Easy decisions and new questions about sailing home

ocean friends

It was a snap decision, but pointing to the US in 2016 suddenly made sense (the kicker was learning of people we love with poor health). From that one follow a myriad of other decisions. Here’s are some clarifications, and what we know, and what’s keeping me up at night.

We aren’t going to stop cruising.

We are going home, but we’re still going to be cruising. There are no plans to fix ourselves in a place and change our way of life. We’re expecting to be in the USA for about six months—basically, the duration of hurricane season—then point towards the Bahamas and Caribbean islands for winter 2016/17. As cruisers, of course, those “plans” (we resist the P word!) could change at any time!

Mexico sunset
Mexican sunset from Totem’s cockpit; planning on many more of these

We have no plans to live on shore.

Totem is our home. We don’t need a break from her. In fact, we just had one- nearly a month of road tripping in South Africa- and it reinforced how much we love our floating home. For some reason the question about going to shore comes up a lot, although it’s would never occur to us. Why would we move out of our home, into a land-residence that’s, well, not our home? While our real home is right there?

I’m not going to stop blogging.

I appreciate the notes and comments from people who said how much they’ll miss reading our updates. I suspect they didn’t read far enough into the last post to realize we’re not quitting cruising or hanging up the blogging hat. Our lifestyle isn’t changing and neither is that: blogging is in part a way for me to process our experiences, to think about the impacts of places and changes and people on our lives. And this chapter of US cruising, if anything, will probably offer a LOT of fodder to process.

What’s keeping me up at night

thoughts on sailing homeWhat should our route be?

We have the first five or so thousand miles mostly sketched out. In January we sail up to Namibia; from there, we’ll go via St Helena and Ascension Islands to… well. We once thought Brazil. The current thinking is to Grenada. But there’s at least one voice on board that’s angling hard for French Guiana…more homework required.

Getting from Grenada to the USA, and then up (and back) along the US coast, is a little more complicated. Mostly, we’re spoiled for options, but it’s a lot of miles and we can’t visit all the places we’d like. There are friends I’ve known through the internet that I CAN’T WAIT to finally meet in person! A map of the dream route is filling with pins to their locales. And then, we’ve had some generous offers to dock or mooring space we can use along the way, and they’re influencing us too (suddenly, there is more than a pilgrimage to the home of the Dark & Stormy to lure us to Bermuda- wow!). Researching our path is a lot fun!

How will we afford health insurance?

Routing might be a fun problem. Dealing with insurance coverage is not. We’re used to paying out of pocket for medical expenses; it’s never much as we’ve generally been in places with affordable care. The US is not one of those places. But we also can’t afford the cost of insurance, at least not from what I’ve seen so far. More homework.

How will our kids deal with the culture of peers at home?

We live in a bit of a bubble, in what I think is a very good way–a bubble that’s limited the kind of peer culture we don’t think is necessary. Yes, our kids are happily not “socialized.” They don’t care what brand their clothes are, they don’t need the latest ______ (fill in the blank), they aren’t bereft without a smartphone (none of them have one and none of them care), they’re not surrounded by messages directing how they are supposed to talk or act or look to measure up to some unwanted yardstick. We have three awesome, strong, independent kids, but I’m anticipating some possibly challenging times for them and for us as we navigate this together.

What kind of reverse-culture shock will we experience?

When I was a teenager, my family moved to Taiwan. I came back to the US for college the next year, and the reverse culture shock of my home country was unexpected and fierce. How will we be overwhelmed, or not? What have we idealized in our absence, that won’t feel the same? I expect this mix of emotions to return, and hope that by anticipating it and talking about it as a family it won’t be too difficult. But this I assume: we’re going to feel like outsiders, strangers in our own country.

ty and jamie on the equator
Ty and Jamie cut a net from Totem, somewhere in the South Pacific

Will we get burned out?

