One Year Out …

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This week marks the one year anniversary of the day Jenna, Leo, Hazel and I  — along with the capable support of my brother Rich and our friend Dan — left San Diego to begin our Pacific crossing. It’s been a crazy and amazing and wonderful year for us on Sophie, and here are some of the things we are currently thinking about as we mark this milestone.

I Love Lusi
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Sophie is currently anchored in Kaiarara Bay on Great Barrier Island, riding out the remnants of ex-cyclone “Lusi” as it travels down the New Zealand coast throughout the day. We’ve had gusts up to 55 knots today, and the weather forecast calls for continuing strong winds through tomorrow. But we feel pretty safe right now. We are in a relatively sheltered anchorage and have 90 meters of heavy chain and a big anchor holding us fast to a muddy bottom. There is one other boat anchored with us in the bay, so we don’t have to worry too much about someone else breaking loose and hitting us. We also have been tracking our position on the chart since we set the anchor yesterday afternoon, and we haven’t budged the anchor an inch since we set it.

We like to tell the kids that there are 5 core rules about life on Sophie:

  1. Safety
  2. Safety
  3. Safety
  4. Safety
  5. Safety

Sometimes when we are entertaining guests or playing on beaches, we can lose sight of the fact that doing a family circumnavigation on a sailboat can be a dangerous business. Days like today are a good reminder that we always need to be following the 5 rules. We feel pretty safe right now: we spent time in town talking to locals about conditions on Great Barrier during storms, we picked our anchorage based on the forecasted wind direction, we have a large amount of chain out with a second anchor ready to be dropped in seconds, we stripped cushions and other things that could break in the wind from the outside of the boat, we are tracking our position on electronic charts, we are listening to the radio (lot’s of boats dragging in other nearby harbors), and we are keeping watches.

Over the last year we’ve tried to be safe, and other than a couple of fish or hook-induced cuts we’ve had no major accidents. We reef early and often, we tether in when offshore, and we try to be conservative in our planning. We’re thankful that we’ve had some good luck, but we’ll continue to live by the 5 rules.

Role Models

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When Jenna and I planned this trip, we implicitly just knew that we would approach it from the perspective of being equals who shared all of the work that fills your day on a circumnavigation with kids: cooking, cleaning, boat repairs, maintenance, home schooling, keeping watch, navigating, anchoring, planning, etc. We were also well aware that each of us we coming into this adventure with different skillsets and perspectives. I had more sailing and boat repair experience than Jenna, who rarely gives herself enough credit for “only” having 10 years sailing experience heading into this trip. On the other hand, before we left Jenna threw herself into planning for how we were going to homeschool Leo and Hazel for the next 5 years. And I am not sure going into this trip if either of us fully anticipated how much effort homeschooling was going to require, although I bet she had a much better sense for what was in store for us than I did.

So for the first year, we each “took a kid” for home schooling and then divided up the rest of the work on a relatively informal, ad hoc basis. As a system it worked reasonably well for the first year, but Jenna kept thinking we weren’t doing enough to educate the kids and I kept thinking that we weren’t doing enough to maintain the boat. And please don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to create the impression that Jenna doesn’t like doing “the boat stuff”, because she most certainly does. But in the last couple of weeks, we switched to a model where Jenna manages homeschooling for both Leo and Hazel at the same time, and during that time I focus on boat projects. Jenna is a wonderful, empathetic and patient teacher with the kids — that’s not just my view but the view of friends who have been with us during the last month and have watched her in action. When I was teaching Leo, I would hand him his spelling book, say “do this assignment” and then try to sneak away to fix a toilet. Jenna actually teaches him.

We’ll see how this new model works out. The kids seem to like it more, and the boat is definitely looking better. Most importantly, we both get to gravitate towards roles that we really enjoy doing while still maintaining the spirit of sharing that we had when we started the trip.

Another way to think about this is to simply say that Jenna is a much, much better teacher than I am.

Friends Are a Great Source for Stories
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A few weeks ago, we hiked the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing with two other couples, our Seattle friends Troy and Maureen and my college friends James and Maureen. The hike is a 20 km trek across a barren alpine landscape that includes some mountains that were used for scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies.

As day hikes go, this is a loooong hike. We left our kids along with Troy and Maureen’s kids with a sitter for the day. It was going to be a grownups-only trip, which was a welcome relief for those of us who wind up carrying kids for long distances on day hikes.

Anyway, Troy and Maureen are both runners and set off on a much faster pace than the rest of us. They were soon long gone in the distance. We ran into them again at mid-day returning from an optional side trail to a scenic outlook summit just as we were beginning to ascend it. I realized that they could be done with the trek hours before the rest of us, so I gave Troy the keys to our minivan so they wouldn’t have to sit around in the parking lot waiting for us.

We hiked for another 5 hours, traversing across some spectacular countryside. (Jenna is working on a post with lots of photos.) But we were getting tired. When we were an hour from our destination, I said to James “You know, I bet Troy and Maureen finished their hike an hour ago and drove back into town. Maureen picked up the kids and is watching them, while Troy went to a store, bought some cold beer, and is waiting for us in the parking lot.”

