The Cruising Life: Reflections on early retirement
by Phyllis Neumann, MFT
May 2012— In 1993 my husband and I retired, sold our house and bought a 47-foot ketch. We cruised for 10 years, spending time in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama. We transited the Panama Canal, returning to the United States 2½ years later. For the remaining years we traveled the East Coast, from Florida to New England. When our two daughters began having children of their own, we decided it was time to become actively involved as grandparents rather than continue cruising. But those cruising years gave us amazing memories and insights about life.
Live your dream, not someone else’s. Cruising life tends to put stress on most relationships. Many of the women we met while cruising had careers of their own, but gave it all up to follow their husband’s dreams, not really choosing the cruising life for themselves. These women often became relegated to the role of galley slave and seemed pretty angry at having given up so much for their partners. We found that if both partners really want to cruise, then giving up land life can be an exciting adventure.
It takes time to understand the real meaning of cruising. No sooner had we arrived in La Paz in March than we were making plans to leave so we could be in Costa Rica by June, before hurricane season. A cruiser, hearing our plans, asked us what the rush was for. She suggested that we take the summer to explore the Sea of Cortez, and then head to Mexico in November where we could take a year or so to explore the Mexican coast. She was right, of course — we changed our plans right then and there. That was when we officially became cruisers.
In the first few months of cruising we actually began to feel twinges of guilt for having so much fun. One question kept haunting us — was it OK to spend our days playing, reading or just relaxing? We found that society tends to frown on people who don’t work for a living. One of my relatives told me to continue working. A friend thought that we should be giving back to society. In time, we became more comfortable in letting go of the old rules and learning to relax. Boat repairs seemed to provide enough work to relieve any guilt.
Time is not perceived in the same way when you’re cruising. When people go on vacation they tend to cram as much as possible into every day. When you’re cruising, time stands still and is not such a precious commodity. If we saw a beautiful anchorage, for example, we often considered staying for a week, or even a month. When we were in Zihuatenejo, the Golden Princess had just come into port. We chatted with two ladies from the ship who had just spent their last few nights at different ports. Once they realized that we had sailed our own boat from San Francisco, they asked us how long it had taken us to get to there. We coolly replied, “About a year and a half.”
Living at anchor is fairly inexpensive. There are no appointments to keep and no bills to pay. We created our own electricity and water, handled our own garbage — and anchoring is free. With no AAA or Home Depot around we became quite resourceful in finding our own solutions to problems, which empowered us and made us feel proud of ourselves when we were successful.
Living in tight quarters together 24/7, without a lot of conveniences, can often be stressful on relationships. In our case, we were quite comfortable sharing our space. I loved to cook, watch videos and do computer work. My husband loved to read and smoke in the cockpit, and write poetry. We really never got in each other’s way. Life on land hasn’t changed all that much — we just have more space.
The cruising community is small, and we soon formed a fleet that became much like a family — we never felt alone. We learned to rely on each other for just about everything. If we needed a boat part, someone usually had it; if we needed advice, someone was usually ready to give it. Sitting in the middle of nowhere made us feel very self-sufficient, yet also very dependent on the people around us.
We found that there’s a surprising difference between cruisers and tourists. Cruisers tend to strike up a conversation easily, and friends are made quickly. Tourists, after being greeted, tended to eye us suspiciously and grab their valuables in rapid social retreat. It was then that I discovered a devilish new pleasure in life — I made it my business to greet each tourist I met with warm enthusiasm.
Cruising life changed our perspective on life. We learned to slow down and smell the sea air. We learned how to live in harmony together in a small space, and to value the people around us. Most importantly, we learned not to cram so much into our lives, but to live each day to the fullest. Those are good life lessons, and ones that we continue to adhere to on land.
Phyllis Neumann is a licensed marriage and family therapist with an office in Half Moon Bay. She enjoys working with individuals and couples and is currently forming a women’s group. Neumann can be reached at 650-726-8199, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.