WHAT YOU LEAVE BEHIND
People often ask us why we gave up a comfortable home ashore, and successful careers in teaching and trial law, to move aboard and cruise. They also wonder why we did it with two babies. And then they wonder how it is that we are still doing it. more than 17 years later, with around 5,000 miles per year passing under the keel. The answer doesn't lend itself to cocktail party quips.
We do it because it's fun. We do it because it's beautiful. We do it because we love nature and the sea and the winds and the sky. We do it because it allows us to raise a family the way a family should be raised—and to know our children. We do it because it gives us more control over the way our family lives and survives, over the education and the maturing of our children, over the air we breathe. It gives us more control over our lives.
Most of us live restricted lives, but we are seldom sure of who or what is in control. We do know that it isn't us. We have jobs, the main purpose of which is to support other jobs. Few of these jobs are relevant to our daily well-being, except that they bring in money so we can have things done for us that we could probably do better for ourselves or do without.
Many of us are required to do and pay for meaningless things, such as nonsensical clothing. Even in the heat of the summer many men “must” wear a coat, and a long piece of cloth tightly wrapped around their necks. To endure this outlandish attire, we have to fill our buildings and vehicles with cold air. And to afford this luxury we must work harder.
We are told whether our children can pray; we are told that our children must learn things whether we, as parents, think they are appropriate; we are told that our children must comply with social standards and values established by governmental committees; and we then see that our children haven't learned the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Blackouts tell it all. During a blackout, we often can't get water to drink, we can't get air into the enclosed structures where we work and live, our stored food thaws and begins to rot, our traffic becomes hopelessly snarled, we can't get gasoline from the electric pumps, we can't learn from “the authorities” what to do, and there's not much that we could do anyway.
We are helplessly dependent upon a supply system that, with a hiccup, could leave us starving. What would happen to your family if the convenience store around the corner didn't have food tomorrow? What would happen if the large grocery store in the shopping center didn't open—and the next one down the street? Do you have enough stores in your house to get by for several days? Most of us count on being able to go the grocery store every few days. We never consider buying for a month or more. If the supply were disrupted, we would have very little to get us by, and we'd begin to wonder who in the neighborhood might have what we need.
We live to work rather than work to live. We take jobs to “give the best to our families” and then see our families only a few hours a week. By the time we slow down, our children are gone, having been nurtured and raised by Mother Mall. Mother Mall has the answer to all our important needs, with its artificial smells and never- dying lights. You only have to tender a card, and all is yours. If you don't have a card, they send you one unsolicited. And we walk around breathing the cooled, recirculated breaths of countless thousands with no thought of what would happen if the power were to fail or of how long the little red “EXIT” signs would show, or where they are in the first place.
The family—the building block of civilization—is nearing extinction. We rely on outsiders for social training, education, vocational training, and just about everything else. The outsiders may or may not have the best interests of our children at heart, and they may or may not know what they are talking about. Families no longer work together for a tangible, common goal. We seldom gather together for daily family meals, to eat and talk. Even family gatherings are dominated by lots of people and lots of distractions that prevent meaningful communication. Our houses have lots of separate rooms (a measure of our “success”), replete with televisions and computers with Internet hookups to anything and everything outside the home. Almost nothing in our homes promotes getting together as a family and communicating. Most of the time we aren't even in our homes. And the intelligentsia of our society, in a feeble excuse to justify failure, are now proclaiming in treatises and journals that the family isn't really important anyway.
We feel trapped. There is nothing that we can really do to break the mold and create something better for our lives and our family. I frequently talk with people about our life on Chez Nous. They say, “Oh, I wish I could do that.”
“But you can,” I say.
“Oh, no, we don't have the money.”
“But you probably do. It doesn't take much money; it takes something else. It takes wanting to do it bad enough and making sacrifices; and you have to do things yourself, not pay someone else. You can do it, but you do have to work hard and give up things you don't need anyway.”
Their eyes glaze, they smile wanly, and they change the subject.
But you can do it.
You can take control of your existence. You can start doing things for yourself instead of for a “system.” You can be a family instead of a splintered group. You can raise your children to understand responsibility, to know self-discipline, and to appreciate real values. And you can know the children you raise. You can breathe clean air. You can see the stars through clear skies. You can fill your days with adventure, and you can walk on white sands and share beautiful sunsets. You and your family can go cruising. But you've got to work at it.
And that's what we do in this book. We work at enabling you to take off in a boat and go cruising. We give practical advice for families with a moderate income who want to begin serious live- aboard cruising for extended periods. Although we address families with children, almost all of what we say will be helpful to families cruising before or after children. Our reference point is the sailboat because that's where we live, but what we say is relevant to the cruising trawler as well. Some sections are specifically devoted to that mode of travel. We won't address epic around-the-world cruises, although much of what we say is pertinent to that possibility. We talk about everyday getting along in the real world of liveaboard cruising, and about hard work. But mostly we assert one of the very basic premises of cruising: If it isn't fun, it isn't fun.
Tom Neale, “All in the Same Boat.”
I was down at my daughter's house a few days ago, babysitting my
grandson, Bentley (the Chihuahua) and his brother Nigel (the Puggle)
while their mother was out of town. Bentley had caught the dreaded
Kennel Croup at the local playground, and needed his Robitussin. So,
while I was there, I enjoyed catching up on laundry, and taking some
amazing showers - the kind where you just sit on the floor of the
bathtub and wait until the hot water runs out. This sort of behavior
is forbidden on boats, of course.
