June – December 2015
Several of you have inquired about what we were up to when we returned to the US for six months to restock the cruising kitty and to wait out the Central American rainy season. So, here goes: a single-post synopsis of the physical and emotional elements of six whole months!Work and life Stateside
After flying into Las Vegas on June 15th, we spent a week with my family and friends in Southern Utah and caught up with our cruising buddies on s/v Namaste who were “land-yachting” (aka RV’ing) for the summer, before buying a car (the good ship, Goldie Honda) and embarking on a 1,200-mile “land passage” to Washington.
June: The first few days
It feels like we’re in a foreign land, but we’re seeing familiar faces. That’s comforting. We don’t have jobs, and we need to buy a car. We’re confident we’ll get jobs…but what if we don’t? We’re starting to freak out.
When we arrived in Seattle, we were awestruck by the doors that literally and figuratively opened to welcome us back. On the work front, we were both incredibly fortunate to secure six-month contracts with our old teams, which eased the transition and gave us an opportunity to work again with colleagues and mentors we admire.
Our living situation was tricky. The cost of living in the Seattle area is hefty, with dated studios costing upwards of $1,000+ per month. Given that we were already paying moorage for Red Thread in Costa Rica, paying rent would have made it difficult to save money, which was one of our fundamental goals in returning to the US. Friends and loved ones welcomed us into their homes in ways that truly amazed us. We bounced from one house-sitting gig to the next, like a couple of vagabonds. We took up residence in a condo, a few houses, a townhome, a high rise, and aboard two different boats. We were in the US for 203 days and, on average, we moved 3 to 4 times per month (see the Figure below for number of nights spent “where”). Never having a true home base was taxing on both of us and the most difficult aspect for Neil. The silver lining in trying on so many neighborhoods is that it will influence where we’ll choose to live in the future, should we move back to Seattle (we really loved Alki and Madison Park!)!
July: The first few weeks
I feel almost constantly overwhelmed. There are so many cars, so many people jamming up the roadways. So many places to go. So many things to do. I wonder if I’m becoming depressed. I haven’t called any of the friends I was so looking forward to talking when we got back to the States. I don’t feel like myself. I feel anxious.
Aside from work and moving from place-to-place, the preponderance of our time was devoted to reconnecting with friends and family. We sailed aboard s/v Aleron to Poulsbo and Quartermaster Harbors for the 3rd and 4th of July festivities, went ziplining with family, hiked and celebrated birthdays with friends, and watched every Seahawks game (most of them at our beloved Maggie Bluffs).
Neil rejoined his Ultimate Frisbee team for the fall season and studied hard to earn the Project Management Professional certification he’d had his eye on for a few years. I traveled to New York and San Francisco to see my best friend and to attend a wedding, and I got my first story published in a sailing magazine (i.e., Cruising Outpost). We sailed aboard s/v Blue Oasis and s/v Summer Salt, old C-Dock mates from Elliott Bay Marina, during a Thursday Night Race and the Hot Buttered Rum Run; gunkholed in Blakely Harbor with friends aboard s/v Emerald Mistress; and met up with a couple boaters who follow our blog! Memories galore!
Physically, we returned home strong as ever and were leaner than when we left Seattle. We’d been active and on-the-go when we were cruising (passages, in particular, require almost continuous movement to maintain balance), and reentering American society wrecked our diet and activity level. Suddenly we were sedentary and consuming larger portions of processed food. Despite my walking a couple of miles most days during the week and Neil diligently hitting the gym, we began gaining weight, which was frustrating to say the least.
In addition, when we were cruising, most of our activities were geared toward making sure we could stay healthy and keep our boat in shipshape, necessities for a life at sea. At home, we spent an inordinate amount of time completing tasks that were energy-zapping without adding direct value to our life (e.g., long commutes). That said, the challenges we faced at sea gave us perspective to how trivial many day-to-day problems really are.
July: One month back
I’m feeling a bit more adjusted but still out of place. We’re living out of duffle bags and will continue to do so for the remainder of our time here. I miss our boat. I feel like a vagabond. We each spend nearly two hours each day commuting but my trek is far more pleasant than Neil’s. I walk several miles and take a combination of buses and a water taxi. Neil is stuck in a car. In heavy traffic. Operating a manual transmission.
We know that we’ll transition in-and-out of the bustling world of city and work again in the future (we most certainly do not have the savings to cruise indefinitely). Figuring out how to maintain healthy aspects of cruising, while existing within a more typical routine, is something we hope figure out eventually…
August: Two months back
Living out of duffle bags is still difficult, but the generosity and supportiveness of those around us has made this experience bearable, even amusing. The opportunity to house sit for our friend Lori has been a true gift. We get to watch sunsets over the Puget Sound and have space to stretch our legs every day along the waterfront. The longing for our home sweet boat has not ceased, and the realities of how diligent we need to be in saving our money while we’re here have come into sharp focus.
While the differences in who we are may be impossible to quantify or even really describe, we were not the same people we were when we left. For me, the emotional adjustment home was my greatest challenge, particularly during the first two months. Every so often, I took a few minutes to jot down my general feelings (see gray-box blurbs throughout this post). Photos from that time tell a story of summertime exuberance, but my words make clear that I was struggling more than I cared to admit.
October: Four months back
In the last two months, we’ve bounced between three more housesitting gigs. I’m again staring out over the water this morning waiting for coffee to brew, this time over Lake Sammamish. The weather is turning cold, and we’ve started to order parts to take back with us. We are becoming increasingly fixated on finishing preparations to return to the boat.
