10 Things About Cruising That Are Different This Time

1. There’s no beating around the bush: the stakes are unmistakably higher with kids on board. I’ve learned to appreciate the speed at which things can go wrong on a boat. Safety is about experience, judgment, and understanding causality (if I do A, B and C might happen, then D cuts off a finger). Being a live aboard parent is a balancing act of constant vigilance and letting the kids learn for themselves.

2. On our last voyage (from Australia to Spain), Sarah and I had separate cabins. Separate cabins = boundless amounts of storage for personal items. From 2004-2006 I slept alongside a full-size acoustic guitar, two steel pans from Trinidad, a blowdart gun from Bali, Indonesian ornamental masks, and most of the Harry Potter collection in hardback.

Now Sarah and I share one cabin. So far it looks like I won’t be storing an acoustic guitar on our bunk if I intend on sleeping in it as well.

3. In the process of spending seven months refitting the boat with Dad, I learned how to fix, reinstall, upgrade, and jury rig systems. I learned how to budget time and money towards a problem, when to cut corners, and when to pay for excellence. Hint: Most of the time its best to just do it yourself.

4. As a result of #3, I spend a lot of time asking my children to stop doing things because if they break it, I’m going to have to add another thing to the Fix It List. So, for the love of all that’s good in this world, please stop opening and closing the cockpit table…the List is long enough.

5. The work is never done, but I’m not complaining. I enjoy the satisfaction of solving a problem with a (hopefully) intelligent solution. Cruising is troubleshooting.

6. There’s nothing left to prove. This may not make sense, but I’ll try to explain: My Dad dreamed about a sailing circumnavigation before I was born. His dream became my mom’s. Over time their dream became mine and my sister’s. It took 11 years, but in 2006 we accomplished that goal.

Things are different now. Neither Dad nor I have anything to prove to ourselves or anyone else (I’m pretty sure Mom never did). Some part of that is likely a natural consequence of getting older, but it’s also thanks to checking a goal off the list.

We don’t know where we will end up this season, but that’s ok. Our goal is Australia, though New Zealand keeps poking its head into the conversation. Dad is fond of saying “Every voyage must have a purpose.” The purpose of this one is to invest in our family and have an amazing adventure.

7. We are documenting the voyage publicly, although I wrestle with how much to share. I love storytelling but also value privacy, especially when it comes to my family. As long as it’s a fun thing that unites the crew, enriches the voyage, and makes the world a better place, we’ll give it a go. Given how many cruising Youtube channels are out there now, I’m curious if every anchorage is going to be full of Gopros and drones.

8. Sarah and Mom are homeschooling the kids. We are blessed with the benefit of Mom’s 25 years spent as a teacher. Zoe is flirting with multiplication and division now. Joss is putting sentences together. Sarah drinks a lot of coffee.

9. I’m writing a book. The process is more daunting than I expected, largely because there are so many other things to spend time on at the moment. I’ve come to admire anyone who finishes any sort of document, no matter the length. If you completed as much as a post-it today, you have my respect.

10. As a teenager, life on the ocean was part of how I defined “normal”. My thirties whirled by in a landlocked blur and brought new appreciation for an examined life. Sarah and I realized that if we weren’t proactive, another decade would pass without us noticing.

I turn 40 this year. My parents are in their 70s. Zoe and Joss are barreling towards double digits as quickly as they learn to beg for a cellphone. I’m excited to challenge the girls’ idea of normal and watch them become boat girls through and through.

34 Reasons to go Sailing in 33,000 miles

1. Mom likes to say “the journey is the destination”. She’s right. Although we sailed from point to point on a map, locations were only a skeleton on which to build our adventure.

2. You find what you’re looking for. The cruises who talk about the dangers lurking in each location are invariably the ones who find trouble. Cruisers who make smart decisions and keep a positive attitude somehow manage to find good stuff in the same places and enjoy themselves much more.

3. Cruising is a great investment of time.

4. If I have children, I will take them cruising. They will thank me.

5. There is no shortage of adventure in the world but most of the real ones aren’t easy.

6. For every Paris or Rome there are a thousand hidden corners of the globe where people like you and me make a life. The corners are usually where my favorite memories originate.

7. Cruising let’s you share a back porch with a billionaire. In Turkey we anchored next to a diamond merchant’s 200 foot megayacht for two days. He spent 50 million dollars to visit the same destination as us. Some people buy floating condominiums and some people buy the sailing equivalent of a cargo crate, but we all meet at the same barbecue pit on the beach.

8. There is always something to do on a boat. You are never, ever bored.

9. The Caribbean is high quality cruising. The Bahamas are shockingly beautiful. Who knew there are such awesome destinations so close to the States?

10. Ocean crossing is mostly about persistence. Just point the boat in the right direction, don’t hit anything for a few days, and you’re good to go.

11. Reality TV is stupid.

12. One of my favorite things about cruising is how every day is different. You never know what wrinkles will be thrown into your schedule so you might as well take off your wristwatch.

