Going it Alone
October 28, 2004
The e-mail we receive from readers covers a wide range of topics. A number of people have specific questions about the places we've been and the activities we've experienced. One of the stranger requests was an urgent note from a fellow in Boston who desperately needed a Tassa drum band at his wedding the following week. He had read our August 30, 2001 entry, "Different Drummers", about a Tassa band concert we had attended. We gave him the band leader's telephone number in Trinidad. We hope his wedding was a success, with or without the Tassa music.
Many of the notes sent our way are more general comments on our cruising lifestyle. Often readers will confide that they'd love to be doing what we're doing, if only their life circumstances would allow it. After receiving several remarks along these lines, we've come to realize that we've failed miserably in communicating what cruising is all about. It's certainly different than life on land, but there's nothing extraordinary about the people who do it. Believe us, if we can go cruising, just about anyone can.
In our last entry ("Trends") we characterized the cruising community as dominated by middle-aged couples like ourselves. We hope we didn't leave the impression that no one else is out there. In the cruising world you'll find single handers surviving on an annual budget of a few thousand dollars and mega yacht tycoons who spend that much in a single day. There are couples celebrating the freedom of an empty nest and there are parents with a boatload full of kids. We've met new-borns and octogenarians. Some of these cruisers knew very little about boats before casting off the lines, others had been on the water for most of their lives.
The lifestyle ultimately has very little to do with wealth, family status, age, or even health. Mostly it has to do with will. The dream is yours if you want it badly enough and are prepared, perhaps, to make some sacrifices. In this and next week's entries, we'd like to introduce you to some of the cruisers we've met who are NOT like us. If we can do it and they can do it, YOU can do it, too.
We met west coast sailor Barbara Molin last winter in the Bahamas. She belongs to that special breed of self-reliant cruisers, the single hander. Barbara emigrated to Toronto from her native Poland in 1964, when she was thirteen years old. She moved to British Columbia after high school and took up sailing Lasers in 1978 when she was a mature student at the University of Victoria. Ten years ago, she bought her first boat, a 21 foot South Coast sloop. It was a pragmatic decision. "I was on my own renting an apartment and still going to school. I couldn't afford to own a boat and also pay rent. A friend of mine admitted he was also tired of paying rent and said he was going to buy a boat and move on board. I thought, 'Hey, that's a great idea!' So that summer I moved on board a boat so small, it was like camping."
Barbara has been a full time liveaboard ever since, trading up to larger boats of her own as well as crewing for extended periods on other people's boats. Since 1995, she's made four offshore passages from the Pacific northwest to California and Mexico as crew on boats ranging from a 31 foot Pacific Seacraft to the 98 foot brigantine replica "The Spirit of Chemainus". Between voyages she's returned to Canada to work and save money for her next trip. After her last west coast passage she decided she was tired of crewing and following other sailors' itineraries. "By then I felt I had enough experience to go offshore on my own. I said to myself, 'I can do this,' and began looking for a suitable bluewater boat."
She bought a 26 foot Folk Boat in La Paz, Mexico. After cruising for two winters in the Sea of Cortes in a boat without any headroom, she concluded she needed something a bit bigger. A year ago in Florida, she bought "Eidos", a Ted Brewer designed East Orient 32 cutter. When we met her in George Town she was getting herself and "Eidos" prepared to cross the Atlantic. She was proud of her boat and the work she had done. "This boat is beautiful, seaworthy and a good sailor. I think I've used it more in the last six months than the previous owners did in all the years they owned it."
All of the boats she's owned have been well used and showing their age -- everything from leaking decks and chain plates to worn canvas and neglected bright work. "I do whatever needs to be done as long as I have the instructions and the tools. Most of the work I enjoy, but sometimes I have to get into the right frame of mind to tackle the engine. It wakes me up in the middle of the night and says 'It's time,' and so I tell it, 'Okay, okay,' and go and get dirty for a couple of days."
Before leaving Victoria, Barbara had staffed a weekly newspaper and now she works as a freelance writer and photographer. She told us, "It's a good job that travels well, especially with the Internet."
She enjoys sailing with other people, but doesn't mind being alone. "It takes a special person to be around 24/7 and I haven't found that person yet. I like the freedom of being able to turn the lights on in the middle of the night and make noise. And what do you do if you meet someone else who is sailing? They have a boat, you have a boat ... I don't know. I don't think I'd be willing to give up this boat."
When we last saw Barbara she had plans to cross over to the Med and cruise there for at least two seasons. She said she'd love to circumnavigate eventually, but wouldn't commit to that goal quite yet. In her words, "You can never say 'definitely' when you're talking about sailing." True, but when you're as determined as Barbara is, just about anything is possible.