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Reflections on our First Year of Cruising

It has been a long 12 months.

Exactly a year ago today we left San Diego on our 36’ Hans Christian cutter-rigged sloop.  <--------It sounds so fancy to say it that way. A year later here we are in La Paz, Mexico and I annotate the following stats:

Number of years owning the boat: 8

Number of years living aboard: 7

Number of years cruising: 1

Number of nautical miles I’ve traveled by boat since 2005: 1,500nm (This is my own estimate; Eric has far more experience on the water.)

Number of children who have only ever known living on a boat: 2

Pulling out of our slip at Sun Harbor Marina for our fated sail to Two Harbors.

Things I’ve learned so far? Our “shake-down” cruise to Catalina was a joke. I mean, sure, we were all serious and gung-ho and really thought we’d accomplished something by sailing to a place we had been to many times in the past and kicking it there for two months, but let’s be honest, the real shake-down has been this past year in Mexico. I need to go back and re-tag everything on the blog and make sure that Mexico is listed as our shake-down cruise, because this is where the learning has happened, which just spirals deeper into the acknowledgment that maybe EVERYTHING is a shake-down cruise because you just never stop learning.

I feel like our experience in Mexico has been made richer for two reasons: one, I speak Spanish and Eric has made a huge improvement to his own Spanish as well.  Two, we make friends with the locals. I’m flabbergasted by how many sailors simply make no effort to learn or speak Spanish. There are people who have lived here for YEARS, who are retired and living in Mexico, and cannot speak the language and have no intention of learning it.

We have been invited to dinners, birthdays, cultural celebrations, and people’s homes because we’ve invested in speaking the language here and learning about a new culture. I’m lucky that I also speak French and I’ve already started to grill Eric on basic, important verbs and vocabulary, but the take away is that when we get to places where I don’t (yet) speak the language, I will make sure to do my best to learn what I need/can in order to communicate and assimilate while we are there.

Cruising with babies sucks.

When they are really little you can just lay them down and sandwich them between blankets like a hot dog, but once they start wanting to sit and crawl, and the boat is bumping and you feel drowsy from Bonine or a little bit seasick and you are just holding a baby in your arms or in a baby carrier or they are stuck in a seat or in a berth while you are underway, or dealing with their older sibling, or trying to pee, or trying to cook, or trying to do ANYTHING…..yes, it’s a run on sentence, but FOR ME, I have not enjoyed sailing with little kids. I think 3 years old and up may be the magic number for leaving to go cruising with kids.

You learn from your mistakes. In this post I wrote about how I thought it was a mistake to have left pregnant and had our baby away from friends and family. While I got tons of support I also got messages asking why we didn’t go back to San Diego. Nothing is ever simple in this lifestyle. I think people are under the impression that we have a magic home back in San Diego. That it is just sitting there, furnished, and waiting for us to pop over to when we want. We must also have a magic car, with magic car seats for the girls.  And we have magic bank accounts and can park our boat in a magic, hurricane-free zone, and fly on airplanes any time we want with magic money. But we can’t. And our one and ONLY home is here on this boat. And a long time ago (about 8 years ago) I made a commitment to sail around the world with Eric. And guess what? I would kind of like to try.

And for god’s sake, just because you make a mistake doesn’t mean you quit. You learn. You move on.

The one caveat to our plan was that we would stop if it wasn’t fun. Now the last 12 months has included a lot of ‘not fun’ for me. And I’ve sometimes been at a breaking point. Imagine a giant T-chart of FUN | NOT FUN and my list has been much longer on the NOT FUN SIDE for quite a while. But things are slowly starting to equalize on that T-chart. And I’m willing to give the South Pacific a go. Am I looking forward to New Zealand? Yes. We plan on staying put there, until perhaps Lyra reaches that magic age of three.

But we aren’t going to get to New Zealand by airplane, we are going to get there by mother f’ing boat.

You just can’t please everyone. While we had seen glimpses of this mantra throughout our time living aboard in San Diego, the last year has been a real doozy for not making people happy. For some reason when you decide to embark on a crazy adventure like this some people feel entitled to tell you how you should be doing things. Don’t you just love “should” statements? You don’t? Well, neither do we, but in the past 12 months I have been told various things to the tune of:

1)      I am not being true to myself by going sailing.

2)      I am being selfish for leaving with my kids.

3)      I should drop everything and move back to the states until the baby was born and healthy.

4)      I like creature comforts like Target and Starbucks, and that is okay, and that means, move back home.

5)      My husband is controlling me (I always giggle when I get this one.)

6)      I was endangering my baby by having her in Mexico.

