Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Live Your Dream: Sailing the South Pacific

Photo by Bruce Trimble. My t-shirt reads "Escaped Mom: Don’t tell anyone where you saw me"

Eight years after we fulfilled my dream of going to Africa, the adventure bug bit again. This time, my husband's dream was calling. He had always wanted to own a sailboat, a real, ocean going vessel, and cruise around the world.

This dream would be expensive. We wouldn’t have incomes and, as anyone who’s owned a boat knows, a boat is a hole in the water into which you throw money. We formed a five-year plan and worked toward that goal. Surprisingly, in two years we could see our way clear to set sail.

Again, we sacrificed in order to make our dream come true. We found a suitable used sail boat, a forty-foot Bristol, and began the work and expense of outfitting it for ocean cruising. We altered the dream by agreeing on a more realistic South Pacific trip, rather than circumnavigating the world. By limiting our journey to the South Pacific, we could sail at a more leisurely pace and stay longer at each port-of-call.

To prepare, we rarely bought anything not directly related to the cruise--no unnecessary clothes, no expensive trips, no major home improvements.

We dried fruit and vegetables from our own garden as we stocked a two-year food supply. Close to the time of departure, we held a garage sale to eliminate all the extra stuff we'd accumulated over the past few years. Since we didn't want the complications associated with renting our home, we sold it. This was traumatic for me, more so than for my husband, but our focus was this trip and that's what it took to get it done.

We lived on our boat for six months before departure, taking short, local sailing trips, then cast off for the South Pacific, traveling 13,000 miles in 14 months.

Although sailing for 14 months might sound leisurely, it is far from it. When at sea, someone must always be on watch, to make sure the boat is traveling on course, to ensure that a freighter isn’t bearing down on us, to watch for weather changes that might entail changing sails. At sea, our watches were four-hour shifts: four hours on and four hours off, around the clock. Therefore, when making passages, we never got more than four hours sleep at one time. With just the two of us on board, we never could sleep together while at sea.

Cooking at sea is challenging. While the boat is rocking and rolling with the motion of the sea, the cook tries to hang on with one hand and put together a meal with the other. I was the primary cook and managed pretty well, but it wasn’t easy.

Bruce’s expertise with rigging sales, his self-taught celestial navigation skills and his intimate knowledge of all the working parts of our boat, kept us safe and on course.

But, oh, the exhilaration of being at sea! The stunning sunsets with absolutely no obstructions, the closeness of the stars at night, the delightful porpoises as they accompanied us into ports. Once we acquired the correct heavy-duty equipment, fishing for our dinner was commonplace. There’s nothing to compare with fresh albacore tuna, straight from the sea.

Cruising, while it certainly holds its glorious moments, can also be demanding, dangerous, and exhausting. But the landfalls make it all worth while--to actually feel and smell the warm tropical air of the French Marquesas, to hike to the pointed tip of Mount Pahia in Bora Bora, to experience the blue pristine water in Tahiti, to ride the funky buses in Samoa to sparkling white beaches, to dive among the underwater coral gardens in the Kingdom of Tonga. Going to market brought much joy and offered ways to taste paradise. We made delightful friends among the warm, friendly people of the South Pacific as well as with other boaters like ourselves.

At sea we found new and different strengths. We learned we could depend on each other in good and in hard times. When at sea, you can go for days, weeks even, without seeing another living soul. On one leg of our journey, 21 days passed before we spotted another boat on the horizon. It isn’t uncommon for shipmates to part company at the first land-fall after such close togetherness, but we didn’t experience that sort of strain. We found joy in sharing books, in dreaming about what we’d do next with our lives, and thrilled together as we approached landfalls.

Yes, we’d taken a chance on this venture. It was tough and it was expensive. But we’d fulfilled another dream and have lasting life-time memories. We returned with a solid sense of accomplishment and a strengthened attitude about life. We could create our own destinies.


Alice Trego said...

Thanks for sharing this ultra-neat dream/experience of a lifetime, Mary!

Your vivid descriptions of what it takes to sail the way your hubby dreamed made me think I was in the sailboat with you, keeping watch, cooking, witnessing the loneliness, the awesomeness!

I've been to Tahiti so I know what you mean about the stars being closer and all the rest. Wonderful experience all around.


Lani said...

Great travelog! Thank you for sharing your adventures. I remember when I read the articles in the Stanwood News about your upcoming departure and the news you had returned.

You've been to the tiny island of Tonga. Amazing. My brother-in-law had business there once. He described it as just above sea level...only, "just" and very small. Your snorkeling in the "Coral Gardens" must have been fantastic!

Its wonderful you and your husband share such an adventursome spirit.

Happy Hoeing, Jon said...

Sign us up! As soon as we finish being farmers I guess. But you are so right...a relationship will have more strength when tested than when left to flop along. It would be fun to hear more about the people and foods...and did you actually go through all the dried foods you took along?

Thanks for being a great writer and encourager.

Happy Hoeing,
Farmer Jon de The Open Gate Farm

Heidiwriter said...

Wonderful adventures, Mary!


Eunice Boeve said...

Have you read the stories of Martin and Olsa Johnson who traveled to Africa and the South Seas from 1917- to 1936? They were from Kansas and the museum about their adventures is at Chanute
I'm sure you and your huband was a great adventure,and the memories are priceles, but not my cup of tea. :-) Eunice Boeve

bt said...

Your blog looks great as part of your website!

az suzy said...

This is the first time I've viewed your blog and website. Good job! I read your recent post on the TrebleHeart users group site which led me to your fascinating tales of two very brave travelers.
Susan Tornga