We have a lot of miles ahead. By the time we reach Long Island Sound, we’ll have sailed about 14,000 nautical miles in a year. That’s almost 40% more miles as ANY single year since we started cruising, and will include longer passages than we’ve done yet. Are we going to get fried? We hope to have our friend Ty come back for a (long) leg: he will ease the load while adding a lot of fun. It prompts me think about bringing crew along on other legs, too. I should probably mention that to Jamie!

grey durban dawn
grey dawns in Durban’s harbor are good for brooding

I realize at I get to the end of my list of questions that I’ve let myself fall into the trap of negative presumption. It’s one way of responding to change or the unknown, but the kind of attitude I try very hard to avoid. In truth, we are SO EXCITED about spending time in the USA next year, about being home, about seeing our families! We just have a few kinks to work through.

This post is syndicated: clicking through to see this post on Sailfeed puts change in our cruising kitty. Thank you!

27 Responses

  1. I think you’ve already negated problems, just by identifying them, because you won’t be blindsided. You’ll recognize what’s happening and you’ll address any situations, as a strong family unit. Exactly as you’ve done all these years living aboard. Decision to continue to live aboard will keep family communication open.
    And you have plenty of time to talk about it as you head north.

  2. I hope we meet up in the Caribbean in 2017. We will be with the World ARC in St. Lucia in early April for the completion party. After that we will be in the Caribbean and plan to head south for hurricane season before sailing back to the Chesapeake in 2018. Let’s compare notes on where to visit and hopefully sail together some.

    Then we will sell S/V Trillium and return to land. I have mixed feelings, but we aren’t getting any younger and the grandchildren are growing too fast. Thinking of you and all of your questions and challenges. Merry Christmas to all. Hugs.

    1. Hi Sherry- we have so much land history- it would be nice to share some cruising history too! Hopefully it happens in the next couple of years. I can only imagine the lure of grandbabies – it would be too much!

  3. Huge decisions…and opportunities! Those long passages and 40% more keel miles will surely add to your strengths as a family. Also so reassuring and good to hear that a family who’s been cruising as long as you isn’t ready to swallow the anchor, and in fact is very resolute in maintaining a “life aquatic”.

    1. Resolute as long as we keep meeting the basics of: everybody likes it / all in good health / not broke… which lead to… MORE PLEASE! 🙂 Honestly, I never thought it would be this long, and I’m so grateful the kids are as happy as we are to keep going.

  4. I think you are very smart (not negative) for anticipating the culture shock, especially for the kids. I too was a boat kid and was CLUELESS when we went back to the States from the Caribbean. The thing is that even though there are growing pains it all usually works out and typically you leave with a little good from both cultures, creating a balanced person.

  5. Met a Southie living aboard his 30 footer with Girlfriend and BIG dog in St. Lucia. He had sailed direct from South Africa. Said it was the easiest passage they’d ever done.

    Fair winds,

  6. Behan,
    Look into the research on Third Culture Kids (TCK). The term generally applies to kids who spend a significant amount of time outside their parents home country, most often with parents and an intact family. Examples are kids of diplomat corp, career service military, NGO, and mission fields. As a TCK you’re never quite part of the local culture due to traveling, and never quite part of the home culture due to international experience.

    I was a TCK in southeast Asia, with my parents who were in the Methodist mission. We returned to the USA in 1969 (!), having spent the ’60’s overseas. I couldn’t play football, basketball, or baseball. But we kids could all skin dive, body surf, and I knew how to catch an octopus then kill it quick for dinner.

    An informative and seminal book is “Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds” by Ruth E. Van Reken. Wikipedia has a pretty good overview. And Amazon has a pretty good list of 10 books that third culture kids can read to help them (us?) better place our experiences in context.

    Even when back “stateside” being overseas never washes out. My wife and I are now beginning our next long cruise from the US Pacific Northwest and heading south then westward.

