How to strike a balance between cruising and working (published June 2013)
Today’s office is open-air with yellow and orange pillars, a red stone floor and a desk with a bright blue tablecloth. My husband Will sits across from me and behind him a monkey swings back-and-forth in a cage in the garden making cheery monkey sounds—cute, rather than distracting. It’s warm out so I just took a swim break in the pool. The odd mosquito bites my leg and tiny ants storm the coffee sugar on the table, but our fingers click away on our keyboards without worry.
The unique part about life aboard Hydroquest, our Beneteau First 405, is that part of our “quest” is to find a balance between working and cruising. We are in our early 30’s and we work and cruise at the same time, on our own boat.
Isn’t part of the cruising dream to save enough money to quit the rat race altogether? In our experience it is true that cruising is often seen as either a retirement plan or a time out from the real world. But it doesn’t have to be.
Cruising is, of course, an expensive undertaking so continuing to work can be a way to make the dream possible. Having funds come into the bank account rather than constantly flowing out is a huge bonus. Also, when you’re nowhere near retirement age it can be difficult to stop working altogether, so a certain amount of real world responsibility to keep the neurons firing is always welcome.
At first we thought our plan was unique, but we’ve been amazed to find that we’re not the only ones out here doing the balancing act. We’re part of a new group of Generation X/Y cruisers who can see beyond the typical rigidity of a nine to five job, knowing that flexible work is possible today and not believing that leaving the regular business world for a few years is detrimental to a career. What’s a pension these days anyway? Whether still working or not, we can’t help but ask what company wouldn’t value this cruising experience on a resume? If they don’t, we probably don’t want to work there anyway.
Our personal vision wasn’t too far-fetched given that the Curry family business, Hydrovane International Marine, is closely tied to the cruising life. Will and I purchased our boat in December 2011, shortly after I joined the business, and we now work together while maintaining separate job accountabilities.
So far in Mexico we’ve met an astonishing number of other cruisers (mostly younger) who are striving for the same lifestyle. They’ve also found jobs they can perform on the go including computer programming, web design, scientific research, sales, writing, account management, investing and marine services. We’ve also met cruisers who do the 6 months on and 6 months off type of seasonal work.
Beyond the will or need to keep working, communication technology is what makes many of these remote gigs possible. In Mexico this has proved easy. Our Banda Ancha Móvil Tecel USB sticks provide fast data service anywhere within cell phone range. The cost is $500 pesos for 3GB or one month of service, whichever comes first. Wi-Fi connections are easy to come by and we use Skype as needed for phone calls all over the world as well as cloud facilities, like Dropbox, to store and share files. When we venture to isolated anchorages or while at sea, we can easily send and receive compressed emails via our Iridium satellite phone. We’ve chosen to use the MailASail compression program because it allows us to choose to download attachments if we really need to rather than stripping them right out.
WHAT? WHEN? WHERE?
Using these methods of communication, we can work anywhere we want: on the boat, in a coffee shop, at restaurants or hotel, or on the beach. From experience, we don’t recommend the latter.
The majority of working cruisers do so on a part-time or contract basis. Parkinson’s Law in regard to time comes into play: The amount of time which one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task. It’s not surprising that when you have a shorter, self-imposed time frame and you really focus, you get can your work done much faster. Goodbye procrastination! Personally, we spend an average of 4 non-consecutive hours working per day, including Saturday and Sunday. Weekends don’t exist in Mexico.
WORK/CRUISE BALANCE HOW-TO
The main challenge in this balancing act is that the “cruise” part includes boat projects and boat maintenance. Ignoring these time consuming, must-do tasks would put the entire lifestyle in jeopardy. Boat work can be in-itself a full-time job, so this is where stress starts to seep back into our attempt at a laid-back life. In our pursuit of a happy equilibrium we’ve identified these means to success:
Throw out the concept of a daily schedule and don’t expect to be able to keep specific work hours. It’s not possible. Priorities change quickly on a boat. For example, when you discover water pouring into the bilge from a loose hose connection under the head sink, you’ll probably want to fix that right away. Funny enough though, sometimes coming back to the computer can actually feel like a break or even a reward from a particularly arduous boat project.
Adapt a cruising mentality as quickly as possible. Nothing can be perfect, things will go wrong and things will break. Don’t waste energy and frustration on trying to challenge this cruising law. Become more Zen about all issues and allow this to permeate into your outlook towards work as well.
Refine your time management skills. It’s amazing how many more hours there are in a day when you go to bed early, wake up early and eliminate TV. Regardless, cruisers know that time management doesn’t exist when it comes to boat projects; through no fault of your own, purchasing a small screw can burn up a whole day. So, in contrast, apply strict time management to efficiently complete your work. I personally find that focus is possible because I’m not constantly drifting off dreaming about sailboats and palm trees. I’m already here.
As with any work/life balance, relax and spend quality time with those you love. Part of what makes the work/cruise lifestyle a success is that it’s so much easier to relax than at home. You can be on instant vacation with beaches, good friends, amazing views, things to explore and stunning sunsets available the minute your laptop closes. It used to take Will until 8pm on a Friday night to recover from the workweek. Now, unwinding happens instantaneously.
Enjoy work. Enjoy play. Just like at home, a beer at the end of the day tastes much better when it has been earned.
IN ALL HONESTY
It’s not possible to live by these rules ALL the time. We still have our stressed out moments, we get tired and we get frustrated with having a lot on our plate, especially with a boat that is still fairly new to us and an endless list of projects. At the same time, we’re gaining strength and understanding in how to maintain control over our cruising/working life. We’re fine-tuning the balancing act—and we’re also having the best time of our lives. Finding a work/cruise balance in Mexico is certainly possible. Beyond Mexico, we’ll have to let you know…
Sarah Curry has put her Human Resources career on hold to jump into cruising with her husband Will on Hydroquest, their Beneteau First 405. After cruising Mexico’s Pacific Coast they are currently crossing the Pacific to spend time exploring French Polynesia and beyond.