On the evening of 31st October 2016, after one week at sea, with Talulah Ruby III (Andy and Paul) just ahead of us and whom we hadn’t seen until the start of this passage since first meeting them in Bonaire in 2014, we arrived safely in Opua, New Zealand after a very tiring and difficult passage. While we looked forward to a good night's sleep, the temperatures had, however, plummeted. It didn’t take us long to realise that the only way we were going to stay warm was to actually sleep together in the same cabin. It was snug alright, but at least we got the well deserved rest we both needed. What struck us though, as we snuggled, was the silence. After the roar of the ocean and wind in our ears for a week, the silence was remarkable.
The next day we woke to a bitterly cold morning, with a thick mist hanging over the water. It was definitely time to unpack all our winter woollies. Unfortunately poor Roy had no long pants to wear, so he had to improvise with “long johns” under his shorts. Definitely not very fashionable, but at least he was warm.
Once we were given the all clear from biosecurity, customs and immigration, we manoeuvred to the fuel dock to fill up with diesel and water as well as give Paw Paw a much needed and well deserved freshwater wash down. Then it was off to our prearranged mooring ball, where we spent the rest of the day returning Paw Paw to a home and packing away all of our safety gear for the season.
We did, however, realise that we definitely needed a new sleeping arrangement if we were to survive the summer in New Zealand. Yes, you read correctly, the summer! So, another first; we hauled out our spare blankets and ran the central heating. After fifteen years in Arizona and three years in the tropics, the very cold weather was definitely an unexpected shock!
Given that the weather remained miserable during our first few weeks in New Zealand and being told that it would probably remain that way until the new year, we decided it would be best for Elaine to spend her time in a cold climate with family and visit the UK en route to Arizona, instead of waiting until January to do so, when the better weather was expected in New Zealand. The icing on the cake with this new plan would be Christmas and New Year with Keenan, Brooke and the grandchildren. Definitely the makings of a wonderful holiday season!
The only outstanding matter then was to get Elaine’s injured ankle seen to. So, with the doctor’s examination and assessment of her ankle completed, a set of exercises received from the physiotherapist to tide her over during her travels and having completed all the jobs which required both of us to be onboard, the long journey to visit family and friends commenced; A four hour bus trip to Auckland, followed by another hour to the international airport. From there a seventeen hour flight to Dubai, followed by another eight hour flight to London. Although the initial intention was to complete a circumnavigation by crossing the world's oceans on a yacht, it seemed Elaine would, instead, complete her first circumnavigation by air.
Elaine arrived in the UK safe and sound after a very pleasant journey, largely due to the type of aircraft, the A380 and the airline, Air Emirates. Although she was definitely rather nervous to fly on this huge aircraft, having the additional space and comfort outweighed any reservations. Couple that with the service provided, which, without a doubt, put the panache back into flying and the fact that, on both flights, she was fortunate enough to have open seats next to her, made for a very pleasant experience all round.
As planned, Justine was at Heathrow to greet Elaine and before long Elaine had enjoyed a nice hot shower that didn't have to be "army style", had had a bite to eat and was snuggling with Judy (Justine and Paul’s dog) in front of a toasty log fire, catching up on all the news, since last seeing Justine and Paul some 16 months previous in Guadeloupe. She was later soothed to sleep by the sounds of the neighbourhood owl. Oh, the joys of the little things in life! There was, however, one point during the night when she woke up and had absolutely no idea where she was. Once the initial panic had passed after she was eventually able to think through the fog of sleep, she went straight back to dreamland. Unfortunately, while Elaine savoured this little slice of heaven, Roy was still freezing in New Zealand as another storm hit.
It seemed while “time waited for no man” and our visits to England, Ireland and America simple flew by, there was, however, one common theme with each visit. Over a delicious meal and great wine, enjoying the warmth and laughter in the company of loved ones, the years in between seemed to melt away as the chatter continued into the wee small hours, closing the miles that had separated us. It is these moments, regardless of the different directions our lives take us, that are priceless and it is these simply activities that are truly treasured!
