Monique on s/v Heartbeat

I’m Monique and I’m really excited to be part of the CruiserTV team because I love sailing … and I love telling people how much I love sailing! While it’s not always dolphins and sunsets and rainbows, there’s a lot more of those things out here on the water than there are back on land. I’m going to spend a lot of time sharing other people’s stories with you, so I thought I’d I start by giving you a glimpse into how my own sailing adventure started.

I grew up in Australia, and I love excitement. I particularly love skiing. There’s no snow in sunny QLD, so I spent most of my adult life saving my pennies so I could hit the slopes in New Zealand. Then one day I met a boy on a mountain. He was a nice boy. My sister packed up my apartment for me in Australia and I never went home.

When the ski season ended, I discovered New Zealand has a lot more to offer than just snow. Horse riding, rafting, kayaking, bike riding, hiking, kite boarding, wind surfing, and, of course, sailing. Nobody ever sits still over there! Inspired by all this excitement, the boy and I decided we wanted to travel. But we weren’t sure how to go about it. Should we backpack? Mountain bike across China? Hike through the Alps? Eventually he suggested we sail around the world. My response? “That’s not a thing. People don’t actually do that. Don’t be ridiculous.”

A few months later, we’d already started saving for our trip. No more meals out. No more buying things, and no more of anything we didn’t actually need. But we still didn’t know where we were going. Again, my beau brought up the topic of sailing. This time I took him seriously.

From there, everything escalated very quickly. I took a beginners sailing course. It was fun, so I did another, and this time the boy came along, too. Together we did every sailing course offered by our sailing academy, including offshore navigation. We even decided to do courses for race training. Racing was really great because it helped us learn not just how to do everything, but how to do it fast.

The windy city of Wellington knows how to do weather. Often our races would be cancelled because the wind was too strong. Crew from the other boats either went home or headed straight for the bar. We would start changing out of our gear when the announcement was made, but our instructor would have none of it.

“What are you doing!?” he would say. “Come on, let’s go!”

The first time this happened, I protested. “But it’s blowing 40 knots out there!”

His response was to shrug his shoulders. “Who’s in charge of the sails today? Don’t bother bringing the number 1 headsail!”

And that’s how we learned how to not die when the wind picked up.

Two years later, we knew how to sail enough to get by and we bought our own boat. We looked at so many, but there was one that stuck in my mind. It was 42 feet long, not very old, and the insides were beautiful. It had hot water. It was a grown up boat, and it was within our budget. But it had never been offshore and it was very shiny. It would have been like buying a Rolls Royce as a first car. This was not our boat.

Our boat is old. It is scratched. It has no hot water and no shower and there is no door to the bathroom. But it’s tough and knows how to cross an ocean. At 36 feet long and 9 feet wide, there’s not a lot of room to spare but the old girl knows how to sail, and sail she did. We got married in 2013 and left Wellington not long after. On our first passage alone, we were heading up north to get ready to leave for Fiji. We were excited. We checked the weather carefully, and left when it looked good. While the weather forecasts in NZ are normally spot on, this was one of the exceptions. Our four-day passage up around East Cape took a week, and we were hit by four separate storms in that time. We were wet for seven days. We managed to anchor for one night to wait the first one out, but coming into the very bumpy anchorage we also managed to wrap a rope around the prop. We anchored in the dark under sail and had to dive in the freezing water to cut the rope off the next day. Everything was going wrong.

For the rest of that passage, I remember doing seven knots under bare poles. I remember tacking back and forth for a whole day, not making up any ground. I remember steering with my foot while throwing up over the side, while my husband was on deck launching our storm sail. I remember the two of us sitting in the cockpit in silence, in the pouring rain, with the boat heeled over so far, we were staring straight down into the water from our seats on the high side. And I remember lying in bed under wet sheets, looking up to see water pouring into the cabin as big waves smashed onto our companionway. There was so much of it, the excess had nowhere to go but through the cracks around our hatch. It was hell. But we survived, and after that trip we knew what needed to be fixed. And we knew we were sailors.

Since leaving New Zealand, we haven’t been in weather like that again. It hasn’t been perfect but after you get to shore you immediately forget the bad times. In the last three years we’ve sailed 17,000 miles. We went across the Pacific the wrong way, from Australia to Panama. All upwind. The passage from French Polynesia to Panama had us stuck at sea for two months, which was not much fun and I’d never do it again. But I’ll also never regret it.

I’ve met a lot of amazing people and seen a lot of unforgettable things. I’ve stood on the edge of a volcano. I’ve swum with sea snakes in an underwater cave. I’ve paddled right up to whales and watched them play, just metres away from me. Our dwindling bank accounts mean we will have to stop to work soon. But after living this life, I will never be away from the sea for very long again. Once upon a time I was saving up for a house, but I will never regret my decision to choose a home that floats instead.

Written by Monique Williamson

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