It’s hard to believe we left our life in San Francisco just three months ago. Since October 4, we’ve traveled almost 2,000 miles and made 23 stops. And in those months, those miles, and those varied ports of call, everything about our lives has changed.
Cruising is an adventure, but we’d never describe ourselves as thrill-seekers or travel junkies. We like stability and routine. The hardest thing about leaving San Francisco was stepping away from the routines and relationships of the good life we built there over the last eight years. We were recognized regulars around our neighborhood at coffee shops, restaurants, and the laundromat (hi Henry!). Our jobs were meaningful and well-paying. We have great friends in San Francisco.
Fortunately, life afloat is pretty great, too! We’re novices in the cruising world, and we’ve already learned so much—lessons that we’ll use between now and July, when we’ll leave the boat and visit the U.S. for a couple of months. (Our plan is to continue south toward Panama, with the goal of transiting the Panama Canal before the end of June. From there we plan to cruise in the Caribbean next season, starting in November!)
Our first three months have been particularly intense. This is because, unlike most cruisers we’ve met, we did not live aboard before sailing away. With our timeline—from taking possession to casting off in just over seven weeks—it wasn’t possible. In fact, we barely had a chance to sail Pineapple before we left, knowing that our trip down the coast would be when we learned the most about the boat and about how we like the cruising lifestyle. We owned Aegea, our previous boat, for four years, and spent countless days cruising, daysailing, maintaining, upgrading, and fixing the boat. That was invaluable experience, but nothing could prepare us for the day-to-day reality of full-time cruising.
So, what have we learned? How does real life compare with our carefully made plans? And what do we wish we knew beforehand?
These are our answers after three particularly intense months. We know we’ll feel different in three more months; maybe in three more weeks. But for now, here are our top 10 lessons after three months of cruising.
Let’s start with the hard parts.
1. We each lost a lot of independence
Please don’t read this as “John and I have to spend all of our time together.” We do, and that’s usually a good thing. But I lost a different kind of independence since we started cruising—and especially since entering Mexico. I lost the freedom to step off the boat, take care of an errand, go for a run, or make plans with a friend. If we’re at anchor, I’m not comfortable enough with the dinghy to go ashore by myself. In theory this should be different in marinas, but we haven’t stayed anywhere long enough for me to feel comfortable exploring solo in a brand new place. (The one exception is La Cruz, in Banderas Bay, Mexico. It’s a town, not a city, where I feel totally safe.)
Reduced independence has created a new dynamic in our relationship. We’ve been happily married for more than eight years, but we always spent a lot of time apart, at the office, traveling for work, pursuing different hobbies. “How was your day?” wasn’t just idle chat for us—it was a meaningful daily conversation that we looked forward to having. Now we make (just about) every decision together, and we spend (pretty much) every hour together. I’m glad we’re realizing this now, because it gives us the chance to make adjustments and find ways to regain our independence. At least we have plenty of time together to talk through it!
2. We are lonely at times (but we’ve become more extroverted)
In our old life, we definitely identified as introverts. We were happy to stay at home on a Friday night and recharge after a long week at work, and we rarely initiated social plans. But now we realize that was mostly a function of always being “on” in our work environments. In cruising life, we’re finding ourselves eager to make plans. A long passage or a remote bay can make me feel lonely after a couple days. So when we pull into a marina or a crowded anchorage, I crave social interaction. We’ve had to become more extroverted, which takes some courage for me. Indeed, it usually pays off, as we’ve met most of our cruising friends by walking (or dinghy-ing) over and introducing ourselves! That was definitely not our style back in San Francisco.
3. Everything takes longer
After living in the same apartment in the same neighborhood for eight years, we had all the efficiencies down. We knew the aisles at the hardware store. When I needed a particular brand of food, I knew whether Real Food (our local market) would have it, or if I needed to stop at Whole Foods or Safeway. We knew the best, not-too-busy spots to meet a friend for a drink after work. And I learned that street parking got bad after 6pm on weeknights; earlier on Fridays.
Now, every place is new to us, and our home requires a lot more maintenance. So everything takes longer—a lot longer. Laundry, for instance, can turn into a half-day project. It usually goes something like this… Walk up to the marina laundry room, oh, someone’s already using it! Walk back to the boat. Return 30 minutes later. Oh, one of the washers is still going so I can’t put in my last load. Walk back to the boat. Oops, the blankets aren’t dry yet, time to add more time, but I need more quarters. Back to boat... See what I mean?
4. We can’t be too ambitious when we plan our days
Since everything takes longer (see above), we’ve had to learn how to avoid feeling disappointed at our lack of progress. Our solution is to be less ambitious with the number of things we plan to do, but more specific about what we hope to get done. When we have an unscheduled block of time (whether it’s a couple hours or a couple days), we proactively pick the “highlights” we want to focus on. Even if we don’t get as much done as we’d like, we remember we’ve at least completed the highlights and that helps us feel a strong sense of accomplishment.
For example, consider our last day in the La Cruz marina after spending 10 days there. Before getting underway after a long stay (especially in a marina), John needs to spend half a day (3–4 hours) preparing the boat: proactive engine checks, securing the dinghy on deck, setting up the lines and fenders for getting off the dock, etc. He used to get bummed out by how long this all took… he’d complain, “I didn’t get anything done today because I was stuck with boat chores.” But now that he’s reframed this “getting underway” project as his highlight, it feels like an accomplishment, not a chore. (Meanwhile, I was drafting this blog post and getting our latest batch of provisions inventoried and stowed—those were my highlights for the day.)
