Notes from a reluctant sailor
The last few weeks I have done a lot of processing and thinking with our first calendar year on the boat coming to an end and it being the last day of the year. I have been shying away from writing about my feelings as they are so hard to express – there have been so many of them, so intense and such a weird time to start travelling, pretty much leaving home when the world started to lock down. I will try anyway to use words to express the full experience on the inside. Also pointing out that this is only my experience and picture and not in its entirety. I think all of us go through our own motions and I can really only speak for myself.
Looking back at facebook memories that come up from a year ago, the first thing that comes to mind is overwhelm and grief. Saying goodbye to everything we knew was really big and there was no time to properly process any of it, it was just one foot in front of the other and carry on walking towards the goal. My yoga studio, community and work surrounding all that had such a big chunk of my heart and identity in it – it was so hard to let go of it all. Letting go of our home of 13 years had even more big chunks of heart in it, everything we worked so hard for to create a nice home for our little family and everything in it – gone. Carrying our children through the process of letting go of everything they knew, while holding ourselves up was not easy either. It took me months to really say goodbye to all of it, long after we moved onto the boat. It felt like jumping off the cliff with our whole tribe without having wings yet – all we had was trust in our gut feeling and the direction of the heart – wanting to spend more quality time with each other, while we where still healthy enough and the kids young enough and having a break from the treadmill. Both Tim and I where empty and exhausted.
We knew it was the right thing to do, but there where so many unknowns. I felt so vulnerable and shaky through it all, doubting, worrying, questioning, hoping, picking myself up again, clinging onto trust. All I knew was that what we where doing so far didn’t really feel right anymore. It hadn’t felt right for years. We both tried to change things professionally and privately, but there was still something important missing. We where just working and scraping by month after month, just managing to pay bills and collapsing into bed every night, getting up tired already in the morning to start it all over again, barely having any quality time with the kids and for ourselves or as a couple. It felt like a constant hamster wheel run, apart from our regular weekend escapes on our trailer yacht, which kept us sane.
It was not just letting go of material things either. It was letting go of our friends, family and community at least for some time. It was letting go of the prescribed sense of security, stability, identity, ego. And all the while there was a light at the end of the tunnel teasing us to walk further, to dare, to come closer. I had seen that light in my life twice before, when I jumped of a cliff without wings, so I had some trust that we would either grow wings or have a parachute pop up.
Also I had to learn to accept help. We received so much help and we needed it too. I love giving help and so does Tim, but to be on the receiving end has always felt challenging to me. That was a big lesson I learnt and there is rarely feeling weird about it now, just warm fuzzies – we needed help and we gratefully accepted it. I am just grateful, immensely grateful for all the many and various kind gestures we received and still receive from friends, family and people we don’t even know on this momentous shift in our life’s.
A huge portion of gratitude goes out to our Patreons and supporters who kept us going when things got tough. Kind words of encouragement mean so much to us, when you walk off the trotten path with your whole tribe. Things go around and come around. Its nice to be able to just receive, smile and say Thank you from the heart. There will be time where we can give back again.
Almost 10 months into our journey now, with Covid being like a sticky plaster that won’t come off, I can say that I am slowly getting used to our new life. Its really taken this long to adjust to our new life, routines, to live on a boat with a worldwide pandemic restricting much of our movements, adjusting to home schooling, to being with each other 24/7, to be o.k. with no plan whatsoever, to be o.k. with the fact that I can’t control anything (control freak here….), to be o.k. to just live in the day and see what happens, to be o.k. with being entirely “unproductive”, to be o.k. with not being anything but mum and wife, to be o.k. not to strive, have huge to do lists, to be o.k. with just resting and filling up that blimmin cup that has been empty for way too long, to learn to just BE. Its taken me this long to fully realise how frantic our life’s have been before.
I feel so much more balanced out here. Taking so many of the external stimulations away has made me realise how much energy they took from me. I would call myself a very sensitive introvert. I take on other peoples energies, I can feel them so strong. I thrive with alone time. I also enjoy social contact with people that I am aligned with. But if there is no alignment it literally sucks the life out of me. Also I am wanting to fix everything and I simply can’t – its exhausting taking on all the problems in the world. And then there is perfectionism – wanting to do everything to the best of my ability and ending up realising I was doing too many things and none of them particularly well ended up with me feeling empty, overwhelmed and tired. I really needed my yoga work living in our old life, it kept me sane and I was passionate about sharing and teaching, but I also realise it was not the right time for me to put that many hours into a business. When I started the studio I promised myself that my family would still be number 1, but the truth was that it was a fragile, tiring dance around Tim’s work, my work and the kids needs.
