How a cruising couple returned to life on land after a three-year voyage to the South Pacific (published June 2014)
I feel I’m balancing between two worlds, trying to hold on and not fall down into a deep chasm. Some days I do well. I’m poised like a ballerina—in control, feeling strong and confident. Other days I feel like I’ve slipped over the edge, plunging head first out of control. The cruising life I recently left behind was slow and simple, challenging yet rich and rewarding. It fed my soul in so many ways. The world to which I have returned is fast, complex and just too busy at times. I find I have to work harder to lead the life I want, the one that came so easily to me while cruising.
I’ve found the process of re-entering life on land has its challenges. I’m not entirely sure why. It is the world I have lived in for over 50 years and I know it well. So why did we leave the cruising life? Why is it difficult to re-enter life on land? And how have we handled our new life ashore?
We spent the past three years sailing through the South Pacific to New Zealand and then back to Vancouver, British Columbia. Norm and I made landfall in Ucluelet, BC this past July and it felt incredibly good to be home. Our decision to stop cruising was primarily due to family. We both have aging parents and we wanted to be near them. I knew beyond a doubt that I wanted to be there for my mom in her later years when she needed me. Norm and I also missed our two adult children, both of whom are living in Vancouver. We wanted to see them more often and now feel we are a part of their lives. We don’t regret for a moment sailing home. For us it has always felt like the right decision.
Following our Ucluelet landfall, we spent the month of August cruising the beautiful coast of British Columbia, visiting family and sharing anchorages with our kids, who are also sailors. I felt like I was in heaven. Our sail home from New Zealand had been long and hard. But we relaxed and basked in the warmth that only family can offer. Neither of us felt in a rush to leave the boat and move back onto land. This slow-paced month spent visiting family and coastal sailing proved to be very helpful to the re-entry process.
ADJUSTING TO LAND LIFE
Finally it was time to move back into our house in White Rock, BC. We rented it while we were away cruising and that worked out well, as the rent provided us with a monthly income. As we began to settle back into our house I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of it. Although it is not large by modern standards, it seemed palatial to me. I never once felt that our living space on the boat was too small. We sailed in tropical latitudes and we were outside most of the time—the whole ocean was our backyard!
I’m now slowly adjusting to living in our house again. I thoroughly enjoy sitting in our cozy living room reminiscing in front of the fire. There were many times when I was on night watch, battling squalls as the winds climbed to 30 knots and the rain poured down. I would dream of home. I yearned for the safety, security and warmth it offered. Now it’s mine to enjoy every day.
One of my first impressions after we arrived home was being overwhelmed by the consumerism that is so much a part of our culture in North America. It is pervasive and such a contrast to life in the Pacific Islands. I listen to ads on the radio, watch ads on TV and read them in the newspapers. We are bombarded from every direction with messages to buy this or that. At first I found that I couldn’t take much of it and I’d turn off the radio, preferring the silence. And I still haven’t ventured into a mall, concerned that I will feel overwhelmed. There is so much out there in all the stores and I feel I don’t really need any of it.
While I was unpacking box after box of “valuable stuff” that we had kept in our storage locker while away, I found myself wondering, “Do we really need all these things?” We had lived very happily on our boat for three years without any of it. Why is it that at home we need 25 glasses, 10 serving platters and umpteen knickknacks? I struggle to make sense of it all.
Living on land does have its benefits and I am enjoying them all. I attend yoga classes three times per week and though I practiced yoga on the boat, I find that I get a much better workout by attending a structured class. I’ve resumed playing the piano, too, and it has been a joy to tinkle the ivories again. I’m a quilter, and although we had a sewing machine on board Sarah Jean, I found I didn’t do much quilting. Instead, I would choose to go snorkeling or visit locals ashore. Now I’m quilting with my mom and loving it. Digging in our garden feels good. I missed this pastime while we were away cruising.
I am grateful to be able to do all these things again. These activities help me adjust to life on land. They help me to feel at peace and to be introspective and creative. While on passages and in quiet anchorages I used to have lots of time for thinking and reflecting on life. Now I am trying hard to make time for this practice in my daily life ashore.
