Time flexes and bends according to a lot of different things. I love that aspect of time - especially when cruising. I’m looking forward to it!
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.
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Boat projects tend to run in cycles, longer ones that anyone wants to think about.
The main May project was getting Calypso back in the water, which was accomplished in style on May 15. Perfect timing since we'd paid for half the month in the yard. Now she's in her slip at FBYC, waiting for hard work and some sailing days.
We seem to be on a cycle of one weekend at the boat, one weekend at home. Since the beginning of April, there have been speech contests and political events, the Annapolis spring show, and work travel conflicting with our need to get to work on Calypso.
There are house projects too. Jeremy's built scaffolding to fix some rotten siding pieces before we hire a painter to paint the house.
True to form, there is more than one photo in this post titled "Photo of the month".
It's hard to limit it to just one!
All I've got for you today is a picture.
I've been wrestling with a long piece for the website today, a piece I think and hope will help a whole lot of people, and my brain is mush.
But this picture reminds me that it's all for a reason. That there's deep beauty in this world. That sunsets are worth savoring.
Take a breath and savor. I am.
Someone said to me today, "Oh! Your hair is so long."
It is, sort of.
Compared to where it was years ago, it's not all that long.
What does the length of my hair have to do with going cruising, anyway? Make it whatever length you want, right?
And do guys EVER worry about this stuff?
There are pros and cons to whatever length you choose, of course. Aren't there pros and cons to any single decision you make in your life, like ever?
Here's what I like about long hair.
- I can pull it back into a pony tail, or braid it. Instant "out of face" decision.
- If I go for a few days without a shower, and I pull it back in a ponytail or braid it, nobody is really the wiser unless they look too closely at it.
- It's easy to not really care about a hair cut - chop inches off or not. No need to find a decent hairdresser wherever I am.
- It's easy to make it look fancy. Sometimes "making it look fancy" means I have showered, washed my hair, and brushed it.
- I still like to chew on my hair when I'm nervous. Sorry for the TMI.
- Wearing my hair down is an instant way to spice up date night, or sundowner night, or turn any evening into a special occasion. Given budgetary constraints, this is a cheap way to make an impression.
- There's no conversation about what to do with it at workout time. Ponytail it is!
- Earrings twinkle like surprises when they're in long hair.
- A baseball cap is an easy hat to wear - it serves as ponytail holder and sun visor all in one. I like multitasking things on a boat.
- My hair LOVES humidity - so long hair looks wavy and full and fun.
- Jeremy likes me with long hair.
And here's what I like about short hair:
- It is so easy to take care of.
- Save money on shampoo, and no need for conditioner.
- It dries in about 3 minutes flat.
- I can wear dangly earrings, or plain ones, or little tiny ones. They don't get lost in my hair.
- The amount of hair I shed is comparatively less.
- Come on - sassy and cute. Do I really need to say more?
- No need for a ponytail or scrunchy. Just wash and go!
- Easy water use.
- I think it makes me look younger. We can debate whether this is a good thing or not at another time.
The thing with long hair is that it's, well, long. There's more of it to shed, more of it to wash, more of it to feel scrungy and gross. It's easier from a few practical angles on a boat (mostly the "tie it back and forget it" angle, and also much less of a need for regular haircuts to keep it looking good).
I love my hair short. Jeremy likes it better long. I think, for practical purposes on the boat, unless I can get him to learn how to cut my hair well, I will need to go with long hair.
Wanna chime in?
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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Today, the project was getting rid of the cork boards.
Yes, that was today's' boat project.
Because in all the focus on boat projects, there are boat projects that have nothing, actually, to do with the physical boat.
Really. As weird as that may sound, there are many many projects that need to be done before we can head off cruising - and so many of those are NOT on board.
There's the garage (and the attic - but the garage looks at us every day when we get home from work. It feels more immediate.) Sifting, organizing, purging, and cleaning. We've lived in this house for over 18 years. That's a lot of Halloweens. A lot of camping trips. A lot of excitedly-started-and-just-as-hastily-abandoned projects. We have endless boat parts in that garage, some worth keeping, some worth selling, and some worth, well, a dumpster trip.
