Leaving After Staying Awhile

 

We are currently getting ready to leave New Zealand after a six-month stay. We’ve had a wonderful time here in Kiwiville, which is just another way of saying we neglected the boat. Fine, the boat is here to serve us; we’re not here to serve the boat. The whole idea, after 59 years of living aboard and four circumnavigations, it to have fun and kiss life full of the lips. 

Thus, we had numerous visits to the North Island, flew hither and yonder on jet planes, rented cars, dined to excess, and goofed off as much as possible—mostly within the confines of a small rural river town called Whangarei that happens to love yachties. How do I know? Because the mayor stopped down to the Town Basin marina and gushed, “We love you sailor guys—it is like having the UN visit us every spring!”

Eventually, of course, we had to get serious and refocus on our craft. She (in various reincarnations) has kept us alive for six decades but there’s a price—and that price is eternal vigilance. And hard work. And, occasionally, a penny or two. 

An offshore sailor, especially one eventually headed for the Indian Ocean, can’t get too lax, too complacent. The sea is a harsh mistress. If you ignore her too long, she kills you. Game over. 

So about six weeks ago, Carolyn started checking her stores and canning while I wiped down my Perkins M92B with an oily rag. When had the port running light gone out? Why was our raw water pump dripping? 

Oh, dear, our chain needed to be re-galvanized. 

Next, I checked our spares—and added a windlass motor and a rebuild kit for the Pur watermaker to our normal list of ‘must haves.’

We knew we’d have to haul out as it had been two years since we yanked Ganesh, our 43’ Amphitrite ketch, in South Africa. We wanted to delay the haul out as long as possible—so our bottom would be clean for New Caledonia, the Torres Straits, and Indonesia. 

We chose Dockland 5—not because it is cheaper or better, but because everyone in the yard is openly enjoying their mental illness. A good percentage of the yard is derelict people on derelict watercraft—and, thus, we fit right in. 

Now we’re not as young as we used to be—and nowhere do we realize this more than while doing the bottom. However, my wife Carolyn’s memory is so shot she doesn’t remember she’s 67 years young—and thus she sanded the entire bottom without a blink for four days. Wow! 

Alas, our twenty plus year old Max prop had far too much play and was also undersized for our horsepower—and that alone blew the budget. Thus we opted for cheap antifouling—with the idea that since we’re always dissatisfied with its performance, why not purchase the worst?

I know—with thought-processes like that, no wonder men in white suits chase us around with butterfly nets while we’re ashore. 

When we finally splashed after two weeks, we didn’t return to our pile mooring at Whangarei for fear we’d fall right back into the (very fun but all-consuming) social swing. Instead we wandered down the river with the tide and dropped the hook in Urquharts Bay—where we began our actual transition from shore-groupies to offshore adventurers. We worked on the boat. We made love. We mulled over our charts while Carolyn poured herself another glass of wine and swilled down another mug of coffee. 

In essence, we got into cruising mode—narrowing our focus from the wide world of our cruising buddies to the narrow world of our tiny mutual universe. And our minds. And our bodies. 

After 49 years of living aboard and ocean sailing, we’re still lovers. And best friends. And cherished shipmates. Carolyn first came aboard my double-ended sloop Corina at 15 years of age but, being a gentleman, I waited until she was 16 to pop the question. (“Wanna go sailing?”)

It’s not enough for us to get the boat together to head offshore—we’ve got to get our heads together and bodies together in harmony and love and lust in order to confidently venture forth into blue water once again. 

It’s rough here. A few circs ago we left NZ with a good forecast and were hove-to in a major gale 36 hours later. The Torres Straits is, according to the weather service in Aus, the windiest place on this planet. And while Indonesia isn’t terribly windy—its strong currents, violent squalls, and vague charting all conspire in navigational challenges. 

This is no section of the world to get too lax in, too complacent. That’s the toughest part of our job as serial circumnavigators—to keep reminding ourselves how much we have to learn to become the sailors we desire to be. We have to be ever vigilant year after year—and as our eyesight goes, our hearing departs, and our stamina fades, this is doubly important. 

The clock ticks. We will never be this strong, this frisky, this immature again—and thus we have to savor every sensuous second of it. After all, we’re on the 49th year of our sailing honeymoon. 

So Carolyn sang at her sewing machine while I muttered to my charts and weather forecasts. We ate well. We catered to our every physical need. We got in tune and in sync with our love and our vessel. We became, all three of us, one with our mutual objective—to once again sail through God’s own watery cathedral, to once again entrust ourselves to the bosom of Mother Ocean. 

It rained for three days straight. I peeled grapes for her; she peeled grapes for me as we rested in anticipation of the unknown adventure ahead. 

That’s what our lives are—an adventure through time and space and each other. We’re a unit; we’re greater than the sum of our parts. 

Finally, the sun broke through the clouds. I glanced up at the masthead. It was a fair wind. Carolyn asked, “Anchor up?”

“Sure,” I said, “it’s a fine day and it’s great to be alive.”

I watched on the foredeck, remembering what she looked like up there as a Chicago high school teenager. 

She’s more beautiful and mysterious now—more whole; fuller and more nurturing. And we were both blessed with a fine sailing breeze. Life doesn’t get better than this. Fiddler’s Green will pale in comparison. 

Cap’n Fatty Goodlander has lived aboard for 53 of his 60 years, and has circumnavigated twice. He is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books. His latest, Buy, Outfit, and Sail is out now. Visit: fattygoodlander.com