Sept 22 – Taking Stock

There are two days of each year — the autumnal and vernal (spring) equinoxes — when you can balance an egg on end and have it stand up. No tricks are required. You just need a smooth level surface. This is something I do most equinoxes, except I’ve missed the last couple of them. We had some smooth surfaces on Madge, but they were hardly level. Try this yourself next spring. The vernal equinox will be the morning of March 20, 2017.

Speaking of being on a smooth level surface, now that we’re back on terra firma, Suzy and I are going over what we’ve learned this year of cruising, and trying to figure out what our future will be.

The big question is: do we have enough time and money to continue cruising? For now, and through the end-of-year holidays, we’re stuck on the land. I’m helping coordinate the annual Saint Marys Cruisers Thanksgiving event (also known as “The Port of Thanksgiving”), which draws transient cruisers from all along the east coast. It’s a week-long event wrapped around a giant potluck covered-dish Thanksgiving meal, where local townspeople provide the turkeys and hams, and cruisers provide salads, side dishes and desserts. This year will mark the sixteenth anniversary of the event. I’m diving in pretty heavily this year, because I’ve been asked to take over as Event Coordinator starting with next year’s event. Given this responsibility, we won’t be going anywhere between now and Thanksgiving. In addition to this, we need to visit family during the Christmas season. It’s been several years since I’ve seen some of them, and we have a new granddaughter who was only a few months old when we took off, and who probably doesn’t even know who we are. We need to go bond with her. So, time-wise, we won’t be going anywhere before January next year. This year, we had a miserable time in January and February. We don’t want to repeat that error. This means we will probably stay ashore until around the first of March. That leaves us with a possible cruising season of March through June, if the finances work out. The cruising budget we established when we started out was designed to cover cruising until around the end of June next year, then leave us a cushion to cover our living expenses for the rest of the year — if it took that long to find a place to go back to work — or to set us up if I ended up going back to work in July as planned. Unfortunately, going back over the finances for the period from when I left work until now, I see some big-ticket items that definitely were not expected. First and foremost, right before we set sail, a rigging inspection revealed that Madge needed to have all the standing rigging and the chainplates replaced. Suddenly, we were way above budget for the pre-cruise boat updates. Then, I got a kidney stone, ending up spending a day in the ER, and later discovered I needed two crowns (no dental insurance). And while cruising, I developed a hernia that required surgery. In addition, we had a couple of non-boat-related trips we were obliged to take, with associated expenses. My laptop had to be replaced. And, to top it all off, I discovered that I had seriously underestimated the maintenance, repair and marina costs for each month of cruising. Looking over it all, as we stand now, the added expenses have burned up funds that would otherwise have paid for four months of our budget. If we keep our cushion for post-cruising living expenses, those four months that we lose are March through June.

So, unless we decide to do some short-range cruising in January and February, it looks like we’re done.

Was it worth it?

Here are the Cons:  It looks like we picked the worst year ever to try to go cruising. Seems everywhere we went during the winter we set records for cold, wind and rain. There were very few windows for crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas, and by the time we finished with our commitment to go to Key West, we’d heard how bad the weather was over there that we gave up — so we never made it to the Bahamas. Then, medical issues stalled us for two months back in Saint Marys, so we were late heading north, and then we ran into the hottest summer on record, with some really unusual and fierce storms. By the time we got almost to the Chesapeake Bay, we’d had enough, and decided to turn around. Then, we rode out a hurricane. So many things on the boat broke over the year. Everything costs more than you think. And I wasn’t there when my mother died.

Here are the Pros:  By far, the greatest thing about cruising is the community you belong to — the people you meet. At the top of our list are Perry and Nancy of M/V Dubhe. I’m sure they will be friends for life. We just clicked. Add Jerry and Marggie of S/V Wind Song II, our new Canadian friends. Bill and Laura of M/V Kindred Spirit III. Bryan and Laura, and their girls Avery and Leslie, of S/V All In. Barbara Ann and Harry of S/V Our Dream. Lynn and Ann of S/V Sea Tramp. And our hometown cruising friends Christian and Mary of S/V I Wanda. There are countless others whose names I may not recall, but who’ve offered us kindness, generosity and good will — like the numerous “buddy boats” that we’ve latched onto for a day or two, like Duane and Hope, and their daughters Maddie and Sammie, on S/V Madsam. We hope they finally got to the Bahamas this year. Aside from the people, we saw a lot of places up close and personal, from a perspective that most people don’t see — because we were looking at towns from the water, then touring them on foot. We saw many places that most people on land will never see. And we learned a lot about ourselves. We learned that we can live on a 36-ft boat, just the two of us, for an extended period of time, without setting foot on land or seeing anybody else, and still find a way to have our personal time and space, and get along. We took a big risk, followed a crazy dream, and survived — though our future on land (think “job”) remains unclear — and we love and respect each other more now than when we started out. We learned that we can do more than we think we can, because in some cases, we were forced to. We learned that we’re tougher than we thought we were, and we surprised ourselves. We learned how to be calm in a crisis — and I mean a real crisis. We learned that there’s no such thing as a “life of leisure” when you live on a boat. There is always work that needs to be done. It’s a full-time job. Safety is always in the front of your mind. Your life is dictated by the tides and the weather. When it’s hot, you’re hot. When it’s cold, you’re cold. When it rains, you’re wet. We learned that if something breaks, nine times out of ten, you’re the one that’s going to have to fix it — and you learn how. You may have to fix something a couple of times before you figure it out, but you do finally figure it out. And you become better. And more confident. We learned all the things you can do without. We learned to appreciate simple pleasures and special moments. We learned that every day, there’s an opportunity to relax, kick back, and have some fun. It may not be a big opportunity, or last very long, but if you look for it, you can find it. But above all, we learned how much we still do not know.

So, was it worth it? You bet your sweet ass it was.