Mid-Life Cruising Sabbatical

Chapter 2

Deciding To Go


OK, maybe you are asking yourself "How did they decide to 'do it'; to actually drop out and go?"

I don't know where we first got the idea. Certainly Jim had been thinking about it for a long time. The idea must have been there when he had bought "Down Time" two years earlier. Not many people buy a 40 footer just to sail weekends on Lake Erie (we were the biggest boat in our marina there). Jim had even discussed with his boss in Cleveland the possibility of taking a few months off to go cruising. His boss, an old sailor himself, thought they could work something out. However Jim was transferred to Boston and a new boss before that.

We both had been in the Bahamas on "Down Time" (Christmas 89). Jim had been to the Bahamas for two weeks when he first bought "Down Time". Jim had also bareboated in the Virgins and vacationed on St. Martin and Martinique. Diane had lived in California and Arizona and had vacationed in Hawaii, so the warm weather certainly appealed to her.

If we had to pick one moment when the spark finally ignited it would be at the Boston boat show in January 1990 when we bought a little book called "A Gentleman's Guide To Passages South", by Bruce Van Sant. While I'll take issue later with some specifics in this book, it was the philosophy that intrigued us. Here was a book that explained how, given enough time, you could sail from Florida to South America without long ocean passages and in comfort. Boy did that sound nice! I bet I read that book five times and dreamed through every reading. We took it with us and it fell completely apart on the trip. So I guess you know the advice: go buy a copy. But a warning: It will ruin you!

Speaking of books and things. If you are not already a member you should join the Seven Seas Cruising Association. It costs about $30 per year and you'll get a bulletin once a month that has all sorts of cruising stories from around the world.

How do you know if you'll like this long distance cruising stuff? Well, unfortunately the only real way to find out is to do it.

The first thing to remember is that you are not sailing, you are cruising. As someone of you wrote me it's like RVing on water. That's exactly what it is! You will spend 5% of your time sailing and 95% anchored or docked somewhere. The boat is your transportation and house; just like an RV.

Some of you must be saying, "Well, we could do some bareboating. Wouldn't that tell us if we would like it?" Let's look at this. Suppose you go to the Virgins for a week or two of bareboating. If you like it, well and fine. However you did not have to deal with boat maintenance, you did not have to do laundry or shop for groceries (the boat was provisioned), you ate in restaurants a lot more than you would on a cruise, you had no worries about fuel or water. If you didn't like it, it might be because the boat was a wreck and you had nothing but problems with the charter company. About all you will know for sure is whether or not you liked the Virgins.

I certainly would recommend that everyone do some bareboating before the big cruise. Just be realistic about what it will tell you. Bareboating is a vacation. Cruising is a way of life.

Now a story:

We met a couple we'll call Tom and Nina. Tom had some sailing experience and had THE DREAM. Nina had no sailing experience but she loved Tom and was willing to go. They lived in Vancouver and Tom had taken early retirement. Nina said, "Tom, you go to Ft. Lauderdale and pick out the boat and buy it. I won't be any help because I know nothing about boats. I'll tidy our affairs up here and join you later".

So off Tom goes to Ft. Lauderdale and buys a Tayana 37 (nice cruising boat). Nina arrives and Tom says, "Nina, let's give our new boat a little sail." Nina says, "No Tom, I know you have this dream and I don't want to spoil it. The first time I'm going to sail on our boat is the day we leave on the big cruise. That way, I have to like it".

Now that's guts! By the way, this was in 1990 and they cruised at least as long as we did. They have had more than their shared of problems too: Dismasted in 1991 and washed ashore in the recent hurricane in St. Martin.

The single most important factor for a successful cruise is realistic and shared expectations between the two of you. That doesn't mean they have to be identical but they do have to be compatible. Sit down and talk about why you are doing this and what you expect. You'll know if you should do this. We met quite a few people who didn't do this and one of each couple jumped ship and went back home.

Another story:

This time they are John and Pat. John and Pat live in New England where John worked two jobs and never had enough time for their two children or his boat. His expectation was that the cruise would give him 100% of his time to be on his boat. Her expectation was that they would spend time as a family. See what I mean?

Another thing you should consider is the amount of time you will spend together. Can you spend 24 hours a day, day after day with your significant other? Can you do it in a space smaller than a Tokyo apartment (Even a huge boat would not have more than 300 square feet of space.) Many of our friends say they could never do that. Something to think about.

Almost certainly, one of you will be keener than the other to do this.

It is very important for the keener of you to make allowances so the other person has a good time too. Many times we saw couples (particularly older ones who had been sailing a long time) where he was the captain and she just a passenger. Sure sign of disaster. If both of you aren't interested enough to learn how to sail, anchor, and navigate; it's going to be a disaster.

As you can guess, Jim was the keen one in our couple. Here are some things we did to accommodate Diane's expectations:

1. She took a week-long sailing course for women only. More about this in a later article.

2. We made storage allowances to take her needlework supplies.

3. She got SCUBA certified. Jim already was. More on this later.

4. We paid a lot of attention to the galley since Diane planned to further her cooking interests on the trip.

Mostly we will be talking about couples (one male, one female) in these articles and that's certainly the majority of what you see doing this type of trip. We also met solo (male and female) sailors, gay couples and families. In the family case the children tended to be pre-teenagers. Those of you with teenagers know what their idea of spending more time with mom and dad and away from their friends would be!

So now back to the actual decision to DO IT. "Down Time" is living in a marina in Miami (another story for later); we are in Boston. We've read and re-read Van Sant's book. Jim and his boss are not getting along. Finally in April Jim's boss says he can do without Jim's services. Diane knows she won't be far behind.

That makes the decision easier. We don't have to quit our jobs!

We were also extremely fortunate financially. We had NO debt: no house payment, no car payment, no credit card balances. Although Jim had two children, their college education had been assured through prior investments. Jim had inherited some money the end of 1989 and that along with his severance was enough to do the deed.

We figured it would take us the rest of 1990 to get ourselves and the boat ready to go. We could afford to be gone 15 months (How this stretched to 31 is a later article.) and still have 6 months when we got back to find jobs. THE DECISION WAS MADE. We put our stuff in storage, let our apartments go, and moved to Miami and onto the boat.

Now I should jump to the end of the story just to set your mind at rest. We left our jobs in 1990 and returned from our sabbatical in October 1993. We were unemployed for more than three years. Diane was working within two weeks of our return. Jim was working by the end of the year. We did not return to traditional jobs (more on that later). We have a consulting practice and more business than we can handle. We are now ages 48 and 44. Our plans are to work hard for a few years and save enough money to go cruising forever!

OK, I promise the next article will be more "boaty" for those of you who are looking for that.

Feedback always welcome.

Stay tuned!

Jim & Diane

Send comments to: jkbarrentine@earthlink.net


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