Communications on board is not quite as simple as grabbing the cell phone and dialing a number. Sea-Tech Systems cruiser-owners Devon and Rich Anderson share their tips and thoughts with me!
This is especially apt when we’re going through our 19-years-of-life-in-the-same-house stuff, preparing to move onto our small sailboat. It’s apt for the kids as they prep for college, though they’d look at me sideways if I used that criteria when talking to them about their belongings. They already think my love of personal development is a tad over the top.
My bookshelf can stand some weeding. The books on there have all, at some point in time or other, brought me joy (that, or they were a good deal, or a gift); for some of them, that joy is past. It’s time for someone else to have those. For some reason this idea isn’t daunting. I love my books. I love being surrounded by books. Yet the idea of shedding 95% of the titles that are on the shelves feels right. I can have the ones that matter most with me, and I can have room on the shelves for ones that appear along the journey.
My clothing is an entire different story. I think wholesale donation or a “buy nothing” group or consignment is in order. Do I dare just do that in one afternoon? I might be wearing the same outfits 10 days in a row. Would anyone notice other than me? The dilemma on that one is that I’m in full penny-pinching mode, trying hard NOT to spend money on non-boat things. This concept does not play nicely with my loathing of shopping consignment or thrift; I detest the hunt for a decent outfit in the mismatched displays. I am not a confident clothes shopper, and sifting through racks of things is just not something I enjoy.
Still, I’d love to put on clothing every day that brings me joy, from my undergarments to a coat. Imagine what that would do to my outlook on the world, to start the day from a place of joy. And when we’re cruising? Why not enhance it any way I can?
This concept hits me over and over again in the kitchen as I cook, one eye to the food prep and one eye to the tools I use. I’m noticing my choices, that I gravitate to the same pots and pans and bowls over and over and over again. They tend to the solid, the brightly-colored. Using them brings a smile to my face. Are they the practical choices? Of course not, not from a traditional “good boat material” standpoint. They’re ceramic, not stainless steel. Cast iron. Wood. The French press is a glass one. Most pieces have a story with them, a story of how or why they came to be in my possession. As I write this I realize that all of them require some degree of care, much like the cruising lifestyle requires some degree of care. Is this part of what brings me joy, that they need to be cared for?
I’m looking forward to carefully choosing the items that will come with us on board. The book has given me a way to sift through what we have, a question to ask to help frame the right answer. Cruising is a lifestyle that’s intended, at least the way we do it, to bring joy. Everything on board should be able to do that as well.
See you out there.
*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Boat shows are ubiquitous, at least at certain times of year in certain parts of the country. This past weekend, April 20-22, there were at least 2 I know of and more I’m sure I’m totally oblivious to.
I went to the one in Annapolis, Maryland, on the east coast of the US.
Unlike the fall show, where there are hundreds of boats and thousands of vendors, with deals on everything from foul weather gear to anchors to autopilots, this one was far more intimate. Last spring I made it a point to get on every single boat at the show; this year, I wasn’t interested at all in stepping on board boats but made the rounds of talking to vendors and seeing what interesting stuff might be out there. At first glance, it was a bit of a let down.
If you like jewelry, or clothing, or overpriced hand lotion, you’d be in luck. Lots of those spots. They competed with charter companies and boat insurance and refinancing booths.
Among those, though, I found a few really interesting places selling niche products that the people had created because of a lack they found in their own cruising experience. There is Ugo, for example, that sells a waterproof wallet/purse so waterproof they fill it with cash, cards, phone, and more – and float it in a water tank from which they fish it to show off the truth in advertising.
There was Weems and Plath, the navigation tool people, who I talked to about our old compass that needs a new dome. They couldn’t do it – but they steered me right across the way to J. Gordon and company, who talked to me refurbishing antique compasses and took a guess about what kind ours is, a guess that was confirmed as correct by Jeremy when I reached him on the phone.
The spring show at Annapolis may be tiny, but the bonus with tiny is that you can spend all the time you want talking to people. You can poke on boats without a salesperson trying to show you every nook and cranny (which gets old in a house; imagine on a 40’ sailboat!). You can get boat cards, be referred across the way, hear about how someone came up with the idea they now are selling. There’s no worry on either side about the fact that you might not be buying – it’s not like there are 10 people lined up behind you, credit card in hand, making both the seller and you nervous about spending too much time just shooting the breeze.