So, as I was sitting there on the bathtub floor, thanking God for my
numerous blessings, I started wondering why more people don't just go
out and follow their dreams. When I was still working in a bank, I had
many customers who would come to me and tell me how brave I was to
"leave the system", sell or give away everything I owned except my
shorts, t-shirts and flipflops, and live aboard this boat of ours with
the intention of cruising for as long as we can.
The system was terribly important to me when I was raising 4 children
alone and we didn't have enough money to go to McDonalds. My job fed
us and clothed us, and we bought a house and had a car. I also had the
foresight to start a 401K and stock purchase plan, and considered that
as important as paying my bills. I was also incredibly fortunate to
have a working environment which was like a family to me; everyone
meant something to everyone else, and people reached out to help
eachother. I don't know if that was the last Bank in the world which
was like that, but those guys were part of me, and it felt great.
It's a wierd thing how, if you make an investment in a home (which in
my case, after 10 years of owning it, and two renovations, equated to
living for free for a 10 year period by the time I sold it) and you
live frugally, you can actually save some money.
I walk around the boat yard here and I see the whole gamut of
boatowners. Doug is 25, and is here until 11 pm after he finishes his
day job as a Dock Master, working on his boat on which he plans to take
off to the Bahamas very soon. It's wonderful to see a kid so committed
to a goal. And then there is a mega yacht owner next to us with a boat
which is laughingly called "Empty Pockets". This guy obviously doesn't
have that problem.
We're neither of those catagories. We don't have an unlimited amount
of money and savings are running out fast, but we have left The
System. Doug hasn't left the system yet, but he has a dream and a
resolve. We developed our resolve about 8 years ago about buying a
boat and taking off to other countries, and the secret is that once you
make up your mind about where you're going, you will, by God, go there
sooner or later. It's as simple as that. All you have to do is to
make up your mind. Period. It's as easy as growing hair (sorry, MPB
guys, no offense intended!). People just don't get it.
There isn't just One System out there; there are many different
Systems, including No System, which is a system in and of itself.
That's the one we chose, and it's full of the most amazing people from
all walks of life, but who uniformly have an interesting story to tell,
and want more than anything to be independent in this world. You don't
have to be wealthy; certainly we're not, but then wealth is all
relative, isn't it? I feel that I want for nothing more in my life
than I currently have: love, health, and pursuing my dreams. I guess
that makes me an emotional millionaire.
For those of you who don't already know, Skip, my (3rd) husband, is
also my first cousin. We grew up on separate continents (I was in the
British Isles, while he was in Rochester, NY) and so we didn't actually
"know" eachother. Our mother's were sisters, and it was because of
their brother, our Uncle Arturo, that we got together for a barbeque
when the Olympics were in Atlanta, GA in '96. It was like the novels -
one look, and we were in lust. It was lovely to have a lot of mutual
knowledge too, like the nursery rhymes that our Grandmother used to
sing to us. Grandma lived with my family in NJ until we left to move
to England when I was 8, at which point she moved in with Skip's family
until she died at 85, so the same songs spread around all the
grandchildren. Anyway, the purpose of telling you this is to point out
that I wasn't, and never have been, much of a System player. It's
always been a bit too confining for me. Skip isn't a System player
either; he wasn't very good at even pretending to play, so I guess it's
in the genes :)
That's all I wanted to say about that. :) For me, it's less scary out
here, than it was in there. And, it's a lot less stressful. The only
deadlines you have are self-imposed.
On Wednesday, we start sea trials. The only reason for still being
here, at this point, is waiting for the electronics guy to come and
make our various electronics all speak to eachother and to the
computer. With the Christmas holidays coming up, this has been a bit
challenging. We won't be raising the sails on Wednesday, but we'll be
giving the engine a good workout, and expect no problems, but if they
show up, good that we're still here.
I'm sorry this was so late coming; I just couldn't allow myself to sit
down and write when I had chores around the boat to complete. It's
looking good - still bits and pieces to do, but they are, at this
point, bits and pieces.
I wish you all a Wonderful Christmas Season, full of love and
happiness. Although there will be no gift-giving here (I've come to
despise that aspect of the season unless they're hand made :), love and
Lydia, aboard "Flying Pig"
“DID YOU HEAR THE NEWS!”
We anchored behind a beautiful and remote island in the Bahamas. The wind was light, the fishing was great, and the sun was warm. We could see the ocean bottom beneath our boat more clearly than we could see the coconut palms along the shore. In the cool night, every star sparkled brilliantly against the sharp, black sky, and then the moon rose over the Island, Its pale brilliance betraying starfish that moved slowly on the white sand below. The next day some friends sailed by outside the reef, heading up-island. We heard them on the VHF and, of course, we hailed them to see how they were doing. The year was 1986.
“Did you hear the news?” they asked. Thinking “the news” must be about some boat's coming or going or someone's breakdown or grounding, I asked what was up. “Well, it seems there's been a bad nuclear explosion or something somewhere in the Soviet Union. We couldn't get many details, but they say it was in Chernobyl, wherever that is. Stunned and inwardly reeling, I asked them if they knew more. “They're talking about maybe a huge cloud of radioactive gas spreading out; no one knows for sure where it will spread and how far it will go. They're saying maybe around the world. It could be very bad. We've been trying to find out more, but that's all we know now.”
