Waterlines: And Then We Could…

The author and her family sail Papillon through the lagoon and into New Caledonia

We have an inflatable globe that hangs in our saloon, and it is ruining my life. It is an innocuous-looking thing: the different countries are decked out in cheery purples and oranges, and a there’s jagged Sharpie line showing our route from the Chesapeake to the South Pacific. But somehow, whenever talk turns to the future, the globe jumps off its perch and into someone’s hands. Mesmerized, we turn it and turn it, trying to take in every country, every possibility, every tiny harbor. And we begin to play an endless game of And Then We Could.

You would think that choosing a cruising route and sticking to it would be simple. Mark your final destination, consider how much time you have, then divide the line from here to there into correspondingly sensible chunks. Easy peasy. But cruising doesn’t work that way. Seductive alternatives abound, and sticking to your plans is especially difficult when you have the entire globe plotting against you.

This year we thought we had our route set in stone. From New Caledonia we would head north to Vanuatu, visit the volcano on the neighboring island of Tanna, continue through the Solomon Islands and finally duck down to Australia for cyclone season. Then a friend called. He was in French Polynesia, moving from the Tuamotus to Raiavave, and wouldn’t we rather turn east and go visit him instead?

“You know,” said Erik, his fingers tracing lines of latitude, “that would be great, because we didn’t stay nearly long enough in French Polynesia the first time. Then we could provision in Tahiti and head over to Hawaii and back to the States.” The globe seemed to turn of its own accord. “Or we could go from Tahiti to Chile.”

The globe sent comforting messages to my brain, urging me to ignore the rocky reality of sailing in the Roaring Forties. “And then we could work our way north along South America to the Galapagos,” I said, “go back through the Panama Canal, and do the parts of the Caribbean we skipped, Cuba, for example.”

We mulled over those ideas until another cruising family sent us a glowing report of Micronesia. Down came the globe. “You know,” I said, peering at the islands speckled across the Pacific, “after Vanuatu we could go up to Tuvalu and Kiribati. And then we could turn west through the Marshalls and Micronesia, and maybe make for the Philippines.”

“Look north,” whispered the globe.

“And then we could sail to Japan,” I continued. “Everyone who has cruised there loved it.”

“Exactly,” said Erik. “And then we could continue along the Aleutians to Alaska, then south along the West Coast.”

At that point, I almost shook free of the spell. I’m sure the Aleutians are gorgeous and well worth visiting, but cold weather on an aluminum boat equals raining indoors. And if I wanted to be living life in sheepskin mitts and a hat, I’d go back home and do it with my extended family nearby. But such was the power of the globe that my mind skittered over those details and let me leap ahead to thoughts of warmer climes.

“And then we could do the west coast of Mexico!” I said.

“And then we could go back to Guatemala,” said Erik.

“We loved it there,” I agreed.

And the globe chuckled to itself.

The next day, we had coffee with a friend from Reunion, a tiny island just east of Madagascar. “Maybe we should push west after all,” said Erik when we got home, settling down on the bench with the globe.

I sat down next to him, and we cradled the globe together. “If we went through Indonesia, we could visit our friends in Bali, and I’d love to go to Sulawesi again,” I said, remembering our time on Indonesia’s largest island.

“And then we could go up to Thailand if we wanted.”

“Or Malaysia and then the Maldives.”

“And then we could go to the Seychelles."

“And Mauritius.”



“There are funny currents on the way to South Africa, but we can manage,” said Erik.

“And then we could head north and aim for the Mediterranean,” I said.

(The globe didn’t even try to nudge us to the Med via the Gulf of Aden: even globes know that cruisers have limits.)

“We could always bounce off the Canaries and back to the Caribbean,” said Erik.

“Yes,” I sighed, “I guess we have to head for home eventually.”

The spell was broken. Talk of home is sure to kill the planning mood. I picked up the globe by its purple string and hung it from its rightful place in the hatch, where it bucked and twirled in frustration.

Erik put out a hand to stop the globe from swinging into his head as he passed by. He paused, and turned to look at it. “You know,” he said thoughtfully, “we never did make it to Tasmania…” 

Amy Schaefer sails aboard the 57ft yawl, Papillon, with her husband, Erik, and their two young daughters

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