In England, Elaine enjoyed a fabulous bubble bath by candlelight accompanied by a glass of wine; making liqueur chocolates from the berries which Justine had fermented for a year to make Damson Gin; a trip to one of the local supermarket which resulted in a purchasing frenzy of jam doughnuts, Galaxy chocolate, copious amount of assorted cheeses, JC Le Roux champagne and Pinotage red wine; a road trip to meet Ann halfway between Cheshire and Warwickshire in the quaint English town of Newport, where we enjoyed a mid-morning coffee, followed by a lunch of Fish Pies at the Tea Room of the an old Tudor home, Smallwood Lodge; eating the fruits of Justine's labour prepared for friends and family who came to visit; snooping around Yew Tree Craft Centre for some early Christmas shopping; visiting the King's Head in Aston Cantlow for Sunday dinner, following which Rachel popped in to say hello and, as if that wasn’t enough to spoil her, getting treated to afternoon tea with clotted cream scones by Maureen at Wyndley Garden Centre, as well as seeing their fabulous Christmas display. With that, the wonderful week which Elaine spent in England came to a close and it was time to continue west.
While the flight to Ireland was straight forward enough, the coach ride from Belfast to Newcastle seemed to stop at every tree. With every passing mile Elaine's excitement grew and, eventually, she was hugging her sister, Dianne, nephew, Luke and her parents. One hug, however, just didn't seem to be enough, so she went back for seconds, to be sure, to be sure! Lazy days were occupied with walks to Froth for mid-afternoon cappuccinos and carrot cake; light lunches at Maud's Café; dinner at The Strand or enjoying a delicious fire oven pizza at Picollo Kitchen.; meeting everyone at Shimna's Café for afternoon treats and then returning home with Dianne, where the chatter continued over dinner and late into night; walking to town with her parents in search of that perfect Christmas gift; spending a Sunday night at the Buurendale Hotel to enjoy Finbarr’s singing; being inspired by the Christmas decorations along main street, to then spend an afternoon "decking the halls" at home. On the crisp, sunny days, strolls along the seafront to enjoy the views of the clearly visible coastline all the way around towards Tyrella and the Lighthouse on the peninsula were the order of the day and, on more than one occasion, being the lucky charm for the last of the "high rollers" at Kent Amusement Centre. Faces beamed with delight, as the slot machines spilled their guts one by one. The highlight was Elaine's dad sharing the wealth after he won £80 on a 4p spin of the wheel that landed on the five 7s jackpot. A road trip to Belfast and a day of luxury topped off the visit to Ireland. The journey commenced on the Goldline Coach from Newcastle, following which we were collected by Elaine's Uncle Victor in his luxury sedan. Elaine's Aunty Betty was at home to greet us and once all the cheerful hellos and Christmas gift exchanges were out of the way, we were treated to a two course meal that could have been served in any 5-Star hotel. Absolutely delicious!
There was one meal, however, that didn’t quite turn out as expected. It was Elaine’s turn to cook, so Dianne was coming up to the folk’s place for good ol’ “bangers and mash”. There was just one small problem we had all forgotten about and didn't remember until we were standing in the reception area of the Fold; The elevator was out of order and Dianne can't use stairs, so there was no way she could get to our parent's flat on the top floor.
After the initial panic, it became a case of: "Oh well, if Dianne can't get to the mountain, we'll bring the mountain to her". So, while the dinner table was setup in the common room, Elaine prepared the meal in her folks’ flat and brought it down the stairs, much to the curiosity of all the other residents. As they say in South Africa: "A boer maak a plan!"
Although Elaine’s time in Ireland was drawing to a close, we received word that Keenan had passed the second stage of his interview process and, aside from the usual background checks, received his offer of employment from Delta Airlines. It is staggering that, at his tender age, he would be flying for a major airline. What an achievement! So while celebrations took place across the globe, Irish Mead was the choice of drink for the celebrations in Ireland.