    Best wishes,
    Randy Webster
    s/v Velic
    Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico

    1. Thanks for mentioning TCK, Randy, it keeps popping up and I know that I really, really should read this book! I finished high school in Southeast Asia and have some of what I’m told are TCK leanings. I guess I should probably figure out what that means. But in the interim, I’m pretty sure it’s the source of my wanderlust and will be happy if I’ve managed to pass that on to our kids too. Good luck with your own voyage south!

      1. Behan,

        I found it interesting that my parents appreciated the TCK literature as much as we kids did. It helped them understand what we were experiencing when returning stateside after living overseas.


    2. Indeed. My Dad was sent by Firestone to South Africa in 1936 and the family did not return to the States until 1957. I was 16 when we returned. I was a rugby player and had lived in parts of ZA that were quite lacking in modern amenities — like electricity. Then 28 years in the USAF and overseas assignments. Coming back to the land of the big PX was always an experience, particularly during the VietNam war. Totem’s kids are getting an education and experience few people are lucky enough to get.

  7. Behan,

    as an long-term expatriate and having spent half of my youth abroad, I can only confirm your assumption that you’re going to be outsiders and strangers in your own country. You have no chance of avoiding this. You made that choice for you and your children, now you live with the consequences.

    The main reason for this is that when leaving, you chose or were forced to broaden your horizon, while those back at home went happily living on in their comfortable cocoon with its filtered view of the outside. When you come back, those filters will never work well enough for you again, thus you’ll experience the USA differently than those who never left. More like a visitor or a strange.

    Another slightly disconcerting effect I’ve experienced is that nobody cares about that different point of view you’ve acquired and if you push it too hard, you’ll be met by hostility. Being different and having experienced other things is seen by those who remained at home as a weakness. That can be hard, specially on children.

    1. Good reminder: ” nobody cares about that different point of view you’ve acquired ” — I remember this, too, after spending time overseas in my teens and early twenties. It was echoed by the families we spoke with for Voyaging With Kids, talkign about their own experience returning from cruising. It doesn’t factor into their lives… something to anticipate/mitigate, especially for the kids.

  8. I spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia nearly 40 years ago, and I’ve NEVER re-adjusted to the American cultural value system. Once the scales have fallen from your eyes you can’t go back. Your kids are at an age where they probably could become Americans again, but I’d think long and hard before I’d make that choice for them by staying long term.

    1. Richard,

      it’s not so much that American values are bad and others are better that people need to learn better, the problem lies more with learning that there’s more and different ways to approach life. Some better, some different, some worse.

      Broadening one’s horizon is like losing one’s virginity. Once it’s gone, it stays gone. No way of getting it back.

      1. Right you are Popsi,

        The American cultural characteristics of jingoism, small mindedness and racism that you commented upon are certainly not exclusive to the USA. They are so common that they almost seem like a universal heritage from our species’ tribal cultural roots. The problem comes because the military and economic hegemony that the US has enjoyed since the 1950’s has given it the power to impose its shortcomings and delusions upon most of the rest of the world and extract far more than its share of planetary resources and wealth.

  9. Hi Behan
    I have been following your blog since you were in AU. You might remember me as I am an ardent fan of the Stevens47 and you got me on the FB page. Thanks!
    You might be able to help me by passing along my current dilemma…I am looking for a boat crossing the Atlantic from Capetown in the next month that would like a few extra crew at least as far as St Helena. I have a boat to deliver to the Caribbean and no way to get there ???? Turns out the RMS ship/ ferry/ mailboat is booked for months from Capetown. There is an extremely complicated way to get to St Helena through Ascension Island via an RAF flight out of the UK but thought it might be worth a shot to try and hop a ride from Capetown. Not asking you guys as I know how full you are with 5 but perhaps if you run into anyone when you arrive in Capetown, you could pass this on?
    Thanks so much. I think you mentioned you would be in C Town in Jan?
    Safe sailing and I really hope I can meet you when you make it back to the U.S. Would love to have a sundowner in the Bahamas!!

    1. Good chatting with you earlier, Judy. Hope you’re able to connect with a boat headed out there… and look forward to that rum drink in the Bahamas!

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