Authors: Jackie Parry
Tags: #Nonfiction, #Retail, #Sailing, #Travel
The copyright of this book belongs to Jackie & Noel Parry.
No reproduction without permission.
To Noel, with love.
Sailing oceans is not like a plane or car ride. Nothing is certain except a vast puddle of water and a great stretch of sky. The days pass, measured not in hours, but in distance. It’s dynamic, fantastic, and petrifying all at the same time. There is rarely pattern or logic; you deal with what’s received, as it arrives… moment by moment.
I’ve written this book with Noel’s help. This is my story, and it must not detract from the amount of work, ideas, resourcefulness, and responsibility Noel completed and bore during our time on
. He was the backbone to the entire adventure.
– I have omitted the ‘II’ often, for ease of reading. I have also included a glossary of nautical terms I have used, at the back of the book.
On our website, I have created a complete album of our journey that will complement this book and hopefully your enjoyment: http://jackieparry.com/of-foreign-build-photo-album
Mariah II was a tough but pretty boat and she felt very homely within her timber cabin. She looked after us in bad weather and taught us a lot.
Double diagonal Kauri, cutter rigged sloop with a canoe stern:
Luff – 34’
Leech – not known
Foot – 17.9’
Luff – 38’
Leech – 28’
Foot – 13.10’
Luff – 27’
Leech – 25’
Foot – 9.6’
Luff – 38’
Leech – 38.9’
Foot – 22.4’
Main – 327 sq/ft
Yankee – 155 sq/ft
Staysail – 120 sq/ft
Working area of 602 sq/ft
Genoa 425 sq/ft
From what we know Mariah was built by Henderson in Picton. The designer was Frank Blom. She was fitted out in Wellington, New Zealand.
Mariah then sailed the Pacific, with her original owners who had her for approximately ten to eleven years. They sold her to someone in Tin Can Bay, who had her approximately one to two years, with plans of sailing to England, but he met a new girl and Mariah didn’t venture very far. We purchased her in 1998.
The grey, cool room held so much sadness that the old mismatched furniture had absorbed the heavy look of grief. The dim light, respectful of the injustices it revealed below seemed to watch the surreal story painfully unfold. Martin sat staring at nothing. His pale cheeks carried rivulets of salty tears. With faces creased in concern the nurse and counsellor looked from Martin to me. I sat looking at Martin trying to take in the awful news.
We had just spent three months in America pulling our lives back together after Martin beat leukaemia into remission. The night before we flew back home, to the UK, Martin complained about a back pain. We tried to make jokes about him pulling a muscle, but at dinner Martin just sat and silently cried into his plate. He knew. The journey home was almost unbearable, there were hours of delay which led to Martin becoming increasingly uncomfortable. This caused the stewardesses to become alarmed. They didn’t want an emergency situation on board during the flight. They talked to us quietly.
‘We have to know if you can make this journey,’ they said. Their eyes betrayed their concern.
‘Just get me home,’ said Martin.
Throughout the journey, every hour the pain increased and was met with yet another passenger offering a pill. It was quite remarkable to see all the different types of medications available on board from our fellow travellers. It provided a moment of amusement within our little world of hell. I was helpless.
We arrived back into the UK and the next day I had returned to work while Martin went to hospital. Overnight, the pain relief drugs had helped. At 11 am that morning he called me. The back ache had revealed the disease’s subterfuge over the months. He said, ‘I have two weeks to live.’
The next minute I was in the hospital room with him, where so many people before us had lived out this awful drama. Now it was our turn to re-enact the tragic scene. But, in the tangible gloom of the winter day, all I wanted to do was hold him, protect him, and make it all go away. But I just sat there stunned, uselessly saying, ‘Don’t cry.’ The gloomy rain tapped against the window. He looked at me, the sadness palpable. He said, ‘Will you marry me before I die?’
Two days later, while I held his hand in utter disbelief, Martin left this world. Our wedding plans forever on hold. Death is so quiet.
