From South Pacific Stitch to…Central American Scoot

February 2015

#Passage to Chamela_Sunset below the boomWould-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.#Mazatlan_PalmsEquilibrium 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.

So, we have decided to alter our plans.#Bahia Huevos_Neil kayaking


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.


Central American ScootFrom 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.#Bahia Huevos_Sunset1Now 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:

  1. Settle somewhere in Central America, find jobs (most likely remote work for US-based companies), and continue to live aboard our boat.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

What would you do? Thoughts? Ideas?#Bahia Huevos_Sunset2
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36 thoughts on “From South Pacific Stitch to…Central American Scoot

  1. Bravo for a difficult decision. A few years ago, Jimmy Cornell carried out a study of what people liked the best and least about their experiences in the World Cruising Rally. After having circumnavigated the world, the number one frustration was that people felt rushed and couldn’t visit so many wonderful places they had worked so hard to get to. What’s the point? It’s great that you guys have figured it our early in your trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing that study, Maria and Patrick. Jimmy Cornell rarely gets it wrong! Your point that we figured it out early is a good one — we can modify our plans looking forward, rather than wishing we had slowed down when we look back at the end of it all. Thank you. J+N

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  2. Congratulations, now you are cruising! (IMO) Our plans are to come back to the U.S and work when we need to. We have long ago stopped worrying about retirement. In your case, since I get to vote, I would opt for #1 if you can make it work, then #2. #3 means we could take you out to dinner and ask you a million questions. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Kevin, there are quite a few cruisers out there who do a 6-on/6-off split each year, which seems pretty great. It enables them to keep the cruising kitty somewhat full, while also getting enough reprieve from the palm trees to appreciate them! When are you setting sail? We’ll keep you posted about which option we choose…and we’d love to get dinner should #3 be the winner! ~Jessie

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  3. We’re in our 20’s and departing in October from San Francisco on a very similar plan to yours and are expecting a lot of the same fears. The biggest ones will be money, starting a family, and having such a big time gap in our professional careers. You’re brave for having tossed off the docklines, now you’ve got to keep going! We’ve heard a lot of the younger cruisers end up leaving their boats in “paradise” and going home during the off-season to work. This allows them to keep the adventure going for longer… Best of luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good for you to have solid plans to embark on a big journey in your 20s! We loved stopping in San Francisco; such great sights, sailing, and city! It sounds like your fears mirror ours to a “t”! I suppose fears about money, family planning, and careers would still be present, even if we had stayed ashore though! Please let us know if there is anything we can do or questions we can try to answer as you prepare to leave the dock! ~Jessie

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  4. Congratulations for facing the reality that your dream may not be a possible right now Pat yourself on the back for what you have experienced so far. God has a plan for all of us. Sometimes we get in a hurry and want life answers right now, which makes for frustration. When all we need to do is slow down and listen to our heart Whatever you do it will be the right decision that only you two can make we wish you well in the next stage of your life.
    Barb and John

    Liked by 1 person

  5. life is a journey not a race. I’m a big believer in a slower pace, meeting and sharing experiences with new friends along the way. Smell the Roses. I wouldn’t worry about retirement at the expense of today. You two are so talented, smart and just plain charming that when you want to step back into the business world, it will welcome you with open arms.

    So keep checking your “Happy Meter” and make the necessary adjustments to the.journey to keep the needle pointed at Happy. Plans are just that and are meant to be evaluated, tested and changed. I admire your strength as individuals and as a couple for doing the work to evaluate you plan, ask good questions and make the necessary changes to keep you guys happy. Bravo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I heartily agree with the comments by Lou! Your future is extremely bright! Doors will always open for you! Semi-retirement over many decades can be much better than full retirement at the end of life (and possibly health). Keep going with your gut (together) and you’ll always “know” what to do next. Sounds like you already have the next set of plans. Well done!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Kevin, that’s what we’re hoping! As you’ve guessed, we figured out our plan to return to Seattle…and we’re HERE right now, actually. I’ll be writing more about our decision-making process as I play catch up on the blog in the coming months. Thanks for following along with us! ~Jessie

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  6. You have discovered some precious truths. One is “Where ever you go, there you are!” I forgot where that came from, but so true. And you found it out for yourselves! I’m still perfecting my Spanish, so guess I’d do #1. Best Wishes for your journey!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love the honesty in this post and how you share your decision making process with the rest of us. Will watch with interest to see what you guys end up doing. Who knows, it may be Option 4 – something completely unexpected that you haven’t even thought about yet 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I am with Ellen, the honesty and straightforwardness of your post is great. A good friend of ours who left to head out on his big adventure from you part of the world gave me some good advice. [Tom and Nancy built a house on Whidbey Island, raised their family there, now that their kids are all adults they sold the house and bought a cheap boat on the east coast. They lived in a van (and at our house before we sold it) for 6 months while they fixed up the boat. Lived aboard for a winter in the Boston area and then headed south. We hope to catchup with them again this fall in the Bahamas. Sorry for the tangent, back to the advice.]

    Tom said that it’s nice to have goals but that the key to being happy is to not let them control you. Don’t be so driven to check “Visited Costa Rica” off the list that you don’t spend the time to actually enjoy Costa Rica.

