There’s a time to go cruis­ing and a time to stop. As Chris DiCroce found, you don’t al­ways get to choose those times

SAIL - - Contents -

Cruis­ing dreams cut short; ca­ma­raderie in a storm; you’re never too old for sail­ing

Al­bert Ein­stein said, “Imag­i­na­tion is more im­por­tant than knowl­edge. For knowl­edge is lim­ited, whereas imag­i­na­tion em­braces the en­tire world, stim­u­lat­ing progress, giv­ing birth to evo­lu­tion.”

For my wife, Melody, and me, the evo­lu­tion be­gan in May 2012 when we sold our home and nearly ev­ery­thing in it to move aboard our Cal 35. Af­ter many years of dream­ing about a sim­pler, more ful­fill­ing life, we jumped in with both feet, fear be-damned. For the next five years we cruised the Gulf of Mex­ico, East Coast and Ch­e­sa­peake Bay while we up­graded the boat and saved as much as we could to feed what we called our “fan­tasy fund.”

It was then, af­ter the work, the sav­ing and the ad­just­ments made for life’s in­ter­rup­tions, that we reached the point where we just de­cided we had to go—a point where I felt the dream slip- ping away, get­ting buried un­der an avalanche of ex­cuses, like “the boat’s not ready” or “we don’t have enough money.” We’d worked hard. We needed a pay­off. We needed to sail.

In Jan­uary 2017, along with our 10-year-old Dutch Shep­herd, Jet, we tossed off the dock lines, set out from Saint Peters­burg, Florida, and sailed to Hem­ing­way Ma­rina, where we spent 12 days immersing our­selves in Cuban cul­ture. For so long, I had only read other peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences in Ha­vana. I’d had to see it through their eyes, hear the mu­sic with their ears. Our ar­rival was un­like any other land­fall I ever made, sim­ply be­cause it was Cuba. And now, I could see and hear it for my­self. Twelve days weren’t enough.

When it came time to leave, we didn’t want to re­turn to the States. Hon­estly, we couldn’t go back. We were for­ever changed. That’s what hap­pens with an evo­lu­tion. We were dif­fer­ent peo­ple, and we wanted to keep trav­el­ing. We only had $5,000 in our cruis­ing bud­get. But our boat was paid for and per­form­ing per­fectly, so we de­cided to con­tinue un­der the guise that if it all ends to­mor­row, we’ll be OK with that. It be­came our mantra, and we re­peated it of­ten.

We left Hem­ing­way and spent four days tran­sit­ing Cuba’s north coast, an­chor­ing in pic­turesque de­serted bays. Cross­ing the in­fa­mous Yu­catan Chan­nel, we en­joyed two amaz­ing weeks in Isla Mu­jeres be­fore head­ing south along the east coast of Mex­ico in some of the most chal­leng­ing and re­ward­ing sail­ing we’ve ever done. En­ter­ing nar­row, un­marked shal­low cuts got our hearts pump­ing. An­chor­ing be­hind reefs with lit­tle to no pro­tec­tion tested our re­solve, and cross­ing in­ter­na­tional bor­ders with a dog made us ques­tion our san­ity. Those days taught us much about our­selves, both as in­di­vid­u­als and as a cou­ple.

Con­tin­u­ing on, we cel­e­brated Easter in Caye Caulker, Belize. A few days later, we ate em­panadas in Pla­cen­cia and snorkeled the nearby de­serted cayes. We were in our berth at sun­down, back in the wa­ter at sun­rise. All the while we kept telling our­selves, if it ends to­mor­row, we’ll be OK with that.

In May, we en­tered the Rio Dulce in Gu­atemala and took a slip in Mon­key Bay Ma­rina. With re­li­able Wi-Fi, we were able to work. Melody di­aled up some of the old clients she used to do on­line mar­ket­ing for. I re­leased a new book and be­gan writ­ing for a cou­ple of tele­vi­sion shows. Life was good. We could think about the plan while re­plen­ish­ing the fan­tasy fund for the next leg of the ad­ven­ture. Maybe the Cay­mans. Maybe Panama...

Then life hap­pened, a uni­ver­sal lev­el­ing of the field to re­mind us that with ev­ery up comes a down. Ours came in the form of our dog, Jet, los­ing his eye­sight. One af­ter­noon, he had a ma­jor mis­step try­ing to board the boat, one that left him cling­ing to the to­erail by his nails and sent me sprint­ing to catch him be­fore a pass­ing wave crushed him be­tween the dock and our boat.

