SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.
As we sit here, waiting for hurricane season to end so we can once again play the go/no go decision every morning until we get back to where we belong, I'm reminded of our last passage to the Caribbean, in 2006. The following is the beginning of Simply Sailing: A Different Approach to a Life of Adventure.
When science, technology, and intuition cannot provide the answers needed to make a decision in life, flip a coin. We had eavesdropped on Chris Parker of Caribbean Weather Center, read National Weather Service forecasts on line, listened to Coast Guard updates, and still could not decide if this was an opportune weather window or only wishful thinking.
It was our 13th wedding anniversary, but other than exchanging gifts at 6:00 a.m. when neither of us could sleep any longer, it was the furthest thing from our minds. The boys were on high alert and had been warned, "Anything you want to do or buy before we leave the States, do it early. We may be leaving this afternoon." Since Dave and I think better when we are talking and have our best talks while walking, we wandered the streets of Beaufort NC for hours, discussing the what ifs.
"If we leave and the wind changes directions or dies, we'll never make it across the Gulf Stream before the next cold front hits us. But, if we sit through another possible window, it may be our last, and we will be stuck State-side until the Spring." Even considering that option made me shiver and wrap my sweatshirt around me more tightly.
When we first realized that our proposed year-long return to the States was a mistake, about the same time we dug through our lockers for pants in September, Dave called a family meeting.
"If we want to go back to St. Croix, there is only one option: a straight shot."
We had been cruising--spending money rather than making it--since we had left St. Croix in June. With jobs lined up in Hilton Head SC, it was not a financial disaster, but we certainly did not have the money for the three month return trip via the thorny path. Off-shore was our only choice. Dave, seeing himself as a realist while suspiciously resembling a pessimist, did not shield the boys from the realities of what we would encounter.
"It's a fifteen hundred mile passage meaning at least two weeks offshore. You two are going to have to pull all your watches, plus help cook and clean, and keep the boat in shape; I will need a lot of help. It's not going to be easy or fun; it'll be windy, bumpy, cold, and nasty. So the question is, how badly do you want to be back in the Caribbean?"
Our family has always been an oligarchy: Dave and I discuss important issues and inform the boys of how it will affect their lives. We hadn't consulted them before our several cross-country moves nor when we decided to go cruising, so their surprise was understandable.
"You want our opinion?"
"As a matter of fact, yes, we do. I don't think it's fair to put you in this type of situation if you don't want to go."
This was especially pertinent for Garrett. If we continued with our original plan of staying until the following fall, he would then be a college freshman and no longer subject to long passages. Since he does not enjoy our lifestyle and is much more fearful on passages than the rest of us, his response shocked me.
"I would rather go through two weeks of misery and be back in St. Croix than stay here for another year."
"I agree. David?"
"Well, you said I could get a bike if we went to South Carolina."
A thirteen-year-old can be so myopic.
"Let's say you get a bike in South Carolina or St. Croix, is this passage worth getting back to the Caribbean?"
"OK then, let's get the boat ready. The first weather window, we go."
That was almost three weeks earlier, and with every passing day we felt our chances of returning to palm trees slipping away. The later in the season, the closer together the cold fronts arrived, and Chris Parker was already saying, "There may not be another good window for going to the Caribbean this season."
We continued to listen, check, and discuss the weather, spotting a possible window "in a few days" only to have it slam shut on us. In the meantime, we bought a backup GPS, knowing our seven-year-old one would not last much longer and that they would be twice as expensive in the Caribbean. Dave made weather cloths, we provisioned for offshore with multiple boxes of cookies, crackers, and ready-made foods. When we came home with gallons of extra water Garrett said, "I didn't realize how worried you guys were about this trip until now. You never buy water." We rode out several cold fronts with 65 knot gusts in squalls, hanging from three anchors, watching boats drag through the anchorage. Though we were waiting impatiently to leave, we were not bored.