Even if it’s fall, though, if you want a collection of people selling boat stuff all in one place at your fingertips to chat with? Go to a show.
So one reason to go to a show? You can see a lot of boats and boat products, all in one space. You can talk to other people about why they’re looking at that particular one, and what else they’ve considered.
Another reason to take you and your wallet and your feet to a boat show is in the realm of ideas. Every time I step on a boat, I get an idea about layout, or storage, or even fittings down below. When I have 400 boats at my disposal, I may only step on 50 of them, but that’s more than I get on during the course of a season. I take lots of pictures, bring home lots of brochures, and spend lots of time dreaming. My preference is to focus on one certain thing – I’m currently on a sink kick, since we will be replacing ours – and look for options and different ways to think about the problem.
But by far the best reason to go to a boat show is the people. There are the people who are selling things, of course, who are generally incredibly knowledgeable about their products and being on the water with them. There are the other people at the show, people who don’t think this boating lifestyle is weird or different or out of the ordinary. When you are surrounded by a society that tends to think in terms of the “norm” (which includes a ranch 3:2 with a white picket fence and the minivan parked out front), the energy you gain from a group of people who at the very least are investigating the possibility of life on board . . . it’s impossible to underestimate that value. And finally, there are the friends you see at the show. These might be friends you’ve met online, or friends from previous shows. They might be people you start talking to while waiting in line at the portapotties or for painkillers, and it turns out you’re simpatico and actually keep your boats 2 marinas apart.
Three reasons to go to a boat show? The people. The ideas. And the people. Sounds about right to me.
I’ll be at the Annapolis Boat Show in the fall, working at a booth we call the Hugs and Smiles booth (officially Lin Pardey's booth, L&L Pardey Publications). If you’ll be there, stop by – it’s next to the Hendricks Gin Barge and the line for hugs will be unmistakable. And if you want even more of dose of cruising information, sign up for Cruiser’s University; I'm teaching a seminar on provisioning as well as one on the myths and realities of cruising.
Hope to see you out there!
Boat names are magic. With a few choice words, you can convey much about you, your desires, your background. Your profession. Your dreams and hopes and favorite people in the world.
When you buy a boat, it may already be named. You can stick with the name, of course (and there are many reasons to do this; in countries outside of the United States it might not even be legal to change the official name of the boat, for starters.) There is a whole other blog post to be done all about boat superstitions and rituals, though I’m not getting into it here.
You may, however, choose to rename the boat. I’ve got a few tips for you.
1. If you are planning to cruise, know that when you choose your boat name you are, in essence, choosing your own name. You will forever be known as your boat name. Nobody out there knows last names – we are Nica and Jeremy Calypso, or the Calypsos, and have been for over 25 years. Think about that before you name your boat something like “My Darling’s Diamond.”
2. You will have to say your name on the radio countless times. Coming up to a bridge you need opened? You call the bridge, then repeat your boat name. If it’s something hard to pronounce, you’ll be spelling it phonetically. Imagine trying a name like Architeuthis (a giant squid, since you’re a marine biologist and love the squids and think they are horribly misunderstood).
3. Being clever and cute with a boat name (puns, bragging on drinking prowess, drug slang) can sometimes be attractive (not in a good way) to customs officials or even local marine police. Spliff, Drinks All Around, The Biggest Doobie – these might get you more attention than you want.
4. Remember that radio conversation? If your boat name is a classic response to a standard question, you might be inadvertently playing Who’s on First? without even realizing it. This actually happened to our friends Carolyn and Dave on Que Tal, which they bought in Mexico and cruised the Sea of Cortez for years. Ooh, a boat named “What’s up?”? Sounds good! Think for a minute. You hail a marina. “Marina, marina, Que Tal!” “This is the marina. What is your boat name?” “Marina, Que Tal!”
When we first bought our boat, she had been renamed Newsboy, though Mike had not gotten around to putting the name on the transom. The original name, Zurimum (the original owner was from Missouri and wanted a name that reflected that) was long gone on all but photographs. Mike had always, always wanted a boat named “Newsboy”, so he named her that on the Coast Guard documentation, and that’s what she was when she became ours in 1992.
