You’re doing what? Why in the world would you want to do that? Where are you heading? And when are you coming back?
A year or two ago, when sharing our intention to embark on a sailing adventure, Tim and I were often met with a barrage of questions. The “what” was easy to answer. Some got the “why” such a mid-life adventure called to us, and some didn’t. We tried to explain. The “where” and “returning when” questions, though, we could only answer in the vaguest of terms. We had intentionally left our plans loose. We wanted to keep the door to opportunity as wide open as possible. For me, to head off without having a day-by-day itinerary set, let alone a destination or even a return date, was an intentional stretch way beyond my comfort zone. Tim’s much more at ease living life as it comes, but does thrive on routine, so taking on such an uncertain journey was also a stretch for him. With this experience being so new to both of us, it was impossible to anticipate how we would respond. Would we fall in love with cruising and decide to give up our land-lives to become full-time live-aboards sailing off to new horizons forevermore? Or would we become terribly sea-sick, or perhaps in the close confines of our small boat, terribly sick of one another, and this would be an interesting, but abbreviated, one-time adventure?
It’s been 7 months since we departed northern Ontario. As the dual pressures mount – hurricane season looming and our cruising funds shrinking – we have found that the “P” word that we avoided early on has become a regular part of our discussions. What are our plans?
Obviously, we haven’t disliked the experience, or been annoyed by one another on board, enough to short-cut the adventure. So the question is, would we consider giving up land life for full-time cruising? Well…. it’s complicated.
As we’ve shared bits and pieces of our sailing adventures, our Ariose Notes have been heavily weighted to describing those adrenaline-fuelled confidence builders where we’ve had to dig deep sometimes discovering strengths that we didn’t know we had. Neither of us thirsts for those kinds of incidents, and I know lots of folks would say those events would justify a decision to bring our cruising to an end. At the same time, there aren’t too many occasions in day-to-day life where you can feel so alive and in the moment, and to be rewarded with such a sense of accomplishment. There’s a temptation to continue on.
The overall experience of living in this autonomous bubble, our Alberg 30 sailboat, is also tremendously satisfying. We’re pretty much self-sufficient, with everything we need on board. We generate more electricity than we need from the sun, we carry over a month’s worth of fresh water, a few months of propane for cooking (no more heating needs, thank goodness!), we’re barely touching our diesel, and we have tons (perhaps literally!) of provisions. Food-wise, we could survive for months if we could tolerate beans & rice every day, that is. As we found out in the Exumas, 5 weeks having passed since provisioning and out of essentials (meaning wine, beer, chocolate, oh, yes, and fresh fruit & veggies), we were beginning to be obsessed with our cravings.
And then there’s the seduction of limitless travel possibilities. We’ve just touched on some amazing places, and virtually the entire world is accessible by water. There’s so many reasons why continuing to cruise is appealing. There is another side, though.
Our Ariose Notes have been heavily weighted toward the excitement and the appeal but admittedly, that’s been an incomplete picture. There’s the other side of the coin. Much of our time while cruising, just like at home, is occupied by day-to-day domestic routines. There has been lots of the magnificient, but also, a heavy dose of the mundane, and this factors into our decision.
Compared to living on land, almost all the normal routines require a little more effort on board compared to daily life on land. There’s near constant motion, so every movement demands attention. At times, in rolly seas whether underway or even at anchor, moving about can mean reaching from one hand hold to the next, constantly bracing ourselves. Both feet need to be firmly planted to prepare a meal, often bent over so that our forehead bears weight on the companionway to free 2 hands to chop vegetables. Using the head, i.e. the toilet? Again, not always easy. Even sleeping requires a certain amount of positioning limbs just so, so our bodies aren’t tossed back and forth too much. Somehow, along the way, we’ve acclimatized, and it takes less effort to live aboard. Less effort. Not no effort.
Daily life happens in a restricted space. An Alberg 30 has about 2 x 8 feet of floor space in the cabin. As you can imagine, that mere 16 square feet demands careful choreography for 2 people to navigate peacefully from entrance, through galley, navigation station, salon, library, head, bedroom.
