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Have We Really Changed That Much? Reflections On Our First Year Of Cruising

A year ago yesterday, we left San Diego and civilization as we knew it.  We had downsized to living aboard the boat at the time, but had all the modern day conveniences that in hind sight, we took for granted: power, WIFI, endless options for food and clothing, water, trash disposal, being able to communicate our needs easily over the phone, and the comfort of friends and family nearby.  We knew embarking on this journey would mean sacrificing these conveniences in exchange for some unbelievable experiences with our kids.  You don’t realize just how much you’ve changed though until you return to civilization as you once knew it.  Just a few weeks in Airbnbs while the boat gets worked on, enjoying many of these conveniences, and I realize how much we’ve changed in terms of lifestyle and ways of thinking.  We appreciate our space, showers, and endless options on NETFLIX…I even came across a machine I hadn’t seen in months – a dishwasher!  As much as I enjoy life on land, I miss the simplicity and routine of my boat life.

As I look at two young girls who grew not only in height, but also in worldly knowledge and maturity, I ask the more specific question: Other than the typical growth that occurs over a year for any given family, are we really that different?  We still lead a routine that includes school, work, and chores; and dinner and a movie remains a family favorite.  Our car has been exchanged for a dinghy, our school hours and environment has changed, our work includes many more outside hours and chores…. well they’re still there and fun as ever!

A few thoughts stand out as I reflect on our year-long metamorphosis into the cruising family that we’ve become today.  My perspective is unique as is any other first year cruiser.  Beyond the 2 young kids and very large dog that we were bringing along, my anxiety stemmed from the knowledge that I was not a seasoned sailor before we left.  We had very few shake-down sails before we departed permanently on Tulum V, sometimes leaving me questioning our readiness to embark on this journey.  We had a deadline though and we’ve never been ones to get bogged down in the research and preparation phase – it was time to go!  We had enough knowledge and resources to get underway safely and had confidence the rest would fall in line.  Another factor to consider was that our sailing vessel is in her mid 40s, had been around the world with maintenance and modifications performed over the years by various owners, and let’s just say – boats don’t come with a seafaring version of a “Carfax”.  Boy did our girl have some stories to tell that became more apparent in time.  Raise a glass to the joys of old boat ownership – don’t let all that pretty teak fool you!  With these considerations in mind, I’ll share my top reflections on the first year:

It’s not all about the boat

 The boat is our floating home and so when something malfunctions it does tend to dominate our thoughts and typically the entire day(s).  However, I for one would not have bought tickets to this show called “Cruising” if it was just about the sailing and I don’t go gaga over boats.  Some do, just not me.  Perhaps it was a preference for something more familiar and avoiding moving out of my comfort zone.  Of course, I understand the importance of the sailing and boat maintenance aspects.  I also appreciate the beauty of a boat with full sails cruising on the ocean, but we chose this lifestyle for much more than that.  It was (and is) about a family pushing their limits to live with less, appreciating things more, and stopping to enjoy the sights along the way.  Furthermore, we didn’t become full time sailors and simultaneously discard our pre-cruising identities.  We have traditions, hobbies, idiosyncrasies, and future goals that don’t involve cruising.  I felt compelled to find ways to incorporate these familiar aspects of our life into cruising to make our time enjoyable.  In the beginning, I found myself spending much time trying to create separation from “everything sailing” and “everything boat” in exchange for something more familiar, especially for the kids.  I also knew we were entering into this new lifestyle with less than 100% buy-in from the kids and I didn’t want them to hate it before we could get to the enjoyment part of cruising.  We had to attempt to sprinkle in the new skills of running a cruising sailboat a little at a time when there was interest or we realized we’d be fighting an uphill battle of rolling eyes and whining.  Overall, with patience and time, the girls gained interest in skills through an understanding of the important role it plays in their new lifestyle.  Do you want a movie with dinner?  Better help clean the solar panels.  Do you want to go to shore?  Help disembark and load up the dinghy.  Today they drive the dinghy, drive the boat, help with anchoring, catch fish on a handline, clean the bottom and show a genuine level of engagement in what it takes to get Tulum V from here to there.  Over time, I too had to conquer my discomfort with the unknown, exercise some patience and willingness to learn from my husband, (always an easy task for any couple, no?) and find a way to blend knowledge of the boat and of sailing into our lifestyle without making it the only thing we identify ourselves with. 

Another boat yard…we’re getting good at this by now.

