Unfortunately, our timing for living on a 46 foot aluminum yacht sitting on the hard couldn’t have been worse. The entire area surrounding Washington DC is in the midst of a heat wave. Not just any heat wave but one of the worst they have ever seen. On July 14, the mercury just about burst the top of the local thermometers as temperatures reached 100 degrees (one digit hotter than the previous 1954 record). This didn’t factor in the notorious east coast humidity, which the weather person on TV kindly informed us made it feel like it was 105 degrees!
Fortunately for us, Borneo and Southeast Asia, had acclimated us to brutal temperatures and humidity for the past 8 years, so we actually have faired better in our aluminum frying pan than many around us. It is the evil little bugs feeding on us constantly that threaten to be our undoing. Normally, I am the preferred meal of insects; but in this case, Kris is the one who is speckled from head to to with little red welts, with many forming large blisters, causing such writhing and intense itching that a person nearly has to scratch their flesh completely off to find any relief! You’d think Borneo would have been more of a source for bug misery than Maryland!
Feeding the locals…
With temperatures on the surface of Exit’s deck reaching 110 degrees, the marina pool is beyond enticing. However, because we’re not paying for a slip on the water ($50 a day compared to the $10 a day we were spending on the hard) the charge is $8 per person for a pool pass. We have opted to go cheap and tough it out. That having been said, we always try to find the silver lining, or at least a bit of humor, in every seemingly adverse situation we face. Two very crafty ducks, far more gutsy than we are, seem to have come up with a solution. Almost every night after the pool has been locked up, they slip through the iron fence constructed to keep out the riffraff, hop in the water and enjoy the pool all to themselves, thereby saving themselves $16 a day for pool passes.
We continue to try and decipher the various systems aboard Exit, take inventory of everything aboard, and undertake what seems like endless daily rituals of cleaning and organizing…activities we will undoubtedly be doing for quite some time! Though each day ends with us feeling hot, sweaty, dirty, exhausted and just wanting to be on the water, we repeatedly realize how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to really get familiar with the many of the basic systems below decks before undertaking the much more monumental task of actually becoming capable sailors. It will certainly be a rewarding and long awaited moment when we finally splash Exit and return her to her rightful home…the ocean. She’s been dry for, I believe, close to a year now and I firmly believe she may be looking forward to that moment even more than we are!
So far we have had very few guests aboard…but then again who wants to hang out on a sailboat in a gravel parking lot?! Pete McGongle – our broker from Seattle stopped by when he was in Annapolis for business, took us to breakfast, dropped off complimentary Swiftsure hats and bag, and reiterated that “we just need to get in the damn water!” … Dave Skolnick – the captain who will be doing the additional training needed to sign us off for our insurance company stopped by for a preliminary meeting… and Gene (the previous owner of Exit for 17 years), who graciously stopped by with his longtime sailing partner Charlie to try and lend some insight into what he described as a “quirky but incredible boat”. Charlie, in a small world moment, declared he too was a WSU graduate and confessed with a laugh, “I have never seen Pullman, WA listed as a hailing port on the transom of any boat!”
Currently the plan is to sail to Back Creek, just outside Annapolis, once we get the final work done here and spend some serious time learning the above decks systems and electronics with Dave before extending along the east coast a bit (somewhere between Washington, DC and Maine) or even the ICS (Intracoastal Waterway ~ 3,000 miles of inland waterway which runs from Boston, southward along the Atlantic seaboard and around the tip of Florida). Spending as many of our days sailing as possible, followed by anchoring or mooring near shore for the night, will help us get comfortable in our coastal explorations prior to attempting overnight passages or slightly further offshore excursions. We have no reckless ambitions to head for the open ocean until we know much more than we do now!
As the summer starts slipping by and fall sets in, we’ll have the opportunity to head further south looking towards the Bahamas or the Caribbean once the hurricane storm season begins to wind down in early November…if we can just get in the damn water!!!!!!
One week ago we arrived in Deale, Maryland. Our delivery to Exit was a bit comical. With five hundred pounds of possessions in tow stuffed into a dozen bags, we received more than a few strange looks from people. Our standard line became, “Yes, quite an embarrassing load for a holiday…but not bad for moving!” Still, with that much gear, the option of cheap public transportation out of Washington DC was just not gonna happen this time. While we rumbled through state after state on the train Kris’ research uncovered a chauffeur service that promised us an SUV capable of hauling everything in one load. At $150, it was financially like swallowing a golf ball…painfully uncomfortable. However, the logistics of getting a rental car would be ridiculous; and the very real possibility of standing outside Union Station looking an Uber car jam packed, with bags still sitting on the sidewalk, forced us to bite the bullet. The person Kris corresponded with must have been a rocker (or at least a musician), because he said he was going to give a discount (yes, the $150 was the discounted price!) based on the fact that I had a guitar among the luggage!! When our sharply dressed driver stepped out of a sleek, bad-ass black Suburban that looked like it was more at home shuffling VIPs and dignitaries, we had to laugh.
