Aug 13 – Of Straws and Camels’ Backs (Part 2)

We had spent five nights in Oriental our first time around, so we felt like we knew the place pretty well. We arrived this time on a Friday, and wouldn’t have the autopilot looked at until Monday. Other than the autopilot, Madge was in good shape, so there wasn’t really anything we had to do over the weekend. Still, I cleaned out the bilge and changed the oil absorbent pads under the engine; then, I cleaned the carburetor on the outboard motor again and finally fixed the idling problem it has had ever since Brunswick. Since we would be in town on Sunday morning, and had the use of a car, we wanted to find a worship service, and picked the local Methodist church. It was a quaint little country church, much like the one Suzy grew up in, and we felt welcomed and at ease there. As usual, there were some words in the sermon that I felt were just for me. The preacher spoke about “intention;” about acting in a way that was focused and direct, instead of just going through the motions. The words resonated with me as I considered the current status of our cruise, and how we would proceed from this point. What was my intent? What did I want out of it? What were my goals?

I had dreamed of sailing for I don’t know how many years before I ever learned to sail, and then dreamed of cruising thereafter. I’ve been preparing for cruising for over 15 years — picking a boat, fitting out the boat, upgrading the boat, preparing and provisioning the boat, learning some mechanics and electonics, navigation and (to a small degree) weather. But I don’t remember how much time I actually spent considering the basic philosophical pros and cons of cruising. When the preacher spoke of intention, that hit a nerve with me. At first, I decided that I needed to attack cruising with more focus and detemination, to overcome the challenges and obstacles that we’ve faced this first year, and to control my (for lack of a better word) fear of the wind and sea. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that doubling down on my cruising commitment was not what I needed to do. I realized — maybe not for the first time, but for the first time that I actually acknowledged to myself — that I was cruising for cruising’s sake, not because I had a goal or an expectation of results, or for a particular sense of adventure or a special place I’ve always wanted to go or to see. I had decided at some point in time that cruising was what I wanted to do, and so, by God, I was going to do it. But cruising is hard work, and as captain there’s a lot of pressure and responsibility for the safety and maintenance of the boat, and the safety and wellbeing of the crew, especially when the crew is comprised of the people you love the most in this world. Cruising requires a lot of sacrifice. On an unheated, unairconditioned boat, you are basically living outdoors. You get very hot in the summer, and cold in the winter. You get wet when it rains. You can’t go around the corner to the grocery or pharmacy. You don’t always get to eat the foods you like most. You don’t see your children or grandchildren, except maybe on Skype, which is not an acceptable substitute for being there in person. And it’s expensive to maintain a boat that lives in a harsh, salt-filled environment. But there are also rewards. You see places other people don’t see from the windows of their cars on the freeway, or from airplanes. You meet people with whom you have a commonality and an instant bond, and who become good friends for life. Just by surviving the cruising life, even if not necessarily thriving as some do, you accomplish something that most people never will. You learn that sometimes you only have yourself to rely on, and if you don’t fix something, or find a way to get something done, or persevere through a hardship, you could lose at best a lot of money, or at worst your boat, or your life.

So we’ve done some re-evaluating. Why are we cruising?

Is it to sail? If we just wanted to go out on the water and pull up the canvas and sail, we could do that at home. We don’t need to cruise. In fact, we’ve done less “sailing” since we started cruising.

Is it to go new places and see new things? If so, we’ve done that. And how far do you need to go to see new things? Not very far, it turns out. There’s new stuff everywhere, if you just open your eyes to it.

Is it to meet new people who share the same dreams? Of course, but how far do you have to go to meet those people? We started meeting them the day we cast off.

Is it for adventure? Maybe, but what is adventure? Is it scaring yourself half to death in a thunderstorm? Is it the adrenaline rush you get from putting your life at risk? If so, I’m getting too old for adventure. I get a rush from watching a good sunset, or feeling a cool breeze at the end of a hot day. I get a rush from watching dolphins jump in the bow wave, or watching wild horses graze on an uninhabited island.

Is it to escape the nine-to-five rat-race of the modern world? For some, yes, but I’ve realized that I got a great sense of accomplishment from doing a good job at something that made a difference. I often miss working, and the friends I had in the office, and the work I did. And I surely miss the regular paycheck. I guess I’m just one of the rats.

Is it for the spartan lifestyle of living in a small space exposed to the most extreme elements? Only for those like us, who can’t afford a more spacious or luxurious boat. No, if I could afford it, we’d have an airconditioned trawler and still travel to all the places we’ve been and meet the people we’ve met. Lacking that, I’ll take my home on land that is comfortable and dry, secure in a storm, with a real bed, refrigerator/freezer and full pantry, and a reliable car that will take me anywhere I need to go at high speed, with almost no concern that it will leave me stranded for hours (or days) in the middle of nowhere.

Now the question is, what more do we want to do? How long do we keep doing this?

I only had two years set aside for my sabbatical, and that was with fairly conservative, but still pretty optimistic, budgeting. We spent the first six months preparing ourselves and the boat for the cruise. We spent the next eight months getting to where we are now. A lot of things on the boat have broken, and we’ve spent a lot of money to fix them. We’ve had some unexpected medical and dental expenses. We’ve spent more nights in marinas than we expected, when acceptable anchorages weren’t available. But we’ve spent less than expected on food and fuel. Bottom line, we won’t be able to go for the entire two years. Near term, we have some limits to how long we can go this season. I’m committed to helping stage the large cruisers’ Thanksgiving Week event in St. Marys this fall, so we have to be home by the end of October. Figuring a conservative amount of time to get home from the Chesapeake via the ICW, we’d have to be homeward bound by mid to late September. From Oriental, we are five days from Norfolk, under ideal conditions. Make that ten days, given the weather conditions we’ve come to expect from the Inner Banks. We can expect to be at the bottom of the Chesapeake at the end of August — if nothing else breaks — leaving two, maybe three, weeks on the Bay. To even see one or two of the places we want to visit, we would have to rush. We don’t want to rush.

By now, you’ve probably figured it out. We are giving up on the Chesapeake. We are turning for home. We are going to take our time doing so. We are going to stop and visit places we rushed by on our journey north. We are going to relax. We have two months to go 500 miles. Plenty of time (knock on wood).

We’ll figure out what we’ll do in 2017 after we get home.