Six Months In
We have now been on the boat for more or less 6 months, and I have a lot to write about the undertaking we've chosen. My primary thought is, usually, so what? We've harbored qualities of avant-gardeness for most of our time together. So we want to live on a sailboat? Who cares? (And maybe you don't and you can stop reading now.) Most days I don't think our lifestyle is all that extraordinary. It seems crazy even as I type, that this life doesn't feel so different than our previous life at times. Maybe I'm just so very used to having a boat in our lives. I still do housework (dishes and laundry by hand now which is actually nice), only my view is different. Kai still works a "real job." We still get crabby at times, we all have our ups and downs, only now in the most beautiful places, and then feel guilty or silly for doing so. Rev still sings through most of her day. We still enjoy being outside. I have yet to shave my armpits (although I swear, the less I shower, the less they smell). These are our constants in the ever-changing sea.
Spending the summers on Owl in Lake Superior was a great primer for boat living, aided by the fact that Owl had fewer comforts than we now have. The sea, however, is a very different place with tides, currents, and salt that is even better than I imagined at getting embedded in everything. Moreover, the cruising ground is vast and boating families are fewer and farther between than we would like. This is partially because of our late start, as many families were well into the Caribbean when we started south from Annapolis. We miss our family and friends, and meeting new friends in our age bracket is a challenge. Sure we maybe haven't made the most valiant effort, and that's something to improve upon in the coming months, but statistically, most cruisers (those living and traveling on their boat full-time) are retirees, which was expected.
Most people can't (or don't want to) drop their land lives, buy a boat, and sail the world. I understand. There are still times I think we can't do it, but here we are, doing it. Every once in awhile one of us shouts to the other one, "Hey! We're doing this!" We reminisce of only a year ago when we made the decision to move forward from Owl and buy a more seaworthy boat (read: heavier, bigger, more comfortable). It is in these moments that we focus on the larger picture, which is really my only advice to anyone who might want to move to living on a boat full-time. It's all to easy to become entangled in the spiral of doubt about what you're doing when things get challenging or break or leak or whatever else can happen on a boat. You must just keep thinking about the big picture amidst frustration, sleep deprivation, and being in close quarters.
We love meeting anyone and have enjoyed our time with other boaters, retirees or not, but it often feels like a sea of introductions and few long-term friend situations. As a former traveler, I know this is what being in constant motion often brings. You get to know someone a little bit and then one of you continues your journey. Hopefully we'll get better at navigating the social waters.
Another known was getting to "homeschool" Rev since we're constantly on the move. I say this lightly because she's 5 and coming from a Waldorf school, there isn't much in the way of traditional curriculum in the early years aside from engaging in the natural world, singing songs, employing daily rhythms, and telling stories. We have those mostly covered, although there are times where I wonder if the only "schooling" accomplished that day is how to play cards (we've been doing a fair amount of this as a family lately and it seems Rev has the emotions and competitiveness from both gene pools when playing. It's a dangerous combination). When I was pregnant with Rev, I dreamed of unschooling and letting her sweet little heart and inquisitive mind drive what she studied. I suppose we unschool now, sometimes to the chagrin of others, and it's sometimes difficult to trust my intuitions of what is best and hard to let go of a societal expectation that she should be stuck to a pen and paper solving equations by the time she's six. Even though most adults I've met who have grown up this way have managed to be quite academically intelligent, I often wonder if we'll regret this, or if she'll struggle to adapt to normal school, or if she'll be painfully behind. I should be used to this wondering and questioning ourselves by now as that's the bulk of parenthood.
That said, the kid is definitely on her way to being a capable little sailor. She can tell the point of sail without instruments and manage the helm with us telling her which direction to head. She knows how to determine when to trim or ease the sheets. She helps crank the winches and always helps with anchoring. She uses correct terminology (granted most of what we talk about around here is sailing and her mind is a sponge), and can identify an Island Packet before most seasoned sailors (these are apparently important things). She knows about boat draft and what we draw (7 feet). I suppose this is expected of a kid who has sailed half of her few years but I'm still surprised at her eagerness and curiosity. We're well on our way to her handling things while we sit back and enjoy ourselves. I figure reading and math can wait for now since she's learning how to navigate a 28,000 pound home on the water through the world. She's learning how to feel the world around her, something many kids her age don't get to fully practice.
As far as the boat itself, we've been pleased as peaches with its sailing ability. Our expectations were aloft after studying sailboat design, reading a Bob Perry book (the designer of our boat) where he gives countless accolades about this design (of course he does), and endlessly dreaming of what it would be like to sail a Saga 43 or other ocean-going boat. They've been mostly fulfilled and we joke that we don't even know how to sail her to her actual potential yet. That will come with time.
There have also been some surprises. We didn't know that the boat has some leaks (from the top in, not the bottom in. The bilge is dry as a bone thanks to our Arid Bilge System). Finding the first leak was as easy as getting a new roll of toilet paper from the forward head and finding the whole stock wet. There's actually a scientific rule that there will be a leak wherever the toilet paper will be stored. We have our rainy day activities all set!