They sailed on up the chain, leaving us wondering. We couldn't find out more just then, and the boats around us couldn't find out more either. VHF radio chatter diminished to an occasional query. “Has anybody heard anything?” Occasionally we could decipher scratches of commercial AM transmissions, but the news was vague. Was it deliberately vague? Was it just no big deal? Or was everybody already digging holes? We didn't know and couldn't find out, for more than a day and night—a weirdly surrealistic day and night.
But we had no doubts about what we should do. We immediately set sail for an island that we knew had a full and clean abandoned cistern. The barometer was dropping, the wind was clocking, the air was growing moist. We wanted to fill our tanks and everything aboard with good water before the rains came. From the little information we had, those rains, always so welcome, could be bringing death to the water.
A year's supply of food filled every hole below decks. We hadn't stored it for a nuclear disaster; it was just our regular stock that enabled us to be under way for a long time and to save money. Our stores were mostly wheat and grains and canned goods, but they would do. We wondered about our friends ashore. “What if this is for real? What will they do? What can they do?”
Our plan was to head south. We assumed that this band of dust, if it existed, would be more likely to spread in the northern hemisphere. We didn't know whether our winds would soon be full of radiation; this possibility seemed remote, but delay could be dangerous if our fears were warranted. We felt foolish, but we didn't hear any more news and we weren't going to play around. When we reached the island, everyone in the family, including our children—both under six—pitched in to load up with clean water, several aloe plants, and all the fish that we could quickly catch.
Finally, information began to trickle through. The situation was far less serious than we had feared. We didn't head south. We felt much better, although certainly not good. We sailed away from the experience with yet another reminder that we have so much more control at sea, in what we call the real world.
Tom Neale “All in the Same Boat.”
THE JUNK-RIGGED SCHOONER MADE A
captivating sight as she tacked smartly upriver in friendly competition with the local fishermen returning on the flood tide in their sailing canoes. As I watched from our anchorage off the village of Jacare in northeast Brazil's Paraiba River, the familiar junk lowered her distinctive green sails and anchored nearby.
Later, while I dinghied over to meet Pete and Annie Hill, I pondered their persuasive prescription for how to travel the world on $2,000 a year that appeared in Annie's book, Voyaging On A Small Income ($25; Tiller Press; St. Michaels, MD 410- 745-3750). They had arrived here with Badger, their 34-foot flat-bottomed sailing dory designed by Jay Benford, after a 35-day passage from the Azores. Before they left, I made several visits aboard Badger and came away inspired by their tales of high adventure on an incredibly low budget. How do they do it? Their secret is really no secret at all: they live simply. Dining at restaurants, staying at marinas, traveling by air, renting cars—these luxuries are strictly out. As for Badger, the Hills built her themselves from plywood and epoxy for about $15,000. Since 1983, she has carried them over 100,000 miles on a series of adventurous voyages—from north of the Arctic Circle, in Baffin Island, Greenland, and Norway, south through the Caribbean islands, and down the east coast of South America to the Antarctic regions of South Georgia Island and the South Orkney Islands.
Badger is built light but incredibly strong. The hull is stiffened by numerous interior bulkheads, but much of the cabinetry is structurally glassed in to add further support to the hull. Pete guesses her loaded cruising displacement is under 10,000 pounds.
For safety reasons there is a watertight bulkhead and no through-hull fittings below the waterline. Badger has the smallest cockpit footwell I've ever seen and an unusual sunken foredeck for unencumbered dinghy stowage. A round, hooded hatch in the deck serves as companionway batch because the Hills learned long ago that sliding hatches are notoriously difficult to make watertight. The rudder is hung outboard for ease of maintenance and is fitted with a clever homemade trim-tab self-steering gear.
To someone like me, who ventures out of the tropics only with great reluctance and with considerably more gadgets aboard, Pete and Annie appear iron willed and tough as nails. By today's standards, Badger is minimally equipped. Of the so-called “safety equipment”, there is virtually none—no life raft or fancy man- overboard gear, no radio (not even a VHF), no radar, and no GPS. When I asked Annie why they have no VHF, she responded, “Why should we have one? We go to sea by our own choice. If we get ourselves into trouble, we don't feel we have the right to ask anyone to risk their lives to save us. Sure but why not have a GPS to reduce the stress of navigating, especially now when they cost less than $200? “Electronics can break down,” Annie said. “And besides, we enjoy the challenge of celestial navigation. What satisfaction could we get from GPS?”
Listening to Pete confirmed for me that their thirst for adventure is as strong as ever. “We've covered much of the South Atlantic. Now I want to sail across the Southern Ocean and possibly make a stop at the Kerguelen Islands. We like the emptiness of the high latitudes, where we can get away from people and see the wildlife. And, yes, we even like the cold.”
Pete and Annie reminded me that one of the greatest pleasures of cruising, besides the people you meet, is your independence. An uncomplicated boat and matching lifestyle is the best guarantee of that independence. As Annie summed it up, “We prefer to live poor and free.”
Interfaced with Paradise
As reliance on technology increases, it's important to remember why we cruise in the first place.
IT'S QUIET. THE WATER IN THE ANCHORAGE IS CLEAR. The sand on the beach is white and the sky all around is blue. A perfect day. Another sailboat drops its hook nearby. You wave. Suddenly your light heart turns to lead as someone on the other boat yanks a portable generator out of a lazarette and fires it up. Wrrrrrr...
The inexplicable then occurs: Everyone on the other boat hops into the dinghy and roars toward the beach. Peaceful thoughts vanish, replaced by murderous ones. Your neighbors have departed to seek serenity; you're stuck with their noise.
