Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Five Year Anniversary: Thoughts, Reflections and Confessions

Five years ago yesterday we untied the dock lines from our slip in Chicago and changed the course of our lives forever. If Facebook hadn't gently reminded me that "Here's a memory from five years ago!" and showed me the above picture, I absolutely wouldn't have remembered it (I mean, I can barely remember my own wedding anniversary), and I wouldn't have spent a large part of the day reminiscing and reflecting on all that has happened. I shared the picture to our Windtraveler Page with this caption:
This was the day we departed Chicago, 5 years ago. We sailed through the Great Lakes, across the Erie canal, down the Hudson River, down the East Coast, to the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, DR, PR and all through the windwards and leewards to Trinidad. It wasn't always pretty or easy (and more times than I'd like to admit we wanted to throw in the towel on the lifestyle and each other) but it was definitely an adventure!
Two boats, over a dozen countries, fifteen thousand nautical miles, three daughters, countless 'wins', an equal number of mistakes and zero regrets. 

When I look at this picture, I am struck by several things. First, how utterly naive we were when we left. I mean, we did not have a CLUE. When we think back and talk about those days, both Scott and I shake our heads in disbelief at how ill-prepared we were and thank our lucky stars that we didn't get ourselves killed. Which tells you a little something about boats (they are stronger than we are), common sense (a little goes a long way), and luck (it was on our side). We made so many mistakes...We sailed right into a terrible storm (still to date our worst yet), ran into a rock in the Erie Canal (it's truly a miracle we didn't sink our boat), took on water (thank God it was fresh) which, subsequently, killed our transmission (hooray for warranties!) And that was all within the first month of our leaving! We had never, ever anchored. We'd never even heard of a GRIB file, hadn't really communicated via VHF before and - aside from one little shakedown sail across the lake - had never sailed over night. I will say this, though, those first six months - as steep of a learning curve as they were - were among the best, most exciting months we've had. The world was our oyster, and everything felt thrilling and new. It was, in hindsight, a pretty magical time. We took baby steps the entire way, and that is a large part of the reason we are still here.

The other thing that strikes me when I look at this photo, is how different our initial agenda was from what has become our reality. We all know that 'plans' are subject to change - particularly for those of us who have the luxury to live on boats with no real agenda other than that which our vessels and Mother Nature dictate... but it's funny how quickly - and drastically - ours changed. Our journey went from being a "3-5 year circumnavigation" to becoming an open-ended semi-nomadic life in the Caribbean. Why? The obvious answer lies in our blissful naivetĂ©, we literally had no idea what, exactly, a circumnavigation entailed and, frankly, we decided that maybe we didn't need to circle the globe to be content (we reserve the right to do this later when our girls are older!) The other answers are tied up in getting work to fill the cruising kitty, taking six to thirteen month shore-side breaks to have babies and getting a bigger boat to accommodate this rapid crew expansion. The other day I ran into a friend from our Chicago sailing days and she said, "Hey! You guys were going to sail around the world, right?" and I laughed and replied, "Yeah, well...we didn't get very far!" But what we didn't cover in nautical miles, we covered in life (three of them, to be exact) and those little girls are our greatest accomplishments. Our's is more of an evolution to a life less ordinary than a journey "from point A to point B," and I'm cool with that.

I'm also struck by how much we have changed both as individuals and as a couple.  There's been a lot of laughter and a lot of tears. There's been some serious soul searching and many, many questions. The emotional roller coaster that is life on a boat has been as diverse as the winds and seas we've sailed in. When we left, Scott and I were newlyweds - and now, after spending almost all of our married years together 24/7 on a (relatively) small sailboat we're... not. There are land-based couples who don't spend as much time together as we have in five years in twenty-five years and that is really something. That much togetherness is intense and, to be honest, it's been pretty detrimental to our relationship at times. In fact, I'm not sure that kind of excessive togetherness is healthy for most couples (sure, there are the "unicorn" pairs for whom this sort of situation is 'easy' but that is not us) and I have many friends that tell me there is no way they'd survive day in and day out with their spouse. We are still very much trying to navigate the ocean that is wedlock and it is challenging to say the least, particularly on a boat. We've learned a lot about ourselves and each other, and it's not always pretty. But we ride the waves; learning, loving, stumbling and growing - trying to stay afloat both literally and figuratively. Some days are easier than others, just like cruising.

We've sailed a bunch of miles, traveled to some amazing places, and done things that most people will only dream of - but, at the risk of sounding mega corny - these things are very much secondary to the journeys that have taken place within. Among other things, we have found our passions on the sea; I have found a voice on this blog and now know my calling is to write and share; Scott got his 200-ton captain's license and has found his life's work on the ocean. We have grown from wide-eyed wanderers to lightly-seasoned cruisers who have decided to make a life afloat, at least for now...

