Would-be cruisers work like architects to draft their cruising plans. They identify the features they most desire in a boat and fantasize about the destinations they anticipate will be crown jewels of their journey. They modify their initial blueprints and seek the expertise of seasoned sailors. They strive to establish the skills necessary to succeed and work to obtain the materials needed to physically construct their dream. Neil and I were no different, except in age perhaps. We are often a generation younger than our cruising comrades which, like anything else, has pros and cons.
I dare say that with the exception of an obscure few whose luck delivered them a boat and, simultaneously, the impulsivity to jump aboard and sail away without much forethought, individuals who have set forth on ocean voyages (or are preparing to) appreciate the ambitious preparations that such an undertaking demands.
In order to bring dreams to life in the world of the awake, thoughts must whittle ideas into aspirations; effort must then mold goals into concrete plans.
When Neil and I set sail from Seattle on September 30, 2014, we left with what felt like a well-reasoned blueprint for the path our journey, an adventure we dubbed our “South Pacific Stitch”, would take. Our intention was to sail the Pacific coast of the United States, Mexico, and Central America, before joining the 2015 cohort of “Puddle Jumpers” bound for the islands of the South Pacific. Our ultimate destination was Australia, which we anticipated reaching by late October or early November of this year, just before the onset of cyclone season. In addition to beautiful sails and spectacular sunsets, we envisioned ourselves embracing opportunities to befriend local people along the way and looked forward to snorkeling and scuba diving along the coast of the Americas.
Our “plan” began to constrict our dream
Our social media documents the sexiest aspects of our tale. We’ve become leaner, our skin has browned, and we catch beautiful fish along the shores of sandy beaches where palm trees sway rhythmically in the tropical breeze. The narrative captured infrequently by our keyboard or camera documents times that lack glitz but are every bit as salient. We ask ourselves the same questions you might ask yourself in your day-to-day: Am I happy? Is this way of life fulfilling for me? What ramifications will my choices today have on tomorrow?
We’ve learned that cruising is simply our life set to the tune of the ocean’s motion, but it is still our life. There are breakages, stressors, and frustration. There are moments of inextricable joy, laughter, and fun. Cruising, although an interruption from our land-bound existence is still our life. We’ve come to learn that this is a fundamental reality of cruising: long-distance sailing, while incredible in so many ways, is not a “vacation”, at least not in the traditional sense.
Five months into our voyage of a lifetime, we became increasingly aware that we were not allowing ourselves enough time to really stop and smell the coconuts.Equilibrium lost
Morale on the boat began to deteriorate as we embarked upon one long passage after the other. We found that intimacy with the countries we’d worked so hard to reach was either nonexistent or lacked genuine depth. We had connected deeply with several other cruising boats but had yet to bond with locals and although we had snorkeled a number of times, our scuba diving gear was collecting dust in the transom. We had only enjoyed a single inland excursions, during our friends’ visit; and longer stops were generally an indication that we were troubleshooting and tackling repairs, rather than immersing ourselves in local culture (e.g., La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Mexico).
Our relationship with our journey began to change. Not unlike a landlubber’s lifestyle, wherein excessive devotion to one area (e.g., work, play) denies other aspects adequate nurturance to grow, we began to feel off-balance. Neil was especially affected by the disequilibrium and began to feel dissatisfied and letdown by our experience living his dream, a dream that had become ours. It was simply not what he’d hoped it would be.
If you spend much time perusing the writings of sailors, you’re familiar with the axiom, “Sailors’ plans are written in the sand at low tide.” Indeed, indeed.
From South Pacific Stitch to Central American Scoot
Midway through our passage between Chiapas, Mexico and Playa del Coco, Costa Rica, our discussions changed radically. We no longer deliberated about remaining preparations to cross the world’s largest ocean. Instead, we debated about whether to continue south toward Panama or to return north to visit the four Central American countries we’d skipped so we could reach Costa Rica in time to visit our friends who flew in from the US. We decided together not to cross the Pacific this year.
Neil summed up the sense of relief he experienced after we agreed to slow down:
There was tension mounting between us because I was so upset with our fast pace. By changing our plans and knowing we’d be able to invest in more experiences here, I experienced an immense amount of relief. We were simply going too fast and pushing too hard.
My initial reluctance to shift gears evolved quickly into acceptance:
The decision not to cross the Pacific was initially a difficult pill for me to swallow. Regardless of my zeal for completing our journey this season and my trepidation about how modifying our plans would affect other aspects of our life, I could see the emotional toll the experience was taking, especially on Neil. Within days of making our decision, my disappointment was replaced by renewed eagerness to throw my heart into the nations we’d already reached.
The realm of uncertainty and promise
Changing our plans opens another realm of questions and possibilities. It means we are at least another year away from stashing dollar bills into a retirement fund. It means we put our careers on hold for longer and have a lengthier lapse in employment, which may mean increased difficulty securing jobs when we get to the other side of the pond. It requires that one way or another we must save more money to continue forward. After all, we left home with enough savings to survive for one year [hopefully] of sailing but most certainly no longer, especially in light of the costly repairs we’ve had to address since departing.
It means we will get to spend more time in Central America and, perhaps, that our embarrassingly bad Spanish might improve further. It means that our cruising experience will not conclude this fall; rather, it will be on a temporary hiatus. We will begin again to explore distant shores early in 2016.Now what?
So what will become of us in the short-term? Well, we’re not exactly sure yet. We see three possibilities for the coming months:
- Settle somewhere in Central America, find jobs (most likely remote work for US-based companies), and continue to live aboard our boat.
- Get jobs on a mega-yacht and leave The Red Thread in a marina in Central America (this is a wild but interesting prospect; there’s always more to learn about boats).
- Return to Seattle from July to December, enjoy another magical summer and fall in the Pacific Northwest, and find work.
Options 1 and 2 have the most appeal as they enable us to continue experiencing life abroad. Option 3 is the safest bet, as we will have the greatest likelihood of replenishing our cruising kitty. It would also have the added bonus of offering precious time with our family and friends.
Regardless of which possibility becomes our reality, we will return to our beloved boat in early January and prepare her to join the 2016 legion of boats determined to cross the world’s largest ocean.