How cruising wrecks lives

1 mystic river sailboats

It’s become profoundly clear that we’ll never be normal again. Is it unsettling? A little. We were a poster family for Normal, and utterly happy. Sitting in Totem’s cockpit from our mooring in the Mystic River, looking towards Noank in the fading light, that normal life—and the security that came with it—is lost to us.

Traded it all for the excitement of boat plumbing
Traded it all for the excitement of boat plumbing

The feeling germinates being back in a sped-up world, where there’s more of a rush to the finish than an appreciation for what’s around. Close traffic, fast cars. Foul language over the VHF, disrespect for rules of the road. We have fallen out of sync with our routines on board for learning, writing, taking care of Totem, and taking care of ourselves. If it weren’t for the steady stream of family and friends we’re sharing these weeks with I’d probably feel thrown off balance.

Daphne’s crew departing just after sunset
Daphne’s crew departing just after sunset

A couple of thought provoking conversations drive the feeling home. We’ve had a few interviews in the last couple of weeks and I appreciate how they’ve pushed us to better understand the space between us now, and us before. I’m not sure how to articulate it yet, but keep trying! Part of the difference is how we’ve embraced the loss of security. I’ll recount our early years, saying “when we ran out of money the first time, we stopped in Australia.” Just the idea that we might be willing to do this is anathema to our old selves. But it wasn’t going to kill us, and it did make us stronger. Our worries and priorities shifted.

Processing events of the day with Siobhan
Processing events of the day with Siobhan

“Tell me about places where you’ve seen environmental devastation?” comes one question, followed with, “and what about places of hope?” One of our early goals was to help the kids appreciate our human impact on the world. This is accomplished in spades, but to what end? We can share a litany of examples to answer the former question, but relatively few for the latter. We’re back in the middle of a consumption-driven society that seems namelessly behind so much of the imbalance we experienced between humans and our environment, and it screams at me, but there seems to be little recognition of our collective responsibility. Changed as we are by what we’ve seen, it is now anathema to re-enter the culture we once claimed.

Two cruising families in two weeks have intersected with our crew, buoying us. One has been back a year: the former crew of Daphne offer a sounding board and a lifeline. They’re proof you can pass, for a while at least, and find a way forward. Hearing their stories, sharing ours, helps center me again.

There’s Sasquatch!
There’s Sasquatch!

We see with the kids from these cruising families how that much-feared question of socialization plays out in practice. The awkward gaps of conversation in meeting fade quickly. With each family, it only takes minutes for the kids to make their way from the neutral meeting zone of the cockpit to the table in the main cabin down below. They are playing cards, sharing music, and laughing uproariously in minutes. None of them are owned by a little screen somewhere nearby, dropping bits of pixie dust to an irresistible lure away from genuine human interaction.

Dutch Blitz with new friends aboard Totem
Dutch Blitz with new friends aboard Totem

Busy weeks of exploring and experiencing the USA again are slowing down, and ready for reflection and context. One clear sign that “cruiser normal” is returning is that there’s time again to resume our routines. Exhibit A: the kids’ computer is back in action after a long haitus for repair, and Niall spent the morning helping his sisters with math lessons.

I love how she’s touching his arm while he explains linear equations
Sneaky Mama Pic: I love how she’s touching his arm while he explains linear equations

Jamie spent the morning working on the watermaker, and cleaning some apawling (ba dump bump, bad sailor pun) winches.

7 winch repair
Winch maintenance: at least as fun as plumbing

Balance is found, for now. It’s supported by the company with like-minded humans who recognize we’re not crazy for walking away from our secure, safe lives.

Rigging Darrin’s 110 for racing
Rigging Darrin’s 110 for racing

“Becoming a parent wrecks your life…for the better.” This was the sage advice of my cousin when I was pregnant with Niall. While we couldn’t quite grok it at the time, he was right. Your life is profoundly impacted, and the lens through which you see the world is forever shifted. Cruising is much the same: our lives, as we knew them, are wrecked. There’s no going back to before. Looking at how it’s changed us and shaped our kids, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

aloha shirt, jam jar of wine...must be sundowners
aloha shirt, jam jar of wine…must be sundowners

55 Responses

  1. When I showed up for my first paragliding lesson my instructor related to me what his instructor had told him on his first day: “Noah, paragliding ruined my life and it will ruin your’s too”. 🙂

  2. Not sure who wrote this fine essay, but you’ve done yourself proud… More original thought in these seven-hundred words than folks most utter in a lifetime. Sail on, silver girl…

  3. I love your phrase “our lives as we know them are wrecked”. Experiencing the world, as you have done in spades, very, very few can appreciate. The cultural re-entry into the good-old-U S of A is chaotic and over whelming from where you have been. Sadly, you are now in the western world of mass consumption. No escape except to go west again!

