Our friend and new Attainable Adventure Cruising author Mick O’Flanagan knocked it out of the park with his post on going cruising on US$15,000 a year, including the boat—one of the most read posts in the history of this site. And no wonder, it’s a lovely story beautifully told.
I think the appeal of Mick’s piece is that it gives so many readers a real hope that they can attain the cruising life in a world of shrinking opportunity, particularly for younger people, who were not born, as I was, into what I firmly believe is the luckiest generation in history: boomers.
So for those of you who have had the voyaging flame kindled by Mick’s post and are now thinking about how to get out there, what’s the next step?
- Make a budget that includes hefty savings?
- Start saving like a fiend, and in the process learn to live on less?
- Hone the skills that you will need to be a voyager?
- Start looking at boats?
You Are More Important Than The Boat
While all of those things are important, I would argue that the very first step on your road to voyaging freedom should be a long hard look in the mirror:
- Who are you, really?
- What will really make you happy and content?
- What are your true capabilities?
- How fearful (anxious) are you?
- What are you naturally good at?
- What are your weaknesses?
- What is your capacity to deal with discomfort?
- Can you still enjoy life while you are uncomfortable?
And, once you have done all that, an even harder step: If you have a spouse who will go with you, encourage him or her to go through the same process.
And then, harder still, sit down and discuss those answers, and think about how they will mesh together in a small space, particularly if you are under stress or scared. And if you go cruising you will be both of these more often than you think…at least if you are anything like Phyllis and me.
Take Your Time
Really take your time over this process. I’m talking weeks here…maybe months…not days. And for heaven’s sake be honest and realistic with yourself and each other (if part of a couple) because, if you delude yourself, I can near-guarantee you that you won’t be a happy voyager and further that, if you are a couple, cruising might cost you your relationship.
Once you have all that together, you can start using your, or your combined, self-analysis to decide what kind of boat and voyaging you aspire to.
Obviously, I can’t tell you what you should do…I don’t even know you. And even if I did, this should be a deeply personal process that only you can do well.
However, what I can do is give you an example of the process by writing about whether or not Phyllis and I could cruise like Mick and Bee, and in that process examine some of the things that all of us need to think about.
In my younger days I was reasonably good at putting up with discomfort and even having fun while uncomfortable—a required ability if you are going to ocean race, or spend as much time cruising the Arctic in an open cockpit boat as I have, or get as seasick as I do—but as I get older, not so much. And Phyllis has a lower discomfort tolerance than I do, particularly to motion and noise, and she also finds it very difficult to smell the roses when assaulted by those inputs.
A quick aside, if you have not experienced high winds and seas when offshore, particularly when the resulting over-stimulus of senses goes on for more than a few hours, you simply can’t imagine how hard it is to not fervently wish to be somewhere else and have that wish become the very core of your existence while in those conditions. So, as part of this process, if you have not already done so, you should go sailing offshore.
On the other hand, Mick and Bee have the ability (often exhibited by those from the British Isles and Ireland) to absorb discomfort and even glory in it. And make no mistake, sailing the way they do gives them plenty of opportunity to exercise that talent!
For example, what Phyllis and I spend on clothing to remain comfortable, particularly in cold weather up north, would blow their budget to smithereens. (Mick and Bee make do with cheap fishermen’s non-breathing foul weather gear and old clothes. And they only just discovered that sea boots and wool socks are more comfortable than Crocs and bare feet—see, seriously tough.)
And our lower tolerance for discomfort also means that we are fundamentally unsuited to sailing a slow boat like Hannah—the slower your boat is, the longer the discomfort will go on for, and the more likely you are to hit uncomfortable weather in the first place.
For example, it recently took Mick and Bee four days, much of it uncomfortable, to sail from our Base Camp in Nova Scotia to Maine, a trip we typically knock off in 36 hours in one easy weather-window, even late or early in the season. (Of course, it doesn’t always work that way!)
It’s romantic and undeniably sane to approach passages with Mick and Bee’s (or Lin and Larry Pardey’s) fatalistic approach of “what’s the hurry”, but we all need to be honest with ourselves about whether or not we are actually suited to that way of voyaging. Phyllis and I are not.
I have met few people in my life who have Mick and Bee’s ability to live with uncertainty. To set happily off on a voyage with no clear idea of how long it will take or what weather they will encounter.