This scenario has been played and replayed countless times for us as we've cruised around the world. What to do? Seek childish revenge? Booby-trap the offending companionway with a bucket of water? Fill winches with epoxy? Unfortunately, the perpetrators haven't really done anything wrong—except breath a few unwritten rules of etiquette.
Aboard our 33-foot cutter, Driver, we also carry a portable generator. I mention this because hypocrisy is the big brother of strong opinion. The generator is a handy backup, and, used with a little discretion and an awareness of others, it can turn mortal men into gods.
The recent abundance of relatively inexpensive marine-electronics gear has created a need for more electricity on board. Now more than ever, most cruising boats have wind generators, solar panels, and portable generators. I begin to wonder if sailors have become slaves not only to wind and tide but also to the specific gravity of battery acid.
Electronics are also responsible for a greater feeling of pleasure and safety in everyone's ocean wanderings. Technology has always had a way of coexisting with bluewater sailing, but now cruising boats often sport fax machines, email, satellite dishes, videos, and laptop computers, not to mention such “traditional” items as radar, GPS, EPIRBs, and SSBs. Are our senses beginning to be glutted by artificial input?
Cruising creates the opportunity to get away from shoreside madness. It gives us a chance to step out of the rat race and take a breather. Unfortunately, the pace of cruising now seems doomed to match the hectic pace that instant communication promotes.
Ocean crossing and coastal cruising both still require seamanship skills. All the electronics in the world cannot massage a soul faced with a crisis at sea, rough weather, seasickness, or fear. Electronics create a cycle that feeds upon itself, used improperly—without underlying seamanship and navigational skills— they can undermine the very confidence they help to create.
As we cruise with our three children, we would no more sit them in front of a video screen than give them opium. The Wonderful World of Disney and Sesame Street have their places in a child's imagination, perhaps, but what more does a growing mind need than a serene yet stimulating environment without noise or pollution? Life on a boat provides an ideal family situation for a child: lots of attention from both parents and endless outdoor activities.
After moving onto a boat, it can take weeks, even months, to slow down, to let the mind function calmly without continual visual and audio stimulation. We eventually wind down and become connoisseurs of quiet. Our cruising aims then tend toward places where quiet can be found. The initial dream that inspires us to go cruising is the lure of a simplified life that allows time to walk for hours on deserted white-sand beaches with the sun at our backs and the wind in our faces. We set out searching for something better than the 9-to-5 grind, perhaps to discover our true selves or to test ourselves against the forces of nature. Above all, we search for tranquil paradise and a spark of what living must have been like before the heavens were littered with satellites.
Cutting the dock lines is easy. Letting go of technology's tenacious grip is the greatest challenge of all.
Dave and Jaja Martin
ARE YOU READY TO BE DIFFERENT?
WHAT THEY THINK OF US
Many shoreside dwellers who think less of cruisers envision luxurious yachts with doting stewards. Many have no concept of the work required to live aboard; they have no concept of anything but the fingertip conveniences our society expects. When you try to explain about fixing the engine in the middle of the night during a rough offshore passage, they don't have a clue.
You may also hear comments implying that yours is a meaningless existence, that you're “irresponsible” and “don't contribute.” I still have several lawyer acquaintances who make tons of money. Yet they spend more money than they make, and think nothing of it. It's my job,” they say. They live from spoon to mouth, day to day, buying whatever they want. They spend many thousands of dollars a year to lie around in vacation resorts. They trade their cars in for new ones every two to three years. They move to bigger houses every few years; carpenters and plumbers fix whatever doesn't work. They send their children to exclusive schools, but they don't know who their children are. Every day they spend hours solving paper problems in a paper society, surrounded by an artificial climate. If they want to sweat, they spend big bucks to go to health spas and use artificial workout machines. “Only the right one will do.”
And they think I'm loafing through a meaningless existence.
When I see them socially they say, with a polite pause, And do you still live on a.. . boat?” I reply, ‘Do you still live in a... house?” These people don't bother me; don't let them bother you. You'll find many other acquaintances and friends who understand and respect what you do, and who realize that it takes work.
Why Do You Work So Hard?
There remains this enormous and wicked sociocultural myth. It is this: Hard work is all there is.
Work hard and the world respects you. Work hard and you can have anything you want. Work really extra super hard and do nothing else but work and ignore your family and spend 14 hours a day at the office and make 300 grand a year that you never have time to spend, sublimate your soul to the corporate machine and enjoy a profound drinking problem and sporadic impotence and a nice 8BR mini-mansion you never spend any time in, and you and your shiny BMW 740i will get into heaven.
This is the American Puritan work ethos, still alive and screaming and sucking the world dry. Work is the answer. Work is also the question. Work is the one thing really worth doing and if you're not working you're either a slacker or a leech, unless you're a victim of BushCo's budget-reamed America and you've been laid off, and therefore it's OK because that means you're out there every day pounding the pavement looking for work and honing your resume and if you're not, well, what the hell is wrong with you?
Call it "the cafe question." Any given weekday you can stroll by any given coffee shop in the city and see dozens of people milling about, casually sipping and eating and reading and it's freakin' noon on a Tuesday and you're like, wait, don't these people work ? Don't they have jobs ? They can't all be students and trust-fund babies and cocktail waitresses and drummers in struggling rock bands who live at home with their moms.
Of course, they're not. Not all of them, anyway. Some are creative types. Some are corporate rejects. Some are recovering cube slaves now dedicated full time to working on their paintings. Some are world travelers who left their well-paying gigs months ago to cruise around Vietnam on a motorcycle before returning to start an import-export business in rare hookahs. And we look at them and go, What is wrong with these people?
