Why We Cruise…Finding Our Motivation, Charting a Course…

Over a year has passed since we embarked on the Grand Adventure – travelling in our own vessel down the coast from Vancouver, Canada to La Paz, Baja California Sur – with only a few stops in between.

The planning and learning that went into accomplishing this task had technically started the year before, but in reality everything we have done as a cruising couple in the past 35 years had led us to this journey. Dreamers and Doers ( Nordhavn’s terms for future and present owners and adventurers) have provided a lot of the inspiration and knowledge that has helped us on our way.

I often think about those Doers – we started reading blogs ( my husband ) and books ( me ) about other couples and individuals who have decided to live the dream. Everyone has a common theme, of course – the boat, (I include all boats, big, small, sail, power… without prejudice, however you make your way through the water you are all the same)…the ocean, the people…. and to a certain extent, the destination. It’s the destination that intrigues me, the destination and the – for lack of a better word, I’m sure there’s one out there – the TYPE of cruising…the motivation.

To preface, we are on the fence,(what’s the nautical version? perched on a pier?)  having made it down here and realizing hey, it’s not that bad, we survived ! Upon looking around us,  I find we are one of many. Although in reality, it’s a small handful compared to the  number of boats that ply the waters up and down the coast ( or sadly, sit at rest deserted and lonely and forgotten but that’s another story)

I remind myself that what we did, and what our friends and companions did, should not be dismissed or taken lightly. Yes, it was fun, and sometimes scary, and always exhilarating, but pre-planning and a lot of work on the boat before-hand lessened the chances of making it crazy dangerous ..(although there is always the element of chance and bad luck and such… and just the fickleness of mother nature and the ocean gods).

Now Northern Ranger  sits in a beautiful protected marina, Costa Baja, where guards in white uniforms stand by locked gates and the pool and bar beckon us after a long hard day of working on the boat.

We have explored only as far as Loreto, as boat issues ( alternators??? anyone???) and weather ( yes, it blows… literally) have kept us from heading as far north as we would like. Also, we aren’t at that level of retirement that allows us to just come down for months at a time. We have to pick and choose and hope things work out on the boat and back home. So from our perch on the pier, we are asking ourselves… “what next? which way do we go??”

We talk to other cruisers, ones who have made it down here from San Diego or San Francisco or even Canada – and they have become the permanent fixtures. Six months here, six months at home – or even less – moving from south to north, but ending up back in La Paz – or Puerto Escondido, or Guaymas…exploring, hanging out, relaxing, enjoying… this is what we were warned about.

“If you go to the Sea of Cortez, you may never get out!” (kind of like the people who told us “if you drive down to La Paz you will DIE!!!” That’s helpful..) The Sea of Cortez does indeed suck you in.  NOT that there’s anything wrong with that!  As far as we have seen, La Paz and Loreto are fabulous towns, and the land is breathtaking. 

And this is when I start thinking about the type of cruising we want to do in the future.

Some boating  friends are working to get their boats ship-shape so they can point their bows south, and then ultimately WEST… onto the Marquesas, full speed ahead.. and into the South Pacific. Totally do-able, after a long slow slog through the ocean and hopefully calm seas. At least four? boats of our make and size have circumnavigated, some of them numerous times.

That would be what I would call the adventurer cruise. With some cultural aspects and of course paradise thrown in ( after all, the South Sea has lured sailors into her waters for centuries!)

Other cruisers just want to hang in paradise – maybe move from anchorage to anchorage or visit small towns along the way – a bit of discovery, a bit of culture, a lot of hanging around enjoying sun, sand, snorkelling, and not a few margaritas.. you don’t have to go far to find happiness. The Sea of Cortez provides this and then some! You put down roots, or become a barnacle, firmly attached to your dock or your favourite spot.. a bit like Cheers, it’s always nice when everybody knows your name, and you know where to find the best margaritas and fish tacos.