There's enough wood to build a dinghy, I think. And no, we can't take it all with us.
And of course we've kept every moving box we've come across.
There's the books and clothes and old electronic equipment we have in closets and bookshelves, all of which need inspection and decisions. Do we take? Give away? Pitch?
We have a house that needs some work, since the plan is to sell it before we take off. Houses generally always need work, of course, but there are some projects that tend to be put off until later. "Later" has arrived.
Other projects include parenting projects like helping the kids make college decisions. Get driver's licenses. Apply for jobs.
In the midst of all these projects is day-to-day life, which is pretty amazingly full as it is. Can these projects feel overwhelming? Yes. It's not like every single day I wake up raring to go, psyched to knock off 6 projects before breakfast. (actually, those days are rare. And not much happens before coffee in any case!)
But each project has a place, and a reason. Each project has steps I can take, and each step means it's that much closer to being done. Sometimes getting rid of one thing is taking one step, small as it is.
And there are no longer any cork boards in that garage. Onward!
It's still winter here in Central Virginia, though the blooming forsythia and the industrious robins helping themselves to bugs or worms or seeds in the backyard are working to convince us otherwise. The calendar and the lengthening days tell us that spring is on its way, and so is sailing season.
Or maybe it's closer to reality to say that "boat work season" is on its way. I'm not sure exactly how much sailing we will get in this summer and fall. Here's hoping we can sneak in a few gorgeous afternoons on the Bay!
Why no sailing? Simple. We have boat projects galore. We've got a few things that have to be done before we can set sail, and the discussion of how to organize said projects is ongoing. There is no right way to organize projects, but I will say that organizing them is really important. Pick a way that works for you and get moving!
One way is by "Things to buy". This is pretty concrete, though the list is deceptively simple. (And lest you think this is all there is, let me assure you it gets added to all the time.) There's no column for the associated projects. The solar panels, for example, involve hiring someone to do stainless work and stanchions and solid lifelines. The windlass doesn't mention the wiring, or the below-decks work, or the battery upgrades.
Another way to organize projects is to think of the things that MUST be done before we leave. There's a bit of this inherent in the "CRITICALITY" column in the "things to buy" spreadsheet, although I'd argue that adding the windlass is way more important than the fish finder*, and personally I'm lobbying hard for the refrigerator to be a pretty high priority (okay, we COULD just use the ARB we have right now as the fridge if we don't have it installed before shoving off . . .). This list is limited to items that are required for safety and comfort: finishing the bed down below, and dealing with reefing gear for the mainsail. Seacocks, especially while the boat is out of the water, are also critical.
This list, though? It keeps being affected by project creep. While we are working on a new bunk for ourselves, we might as well deal with the chart table. And the galley. And the batteries. And cushions. And lighting. And the table will likely need to be modified. And oh, let's finish the hull "ceiling" please, so our home is pretty and cozy.
Project creep. Gotta learn to be diligent in avoiding it, or embrace it. If you've got ideas as to the former, please let me know!
Then there's the "brain dump" version of project lists. Can you tell who makes which list?
Sometimes it feels like project lists are a bit like loading a cannon. Put it all in there and light a fuse and hope for the best.
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Snapshot of one day on board Totem, a Stevens 47, sailing in the Guna Yala province of Panama (which you may know of as the San Blas Islands) On board for the week are the usual crew of 5 – Jamie and Behan Gifford and kids Niall (18), Mairen (15), and Siobhan (13) plus Mochi the hamster – and visiting cruisers the Waters family – Jeremy and Nica Waters with Julian (18) and Bee (16)
6:30 am. It’s Wednesday, I think. The smell of coffee wakes me, though when I check the clock I decide I don’t need to wake up quite yet and I roll over for another 30 minutes of snoozing.
7 am. Coffee in the cockpit is my absolute favorite way to start the day. I see frigate birds whirl overhead, listen to the wind generator spin power, and marvel at the way the clouds move in the sky.
