Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How It Began

Current Location: Finike, Turkey
Current Position: 36 17.63 N 30 08.98 E
Next Destination: Turkey Coast (between Finike & Marmaris)

With Billabong now on the market, and our cruising days coming to a potential end, I can't help but think back to how it all began. It seems to me that I spend a large part of my life being swept along and carried down some path, often wondering just how I managed to get there. Events transpire quickly and move of their own accord. I'd like to take credit because I believe I've had a pretty great life, but in reality it's just a giant snowball that gains momentum and carries me along … and usually it all begins with me opening my big mouth!

It goes without saying that Chris and I would not be out here together had we never met. But while some things in my life happen at record paces, there are others that move so slow it's a wonder they ever happen at all. I have known Chris since I was 16 (and Chris was 23). We met at work in 1990 (I was answering phones after high-school and Chris was working as a software developer). A seven-year age difference may not matter now, but when one is an under-aged teenager and the other is a college graduate it is certainly not something to be ignored. I was always more like a little sister then a possible romantic interest. Over the years we became good friends, but our lives were always running in different directions, such as a few wild years in college for me and marriage for Chris. It was 11 years later when we finally managed our first date.

The year 2001 brought about a lot of changes for both of us. By the end of the year I had ended a seriously relationship, Chris had separated from his wife, our company had gone through yet another merger, which resulted in a number of layoffs & work-environment changes, a really good sailing friend of Chris’ died unexpectedly in a helicopter crash, and of course there was “911”. It goes without saying that September 11th is a date that impacted the majority of Americans (and maybe even many non-Americans). For many, like myself, it was a wake-up call that life could be unexpectedly short, and every moment did indeed count. At that point in time my entire life had been centered around work-work-work, and I now wondered if that was the right way to live. Surely there was more to life than 10 hours in a fluorescently lit office everyday?

And so began the snowball … two people who have been friends for 11 years, now single, and realizing they wanted more in life; that and a Harry Potter movie. Who would’ve thought that two friends checking out the latest flick would end up sailing through the world together? Harry Potter turned into a date, a pretty unromantic one, but one none-the-less. And that date turned into a relationship. It may have taken us more than a decade to “get together”, but after that things moved along pretty quick; after all we’d known each for so long there wasn’t much else to learn … well ‘er, maybe some things but I’m not talking about THAT!

When I first met Chris he was living aboard a small yacht. Throughout the years he continued his interests in yachts & sailing, and more than once I had heard him say, “wouldn’t it be neat to go cruising … to travel the world with your ‘house’?” As an Arizona girl I didn’t really see what was so exciting about that – okay, not working and lots of traveling; I could get into that ... but on a boat??? And those yachts seemed pretty dang small. Then one day, Chris says it again, “I’d love to just leave and go cruising in my own yacht.” Without thinking I opened by big mouth and responded, “You should just stop talking about it and go already … and take me with you!” Ha ha ha ha. I got a good chuckle out of that one. Chris kind of gave me this look and said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea”. I didn’t pay him any mind, because it just seemed too far-fetched, too unrealistic. But then, about two months later came my birthday. Chris is big on “themes”, and the theme this year definitely made its point: polarized sunglasses, “How to Sail for Dummies”, a big floppy hat, sunscreen, tropical scented candles, and so on. I probably stayed in denial, thinking we would never be able to pull it off, until we purchased Billabong about six months later. At that point it was pretty clear that this was not a just some crazy pipe dream.

Getting ready for a world cruise is, in itself, a huge task. I had the added challenge that I knew nothing about boating, yachts, or sailing. For me a ‘sheet’ belonged on a bed and I could never grasp why the various lines and such weren’t just called ‘ropes’. It seemed even the simply things became complicated – provisioning, health vaccinations, visas, passports … it was an endless lists of things to research and I had thousands of things to learn. To top it all off we were still working (building up that cruising kitty), and I was carrying twins. WHOA … hold the phone, I had better back up a bit.

