Throw off the bowlines

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Mark Twain

The article in the magazine that I was reading while waiting in my dentists office stirred my soul in a way that I hadn’t felt in a long time — Like looking at the horizon at the beginning of a long trip, one that you know will challenge you but that you will ultimately look back on as one of those golden moments where you were in synchronicity with the spirit of life and your whole soul smiled. I have memories like that now — the winter spent in Utah; last minute trips to Denver, NYC and Canada; the birth of my daughter…

At the time, my daughter was just about a year old, I had sold off the business that I had started just 2 years before and had returned to work at the company that I had worked at just prior. It was around the same time that I had a revelation, on the toilet no less, that the thing that I had been fighting for so long — conformity, routines, and a meaningless job — were the very things that I had become, and not only that but that I was doing it because that’s just what I was supposed to do as a father and the sole provider of the house. It hadn’t been two years before that that I had written a diatribe on the web site of the band that I was then playing in about how I would never do that after watching my parents go through it day in and day out, year after year. And yet, there I was, in the same boat, rowing with the same paddle, going in the same circle.

On the one hand I now understood why my parents did it for all those years – for us, their kids. But on the other hand, I just couldn’t give in like that. I knew deep down that there was never just one way to make it through life. If there was, everyone would do it that way and we’d all be successful and it would be one big kumbyah-singing, utopian nightmare. But there are hundreds of ways of making a living, and a hundred more ways of defining just what “living” is. Not everyone wants to live in a 4-story, 8-bedroom, 4-bath mansion in Wellesley, but some people can’t bear to live otherwise. And not everyone needs a 60″ flat-screen plasma TV with 200-channels of HDTV-quality digital cable and a Tivo in every room, but some people enjoy that luxury. Of course, those are extremes and my mother and father had neither despite their daily grind. Come to think of it, until recently they didn’t really have much at all. Yet there I was sitting in the dentists chair wearing about $80 worth of Banana Republic clothing with about $1000-worth more in the closet at home, a new condo, a new trailer a few TV’s, a Tivo, an Xbox, a half-dozen Xbox games, a laptop, a desktop, cable-TV, 2 nice looking cars in the drive way, a couple of guitars in the basement, about $800 worth of bass-guitar gear sitting unused at a friends house, going out to dinner every weekend, a $2500/year camp site in Maine, nice stuff all over the place and still a huge pit in my stomach when ever I glanced down the road towards my future. What ever I was doing was not the way.

Yet there in front of me in the February 2005 issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine I saw a way in a story about a Manhattan couple who, over martinis one night, decided to buy a sail boat and sail around the world. This couple had had limited sailing experience when they were younger and didn’t currently own a boat. Buy a year later they cast off, sailing from New York to Italy with several roundabout stops in the middle. Just like that.

Over the next several days I kept thinking about the story and how it affected me. I wondered if it was something that I could do – both physically and mentally, not to mention financially. And even if I was up to the task what about Sarah? Would she even be up for it? She’s an adventurous girl, no doubt, but this wasn’t just a weekend in Montreal or an afternoon hike up Mount Washington. This would be months at sea, at least, longer if possible. And even if she was interested, we had a 12-month old baby. Did people go sailing with babies? Was the sea filled with childless boats? There must have been families out there sailing around, I was sure of it. I mean, aside from the Pilgrims of course…

A few nights later I told Sarah what I had been thinking about. She was surprisingly receptive. Thinking that the decision had been all to easy, I decided that it might be best to do some more research to see what we were really up against. Since I enjoy reading, or at least buying books with the intention of reading them, we headed out to Borders figuring that would have the best selection to choose from. Unfortunately, while the selection was indeed vast, it was also depressing. Every book they had about sailing was either a technical manual or a tale about how a sole survivor lasted 68-days adrift, or what went terribly wrong on a trans-oceanic race, or Perfect-Storm-esque books about the fury of the ocean. Call me a sissy, but I just didn’t feel like starting out on a dark note and left empty-handed.

Soon after a second trip, this time to a different Borders, proved more fruitful and I left with two books – 1.) The Essentials of Living Aboard, by Mark Nicholas; and 2.) Maiden Voyage, by Tania Aebi. The first book was described as guidebook for people who were considering the liveaboard or cruising life. The second was about the travels of an 18-year-old girl from New York who sails around the world solo. I tore into the first one as soon as we got home and found it to be a very easy read with the author’s wit making me laugh several times. I made it through several chapters that night before moving on to the second book. However, the first few pages of Maiden Voyage gave the impression of having been written by high-school freshman and I lost interest rather quickly.

As invariably happens, life kicked in the next day and I got busy doing other things. The books sat there for a while, though I would occasionally read a page or two from Mark Nicholas’ book when I had a moment to spare. The dream was still very much alive in my head, but was surrounded by the fog of my daily routine and I lost sight of it for several weeks.

Then, just this past weekend, I overheard my Uncle-in-law say that he was hoping to sell his house in the next couple of years and move to his boat permanently. We started getting in to the topic of liveabords and cruising and I dragged out the books that I had bought which I happened to have brought with me, along with another one that I had picked up along the way called Just Cruising, by Liza Copeland. He told me he had read Maiden Voyage and had liked it very much. We talked about it for a bit more before someone interjected with criticism of the whole thing and the conversation faltered.

Today I finally managed to crack open Maiden Voyage while my daughter was napping and got through about 30 pages. I was amazed to find how moved I was by her story. It made me realize how dissatisfied I am with my job and our financial situation and how important it was for me to realize this dream, even if it’s years away from fruition. As a result, I recommisioned this blog for the purpose of tracking our progress on the main goal of freeing ourselves from our overwhelming financial burdens and what will hopefully be the end result of being able to “throw off the bowlines” in the not so distant future. Either way, I’ll attempt to chronicle it all here – the successes and the failures, the hurdles and the muses.

Wish us luck.

* This post was originally published on June 3, 2005 at

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