During my October 2016 trip to Bangkok, one of our Thai colleagues helped me photocopy and laminate a 100cm x 50cm nautical merchant navy map of the world I have treasured since the 1970s although time is making the original fragile.
When I was a small boy my maternal Uncle gave us that map. On browning paper the countries are all yellow and only show the coastal port names and the country names. There are no borders or capital cities marked, unless they are also ports. The oceans are gridded out in what must be some multiple of nautical square miles. Marked in pencil by my Uncle’s crew, is a voyage on November 27, although no year written, shows a 27 day journey from Auckland to Liverpool. There are also some scribbles from my younger brother, who despite our differences, was always my Watson, as much as I was his Mycroft.
This map was deftly sticky-taped to our island bedroom wall. One night it fell down onto a lit mosquito coil and thus a fiery cyclone was burnt into the North Pacific Ocean on the Tropic of Cancer between Hawaii and the Mariana islands. Our house did not burn down and the map has interesting half moon holes with blacked edges. There are tears and folds, cockroach poo stains too. Yet even when we moved to the mainland, it was proudly tacked to my desk wall and I just looked at that simple tricolor depiction every time I got frustrated with high school home work. By end of Uni, I had lightly penciled out my own sea route to different continents. There were years I took the map to Hong Kong (yet another island home) when I was living there and cutting my teeth in business, dim sum and the ways of women. For seven years it has filled the void in a little wooden alcove shelf home office in our Bangkok living room. Calling it my ‘ship desk’ where I keep all my wooden cigar boxes, matches and timber card file drawers.
So I have now rolled and wrapped up the fragile original and the laminated photocopy is now back in my new Australian home, ready to be white board markered to our hearts delight.
Last December, as we said farewell to the many families and friends we know in Bangkok, we agreed without a doubt 2016/2017 would be years best spent in our countries of birth as only more discomfort would be experienced if we lived in nations having transition, nationalization, missile tests, land grabbing in open waters and opposed to our own countries in the process of having elections, protests, human tidal waves and natural disasters. Rarely do I lament, 25 years ago I became a migrant myself and in some aspects an economic refugee. Probably, due to the comfort I enjoyed and lack of persecution. With no lack of irony, I was now wanting to make my young children boat people.
By February, we carefully considered the facts that we have family in different parts of Australia and Thailand, a head office in Hong Kong and frequent work in Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore. Consequently, living on a boat seemed the best compromise as jet fuel is overpriced and gravity lacks forgiveness when it comes to helicopters.
My quietly suffering wife and I have both worked on boats at different points in our life and lived modestly on islands of varying size and temperament. Despite our kids being so young, we contacted some boat owners in Newcastle and Cardwell, who advised us to only consider large catamarans if living on board with children. Ditto for blogs of floating home schoolers. (Don’t worry, I didn’t go totally Mosquito Coast meets Jonestown!). Less rocking and more space to walk around, as opposed to walking up and down the length of a single hull. We had Chinese New Dinner with some of our Hong Kong friends who were once school teachers and have since moved back to Townsville and with three tables, we also met their local friends who are involved with boating.
By early March I enrolled for general entry test to join the Navy, with the view to learn some more sea skills and ultimately be on the right side of ocean disputes in the South China Sea. Navy has big plans for North Queensland and need lots of people. Despite basic training involving 6 months in freezing Victorian seas and being away from my family, it was an exciting and mentally stimulating exercise, practicing for the onscreen exam and being shouted at by Air Force officers. Was even more interesting looking at the roles I could apply for, though I ultimately declined their subsequent request for further documents. Good wife preferring we all be together on a boat as a family and crew.
One evening when we were walking home, we spotted a 25 year old Toyota Corolla across the road from us for sale $1,600 and only 100,000km. So we got it specifically for the purpose of driving to Mission Beach on one of the long weekends. Had a great time in a caravan park and I started writing a blog https://stayatworkfatherofthree.wordpress.com and my best friend in Hanoi keeps asking me to update it, although I am more interested in using it to complete chapters of novels, rather than journaling.
In May, Alpha completed his four week junior sailing course with flying colors and did not get eaten by any of the crocodiles or sharks said to roam the foreshore. He also got student of the week and Bravo was noted as reading way above his level. Grandpa and Grandma loved coming down to watch our boys sailing and we became members of the sailing club. Stayatworkfatherofthree starting going out on the $10 Wednesday night Twilight sails, which is a 2 hour race around the bay between mainland and Island from 6pm to 8pm so, meet some people, drink some beers, have a race at sunset, give baby sitter deposit for small Federation cottage whenever Stayathomemotheroffour comes with me;-)