    1. I love you Glenna! (Linear equation: when you have an with two variables that creates a straight line when plotted on a graph)

  4. Reading your posts bring my wife and I comfort as we are about to embark upon this journey, we’re outfitting our Fuji ketch 32 for cruising, we plan on having a child before we leave, and just one more semester of college this next 4 months for me before we head out into the cruising world. Reading these posts reassures us that we aren’t crazy, and this lifestyle is doable. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Hey Giffords, lovely post. Of all the blogs we now follow yours is by far our favourite and one we feel the strongest connection. This post is a little of what Sharon and I fell like each time we step off St Helena and back into the ‘big world.’ I remember last year sitting in a little cafe in London, both of us watching with fascination the people going by outside and it seemed every one of them had their heads down in a phone. BTW, like that rigging photo has a Darrin with an ‘i’ too! Cheers 🙂

  6. “space between us now, and us before”…. I think I get it.
    I am prepating to depart on a one year sailing trip (hopefully this is my first extended voyage, not only). During the past year, I have released up my house, car, job and most of my material possessions. I am already sensing that I do not want to return to my space before. Although my children are now young adults, and the cruising lifestyle never even crossed my mind 20 years ago, your chosen lifestyle is an inspiration. And especially that you are retaining it as your children mature. I very much hope our paths cross this winter in the Caribbean.

    1. At some point, we cross a line where shedding Stuff is less daunting and more liberating! I hope we cross paths too, will look out for Argon.

  7. Love your thoughtful posts. We are only me & my husband and we only went out for a short time, but we are now resettling back into life as we knew it (which was always already weird living aboard with professional careers everyone thought we were nuts but it allowed us to finally GO which we did for the amount of time that we could but now we’re back) and it is somewhat…I’m without the right word. I keep reminding us to embrace this part…maybe UNCERTAIN is the best word. But soon, we’ll be fully re-immersed and maybe soon on our way to staid, normal, and (god forbid) bored…And so I take uncertainty with a breath of Gratitude as all part of the process at this stage. Thank you for your post & reminders.

  8. Wow! Well said Behan! I love your writing style, the descriptive phrases that you use….brilliant! It is a profound essay and you have no doubt crossed the barrier between what “once was” and what “will continue to be”. I agree with your values and the the kids are better off in the world by way of your travels and teachings. I thoroughly enjoy your blog and have been a follower for some time. I haven’t responded in this forum before but I felt compelled to let you know how strongly I support what your family stands for. (I’m not a sailor but I do have a pontoon boat that we love to take out on the Detroit River and we watch the sailing regattas from our marina)

    Love from Windsor, Ontario, CANADA

  9. Once again congratularions and having been in your position I can say it took about 2 years for my emotional responses to adapt to coping with the weird ways of the folks ashore. At that time I never expected to go sailing again and you know how that wotked out!!! Maybe we will meet yet……

  10. Such great insights Behan. Love your honesty and expression of this lifestyle. Our lives have been wrecked ever since we sailed in 2000. We have raised our kids for too long in that fast-paced, lazy, safe world of pretense knowing there is a way to live out there far more rewarding to the rat race we are stuck in now-but they haven’t seen it yet and the families we can’t seem to connect with here don’t understand our pursuit at all. It’s impossible to shake that cruising lifestyle awareness but I do know that-like anything else-finding your people, your community of like-minded humans-really, really helps you feel normal.

  11. Perfect timing, literally on the eve of our move aboard and the start next week of our first extended (8 months planned) cruise. You eloquently describe what I’ve already sensed: the changes we’ve made to allow us to leave have already changed us. Here’s to change!

  12. Finally got the chance to sit down and read this. I’m reminded of the well known poem The Road not taken……”Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” (Or stream I guess, but ewwww)……

    You guys took the road less travelled by…..and that has made all the difference.

    Here’s two the difference.

  13. Yep…People would send us email all the time asking us what the hard part was about casting off and going cruising and how we managed to pull it off. But the truth is, casting off is EASY compared to coming back! It’s hard to understand until you have been there, but the longer you are unplugged from the US Culture, the harder it is (and honestly the less you want) to plug back in. It’s a big reason we have continued living aboard on a mooring, it gives us a mote around the boat and a “safe space” from the madness that lies just a short 300ft ashore.

    1. Totally with you Rich, and love how you have stayed connected to the vibe of the cruising life by raising kids on the mooring after you sailed back to California. It does help- even those few hundred feet!

  14. Great post once again, Behan. Ever thought about becoming a writer? LOL

    I was in the Peace Corps over 40 years ago and I’ve NEVER re-adjusted to American values and life styles. You can’t go back once the chains of programing have been broken. And that is good!