I love the space and the quiet and the simplicity out here. I love that it doesn’t matter what I wear or if I brushed my hair. I love that I don’t have to post anything meaningful on facebook or instagram or that I don’t have to promote myself or my work, I still do it, but just when I feel like it. I love to be able to have a break and just be me. I love that I don’t have to rush from work to school pick up to sports. I love that I see my kids and husband every day all day – o.k. sometimes that sucks when we get onto each others nerves, but I guess that’s normal.
I am grateful that I have time to read and to listen to audiobooks and to crochet and to write and draw and paint – without guilt and the long to do list that always sits like a black cloud over my creativity. I am so, so grateful for that time, to have time, time – so precious. Nobody can give me time, no money can buy time. I am so grateful we where brave enough to create some time and breathing space for all of us to re-evaluate how we want to live the next stage of our lives.
The one thing that is always with me is the feeling of vulnerability out here on the water. Its strange somehow. When I think about it, its just the unknown, the unpredictable. When we are in our “normal” civilized life we perceive to be safe. But when I really think about it, the times when I was overtired on autopilot going on the motor way somewhere in a rush – life could be over in a flash. Or ruining my body with overwhelm and stress and inviting cancer or autoimmune disease – life could be over in a flash. Or it could be over in a flash for no particular reason whatsoever. I read in a buddhist book that we are all dying every day – one step closer to death, its just that most human beings don’t like to entertain the thought that this lifetime is going to end for every one of us at a time we don’t know. We are all vulnerable all the time, we just kid ourselves into thinking we are safe. So if I really think about it realistically I am no more vulnerable out here than back in our old life – its just a different life and its one not as well known and therefore perceived as more “dangerous”.
That is definitely something I still have to get my head around. I am still scared of sailing in challenging conditions, that means everything that is not Champaign sailing for me. You see, I am a reluctant sailor. If it wasn’t for Tim, there is no way I would be living on a sailboat. I would be living in a house, apartment or campervan I think, maybe even on a barge or houseboat close to land, but not on a sailboat. I love the lifestyle, but the mighty and fastness of the ocean and the unpredictability of weather and the various things can happen on a sailboat just scare me at times. Living in a house you can call the plumber, or go to a mechanic at the drop of a pin – out here with the limited budget we have its mostly Tim who has to figure it all out, unless we are close to land, then we can get help. It makes me feel help- and useless at times, because I don’t really have the right skillset to help myself or Tim in those situations when another thing breaks.
Just the other day the weather turned to custard and we needed to sail to another place in an un-forecast thunderstorm with torrential rain. It simply scares the sh…t out of me. Polly is taking good care of us of course, but to me it feels like we are a walnut shell being tossed around by wind and waves. While I was trying to focus on the horizon, holding on tight and clutching my bucket I could see our friends boat Adventurous in the distance bobbing like a little bath toy in the fast ocean. It just doesn’t seem right we should be there. It doesn’t help that in weather like this me and the kids get sea sick, so we are completely useless crew and Tim sitting at the helm exposed to the elements all by himself makes me realise quite bluntly how vulnerable we are. If anything goes wrong, just one little thing – one or all of our life’s could be on the line. In moments like this, I wish I could be back on land, sitting in front of our fireplace and having that fake sense of security. But when the rainbow comes out after the storm, the buckets are cleaned and tucked away, we are anchored safely and the soup is cooking on the stove and the crochet hook comes out my world is o.k. again. We face storms at land too, they just look and feel slightly different.
Vulnerability also shows itself for me when I realise that I am without the safety net of my community, my tribe out here. We have some sailing friends luckily that we teamed up with in Greece and Turkey and that is so precious and invaluable, especially in this time, but I miss my tribe from home, the people and places that give me that sense of being held and understood. Out here I am in some aspects on my own, which is an important lesson to learn to gain confidence in that I have got this and I can do this. But I miss my close friends, my chiropractor, my homeopath, our family doctor that knows my views and is super supportive, our holistic dentist, our little organic shop and the the local growers – the fact that I know where my food comes from, I miss my yoga community and the feeling of connection with other students and teachers. I miss our garden and house.
Vulnerability shows itself when you travel in foreign countries, where we are simply guests and have no rights by default, like we have at home. We have already had our share of visa struggles and bureaucracy jungles and have gained a lot more respect and gratitude for how easygoing and straight forward things are in New Zealand and to have a country to call “home” that is pretty special.
In saying that discovering new countries is the highlight of this journey. Meeting the local people in Greece and Turkey has been so special – to feel that human connection, even if you don’t speak the language and now you often don’t even see the smile because of the masks. We often communicate with eyes, with a nod, with a hand gesture and all is said. Experiencing the food and the pride with which it is made and presented. Experiencing the ceremonies of tea and coffee drinking. Observing people sitting at those tiny Turkish tables and stools drinking from their tiny Turkish tea glasses is heartwarming. Being invited by a stranger to sit with tea, having dropped off fruit by another boat owner from their orchard, being gifted figs by another local boat owner all priceless.