James looked back at me and replied “You know, Jamie, I really enjoy this fantasy world that you sometimes inhabit. But there is simply no way that is going to happen.”

When we got to the parking lot, there was Troy standing there with his hands on his hips and a big smile on his face. Maureen was in town watching the kids, and there was a 12 pack of beer sitting on ice in the back of the minivan.

Score one for Troy!

We love our friends and family, and they are a great source for stories on this trip: Rich and Dan, Max and Becca, the Riebelings, the Fells, Randy and Susan, Troy and Maureen (trip 1), Frank and Fred, Ian and Becky, Troy and Maureen (trip 2) with their kids, then James and Maureen. These are just the folks who traveled halfway around the world to join us over the course of the last year.

We’ve also reconnected and made new friends in Auckland, Opua, Fiji, Tonga, and of course, with the members of the Swedish Navy. They all have good stories to tell!

The Fells in particular did something especially cool: they pulled together a book containing photos from their Tonga visit and along with our years of cruising together in Seattle before we left.

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If you ever have the chance to visit Sophie, you’ll have to check it out. It’s amazing.

Keeping Connections Back Home is Easier Than I Thoughtpicture004

In addition to the monthly visitors/spare-parts-mules who have flown out to stay with us, we’ve had good Internet connections in Fiji and New Zealand over the last 7 months, making connections back home easier than I thought they would be. I find myself using Facebook more now than when I lived in the US. I am hanging out on baseball websites more now than back when I was working. (I did used to work, you know, and I worked pretty hard.) We Skype with friends and grandparents. Even though we are far away, we don’t feel remote.

You Can Buy Food Anywhere
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I’ve mentioned this before in the blog, but it’s true. It’s really true! You can buy food anywhere!

Here is a shot of our salon fridge. (Jenna wished I had reorganized it before taking a photo for the blog, but that will have to wait for the next school day.) It contains meat, cheese, milk, eggs, veggies, syrup, dips, hummus, jam, sauces, spices, and spreads. It looks pretty much the same way it has looked since San Diego.

I popped into the small Port Fitzroy general store with Hazel and Leo yesterday to do some last minute provisioning before the storm. As we walked in, Hazel asked “Dad, can we get some marshmallows for our camping party that we are planning with Mom?”

“No,” I responded, “they don’t have any here.”

The lady behind the counter looked up and said “Yes we do, they are right over there on that shelf.”

You can buy food anywhere.

Sophie is Simply a Collection of Systems
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The boat seems much simpler now than it did a year ago. We haven’t added any significant new equipment, and we have reorganized where we put things so our storage system seems more sensible for us.

But what contributes most to this sense of simplicity is the growing understanding that the boat is merely a collection of systems, systems that we have debugged and rebuilt over the course of the last year and a half. Sails, engines, AC, DC, watermaker, toilets, genset, nav, stereo/AV, propane. That’s pretty much it.

This view makes it easier for us to figure out when something is wrong, how to most easily isolate the problem, and how to best go ahead with a repair. It’s one thing to assume that you are going to know the boat much better after you live on it for a while, but it’s another thing to actually do so.

In other words, a toilet repair that used to take me 4 hours to debug and fix now takes 20 minutes. That’s progress!

There are ALWAYS Bigger Fish
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We ran into this group of fishermen weighing their catch just around the corner from us at the Port Fitzroy pier this week as we were heading up to the Boat Club for their Wednesday Pizza Night. It’s a 105 kilo striped marlin caught in local waters.

There is absolutely no reason why we can’t land a marlin this size on Sophie.

I will.

24 x 7 x 78
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We have been living with Leo and Hazel all day, every day for about 78 weeks since we left Seattle. That’s a long time and is EASILY the best part of this trip for me and Jenna. When we left, Hazel couldn’t read. She now has Alice in Wonderland and The Hobbit on her Kindle. Leo is growing up in so many different ways in front of us every day. From an age perspective he is halfway out the door to college. But that’s OK because we get to hang out with him all of the time.

Leo and Hazel have become great friends with each other, they bicker with each other, they basically do almost everything with each other. We get to see it all, and it’s all good because I feel overall that they are building a connection with me and Jenna that will last long after this trip is done and people have stopped reading this blog.

Have I told you lately how lucky we are?

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3 thoughts on “One Year Out …

  1. Jamie, you’ve woven all those golden threads from the past year into such a beautiful story of life on Sophie. Plus you’ve given everyone back home a truly remarkable vicarious sailing adventure. And you know I just love those safety rules… God bless all of you. Can hardly wait to see you this summer. Tons of love!!! XOXOXO Mom/Sarah/Grandma

  2. Great blog. What an amazing experience for you, the kids and people like me who escape to Margaretaville for a short time with each new blog post. Thank you for letting us be part of it.

    Thinking of you daily.

    -Steve

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