The thing is, we didn’t have any attachment to the name Newsboy. We didn’t have any attachment to the name Zurimum either, if we want to be really clear. But what on earth could we name this boat?
I’m an English teacher. Jeremy’s an engineer. He’s French; I’m American. We both like music (his audio equipment collection in college, courtesy of Crutchfield and their tent sales, had to be seen to be believed.) There must be some combination that works, right?
This is in the early 1990s, before the internet is on the scene in any way at all (other than academic research institutions), so Google is not any help. The school library (since I am, after all, a teacher) is where I go every lunch break.
Muse of engineering! (hah. In case you were wondering? There isn’t one.)
Jolie Brise! (no. Wind puns? Just, no.)
Zephyr! (ugh. Overdone.)
The research continued. The ideas were brought home, rejected, sent back. At this point I can’t even think of any names that came “close”, other than Pate Brisee which for some weird reason made an “almost” list.
And then one day, a random, almost desperate, jaunt through the dictionary stopped me short. There it was.
Calypso. Noun. Classical mythology: a sea nymph who detained Odysseus for 7 years.
Also: A West Indian musical genre, influenced by jazz.
Seriously? How perfect is this name for us. A nymph who lured someone away from home for years AND a kind of music from the part of the world we want to visit?
Calypso she became, luring us from home for years and singing her lyrics in our heads for years more.
And we were content, smug in our assumption that this was the most unique, most US name out there.
About 6 months into our cruise, 3 years after we’d purchased her, as we were sailing across the Bahama banks, someone hailed us on the radio, calling for "the pirate-looking boat on the Banks."
We responded, using our boat name, of course. "Boat hailing, this is Calypso!"
“Calypso! So, how long have you been fans of Jacques Cousteau?”
In the days of Google, you might, maybe, want to make sure you’re being as unique as you think you are.
We’ve known them since the early 1990s, when we each lived on our respective boats at Portofino Harbour in Kemah, Texas. We shared numerous dinners, hosted potlucks in the marina clubhouse together, and shed tears when we headed off on our first cruise, leaving them behind. They came to our rescue when our beagle broke into the fridge the day after I’d gone grocery shopping and consumed (no joke) 2 pounds of cheese, a pound of chicken breasts, a pound of butter, a quart of milk, and a pint of half-and-half. He needed a few walks during the day the next day, as you might imagine, and we worked more than 75 miles away. Our friendship started in real life (actually, it started before the internet was even a thing) and has continued with the help of social media; we’re looking forward to sharing an anchorage when we get out there again.
This picture, after making me grin and shout and share it with Jeremy, made me think about cruising, and boating friendships. Is it that boating makes friendships easier, or more lasting? Is it somehow the mentality that allows someone to want to live with all the challenges and joys of life on a small boat (they’re all small. All of them) means they’ll be better friends? Or is it that we’ve just been plain lucky?
I sit here and think of the many cruising friends we’ve got. There are Lee and Sharon, who passed us our very first morning out on the Gulf ICW in 1993, helped us beach our dinghy in the Exumas with the words, “do you remember us?”, shared a memorable carnival in Trinidad in 1995, and gave me a hug last October at the Annapolis Boat Show when they came by the booth I was helping staff. I had not seen them in more than 20 years. They knew me instantly, and we chatted as if we just saw each other the day before.
There are memories tied in with the kids too, with people who we shared anchorages with when our only other crew was that same eat-anything beagle named Toby, and then again 10 years later when we had 2 kids in tow. Eileen and David, and Jane and Dudley, appeared totally unexpectedly in Solomon’s in 2002, when we were headed north for a Lyle Hess reunion. We’d last seen them in Venezuela in the mid-90s. Eileen and David are Canadian; Jane and Dudley live in Maryland.
Knock knock, Merhaba Merhaba Calypso. Dudley poked his head out and his whole face lit up.
“JANE! GET UP HERE!!!!”
And Little Gidding’s Eileen, when we knocked on that hull, promptly invited us inside, enthralling 3-year-old Julian by singing Anchoring Dance in their mola-decorated main cabin with him chiming in. He’s 18 now, and still remembers that moment.