And I truly wish I was better at this than I am. But the fact is that, although I’m reasonably good at reacting well to the unexpected—you don’t skipper as many passages to the Arctic as I have without that capability—to be happy and content I need to have a plan that I can have reasonable confidence in, and Phyllis is the same.
While I think that being able to enjoy life while embracing, not just tolerating, uncertainty is something we should all aspire to and work at, realistically, very few of us can do it well and consistently. And if you pick a boat and cruising style that requires this ability, and don’t in fact have it (both of you), you will be miserable.
Physical Strength and Endurance
Mick alluded to how tough Hannah is to sail, but if you have not sailed a gaffer like her, you simply have no idea the level he is talking about. What makes it work for them is that, while Mick is strong, Bee is a paragon. She was a competitive triathlete and has the strength and endurance to crank that manual windlass in situations when flagging will result in the loss of the boat. Or hoist that massively heavy mainsail and gaff with a halyard in each hand (yes, it takes two halyards).
I, on the other hand, was a skinny, sickly, child and, while I work hard to stay fit, that situation has not got better with age and the injuries I have subjected my body to. And Phyllis has her own stuff, including injury-prone shoulder joints.
Bottomline, we are simply not strong enough to sail Hannah safely and, even if we were, we don’t have the endurance that a slow boat requires because you will simply be in tough situations longer and more often.
We all want to be rough and tough but, if we overestimate our physical strength and even more importantly our endurance when choosing a boat and how we will sail her, not only will it not be fun, it could end very badly—exhaustion is the biggest reason boats are abandoned.
Mick and Bee are two of the bravest people I know. No, I’m not taking about the kind of bravery you need to perform well in a storm at sea, although I’m sure they have that kind too, but the bravery you need to voluntarily live life on the financial edge.
The bravery to:
- Sail a difficult-to-manoeuvre boat to hazardous places uninsured (other than third party). That’s right, if Mick and Bee wreck Hannah, they lose everything: boat, savings, and home.
- Live without health insurance in countries that are not their own.
Phyllis and I are simply not brave enough to live under those circumstances and without the security that a Base Camp on land, a steady job (thank you members), and an investment portfolio confers—we would simply worry ourselves sick.
An aside here, but an important one: Mick and Bee are UK citizens.
- Mick just started receiving his pension, which, while modest, is, I believe, indexed to inflation and guaranteed for life.
- And I assume Bee will eventually receive the same.
- The UK has universal health care, so all they need to do in the event of a health problem is crawl across the border—not a trivial requirement, but still a comfort.
These facts make many of their lifestyle choices far more sensible than they would be for those from countries with a less all-encompassing safety net—Mick and Bee are brave but they are not fools.
We all want to think of ourselves as brave but, in reality, many of us aren’t very. Don’t set yourself up for continuing anxiety by buying a boat and taking on a life that is beyond your intrinsic courage.
But Challenge Yourself
OK, all of that was pretty gloomy with lots of focus on limitations, and could be read as me trying to discourage you from pursuing your dreams.
Not a bit of it. I urge you to do as Phyllis and I have with our Arctic cruises, and do your utmost to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. Just make sure you take on those challenges from a firm foundation of understanding of your own capabilities and don’t fool yourself by taking on someone else’s.
It’s All About You
And, carrying on from that thought, don’t let my answers to the above questions influence you. I only discussed them to illustrate the process. You may be way tougher than Phyllis and me. Heck, you may be way tougher than Mick and Bee! Just make sure that you mindfully decide where you stand on the continuum, and don’t just drift into a boat and/or a way of cruising that is not yours but is, in fact, someone else’s.
If you are a couple and, on examining your place on what I might call the toughness scale, you find that one of you is a lot tougher than the other, buy your boat and plan your cruise to make the less-tough person at least fairly comfortable. If you lean the other way, it will end badly—I’m going to guess it’s the most common cause of broken cruising dreams.
- Lots more that will help you get out there in our new Online Book Getting Out There Cruising (includes free introductory chapter).
- For a better idea of what it’s really like to cruise a boat like Hannah to remote and difficult places, have a read of North and South…or nobody can hear you scream in Labrador…
- And if you really want to know what a wimp I am, and how I cope with that, read Taming The Wimp Within.