Making our bubble great again

Free-range kids

As lock-down 2.0 was announced on August 13th, Auckland schools closed, and we retreated back to our bubbles, we decided not to add any complexity to the ever changing and (sometimes) absurd rules that governed our strange world, and let our children be free-range. No virtual hui. No homework. No schedule. No pressure. Except to let us work in (relative) peace, and help with the daily chores. And so they were left to their own device, although mainly off device*, free to explore being alive, get bored, and find things to do. Play outside, play inside, play some music, make huts, play Pokemon battles, climb, jump, run, row, swim, cook, bake, draw, write, read. They’ve really impressed us by demonstrating initiative and being totally able to entertain themselves (involving neighbouring kids and parents at times), while consolidating knowledge and learning new stuff in the process. Proud moment.

The bubble expands

We were also fortunate to be offered to stay at our friends’ house, while they were away from Auckland, enjoying freedom at the mountain. So, still in Bayswater, we became landlubbers for a few days, and indulged the luxury of space, a human-sized fridge with freezer (and even a mini door-in-the-door leading to the dairy compartment), a bath, a desk each, a trampoline, a veggie patch with abundance of fresh greens, a near home-cinema set-up, games galore for kids and adult alike, a view on Auckland skyline, and no need to bend to get to the kids room, with the risk of bumping a limb or our head! A very enjoyable stay overall, even though I must stay I struggled to get a decent night’s sleep away from my trapezoidal bed, the gentle rocking of the boat, and the sweet sounds of marine life popping underneath.

Spring clean

And finally, I took advantage of the whole family being away from the boat to undertake another paint job with Azur who relished the opportunity to assist me. We did a good job at lightening up the saloon with some more white (#cestmieuxenblanc). And back to the boat, every idle time was spent cleaning, polishing, or varnishing something, to slowly restore Obelix to her former glory, as they say. A never-ending task, but showing visible progress nonetheless with tidy bathroom cupboards, a leak-proof prism, a brand new emergency tiller, shiny brass fair-leads, and a vintage Sestrel compass promising to bring some cachet to our cockpit.

All in all we did our best to make our bubble great again, but let’s admit that this second time round wasn’t as pleasant as the first. The weather didn’t play ball, and the whole thing had a bitter taste of dejavu.

*However Thomas kindly reminded me that they actually spent a couple of very miserable days in the marina lounge with him, each on a screen, drawing on Paint 3D, watching scientific videos from NASA engineers, and, yes, playing video games. And now that I think of it, Azur even remarked that this second lock-down was way better for them because they were allowed to play Farmville 2, which he vouched was teaching them ‘stuff’.

Obelix takes a deep breath

Oblivious to the world’s turmoil, Obelix is soaking in the peace and quiet of the marina. Silence, and stillness, with the reduced traffic on the motorway, and the absence of wind and ferry wash.

Yoga on the deck

Every now and then, some boatie walks up and down the pier, smartphone in hand, discussing the current lock-down situation and its alarming implications on their business or lives, illustrating what seems to be our modern rallying cry “I communicate therefore I am”.

And it is hard indeed to resist the urge to reach out to relatives and friends, or keep up with the influx of information pushed from all directions, make sense of it all, and prevent the brain’s cogs to get out of control. Yet, I try hard not to get distracted by the outside virtual noise, and draw inspiration from one of the ‘growth mindset mantras’ pinned to our bathroom bulkhead: “I am safe. I am calm. I can handle this.” as a counterpart to the government’s message “Be kind. Stay home. Save lives.”

But I admit that I never thought a trip to the supermarket would be a high risk activity for which you’d need to queue to wait for your turn as if you were about to bungy jump, and, when, going for the daily walk or bike ride, we meet other people in the street, people we might know, I have this surreal feeling of being like a dog, held on an invisible leash, unable to get too close to them, or stop for too long to exchange greetings and make small or philosophical talk.

