Tuesday, 11 September 2012

through the magnifying glass


They are everywhere, these little bursts
of yellow fluttering about
I’m a book nut. And I certainly know my way around a bookstore. 

I’ve noticed that the bargain tables always seem to have a copy of an appropriately pocket-sized book called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. While I have not actually read this book, the title alone seems to be good advice. For my part, I like putting a positive spin on that concept. Instead of not sweating trivial frustrations, I look for the surprisingly blissful little bits and pieces scattered throughout any given day: The more ordinary and mundane, the better. It’s the appreciation of these that can change a lousy day into a pleasant day.

In our life as voyagers, little pleasures come in many shades: It can be that first sip of coffee in the morning, while listening to a favourable forecast on the SSB radio, or when the wind is just so, and we quietly sail off the hook; it might be rediscovering the smell of freshly baked bread after months of intense heat, or that moment when my body breaks through the cool water’s surface after diving off a sizzling deck. It’s the joys of impromptu gatherings that bring merriment to our cockpit or when we have reached across cultures and laughed at our differences.

A quiet morning in Las Rocas
Yes, there are days when it’s harder to find those highpoints. It’s easy to feel dejected when a boat project drags us down with obstacle after obstacle. Gritting our teeth when the wind shoots up to 40 knots at 2 a.m. is the accepted response. Be that as it may, I still try to focus on something that will make us feel better: It may be as simple as a visiting friend who might not do much to help with a project, but whose fresh perspective allows us to step back from our frustration, or the awe-inspiring sights and sounds of the remnants of a storm by moonlight, once we know we’re safe.

Gratitude can go a long way. There have been times when merely laying my head on the pillow at the end of a long, hard day was pure bliss. And for that, I was, and am, grateful.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

what next?

Nyon in her element

There is a time to be, and then, there is a time to make decisions.  Or at least, there is a time to think about making decisions. We often hear: “What next?”, or “Where are you going after this?”, or “What are you going to do?” Our answers have varied, yet have remained mostly non-committal. One thing we’ve learned about voyaging is you cannot plan too far in advance. There are just too many variables that can up-end your plans in the wink of an eye; it’s not worth the stress.

Yes, you have to choose wisely when it comes to a passage or when to remain in a certain region. You are, after all, dependent on weather patterns. There is a time of year that is safer to undertake a passage to the Marquesas from North America. You don’t want to be in the middle of the Pacific during cyclone season. That kind of planning is important. Do you head north into the Sea of Cortez for hurricane season, or do you take your chances further south? That kind of planning is about safety and weighing the risks you are willing to live with.

Then there is the kind of decision that is more about personal preferences, or in response to circumstances: How long do you stay somewhere? Should you stay or should you go? And in what direction do you go? South? Across the Pacific? Through the Canal? What kind of experience do you want? This is when it is important to turn inward, forget everyone else’s opinions. (Let me tell you, sailors have opinions about everything. And they’re not afraid to tell you.)

I have been dreaming of going to the South Pacific. That is my voyaging aspiration – French Polynesia, Tonga, Fiji. I still fervently want to go there. It’s not surprising then, that I balked when Rick brought up the possibility of staying for another year in the Sea of Cortez. I don’t want to get stuck here. I want a different kind of adventure, cross vast oceans; discover atolls for the first time. Then, I began to think what that might look like, feel like – another year, in the Sea.

One of our goals was and still is, to make meaningful connections with locals wherever we go. We have found that increasingly challenging as we’ve headed north into the wilds of the Sea. While we have made many attempts with relative success, we wish for more. We can blame it on a mix of language limits, somewhat remote anchorages, or simply – missed opportunities. Or maybe, we just need more time.

We have been so busy catching our breath, from the time spent figuring out the complexities of life abroad, life at sea, and life without our loved ones nearby – it took us a while, to really be here. With this realization, I revisit Beth Leonard’s words, regarding long-term cruising: Most people take a year or more […] to slow down and live life.1

The clouds are coming, the clouds are coming!
On September 6, 2011, we sailed away from Canada. A whole year has gone by. And only now, I see what she means. I figured I had understood that statement, but like anything life-altering, it takes time to absorb your experiences, enough to gain some insight. As a result, slowing down and not rushing to the South Pacific might be okay.

There are many unanswered questions. Where will we spend that time? How do we keep from getting trapped in the “suburbia of the seas” vibe that can overtake a sailor here? How do we immerse ourselves more completely in the culture? Do we work for a while (if we can get the right papers)? How do we seek more adventure and fewer sundowners? Don’t get me wrong, we love a cold beer when the sun is over the yardarm, but we want our experience to be much more than that. For now, we have learned to get comfortable with the questions, until the answers come to us.

And yes, we will likely change our minds more than once in the coming months.  We may be speaking French by next spring. Or we may still be stumbling with our Spanish. Just saying.

1 Beth Leonard, The Voyager’s Handbook: The Essential Guide to Bluewater Cruising.(New York: International Marine – McGraw-Hill Companies, 2007), xv

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