  15. I felt much the same living abroad – forever changed my lens on the world and I never want to go back. It’s so amazing you can start your kids with an entirely new lens. you are genuinely living your life vs getting caught in the tide of life we face on the mainland.

    1. oh and PS as i write this we are packing our family to move back to Seattle from Chicago..namely to give them a new lens on life and nature they won’t have access to here readily.

      1. Hi Debbie – no kidding! I do miss the PNW and agree… so much easier to be close to nature there vs Chicago. Good luck with the move!

  16. I think one of the best things you can give your kids is this education. Greg and I have learned so much from our trip that we still carry with us. We do live on land now, but people think we’re crazy because we don’t even have a TV, let alone cable. I don’t think we’ll ever fit in “normal” society again, and I’m ok with that. There are others like us out there and they’re way more fun!

  17. More than a few years ago now, my wife and I set sail for the south pacific aboard our islander 34 “Tuscany”. We celebrated our first wedding aniversary 1500 miles from San Diego and went on to sail through the islands ending the year of cruising in New zealand. When people ask me about our adventure I have always said that “it ruined our lives”, because all I have ever wanted since is to return to the sea. Now eight years later we have a five and a seven year old and are about two years away from leaving, this time for a circumnavigation. I apreciate your post it really caught the spirit of cruising and the reasons we put ourselves through so much to travel around the world in such an ineffcient and magnificient way.


  18. We’ve often said our time on the road has “ruined us for suburbia”. We may get off the road, but will never return to that old life.

  19. We are leaving for Mexico in March 2017. Your posts have been a guide to me over the past year as we sort out homeschooling and finances. Many times I would be reading your posts and would wish I could just have a conversation with you. I would love to meet with you if you are still in the States. If you are near northern California and up for a visitor, I’ll bring the coffee. Many thanks, Meg.

    1. I know that feeling of talking to a screen sometimes!! I wish we had plans to be in Northern CA, but we’re east-coast only this season.

      1. Thank you for your reply. We look forward to following your posts as we get closer to untying the dock lines. Best of luck on every step or tack of your journey.

  20. Relatives recently visited from the East and saw our little house we now live in, after our return to America four years ago from cruising. My aunt said sadly, shaking her head, “When I think of that beautiful house you used to live in, I can’t believe you live here now.” I just laughed. The old house was a high end 4,000 sq ft Puget Sound View, American Dream Home. Our new house is an 800 sq ft converted garage. I have never been happier in my entire life and I LOVE my new home and LOVE my new life and none of it would have been possible without giving up everything we used to have, going cruising and learning about what is really important in life. I would never, never, never go back to that stagnant, pressure cooker of a life where it’s all about keeping up, getting ahead and being envied. Possessions will never be important to me again. You can live in America and not be caught up in the mainstream. I’m happy to report that lots of people do it.

    1. You’re such a breath of fresh air, Laura! Wish I could sit there in WA and talk to you. I know it’s possible but it grates from where we are now. And, knowing we’re not making that transition at this point – just living our life as we have for a while. Such great memories with your family and so happy to hear that YOU are so happy.

  21. This was exactly what I needed to read today… I have been feeling the exact same way but couldn’t articulate it as well!. My husband and I have been dreaming and planning of going cruising ever since our first child was born in 2008, so after my son was born in 2010 I told him “we are gonna need a bigger boat!” “:-) We have been waiting until we felt the time was right for us to embark on such a life changing adventure, reading cruising books and planning financially… and now we have decided to leave in May 2017!
    As far as relating to your post, I feel that I have already made the switch mentally. I already feel “disconnected” to the consumption-driven rat race around us that occupies so much of everyone’s time and energy while never having the time to think about what’s important in life….However, I have had a hard time finding “like-minded humans”, which is so very important as you mentioned. Feeling pretty isolated, so thank you for your blog so that I can remember that there are people who think like me out there in the world!

    1. You have a date! That’s HUGE! And with it so close (May 17 will be here in a snap) I can appreciate how you’ve made the mental switch. Hope you can find some like minded humans meanwhile… and until then, at least there’s the internet!

  22. Couldn’t agree more, Behan. There is no way back. Luckily, we don’t have to! 🙂 Our main impressions since being semi- settled are how people have become very selfish (or ignorant), especially on the road, and how phones have become an appendix of the human body (and mind). There is so much more to living in this world!

    1. Isn’t that the truth!! So glad we got to meet in Annapolis – wish it hadn’t been so crazy. Bunks for you guys on Totem anytime you’re in the neighborhood!

      1. It was great meeting you both as well. Thanks for the generous invitation. I hope you received the Wirie installation email I sent you a little while back… Have a great trip south and happy sailing (and fixing :-)).

  23. Eloquently thoughtful writing. Well done Behan! I sometime ponder a life back ashore and put that thought aside! Not yet. Too much has changed.

Comments are closed.