There are Rod and Lenora, friends we met in Houston as they were working on their Flicka, detailing fiberglass work to perfection with dental tools; the friendship has continued through their owning of a sister ship to Calypso and a move to Baltimore, and now as they prepare to retire, boatless, to North Carolina to be near grandchildren. Facebook messages and email allow us to keep in touch with them in ways we’d never have done before, though the memories are kept alive as photos resurface.
The internet has made friendships both more possible as well as easier to cement. There’s Wendy and Johnny, with their kids Kaeo and Bird, who passed us on the ICW in Florida in 2009, their kids and ours hanging in the rigging as they realized “There are kids on that boat!” A chance encounter that would have faded into memory if not for the power of email and the internet, with a little luck thrown in to boot – instead, we’re fast friends to this day, talking at least once a week and planning weekends together.
We got to cruise in Panama for a week because of Facebook, and the friendship we struck up with Behan and Jamie on Totem. Meeting face-to-face happened because we already “knew” each other; the bond we’d forged over many morning messages has been made far more solid because we can trade hugs when we see each other for real.
I podcast because of Carolyn Shearlock, a woman I knew from myth and legend and Women Who Sail; we met in person just about 6 months ago, and neither one of us could really fathom that it was the first time we’d actually laid eyes on each other.
Sometimes I think cruising forges fast friendships in part because of how fleeting the time together can be. When you are aware, always, that one or both of you will be moving on, the superficial dances around who you really are as people become less important. Time’s a wastin’ – gotta get to know you now, fast. Maybe we’ll fall in love. Maybe we won’t. But we don’t have all day to try to figure it out. This holds true even if you happen to be in between cruises, or if you’ve swallowed the hook for “good.” I feel like we hone in on the real stuff. How do you treat your friends? How do you treat the environment? Are you a decent human being? How old you are, what size boat you have, what your budget is – those things don’t matter.
When I meet you, will we be fast friends?
Can’t wait to find out.
There are times when it's fun to read old blogs, to see what the me-of-then was thinking. This one struck a chord with me - recognize any themes? This is a post from our SVCalypso blog, from the 2009-2010 cruise we took with the kids. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?
August 26, 2009
I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days, and the concept gelled this morning as I shed some tears over my friend Lee's blog (last cruising entry for a while). Her final lines are “We recommend to everyone that they take time now to fulfill that dream or vision. There is no other time, only the present.” Lee and her husband, Chris, took off a year ago and went to the Exumas and back, up to Martha’s Vineyard and back to Deltaville. Reading their blog is a lesson in being PRESENT – a lesson I know I would do well to heed.
And that’s where I am struggling right now. I have the hardest time being present to all that is happening. Part of is the feeling that I have feet in a couple of different worlds, part of it is wanting time to hurry up and go by. Part of it is, quite probably, a mourning for the stability and comfort of the routine we have shed already – with more to come in the next week, even, as I put in my final day at work on Monday. And with that mourning is a frustration with myself – I am choosing this (we are choosing this) – why be sad about the choice?
Our transition began in the summer, really, when we moved out of our newly-renovated, much beloved house so the renters could come in with their boxes and different chaos. We are now living in a one-bedroom apartment, all four of us, which I joke (semi-seriously) about being bigger than the boat. (It is, square footage-wise.) The kids had to pack up their toys and books, and all they could bring with them (other than clothes) had to fit in a small plastic box*. They are being remarkably resilient and accepting, except that Julian cannot kick a cold and Maddie is now grinding her teeth at night. Hard, hard, hard to share with them (convince them? help them understand?) WHY it is so imperative that we do this cruising thing NOW.
School started for the kids yesterday. They are in new classrooms, with new teachers and new friends. But they know (as do their teachers and classmates) that they will only be there for 5 weeks. Strange situation. Possibly for them the hardest part (or the hardest part they can verbalize) is not riding the school bus.
I am frantically finishing up things at work (I have been the Admissions Director at a local private school for the past 5 years, and my job culminates on Monday with the orientation of the new kids the day before school starts), feeling like a bit of a ghost. My colleagues are wonderful and supportive, but they (obviously) are caught up in the excitement of a new year while I am not involved at all with those details.