A big part of re-entry is the four-letter word called “work.” Yes, it often gets in the way of things we want to do in our lives. I have returned to work, but only part time. It was a necessary evil in order to bring in an income to put food on our table. I was very lucky to be able to return to the same company and job I left three years ago and I really enjoy my work. But I often find that I feel pulled in many different directions living on land. There’s work, the needs of aging parents, time with friends and many leisure activities that compete for my attention. Life was so much simpler and more focused while cruising. The biggest concern of the day was finding a suitable anchorage for the night. And if we were already securely anchored, there were no concerns.
Shortly after we returned home I began calling up old friends to get together and found that people rarely use the telephone anymore. They text, email, tweet, Instagram and Facebook, which meant I had to learn a whole new way of communicating. When connections were finally made, we found that the earliest date we could get together was two weeks away. Could our schedules really be that busy? When we were cruising our life was so much more spontaneous. I would row our dinghy over to the closest boat in the anchorage, usually someone we had never met before, and invite them over for sundowners. This was often at 4:00 p.m. with an invitation to get together at 5:00. It would take me two minutes to wipe down the cockpit, find some chips and dip, and put on my lipstick—voila, an instant, easy party!
We observed that the people of the South Pacific Islands had time for us. They were extremely hospitable and would stop what they were doing to engage us. A Fijian farmer put down what he was working on just to show us around his island. Children in Vanuatu greeted us with big hellos and warm smiles. New Zealanders we barely knew invited us into their homes for a visit. By contrast, people at home rarely take the time or make an effort to engage those around them. As I sat waiting for a ferry the other day, virtually all of the people nearby were staring at their smartphones. I have found people on land seem busy and distracted. They don’t seem to listen to each other and conversations are often hurried and superficial.
Some days I feel like I’m slowly being sucked into the vortex of life on land. I have a smartphone now, we’ve subscribed to Netflix, I battle rush hour traffic on the way to work, I carry a set of keys and I blow-dry my hair. I needed none of these while cruising. I no longer swim or snorkel, read two books per week, gaze at the stars at night, or visit with people in distant lands. I desperately want to hold on to the life we had while cruising, but it is slipping away.
The past three years of cruising has changed me, I think for the better. While cruising, Norm and I learned how to live in the moment, to slow down and appreciate the places and people we met along the way. Norm says the bar for our life experiences and expectations has been raised. We want more now. We yearn for the deep and rich experiences we had while cruising.
While crossing the Pacific from Hawaii to Vancouver, Norm and I discussed our plans for re-entry, for our new life on land. We talked about how we wanted to lead our lives when we arrived back home and took stock of our values. In what ways did we want to change our old land-based lifestyle? Together we developed goals and wrote out plans to implement these changes. The time we spent on reflection was priceless and has helped with our re-entry.
As we navigate our way through this new stage of our lives, it has been helpful to have the plan we developed as we sailed home. And we keep coming back to it to stay on track. I think it’s important to have a focus when you are re-entering. I have my work, helping my mom, my yoga and quilting. Norm’s plan was to do volunteer work with the Bluewater Cruising Association. He wanted to give back to this organization that helped us so much as we prepared to go offshore. He is doing this and it has become a huge focus for him. Being in the company of cruisers every month has also helped us to keep our adventure alive.
Both of us have changed the way in which we connect with people. We are focusing on having more one-on-one interactions to create meaningful and deeper conversations and connections with people. We are endeavoring to live our lives like that Fijian farmer; to be generous with our time and to be fully engaged with those we are visiting.
We feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to cruise the South Pacific for three years. It allowed us to live slowly and in the moment, which isn’t always easy on land in our fast paced world. The plan we made for re-entry and the goals we set for ourselves have made the transition back to life on land easier. When we focus on these goals and try to live our life accordingly, we feel more fulfilled. Each and every day we try to seek out experiences and people that will bring richness to our lives. I think this is the most important legacy of our cruising adventure.
Beth and Norm Cooper set sail from Victoria, B.C. aboard their Saga 43 Sarah Jean II in September 2010. They sailed to Mexico and across the South Pacific to New Zealand where they land cruised in a Toyota camper van. They spent the following season in Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. In 2013 they sailed home from New Zealand via Rarotonga, Penrhyn Atoll in the Northern Cook Islands and Hawaii. They arrived home in July 2013 with 25,000 sea miles under their belt. For more information you can contact them at email@example.com or visit http://www.sailblogs.com/member/sarahjean2/.