The plan seemed pretty straight forward. Spend a couple of days going through all the lockers aboard to get a preliminary idea of exactly what was on the boat and where it was located as well as start familiarizing ourselves with the different systems and how they worked. Unlike a lot of new house purchases where people find a plethora of junk left by the previous owners, Exit was loaded with stuff we really needed or eventually would or could need. Having just returned from Borneo, we were certainly lean on typical “homeowner possessions” so we were ecstatic that linens, cookware, dishes and utensils, cleaning products, extensive parts and spares, and tools (a collection that would satiate even the most hardcore home handyman) were already aboard.
To the outside observer, it would have looked like a scene ranging from kids opening Christmas presents to an airplane passenger stepping into a 747 cockpit trying to understand what all the switches and levers were for! Typical comments included profound utterances such as, “What in the hell is that?”, “How do you turn this on?”, “Is it okay to flip this switch?”, “Where did I just see that?” and “Have you found ‘such and such’?”.
Working in the transom locker
Taking inventory of spare parts
Getting the galley in order
Still on the hard, Exit was scheduled to have a new propellor installed before we splashed her late afternoon on the 7th. Our enthusiasm and excitement was palpable, as was our sense of overwhelming intimidation, awe and confusion. The following morning we were to meet an experienced skipper we had made arrangements with, who would help us get Exit a few hours north to a less expensive area where we could tie up to one of the mooring balls owned by the city of Annapolis. Here we would have easier access to supplies as well as being in close proximity to Dave Skolnick – a very experienced captain recommended by our broker Pete who could help us further understand this perplexing new vessel.
Ultimately, this made sense not only to us (a bit of guidance – or a lot – would save us a lot of grief, help to ease the learning curve, and gain us incredible insight), but it also was a requirement of the insurance company. Apparently, insurance companies are exceptionally wary of taking on the liability of underwriting a six-figure sailboat with people who don’t know what they’re doing… go figure!
As it turned out though, our plans to launch went entirely to shit when the mechanic Jeff informed us that our cutlass bearing (which sits between the prop shaft and the prop shaft tube) needed replacing. What made this even worse was the fact that he had passed this information on to the previous owners a week before the survey was to occur! Regardless of the implications and frustrations of the situation, there was little we could do except deal with it while reciting one of our favorite recurring observations… “It is what it is, even though it’s not what I thought!”
Even more problematic was the issue that, for some reason, the cutlass bearing was an extremely obscure size. After a great deal of hunting and calling, Digital Prop located one that had to ship from Europe; but this meant we were now looking at one to two weeks for an arrival time… Aarrgghhh! And while we never felt even an inkling of buyer’s remorse, we felt compelled to joke about the can of worms a European built yacht had opened up regarding the accessibility and availability of parts – “those damn French must really hate Americans cause they constantly utilize parts, materials and techniques that we don’t have access to!” In actuality, we again and again noted that our patience and willingness to simply feed Exit whatever she needed went much further than it would have with a ‘lesser’ boat we would have already felt compromised to be into.
Incidentally, we can’t thank Danny (the owner of Digital Prop) enough for all his help to sort things out for us – even loaning us tools and a big floor fan to try to keep down the heat inside Exit. Though he was relentlessly busy every day we stopped by, he always made time to talk to us, help walk us through the process of choosing between endless options, and even just take a break to chat with us.
Again and again, we found ourselves being offered unsolicited assistance from random people whom we had just met, repeatedly showing a side of human kindness that continually forced us to remember that there is a much smaller population of assholes than we may give credit for! Massive thanks to Paula and Tim of S/VSprit for loaning us their small fridge indefinitely as ours couldn’t be used while Exit was out of the water! Paula also pointed out to us, after hearing of our Borneo experience, that very few yachties can make the claim that their move aboard a sailboat represented a move UP in overall living space. So true!
The delay was really a blessing in disguise, as we now had a much more realistic window of time to go through every locker and system much more thoroughly. Becoming more familiar with Exit and her systems, as well as what was on the boat, allowed us a comfort level we certainly would appreciate once we got off the relative security of land and found ourselves finally on the water.
We made the best we could of the situation, traipsing up and down the ladder tied to our stern dozens and dozens of times each day for various tasks including mundane trips for ice, or the 100+ yard walk to the marina restrooms (our head was undergoing a lengthy process of becoming functional), or any other of a million different things that needed doing at any given time.
Deja vu. For the third time in six weeks we are traveling across the USA…15,000 miles total. Ironic considering Kris had only traveled to the East Coast once in her life. Our initial trip of the three was the first time we climbed aboard Exit. The second trip was a quick three day plane ride so we could be present for the sea trial and survey of Exit (similar to a house inspection prior to sale). This is our third trip. Back to Amtrak. Same route. Only this time we have one way tickets and 500 pounds of luggage spread out in twelve different bags and suitcases!