It's a bitter duality: We scowl at those who decide to chuck it all and who choose to explore something radical and new and independent, something more attuned with their passions, even as we secretly envy them and even as our inner voices scream and applaud and throw confetti.
Our culture allows almost no room for creative breaks. There is little tolerance for seeking out a different kind of "work" that doesn't somehow involve cubicles and widening butts and sour middle managers monitoring your e-mail and checking your Web site logs to see if you've wasted a precious 37 seconds of company time browsing blowfish.com or reading up on the gay marriage apocalypse.
We are at once infuriated by and enamored with the idea that some people can just up and quit their jobs or take a leave of absence or take out a loan to go back to school, how they can give up certain "mandatory" lifestyle accoutrements in order to dive back into some seemingly random creative/emotional/spiritual endeavor that has nothing to do with paying taxes or the buying of products or the boosting of the GNP. It just seems so ... un-American. But it is so, so needed.
Case in point No. 1: I have this sister. She is deep in medical school right now, studying to be a naturopathic doctor at Bastyr University just outside Seattle, the toughest school of its kind in the nation, and the most difficult to get into, especially if you've had no formal medical training beforehand, as my sister hadn't.
She got in. She bucked all expectation and thwarted the temptation to quit and take a well-paying corporate job and she endured the incredibly brutal first year and rose to the top of her class. Oh and by the way, she did it all when she was over 40. With almost no money. While going through an ugly, debt-ridden divorce.
Oh you're so lucky that you have the means to do that, we think. I'd love to do that but I can't because I have too many a) bills b) babies c) doubts, we insist. We always think such lives are for others and never for ourselves, something people with huge chunks of cash reserves or huge hunks of time or huge gobs of wildly ambitious talent can do. It is never for us.
And truly, this mind-set is the national plague, a fate worse than death.
And while it must be acknowledged that there are plenty who are in such dire financial or emotional circumstances that they simply cannot bring change, no matter how much they might wish it, you still always gotta ask: How much is legit, and how much is an excuse born of fear?
The powers that be absolutely rely on our lethargy, our rampant doubts, the attitude that says that it's just too difficult or too impracticable to break away. After all, to quit a bland but stable job, to follow your own path implies breaking the rules and asking hard questions and dissing the status quo. And they absolutely cannot have that.
Case in point No. 2: I have a young and rather brilliant S.O., a specialist in goddesses and mystics and world religions, who is right now working on a book, a raw funky spirituality "anti-guide" for younger women. She took a six-month leave of absence from a very decent, reliable, friendly administrative job so as to focus on the creation of this project.
And while she has no trust fund, she does have the "luxury" of small parental loans to help her through, though it hardly matters: Giving up her respectable gig was insanely stressful and wracked with doubt. Leave a honest job? Give up paid health care? Have no reliable source of income for months on end? Trade calm stability for risk and random chance? No way, most people say. And of course, it was the absolute best choice she could've made. Time instantly became more fluid and meaningful. Mental clutter vanished. Possibility grinned.
Case in point No. 3: Not long ago, the CEO of one of the largest and most powerful international real estate firms in the nation quit his job. Stepped down. Not, as you might imagine, for retirement and not to play more golf and not to travel the world staying only in Four Seasons suites, but to work on rebuilding his relationship with his estranged wife.
My insider source tells me it was one of the most touching, and unexpected, and incredibly rare corporate memos they had ever seen. No one -- I mean no one in this culture is supposed to quit a job like that just for, what again? Love? Relationship? It's simply not done. But of course, it absolutely should be.
We are designed, weaned, trained from Day 1 to be productive members of society. And we are heavily guilted into believing that must involve some sort of droning repetitive pod-like dress-coded work for a larger corporate cause, a consumerist mechanism, a nice happy conglomerate.
But the truth is, God, the divine true spirit loves nothing more than to see you unhinge and take risk and invite regular, messy, dangerous upheaval. This is exactly the energy that thwarts the demons of stagnation and conservative rot and violent sanctimonious bloody Mel Gibson-y religion, one that would have all our work be aimed at continuously patching up our incessant potholes of ugly congenital guilt, as opposed to contributing to the ongoing orgiastic evolution of spirit.
It is not for everyone. It implies incredibly difficult choices and arranging your life in certain ways and giving up certain luxuries and many, many people seemed locked down and immovable and all done with exploring new options in life, far too deeply entrenched in debts and family obligations and work to ever see such unique light again. Maybe you know such people. Maybe you are such people.
But then again, maybe not. This is the other huge truism we so easily forget: There is always room. There are always choices we can begin to make, changes we can begin to invite, rules we can work to upset, angles of penetration we can try to explore. And if that's not worth trying, well, what is?
How Much Is Enough?
If it's true what they say—that a misspent youth is a joy forever—then the
time to start misspending is probably at hand BY BERNADETTE BERNON
LULLED BY A GENTLE SWELL, ITHAKA RESTS IN
turquoise water behind Northwest Point, Mayaguana, the southeasternmost island of the Bahamas. Anchored nearby are Windom, new friends with whom we've explored the nooks and crannies of the outer cays for the past two months, and Simba, old friends who've just arrived. Collectively, we've been cruising for 16 years. Our ages span from 43 to 62, our professions from nursing to engineering to psychology to meteorology. Tonight, we gathered on Windom for a lobsterfest—combining the hunt of the three boats from the abundant reef that surrounds us like a vast Piggly Wiggly grocery store.
