To my loving family and great friends around the world, thanks for your care and support! We are safe, we are well, and we are underway again. It seemed for a while that we were stationary, tangled in a Sargasso Sea of endless repairs and fruitless struggles, but perhaps we were ‘underway’ all along. As one thoughtful friend noted, you can’t really have an adventure if nothing ever happens to you! Words to live by. So now our transmission is transmitting, our refrigeration is refrigerating and the myriad of other odds & ends projects like rebuilding the head (toilet) patching the spinakker, stitching the mainsail and many, many others have finally been ended. The immigration service, known to me only as ‘Monsieur le Haute Commissaire,’ has been mollified with numerous letters and reams of documentation so we have a brief time to experience the Society Islands before our twice-modified visa extensions expire. Ultimately, we spent seven weeks at the dock in Tahiti.
Since leaving Papeete we’ve had several days exploring the lush, tropical islands of Moorea, Huahine and now Tahaa. There’s been incredible snorkeling with myriads of colorful fish and spotted eagle rays (in one instance, thirteen of them!) flying in formation. In Haapiti (West Moorea) we had a couple days of surfing in hollow waves breaking on treacherous coral reef. Forever etched on my brain is a moment of terrifying beauty and clarity as I looked down the glassy barrel of ‘my wave’. Yesterday we sailed into the lagoon in Tahaa and had just enough time for an evening kiteboarding session; turquoise water below, an artist’s rendition of a colorful sunset sky above. We saw pods of whales fishing and breaching up-close. We even caught a couple fish during our inter-island sails: a nice Bonita and a Wahoo small enough to receive our gratitude and be released on good behavior (my cousin Sal will be thrilled). The kids are finding a good balance of school and fun. Sarah is avidly focused on marine biology and learning Japanese. Sean, interested in nautical engineering, is focused intently on math, physics and beginning French. I am deeply in love with my beautiful wife and, unlikely as it may seem, she loves me too. Life is good.
Although there’s no sense in dwelling on the negative, the analyst in me wants to better understand how we became tangled in that Sargasso Sea in the first place, and how we got out. The details are specific to our voyaging lifestyle, but the basics are applicable to life. What happens when you are presented with a fairly long string of bummers? What can you do when, despite all efforts to avoid and resolve them, more bummers just keep coming? I still don’t know, but here are a few thoughts on the matter.
We humans are naturally inclined toward pattern recognition. It’s in our genetic code. Therefore, it’s easy to understand how we come to perceive and focus on naturally occurring patterns in our lives, like a series of negative events for example. Once we recognize a pattern it often becomes what we see. Our minds work to resolve the pattern amidst the chaos of other events in our lives. There are likely other patterns happening simultaneously, but they exist in periphery because our minds work so hard to identify the primary threat. This is the classic example of perception becomming reality, and I believe it is partly what pulled my adventuring spirits down during our difficult time in Papeete.
During this time I had the pleasure of meeting a uniquely positive person, the visiting parent of a young cruising friend. She wasn’t any more or less fortunate than anyone else, she was simply more positive. She seemed naturally inclined to identify the positive, hopeful patterns in life just a bit more than the average bear. Although our interaction was brief, it was for me a timely occurrence that helped me to ‘flip the switch,’ allowing our own series of negative events to slip into periphery while I chose to identify a more positive pattern. What I saw was a loving, caring network of amazing people in my life whom I am honored to know and love in return. I think it’s pretty incredible that we have the power to choose what patterns we see in our lives, and that those perceptions become our reality.
Around the same time I had another paradigm-shifting thought. It’s heavy, so hang tough. The Buddha, said “life is suffering; the key is attachment.” I wasn’t there, but that’s what they tell me. During our difficult time in Papeete this quote kept coming to mind. Life is suffering, I am struggling, what a bummer! But what I love about this initially depressing phrase is the beauty and simplicity of the hopeful message it contains. One could argue, perhaps, that the human condition is to suffer, to stress, to fear and to struggle. We certainly do a fair bit of these things in pursuit of our petty lives. However, the thought that we alone hold the key to release ourselves from the bonds of suffering by identifying and releasing our attachments is powerfully human, and ultimately empowering. In this case I was attached to the ideas that I should be completely in control of my life, that I should be able to prevent all negative events, and that it’s unfair to have such a long and costly string of problems. Once I was able to see how desperately I was clinging to these points and let them go, there was no more struggle, only forward steps.
At the moment, our forward steps take us farther westward, toward the Cook Islands, Tonga and ultimately New Zealand, where we plan to spend about five months exploring and waiting-out the Southern Hemisphere cyclone season. Looking ahead to a more-or-less stationary voyaging environment, and contemplating what our subsequent plans will be brings up plenty of questions about our next career steps and how (and if) we might return, someday, to lives ashore. For the moment, all we can do is have faith and trust that everything will work out as it should. We are living today, and life is good.