True Story: My Husband And I Sailed From California to New Zealand – While I Was Pregnant

Long distance sailing a dream of yours? This is the story of Antonia and her adventure sailing from San Francisco to New Zealand with her husband. This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things.
Interview with Long Distance Sailors

An Interview with Long-Distance Sailors

Tell us a bit about yourself and your long-distance sailing adventures!

I’m from San Francisco, but I’ve lived in lots of places—New York, France, Rome, Guatemala. These days, I’m living in a small town in the north of New Zealand called Whangarei. My husband Peter and I washed up here five years ago in our sailboat Sereia, after cruising for two years through Central America and the Pacific. Now we have two kids, Silas and Miranda. Next year we’ll be moving to the country, so we’ll probably be adding to the family with some chickens and sheep.

How long have you been sailing?

I started sailing with my brothers on the San Francisco Bay when I was a little kid. But after college, I saved my money and hitched a ride on a yacht in the Caribbean as a cook. That’s what got me hooked for good – there was one morning, just at dawn, when I hung backwards over the lifelines and saw the moon in a pale pink sky, skimming over a water-washed planet, and that was it: I felt alive.That was 13 years ago. But in that time, I’ve lived on a boat full-time for 5 years.

long distance sailing across the pacific

What inspired your decision to long distance sail from San Francisco to New Zealand?

Peter and I were feeling really angry about the Bush administration. I was sick of paying taxes to fund foreign wars I didn’t believe in, especially when I couldn’t afford medical insurance. In 2004, I was teaching theater classes in San Francisco, and I thought: how am I ever going to afford a house in the Bay Area? How will I ever afford to send my kids to a decent school? What if I get in an accident and I bankrupt my family?

I majored in history and political science in college. I knew that other industrialized nations didn’t share America’s views about “every man for himself.” If it had been up to me, I probably would have moved to France. But Peter didn’t speak French, and New Zealand was downwind from San Francisco.

How did you prepare for your trip sailing across the Pacific?

Luckily, Peter was already an experienced captain. I like to tell him that’s why I married him, but that’s not true—he’s pretty sexy, too.

Like most Americans, we went on a buying spree, thinking that we needed all the right foods and all the right safety equipment, but we didn’t really need any of it. Once we got out there, it became clear that all we needed was a well-founded boat, and each other.

However, our parents didn’t agree. My Dad insisted on buying us a life raft, and Peter’s mom made us carry an EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon).

food abroad a long distance sailing boat

Tell us about an average day on the boat during your trip across the Pacific.

The best days were coastal cruising along the coasts of Mexico and Central America, then again in the islands of French Polynesia. Wake up in a secluded bay, to the sound of tropical parrots twittering in the trees. Sip your coffee on deck, the boat gently rocking at anchor. Get up, stretch, maybe take a morning dip in sparkling blue water. Take the dinghy in to the beach to explore up a river, or hunt for coconuts. Sometimes go snorkeling, or do a little fishing.

I cooked a lot from scratch, since we didn’t have refrigeration on board. I made breads and pizzas, dips and hummus from dried beans, and we’d grill fish we caught ourselves. In Central America, there was always some little market with incredible fresh produce, or sometimes locals would visit to sell us fresh fish and lobster.

Of course, those were the best days. There were also the days when we had to take three buses to some dusty, blistering hot town to hunt for stainless steel hardware in Spanish! Or cope with crooked customs officials, or take the toilet apart. But for the most part, it was two years of paradise.

Long distance sailing adventures

What were the biggest challenges of long distance sailing?

The single biggest challenge was being pregnant for our crossing of the Pacific. The plan had been to have this romantic ocean crossing, and try for a baby along the way. But then Peter knocked me up in an Ecuadorian boatyard. This meant two things: we crossed the ocean at the height of my morning sickness, and I couldn’t take my seasickness medication since it wasn’t safe to take while pregnant.

For 27 days, I was sick as a dog. I could barely lift my head to choke down a little brown rice twice a day. I drank water, I listened to books on tape, and I threw up. Occasionally, I crawled up on deck to look at the endless sea. Peter steered our boat across the Pacific Ocean by himself. That man is incredible.

What was the most exciting/scary/surprising thing that happened during your long distance sail?

I can think of a few moments, but the one that stands out is when we left the boat at anchor in Acapulco and went on a road trip up into the mountains. A tropical storm rolled in while we were gone, and our boat dragged anchor, crashing into a small fiberglass fishing boat. Thankfully, no one was hurt—our boat weighs 21,000 lbs empty, and it could have caused some terrible injuries.

But once we realized there wasn’t any human damage, then we found out the Port Captain wanted to see us. I was terrified! I had this idea in my head they’d put Peter in some Mexican prison, and I’d have to find an English-speaking lawyer in Acapulco, and that would be the end of our adventures.

But that was just my own silliness. The Port Captain was a model of professionalism. There was no talk of lawsuits or prison. He just asked us to pay for the repairs on the other guy’s boat, which came to about $600, and he asked us to please be more careful in the future.

What did you learn about yourself (and your husband) while doing a long distance sail?

We learned that we are a fantastic team. More times than I can count, we have held one another’s lives in our hands. We trust each other with everything. Sure, there were days when we got on each other’s nerves, but then we learned to give one another space and remain civil, even when we were secretly spitting tacks.

