Hardship is Over Rated

Recently I was reading this really entertaining, if a bit anxiety provoking, story I found on Digg.com. It’s a story about a young couple who wanted to experience life on the road, #vanlife style. They wanted an “authentic” experience, one with no frills; one that wasn’t “instagram ready”. While they would be inspired by #vanlife, they would do their travels on a low budget. My anxiety began for them in that first paragraph where the author describes the super cheap van they bought with an engine that leaked fuel at the first fill up. My God. What were they getting themselves into? As the title explains, they wanted to do van life ‘right’, but it broke them down.

I passed the story on to my son and daughter-in-law because they had traveled the country in their Honda Element before setting off on their travels to Europe. I felt like they would probably relate to parts of this story after traveling for almost a year. Jill had seen the story and read it already and as we dicussed it, I thought her takeaway was appropriate: “Don’t get in over your head because you think the vision of your dreams will carry you through”. Man, such truth. Spot on. That’s what a year of travel by land, or maybe two years of cruising by sea, will teach you. This story spoke to me.

Are we in over our heads? Do we still have the underlying dream? Some days we do, and then the next day we don’t. I speak for myself, of course. Lately I’ve struggled with what I can only describe as ennui. While Mike has experienced it as well, he doesn’t ‘do’ ennui as deeply as I do; at least where anyone would notice. He’s got too many projects going in his mind. I have a few, but I’m not as engaged with them as he is, although it says something that I really look forward to sitting down with a needle and thread and getting those cockpit cushions recovered with fabric I bought in the states. I’m not sure exactly WHAT it says, but it’s something. Maybe a glimmer of hope, a small piece of a dream that is still alive?

Galapagos was in great condition when we got back to her. That’s always such a big relief.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to put my finger on what these feelings are about. Am I not as adventurous as I thought? Am I just tired of cruising? Is it the heat of Mexico? (Because let me tell you it sucks.) Am I going to be able to get back into what I love when we are on the boat? Would a good snorkel experience put me back in the groove? There must be some reason why I was like a dog on a hunt for extra snorkel gear during our recent travels in the states. I had a dream recently that the boat had been tossed way up into the air and I had fallen into the water, all the way to the bottom of the sea. I was trying to swim for the surface but I was getting nowhere fast and was afraid I would drown. It was very scary, but on the other hand the water was super clear and warm. I hate these kinds of dreams. What gives, White? Take a salt tablet and snap out of it!

After sidling up to the topic on a number of occasions over the last year, we finally had the conversation about whether we are done with cruising. Spoiler alert: We aren’t. Whenever I am openly miserable I must give the impression that I want to quit and go home. I don’t want to quit, I just want to find a solution to the current dilemma. I’d like to hide my suffering, but unfortunately I wear it on my face. Please see photo below. So while I’m not ready to throw in the towel,  I do sometimes believe that suffering is over rated as a tool for personal growth. And yet give me one example of something that has caused tremendous personal growth that has not involved the fires of  suffering of some kind? I’m hard pressed to think of one but I’m open to your opinions on this subject.

Two down. A few more to go. As always, I do this stuff by hand.

I’ve been thinking deeply about this lately as we make our way through the work that is getting the boat back in order so we can actually be cruising again rather than sitting in the lovely Marina Real in San Carlos. The current situation is this: It’s blessed hot in the boat. Two days ago it was 97F with humidity of 87%. Michael and I could not drink water and electrolytes fast enough to keep our bodies in order. Even standing still we literally dripped sweat onto whatever we touched and there would absolutely be zero touching of one another. “You want to hold my hand? Surely you jest! Step back; crazy man! ”

I struggle with nausea in the heat. My feet swell. I finally experienced what I had only read about before: ” It’s too hot to eat.” WTF. Nothing gets in the way of me and my food.  I had not been sleeping well and was close to tears way often. I found myself hunkering down in the cabin just trying to keep cool, then I realized that all the fans were just circulating hot air. It felt like I was literally in a womb of a smelter. All I wanted was to be born again into a cool, refreshing breeze. I began to question the sanity of what we were doing. I mean why was I even here? I felt like I was just surviving the weather conditions, certainly not thriving in them. Is this how I wanted to spend my time? (Which, by the way, feels super short lately.)

Just not a good look for anyone.

Conversations about throwing in the towel should not be had in sweat-dripping, sleep deprived conditions where my core temperature is hot enough to convince my body that it is ill. But have one we did, and it didn’t go particularly well for me. I had to call it off because: getting angry, which never helps. Then there is the feeling that because we have the absolute privilege to be able to make this choice at all, we should just take our lumps and never speak of them. It’s not lost on us in any way that we were born at the right time, in the right country, and are the ‘right’ color when it comes to the downright luck that gave our lives the right trajectory that we could actually put our shoulders to the plow, as it were, and work hard to make this happen. We take credit for what we have done, but we also know that others work much harder than we ever have and will absolutely never have this opportunity because the obstacles in their path are that much greater than ours ever were. So even sounding like we might be complaining feels somehow wrong. And the work we did put into this choice, not to mention all the money we spent, makes the decision of when to stop a weighty one, indeed.

