How we stay together: 'You can't spend all your life worrying about the other person'

Alexandra Spring

Names: Mike Buky and Trish Soper
Years together: 45
Occupations: Retired

The first time Michael Buky took his now-wife Trish Soper sailing, during a holiday in Greece, the small boat sank. Fortunately they survived, and not long after that, when he suggested they pack up their lives in London and go sailing around the world, she agreed. 

At the time she couldn’t sail, she couldn’t row and she could barely swim, but the pair have always shared a love of adventure. So the couple set off in July 1989 on what would be a 10-year trip, sailing around the world, just the two of them.

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Growing up in London, Mike was determined to live an adventurous life. When he met the New Zealand-born Trish in Kathmandu in 1974, he’d found his match. He was driving an overland bus across Europe, dropping off one group in Nepal before picking up a new batch of tourists heading back the other way. Among them was Trish, a nurse from Dunedin, who’d grown up on a sheep farm and was now exploring the world. 

She was intrigued by the Londoner who made her laugh, but remembers thinking: “Gosh, he’s a bit of a know-all sometimes.” With a smile, she continues: “I did admire his confidence and competence because the longer I got to know him, I realised how important it was to be confident in the position he was in. We were literally putting our lives in his hands. So as a pretty unsophisticated group, it was good to have somebody that knew how things worked.”

Trish caught Mike’s eye but initially he feigned disinterest, hoping to make her jealous (“You don’t show interest straight away!” he laughs now), but Trish was oblivious: “I was not jealous [although] I was wondering why he was ignoring me.”

When they arrived in Delhi, he asked her to dinner. “We talked a lot. Mike had this romantic idea of sheep farming and life in New Zealand and had had thoughts of going to New Zealand well before he met me. So he was very interested in my background, which was flattering.” Mike was intrigued too: “I always wanted to get away from London, away from Europe, and see other things. So it was exciting to meet someone from New Zealand.”

From there, “things developed”, they say. “It was very easy to experiment a bit more when you’re on holiday away from the constraints of your peers or your family,” Trish says drily, with Mike adding: “I think the romance bubbled away in the background.” 

Disaster struck when they stopped in Yugoslavia. Trisha had developed an abscess behind her knee and Mike thought she should fly to London for medical attention. When no one else would go with her, he decided to go himself to deliver her into the care of his doctor father. In two days, he got her to London, then returned to the group. A few weeks later, he arrived back in London to find Trish recovering slowly. “I’d been worried that she was going to lose her leg, but my father said that wasn’t the problem, she’d probably have lost her life from septicemia.”

Although Mike insists he’s not romantic or “the gooey sort”, there was a strong connection between them.

“As things turned out I had met the right person,” says Trish. “Because Michael was incredibly thoughtful and loyal and he lost his job with the driving firm because of flying me back to London and leaving his passengers. So I felt very happy that I’d met him but also very grateful.”

The couple stayed at Mike’s parents house while she recovered. They’d each made plans to continue travelling – and so they decided to go their separate ways.

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Mike ended up working in New Zealand as a jackaroo, and after six months apart, they were reunited at Trish’s parents’ farm. Although Mike says there were no great declarations, they decided to do their adventuring together. “It’s good fun to be with someone who you’re a soulmate with and have adventures with them. You both have your pluses and minuses … you’re learning.”

Trish’s conservative parents hoped the pair would get married, but Trish made it clear they weren’t planning to do so. “Years later when I rang up and said, ‘Michael and I are getting married’, my mother said at the time, ‘What for? You’ve been together so long.’”

And they made the decision not to have children: “Neither of us wanted children and have never regretted it,” says Mike, adding: “Our lives as lived would not have been possible with children.”

They settled in Queenstown until 1980, then returned to the UK. There, they worked and travelled throughout Europe and north Africa by car and motorbike. At one stage they planned to cross the Sahara by motorbike, but were robbed in Morocco.

After a few years in London, Mike had had enough of living in the city and convinced Trish to take to the seas in a yacht.

This made them reconsider getting married. “It was basically to make our lives a bit easier because married couples were treated better when you wanted to enter a country,” says Mike. Being able to work in each others’ home countries was also a perk. “I wouldn’t say that there was no romance [but] there wasn’t much romance in it.”

Life at sea required adaptation. “It’s a learning curve and I think what enthuses us both is new experiences and learning whatever it is,” says Mike. “And you’ve got to learn about yourself. What you can cope with. Learning about the boat, learning about the weather, learning about everything and you make mistakes, but hopefully not serious ones.”

They got on well together on the boat, dividing the labours of sailing equally. “There was always a lot to do on the boat with just the two of us,” says Trish. “If we were doing a passage, you’d be either on watch and keeping everything going, or you’d be sleeping or resting or cooking or fishing or something. I mean, there was no time to really get upset and argue with each other much.”

They were together constantly yet maintained their individuality. “I think you can have a separate existence even when you’re together,” says Mike. “It happened on the boat. We’d go for several days without saying anything to each other because everything was being done.”

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After almost a decade at sea, sailing the Atlantic and the Pacific, they reached Australia in 1998, landing in Queensland. Initially they lived aboard the yacht on the Mooloolah River. Trish went back to nursing, while Mike studied.

Eventually it came time to sell the boat that had been their home for so long. It was another challenge: “I realised I couldn’t stay on the boat any longer. It was too small. There was no space left and I never felt that when we were sailing,” says Trish. While Mike was very attached to the boat and not keen to sell, he agreed. They moved into a home in Queensland but eventually decided to move to rural Tasmania, where they now live.

Their time together, particularly on the boat, has meant they’re good at making decisions. “The next big decision, as we age, is moving out from this property, but we’ll get there eventually. It’s being pragmatic, being practical,” says Mike.

As on the boat, they share the workload of running their property. “We recognise in each other not to have unrealistic expectations … that’s the main thing that I had to learn,” says Trish.

The pair are steadfastly self-contained. “Trish’s very competent in everything she does,” says Mike. “We both had to look after each other on occasions over an accident here and an illness there, but generally speaking, we don’t.” He adds: “You can’t spend your life worrying about the other person all the time. So we’re pragmatically close.”

Says Trish: “I think you’ve got to be honest with each other and express what you want to happen as opposed to dreaming about what might happen.”

They rarely argue, but when they do, they don’t speak for a few days. “Since we ignored each other for days on end [on the boat], it’s very easy to ignore each other after a conflict,” says Mike with a laugh. “We have disagreements, but they’re not major ones now because I think if you carry around all of the bitterness, it’s not healthy,” says Trish. 

They ascribe the longevity of their relationship to tolerance, loyalty and “the awareness that that person is there for you”. Adds Trish: “And not to expect too much … don’t expect all the sort of things that you see on television. It’s ridiculous. People are expecting to be happy 24 hours a day. And that just doesn’t happen.”

Their commitment to each other remains strong: “Commitment to adventure, commitment to humour, commitment to looking after each other, commitment to helping each other,” says Mike.

“I think it’s trust that holds everything together,” says Trish. “I know that Michael would have my back and I would certainly have his. For me, it’s an unconditional thing. You’ve got to have a best mate and I’m just lucky he’s it.”

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