That strength and resilience in our marriage has served us well as we confronted the stresses of immigrating to another country, and having two children, one of them with major learning disabilities. I don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t had the strength and beauty from those two years to draw on.

What advice would you give to others interested in long-distance sailing adventures?

Just Go. Go now. Go with the boat you can afford. Don’t wait for the perfect boat, the perfect gear, because then you’ll never go. Go now.

Thanks so much for sharing, Antonia!  Are any of you sailors?  Would you ever live on a boat?

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  1. The Dame Intl

    What an incredible story! I am terrified of being pregnant, I can't image what it would be like to be sick or 27 days on a flipping boat! I would want to murder my husband! I'm also not sure how you give each other space when on a boat in the ocean… Amazing feat of strength!

    • Antonia Murphy

      Thanks, the Dame. Mostly, I was just too weak to argue!

  2. Sarah M

    I would love to someday do this. When my husband and I met he said he has a dream of sailing around the world. We just reached one of our other multi-year planning goals a few weeks ago, and we're on cloud 9. We'll reach that, one, too, someday. Now we're just saving up for a few kayaks 🙂
    You should write a memoir about your trip. I love travel stories like this!
    Sarah M

    • Antonia Murphy

      Ha! I actually did write a memoir, called ROUGH AS GUTS. My agent is shopping around New York as we speak. Fingers crossed!

  3. Hannah J

    That sounds like an amazing adventure – my husband when sailing and they headed for Amsterdam but his team had to turn back because of how sick the team were. I don't think I could do it but it sounds amazing all the same and such an adventure – and one heck of a story to tell the baby.

    • Antonia Murphy

      Yeah, I think seasickness one of the few illnesses that makes you WISH you would die, just so it would end!

  4. Girliest Nerd

    That is so awesome! FWIW I was sick for the first 15 weeks, literally every moment of the day with my pregnancy and I was on land. Though it sure as hell felt like I was on a boat 24/7. My deepest sympathies to you 🙂

    I love people who put their money where their mouth is, and don't just sit around and complain or wait for their life to change. I'm not American but I have a lot of American friends who were very bitter and angry about Bush but did absolutely nothing about it. You certainly don't have to go as far to leave the country if you're not happy but you should do SOMETHING if you truly care. Anyway, kudos!

    • Antonia Murphy

      Yeah, I guess political activism would have been more productive. But tropical beaches were more fun…

    • Truthsayer

      They think (thought) Bush was bad….have they been paying attention to how "the new guy" has been DESTROYING this country!? Lucky you left when you did.

  5. Katie Lee

    I LOVE THIS! What an awe-inspiring story. It has such perfect lessons even for us non-sailors. Thank you for sharing with us.

  6. Courtney

    This is really inspiring 🙂

  7. camanoe

    Antonia – My BF and I sailed with the Baja-Haha last season and spent 2011/2012 in Mexico. We had thoughts of going south or puddle jumping, but I decided to come back to the bay for work while the BF sailed single-handed from Cabo to Hawaii and back to SF. We have friends who crossed to New Zealand via the puddle jump and are now also in Whangarei. Their boat is s/v Charisma (Bob and Ann) – maybe you'll run into them at the dinghy dock. They're awesome and also from SF Bay. I'll have to follow your blog. We live vicariously through our friends' blogs now that we're back home and not enjoying the sea as much.

    • Antonia Murphy

      Thanks, I'll keep an eye out for them!

  8. Jenny

    I grew up like this – up and down the pacific coast. The people I was with sucked, but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. I keep trying to convince my husband that we need to do it – maybe your story will be inspiration! 🙂 Best of luck on your new adventure in the country!

    • Antonia Murphy

      Wow, I bet you've got some stories! Often the worst times (and crew-mates) make for the best tales!

  9. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    " But then Peter knocked me up in an Ecuadorian boatyard." Seriously, best line ever! What an incredible journey!!!

    • Antonia Murphy

      I know, who knew fiberglass dust and ceviche could be so sexy?

  10. Mim

    This is so amazing. I would love to do this!

  11. Mary-Lynn

    I've never particularly wanted to do that exactly, but Antonia's advice to "Go with the boat you can afford. Don't wait for the perfect boat…" is perfect for any (ad)venture anyone has dreamed of embarking on.

    • Antonia Murphy

      Yeah, so many people waste time waiting for perfection…

  12. Anonymous

    Pardon me for asking but…how do you make money?

    • Antonia Murphy

      Ha! Don't you hate how coy people are about this? There are several answers: 1) Peter saved some money for a couple of years before we left, 2) He also inherited a bit of cash, 3) We did some yacht deliveries while underway for pay, 4) I sold some travel articles while underway, 5) Life in Mexico and Central America is pretty cheap, especially when you're fishing and eating dried beans. Oh, and remember… we only went for two years. After that, we had some catching up to do!

  13. Alana

    This is really cool Antonia! Love your story 🙂

  14. Anonymous

    I live in Whangarei!! Born and raised. Thank you for your story, I am interested to hear your views on this little town. I'll see you over at your blog.

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  16. Ani

    My fiance and I are thinking about sailing from Long Beach, CA to New Zealand. She is the sailor and I have much to learn. We live on a 44' Hardin Catch. Have you thought about making a cookbook to go along with your memoir? I'd love to read your memoir when it gets published! Question- Do you know any of the regulations regarding little sailing dogs?

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