Fantasies of renting an air conditioned condo swarmed in my head but in some intangible way, that felt like a failure. Did we come all the way to Mexico to live in a condo and drive our car around? We did not, but I admit the temptation is strong and that could still happen. Mike was doing OK in the heat. I mean, he was hot and drippy, but he wasn’t suffering overly much. Or maybe I was just suffering enough for both of us. I don’t know. Our Andrew/Jill combo are coming to visit in September and it’s also going to be just as hot then as it is now.  I need to get it together so I can enjoy this time with them. We need strategies in place that will help them stay cool so they don’t suffer overly much. I’ve been waiting for this visit for a year now. I cannot let heat get in the way of having fun. I want to snorkel with them and show them the best that the Sea of Cortez has to offer. (And no, it’s just not possible for them to come later in the year. They’ll be back working for a living.)

But back to the story of life’s struggles from the van-traveling couple. One of the thoughts expressed in this story crystallized for me what I’ve been experiencing in the past few months but had trouble putting into words, heat and humidty aside. Something about seeing this in black and white in another person’s words struck home with me and maybe, if you are cruising, for you as well. It’s pretty simple:

“ …transient living can wreak havoc on anyone….it’s harder to maintain healthfulness when you don’t have stability—when trouble can come at any time, in many forms.”

Well, slam bam. That’s it in a nutshell. We definitely feel attached to the boat and consider it ‘home’ for now. But the constant transitions, the moving from place to place by land, sea, and air, sleeping in a new place every few days, the continual focus on preventing trouble, the problem solving in a foreign country with few resources where language is truly a barrier; the logistics of accomplishing the most simple task, they all tend to wear on us over time. When you add adjusting to hostile weather conditions into the mix, it can tip a person over the edge. And that’s what’s been happening. These inescapable hot, sweaty days pushed me over the edge.

Just a fond memory of that air conditioned AirBnb with the king sized comfy bed in Puerto Peñasco. Land living. It makes a body soft. 

We discussed renting a condo and that’s still an option. But I do want to be able to adjust to this. Maybe my body just needs a more gradual acclimation? To solve the immediate problem of no relief we bought an air conditioner that we can use while at the dock. I had been sleeping in the main cabin because it’s cooler and last night I actually was able to rest with the AC going. But I think we will put it in the aft cabin for now because it struggles to keep the salon cool. It’s small. And the heat is big. It would probably handle the aft cabin just fine. Then we can have a cool room to go to when the going gets tough. We can actually run it with a generator as well, but that’s not going to be a regular occurrance. Still, it’s nice to know that if one of us succumbs to the heat, we have a way to escape it. And if the kids come and they, too, have trouble accomodating the heat, we can give them some relief. One of the previous owners of our boat posted to me on Facebook that it was too bad the central air conditioner he had installed on the boat when he was in the Sea of Cortez was no longer on board. I tell you, I cried real tears when I read that.

Installed in the main salon, our fantastic Ryobi rechargeable fan helps circulate the cool air.

Air conditioning, boat style. When this happens you are no longer cruising. You are living at the dock.

Out here on the water we are constantly doing what we can to make sure we don’t ‘get in over our heads’. This isn’t a vacation we’re on. It’s a continual balance between what is worth it in the long run, and what might be dangerous or just even not very much fun. When people consider cruising on a boat as a lifestyle choice, these times that are between actual cruising trips are frequently discounted or missed altogether in the dreaming and the planning stages. I know that we didn’t even really think about them at all. Our entire focus was on being on the water and making the boat safe. It’s taken us a bit aback to understand that there is so much time where you are actually doing other things; not sailing or anchoring or snorkeling. There are way more than I imagined of these other, less fun things that you have to get through to get back to those things you dreamed about. These things have been, for me, the ones that have made me feel more like we are in over our heads, and where we have to struggle to keep the vision of the dream alive until we can go out and sail, anchor in a sweet little cove, and slip silently, once more, into the silent water to commune with our fishy friends under the sea. I hear the water is clear this time of year.

Sea Fans keeping the dream alive.

I leave you with an appropriate joke I read on Facebook:

When you’re under the sea,
And an eel rubs your knee,
That’s a moray.

Get it?