There’s never going to be a perfect time to leave – just do it

 I’d heard this several times and it’s so true – cut the dock lines and go already!  We got all dressed up for this (meaning we spent a lot of money at marine chandleries) and didn’t buy a boat to sit in a slip!  We bought it for the freedom to explore our world and connect with Mother Earth in ways that were not feasible while living and working on land.  The month prior to leaving, we still had no engine (and little confidence in an install date) and were waiting on our mainsail to arrive after the last one shredded due to age and UV damage.  We had a deadline of leaving with the Baja Haha, but knew that even if we were off by a week or so we would still safely venture south on our own.  I was excited to leave, but felt I had so much to learn.  I had two overnight crossings under my belt and far less time sailing due to mechanical failures that kept us in the slip or the yard over the past few months.  I had confidence in Chad’s abilities and experience, but knew he couldn’t do it all alone.  I was so intimidated when we were around other sailors who would speak exclusively in sailing terminology whether they were describing an ocean crossing or their last beer can race.  Was this really for me?  I learned through several conversations that what I originally saw as setbacks were truly blessings in disguise and frankly, pretty run of the mill for cruising sailboats.  Everyone has their stories of mechanical failures, fouled props or rudders, water ingress from ???, close encounters with large sea creatures – welcome to cruising!  Timing is never on your side – it’s all a part of the adventure – embrace it or leave.  We were fortunate to fix critical items before we left and the rest we’d address along the way.  As for my personal state of readiness, I met many first-year cruisers along the way as well as some very humble experienced ones who helped to ease my anxiety by providing resources, friendship and their shared vulnerabilities.  In the end, it was so worth moving outside my comfort zone to literally take the helm (a role I resisted with the stubbornness of a mule). “It has no breaks!” I exclaimed repeatedly.  Like anything, learning is a lifelong endeavor: Learn enough to be safe and build on that knowledge as you go.  Take a risk, you might just enjoy the ride!

Enjoying the tranquility of sunrise never gets old.

Isolation can be beautiful…and lonely

 Leaving the rat-race of living and working in a large city, I was eager for some isolation.  I could not fathom that there were beautiful coves that we could anchor in without large crowds and dance music from neighboring bars or superyachts, but I saw pictures of the Sea of Cortez and was hopeful.  I spent countless peaceful moments of solitude watching the sun rise over a tranquil ocean: enjoying my morning coffee, watching the pelican fly-bys and reflecting on the things I’m thankful for -something I never took time for before.  Those times were glorious, but there were also times we craved camaraderie from our community.  We are social beings afterall.  COVID-19 restrictions really brought this to light.  We isolated even more from the community of cruisers in the already desolate Sea of Cortez.  It was beautiful, but sometimes just to have another boat in the anchorage reminded you that you weren’t alone out here.  Isolation had its advantages: enjoy your music as loud as you want, pick the best spot to anchor with plenty of swing room, no need to worry about jet skiers flying over your anchor chain, laugh at your dog as she hears her bark echo throughout the cove, connect with nature.  In the end, we found a balance of the two environments seemed to best meet our satisfaction.  We kept up with fellow cruisers and met up with them when we could and when it was safe to do so.  Other times, we sought out space and enjoyed our family time and solitude.  The reunions with fellow cruisers were all the more enjoyable after time away – this aspect we hope will never go away.  But perhaps the isolation I was so eager to find wasn’t all I had built it up to be.

We still find time and space to do things we enjoy.
Getting groceries in some places is a far cry from the endless options available in the US.

Plans are meant to be changed

 We left with a loose plan to head south to Banderas Bay near Puerto Vallarta and spend spring and hurricane season in the Sea of Cortez.  That, we stuck to.  Following this, we hoped to transit south through the Panama Canal and over to the east coast, but it’s just not in the cards for us this season.  The times I attempted to write out a schedule (mostly to provide the girls with some expectation management during a crossing) we utterly fell short.  I realized over the year however, that our plans out here can easily be altered by weather, necessary boat maintenance, government regulations, and general mood and morale of the crew – NOT whatever I penciled into my calendar.  The idea that we were locked into any sort of schedule was completely self-imposed and was a product of years of living by a strict schedule with non-negotiable deadlines.  Out here you can stay or go if a buddy boat is nearby or likewise if you don’t care for your neighbors.  We could head in whatever direction of the compass we want, but some of the plans we set for ourselves didn’t work out.  When we set high expectations that we didn’t meet, we somehow felt we’d failed when in reality we were smart to follow Tulum V’s groans or Mother Nature’s not so subtle nudge.  Freedom of schedule, as great as it sounds, did take some getting used to.  When you’re used to some external force dictating your schedule, once that element is gone, it’s all up to you.  We learned to listen to each other, weigh pros and cons, and ultimately allow for more flexibility in our lifestyle.

Sometimes you’ve gotta get off the boat and have fun!

So, in the end: Have we changed that much?  Of course, the answer is yes and no.  We’re still the same crazy family, we’ve just evolved and adapted to a different lifestyle.  We are much more aware of the important role we all play in conservation of this planet and its valuable resources.  We take notice of things like excess packaging and food or water waste.  We are much more mindful of what it feels like to be a foreigner in any environment.  We appreciate simple comforts like power, water, and Oreos.  Our wardrobe has dressed way down and we’ve minimized our “stuff”.  What is really important in life is more apparent to us and hopefully we’ve fostered this ideology within our kids for the future.  We’ve conquered things outside of our comfort zone and realized the sense of accomplishment that goes along with that.  We’ve realized that saying fair winds and following seas to friends and family back home does not mean good-bye, but makes the reunions all the more treasured.  Finally, we’ve cherished conversations and precious moments that we may never have experienced in the distractions of a life we once lived.  For our family, this has been a great first year of cruising – on so many levels.


Not only did we just finish our first year of cruising FULL-TIME, but we also just celebrated our 6th-year blogiversery!  Our exact cruiseiversery was yesterday…04 November 2019.  So….yeah..one year straight!  We’re happy living on our boat and traveling with kids…and writing this website/blog.  Keep Following and if you’re interested in contributing to our hard work, check out our Patreon Site.  

Have a Great Day

 

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