Lessons learned from a life at sea

Have you ever time-traveled? Well, I have. This morning. I woke up to a notification on my phone that took me back to October 20th, 2015. Two years ago. On the dot. It was a photo of Carthago, just after having sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. Two years ago today we cut the dock lines and set off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Seeing this photo, I was instantly pulled back into this very moment. I remembered perfectly the nervous excitement that filled the air, the slightly nauseous feeling of sea sickness and homesickness, wrapped into one big ball that nestled comfortably in my stomach. Without verbalizing our thoughts, we wore our feelings on our faces. “What the hell are we doing?” “Are we really doing this?” “I miss my mom already…”

The weather got heavy fast, some of the biggest seas we had seen to date, and there wasn’t anything we could do other than push aside our nagging nerves and sail. So that’s what we did. We sailed, and sailed and sailed. We went farther than we ever had, we completed our first (intentional) night passages, we dove head first into the rhythm of life at sea.

These past two years have moved slow and fast, usually at the same time. The lows have dug deeper than we ever imagined, but the highs have reached heights we didn’t know we could reach. Sure, we’ve learned to sail. We’ve learned to navigate. We’ve learned to weather the storms. But more than anything, we’ve learned about ourselves.

“For whatever we lose, like a you or a me, it’s always ourselves we find at sea.” -e.e. cummings

Lessons learned from two years off the dock:

1. Trust yourself. “Your gut knows more than you do.” I usually think of this when my lactose-intolerant stomach is angry because I’ve eaten ice cream, but it applies to more than food ;) On the boat, I am not the strongest sailor. But I’ve spent so long preaching this narrative to myself that I started believing that I was, in fact, incapable of making a decision concerning sailing. That eventually seeped into everything else. It’s an ugly place to be. You are capable of more than you think you are. Have faith in your own abilities and strengths.

2. …and trust others. You don’t know everything. Period. The second you catch yourself thinking you do, take a long hard look in the mirror. You’re looking at a liar. There is something to be said about salty sailors. Those gray hairs. They come from experience. Listen to them. Chances are, they do know more than you. As for those less salty, they come to the table with their own life experiences that are valuable, too. We all see things through a slightly different lens and bring new ideas to the table.

3. Perspective is everything. I can’t drive this lesson home enough. Everything, everything, is about perspective. Our first year as cruisers was, I’ll admit it, often times a complete disaster. We screamed, we cried, we yelled. Everything felt SO serious, so stressful, so dramatic. When something breaks, again, it feels like the end of the world. Really. Ripping your hair out would honestly feel better. Going into year two, we spent a bit more time observing said salty sailors. They got stressed, sure. But they also knew that the world wasn’t over. That shit happens and that’s just the nature of the game. Changing perspective allows you to let more things roll off your shoulders, it encourages you to laugh when you’d rather cry. Perspective has the power to change the entire mood…and in turn, an entire year at sea.

4. Your privilege does not make you entitled. To live a life that allows you to travel as we do is a privilege. Yes, we worked hard for it, yes, we made sacrifices for it, but it is still a privilege. We have spent much of the past two years in places without the same resources we are used to in the “western” world. These countries are without the same access to education, technology…electricity. The contrast can be enormous. This is where perspective also plays a role. This contrast provides an opportunity to feel gratitude, but instead, we often see fellow travelers behaving as if they are entitled because of their privileges. We are lucky to be accepted into worlds unlike our own, to get a glimpse of a different life. And that’s the key: different. People are people. Treat each other accordingly.

5. You are who you are…and not always who you think you are. Long-term travel, especially by boat, will present several, if not endless, challenging moments. Situations that put even the most even-keeled characters to the test. Things are breaking, you’re tired, your entire world is literally moving…your best and worst qualities come shining through like never before. That reality check can be hard to deal with. “What do you mean I’m not actually perfect?!” But even without the bad days, anyone who has spent time in an isolated environment (like crossing an ocean) will tell you: you have a LOT of time to reflect on who you are, who you have been and who you’d like to be.

Despite having sailed over 15,000 miles, we can safely say that sailing is not the hardest part of living the boat life. The human component is. Learning about yourself, how you navigate through life, how you weather the storms and how you ride the big waves…that’s really what you learn at sea.