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Explore the Idea of the Fools Journey

This Hunter Valley resident has “always gone and done things.” She likes to seize opportunities then see what unfolds. In her forties, she boldly decided it was time to say goodbye to Melbourne’s boardrooms and embrace life. But she never realised this step would be such a profound learning experience.

Without any plans, and expecting to go overseas indefinitely, Penny Goldfinch chatted with her partner of six months, Ralph Kluge, about her decision. He wanted in and suggested they sail. Penny agreed, even though she had no sailing experience.

“It was a fool’s journey. In a heartbeat, we would do it again. The experience was pure life with every moment appreciated, as day-to-day, we faced life and death decisions. The boat journey enabled me to find the pinnacle of importance: to live life without fear,” Penny said.

In 2009, stunned family and friends, saw the couple sell their properties, buy a boat, then set sail from Townsville to Papua and New Guinea with no itinerary other than to travel and contribute along the way.

From the start they had engine trouble, even though Ralph was an accomplished mariner, they still needed to sail a lot, and within six months, Penny was able to handle the boat.

“Sailing is a harsh lifestyle as you depend on the weather, and it tells you what to do. Though it also gives you a fresh appreciation of life and your choices, which become very real and visceral.”

View from Penny's office in Honiara Solomon Islands

They were away for five years and visited the many Micronesian States that can only be accessed by private boats such as Puluwat, Wolei, Yap as well as the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Along the way their contributions included being Australian International Volunteers, working for the United Nations, establishing Samoa’s first suicide prevention organisation, installing solar panels, teaching outboard motor repair skills and business classes.

With thousands of highlights that Penny describes as both dangerous and cool (like sailing over the Mariana Trench), what sticks with her the most are the life lessons she learned along the way. These included trusting in her partner, believing in herself and her abilities and also being open to others values.

One of her most treasured takeaways happened during her shift at the helm, while under sail (as the engine had died again) in two to three-metre waves and Ralph resting. When the wind died, bruised, tired and frantically sobbing, Penny decided to give in, take down the sails, lock herself in the cockpit. With the hope: “it will pass”.

“It did! The hysteria was not required. It was a good and powerful lesson to learn. It puts all things in perspective.”

During the journey, Penny became reacquainted with her creativity through photography. Coming from a family of photographers, she found it was an excellent way to keep in touch.

“I also discovered that if I stop taking photos, something is wrong – as it feeds my soul.”

In the future, the couple wants to buy another boat (with a functioning engine!), most likely in the US, and sail through other regions, maybe circumnavigating the world.

Penny now has an affinity with vast horizons. However, she believes it is more – a soul connection. She has experienced the coming home feeling in Wolei, as well as previously in Japan and Turkey. “Yes, I looked odd being tall and fair, though I was like a duck to water with the culture, language and behaviour. I’m sure there will be other places.”

She feels a pull towards the Silk Road, Alaska, Greenland and Cuba.

From her sailing journey, Penny knows “life is for living, and there is nothing the human condition can’t achieve”.

She encourages others to live their best life, seize opportunities, see what manifests, go with the flow, explore the idea of the fool’s journey, and be open to more than what is on your list. Never has this advice been more valuable than right now.

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