It wasn't the setting we would've imagined for a conversation about money, but one thing led to another. We chatted candidly about our savings and expenses. How cruising has changed our tastes and altered our priorities. How none of us ever wants as much stuff as we had at home. How we've lost the lust to overspend on new clothes. How going out to a halfway-decent restaurant once in a blue moon is more fun now than it ever was in our working days, when doing so was a relief from dervishly whirling weeks.
“We wasted so much money maintaining our old lives,” said one friend. “The house, dry cleaners, take-out, vacations. Living more self-sufficiently now is more satisfying, and it's changed the way we want to live at home.”
Many people who dream of cruising hope to save enough money first so they can return home afterward and resume living as they did before, without working again—a tall order. But depending on how you're living now, waiting until you have enough saved so that you can continue current spending levels may mean you can't go until after retirement, if ever. Often, long work lives are all the healthy time we have. Anything can put cruising dreams in an early grave between now and then. And the grave, as author Ryszard Kapuscinski wrote, is “our last harbor, to which we put in only once, never to sail off.”
The best parts of cruising are free: beam-reaching under a full moon, catching fish, anchoring in remote corners of paradise. But getting out here requires wrestling with a big question: How much money and stuff do we need to amass in life before we're satisfied, before we let go of the idea that we must have more to be happy? The private philosophies that mold a response can make the difference between deciding to live more modestly and going cruising with what we have or never going cruising at all.
Six years ago, after a health crisis shook our world, Douglas and I studied the landscape of our lives and tried to square our assets and liabilities against cruising now—before we got too old or too nervous. We worried about living without the thousand little comforts that accompanied the security of home, but we craved to make deeper connections with people, nature, and new ideas and fewer connections with offices and remote controls. And we hoped to discover what this journey would inspire us to do next— professionally and personally. We made the decision to downsize in every aspect of our spending and living and to go as soon as possible.
“The earlier, the better,” said one of our friends around Windom's table. “You get more years afterward to enjoy new passions, new language skills perhaps, a new perspective on the rest of your life.” Young couples and families who break out to go cruising for a predetermined period—we've seen several this season in the Bahamas—probably have the best idea. Yes, they're forsaking some of their potentially fattest earning years, but they're also opening themselves to a priceless transformation. Soon enough, they'll be wage earners again. For now, they've learned to trade material for time.
Douglas believes that money is frequently the arena in which we battle other demons, that saying we don't have enough dough sometimes serves, unconsciously, as the reason we don't do something that frightens us. If this is so, imagine if you were given the opportunity to live the life of your dreams. Would you choose it, or would you turn away?
“It's wrenching to break from everything we know,” said another of our friends. “But it's ultimately worth it, especially to see our old lives from the perspective of Third World cultures. Now we wish we'd gone cruising a decade sooner'
We all have to decide where to draw the lines in our hectic lives, how much work, stuff, house is enough. Ultimately, it's as the outlaw said: “What'll it be, your money or your life?”
From a cruiser up North:
Spring in the Northeast, where we are based, is the migration season.
It is always fun to see the boats that have come up the Intracoastal
Waterway from the south or made landfall from the Caribbean stop in
Newport for a few days. These wandering sailors are the heart and soul
of the cruising community, and they are always upbeat, full of life
and enthusiastic about the places they have been, the people they have
met and the sailing adventures they have had. Living the cruising life
is really living life in full Technicolor.
Special among the migrating fleet are the boats sailed by families. We
enjoy watching a seagoing boat come into the anchorage with the
children manning the sails, prepping the anchor and helping to con the
boat into the harbor. These smaller sailors always seem to be full
partners in the business of working the boat. They are handy, slim,
tanned and, like their older counterparts, full of the pleasures of
the seagoing life.
We are lucky enough to have spent five years with our family-- parents
and two sons--sailing around the world. We home schooled, lived for
extended periods in foreign countries and had all the adventures we
dreamed of before setting out. Certainly, the cruising life is not
what most people call "normal." And we are often asked how five years
of seafaring affected our young boys who were growing into their teen
years. Was being not normal okay? It is not really for us to say,
although we are a close family with shared memories that are fun,
unique and will last us our lifetimes.
Other families who have sailed long and far together seem to have
similar experiences. Steve and Linda Dashew took their young daughters
on a long trip around the world. Today they are all in business
together, in book publishing, music and other enterprises. You can
catch up with the Dashews on their website www.setsail.com.
Jimmy and Gwenda Cornell took their son and daughter around the world
and today are working together with them on a number of projects and
businesses, including their wonderful cruising website
We can cite many other examples, yet the stories all seem to have the
same ring. Families that sail together develop a special bond. Parents
and children have undertaken adventures that are unknown to most of
their peers and have made successes of them. The children become full
partners aboard a voyaging boat and must shoulder serious
responsibilities at young ages.
Standing a night watch while the family sleeps below gives a young
person a real and tangible knowledge of what vigilance, care and
caution are all about. Meeting the natives of foreign lands, haggling
with vendors in markets, attending foreign schools, all broaden a
young person's mind and show them how life is lead outside the bubble
of the shopping mall or the local high school.
It is no wonder cruising families sail together and then stay
together. They are coconspirators in one of life's great adventures.
They have lived through a lot together and worked as a team. They have
lived a portion of their lives being entirely self-reliant.
