09/20/2007, Toronto, Canada
Some of you might recall that two years ago to the day s.v. Amanzi and crew were given a tremendous send off by our yacht club for the trip south. Horns a blaring, dinghies buzzing and well-wishers standing on shore and on the clubhouse balcony waving and cheering. Wow! That was two years ago. And the welcome back has been equally warm.
Prior to leaving, the ongoing question we heard from members seemed to be "When are you leaving?". Two years later, the questions seem to be "How was it and How do you find being back?".
To answer the first question - the experiences were incredibly rich. And through our project - the floating classroom - we met so many amazing people and learned so much that many cruisers did not have the opportunity to do. Our project enabled us to get to different layers of what I call the community onion. We wanted to find out about issues in communities and villages and meet people of interest and we did just that. We visited a number of schools, met teachers and politicians, heard a presentation by a cultural anthropologist, interviewed a children's author, a Grenadian boatbuilder, a British vulcanologist in Montserrat, research biologists in North Carolina and talked to groups of locals interested in saving turtles in Bequia and Carriacou. Culturally we both loved the culture in the Latin countries especially Cuba with it's wonderful live music and incredible art galleries.
As for life aboard Amanzi, it was simple. We didn't have cell phones, land lines, internet or cable and daily expenses generally associated with living in North America. We purposely kept systems fairly simple on the boat (our fridge was the biggest power grabber) so we didn't spend all our time fixing things. Varnishing doesn't count as work its just part of the rhythm of living on a beautiful boat. As my friend Randy sv Nancy Dawson (a stunning Choey lee clipper) tells me life is too short to spend it sail around in a ugly boat.
There was no "to do" list as long as your arm and the stress factor was low as we made a point of not having to be somewhere by a specific time. During hurricane season in Grenada, where we hung out for 7 months, the day started with listening to the cruiser's net. The day unfolded with one or two jobs. It could take a day to top up the water tanks, find fresh bread in the local community, or go to the monthly book, dvd and treasures of the bilge exchange. If rain was in the forecast, you threw the laundry in the dinghy using it as the tub then went back to finishing the book you started. A little snorkeling or swimming off the boat was a regular daily feature and as happy hour approached, new and old friends were rounded up for drinks in the cockpit or a nearby beach. Yesterday we worked that we spend more time with a couple of couples over hurricane season than we had with any of our friends in Toronto over the 20 years. As many who have experienced as well these will be friends for life.
We were routinely reminded of how lucky we were when we met local people who could not imagine being able to afford to do what we were doing. And of course, there was the generosity of strangers such as the fishermen in Cuba who gave us 18 lobsters tails or 15 lbs of fish because they simply wanted to.
And the one thing we feel most strongly about - if you have any inkling for heading south - just do it by getting out there in whatever boat you have. We can all take a lesson from the young French couple Jerome and Celione on sv Saltinbat, we met who had criss- cross the Atlantic in small 27 ft boat with the minimum of gear compared to us and other north Americans. They did however have 2 kiteboards and 4 windsurfer boards and 8 sails safely stowed and an appetite for seeing the world. We were also so proud when we saw our old 30ft Choey lee "meggie" and young crew in Dominican Republic. We have since heard that they have made it safely all the way to Grenada.
We both know that things will change but the trip was a fantastic awakening for both of us. As we are currently dealing with the frustrations of moving off the boat back into a house surrounded by our culture of consumerism, the challenge is to continue to keep life simple.
I am reminded of what my South African sailing friend John Devine who said me six months before we left south "all you need to go south is anchor, chain and water....The rest are optional extras." At this point we totally agree and the question is how can we transpose that mind set to living on land? For all of you still dreaming of the trip, keep it simple Burn all your marine catalogs and just get out there. There are wonderful people and great adventures out you won't want to miss.