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I had meant to write a snapshot week this week, because it’s a biggie.
We’ve got a huge hurdle in the sale of Mirounga to leap, and I have a couple of other big things going on personally. In the end, though, I can’t bear to write a day by day account. Some part of me feels like trying to diarise such an important time will jinx it. If everything goes wrong, do I really want a record of that?
I know, that’s paranoia and anxiety speaking. But it’s how I feel. And if it does go well, it’s so bittersweet. To think that in 2.5 weeks we won’t live on Mirounga anymore…
We will eventually write about how we went about the sale, but when it’s over.
Some plans have already been delayed/changed. After a week of frantic cleaning, scrubbing, polishing and buffing, we’ve found ourselves with a couple of free days.
It’s given us to spend time with friends, and to reflect on our year out here. And thus, I write.
The best and the worst
Over a game of pool up at The Sail House the other night, our friend Nicola said there would be two questions we’d be asked a lot in future. What was the best thing about living aboard, and the worst. Having done so herself, she said we better start thinking about it now so we weren’t put on the spot.
It’s interesting for me to think about what I anticipated the best and worst things would be.
I was absolutely certain that boredom and loneliness would be an issue, but that the worst aspect of living onboard would be just that – living onboard. Not having normal plumbing and the mod cons of a house, being detached from land, and the mammoth effort of maintaining a floating home.
On the latter, I was right. The amount of money, learning and effort involved in maintaining a boat is huge. Doing so when not all islands have the facilities you need, and in the sweltering Caribbean heat, adds an extra level of exhaustion. We did make a lot of things easier. Adding the water maker and improving our solar was a game changer, as was buying a small washing machine. But existing on a boat is still hard.
Partly because of the effort of maintaining a boat, and working, boredom has not been an issue at all. And loneliness? Beyond the first few weeks of homesickness, it couldn’t have been further from my expectations.
Outweighed by the good
I’d expected that the best part of living aboard would be the things I loved when we’ve sailed on holiday. Anchoring by beautiful beaches and swimming daily in beautiful clear water. As much as we’ve done that, it hasn’t been the best bit for me. The novelty wore off almost immediately. I genuinely hadn’t realised that I’m not that much into sun, sea and sand.
The best part about “boat life” has absolutely been the sailing. Something I was nervous about before. Now? I love those moments of calm on a good sail, just staring out at the horizon, watching the clouds change and flying fish jump. The times when it’s just the two of us, and we don’t feel the need to talk or move. We don’t look at our phones. We’re just there, in the moment.
But, the best part of the whole experience, of travelling and living abroad for a year? The friendships and connections we’ve made. Hands down.
An extroverted introvert
I tend to think of myself as someone who doesn’t like people. I’m nervous in crowds and terrified of starting conversations. I’m someone who gets very anxious about whether people like me, of if they just tolerate me. But I so badly need human company. I try hard to be myself, but am well aware that I can be too much. And I’m so easily irritated and find myself making up reasons to not like people. It’s a bad habit my mum taught me. A fear of rejection meaning that I discount people and push them away rather than let them in.
And I’ve been burned. I’ve had a few friends who really hurt me when I was younger. People at school who would only be my best friend if nobody else was around. People who would let me know that I “owed” them for them being near me. Best friends who walked away from me for no reason once I moved away from my hometown. Work friends who claimed to be my ride or die, whilst spreading mean rumours behind my back.
A persistent feeling, throughout life, of never being that important to anyone. Underlined by never being able to get that many people to birthday parties. Never being asked to be a bridesmaid. Or to go on trips. Of waiting alone for friends to arrive together. That feeling that colleagues at work have formed strong friendships but I’m just a coworker. Just never taking centre stage in anyone’s life.
It’s easiest to explain myself as not liking people. I can protect myself.
I know who my closest friends are. I value them immeasurably. And it may have taken time and a lot of shared experiences that weren’t all great, but I know they value me immeasurably too. Even when my brain tells me they don’t.
I know it’s an extension of my imposter syndrome, but I can’t help stack up the evidence that I’m not that likeable. I tell myself it’s because I don’t like people.
The thing is, that’s a lie.
My dad said the other week that I clearly like meeting and interacting with people, and I realise how important it is to me.
But what does that have to do with sailing?
The thing is, I never really knew that sailing would make my attitude to friendships and meeting new people so much healthier.
I had two modes previously. I either assumed it wasn’t worth pursuing a friendship, so didn’t put in the work, or kept myself distant. Or I went all in and invested myself so much that it felt like falling in love. Full on, intense, emotional attachments. Often mutual, with other people like me. Relationships that flamed and burned out quickly.