The kindness and human connection out here is everywhere too – the old rugged sailor who stopped by with his dinghy when our motor was broken, cutting off a bit of his fuel line to fix our motor, our cruising friends always lending a hand and loving up our children, sharing meals and stories.
The luxury of exploring those stunning landscapes, sights and and the ancient history as a family together, seeing Polly tied up in the most amazing locations, having the freedom to move whenever we want where ever we want (with covid restrictions of course, but still!) – how can I even start to describe those special moments?
Then there is the complexity of our own family. The children’s wellbeing has always been my main concern. Its quite a different story of doing this as a couple or doing it as a family. I often wonder or worry if this is or was the right thing to do, especially for Luca. Nina seems to go with the flow most of the time and enjoy herself. Luca misses his friends badly and the social contact and sports and due to covid there are a lot less other kid boats about with teenagers the same age as him. I really feel for him at times, but also feel its an important time for him to explore who he is without all the external stimulations and influences. I sense that there is a wanting to just be “normal” like all the other kids, his friends back home. I guess its a want to fit in, to blend in and its kind of impossible when you life on a boat with your parents. It makes me look back at my struggle through the years trying to fit in and never finding a place I belong, navigating the confusing grounds of our society and finally finding confidence in my 40’s to just be me.
I hope this time gives our children grounding and confidence in their abilities and personalities, so that they can hopefully navigate this strange world with more ease. Who knows, but at least they will have had a good taste of stability and security for a large part of their lives and a taste of adventure for some part – it might give them a broader view of the world, lifestyles, cultures and humanity.
Becoming a mother to our 2 precious children is one of the most rewarding things of my life, but also the hardest. There is simply no right and wrong way to be a parent. Each time I think I am getting the hang of things, our children or I change and we have to figure it all out again. I think of all the things I want to do right, that I thought my parents where doing wrong and then I observe all the things I am not doing right and I realise the impossibility of doing everything right as parent. It doesn’t matter if we live in a house or on a ship. The parenting game and simply being a human on this planet is going to take some effort and we are all going to muck up some time or other. So might as well enjoy the ride as best we can.
And then there is obviously the relationship with me and Tim, which needed to grown once more in a different direction altogether. I knew from books I read ahead of time that this major lifestyle change can make or brake a relationship. Being with each other and the kids 24/7 presents its own challenges. Adjusting to a completely different lifestyle meant something entirely individual for all of us. Tim is carrying the major burden of being the only one of us being clued up about sailing, weather, technology, repairs, boats, filming, editing etc., while I try to figure out schooling, provisioning, budgeting and helping with whatever else I can.
There is of course not much privacy or couple space on such a tiny boat, so it takes readjusting on all levels relationship wise. We had our ruffles as a couple, we had days where we didn’t talk and arguments and disagreements. And we have many days where we are simply grateful for this experience, that we are still sticking together and loving each other, that we somehow managed to navigate though this major adjustment as a family and couple. When I look back at the 16 years we have been together from when we first met, we both have grown and changed so much and luckily we both grew in roughly similar directions.
In some aspects we couldn’t be more different, but somehow we seem to complement each other. While I thrive talking about yoga, essential oils, nutrition, natural health, books, crotchet, drawing and have crystals, angel cards and sage – Tim thrives talking flying anything, anything technology, weather, boats. Then there are the things we both love, family, friends, food, time in nature, exploring, music (talking about music was what brought us together our first date) and simply wanting to making the most of the life we have been given, along with the appreciation and gratitude for our precious time here on this planet. I am just grateful that we found each other all those years ago and for all the precious times and experiences we have had together so far.
Simplifying our life’s likes this we had to let go of a lot of stuff and after a while it seems that some things are simply not practical, too hard, don’t feel right, while others still support me and new ones emerge. One thing that I am totally less concerned with is how I appear – my looks. My wardrobe reduced from huge one to about 30 items that fit in our tiny wardrobe here on the boat. With my natural curls I don’t even brush my hair most days. I don’t have make up or nail polish and warm showers are a luxury while long hot baths are a distant memory. I still get e-mails from an ethic yoga label that I used to love and still do, but I don’t feel like I want to buy every second item anymore. I simply don’t need or want them. I don’t feel the need to paint color on my face or nails. I don’t even do yoga every day anymore and rarely meditate. I have pulled out my Tibetan Signing Bowls exactly once in 10 months, when I felt like couldn’t possibly separate from them and carried them all the way to Europe to be with me on the boat. I just doesn’t feel right here, I haven’t found the space or tribe to share it with out here.
