We didn’t really ask Kirk’s parents if, when we returned to Michigan, we could move into their house. Partly because we hoped it wasn’t official — that we wouldn’t actually be around for very long. I think we confused a lot of our friends and family with our ‘leaving San Diego and coming back to the Midwest’ plan. The usual narrative of the boomerang 20-something moving away from their hometown is they come back later to put down roots.
We’re not ready to stay put just yet. We have another plan. It’s loose. It changes on a daily basis. That’s the other reason our friends and family are so confused — we don’t even know what we’re doing half the time, either.
I’ll tell you what we do know. We’ve had this dream, to sail off over the blue, for nearly a decade. I got the idea from a book, this nonfiction travelogue about a couple cruising the Caribbean called An Embarrassment of Mangoes. (Kirk found the book on a table marked “$1” during a bookstore’s sidewalk sale in Brisbane, Australia in 2005.) I loved this book so much I dared not read it again for fear the second time around it would lose its sparkle, and then I’d start questioning its status as the singular foundational block upon which I’d built the largest dream of my life.
Kirk grew up sailing beach cats on the lake. “The lake,” as if everybody had one as a kid. Of this I was always envious, how some kids were so lucky to be born into a family who lived in a house on a lake. Kirk’s family didn’t actually live on a lake, but their neighborhood had access to one, which meant only a 5-minute walk between his front door and the water. Close enough.
This obsession I developed with water as a kid (quite possibly because of my lack of access to it), grew from wanting to live on the water, into a desire to travel over it. As I learned about other parts of the world, about South Pacific islands fringed with palm trees and coral reefs, about Mediterranean coastlines stacked high with white cliffside dwellings, about mountains in New Zealand that dropped into the sea, I set my sights on bigger waters: the oceans.
When Kirk bought that book, he was in the midst of his college semester abroad. As most of these experiences are, it was transformative. He fell in love with surfing, he adopted a lifestyle favoring the outdoors, he was inspired to see more of the world. I visited him for a month during his trip, and came away with the conclusion that Australia was pretty “sweet as, mate,” as the locals would say. (Of which I still wonder, “sweet as what?”) Kirk and I made a pact: someday, before we got too old, we’d return Down Under, because one visit wasn’t enough.
Five years later, we did. After graduating college, working in Chicago for a few years, and becoming disillusioned with the real world, we decided it was time to go back. We quit our jobs and bought one-way flights to Sydney. For six months Kirk surfed his arms off and I never let my camera leave my side. We delighted in the temperate weather, the bountiful sunshine and our proximity to the ocean. Then, at the end of our trip, my mom made her first trans-Pacific flight to meet up with us, and we decided we wanted to do something sweet as.
* * *
The night before the start of our weeklong bareboat charter in the Whitsunday Islands, Kirk and I lay awake, scared shitless. We had never sailed anything larger than a Hobie Cat by ourselves before, and now we would have two of my girlfriends and my mother — three other human lives in our hands — onboard this 35’ catamaran, and oh gosh what if we miscalculated the tide and hit a reef or accidentally jibed or capsized?
None of that happened. The worst thing might have been our dinghy painter floating underneath our outboard and twisting around the prop. (We fixed it.) Our week on the water was incredible. We sailed with dolphins in our bow, snorkeled over coral reefs, swam with gigantic Māori wrasse, walked on white sand beaches and hiked to the peaks of steep green islands. After that trip, we were convinced: one day, we would move aboard a sailboat.