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 😊

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

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

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 🙂

Obelix now in Bayswater!!!

Two months after patiently checking the weather forecast every day on various websites, Thomas has finally spotted a fine weather window last week, quickly gathered a crew, found someone to drive them to Whangarei, and organised everything to attempt the voyage for the second time last Saturday 17 August. As a cautious skipper, he minimised the risks carefully selecting seasoned crew only i.e. Gaspar and Rocio – who have half a world circumnavigation under their belt- kindly encouraging me and the kids (who he had to look after last time as we were throwing up one after the other) to stay behind and keep our energy for better cruising conditions to roam around the Hauraki gulf to “ease into it”.

However Zephyr insisted on being part of the adventure, and I pleaded in his favour, to give him the chance to feel special, and proud, and learn the ropes with experts, but also spare me siblings fights for an entire day. And overall I’m told he had a good time and entertained everyone with his endless list of jokes, when he was not resting or complaining “I’m bored”.

Two hours by car, thirteen by boat to cover the 83 nautical miles from Marsden Cove to Bayswater. Sure, sailing teaches you to slow down, nevertheless, all things considered, a 6.4 knots average speed is not too bad. The conditions were near perfect for most of the trip according to the crew, and the few pictures they sent me along the way, and as Gaspar puts it, Obelix pulled up his breeches to show them what he was capable of 😉

Ashore, we had our own sort of cruisy day with Azur: Early start at 8 am to rush to Otahuhu swimming pool to catch up with Claire, Paul and Margot (whose Thomas was the aforementioned taxi driver, who just needed an excuse to drive to Kerikeri to check up on his own boat), followed by a quick visit to the library next door, getting lost on the way back home, eggs and soldiers for lunch, a couple of loads of laundry to hang, regular calls to the crew for trip reports (they were definitely faster than anticipated and the long to-do list I had planned for the day was compromised), unexpectedly long nap in the afternoon (both of us slept for 3 hours), vacuuming, cleaning up the most disgusting parts of the house, under the oven and the washing machine, places that never get done because it requires moving heavy appliances and no one sees it any way, shopping at the fine foods dairy and liquor store to put together a gourmet hamper for Gaspar & Rocio as a token of gratitude, baking an eat-me-raw chocolate cake, all the while Azur was reading me jokes and riddles from his newly borrowed Christmas joke book, last call to the crew to check on their progress, F****, they were already past Devonport and only had half an hour to reach the marina. Roughly the time it would take us to get there too! I chucked everything in a big bag, blankets and PJs for the night, as well as food and gift, and madly drove to the marina with a half-baked cake riding shot gun, a chatter box still wanting me to listen to all his stories, and heavy rain and lightning slowing down the driving. I prayed I’d get there before them, but realised on arrival I didn’t have the marina badge yet and the gate was locked. “We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it, we have to smash through it” said Azur, but I knew better and remembered Rocio’s account on how easy it was to climb on the side of the gate and indeed it was, we ran to the far end of the pier, caracal speed, to welcome Obelix who had just arrived, engine still on, and the triumphant crew tying it up to the dock.

We celebrated proudly that night with a long dinner altogether on-board Obelix, reheating a shepherd pie pre-baked by Thomas on Thursday, washed down with Belgian beer, and rum, and we finished off with a creamy fondant brownie. The night was good despite the screeching of the ropes, the pop-corn sound of the barnacles in the water, and the rain drumming on the rigging.

Now I feel whole again, reunited with my baby, after being estranged for a couple of months, since my accident. This is official, Obelix has relocated to Auckland, our home city, taking its berth 62 on pier D at Bayswater Marina. Expect a party soon to celebrate this milestone!