I however sit on the bow of the boat and watch the ocean, I marvel at the different stunning anchorages, I steer the boat on the ocean, I go on walks in different places almost every day, I discovered crochet, which seems my meditation replacement, I write a lot more, I draw a lot more, I actually finish reading books rather than just accumulating them. I don’t analyze what I do or don’t do all the time. I don’t immerse myself in what everyone else is doing, because most things are simply irrelevant or impossible out here anyway.
I simply practice my yoga when it feels right with whatever movements feel right with the few props and little space I have. I sit at the bow of the boat for a meditation when I feel like it and when the weather and the kids allow. I roll my essential oils on, take my supplements and my homeopathic remedies when my body asks for it. Because finally I hear what its saying and what its asking for. My poor body is not in constant fight or flight response – we can have conversations, we hear each other and usually I have time to respond. And it needs a lot less attention, because I seem to live more aligned.
There are no routines, when I tried to cram strict routines into my life for so many years – which never worked for me – my morning routine now is to gaze out the window to check out the anchorage, give Tim a hug and drink the coffee he kindly makes me every morning, do some crochet, check out messages and simply am grateful that I don’t have to rush anywhere. That’s one of the best things of this life. I am not a morning person and I always disliked the rush of making lunchboxes, retting everybody presentable for school and work and dragging myself and the kids out of bed when we clearly where still tired and needed more sleep. It is just so nice to go with the flow and I enjoy that a lot.
What I find is that all experiences seem to have a duality, a yin and yang, a good and bad. I remember a Russian saying that my mum told me when I was younger: There is nothing good without bad and nothing bad without good. Comparing our 2 lifestyles I find that both have “good” and “bad” sides to it. I think when we start growing and moving out into the world and having all the different experiences we scatter our hearts a bit everywhere. I can be just as happy sitting in a comfy house by a cosy fireplace with routines as I can be on a floating boat with no routine at all.
For me what transpires is that I need to align with my values (family time, me time, community time, time full stop, a balance of work and life, work to live not live to work, purpose, fulfillment etc.) and that I need a certain sense of freedom (not so many social pressures and bills and costs of living that I feel crushed) to be happy. It seems like both of these are more accessible out there – I feel more aligned with my values and freer.
And then there are ponderings of what HOME means. I thought I had figured out that home is in my heart when I left Germany and “found myself”. That I can make home anywhere where I am and to some degree that is true. But when I think of New Zealand I still feel “home” there. I don’t feel home in Germany anymore, I don’t even feel home in the German language anymore. We call Polly our home and of course she is, but I don’t feel as if the Ocean is home for me. She is just to big to mighty to feel home, or maybe not home yet, maybe we just don’t know each other well enough yet. Certainly home is where my family is now, as my heart is now not my own anymore – it has multiplied and grown with becoming a mother and wife. It seems like parts of my heart are walking outside of me in my children. It seems like parts of my heart have been left behind and are scattered everywhere, in Germany, In New Zealand in the countries I have travelled, in the friends, families and lovers, houses and apartments I have left behind long ago and not so long ago. It seems home is many places now and nowhere at the same time. It seems like home remains an open question.
Going forwards I personally still have to work through a lot of my fears and worries. Sailing doesn’t come as easy to me as it comes to Tim and the thought of sailing Polly back to New Zealand with kids an all just frightens me. Tim really wants it though, so we will see what the next year brings with Corona, travel and budget restrictions. I still like the idea to stay mortgage free and live on Polly in New Zealand. It would mean we wouldn’t have to work so hard and would have more time with the kids while they still want to be with us, but how realistic that would be and what jobs we would work in and if that would all be practical and even where to settle in New Zealand is all in the stars. One major lesson is definitely to get comfortable with not knowing anything and not having a plan.
So I will go with that into 2021. No plan, being comfortable with not knowing, making the most of every day, loving each other, loving the planet and the people and animals we meet, having an open heart and an open mind, keeping to let go of pre-prescribed ideas of how life should be and embracing the unknown, learning new things, relax and enjoy, laugh, try to be silly and light, letting go of should’s and would’s and could’s and just be, resting and sleeping and immersing in creative endeavors is not only necessary but healing and balm for the soul, keeping to discover who I am under all the masks and asking questions and remaining curious.
2021 – I am already grateful for the time you will gift us, for another year on this crazy planet and for another year close to my family and nature on our beautiful boat and closer to finding comfort with not knowing.
Here is a passage from Rebecca Campbell’s card deck that I noted down, because it really resonated with me – it might move something in you too:
Nature is constantly showing us to live with courage: Fall comes every year and encourages the trees to loosen their grip. To allow what once was so full of life, to fall away, leaf by leaf. For a moment, it feels like nothing will grow again. The branches are left bare, without the comfort of what once was. But in the morn of Spring, new shoots begin to appear and something new is born that is then more glorious than before.