8 am. Behan is making bannock, kind of oatcake muffin scone things that you cook on the stovetop. I’d like to learn the recipe. Mairen tackles the dish mountain from last night while Bee and Siobhan tidy up the main cabin, putting away the extra bedding needed for Bee. 9 people on a boat suited for 5 is a stretch, but so far there have been no complaints. (Read more about living aboard)
Julian and Niall are still asleep. They’ll likely be there for a while.
The loose plan for today is to move to another anchorage where we think we can get on a beach and where there are likely to be fewer boats. With this wind, it may well be too rolly for an overnight stay, so it’ll be a lunch stop.
Here, though, there is decent internet available, and there’s some email and a blog post to take care of. Once that’s done, we’ll get underway. The college application work Niall needed to get out yesterday is done, with the receipt confirmed by the school. Fingers crossed it pays off!
Jamie changes spark plugs on the dinghy engine, which is not working as smoothly as he’d like.
9:30 am. Hatches closed, anchor is up. It’s a short trek, so we’re charging, running the watermaker, and heating water for showers.
10:30. Anchor down at Gun Cay, a reef just ahead of us and another island where Gilligan might have been shipwrecked off to port. Utopia is 50 yards away. It’s been a 5 mile passage, and it’s Totem’s 555th time anchoring. We’ll celebrate with a swim. The snorkel expedition is a 2-dinghy, 9 people, one. We’re calling it successful, with soft corals, a moray eel, a nurse shark, lobster and crab sightings, and enough fish to keep our interest for a while.
12:30. Corn chowder on the stove, laundry being hung from lifelines. Niall regales us with some highlights from Totem’s almost-complete circumnavigation.
2 pm. I start my workout on the foredeck while the boys go to shore to ask permission to fly the drone. After a sound rebuff, they return to up anchor while I work hard to keep my balance and finish my sweat session.
3:10 pm. We’re anchored off of Isla Maquina, a Guna village island we’ve been invited by Islaflora, Venanzio’s brother, to visit and tour with him. Venanzio is the master mola maker we bought some wares from the other day. All of us are going in for the tour, though Jamie and Andrew are making noises about wanting to work on Utopia’s watermaker. It just needs to last until Shelter Bay, where the new one is waiting.
4:30 pm. We’re anchored at Gaygar for the night. “Pool is closed,” says Jamie, indicating the silty water, sloped and jungle-y waterfront. Prime crocodile territory. Andrew thinks he saw one on his fish finder, and though we look across the water for logs moving against the wind, we don’t see anything. I’m not sure we’re pleased or not. In any case, there is no swimming tonight!
5:00 pm. The shower parade has begun, as has the conversation about what to have for dinner. Burgers it will be! Behan whips up dough for rolls and we slice onions for the grill, mixing burger meat with seasonings and a few things to stretch the 2 pounds of meat. Leftovers are heated up for nibbles with sundowners in the cockpit – lobster paella and cheese dip. Perfect! Use up leftovers and celebrate another lovely sunset. Wins all around.
5:30 pm. Forward head is clogged again. It takes a little cajoling, a little turning off of water pressure and priming the pump, and it’s clear. Whew.
7:30 pm. Buns are baked, burgers are grilled, and everyone is happily eating. Kids are in fierce competition over bananagrams, so we adults leave them below and eat in the cockpit, discussing the plans for tomorrow and checking weather. The second box of peppermint JoJos is broken into for dessert.
9:00. Cruisers midnight. Behan and I leave Jamie and Jeremy pulling out the ipad and the starwalk app to look at the stars, and I fall asleep to the sound of laughter from the main cabin as well as the cockpit.
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The title of this blog really could be “why don’t you buy a bigger boat?” We’ve been sailing Calypso, our 28’ Bristol Channel Cutter, since we bought her in 1992 (okay, fine, we spent a few months actually getting her ready to go in the water . . .). She’s carried us, when it was just Jeremy and me and our beagle, Toby, from Texas to Florida, down the Eastern Caribbean all the way to Trinidad and west to Bonaire. Back up the East coast of the US to Virginia. She’s carried us, as a family of 4, from Virginia to the Bahamas and Dominican Republic and back again. And we’re getting her ready to take us, just the two of us, no kids or dog, on the next adventure, though where that adventure will be remains up in the air.
