February 22, 2009

Reflections at the half-year mark

Six months ago today, we left our home on Bainbridge Island and embarked on an open ended journey as a family. Our long held plans to go cruising, finally realized! Our excitement at finally reaching the departure milestone to depart is hard to describe- truly, it was a dream come true. As we were escorted from Eagle Harbor by our friends on their sailboat, the swirl of emotions left us giddy. There was sadness in parting from dear friends and a wonderful community, and anticipation for what the journey ahead would hold. The rush of final activity to meet our exit date was nothing short overwhelming.

We have settled in a great deal since last summer; on August 21, when we motored down an uncharacteristically flat Strait of Juan de Fuca, we had been living aboard for nearly three months. That was long enough to work out the kinks of living aboard, but a far cry from being adept at it. But we have found a rhythm- highly unstructured as it is- to living in Mexico.



cards in the cockpit.  again.

The children are thriving: this is by far our most important measure. They are sponges for absorbing everything from the physical and cultural differences in Mexico, to the minutiae of sea life around them. Jamie and I genuinely enjoy the very different pattern of life. Most days involve tackling one boat project or another, playing out the cruising adage that it really is about “routine maintenance in exotic locations.” We have been fortunate to have very few significant problems with the boat, and none that we cannot readily address.

What are the biggest changes?

In terms of a routine, nearly everything takes longer. Doing laundry (which involves a 5-gallong bucket and a plunger), getting groceries (no more minivan with the big storage: now it’s carted by hand and ferried by dinghy), or tracking down an item can easily morph into a full-day activity. But time is what we have, and the absence of time pressure is truly marvelous.

One change we don’t notice is the radical reduction in things we own. We’re certainly living with less, but don’t really think about it much. If we do, it’s usually to lament that we still have too much on board- things get in the way, there’s more than we need. We did wonder how the children would handle this, as their toys were given away or sold off in that last massive garage sale. I believe that having less has brought out new ingenuity in their imaginary play with each other. They have developed incredible concentration, spending hours on a single activity. There is no need to “entertain” them, directly or through screen proxies. On the other hand, we have the chance to spend so much more time doing things together, from exploring a village or beach, to playing cards or doing puzzles and art projects.

Outside of food, we continue to take more things off the boat than we bring on- bit by bit. But oddly enough it’s often harder to “re-home” things that still have utility: there’s no freecycle or Goodwill. But it’s great to give things away when we have the opportunity: clothes the kids don’t need to a family in the middle of nowhere, Baja; toys that don’t really get used went to an orphanage in Mazatlan.

A friend on Bainbridge asked if we needed anything. If we really do, odds are we can find it here (although I’m still looking for seeds I can sprout!). Sometimes it can be hard to find, or we have to pay more, so we make different choices about what’s necessary. Some things are more important- like getting the right fuel assembly for our dinghy outboard- and we pay the premium, investing the time to track it down. Oh, and Jamie loves that splash of Hershey’s in his morning coffee. Others things we used to “need”, like a favorite breakfast cereal, we simply do without. The need is left behind and we move on to enjoy something more readily available locally.



Fresh Sierra!

What has been difficult?

I miss our family friends from home. I really miss my runs with Tracey, catching up on everything in life; having afternoon tea with Joan, sharing our hopes and dreams; going out on Sushi Tuesday with “the ladies” at Razorfish. On the other hand, we do meet a lot of people out here, as the cruising community is active and tight. If two boats share an anchorage, you can bet one will dinghy over to meet the other, and there are good odds of shared sundowners later. In most areas, there are daily morning radio “nets” (open conversations where boats check-in, meet newcomers, help solve whatever needs arise for boats in a vicinity- from finding a dentist to a dive service) every day open the opportunity to connect with others sharing this experience. But the nature of our itinerant life means we’re saying goodbye a lot also. I’ve made friends for life that I might not see again for years, if ever.

Ironically perhaps (isn’t this supposed to be like some grand vacation?!), I miss my job. I thoroughly enjoyed it, from helping clients with marketing challenges, working on professional development with members on my team. The daily rewards of cruising are ample, but different, and recognized differently.

Sure, I have other anxieties, and am working to make peace with them. I worry about money (how long can we stay out? How cheaply can we live?), about the children’s education (sure they are thriving, but what are we missing?), about safety (everything from making smart weather choices for our passages to knowing when the swell is too much for dinghy landing, and generally being aware of what’s around us). I wonder what crazy thing someone with little real understanding of us will say to worry my parents.

What’s next?

The rough itinerary we posted last fall has held, generally speaking. Like all cruising plans, ours are set in sand, but these broad strokes should hold. We’ll head up into the Sea of Cortez for the summer, to enjoy the teeming wildlife in this stunning landscape while escaping the threat of hurricanes further south. Next fall, we eagerly await the arrival of our friends on s/v Capaz to continue south and eventually across the Pacific with the Baker family. Things get fuzzy rapidly: we hope to go to the Galapagos, if fees and Ecuadorean bureaucracy aren’t out of control. We may spend one season in the South Pacific, or duck up for hurricane season to the Marshalls to return for a second. I have no idea what will happen, but it’s going to be fun finding out.

We welcome visitors, we welcome questions, and if you care to hand-deliver a quart of Hershey’s chocolate syrup- at least one member of our crew will be in your debt!


La Cruz anchorage, twilight