5. The internet is soooo sloooowwww
The days of downloading a TV show from iTunes or steaming Netflix are long gone. We’ve learned not to count on marina WiFi for anything. In fact, “Hotspot” mode on our Google Project Fi phones has been our only sure bet for getting online—but that’s still fairly slow, and at $10 per gigabyte, the cost adds up. This is not a serious problem. We are getting by and always have enough access for weather, email, web browsing, and social media. But I would give just about anything to watch this season of The Bachelor. We are never complaining about Comcast again. Ever.
And now, five lessons about cruising that bring us so, so much joy:
6. Every day is on our terms
We’ve both been working full-time since graduating college, so we love having the freedom to travel and arrive at new destinations with our floating home. We’re also enjoying the process of self-sufficiency and slow living. Most of the time, if we want something to happen, we do it ourselves. We can’t order from Postmates when we don’t feel like cooking dinner, and we don’t book a flight on United.com when we want to continue our journey. If there’s a problem with the boat, we have to fix it ourselves. We have complete control over our time, but we also have the responsibility of taking care of ourselves. That’s a pretty rewarding combination.
7. This lifestyle is active!
I assumed that once we left San Francisco, all those hours at Barry’s Bootcamp would slowly undo themselves. I pictured myself lounging on the boat while watching the muscles in my limbs lose their tone.
In reality, life aboard is anything but sedentary. While underway, the boat’s movement engages my entire body. During night watches, I stand for hours, balancing myself against the motion of the sea. (Sometimes I throw in a few squats, for good measure.) Even flushing the toilet takes work! We almost always walk to our destinations on shore. I have fit in a few runs, weight sessions, and swim workouts, but for the most part, our normal day-to-day activity keeps me happy with the way I look in a bikini, and keeps John happy too 😉 But more important is the way we feel at the end of the day: tired and satisfied. Most nights, we fall asleep with a sense of physical exhaustion, and that feels great.
8. I love provisioning
Whether it’s at a supermarket, farmer’s market, or small tienda, I always look forward to provisioning. I love walking in, not knowing what we’ll find, since we rarely go to the same store twice. I get a kick out of observing all the differences from grocery shopping in the U.S. (For example, in Mexican grocery stores, eggs are never refrigerated, and there is usually a huge selection of non-perishable boxed milk. Both are perfect for boat storage!). I enjoy figuring out what’s what, usually with the help of Google Translate, to make sure we’re buying the right thing.
It is not uncommon for boats our size to carry four to six months of food. Four to six months without needing a grocery store! I’m fascinated. I would love to see exactly how each one of them provisioned, and how they organize and keep track of their stores.
We did not leave San Francisco with nearly that much food, which was by design. We weren’t sure what we would like to eat while cruising, and I didn’t want to buy 20 cans of something without trying it first. So, each time we provision, we are also building up our long-term stores. I don’t know if I can say the same thing for John, but I’m having a lot of fun doing it!
9. The cats are super happy
Oh hey, did you know we like our cats? Just kidding! I’m sure by now you know we’re completely obsessed with our fur kids.
We didn’t even consider not bringing the cats. But in the final days preparing to head south, I had flashes of doubt. Are we making a terrible mistake? Will I hear a splash, a yelp, and then never hear from Chase again? Will Guinny get terminally ill at sea when we are away from veterinary care? My worries were endless. They hadn’t even been sailing before we left! But plenty of boats have cats, and they seemed fine. Well, it’s more than fine.
The cats love having their humans available to serve them all day, every day. They love sitting in the cockpit sunning themselves and watching birds. They love exploring every inch of the boat. Since going cruising, Guinny and Chase have gotten their kitten-like spirit back—everyone is surprised when we tell them the cats are 11 years old. The only real issues have been sea-sickness (brought on by swells that are uncomfortable for us humans, too) and Chase’s irrepressible desire to jump from boat to dock when we’re in a marina. But we’ve been able to manage both pretty easily with trial, error, and a direct, unwavering stare.
10. We have an amazing boat
Switching boats before going cruising was a big risk. In the sailing world, everyone warns against taking off in a new boat before you’ve had a year or more to work out the kinks. Not only did we buy a boat and go cruising less than two months later, but we did it in a brand new boat. Oh, and that’s another thing that experienced cruisers warn against. Never buy a brand new boat, they say. It’s a bad investment, and you’ll have just as many problems as on a used boat.
We heard their advice, but we did it anyway. We knew it was risky, but we were optimistic that we could make it work based on our experience, our knack for detailed planning, and the reputation of Outbound Yachts (who built our boat).
Fortunately, the risk has paid off. We love our boat. She’s fast and safe underway. She’s a wonderful home with plentiful storage and comfortable furnishings. She’s a nearly self-sufficient platform for extended travel (just add diesel!) and we’re lucky she’s ours.
We’re very fortunate to put this lesson in the “joy” category, because we spend a ton of time “at home” on the boat. Even if we go ashore for a few hours, we’re still spending the vast majority—about 20 hours—of that day on (or around) the boat. We’re sure to encounter problems, and as I mentioned, the maintenance requirements for any boat far exceed those of a house or apartment. But for now, we’re lucky that our Outbound 46 has been largely trouble-free.
At the three-month mark, we’re both reflecting and looking forward the months ahead. But in the meantime, we’re coming up on two weeks in Banderas Bay—it’s our longest stop so far. We’re having a new canvas awning made, and we’ve got some boat projects to catch up on. With lots of cruising friends in the area, this is a great spot to spend some time before heading further south.