Yes, she’s cozy. The current set up down below has the head under our bunk. This was fine when we were in our 20s, but now, ahem, the bladder doesn’t last all night. There’s no way to take a shower down below. I don’t mind jumping over the side for the bulk of my bathing, but these days I’d like to make sure I can get clean even if it’s not the best weather outside or we’re on passage for longer than 4 days. Jeremy, who’s 6’2” tall, can stand up only under the hatches.
So why not buy a bigger boat? One that has, say, a dedicated space for a head and shower down below, with an actual door that closes? One that has, say, standing head room all through for my vertically-endowed husband? Why not spend the money, save the effort of an interior refit, and get something more comfortable?
Believe me, we’ve discussed this one to pieces. We’ve chased boats on Yachtworld, flirted with the idea of weekend trips to see some, and even exchanged emails with a builder. I send Jeremy links to interesting looking boats when they flit like fairies across my screen.
There aren’t a lot of boats that fit our criteria. Boats that look gorgeous (and unique) in our eyes as we dinghy away from them in an anchorage. Boats that sail well. Boats that can carry sufficient supplies for the passagemaking we plan to do. Boats that are simple, robust. Boats that offer substantially more of most of these items than we’ve already got with Calypso, which means we’re looking likely at boats in the 40’ range. Boats that won’t require a mortgage.
Here’s what it comes down to, for us. Comfort is in more than space. Comfort is in knowing the boat. I know where to store things, how to access them. Jeremy installed the engine, installed the watermaker, ran the wiring. I can hoist the main by hand, no need for a winch until that last bit of tightening. We’ve got our anchoring hand signals down, know the routine about how to tack, and can put a full coat of topsides paint on in an hour.
Comfort is in knowing the issues we face. Any boat that would fit our budget, the budget we’ve settled on that will enable us to sail for a long time, will have to be one that’s older. One that requires a lot of work, likely. We know the work Calypso needs. Any new-to-us-boat would come with challenges known and unknown – we might spend a lot of time and money on a different boat and realize that she doesn’t work for other reasons.
We’ve had enough experience with cruising on Calypso to feel reasonably sure of our projected budget, though of course healthcare and health insurance is the hugest unknown factor out there. We are also practical enough to know that at some point, we’ll be no longer able to live on the boat. We want to have a cushion for that eventuality.
This isn’t to say we won’t get out cruising and decide we need a larger boat. We’re keeping that possibility in mind. But maybe, with the changes we’re making to the interior of the boat, we’ll find that cruising in her is as possible now as it’s been since 1992.
When we first bought Calypso, we were (and remain) heavily influenced by Lin and Larry Pardey, whose philosophy is “Go small, go simple, and go now.” Other boats on our short list included boats like the Beneteau 30. A Jeanneau 32. A NorSea 27. Even an F-27 trimaran. They were boats we could afford, not only to buy but to maintain and cruise on. The choice we made has stood the test of time.
I know that a lot of people reading this are thinking we’re nuts. I’m not sure, if I were making the decision as a boatless person right now, I’d choose something quite as cozy as Calypso. But there is deep value in changing the question from “how big a boat should I buy” to “how small a boat can I make work for me?”
Your boat may have a separate head and shower. But when we share an anchorage, we’ll still see the same sunset.
See you out there.
Welcome to Fit2Sail, where I’m all about making you be ready to grind winches on an America’s Cup boat . . .
No. Back up.
My name is Nica Waters. I live, for now, in Charlottesville, Virginia, with my husband, Jeremy, our 2 kids, Julian (18) and Bee (16), and a recently-adopted 18 year old deaf cat named Noonie. We have owned our Bristol Channel Cutter, a 28' Lyle Hess designed fiberglass cutter named Calypso, since 1992. She's taken us on 2 extended cruises and we're gearing up for the next one. We spend a lot of time working on her, talking about working on her, and buying things to work on her.
I spend a lot of time working on being fit to go cruising again.