My most enduring friendships are with people who saw through my bullshit and stuck around. Kept loving me when I pushed them away or ignored them. Gave me time to understand what I love about them. But making new friends remained a huge source of stress for me. In the early days of living out here, it was a huge worry. Would my old friendships remain stable? Would I meet new people?
Sailing and being itinerant have given me a new way of looking at things.
One of the fundamental truths about this lifestyle is that either you’re always moving, or the people you meet are. It’s inherently different from situations where you might make new friends in a more conventional lifestyle. You can’t assume that when you make a friend, you’ll always be with them, or have them to hang out with.
I’ve already spoken about how sad it is that you have to say goodbye to friends so often. You see someone several times a week, almost daily, and then *poof*, one of you is gone. Friendships form fast and hard out on the water. You meet and get to know each other so deeply, so quickly, but then they’re gone. At first this was heartbreaking.
The old me would have decided that it wasn’t worth hanging on to these friendships. And some? I don’t. They become the people whose Insta posts we’ll like, or say “look where they are now?”. Or they’ll pop up in another anchorage and we’ll hang out again. They’re sailing friends, acquaintances, people who wish well but won’t be part of our life forever.
Then the others are the people who you keep in your heart. The people who you’ve celebrated big birthdays and survived hurricanes with. Who you share Christmas and New Year meals with. Who are always there for you, and you for them, phone signal allowing. The people who can intrinsically understand your lifestyle, and, like you, have found a special bond in a handful of people. People who you can be completely yourself around, where the conversation can be about more than anchorages, passages and boat jobs.
These people become part of your chosen family, a special sailing edition.
I’m a huge believer in chosen family. It’s not about not loving your own family. It’s more about building a family that comes together purely out of love and connection. Nobody can be expected to automatically get on well with someone just because of a blood bond. Why shouldn’t we pick who we spend holidays and special occasions with? I’m sure plenty of people would go with friends over family if they felt they could.
We are beyond lucky to have families who we love spending time with, siblings that are best friends, but we’re also very lucky to have some friends that are family. That fit into parts of our life like parts of a puzzle. Our Christmas family (who, if we could, we’d see more of). Our Chutney family, who we barely go a day without talking to. The friends who we can’t imagine holidays in Iona without. The friends who I might not see for months or years but are still one of the first people I break big news to, and vice versa. The people who finally taught me that I could make meaningful friendships from a working environment.
To be able to expand my chosen family in a year when I really expected to have nobody but Colin for company has been very special. I love time with Colin. He remains my favourite person in the world, despite having spent a year trapped on a. 45x21ft hunk of floating fibreglass with him. But having made a handful of deep friendships has honestly kept me sane this year.
Sharing the load
I don’t think we should ever expect one friend of one partner to take on all of our emotional needs. It places such a huge burden on them – what if the type of emotional support you need isn’t in their repertoire? What if you can’t properly support them back?
I’m quite skeptical of relationships that are 100% codependent without any other close friends around that couple. I find it hard to believe that it doesn’t lead to one or both people becoming overburdened, ignored, unsupported or lonely at times. I used to strive for Colin and I to be each other’s everything, but honestly our relationship is healthier when we have other people propping it up.
And I’ve come to realise that friendships are so much they same. When I used to be so upset about not being a “best friend”, I was overlooking the fact that my life is so rich for being a good friend to many.
Like ships in the night
I’ve also realised that a good friendship doesn’t have to be eternal. There doesn’t need to be rules. This year is showing me that.
A friendship can be brief and intense, like the holiday romance that’s just what you need. You may not see each other again, but maybe you met at just the right time. You shared yourselves, you connected, and you walked away knowing yourself better, with some great memories. Sometimes you don’t even need to stay in touch, but that person always has a place in your heart.
A friendship can be picked up after months, or years apart. You never know when you might see someone again. It’s sad not knowing, but you always have options. You find, after a while, that you have friends all over the world. I’m already thinking about that post-sailing life holiday where we can finally do a West Coast USA road trip. And now? We’ll have friends in Vancouver, Portland, Cupertino and San Diego to catch up with on the way.
I no longer have a feeling of emptiness like the kid on the last day of camp, waving goodbye to friends. I feel joy for the time I’ve had with people who have changed me.
Being back in Bequia has been different this time. When before we relied on the friendships of other cruisers, this time our world has expanded. I’ve let go of some of the resentment I was holding towards people I’d expected stronger friendships from, because I’ve learned that they owed me nothing. That the people that are meant to be my friends will be, and to let the others go or enjoy their acquaintance for what it is.