There was a parallel set of events, another one of those snowballs sweeping me away, which were occurring during the time I was joking with Chris about sailing around the world. It began with a simple statement to my sister “You know I would consider being a surrogate for you”. Long story short they were having a difficult time and things were not looking up. The first time I offered it was pretty much passed over; my sister didn’t feel she could ever ask something like that of me. A few months later my sister asked me if I was serious. I told her I was and we spent the weekend discussing what it would be like. At that point my sister still felt it was too much to ask, as she said, “It’s like borrowing a new shirt” … in other words I hadn’t even had my own kids yet, so how could I have hers? When it became clear to me that Chris & I were really going to take off for years unknown I told my sister, “You know if I’m not pregnant by the end of this year [2002] I won’t be able to do this for you”. My sister gave it another go with her fertility doctor, which ended sadly when the doctor told her “it’s time you considered other options”. After that things traveled at warp speed … one minute I was sitting in a business meeting in Sweden, the next minute I was reading an email from my sister saying we could start after the end of my next period … and before I knew it I was shot up with hormones, had what felt like endless doctor appointments, and BAM, October 2002 I was pregnant – with twins! I could write a book about the surrogacy process, my pregnancy, and so on, but rather then get into all that right now I’ll just say it was a fantastic time, and everything went unbelievably smooth.

So I was ‘knocked-up’ in October and in November we moved aboard Billabong. There is a lot of fun to be had when you have two such crazy and unique events going on in your life simultaneously. Imagine people’s surprise as my belly grew, yet our plans for a November departure remained. When it became undoubtedly obvious that I was pregnant the conversions would go something like this:

Unaware person:Soooo, you’re going cruising?” [glance down at my belly]

Me: “Yep,” [long pause for dramatic effect] “we’re leaving this November

Unaware person: [glance at my belly, glance at me, glance at my belly] “November huh?”

Me: “Yep

Unaware person: “So are you, uh, ummm, like, uh” [long pause as they decide if they really want to ask this] “pregnant?”

Me: “Yep” [pause] with twins [internal laugh as I see their eyes bug out]

Me: [because I can’t resist seeing their reaction] They are due in June

At this point the conversation usually stalls out as the person does the math. June, July, August, September, October … five months. FIVE MONTHS … are these guys crazy; they’re going to have twins and leave to go cruising only FIVE MONTHS LATER???? Chris and I kind of liked seeing what they’d say next, usually it was just a bunch of muttering, but we weren’t too mean, we’d always fill them on the surrogacy sooner or later, and usually when the story was done they say something like, “Thank God, I’d thought you’d lost your mind!

Probably our most fun was had with an unsuspecting garage-sale shopper. Chris and I decided to have a huge garage sale when I moved out of my apartment as we figured most the stuff we owned wasn’t worth the storage payment. When I posted the ad for the sale I wanted to make sure people knew this wasn’t a “get rid of junk” sale, but rather there was some good stuff to be had, so my ad stated that we were moving onto a small yacht and leaving, and therefore “everything had to go”. By the time we had the sale it was impossible to miss that I was quite pregnant. One buyer arrived and first thing started asking about what we were doing on a yacht and where we were going to go sailing and where we were going to live, etc etc. When he realized that we were going to cruise offshore and head across the South Pacific to islands unknown he got the look. By now we were quite used to it, and found it hugely entertaining. I think most people would give any two soon-to-be cruisers the look regardless (as most land-lubbers think we’re all crazy), but throw in a huge belly and you really get them going! I guess this garage-sale-shopper didn’t want to be too rude or nosey, at least not all at once, so he would come around and ask the price of something and then a few questions about our plans. Then he would skitter off and continue to browse, before returning a few minutes later with more questions. The entire time he could barely take his eyes off me (or my belly rather). Finally he felt comfortable enough to ask if I was pregnant, to which I replied “yes”. As usual I didn’t elaborate (I know Chris and I are evil, but it was just too fun). Next he told Chris, “Congratulations! Chris, who is more evil than me, responded with, “they aren’t mine!” and walked away to help another shopper. I almost lost it [with laughter] when I saw this guy’s jaw drop, but I also felt a little pity for him, as he was surely about to blow a brain fuse from trying to figure it all out … not to mention the poor guy had been hanging around for over an hour. So after letting a few minutes pass I went over and gave him the entire scoop. Unsurprising, he was much relieved at finally being able to put all the pieces together!

Yachts, at least Billabong, are not known for having copious amounts of space. So it didn’t take long before I seemed to fill our entire salon. Towards the end I even had to cook sideways, as both my belly and me couldn’t fit into the u-shape where the galley stove is! More than once Chris commented, “I hope I won’t have to unglue the dodger for the crane lift”, yeah, he’s real funny like that! But it also got me out of a lot of boat work – it’s not like I was very limber or could squeeze into small spaces. I wasn’t the least bit upset when I couldn’t help Chris take apart and clean the head hoses. As I did my pregnancy Yoga I said to him, “Gee honey I’d love to help but I just don’t think I can get in there!” Chris never forgets how he could hear the DVD saying, “now take a deep breath and relax”, over and over, while he’s drenched in old piss and slime, sweating away in the head!

