Jaryd Middleton (above

Returning to shore

Middleton family home after more than three years at sea

Jaryd Middleton has gazed into the belly of a bubbling volcano, walked through jungles infested with vicious Macaw monkeys and been frisked by a mischievous orangutan.

He didn’t come away without learning a thing or two.

“Always bring bananas,” the White Rock teenager says, sharing one of the many tips gleaned while sailing with his parents, Glen and Marilyn, over the past 3½ years.

Bananas, Jaryd explains, are good for bribing the resident orangutans that greet visitors who arrive at the docks in Kalimantan, Indonesia. With a banana in hand, it’s easier to convince the long-fingered – and incredibly strong – primates to let go, he said.

“The second you try and pass it, it holds onto you,” Jaryd says of the female that took a hankering to him as he tried to head for shore. “They basically frisk you for bananas.”

The experience was one of many the dark-haired 14-year-old will not soon forget.

In fact, relaxing in their Cliff Avenue home just a few days after their recent return to dry land, all three of the Middletons are hard-pressed to name just one or two highlights from the journey that took them across thousands of miles of open waters, from Vancouver to French Polynesia, New Zealand, the Cook Islands and as far as Malaysia – 15 countries in all.

“We’ve had so many experiences, it’s hard to cherry-pick,” Marilyn notes. “So many amazing experiences…”

The Middletons set out on their adventure in August 2007, aboard their 50-foot Waterline steel cutter, SV Tin Soldier. They coast-hopped down to the Baja Haha rally race, met up with Marilyn’s daughters – Lindsay and Erin – in Mazatlan, then embarked on a 3,000-mile leg across the Pacific to French Polynesia.

They navigated the Cook Islands and New Zealand – hunkering down for a few months in the latter – then made their way to up to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Along the way, there were moments of relaxing, meeting new friends – playing bingo where the grand prize was a live pig – and reconnecting.

Glen made a similar journey about 25 years ago, and made a point of revisiting a few of those stops with his family this go ’round.

Hard work played a much larger role, however, in keeping everything ship-shape, staying on top of weather patterns and in simply living life at sea. Contrary to the utopian vision of hammocks, blue skies and cocktails, sailing is not always as smooth as some might imagine.

“Many times, if you’re in the middle of the ocean and something goes wrong, you’re all you’ve got,” Marilyn says.

And when the weather starts to turn, 15 minutes is usually about all the time there is to prepare for it.

Even day-to-day chores that most people do without thinking – such as laundry or buying groceries – become a job when home is a sailboat, sometimes taking up an entire day to accomplish just one.

“Everything you do is a bigger deal,” Marilyn says. “It’s not the sort of carefree, off-into-the-sunset people imagine. It’s one that’s simpler in some ways, but in some ways, the stakes are high.”

They were reminded of those stakes a time or two, through events that left no doubt the world can be a cruel and unpredictable place. Like in September 2009, when Glen and Jaryd were readying to explore a Second World War wreck off the coast of Vanuatoo and a tsunami hit Samoa, prompting their guides to whisk them out of the water and up to high ground. Or in February, when Somali pirates hijacked the 58-foot SV Quest in the waters of the Indian Ocean, killing four American hostages. The Middletons were in Thailand at the time but had been in Fiji at the same time as the Quest.

“A number of people we know knew those folks,” Glen says.

Friends who were 500 miles off the coast of India at the time changed course as a result of the incident, choosing to avoid the very real risk of running into pirates themselves. They instead had their 46-foot boat transported to Turkey – at a cost of $650 per foot.

Another friend – a full-blown diabetic – left his family in the Maldives and risked the passage solo. If he had been taken by pirates, it would have been “a death sentence,” Glen notes.

As sad and frightening as the events were, none have dampened the Middletons’ love of the water. For Glen, 59, that love stretches back decades.

The retired South Surrey elementary school principal was drawn to sailing while studying at Simon Fraser University. He set out on his first journey in August 1985, travelling with friends from Vancouver to Japan.

“It was before Marilyn. It wasn’t nearly as much fun,” he quips.

Marilyn knew when she and Glen connected through their common careers – Marilyn retired from her teaching position at the Cloverdale Learning Centre by email, 18 months into their journey – that his dowry was a sailboat.

Her passion, however, is more for the lifestyle than sailing itself.

“I love the adventure of the lifestyle,” Marilyn says. “I don’t like the grungy days, where you’re heeled over.”

The Middletons took their first trip as a family 10 years ago, when Jaryd was just four. The “shakedown cruise” to Mexico and Hawaii was a test to see if the lifestyle was a good fit. It was.

For Glen, a highlight of the trip was realizing his dream of owning a cannon. He remembers such a weapon was all he’d wanted for his 50th birthday.

The dream came to fruition when their journey took them to the Spice Islands, where they tracked down someone willing to sell a 22½-kilogram swivel cannon that, centuries ago, would have been mounted on the rail of a Portugese ship.

“Much to Marilyn’s chagrin, I actually got this back on the plane,” Glen chuckles, as Jaryd hoists the cannon onto his shoulder. “It went right through customs – no muss, no fuss.”

He is similarly proud of a Dutch sabre he bought for $20 from a local café the following day. It had been found two days prior, 150 feet below the surface, during a dive off the island of Banda.

The 15th-Century weapon had been “sitting on the bottom of the ocean for hundreds of years,” Glen marvels.

“It’s a real keepsake.”

Jaryd’s desire to be a ‘normal’ teenager played a role in the family’s decision to return to dry land. As much as the teen enjoyed the adventure – which included attending school in New Zealand and Australia while the family waited out cyclone season – he longed to do the same things his Canadian peers were doing. Adjusting to the return has been the hardest part, Jaryd says. Still, it is good to be home.

“I love being in a house, being able to have dairy products, not being completely sweaty all the time.”

The family has committed to remain in port until Jaryd finishes high school. But two maps that hang on an upstairs wall of the family home hint the future has more on the horizon.

Blue and red pen lines and dates trace Glen’s 1985 route and the latest adventure. A third, penciled line and a coral-hued Post-it note reference fall 2012.

“We were thinking very seriously, and still want to, to go up to the Red Sea. But it isn’t going to happen now, simply because of the very real threat that is there,” Glen says.

“There’s a lot of oceans out there. We’ll pick one of them and probably end up in South Africa.”

 

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