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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2013, 09-28 How Far Do We Go?

   We are back in Savu Savu waiting for a weather window that will take us safely and comfortably to the island of Fortuna.  When a boat enters Fiji their Customs and Immigration allows an eighteen month stay for the boat itself, after 18 months the boat either has to leave the country or pay import tax on the value of the boat. Our eighteen months will be up in March of 2014 which is right smack in the middle of cyclone season.  We don’t want to chance a blue water passage in cyclone season and we don’t want to import the boat -or pay the 36% tax- so we will sail out of the country on or before 10/16 when our visas are up for renewal. This will reset the eighteen month clock and give us each six more months on our personal visas allowing us to move on from Fiji as we plan after this year’s cyclone season.  Fortuna is the closer of two French governed islands to the NE of Fiji and our closest option for accomplishing a necessary evil. I call it a necessary evil because it all seems pretty silly when you think of it.  

     To cross all of our T’s and dot all our I’s we must complete an official check out then sail away then turn around and come back in and pay a few fees. Then we are allowed to stay another 18 months.  But of course that means a 225 nm mile passage through open-ocean to a place we don’t really want to go.  Fortuna is so used to it they check you out and in at the same time -for free thank you very much.  They know you are not going to stay and in fact are surprise if you do. The anchorage is open and rolly and there is little to see or do to entice anyone to stay. So we will go, come back and then spend our money and our time in Fiji for the foreseeable future.  Everyone does it and no one really wants to go to Fortuna. The Fijian reasoning behind all of this I am told is to insure that the cruisers here have boats that are seaworthy enough to actually leave and allows the government to cross all their T’s and dot all their I’s and of course brings in a second -or fifth- set of fee’s for entering the country. It also has the side effect of having boats that are less than seaworthy stay in Fiji and pay a hefty tax to do so. Of course derelict boats are not worth much so the fees are lower and their owners don’t tend to pump much into the economy either. Oh well, we don’t make the rules and it still makes Fiji a country where you can stay for an extended amount of time unlike many spots in the Pacific.
   Once again as cruisers we make our choices based on immigration and visa policies and of course the weather.  In fact once we left Washington every choice we’ve made has been based on seasons, government policies and the prevailing winds.  Unlike many cruisers who spend weeks or months away from their boats we have chosen to stick with the boat. Other than a short road trip to California from Baja in 2011, a ten day trip home in 2012 and a couple of weeks soaking up the luxury of condo life in Mazatlan thanks to the generosity of family and friends we have been full time cruisers for nearly three and a half years now.  Almost everyone we know has spent far more time off their boats than we have. 

    This has been a conscious decision on our part.  We’ve chosen to stay aboard Island Bound even in the off seasons and in fact some of our favorite experiences have happened during the “off season” while others chose to go home for periods of time. It has meant we have stayed around when all of our friends disappeared for periods of time to visit family, handle work or home responsibilities or do land based.  Sometimes I am a little envious. 
    I would have liked to see my family more. I would have liked to travel to parts of Mexico that were more than a day trip away from the boat and I would have liked to have more time to recharge my personal batteries.  There is no right way to do this of course but as I think forward to the future I wonder if I would be …….more enthusiastic if we had taken a few more breaks. 

    I’m not complaining ….really I’m not. Most people would give their eye teeth to be able to do what we do.  But cruising is NOT a 24/7 vacation.  It also means Bill and I have been together virtually every day for three and a half years less the three days I was in Seattle without him in 2012!  And we do almost everything together.  I rarely even go shopping without him.  What I have discovered from that is interesting. When you live a “normal” life as a couple you spend pretty big chunks of time apart and I think it gives you both something unique to bring back into the relationship. You have stories to tell, experiences to share and time apart to –maybe- appreciate each more as well. For us it is a hard choice because if we did as so many others and spent more time away from the boat we would miss the off season cruising that we have found so amazing. Traveling separately as many couples do at times means more money and it means someone is left looking after things back aboard the boat alone. It also leaves whoever stays behind essentially stuck in one place since Island Bound is too big a boat to be comfortably single handed.
      Some wives don’t make the open water passages choosing instead to fly ahead and meet the boat when hubby arrives with his guy friends or passage crew and some couples choose to always take on crew for passages rather than manage the rigors of double handed watch keeping.  I still admire a couple we met in Neah Bay right before we left Washington who had just arrived after a 49 day three hour on three hour off passage from the Marshall Islands.  Thankfully we have never needed or wanted to make such a long passage because frankly it sounds exhausting beyond belief to me. But then again for most of you the 23 day passage the two of us made across the Pacific in spring of 2012 sounds just as daunting.  I’m just glad we have not needed to face anything any longer than that.