7)      I was endangering my family by being in Mexico.

The strangest thing is that all of these things were said by people who know me; well at least, I thought they knew me. These were not comments from strangers on our blog. The take-away? I’ve learned to not take things too personally when you get statements like these from loved ones. People project their lives onto you and assume you should do things as they would do them. Heck, I’m not immune to doing this either. Imagine all the crazy things you think we have done in the last year or so, and I promise you, we are reading about somebody else out there and scratching our heads, and thinking, wow, they are batshit crazy.

The difference is, we don’t message them and tell them how we feel. No, if anything the last year has taught me about how fragile people can be. About how hard it is to communicate via the internet. To think twice before I write something and always double-read to make sure I’m not about to say something mean, judgmental, or cruel. The past 12 months have taught me to try to be more understanding, more kind, and more supportive of the people I know in my life; I’m trying to treat people the way I’d like to be treated too.

I don’t know if the negativity was super intense because I was pregnant or if it is just par for the course when you leave for cruising, so it will be interesting to see how things go as we continue.

And let me just pause for a moment and thank the much, much larger group of people who have been unbelievably supportive. We have met a ton of encouraging, cool people via this adventure. The messages of support, from complete strangers, from people out there reading our blog, really do keep us going. Sometimes I feel like people I’ve never met before understand me better than the flesh and blood folks that have known me for years.

Overall, this has all been worth it. For anyone out there in the dreaming/planning/scheming stage I want you to know that I think you should go. Go. GO.

Highlights of this trip for me? Mexican food. Family pool time in La Cruz. Lyra’s crazy birth story. Meeting all of the intensely interesting people we have met this year. La Tovora. San Blas. The night sky of the Sea of Cortez as we sailed beneath it under the new moon. Skinny dipping in Baja. Cora going to school in La Paz. Watching Cora become an amazing sister. Seeing Lyra grow. Spending as much time as I get with Eric.

It’s hard to believe that in about five more months we will be crossing an ocean. That in another 12 months we should be sitting on our boat in Tonga and preparing to sail to New Zealand. But that is the plan. Like I said, it has been one long year. We’ve pushed ourselves well beyond our comfort zones, we’ve made mistakes, and we have learned from them. Here’s to the next 12 months.

Reader Comments (13)

Awe! What a great yearly wrap up! May your boat be blessed with love & lots of happy adventures!

November 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica

Hi Charlotte. I know I've said this before but I just wanted to tell you how much I love reading your posts. You will never here me say that you "should" have done anything different. In fact, I really appreciate and respect your honesty regarding your experiences. They have helped me understand the challenges that I'll be facing this season. While I have been following your blog and "t-chart" closely, I'm still, very much, excited to leave. So, in closing, I think your blogs are a lot more positive than you think. Or, maybe they have a different effect on me. 😊

November 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

I commented on Facebook, but have to tell you Charlotte, you and Eric are inspirational. You just keep on keeping on....it's an amazing life you are showing your girls. There is nothing more important than being together and living on the edge of what's "reasonable"....it's a great life. I'm sitting on our catamaran smelling the fresh San Diego air after a great day of sailing with my true love of 40 years. It's our first year of living aboard and your blog is one of many that keep the dream alive. Life is difficult no matter what....facing those challenges has made you and your kids STRONGER!! Take care and know you are part of all of us and we are part of you.
S/V Lagniappe
Matt and Carla

November 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarla Webb

We are just catching up on your posts and photos. We love seeing your faces! Sounds like a bumpy road with lots of work and some very sweet moments -- hang in there, girl! We are sending lots of love.

November 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMeg and Ida

GO, GO, GO!..of all the words youve wrote these inspire me the most.After all the pros and cons,struggles and sunshine..sweat and tears.life at full throttle.i love it

November 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark Brooks.

I nodded all the way through your post. We've just had to move off our boat after 5 years so we can earn more money but I look back on those 5 years as our shakedown and can't wait to do a better job of absolutely every aspect of our preparation and set-up for our next voyage in a couple of years. People always assume that I am the victim of a crazy cruiser husband, but I would have to say that while he is the brains and talent of our operation I am probably the bigger driver of the whole enterprise. I would wholeheartedly agree that kids need to be a certain age before you set off and I would say the optimum age for all kids should be elementary school aged. Having both teens and elementary kids onboard meant that I was constantly torn between wanting the carefree kiddy exploration and play that cruising is all about and needing to support highschool online learning onboard. Actively maintaining links to other cruising families and going where they are is more vital than you think for the emotional welfare of everyone on board. I know you (and I) have suffered extreme loneliness but sad little notes about loneliness written by your kids are even harder to bear. All that being said, it's an easy stand-out college application letter your kids get to write. I completely agree about learning the language and how much richer the experience is for it. One (highly educated) woman I made friends with in Ensenada said I was the first foreigner she had ever had a conversation with! In Ensenada! Above all keep that mantra "are we having fun?" at the forefront. That was why we turned around in the southern ocean and it was a very wise decision, even though it made us cry for our lost dream. We had far more fun when we were no longer focused on getting somewhere specific. If you feel sad to be leaving a place or its people or the friends you have made because you have to be somewhere else on your agenda, ask yourself if you have to go. As they say in Australia, "Onya mate"

