Monday, October 18, 2010

Latitude38 Published My Ariticle

San Rafael California 
Status? Full Time Student@ Dominican University of California

Tobago Cays St Vincent & The Grenadines June 2009
 It seems as if I submitted this article ages ago. In fact, I plum forgot about it until a neighbor of mine commented about the article. Latitude did do some editing, but it is largely in tact as originally written. 

I also really appreciate Latitude's editorial comments at the end of the article. Very insightful from long time sailors. I especially like their first line. Squares with my libertarian leanings. 

Have a go at the article below. Comments are welcomed and appreciated. 

Capt Chris

In my last correspondence, I was belly-aching about the difficulties of the 'Thorny Path', about the herding instinct of some cruisers, and about bashing 1,500 miles against the trades from the East Coast of the U.S. to the Eastern Caribbean. As some will remember, my original plan was to singlehand around the world starting from California. That plan was dashed when the Coast Guard transferred me to the East Coast for my last tour of duty. Fine, I thought, I'll just start my circumnavigation from Newport, Rhode Island — which is what I did in September of '07.
Much has happened since then. The bottom line is that I spent the winter of '08-'09 sailing down-island through the Leewards and Windwards, during which time I realized that I wasn't getting the pleasure that I'd expected from the cruise. It's not that I didn't have magical moments or that every waking moment was misery, but rather I had a consistent low-grade anxiety about my slow progress. So after leaving my Westsail 32 Christa in Grenada for the '09 hurricane season, I sailed her to Naples, Florida, where I spent last winter. By the time this letter reaches print, I will probably have trucked Christa back to my beloved Sausalito.
The funny thing is that I truly enjoy sailing and the ocean. But the totality of the circumstances — my being alone the vast majority of the time, the letdown of not very many legs being beam or broad reaches, and my naïve pre-conceived expectations compelled me to stop and reassess. I realized that there are many ways to experience the ocean, and that my intended trip doesn't have to be done in one shot, or finish in the same decade it was begun — or even with the same boat it was begun on. I also realized that starting my journey against the tradewinds was an enormous mistake.
It took a taste of the cruising life for me to flesh out my personal cruising philosophy. I now think that few people are geared for solo sailing, let alone taking years to sail around the world singlehanded. I have a deep respect for those who have done it, but it's not for me. I always knew I didn't want to go around alone, but I figured that I would endure it to achieve my goal of a circumnavigation. It took me almost two years of singlehanding to figure out that doing it alone was going to be a deal-breaker.
While I never suffered from a debilitating loneliness, I nonetheless felt lonely sometimes. But things can be confusing, because while I saw couples who were cruising in marital bliss, I saw others who cruised in marital disharmony. Some married people even envied me because of the apparent freedom I enjoyed being single. I finally decided that the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence.
I did learn that I had the boat, the skills, and the mental state to sail around the world alone. But I kept asking myself, 'To what end?' For families traveling with children, the obvious answer is the experience and education children derive from such an experience, as well as the strengthening of family ties. Indeed, it seemed to me that it was the families, more than anyone, who thrived on cruising. But for me solo, I had doubts. I'd set the goal for myself many years before, and I simply continued with year after year of preparation, with no clue that the reality might be different from the dream. My first year of cruising was pretty exciting, but then the luster of the cruising life started to wear off.
Finding one's balance is as important in cruising as it is in life. Some cruisers are able to just plop the anchor down, head ashore for 48 hours of touring, then on day three weigh anchor and head to the next destination. I can't roll like that because, among other things, it takes me two days to recover from a passage. This is why some people I met while cruising have made it 75% of the way around the world while I was still in the Caribbean analyzing the weather for the trip to the next island. Different strokes for different folks.
Maybe my sailing journey would have continued with the right helpful sailing partner. I marveled that couples and whole sailing families were able to get away so rapidly and easily. I guess it's common sense because they had anywhere from two to five times as many people to do the same amount of work. So the things I thought about while raising the anchor probably never occurred to those on boats with more crew. But solo was — and is — my current lot in life, and I wasn't about to let that stop me from cruising.

