Lately, Trude and I have been playing the "what were we doing a year ago today" game. Looking back through my journal, I see that it has been over a year since my first article as the New Zealand corespondent for the Hobie Herald. For us it has been an incredible year of adventure and discovery. There have been good times, bad times, expected and unexpected times, new friends and missed old friends. A year ago as we were selling off a lifetime of accumulated stuff and walking away from good paying jobs and careers and, most importantly, leaving our friends and family behind, we had moments when we would question whether the cruising life would be worth the sacrifice. A philosopher once said "the worst thing that can happen to a man is to accomplish his dream". It was one year ago today that Trude arrived here and our cruise officially began. We made a commitment to stick with this lifestyle for at least a year even if either of us felt like giving it up sooner. So, after a year, here are our thoughts and feelings for this lifestyle that is for us a dream accomplished.
First of all, we are definitely glad to be here and doing this and I get depressed thinking about having to live any other way. This lifestyle is not for everyone but it is definitely for me.
The first adjustment to be made when moving aboard a boat is dealing with the issue of space, both physical and psychological. Relative to a house, a sailboat has very little space for living in and storing your stuff in. Everything has to have its own designated place and must be put back there when not in use. Every tiny nook and cranny is used to store something and it doesn't take long to fill them all. So the first big adjustment is to get used to not having many things. There is no room for all those trendy kitchen gadgets or all of the power tools I couldn't live without before. Plus it becomes a challenge just to use the few things you decided to keep. Your idea of what is a hassle changes dramatically. In order to get the sewing machine out, you first have to remove the guitar, mandolin and violin to get to it. To get to the spare parts for the head, you have to remove the guitar, mandolin, violin, sewing machine, chart catalogs and scuba tank just to get to the compartment that the spares are in, and who knows what else in that compartment is on top of the head spares. This is not a hassle at all and is a normal part of life on a boat. There is one table, which serves as the dinner table, sewing table, computer table, reading table and general workbench. All items related to any function must be cleared from the table and stored before loading up the table with the stuff for the next function. This is not a hassle at all and is a normal part of life on a boat. The general rule has come to be this: If you can see it and touch it both at the same time, it is definitely not a hassle. If you can see it and get your hand around it but not both at the same time, it is probably not a hassle. When you can see it and just touch it with the tip of your finger but not both at the same time, it is beginning to be a hassle. You get the idea.
Then there is the issue of psychological space. Most people have a well developed sense of propriety regarding their bodies and bodily functions. You don't like it when people stand too close when talking to you. You can take off some of your cloths around other people but your comfort level probably stops long before total nudity. You may not like being touched every time someone passes by. If you get really pissed off at someone, you cannot physically leave to go cool off. You may not like the inability to hide the sounds and smell of your toilet from anyone else who happens to be aboard. The same goes for sex. If you feel that you could not learn to be comfortable with all these situations then you may find living on a boat uncomfortable at times or a hassle at times. I found it surprisingly easy to shed these hang-ups. I can now say that the problem is not lack of space but our psychological hang-ups that are the problem. Imagine having friends come to visit you for a week and all of you never left your master bedroom.
So, if you want to go cruising what size boat will you need? All of the above mentioned "space" issues could be solved, without any psychological adjustment, by simply having a large enough boat. We spent an incredible amount of time and energy looking for the "right" boat for us. We were putting our life's savings on the line, the boat would be our home and our transportation and we wanted it to be "right" and something we could be proud of. As most of you know, we ended up choosing a Valiant 40. After being out here for a year, knowing what I know now, if I had it to do over again would I choose the same boat? If money were not an issue, then I probably would still choose a Valiant 40. They are great boats for roaming the planet and we have found it easy to adjust to life on a boat this size. But money is an issue for me and I have changed my views about how best to allocate it. The most important thing is to be out here cruising and the vessel we do it in is a secondary consideration. The boat must be strong and seaworthy. The sea will not allow anything less. The cruise is no fun if you sink. Many strong and seaworthy fourty foot boats can be had for a lot less money than a Valiant 40. The money saved on the boat purchase would go towards a longer cruise. The joy of cruising is this: the people you meet, the cultures you get to sample, the potluck dinners, the sandy beaches, the crystal clear water, the fantastic snorkeling and diving, the brilliant sunsets and the fact that you don't have to leave it all for a job on Monday. All of this joy is there for you whether your yacht is ten feet long or a hundred. The most important thing is to be there, the second most important thing is to keep being there and the third most important thing is the vessel that takes you there.