Six months later, assaulted with a confusion of emotions in my lonely north London flat, I resigned from my job and packed my bags. I needed to get as far away as I could from the tortuous memories. To reach another land at another time in history was not possible, so Australia became my destination. I did everything my counsellor said I must not do – I ran away.
Though I had removed myself from the memories, I hadn’t distanced myself from the hurt. A new relationship was not on my agenda. No one had said that the emotional pain from bereavement would actually, physically hurt. I had a pain in my stomach, and I was desperate for release, which was peculiar and in opposition with the aching barrenness. I’d watched a perfectly healthy (so we thought) man slowly die.
The vacant hurt that clung to my innards eventually gave way, but did not vanish. It was replaced with deep anger at the injustice. I wanted to blame, shout, and scream; I wanted answers. None came.
I, like millions of people before me, had to ride it out. I felt lost, detached like a leaf that was constantly pushed and spun around in the wind. My emotions buffeted me along; I could not think. I could only follow whatever force it was that led me to put one foot in front of the other.
While riding out these all too vivid emotions that left me wrung out and sometimes desperately sobbing, begging for Martin to come and get me, I met someone. Noel and I were in every way a ‘rebound’ couple; we were both confused by the twist of a new relationship that somehow simultaneously made no sense and perfect sense.
Sitting on my emotional roller coaster, it felt odd to feel drawn to a rather strange, true blue Aussie. I had met Noel a few days after landing on the other side of the world. What confounded me more was that he seemed to have every relationship turn-off I could think of. He was a divorcee. He had kids. There was a substantial age difference between us (sixteen years, though quite often I am the more mature), and he sported a rather thick beard. As a wandering soul, who had not quite found his place in life, Noel could not have been more different from an unworldly, shy ‘English Rose.’ Despite the clashing of two worlds, every wobbly particle of my being egged me on to be near him.
Meanwhile my head said, ‘Whoa, rebound.’
We had met through family; actually we’re related. Uncle Noel and I are intrinsically linked through marriage, not blood. Having family in Australia meant a straightforward welcome and a gentle introduction in to a new culture. It also meant a new connection for us both that would transport us into a movie-like adventure and, eventually, into an inner tranquillity I have only read about.
I spent three months in Australia, partly travelling along the east coast and partly travelling with Noel. At the end of a remarkable journey, where I fell deeply in love with one man while grieving for another, I returned to the UK for a whirlwind three weeks in Hertfordshire, where I had grown up. I had a brand new car and a rather nice apartment to deal with, and a multitude of goodbyes.
My parents had long ago accepted I was different: ‘flighty,’ I think is fair. In fact, I’m constantly amazed that my parents still talk to me at all after my wayward teenage years and my inability to settle – but that’s another story. They weren’t at all surprised when I revealed I was going back to Australia. Without a single question or thought, they offered their complete support and love.
‘As long as you’re happy,’ they said.
They’re pure gold in human form.
Not once did I question my decision. During drunken, painful farewells with friends and tearful, wrenching goodbyes with close family, I had not one doubt. Even the heart-raw farewells with my niece and nephew didn’t give me pause. Their fear of a barmy aunt in the family were totally confirmed when I blubbed on their shoulders.
‘Why are you going if it makes you cry?’ my nephew’s wide, slightly fearful eyes seemed to hold many questions, as he tried to peel off my clinging arms.
‘I dunno,’ I sobbed, covertly wiping my nose on his skinny shoulder. What could I say? ‘There’s this old, hairy man waiting for me the other side of the world, I have no idea why, but I have to be with him!’
Actually, I knew why, he made me laugh. Not just giggle or snigger from time to time, but a full, belly aching, wet knickers guffaw. On occasions, I made him laugh too, though sometimes it was a little embarrassing, as it was usually when I was trying to be serious.
The first major decision Noel and I had to make as a couple was how we were going to live. Not so much the financial aspect, but what to do. We were both disillusioned with life and we didn’t really know what path to take to help fulfil our lives. We had some savings between us, so initially money was not an issue, however our funds would be gone before too long if we weren’t a bit careful. So, we did what responsible adults should do: purchased camping gear, hopped on Noel’s BMW motorbike and explored the glorious east coast of Australia. I was adamant that I was not going back into an office; Noel felt the same with his building/carpentry trade. After watching a young life stolen, I felt as though I had been given a second chance. I was not going to waste it in an office. As with all great plans, two months later we found ourselves heavily ensconced in Sydney, in an office and on a building site respectively.
