It is hard to believe that yet another year has passed and we are rapidly getting deeper into the century. The beginning of new year is a time when I try and remember everything that has happened to us during the past year and think about what might happen in the year ahead. The remembering part is becoming harder and this might be because that so much has happened or it could be that I have lost a few more brain cells during the year in which I turned fifty.
Katya and I welcomed in 2014 in the San Juan islands near Seattle, spending it with the wonderful friends we made during our stay in Friday Harbour from September 2013 to May 2014. Jude was sadly not with us but she was spending her New Years celebrations with her parents in Sydney.
Jude returned from Australia in April and we set sail for our second season cruising in Alaska in early May. Alaska, and all the way up through British Columbia, is the most spectacular area to cruise which is why we chose to complete the journey for a second time having done it in 2013.
People think of Alaska as cold and wet, which it certainly can be, but it is not that bad, with a climate not that different to Washington or the UK, I fact I will go so far as to say that our experience is that the summers there were better than the ones I remember from the UK. Yes there was rain but we had more days of sunshine. It never really got that cold but I did wear shorts and T shirts for much of the time. I never owned, or wore, a T shirt in England!
The scenery in Alaska is absolutely breathtaking and the wildlife is abundant. You truly feel like you are close to nature. Having seen many of the sites last year our trip this year did not quite have the wow factor that last years trip gave us but that is only to be expected. The first time you do anything that is new and adventurous is always the best.
The anchorages in Alaska are exceptional. It's not hard to find a truly protected place to drop the hook and find flat calm water even if the wind is blowing 25-30 outside in the channel. From small coves with enough room for one or two boats to wide open bays with steep mountain backdrops Alaska has it all. Yes the anchorages have their own challenges: deep water, steep drop offs and a long way from amenities but you quickly get used to any enjoy those elements.
We enjoyed all the wonderful seafood we caught in Alaska: halibut, cod, rock fish, salmon and the excitement we felt when you drag up a pot of delicious Dunganess crab or large spotted prawns and ate them fresh.
The Alaskan wildlife is exactly that, wild. Hardly a day went by when we did not see a bear, either Grizzly or black. The same goes for whales. we got close up, seeing them leap in the air and bubble feeding. It was like being on a wildlife program all the time we were there.
As we headed south from Alaska we wondered if we would come back and if so when. We could certainly see ourselves visiting again but it's impossible to say when given the difficulties of getting back in a boat. We fell in love with the place, the people and the wildlife and I feel privileged to have seen it up close and personal and to share it with our family and friends.
The saddest event of the year was the passing of Jude's father Yeffim in June. He had been ill for sometime and Jude had spent the winter with him in Australia but after only a few weeks back from Aus he took a turn for the worse and passed away while Jude was flying back from Ketchikan to see him. It has been a hard few years for Jude being in the USA while her father was ill and her sister looked after him. He was a wonderful man, a great character and will be greatly missed but we can feel him with us as we continue our life's journey. He helps us navigate the seas safely, catch the fish, and we hear his voice when others sing their songs. He is our ethereal passenger and we enjoy his company.
Another very sad event was the tragic loss of my very dear friend Paul. I had known Paul since the age of eleven when we were in the same school. We shared many wonderful experiences through his life and he was responsible for introducing me to Jude for which I am eternally grateful. We now feel so sad for his wife Victoria and the hardship she must be experiencing after his death. It's difficult to come to rationalize his death, so few people get taken by sharks in the world that the odds for it happening are so slim. But our friends all thought that if Paul was going to go it would not be in any slight mundane way but he made an international splash in all the newspapers. I think about him often and recall many of those shared experiences and wish I could see him again but his passing is also a reminder to us all that life is short and can be shorter for some than others. We should therefore remember to make the most of our time for as the saying goes " life is not a rehearsal"
We had a few guests stay with us in 2014. My father joined us for 4 weeks in Alaska. I was so pleased he made the long journey to see us and suffer some of the deprivations of living and traveling on a sailboat in Alaska. He is a brave man. Jude's niece and her friend also joined us in Alaska having just finished school and at the start of their gap year adventures. It's a bit of an extreme coming from the sub tropical metropolis of Sydney to sub arctic wilderness of Alaska. They adjusted very well and I hope they enjoyed their time with us as we did having them to stay.