When I say that, when I say being fit to go cruising, what do you think of? Do you think of grinding winches and effortlessly hoisting sails? Gracing the bow of a boat looking all photo-shopped and muscle-y perfect? Not succumbing to seasickness on a daily basis?
Sure, there’s that. Maybe. But that’s just a part of a larger picture. When I talk about being fit to sail, fit to cruise, I’m talking about every aspect of being FIT. Adapted, appropriate. Physically sound and healthy. Suitable, happy, felicitous.
Being fit for cruising encompasses things like mental attitude and aptitude. Preparation for a different lifestyle. An attitude of adventure and possibility. It means being physically ready to handle the rigors of life aboard – which has absolutely nothing to do with what you weigh or what size jeans you wear.
I was in college when the idea of chucking it all and sailing into the sunset was first broached by my now-husband (for more of that story and how it all played out, check out the “When Does Cruising Really Start”!). After the initial euphoria wore off, the worry set in.
What did I know about sailing? What did I know about living in a small space? What did I know about cooking on board? Budgeting. Anchoring. Provisioning. Crossing the Gulf Stream. Mail. The list went on and on.
I muddled through. Learned a lot. And when we returned from that first cruise, in 1997, the world had changed – the internet had exploded onto the scene. Suddenly information that once took days or weeks to acquire and was limited to what books were available in your local library (hint, not many) could be found literally in minutes. Blogs appeared. Google became a verb.
When we decided to head off on our second cruise, this time with 2 kids on board, we chronicled our adventures on a blog. A chance encounter with a boat in the ICW that once would have been relegated to a line in the log book became the impetus for an email-enabled meeting in a far-flung island in the Bahamas – and we’re still close friends with the family from that boat. The internet has its place, there is absolutely no doubt.
It was on that second cruise, though, that I began to really realize that many people don’t realize that lifestyle is something you need to be ready to take on, with all the ups and downs it encompasses. It’s not all beach walks and sunsets – and it’s not all rogue waves and hurricanes either. Ease of access to information lulls some into a false sense of security; when you’re used to looking at wunderground.com for your weather each day, the idea of needing to learn and plan and research is a totally foreign concept. Stories of people who buy a boat for $1 and set off to sail around the world make you think anyone can do it – but what you don’t see is the hard work, endless setbacks, and horrifying amounts of money that go into making that dream a reality.
I’m a personal trainer and wellness motivation coach, so sure, I’m interested in the physical fitness of people aspiring to live the cruising lifestyle. But it’s so much more. It’s about confidence and understanding. Attitude and willingness to learn. Acceptance of the tough times, and gratitude for the moments of beauty and grace.
Cruising successfully takes a special kind of person. One who is truly fit to sail. Can't wait to see you out there.
I’m a member of Women Who Sail, a Facebook group for women only where topics related to boating are the name of the game. We have cruisers and racers, dreamers and planners and wistful rememberers. The subject of how to exercise on board comes up frequently, and there are often answers along the lines of, “Oh, it’s so healthy! You’ll get all the exercise you need! Just go swimming and walking and you’ll be fine!”
Sure. There are aspects of the “cruising is so healthy” which are true. There’s swimming to do – if you’re in a place with clear water. There’s walking to do – if you’re in a place where you want to explore, or the roads are good, or the hiking is fabulous.
And as to the general question of whether cruising is healthy or not, just as with the exercise part, there are aspects of it that rate high on the health scale.
For starters, you’ll likely spend a large part of your day outside. Even if you’re choosing to cruise at higher latitudes, where you think of clothing in terms of multiple layers and socks are standard, chances are you are in the cockpit or on deck a lot. I’ve seen some fabulous photos lately of people sailing their dinghies with icebergs in the background. Brr. But I digress. Being out in the fresh air, even if you spend a lot of that time sitting in the cockpit, has got to be better for you than breathing in the recycled air in most homes and office buildings.
