Eleven years ago Kim and I were swept over by a bold vision. We were tired and bored to death with trying to hustle some kind of existence out of the padded walls of a “cubicle,” so we decided to sell all our belongings, fix up an old sailboat and travel to exotic locations. Flooded with visionary feelings, we walked away from our jobs and dumped our 30 year mortgage. Our families were concerned, our peers puzzled. We were unstoppable.
It never occurred to us at the time that perhaps the idea was a bit cliché and maybe a little naïve. If I could travel back in time and visit myself in that stuffy office building, I'd ask myself a few questions: Do you have any idea what all this big dreaming might lead to? Can you really picture yourself coming back to this cubicle after your five years are up? Do you remember all the cynical things you said about that question that every employer wants an answer to? Where do you see yourself in five years?
Who can really say what is going to happen in five years – or eleven, for that matter. No one can, and yet we all certainly have big ideas that move our lives in a certain direction.
It's hard to identify any specific place where our plan first spawned, but there is a lovely beach scene that frequently runs through my mind. In it, Morgan Freeman strolls down an empty beach in suit and tie with luggage in hand. The Pacific is clearly as blue as he had hoped it would be. The bow of a beat up old boat slides into frame and a starry-eyed Tim Robins sands peacefully on the deck. His shirt sleeves are torn off and his smile is like medicine for your soul. The camera pans high over the gently washing surf as the two friends reunite outside of the prison walls. If the Shawshank Redemption soundtrack were playing, I'd probably need a tissue. Hope. Freedom. Hollywood.
A Real Dream Boat
In case you you haven't heard, Detroit started taking a nose dive a long time before the rest of America. When we set off to find our own place in the sun, we had been sweating a thirty year mortgage there long enough to make us severely gun shy about big purchases. We had a five year plan – if we didn't spend a lot on the boat, we figured we could make it five years. As we fled the crumbling ruins of the rust belt, our fingers were crossed that we'd find an investment that could float.
“Andy Dufresne... who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.” That's Red's line in the movie. When we showed up in the boatyard, we thought we had just emerged from our own five hundred yard crawl, but it turned out we were only getting started. A boat yard is nothing like a beach in Zihuatanejo. It was sweaty and dirty. Ascending the twelve foot ladder to our platform in the sky, we were overwhelmed with stunning views of our new neighborhood – a toxic wastefield. Naturally, questions about our sanity quickly arose. When would the river of shit come to an end? Wasn't this our escape plan?
The boat we found came with lots of problems. The big dents in the metal hull where the previous owners had slammed it into a reef were foreboding, but under the surface was a whole new box of problems. The engine didn't run. The sails were torn. The rigging was frayed. The toilet jambed. The oven door fell off in a pile of rust the first time Kim grabbed the handle.
There was no shower, no pressure water, and no heater. To say the least, it was very campy. The spartan accommodations were nearly devoid of cabinetry. Regardless, our spirits were overflowing, gushing forth into an ocean of wonderful possibilities. Certainly we could clean up the damp metal stuff-holes where our things were to be stored and line them with something. We gathered up the pillows, cushions and old clothes that were covered with sticky sheets of mold and carried them to the dumpster. We could fix up a house. Why couldn't we fix up a boat? We were positively unstoppable. For a while.
What's Your Dream?
“Where ya gonna go?” Every white-haired Ernest Hemmingway look-alike would ask us.
“We wanna go see icebergs,” we'd tell them, despite the fact that the design of the boat we'd just purchased was a Reve d'Antilles. Translated in English this means The Dream of the Caribbean.
“Why would you want to do that?” They asked us repeatedly. “It's cold there.”
None of them, apparently, had any sense of humor when we told them we wanted to see icebergs and glaciers before they were all gone. The majority of our new neighbors were there on their yearly mecca to Georgetown in the Bahamas. It was a place that we understood retirees went to to play Mexican Train Dominoes and weave baskets. (it's partly true, we found out)
After a year of slaving away at our dream – of toiling away our life inside a box – we asked each other, “what the hell, why don't we just go spend a year in the Caribbean? So we headed out through the Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean, and then back westward through Latin America. It was a great time. Before we knew it, one year had turned into five.
It has been eleven years since we first set off to find the edge of the ice and now we're working harder than ever to try once more to make it there. In the meantime, we've managed to pretty much flush our savings account down the toilet. In eleven years, however, it has become less of a funny joke anymore (for multiple reasons) to say that we'd like to see icebergs and glaciers before it's too late.
In our decade of cruising, we've discovered that along with constantly seeking new sights, sounds, distractions and interactions, it is also very rewarding to maintain some kind of serious outlet for expressing your creativity. A tired old meme that we frequently hear out here is: "there are people who go cruising and then their are people that build boats." Apparently, there isn't supposed to be anybody in between. We most often hear it from folks that travel in boats that cost more than the average American McMansion. The truth is, we've also met plenty of people that dare to follow their own dreams, even when there is some assembly required. Building the dream can be part of living the dream - as long as it's your dream.