We were likewise surprised at how many things needed to be done that weren't on our initial to-do list. I know this is to be expected with a boat. We've had numerous electrical issues that have all mostly been solved by jiggling wires (just like the pros fix things). Loose wiring has been the cause of so many issues that whenever anything breaks our first course of action is to shake up the wiring to said item. Usually this is done by jamming yourself into a tiny space, craning your neck to see what you're doing, putting your hand somewhere you can't entirely see, and shaking a wire until the other person shouts, "There! Wait...do that again! No, shake another wire! Yes!"
Nonetheless, the new boat is quickly spoiling us and I'm certain it is the right boat for us. Nearly every day I have a glorious feeling that envelops me from the roots of my blonding hair down to my stubbed toes: a feeling that I love our boat and wouldn't want anything else. Sure it's new to us but I'm in that glossy phase where the solar panels don't pull nearly what they should and I think, but how about that great kitchen?
One of the biggest adjustments for me has been the lack of alone time. I've never been one to get much alone time. Growing up in a small Lebanese household of 3 kids, alone time wasn't really a thing. Headphones weren't standard issue and had iPhones been invented, they wouldn't have been allowed. Since becoming a mom, I likewise haven't gotten much either, but thankfully I don't require much more than an occasional bath or bike ride by myself. Granted, you never realize how much you had of something until it's mostly gone. In our previous life, I would get alone time by biking, riding the bus to work, heck, even working was sometimes sufficient for alone time. But now, most everything we do is together, aside from when Rev and I go to shore and Kai stays to work on the boat. Don't get me wrong, I love it, I'm not complaining, it's just something that was an unexpected adjustment. I didn't realize how I was being recharged by my time alone. I couldn't grasp how much I would miss biking, and how I love my sparkly, pink steed (now stored in my mother's basemement). Maybe it's not about alone time and more about biking time. Yes, it's probably just that. The mental load of housework, boat chores, child caring, and travel is a lot and sometimes I need to just sit in the quietude of waters surrounding us and be able to iron out my thoughts. Every time I try to do this, I've fallen asleep.
The upside of no alone time is TOGETHER TIME! While we're sometimes immersed in boat projects or sailing through heavy weather, and we feel like bad parents for Reverie needing to entertain herself (which she's really good at), we're equally spending more time together as a family. Kai and Rev have what Rev calls "daddy-daughter time" more often, and I get to watch her be a little clone of him firsthand. Likewise, we do more things as a family because, well, we have to! Many projects require each of us and it's been incredible to be figuring out what each of our roles on the boat is.
How do we afford this? Well, Kai still works as a web application developer remotely, as he's done for years. He's even added a few projects to his resume like making a tide station out of our boat using data gathered from the instruments. I quit my job to be here, and while I miss helping women realize their breastfeeding goals (and the paycheck that tagged along) and my coworkers, I don't miss working in a hospital. I'm thankful for people who are able to do this work, but I've found I am not one of them.
In the grand picture, these last 6 months have flown by, and we've come a long way, both figuratively and literally. We've seen landscapes and wildlife we've never seen, and most importantly, shown Rev more of the world. We've accomplished our goals to sail down the east coast, get to the Bahamas before hurricane season and have now started the return to the cool waters of the north. We're headed toward Nova Scotia by way of Cape Cod and Maine for the summer and we've so far prepared by watching "Anne of Green Gables." Actual preparation has commenced as well. In November, we plan to sail south to the British Virgin Islands and explore them for a few months. Then, Europe? The Mediterranean?
Most importantly, I feel comfortable in this lifestyle. I feel happy. The look on Kai's face when we're sailing is one of my favorite looks on him, and Rev says she's happy on the boat. She's easily pleased. We are excited to continue traveling, something I've wanted to return to for years, ever since I was a crumbling, crying mess in the Hilo airport, headed back to Minnesota after my farming tenure. My cells feel calmed and it's a welcomed change from them always wiggling, begging me to get on the move again. It's nice to feel like I'm in the place I'm supposed to be, doing the things I'm supposed to be doing for now, instead of always longing for other lands. I rarely lament leaving a place because I'm excited for whatever the next place will bring. I've been feeling drawn out of Minnesota ever since my first trip to New Mexico as a teenager. I wish we could fulfill this need and be closer to family and friends but that's impossible right now, so visits will have to suffice. I finally feel the boat is ready for guests so maybe y'all can visit?
I feel this life suits us. There was an idea looming over us that we'd get here and one or both of us would hate living on a boat. It was something we couldn't have known until we did it. There were many times on Owl that I was scared, where I wanted to throw in the towel. I didn't feel safe and was unsure of my abilities. I haven't had that paralyzing feeling on this boat. I'm sure I will when we're caught in some terrible squall, but my trust in the boat is solid and my confidence in us is growing. Thus far, the idea of hating it is just an idea of what could have been, and it definitely isn't what has happened. We have a lot to iron out, learn, and practice. We are nowhere near perfect sailors, we don't have a perfect boat, we are not the perfect family. We are naive at times. We argue. We swear up and down that we won't hit our head on the same thing again, and then we do. We are imperfect but adaptable, creative sailors, constantly humbled by the world around us and the living sea we chose to be our home.