The Bucket Listers

After his diabetes diagnosis, former top cop Phil Wright retired early from the New Zealand Police and set off with his wife Jackie on a round-the-world sailing odyssey.

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Ruth Jeffrey’s climb up Mt Kilimanjaro was inspirational. Many people with diabetes have bucket lists. Maybe it’s being confronted with the news that our health is under threat?

I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1993 at the age of 45. Seven years later my wife Jackie and I gave up stressful jobs and, one windy evening in September 2000, we set sail from Opua to scratch “Sailing around the world” off our bucket list.

Our boat was a relatively old Cavalier 39 fibreglass yacht, slow but safe and stable. This trusty boat took us up the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal and over the next three years we visited Israel, Turkey, sailed through the Mediterranean to Greece, Italy and Spain. Passing into the Atlantic at Gibraltar, we crossed to the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal and back across the Pacific.

We get asked “Were there any scary times?”

In the piracy-prone Indian Ocean, 400 miles from Oman, we were stopped by a rough looking fishing boat. Jackie hid below while I went up on deck to see what they wanted. Our fears turned to smiles when they held up a bunch of coconuts, which we traded for biscuits!

Arriving by boat can be difficult. You sail into port with a yellow flag at the mast (certifying you don’t have plague aboard). Tie up where you can, look for the harbour master’s office, with ship’s papers and crew passports in hand. Fill out the forms and pay taxes, (some invented by poor officials). You must learn enough of the local language to ask “Where is the grocery store/diesel/the bus/Internet café?”, “Please” and “Thank you” and “Buzz off” to the pesky peddlers!

Highlights included sailing under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, visiting Jerusalem, swimming in the Dead Sea, visiting the Blue Mosque at Istanbul, and seeing Lonesome George, the last turtle of his kind, a year before he died on the Galapagos Islands.

Six years later, and eight days out from Tonga, we saw the smudge of New Zealand on the horizon. We were home.

During our trip, we saw how diabetes was managed around the world. In New Zealand we have the best treatment in the world – free diabetes medications, Pharmac, Ministry of Health support with yearly assessments, free blood analyses, test meters – and the help of Diabetes NZ!

Insulin supplies were a problem. With the help of officials at the Ministry of Health, a friendly chemist and my GP, I could manage a year’s supply at a time. A solar panel and small fridge were needed. My health on our return was better than when I left.

Jackie and I now live in a remote bay in Tory Channel, Queen Charlotte Sound. We have no power and no roads, cutting firewood and taking the yacht to Picton for supplies keeps me active and I have my diabetes under good control.

Would we do it again? You bet, in a heartbeat!

Phil Wright, was Assistant Commissioner of Police when he retired aged 53 in 1998. His wife Jackie Wright, was sole-charge Librarian at GCSB, and retired at age 51.

Phil shared his story in the Winter 2017 issue of Diabetes magazine. Subscribe to Diabetes NZ today to receive your copy.

To read back issues, visit here.

Jo Chapman