Saturday, December 26, 2009

Questions from the Class - Don't You Get Stir Crazy?

A fellow doctor interested in our experience on the boat and with getting a locums position in New Zealand passed on these questions from his wife: How did you not go stir crazy on the boat? Did you not feel that you were on top of each other?

Our Boat Parrot is a Cat
Our Boat Parrot is a Cat
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
My flip response is: Yeah, a boat is small, but you've got the biggest back yard in the entire world.

But this doesn’t get to the heart of her question. I truly believe that when people ask me this question it is less about how we cruising families can live on boats and more about how land based families can give up the comforts of home. It is a scary world outside the secure box we’ve been trained to build and maintain for ourselves and our loved ones. With a house in the suburbs, we have some degree of security and a great deal of familiarity with the rhythms, the requirements, the dangers, and the pleasures. Once we step off the porch and into the street, we are lost in a world of possibilities, not all of which are manageable and most of which are completely unfamiliar.

The way you move a family on to a boat is the way you must do everything in life. First, commit your whole being to the project. You -are- going to do this thing, whether it is getting on a boat and sailing away, climbing into an R.V. and driving around the country, or stepping on to a plane and moving to another country. This is, without question, the hardest step. Everything else is details. To make the commitment, you must believe with all your being that you are doing the right thing for yourself and your loved ones. You can’t go into this half-assed. This is why I object so strongly to the dragged aboard spouse. All members of the family must understand and agree to the endeavor, or it will not be successful. Over and over we’ve seen boats fail and go home because one or more of the crew just wasn’t committed to the life.

With all members of the family on board, you must build your walls against FUD: Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. These will plague you. Worse, your family, your friends, your colleagues at work and at school will question you. Many will be supportive on the surface, but underneath, their attitude distills to this expression of doubt: What the hell do think you are doing? Challenges to your decision are couched as concerns for your safety, for the well-being and health of your children, for the “socialization and education” of your off spring. You’ll get questions about road bandits, pirates, drug lords, murderers, swine flu, bad water, and storms. Everyone will be “impressed with your courage” and “would love to do something like that” themselves, but you’ll feel the subtext. Your decision challenges the foundation of their existence, their reason for getting up each morning, taking their children to the local public school, going to work, and voting the first week of every other November. And by doing so you are, in some fundamental way, the Enemy. Questioning your choices is their defense. Calm, patient, well-researched responses to the endless what-ifs is your way of making sure that those fears do not undermine your own decision making process.

Then, make a project plan to get you from Point A to Point B. Set dates. Make those dates as specific as possible. Set objectives. Make those objectives as concrete as possible. “Start homeschooling” is too vague. “Withdraw the kids from school March 3, 2010” is much better. To the extent that your funds and situation allow, try to phase the lifestyle changes over the course of several months or even years. In our family, I quit my job, six months later the kids quit school, four months passed and we moved from a 3,000 sq ft house to an 800 sq ft basement, another four months and we moved on to the boat, then three months later my husband quit his job and we left Seattle. By adapting to each major change, we made the entire process less overwhelming.

While you implement your project, let go. Let go of everything. Let go of all the Things that own you. Let go of all the assumptions you have about what you are and why you exist on this planet to serve the greater good of the American (or Canadian or British) economy. At each phase, challenge yourself and your spouse and your children to get rid of baggage: physical and mental. Discover the freedom of not owning stuff. Revel in the wonderful world that is your children’s imagination. Explore the inner voice that enjoys bedroom activities with the spouse, kneading bread, or knitting. Rediscover how good your loved ones smell, even after they have been working, playing, sweating, swimming. Let yourself get dirty.

And now that you are here... at Point B on the boat, in the R.V., settled in Australia, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Mexico, wherever. Now that you are here... ask yourself these questions again: How do you not go stir crazy on the boat? Don’t you feel that you are on top of each other?

The only time we go stir crazy on the boat is when we are pinned down for several days due to weather and can’t get ashore or in the water. After about the third day, we’re all absolutely mad to get some really vigorous exercise.

Our boat is plenty big enough for everyone. We rattle around and only occasionally knock into one another. We’ve never met a committed cruising family who didn’t adapt their lifestyle -- more or less successfully -- to their boat, no matter how small the craft. We get in each other’s way when cleaning, sometimes when cooking, and occasionally when sneaking up to the salon to stuff stockings on Christmas Eve.

You’ll be fine. You’re going to be successful, too.

Sunset at Salinas
Sunset at Salinas
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.


judith said...

Nicely said. I think I could handle this life (raised in a camping family), but the hubby couldn't. His major drawback would be to not work. He's addicted to work and has been since he was 10 yrs old. Our daughter currently lives in St. Thomas and works on charter sailboats and yachts. She loves this life and can't settle into the old landlubber's life she was raised in when she comes back to Texas. Although she loves having a home/apt. to come back to and would enjoy her own vehicle when she is off charter, I think the freedom of not having maintenance on a home and vehicle are a welcome relief for her.

I enjoy reading your blog and keeping up with your lifestyle.

The pale observer said...

Hi Toast - this is a great post, and quite poignant for me. My hubby and I are currently living and working in Africa (so we're already not your 'in-the'box-suburbanites', and our plan is to move onto our boat (which is currently in charter in Grenada), in May 2011. We won't have kids by then, so there are no issues about schooling etc., but we constantly get those questions, comments, doubts from everyone about our choice to do this as a lifestyle.

Personally my only fear is my c
lack of knowledge of the technicalities of sailing. My hubby on the other hand is a captain and very comfortable.

I can't wait to get out there. Thanks again for the inspiration!!!

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