Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Renewable Energy

When you start your day coated in vomit, you know things can only get better. This was a comforting thought for me, as I pushed aside a foul-smelling baby and heaved mightily into a red plastic bucket.

“Oooooh,” said Silas, impressed at the volume.

“Sit back and observe, youngster,” I told him. “You’re learning from a pro.”

“Da DA!” Silas crowed, then lunged at the bucket. “Di di di di di !” He flapped his hands, hoping to splash in the nice warm sauce his mother had made. When I yanked it away, he looked at me inquisitively. Where’s my rubber ducky? he seemed to be asking. Where’s my toy boat?

“Cool it, kid,” I told him. “It’s five o’clock in the morning. We don’t splash in our vomit ‘till at least lunchtime.” At the thought of lunch, I heaved again, then handed the bucket up to the cockpit so I could set about cleaning up the mess.

Sereia can be a tough boat to sail on. Though the winds never got above twenty knots on this last leg to Tauranga, they were right in our face. The water was tossed with a short, steep chop, the sort of conditions that make Sereia jerk to a halt, like an angry horse bucking her bridle. There was no question of cooking bacon and eggs for the crew, or even a hot cup of coffee. It was all I could do to roll up our curdled linens, get out fresh clothes for Silas, and pour myself into my foulies so I could stagger out on deck.

Poor Peter, with his cast-iron stomach, entertained the seasick baby down below. I stood on deck, breathed deep, and tried to collect myself.

It’s amazing how seasickness will change your perspective on things. Rolling green hills become nightmarish cliffs of desolation and despair. A delicate pink sunrise looks tawdry and fake. I concentrated on the horizon, imagining a cool glass of ice water, and swallowed to push down the nausea.

“Do you want me to helm?” asked Matt, and after awhile I was grateful to give over the wheel.

Every boat should be powered by eighteen year-old. They are cheap, enthusiastic, and apparently indefatigable. Matt’s our latest crewmember, a high school swim athlete from Connecticut. He’s good-natured and easy-going, both crucial qualities on a small boat. Also, he has British parents, so he sounds like a world-weary aristocrat in a Henry James novel. This is very good for Sereia’s rep. It makes us look yachty.

He can also sail. While Peter read stories to Silas, and I lay like a wet washcloth on the deck, Matt took the wheel, helming for at least eight hours straight with nothing to sustain him but youth and a small bag of trail mix. Even after the waters calmed, even after everyone felt better and Silas could be left alone for a few minutes without fear of projectile milk vomit, Matt still wouldn’t relinquish the helm. Peter finally had to wrestle it away from him so he could pilot our boat into the tide-ripped entrance, and find us a safe place to anchor.

Now that we’re safely moored in the shadow of Mt. Maunganui, we’ve been coaxing Matt to stay with us. We discovered the farmer’s market, and began plying him with fresh strawberries and asparagus, hearth baked breads and local artisanal cheeses. He’s agreed to help out while we round East Cape, but after that, he says he’s got to go. He’s got some lame excuse about wanting to “travel” and “see the South Island.” I don’t know what it was exactly. I didn’t really listen.

And so we sit in Mt. Maunganui, waiting for our weather window to Gisborne and pondering East Cape. Our cruising handbook isn't helpful. The section for our next passage has a particularly shrill introduction:


“Why’d they have to write it in all caps?” Peter asks, looking up from our laptop in disgust. “They just write it like that to scare people.”

“Well, we’re a well-found yacht, fully equipped to offshore standards,” I counter. “We should be fine. And we have experienced crew.” I smile sweetly at Matt, heaping a little more French toast on his plate.

“Yeah,” Peter mutters. “Except for Silas.”

Except for Silas. And that’s what it comes to, always. When I wake in the night, fear squatting like a toad in my throat, I touch Peter’s hand and I know he’s awake too.

It’s not us. We’ll endure just about anything to cut through the ocean, feel the stars at our fingertips, sail a stiff breeze. It’s Silas, our little boy who cracks his head against bulkheads and cries when his milk comes up the wrong way. He doesn’t understand. We are fearful for him.

When we round East Cape, we hope to do so at dawn. Because of the way the world’s time zones are drawn, we might be the first people on Earth to see the morning. I’ll bring Silas on deck, and point out the rising sun.

If he’s not too sick, he might even enjoy it.

Then there's the fact that Silas enjoys poking Matt's face when he's asleep. Maybe this is why our crew feels the sudden urge to travel.


  1. What a stunning anchorage! The market sounds lovely too. I always love reading about your adventures.

  2. Anal play and baby puke. I guess it's a life?

  3. That's a pretty funny video.
    Don't blame the bloke for jumping ship though.

  4. He'll get it out of his system (Silas, no pun intended bud) soon enough. part of the problem is he's just now becoming a two legs stead of a wriggle worm or a four legs. boys gonna have a few balance issues till his lit...big head gets it all sorted out. then your gonna have to pry him out of the rigging with a sling shot.

    your doing fine Mamma and Daddy.

  5. It takes more than a poke from a two-year old to wake Matt. Trust me - for many years I had to wake him up at 4:45 every morning for swim practice before school. Now if Silas used one of his toys as a hammer...

  6. There's only one account I can recall coming across of a sailboat rounding East Cape. Read it in a local sailing rag while doing laundry in a Auckland Marina.

    Yep, a "well founded" 35ft-ish boat. Apparently sailed by skilled sailors. And yes, it encountered "freak seas" and was knocked down.

    But Hey, pick your window and what the heck.

    Now I'll have to review your past posts to discover exactly WHY you're headed south of East Cape. Is it to get to Nelson and area? Other than that I can't think of a good reason.

  7. Antonia,
    Loved your article in Cruising World, Dec. 09., titled Beauty and the Boat. Just like our beloved sailing vessels, we should tend to our own maintenance on a regular basis. I am also glad to see another Antonia in the world. Happy sails!
    With regard, Antonia