Mile High to High Seas

milehigh_m&d lunenberg 2003  

While browsing through an old hard drive, I came across this article I wrote back in 2003. For those of you who have been sailing awhile, it will probably bring back a few memories. For those of you looking forward to sailing off into the sunset someday, perhaps it will give you some inspiration. I hope you enjoy it.

A Change in Lifestyle…Mile High to High Seas

Most folks have dreamed at one time or another about “sailing off into the sunset”. For many, it’s just that: a dream of a new life, wandering carefree around the world. But it doesn’t have to be just a dream. For us, it’s reality and life is good aboard the Nine of Cups, a 45 foot sailboat. With more than three years and 13,000 miles under our keel, we’ve sailed across the Gulf of Mexico, up the East Coast of the United States as far as New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada and back down the coast through the Caribbean islands to South America.

There’s no doubt our family and friends considered us both candidates for psychological counseling when we announced our intentions. They pressed the issue even further as we proceeded to sell our company. Then we sold most of our worldly possessions, including the Mercedes, the antique furniture and the house and all the tchotchkes. With minimal sailing experience, but a thirst for travel, discovering new places and experiencing new cultures, we bought a 1986 sailboat in Kemah, Texas. After finishing our professional commitments and tidying up personal business, we moved aboard in April 2000. We were off on our life’s dream…a real adventure.

Drastic changes? You bet. Consider this: a 4,000 square foot house became less than 800 square feet of living space that rocked from side to side and had engine access from the kitchen … I mean the galley! No moveable furniture…everything is built in. No more unlimited use of water… no long, hot showers or letting the water run as you brush your teeth. Every drop of water needs to be conserved since the tanks would need to be refilled…somewhere. Watch that power consumption! “Shut off the lights; check the voltage monitor before you listen to the radio.” (What’s a voltage monitor?) Every bit of power needs to be generated by either running the engine (very loud and noisy and wastes diesel) or through solar panels and wind generators. Either way, there is never enough to waste. Adding to the list of apparent deprivations, we have no TV, no telephone, no electrical appliances. My one modern galley convenience is a tiny microwave oven which can only be used when we're in a marina or when we're motoring…in other words, infrequently.

Even learning the lingo was a challenge. A whole new vocabulary had to be mastered just to describe your home. The kitchen isn’t a kitchen, it's a galley. The bathrooms aren’t bathrooms, they're heads. Closets are lockers and bedrooms are cabins. Ropes are lines or halyards or painters. There's fore and aft, bow and stern, port and starboard and no permanent address.

Perhaps the most drastic change of all for me was no shopping…or worse, nothing to buy. Not only were there no places to shop, other than for groceries, but my usual “clothes horse mentality” quickly met with cold reality. We had no big “his and hers” closets any more, just two small hanging lockers that we shared. From three large closets all my own and daily work attire consisting of silk blouses, designer suits and shoes that matched, I regressed to shorts, tank tops and Teva’s. The rule on the boat soon became, if you buy something new, something old has got to go…there’s no more room. Besides how many tee shirts can you use? As for those other sweet amenities I deemed necessary? No sense in getting my nails done, they’d be trashed in one day working on the boat. Makeup? Hardly ever, considering I’m usually slathered with sunscreen and salt spray. Perfume? Not unless you consider bug spray to fall into the fine fragrance category… Eau de Deet?

As if the physical changes weren’t enough, the psychological changes seemed even greater. We were used to working long, hard hours…as many as 80-90 hours some weeks. At least one of us was always on the road. Phones were always ringing, someone was always “on hold”, emails and messages mounted up and the meetings were endless. We juggled all this while running a household and raising a family. Now…the kids were gone, the boat, though requiring a steady amount of maintenance and TLC, does not necessitate even a 40-hour work week. Without a telephone, the only ringing in our ears is from fog horns and sea gull cries. No emails, no internet and blessedly, no meetings. It took a while to figure it out, but there was so much to do that wasn’t “work”, so much to see and experience, but we had to work at not working. With a concerted effort, we had to learn to play and quite frankly, it wasn’t easy.

Time ceased to be an issue. There were no weekends to acknowledge. In the beginning, we'd rise early, rush to get our boat chores done and then hurry to enjoy the offerings of the current port. After all, we had places to be, things to see and a schedule to keep. For nearly a year, we pushed to get from one port to another, always reluctant to stay longer than our defined schedule allowed. Then we spent a summer in Maritime Canada and the rushing ceased. The area was just too beautiful to resist and too delightful to allow rushing. We made up excuses to stay just a few more days here and a day or two longer there and finally chided ourselves for needing excuses. Wasn’t this what we had yearned for when we set off to sail?

So what’s the attraction? This way of life is harder and lacks all those amenities we’d once considered necessities. If this is true, what comical sense of the macabre drew us to this sort of life? Though living on a boat is physically demanding, it is also the most carefree we have ever been. No mortgage, no car payments, no monthly telephone or electric bills…just our daily expenses as we choose. Life has become simple. We worry about weather, currents and tides instead of traffic, lawn mowing, bill paying and office politics. Welcome to our new life!