The two of us had never really settled anywhere. We worked as IT contractors throughout Europe, and then whenever we had saved up enough, we would go sailing for a while. We always had boats, but in 2000, we decided we wanted to build our dream boat.

Because we knew we would need a very dry climate, as well as a place where we could get a long-term immigration permit, we decided on Australia, because we had visited before and really liked it.

We rented a big shed in a boat yard between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. There were actually heaps of people building sailing boats there, so we really quickly made friends and had a lot of fun. But the boat building process was even longer than we expected, as it took five years. And in the meantime, we looked for work.

Unfortunately, I could not get work in my field anywhere around Brisbane, because I’m a female project manager with a German speaking background. I got a couple of refusals which were just too straightforward, saying you’re not going to find work in management here, so I got angry and hopped on a plane to Brussels, where I found a job 10 days later. Six months later, Mike joined me.

But at the end of my contract, I applied for a job in Sydney, had an interview via teleconference, and was offered the job on the spot! So we then moved to Sydney, where we stayed for just over 10 years. We totally loved it, and really settled for the first time. We also became citizens.

Our boat was finished in 2008, but it wasn’t until 2018 that we finally set out on an ocean voyage. We first sailed to Darwin, then to Indonesia, Malaca, and Thailand. Next, we visited Western Sumatra and then on to the east coast of Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa. Finally, we went up the Atlantic to Ascension Island. That was when COVID hit.

As we only had a 10-day visa there, we thought we would try to make it to the Azores, but then the Azores closed. And it was the beginning of the cyclone season in the Caribbean. So we spoke to the one police officer on Ascension Island (who is also immigration), a lovely guy, and he said, ‘I know you can’t leave so you are just going to stay here independent of the visa as long as you need to.’

At the time there were 3 boats moored there. There were the Danish guys, there was our Australian neighbour, and there was us sitting there for three and a half months, until the first wave of COVID was over. Luckily, we all got on well together!

The island only has 800 inhabitants, and because of ships not being able to get in, there were some food restrictions. And although we could go in to walk around the island, it wasn’t possible every day because sometimes it was too dangerous to drop the dinghy. We also didn’t have very good internet, so it was difficult to get any information about what was happening in the world with COVID. Sometimes we felt like we were living on a spaceship!

Finally, we were able to sail to the Azores, and then on to Northern France. We had kept our German passports when we got our Australian citizenship, although we never expected we would need them. Now here we were 10 years later and those European passports became so important to us because we had somewhere to go.

When the second wave came, we were just stuck in the harbour there in France, basically going from lockdown to curfew to lockdown. The hardest one we had was when we were allowed one hour per day off the boat within a radius of one kilometre. Especially because Brittany was the coldest it had been for 50 years, and we had snow on the deck. That’s when the cabin gets small!

We finally got our vaccinations in France and have just come back to the Azores. We would love to come back to Australia, but because of the capping of arrivals, the cost of flying back is extremely expensive. Still, we feel grateful that we have another option to try to sail back, and we feel very sorry for the many others we have met who are stranded overseas, especially those with children.

The plan for us now is to take the only open route at the moment which is Panama and straight over the Pacific. We won’t be able to stop at any of the islands along the way because they are all closed, so it will be a long journey. Then we need to find a port in Australia that has a quarantine dock and quarantine hotel facilities.

Hopefully, we will make it back soon, and see our adopted home again!

Ellen and Michael
Arrived 2003

#migrants #adventure #sailing #COVID #lockdown #newhumansofaustralia #storiesnotstereotypes