Chris and I have a lot of fun (somewhat jokester) memories from the surrogacy, especially with how it effected our preparations and living aboard. But one thing is for sure; it also strengthened our relationship. Chris was there for me, every step of the way. The procedure started with hormone treatments that basically put me into menopause (yes, hot flashes and all), and ended with full-blown post-pregnancy hormones. Chris always said it was like seeing 70 years of his life with me! We both thought the other was amazing, and we found that even when hormones were askew we could work through just about anything.

So it was all great really; Chris was making grand progress in getting Billabong ready, and I was organizing our lives into spreadsheets (seems one of my pregnancy hormones LOVED Excel). Everything was passing by in a flurry of events and we were indeed looking ready to go. Except for one minor detail … I still didn’t know how to sail. We had grand plans in the beginning for taking Billabong out, but work and boat projects kept us too busy, and then eventually I was just too big. No problem we thought, we’ll go out during my maternity leave, but after the birth I was too anemic and “not even allowed to vacuum” (as stated by my doctor). We did finally get Billabong out for some sea trials; two weekends in the Channel Islands. In both trips unpredicted weather came up and we ended up beating in 25-30 kts. I must say I was beginning to wonder about this whole sailing thing, but Chris always looked like he was having such a grand time! While it certainly did serve for some good practice, I was very relieved when more than one person told me that cruising was NOT about beating to weather in 20+ kts (not until you come down from the Marshall Islands or go up the Red Sea anyway)!!!

I didn’t feel like the two weekends out was quite enough time under my belt, so I also signed up for three ASA courses. These were great and at least got me saying halyards and sheets rather than “that rope over there”. I think the last instructor may have gotten a bit annoyed with me when I kept asking “how would I do that alone”, especially with regards to the man overboard drills (where they always have two or three of the students working the boat to pick up the float). I also had to warn Chris that it would be best if he wore a helmet of some sort when sailing since more than once I ran over the poor floating man-overboard doll (in my defense this is because I was the ONLY student trying to do the drill alone and practicing how to come around a second time in case I missed the first time … I NEVER ran her over on a first attempt try, or when I had another student helping!). It seems I annoyed a lot of instructors that year; I thought the First Aid guy was going to kick me out when I kept saying “but what if I CAN’T call 911?” Anyway, I think Chris may have preferred the untrained me; especially when I started in with the “but in class we did it this way”! Imagine his surprise when we are coming into the dock and he says “okay you’ll jump off with the spring line and then ”, I cut him off saying “but in class we didn’t use a spring line, we did it this way …”, to which Chris replies “Yes, but that was with a side-tie and a much lighter boat, you need the spring line”, to which I say, “but I don’t understand what a spring line is”, and so it goes. This goes back and forth for a few minutes; meanwhile we are getting closer and closer to our slip. Finally, as we are turning INTO the slip, Chris says “Look just do it this way and we’ll talk about it later”. I respond with a big ‘ol “Umph”, but manage to jump off and secure the boat without any further dramatics. It turned out to be a good lesson for both of us, and we came to the conclusion that as a whole we would both be making decisions, but any in-the-moment decisions would be made by Chris and we would talk it over afterwards (making any changes to our methods at that time instead of in the midst of the “action”).

Are a few trips to the Channel Islands as a guest, two sea trial weekends, and three ASA courses enough to hop aboard and sail away? I guess so, because that’s what we did. We both would’ve liked if I had more experience but we took things slow and Chris stayed patient. We opted for day sails instead of overnighters whenever possible and overtime I became more and more tuned into the boat. We must’ve done something right because here we are still cruising, five years later!

When I think about that year of preparation and pregnancy I don’t think that I was in control of anything – I just tried to keep up. It was a great year though; there is a certain satisfaction in working towards such a grand goal and seeing progress, and no greater joy then seeing my sister and her husband holding newborns. Our year of preparation was nothing like we’d planned, but I wouldn’t change a day of it. I still smile when I think about the day we pulled away from the dock leaving Ventura, with me thinking, “it was just a joke …”

1 comment:

  1. Wow KT...what an amazing story! An incredible thing you did for your sister! And it sounds like you really kept your sense of humor during the whole thing. Very amusing tales of boat preparations, sailing courses, etc. Best of luck to you on reaching your own happy parenthood. You certainly deserve it!