Over time, though, being single is one of the reasons why I metaphorically ran aground. But there were others. During my time in the Coast Guard, I spent nearly all my time at sea or engaged in nautical endeavors. I'd also had been living aboard Christa for nine years before I took off from Newport. As a result, the ocean had become less of a novelty, and I think I got burned out.
It seems to me that being burned out manifested itself in a sense of intellectual stagnation. I was inbound to a dinghy dock with my friend Tom from Sandpiper when I experienced what I think was one of the critical moments in my life. We soon passed a guy in the cockpit of a weather-beaten boat. He was a wrinkled, old singlehander, with cancerous skin and unwashed hair, peering at us through beady eyes, He was sketchy. Although he was only kidding, Tom said, "Dude, that's gonna be you." Not me, brother. That will not be me.
It wasn't long after that incident that I decided to tack. Because of my good fortune and 20 years of service in the Coast Guard, I had many options. In fact, even if I'd become cloaked in sailing bliss, I likely would have stopped sailing anyway, or at the least been churned into turmoil, and it would have had nothing to do with my diminished enthusiasm for cruising. No, the real reason, and a major driver of what I'm viewing as my sailing sabbatical, was the passage of a post-9/11 Congressional bill that allows me to have my tuition paid by the Veterans Administration — with help from the Dominican University of San Rafael endowment. When the opportunity to further my education presented itself so clearly, I decided to pounce.
I initially had some feelings of embarrassment about my change in course, especially since I had sung from the treetops about my plan of sailing around the world. I wondered what the followers of my blog would say. A few people have criticized my decision, but none of them were cruising friends who are aware of the sub-surface rigors of the cruising life. It was the armchair sailors who questioned my sanity.
I regret nothing of the last three years — with the exception of my starting my cruising on the Thorny Path. Even though I was out for less than three years, it proved to be a positive experience. I enjoyed many of the things that other cruisers rave about, such as the people you meet along the way, the cultures, the awesome power of the sea, and palms swaying in the breeze. I experienced all of that. I just think my journey around the world will be a little lazier than I intended. I was nailed to the dock for three months in Florida before returning to San Rafael, a working stiff again, but I find myself viewing my sailing footage again and again. Must not have been that bad. Give up? Never!
P.S. Thank you Latitude, as you're probably one of the few sailing magazines that would publish a story about a cruise that didn't end in total bliss.
Christian Allaire, (USCG, Ret.)
Christa, Westsail 32
San Rafael

Christian — Interesting letter. But why would you feel embarrassed or give a hoot what anybody else thought about your change in plans? It's your life, so live it whatever the hell way you want to. Besides, what cruiser doesn't change his/her plan with every change in the tide?
The thing we think throws a lot of first-time cruisers is that there is no right or proper way to do it. So much freedom can be disorienting. People wonder if they should be like Mike Harker and go around in 11 months, or like Paul and Susan Mitchell and take 25 years. The truth is that people cruise in different ways on different boats for different reasons — and with lots of different results. A few people hate it, most like it quite a bit — especially on a six-months-on, six-months-off basis — and some absolutely can't live any other way.
Breaks are good for cruisers. As we've noted before, after we had our Ocean 71 Big O in the Caribbean for about six years, we just got fed up with the whole program. So we sailed her down to Venezuela, threw off all the crew, and put her on the hard. We didn't know when we'd come back, and simply stopped thinking about her. It was a big load off our mind at the time. Nine months later, we couldn't wait for Hugo Chavez to resign from power — this was after his coup. When he did resign, we caught the first plane from the U.S. allowed back in Venezuela. That started another six years of perhaps the most fun we ever had with Big O. The moral is that 'vacations' from cruising can be very beneficial to your cruising pleasure. Indeed, it's one of the reasons why six months of cruising, followed by six months of doing something else, is so popular.
For some cruisers, keeping the boat up, making new friends, exploring ashore, diving, surfing and combinations of other activities provide all the stimulation they want. Others need more. In places like the Caribbean and the South Pacific, mental stimulation can be a little hard to come by. Fortunately, the internet is becoming more easily and economically available and, if used intelligently, can be the gateway to all the mental stimulation one might need.
We also agree with you that starting out on the Thorny Path might have been a mistake. That's a lot of nasty upwind, upcurrent work for any boat, let alone a Westsail 32, a design that doesn't excel on that point of sail. In some ways it probably would have been easier for you to sail from Newport to Thailand than from Newport to and around the Caribbean.
So enjoy school and life in Sausalito. And no worries — if by late October you find the weather has gotten too cold and the classes too boring, we'll have saved a slot for you and Christa in the Ha-Ha. Lord knows you wouldn't be lonely in a fleet of 600 other cruisers.

1 comment:

ducksniper2 said...

Hey there Christian All Air with an E! That was s great article and a great reply by Latitude. It is your life and I think you have done pretty well with it. Enjoy your college time, you have definately earned it. Remember, us true friends are always there for you and support your decisions, to hell with those arm chair quarterbacks. There is always a hot cup a Joe and a rack for a stopover at my place. Later Shipmate
Bravo Zulu