I half-felt someone shake me, and for a minute I forgot where I was. As I opened my eyes, I heard Patrick whisper, “Hey man, 10 minutes and you’re on.”
It was 5:50 in the morning and the sun was about to come up. I walked through the creaking main salon in the twilight of dawn with the kerosene lights casting a warm glow through the room, and felt the boat heel to port with a little gust of wind. The smell of coffee blended with the aroma of the kerosene, an alcohol stove, and the mildew of a thousand days at sea. As I poured the coffee into my favorite mug, I looked through the porthole and was transfixed. The horizon was a brilliant orange and gold. We were 150 miles off the coast of Guatemala, and that day was the most unreal sunup I can ever recall.
Today, over 20 years later, I can still recall that feeling. The way it felt to walk on deck of the 74’ square- rigged tops’l schooner Stone Witch and take the large tiller. The breeze over my shoulder, the telltales whipping, letting me know when to adjust the sails. The feeling of accomplishment, and even more so, pride, as we moved 50 tons of canvas, wood, and steel through the water with just the wind and our sweat.
It’s true that a person does not change when they go to sea. You are still the same person you always were. The only difference is, for many, it brings out a part of you that you never knew. I have never known anyone whose life was not improved by going to sea.
For some reason unbeknownst to me, many people treat the planning of going cruising as if they were planning to die.
It’s true, just check it out. They sell their homes, say goodbye to their friends, cancel their magazine subscriptions (aagh! That hurts!) and do everything but buy a plot.
Why? They’re just going cruising, right? Your life doesn’t end when you cut the lines and say “adios” to friends and neighbors. Wherever you are heading, someone calls home. That’s why cruising is such a great way of life. You get to go out and experience what it’s like to live in all types of environments. In Polynesia, you learn to find the ripe fruits for your lunch on trees. In Greece, you can live as people have lived for many millennia. In Antarctica, you can live like a penguin if you want. But the fact still stands, no matter where you go, you are still there. With yourself.
Have you ever met anyone out cruising who is a real grump? You know, the kind of person who walks into a room looking like he smells something bad? Well, you can bet your backup bilge pump he was the same back “home.” You can’t run away from yourself. If anything, cruising introduces you to yourself. There’s nothing like a few hundred days jammed together in a vessel the size of a large storage shed, with nothing but water surrounding you, to get to know the real you.
We have all heard the tales of a married couple of 25 years or so taking off to “cruise the world” only to end up in divorce court six months later. After living together all those years, they can’t figure out what happened. For twenty-five years they saw each other four hours a day and on the occasional weekend. All of a sudden, they were forced to spend 24 hours a day together, in sometimes stressful situations. You get to know your crewmates very well, very fast.
Fortunately, the majority of people who opt for the cruising way of life do so because they are pretty mellow to begin with. In most cases, people who drop the dock lines and sail off into the sunset find that they actually like each other better once they are away from the battle of trying to exist, and start to really live.
Life is just like a cruise. It doesn’t matter how or where it ends, it’s the journey to reach the end that counts. You have to take every day for what it is. And you will notice that each day you awaken, as you cruise through the world, and through your life, you always wake up with the same person. Yourself. You don’t change once you leave. The little things that annoyed you when you were at home will still annoy you. The little thrills you get are the same underway, only better. The big difference is the joy you get from the small things you never had time to notice. For every cruiser, it’s something else. For me, it will always be that feeling I first encountered at 5:50 a.m., March 27, 1978, aboard the Stone Witch. Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.
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Bob’s “Attitude” articles first appeared in Latitude and Attitudes magazine and can also be found in either The Sailing Life or Starboard Attitude books.