That is why those kids on the bows of the migrating boats always wave,
always meet you with a smile and always have a great yarn to spin
about the wonders of the world they are exploring.
It is not the life for every family. But if you can do it, we can only
say "Go." You will never regret it.
From the Gordon family site, sailing aboard S/V Amicus:
Cedar, my 3-year-old daughter, watches my growing frustration with Lamar, my 1-year-old daughter, who fusses and whines, impervious to logic or suggestion. “Maybe she just wants to be held, mom,” Cedar comments. When I only grunt in response, she turns to her own dolly and holds her gently. “Baby Do, baby do,” she croons, a reproving eye on me and my baby. Finally I give in and followed suit. Immediately Lamar stops crying.
I’ve heard of 3-year-old girls who want to be just like their mothers. But Cedar thinks—knows—she IS the mother. ”Don’t tell me what to do—I tell YOU what to do!” she shrills at me. I holler back (do I really holler? Probably), “No, I’M the mom. I tell YOU what to do!” knowing full well that the arenas in which I actually have this level of control are shrinking rapidly. Sometimes I can laugh at this. Usually not.
Cedar and I have a somewhat unique relationship, due to the fact that we have spent many months of her life living on a small 34-foot steel sailboat on Lake Superior. Her first sail took place at six weeks old—a trip my husband Mark and I fondly look back on as one of those “mistakes,” when we had not fully acknowledged or acclimatized to the complete change that had taken over our lives. My strongest memory from that trip is sitting in the cockpit in a gusty wind, seeing dark whitecaps wash over the water, infant Cedar in my arms. We could not find appropriate baby clothes to keep her warm and eventually wrapped her in our foul weather gear. I could not go down into the cabin, out of the wind, because I would be instantly seasick and did not want to throw up all over her. On some level I knew that everything was going to be fine, but every time the boat heeled over and my love-and-protect mother lion hormones saw the icy water inches from my daughter’s face, I could not stop the tears from flowing. Despite his never-satiated longing for a good sail which he was currently experiencing, Mark could not stand to see this for long and soon turned back to the port where we had spent the night. We spent most of the trip hanging out on a lonely mooring along the windy north shore, waiting for dead calm so we could motor back to our home port some 20 miles away.
It does not take too many stories like this—even told in retrospect, with a douse of humor and a nod of acceptance toward our inherent love of adventure—to wonder why we keep choosing to immerse ourselves in a lifestyle that encompasses such a wide range of miseries. Sailing with small children is difficult and intensely stressful at times. Seasickness, fear, and misery occur daily, hourly. Both Mark and I “max out,” as we call it—go to the edge and beyond—a thousand times more frequently than we do in our calm and predictable life on land. We have netting along our lifelines and the girls wear a harness and tether at all times outside when under way—so our big fear is not, as most people assume, having the children fall overboard. That is simply not allowed to happen. No, the stress comes not from terror but from misery, real or anticipated. Listening to forecast after forecast call out the dreaded “Small Craft Warning,” as we hear the wind moan in the rigging. Sitting braced against the “settee”(nautical term for “sofa”), two wailing, throwing up daughters in my grasp, trying not to barf myself, lurching mercilessly around hour after hour, while my husband outside tries fruitlessly to lessen the motion with various sail combinations while the wind does anything but cooperate. After one such day Mark and I admitted to each other that, despite the fact that we have both logged countless weeks leading angry delinquent teenagers on wet misadventures with backpacks or canoes, neither of us could remember having taken on a challenge as emotionally draining as the one starring us currently in the face.
We’ve done our homework and read many, many accounts of sailing families. Some of them border on fantasy: families that sail blithely into the sunset, children and parents healthy, carefree, independent, bonded. Others are more practical: make a netting bed for your infant baby. Strap their carseats in the cockpit when you both need to be sailing. Stay close to home. (Most of this advice we find impractical or useless.) And the third category—those families that really do sail around the world and live to tell about it. If we could bow at the feet of these parents, we would do it. Their stories leave so much untold, but make one important fact clear—that is it possible to transition beyond the inevitable difficulties and feel the rewards that are almost impossible to obtain in this world, in this century. We have had tiny glimpses of those rewards: we notice that our girls have no desire to stare at a TV, eat a candy bar, or buy into any gimmick placed in front of them by the mass media. Their goals, even at their tender young ages, center around learning to pull in the jib, row the dinghy, or predict a storm. They learn that favorite foods run out, that it takes energy to heat up water, that a rough day usually ends with a great new playground. Most noticeable of all is the fact that they never seem to tire of the round-the-clock presence of both parents that is part and parcel of the nautical life. We never escape them; they never escape us. Hence, Cedar’s belief that our identities have actually merged.