In just shy of two months, we’ll travel to Utah for Christmas, and then it’s back to The Red Thread. My stomach tightens with nervous anticipation—I’m excited but worried about how rusty my sailing chops will be, especially since we have such big passages ahead. Having the ability to come home and work is remarkable, and securing good, short-term jobs feels a bit like luck, but also a testament of our preparation for our voyage. Establishing work skills was part of getting ready to take the risk of embarking on a major working hiatus during prime work [and dare I say “living”] years.
By October, I again saw Seattle, a city I love dearly, with adoration, rather than intimidation. During one particularly lovely morning, I dropped into a coffee shop midway through my commute and scribbled my joys on paper. Should you care to read it, that little yarn is at the end of this post…
November: Five months back
When we returned to the US in June, we had over six months before we returned to cruising; now we have just over six weeks. It never ceases to amaze me how time shapeshifts in a most mysterious way. I read back over my initial feelings when got back – how out of sorts I felt. I’m back in a groove, but now I feel restless.
December: Six months back
We’re in the final countdown and amid a flurry of activity. We’ve been trying to sell our car and haven’t gotten any bites thus far. We have flights booked to Utah, but if our car doesn’t sell, we may have to drive it there and hope it sells there during the 10 days we’re visiting with my family. Parts for the boat seem to arrive in the mail every day, and we’ve been in West Marine or Fisheries every few days. One of the big questions is becoming how in the world we’re going to haul all of our supplies back to Costa Rica…
To sum it up
Our time in the US was incredible, but it was not necessarily easy. We agree that it was more difficult to adjust to returning “home” than it was to leave in the first place. When we sailed from Washington, we took our home with us, which comforted us during times of uncertainty or stress. Being in our home city without a permanent abode, left us feeling far more unstable than being in unknown seas aboard our boat. In the chaos of our six months Stateside, however, we were graced by the boundless love and kindness of family and friends. We could not hope for a more supportive network of Red Threads. The time our loved ones spent with us and the encouragement they offered were the greatest gifts of our unplanned hiatus from our voyage. You know who you are – THANK YOU.
October morning reflections
It’s a crisp October morning, and the cityscape before me is draped with a heavy blanket of fog. As I draw nearer to the awakening urban hub along Seattle’s waterfront, the upper floors of the harbor’s high-rises remain shrouded in the mist. I’m on the water taxi, speeding from West Seattle, across Elliott Bay, toward downtown. We’re house-sitting the “Alki Abode”, our friend’s condo.
I’m enjoying a book “The House of Hope and Fear” written by a physician who spent six years training and working at the hospital where I’ve seen patients in one capacity or another for four. I’m on my way there now. I wait until most of the other passengers have disembarked the water taxi before I sling my heavy, worn backpack over my shoulder and exit the boat. I like the feeling of walking down the long pier when I can hear only my own footsteps on the damp, wooden planks.
As I look up at the city in the clouds, I’m struck with a sense of gratitude. Neil and I sailed our lives out of this city a year ago and after nearly nine months away were able to return and secure good jobs with 6-month contracts. In my profession, this is almost unheard of. It has been difficult to adjust to being back—bouncing from one house-sitting gig to the next and trying to resume a bustling life that now feels busier than it ever did when it was all we knew—and we have a thousand reasons to be thankful. Doors have been opened to us by those know well and by people who we are glad to now know better.
My morning commute across the water and walk up the hill are shared with the usual cast of characters and a few novelty folks. A businessman in a freshly pressed button-down shirt and sport jacket; a disheveled middle-age man, likely homeless, carrying a plastic sack of belongings over his shoulder, the type of bag patients are typically provided when they are discharged from the hospital; a petite woman snug in a North Face puffy jacket with a waterproof backpack, typical Seattle fashion; and a man wearing trendy jeans and pushing a rickety bicycle that was already old when I was a child over two decades ago. On the Seacrest Park pier two men were fishing for calamari; they had half a bucketful!
Sometimes Seattle gray weather seems to mute the colors of the city. Not this morning; the city feels vibrant. Wilting pots of purple and yellow flowers dangle in hefty pots from a hundred-year-old building whose straight lines are embellished with ornate, curvy details, imbuing the structure with a romantic elegance. Autumn is in full swing. Carmel-dipped apples line the windows of a candy shop, and golden leaves lay tattered in the gutters. I exhale a plume of steamy breath into the cool morning air.
I take a seat at a wobbly round table just inside the door of the Starbucks on the corner of 1st and Yesler. I’m overcome by the urge to get some of my thoughts on paper. The parade continues. Fashion boots mingle with old sneakers whose soles have holes. A pale, toothless woman, whose age cannot possibly be more than 40 years bounds through the door in a bulky pink coat, a black and white beanie, and a shin-length khaki skirt that overwhelms her small frame. She grins and extends her hand to introduce herself. Her hand is wet, but I shake it anyway and meet her smile with my own. She asks for nothing but is asked politely to leave as she continues to round the room in her jovial state. The staff seem to know her. Minutes later, a similarly aged man with an afro and a receding hairline gets his coffee and offers a handshake as well. We’re both full of smiles for no apparent reason this overcast morning, and somehow I think that he, too, considers friendliness to be contagious. He merges with the sea of passersby all going…somewhere. I’m reminded of how much I love this city. This climate. People.
Time to rejoin them. Off to work I go.