Other cruisers are all about the cultures. They cruise just to get to another town, another country, another continent – boating is a means to an end, checking out our good earth’s varied and wonderful spaces and places, fulfilling a dream that probably started when they  cracked open their first National Geographic and saw Machu Pichu or the Panama Canal. Never in one place for very long, they head out into the great unknown and usually emerge relatively unscathed with a ton of great stories to tell ( usually, not always. Never underestimate the power of the sea!)

We start to question what it is about cruising that fulfills us – would we be happy to be one of the barnacles? are we up to a 15 or 20 day or even longer trip across an ocean where the chance of seeing or even talking to another human being is slim and negligable? 

What countries DO we want to see ? do we want to go south? north? east? west? 

There are variables at work that need to be explored. One is, of course and unfortunately, or fortunately, maybe, our age.

Old enough to be thinking about retirement in the near future, and young enough to see that with the grace of God and good living and luck ( always that luck thing) we have another ten years perhaps where grand adventures are possible… after that I’m planning on spending my cruising dotage in Alaska. Totally excited about that chapter in our life!

I met a gentleman who had come down in his sailboat, with a friend, on the Bahahaha this past year. His wife flew in to meet him, and I chatted with  her by the pool almost every day. He was 70 or maybe 71… and his plan was to sail around the world.  She was not going. I was impressed, and curious.. the trip down from San Diego had not been without its difficulties, and the boat seemed to still have a  few issues, but here he was, with plans to point  her West and take off. Sometimes with crew, sometimes without. If he could even conceive of doing that, then Lawrence and I, at 61, had lots of adventure time left in us! (fingers crossed)

but would that include navigating  oceans? One of us is willing to explore the idea of taking  the plunge, the other is reserving judgement and being more thoughtful about it. I won’t tell you which is which.

Another variable is family. A common reality amongst cruisers is grandchildren. When they come along, one or both cruisers suddenly wants to stay home more, to be more present for the third generation.  Aging parents can be included in this equation too. It is something that is at the back of my mind, as we don’t have grandkids yet but we do have a set of parents who are at this point still living on their own and enjoying life. Dare I say I’d like that to go on forever but know that it can’t… what happens when you are somewhere in the middle of nowhere and the unthinkable happens? 

It’s not a reason not to travel, just as grandkids aren’t ( I say that now.. hahahah) but it’s something to consider.

I love reading the blog or the book that starts with “we sold our house, and everything in it, and took off for parts unknown”… well, we sold the house, yes, but everything in it still resides with us, in storage and in our rental. Our permanent house will be up in the interior on Horse Lake, where the retirement plan is to relocate up there for the summer and travel south in the winter. That’s the general plan… we haven’t cut loose yet, there are “grown kids” still boomeranging in and out, going to college, etc… but those ties have to be severed and we need to grit our teeth and just do it. Having kids makes the “just do it” part very hard. Sans enfants, couples can drop everything and go – enviable, I guess, but I wouldn’t give up the family. So another variable in the grand plan to get away.

And friends.. I think that may be another cruising style.. your boat becomes the floating hotel allowing  you to entertain and spend time with  your friends, and family,  in far-away beautiful places. Planning trips becomes an exercise in scheduling, where A and B will fly to city C and get picked up , cruise for D weeks, then be dropped off at E, whereby you pick up F and G and go back to C. 

We don’t do schedules well. And going back to luck and mother nature… and alternators… boats really don’t like schedules either. But if that is your style, then you make it work. I enjoy having people on board, immensely – but as it was pointed out by another cruiser in regards to boat guests, you can choose your destination, or you can choose your timing, but you can’t choose both. And schedules are written in sand at low tide.

Speaking of friends, that is the other consideration. We have been fortunate over the years to have wonderful boating  partners, people who shared our passion for exploration, adventure, and yes, great food and wine… only at anchor, of course.

Our flotilla down the coast to Mexico, new friends and old, have made adventuring even more enjoyable. Over the past few years, we have circumnavigated Vancouver Island to practice our “offshore” navigation skills, cruised up north to get a feel for more open ocean, and finally headed south together for the ultimate adventure. Now we are all on the cusp of taking off in different directions, wherever and whenever.