Discovered by the Irish monks in the middle ages, Mead soon made its way into the courts of the Four Kings of Ireland. Although this honey-based drink was believed to have powers of virility and fertility and became custom for a bride and groom to drink it for one full moon after their wedding, hence the word "honeymoon" and is still tradition in Ireland today to toast a bride and groom with a glass of Mead, we decided, that a drink fit for kings, was good enough for our celebrations.
It was, however, when calling Roy and Keenan to chat that evening that Elaine realised just how bizarre our lives had become. Within a space of half an hour she had spoken to Roy, who was starting his Thursday morning. Then to Keenan, who was starting his Wednesday morning, while Elaine enjoyed her dinner on Wednesday evening; we had certainly topped our endeavours to complicate our lives as much as we possibly could!
A few days later, it was, however, time for the evitable, tearful goodbyes, but Elaine had plenty to look forward to. She was on her way to see all her sweethearts and meet our new twin grandsons.
Similar to the bus ride from Belfast to Newcastle, the flight to Phoenix seemed to take forever, but eventually Elaine landed and Brooke was at Phoenix Sky Harbour to meet her together with William, Carter and Brayden. Although all three babies were fast asleep, seeing them was one of those moments in life, while surreal, remains imprinted in one’s memory forever.
It is difficult to describe our time in Arizona. “Mayhem”, “bedlam”, “chaotic”, are words that don’t even begin to describe life with one month old twins and an eighteen month old. Add a new puppy to the mix and all hell broke loose on a daily basis. It was, literally, raining babies! The long days were compounded by very late nights, since the only time we could spend with Keenan was when he arrived home from his "night shift" job. Unfortunately working two jobs was a necessity, but significantly reduced our precious time with him.
Days started bright and early to let the puppy out for his toilet functions and then it was all hands on deck to begin the endless cycle of feeding, burping, changing nappies, doing laundry, preparing meals etc. At the beginning we were feeling brave enough to take the whole family to run errands, do some Christmas shopping or just enjoy a light lunch somewhere. That idea soon faded when getting three babies and a child, never mind ourselves, ready would take hours and then, no sooner had we piled everyone into the SUV and secured all the car seats, it would be time to start the process all over again. Actually getting done what we set out to do became a major achievement and we soon came to the conclusion that “divide and conquer” or the “tag team” approaches worked far better. That, of course, also meant Grandma was left in charge of the “nuthouse” on more than one occasion, which in itself, was an indication of the desperation. Fortunately Grandpa arrived a few weeks later and the look on Roy's face at the sight of all of us piled into the SUV when we pulled up to the curb, was priceless. The only words he managed to mutter were: "Jeez like!", but his grin stretched from ear to ear. At least that meant there were now three adults on hand, basically each taking a baby for the day. It got to the point where we were comparing notes on how well we were doing based on which baby performed for the day or not. Sad, but true!
There were, however, two particular outings worthy of note. One to the San Tan Village Mall and the other to Chandler Fashion Centre, which on hindsight, we can actually wonder what on earth we were thinking. On the trip to the San Tan Mall, our first stop was an orthodontic appointment for Brooke, but since we arrived a few minutes late, she was bumped and had to wait. By then all the babies were screaming for food, so it was a quick pit stop at a fast-food drive-through to get some food for William and feed the babies. By then it was time to collect Capri from school and, by this stage, three hours had passed and we were still no closer to the mall. We eventually made it four hours after leaving the house.
Our next stop was the Apple store in order to purchase an iPad for Roy, where their process just exacerbated everything. First we needed to register to get any kind of help, but we had to find somebody who could take us to the person who does the registrations. After an endless wait, the person doing the registration eventually approached us. It was at this point in the process, that we were asked for the first time what we needed. Once that was established, we were allocated to a specialist. Then another endless wait for the specialist before we were able to conduct our business, but not before we were handed off to yet another individual who retrieved the iPad from the storage area. If we had perhaps needed help in setting up the device, we would have been allocated to yet another specialist. By now we were definitely starting to wonder whether the word "smart" applied only to the device that we were purchasing and not to the people who had simply lost the plot. A few days earlier we had attempted to purchase the iPad at another Apple store and thought we had just picked a quirky store, especially when the attendant thought it was a brilliant idea that we go for a cup of coffee, after waiting thirty minutes for the specialist. In essence, a ten minute process ended up taking close to an hour while the various specialists spent their time chitchatting to each other.
