Today marks a major milestone for Ed and me: it’s been one year since we officially became owners of our live-aboard sailboat. When we jumped into this adventure, we committed to cruising for at least one year before making any decisions on whether to continue on or sell the boat and return to land life. We are more excited than ever to sail on for the foreseeable future! That said, we certainly had plenty of days where one or both of us wanted to throw in the towel.
Other than posting a few photos, I have put our website and blog on the backburner since returning from the Bahamas. We had two of our kids with us for the summer, Ian and Michael, and it was important to devote our limited time with them to just be a family together. We have also been feverishly plowing through many projects to make our sailboat a true, live-aboard home. I, quite frankly, haven’t had the bandwidth available lately to maintain a writing practice. Things are starting to wind down a bit before we head south for the winter and dig into the last of our big projects for the time being.
Ed and I will both make some more detailed write-ups of all our project-doing as we clear our plate and tie up loose ends. I think that it is important to recap our first year of cruising…what went well, what didn’t, what we have learned, and how have we grown. I think it’s also important to take that reflection and carry forward our hard-earned knowledge and experience as we settle into the long-haul of our amazing opportunity to sail the world.
Things that went well for us
I think my favorite benefit from cruising so far has been the people we’ve met and friends we’ve made along the way. Our “neighborhood” is essentially the whole of Earth as we sailors meander across her oceans. The sailing life seems to attract a certain kind of personality, and it is a personality that Ed and I gel with very well. We have made, and will continue to make, friends in exotic places, and even though we all eventually go our separate ways, they will be lifelong friends for us that we will eventually stumble into in some far-off island in another ocean. I’ve grown to enjoy the fluidity of socializing that is unique to the sailing community even though I found it tough to navigate at first.
Another thing that went well for us is Ed and I both brought complimentary skills to sailing and fulltime cruising. I think at this point either one of us could attend to most anything that comes up on the boat, but each of us has certain tasks that we are more comfortable with. At the beginning, that was not the case. I think it has likely been our biggest key to success—neither one of us can really do this without the other. We have a shared sense of responsibility for our safety and our joy, and that has forced us to always work together even when we disagree or just flat-out don’t want to. Ed is certainly the more experienced sailor, but my life in aviation gave me a tremendous head start into becoming one myself. We’ve noticed that couples (with or without kids) where one person doesn’t come equipped to share responsibility of the many needed tasks that come with operating/sailing a boat just don’t seem to be as successful.
I think a third thing that we did right was to jump into this life completely. We sold or gave away EVERYTHING. Eliminating the temptation to just go back to where we started meant that bailing out would be harder in most cases than working to solve or get through our issues. And issues come up for everything: boat maintenance, relationship, self-care, acquiring parts/supplies, sailing/moving the boat, WEATHER, the list goes on. There are times when issues stack on each other, and those times are the opposite of fun or even comfortable. We’ve had a few moments where even attending to basic physiological needs was an uphill battle. Having that easy reset button or security blanket at arm’s reach makes it too tempting to quit before giving yourself a chance to learn better how to deal with the crappy stuff, and also offset it with the amazing stuff. Sometimes in life you must cross the Rubicon to truly realize the full benefit of a goal, desire, or dream.
Things that we could have done better (and are still working on doing better)
Exercising patience is probably the biggest thing that both Ed and I don’t do well. We have gotten into so many situations that didn’t go well because we inflicted it upon ourselves due to our impatient nature. Sailing, and living aboard a boat generally, is so very good at brightly illuminating every little instance where slowing down was necessary but not exercised. Living on and sailing a boat requires patience for EVERYTHING: weather, sea conditions, boat work/projects, cooking, getting supplies, getting off the boat, interacting with one another, etc. We stressed ourselves out many times trying to adhere to self-inflicted timelines. We’ve had some arguments when one or the other of us was “slowed down” (perceived…usually not in reality) by the other and just start barking orders because of results-oriented desires. We’ve had some ugly fights when either one of us neglected to take time to really listen to the other’s struggles. We’ve also had some ugly fights when either one of us used the other as an emotional lightening rod rather than taking time to sort out emotions and discuss with compassion and calm. We are doing better at slowing down and not inflicting artificial timelines on ourselves, but we are still working to be more natural at being patient.
I think the other big thing that we did poorly at the beginning was not really defining our mission, and taking time to figure out what each of us was desiring to get out of the experience. I’m quite certain that I was the much larger offender on this one. I think Ed was looking to recoup some of his happy memories of sailing from his youth and also share it with others. I started out with, “cool, sounds fun” and really didn’t give it much thought beyond that. In my mind we were going to warmer climates, with beautiful seas and beaches. We were also going to get to meet lots of new people and cultures in new places. I also knew there would be lots of hard work and sucky moments…I wasn’t so deluded as to think it would be all rainbows and ponies.
I made the HUGE mistake of approaching living on our sailboat as thinking the main point is to sail her. This is so far from the truth. I will first say there are a small number of folks out there where that is the first priority, but it is quite rare among live-aboards. The ratio of living on the boat on anchor or docked is so much greater than the time she is actually being operated as a vessel. I also got the idea in my head that motoring versus sailing was cheating. After a few months of torturing ourselves trying to be “real sailors” (ok, we are…but…), I had to really reassess what we actually have a sailboat for. First, and foremost, Serenity is our home…she is not transportation (in the usual sense of the word). We just happen to have a home that we can move around on the water. She also has two ways she can produce thrust: sails and engines. Sailing is great fun when the conditions are right, it is hard work and not very fun (and can become unsafe) when the conditions are wrong. Good sailing conditions don’t happen with great regularity. Sometimes we just want to get from point A to point B and have a comfortable ride. Instead of waiting for, or trying to force the issue in getting a good sailing weather window, we have no issue with being a motorboat. The only time we will ever need to be pickier about our weather windows is doing longer crossings where it’s impractical (or impossible) to carry enough fuel for the trip. The wind must be some of our fuel for longer distances.
I think the final big thing we screwed up was not prioritizing getting toys before we set off on our first trip. We sailed off with a great, seaworthy boat, and found ourselves with little to do in some places because we showed up with little else to keep us entertained. I would liken it to going camping and only bringing a tent, sleeping bag/mat, and food/water. Good campers also bring games, bikes, canoes, climbing gear, or whatever the location calls for in terms of recreation. I think it loops back into our myopic mistake in thinking that sailing IS the activity. Occasionally it is, but not usually.
Looking to the future
A common saying with the cruising life is, “plans are written in sand at low tide.” We are beginning to settle in living with this paradigm and even enjoying it on a certain level. When we first set off, we had intended to cross over to Europe this coming summer. We have abandoned that plan largely because of Covid. We figured things would be normalizing by now, but it appears this is going to drag out for a year or two longer. We will circle over to the Mediterranean at a later date when international travel is less cumbersome. As of today, our plan is to head south to Florida in a couple of weeks or so (have to pick those weather windows carefully), where we will have the last (for now) of our major boat work completed. That work should be done around early January, and then we will head south to the Keys and out to the Dry Tortugas for a bit. We then want to head to Mexico and Belize (if Covid allows) for most of the winter and spring. We then plan on getting to Panama for hurricane season. Beyond that, it really depends on the state of the pandemic as to what we do next.
The summer and early fall has been a whirlwind of activity, and we are ready to wrap up our time in Annapolis for destinations south!