December 30, 2011

A Year in Review

Last year Ev and Maia tried to wake me at midnight to ring in the New Year. Normally I’m awake to see the change of the year, but I had pneumonia (just didn’t know it yet). So I barely stirred as I let 2010 slip into 2011.

I wonder if I would have woken to acknowledge the role of the calendar if I knew what was coming my way. I didn’t yet know what it would be like to say goodbye to dear friends and family to sail 8000 miles across an ocean. I didn’t know what it would be like to cross the equator and make landfall after 19 days at sea (three spent with only one rudder). I couldn’t yet picture what it would be like to enter the pass of a mid ocean atoll, swim with sharks, or visit ancient Polynesian ruins.


I couldn’t imagine the friends I would make, or the tears I’d shed with each goodbye. I had no idea how much I would need to challenge myself, my marriage, my family. I didn’t know what it would be like to be becalmed in the middle of a silent sea, or dive deep into its depths with my daughter—and watch her scuba bubbles rise.
I didn’t yet know the joy of walking those endless stretches of beach, or of making those hilly climbs—each with a new mystery just around the bend. I didn’t know about the people who would welcome us into their homes and hearts.

I couldn’t imagine any of it.

But if I did, I’d like to think I would have gotten up and sat with Ev and Maia out on deck—memorizing the stars and speaking in awe of the amazing life we are living. I’d like to think our tones would be hushed and grateful as we spoke of what was to come.

Every day, every year, should be met with gratitude and awe. But some days, some years, change you. They show you a world, and your place in it, in a way you never imagined.

I don’t know what will come my way in 2012--I can't even begin to imagine where I may spend next New Year. But I know tonight—I will look skyward to try and memorize a sky where the constellations are still strange and new, and I will speak in a voice that is hushed with awe of my future.

December 28, 2011

It’s About the Journey

 Cheryl had a list: detailed notes with bus times and tour times, prices and choices. We were on a mission—to visit the lookout above the Botanical Gardens (not to be confused with the Botanic Garden, where we are moored), hike down to the garden to take a tour, and then hit the Planetarium for a show.
In short—to make the most of our day.

I think the plan unravelled when we found the tadpoles. Thousands of them—some barely hatched, others hopping along the shore with their tales the tiniest of stubs. Or maybe it was when I saw the bulrushes—a sign from my own childhood that let me know summer had started and the world had slowed to a pace where you could observe a dragon fly as long as you liked. Or perhaps it was because we got lost on the meandering trails—where imaginations, rather than maps were our guide.
 We never made it in time for a tour, or a show. We didn’t tick off a single goal really. We simply wandered and observed, and talked and explored.
And then we went home.
“That was a good day,” Maia told me.

December 27, 2011

An Upside Down Christmas

 I blame it on the fact we lost a day out of the year somewhere back around Tonga. Christmas always seems to sneak up on me—but somehow between settling in (we now have a spot in the pile moorings to call home), sorting it out (I have no idea what that weird sounding English meant--but just pay the man…), saying goodbye (sniff), saying hello (Behan!!), getting up too early, and staying up too late this Christmas arrived and passed with a whoosh.

 Blog posts were composed and never written, vistas were enjoyed but not photographed—in short life was simply lived over here on Ceilydh.

 We’ve been doing our best to enjoy Aussie Christmas traditions. For Christmas Eve we decided to check out the public BBQ’s that are found in many of the city’s parks. These large electric BBQ’s are free to use and make big gatherings a breeze—as we discovered when 14 of us got together for a final, final goodbye with the WGD clan.
 With the promise of rain we found a barbie beside a shelter next to a big adventure playground and spent the afternoon trying hard not to imagine what comes next (living in the moment becomes a true effort when the next moment includes such a change…). Then we headed home for a quiet Night Before Christmas only to discover that our normal tradition of following Norad Tracks Santa—doesn’t work as well when you’re at the beginning of his route.

 Then it was Christmas--and time for stockings and presents followed quickly by an Aussie lunch of turkey and trimmings, and laughter and warmth.

Our plan had been to head out of Brisbane after Christmas and sail down the Gold Coast with Connect 4—their final outing before turning over the boat to its new owner and flying home to Adelaide, and my chance to see the ocean (it’s shocking how much I miss it). But 5 metre swell and a brewing storm have kept us up the river and on our moorings.

Instead we have planned local outings—a Boxing Day picnic with Bocce Ball in the park, a movie followed by my first take-out pizza in 2.5 years (gotta love a delivery guy who’ll deliver to an intersection), there are hikes planned and adventures to have and then it will be a New Year.

 Our Aussie Year. What a wonder that should be.

