Sunday, July 1, 2012

Upside Down Down Under

The sails snapped crisply, catching the wind as we crossed the start line of the Wednesday afternoon yacht race, the 38 foot craft cutting through the protected waters of Sydney Harbour. Thankfully, my role was  simple; I was the "grinder". For the most part this necessitated taking hold of the winch handle and, upon command, cranking it quickly to trim the jib sail, allowing it to maximize its power and pull the sail boat forward through the waves. The primary effort was expended upon "coming about" (tacking into the wind to change direction). I welcomed the intermittent "grinding" as it was enough to keep me warm. Despite the mostly sunny afternoon, rain clouds sent threatening droplets from time to time and the air was cool as the boat sliced through the water. Regardless, we could not have asked for a better view of Sydney, its innumerable inlets, famous opera house and bridge skyline. It reminded me very much of a combination of the Vancouver and Victoria harbours back home, and my days as a novice crew member sailing on "Choiseul” and various similar races. Sailing again had me imagining that I was on a round the world voyage, covering great distances and leaping from country to country in a single bound. The scenery of the city waterfront, the memories of yacht racing when I was a young man and the recognition that we were on an epic journey simultaneously flooded my senses. The silly grin that occupied my face signalled I was undoubtedly enjoying every minute of it.

We had arrived in Australia on Sunday at about 12:30 PM., and immediately following touchdown at Sydney International Airport we experienced a series of shocks to our systems. While only a two hour time difference between Singapore and Sydney, the two cities seemed to me to be worlds apart. Of course, this was amplified by the fact that we were disoriented, having been up most of the night due to the flight schedule (departing Singapore at 10:30 PM on Saturday, arriving at the small airport in Darwin on Sunday early morning at 4:30 AM, where we waited for flight leaving to Sydney at 7:30 AM). Despite jumping from country to country every few days for the past seven weeks, switching countries and cultures was something we were never entirely prepared for. A blast of cold air came down the pedway between the plane and the terminal announcing that Australia's winter had replaced the sultry, tropical weather we had experienced in Singapore, Thailand, India and the prior stops in Africa. While the skies were mostly clear, it sporadically rained lightly; therefore jackets were required during the day, with a fleece added at night whenever we were out. These were parts of our wardrobe that had rarely been used since the Andes Mountains. 
The second thing that knocked us off balance was returning to the familiarity of a completely westernized nation, which reminded us of home and the realization that our adventure would soon be over. Perhaps for the first time in several months, rather than looking forward to the events to come, we found ourselves more often looking back at the memories and recalling people we had met. We had so many stories to tell it was hard not to dominate conversations with them. 
Australia was a very comfortable place to visit. The Aussies were very welcoming for Carson, Parky and me. Chris and Pam suspended their own priorities and privacy for us, despite never having met us before. Their home became our home, and we soon felt like part of the family, joking and teasing over the most delicious porridge for breakfast or laughing over an evening meal as we shared stories of our travels.  They were our sacrificial hosts and provided transportation, or directions and instructions in order to travel the trains, to and from our various meetings and appointments. Getting to know many members of the Sydney Parkinson's community was a highlight.  This included having dinner with John and Becky Silk, discussing matters with researchers and neurologists, meeting and sharing with members and staff of the New South Wales Parkinson's Society, participating in Clyde Campbell's latest Parkinson's disease awareness video filming, and enjoying that unforgettable afternoon sailing with Andrew Whitton and his friends. There are so many people to thank for the extraordinary experience in Australia. 
The skipper and his five crew members (including Carson and me) cheered as we crossed the finishing line third in our class. But at the same time we were celebrating our sailing success I found myself pondering the past two months.  How would I ever hang on to the memories of the unrepeatable experiences, maintain the irreplaceable relationships with the wonderful people I met, and retain the profound sense of gratitude I had for it all? Truly it has been a once-in-a-lifetime, legendary journey that has changed me. My world has been turned upside down forever.


  1. Good to know that you are almost reaching home,in you i found not only a friend but also a mentor.God bless you and Carson.

  2. Peninah;

    Our time together, though short, is one of the treasures that I will long remember. I consider it an honor that you stepped into my life so willingly and transparently offering your story, and giving me perspective I lacked. Even now, I often relate the story about what I have called, "the Masai Princess" (for that is what I see you as).

    I hope all is well and that you are experiencing many blessings.


  3. Bob;
    I am so happy to hear from you,i'm so touched by this- "when you close your eyes how old are you" it brought tears to my eyes. I hope all is well with you,how is Carson?pass my regards to him and your family at large,we always talk about you with ma colleague Caroline,how you were so open to share your story with us,you are my MENTOR,may God give you more years to live so that we can meet again.SHALLOM(PEACE)