time letting the kids row the dinghy on their own (“I can’t believe we’re doing this!” Azur). We had a blast watching them row, get to the beach, get off and pull the dinghy out of the water. We thought they wouldn’t be able to because the outboard was still on, it is quite heavy, and has no wheels, but they did brilliantly. I later asked Zephyr how they managed and he explained “Team work, and we saved our energy for when the waves were helping us”. They then boarded the Idefix again and made it back to Obelix while adults were having brunch on Goldfinger (our friends’ friends’ boat). We watched them approach Obelix, then stand up to grab the rub rail and pull themselves towards the ladder. Zephyr climbed safely on board, Azur stayed behind and it wasn’t long before he was drifting away as they had forgotten to tie the dinghy. So here was Azur on Idefix, struggling to row in the right direction and Zephyr astern coaching his brother : “Come on Azur, you can do it, believe in yourself!” He was so sure they could manage without adults, he was furious when Thomas finally came to the rescue borrowing Goldfinger’s dinghy to tow Azur & Idefix back to us. The whole scene was so entertaining, we could have let them try longer, but were short of time as everyone wanted to make it back to Auckland before sunset…
  • First time maneuvering a boat back to a marina berth, and I managed to do it in one go without scaring anyone! The sight of Cirrus’ crew as our welcome committee definitely offered me the right psychological support and incentive to perform, I guess.

So, all in all, perfect week-end, perfect weather conditions and perfect friends to share good times with.
Next time we’ll just need to learn to do all the maneuvers without screaming at each other with Thomas, which is absolutely useless as we can’t hear a thing when one is in the cockpit and the other on deck, and frustration and anger are only inferred by our facial expressions which increases the frustration. Better learn sign language so we can actually communicate, and life will be perfect indeed!

Thanks Cirrus’crew for the pictures of Obelix on the water 🙂