December 17, 2011

Imagining Her in Fiddler's Green

 The La Cruz anchorage
 This is part of a post I wrote almost two years ago--but on learning of the loss of Diana Jessie I decided to republish it. 
The sailing community, like any specialized community, is a small one. But the way it circles back on itself, over and over, never ceases to amaze me. We have an old marina neighbour and dear friend who blogs as Boatbaby and a few years ago, through her, we heard about Behan on a boat called Totem. "There are kids on a boat called Totem that’s sailing in Mexico", I told Maia as we made our way down the coast and she was moaning with loneliness. "We may not meet them, exactly. But on their blog they mention lots of other kids are cruising in Mexico. So you will meet cruising kids when we get south", I told her, "You won’t be alone forever."

Then one morning on the net we heard Totem was in La Cruz bay, but had guests aboard. We didn’t want to disrupt their visit, so left searching them out for another day. But later that afternoon we saw someone we recognized roaming the dock—a sailor called Jim Jessie.

Last time we went cruising we were fortunate enough to meet Jim and Diana Jessie. Diana was a writer I admired and her generous help (over Sunday Gin Fizzes and long walks) got me started on my own writing path. I was excited to see them again and I wanted to thank and let her know where her help had led. So I plotted with Evan about how to hunt them down and say hello.
 Cocktails on Totem with Jim and Diana Jessie
Then I popped into Behan’s blog, and I learned who Totem’s guests were: Jim and Diana Jessie.

Diana will be dearly missed by many in the cruising community. Her generous help, enthusiasm and strongly held opinions have given many women the confidence to head out and explore the world--not simply as long-suffering mates but as sailors: Joyful, confident, competent sailors. What a remarkable legacy.

December 16, 2011

The World is Round—we’ll meet again

 Danielle started the song to welcome the Sabbath. Watching her I marvelled at how she’s grown into such an incredibly thoughtful and empathetic young woman in the past year. Then I looked to Harrison—who is always ready with a question and makes me think about all sorts of things I never expected to ponder. And then to Michael and Barb, who have brought us so much warmth and laughter—and when they said their blessings for Shabbat dinner, I added silent thanks of my own.
The WGDs have genersously shared their Shabbat dinners with various cruising friends all accross the Pacific--this may have been the first they've done with Christmas decorations...

When you cross an ocean with someone; when you plan all the details and cast off within an hour of each other; when you can start sentences with things like, “how awesome was it to cross the equator?”, or “when we did that shark dive in the Tuamotus…”, or "will there ever be a view to match the one from high up on Nuku Hiva", or “Dude! We’re in Australia!”; that next sentence, the one that starts and ends with, “goodbye” is almost unbearable.

Can I brag about our wonderful buddy boat? The WGD family is awesome. I’ve never met a more animated, more eager to explore, more fun combination of people. And we got to sail across an ocean with them.

You meet a lot of people cruising. Some kind of drift through your life—sharing an anchorage, a dinner, a few experiences. While others change you—they imprint themselves indelibly on your heart. And after a while, after enough inside jokes, sublime experiences, and tearful or terrifying moments, it becomes impossible to imagine continuing on without each other.

But for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been waking up each day, and WGD hasn’t been anchored anywhere near us. And while we’ve explored Brisbane a bit and shared a final Shabbat dinner, they were here as land-based visitors. Our trip together has truly ended. And each day that passes is a day closer to the one where they fly home.

 Last year—when we were steeped in plans, when we we’re comparing provisioning lists, going over charts and guide books, and cajoling each other through cold feet, I had no idea we’d grow to love them so much.
But we have.
And we’ll miss them.

December 12, 2011

Lost My Happy

If you know cruisers, or read a few cruising blogs, you’ll know that at some point, in some place most of the female-type sailors tend to get a bit down. In my case I sort of saw it coming. I’ve never had such sustained fun as I did the whole way across the Pacific: We had already made it through that transition that comes with the first year of cruising, we were travelling with a fantastic group of people, there was something new to see and do every day, and we had a goal—and for me this equals bliss. But no one stays happy all the time. Especially when a big adventure is shutting down and good friends are dispersing.

I get this.

But when I had a motionless home, and a group of friends in roughly the same time zone, I knew how to deal when my happy went walkabout. I’d call up a friend, sequester myself with chocolate, and talk long and wide about whatever drama was eating at my soul. Then I’d move onto the next friend, and the next, until I had bored them all to tears with my tears, and I’d be good again.

But when you are on a lightly charted atoll in the middle of the Pacific, or an island-continent an ocean away, those failsafe happy-making methods are plum useless (just because you have friends you can call at 3am doesn’t mean you should). And no matter how fond you might be of your spouse—most of them are pretty poor stand-ins for chocolate supplying, long-suffering, long-listening bffs. Husbands try to solve stuff—friends just commiserate and pass the wine.

