Contrast Cruising


Taking a break from paradise can spark a passion for adventures off the water and revitalize your cruising dreams  (published December 2014)

Most of us go cruising for the adventure, the soul-freedom and the zest for life that is too often lacking in our modern society. We sail to remote harbors to live simpler lifestyles that are closer to nature and to ourselves, to sample other cultures, to bear witness to the ocean’s majesty, and to savor our time on Earth. I cruise for all those reasons, but mostly I just go for the fun of it.

Cruising under sail is fun. That’s why I’ve spent much of my adult life doing it, sometimes for years at a stretch. Aboard my former cutter, Sparrow, I sailed for 6 years and 30,000 nautical miles with only one winter’s break to work ashore, and I learned something that surprised me. No matter how good it is, no matter how exotic and challenging and beautiful, cruising eventually becomes…ordinary, even (dare I say it?) dull. After years adventuring in paradise I’ve caught myself thinking, “Ho-hum, here’s another living coral reef. Should I bother to dive on it or should I start another paperback?” Or, “There’s another perfect, crescent white-sand beach flanked by palm trees with a hiking trail leading into the rainforest…yawn.”

on-the-road_4    It’s like eating candy all the time. You can only fully appreciate the sweetness of the cruising life if you have something against which to compare it. But isn’t this true of life in general? Isn’t it most keen and stimulating when there is something to offset it? Contrast, that’s the key to cruising!

People who only use their boats seasonally, like northern sailors who haul out every winter, already have contrast built into their sailing style. But long-term cruisers, those who live aboard full time and wander as wind and whim dictates, may someday be surprised to find a certain blandness creeping into their lives and lifestyle. When that happens it might be time to consider a change. I don’t mean you have to stop adventuring or stop having fun, and I’m certainly not urging you quit cruising altogether. I’m only suggesting a temporary change of scene, perhaps an alternate lifestyle to break up the pattern.

A lot of cruisers have to earn money periodically, interrupting their vagabond life with work stints, and guess what? When they return to the boat and set sail again, it’s like falling in love all over. Others store their boats in the tropics and return to northern homes ashore each summer, able to enjoy both worlds. One long-term cruising couple I know secures their boat in a marina or boatyard from time to time and takes off on extended backpacking treks, completely changing their environment and their routine.

I haven’t forgotten the lesson I learned aboard Sparrow, that endless cruising isn’t my ideal. So now I’m doing things differently. The first three years with my present boat, the good ketch Silverheels, were spent in the boatyard doing a stem to stern refit. For me it was an immensely rewarding experience and when it was finished, setting sail was a real high. But after two years cruising I began to notice that subtle dullness that comes from doing anything all the time, and I knew it was my time for a change. So I stored the boat on the hard, bought a campervan and hit the road for the summer, bound for the mountain forests of the American Northwest. What fun!

vancamping_lochsa-river_2    Now, as I sit writing this beside a mountain stream deep in a National Forest, there’s one thing I know for sure. When I put the van in storage this fall and get back to Silverheels—and I can hardly wait—I’m going to savor every passage and every landfall as we continue our cruising adventures together. And when the time comes again for a change, as it inevitably will, I’ve got a campervan waiting out west where the wild mountain forests beckon and Alaska is just up the road.

It doesn’t matter so much whether you stop for work, return home, backpack through a new country or head for the hills in an RV. It’s all good. The trick is to allow some space between cruises so that each and every one is a highlight. Contrast cruising. That’s what keeps it fresh and fun.

silverheels_indiantown-marinaWriter/photographer, marine industry consultant and lifelong cruising sailor, Tor Pinney ( has logged nearly 150,000 nautical miles under sail. His articles appear in boating magazines worldwide and his authoritative book, Ready for Sea—How to Outfit the Modern Cruising Sailboat (Sheridan House), is available in nautical bookstores and online. Tor is presently revisiting the Caribbean aboard his 42 foot ketch, Silverheels.