During an evening stroll, amid an Australian residency discussion, Noel turned to me and smiled, ‘Will you marry me?’
Although short on soft music, rose petals and champagne, the ambience was on par with its simplicity, surprise and emotion that oozed from his eyes.
‘Yes,’ I said, with an enormous smile on my face that made my cheeks ache.
We slipped into an innocuous little Italian restaurant at The Rocks and ate plain Spaghetti Bolognaise and drank cheap red wine. It was truly a magnificent feast filled with dreams, hopes, and huge grins. It may be that the residency dilemma had nudged the question of marriage further forward in our minds, but we both knew we wanted to be together. With a new, unexpected love, all obstacles were just minor bumps. We were married just a few weeks later. It was a private affair with close friends, family from Australia and my family from the UK, who, with little notice, dropped everything to be with us.
On a sparkling winter’s day, standing on the vibrant Kiama headland in New South Wales (NSW), while looking over the deep azure ocean, we exchanged promises that would bind stronger and fiercely earnest over time.
Overlooking the ocean and its distant horizons on our special day came to mean so much more to us. Who knew we’d be seeking out those very horizons on a small boat.
Noel had grown up around sailboats and spent a considerable amount of time convincing me that buying and living on a boat was a good idea. I was keen, but I wanted to build our financial foundations first – hence the work-for-someone-else mistake. After six weeks in a dull office, I rang Noel to tell him I was resigning. I was a temp, but the boss had asked me to become permanent. Sitting behind a brown desk, hemmed within beige walls, telephones ringing, printers clacking, I could have been in any office, anywhere in the world. The word ‘permanent’ made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. We decided to talk about it that evening. I struggled through the afternoon, dreaming of sailing into sunsets. It would become a common theme in our relationship: Noel would have an idea and after I’d digested it, I’d do my best to make it reality. Sometimes, this bought us both close to catastrophe and it often led us towards the most incredible adventures.
We found that our best decisions were made after several beers; the amber nectar become an excellent tonic for chewing over facts, making informed decisions, and then reaching a point where just about anything sounded like a darn good idea.
However, Noel shocked me that night.
‘I’m just starting to like my job.’ He was out of his depth with this new emotion. Noel’s work record made a jumping bean look positively placid. It was Thursday night, and we made an executive decision that a more serious drinking session over the weekend was needed to make such a big decision. The next morning, on a gloriously sunny Friday, Noel called me at work and said, ‘I’ve just resigned; sod this for a lark, let’s go buy a boat.’ And that is just what we did.
We had shed the drudgery of nine-to-five employment like a streaker relishing in the ultimate freedom, and we went searching for a boat.
‘Ready to go,’ was popular advertising spiel. Though in truth, stepping aboard a ‘ready to go’ vessel left me wondering, ‘Ready to go where?’ Dark, dank living quarters, creaking timbers, and nose curling smells excited me as much as navel fluff. But I didn’t say much, because what did I know?
Noel would discuss beams (width of boat), LOA (length over all), and draft (depth) with the owners, and I would start to yawn. I had extracted myself from a protective cocoon of familiarity and plunged into a world where they spoke a type of English, but I had no idea what they were saying. Noel thought I was bored; I became incredibly shy. I tried to hide my ignorance and felt quite scared at being considered stupid. I was way out of my depth. It was a daunting time as I was just about the furthest I could be from home with no friends (except Noel), in a brand new relationship I was still finding my way in, and now I was immersed in the nautical world. Nobody could have conceivably looked, sounded, or felt less like a sailor than me.
Noel had an insurmountable quantity of patience, and with his calm, relaxed demeanour he started to teach me. After looking at the twentieth boat that was fit for firewood, we decided to take a break and took a trip to see family in the northern part of NSW. I was still trying to grasp what ‘sailing’ was all about, so before we set off on the four-hour bike ride I asked Noel, ‘What’s so great about sailing anyway?’