    This has stuck with me and at times I find myself forgetting this advice. This winter for instance, I was so driven to cross projects off the list that we didn’t spend much time getting to know our fellow liveaboards. There we were in the middle, literally, of a hundred other full time liveaboard boats, people who also made the decision to buck the trends of society, and we only got to know a dozen of them. Our second to last weekend at our winter marina we met another liveaboard for the first time that was our age and had been living on his Catalina for almost 10 years. We had a lot in common with him and almost missed meeting him because we were too focused on checking things off of the “list”. We missed the boat on applying Tom’s advice. (opps sorry for the pun)

    So good for you guys that you recognize that your cruising style wasn’t working but you didn’t give up. You just altered your plans.

    As far as fueling the kitty, my Bride and I are getting our captains licenses. We initially set out just to get the 6-pack to help with the insurance costs but we ended up going for the 50 ton Masters with sail and towing endorsements. We know we don’t have enough money to cruise as long as we would like. So we are hoping that the licenses will help us pick up some work while we are out cruising to keep the kitty going. Plus we are both sick of working office jobs.

    I don’t know if you listen to podcasts much, but you might want to listen to these interviews on the Sail Loot podcast with the guys from s/v Delos: http://www.sailloot.com/sail-loot-podcast-001-the-adventures-of-delos-and-how-they-are-able-to-make-it-all-happen/ & http://www.sailloot.com/sail-loot-podcast-018-delos-adventures-brady-josje/

    There is some great inspiration there and when you hear how they keep things going you realize that almost anything is possible.

    Good luck and fair winds,

    Jesse

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Jesse,

      This reply is a long time coming…yours was such a rich comment that I got stuck here, wanting to do justice in my reply. That advice is very, very good and could be applied to most any walk of life. We’re as guilty as the next person in finding ourselves caught up in “what needs to be done” rather than “what needs to be experienced.” We’ll try to remember his words and yours and keep our hearts as open as our list of goals. Thanks a lot for your thoughtfulness, Jesse. We always appreciate hearing from you.

      Damn, I sure hope we cross paths at some point during our voyages around the sun.

      Jessie

      Liked by 1 person

  9. What a great post! As a sailor who started my circumnavigation at age 20 by “jumping aboard without much forethought” (minus 3 months of refitting…) I can say that pretty much everyone’s plans change at some point and almost always for the best. Our “two-year circumnavigation” stretched to 4 and we still felt rushed at times. Now we’re only part-time cruisers like it sounds like you will be and it makes a wonderful balance, not to mention a much happier wallet 🙂

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  10. Hallo friends!!!! Ahhhh… i can so relate to the rushed feeling, we have kind of felt that at every cruise, mind you, just north of here…
    Yes,going home is the safest option, your boat will be safe, and the money will flow once again, plus, January comes very quickly…
    Living on board , you will find it tremendously hot, and very uncomfortable, at least, that what we hear from other friends, who could not handle the heat, and came home till Jan.
    Once you are back with your boat, you can then look around, and,or, plan to cross the Pacific, it will be there!!!
    Dont see it as an disappointment, but just a side road taken in your incredible journey, we admire you, love and hugs from Bert and Mejan from SV CURTSY.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hallo lovely crew of s/v Curtsy!
      A friend of ours once said to us, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Here we are. We’re so happy with our choice and for the opportunity to experience all of the emotions that come along with it. We are so blessed to see the options before us and to have the freedom to chase happiness.
      Much love, Jessie & Neil

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  11. A tough choice, but ultimately it is your life and your cruising dream! Do what makes you guys happy and comfortable and it will be what is right. The Pacific isn’t going anywhere and even if you never cross it you are still on the journey of a lifetime.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Nice work you two. I actually had my reservations about it too, and I’m relieved myself that you two will take a step back. Perhaps you might consider coming back to the Bay Area around october time for our wedding??

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m glad to hear that you have decided to slow down. Having a schedule is definitely a curse. We read about it before our trip and still found ourselves in sticky situations because of it (like the time we had to put off crossing the Atlantic for two weeks because of mast issues and we had people meeting us in St. Lucia). I like the idea of looping back and visiting the countries you bypassed.

    As a former yacht captain I strongly discourage idea number 2. You would most likely get a job on a power boat and spend a lot of time cleaning. I also think idea 1 is not ideal because living aboard and not sailing is no fun, especially when it’s hot and humid. I would put the boat on the hard in a reputable yard, pay somebody to check on it, and come back north to replenish the kitty.

    You guys are doing great!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Bruce,

      Thanks for your words of wisdom! As you’ve seen in our subsequent blogs, we followed the path that you, too, would have chosen. We returned to the countries we had initially skipped. We ultimately opted against pursuing jobs on yachts for a myriad of reasons. So, north we will go in the coming weeks to replenish the kitty and enjoy time with family and friends. We could have charged across the Pacific this season, but we will wait happily knowing she will still be there, big and blue, in 2016. To get back to Central America after sailing west would have been quite the challenge.

      Thank you for your encouragement and support. We hope to see you and Alison while we’re back in the PNW.

      Neil & Jessie

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