“It’s not quite as glamorous as I’d thought, this lifestyle,” said our new friend, Lionel of Kiapa. “There’s a lot more sitting around, reading, fixing things. I’d pictured surfing or kite boarding every day, and swimming with big fish off the bow.” He was shuttling us back to Compass Rose(y), since our dinghy was under repair on deck. All of us were hunkered down to stay dry as 30-knot gusts whipped chop and seaspray across the anchorage in Huahine Iti.
I laughed to myself, because I both agreed and disagreed with Lionel. At first glance, the “yachtie” lifestyle is totally glamorous. After all, we’d just come from a two-hour yoga session that I’d led on a grassy field overlooking turquoise water. Rob had popped open a few coconuts to share with the seven cruisers on shore, and we had a stalk of free ripe bananas to bring back to the boat. No one was wearing shoes, since we beached the dingy on white sand, and only half of us had shirts. Post-yoga, Lionel and his wife, Irene, invited us to Kiapa for coffee and cake, where we’d chatted about places we’ve been and places we plan to visit. We made plans to have “sundowners” (happy hour cocktails) with them later on. A fabulous life, right?
But check out what the rest of the afternoon held in store: a chore list as long as my arm. I cleaned the layers of hair, silt, and unidentifiable muck from the cockpit floor, and “dressed” the toilet pipes with vinegar and oil to clear out saltwater scum. Rob patched the hole in the dinghy and tightened the lifeline bolts. Mark changed the alternator belt on the engine, and tried to diagnose the leak in our water pump. And all of these somewhat simple fixes for the sailboat led to more problems: the cockpit drain was clogged and I had to find a new hose to connect the lazarette to the bilge pump. The patch on the dinghy didn’t hold. Scraping the rust off the water pump accidentally made another hole in it. Sounds icky, right?
Just like all life, cruising has its ups and downs. It’s a shitload of work to maintain a boat, and not very comfortable to sail one for a long time, either. You get sick of your crewmates and the cramped spaces, of carting water and fuel in 20-gallon jerry cans, of always having to coordinate how to get to solid ground. The glamour comes from what sailing provides: access to coconuts, outdoor yoga sessions, impromptu social gatherings, and all the beauty and wonder in the blue-green world that stretches toward the horizon. There might not be surfing, diving, kite boarding or fishing every day. But there’s a helluva lot more of it than we’d get working 9 to 5 in landlocked Montana.
This lifestyle is certainly not for everybody. In fact, that’s why the three of us are aboard Compass Rosey. The owner didn’t enjoy the long Pacific Ocean crossings and the neverending sailboat maintenance, and hired Mark to get his boat back to Australia. The vast majority of cruisers only sail for a few years before heading home to land. Rob and I are still on the fence about how long we’ll stay in the ranks of yachties, and whether we’ll buy our own boat. One thing’s for sure — we certainly respect the people who make sailboats their home for the long term.