Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Musings after One Year Out - Part I – Personal Growth

Our last view of our beloved Seattle skyline

Our final view of the beautiful Seattle skyline...

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how this first year has gone with all of the places we’ve seen so far.  Since leaving Seattle on September 6th, 2012, we have stayed at 92 different anchorages (or marinas) and according to our GPS trip log we have traveled 9238 nautical miles.  That’s a heck of a lot of distance at an average of 6 miles per hour!

Many people think that cruising is a permanent vacation – all playtime and fun on white sand beaches…..and while that is a part of it, I can tell you this sailing life not necessarily the “dream” we all dreamt about before leaving.  So I thought on this “anniversary” of sorts I would take the opportunity to talk about my own thoughts and personal feelings.  To discuss how I have been affected by our travels this year and how much I have changed already – maybe not in the obvious ways you would see if you know me, but changing within, where it counts.

When we first left Seattle, I was both devastated and more excited than I’ve ever been.  Leaving my family and friends behind for the complete unknown was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  Brett and I are blessed with an extensive family and a wonderful set of amazing friends that we really enjoy spending time with.  Being very social people, our first few months cruising were pretty lonely even though we were seeing and experiencing many new things.  It was much harder than we expected to meet boats going the same way at the same pace, so was tough to make friends, even when you’re outgoing!  The one reprieve was our friends on S/V Daybreak – a wonderful family whose company and humor was much appreciated and enjoyed.

Thankfully after we’d been in Mexico for a while that started to change, but it really picked up when we started to connect with the other boats that would be making the crossing to the South Pacific.  We have now forged countless friendships with boats we still see fairly often and will likely continue to see as we progress along the “coconut milk run”.  We also continue to make new friends along the way, which happily has our social calendar as full as we want to make it.

But starting out down this new road was much harder than I had expected.  Even though I really thought I was mentally ready for it, for about the first four months I experienced on-again-off-again periods of depression, missing my family and friends tremendously.  Leaving all those relationships behind was so much harder harder than I had anticipated, especially my morning walks with Susan.  Those daily doses of girlfriend time were more valuable than gold and I missed that time more than I would have thought possible.

And it’s not just the relationships you miss.  We are all creatures of comfort and we humans relish the familiar and the safety of the known.  But when you are cruising, nothing is familiar anymore – EVERYTHING is new.  You can’t just drive your car to the local Safeway or Home Depot to get what you need – and often the search for what you need will be an all day affair.  Ironically we don’t even know how comforting that is until it’s gone.  For me, this new paradigm was very difficult to adjust to – I craved the comfort of the known and felt a lot of irrational fear as a result of the overwhelming “unknown” of it all.

The final difficult part for me was the safety factor.  While we lived aboard for several years before departing (to make sure we wouldn’t kill each other in a tight space!), we did so safely tied to the dock at Elliott Bay Marina.  Big wind storm?  No problem as we were totally safe in our snug little cabin tied to the dock.  But not anymore.  Big wind storm now?  Better make sure your anchor is set, let out a little more chain and consider setting up an anchor watch.  This “home” is all you have after all and you must keep it off the rocks no matter what.  Not only that, you have to protect yourself from the possibility of someone else hitting you – which you have almost zero control over.  It’s not easy to live with that knowledge at all times – it takes many months to get used to.

The good news is that eventually you DO adapt to these changes and when you get there, you enter a much happier space – it just takes time.  Thankfully this NEW NORMAL can be pretty exciting and gives you the chance to learn a lot about yourself (good AND bad) while exploring this amazing world we live in.

One thing I have found very enlightening is realizing how I tend to apply my everyday assumptions from home to situations we’ve experienced while traveling, even though I’m in a completely new culture.  For instance, if I was approached by a stranger in Seattle and they just started talking to me and asking where I’m from or my name, I would likely treat it with healthy amount of skepticism, wondering what their “angle” might be and what they wanted from me – possibly even a little fear if it was a dark night and I was out alone.

But in fact in our travels thus far, very few people have wanted anything from us.  While it’s true that some folks are trying to sell you something as they recognize you are a tourist, the majority of them are fairly interested in just talking.  If you buy something – great – but if not, no big deal.  Overall, people have been overwhelmingly kind, respectful, interested in us and a joy to get to know when I’ve gotten past that initial gut response or assumptions.  That guy who seems to be looking at me in a menacing fashion?  After I smile at him I often get a huge smile and a shouted traditional local greeting back.  The farther into the South Pacific we’ve gone, the MORE this seems to be true.  People are very curious about our travels and talking about it has been a great way to open the door into further discussions, giving us a chance to learn more about THEIR culture.  Ironically, many of them (just like at home) think we are crazy to be traveling on our boat!

Another big adjustment for me has been learning how to let people in.  Not just emotionally, but physically too.  While we were staying at Suwarrow I had a bit of a epiphany.  If you’ve read the prior post, you’ll know that we spent a lot of time with Charlie (one of the caretakers) and that he was a big fan of the ladies.  Charlie would be very familiar – often wrapping his arm around me and leaning in very close.  It made me very uncomfortable and felt like a total invasion of my personal space.  But after discussing it with Brett, we decided it was just who Charlie is and that I should try to just go with the flow and not to worry about it.  By learning to accept his behavior, I ended up learning a lot about myself and my own preconceived notions.  We must allow ourselves to trust in the goodness of others instead of assuming the worst.   

Over time I came to understand that this closeness was just part of the way people from this area communicate and show they care – it doesn’t mean anything other than that.  I’ve learned that “islanders” love to touch and hug and express their feelings through closeness – but only when you let them in.  Believe it or not, some of them even give hugs on a scale equal to Brett!  By opening myself up to that “invasion of space” I have begun to have a much richer experience in my relationships with the people we meet.

During these recent musings it’s become very clear to me that as a human race we have far more in common than the differences that can separate us.  We are a complex and amazing race of people – continually changing and adapting to our surroundings and shifting environments.  But we all experienced pride, anger, love and the many other emotions humans have been born with.  It has been fascinating to think not only about how I have changed this past year, but more importantly about how all of these third world countries we’ve visited are adapting as they gain access to the outside world via the internet and Facebook – taking in a virtual title wave of information and deciding how they will make it a part of their “normal” world without losing who they are culturally.  Watching this change race across the globe is both exciting and intimidating.  Witnessing how the internet is creating cultural change in these islands makes me worry that soon there will be no individual culture left, even in the most remote villages.  But at the same time, it’s arrival makes it possible for me to post this blog post!  Ironic, eh?

But as we all know, progress is inevitable and so we can only bear witness to what’s happening inside of our heads and out in the population as we keep exploring new places.  Now that I have finally adapted to this new life (and ironically feel more comfortable at anchor than at the dock now!) I am filled with excitement for the adventures to come and for what I will learn as we continue our journey around the world.

Our new view most of the time...
Our view most days - incredible!

Coming soon – Part II, Advice for New Cruisers

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