Tuesday, May 20, 2014


 It has been a bit surprising, the reactions people have when they find out they are talking with someone who lives full time on a sailboat. About half exclaim that they could never do such a thing, and then go on about how cool it must be. The other half go on about how cool it must be, and then get a bit whimsical about doing it themselves. If the situation allows, it will take a while to get away as each will want to hear all about storms and pirates on the one hand, beaches and resorts on the other.

Which usually leads to them being a tiny bit disappointed. Cruisers are pretty good at avoiding storms and pirates, don't have as much time for beaches as non-cruisers imagine, and don't often care much about visiting resorts. Somehow people who live in houses with a thousand square feet of living space imagine that a 42-foot sailboat is large, that life on the ocean is easy, filled with cold drinks, fantastic food, and beautiful people. All-day excursions to go shopping, humping water on and trash off, munching soggy crackers to fend off motion sickness on a bumpy night passage, and all the other joys of this life that cruisers know so well, come as a huge surprise to those who live in big boxes with yards. Yet almost all still think it is cool when the conversation ends.

Another near-universal question is what our plans are, where are we going next? Trying to give an honest answer goes something like this;

"Well, for the rest of the summer it looks like South Carolina will be home base for some boat work. Come fall, Biscayne Bay until the New Year, then probably over to the Islands again. The Abacos are fantastic, but friends have talked up the Exumas and it sounds like they shouldn't be missed. The goal come next Spring will be heading to the Northern Chesapeake to park the boat for a while; overland to St. Louis to try and sell the condo in June. By the end of 2015 Kintala could be back in southern FL looking forward to a third winter in the Islands. Spring 2016 she might be heading farther south, instead of north, to hide from hurricanes. Maybe we will make Central America for the summer of 2016; live in another country for a while. After that, who knows?"

To a cruiser's ear this is a perfectly normal sounding response. But to those living the American Dream it sounds like the ravings of the demented. "Looks like," "should," "could," South Carolina, Biscayne Bay, Exumas, Abaco, Chesapeake, 2015, 2016, Central America . . . The stark difference between the old life on land and the new one on the water is plain as their eyes glaze over and the wheels turn trying to figure out where some of those places are. "Planning" years into the future to be in locations we have never seen, while not really knowing where we will be in a week or a month?

This is a very odd way to live, and I have about given up on the idea of getting those who haven't done it to understand. Not a big surprise. After 7 years of preparing, shedding nearly everything we knew, and now having almost a year and 2000 nm in our log, I am just beginning to understand it myself.

This is also a very tenuous way to live. The ocean environment is what it is with complete disregard to anything else. We see it as beautiful, challenging, compelling; as well as uncaring, uncomfortable, and quite easily deadly. But that is only land-living unmasked. For example, I have two grand kids now living on a sailboat. Many have commented on how dangerous that is. Really? In a society of cars, guns, and gangs just how dangerous is the ocean by comparison? And those cars, guns, and gangs are nearly as hazardous to adults as they are to children. Living on the ocean means admitting life is fleeting and capricious instead of living on land and pretending life is permanent and predictable.

For many of us, getting here means dumping most of the material things that make up American life. Houses, cars, furniture, yards, gardens, swimming pools, monster grills that fill the patio, the patio itself . . . none of that stuff fits on the common cruising boat. We cut the ties to stuff, and many of us are surprised to discover the idealism of our youth was more righteous then we thought. We should have stuck with it from the very beginning. Sadly, we missed the chance to teach this old / new idea to our kids. They are already buried under mountains of student loans and struggling to survive the class warfare of corporate America. But we have grand kids . . . 

From the back yards of suburbia and through the eye of the TV tube, America is a big place and the world is kind of small. From the deck of a sailboat and through the eyes that nature gave us, the world is a big place and America is kind of small. And I mean "small" in more ways than just geography. Once upon a time a collection of Americans brought out the best in each. Now, collectively, we are mean spirited and narrow minded. Dreams of greatness have been replaced by delusions of grandeur. Once we had hope. Now we just hope for the best.

Literally yards off shore that starts to fade. People keep an eye out for trouble, step in and help when they can. There are lots of smiles, waves, and greetings. Complete strangers-soon-to-be-friends will stop by in a dink to ask about the boat or comment on the home port listed on the stern.  Stories of places far away will be shared, and the idea of visiting them will be encouraged.  Before we left, a lot of people said we shouldn't go, that we weren't ready.  Once we did go, the cruiser community encouraged us to keep going.  This is a life of bold people doing a different thing.

There is a sometimes cruiser custom that I love.  As the sun touches the horizon in the west, conch horns sound to herald the close of another day . . . "We are with the tribe, riding safe to anchor or mooring, thankful for the challenges of the day, and content with the peace that comes with the night."

Hard to explain to those who haven't been here.


Unknown said...

Amen, Brother! Mike, Tartan 42 Hull #22, MOORGLADE

Latitude 43 said...

Based on the haircut I just got I would say Floridians dislike cruisers very much. I should have told them I was doing the RV thing instead of the sailing, cruising and lingering around your town in faded clothes, clown bikes and crocs thing.

Yes, I showered.

S/V Island Bound said...

Another excellent post TJ!

Robert Sapp said...

Well expressed. Those are the same sentiments that we tried to capture with the Nietzsche quote on the banner of our blog: "And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." It used to be important to me to try to convince our friends and relatives that we weren't crazy. But I truly no longer care what they think. You either understand or you don't. And I think that's an important mental state to reach in order to truly be comfortable as a cruiser.

TJ said...

Robert, that is one of my favorite lines. Nietzsche is my second favorite philosopher after my Daughter.

And Paul, I guess the Floridians can't hear the music.