Wait a minute… I sense a bit of confusion building in you.
I can hear you thinking “But you said…”
It’s like pages are missing from the book, only this is a digital blog. Ok…I do understand my obligation as a writer to actually fill in this gap.
First, let me say how fitting it is that we are making this passage on Independence Day. While we were abroad, we joked that July 4th was the country’s day of independence, but ours was in actuality October 2nd – the day we left the USA in 2008. Now we have two: October 2 (our first exodus) and July 4 (our exit to Exit).
Ya, ya, ya, ya… I know… more information!
Our initial conversations were largely on the lines of, “Shit. What have we done? There’s no way we should be considering buying this yacht.” Which was not entirely untrue. But good decisions generally come as the result of a give and take process, thought out thoroughly and deliberately. Very few are set in stone from the outset and rarely do outcomes not differ from person to person. So it wasn’t just a cut and dry decision of right or wrong.
Purchasing too small a boat was going to potentially be a dream killer. We had read about people living aboard 30-39 foot yachts very happily while successfully navigating the ocean. However, we had been aboard dozens of boats by this point (in SE Asia on holidays and in the USA) and had done our training on 36 foot sailboats in Thailand. While we had surprisingly learned over the past eight years just how little we could get by with, we had also come to accept the fact that we were no longer in our 20’s.. or 30’s… or me even the 40’s. Twenty five years ago or if we were already salty sailing veterans then maybe. But now…even a posh 50 foot yacht makes for quite a small house and, shy of sailing starting to turn back our internal clocks again, we will not be getting any younger. So we somewhat arbitrarily agreed on a minimum length of 40 feet.
Purchasing too much boat was just as much of a real concern. Financially, the initial purchase would deplete our reserves, annual maintenance and operation would be more costly, and as novices we had a tangible limit as to how much boat we could physically handle without crew. In Thailand, the sailboats we trained on were 36 foot length. Ten feet bigger was ambitious but doable; much bigger was overzealous or even dangerously foolish. So, 47 feet became the limit we would consider.
With an agreed size range of 40-47 feet to work within, we also had to consider construction materials, layout, overall condition, and equipment aboard. This was where the endless possibilities of prioritizing and compromise became critical. Without getting too deep into a subject entire books are written about, suffice to say our priority was in strength, stability and safety. If the yacht had these qualities, everything else could be added or omitted at later dates. This gave us the ability to grow into the capabilities of our sailboat over time.
It’s amazing how quickly the field narrowed when confronted with our need to find a yacht that fit our size requirements, gave us the ability to live aboard full time, was not in need of major repairs or refitting, and would give us the strength, stability and safety for eventual extended blue water cruising to go anywhere in the world we chose…even to latitudes beyond 50 degrees.
Spreadsheet of potential candidates Part 1
Spreadsheet of potential candidates Part 2
An obvious strategy would be getting a smaller, simpler sailboat to learn on with the intent of selling it in time and acquiring something more suitable as our competence and confidence grew. We considered this very seriously, and more than likely would have pursued this option, except for the experience we were already in the midst of. It would become the exact same process repeated. Yes, we would be much more knowledgeable about what would or would not work for us. But the added complexity of living aboard the very sailboat we would be trying to sell, while locating the one we wanted to buy, as well as the need to perfectly coordinate a sale and purchase almost simultaneously (not to mention the financial hits of depreciation, broker fees, travel costs, blah blah blah) made for what seemed would be a convoluted mess that would be an almost certain recipe for disappointment, headache, and even disaster. If we couldn’t pull it off, we’d have limited our possibilities or even derailed ourselves.
Exit was listed at a price well out of our range but we had no idea what the final agreed to price could be. The chance that they would lower the price by one third or half was not realistic so that left the option of us being able to justify raising our budget by a yet undetermined amount…
When we climbed aboard her, of all the boats we had been on (including even the ones we went aboard that were WAY out of our price range), this was the first time that it immediately felt right. No, it wasn’t perfect. Still it had everything we would need in the immediate future. It was a visceral reaction but sometimes those are what speak to you the loudest. This was an expedition style cruiser that would be capable of taking us anywhere we wanted to go when we were ready.
In the end, it became a question of how far we could stretch the budget and how far the owners would budge. Our perspective became that, for us, the biggest risk of buying Exit would be running out of money. This would result in us either having to earn more money (something we had always anticipated but just did not know when that would be) or having to sell her. And, since we had already established an ability to gain employment in the very tropical locations we would probably be traveling to, the greatest unknown was simply when we would have to seek work again. If the owners would come down in price enough, we decided that this risk and complication seemed more digestible than the turnover approach.
Oh ya, and the other complication being that, while we were racing toward the east coast aboard Amtrak, some underhanded and inconsiderate asshole had made an offer on Exit!!!!!! Arrrrggghhhhh!
