Life Abroad, Personal Ramblings, Sailing

Sailing into the Future

As some of you may have noticed this blog has gone quiet over the past three years and properly silent over the past year and a half, but as of today that changes. See, there’s an adventure afoot and now I’ve got things to write about again.

Kane and I are back in the USA for the first time since we got married in September of 2018 and are spending the holidays with my family in California for the next two months before heading back to the east coast of Australia to put into action a plan that has been brewing for the past four years… we are going sailing.

Do we have sailing experience? No.

Do we have a boat? Not yet.

Are we excited as hell and thrilled for the steepest learning curve of our lives to start? Yes!

About a decade ago, Kane and his best friend were drinking when they came up with an idea (all good ideas start with beer). They committed to sailing the South Pacific together before they were 40, but, as booze fuelled ideas often do, when the hangovers passed, so too did the plan, that is until Kane met me in 2016 in Guatemala.

Since we met while traveling and have always been collectively drawn to adventure, he told me about the idea (I think it was over mojitos…there may be a theme here). I was interested, for a year, maybe. I had never really been on a sailboat for anything beyond a sunset cruise and didn’t understand how you could live on one. A year seemed like a long time, but given I was doing six months in Guatemala at the time, I figured I could do it – I am nothing if not adaptable. So I said, “sure, a year, we’ll see”, and that was that until August of 2018.

In the intervening two years, Kane and I had grown as a couple and individually. We had spent three months living in a tent in the Australian outback and survived a total of nine months of long distance. I was more confident in our relationship and our abilities than ever and we were headed back to California to get married, a wonderful exciting time full of possibilities. It was in this frame of mind that when we ended up in Sydney for a two day layover to LAX and saw that the Sydney International Boat Show was on, we said, “let’s have a look, might be interesting to kill a couple of hours”.

I had no expectations for that boat show. I arrived with a blank slate and left with a dream, because from the minute we stepped down into that first little monohull I realised something, I realised this wasn’t just a vacation, this could be a life, it could be a home. From then on I was mad about research everything sailboats and sailing. I found the famous sailors of YouTube. I scoured the Internet for information and stumbled across the voracious monohull vs catamaran debate. I read all the books I could get my hands on and we saved liked paupers. Kane and I were both earning full time wages for the first time together and we were working very hard to still live like students, to save as much as possible and squirrel it away for the future, the dream of sailing away.

It was a longer three years than we planned, not in raw amount of time, but in feeling, because as you should all be aware, there was a little global pandemic in the middle of things that saw us trapped in the COVID-free paradise of Western Australia (WA) for three straight years. At first the time in WA was great, it was 2019, no one knew the word COVID, my family came to visit, we swam with whale sharks, and we enjoyed building a life for ourselves in Geraldton. Then 2020 happened and we all know how that went; though I have to say WA was a great place to be for 2020, we were safe, healthy, and employed. Yes, trip after trip got cancelled and I could not see my family and friends, but on balance we were happy to ride out the worst of the pandemic hidden away in our remote corner of the world where it seemed more like 2019 than 2020, at least until you tried to cross a state border (spoiler alert – you couldn’t).

Western Australia was a pandemic paradise during 2020, this was taken on our trip to the Ningaloo reef in June 2020 – when our neighbours were kangaroos and marine life abounded.

Then came 2021, the year we all hoped would be the reprieve from 2020 but wasn’t. 2021 was the year of false hope, at least for me, because we all thought it had to be over soon, the scientists had done it, they’d made great vaccines in record time, due to record funding and cross world collaboration, but it wasn’t over. Australia took a long, long time to get vaccinated due to a lot of things (vaccine hoarding in other countries, some poor ordering on the part of the government, hesitancy borne of a lack of immediacy due to our success in keeping COVID at bay in much of the country) and it was looking less and less likely that I would get back to California for my sister’s wedding that she already postponed from April 2021 to September 2021.

My mental health definitely took on a downward trend throughout the Australian winter as the calendar ticked ever closer to September and vaccine uptake remained lethargic. To be honest, that’s a rose coloured sentence; it got pretty bad there, but the tears did nothing to sway the government and in the end I watched my only sister get married via FaceTime. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, but that was a pretty low bar, because I was expecting to be distraught. Luckily, my wonderful husband made me breakfast, my good friend came over to drink mimosas at 6:30 am on a Monday (thanks timezones), and Luna was a wonderful emotional support puppy (said friend’s staffy pup). I was okay, we got through it and, as I kept reminding myself, I was lucky to be mourning an event and not a person – many, many people were not so lucky during this pandemic.

So, long story short, that is why I haven’t written. I was not in a good enough headspace to create, I was just trying to get through, but now we’ve made it out the other end and there is hope in the air.

In August we got our second vaccine doses. In October the Australian government announced the lifting of the outbound international travel ban that had kept us in the gilded cage and we immediately bought flights back to the US for the holidays. In November we sold everything, closed up our lives in WA, and got on a one way flight out of the state (you still can’t return to WA once you leave due to the strictness of their COVID border controls). We stopped in Queensland to start the boat hunt and stay with friends we hadn’t seen in 2 1/2 years (actually the same friend from the original drunken sailing plan way back when), then got on our first international flight in a long, long time.

It was a weird experience, traveling in the time of COVID, but actually easier than expected. Social distancing was a breeze in the nearly empty Sydney International terminal, PCR tests at the airport came back within 6 hours (we were expecting 24 hours), and all flights were on time. The hardest bit was sleeping on a 13 hours flight in a mask, because sleeping on a plane is already hard and the mask didn’t make it any easier, especially when you accidentally drool in your sleep then wake up and have to smell that drool on your mask – and yes it is as gross as it sounds (bring a second or third mask to avoid this). After the wheels touched down in the concrete jungle of LA, we shuffled off the plane and flew through customs in what had to be one of the fastest processing times I have ever experienced. Then I hugged my sister across the barrier at the arrivals gate, because I was too impatient to hug her to walk around. We cried and laughed that this was the first time I had seen her wedding ring in person (she has been engaged since December 2019). Then we drove back to Ventura for the biggest surprise yet – where we crashed my parents dinner party and threw their Thanksgiving plans into disarray as we had told them we were arriving on December 1st, not November 21st.

The Sydney International Airport was deserted.

Since then it has been a whirlwind of seeing everyone again, walks in the dry hills of my youth, bike rides with my dad, coffee dates with my mom, and holiday shenanigans. It has been wonderful and overwhelming, joyful and exhausting, all of the emotions swirled up into one very fully week; but, now, after the intensity of that first week, we are falling into a more sustainable, relaxed rhythm of just getting to live and be with family over the next two months. There will be more Christmas parties and game nights and little trips up and down the Californian coast, but for the most part I will keep that to myself. I will begin my novel again in this pause and return to this blog when the sailing adventure starts in earnest.

So I’ll leave you for now with this last thought, sailing dreams aside, that what I missed during the pandemic were the people, not the places. I cried when I hugged my sister, not when we descended over the grey-brown hills of Southern California. I once wrote that home is a person, not a place, and I feel that even more after this experience. The beauty of it is that if you love many people in many places then you have many homes, all across the world.

I wish you all every happiness this holiday season and that you enjoy home, whatever it is, wherever it is, and whoever it is to you.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, I’ll see you in 2022 with more stories to tell.

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