9 a.m. at the supermarket

So, to relax after a day split between working, home-schooling, and tempering dark thoughts, I do some reading. The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood. Not sure it is wise to escape a dystopian reality by reading a dystopian novel, but it put things in perspective. And I can’t help thinking: at least we can still wear what we want, read, write, play and listen to music, dance, prepare food we like, talk to each other freely and relish our creativity.

Exercising with kids

And actually, life in lock-down is very different, yes, but we also take notice of all the positive changes it forced, or decided, us to make:

  • Waking up with the sun (or upon kids stompy footsteps) – no alarm clock
  • Yoga on the deck (almost) every morning with Thomas (and sometimes Azur)
  • Less time working + less time escaping to the fragmented bubbles of my life = More focus and mindful parenting
  • Zephyr mentors Azur and teaches him maths, origami and spelling
  • More frequent video calls with our family and friends in France
  • More french spoken by the kids!!!
  • New yummy cooking & baking experiments
  • More family discussions around the table, as we eat all meals together
  • Kids taking turn to do the dishes
  • More DIY tasks getting ticked off, and providing knowledge sharing opportunities (I taught Zephyr how to divide big numbers, while working on a pattern for a bbq cover)
  • New activities on or around the boat: swimming at the local tiny beach (high tide only), climbing or swinging around the mast, laps walking around the boat on the rub rail while holding onto the life lines, dinghy fishing trips at sunset, and even putting on a talent show to compete with our friends on Calypso…

And nearly a week on, we even have some good news: our pier neighbours have kindly agreed for us to use their boat Mahanui’s cockpit as our home-office, we’ve received the Wifi repeater and (most of the time) can connect from within our lovely submarine, and the marina ablution blocks have re-opened which means we could treat ourselves to a real shower!

What if we enjoyed our time confined as a family?

Obelix in Terra Incognita

Covid-19 lockdown – Day 0

After navigating in troubled waters for the last few weeks, witnessing from afar one country after the other placed under lockdown, it is our turn to set foot in Terra Incognita, a foreign world where we can’t hug or kiss or dance with our friends to celebrate life, with no idea of the impact it will have on our physical and psychological wellbeing, nor how to mitigate this yet unknown impact.

I reassure myself that as foreigners we have an advantage, having been through the challenge already, of having to adapt quickly to a new environment, learn new social rules, and find a way to blend in, or even thrive.

However, we’re both curious and fearful about what we’ll discover in this brave new world and questions abound:

What lesson will governments draw from this global-scale human experience? Is it time to hypocritically buy Air New Zealand shares or should we bet and invest on a company committed to a more positive redesign of our society? Will we be able to wander on the dinghy to go fishing off the break water? Do we have enough supply to last for the self-isolation period? Or will we need to replenish stock and venture to the supermarket? And if we have to go, will there still be what we need which was depleted when we stocked up? Will they increase their prices to take advantage of the situation? Should we sail away and wait for it to pass (looks like a no as we would not be able to work and Thomas is way too loyal and committed to Gurit)? Will the marina Wifi allow us to work from the boat (not as it is so I’ve just ordered a repeater to hopefully alleviate the painful intermittence of the weak wifi signal, and Thomas used his mobile phone as a hotspot for part of the day)? How many hours of work can we honestly achieve with two wild animals boys on board (I have brought my hours down to a more reasonable 16 per week at the end of today)? How changed will we be on the other side? Who will blow a fuse first (I would have bet on me initially, but with my now reduced-hours, might reconsider and say Zephyr)? Will liveaboards be allowed in the common facilities like toilets, shower, and laundry (answer came earlier today – No, the bathroom blocks will be locked)? Great, how will we do the laundry then, let alone shower??? How many liveaboards will be around anyway*? But above all, HOW LONG will it truly last for?

