Friday, March 9, 2018

It's (almost) Over Johnny
By Michael

Shortly after arriving back in Ajo from Fiji,
we took a quick trip down to Mexico (the
border is only 30 miles away). Sunsets like
this were our reward.
After seven years that stand as among the most enriching and illuminating of our lives, we’ve got an end game planned.

After we return to Del Viento in Fiji in early June, we’ll haul the old gal and paint the bottom and re-grease the MaxProp. Then we’ll check out of Fiji and head west for Vanuatu. Uncharacteristic of this crew, we won’t spend more than a few weeks there before setting sail for New Caledonia. Then, still on a delivery-like schedule, we’ll raise anchor soon after arriving and point our bow for Australia, likely making landfall in Brisbane. At this point, we’ll pack our things, clean Del Viento, put a For Sale sign on her, and fly back to the States to build a new life on land.

We’ll be back in time for Eleanor to start high school—she’s 14 for goodness sake, she’ll be 15 this fall. Frances is 12. My kids have spent the bulk of their lives so far as sailing vagabonds.

In fact, this has been such a unique and vibrant and recent chapter in my life that it feels like the bulk of my life. Seven years on a tiny private island with my family. The beauty and magic of that, especially in retrospect, is something I’ll always be grateful for.

My friend Wendy Mitman Clarke once wrote that she doesn’t like the term cruising lifestyle, she wrote that it feels smarmy, perhaps illicit. I see her point, but it leaves me with a loss of words when trying to describe the way we’ve lived as cruisers. Because it is a lifestyle, and one so removed from what is common, from how I grew up, for example, that living the cruising lifestyle imparted an identity. To most family and friends and acquaintances, we’re the only ones they know living like we do. For a decade, it’s been who we are, first as the family with the crazy plans and then as the family enjoying the cruising lifestyle.

The cruising lifestyle has suited us. It’s made us happy and rich, though not financially, but in many of the ways in life that matter. As the end draws near, we don’t have a smidgen of regret for deciding to cast off as we did. For that I’m grateful. In fact, I remind myself that most families don’t even get the short sailing adventure we still have ahead of us.

Of course, things could be different, right now regret could be the primary feeling about our cruising lives. On more than one occasion, only blind luck saved us from a very different reality. But that’s the case no matter the path we choose in life. No question I’d rather be on a path that challenges and provokes than one that pacifies. The cruising lifestyle taught me the meaning and value of the idea that life is short.

Which begs the question: why stop?

I think the reasons are different for each of us.

I feel like I have no choice but to stop, regrettably. For the past year, my gig as Good Old Boat editor has been more than a full-time job, and one that requires regular Internet connectivity. Both those demands are at odds with the family cruising lifestyle. Upon accepting this role (the previous role as managing editor was half-time and not such a conflict) we cancelled plans we’d had to head north for Japan, something that was upsetting to all of us. (Even getting to Australia this year will be a challenge, in terms of juggling work.) But, I need an income and at least this career provides an enormous amount of flexibility and mental stimulation and genuine interest. I’m fortunate that have successfully navigated a mid-life career change, and to have put it off long enough to have the time on the water we did.

Windy wasn’t ready to stop, but realized we must. And now, having gotten her head around the idea, she’s among the most enthusiastic stoppers of us all. No regrets, we’ve had a good run, time to move on. Let’s plant a garden!

Eleanor would have gladly retired from the vagabond sailing life a year ago. She wants permanence. She wants to be in a setting where she sees more people her age and sees them regularly. She wants to find her tribe. I don’t understand this. I’ve told her how miserable I found high school, but she’s got a mind of her own and that we can’t ignore.

Frances is content to keep cruising, just as we have, indefinitely. I guess she and I are of like mind that way, but I’m part of the reason we’re stopping, and she is not. I feel badly for this, but I reason that she’s the kind of kid who will be happy anyplace and she’s extraordinarily lucky to have had the time she’s had. I also feel that part of her reticence to leave the cruising life behind is tied to the fact that it’s really all she knows. Frances remembers very little of the house in Washington, D.C., the house she was born in and that we left seven years ago. She’ll be fine, but she’s not ready to leave the party.

So we’re almost done.

Going back to the identity thing, there is a nagging feeling that when we leave Australia, I’ll be leaving part of who I am behind. We’ve become those people who live on a boat and travel. I think the molting that’s coming will be good. “I live on a boat and travel,” was too easy. It begged questions for which I had pat answers guaranteed to impress. I rarely had to explain or define myself further. It was my skin and it was comfortable. Our cruising lifestyle was the why of everything. When it’s over, I'll be just another guy who lives in a house. I won’t fall back on “I used to live on a boat and travel.” Perhaps that’s the new journey ahead, a challenge to find the life ashore that provokes.

View from a road in Fiji.

Eleanor aboard Del Viento opening the package of nori
in preparation for assembling her sushi. We had dinner
together as a family (at a table) nearly every night of our cruising
lives. It's something that we take for granted and a practice
we'll maintain in our land lives.

Here we are at the Nadi airport. Windy's face says it all, it was grueling
to get to this point. We brought a lot of stuff back with us this time--one
more load like this from Australia this fall, and everything else goes with
the boat.

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