My husband, David, and I had been living in London for five years when the 2005 terrorist attacks occurred. We moved there from Australia because we weren’t ready to start a family (read, he wasn’t ready to start a family!) and planned to spend a few years living a fun and exciting life before heading back to our hometown Brisbane to have babies.
During those years overseas, we worked very hard and played even harder. We had good jobs that were demanding, and studied as well. We rowed for the Thames Rowing Club, which involved training for long and cold hours, but were rewarded with wonderful friends, a healthy lifestyle and a very different view of London. Not many people see this amazing city from the water as dawn breaks. It’s incredibly haunting and beautiful, and we have never forgotten those quiet river moments.
Of course, the international travel opportunities were wonderful and inexpensive compared to the long-haul flights from the Antipodes, so we made the most of bank holiday weekends and annual leave. My darling husband liked adventurous vacations, so more often than not, there was mountain climbing, cycling or triathlons to be done. I had a secret wish – that he would one day move the action in his life indoors!
Sadly, it took a bomb and many lost lives to give us both the courage to ask for what we really wanted.
At that very wrong time on 7 July 2005, David and I were barely in the right place narrowly missing potential tragedy. Once we had located each other amidst the chaos that was London, we sat down and started talking seriously about our future, questioning what it was that we really wanted out of life. Neither of us was prepared for terrorists to make our life decisions for us, although it was because of that horrific event that our lives changed for the better.
I stated my dream out loud: “I want to have a baby and raise our family in Australia.” David listened and understood. David’s dream was to sail around the world on a yacht. I also heard him, as he spoke earnestly and passionately. Both dreams were poles apart in so many ways, but we had come too close to never achieving any dreams at all. Even though we were frightened by each other’s goals, we knew we had to push the limits if we were to live an extraordinary life.
It took six months to put our new plan into action: We decided to give up our life in London, buy a sailing boat with a view to sailing it to Australia, falling pregnant somewhere in the Pacific. The baby would arrive the day after we set foot on Australian soil and everyone would be happy! Aaaah, the best laid plans…
We found the perfect boat for us, learned how to sail, gave away all our worldly goods and quit our jobs. For many months, we planned our sea bound adventure very carefully and got our new home ready. We had medical gear to cover any occurrence at sea, folding bicycles for whenever we were on land and enough food and water to feed an army of pirates, should they care to come aboard! It’s a wonder the boat could float.
In April 2006, we set sail on our two year sojourn from England to Australia, via the Mediterranean, Canary Islands, Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean and the Pacific. Our boat, a 30-year-old, 38-foot British racing yacht, was called ‘Steamy Windows’.
Our first year was an incredible roller coaster ride, as we learned how to sail together around the wonderful islands of the Mediterranean. There was sun and sand, squalls and squabbles, love and lessons, lonely old men and delightful fellow cruisers, all of which enhanced and enriched our lives. At the end of the sailing season there, we knew we were ready to cross the Atlantic – our first three weeks on the high seas with no land in sight.
Just before the start of the Atlantic crossing, on the way down the coast of Africa, we were hit by an unpredicted storm, with huge seas and 40 knot winds. For three days, we battled the elements, nearly losing everything when the boat went over having been hit side-on by a mountainous wave. Fortunately, we were harnessed in, and when the boat righted herself, grim determination and willpower got us through to the Canary Islands to start preparations for our Atlantic crossing.
Once again, we had been given a huge scare and once again, our lives had been threatened by circumstances out of our control. It was time to make another decision. I threw our birth control in the bin. I was not going to wait another minute before starting on MY dream! Despite knowing about this act of freedom, my beloved skipper nearly fainted at the helm when six weeks later, halfway across the Atlantic, I told him I wasn’t actually sea sick after all. I was pregnant! David is the bravest man I know, yet in the middle of his duties as Captain, he had to take several minutes to compose himself!
After we had semi-recovered from the shock, we discussed the implications of this joyous discovery. Those best-laid plans of ours would have to change again because the baby’s birth day would occur somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Despite my midwifery experience, even I had to admit that giving birth on the high seas with only two of us on board may have been more than slightly beyond our capabilities.
In the many days we had during that crossing, we came up with a new plan – to cruise the Caribbean for five months, before making our way up the East Coast of America, where David would hopefully get a job in New York. Poor David had hours and hours of me trying to choose names, with nowhere to run to! People often ask what we talked about 24 hours a day while we were on long crossings. Baby names, that’s what. I think he’d have preferred the company of sharks, to be honest!
Pre-natal care in the Caribbean proved to be very interesting and almost totally unavailable. I only managed to get one scan at 16 weeks by a barefoot technician on an ancient scanning machine that looked pedal-driven. They didn’t do testing for chromosomal or foetal abnormalities because abortion is illegal where we were, and therefore knowledge of a situation one could not change seemed unnecessarily expensive. You could choose to fly to another island for such scans, but I depended on an outdated pregnancy book, my general nursing experience and a fair amount of common sense to get me through a happy, uncomplicated pregnancy.
We sailed into New York Harbour when I was 34 weeks pregnant, in the middle of a huge storm, which seemed appropriate for us. Grinding winches whist heavily pregnant is not an easy thing to do at the best of times and once again, I thought it was all over, and I’m surprised I didn’t give birth then and there!
David had landed a job as a Project Manager on the World Trade Centre site in New York, which was not without irony, given that terrorism was one of the things that got us going on this journey in the first place. We lived aboard for a month, and moved into our Harlem apartment a few days before I gave birth. What a relief to only have four flights of stairs to climb, as opposed to getting in and out of our dinghy! If you could have seen me hauling my heavily pregnant self out of that little rubber boat, you’d have wet yourself laughing!
Our son, William, was born without incident in August 2007 at the New York Presbyterian Hospital. We call him Will, because of his amazing strength and endurance during our remarkable journey. Luckily, we weren’t in the middle of the Pacific, because complications at the end of my pregnancy led to a C-Section and a five day stay at the New York Presbyterian Hospital. Sadly, most of the nurses on my ward were surgical (read, not midwives) and lactation consultants were privately requested, visiting only twice a week. Once again, I just had to go with my intuition and hope that my baby knew what he was doing when it came to feeding. The nurses were so strict and regimented, however, that when Will lost 11% of his birth weight in the first two days (1% over average loss), they insisted on introducing formula.
Over my dead body.
I literally had to kidnap my own child from the nursery and keep him by my side to stop them from feeding him with formula given for free to the hospital by pharmaceutical reps. The staff threatened that doctors would come down very harshly on me if I refused to feed my child from a bottle. However, the courage I learned at sea came into play once again. The anger surged through my body at the way they treated me, which of course probably didn’t help my milk let-down. But I stuck to my guns, and they left me to it. Hey presto! My baby boy started school this year and got his first report card today which tells me that he is perfectly normal.
This tale endeth here, on a cold winter’s day in Australia, with me cozied up in my office reminiscing about the incredible things that happened to us all those years ago. No adventure in the world can hold a candle, though, to our new life as parents. The joys of watching our two children grow and discover life, as we show it to them, far outweighs any sunset at sea or moonlit phosphorescence. The fears of storms are put in the shade by the feelings we have when either child is sick. The wonder of their tender skin and glowing youth far surpasses any sight of dolphins prancing at the bow or whales sliding alongside us, watchfully.
But I still smile to know that we both saw our dreams come true and look forward to one day, just maybe, sailing vast distances with our kids alongside us. That would be truly amazing!
Chasing Dreams at Sea
By Caylie Jeffery