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From Sky to Sea: a Woman’s Transition from Commercial Pilot to Offshore Sailor

Tricia Nash

Kuyima
Waterline 47
May 16th, 2018

Have you ever thought of yourself as the kind of woman who would prefer to take the road less traveled? Well, I did. Although, I never thought in a million years that road would turn out to be the sea.

As I was turning 35, I had a major life-changing decision to make. Stay in my current career as a commercial pilot, at which I had worked extremely hard to accomplish where I was, or leave it all behind to sail around the world with my new partner. Well, that was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I was not a sailor, I was a pilot. I loved being on the water; I even flew float planes. However, my idea of being on the water was being on one of my friend’s fancy yachts, and cruising over to the Gulf Islands for the weekend to party. Sailing, no way! I liked going 300 knots, not 3 knots. And all that work of hoisting sails and hauling lines sounded slow and painful. And then I met a guy, and yep, fell in love with a sailor, and  this sailor had a beautiful sailboat. So what was a girl to do? As much as I loved flying, I loved the idea of a grand adventure even more. But how does one leave the only life she has ever known, give up her career, independence, friends, and comfortable land living? So, I thought about the things that I knew for sure. I knew that I did not want a regular, suburban life; I wanted to dance to my own drumbeat and I wanted to share my life with the sailor. I just did not know if I could be a sailor myself and embrace all that the full time sailing lifestyle entailed.

After about three months of serious thought, and weighing all the pros and cons (oh … and our great, 3 week summer sailing trip to Desolation Sound and the Broughtons in British Columbia), I decided I was going to do it. Flying was somewhat of a stressful life, and not working sounded much less stressful. And, of course, this new life would be the living of a dream … leaving it all behind and sailing off into the sunset. Luckily for me, my learning curve into sailing was gentle, since I had a lot of background experience to bring to the table. However, learning how to sail a 47ft steel boat is kind of like learning how to fly a Boeing 737 instead of a Cessna 150! After eight years of sailing, I am still learning new things everyday; experience only comes with time. Of course, the only way to figure out whether you have the right aptitude for sailing is to get out there and do it. And over the course of time, living ‘the dream’ and shaping my new reality, I found my niche in my unconventional lifestyle.

We departed Vancouver the following year, in September, 2011, with our  Waterline Cutter all outfitted to sail offshore. I was as ready mentally as I was ever going to be. I was young, carefree and in love, and ready for my new adventure. I had never sailed offshore before, so I really did not know what to expect and, I gotta say, sometimes ignorance is bliss. It is not like I had not done my homework. I went to a few offshore sailing seminars, I read a few books, I talked to a number of experienced people, and I took a highly recommended anti seasickness medication before we departed that morning from Neah Bay, our last stop before heading out to sea. But as we rounded Cape Flattery in Northwest Washington State, and those giant ocean rollers hit me, coming all the way from Japan, I was done for. It only took one big roller, and I was as sick as a dog!

And that is how I stayed for the duration of the trip, down the Washington and Oregon coast to San Francisco. I particularly remember getting up to use the head, and as I was trying to steady myself in the doorway of our cabin, as the boat was rocking and rolling in 40 knot winds and 10 foot seas, I thought to myself: “I gave up my career for this?! I hate this!”

Needless to say, sailing from Vancouver and the US Pacific Northwest to San Francisco is probably not the easiest cruise to start out on, but it is the only way to get to Mexico. So, as we crossed under the Golden Gate Bridge in dense fog (but smooth seas),  I started to perk up but realized that, with no help from myself, the first mate, we had made it to our first big destination, I had a mix of feelings. Luckily for us, out of the 4 of us on board, I was the only one seasick. It also turned out that I had suffered an allergic reaction to the anti seasickness meds I had taken, so it was a double whammy en route for me. I could not get out of bed for five days. But, I survived and I did not jump ship and fly home. I was determined to see it through for a while longer, since giving up was never an option for me. I was just praying to any God out there, that it was going to get better.

Well, I am very happy to say that it did get better, a lot better. As we went further south along the California coast, the seas were calmer. We were not as far offshore and the winds and waves were more favourable to my poor tummy. In San Diego, we spent a couple of weeks doing some last minute outfitting, and then we joined 180 boats in the two week Baja Ha Ha rally to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico…..when the next, and real adventure began.

Learning to live aboard on a boat is no easy adjustment. Not only are you living on a constantly moving floating home, you are living away from “home”, and your floating home is often in a foreign country. Those of you who have spent lots of time in foreign countries…and I am not talking about fancy, all inclusive resorts, which some never leave and think they have experienced a country…know what I am referring to. I am talking about living in a totally different world without the comforts that one is use to. Having said all that, well, that is just part of living the adventure and experiencing a whole new way of life.

