A few weeks ago I flew to Rarotonga for a wedding that didn’t happen (run-away bride, but that’s another story.) Rarotonga, the capital of the Cook Islands, is right along the so called “Milk Run”. But on the chart and from the description in the Sailing Directions, the only possible anchorage didn’t appear to be terribly inviting. So though we had previously sailed close by on three different occasions, we had not chosen to call in. Now, as a visiting tourist I had to get on the local bus and take a ride right around the island to see what Larry and I had missed.
When I reached the port area I jumped off and walked down to where three yachts lay secured, facing toward the sea, bow to a mooring, stern lines stretched across fifty feet of water to bollards on the town quay. I found a bench to sit on as I contemplated other places we’d missed as we voyaged, missed because of choices forced on us by weather concerns, seasonal concerns, seamanship concerns. We’d had to by-pass so many possible destinations during our voyaging years. And as we cruised it was often hard to avoid wondering if we might have missed something unforgettable, possibly life changing. This concern was fanned not only by our own imaginations but by other cruisers who would say, “whatever you do, don’t miss….” Then they would go on to tell us about unforgettable destinations highlighted by stories of their wonderful encounters and experiences.
When we were headed from Scotland’s Outer Hebrides towards Norway we’d missed sailing to the Lofoten Islands where other sailing friends told us they’d been taken right into community life and given a chance to sail on longships little different than those sailed by the Vikings who discovered Greenland. We’d missed sailing to the Vanuatu where I’d have had a chance to watch a volcano spewing fire into the night skies, and to dive among the WWII planes and vehicles which had been shoved into the sea just off Million Dollar Point. Though we came within 150 miles of Chagos Archipelago, with its deserted atolls and amazing diving, we missed it too. The list of places we missed could go on for pages. But as I sat watching the yachts at Avatiu dancing to the swell that rolled through the anchorage I began thinking of the opposite side of that coin.
If we’d sailed to Lofoten, we’d have missed the Wooden Boat festival in Risør where more than 200 stunning boats arrived from all parts of Norway and other northern European and Scandinavian countries, their multinational crew eager to race and socialize. We met dozens of local sailors who included us in their summer sailing plans then tried and almost convinced us to stay the whole winter through so we could ski along paths all the villagers worked to keep clear for visiting each other.
We lay hove to just 100 miles to the east of Chagos, unwilling to take the risks posed by running before gale force winds and blinding rain through the reef strewn waters surrounding its inviting atolls. Egged on by other cruisers stories of the relaxed weeks and even months they’d spent there, we were determined to visit and lay waiting for three days hoping the weather would improve. Finally we gave up and turned south for Rodriquez Island, a place we would otherwise have missed. The weather cleared, we arrived in Rodriquez just as a United Nations commission was working toward improving the lives of local fisher men and women. We were invited to join in and among the commissioners were some of the people who later added immensely to our time in southern Africa.
When the approach of the cyclone season forced us to choose between heading north of the equator towards Vanuatu or south of the cyclone zone towards New Zealand, we let a toss of a coin make the choice for us. If that coin had come up tales, we might not have found the perfectly protected spot where we eventually built up a home-base and boat repair yard, one which we returned to between voyages and where I now live full time. (Click here to see more about my home base in this short video from the TV New Zealand series, Neighbourhood.)
As I sat on the waterfront at Avatia thinking about places we’d missed, the places we’d chosen to visit instead, I was reminded of an important truism, one I often share with potential cruisers who worry about the risks inherent in their decision to cut the ties of land and head off on a sailing adventure; No matter how many things you do in your life, each choice you make means you are going to miss out on a million other possibilities. But making no choice at all might mean you miss out on even more.
Note, I hope to meet up with some of this summer in the USA.
At The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival I will be at the authors tent near the Sail Loft between seminars. http://nwmaritime.org/wooden-boat-festival/
In Annapolis, look for me at booth M5 next to the Gin Barge. With me will be Behan Gifford, one of the authors of Voyaging with Kids. I will be part of Cruising Worlds Friday seminar series at the show http://www.annapolisboatshows.com/united-states-sailboat-show/
Also at Annapolis, I will have Tom Doherty of Cardinal Publishers Group with me at booth M5. He is looking for potential nautical book projects. http://cardinalpub.com/product-category/nautical/
During the Annapolis Fall Cruisers University following the boat show, I will be presenting three seminars, Storm preparation, Storm Tactics; Creating the Unstoppable Boat and Writing, Blogging, Video – how to make it pay. http://www.annapolisboatshows.com/cruisers-university/