Saturday, 23 February 2013

Just Cruising

The great thing about being married to someone like Alex is that we both share the same great sense of adventure. We both genuinely believe that we can do and achieve anything that we set our minds to, and as a team that really makes us unstoppable. I think we both have our parents to thank for this - I hope that we will one day instil the same sense of self belief and adventure in our children.

Sunset whilst sailing in Greece, May 2012
So, as you will no doubt know by now, Alex and I have been planning for and saving towards our emigration to Greece for the last couple of years. We have bought our land, got our initial plans through from the architect, been learning Greek and generally moving towards our goal. We bought our boat, Firebird, to sail to Greece on and have been living happily on her for nearly nine months now. 

We initially planned on going through the French canals to avoid the long route around the Bay of Biscay but, following our honeymoon sailing in Thailand, decided that we would prefer to take our time and enjoy sailing the long way round. The added benefit of this is that we don't have to take our mast down as we would to pass through the canals, which is particularly appealing given we are finally getting it put up again next week, after nine months with it in our way!

Now, at some point over the period of Christmas and New Year, a number of things happened that would cause us to re-evaluate our plans for a second time. Firstly, Alex started reading a book called The Missing Centimetre by Leon Schultz, which describes how he and his family took a year out of their working lives and sailed around the Atlantic. I have since read it too, and can highly recommend it. Anyhow, ever since our three week holiday in America back in 2010 (the one where Alex dropped and popped) I keep saying we should go back to the States and do a road trip around the East Coast this time. Alex usually ignores me and says we should explore other places, but suddenly he changed his tune. His new reply was "ok, we can sail there". You what?!

"Mainsail haul!"
Of course, I initially thought he was joking and then, when I realised he was serious, a little crazy. How could he possibly think that we could cross such a huge ocean in a 28 foot boat? "No way", said I; it would be too dangerous.

Next, we started watching a series called The Long Way Round, in which Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman ride motorbikes from London to New York, through Europe, Russia and Alaska. Now this was really inspiring. It was so exciting to see them visiting so many different places, battling with so many terrains and weather conditions, meeting so many people, and making their own way there on their motorbikes. It planted a seed in my mind... We already had a fantastic form of transport, better than any motorbike... Would it be crazy not to use it to see the world? Would we ever have the chance again?

Alex and I starting entertaining the idea of a possible circumnavigation. We decided that we could follow our original plan of sailing to Greece and, if when we got there we were having so much fun we wanted to carry on, we could. I liked this idea as it left us flexible and I felt that by the time we came to the Atlantic crossing, we would be experienced enough with our little boat to take it in our stride. Thinking back on this makes me smile, as I had no idea at the time of the enormity of the Pacific ocean crossing we would have had to make before getting anywhere near the Atlantic! Somehow, both Alex and I were unaware of the size of the Pacific... Perhaps due to our maps always being centred on the UK and Europe, thereby splitting the Pacific in two and obscuring its vastness.

Storms on our honeymoon didn't dampen our mood!
So, now we were set on having the option to circumnavigate, we started researching our options. Alex had read about the World Cruising Companion by Jim Cornell, containing hundreds of routes based on tried and tested trips and weather patterns around the globe. I bought the Kindle version straight away, and began looking into possible routes. We also started reading up about rallies such as the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) and read about the forthcoming London Boat Show, which had a special area dedicated to World Cruising, and an ARC stall.

At this point, it might be worth pointing out that when I say cruising, I mean sailing leisurely around in a boat, exploring new areas with no precise destination. Of course, within the sailing community, that would be obvious, but recently both Alex and I have been involved in confusion when using the term. Firstly, Alex and a colleague had crossed wires when talking about a Caribbean Cruise, with Alex thinking that the colleague would be sailing around the islands on a 50 foot sailing yacht, when in fact he would be seeing the islands from a 1000 foot floating luxury hotel! An easy mistake to make, I'm sure you'll agree.

Next, I found myself being ridiculed at a dinner party when talking about our cruising plans and the fact that we had joined the Cruising Association, and being asked (in between fits of hysterical laughter) not to use the word due to it having another, less innocent, connotation. Apparently, it is a term used to describe the act of looking for casual sex, particularly in a public place. How this passed both Alex and myself by, I do not know... It has come up a few times since then and, upon enquiring with friends and younger family members, it seems that most people are aware of this alternative usage; I guess I must be getting out of touch with the youth of today!

Anyhow, with that matter addressed, let me continue.

One night, whilst lying in bed, Alex and I started chatting about the cruising routes in the World Cruising Companion. The shortest circumnavigation route from Europe takes two years and is sailed from east to west, in order to make the most of favourable weather conditions and trade winds. Our idea of sailing to Greece and then deciding whether to carry on was starting to seem illogical, as we would either be retracing our steps to get back to the Atlantic or fighting against the wind all the way around the world. I put it to Alex, "we both know that we want to sail around the world, so shall we just decide now and do it before going to Greece?" And so, it was decided.

We'll be needing a tender and outboard, much like this
Now we were really excited. Imagine, not only were we going to emigrate to start our amazing life in Greece, but now we had decided to sail around the world in order to get there! However, now there was timing to think of. We had planned to emigrate in March 2014, due to wanting to sail there over the summer months and earn more money over the coming year, but now our route required that we be leaving the Canary Islands to cross to the Caribbean in November. This would mean leaving the UK in the summer. If we were to delay until the summer of 2014, we wouldn't arrive in Greece until summer 2016, by which time I would be nearly thirty-five; thirty-six by the time the house would be built. As much as we love our life of freedom and adventure, Alex and I have always planned to start a family, and I was worried that this might be leaving it a little late.

As I have many times before, I started saying to Alex that we should leave this year, only this time I had a real justification. We could earn more money for our house later, was my point, whereas starting a family could not be so easily delayed. We should, I said, set off this August, and just aim to earn and save as much as possible over the remaining six months. Perhaps it was reluctance to delay our leaving date further, or maybe the fact that he is so keen to have a baby, but this time, Alex agreed! And now the planning really started.

There's nothing quite like a good hard deadline to get you motivated. Suddenly, we became very aware of just how much we needed to do before setting sail in August. Getting the boat ready with a mast, new rigging and all sorts of new gadgets like an SSB radio, a water maker and wind generator, to name a few. Getting ourselves ready with First Aid and Sea Survival courses, vaccinations, travel documents, visas, the list goes on. It all adds to the thrill that is experienced when planning some big adventure. The excitement of counting down the days, not quite sure if you are wishing for more or less of them, occasionally pinching yourself to remind yourself that it really is happening. Knowing that you will never be here, enjoying this moment again.

And so, here we are. Preparing for the biggest adventure either of us us ever known. Our destination firmly in our sights; the deep blue sea. From there onwards, we'll be just cruising.