The culture shock of life ashore (published August 2017)
Stepping from the marina parking lot onto the sidewalk, cars rushed by in a flash and I felt my heart start beating a bit faster. Rain pounded on the hard pavement, the stench of exhaust hung in the air and I winced at the noise. It had been over three weeks since we’d stopped in a place with so much traffic and it put me on edge.
Later, I was nearly run over stepping into a crosswalk when a driver ran a red light while texting. I was instantly shell shocked, as was the man next to me. I turned to him and said with wide eyes and a lump in my throat, “Wow, life can change in an instant. Live it every day.”
“I can’t believe that just happened,” he replied with an apprehensive chuckle.
In the moment, I felt safer offshore on Yahtzee in a gale than I did in this madness — I wanted to retreat to the sea.
The unease of life ashore didn’t come from traffic alone, though. Moving from the tranquil, subdued sounds of the ocean and mountains to bustling cities and towns is always an all around feast for the senses. These fast-moving places are a whirlwind of activity and when unnerving glimpses of the “real world” are caught, they can be of things we don’t often think about in the course of our normal cruising lives. And to be bombarded by it all creates an anxiety that we’ve felt before and know well.
The culture shock permeated through me throughout that first day back ashore and I knew it would pass while spending time around all the cars, people, noise and media. But I also knew it wasn’t just me who was adjusting.
For the crew of Yahtzee, some of our toughest moments as a cruising family don’t have anything to do with sailing at all. It’s not stormy nights at sea or anchor, or living in a small space. It’s not the near constant movement from one place to another or the short, rainy winter days that seemingly never end. No, it’s the transition time when coming to and leaving port after spending prolonged periods in remote places with mostly each other.
The pressures of coming to port to get things done including work, laundry, provisions, fuel, mail, boat parts and projects, etc, can be emotionally overwhelming, as time seems to move too quickly for us and everyone around. Fortunately, we know this shoreside tango will only be awkward and tense for about 24 hours before we settle into a groove. The boys are incredibly adaptable and have daily routines that keep their feet firmly on the ground and moving in the right direction. And at such a young age, they don’t know what the dizzying deluge of the world is throwing at them. It’s up to Jill and me, then, to find our footing and roll in lock step with society.
But whether it’s a big city or small town, exploring new places and meeting new people is what keeps life interesting. The boys usually wave and say hi to everyone they pass on the dock and I relish engaging in boat conversations with those willing to have them. Jill and the boys love finding playmates at community centers, libraries and playgrounds, and we all enjoy the companionship of fishermen and other cruisers we meet along the way. To us, the people are a big positive of the cruising lifestyle.
Then, after being at the dock for a few days, we start to get claustrophobic and crave a return to our adventures. A need to “get going” washes over us and we either go with the tide and wind or wait for the right moment without hurrying.
Overall, coming to port and then leaving again can be an uncomfortable waltz of getting things done combined with having fun. But in the end, it makes us more aware of the pressures we’re dealing with in this back and forth balance between wilderness and society. It generates an appreciation for living in both places and provides a greater understanding of each other that we wouldn’t otherwise develop. Also, it causes us to be more mindful of our actions and puts us squarely in the moment, taking life one day at a time — and that’s all we’re really after.
Andrew, along with wife Jill and sons Porter and Magnus, are currently cruising Alaska aboard their Grand Soleil 39 Yahtzee. Follow their adventures at threesheetsnw.com/yahtzee.