On a positive note, Azur woke up this morning announcing happily “first day of school on the boat!” and the home-schooling quickly turned into “self-schooling” following a schedule we had prepared together the evening before, and which, although not respected to the letter, provided a good beacon to see us through the day. The kids particularly enjoyed climbing up the mast between two showers, doing ‘hard’ (as opposed to boring) maths, with Zephyr explaining powers and square roots to Azur, building huts in the V-berth, playing soccer with a volleyball in the saloon corridor, and, with a bit of persuasion, dressing up for a photoshoot at sunset (cf. top pictures). We’re betting hard on our creativity to endurejoy this weird, forced, ‘recentering’ retreat, and take it as a good practice exercise for an ocean crossing…

And speaking of sailing, I’m so glad we took Obelix for a wander in the gulf last week-end and intently savoured the dizzying freedom bliss before this whole madness. Although the lunch in Calypso Bay, our swim in crystal clear water, our walk in the bush with Tuis carelessly serenading us, our swinging under a big Pohutukawa tree on the white sandy beach of Snapper Bay, our 3-star dinner with fellow sailors in Blackpool, our morning yoga session on the deck, followed by our diving off the boat and sailing back to Bayswater all seem a long way away, they are memories we will hold onto tight until we’re on the other side.

*I overheard a discussion between Zephyr and Azur this evening speaking about our pier neighbour Carmen: Azur sadly commented “she’s living in a house now, so that’s the end of the world” to which Zephyr placidly replied “at least the end of the world as we know it”, and I silently thought “If only!”…

So fear not for us, but feel free to leave a comment, would love to know how everyone is doing 😊

Scrapes, scratches & sliver linings

“It’s alright mum, our boat isn’t badly damaged, just a few small repairs and we’ll be off again”, wrote Zephyr on the day of our incident… (cf. Obelix on the rocks)

The small repairs took three weeks, and, thankfully, no one dared tell me at the time it would take so long!

Apart from the minor scratches on the keel, the damage of the rudder needed serious repairs, all undertaken by professional boat builders (Brin Wilson) and covered by insurance (minus excess) to much of our relief. Besides, to optimise the time on the hardstand, Thomas threw in some evening and week-end sweat to assist the smooth running of professional operations, and carry out additional maintenance jobs, so that Obelix is sleeker, safer, and stronger than ever.

*WARNING* Reading the following DONE list might urge you to yawn or even take a nap to recover from the induced exhaustion:

  • Water blast hull (Brin Wilson)
  • Switch boat from “house” to “boatyard” mode (Thomas):
    • remove all carpets
    • cover all floors with cardboard
    • remove all bedding from the kids room
    • protect bench and lounge table with newspaper
  • Repair scratches on the keel (BW)
  • Repair rudder (BW):
    • manufacture new bottom part that was ripped (probably wet/rotten before)
    • repair cracks from the bottom bearing (one was an existing crack which had been repaired before, sign that someone else must have hit rocks at some point, just saying…)
    • re-skin very tip and trailing edge, where the old skin had cracked
  • Reinstate rudder (Brin Wilson):
    • service rudder bearing (changed packing in stuffing box)
    • apply Propspeed on bottom of bearing and propeller shaft bearing at the exit of the stern tube (areas covered with barnacles due to anti-fouling failing to adhere to stainless steel)
  • Service propeller shaft stuffing box (Thomas):
    • tidy-up
    • change packing (which meant ½ day bent upside down over the engine to remove the old one, and then ½ day to put the new one)
  • Failed attempt at removing the propeller shaft to inspect it (Thomas):
    • soak shaft with lubricant
    • hammer taper-lock nut & washer with big spanner
    • get them loose
    • try to break taper grip on shaft
    • fail
    • re-tighten everything
  • Full diagnosis and change of the fuel line circuit (Thomas & Brett):
    • buy new pump to suck diesel @ 8L/minute (fits on a drill)
    • transfer diesel from front tank to aft tank
    • suck diesel from all points of the fuel system, including removing the floor boards to reinspect the pipes
    • remove all parts of the fuel line to suck through them individually
    • find out valves were ok on close position but leaky when open (by blowing through them like a trumpet)
    • change both valves with similar model as original, although these are supposed to be gas and not fuel fittings
    • remove Racor separator filter
    • clean Racor filter
    • change fuel filter on engine
    • change impeller in saltwater pump
    • clean saltwater sieve
    • realise the end fittings (where the hoses clamp to) were corroded
    • change sieve
    • re-tighten 3 out of 4 belts (saltwater pump + 2 alternators)
    • rig saltwater hose to a bucket to be able to start the engine
    • bleed engine
    • successfully start the engine
  • Sand bottom of the keel, inaccessible last time it was on the hard (Thomas)
  • Inject resin in delamination pockets at the bottom of the keel (Brin Wilson)
  • Tidy up bilges (Thomas)
  • Apply antifouling around waterline (Thomas)
  • Remove jib port winch to clean (Thomas)
  • Measure hull humidity level with moisture meter, to enable monitoring of osmosis going forward (Thomas)
  • Clean deck, cockpit, carpets and vinyl floors from all the antifouling marks (Thomas)
  • Switch boat back from “boatyard” to “house mode” (Thomas)
  • Fill diesel tanks (Thomas)

