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THE CRUISING WOMAN'S ADVISOR
How to prepare for the voyaging life
By DIANA JESSIE
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Diana B. Jessie
All rights reserved.
THE CRUISING LIFE
When the young woman sitting next to me on the plane discovered that I lived on a boat and had spent my life cruising, she asked me how I slept, cooked, bathed, shopped, and worked—as if I had just arrived from Mars. When we parted, she told me that she could not imagine what my life was like, but that it sounded perfect.
Most people do not understand what it's like to live and cruise on a sailboat or powerboat, and their curiosity and amazement are always entertaining. They first try to understand the cruising life in the same day-to-day terms that define their lives. What is it like to live without a car, without a telephone, without daily contact with the rest of the world? But what is important to know goes beyond those day-to-day details. Cruisers' lives may seem as alien as life in outer space. But there is great joy in cruising. It is a life of adventure, challenge, and independence.
If you are considering becoming a cruiser, I am sure your questions are endless: What is cruising really like? Can I do it? Will I like it? Will it be horrible or wonderful? Women who have cruised along coastlines and across oceans, on big boats and small, for long periods of time and for short spans, all asked those same questions before they left.
Event or Lifestyle?
Until recently, it never occurred to me that some people set off on a voyage without the least bit of interest in being cruisers. These people go cruising because it is on a list of things they want to accomplish in their lifetime. They are prepared to take a given period of time, invest in a boat, sail from A to B, and then move on to the next event.
There is no rule that prohibits doing just that if you want. The problem is that because these people perceive their trip as a onetime thing, they look for the easiest way to accomplish something that is not easy. Generally, expense is not an issue in these situations because they are short term. Buying a big boat that will accommodate the creature comforts, the electronic gear, and the auxiliary engine, and fuel is easy. All they have to do is pay for it. Then they put fuel in the tank, food in the fridge and freezer, and leave.
This approach does not infringe on or change their lifestyle. It is similar to buying an RV and leaving home for a vacation. The difference is there are no white lines on the water, there is no AAA, and there is no 911. Even gunkholing along coastal waters can go from benign to treacherous in a matter of minutes, exposing you to danger.
These event cruisers see no need to learn about weather, battery maintenance, anchoring, or rescue procedures, among other things. As a result, those who travel with this perspective endanger other boaters out on the water. They expect others to take care of them when trouble occurs.
Lifestyle cruisers, however, are those who consciously choose to change their lives by moving aboard a boat and traveling. They probably consider the cruising life as some combination of a vocation and an education—but it is their life, not a brief interruption in their life, as event cruising is. They take responsibility for themselves and those around them. They recognize the risks of their life choice and prepare to handle them. They understand the need to be self-sufficient.
Most women are well suited to be lifestyle cruisers, since they generally understand that some situations are inherently dangerous. And they are hesitant about taking such risks without adequate preparation. When you take the time to learn what the risks are, you can prepare yourself. You will be living a different kind of life when you live on the water, so it's best to learn as much as you can before you go.
What Is the Cruising Lifestyle?
There is no single definition of the cruising lifestyle. The answer depends on whom you ask, for one of the best things about cruising is that it is a way of life that can be approached and managed in many different ways.
For me, cruising is the simple life. I live on a boat instead of living in a house or in an apartment. My possessions are few, and my living space is smaller than what you'd find in a typical mobile home. I do not spend hours cleaning, talking on the phone, or watching television. I share every day—in fact, nearly every minute—with my husband in this same space. We live day to day, planning what we want to do and where we want to go each day. It is rare that we use the phrase "I have to ..." unless I am writing or the weather is bad.
We do not own suitcases because we take our home with us wherever we go, and we never have jet lag. Our dinghy is our "car" when we want to go ashore. We have no faxes or beepers on the boat, and our cell phone doesn't work offshore or in remote ports, so people either communicate with us face to face, send us an e- mail (see Chapter 10), or wait for us to turn on our radio.
Our boat is the focus of our lives. It is our home and our mode of transportation, and it holds everything we own. Whenever I have to be away from the boat, I am always anxious to return.
Cruising means moving from place to place. Some cruisers move from port to port, some cross oceans, and some travel around the world. The neighborhood changes constantly, and there is always a new place to visit, something new to learn, and new people to meet.
You may think cruising is a lonely life because you are always leaving people. But you always meet new people living the same life as you. You meet on docks and in anchorages, and you become friends because you share this unique lifestyle. As bluewater cruiser Nancy Payson says, "Your entertainment comes from friends and books, sharing with friends the adventures that you have."
Change is part of a cruising life. If you look forward to change, you will see cruising as an adventure. Lin Pardey says, "If you want adventure and freedom, I think you have to give up the perception of comfort and safety. There is no such thing as security in life. The only thing in life that's positive is change, so why not get out there and enjoy it? Accept change, and you can enjoy cruising."
