Monday, January 10, 2011

Humanity and Cruising
By Michael

I just finished writing an article I've been working on for about a month, for a financial blog. The blog's publisher asked me to write about what Windy and I are doing with our family, but otherwise gave no specifics in terms of what he was looking for. I've written for this blog in the past, and I am a reader, so I guess he left it to me to find an angle that would appeal to his audience.

My God was that hard. Every start was a false start. I ultimately abandoned five different articles before I was able to focus and find the perspective I wanted to share.

Like a lot of cruising families (and families who drop out and pursue other alternative lifestyles) our story and motivation is unique, complex, and personal. It's a difficult story to distill into 1,500 words. It's a difficult story to tell to a readership that doesn't come to the article with a knowledge of sailboats and the cruising life.

I ultimately ended up writing about who we are in the context of the average middle-class American family, the primary factors driving us to find a less-traveled path through life, and our approach to making it happen financially. In the end, it is a pretty simple and direct piece.
But in the course of the month I spent writing and thinking about us and what we're doing and why we're doing it, it seemed everything I encountered was an affirmation, rejection, or slant on my thoughts. My awareness of the topic was heightened and I saw it everywhere.

All of this introspection culminated this week when I watched a funny and poignant TED presentation, “The Power of Vulnerability,” by Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston. She spoke about her 10-year journey to discover that a person who is willing or able to be vulnerable, to accept vulnerability and not hide from it or mute feelings of vulnerability, is better able to make connections of love and belonging with other people. (Her talk was funny because she mocked her own inherent aversion to this touchy-feely topic.)
She describes how this characteristic gives folks the courage to be imperfect, it gives them an authenticity because they are able to let go of who they thought they should be and be themselves. It allows them to invest in relationships that have no guarantee of working out. Brene Brown highlights the importance of instilling in our own children a sense of worthiness, a worthiness that will give them the confidence to approach human relationships with a vulnerability that will allow them to be successful in those relationships.
So what does this have to do with cruising?

Nobody who prepares to go cruising for the first time, does so without allowing themselves to feel vulnerable. Preparing to go cruising for the first time demands questions without certain answers. Can I do this financially, physically, emotionally? Will I fail? Am I prepared? Do I know enough? Is my boat capable? Will my relationship with my crew endure? Will my children be safe? I think that many who never cut the dock lines and never actually go cruising, are limited by their inability to be vulnerable in the face of the intrinsic uncertainty.
Most of us are a product of a culture that inculcates the idea that we should eliminate uncertainty from our lives, insure ourselves against all vulnerability (read my post about deciding not to buy insurance for Del Viento). We are raised to hold security as our ultimate goal, and that vulnerability is anathema. Yet, the family cruising blogs I read (the linked blogs to the right of this post), portray families who have ignored this goal, rejected the assumed value of security in exchange for the real value rooted in each family’s personal motivations for heading out.
I think that cruising families in particular, people who dropped out to go cruising in their middle years (and peak earning years), are the cruisers most likely to have to accept financial vulnerability. No family afloat bought a boat with the hope that this hulk of GRP and teak would appreciate in value during the time they own it. None of us left careers confident that we can return at the end our sabbatical with a role and salary equal to our former colleagues who are sticking it out in the workaday world.

Unfortunately, our society does not define the pursuit of happiness as denying financial security for the sake of intangible value. It doesn’t define it as crawling back down the ladders we are all programmed to want to ascend. Cruising families are unique because we are leaving in the middle of something, heading in a different direction before reaching the expected destination. We’re skipping out early, compromising or abandoning the parts of our lives most valued by a society that defines us by what we do for a living. The families living aboard boats anchored all over the world, are people who accepted vulnerability, who left the paths of security promised them by their former lives.

Do I feel vulnerable as we get closer to joining them, to heading down a path less traveled? Hell yes, and it feels right.



  1. You're giving yourself and your family a gift that will impact each of your lives for the better. Your children will be better adults for the adventure you're sharing with them. "Music in the soul can be heard by the universe..." Lao Tzu

  2. Will the article appear in GRS?

  3. Hi AJ. Yes,, early February. I'll post a link here when it's up.

  4. So well put .. about vulnerability and living, well floating outside the American Dream. It's all well worth it. We wish you the best,
    Ruth and the Kamaya crew

  5. Thank you so much for a delightful post! We are a family of four riding our bikes the length of the Americas - we're in that exact same vulnerable spot you are, but we have wheels rather than a boat.

    As a family, we have now spent nearly four years traveling on bicycles and we've seen the good in people over and over and over again. We've seen people go out of their way to reach out to us and help us out in so many ways. It's been magical.

    I found your blog through someone who posted on my blog - I wrote about this exact same thing yesterday! (

    Keep plodding along - it'll all work!



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