I think that's what strikes me the most about this picture: the fact that we had no idea what was ahead. If you would have told me five years ago all that I have just wrote, I don't know that I would have believed you. I look at this picture and feel hope, excitement, and wonder. I can put myself back in that precise moment five years ago like it was yesterday; the nerves, the butterflies, the giddy excitement, the awe...I can feel the (unusually) warm fall air, hear the gentle rumble of our engine, recall exactly what I was wearing (my SLAM long underwear and Patagonia pants, no shoes) and summon the surreal feeling of being hyper-aware of how lucky we were, of being totally cognizant of a mega paradigm shift and knowing full-well that nothing would ever be the same from that moment forward. I was totally present and grateful. 

And that, right there, is the beauty of the endless horizon. You might know exactly where you've been, but you never know exactly where you are going.

11 comments:

Sara - Illusion said...

Oh what a great post! I am reading this while walking round our Vancouver neighborhood getting my little lad to sleep and marveling at how it resonates :) Thanks for your honesty in sharing the real stuff. Always enjoy your posts, but this is a favourite! Congratulations on your five year anniversary!! Woo hoo!! May the adventures and growth continue.... X

EandL Schwiebert said...

Wow, five years! When we bought Gratitude, we said we would be fortunate to sail for 10 years. We are about to begin season #8. Will we have the full 10? Will we have more than 10? Who knows, but we will enjoy the time we do have. Your blogs capture so much of the cruising life -- and so much of life in general. We love your writing, your sense of humor, your honesty, and your story(ies). Keep it up and be the encouraging folks you may not have set out to be! (Oh, and let Scott know that I really would love a diesel post!)

Lindsay Dugan said...

Such a wonderful post! The things you said that you didn't know or had never done (specifically not anchoring) before starting out make me remember to not wait until everything is perfect before trying something new! Just try it!

Cheryl Geeting said...

Great post that gets me excited about our future. Hopefully we'll be as lucky as you were, because we're definitely as inexperienced as you were .. probably more! We've been working a long time to leave, and actually are getting close. Your posts inspires me, as we long for the unexpected. As you said, looking back you had no idea how much you'd accomplish and how much your life would change .. we're looking for that unknown. We've been together for 33 years(since high school) and we're not even 50 yet! We're ready for a new chapter together and to learn even more about ourselves and each other. Believe me, even after 33 years together we still learn new things about ourselves and each other!

Congratulations and sincerely wish you, Scott and the girls a truly amazing next 5 years .. and more!

Chris on S/V Radio Waves said...

Wow! Great post and good timing for us as we sit here in Cape May, NJ (after only being out for 1 1/2 months) worrying about weather and potential hurricane Joaquin heading into the Chesapeake (where we are headed) and questioning why we are doing this and will the highs really end up outweighing the lows. Your post gives me hope that they will! Thank you.

David and Rosellen said...

Brittany, Thank you for sharing your experiences. We hope to catch up with you and your family some day and share more stories.

Tracy said...

That was one heck of a post!

Best of luck to you and your family.

Lisa Hanneman said...

Hell of a post. It really feels like yesterday, but WOW it's been quite the exciting five years. Love you guys.

blueturtle said...

Love this post! I can definitely relate to the utter cluelessness of the first year of living aboard as well as the 24/7 togetherness with your spouse. My fiancĂ© and I have been living aboard for 3 years in southwest Florida. There have have highs and lows and times we wanted to kill each other, but we have no regrets. It makes us (and his son) a closer family than most and the times we've spent together causing on Blue Turtle have been precious. You are our hero's — we so want to cruise the caribbean for an extended (open-ended) time but for now must 'live the dream' in Florida.

Kim and Randy
m/v Blue Turtle
www.blueturtletrawler.com

Breezy Delaney said...

I smiled, sighed, and maybe even got a little misty at the many truths I can relate to here. I'm so grateful you found your calling as a sharer of stories -- it is so enjoyable for the rest of us!

mudmaven said...

Thank you so much for this post! Hubby and I are getting ready to embark on a sailing journey this winter. We moved our boat down the ICW this summer from MA to FL and this year hope to head out after Christmas and just sail for a while. I was terrified of the ICW trip but I learned so much and resolved so many of those fears. We are much older than you guys (retired for several years now), but I think that the wisdom in your post has helped me to feel so much more positive about what we are doing! Thank you for that!

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