Once you have your boat, what does it cost to cruise? The pat answer is "however much you have, that's what it costs". This may seem like a trite answer but in actual practice it isn't far from the truth. If you never eat out, don't consume alcohol, tobacco or meat, never stay in a marina, don't need to burn diesel to make electricity, water or ice, don't have any insurance and don't maintain your boat in average or better condition then you can live really really cheap. Otherwise, you are going to be spending plenty. We met a few cruisers who were taking the "no frills" approach to the lifestyle. In every case it was lack of funds that prompted the frugality. Still, if you look at my joys of cruising list above, they aren't missing out on much and if I don't change my ways, they will still be out here doing it by the time I run out of money and have to go back to work. On the other hand if, by cutting back on the things we enjoy just to save money, we start to feel that we are depriving ourselves of the spice of life then why go on? Each person has to decide for themselves what is most important. For me, the ability to just be here has moved up on the priority list from where it was a year ago. A year from now it will probably be even higher. We'll see.
If you can't tell by now, one minor source of stress in my life is the fear of running out of money and having to give up this lifestyle. But one of the anticipated benefits of the cruising life is the shedding of the stresses associated with the so called rat race. This has not been a disappointment. Our life now is relatively stress free. The big stress for us comes from the weather. At sea, weather is everything and cruisers go to phenomenal lengths to avoid bad weather. Still, most of us run into what we think is more than our fair share of gales and storms at sea and they are frightening. There is an awesome beauty in a storm at sea and while you are appreciating the grandeur of it all you are wishing with all your will for it to be over with. The weather concerns don't stop when the anchor hits the bottom either. I have already lost count of how many sleepless nights we have spent on anchor watch listening to the screech of the stretching anchor snubber line and knowing that if a single link breaks or the anchor drags we could lose the boat and maybe our lives on a leeward reef. It's not hard to stay awake with the butterflies in you stomach and the adrenaline flowing through your body. Our boat was burglarized early in our visit to Tonga and that was a very stressful time. So we haven't gotten away from worries about crime although we never worry about physical harm. While crime of any kind is very rare in this part of the planet, violent crime is even rarer. Best of all, we don't have anyone telling us what to do with our time and that is the greatest stress eliminator you can have. So while this is not a stress free life, it is way ahead of the rat race.
One of the most difficult aspects of the cruising life for us has been leaving and missing our friends. Every time we have one of those magic experiences that often happens while cruising it is always tempered by the wish that you were there to share it with us. Our longing to share the good times with our friends has grown larger rather than diminished with time. And even though the magic times are possible mostly because of the new friends that we made them with, even these new friends are soon sailing away. We are learning how to seize the day because there won't be another chance tomorrow. Imagine what it would be like if every time you went to Hobie point (is it still there?) or went to a regatta (still having them?) you never met the same people twice. That is almost what the social aspect of cruising is like. We meet people we like and hang out with them until it's time to move on. It could be anywhere from a day to a month before our wakes part. At least the ham radio lets us keep in touch. And, looking back over the past year I am amazed at how many new good friends we have made, not to mention all of the other people we have met but haven't spent time with. We would love to have more visitors. In the past year we had Bill and Therese and no one else. They were great and we are hoping some more of you will "give it a go" (a Kiwi colloquialism) this year. Send us a FAX before April if you want to visit. Send your Fax's to:
S/V "Vela Dare"
011 64 9 424 0703 (Note: no longer valid. ed)
Another issue that many people are curious about is whether the cruising life gets boring. If you don't find reading, fishing, making music, sailing, doing boat maintenance, meeting lots of new people, dealing with storms, sailing, doing boat maintenance, sampling vastly different human societies, sailing, doing boat maintenance, snorkeling and diving, walking on sandy beaches, sailing, doing boat maintenance, hiking up the mountains, studying your favorite subject, dealing with customs officials, making love whenever you feel like it, changing sails on the foredeck when it's mostly under water, eating new kinds of food, painting, hanging out at the beach front bar, working on your tan, sailing, doing boat maintenance, exploring, arguing about when to reef, writing letters, looking at other boats and sailing to be stimulating, then you might get bored. Especially since there are no deadlines to meet or bosses to schmooze. Do we ever wake up with the sun and wish we had woken to an alarm clock instead, driven through rush hour traffic, dealt with all the bozo's in the corporate world, driven home through rush hour traffic, veg'ed out in front of the TV then crashed to do it all over again? :-), :-), :-) What do you think? To be honest, there have been a few stretches of rainy days when we have gotten tired of sleeping in, reading, writing and getting wet every time we left the cabin. A tough life but somebody has to do it.
We have been at it for a year and we love it. What next? We have met several people who have sailed around the planet and they all say that the south Pacific is as good as it gets. Our limited experience doesn't contradict this and we plan to spend at least a couple of more years here. This year we plan to spend most of the southern hemisphere winter in Fiji after a short visit to Tonga to see the good friends we made last year. Then it will either be back to New Zealand (we really like it here) or on to Australia. After that, who knows? We don't. That's part of the adventure.
Fair winds and far places,
Micheal and Trude of the good ship