13. Don’t use pens from the desk of an Immigration officer without asking for permission first.

14. Lost in an arid, desolate land? Shipwrecked on a deserted island? Trapped in a canyon by a pack of hyenas? Never fear. They'll build a new Starbucks at your location within the week.

15. When locals point to the next island as “dangerous”, there are usually people on that island pointing back at them and saying the same thing.

16. Other yachties refer to you by your boat name (for example, if our friends on Duetto were talking about us they might say “Exit Only are brilliant mariners”). Remember this when you get the urge to name your vessel La Cucaracha.

17. There is something wonderfully mysterious about harnessing the wind to travel.

18. Always learn a few phrases in the local language. People appreciate the effort and it’s a great way to make new friends. (NOTE: be sure to know the exact meaning of your newfound phrases before you shout them across crowded rooms at sword-toting strangers)

19. Never overestimate the common sense of charter boats when it comes to anchoring. I don’t want to sound negative but you would not believe some of the stuff we’ve seen in the Caribbean. Usually the accidents happen because they don’t observe the First Rule of Doing Anything on a Boat (see #20).

20. Slow is better than fast. Disasters usually happen because someone is trying to accomplish something too fast. It's similar to operating a chainsaw in this respect.

21. It is OK to say "no, thanks" when pressured to buy something. If the vendor still refuses to acknowledge your right not to part with your hard earned cash, shout newly learned local phrases (NOTE: unless the seller has a sword...in which case, buy something from them. Preferably a shield or a larger sword).

22. On the extremely rare occasions when we’ve been pressured for a bribe, a polite “no” has worked. This seems to be the consensus opinion of most cruisers and travelers I know.

23. You find good people wherever you go.

24. God loves every single person on this planet. I know it sounds glib but this thought keeps popping into the forefront of my mind as we travel. That Maldivian lady fishing on the end of the pier? God loves her. The rich Italian punk who ripped by in a speedboat and rocked us with a huge wake? God loves him. The guy in Grenada who snuck onto our boat at night and didn’t see anything worth taking, but left muddy footprints? God loves him. The lady who smiled and gave us extra bread at the market in Sudan? God loves her. The list goes on forever. It is such a mind-blowing idea and it makes me want to treat other people better because we when you get right down to it, we‘re all the same. By the way, God loves you too.

25. Cruising isn‘t always fun. Long night watches, rough passages, boat maintenance, getting trapped on board for days of non-stop rain, living in close proximity with three other adults (two of whom are your parents), lightning storms, relatives who don’t understand, living at the mercy of the weather, frequent discomfort, traveling at speeds which make a snail on a unicycle look fast, and intermittent contact with shore-based friends are all part of the deal. But it’s worth it.

26. All ocean passages include a few hours when ice cream is the sole topic of conversation.

27. It would have been nice to have a freezer on board.

28. A good hat is worth its weight in ice cream. I lucked out and found an Australian cowboy hat with enough stiffness and brim width to serve as my personal umbrella.

29. Never trust a strange camel.

30. Every Diet Coke manufacturer uses a slightly different recipe. The flavors range from "Throat-chokingly Harsh" to "Heavenly Nectar". Always check which it is before you buy 12 cases.

31. You know how all the pictures from the 1800s and 1900s show people with serious faces? I guess photographs were too rare to waste on tomfoolery and goofy smiles. Interestingly, many eastern cultures are modern day proponents of “straight faced” photography. People are affable and smiling in conversation until I ask if I can take a photo, whereupon they straighten up and get serious.

It makes me wonder about my natural inclination to act like a goofball whenever anyone points a camera at me. At the very least I usually smile. Why? Am I trying to inject happiness into a memory that might otherwise appear bland? How many times have you seen an arguing couple on vacation stop and smile while a stranger takes their picture, then go right back to arguing? What will they remember of their trip when they look back at their photos?

32. Daily radio nets are a great way to keep morale up on the open ocean, especially if you are the one with the best fishing story.

33. Humanity has a startling history of warfare. Sometimes I felt like we were touring the world from fortress to fortress. Leading me to my next reflection ...

34. This might not be a popular point of view but I think it is worth considering: How arrogant is it that Europeans (and I include my own ancestry in this category) had the gall to land on islands populated by natives and claim them in the name of their homeland? In school I was taught that European colonial expansion was motivated by “God, gold, and glory”. They achieved these goals thanks to superior military technology (they had the guns).

Imagine if aliens from the nearby Chewbaccan galaxy landed a spaceship on South Beach (in Miami) and claimed Florida as part of the Chewbaccan Republic…never mind the high rise buildings full of Canadians … or the sun-drenched beach revelers angry about the spaceship blocking their sun…or the fact that no one wants to subjugate themselves to a Republic named after a sidekick (“We bow to no one but Han Solo!”). The aliens aren’t concerned because they have energy cannons, sonic blasters, and shields which make them impervious to anything Will Smith or Tom Cruise can do. If the Chewbaccans want Florida, we are helpless to stop them.