Not Retired – Just Rewired

How do two middle aged homeowners with careers become homeless scuba vagabonds traveling the world… then dive instructors in Borneo, Malaysia… then live aboard sailors on a 46 foot sailboat?

It’s a pretty unique and intriguing story…

High school sweethearts in a small farm town in Pullman, WA get married after dating nine years.  There’s already a taste for travel but it’s much more mainstream in perspective… holidays away from work then back to the grind.

In 2001, before a four week trip to Italy and Greece, we received our PADI Open Water Scuba certification and, after that, everything changed.   Every spare moment we tried to get out diving (even if it was just a river or lake) and every holiday became a new dive destination.

In June 2003, we took a serious look at where we were and decided there was so much more to experience in the world… we just had to make an unwavering commitment to see it through.  And so, in a mutual leap of faith into the unknown, we decided that in 2008 we would leave our home in Pullman, WA and set out on a global adventure.

The next five years were spent researching thousands of potential travel destinations and the logistics involved, getting more training and becoming PADI instructors, saving as much money as we could possibly squeeze, selling everything, and downsizing from two houses to two backpacks (which also held our dive gear).

On October 2, 2008 (exactly twenty four years after our first date) we left the U.S. and began an extended odyssey and dive adventure that took us across the Pacific Ocean to Palau, Micronesia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Australia.

For nine months we traveled through the Pacific, SE Asia, and Australia – immersed ourselves in experiences and cultures in places on the planet we had previously never been even remotely near to.  Diving with manta rays in Yap; a four day drunken ride on a small boat to Flores, Indonesia; witnessing the ancient family funeral rituals of Sulawesi; visiting the traditional long houses of the Iban and diving for three weeks with Scuba Junkie in Borneo, where we laughed so hard while diving with our new friend Greg Lamoine that we almost spit out our scuba regulators; spending a day as training Mahouts at an Elephant Conservation Center in Thailand; exploring Siem Reap, the Temples of Angkor as well as the somber Killing Fields and S-21 prison in Cambodia; bus rides across the spectacular countryside of Laos; an unbelievable three months in Australia which included a 3000+ mile road trip split between two weeks in a tiny Toyota Corolla and three weeks in a camper van, a one week liveaboard dive trip to the outer reaches of the Great Barrier Reef, and even a five day expedition aboard Rodney Fox’s liveaboard boat to the Neptune Islands, off Australia’s southern coast, to do cage diving with Great White Sharks… and that was just a small cross-section of the entire escapade.

All along the way, we met amazing individuals, saw extraordinary and wondrous things, and partook in life-altering adventures.  We learned more about ourselves, each other, and the world around us than we ever thought was possible.  As travelers, we evolved from vacation tourists to scuba vagabonds.  As people, we were perpetually and permanently changed. 

We had journeyed on a shoe-string budget as much as was possible to preserve our limited finances.  Yet, we also learned that sometimes you have to simply anti up and savor the moment, rather than miss out on a once in a lifetime experience worrying about money you don’t want to spend.

However, we were not on an endless and extravagant indulgence of the wealthy.  Our means were finite.  We were not retired… just rewired.

In order to maintain this lifestyle, we would have to seek gainful employment again. 

Anticipating this very situation, we had undertaken the endeavor of becoming certified PADI dive instructors before leaving the States.  Though we had only trained a handful of students before embarking on our journey, we had the credentials to potentially work abroad in the dive industry… all part of the long-term plan already in play.

And, in all the diving we had done to date, the astounding time we spent underwater with Scuba Junkie in Borneo was at the top of the list.  Remarkably, the time spent there above water was equally as memorable.  If we were going to have to get jobs, we could think of nowhere else we would rather be.

Thankfully, Ric and Tino (the owners of Scuba Junkie) set aside their concerns that we were potentially “too old, not able to handle it” and gave us the opportunity to prove our worth.

In June 2009, we returned to Borneo, Malaysia to work as dive instructors at Scuba Junkie – one of the most successful and environmentally ambitious dive operations in SE Asia.  For fourteen months, we lived and breathed diving… smack dab in the middle of the Coral Triangle, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.

We dived all day long, teaching and guiding, and socialized and partied afterwards with co-workers and guests, often half our age.  We participated in endless conservation efforts both above and below the water including beach and underwater cleanups, turtle egg relocations and the release of hatchlings, resort presentations, and community improvement projects.  

I (Steve) also had the always eagerly awaited pleasure of sitting in as a guitarist with the incredibly talented Scuba Junkie band every week. 

The occasional week without a day off simply meant we got to dive more – and we were actually being paid a modest income in addition to receiving free room and board.  More than a job, it became a way of life.  We couldn’t get enough of it.  Ironically, we would eventually find ourselves saving more money while making less income in Borneo than we could back in the States.

In addition, Scuba Junkie was a gravitational hub for international travelers, and we quickly learned we had friends all over the planet.  We simply hadn’t met them all yet!

In 2010, our wanderlust returned and we temporarily left our Scuba Junkie family to travel through South America on another amazing journey which took us through Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador which included iconic locations such as Easter Island, the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, and even on a an epic voyage to the icy and surreal pristine continent of Antarctica.

After six months in South America, we knew two things for certain:  our decision to leave the States was absolutely without regret, and it was time to return to our Scuba Junkie family.

From 2011 until 2017 we lived on the tiny island of Mabul, an hour’s boat ride away from the mainland of Malaysian Borneo.  For seven years, we committed everything we had to teaching scuba diving, guiding divers, and assisting Scuba Junkie’s commitment to conservation and environmental awareness, both in and out of the water.  

Working at a dive resort which strove to reduce its own environmental footprint, contribute towards rubbish reduction both through education and hands-on beach and reef cleans, promote shark conservation and awareness, as well as turtle conservation (including Mabul’s first government endorsed turtle hatchery and rehabilitation facility) was as rewarding an experience as anyone could ask for.

That seven year evolution at Scuba Junkie began first as dive staff, then as assistant managers, and finally, from 2015 to 2017, we were the full time managers at Scuba Junkie’s Mabul Beach Resort – no small feat considering the 100+ staff and 50-100+ guests/divers we were responsible for every day.  

The experiences we gained living on a remote island, as well as lessons we learned, were unlike anything we could have obtained anywhere else.  The network of acquaintances and lifelong friends we made spanned the globe.

However, by 2017, three years as managers of Scuba Junkie’s MBR had taken its toll on our psyche, and it was time for another chapter to begin.  

The one thing we were certain of, and had known would be the case before we first departed in 2008, was that we were not prepared to return to our previous existence in the States.  And so, with the same sense of uncertainty and eager enthusiasm we felt before first leaving the U.S., we committed ourselves to, and commenced with, the planning and implementation of our next chapter – buy a sailboat that we would live aboard and that could take us anywhere in the world (an as yet ungerminated seed that had already been planted in our minds years before).

In March 2017, after once again bidding a tearful “until next time” to our Scuba Junkie family in Malaysia and Indonesia, and taking an intense two week sailing course in Thailand in preparation of buying a yacht, we returned to the States on a quest to find the sailboat that could take us anywhere.

We did endless research, looked at thousands of boats online, climbed aboard dozens, and even sailed a few.  But when we stepped aboard Exit, a 1992 Garcia Passoa 46 (French built, all aluminum sloop), we were certain we had found our boat.  Then, after what became a perfect alignment of circumstances and decisions (as well as more than a pinch of sheer luck), we closed the deal on Exit and climbed aboard our new boat July 5, 2017.

The biggest challenge we now faced was the fact that we essentially had zero experience sailing or living aboard a yacht.  

And so began our new adventure…

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