Jeremy’s replacement starts on Monday, for close to a month of overlap. He is working hard as ever at work, trying to leave procedures and lists in place for his team – and then coming home to work on boat projects or research boat parts.
And through it all I am wondering how the reentry will be. Lee’s blog has reminded me of my one real regret from last time – that I was too busy looking at what was coming next to appreciate where we were. (In reading the old journal from that trip, I can read 4 separate, distinct times when I wrote, “Now the cruising can really begin.” What cruising did I miss while waiting for it to “start?”)
Stop, Nica. Concentrate on the NOW. Even as chaotic as it seems, it is what is going on. If I look too far in the future I may well miss the present.
So bring it back to the present. Yesterday was the first day of school for the kids, and they looked great (and all too tall) as I scrambled them into the car for the drive to school. Today we made pizza on the grill for dinner – not all that exciting (for us) except that we did it on the boat grill and it WORKED!!! (We had been worried that it would burn before cooking properly) Kids are in bed now, reading, and Jeremy and I are playing dueling computers working on different boat projects. (This blog must count as a boat project, yes?)
There you go. Rantings and philosophical wanderings and perhaps some self-centered whining from me. Ah well. At least I ate well tonight.
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One of the things we take for granted living in a house is privacy. Doors lock, the walls are thick, there’s another room you can escape to if you need your own space. On a boat, sometimes that privacy is hard to come by. (Read about living on a boat here!)
There’s privacy and there’s alone time, and for the purposes of this blog I’m using the terms somewhat interchangeably. I think of privacy as, well, things you want to keep to yourself. These tend to be items of the bodily function type, but they can be emotions and reactions as well. Alone time is just that – solitude. Feel free to shift the vocabulary to suit.
When I’m living aboard, it’s on a really small boat. There’s not much inherent privacy in a space that’s 28 feet long from end to end (37 if you stretch from the tip of the bowsprit to the end of the boomkin), and one where there’s not a single door other than ones on cabinet fronts to be found. And I can promise you, as much as I love my husband and my children, there are times when I Just. Want. To. Be. Alone.
Granted, you are likely dealing with a larger boat than I am. What I’ve found, though, is that there are a lot of similarities when you’re talking about boat living, no matter the size. Whatever boat you’ve got, there’s less privacy than in a house.
On land it’s easy. Different work and school schedules often result in at least some time where you’re alone in the house, no matter who you are in the family after about age 13. On a cruising boat, when your schedules are the same and there is little space that doesn’t serve multiple purposes, it’s a little harder. On land, you can escape easily by going for a walk or even just closing the door to your room. On a boat? Not so easy! Don’t fear! You can attain that much-desired level of privacy on board even a boat as small as Calypso, and though it takes a bit more work than it might on land, the trade-offs are well worth it.
First of all is the “take yourself for a walk” option. On land, you strap on your shoes, open the door, and off you go. On a boat, it’s more involved. Unless you’re tied to a dock, you need to get into the dinghy (whatever that entails) and head off. Wow is it worth it for everyone! It provides alone time, recharge time, for the person staying on board as well as the person zipping off somewhere in the dinghy. There are some natural times when this happens. Dinghy expeditions with a fellow cruiser, walks on the beach. Going off to help another cruiser with a boat project, or heading into land to clear customs. Laundry or shopping! I’ve had times when I’ve volunteered to stay on board to “mind the watermaker”, content to pass up a shore activity; Jeremy has done the same when I’ve had some small errand to run.
This aspect of alone time requires transportation, unless you’re in a marina or all you’re doing is snorkeling off the boat (which is a very fine excuse!). If you’re traveling with a family, having a second dinghy of some sort is a really worthwhile indulgence. It can be a simple kayak or even a stand up paddle board*, but a way to get ashore or off the boat is so helpful to keep tempers in check. This means that if someone has the big dink, someone else can also escape. Even on Calypso, we carried a kayak (2 of them) as well as the inflatable, and though we grumbled at times at the space they took up we loved having them – the kids could go off on their own and often did. At anchor in the Abacos, our son wanted to go build a sand fort; having that kayak meant he could just go do it. Another memorable moment was in Eleuthera, when our daughter, age 8, took a kayak by herself and went to the library in Governor’s Harbour. Safety angles for those who are concerned? We’d gone in as a family earlier in the visit, so she knew exactly where she was going. We could see her all the way in, and she had a handheld VHF which she knew how to use. She felt such a sense of independence, plus she loved having her own thing to do. Her mood was so much improved when she returned from that expedition!
