The Humility of Circumstance

These past 18 months, I’ve learned how difficult it is for me to learn a lesson of humility–Life decides what circumstances happen and when; not me.   I get to react: make choices/decisions, pick my attitude.  I don’t get to create my climate. The water that travels under Kandu and the winds that blow above her are not of my making. Although I may try to navigate toward favorable possibilities, in the end, nothing is certain.  What was a circumstance a hundred times before, may no longer be when we arrive, for better or worse.  The friendly gendarme that typically may have extended visas before, may require boats to leave the country in 72 hours.   The bay noted for theft may hold the friendliest family, with whom we remain lifelong friends.  Obvious, right?  So why do I find myself still behaving as if I make my own circumstance?  How  many times will I pick a departure date, assuming that everything that needs to be done, will be done by that date, that no other events will arise, by our own choice or by chance, to interfere with that date?  We signed up to depart with a 125 other boats, figuring this would force our hand to have to leave.  We spent money, in other words, bet that we would leave on that date.  Well, we lost that bet.  When we realized we couldn’t make that date, what did we do?  We set another date.  And what happened with that date?  We realized we couldn’t realistically achieve that one either.  Are you starting to see a pattern here?  What’s the saying, “If you want to make God laugh, make plans,” or “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”?  If this were an experiment, we’d question the premise.

What perspective would align us more with reality? We have experience preparing a boat for long distance cruising.  Why has it been so difficult to set a date certain with this trip?  What’s different?

1) The Boat:  On the other three long-distance trips that I experienced, we left on my uncle’s boat, the boat that he built and maintained regularly.  He knew what needed to be done to prepare Getel, his 32-foot ferro-cement cutter; the list was short and the surprises were few.  For this upcoming trip, we purchased a 25 year-old boat that was built in a boatyard in Taiwan and had been owned by two unrelated parties.  Having no history with Kandu, we had to make the discoveries, seeking professional advice as needed.  One discovery would lead to another and often many others.  The process was constant, and often discouraging, but the end result left us with greater knowledge and needed experience.  Had we purchased a newer boat, we would not have had as much work.  We would have been ready sooner and had spent much less in preparation.  We would have had to spend nearly triple the amount of the initial purchase, but after the cost of all the improvements to the older boat, we would have been close to the price of the newer boat. The biggest differences are: a) putting all the money upfront versus a three-year “payment” plan, b) having a newer boat that would likely fetch a better resale value, and c) having the education of knowing every inch of your older vessel and how it was put together.  Both options have their merit.  Out of habit, I picked restoring an older boat, knowing I had the benefit of my uncle’s expertise, his time, his network of experts, and his desire to work on a boat.  I now know Kandu nearly as well as if I’d built her.  I know her plumbing and her electrical.  I know a lot about her rigging, and picked every piece of equipment installed in her.  I have an intimate relationship with her that I need in order to feel comfortable navigating her.  I can feel her, if that makes sense.  But this feeling comes at a cost, financial and in delay and frustration.

2) The Voyage: the other three cruising trips I experienced were relatively shorter in distance and duration than what we’re planning now.  Instead of sailing to French Polynesia, Hawaii, and back over 10-20 months; we’re planning a five-year circumnavigation.  We’re going to be out longer, away from the conveniences of home.  We’re going to be subject to a greater variety of conditions: geologic, meteorologic, and cultural; not just the volcanic, coral-ladened islands of greater Franco-American Polynesia.  Consequently, I want to be prepared for these broader variables.  This has required greater research and additional equipment.

3) The Crew:  On the first two previous trips, I was crew, my uncle was captain.  The first trip was to Hawaii and back when I was 14 years-old, a 4-month, relatively brief and austere trip, as cruising goes.  The second trip was with his family, wife and two young daughters.  I was 16-17 years old and we were away for 20 months, again with few luxuries (the one head (toilet) barely worked).  On the third of my cruising voyages, I was captain and my youngest brother, Nick, was my first mate, and the head worked.  There was no refrigeration.  We were joined at various stages of our 10 month voyage by his workmate friend, another brother (Curtis), Leslie, and my uncle.  For this upcoming trip, the crew is my family; Leslie, Bryce (13), and Trent (11).  Employing what I’ve learned from my past experiences and what drives my family, in order for this longer voyage to work, I’ll need to make the boat comfortable (well ventilated, fresh smelling, and accommodating (refrigeration, electronic communication, water-making, microwave, etc.) and fun (fewer boat projects and more options for adventure).  We’ve installed 10 solar powered fan vents and purchased three shade canopies. I’ve spent much effort in odor abatement, addressing the foul smells that typically emanate from the bilge, engine room, and heads. And we have added many daily comfort features both big and small.  I am an admitted safety freak, and have installed many safety features including an AED that my brother, Nick, purchased for us.  Working to get the boat as ready as we have will hopefully provide fewer requirements of time away from other, more fun adventures with the family.  Were the family’s initial cruising experience to be that of waiting for me to frequently install or repair something, tearing up the boat and strewing tools about the cabin sole, they would feel that the promised transition from preparation to adventure were false; that working on the boat at the level we’ve been over the past year were not just a period of preparation, but a normal part of everyday living, then they would quit/mutiny.  It’s important that I leave with a smile on my face.  For fun, Leslie and I got the boys involved in surfing and they love it.  They each have two boards, plus a large soft-top and Boogie boards.  We purchased a tethered underwater diving apparatus that allows us two to explore the nooks and crannies of the surrounding seabeds. We have two folding bicycles and an electric scooter for land-bound exploration beyond public and pedestrian transportation.  We have a tandem kayak and an inflatable stand-up paddle board for water-bound exploration beyond our boat and dinghy.  For entertainment beyond our library of books, we have a multi-system television capable of receiving local broadcast from any country we visit and a region-free blu-ray and DVD player capable of playing discs from almost any country, along with the 300+ movies we’re bringing.  And the boys have their Xbox and iPads with their games aboard.  We also have a keyboard.  It’s vitally important to the success of this venture that the family enjoy the first year.  If not, I risk a premature return to California.

Based on the experience of the last year and half, it seems arrogant to believe I can set a date for such a complex event as that which we are about to embark.  Why have I have had such difficulty putting this principle into effect?  Every time I think I’ve learned the lesson, that I don’t get to decide when and what life events will occur, I find myself frustrated that events aren’t going as I have planned them.  In practice, I only own the rudder to my life (and barely); the water that flows around it belongs to God.  A paradigm shift is occurring.  No longer bound by the constraints of the Baja Ha-ha’s schedule, recognizing that the pressures of schedule are self-inflicted and that going with the flow makes for a more harmonious process–when asked about our departure date, we reply, “We’ll know when we’re going to leave a week before we leave–no sooner.”  I hope I can learn and live this lesson, the humility of circumstance.

Kandu's Rudder
Kandu’s Rudder