This is perhaps a good segue into the other arena that’s more difficult on board: our relationship. So many people are quick to express that they could never cruise, especially on such a small boat, with their partner. We wondered, and yes, worried, about how we would do. Although Tim & I have been important features in one another’s lives for several years now, we lived a couple hours’ drive apart and only shared time together on weekends and holidays. When I stepped aside from my career to work with Tim to make our cruising dream happen, we lived together for about 9 months while preparing Ariose and ourselves. Living off-grid in Tim’s one-room straw-bale structure, and working side-by-side on the long-list of projects in the close confines of our boat was great preparation for cohabitating on board.
We’ve been pleased to discover that when dealing with “incidents”, of which, yes, there’s been a few, we are not only compatible, but complementary, and work together to do what we need to do to resolve whatever challenge we’re facing. We’re a good team, and usually, one that deals with crisis calmly. Usually. I won’t elaborate on the few exceptions to that. It’s the everyday life aboard together that causes little tensions to grow. Waiting for one to finish brushing teeth and move aside so the other can head outside eats up patience, or cheerful whistling perseverating on the same tune for a day or two can be annoying, and how frustrating when one organizes things so well that the other has little hope of finding the stowed items. These kinds of trivial behaviours, in land-based life where a couple usually only shares space a few hours a day, and substantial space at that, can go undetected. On board 24-7, they don’t.
Differences are magnified. Take our daily rhythms, for example. One of us savours his day starting with a couple hours of leisurely coffee and Internet browsing or enjoying the seascape from the cockpit, but the other is at her highest energy, and is most productive in the early part of the day. Then, after lunch, the Spanish genes in one of us longs for her afternoon siesta while the other begins to kick into gear and inevitably proposes a strenuous against-current row to shore to hike the perimeter of the island in the mid-day heat. Not only are our quirks and relationship ups and downs exaggerated when in such close, constant, quarters, but when one of us experiences an inevitable low energy or low mood day, it has a way of becoming contagious. Not always easy. We have become far more patient and compassionate with each other.
There is also a comfort, or rather, a lack of comfort issue in living aboard Ariose. Our v-berth mattress, which was quickly cut & pasted to fit the new configuration, is less than ideal. Sleeping in one orientation so that we have a cooling breeze at our heads means our torsos are tormented by a serious sag. Sleeping in the other orientation provides more support but can feel stifling with the lack of air.
Noise and motion often interrupt our sleep. And just the last few days, sunset seems to signal a voracious mosquito attack, and at bedtime, the no-see-ums take over the torture. We think we hear them laugh as they easily pass through our bug screens. Salt-water bathing is adequate, in a rudimentary sort of way, but after a while, we begin to feel quite crusty. Salt holds the moisture, so everything feels damp, no matter how long it’s hung in the sun and breeze. Sticky skin, damp clothes, moist bedsheets…
At a deeper level, I do miss having my feet on land. I miss connection with family and friends far more than I anticipated. Tim’s missing the familiarity of life at home more than he expected -his routines, the smells of the hardwood forest, seeing and hearing the spring birds return – these are essentials for him.
Yet, there’s a magic to life on board. I spent 2 weeks in Vancouver a couple of months ago, and after a few days savouring the luxuries of land-life, I deeply missed the connection with nature that I had been taking for granted while on Ariose. Peeking up the v-berth hatch in the middle of the night to see the moon’s progression across the sky, spending ours in the cockpit marvelling at the incredible colours and moods in the sea around us… there’s so much around us in our life aboard to nurture inner peace and gratitude.
This immersion course in cruising has also nurtured our self-assurance. Just 2 days ago, for example, we were anchored off Whale Cay in the Barry Islands. Faced with shallows on 3 sides, and a narrow channel and strong current on the 4th, we weighed anchor while simultaneously raising our sails, and headed out to sea. And we did it with ease! The key in the ignition was our contingency, but it wasn’t touched. Even a couple months ago, we didn’t have the skill or the confidence to try such a manoeuvre. That self-assurance, though, is tempered by a healthy dose of humility. Later on that same day, we sailed right into this ominous black cloud. Nothing like being caught in a major thunderstorm to keep us humble!
