One of the things I like most about living on a boat is that it gives you the ability to change your point of view…literally. Sometimes it is just the wind swinging the boat around a little while resting on anchor, offering you a slightly different angle on things. Sometimes you to move to a whole new neighbourhood and all the problems and tensions of the previous week suddenly come into perspective.
Although we enjoyed our time in Rabaul I didn’t realize how much being “in town” was stressing me out until we left. While we were there I was enjoying trolling the second-hand clothing/book shops, the interesting rides on the cheapo buses, the hum of the crowd at the local market, the faster-than-we’ve-had-it-for-a-long-while internet. Despite all the stories we’d heard about PNG we felt safe in Rabaul. In fact we felt safe enough that when Steve had to go away on business for 10 days I had no hesitation whatsoever staying on board by myself.
OK, I had a little hesitation but an audible motion detector in the cockpit (that scared the bejebus out of me when I got up to check the boat in the middle of the night and totally forgot it was on) and a baseball bat in bed seemed to soothe me.
But when Steve came home he knew something wasn’t right. He made it back for Hallowe’en but I hadn’t even mustered enough enthusiasm for my self-professed “favourite holiday” to even search the market for pumpkins. In fact I hadn’t even mustered all that much enthusiasm for his home coming.
I figured I was just completely drained. I had spent my time alone on board writing and completed two long articles and a solid proposal while he was away. Intense bouts of creativity like that often leave me feeling empty and I thought I just a needed a couple days to recharge. But almost a week came and went and I couldn’t find the reset button. I seemed to be falling further down the “difficult mood” rabbit hole, causing all sorts of troubles between us as I plummeted.
With the boat fully stocked and all the online work done we dropped our mooring and pointed the bow towards the Duke of York Islands, fully expecting to motor the 18 or so miles as there had been no wind for a week. But a light breeze filled in and we put up all the sails and suddenly were trucking along at 7 kts. Which felt ridiculously fast because we haven’t had enough wind to make more than 4kts in a very, very long time.
I felt myself lighten, slightly.
When we arrived at the Duke of York’s I stood on the bow as “spotter” as we entered the channel. As always when navigating unfamiliar waters near land one of us is the eyes, looking for uncharted reefs and hazards ahead and signalling back to the helmsman. I suddenly saw bottom, clearly and in detail and turned so Steve could give me the depth by holding up fingers. I estimated about 6 meters, still plenty of water but less than we should have been seeing I this pass.
He held up 1 finger, paused slightly and then flashed 8 fingers. 18 meters.
18 meters and I could count the arms on a mutant 6 armed blue starfish on the bottom. He smiled and gave a “thumbs up.” I smiled and gave the “thumbs up” right back.
The visibility lasted right to our anchorage where we found a HUGE sandy patch in 10M and dropped the hook right in the middle, burying it right up to the shackle. We were protected from the swell, there were no rocks to grind against in the middle of the night and no worries if the wind changed direction; we had plenty of swing room. I looked forward to a quiet night and enjoying a cup of coffee as I watched the sunrise over the palm fringed island in the morning.
As it turns out we had a big thunder storm that night and a major wind shift put us on a lee shore, and ever the worrier I alternated between pacing the cockpit and laying on the sofa. The boat, of course, didn’t budge but I woke up feeling like all my progress out of the rabbit hole of funk was washed away in a landslide of tired and cranky. I spent the morning complaining…about EVERYTHING.
About everything I missed (wearing jeans and knee high boots, the colour of the fall leaves, a REAL grocery store with carts and isles and food that wasn’t out of date, friends) and every mod-con we didn’t have (a shower with unlimited water, power we didn’t have to make/store/monitor, a dinghy that wasn’t haemorrhaging air, enough wind to sail even 3kts, a washing machine). I complained about the bugs, the heat, the locals, the fact that we hadn’t had a bonfire in so long that my hard won marshmallows were now a huge melted lump of sugar.
Steve just smiled and nodded. Then he packed me, our snorkelling gear and a few cold beers into the dinghy and took off at full throttle.
We zoomed around the large bay doing a little recon for new places to anchor and looking for a spot to swim. I have always found the white noise of the outboard comforting, something akin to how babies fall asleep in cars, and despite myself I started to smile. When we realized that we forgot to bring the dinghy anchor Steve ducked into a shady cove beside a little island and tied to an overhanging tree limb. I went for a swim and we enjoyed an icy beer while listening to the kingfishers chirp and the light breeze rustle the leaves above us. Then Steve spotted a dugong in the channel and we paddled over to try and get a closer look. As we neared I put on my mask and snorkelled and hoped we wouldn’t spook him. Or course we did, dugongs are notoriously shy, but I did slip into the water before he swam into the deep and caught a glimpse of him lounging about in the current. When I got back into the dinghy I was definitely in a WAY better mood than I had been in only an hour before.
Then, on the way back to the boat, we spotted a large pod of spinner dolphins playing around in the bay. Steve approached at high speed hoping we’d be fast enough that they would come and play in the small pressure wave on the bow of the dinghy. Surprisingly they did! Still damp I suited up and jumped in, managing to swim with about 20 wild dolphins for 2-3 minutes before they took off for the lunch that we rudely interrupted.
That afternoon, while enjoying our ritual a sundowners in the cockpit, I admitted that had been acting like a spoiled child and that I really didn’t need hot water, unlimited internet or weather cool enough to wear a sweater. Steve, ever wise, assured me that “If you get to eat lobster every day you would eventually crave a hamburger.”
We’ve been in the Duke of York’s for 2 weeks now and everyday it seems to get better.
This is how clear the water is.
The people have been SO friendly that some days I feel like we spent half our time waving at passers-by.
The other night we had 5 dugongs swimming around the boat at sunset, including this Mother and Calf.
The next day I again got to swim with them, this time the Mom and baby turned and circled ME, checking me out from only 3-4M away before leisurely swimming a safe distance away to surface for air.
We have packed our snorkel gear and a picnic and gone on a dinghy adventure almost every day. We purposely forget the anchor and have found so many amazing places with overhangs or rocks to tie the dinghy to.
We have, for the first time in more than a year, been able to swim without the very real threat of crocodiles, in water that is both warm and breathtakingly clear.
Perhaps most importantly we have rediscovered why we love our life on board, and all it took was changing our point of view.