Even now, as we plan the next trip which will be just the 2 of us on board, we know we’ll have another transportation “device”, likely one which doubles as a water toy. They’re just good to have!
One thing worth mentioning – communication is key. Not only communicating where you’re going and when you’ll be back, but also respecting someone else’s need for alone time. If an invitation of a shore jaunt is passed up, don’t take it personally – it could well be that the other person just needs to chill on the boat without you there. And taking a handheld VHF is a very good idea.
What about times when you just can’t get off the boat? The high wind or nasty weather times. The passage times. The it’s almost dark and not safe to go off times. These times happen, and somehow it’s during those times when tempers run hot and privacy becomes critical. What then?
Where in a house you can head to your room and close the door, boats sometimes don’t have doors. They sometimes don’t have dedicated rooms either. Our v-berth is the workbench, the head, and the spare food storage area. The quarterberth, where Julian slept, was also where we tucked the watermaker and the batteries. Though your boat might have more defined use spaces, my guess it it’s still much closer quarters than even the smallest apartment.
What we found, both cruising before kids and with them, is that each of us gravitated to a certain space on board. If our daughter needed to feel like she was really on her own, she took herself to the foredeck or tucked herself into the v-berth and hid behind the bulkhead. I snuck to the cockpit, wrapped in a blanket if needed. Julian and Jeremy pulled out computers and lost themselves in a game or video. There were times when the kids (ah, when they were small!) cuddled together in the quarterberth, laughing at some episode of "Gilligan’s Island" or a Looney Tunes dvd. The visual break was the critical piece for us.
When we were on board Totem in Panama in February, with 9 people on board, the same idea of space held true. Behan had her desk in the aft cabin while Jamie worked at the chart table. Mairen and Siobhan each sprawled on a separate settee. Niall had his space in his cabin, and Julian found a spot on the foredeck to call his. Bee claimed the v-berth for painting; Jeremy and I pursued our own stuff in different parts of the cockpit. We might not have had a physical barrier separating us visually from each other, but our attitudes and respect made it all work.
To add to that visual separation, try some kind of audio blanketing. Good earphones or headphones, noise canceling ones, can be worth their weight in gold for keeping crew members happy. Fans in the head can help with the body noises we all would rather forget. Do they mean you don’t hear a thing? No. But it gives you the edge you may require to tune stuff out.
Privacy on a boat is mostly in the respect we afford each other. It’s about pretending you don’t hear the noises from the head. It’s staying in the cockpit while a modest crew member is changing clothing down below. It’s allowing your partner, or your kid, or your parent, who is deep in a project or book or something, the time and space to do that without interruption. It’s working to give people privacy instead of just assuming it’s there. And it’s communicating early and often about what you need to make it all work, including understanding that you might need an extra dinghy-like “thing” on board.
Still, in my opinion, it’s worth all the hassle.
See you out there.
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Reentry after cruising can be really tough, even if the return to a world most people can relate to is a planned one. We did this after our first cruise, when we’d eked out an extra year of our post-college boondoggle of a honeymoon. Three years of cruising the Eastern Caribbean on Calypso, our 28’ Bristol Channel Cutter. I was more than ready to come back to “reality.” I longed for life with a car, with air conditioning, with a freezer.
The pace of life astounded me. How can people move that fast?
There are times when cruising comes to an end and it is planned. Expected. Longed-for, even. And there are times when cruising comes to an end and it’s planned and it’s crushing. (That there are also times when cruising comes to a crushingly unplanned end is a whole other conversation.) While it’s obvious that one is harder than the other, there are some unexpected basics around re-entry that are universal, at least in my experience.
Cruising is tough, there’s no doubt about it. The physical existence. The challenges around simple chores like shopping and laundry and even flushing the toilet. The space and lack of privacy and constant need for vigilance about things like weather and holding and neighbors.
