Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Tropics Await

There's one thing about having kids - they make it harder to tell lies when you're entering a country.

We arrived at the Auckland airport completely over it - 22 hours from Cleveland, both kids sick when the trip began, and a three and a half hour drive up to Opua still ahead of us.

Before the drive, though, we had to get our fishing gear and dirty boots (and the eagle feathers that Alisa hadn't told me about) through biosecurity and into the country.

When the quarantine officer asked if we had mostly been fishing in saltwater while in Alaska, I answered, "yes".

That is, I, the professional biologist with a strong awareness of the danger posed to island ecosystems by introduced organisms, went along with the quarantine guy's suggestion that we had been fishing in saltwater.  This was because I knew that he would be most concerned about the possibility of introducing freshwater organisms, and that saltwater gear wouldn't get much attention.

At that point in the trip I would have done anything to make the process go a little faster.

And that, of course, is when Elias piped up.  "Most of our time wasn't in saltwater, Dad.  Remember the Dollies?  That was freshwater."

The quarantine guy ended up scrubbing the soles on all of our boots while we tried, in vain, to keep Eric from running all over the place.  When he was done scrubbing our boots, he took the eagle feathers.

And then, when he was done with all that, a light went on in that part of his Kiwi brain that is set aside for friendly Kiwi chats.  After noticing that we had put down Opua Marina as our address in New Zealand, he started telling us about his grandmother's lodge in nearby Russell.

Only in New Zealand would a quarantine guy decide to extend his interaction with a tired family and their cranky kids (at six am local time, no less) just to pass the time of day more pleasantly.

Aunt Noerena did the first leg of the trip with us, to LA. 
The view from deck upon arrival.
We arrived back in Opua, where we had left Galactic more than a month earlier, and found the season well and truly changed.  Nearly all of the traveling boats are gone, and the foreign-flagged boats that are still around have a buttoned-up look that tells the story of owners gone back to their home countries for the season.  The morning session with other yachts on the VHF radio, which was both helpful and also annoyingly identical, in spirit, phrasing and substance, to every other English-language "cruiser's net" from here to La Paz, has gone quiet.  Everyone is gone up to the tropics for the winter.

We're soon behind them.  Though not too soon - there would be a weather window for us to leave this weekend, but we're not even close to ready for that.  The kids both have hacking coughs that put us in mind of the respiratory infection that landed Elias in hospital last year, there are a few days of boat jobs ahead of us, and I spent the first full day back making revisions to a scientific paper, as always putting off boat tasks to do the research work that keeps us going.  Winter is here and there are big systems going past New Zealand.  We've read accounts from friends who have already made the trip north and were caught out by passing fronts.  So although we're ready for the tropics, though we can feel the turquoise water and taste the coconuts, we're back into yachtie-patient mode, content to wait for the proper moment to head north.

Meanwhile we're home again, and getting used to sharing the confined space of the boat with two little ones.  We got a sense, spending time with our siblings and friends back in North America, of just how different our lives have become from the lives of our peers during the five years and 361 days that we've spent living afloat.  Splashing back into the world of steady work and daily/weekly/monthly schedules and smartphones and driving places reminded us, over and over, of just how completely different our everyday concerns and routines are.  Comparisons are odious, and we didn't spend the trip keeping mental checklists of how we were glad we were to avoid this or that everyday annoyance by living on a sailboat.  But once we were back on Galactic and I'd had a good sleep, I kept remarking to Alisa just how generally happy I was just to be living on the boat with the family in this dreary little out-of-season yacht harbor.

In the long view, one obvious difference between our lives and the lives of people our age back ashore is just how much wealth some of our peers seem to be accumulating as they proceed through their forties.  People are paying off mortgages and buying bigger houses and getting more pay and filling up their investment accounts.  I don't even let myself think facile yachtie phrases like "they're spending their time accumulating possessions; we're spending our time living life."  I think that, in the really important things, life afloat and life ashore are the same thing.  We do have the bonus of looking forward to a season in the tropics; in another set of circumstances we would be looking forward to setting ourselves up to retire younger, with a house with a view, in a position to send our kids to a private American university.  This trip back to the US gave me a taste of how much effort it's going to take to plug back into the kind of daily lives that we left behind, and I'm determined, as long as this dream-like (in the sense of not being quite real) life that we're living continues, to not let it get stale, to enjoy these days filled with too much time with my kids and too many ethereal, recurring, always different moments: dawn at sea, making landfall after a week, or finding a friend in an unfamiliar place.

Because when this is all over, it will be well and truly over - we won't take anything away from this part of our lives, except for whatever mark these things that we found worth doing, and seeing, have left on us, and how they've changed, however subtly, who we are.
Today isn't the day to leave - that's the north end of New Zealand at the bottom-center, beneath all the blue and magenta.

No comments:

Post a Comment