At one point Chris was calling for a "possible window, leaving Friday." Call us superstitious, but we have never started a journey on a Friday. Dave and I had a serious discussion about whether not leaving on a Friday was good seamanship or just plain stupid. We finally decided to consult John Vigor. "If he says it's all horseshit, we leave Friday." We found the following quote in The Practical Mariner's Book of Knowledge (International Marine 1994) under the heading "Friday, Sailing on":
It is widely believed throughout the world that to sail on a Friday is to invite disaster. Yet we know full well that countless vessels set sail every Friday and complete their passages safely. How can this be? It simply means that their skippers have earned enough points in their Black Boxes to overcome the bad luck of sailing on Friday. If you have a choice, do not sail on a Friday. If you are forced to, then be very sure your Black Box is crammed full.
This Black Box is Vigor's theory. He explains:
Aboard every boat there's an invisible black box. Every time a skipper takes the trouble to consult the chart, inspect the filters, go forward on a rainy night to check the running lights, or take any proper seamanlike precaution, he or she earns a point that goes into the black box.
In times of stress, in heavy weather or other threatening circumstances where human skill and effort can accomplish no more, the points are cashed in as protection. The skipper has no control over their withdrawal. They withdraw themselves, as appropriate. Those skippers with no points in the box are the ones later described as "unlucky." Those with points to spend will survive--but they must start immediately to replenish their savings, for the sea offers no credit.
Ever conscious of the status of our black box, Dave said, "I think either our black box has a hole in it or the entire bottom has fallen out. Or maybe it's proportionate to your checking account balance." While I was chuckling, little David said, "I do NOT see what you all find so funny!" Weeks of anticipation and the knowledge that we were flat broke manifested in a rare display of monetary concern. Our lack of money had never seemed to affect the boys' lives before; they have grown up knowing that money is not necessary to be happy.
Our friend Jennifer on Emilia said they were thinking about seizing the opportunity to leave Friday.
"We considered it, but we don't leave on Fridays."
"Why? Who told you that?"
"It's centuries old, maybe even millennia, possibly going back to the fact that Christ was crucified on a Friday. I don't know, but we didn't make this up."
She gave us the look we have come to expect from "modern" cruisers. The one that says, "What century are you living in?"
Ultimately, the discussion was moot; there was no window that Friday after all. Nor was there one forecasted for the following week, which made all of us, including our friends on Emilia, Betty Ann, and Tranquility--the members of our "stuck in Beaufort group"--realize that Thanksgiving was the following Thursday. Naturally, our thoughts went to our missing crew member, Nicholas, our oldest son. We had been teasing him since July that it was his fault we were State-side. We were in St. Croix when he learned that he had been accepted to University of North Carolina-Wilmington. I felt it was our parental obligation to at least get the kid to the right continent, so we left St. Croix in June for a wonderful off-the-wind sail to Bermuda, where we let the first tropical storm of the year pass. We had a slow sail to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and then a triple reefed main and staysail romp up the Bay to Dave's brother's house, which we used as a home base for a few months. Part of our decision to remain State-side for a year was to break the cycle of earn money for six months, spend it all the next six months. We planned to work for a year straight and maybe take the next year off to cruise. But the biggest factor was Nicholas. I could not picture myself thousands of miles from him for months at a time. After dealing with rude Americans, wearing pants, and having drops of condensation from the hatch drip on my head all night, however, I decided it was not my fault he picked a college in the States. We were going back; he was on his own. But with Thanksgiving quickly approaching, Nick only a two hour drive away, and Jennifer's generous offer of the use of her van, we could at least spend the holiday with him.
We arrived back at the boat late Tuesday night after driving to Wilmington and then back with Nick. Spirits were high on Eurisko; for the first time in weeks, weather was not our only thought. Nicholas kept us laughing with stories of college life until late into the night, even though we knew our alarm was set to listen to Chris's 6 a.m. weather report.
Eurisko does not have a single side band. Instead, we use a fifteen-year-old Radio Shack short wave receiver to listen to SSB broadcasts. In this way, we get weather forecasts and routing advice for nearby boats, with the same general destination and as close to us in size as possible, though at thirty-four feet we are usually the runt. Wednesday morning I stared at Dave in disbelief, losing the battle with my tears as I listened to Chris's report.
"Probable weather window before noon tomorrow for those boats leaving Beaufort headed for the Caribbean. This is one of the last widows this season." Chris ended his report with his typical, "We'll know more tomorrow morning."