We arrived back in Washington state in late August and went back to Friday Harbour where we completed a few last minute boat projects before our journey south. We departed early September for San Francisco and again felt a pang of impending loss as we waved goodbye to our friends and our winter home. Katya went to school in Friday Harbour for 8 months we were there and made some good friends who she will miss. She also experienced a sense of freedom that must be hard to find anywhere else. The community on San Juan Island are very supportive and it's a safe and friendly environment to grow up in, perhaps somewhat reminiscent of life a few decades ago. We will miss the people and the place but we will return! We left our car there.
As we headed out of the strait of San Juan de Fuca and into the Pacific Ocean on a dark and foggy early September evening I was filled with excitement, nervousness and sadness. Excitement at the prospect of warmer climes and new places we will be visiting and people we will be meeting, nervousness at what weather and seas we might experience on our way down to San Diego and sadness in leaving this very special part of the world where we spent the last 4 years with Sarita.
The last 4 months of 2014 were spent traveling down from Washington to San Blas in Mexico where we spent New Year's Eve. We have visited many new places seen more wildlife and met more lovely people. The waters of Mexico are so different from those of the Pacific North West and the contrast is clear in so many ways. Open anchorages, different language and foods make it another exciting place to be. So far we enjoyed the Mexican culture, they seem to try and enjoy themselves when ever possible. Their love of their own music rather than western music I respect although sometimes it does sound like every song is the same. They try to help wherever possible despite the language barrier. So we look forward to what is ahead of us in 2015
So what will 2015 hold in store for us? Who knows but we continue to enjoy the lifestyle very much and it's still difficult to seeing ourselves being land based just yet. There is still so much to see. We have however made a decision to have Katya in high school within the next 18 months. Although we believe she is doing very well at her homeschool studies our abilities might be stretched as the curriculum extends and Katya requires more social interaction with others her own age. It might be selfish but one of the reasons we wanted this lifestyle is that we could enjoy the precious time of Katya's youth before, as she says, she will "fly the coop" this time goes so fast and I feel very lucky to be able to spend so much time with her. (She may feel differently some time) But in the meantime we have at least decided to continue south to Central America and visit Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama and Columbia. That should take us to June and from there we will decide our next course. I will however insert the cruisers caveat of being able to change our minds at any time.
We have more friends looking to join us along the way, some from Washington and some from the UK and hopefully family from Australia. It is always enjoyable to share our experiences with friends and family especially as this nomadic lifestyle we have chosen takes us away from our friend and family.
As you can probably understand we are somewhat disconnected from what people call the Real World. We spend a lot of time in remote places away from cities, radio, English language news papers and even when we have a good internet connection our news is limited although not non existent. When we do catch up on current affairs it can be a depressing read. Isis executions, continued economic woes in Europe, escalating tensions between the west and Russia growing I stability in other regions. It is easy to want to switch off completely and live a simpler existence but we know that "reality" will kick in again when we finally get back to our land lives, whenever that might be.
In a few months time it will be 3 years since we moved permanently on the boat and probably by the time we get back to our land lives our boat will be the place that I have lived longest in my entire life. I have now spent 701 consecutive nights on the boat again something I have never done before and never expected to. We have travelled nearly 6,000 miles in our boat this year and nearly 20,000 miles since we bought her back in early 2011 all at the pace of a slow run. We enjoy the slow pace of travel as it makes the journey as much as enjoyable as the destination. It's so easy to fly somewhere and miss so much on the way but flying makes the world seem such a small place whereas sailing makes it seem huge.
We wish all our friends and family the very best for 2015
Roll on 2015!