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 naiveté, 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.