Amid the momentus times and the mundane, the calendar marches relentlessly on. As we said, hurricane season looms, and we’re feeling the finiteness of our budget. Overall, this has been an amazing experience that is giving us more than we could have ever planned, but life aboard is not always easy. So our decision? We are far from feeling satiated, but we have made the decision that it’s time to return home, and look forward to more cruising in our future.
And that leads to the next decision. How will we get home? We could find a place to store Ariose in Florida or the Bahamas as so many other part-time cruisers do. That is an option we seriously considered. Substituting the arduous 2 month journey with a few hour flight is ever so tempting, and would allow us to easily resume our cruising when ready.
The more we thought about that option, though, the more we realized it wasn’t for us. There’s lots of reasons for wanting to have Ariose at home with us. We intend to cruise again, but aren’t sure when. As unbelievable as it sounds to some, we have missed winter and look forward to enjoying next winter. We also hope to explore local waters. We have some of the world’s best cruising grounds around Manitoulin Island in the North Channel of Georgian Bay, practically in our back yard. We also need some time to restock the cruising kitty.
This means it may be a couple of years before we set out on a major sail again. We know that we would worry about Ariose’s well-being for that length of time, especially from hurricanes, but also knowing that unused boats can quickly deterioration. As well, when we do set out on our next cruising adventure, we’re really interested in seeing the St. Lawrence and the Maritimes as part of our journey, so it makes sense to have Ariose with us.
And finally, now that we (sort of) know what we’re doing, there’s work we’d like to do on Ariose, and that’s far more easily accomplished when she’s on the hard in our yard. Her canvas was due for replacement before, and with our use & abuse, definitely needs replacement now, and when we do, we’ll add a bimini for better sun protection. We have been hard on Ariose, and we hope to erase those character marks we have scratched into her fibreglass and wood work. There’s more equipment we’d like to acquire, like radar to deal with the fog of the Canadian east coast, and better communication options, especially for cruising Cuba. The list goes on…
When reflecting on the many challenges we faced on the way here, some may question our judgement in deciding to put ourselves through THAT again! We expect this to be a far different, and hopefully, more pleasing experience. No longer being novices racing southward against winter, we’re slightly more seasoned sailors looking forward to enjoying the summer landscapes.
So, with heavy hearts offset by a touch of eager anticipation, we have turned Ariose’s bow north. After 7 months of a mostly southward course, it feels strange.
What have we been up to since that turning point? We worked our way back up the Exuma chain, and relished our final days snorkelling, especially in the Cambridge Cay area. We waited out a front’s passing with its usual clocking winds in well-protected Norman’s Cay. We had a couple of fabulous day’s sails over the depths of Exuma Sound, and then west over the shallow Exuma Banks back to New Providence Island. This time, we avoided Nassau Harbour, and treated ourselves to a night at a marina (Palm Cay) and an unexpected rendez-vous with Winds of Change’s crew. Months ago, we had celebrated our arrival in the Bahamas with Rose & Joe and had lots of catching up to do. We also anchored at West Bay for a few days. It was good to reconnect with our friend Kelly, and with the generous use of his wheels, we provisioned well and also checked out a few more tourist sites in Nassau. Then, it was a full-day sail westward to the Berry Islands, where we’ve now near the top of this chain.
Yesterday, we planned to enjoy a rare event, a meal out, to wrap up our time in the Bahamas. We rowed to shore to a quaint beachside restaurant, and were disappointed to discover it was closed. As with so much of our cruising adventure, one door closes and another opens. A wave to a passing vehicle lead to a roadside chat, which lead to a delightful evening with new friends. Terree (a warm & vivacious artistic spirit who has a passion for onions, is looking forward to easing out of her career in real estate in the US) and John (sports a chin scar complements of Gordie Howe, and now, retired from the NHL, he seems to be having a blast in the “game” of business development in the Bahamas). A cocktail at their charming cottage (that – get this – was Brigitte Bardot’s hideaway in the 60’s), a quick island tour from the back box of their compact utility vehicle, and dinner out together gave us a memorable last evening in the Bahamas. Lovely.
This afternoon, what feels like our true return journey, begins. We’ll weigh anchor shortly, sail east to exit the bay on Great Harbour Cay, and then north-west until we feel the Gulf Stream’s current sweep us on the long voyage homeward. Wish us fair winds.