And just as every cloud has a silver lining, once again I felt blessed with the unfolding situation. First, the repairs were mostly covered by our insurance, second, Thomas turned into a competent project manager supervising the whole operation, and last but not least, we found new friends that offered us much more than a place to stay!

Indeed, with the boat being immobilised, we needed to find a new home quickly and preferably a local one to minimise the disruption to our life, with kids going to holiday program at Bayswater Primary School, and us going to work every day in opposite directions. And after a few phone calls and messages in a bottle, we found an overwhelmingly generous offer (Thomas nearly cried on the phone) to stay at Ines and Raul’s place (one block form the school), and pitch our tent in their garden for what I initially thought would be a few nights, but soon turned out to be an indefinite period of time. We barely knew them from school, and having looked after our kids on play dates a few times, and not only didn’t they seem to mind having us, but on the contrary appeared quite happy to welcome us into their home. And what a perfect fit! Similar values, education, and activities, we couldn’t hope for more.

Boys on the roof

We got extremely lucky with the weather too and for three weeks, apart from the fact we all had to work during the day, it felt like being on summer holidays with our best friends, with long meals on the deck, philosophical discussions, and kids screaming in the background. The boys were thrilled to have their friends Julian and Marco to go to school and play with every mornings and evenings, and the parenting was made easier by having four adults between whom to juggle schedules and alternate cooking dinner every night. There was even a huge palm tree for the tropical vibe, a swimming pool to splash in, a cat to pat, a roof to climb on, and plenty of bikes and scooters to go on evening missions before getting to bed. What’s more, after a week, we upgraded to the garden shed as Ines and Raul got a new bed and relocated their old one there. Comfort + connection, what else?

With that new experience of happy community living, we had mixed feelings when Obelix got all fixed up and made it back in the water, ready to welcome us back on his board…

Obelix on the rocks

No it is not the name of the latest trendy cocktail, although I wish.
This is how I miserably ended an otherwise gorgeous long week-end sailing with friends.

I’ve tried to find myself excuses, or blame others, or circumstances for the accident, nothing softens that overwhelming feeling of shame and guilt. I was at the helm and steered us way to close to the coast until we felt a bump slowing us down, and another one, and another one, while I was steering away from the hazard.
I still don’t understand why none of the indicators raised the alarm in my brain, between a coast awfully close, a depth sounder falling under 3 meters, and Thomas who expressed his concerns which I too easily dismissed. All I know is that I had lost the ability to think straight, put the whole boat and crew at risk, and still beat myself up for it.
The only clue to my lack of judgement, is my stress levels escalating beyond measure during the week-end, due to a series of events which unfolded one after the other, domino-like, to eventually culminate in the regrettable incident.


