We cruised almost full time for 11 years on our Fast Passage 39, from 2006-2017. I would like to share with you how my life changed during that time. When we left, we had a 4-bedroom house, filled with the trappings of middle-class life and mementos from raising our three daughters. We were both in careers, working full-time, going out to eat two to three times a week and taking our holidays on our Catalina 25 during the summer. My husband was 56, I was 50 and we realized that a lot of our friends were dying. One dropped dead of a heart attack, one fell out of his dinghy while fishing in the late fall and drowned, and another acquaintance committed suicide due to mental illness. Life was too short, so we sold our home, quit our jobs and moved to Vancouver Island to find a boat and pursue our dreams of sailing the world.
Well, we did it! We completed our circumnavigation in 2017 when we crossed our westward track near Golfito, Costa Rico. Along the way my outlook on life changed. I no longer have a need to keep up with the Jones. Material possessions do not have the same meaning that they did before we left. My husband and I routinely go to second-hand stores to update our wardrobes. We bought a used 2010 SUV that works perfectly, and we have two bicycles. I looked at a middle-aged man out riding his bike the other day; he was wearing a matching skin tight outfit, with an expensive looking bike. He probably would have gotten just as much exercise if he had worn an old pair of shorts and a t-shirt! I walk into North American malls and look at all the stores with their plethora of things that consumers just have to have and wonder, WHY?
The pride of possession of a house is no longer important. We live on the third floor of a four story walk up, in a two-bedroom apartment. In our second bedroom my husband has a desk where he has his home office and I have an area where I have set up a stained glass studio. When we have guests, we move a few things around and set up a mattress on the floor for our company. The apartment is way bigger than our boat. We have a lovely view across a river valley and this spring I have a garden on my deck. We don’t have any more maintenance costs for a house, and when we want to leave we just empty the fridge, turn out the lights and shut the door. We have no worries about pipes freezing, roofs leaking or cutting the lawn. It is very freeing.
We seldom go out to eat anymore; we have more time to cook and I really enjoy using the recipes that I have gathered from around the world to liven up our meals. Retiring early has also meant that we do not have the disposable income that we had while we were both working. We knew that would be the case when we quit our jobs, but we have never been sorry that we took that path. We carefully plan our getaways, using points to fly to Australia to visit our daughter and her family. We make careful decisions before we spend money – do we need it or just want it, does it have multiple uses, where will we store it, can we do without it?
Visiting a lot of the third world countries as we sailed around the world made me realize just how lucky we are in Canada. It opened my eyes to how other people live and the abject poverty that exists. We can watch it on TV and think we understand but until we actually walk down the ordinary streets, away from the tourist areas and see how life is in countries like Madagascar, Vanuatu, Cuba and Sri Lanka, we can’t fully understand. We met and discussed life with many people on our travels. In some places we were accepted into people’s homes with no qualms and although we do not consider ourselves rich or privileged, we certainly were looked upon that way wherever we went.
Cruising has made me realize that we can be happy if we choose to be, with whatever we have. The joy on the faces of children as they were running on the beach playing while one of their number filleted a fish she had caught, was very revealing. The pride of people in their cultures and their happiness in sharing it were extremely refreshing, as were: the young men in Indonesia, demonstrating the art of fighting while holding hands; the lovo, a Fijian meal cooked in the ground and shared with us, and; a group of fishermen setting big nets and communally working to bring them in on the beach in Sri Lanka.
I also believe that I have learned patience somewhere along the way. Pre-cruising, I was pretty much a type A personality – go, go, go! I still am to some extent, but when the wind dies in the middle of a 20 day passage and you have limited fuel, forbearance is required. If you are not a patient person when it come to checking into countries, you will lose your mind! Many countries do not have a streamlined system, so it usually took several hours if not the whole day to complete the formalities. We recently visited our daughter for a relaxing month-long visit and, after it was over, she commented that I seemed to be much more patient that I used to be.
The ability to enjoy simple pleasures was also something we discovered. We often had no option but to slow down and change gears from our chaotic life in Canada. Our sense of time was altered, we no longer wore a watch and our day was dictated by the sunrise and sunset. We could drink in the delicate fragrance of the flowers, marvel at how a bird soars on the air currents, wonder at dolphins surfing and swooshing in our bow wave, listen to the waves crashing on the rocks and watch the magical glow as the moon rose while there was no one within a hundred nautical miles, perhaps a thousand!
Lessons I learned while we cruised include the importance of planning, the necessity of being prepared for whatever may come your way, and the need to accept what you cannot change. If you are caught out in a big blow and are days from landfall, what can you do but set up your boat for the conditions, check and recheck everything and then endure? It is no use whining about what is happening or worrying about what may be. Worrying is a useless emotion and it can potentially cripple your decision-making ability.
I also realized that people are absolutely wonderful the world over. We have many long-lasting friendships, which were started along cruising routes that have been nourished since by keeping in contact through social media and email. The willingness of other cruisers to share their skills, knowledge and boat parts throughout our journey gives me faith in humankind. The kindness that was shown to us when we ventured ashore and blundered into villages and towns was wonderful. We were motoring down the ICW in the Eastern U.S. and we came across a sailboat stranded in the channel. He needed an alternator and there was no way for him to purchase one. When my husband figured out we had an extra one that would fit, we threw it too him as we motored by with a boat card and a note saying pay us back when you can. Months later we received a cheque in the mail with a grateful note of thanks.
I believe I am a less materialistic, more rounded, calmer person than when we set out on our journey fourteen years ago. Experiencing a lot of what the earth has to offer and learning to look at the world through different eyes makes me truly realize what is profoundly important. I hope sailing expands your horizons and changes your life in positive ways.