Not everyone who cruises crosses an ocean or becomes a circumnavigator. Many cruisers live on board full-time and cruise coastal areas. Migael Scherer has lived on her boat in Puget Sound and cruised the Pacific Northwest and southeast Alaska for over thirty years. For her, cruising is not unlike being a career tourist. It is "spending time on the hook somewhere and then moving on to another place. You send yourself on a prolonged vacation. I like to be a long-term tourist. I want to be part of communities. Knowing people is important to me. A year is too short a time. It satisfies me to stay several years, then move."
Cruising does not have to be a permanent lifestyle. Combining a land life with cruising is the only way some couples and families can cruise. Cruising for a year may be their limit because they want to keep their children in school. They may have only a short sabbatical from work. They may have a limited budget and cannot stay away from land life and careers for too long. Some cruisers do not plan long trips because they are not sure the life is right for them. But whatever the length of your cruise will be, you should approach cruising as a lifestyle, not an event: learn as much as you can before you go, prepare as much as you can, be responsible, be open to new experiences, and—above all—enjoy!
Not all cruisers plan exactly what their cruising life will be until it actually happens. When she started cruising twenty years ago, Barbara Marrett, a contributing editor to Cruising World, viewed cruising as a way to adventure off to exotic places. "I didn't expect it to be a lifestyle, but I really enjoyed it much more than I could have imagined. It's not having a set schedule; it's being very open, embracing the unknown, and letting your life flow instead of directing it."
How we cruise, where we go, and the distance we travel vary, but the common threads between all cruising lives are adventure, freedom, challenge, and change. Whether you do it for the rest of your life or for one year at a time, you will grow and learn more about yourself and the world if you give cruising a chance.
Why We Go
When I asked women cruisers why they went cruising, I heard a variety of reasons for starting the adventure. When we begin, we all have our own individual reasons for cruising. After time, however, the women I spoke with seemed to share a similar commitment to cruising because of the opportunities it creates for travel, adventure, and independence.
"We went because of the adventure," said Lura Francis, an artist who shared the cruising dream with her husband, Jack. "Our whole married life had been going to concerts, going to the city, civic light opera, galleries, taking a picnic lunch and watching the boats on the bay. We used to say that someday maybe we would get a boat and go."
Many people dream about cruising; only some are fortunate enough to have their dream become a reality. Lura and Jack waited for the opportunity to fulfill their dream, sharing a cruising life after they had raised their family and retired.
Other women have cruised most of their adult lives. For them, cruising was not a future dream; it simply was life as they lived it. Lin Pardey was 20 years old when she started cruising. "I saw freedom in the life, unrestricted travel, and being free of material things," she says.
Now, more than forty years later, Lin talks about having a home base. (Long-term cruisers have a hard time using the word "house" when they talk about living on land.) "We will probably spend more time in our home base when we get older, but I can't picture putting away the boat and not going again. Maybe we'd build a little boat again, so we could manage.... We know people still cruising in their eighties."
A slide show led to Patience Wales's desire to cruise. "We wanted to get out of our lives and into different lives. So we saved all our money for six years, made our own beer, sold our houses, bought our boat, which was really too big for us because we didn't know what we were doing, and took off. I think I went, more than any other thing, for the adventure. It is like no other kind of traveling. That was in 1964. I was young and foolish. Now I'm old and foolish."
In the process of building their fourth boat in 1995, some of her feelings changed. Patience said, "I'm more blasé. I think I'm pickier. I know I'm less willing to be uncomfortable. But [cruising] really doesn't mean anything different from what it did the first time around."
I know many women who go along as a cruising mate. Paula Dinius said of her husband, "Dana was the real ramrod behind the whole thing. Because he was in a stressful position, for him it was a major escape. He dragged me through in the beginning, because I didn't have the passion he did. When we left, I was excited. I was excited about the adventure, but I was afraid of being on a boat at sea."
A first-time experience at anything can be daunting. Barbara Colborn, who was new to bluewater cruising ten years ago, talked to me immediately after returning from her first ocean voyage. "I wasn't sure that I wanted to cruise for the rest of my life, and we agreed on trying it for a year. Reading books is one thing, but actually being out there and experiencing it is another."
The beginnings of any experience are key to its outcome. But few of us can predict in the beginning what shape our cruising lives will take. I did not grow up sailing and did not see cruising as a lifetime dream—or even a short- term goal. Jim and I bought our boat as partners, figuring the financial obligation we shared was sufficient commitment to each other. We had lived on board for less than a year when I discovered, after reading a news article, that our boat was scheduled for the Transpacific Yacht Race to Hawaii. I exploded at Jim for not consulting me, but then we made a pact. If the passage to Hawaii was not a good experience for me, Jim would buy out my half of the boat when we arrived in Honolulu. When we reached the Ala Wai dock in Honolulu, I announced, "I'm keeping my half."