When we called Pete to touch base, he gave us a sliver of hope by informing us that the offer on Exit hadn’t been accepted and the owners and potential buyers were about $10,000 apart. Therefore, we were still in a situation where we could make our own offer. Kris and I talked and talked, trying to pull aside all the curtains of uncertainty, peeking in every nook and cranny to make sure we weren’t missing something, hoping the answer would illuminate itself for us. Finally, we decided.
Exit at anchor
Exit at anchor
Exit is the right boat. It is the most capable, best built, best equipped boat we could hope to find. Only time would tell if it was a bad decision to get the right boat. But repeatedly we have learned that nothing is set in stone. And almost without exception, we have more regretted the things we didn’t ever try than the things we did.
So we put out an offer that equated to 20% over our intended budget. Hopefully we would save some of that back by not continuing to hemorrhage money over the next six months trying to acquire a different boat. And hopefully we would spend much less additional money after buying a boat that was so well equipped and required so little immediate maintenance. But, in the end, we were willing to accept the fact that we simply needed to anti up a bit more to help insure long term success (and survival).
…and they accepted the offer!!!!!!!!
Suddenly, all the exhaustion and frustration of finding a boat became the exhaustion and frustration of buying that boat – the survey, insurance, arrangements with the marina, were just part of an endless list of things which needed to be organized. Not to mention the logistics of Exit’s location.
Instead of a delivery to the west coast (either by truck across the USA or by skipper through the Panama Canal) which would have cost $20,000+, we realized it was going to be easier to get us to Exit instead of the other way around. Pete also firmly believed that an East Coast start was in our best interest as marinas and safe anchorages on that side of the States were nearly endless compared to the rocky, often stormy West Coast with far fewer options which would be a much less forgiving environment for inexperienced sailors.
Ultimately, the consolation during all the exhausting research, frantic decisions, and stressful moments was the undeniable fact that this is actually happening now and we are really going to be the owners of Exit!!!!!!!!
Which brings us back to our third trip across the USA in six weeks. 4th of July. On Amtrak. Five hundred pounds of belongings. Twelve bags. Watching the sporadic bursts of both fireworks in the sky as well as magical fireflies flickering their lights alongside the railroad tracks as we wait on a cutout sidetrack for a freight train sharing the same track headed in the opposite direction to pass. Headed for Maryland. Headed for our exit…make that our Exit!!
The second biggest mistake that we feared making was getting back to the States after departing Southeast Asia and not being able to get out again. We felt the greatest danger that could potentially lead us down this road would be getting obogged down in the unsuccessful search for the perfect boat. However, acting on the pressures we felt from not wanting to make that second biggest mistake could certainly place us at high risk of actually making the biggest mistake possible (outside the potential for bankrupting ourselves buying that perfect boat)…this was the very real concern that we would end up buying something that wasn’t the right boat. Oof! Perfect is a ghost to chase. Right is not only graspable but also a necessity.
We recognized that both knowledge and information were our greatest ally, especially considering we didn’t have the experience to help us make informed choices. Although it seemed almost every single person we talked to, every forum we visited, every book and article we read had differing opinions (often conflicting with each other), we continued to try to digest every single tidbit of information we could uncover.
The most prudent (certainly the most typical) approach probably would have been to get out on sailboats relentlessly for the better part of 2017 and learn a lot of the knowledge and skills that would apply directly to making a better purchase decision. However, it seems we often prefer the road less travelled; and so, as you may have already surmised, we decided that we would take a different approach – an approach we learned about almost 15 years earlier which had first planted the sailing seeds in our imagination…
Tack? How do you do that?
Around 2003 we went boat diving in the Hood Canal with a company run by Don Coleman. At the time, we were still new divers counting our dives in double digits. After a fantastic (and freezing) day diving with wolf eels and giant pacific octopi we sat at the dock and listened to Don tell the amazing story of how he had acquired the sailboat he and his wife had been living on for years.
Don, who at the time knew almost nothing of sailing, had become interested in a sailboat which was located in Seattle. He contacted the broker, who took him out for a test sail. As they were conversing, the broker stopped and said to Don, “You might want to tack (which means to turn) pretty soon.”
Don replied, “OK. How do I do that?”
As it turned out they bought that yacht, moved aboard, and spend the next few years sailing the west coast between Alaska and Mexico, eventually sailing to Hawaii before opening up a dive center.
…and the seed was planted.
We must not have had nearly as big of balls as Don had, because we decided we wanted to at least know how to tack (and even gybe) before we committed to a purchase. It was budget considerations which dictated the next step. We were adamant that some sort of sailing course was going to precede our purchase and there were endless options to choose from. However, getting back to the USA first meant this would cost us around $6,000US for a bareboat skipper certification or upwards of $15,000US for both of us to get additional offshore training on top of that…simply not in the cards. After all, this was money we needed for a boat, damn it!