Reading books about sailing around the world, or however far you plan to go, is very helpful in preparation for this transition. But, like everything else in life, you learn as you go, and you learn what works for you. Most sailors you will meet will be a husband and wife team, or some combination thereof. You have to work as a true team to make the sailing venture work like a well-oiled machine. Whatever your role may be on board your boat, you will learn that role very well over time. I learned how to run my galley like it’s my kingdom. I’ve learned what foods do not have to take up precious room in your refrigerator and can last forever in your cupboards. I’ve learned that all fruits and vegetables need to be washed before they come aboard in case of bugs. I’ve learned that bay leaves will stop weevils from living in your flour and all cardboard should be removed before it comes on board, since little bugs will be living in places you’ve never expected. I’ve learned that finding the foods you are used to buying on a regular basis back home, is a thing of the past. Selection is no longer your best friend. I’ve learned to speak a new language, so I can ask for help when needed. I’ve learned that seasickness never went away for me, but I can mange it with different types of over-the-counter meds.

As it says, last sail before the veil….Costa Rica

Most of all, I’ve learned a million new things, and that has been spectacular. Lastly, I have learned that I can live on a boat; I can live in foreign countries; I can be away from my friends and family for a long period of time, and having no internet or TV from time to time means peace and quiet!

Like all major changes in one’s life, the trick is to find your own personal balance. Without balance in your life, you are never at peace, because you are not living your happy medium. It took some time for me, and for my husband and I as a couple, to find our happy medium (Yes, my sailor finally did make an honest woman out of me). When we first moved on the boat, our plan was to live abroad year-round and sail around the world until we were done sailing. Well, that sounded fine at the time, but reality for me was very different. When we first moved on board, and gave up our place in Vancouver (we were both in transitions in our lives when we met, so we were both renting at the time), we lived aboard for one year straight. Sorting out your life and figuring out what you want to keep and put in storage or get rid of completely, is a very cleansing experience.

We moved on board in June, left in September on our journey, and by the following June, we had traveled about 3,000 miles and had ended up in La Paz, Baja California, Mexico. That time of year in Mexico is hot, really, really HOT!  The idea of spending the summer in the sweltering heat with no AC was not sounding fun at all.  Especially when summers in Vancouver can be pretty spectacular. We also realized that most of the other cruisers we had met were doing something we hadn’t really thought about yet. They were finding somewhere safe and relatively inexpensive to put their boat for the summer, strip it all down and leave it ready to handle any tropical storms that might pass through in their absence. So, that is what we did. Putting the boat away for the summer is a lot of work…my least favourite job. You are working in crazy heat and humidity in these lovely tropical countries. However, once it is all done, you are on a plane to cooler temperatures and land life, and all those little comforts you have left behind. I must say, after a year straight on the boat, I was so ready for my comfy land life. Bathtubs, cable TV, fast Wifi, sushi for take out … and most of all, grocery shopping with variety and freshness.

For the first three seasons, we pretty much had the same routine. We would sail for about 6 months at a time, from around November till May, going further and further afield, and then find a good place to put the boat away for the summer, and fly home to Vancouver.  My husband painted this great picture of how each summer we could live somewhere different, and have variety of where we stayed … meaning we could live anywhere we wanted, since we were not tied down to a home. The reality was, we always came back to Vancouver, since that was home for us, and that is where our family and friends were. And like most families, they are forever changing. Parents get older, step-daughters have children, and these things draw you back. So renting a different a place every summer and then packing everything up and putting it in storage was becoming tedious and no fun. I needed a home base. So, after a couple of years, we bought a condo in downtown Vancouver, and I have to tell you it was the best thing we ever did. It is so much easier to come home after a season of sailing, when you know where you are coming home to. Life became simplified. I had found my balance. I had my great little condo in my awesome city, and then after being home for 5 months or so, I was done with land life, had no packing up to do, and I was ready to continue with my sailing adventures.

We are nearing the end of our seventh sailing season now, and I must say, I have this lifestyle down to a science. We have traveled over 10,000 miles, through ten different countries, and I hope we keep sailing for another 10 years yet. There are many more countries to see, many more seas to cross, many more friends to make, and many more sailing adventures to be had.

On route to San Andreas, Columbia…me at the helm, all 3 sails out, and I am not seasick!

For all of you out there wondering if you can make the transition to following seas, fair winds and the odd storm or two, the only way you can find out if this lifestyle is for you, is to get out there and find your happy balance.

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  1. David B. Zaharik says:

    Great story!! From one commercial pilot to another, well done! I however finished my career, just retired and now am waiting delivery of our 3rd yacht… a Boreal 47 being build in northern France… then ??

    1. Anonymous says:

      Thanks, I am glad you enjoyed it…new boat delivery, how exciting…and the adventure continues…

  2. Julie mathews says:

    Wonderful story! We were so fortunate to meet you in the Broutan’s that first summer and catch up with you and Steve along the way. We refer to you and Steve as our “friends sailing around the world”. Keep writing and telling your stories. Julie and Mike

  3. Yvonne Harwood says:

    Congratulations on a great article and for hanging in there. Enjoy many more adventures and never forget how fortunate we are to be able to live the cruising life…..and enjoy it.
    Looking forward to further stories from you.
    Fellow BCA Member,
    Yvonne Harwood.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Good on ya! Homers’ Osyssey