Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Journey to the Boat

Though our plans to live on a boat and sail away were settled, AJ was obligated to 4 more years in the Army.  They sent us to Germany for the final 3.  I had always wanted to live in a foreign country. We were pretty excited about it.  Germany probably saved us from falling into depression, monotony, and weakness of will in many ways.  Every day was an outing into a beautiful foreign land.  The novelty of getting to ride a bike down protected bike paths to anywhere in the city often cutting through lovely parks and river-walks. Practicing German as you buy freshly baked bread for a euro or two in the old town walking district, seeing German rock bands play at local venues and the regular town festivals.  Germany was different enough and wonderful enough in all those differences to keep the daily activities of life interesting.

And as if it could not get any better, we were a days drive away from everywhere. 3 1/2 hours to Prague, 6 to Berlin, 6 1/2 to Amsterdam, 7 to Paris, 8 to Venice. The whole of Europe was at our fingertips.  We did not pass up this opportunity to easily and cheaply go everywhere. Many Fridays AJ would come home from work, we'd spontaneously pack a bag, get in the car, and start driving away.

The time in Europe only fortified our desire to make a radical lifestyle change, and sail away at all costs.  We were happy when we were on the move. Being at "home" always began to feel oppressive and stifling.  It generated frustration, anxiety, restlessness and worst of all, bickering. When we drove away all of those stressers melted away, all bickering ceased, and we became ourselves again, the monsters of domesticity abated.  AJ often quotes Arthor Ransom, "Houses are but badly built boats so firmly run aground that you cannot think of moving them..."
There is peace that comes with being transitory, and there is great peace that comes with having minimal or no possessions.  I caught glimpses of this peace at different times in my life. My favorite place to be when I was a kid was hotels.  I know how ridiculous that sounds, sad perhaps even, but they made me feel elated and free. A tidy little room with no clutter, no stuff with histories or memories, no objects needing a place, no objects telling you who you are or who you are supposed to be. A bag of the essentials in a room with the essentials.  With tomorrow bringing visions of something new. What an incredible feeling. I also experienced this when I had the breakdown in '06 and lost all my stuff. When it all slipped away, the car, the apartment, the possessions; to my surprise, I felt relieved. I felt like a huge burden had been lifted. I felt free to move forward.

It became evident to me that the only time I had felt truly at peace in life was when I was traveling and when I owned little or nothing. It was the only time I felt free to live, to be, to see, to learn, to understand.   Discovering that these are the sources of my happiness was a bit daunting. They are not the easiest things to work into life in this current socioeconomic system.  And as a result, these traits are seen as faults. Something was wrong with me, I couldn't successfully function. No, I could not function in the this system. This artificial system special to this time and place in history. Once you recognize the system you are in it becomes easier to separate its stresses from your true personality. Therapy methods to "normalize" behavior be damned.  We are going to make our world to suit us, not make ourselves suitable to the world.  We became quick at recognizing the roots of distress, and discussions evolved into plans to make the circumstances of our lives provide peace, happiness, and a lust for life.

We are eliminating life's artificially induced problems in exchange for having  2 rather tangible ones: staying fed and staying afloat.  These 2 problems, for us at least, are far less stressful and numbing than an 8-5 work week. (There are fish in the sea and rice and beans are cheap!) We will never set sail if we wait to save enough money for a circumnavigation. When we need money for food stores or boat repairs we will do whatever odd jobs we can find or create for ourselves. Scrub boat bottoms, teach English, repair canvas.  We will trust in our own ingenuity to attain what we need as we make our way around the world, which won't be much, as our time and independence is what we value above all.

We must spend these years, the years of our health and our youth, seeing the world, gaining knowledge, expanding perception, and experiencing as many cultures and wonders of nature as possible, not planning to do so in retirement. We must make a life, not a living.
This will be my true education.  I no longer wish to live and learn vicariously. All the books in the world cannot satisfy.  We will set sail, transported by the wind and powered by the sun.  We will be venture minimalists, independent and free, nomadically roaming Spaceship Earth.
By the time we were to leave Germany, 3 years and one Iraq deployment later were ready to buy a boat, move aboard, and lock ourselves into this life once and for all. It was March 2011.


  1. I'm really glad I stumbled across your blog. So much of it reflects how I've lived my life. At the age of 30 I chucked the office life, got a job as a deckhand on a boat and a couple of years later got my 100-ton Coast Guard license. It led me to some great adventures including skippering an 85' ketch on the French Riviera and Costa del Sol for three years and sailing across the Atlantic in '91. That was followed by buying a small sailboat of my own and taking off for nine months on a single handed cruise to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. I'm now retired from the sea and living in a small pueblo in western Panama and am the only Gringo in the town.

    There are many quotes I wrote down in my journal and carried around with me for decades. They changed my life. If you don't mind I'll share them with you here because I know will feel the same way about them.

    The first is from Sterling Hayden in his book "Wanderer:"

    "'I've always wanted to sail to the South Seas, but I can't afford it.' What these men can't afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of 'security.' And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine--and before we know it our lives are gone.
    "What does a man need--really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in--and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all--in the material sense. And we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention from the sheer idiocy of the charade.
    "The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it the tomb is sealed."

    The next is from Richard MacCullough's "Viking's Wake:"

    "And the bright horizon calls! Many a thing will keep till the world's work is done, and youth is only a memory. When the old enchanter came to my door laden with dreams, I reached out with both hands. For I knew that he would not be lured with the gold that I might later offer, when age had come upon me."

    And finally, for today, this from Betty Wilson, wife of Sloan Wilson who wrote "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit." Her book, "Away From It All," is about them buying a boat, moving aboard and going from New England to Florida.

    "“If we’re really going to start a new life, we have to kill the old one. That’s why most people never really start anything new. They’re claimed by old lamps and bureaus left to them by their grandmothers."

    I look forward to reading about your upcoming adventures. My own blog, about retiring to another country is titled: "One More Good Adventure: Growing Old In Someone Else's Country."

  2. Thanks for sharing. It's always great to hear stories from those who made it happen. I love the quotes!


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