Jet is our am­bas­sador. He’s the first to greet our dock­mates when we ar­rive in a new place. Peo­ple up and down the U.S. East Coast know him well and barely re­mem­ber us. He’s hand­some, well-man­nered, and he’s never once protested the crazy life that’s been thrust upon him. Years of sun­light, though, had ac­cel­er­ated his Pan­nus, a de­gen­er­a­tive eye dis­ease that af­fects many shep­herd breeds, and we found our­selves hav­ing the dis­cus­sion about sell­ing the boat. We’d only just bro­ken free,

and here we were al­ready talk­ing about end­ing the ad­ven­ture, truly test­ing our mantra. Were we re­ally go­ing to be OK with it?

The dis­cus­sion led to a de­ci­sion. We’d list the boat and see what hap­pened. I es­ti­mated it would take at least a year to sell. The plan was for Melody to fly back to the States while I sailed the boat back af­ter hur­ri­cane sea­son. Ex­cept for the fact that we had nei­ther a house nor a job to go to back to, it was no big deal. I took com­fort in know­ing we had plenty of time to dial it all in.

At fate would have it, though, we didn’t have time. The boat sold al­most im­me­di­ately. A fella from Panama wanted her, sight un­seen. He saw the list­ing and called me. We spoke for an hour. He went on­line and read our blog posts. Be­ing from Philadel­phia (and a nat­u­ral skep­tic), I as­sumed it was a scam. Three weeks af­ter ini­tial con­tact, though, my wife and I found our­selves stand­ing on the dock with our lives re­duced to 14 pieces of lug­gage, an acous­tic gui­tar and a dog. I’ll never for­get load­ing the laun­cha for the ride to the town dock in Fron­teras. The small, over­loaded boat rolled to her gun­wales. My eyes filled as I watched our boat fade out of sight and we said good­bye to our friends.

Af­ter a decade of dream­ing, pre­par­ing, and sac­ri­fic­ing to achieve a goal, it was over. Just like that. We were boat­less. Home­less. Be­ing so busy with the busi­ness of sell­ing the boat, nei­ther one of us had both­ered to con­tem­plate the mag­ni­tude of the mo­ment that would arise once it was truly gone.

The only plan we could de­vise in the midst of that dis­tress was to rent a place on Airbnb in An­tigua, Gu­atemala, for two weeks. We’d make an­other plan from there. Trav­el­ing in a for­eign coun­try with a dog presents an en­tirely new set of chal­lenges. We couldn’t take Jet on a com­muter bus, so we had to ar­range pri­vate trans­porta­tion for the seven-hour trip. It was a quiet ride. Our poor Span­ish kept small talk to a min­i­mum. I spent the trip ar­rang­ing in my head the string of events that had led up to the pre­cise mo­ment that had us in this van speed­ing to­ward some Span­ish-colo­nial town in the moun­tains of Gu­atemala.

We spent five months in An­tigua. We took a close look at all that we’d been drag­ging around and ended up giv­ing away much of it. We signed up for lan­guage classes. Think­ing it would help my Span­ish, I took a job bar­tend­ing in a sports bar. In re­al­ity, though, fail­ing to un­der­stand the lo­cal slang, spo­ken through a slur, only served to piss off the reg­u­lars. A piece of ad­vice: never agree to work New Years Eve if you have the slight­est doubts about your abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with the partrons.

Af­ter five months we needed a change (how funny that sounds to me now), so we hired an­other shut­tle to carry our nine bags, gui­tar and dog with rapidly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing eye­sight to Xela (Quet­zal­te­nango), Gu­atemala. In Xela, peo­ple cocked their head to one side when we told them of our jour­ney thus far. “You’ve changed your en­tire life for a dog?”

I didn’t ex­pect them to un­der­stand, but by now Melody and I had de­vel­oped a new skill: the abil­ity to turn off the in­ner voice that wants to scream, “What the hell are you do­ing!?” We’ve wired up a kill switch, and it’s been work­ing flaw­lessly. If we think about all the dots we had to con­nect to get to this point, I dare say some ther­apy would be in or­der.

We only spent a month in Xela. It was lovely, but we were try­ing to get to Mex­ico where rent­ing a car would be eas­ier and where we could move with­out hav­ing to hire pri­vate shut­tles for Jet. We found a place to set­tle for a few months, to con­tem­plate the mad­ness that is our life with a firm fin­ger on that kill switch, just in case.

As I write this from Oax­aca, far from any wa­ter, my un­sandy feet gen­tly brush the fur of our im­paired dog. He’s ly­ing on the cool tile, obliv­i­ous to all that’s hap­pened. My gui­tar is on the couch in the tiny apart­ment we’ve rented. The bags are un­packed and hid­den away in a closet. For now.

I sup­pose we’ll make a plan, and like ev­ery other plan we’ve made, I ex­pect it to change. The last year was noth­ing but change. From Florida to Cuba. From Cuba to Mex­ico. From Mex­ico to Belize. From Belize to Gu­atemala. And from sail­boat to suit­case. But if it all ends to­mor­row, we’ll be OK with that. s

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