Thailand was the answer. We arranged a bareboat skipper course (at about $3,000US for both of us instead of almost twice that in the USA). The two week course was intense and hands on. We joked during our three hour final exam that we hadn’t had such a full-on exam since our SAT tests in high school!
Sail In Asia – Phuket, Thailand – March 2017
Sail In Asia – Phuket, Thailand – March 2017
Unsupervised sailing – Phuket, Thailand – March 2017
Unsupervised sailing – Phuket, Thailand – March 2017
While we learned an incredible amount about sailing during that two weeks, we understood that we had just scratched the surface. As instructors at Scuba Junkie, it was not that uncommon for us to hear open water students who had become so enamored with their new diving experience to immediately announce they were going to become dive instructors…great enthusiasm…maybe a bit premature. Our response was generally something along the lines of, “That’s awesome, but you’ve got to finish your open water course first!” Upon finishing our sailing course we laughed at the parallel between our previous dive students’ ambitions and our own grandiose plans of buying a yacht… great enthusiasm… maybe a bit premature.
The scope of the yacht we were looking at also reminded us of a teenager who had just gotten their drivers license deciding to buy a semi-truck as they walked out of the Department of Licensing!!! Oh well…go big or go home!
Arriving back in the USA, mid April 2017, we immediately began our quest. Seattle was nearby, and Pete McGongle of Swiftsure Yachts had already been invaluable in our search. He had taken us aboard yachts and walked us on the docks at marinas pointing out differences and distinctions between yachts we were looking at during our last visit back to the USA in September 2016. He was encyclopedic in his knowledge and experience, and we would have been completely adrift without his expertise and advice. For a modest fee, we also hired John Neale (Mahina Expeditions) as a consultant who provided additional insight.
Unfortunately we crapped out in Seattle. It’s not that there weren’t plenty of sailboats for sale – if money is no concern, one can equip themselves with a newer, decked out blue water cruiser capable of going anywhere…except money was a big concern. If we were looking for an expensive project to rebuild and outfit ourselves, derelict and worn out boats were certainly widely available…except we didn’t have the expertise (or desire) to undertake a massive project boat. Smalls 20-35 foot boats great for day sailing were available in plentiful supply…except we wanted a live aboard capable vessel. And there were certainly a plethora of decadent looking production-line yachts that suit the short term and coastal sailor perfectly…except we wanted a blue water cruiser that would eventually be able to take us anywhere.
And so we looked…and studied…and looked…and studied…and looked…
On Schweitzer Mt.
My parents’ property just outside of Sandpoint, ID provided an unbelievable setting in which to do research, as well as unlimited nearby access to snow we had not missed for nearly a decade.
Likewise, it’s always heartwarming and a bit poignant when we find our way back to the Palouse. However, it quickly became apparent that being six hours inland from the coast was not going to lend itself very well to finding the yacht we were after.
Nevertheless, spending time with friends and family while back in an area we had spent so much of our lives is always a blessing. Catching up, reminiscing, making new memories. While the adventures abroad almost always seem to be the focus, sometimes it’s returning to your roots and being with the people that you already know that can be the most special of all.
With Mom and Dad
With Mom and Sis
Atom Heart Music…reunion with the doubleneck
On the Schweitzer chair lift
Old friends are worth keeping
The end of the rainbow pot of… green
All the while, we constantly researched internet listings, patiently sifting through the endless photos, spec sheets, and equipment lists of thousands of yachts while relentlessly pummeling our advisors with questions. We kept looking, and learning. After a month we realized we were going to have to start traveling…
So with more time than money to spare, we boarded the Amtrak train and headed for the East coast on a fifty-six hour train ride – a ‘low-tech long-haul” we never would have considered before 2008 – but which still fell well short of our record ninety-six hour South America bus ride in 2011! One thing we have undoubtedly learned over the past nine years is that multiple transportation options generally exist and, the more expensive things look, the higher the likelihood that a cheaper alternative has evolved to cater to those on a budget, which is definitely us. We had very successfully traveled through Europe for three weeks on via a EURail Pass in 1999 – a trip we firmly believe helped to permanently embed into our genetics the passion for travel we now have. Railroad travel…no screening hassles, surprisingly comfortable and spacious seats, and a laid back feeling of seeing while your traveling instead of just getting somewhere. If you haven’t tried it, you need to!
Now here we were, coming full circle back to Rail Pass travel eighteen years later. The major difference is that Europe has an incredibly well developed passenger railroad infrastructure that is well maintained and considered essential to the transportation network. By comparison, the USA train system is largely looked at as outdated and ineffective (a perspective held mostly by people with enough money for endless plane travel).