A common theme in books and blogs has been the friendships. I love how the word friendship has the word ship in it. So appropriate! Boats meet up with other boats, spend time together, and then “sail off into the sunset”, each heading their separate ways – to meet again maybe in a month, a year, or several years – or perhaps never.  Now that our little gang of pirates is starting to make individual plans, watching them  finalize  plans to head off to new horizons will be really hard. Knowing exactly what we want out of cruising would make it easier, but because we still have that “perched on the pier” thing going on, seems to me it would be awfully simple to tip one way or another based on what others are doing. And my personality type encourages me to whine about being left behind. Wait for me!  wait for me!!! ( I do that all the time, we are after all the slowest boat in the fleet!)

So to recap: what kind of cruisers are we? Do we want to find somewhere beautiful, warm, safe, friendly, and just stay there?

Are we into travelling, taking Northern Ranger into uncharted new waters and go where our rudder and our compass lead us?

Super-adventurers, crossing oceans just to get to the other side? 

Do we have a master plan, a place we want to see, a country or a culture that beckons us ( oh the Mediterranean! Venice! Dubrovnik! some perfect island in Greece!)

As our friends head out, do we want to go exploring with them, share their  adventure as we have done in the past? 

Just today, I read an article about planning for the future, what you should be looking at when you decide what to do – as a society, we  have always assumed the ultimate goal is to find happiness, but the latest research indicates that we need to find meaning. I guess this plays a role in our decision too – we can find happiness hanging at anchor in the absolutely stunning bay on Isla San Francisco ( it is paradise. It really is!)… but is it meaningful?  Wow, one more variable to take into consideration. I have friends ( not boaters) who have retired part time  to the mainland coast of Mexico, and this past year has seen them releasing turtles ( I wanna go too!!!) and helping out in a local school ( that sounds like fun!) In my mind, they are finding meaning in their decision to pursue happiness in Mexico. Works for me!

So what exactly will we do along the way?  we ask ourselves that question a lot. Another saying out there is “ cruising is all about fixing your boat in exotic places.”  Yes, necessity may guide you towards that end. But there are other things to do, right? I love to cook and discover the cuisine of the country I am in. I also like to paint, and to take pictures, and to write and to read. Swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, fishing…  Boat chores would have to take a back seat to doing these things! 

Exploring, visiting, learning a language ( to the point I can ask for directions, another fish taco,  and where’s the nearest bathroom)… and yes, maybe volunteering somehow in the country we have chosen to visit. 

As I write this, I am staring into the eyes of my orange tabby cat Philadelphia.. originally our son’s cat but somehow welded to me. And my dog Kona is fast asleep snoring at my feet, half blind, mostly deaf, but still a trooper when it comes to walks and food… 

the elephants in the room! How can we do all this, with pets. 

Kona used to be a boating dog, but as he aged, he became much less so and never did learn to do his business on the boat. Philly is relatively young, and perhaps capable of making the transition. I read about and talk to boaters with pets, who travel across oceans and do it with cats, dogs, and both. I love my animals, so… an issue to deal with when the time comes.

And finally  – there’s another way to realize your dream. Somehow it seems a bit of a cheat, but if it means you accomplish what your heart desires, then to me it is totally acceptable.

To put your boat on a ship, and send her across the ocean, to have her dropped (gently) (please) into the very waters of your cruising dreams, seems an alternative that bears discussion. Who knows! 

Meanwhile, we put away Christmas, clean up after the holiday, grumble about how cold it is outside ( longest cold snap in 30 years… I used to love winter…) and hope that we can get back to the boat sometime this spring, for one more journey of exploration before we have to lock her up and put her away for the summer.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that – come summer, we switch modes and become lake fishermen and camper people! And maybe even, dare I say, fully retired~ 

I woke up this morning and thought of how to end this properly..

dare to DREAM, and commit to DOING! 

(while the snow melts and the rain comes down in buckets and I wonder why we came back!!)