Endings can be as emotion laden as beginnings. Saying farewell to our Tongan family was one ending, especially as we knew we might not see them again for some time. Our voyage from Tonga to New Zealand marked the end of a circumnavigation, one that began almost 20 years before when we’d set sail for Australia in search of work. News of yet another ending reached us just as we sailed in to the Bay of Islands.
I kept watching for whales as we ran through the smooth waters between the islands of Northern Tonga, heading for the open sea. We were carried along by a 15 knot easterly breeze. It wasn’t until well after dark, just as we reached truly open water that I heard the blowing sound of a humpback whale about 50 yards from Taleisin. I saw the moonlight glisten off her expansive back then she was gone along with the very last lights of shore. Now the night was completely mine as we ran onward away from the archipelago that Captain Cook called “The Friendly Isles”.
|Gene Busch powered out in one of his little fish boats to say farewell and took this photo as we ran clear of Neiafu.
Our voyage southward was just as we’d expected from the weather reports we’d scoured before our departure, moderate easterly winds for two days, then a patch of lighter winds with our drifter pulling us at about three knots for another three days, then a collision with the South Pacific convergence zone during which we hove to for 8 hours before the wind backed from south to east and let us reach onward. We decided to stick to the classic route suggested by the Ocean Passages for the World and work to the west to at least 174° east longitude before heading south at 30°South latitude. That way if we did encounter southwesterly winds on our approaches to New Zealand we could still lay our course with sheets eased a bit. This proved to be the perfect tactic. When we crossed south of 30°S the easterly wind died, we lay becalmed for four hours then a squall moved in from the west. Though we could have laid our course, it was just at dark, so we hove to for eight hours (out of sheer laziness I think, or possibly because neither of us were eager to reach land and the decisions that come with finishing a wondrously interesting phase of our lives.) Just as daylight began filtering into our world, the wind began easing and Larry set the staysail, then eventually the very small storm jib plus a double reefed main and for the next three days we had a wonderful, if sometimes spray prone, romp on a close reach in 25 to 30 knot winds, easily laying our goal. We averaged about 140 miles a day, the boat felt lovely. It was just rough enough to give me an excuse to do little but finish a very good book, cook only simple meals and truly laze about as I knew once in New Zealand things might get hectic.
We introduced Neto Hausia, one of our Tongan family to Gene. Soon after we reached New Zealand Gene wrote to say the family had adopted him too. (That’s Gene and Neto building a shade roof for a family feast at the Coconet Café.)
Larry and I both discussed our feeling that this crossing from Tonga to New Zealand was a true milestone; After more than 85,000 miles of voyaging Taleisin had proven to be up to everything we threw at her. We’d fulfilled just about every sailing dream we’d had including rounding Cape Horn from east to west. We talked about the amazing people we’d met, the memories, the numerous highs and amazingly limited number of lows. And of course we discussed the most important part of any ending, what next?
“Lin, I think it is time to face the truth.” Larry said as we changed watch the night before our landfall. “We always said we would save cruising around the South Pacific and New Zealand until our golden years. Those years are here, so let’s think about doing it.” Through the day, as the local radio stations became clearer. The well developed sea pushed by the fresh westerly began to loose its power as we passed into the lee of Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of New Zealand. We began listing the places we’d never explored, from New Caledonia and Vanuatu in the north, to the islands only 30 or 40 miles south of our home base on Kawau Island.
Another topic filled our thoughts. We knew that we faced some heavy work repairing damage caused by three small landslides at our homebase. But our voyage along part of the so called “Milk Run” had shown us something else we wanted to do. Four years previously, our book The Capable Cruiser, had run out of stock. We’d written it soon after we arrived in New Zealand the first time, back in 1987 and it has been published by WW.Norton. After almost 18 years and several printings, some of the chapters seemed outdated. So we let it go out of print. But as we listened to the stories told by the first time voyagers we met, we realized that most of what we’d written in the Capable Cruiser was highly relevant. We watched first timers getting into what we called, the Venus Fly Trap of coral reef sailing, others setting sail without considering escape strategies for tight anchoring situations. We also saw them laughing at the worries they’d had before they set sail, worries about problems that never came to pass. By the time we were within cell phone range of New Zealand, I had half a notebook filled with ideas for updating Capable Cruiser including ten completely new chapters. Then there were plans for Thanksgiving dinner at our Kawau Island home which, over the previous 8 years had become a sort of tradition. I began thinking of how to contact everyone and let them know we would arrive home in time. Even though we still both admitted to a feeling of apprehension about ending this voyage, we now realized we had a very full plate of beginnings.
It was felt good to be sailing in familiar waters. This is one of the islands at the entrance to the bay of islands.
Even before we could see land, I checked my New Zealand cell phone to see if I could call a few friends. With the first strong signal, I checked the time and realized my 88 year old Mom would probably be in her apartment, getting ready to join her friends for lunch. She answered at the first ring saying, “I was expecting your call, I’ve got some news to share with you.” I was not surprised at her news. Though she was still an active person and in fact had just the previous week flown 500 miles to spend a weekend with her Great-grand daughter I had, during the three months we spent near her just before we set sail five months previously noticed that age definitely was showing its rough hand. Only 24 hours after checking in with customs and immigration (handled very nicely and warmly by the officials,) Taleisin was secured to a mooring at the boatyard of our friend Doug Schmuck (he’s the Doug of Doug’s Boatyard in Opua.) Larry and Doug already had plans to get our chain and anchor off and to the galvanizer and I was on my way to the airport.
When I look back at my Mom’s involvement and attitude towards the life I choose to live, I realized I was truly blessed. She urged me to go off and enjoy my life, but to try to include her and my late Dad when ever possible. They’d opened their arms to us when ever we came home, flew to visit us every few years, took care of our mail and telephone calls till it almost drove them crazy (an answering service solved that problem – should have thought if it earlier). Though as a good Jewish mother must, she often guilt tripped me about small things, “why don’t you cut your hair? Wear better clothes?” She never once suggested we stop our wandering ways. And now when I arrived to find she didn’t have the two or three months the doctor had promised, but only five days, she again made it clear our cruising life had been one she had enjoyed vicariously and would have loved or herself. Through the last few days of her life, Mom was in and out of reality. But on her last day she had a few lucid moments when she hugged me and said the things every daughter wants to hear, how proud she was of me and of Allen (my older brother) and Bonnie (my younger sister), how glad she was that I came to be with her, how wisely I’d chosen my mate. Her very last words though were ones I will truly cherish. Just before her mind began to wander she looked into my eyes and said, “And today you are even dressed nicely!” My mom had always loved jokes. The final joke of her life was, I had not brought many clothes with me and the ones I wore that day were all hers!
And here is the cooks view.
I flew back to rejoin Larry a week after I’d left, wearing the opal necklace my mother bought 25 years before when she and Dad flew down to visit New Zealand (to spend time with us), Tonga (to meet our Tongan family) and Australia (to buy a good opal). She’d shown it to me just before she flew home. She wore it almost every day for the next quarter century. I wear it now as I write this and ponder the endings of the past year, the beginnings that were seeded at the same time.
Lin and Larry