Consequently, the USA passenger train system may not survive much longer. We saw a sign posted on the Amtrak we rode indicating that the Trump Administration was currently attempting to gut government funding for the Amtrak railroad system. If successful, Amtrak would essentially cease to exist outside of the west and east coast and the entire middle eighty percent of the USA would lose the option of train travel…one more element of Classic Americana relegated to the history books. It would be most unfortunate if this came to pass. The fact that so many people (especially children) wave at a train as it passes is a indication to me just how much mystique and sense of awe trains still carry in our psyche. Hell, when our train traveling through a small town on July 4th stopped on Main Street, effectively cutting their 4th of July parade in half, you’d have thought people would be irritated when, in fact, many simply sat there smiling and waving! But now I’m getting ahead of myself. In reality, if the dismantling of Amtrak becomes the worst aspect of Trump’s legacy in office then I suppose the American people will actually have dodged not just a bullet, but an entire magazine of armor piercing rounds as well as a hand grenade and a falling plane. But now I start to digress with dangerous political opinions.
The list of sailboats we wanted to see wasn’t long, but it was necessary to see them in person and, frankly, was an approach that provided better odds for success than continued sitting in a living room on a mountainside lake in Northern Idaho (my parents’ property at which we had been staying). Getting aboard a boat was ultimately the only way we would be able to make a decision. Even if rejected, every boat we stepped aboard further narrowed the parameters and models we would consider, so we deemed it worthwhile to go despite the slim pickings we had before us.
There was at least one Scepter yacht in Connecticut and another Scepter in North Carolina that we were serious about. Additionally, nine months before we had come across a listing for an aluminum 46′ Garcia yacht located in Maryland listed by Swiftsure (while we were still in Borneo). Not perfect, but everything we needed. However, it had continually resided in the dream category because it was simply outside of the grasp of our designated budget. Still, it just sat there on the listing, taunting us. While it was on the “to visit” list, we were hesitant to actually go see her. The running theory was one of two things would result. Option One: we would not be so impressed once we got aboard her, finally allowing us to definitively cross her off the list and move on. Option Two was what scared the shit out of us: we would get aboard the Garcia and fall head over heels in love…
The Scepter yacht in Connecticut was disappointing – worn and tired. The North Carolina Scepter was a crap shoot – an estate sale lacking real information about what condition she was in or what was aboard. And we had no one knowledgable to help walk us through. We made the decision that it would be stupid to have come all this distance and not see the Garcia. If nothing else, it would prevent us from spending the rest of our lives wondering. So, nearly convinced we were wasting our time and money, we opted for the therapeutic consolation of paying Exit (as she was appropriately named) a visit.
Exit was on the hard (being stored out of the water on stands) at the Herrington Harbor Marina in Deale, Maryland. For us, on the hard meant there was no way she would show as well. A boat sitting out of the water just looks sad and out of place…it’s simply an awkward and unnatural state for a boat and oftentimes it seems like the boat recognizes that. On the plus side, it gave us the opportunity to get a proper look at the underside – something that would have helped a person who knew what they were looking at and looking for. If it would have had tires, we probably would have kicked them. Really, without Pete or someone “in the know” at our side, we were making a largely aesthetic decision as to whether the boat “felt” right to us… would it be something we would want to live aboard 24/7?
“Exit” selling herself 5/26/17
“Exit” selling herself 5/26/17
“Exit” selling herself 5/26/17
“Exit” selling herself 5/26/17
“Exit” selling herself 5/26/17
After an hour or so, we profusely thanked the broker who had taken us aboard Exit and left. Go big or go home…Shit! We both agreed we were facing Option Two…
Traversing an emotional gauntlet which seemed to continuously pendulum between the giddy excitement of what lay ahead, the intimidation and fear of the future unknown, the pure joy of simply being with friends, and the brutal heartbreak of what we were about to leave behind, we navigated our last twelve days in Borneo.
Tino’s wedding, destined to be epic because it was Tino’s wedding, provided the perfect opportunity to see friends, past colleagues, and acquaintances one last time in a purely enjoyable setting – no logistics and crises to wade through (not that WE had to wade through anyway)…only old school Scuba Junkie good times. It even provided one more opportunity to jam with the old Scuba Junkie Band (a group of incredibly talented musicians who graciously allowed me to play rock star with them on numerous occasions)! People we never would have been able to chase down now showed up on Mabul for the wedding, giving us a final chance to say hello again and goodbye to a long list of individuals who had touched our lives.
We also had the incredible experience one day of diving Turtle Tomb at Sipadan. As one of the premier dive locations in the world, Sipadan (just thirty minutes by boat from Mabul) offers some of the best dives people could ever experience in their lives. Turtle Tomb is a number of connected underwater chambers under the island that occasionally would claim the lives of marine creatures (dozens of turtles, dolphins and even a swordfish) that ventured inside and could not find their way back out again. The bottom of the chambers are littered with intact skeletons – macabre but fascinating.