We had friends on board, one adult, two kids, for the week-end, which meant an additional pressure to ‘perform’ and provide them with a good experience. We had gone out the night before to celebrate with other boaties the 160th Mahurangi Regatta,and stayed up a bit too late for my already depleted energy levels. On getting back to the boat we were welcomed by an angry neighbour who was righfully upset we were anchored too close, and demanded we move right away. So we did, re-anchoring by night for the first time. I then spent the night feeling guilty about this whole drama. In the morning, we received the visit of accomplished sailors who a) intimidated me and b)provided us a good reality check, stating the obvious that if we were to leave for the island this year we still needed to check and fix all the crucial bits which was probably a good three-month full-time work. We then spent the rest of the morning entertaining the kids with a makeshift swing hanging from the boom and only departed after a late lunch when the river had already been vacated by most of the hundreds of boats who were there for the rallye. And this got me upset. We were upwind and the customer experience was not as satisfying as the previous day where Obelix was cruising flat, 15 knots down wind, all on autopilot, while we were indulging in a mediterranean buffet of rockmelon, prosciutto, cheese, home-made hummus, broccoli and carrots sticks, and sourdough bread, with an upbeat soundtrack provided by our guests. Things got worse in the afternoon, when I gave the helm to my friend to go down to prepare the watermelon, and on a misunderstanding we tacked and had to go backwards to tack again to then realise all the fishing lines were tangled up underneath the boat. Thomas decided to stop the boat sheltered behind Tiri and dive to get those lines sorted but we had a heated argument about it because I was scared, and thought it wasn’t safe enough, I yelled at him. It made me feel terrible. I thought I had tamed the dragon inside me but this proved me otherwise and I couldn’t stop thinking I couldn’t be relied upon, I wasn’t psychologically stable enough to consider blue water sailing. My whole dream was getting out of reach. During the whole ‘tidy-the-fishing-lines’ operation, we drifted quite a bit and lost ground, so my hope to reach Gulf Harbour Marina early-ish (by 6:30pm as stated to them earlier on the phone) vanished. Sea conditions were deteriorating by then as we were getting in Tiri channel with wind against tide, waves forming and I could feel the whole crew quieting down therefore betraying their discomfort. As a considerate hostess, I switched on the engine committed to get us to the marina as fast as possible but the crossing of the channel was dragging, kids were asking how much longer it would take, motion sickness was around the corner. And I couldn’t quite make sense of a couple of marks on the tiny GPS plotter and asked Thomas what it was, but he was on deck tidying up the staysail halyard and couldn’t hear, he just gestured to stay clear of them. I did, but then came back closer to the shore, thinking I was clear and that way I’d get away from the bigger waves and make people feel better.
And bump.
I got paralysed at the helm. Thomas quickly went inside to check we were not taking in water. We made our way to Gulf Harbour Marina, Thomas taking the helm for a bit realising I was in shock and couldn’t handle the situation properly.
I still managed to pull myself together to assist those kids who were feeling unwell, helping them through another layer of cloth as the sun was going down, suggesting they stand at the helm with Thomas to look at the horizon, maybe making some jokes even. It worked.
I took the helm back to get us into the berth as usual, as Thomas was on deck preparing the fenders and grabbing the hanging line with the boat hook. We got in perfectly. At least that I knew how to do.
Later, when I was sobbing on the pier, Zeph came to me and said “Mum, you’re better than most mums, normally it’s the dads who drive [the boat]”.
This morning Thomas dived to assess the situation, there doesn’t seem to be any structural damage to the keel however one part of the rudder has been snapped, the rest has splits and needs repair. Judging it unsafe to sail back to Auckland we’re stuck here to start getting the boat hauled out, inspected, and repaired asap. Today being a public holiday, we can only set things in motion tomorrow…

Love and kindness message from Zephyr
Boats rule

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