Cruising is, in general, more physical an existence than land dwelling. The movement of the boat, even in a marina, is constant, and your body will be making small adjustments all the time just to stay stable. Lack of space makes for tetris-like storage challenges down below – and the number of times you need to move cushions or settee backs to access something critical has to be experienced to be believed. Laundry generally means either bucket washing (and wringing. Oh the wringing!) or schlepping to a laundromat. Bringing provisions on board usually involves at the very least a whole lot of walking, if you’re in a marina, or a combination of walking, back-pack hefting, dinghy loading and unloading, then storing it all away. Life is more physical on board, just with day to day activities.
As far as the food aspect of health is concerned, this one can be a bit of a tossup. If you’re cruising in places where fresh food is scarce (say, the out islands of the Bahamas, many of which are uninhabited and prime places to tuck into an anchorage for a week at a time) or very expensive, you may find that you’re relying on your long-range provisions more than you’d like. The bonus, from a health standpoint, is that you’re likely cooking all your own food. There’s no pizza place on speed dial, no drive-thrus, which means you get very familiar with exactly what you’re eating. You can control the amount of salt and excess “stuff” all you want. As I’ve gotten accustomed to cruising and cooking as if I were cruising, I find that the “packaged” food I keep on hand tends toward things like tomatoes, beans, and pineapple, along with the occasional package of Thai curry mix. Sorry, Chef Boyardee canned ravioli . . . Mostly, though, I prefer to create my own chili out of those ingredients rather than have endless cans of Hormel chili aboard.
For all of the aspects of cruising that rank high on the “healthy living” scale, there are those that tip it in the other direction.
Here's the thing, though. For all the movement you’re doing on a boat, you’re also doing a heck of a lot of sitting. It might be sitting outside, bracing yourself as you sit on the high side of a heeled sailboat. Sitting in the dinghy on the way to shore. Sitting on the beach with new friends, chatting away. Sure, it might be bursts of energy as you deal with a dragging anchor or digging out a can of tomatoes from under the bunk or diving in to check on the anchor, but there is a WHOLE. LOT. OF. SITTING.
There’s also a whole lot of socializing, at least in our experience, socializing that frequently involves food. Share an anchorage with just one other boat, and there’s likely to be at least one evening of shared sundowners. More boats? Maybe a beach potluck or a dinghy drift. You might get lucky and find your soul mate boat companions, with whom you loosely travel in company, popping back and forth for dinners and appetizers in the cockpit. A favorite memory of our last cruise, where we took the kids and went to the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic for 10 months, is sitting in Calypso’s cockpit with Wendy and Lizz, washing dishes from dinner under a star-studded sky. The 6 grownups had gathered on the smallest boat in the 3-boat flotilla for dinner while the kids whooped and hollered and settled down for a movie on Osprey. It was the 4th time we’d had dinner all together in the 2 weeks we’d cruised in company. Boat size is not an obstacle for entertaining . . .
Even if it’s just you and your partner on board, hanging in the cockpit with a nibble and a libation (alcoholic or not) at sunset every night is definitely a thing. It’s relaxed time, connection time, appreciation and gratitude time, all of which is great stress-relief, but it’s food intake time nonetheless.
Ahh, stress. Possibly the biggest health hazard of life in modern society, triggered by everything from terrorism and politics to unreasonable demands from a job to not enough sleep to eating junk food because you don’t have time to do anything else. Hop on a boat and sail away to the sunset and that all goes away, right?
Not so fast. The thing with living in “the world” is that a lot is taken care of. You flip a light switch, the power is there. Your toilet just flushes. Turn on the faucet and water gushes out. Need food? Hop in a car, drive to the store, and buy whatever you’ve decided you want. Your house doesn’t move, the weather is just an annoyance. On a boat, you’re responsible for so much of what we take for granted on land. Electricity. Waste. Water. Stability.
And communication can be really, really tough. I’m not talking about communication with non-cruisers, or even other cruisers, but with your partner. The conversations you’ll have to have on board about things like safety, privacy, boat maintenance, anchoring, weather are different and deeper than any you’ve had to have on land, with more at stake. It’s an unexpected stress.