We had dived Sipadan hundreds of times before but this was quite a different experience. Dive centers don’t take tourists into the caves because of the obvious dangers of an overhead environment which had already claimed the lives of even very experienced divers in the past. The only reason we were comfortable doing this dive was because we were guided by our dear friend Eljir (the manager of the dive resort next door to Scuba Junkie’s Mabul Beach Resort) who had been diving Sipadan for over twenty years and had navigated Turtle Tomb hundreds of times. No… it wasn’t by the books. No… certified cave divers would (and probably should) condemn us for trying to be another casualty statistic. No… there are many overhead environments we would not think of penetrating. Yes… we had a fucking amazing dive!!!!!!!!
The day of our departure from Mabul on March 1st was the crushing heartbreak that we knew from our previous departure in 2010 would be emotionally brutal and inevitable. However, we also learned from that previous experience that, while nothing lasts forever, things have an uncanny way of coming back around full circle again. So with heavy hearts and tear filled eyes we said not “goodbye” but, rather, “until next time”. And with nearly 100 people on the jetty, we climbed aboard the transfer boat and waved farewell to our Scuba Junkie home and family.
An additional few days in Kota Kinabalu and then a trip to Bali and Komodo, Indonesia for a week gave us the chance for a few more special visits to Scuba Junkie family who had become especially close to us over the years.
Shark Week drinks with Ewan & Lydia
A moment with Mel
What do tigers dream of…?
Breakfast drinks in Komodo
“Bellying up” to the beach bar in KK
Looking back, Scuba Junkie ultimately provided us with our first open door into the dive industry. We learned an unbelievable amount, not only about diving, instructing and guiding, but also about being self-sufficient, about problem solving, about logistical organization, about an appreciation for what you have, as well as sorting out what you really need and getting by with what you don’t have… all from the context of a very remote location. The environmental work we had the privilege of being a part of was legendary in its scope, ambition, vision and impact. We will always consider our time with Scuba Junkie as one of the turnaround live-altering periods and most memorable and enjoyable experiences we have ever been a part of.
To Ric and Tino, the owners of Scuba Junkie who ultimately chose to overlook our age difference and provide the opportunity for us to prove ourselves… we can never thank you enough. Your decision set us on a trajectory that changed our lives forever.
To the Junkies we had the pleasure of meeting, working and partying with (not limited to but particularly worth mentioning): Rohan and Carys, Ewan and Lydia, Adz and Rusdie, Rory and Kay, Matt and Dani, Mel, Amanda, Luke, Simon, Paul, Mike, Ali, Dave & Cat, Ash & Dave… to the local resort staff, to the local dive masters and instructors, to the boat captains, to the guests we connected with, and everyone that touched our lives – we’ll never forget you.
To the Scuba Junkie Band: I (Steve) can never express the magic I felt every performance I was privileged enough to sit in on. You guys rock with the best of them!
By mentioning names, I know I am omitting others. This is a failure of my immediate memory rather than a reflection on all of the incredible people who had such a profound influence on our lives.
T-minus 11 days. One year ago, when we officially announced our intentions not to renew our contract at Scuba Junkie, our mental and physical exhaustion had reached a point that was taking a brutal toll on us. We honestly had reached a point where we were unable to approach each day in a positive way without thinking of simply soldiering forward to the end of our contract, moving on and finding the perfect sailboat which we knew had to be out there but had no idea which boat it could be or how we would find it. With six months to go, we didn’t think we would make it without killing someone, or each other. Our frustrations with work, things that would never change, no matter how hard we had tried, had peaked to a point of no return and the tunnel continued to grow darker and darker, closing in further with every passing day. Even our days off seemed to offer no rejuvenation, only momentary sanctuary. The resort’s growth had simply become too much for two people to oversee. During our first five years, we had seemed to turn back time, feeling younger and younger every year; but as managers, that time had been stolen back exponentially. We simply felt old and tired again.
And then slowly, as the transition began with what we had jokingly come to refer to as “The New Same-Same World Order” (a restructuring involving six people taking on all the duties and responsibilities we had previously juggled, that largely remained to be hashed out in its gritty details), we found ourselves slowly able to step back more and more. The daily onslaught of issues, problems and headaches were now gradually becoming other peoples challenges to sort out. For the first time in years, we found ourselves able to breathe again… We found ourselves actually diving again! Our conversations began to center around sailing and the future, rather than around trying to resolve the latest crisis. The fog seemed to slowly be clearing.
A day off
Rockin with the Scuba Junkie Band
Ads & Steve at turtle rehab tank
Our old friend Mao
And now, suddenly, we find ourselves facing our last day of work at Scuba Junkie. Our final week here will be burning our last bit of holiday time due to us, visiting with friends and former colleagues coming back to celebrate Tino’s (one of the owners) wedding – an event certain to be epic in both scale and consumption…an event we feel ecstatic to be participants in rather than responsible for. Possibly one of the smartest things we ever arranged.
To get to this moment we have had to come full circle, much like riding a roller coaster loop. Moving backwards while slowing to a point of feeling like the wheels are about to catastrophically come off the track with everything coming crashing down in a wreck, only to pick up speed as we complete the loop and jettison towards the next thrill. Time seems to be accelerating more and more. The plan is already in place. The endgame is happening quickly…it always does.