That same summer the Australians won the America's Cup. We thought it would be a lark to sail to Australia to see the next competition, and so we went.
The two years we allotted for the voyage grew into a seven-year circumnavigation. Before we left we were married at the urging of family and friends, who worried about me traveling in countries where my rights as an unmarried woman might be in jeopardy. Twenty-seven years later, there is no doubt in my mind that cruising all over the world is—still—the most exciting thing I can do with the rest of my life.
Demands and Rewards
"The best times I've ever had in my life have been cruising; also, the most uncomfortable times I've ever had have been cruising," says Barbara Marrett. She tells potential cruisers that cruising can be both the best of times and the worst of times; she was warned before her first passage "not to expect a picnic. Experiencing ocean swells in a small boat can be very uncomfortable and frightening at times. So when I was miserable the first three days out, I was somewhat mentally prepared.... But the difficulty of sailing to the Galápagos and then Easter Island, our first landfalls, was repaid by the reward of exploring these incredible islands. I don't regret any part of the adventure, including the edge of the hurricane we passed through."
An early cruising lesson for me was learning to live with things that I cannot change. When Mother Nature has a bad day, I have to share it. Choppy seas, too much wind, not enough wind, heat, cold, heavy fog, broiling sunshine, and salty spray all have to be reckoned with at some point. Not only was it essential for me to learn to adapt to the conditions; I also had to acquire the grace to accept them.
A young man crewed with us for several thousand miles. One day we were becalmed within sight of our port, and our engine was not working. In frustration, he shook his fists and hollered like a child having a temper tantrum. When I questioned his behavior he said, "I have never felt so helpless."
I was unsympathetic at the moment, but I also have days when things do not work out the way I want. But the bonus, most cruisers discover, is that Mother Nature has many more good days than bad days. Those good days are our reward for enduring the bad ones.
Adjusting to cruising can take time. Barbara Colborn reminded me of some advice commonly given to new cruisers. She said, "People who have gone cruising said to give it at least a year, and I found that it was true. Five months into it, I was still uncomfortable about some things and wishing to be home now and then."
Several experienced cruisers have offered wise words about aspirations. The desire to take on a big trip easily fuels your enthusiasm and imagination, but sometimes it is not very realistic. Some people start out on a circumnavigation or a major passage and then discover it is not what they expected.
Migael Scherer offers advice to such cruisers. "Move slowly," she advises, "bite your trip into small chunks and do everything you can to build your confidence in yourself and your boat. Don't be afraid to turn back. There is no shame in turning back, and you should never regret it. Take those small steps first."
I believe if you feel insecure or unprepared for something, there is nothing wrong with rethinking your plans. Bad weather, inadequate navigation information, or boat-system failures can cause problems; those are the times to turn back to a safe harbor. Pride pushes people to do stupid things. Remember that there are no records at stake when you go cruising. The goal is your own enjoyment and satisfaction.
Cruising has its demands, but the rewards are many: exotic locations, adventure, excitement. For me, other rewards are the friends I have made along the way and the opportunities I've had to see history firsthand. Being a part of the natural world has also strengthened my belief in myself.
For Barbara Colborn, it took only a short time for her to see the rewards. When she was concluding her first cruising experience, she told me, "We've been out fourteen months and two passages, to Hawaii and back. I love it and I wish I didn't have to go back onto land and earn money. But I think it was important to say, 'Okay, we're going to try this for a certain period of time and see.' "
For Nancy Payson, one reward is spending time in new places. "[My husband] gets me to sail because I like to get to places and be there for a while. The sailing isn't the reason most women go. Certainly not initially. If they're lucky, they learn to love cruising."
For Lura Francis, cruising was a way to grow and learn. It was "a life where you have time to think, experience solitude, know yourself and your partner, grow together. It was being resourceful, finding out how to do everything from changing oil to making yogurt."
For me there is another reward that I did not anticipate. One day my husband said, "Cruising wouldn't be any fun if I didn't have you to share it with." Then he told me that the worst thing he could imagine—worse than sickness or losing the boat—would be not being able to remember all that we had experienced together.
I realized our partnership is very special. Maybe I could have had that relationship without cruising, but it is unlikely anyone will ever convince me of that. The roles cruising partners share may always be changing, but the commitment to the relationship is never in doubt.
Excerpted from THE CRUISING WOMAN'S ADVISOR by DIANA JESSIE. Copyright © 2007 by Diana B. Jessie. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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