S/V Galapagos, Standing by on Channel 22A

26 thoughts on “Hardship is Over Rated

  1. Thank you, Melissa, for writing the blog post I never wrote.
    After 2 seasons of cruising aboard “Sionna” – and with plans to return to her in January, let me share my new Mantra:
    “Expectation is the Enemy of Joy.”
    Looking back at our own struggles – which I never got the courage to share on our blog – I can clearly see that it was our subconscious expectations that made many of our days dark and our nights troubled, and robbed our experiences of luster.
    We hope to do better on our next cruise, bringing the boat home to Maine.
    We’re not done cruising either, but this time we hope to do it better.

    • I know you will get back out there. In terms of this heat, it’s not so much the expectations we had, it’s more the disappointment that it was as bad as we feared. And then there is the issue of cruising money, which is always at the foreground of my mind and I should have mentioned that in the post. We’ve just come down from a long and pricy trip to the states where we bought a ton of supplies and did a lot of air travel and staying in Airbnb. It adds up and every penny we spend on that stuff is a penny we cannot spend on our boat, which needs some things like a new mainsail in order for us to do the next passage, whatever that turns out to be. Looking at my wallet encourages me to make some sacrifices in terms of my comfort if I can bear it. That’s another cruising reality for most of us.

      • Money worries are a huge thing for many of us! We’re no stranger to that, and indeed what with my eye issues and all, things are still mighty thin. The stress of that wears on you something fierce.
        The expectations we fought with were more about moving the boat, when to stay put for a bit and for how long, and that constant struggle of “Here we are in paradise, but we can’t afford to get off the boat and see it…
        We’re right there with you!

        • I know you certainly are! And I admire what work you and Nikki have been doing on the home front. Yes, I have yet to post about money issues but the struggle is real for those of us not independently wealthy. When people say you can cruise on a shoestring budget, I wonder if they really do. I mean sure, if you never want to leave the boat or do anything at all on land. Kind of boring after a while if you ask me. Maybe a post about money in the future.

  2. How timely that you write on this topic of angst. I was just thinking of you two yesterday and wondering if it gets tiresome, especially the heat. Not sure I could handle even a few days like that. But real life on land can also be so tiresome. Our endless rainy days or the very cold require endurance and a measure of suffer ing through.
    I would not think that pausing to enjoy an air conditioned condo would compromise your dream, but rather would enhance it. Of course that costs more but isn’t this boat also a vehicle to adventures?
    I am praying for your respite from overheating and for health restored. And of course a new kind of contentment.

    • It’s the costs that really give me pause. But also I know this will pass. If there is anything I have learned viscerally through this trip it’s that hardship passes and the next day could bring new ideas and experiences. Thanks for the reminder about those cold rainy winters up there. They’ve been sounding better lately but I know the reality is they are long, dark, and wet. And thank you for your special prayers, which always mean so much to me, Patty.

  3. I know my wife struggles with the same feelings, on the other hand, I do not. Mainly I think because, as one of your earlier posters noted, I have no expectations. I just take each day as it comes. If it’s a bad day, it’s a bad day maybe tomorrow will be better and it generally is. When I was much younger I had great expectations, isn’t that a book, but then life dealt me a couple of bad hands which taught me to deal with reality not what you thought life would be like. Once I got my head around that life has been much better. Play the hand you’re dealt, not the one you think you should have got.

    • Indeed those are true words. I think for us we put our own expectations on ourselves, and I’m especially prone to not wanting to be the ‘weak link’, as it were. If cruising has taught us anything it’s that bad days pass and this one will as well.

  4. I don’t think a condo would be giving in or giving up. Why not be comfortable for a couple months. Use the boat for day sails. Set up a schedule; go out and work on the boat; come back to the condo; make dinner and sleep in blissful air conditioning. Take turns having a day at the condo to do laundry or just read a book in nice cool air. It’s a whole lot easier to have perspective when you are sleeping well.

    You are retired; you get to do what you want, when you want. Work an 8 hour day on the boat and go home. Or a six hour day. Or go at the crack of dawn and leave after the sun starts to blast. Sometimes the dream has to adjust…..

    • Oh yes, this is still on the table, in spite of the costs that would incur. We are taking it one day at a time. We do need to be able to get the boat out of the slip and enjoy being with the kids when they come, so that is a driving force for me to find a way to do better in the heat. But they are not here until the 18th Sept, so there is a lot of time between now and then. It’s possible my next post will be from a condo. Still working the problem on this end. We did sleep very well in the aft cabin last night, in our own bunks. The AC back there makes a big difference.

  5. I have followed your adventures with interest and have concluded I am NOT an adventurer at heart. I like comfort and my home on land. I admire the fortitude, creativity and sense of humor you and MIke have shown and you have accomplished SO much! I agree with Marie that a respite to a condo is just that, a break to rest up and recharge. Its not permanent. My adventures are more on the order of caring for my sweet lil grand baby 4 days a week and hoping my decrepit body holds up! For me its a real challenge. If the doc could just give me a new skeleton as I have requested it would be great! Hugs to you!

