Saturday, March 30, 2019

Completion of Our Circumnavigation

Sunrise on December 16, 2018, when we completed our circumnavigation, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
When I reflect on our recently-completed circumnavigation, the thought that recurs most often is that I must have been crazy to first, even consider such an undertaking and second, actually attempt it.  Who, in their right mind, would set sail from a wonderful home and community, towards the unknown that is fraught with perils?  Yet, at the same time, some of the memories of the remarkable experiences force me to shake my head in disbelief:  Did we really do those things?

My emotions are much more settled now that some time has passed since we crossed our outgoing track.  When Ruthie and I dropped Rutea’s anchor at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, very early on the morning of December 16, 2018, we fell into each other’s arms and sobbed.  Almost eight years, over 48,000 miles and 38 countries and we were back to where we had started.  The anxiety we felt as we were heading out of Punta de Mita eight years earlier was entirely justified – heading off to distant lands in a small sailboat where we’re completely on our own to find our way, make our repairs and be responsible for our own survival.  There would be no 911 to call if something happened and even if we could reach the Coast Guard in an emergency, there’s no way they could ever respond.  Not only did we survive, we flourished.
Hiva Oa, Marquesas

Police in Western Samoa
We did find our way, from the towering peaks of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas (they create their own weather and are almost always obscured by clouds) to the gin-clear water of the Tuamotus;  from the drop-dead gorgeous women of the Society Islands (even the men are remarkably handsome) to the skirt-wearing police (the ‘skirts’ are called ‘lava-lavas’ and they’re the official uniform) of the Samoas to the magical Kingdom of Tonga.  From the over-the-top friendly people in New Zealand to the kava rituals in Fiji;  from the very primitive Vanuatu Archipelago (also credited as the happiest people in the world) to Australia (where it seems like everything is trying to kill you).  
Orangutan, Kalimantan, Indonesia
Fussaru, Maldives
From the 14,000-island nation of Indonesia to the high-end shopping malls of Singapore;  from the multiple cultures of Malaysia to the delicious foods of Thailand (it was also very hot in Thailand – Bangkok is the warmest national capital in the world);  from the tea plantations of Sri Lanka (Ceylon became Sri Lanka in 1972) to the unrivaled water
clarity of the Maldives;  from the lemurs of Madagascar (the poorest
country we visited) to the amazing game parks of South Africa;  from the huge flamingo colonies of Namibia to the isolation of St. Helena Island in the South Atlantic and from there across the Atlantic, through the Caribbean to the United States.  If our transit of the Panama Canal hadn’t been so intense, we likely would have become emotional as we once again entered the Pacific.

Tanna Island, Vanuatu
The people we met (some who cried openly when we left), the vistas we saw (one evening we stood on the edge of an erupting volcano in Vanuatu), the wildlife we encountered (I got to hold hands with a wild orangutan in Borneo) – these things have produced profound and indelible memories.   However, I feel that what we learned about our planet, its inhabitants (both human and otherwise), it’s flora (both above ground and underwater) and the dangers we face as a civilization trying to survive have had the most substantial impact on me.
The unbelievable acts of kindness shown to us by complete strangers, many of them facing depressing levels of poverty, was both heartrending and an important lesson.  The child in Madagascar, clothed only in rags, who paddled a crude dugout canoe to give us a single lime as a gift of welcome expected nothing in return (we showered him with provisions from our stores).  I hope that I am now a more generous person.

Tom, Sonja and Keanu
While we were in the Maldives, we had the good fortune to meet a young cruising family where the parents were both marine biologists.  As we snorkeled and dove together in water with 20+ meters of visibility, they would explain what we were seeing and why.  When we marveled at the spectacular colors of the coral, they told us that it was a bad sign; that it meant the coral was dying.  Sure enough, not four weeks later, the only coral we could find was a dull brown and lifeless.  The loss of coral worldwide should frighten everyone as the delicate ecological balance has been severely tipped into a cataclysmic direction and its consequences, while yet unknown completely, could have drastic impacts on our future.

However, the anxiety of our planet’s future could be offset by the vibrancy of a
Port Antonio, Jamaica
local outdoor market, which is often the social networking places for a rural community.  Rows of vendors, selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables (you can buy eggplant almost anywhere in the world) to the latest CDs, would hawk their wares in a cacophony of shouting.  Even though we would usually buy far more than we needed, we don’t feel that anyone ever took advantage of us or our lack of knowledge of their monetary system.  Samples were continuously offered to us, making it difficult to refuse to buy some of their product.  We must have been laughable as we would waddle through the streets, overloaded with bags, perspiring in the tropical heat, making our way towards our dinghy.

Pacific Ocean

Indian Ocean
My spirits were also buoyed by the awesome hours, days and weeks of fabulous sailing.  I would get so excited being alone on watch in the earliest morning hours, a full moon reflecting on the wind-whipped sea,  the sails being ironed flat by the wind, the rigging groaning under the load, white caps crashing just off the stern, the boat charging ahead at hull speed and it being warm enough that I was comfortable just wearing a pair of shorts.  This was my bell ringing.  Of course, we spent a lot of time with very light winds and we motored far more than we would have liked.  Fortunately, we only rarely encountered strong winds and they never put us in any danger but they sure could make things uncomfortable.

At times, the frustrations we would face could be very demoralizing and I slowly learned to handle them better.  There were occasions when all you could do was laugh when one catastrophe would cascade into another, a domino effect that would leave us saying, “Why are we doing this?”  Since our boat is old and was built before the advent of many modern sailing conveniences, when builders still thought that making things heavy made them better, I would often struggle with my lack of upper body strength, trying to man-handle some recalcitrant component, my feeble attempts turning my frustration into rage.  I am still learning that if I set my expectations so that I’m aware that these battles are going to take place, I do better.  However, from time to time I still embarrass myself with childish tantrums and long streams of bad words.

I will be forever grateful to have had the time to spend with my daughter, Corie.  She was aboard for three years, leaving from San Diego with us and jumping ship in Singapore.  Her blog is fabulous as she’s a very skilled writer.  We got along extremely well and the bumps in our relationship along the way never did any lasting damage.  As an avid surfer, however, we were looking for two completely different conditions:  She was always looking for big seas and no wind while Ruthie and I were looking for wind with flat seas.  Regardless, our cross purposes never became a contested issue.

Sailing Around Cape Horn with Mark and Rosie
One of the aspects of our circumnavigation that will forever be treasured with the many people we met with whom deep, long-lasting friendships developed.  Virtually all of these friendships were with other
Beth and Norm
cruisers and while I wish we had met more local people, it rarely seemed to happen.  However, the intensity of our friendships with other cruisers, those with whom we had so many shared experiences, has left us with an enormous ‘family’ that we care about.  Many of these friends we’re in constant contact with and some have come to visit us and we have visited with others.

Isla San Benito, Mexico
I do not know how much long distance cruising Ruthie and I will do in the future.  It’s entirely possible that after we’ve been home a while an itch will develop that can only be scratched by once again casting off the dock lines and sailing towards the horizon but this remains to be seen.  On the other hand, I can easily imagine enjoying the company of family and friends from the comforts of our home and community.  Regardless of where we are, the memories of our travels will provide us with hours of reflection on a risk taken with a fabulous outcome and an important part of a life well lived.