Coming into an anchorage—a protected bay where we can drop the anchor, row to shore to play, and spend the night—is rarely a smooth event. As we enter the area and the swell drops, the girls and I usually emerge from the cabin, still a tad seasick but also starving (having yuked crackers all day). The adults scan the area and assess where to go. The greatest danger to a sailboat—land—is upon us, and coming closer every second. I hold Lamar and usually nurse her while Cedar takes her spot. In a best case scenario, both girls are harnessed in at this point. In a worst case, Cedar has refused to wear hers and refused to go below (her two options) and I am too preoccupied to confront this in a coherent manner. So she sits in the cockpit, defiant and delighted, sly and sweet, as only a 3-year-old can be. I arch my neck, trying to hear and see Mark who is perched on the bowsprit, looking for a good spot and directing me with his arms. I ask Cedar to pull out the depthsounder. This act is both a compliment and a potential can of worms, as Cedar dearly loves to help, but usually insists on doing everything herself. She bounces into the hatch, unhooks the depthsounder, carefully positions it so I can read the depths with the light from the sun angled perfectly—and then sits right in front of it so I can’t read a thing. “Cedar!” I cry, but my outrage means nothing. Ignoring me, she shouts out to Daddy, as if she could read the numbers (which she doesn’t understand yet) “10! 5! 8!” Finally I push her out of the way and yell out a few numbers before she can block my vision again. Meanwhile Lamar has popped off and is wiggling and anxious to start her toddler life again, having put it on hold while lying prostrate in the cabin all day. As I attempt to steer the boat the appropriate direction and speed, my nerves go over the edge. I command Cedar to go to the v-berth (her bed in the front of the cabin). She refuses. I accept my helplessness and somehow, somewhere, Mark drops the hook. In minutes, the motor is off and we’re in peaceful bliss. The only hitch is that Cedar and I are ready to kill each other. I banish her to the v-berth and grudgingly admit I probably belong there as well.
The solution to this particular situation was simple, in the end. First, a ready snack while we first emerge into daylight to keep our high-metabolism bodies functional in stress. Second, a promise of a “treat” at the end of a problem-free anchoring. Faced with bribes, Cedar becomes a different girl. She proactively plants herself in an out-of-the-way corner of the cockpit with her dolly and tea set, and is implacable even the time I had to do an unexpected 360 turn with the boat and swept the tiller through her tea party, upsetting everything and forcing her to move. The only problem is her inability to wait more than five seconds to ask, once again, “Are we done yet? Is it treat time?”
When people ask what it’s like to have two small children on a boat, my first, admittedly flip, answer usually runs something like, “It’s like having two children on land.” I spend a big chunk of my time changing diapers, preparing and cleaning up food, and reading stories. Sure, the fact that our house moves and tilts necessitates new skills, such as carrying a baby on my hip while grabbing a pot which is sliding off the stove in a gust, or whipping life jackets on and off with the efficiency of carseat belts. Still, every dilemma I face on the boat connects me to sympathetic parents everywhere who can relate. Whether living on the water is a net gain or not in the end depends more on my values and priorities, and less on the fact that our home is the size of a small bedroom. The fact that we are living lightly--that for now, anyway, we are not part of that horrible American statistic of consuming 50% of the world’s resources, counts for a lot. The fact that Mark gets to father his girls all the time in their early years is a value he considers beyond price. We may be short on stuff, but we are long on time. And given the frenzied way in which many families interact daily with each other, I’ll take our abundant togetherness any day. We have, indeed, followed the advice you hear nowadays—“Slow down!” We have slowed down to a 6 mph maximum speed, usually less. People mistake us “adventurous” types for thrillseekers, risktakers, anything for a fast ride or a good time. How wrong they are! We experience, not infrequently, what I believe most people would consider intolerable amounts of misery, boredom, and uncertainty. My proof of this comes in the stories passed around the sailing community, mostly of wives who consented to accompany their sailing-obsessed husbands, only to experience a bad day or a bad offshore passage (usually due to a combination of rough weather and the enthusiastic insistence of the husband to sail in it). Frequently, they say “never again”—and stick to it.
Or maybe we have a higher level of trust and endurance than most. We have an unwavering faith that meaning will be found at the other end, that you don’t give up just because you can’t remember what you are doing or why, in this moment. So far we have always reached the other end of the tunnel and appreciated the ride.
Occasionally it comes in handy to have a double. I don’t know of anyone else in the world who enjoys a bright moonlit night as much as Cedar and I. During the winter, in our landlubber life, she begs to come out with me, in the dark, and jogs along the muffled snowy road with me, gasping “I really like to run! Look at the MOON, mommy!” I think, with a touch of irony, that she may have acquired this attraction to the moon during her nighttime timeouts on the boat last summer, where the only place she could be placed where she wouldn’t disrupt the family with her racket was out in the cockpit. We resorted to the cockpit at night only a few times before two factors got in the way—people in other boats nearby, and rain. Mark is not paranoid, but he does have a desire to not appear to be abusing his child, and there was no way Cedar would consent to putting on a raincoat before being tossed outside. Those were dark moments indeed, moments when our helplessness in the face of the combined power of Cedar’s will, passion, and intellect faced us in all its glory. Those memories are inseparable from the boat for us, but I suspect that most parents have moments just as bad, with plenty of benign land around them.
In the final analysis, there is no singular answer that will tell us what is “best” for our family, when we should come ashore, when we should take off again. Clearly though, something is drawing us with unrelenting force towards the voyaging lifestyle, for our plans include selling our house, leaving our jobs, and moving aboard, all in the next year. When people ask, “How do the kids take to this?” the answer is easy—“Fine.” They have none of our heady concerns. It takes them an average of five minutes to adjust to living on a boat, or living in a house. Our boat, an ocean-going vessel, is similarly unimpressed with drama—it has come through many a heart-stopping storm without a scratch. Ultimately, it’s us—the parents—who will make or break the sailing lifestyle. Our partnership becomes immediate and constant: we are co-parents, captain and first mate, and somewhere in there we hope, soulmates. One thing we have learned is that whatever we are—as individuals, a couple, a family—is “more so” when sailing. Our biggest challenge is to like ourselves enough that the intensification process is pleasurable more often than painful. Then again, a lot of that has to come through hard experience. Who changes before they have to, after all?