‘Getting to port.’
I could feel the creases deepening on my forehead, but so as not to be put off, I asked, ‘What does it all cost?’ thinking about our budget plans.
‘Everything we’ve got,’ came the reply. The creases now hurt as they carved their way across my eyebrows.
I didn’t talk to Noel for the rest of the day. Close together on the motorbike, we felt miles apart.
The following day, I had another go. ‘Well, why the hell do it then?’
Noel grinned, ‘There’s always a good pub in the next port.’
‘Good grief,’ I replied, my conversation held no bounds.
To avoid another twenty-four hours of baffled silence, Noel added, ‘Actually I can’t think of a better way to live; it’s the closest thing to freedom I have ever experienced.’
worked for me.
In August 1998, three months later, we became the proud owners of
. A thirty-three foot cutter rigged sloop, which is a sailboat with one mast. With all the charm of timber, we immediately felt at home. Oddly enough, when we stepped on board, I was the first to say, ‘I think we’ve just found our boat.’ At this point, my sailing career consisted of climbing onto umpteen vessels at anchor, being bamboozled with boat speak, and gazing at gadgets and doodads that looked like they should live on a space rocket. I was relieved when Noel felt the same.
‘We’d better have a proper look at her then.’ The corners of his mouth twitched with excitement. Our idea was starting to show some promise.
I remember thinking,
look at all this space in the boat – I am never going to fill all these cupboards.
That just about sums up my ignorance at that point. As well as weeks of supplies, we would stuff the cupboards full of every conceivable spare part we could muster.
People who own sail-boats are deemed to be rich. This could not be further from the truth for most. Most people who live on their boats are financially challenged. It’s been likened to putting your money in one big pile and setting it alight. As soon as you get more money, you just add it to the flames. It’s not always the maintenance that’s the problem; it’s the fact that there are such yummy, exciting things to buy all the time. There is no end to the gadgets you can purchase. All of which can be argued to increase safety and therefore, ‘We must have it!’
The freedom we acquired was mind-boggling. In the beginning, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Noel was a bit perplexed when I offered to write a project plan. Old habits made me feel comfortable; listing our daily jobs, writing budget spread sheets, and organising weekly progress meetings. I really didn’t have a clue about boating life. The regulated, regimented lifestyle I was used to didn’t exist anymore. Now I could choose what I did and when I did it. Ironically, the problem now was what to do and when to do it!
My way of life was not just changing: my whole ethos morphed into a different world. Hair became something to pile on top of my head, clothes were comfy, and fashion was no longer in my vocabulary or on my back. I became a fan of charity shops. Our budget was as elastic as wet cardboard and just as and fragile, so these places were ideal to keep a girl happy.
Tenaciously, I hung on to something familiar: organising my life on bits of paper. Phones, computers, and faxes were replaced with boat-to-boat radios, second-hand novels, and dinghies. I had no practical experience of painting and fixing. My most technical operation achieved was hitting the stereo when the CD drawer wouldn’t open, or turning the power off and on again on my laptop when it stopped working. Then there was boat-speak – it was so strange.
‘Hand me the painter,’ people would say. In my head this would evoke vivid images of a tall, dark Italian man with an open, cotton shirt splattered with coloured paints. Cruelly, reality brought me down with a thud when I found out that the ‘painter’ was the bit of rope on the bow of a dinghy. I could see I was going to struggle and withdrew further.
My discomfort was not just from the new way of life, a new husband, culture, and country to adjust to. With my new found freedom and more time on my hands, I had the opportunity to think: who am I? And, scarily, how do other people see me? The things I said, I analysed with frightening results. I had no idea who I really was.
Within this quagmire of unfamiliar emotions I notched up my tenacity. I am competitive; I don’t like to be beaten. My entire faith in Noel, and the fact that I knew I’d laugh about all this one day, kept me at it. However, my ignorance evolved to new levels that approached dangerous. Just a few hours after becoming the proud owners of
, we nearly smashed her in half.