Current Affairs

Que Langdon is settled in NZ after 27 days lost at sea

Alan Langdon made international headlines when he sailed with his daughter Que to Australia. For 27 days her mother didn't know where she was. Now, one year on, Que and her mother reflect on the ordeal.

Her adventurous early childhood was spent sailing the world on her parents' yacht, but most of the time, gorgeous sun-kissed Que Langdon is just like any other giggly seven-year-old girl.
"This is my new doll, Matilda," she whispers, swaddling the plastic baby up in a blanket with her favourite soft toy. "And if you give her a bottle, the water comes out the other end!"
Her Swiss-born mother Ariane Wyler, 37, laughs. "Que isn't a girly girl – she's into the beach, swimming, anything active and outdoors. The doll is a new obsession. I guess it is part of Que discovering more about herself and her new life."
Last summer, Que and her father Alan Langdon made headlines around the world when they set sail from Kawhia to the Bay of Islands in their 6.1m catamaran – then simply disappeared. Ariane and Alan had been tussling over access to Que, and the mother had hardly seen her girl in two years.
An international search was launched by the coast guard, border patrol and Interpol, yet for nearly a month, nothing was heard of the father and daughter duo – and a grief-stricken Ariane had no way of knowing if her only child was even alive.
In an exclusive interview at the time, she told Woman's Day the only word to sum up how she felt was "wretched".
Then, 27 days after setting sail, the pair turned up in the small New South Wales port of Ulladulla. Alan told local reporters a storm broke their rudder four days into their journey, so they harnessed the prevailing winds to Australia, crossing 2000km of open seas in a boat not much bigger than a dinghy.
January 15, 2017, is a date that will be forever etched in Ariane's mind. Once the father-daughter duo had been spotted in New South Wales, she flew to Australia to meet with a child-recovery team and bring her daughter home to Aotearoa.
Que and her dad Alan.
Que was playing alone in the playground near the marina and Ariane waited for the right moment before approaching her daughter in the bathrooms at the Ulladulla Harbour Buildings.
"I walked in, smiled at her and said hi," recalls Ariane.
"She jumped into my arms. It was a surreal and highly emotional moment for both of us. Within seconds, we were in the car and on a highway heading to Sydney."
Apart from a rushed doorstep meeting on Que's sixth birthday, it was the first time she'd been able to spend any time with her daughter since she was four years old.
Father and daughter sailed 2,000km and slept in the holds of this catamaran.
"At last I had my little girl back in my arms and as a mother, I wanted to cry tears of joy and sadness, but I couldn't because Que had so many questions and was naturally quite bewildered," recalls Ariane.
A year on, sitting side by side in the lounge of the home they rent in a small South Island town, Ariane asks Que gently, "Do you remember the day I came to get you?"
"Yes," says Que, cradling her doll. "I was like, 'What?! What's going on?'"
Born in Palau in the Western Pacific Ocean, Que spent her first four years sailing the Pacific on her parents' 14m catamaran, Tiki Sanyasin. Her unusual name Que (pronounced "kwee") is a derivative of kuia, the Maori name for a female elder.
Que and her dad Alan.
"It took days to name her – none of the girl names really seemed to fit," explains Ariane. "Her full name is Que Tatiana Moana Langdon, a fairy princess of the sea."
Que, who grew up on and in the water, is a fun-loving and curious little girl who could jump off the side of the boat and swim in the sea long before she could walk. But in 2015, Cyclone Pam hit while the family was aboard their yacht in Vanuatu.
With 320km winds, the cyclone took at least 15 lives – and came close to claiming Alan, Ariane and Que.
While other sailors moored their boats in the cyclone-proof moorings and sheltered on the shore, Ariane claims Alan was determined to weather the storm. The couple put Que between them and hung on as their yacht was dragged down the seawall, its rigging, chains and poles tangled up.
A terrfied Ariane was washed overboard and says she only survived because she was thrown onto the seawall. She alleges Alan told her afterwards he lost Que twice as the yacht began to disintegrate.
The family lost everything – their photos, their uninsured yacht and all their belongings – and it took its toll on their relationship and Ariane's mental health. She spent time in Waikato Hospital before her mother took her back to Switzerland to recover.
After that, Alan and Que embarked on a nomadic life around Australia, living rough and often off the land. As hard as she tried, Ariane found it nearly impossible to get in contact with the pair.
"They lived in their own bubble. For Que, it was like I didn't exist for nearly two years."
Refusing to give up, Ariane spent more than $100,000 on lawyers and a child-recovery specialist to try to find them.
Que, Ariane and Alan on their sailing adventures.
"I was never going to stop fighting for my daughter," she declares.
At first, Que told her mother little about her 27-day odyssey at sea, then slowly her child-like stories began to come out. She saw dolphins. A whale swam under the tiny hull where she slept at night. She had fun, but she was scared in the storm.
"I encourage her to talk about her father," tells Ariane. "She has photos of him and I know she loves him."
Ariane says Que hasn't seen or heard from her father since the day she discovered her in Ulladulla, although Alan's mother has paid a visit.
"All I will say is that a child is entitled to contact and communication from both parents," asserts Ariane.
The past year has been all about providing Que with stability and routine. For the first time in her life, the little seafaring girl has spent a full 12 months on land.
For the doting mum, the time has also been about getting to know her daughter again and building their future together.
For the first three months, the pair stayed with a close friend, slowly catching up on the past two years, playing with her pets, reading books and swimming in the sea.
"It only took a day and then it was like a switch going off," says Ariane. "I went from feeling like I was on my own to being a mother again."
Ariane likes to safeguard their privacy by not naming their hometown, but it is a quiet and close-knit, small- town community.
"People here meet on the beach, do family activities. Que is known and loved by many people. This is home."
And although her nomadic childhood meant she missed her first year of school, Que is a bright young girl who has already caught up to her peers academically.
"She is a happy girl who has a lot of friends and excels at any sporting activity – tennis, cross-country, gymnastics and swimming," tells Ariane proudly.
Last year, Ariane put her career on the backburner to support Que emotionally, but this year, she hopes to use her qualification in reflexology and background in applied science to start her own business.
The pair have a lot to look forward to in 2018 – Ariane's mother Edith Wyler, 73, is coming out from Lugano, near the Swiss/Italian border, to meet Que for the first time.
"The last two years area time of my life I don't want to go back to," reveals Ariane.
"But I am not looking back – I am looking towards the future now with Que. I'm just so thankful to have my little girl back."#

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