Of course, by now, all the babies were screaming for food again and we still had to visit another electronics store and jewellers. By the time we reached the Red Lobster restaurant for our early evening dinner, we were all in desperate need of alcohol, never mind lobster!
Being suckers for punishment, the fiasco was repeated again, only this time it took us three hours to actually get out of the house and another hour to get to Chandler Fashion Centre, where Roy headed in one direction, Brooke and the twins in another and Elaine enjoyed the remainder of the morning in the play area with her little man, William. It didn't take long before Brooke returned to the play area totally defeated and both babies screaming again. Once a semblance of normality returned, we decided the best course of action was lunch at the Wildflower, where we met Roy, who had managed a very successful morning of shopping.
Next up was Elaine's eye appointment, but given that we were running really late, we needed to make alternative arrangements to have Capri collected from school. We did, however, have one last attempt at purchasing a few blouses for Elaine and a dress each for Brooke and Capri. This was only achieved though by leaving Roy in the car with the babies while the ladies charged around the store like mad women, before we all headed home utterly shattered and at our wits end.
In between all this mayhem, we did, however, enjoy endless cuddles with the twins; days in various playgrounds with William, and Grandma did find the energy to enjoy a girlie "sleepover" with Capri. The Christmas cheer didn’t escape us either, although getting a traditional Christmas dinner on the table was definitely going to be a challenge; one we all decided against and, instead, opted for a simpler roast dinner which we got to eat in some degree of peace and quiet. The Christmas festivities started with the Christmas concert at Capri’s school, where children of all ages serenaded us with various Christmas carols. Then it was time to "deck the halls" and put up the Christmas tree. Unfortunately, Capri will remember her first Christmas helping Grandma as the one where she stood up too quickly in her excitement, hit her head on the shelf in the corner where we had positioned the tree and toppled over all the family picture frames, which then promptly landed on her head.
On Christmas Eve, although the weather had turned stormy and very cold, Roy and Keenan spent the day building the "Jungle Jim", which was a Christmas gift for the children. To ensure it was a Christmas morning surprise for Capri, Brooke took Capri out for a “girlie” day of shopping, dinner and a movie. Elaine enjoyed her day with the twins, which was then followed by a relaxed and peaceful Christmas Eve overall; a Christmas wish had been granted!
We were woken up bright and early on Christmas morning to the squeals of delight from Capri and William who came charging into our bedroom, proclaiming that Santa had arrived and there were "loads of presents" under the tree and it was "time to get up". It was indeed the start of a very special morning, especially seeing William's little face lit up with smiles and laughter coupled with his garbled words of excitement.
For a family that intended to keep Christmas inexpensive and simple, we didn't do too badly at all. The first gift that was spotted before we even got downstairs, of course, was the "Jungle Jim" in the garden, but unfortunately, because it was raining, playtime was postponed. There were plenty of other gifts though to keep everyone contented.
Other activities that we managed to squeeze in with the family during our visit included a few games of corn hole in the back garden, a few early dinners at some of our favourite restaurants around town, a family photo shoot and a birthday celebration at Nando’s Mexican Restaurant, which was supposed to be followed by "crazy bingo". By the end of dinner though, we were all falling asleep in our plates, so the decision was taken to skip the bingo and head home. “So much for the last of the “party revellers”!