T-Minus 2 weeks…again. The endgame will happen quickly. It always does. Looking back, the past 8 years have been an unbelievable journey that no one could have foreseen. When we were counting down the last 2 weeks before our October 2008 departure from the USA, we had no idea what to expect – but we had committed to a lifestyle change that we knew was going to lead us on an epic adventure. Selling everything and simply walking away from it all required a leap of faith that was both daunting and terrifying while simultaneously being exhilarating, electrifying and inspiring. But five years, starting in 2003, of ambitious dreaming, endless research, steadfast preparation, and tenacious pursuit of the freedoms and opportunities that lay just ahead brought us to that new horizon. Over the course of the months that followed, we came to regret nothing about that initial decision and reveled in awe at every experience and adventure that decision had led us to.
Ric assisting Rohan with b-day shots
Old School Scuba Junkie
Mike & Lydia looking guilty of something
Ready to swim like hell
Tino being Tino
Choosing to return to Borneo in June of 2009 after months of traveling, our vagabond lifestyle was temporarily postponed in favor of planting temporary roots at Scuba Junkie, the same young dive center we had visited and fallen in love with six months earlier. Our passion for diving was already established and had been a focal point of much of our holiday travels for almost a decade. But, as dive instructors, we were complete novices. This would be our first taste both of working abroad as well as working in the dive industry. And, with the exception of a six month hiatus between September 2010 and February 2011 when we reclaimed our scuba vagabond status long enough to travel through South America and even set foot on the icy shores of Antarctica, for nearly eight years Scuba Junkie became our home, our extended family and our employer.
Tino diving with perfect form
Steve & Mel after a DM Stress Test
Amanda… Hieper de pieper… Hoorah!
We savored everything about our new environment – long days diving every day as instructors and guides, staying up until the wee hours of the morning partying with people half our age. It was the embodiment of the dream so many people envision… guests who had worked long, hard hours at often mundane or even excruciating jobs just to save enough money for a two week dive holiday halfway around the globe were now sitting before us during a surface interval on a dive boat or at the bar at night gushing about how incredible it would be to be paid to dive every day at such a world class diving location. We were doing exactly what they dreamed about! It was not about living an extravagant lifestyle (we lived for six months above the dive shop in an 8×10 foot plywood box without windows and only a plywood door and a double mattress on the floor). But it was all we needed, and we loved it!
Mabul Marine Week 2011
Our foster children
Bruse displaying his assets
We gained incredible experience as well as incalculable insight about ourselves and each other – not only learned knowledge and skills but also perspectives. Our spartan existence, by most peoples standards, taught us how to get along with less and exactly how little we actually needed to be happy. Over the following years we transformed from the green new “kids” on the block to the head instructors and assistant managers, taking on more roles and responsibilities. Eventually this led to our ascension as full time managers at Scuba Junkie’s Mabul Beach Resort, a resort that was still under construction when we first visited in December 2008. At that time, who would have thought that in five years we would be running one of the most successful dive resorts in Southeast Asia?
B-day cake from the chef
Peewee doing his thing
Figaro wanting her belly rubbed
Visiting pygmy elephants with Shannan & Vicki
Steve’s 50th B-day
However, nothing is perfect. Running every aspect of a dive resort with 50-100 guests a day and 100 employees comes at a price, and potentially the greatest cost exacted was the fact that we couldn’t dive and run things at the same time. Consequently, we found ourselves no longer doing the very thing which brought us here. The irony was not lost on us that we now were speaking with guests who were diving more than us! We quickly became bogged down in the limits and frustrations of work which had helped prompt us to leave the USA before, and within one year we realized we had become trapped once again.
Happy B-day Kris
Happy B-day Steve
I have a worm in my leg!
With two years left on our contract, our focus began to shift towards the next step. Sailing had been on our radar when we initiated our five year exit plan in 2003 but, somehow, it had never materialized. And it had always stayed in the back of our minds. Slowly, a new mad-hatter vision emerged from the dreamy fantasy … finish up our contract, get outa Dodge, buy a sail boat, and then learn how to not sink it (ya, ya, ya … the order of the last two items would be the “mad-hatter” part of the vision). So, utilizing the same ambitious dreaming, endless research, steadfast preparation, and tenacious pursuit of the freedoms and opportunities that lay just ahead which had worked out so well for us before, we once again found ourselves on a course that was deemed “over-ambitious”, “pure fantasy”, “downright stupid”, “dangerous” or “absolutely brilliant” – depending on who we were speaking with (often the same people had the same perspective last time around).
Potentially one of the most profound things we have learned is that, oftentimes, the biggest distinction between a fantasy and a reality is whether or not you try it… and the only difference between a dream and an experience is simply whether or not you actually do it.