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Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Why , The Who, The How …

If you have ever sailed a sailboat, you know the incredible satisfaction that comes from harnessing the wind. I’m not talking about the tingle you get from tequila shots, and rum punches, on an excursion catamaran in the Dominican. I’m talking about the sheer exhilaration you experience when you hold the wheel in one hand, and trim the sails with the other.

Imagine,  it’s early morning, and the sun has just  broke the horizon. It’s warm, but dew still drips from the palm leaves. The water ripples, while a soft breeze begins to build. As the sails lift, they luff in the breeze. You turn the bow from nose to the wind, to 45 degrees on a port tack (that’s ‘wind on your left side’ for land lovers). As the sail fills, the boat gains momentum. The sun climbs the bright blue sky, as the boat continues to stretch the  space between you and shore. No sooner do waves start to form fore of your bow, when your bow smashes through them like a knife through butter. You realise the freedom of an open sea, and an endless breeze. You wonder how far you could go, and recognise there are no firm limits! Your spirit, your bravery is all that will set your boundaries!

This freedom is at the core of  our motivation to give it all up. Beyond that, there is also fear. I fear a lot of things in my life. I fear regrets. I fear failure. I fear a life unfulfilled, potential not realised.

I also I fear the unknown. For me,  the biggest unknown on earth is the ocean. The ocean is vast, deep, and mysterious. I can sit beside the ocean for a whole day, staring, dreaming, and meditating. It’s  a day well spent, asking questions to my inner self, and seeking answers from the vastness.  But the thought of being IN the ocean, REALLY IN the ocean? The rumour is true, it terrifies me. I’ve lived a lifetime of facing fears, to a point that perhaps my biggest fear is not facing fears? Or perhaps it’s just the Leafs fan in me, makes me a glutton for punishment!?
Our Tiki Bar
This, in warm weather, the boat, and a perfect sailing day...

By now, I’m sure the sailors are thinking “when is this guy going to start talking sailing, already??”, so, The Who?!

When I tell anyone about this adventure, first question I get is “do you know how to sail”? The form in which  the question is asked changes, depending  on the experience of the person asking. But I’m sure the point is always a qualification of sanity. I could answer this simply by pointing out that my father-in-law has seen me sail, and he’s not interested in coming on the boat anytime soon!  

I have sailed before, but survival depends largely on always knowing there is more that can be learnt. I got my first sailing experience when I was 8. My dad brought home a “Sea Snark” he bought at K-Mart. Yes, I’m THAT old! It was a 12’ Styrofoam  sailboat. Simple, and easy to rig, we enjoyed many years of puttering around small lakes in it.

As a young  adult, I began to wonder if I had outgrown the Sea Snark, when I was out in Georgian Bay, with two buddies. We were in a busy Penetanguishene harbour on a Sunday afternoon, as pleasure cruisers buzzed back to port all around us. Already overloaded with 3, in a 2 seat boat, we got swamped from wakes coming at us from all sides. Luckily, it was Styrofoam, so no real damage was done. Although, I took a break from sailing for a while after that experience.

I hit 30 absent from the sailing experiences of my earlier days, and started to slide to the dark side. The power boat life that my parents enjoyed with their 30’ rebuilt Lepeche started to grow on me. It was nice to fire up the engines, point the boat to where we wanted to go, and be able to cruise straight to a destination, arriving in a predictable amount of time. My sailing roots always came haunting back, however, each time we filled that gas tanks. Shouting over the engine sound, to have a friendly conversation, while we choked on fumes wasn’t all it was made out to be either. This was not a lifestyle that offered the freedom and tranquillity mentioned earlier.

In my early 30’s my parents bought a store, which brought an end to the boat. For them, and for me. I suppose I could have carried on the tradition alone, but there were kids to feed, careers to build… What’s that Harry Chapin son?? So my love for the water had to be put on hold. At 40, mid life crisis started it’s work. I needed a boat, but I was surrounded by boating rookies, so I bought a learner… a 14’ Zuma. For anyone not in the know, a Zuma is a daysailer, the equivalent of a Laser II, but wider, and more stable, for recreation purposes. It would serve as a GREAT learning tool for the family. Unfortunately, only my daughter had the courage to venture out with me! One life change later, my new wife didn’t like venturing out on it much either! It seems that my penchant for sailing as close to the wind as possible, wasn’t so appealing to recreational sailors! Did I mention my father-inlaw’s opinion on that? Boat Sold!

During this same time, I also took an interest in racing. I realised the potential for learning. I would be working with seasoned sailors, who would teach for free! I posted an enquiry on the Bronte Harbour website, and was offered a spot on the crew of Heart Breaker, captained by Mike Judd, and accepted. Shortly after, I got a call from another boat, and was encouraged to rethink. I did, based on “questionable intelligence” and spent Tuesdays and Thursdays on a less competitive boat, with less experienced racers. I learnt just the same, and had fun doing it!

When the wind was good, racing was fun. When the wind wasn’t, it made for a long night. But I got a great insight into the ‘Club’, and it was good! Work, with a LOT of travel, as well as the rigours of being a single dad, forced me to give up the racing. I came away with knowledge, and the understanding that the sailing community was a close knit fraternity, dedicated to promoting a simpler life, a fun life.

So fast forward to today. Now that you know a bit about who I am and what motivates me, I’m sure you’re wondering how I can quit everything, at 47, for a simpler life. To achieve this, many things need be addressed. Financial means, and sailing experience are the two most important things we needed to realise.

First, the Financial

Well, winning the lottery is the BEST option… but probably not so likely. We considered donations , but people are funny when it comes to asking them for money to do what they would rather do themselves! Still not likely. Fortunately, we have two houses, some investments, and a willingness to live simple! So financially, liquidating everything MIGHT give us a few years of freedom, with a decent retirement… someday! The plan is to budget $25 000 per year, with a goal to enjoy at least two years of sailing. Lots of uncertainty, but my office walls is filled with ‘what if, options’! Beyond that, we’re hopeful that somewhere, somehow, along our travels, we can discover a way to seek out a living, and stay in the area.

As for sailing experience, buying the boat a year ahead of our departure date is step one. My past experience, combined with a Canadian Power Squadron course, will get us off the dock. In the book “A Sail of Two Idiots” Renee tells the story of running aground 10 minutes outside Miami. We’re hopeful our entry level qualifications can at least prevent that! The lessons they learnt, shared in her book, will be of GREAT help! We also plan to hire an instructor, for private lessons, and mechanical instruction, as soon as we take possession. Down the road I’ll take an Intermediate course, and Coastal Nav course from Humber Sailing School. When the time nears, to depart, we will evaluate then, whether a captained charter will be needed, to ensure a comfort level with ocean cruising.

As a person who loves to plan, the detail in our plans are thorough. I have notes, maps, charts and lists posted all across my office walls. I am constantly thinking of new ideas to save more, and  to learn more. Fortunately, the sailing community is full of good people, willing to help in anyway they can. We already have encountered dozens of sailors who have graced us with the experience and ideas they have to share. As our journey continues, so will our learning.

That’s the story of The Why, The Who, and The How. We’re getting close to launch date now, so I look forward to sharing the real time experiences, and dramas that lie ahead!

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