All of these “less healthy” aspects of cruising can be helped a lot by a regular, disciplined exercise routine. This can be spending 20 minutes a day on the foredeck doing yoga. It can mean anchoring somewhere where you can get in your run or walk every day, rain or shine. It can mean creating (or following!) a circuit routine that encompasses cardio and weights, all taking your special on-board circumstances into account.
Yes, cruising can be a healthy lifestyle. Being physically fit allows you to maximize the health aspects of it, and minimizes the challenges of the less healthy parts. Don’t diss the exercise routine just because you’re living on a boat!
There’s something magical about going cruising the first time. There’s so much loaded into that journey, so many nay-sayers and personal doubts. So many boats sitting on the dock, while owners spend weekend after weekend getting “ready to go” but never actually leaving the dock with the lines kept aboard.
When you head off (and I don’t care if it’s for a week, a month, a year, or “forever”), you’ve joined a special club.
How do you make a decision to go cruising anyway? The decision we made to go the second time, to take the kids and a year and head south, was made, at least on the surface, over the course of one very memorable dinner out.
Sometimes all it takes is a shift in how you ask a question to open it all up.
It was December 28, 2008, our 15th wedding anniversary. For once we got a babysitter to hang with the kids. We opted for eating outside, next to a loud propane heater thing on the patio covered with a plastic-looking canvas tent with plastic-looking “windows” designed to look, from the outside, like some floppy house. It was not the most auspicious beginning to dinner – we’d been counting on being indoors next to the Tulikivi fireplace on this cold December night, complete with freezing rain and a chilly breeze. But reservations are not normally a part of our vocabulary, so when offered the choice of waiting for 2 hours to sit inside or sitting outside, we shrugged back into our coats and went for the outside.
Drinks ordered, we settled back into conversation. When we did get to eat somewhere without the kids, the conversation was usually about the boat or about sailing. Our first wedding anniversary was spent on Bimini, after a really really awful Gulf Stream crossing, and the tradition of talking about “where do you see us in xxx years” and “what was the best part of the last xxx years” started even then.
“Best part, hands down, was going cruising.” That had been the standard answer since 1997.
“Why was it so good?” I asked. I had my own reasons, of course, and I’d heard Jeremy’s a few times before, but I love seeing him light up when he talks about sailing.
“Freedom. Being in charge of my own choices. Spearfishing. Sailing. Geez, I wish we could go cruising again.”
“Yeah, but that’s not happening again any time soon,” I responded. “We’ve got too much to do here.”
“You’re right.” Jeremy paused. “Let’s put an air conditioner on the boat. It’ll make it more comfortable for weekends aboard. This Chesapeake weather is rough for sleeping when it’s summer.”
We talked about the kind of air conditioner to get, how expensive it would be, what other projects we wanted to do.
I took a sip of wine, then blurted out. “Wait. Why NOT go cruising again? We’ve always talked about wanting to take the kids . . .”
“Why not? Umm, school.” He looked at me like I had 2 heads.
“Homeschool. I'm a teacher, remember?”
“We’ll rent it.”
“The boat needs a new engine.”
“Really? Does it?” I was getting into the argument of it. Tell me not to do something, and generally I get fired up about doing it. Contrary nature, I suppose.
“Hmm. Maybe not. And the economy stinks. You’ve already quit your job. I’ll just quit mine.” Jeremy was starting to warm up to this whole idea.
And the conversation continued, getting more and more animated as every objection we could mount became an exercise in figuring out ways around it. We’d stopped asking why we should go – instead we were asking why NOT. It was a challenge. A defiance.
Three little letters.
By the end of that dinner, which had begun in an almost mournful way on an outdoor patio with zero ambience that somehow seemed fitting for a discussion about how everything was better once upon a time, we were casting off our lines in the fall.
Yes, leaving the first time is unbelievable. It shows fortitude and adventure. Showcases a mentality of independence and a little bit of “I don’t really care what you think.” It’s a great dismissive gesture at a society that can’t understand anything different at all. It’s a time of unreal learning, abject fear and terror, and indescribable beauty.
Leaving the second time somehow feels even more momentous. Somehow it means, to me, that we’ve really proved we can do it. Not just once. Bring on the next time.