"But tomorrow's Thanksgiving!" I knew I was whining, but I was having a hard enough time not stomping my feet.
"Do you really think the weather gives a damn?"
"But what about Nicholas?"
"We take him back."
"And he spends Thanksgiving alone? He already ditched his friends so he could come home for Thanksgiving, and now we're going to take him back to an empty dorm, drop him off with a 'See you soon, oh wait, no, that's right, we won't see you any time near soon. But hey, happy Thanksgiving.' Are you serious?"
"Connie, you're not being reasonable."
"You're damn right I'm not. There's nothing reasonable about this entire situation. If we had kept heading for South Carolina we'd be there, working, making money, spending a relaxing holiday with all our children. Instead, we sit here, worrying, spending money we don't have, and subjecting our kids, especially Nicholas, to this sort of holiday. What are we doing?"
"Are you finished? Because if so, I'd like to remind you of something. You agreed, first window we leave. No stipulations about holidays or leaving Nick. You want to go to Hilton Head instead? Fine, let's go."
Over the years Dave has discovered that the quickest way to get me to back down is to agree with me. He offers to give me what I claim to want, to make me realize "Of course I don't want that."
Arrangements were made to borrow the van early Thursday morning to take Nick back to school. I was going to drive; Dave was staying home to get Chris's report, baste the turkey that I put in the oven before I left, and get the boat ready for our longest passage yet. Nick promised me that he would not be alone; he had some friends who lived in town whose house he would try to get invited to for dinner. Oddly, he was more worried about us.
"I really think you should go the thorny path again. You guys have never done a passage without me. Are you sure you have enough water? Is someone going to be on watch with you, Mom? You should not have to pull a watch alone. What about handling her in squalls? Have you checked the EPIRB lately?"
Pretending this was a normal parting, we calmed each other's fears, and vowed to meet up as soon as possible, though it would be eight long months before we did.
The two-hour drive to UNCW I spent chatting with Nicholas. The drive back to Beaufort I forced myself to concentrate on the trip to come. I did not allow myself to cry for long, to feel sorry for myself or Nicholas, or to think of anything but the preparations still left to do before our scheduled noon departure.
We had left the boat at 5 a.m.; I returned the van and was walking down the dock toward Eurisko at 10:00 a.m. As soon as I saw her, I thought, "What's wrong?" It wasn't until I stepped aboard that I spotted the dinghy--on deck but not tied down. The bimini was not folded back, jack lines were not on, water jugs were tied to the boards in the "port" position rather than secured for offshore, and the sail cover was still on the main. I stepped into the boat, and with a smile to soften the blow of criticism, I said, "What have you all been doing? This boat's nowhere near ready to go." I should have looked at Dave's face before I said a word. It would have answered my question.
"We're not going."
"WHAT?? You have got to be friggin kidding me! What do you mean we're not going? Why?"
"Chris called it wrong yesterday. The window he said would be here today never happened. Well, it did, but there's just enough time for us to get out into the Gulf Stream and then the wind goes northeast and blows hard. I'm so sorry, Sweetie. I didn't know until Chris came on at 6 and by then you were half-way there. Trust me, it was just as hard to decide not to go today as it was to decide to go. Betty Ann and Tranquility want to meet later this afternoon with us and Emilia. They may still be going; I just don't think it's a good idea."
Thanksgiving was a somber affair aboard Eurisko. My disappointment and tears that I finally allowed myself to shed over Nick's absence, and Dave's guilt and insecurity about whether he had made the right decision left little room for conversation. The freedom of our lifestyle often fools us into believing we can do anything; so when Mother Nature doesn't cooperate with our plans, we tend to forget how good our life is. Usually Dave accepts the challenge and reminds me of the positive aspects of our life: the time we spend with each other and the children, the adventures we have shared, wonders of nature we have witnessed, and the feeling of peace and happiness these moments inspire. Wisely, this time he let me suffer in silence until I had sufficiently mourned the loss of time with Nicholas and brought myself back around, ready to tackle the next challenge: not going crazy before we got away from the continent.
MONDAY we'll share how we mount the inexpensive fans that we buy. The results rival a Hella at a small fraction of the cost.
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