This all means that when your (my) happy goes missing on a sailboat, trying to find it again can be tricky. Especially because to the rest of the world, life afloat is akin to a fake life--one that doesn't really come with sobs.

I do have sailing friends: Lovely people with whom I’ve weathered storms and enjoyed some of the most intensely beautiful moments of my life beside. But the sort of friend you turn to when you’re tearing up at the thought of another Christmas away from you mum are the friends who have picked you up before—not the ones who’ve never seen you stumble.

So here I am: Floating sadly on the edge of a big city. Wondering how I’ll get my happy back.

December 10, 2011

The Bend in the River Near the Botanic Garden

Baby, It’s Hot Outside. Finally.
And thankfully, for today at least, it’s stopped raining. Which is good. For those who are up on last year’s Brisbane River flood, we’ve been a little nervous about a repeat. High tide is currently lapping at the edge of the board walk, and the big tidal shifts turn this lazy river into a fast moving (and rapidly reversing) one.

But—rain and river aside--we’re getting into the holiday spirit. This is the first Christmas in a few years that we’ve known where we’ll be and what we’ll be doing. And Maia is loving having the ability to plan things and actually have them work out.

This past week we’ve decked our hulls and Maia has started baking up a storm with her friends. We have gingerbread cookies and gingerbread houses, and sugar cookies and Christmas cake are sure to follow. The one good thing about the cool rainy temps is that running the oven for hours on end isn’t too unbearable—and with nothing but puddles outside, spending an afternoon decorating seems about right.

Last night we were lucky enough to get a break in the weather and headed to The Lord Mayor’s Carols in the Park with Connect 4 and Hadar. Mostly we heard the old standards, sung by a range of Auzzie personalities we’ve never heard of, but they did slip in the odd carol that let us know we truly are down under:

"Dashing through the bush, in a rusty Holden ute,
Kicking up the dust, esky in the boot.
Kelpie by my side, singing Christmas songs,
It's summertime and I am in my singlet, shorts and thongs!"
 Slowly we’re finding our way into life here. We’ve got our library cards and know where to get water for our tanks (although with the rain we’ve been catching all we need). We’ve dug out our city clothes (the less tattered and stained stuff) and begun to make our Christmas wish lists. We’ve started exploring beyond our immediate neighbourhood and are hunting down playgrounds, farmer’s markets and hardware stores.

Settling in for cyclone season, or so, is almost as complex as casting off. Rejoining society is more difficult than you might think. When you spend two years letting the trappings of a civilized life go, when you convince yourself that most of it’s pretty meaningless, it seems like a bit of a mean trick to have to come back and do simple things like get a phone, or a library card. Especially because most things in life revolve around having an address—and it turns out that telling people we're anchored at ‘the bend in the river beside the Botanic Garden’ isn’t the same as having an address.

December 4, 2011

Brisbane City

From Mooloolaba (can’t believe I missed posting about my fantastic b-day which included a day at the zoo and an amazing dinner on Catachaos…) we sailed into Morton Bay and on to Brisbane River. Anchoring near the river mouth at sunset we could see the city’s high rises glowing in the distance.
“It really is a city.” I said to Evan.
  After not seeing one for a while, cities can become mythical places. They seem unreal. And the next morning while winding our way up the river—watching as the landscape changed from wilderness, to industry, to suburb, to metropolis—reality, our reality, began to kick in.
 I’ve never felt as small on my boat as I did as we motored up the river past the city centre. Even in the middle of the ocean, on the worst days, our boat felt bigger. But here—against the backdrop of modern glass and steel I felt like our story shrank and became ordinary. And rather than being a magic ship that carried us through wondrous places our boat simply looked grubby and fragile.
good reason to boat in company--you get shots of those memorable moments
We looked for a place to anchor; overwhelmed as we bypassed all the options until we reached a low bridge and could go no further. So we consulted with C4, who were in an equal state of d├ępaysement, despite this being their home country, and we dropped our anchors—here at the edge of the botanical garden, where the greenery and bird song can almost convince me that my million neighbours are an illusion.
the kids have playgrounds but still go for the trees (and yes to those who know the kids, that is Sasha--Hadar is near by)

one of the parks that is a short walk away
 I never made it to shore that first day.
And on the second I failed to leave the confines of the botanical garden.
By the third day I was ready to put on real shoes and venture into the downtown streets in search of groceries and clothes pins.
And by today I was ready to explore.

D├ępaysement fades. And unfamiliar places become comfortable. And Brisbane seems like it might be a nice place to call home.
moments from my lovely birthday--check Maia's and Connect 4's November blogs for more of the story