We did get to enjoy a few outings on our own as well, but unfortunately, since these were limited, we were unable to see many of our friends. We did, however, enjoy a delicious meal at Zeeburger in down town Gilbert with Joe and Lisa and on another occasion a dinner with them at our favourite restaurant, DC Steakhouse, in down town Chandler, prior to which we enjoyed the Christmas Lights and drinks in the lobby of the San Marcos hotel in front of a roaring fire, then met Joe and Lisa at The Ostrich, a sleep-easy, that had opened a few weeks earlier. We also met Rob, whom we hadn’t seen for a few years, at Kona Grill in the San Tan Village Mall, where the afternoon slipped away as we shared stories over a light lunch and some drinks. Elaine also enjoyed a "girlie" luncheon with Lisa at the Queen Creek Olive Mill, a locally operated gourmet market and restaurant, featuring locally produced olive oil and specialty foods plus mill tours.
Although an immensely hectic time, it was a very special Christmas Season for us and we were reluctantly acknowledging that the heart-wrenching goodbyes were imminent. While we looked forward to getting "home" and back to our vagabond life, we were, nonetheless, grateful that we had the opportunity to spend this time with our loved ones.
Getting home proved to be a bigger challenge than we had envisaged. Having been bumped off the international leg of our flight from Phoenix to New Zealand on 28th December 2016, we spent the next two days "stuck" in San Francisco, given that the next available flight was only on the 30th December. Fortunately we managed to get a room for the two nights in a hotel called Aloft, a rather retro / funky establishment, full of young, hip individuals. Needless to say we were definitely the "old farts" there, but none of them have sailed across an ocean, so, old or not, we made the best of our stay.
Since we were going to miss New Year’s Eve altogether, by crossing the International Date Line again, we decided on an early celebration with drinks at the Marriot Hotel, followed by a delicious dinner of Cioppino, a local San Francisco fish stew. Our “Take 2" on using Keenan's flight benefits actually paid off and our "return on investment" eventually started to materialise:
· Business class ticket to Auckland $5500USD
· Economy class ticket to Auckland $1200USD
· Cost of flight training $xxx,xxxUSD
· Flying business class for $250USD, priceless!
So, as we flew in style across the Pacific, our touchdown in Auckland, New Zealand, signified the fact that Elaine had become a circumnavigator, albeit by air. While we are both semi-circumnavigators by sea and much prefer the freedom of sailing our own yacht, flying business class or, for that matter, first class, is certainly the way to go.
Arriving on New Year’s Day though meant no intercity busses were operating, so, getting back to Paw Paw was going to have to wait yet another night. After securing a down town, inexpensive hotel, our sight-seeing adventures started sooner than we had anticipated. While we didn't have the opportunity to enjoy any New Year's Eve celebrations as the clock struck midnight, since we were too early for the celebrations in the USA and too late for those in New Zealand, we did, however, thoroughly enjoy our New Year's Day along the waterfront.
Auckland was a lovely surprise with its eclectic mix of beautiful old and new buildings, along with its numerous bars, cafés and restaurants. Of course, that meant a pub crawl. First stop, The Conservatory as we slowly made our way to the Viaduct Grill for an early dinner, before heading back to the hotel for an early night. It was a rather bizarre New Year, but memorable nonetheless!
At last, we were eventually on the final stretch of our journey. Of course, Murphy was just waiting to pounce and pounce he did. Although we had requested two tickets for the coach ride to Paihia, the booking agent had only reserved one seat and the bus was full. After a mad scurry, a "no-show" gave us the extra seat we so desperately needed. With that panic over and under bright sunny skies, we enjoyed the scenic ride to Paihia and back to Paw Paw.
Our arrival in Paihia revealed a very different destination from the one we had all left behind some weeks earlier. It was teaming with tourists, the beaches were crammed, people were swimming and it was 31C; A far cry from the freezing, stormy conditions that welcomed us to New Zealand just two months earlier. With groceries in hand and back on our beloved yacht, we settled down to a wonderful evening; Champagne and strawberries to ring in the New Year properly, followed by a barbecue. True sayings indeed: "Home is where the heart is" and "There is no place like home"!