These are all aspects that people “back home” just don’t get. Their understanding of cruising is one from movies and magazines, ones that involve beaches and hammocks or pirates and 50-story waves. No matter how long you’ve been out, their lives have continued in the same routine of soccer practice and traffic jams, waiting for the cable guy and worrying about how effective the tick repellant will be for the dog this year. They may mean well, and welcome you home with open arms, but their main questions will be about storms and pirates and sharks. They might ask how you stayed awake all night every night, or how you managed to feed the family since you were never on land (there is a misconception that going cruising means never setting foot on land, that somehow you just keep sailing the whole time). And then they lose interest.
When we returned from 10 months in the Bahamas, I figured it would be fine. This was, after all, our second re-entry, and this time we’d only been gone for a relatively short period of time. We were coming back to a familiar house, a familiar neighborhood, a familiar school for the kids. Unpack the bags, collect the pets, and life goes on, right?
I’d forgotten how fast life is on land. I’d forgotten how scheduled it was. Our daughter slept in our room for the first month, not because she was nervous or clingy but because for 10 months we’d lived within 30 feet of each other and she liked that. The house felt cavernous and echo-ey and stiflingly small at the same time. We missed the sunset routine of relaxing in the cockpit, searching for the green flash.
The first time I went grocery shopping after our return, something I thought I was excited about – getting everything I want? What? - I broke down in tears in the tomato aisle. I’d just spent months living in a place where if you saw one kind of tomato in a can, you bought it and celebrated. How on earth can anyone choose between diced and whole and stewed and fire roasted and puree and sauce and paste, let alone all the different brands? Why is this important?
We’d kept a blog while we were gone, and the kids sent regular updates to their classrooms, but there is so much about cruising that is best explained in person. We threw a pizza party and invited whoever wanted to come, bracing for the onslaught of questions.
“What about pirates?”
“Weren’t you scared of hurricanes?”
This is why we went when we did, in the off season.
“Did you just sail around all the time?”
No, we anchored most nights. A night at sea was a rarity, something we did maybe 6 times in the 10 months.
And that was it. Someone else fired off a question about soccer practice, or what teacher they hoped the kids would have next year, or what happened at scouts the week before. Face it. Nobody wanted to hear about our adventure, probably because they had no way to make it real for themselves. While we were searching out laundromats in the Bahamas and building sandcastles, they had been busily living their regular lives back home, shoveling snow and picking paint colors. The shared vocabulary of suburbia didn’t apply anymore, and nobody seemed interested in learning a different language.
The best times were when we were at the yacht club, talking to sailors and friends who could get it at least in some way. They may not have escaped for any longer than a week at a time, but they could envision our lives. They could dream with us.
I spent long hours emailing with friends still out there, desperate to have conversations with people who got it. People who could appreciate the joys of a flush toilet, the terror of life on the highway after life at 5 knots. People whose trials and tribulations (provisioning! Engine troubles! Making the bed on the boat! Laundry!) made sense to me in a tangible, real-life way. Slowly, I reacquainted myself with life on land. That didn’t mean I had to love it, and at first I really didn’t.
We just took 10 days and sailed with our friends on s/v Totem, and I will tell you the re-entry from that 10 days has been every bit as rough as the one from the year-long cruise, minus the conversations about pirates and storms. People can more closely relate to the idea of taking a week off – that’s a vacation length that fits into their world view – but I’m still surprised and a little hurt that so few people have asked about the trip. It feels life-changing. Isn’t that visible from outside?
I felt clumsy driving the car. I looked around our house and wondered why we have so much space. The grocery store felt massive. My daughter sobbed in my arms as she looked at the work she needed to do, the “just get through it” feeling she had on land. As inane as it sounds, coming “back” from cruising is a grief process. And it hurts.
What has helped? Reading posts on Women Who Sail from women who are also grieving. Going through pictures from the week. Talking to friends who are out there, who were once out there. Writing about it. Processing through it while acknowledging that yes, the grief is real and it’s okay to be feeling it.
My daughter said it well when she said, “It’s totally not fair to have something and not have it.” She paused. “But it’s more not fair to not ever have it to begin with.”
Maybe part of my grief this time is that our next cruise is so close I can taste it. That the 10 day interlude was a sharp underlining of how right our decision is. Now I get to live my life on land, trying hard to be present for the process.
See you out there.