November 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterclare

Hey Charlotte!

Great recap. Seems like you're having some more fun of late and that's AWESOME. I just want to re-assure you that "should-ers" never quit! Man, they have tons of energy.

Now that we're back and figuring out our next chapter there are tons of people who think we should've stayed out there: with the 98% humidity, lack of basic infrastructure & dwindling bank accounts. NOT that I didn't LOVE many amazing parts of cruising AND I see it still in my future, I just am LOVING my versions of Target & Starbucks (washer & dryer, seeing my family & girlfriends on the reg, etc).

I think it's probably a factor of being a "bloom where you're planted" kinda lady - something I'm pretty sure we share. But, I certainly have faced my share of SUCK and know it's not all roses out there - or here!

Good thing we have good attitudes & good friends (near & far).

big HUGS!


November 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie

So glad that even with all the downs, there have been ups and you'd still recommend going. I have a feeling the next 12 months will be better for you! =)

I have been watching your progress for about 3 months now. I have been researching to see if this is the kind of lifestyle my wife and I would like to pursue. We want to live abroad, and maybe cruising would give us the best of both worlds and see it all instead of just one paradise. I will have to learn to sail, but have just met some new friends that sail regular so I can learn the basics. I think what your doing is wonderful. The children are learning several cultures, and also growing up with the basics. But, not to let "basic" mean "not rich". "Rich" does not have to mean wealth. I am working on letting go of non essential things living landside. You are inspiring.

November 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCameron White

Congratulations on your anniversary of cruising! If you hadn't left, if you hadn't gotten pregnant and hd this crazy idea of having a baby in mexico with a canadian doula, I would not have met you in real life. And for that I am extremely grateful. You are who you are and to me, that is utterly wonderful.

See you in NZ!!

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

While writing a blog about cruising can be all rainbows and unicorns, I have really appreciated your honesty about mistakes, misgivings, and things that plainly sucked. It just makes the whole thing so much more real.

I, for one, really appreciate the candor and love reading your posts about Cora, Eric, and little Lyra—they are so loved! Thanks for sharing everything. It is really a gift to the rest of us who are still planning and scheming to go off on a great adventure.

November 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFlorenciaP

@Veronica - thank you!!

@Michelle - I'm so glad you enjoy following along. It will be surreal to meet you down here. Not long now!

@Carla - thanks for the words of support and for following our adventure. I'll be following your adventure. Congrats on your first year out. Say hi to San Diego for me!

@Meg - It is so good to hear from you. Thought about you on Halloween. Remember those sweet Halloweens in 2010 and 2011?

@Mark - Awwww, gracias. And love your description of it being life at full throttle :)

@Clare - Eric and I both really appreciated your thoughtful comment. We know that cruising with teenagers presents its own difficulties but we'll face that as it comes. Crazy that people also gave you the 'controlling husband' schtick. And by the way, the Southern Ocean? You win 'bad ass' award for sailing there!! Even for turning around. I'm so impressed.

@Laurie - I'm so happy you are own versions of Target and Starbucks. I love washer/dryers and close girlfriends too. Live it up, for me, please!!

@Cheryl - I hope you have a magic 8 ball because I like your prescription of things looking up this coming year. I think (and hope) you are right!

@Cameron - living on a boat is a pretty awesome lifestyle. I wish you luck in pairing down and figuring out if the sailing life is for you.

@Amanda - AMEN. I'm so, so, so grateful that I met you, in person! That you helped me birth a baby. Craziest birth story ever. And you were there for the whole thing. Also, Marc's fried rice. Yummmmmmm.

@Florencia - thank you!! Good luck on your own planning and scheming. Hope you get to leave soon for an adventure!

November 11, 2013 | Registered CommenterCharlotte

I just heard on the news that you may loose your home . I am so so sorry to hear that! I hope the little one has a swift recovery. Wish you all the best.

April 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNina

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