     Which leads us to my next thoughts: when have we gone far enough?  The farther west we go the harder it will be to even consider trying to return to North America. Bringing Island Bound back to Seattle has never really been on our agenda but as we move west it sometimes feels like we are closing doors behind us.  With the pirate problem in the Red Sea still a reality once we get as far as Thailand our options dwindle.  If things are looking better in Pirate Alley we can choose to run the Red Sea but historically things don’t look like they will change much there any time soon.  We could ship the boat but that is extremely expensive especially considering the value of our boat.  We could chose to stay put in Thailand or the Philippines but that is a complete unknown until we arrive and find out how we like it in Asia. We could sail the coast of Africa to get around the Cape of Good Hope in order to make our way to the Mediterranean with the idea of eventually crossing the Atlantic and making it “all the way around” or we can turn around and go back across the Pacific. That idea has its own inherent difficulties including some very long passages indeed (think 49 days from the Marshalls!!) or if done at our current pace several more years of full time cruising. 

   Truthfully how I think about any of these choices depends on the day.  Some days it feels totally right to just keep going. We could easily spend ten years out here. We could stay in Fiji –with the occasionally trip to Fortuna and back- but it feels like it is nearly time to move on.  We could also decide that we’ve had our time and it’s now time to do something else.  We have no concrete ties, no home we’ve left rented no storage locker filled with the life we had back home. Everything we own in the world besides one foot locker full of pictures and tax records stored at my moms’ house is right here with us aboard Island Bound which will make starting over anywhere interesting in this material world.  Only time will tell I guess.
     What I do know is that whatever we do will look very different from the life we lived before we left.   We can continue to enjoy life on our investments –as long as we don’t try to live like most Americans do with a house full of possessions, two cars and all the frills.  Frankly because we retired from the working world so early (I was 48 when we left Bill was 53) we can’t afford to live in the manner to which we have become accustomed in a large metropolitan area. Not without going back to work fulltime which doesn’t really entice either of us I can assure you.  And how do you decide to quite cruising?  What if one of you is through and the other wants to keep going? 

     When we left we were hoping for ten years. Still young enough to
travel and enjoy  life and we would be closer to Social Security age and
the age of Medicare and have less time we would expect to need to
live out our lives on our savings.  We have talked about a day of selling
the boat and maybe doing the RV-ing thing -less strenuous than
cruising fulltime, no storm tossed seas, weeks long passages or making
our own water and hauling all of our groceries by backpack. One day
we will decide the work necessary to keep a sailboat in condition to
make ocean passages is too much.  And heck it’s pretty hard to screw
up and sink your RV and end up floating around in the sea hoping
someone is responding to your distress signal and racing to your rescue.
     Maybe I am just tired right now to even be thinking these
thoughts. Most days we talk about what is coming next: cyclone season
at Vuda, time in the country of Vanuatu and then six months
meandering through the Solomon Islands before moving on to Palau,
the Philippines and Thailand. I don’t regret for a minute the choices
we’ve made to get here. It’s exciting and compelling and always gets
me looking forward again to the people we are going to meet, the
friends I am going to make and the miles that will flow under our keel.
And hey, I can’t wait to learn how to cook Thai food!     Happy sailing,

1 comment:

  1. “Most of my treasured memories of travel are recollections of sitting.” – Robert Thomas Allen