We’ve met so many more people on land. And this time it’s gone beyond the white immigrant Bequia high society we were introduced to a year ago. There are so many more local people who know us, and who we care about. They may not be deep friendships, but to go almost anywhere and have people to stop you for a chat is a warming feeling. And a humbling one, that as transients we feel so welcomed.
Again, we’re more open to connecting with people, and staying in touch. We’re braver. We feel a part of Bequia life, and being a part of that means intrinsically having more friends.
I spend a lot of time down on myself, but I’ve realised that if I let it happen, I have a superpower.
I CAN connect with people, maybe more than a lot of people can. I don’t hate them. I’m not really much of an introvert, I want to talk to people and learn about them. I want to help people with their problems. I want to find out what makes them tick. What they enjoy. I want to be a nice part of someone’s day.
I overlook it, but I’ve always done this. I may have found it so hard to make friends at school, university and work. But I’ve become so close to so many people. My osteopath, my former yoga teachers, my salon therapist. All people I love having in my life for far more than the service they provide, and they say the same back. Old bosses, or people I’ve worked a project with. People I’ve met online, who I’m getting braver at meeting in real life. People who are at the same parties, on the same train, at the same conference.
I love being open to finding friendship anywhere, and I love that Colin is the same and we often form friendships with new people together.
I’ve collected people, my whole life. They may not have come into my life the conventional way, and they may not become the best friend I thought I needed. Some interactions don’t turn into friendships, but they show me that a spark of friendship can be found anywhere. They all matter. They have all helped me become who I am.
Sailing has taught me that I do that, that I can keep doing that. That there’s no need to put pressure on myself to find friends, that it will happen. And that people do like having me in their life, even briefly. It’s taught me that I should expect less of people, and I’ll get more back. And that I can never predict where friendship will strike.
All I can dream of is that when we go back to land life and find ourselves in a new community, I can take what I’ve learned. I can creep out of my shell.
That I can take the best part of sailing life, the connections to people, and carry it on. Giving myself to people, being open and kind. Smiling more. Trying more.
And carrying all the wonderful friendships I’ve made over the past year in my heart with me.
This is really a thank you, to all the people who have extended a hand of friendship, worked alongside us, chatted with us as we’ve shopped, taken our line, or shared a drink with us. On sea, on land, online, everywhere.
To our sailing friends. To Bear and Ray. To Marie, Steve, Violet and Joe. To Debby and Fraser. To Michelle, Woody, Layla and Max. To Lou, Jared, Fiona and Celeste. To our friends on Philos, Porquenon, Atea, Offcourse, Neuroseas and Nari Nari. To John and Darcy. To Harald. To Brian and Marta. To Cara and Eddie, and Tom and Carol. To Greta and Michael, and Miles and Ryanne. To Astrid and Laurent. To Barry, and to SV Groovy. To Toucan, and Aurora, and the Kiwi couple we spoke to on the beach at Tintamarre.
To the landlubbers. To Nate. To Daffodil. To Tiny. To Kevin and Drasi. To The Roxburghs. To Chris and Lou, and to Karen and Russ. To Nicola and Mikey. To Cathy, Kathy, and Cathy, and to Bob. To Nicolle, and to Donncha. To Doris. To Romeo and Donny. To Gert. To Terrence and Elson. To Sandra. To Duncan and Gabi. To Simon. To Michael (after the drone incident was forgotten). To Baba and Buju. To Wilf and Nicola, and to Sunior. To Chris and Sally. To Marty and Heidi. To Maranne. To Judit. To Dani, Angelique and Kira. To Merrydif. To Dr Beige and Uncle Brooks. To Brian. To David, Alex and Max. To Miss Lilly and Tamara. To the little boy who calls “Hi Colin! Hi Colin wife!” at the Hub. To Elfic and Ellis. To Benson, John and Burt. To Lafayette. To Davidson, Rebekkah and Karim. To Jefferson, and to Meschita (whose name I’m sure I can’t spell). The the lovely Dutch server at Lagoonies. To Bou Bou, for his big smile and bokits. The the curly haired waitress at Soggy Dollar whose smile made us smile.
To family and friends who joined us physically in this journey – Alastair, Rose, Laurie, Mark, Livio and David.
To Evan, and to Alice, the inaugural denizens of the Mirounga home for stray travellers. You helped us more than you’ll ever know.
To the animals – Bush, Max, Jack, Joyful, Pie, Puss Puss, Sox and Sassy, Bruno, Misty and Marble, Ihlosi and Ingwe, and all the creatures we don’t have a name for that shared affection with us.
To everyone who has connected with and supported us on Instagram and Facebook. And to all the people whose names I’ve lost, but whose faces I’ll never forget. Thank you.