October was Visitor Month aboard the good ship Papillon. And it was really fun. But I am really tired. Having friends and family around is always a treat, but it also carries a responsibility. Not only are we trying to entertain the people we care about in our piece of floating aluminum, we are also trying to reassure them that a) we aren’t crazy for living on a boat, and b) see point a. This isn’t inherently difficult – anyone willing to visit us has either already wrapped their head around the peculiarities of onboard life, or they like us (read: the kids) enough to overlook the less comfortable bits. But still – we make the effort.
You never know how things are going to play out. Sometimes you get lucky. My parents visited us in the San Blas islands in Panama, and enjoyed two weeks of blue skies, warm days, and easy sailing from island to island. Sometimes your luck runs out. Erik’s parents spent last Christmas with us in New Zealand, and we had a gale for five solid days. We rolled in the fetch, drinking tea and wishing we could escape to shore. Soon the dodger saturated, so it was full-on raining in the cockpit. There we were, huddled belowdecks beside the diesel heater, with two wild-eyed kids high on pre-Christmas-excitement and gummy bears. Unsurprisingly, this year my in-laws have elected to give us a miss and visit Mexico instead. Lesson: don’t invite people to stay aboard anywhere with a good chance of bad weather.
New Caledonia is a pretty safe bet on the weather front. It is normally a perfect 25 C here (that’s about 80 F for you metric-haters), and while we often get strong winds, that just means more sailing, right? Perfect visitor conditions.
As we sat in the airport, waiting for our friend to arrive, Erik turned to me. “So,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “We’ll give Michael an hour to settle in, then we’ll sail north to Island X, do some snorkelling, head over to Island Y, and see if we can find a nice beach to make a campfire.”
I squinted at him. “Isn’t that exactly what we did with our friends last week?”
He looked shocked. “No, we went south!”
Erik finds it hard to understand that anyone might want a quiet vacation. He is one of those people who can’t sit still. At all. Ever. (This is why we own a boat – so he is never at a loss for projects). And when I gently try to explain that not everyone wants to swim over every reef in the Pacific, he looks at me like I am completely out of my head. For Erik, there are three things to do at the beach: 1. Depart on/return from a snorkel, 2. Light a fire and cook something over it, 3. Drink a beer and discuss the boats in the anchorage. Repeat steps 1-3 as needed. The idea of flying thousands of miles to read a book on the beach is well outside his solution set.
As planned, we sailed to Ilot M’be Kouen, and hung out on the tiny island as the girls romped around. Michael took this opportunity to burn the tops of his feet a fiery red. Back on Papillon, we clucked and scolded, and pressed bottles of aloe vera on him. I was not surprised when, after breakfast on Day Two, he turned down Erik’s snorkelling plans and announced he would stay on board.
Erik’s face fell. “You don’t want to go with us?”
“No, I have my book, I’ll be fine,” said Michael.
“Oh, come on. You’ll be so bored here.”
“No, thanks.” He turned on his Kindle, ignoring Erik’s hangdog look.
To my eyes, Michael looked perfectly happy. He had something to read and a galley full of food on a warm day in the tropics. Dugongs and sea turtles swam past at regular intervals. It’s all upside.
But I was alone in that opinion. As we motored away, Erik shook his head sadly. “I feel terrible for Michael. Stuck reading in the cockpit all day. Why did he have to burn his feet yesterday? He is missing out on everything, now.”
I didn’t answer, because I was now pondering the subtle significance of the the foot burn. Michael knows Erik well, and has been aboard before. Was the burn a planned event? His Get Out of Jail Free card? As we bounced over the waves, I mentally tipped my hat to him. We introverts have to make these small sacrifices to earn our quiet time. Well played, sir. Well played.
|Nothing to see here, just an awesome dugong swimming beside the boat.|
Snorkelling accomplished, I was sure a cookout couldn’t be far behind. We moved the boat to Baie Maa, and found it to be full of boats we knew. Sure enough:
The visit passed quickly; yesterday, we had to accept the inevitable and return to Noumea. It is an ironclad rule that Papillon only sails to places that are either directly upwind or downwind; obligingly, the wind shifted so we had it on the nose the entire sail home. A quick meal and a long drive later, and Michael was back at the airport.
“I hope he had fun,” said Erik as we drove away. He shook his head. “Burnt feet.”
The cruising life isn’t for everyone, and it is hard to give a complete picture of what we do in such a short space of time. But I do hope that, when they visit, our friends and family can understand a little of why we love living out on the water.
But they all need to bring better sunscreen next time.