Going in the face of uncertainty

Taking our children under the Golden Gate

Cheering on a family beginning their cruising dreams this morning, I imagined the wonders in store for them and thought about our steps south. In just a few weeks we have our “cruisiversary,” that date in 2008 that we left the dock on Bainbridge Island and headed out the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Mexico and beyond. For all the challenges of transition, it was a magical time.

On our way south, we had so many Firsts. First overnight passages on Totem as a family! First squall at anchor. First time sailing into San Francisco Bay – my hometown – under the iconic Golden Gate bridge! First time the kids got seasick. A spectrum of new experiences brought a crisp new edge to daily life: everything just a little bit shinier, sharper, sweeter. Every step entirely at our discretion. Every day held unexpected delights, and sometimes, unexpected challenges. Even the mundane felt brighter in our sparkly new nomadic life.

Channel islands hike; 2008. We worried about leaving Totem for even a few hours

Before we went cruising, most of my life was pretty scripted. I went to college, fell in love, had a first job, went to grad school, married my love, started a career, started a family, moved to a good school district. Doing the ‘right’ things to live a low-risk life that minimized uncertainty and set up for whatever our culture considers success: financial comfort, a lovely home, a nurtured family. Security and predictability, hallmarks of a good life?

As we worked our way down the west coast and embraced the new chapter, that beautiful, terrible script was torn to shreds and cast away.

For all that the cruising dream beckoned, stepping away from the familiar path was still difficult. Partly for the conflict with a carefully mapped existence, partly for how stepping away from the conventional path defied societal expectations. Cleaving to convention is rewarded; choosing to be different is hard. It starts when you share your burgeoning, thrilling news with a friend who says “…but what about storms?” or wonders aloud about piracy, and every parent’s favorite: “are you sure this is good for your children?”

Sunset off the Oregon coast: southbound in 2008. Jamie’s beard didn’t last the year!

Add to all the negative lines of questioning now: “…but what about covid?”

Well, what about it? Obviously, the pandemic has brought a new facet to the challenge transitioning into cruising. For Americans, it doesn’t help that our failure to respond effectively to the virus has landed the US passport on Persona Non Grata lists all over the world. Crews everywhere scratch their heads, and wanting to plan – sketching possible plans, maybe, if things change soon enough – then balling them up and tossing them aside.

The cruising life has taught us to be more comfortable with uncertainty. Living under a pandemic has forced uncertainty on people who generally aren’t accustomed to it, and weren’t quite ready to mix a double-dose into cruising dream. For those on the cusp of cruising, the emotional weight has deferred dreams.

Our barren, yet teeming-with-life anchorage

For hopeful cruisers on the US west coast, Mexico is open. Yes, there are ample restrictions, but ports aren’t closed, life is good, and there has never been a toilet paper shortage. For those on the US east coast, the coastal options are extensive – and the Bahamas has demonstrated sensible restrictions, and likely prospects for next winter. In the Caribbean – where we have several clients in the process of remotely shopping for boats – there are protocols to facilitate moving between many islands. It’s not cruising as usual, but perhaps more attractive than not-cruising for another year.

Totem floats off an empty beach in an empty bay. Empty at least but for the boat in our “bubble” nearby, and two others at far opposite nooks, a mile or three away. Sandstone cliffs back peaked dunes near the water’s edge. The landscape I imagined as desolate from afar is teeming with life as we get to know it! Moving north took us away from internet and Stuff this last week, but meant beaches that weren’t closed: not that there was anyone here to observe it. But it opened the opportunity to beachcomb and explore. Siobhan and I followed the tracks of a coyote highway running behind the dunes and their impossibly perfect sandy wavelets, equal parts hoping and terrified we’d run into the owners of those prints. When foraging for our family (tuna for sushi! grouper for tacos!), Jamie carved a path through schools of countless baitfish forming a shimmering call obscuring his targets. From the top of my SUP, and osprey in the cliffs swoop and dive toward the water, and the massive head of a turtle stars me down from the center of a widening ring of ripples. Pandemic living here isn’t really all that different than normal cruising.

Beachcombing treasure, and working clay gleaned from behind the beach: anyone have tips?!

Pandemic uncertainty has challenged everyone differently, but I believe it’s been easier than if we hadn’t been conditioned over the years to adapt to new and unfamiliar circumstances. For the new cruisers, I want to shout from the far side of the gorge: IT’S BEAUTIFUL HERE! TAKE THE LEAP! Because uncertainty awaits, regardless. A freshman year of cruising will still hold challenges, regardless. But breaking out for a nomadic life afloat will still deliver rewards, too.

Comet Neowise arcs over our Baja California Sur anchorage

TOTEM TALKS

Next up: ASK US ANYTHING! We’re shucking the convention of a thematic livestream to cover whatever questions people would care to throw our way. Details to register (or watch last weekend’s hello, hurricane season event) on our Events page.

Legit question: how do you get a dolphin to stand in its nose for a photograph?

Mairen and Siobhan dolphin-spotting on our way in for this week’s veggie delivery

14 Responses

  1. As always, beautifully written and inspirational! Trying our best to go cruising covid and all. Hopefully all our plans fall into place shortly:)

  2. You probably already know, but just in case – sidewinders live in the dunes. We ran across them when we would camp in Santa Clara on the Sea of Cortez!

    1. Glenna, we even SAW sidewinder tracks in the dunes! I’d have grabbed a pic if I had my camera. Must learn about being safe around them… also, how did I not realize you’d camp in the SOC?! but of course you did!

    1. Your mug gets a LOT of use! Siobhan has appropriated it and it’s all day / all the time with her. Good to know she stays hydrated in the Baja heat 😉

  3. Perfect timing – I needed to read this. We leave the UK in 3 weeks (having been delayed by COVID) with our two girls (6&8yrs). We are excited but are still recovering somewhat from the last six months of “are we going? Yes! Possibly… No? No! Maybe? No, definitely no! – don’t lose the house! Ok maybe now, perhaps…! Maybe?… er, let’s do it!
    So far this year has been akin to being in a washing machine of chaos with the rug of “certainty” pulled right out from under us (as if we ever stood on it anyway!). We certainly feel like “freshmen” (US term but a good one). Here’s to an amazing year 1 of many. Thank you for encouraging us on.

  4. As always, in the darkness – there will be those that will light the way for others. The light of a few shine brighter than some…and the crew of Totem, shine bright indeed with their living example.

    When the world seems crazy, upside down – look for the helpers…those that steer by the True North of their heart. That’s the crew of Totem.

    Returning to you site today – for this uplifting message you’ve posted – was the perfect way to end my day.

  5. Thank you for this wonderful piece and for keeping the dream of going back down to Journey in the fall alive for us! Love to the fam <3

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