  6. Sweltering in oppressive heat is NOT FUN. Doubtful you will ever come to enjoy it. Head to an air-conditioned hotel or rental apartment! It is not “giving up” — it is a sensible solution to a situation that is making your life miserable.

    Thanks for thoughtful, well-written evaluation of how expectations of endless sailing to and fro lovely coves met the reality of long stretches in port. Really interesting.

    • That’s still on the table as we try to make things work aboard our boat, which is, after all, already paid for. The AC in the aft cabin is a game changer but we still have all the other spaces to consider. So we will see.

    • Yes you guys have been through the wringer a bit with that boat and I imagine that is getting very old. How did that damage happen anyway? I’ve been wondering what’s next with you guys, aside from the fun mysteries!

  7. At least you and your husband are figuring this out together. I like the difficulties of cruising. My husband hates it.

    Our current compromise–to spend hurricane season tied to a dock with a window a/c unit in the saloon hatch. He gets to stop traveling and enjoy a/c. I get to stay on the boat.

    Glad you’re doing some self-care to decease the suffering for now. And to help you make future decisions.

    Do you want a tip to make the a/c work better? Build a “duct” out of reflectix and tape it to the cold output. If you don’t, the cool air sets the thermostat to go off before the boat gets cool.

    We’re cooling a 34 foot Pacific Seacraft with a 5000 BTU unit thanks to the ductwork. Before we did it, we weren’t able to get the boat cool for the energy we were expending. You’re probably having the same issue.

    • Thanks for that advice! We also have a 5000 btu unit, but ours is a 47 foot boat. I wonder, though, if we would move it back to the main salon and use your trick with the reflectix focus the air more. So far the AC has not shut down, and we do have it on the coldest setting. I wonder if it’s just too small to adequately cool the whole boat. This unit was a compromise because we wanted one we could easily put below when we want to go out on the water, so we knew it probably would only do one cabin well. Our boat is 47 feet, so quite a big larger. I think overall we are fine with the usual difficulties of cruising and when we are out on the water the rewards are greater so we roll with the other stuff as it comes along. When we need a break we hunker down in an anchorage somewhere. But this heat, wow. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I appreciate the feedback and the suggestion.

  8. One month liveaboard here. We have three a.c. units so the boat is always comfortable. However, I didn’t sign up for giving up a comfortable house to stay on a comfortable boat. I want to explore and meet people. But…this heat is keeping me down. We’ve finally completed major boat projects and looking forward to going south for the winter. Until then it’s marina pool or boat a.c.

    • Where are you located? It sounds like you have a really good solution to the heat going right now! I think you’ll find that after you leave the dock, you’ll have many days that are not nearly as comfortable as what you want them to be. But for us the idea is to find a solution to that so we can keep going. That might mean picking up anchor and moving, or even getting to a marina for a few days respite from weather. Most things pass. Storms pass, high wind passes. But this heat – it won’t pass until late in October. That’s too long for me. Sometimes i do miss our comfortable house. But in the end, I’m not ready to go back to it, even with these discomforts we are faced with as cruisers. Hopefully you’ll be planning better than we did for this amount of either downtime at the dock, or leaving the boat and going someplace cooler for the hot months. We just didn’t think hard enough about it.

  9. Good honest post. You highlighted the reason we decided to stay in the Pacific Northwest, cruising semi full time. We knew we wouldn’t be able to take the heat in Mexico (or anywhere tropical) on a boat. 85F is already stiflingly hot for me. Some cruisers said you get used to the hotter temps, but we found that not to be true (thru extended travel – not by boat – in Mexico and other hot places).

    We’ve learned that balance is important in cruising. Some vlogs give the impression that they are sailing all the time but in reality most are not. We have 2-6 months per year reserved for not cruising. A taste of normal life November-March rejuvenates our passion for sailing when April rolls around.

    • Hi Patrick. I know a number of cruisers who have skipped Mexico and the SOC because of the heat and I can’t say that I really blame them. I’m glad we came as the sea is lovely and worth seeing, and because we’ve learned so much being here. I, personally, have learned to stretch the limits of my comfort zone in ways that I probably wouldn’t have had we stayed in the Pacific Northwest.But I totally get it. The heat has taken me aback big time. But yes, I have actually been surprised at the amount of time we have spent NOT sailing, or even traveling by boat. I think we had this vision of sailing down the coast, and then we would just keep going, weather permitting. It’s been a whole different ball game what with the north wind in the sea, and the heat. So we just keep putting one foot in front of the other, as it were, and we’ll see where we end up!

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