September 21, 2009

Best Laid Plans...

Things don’t always go as planned.
This is a truism that works for just about everybody, but when you’re out cruising it’s even truer…

Pretty much the first thing that every offshore sailor learns is not to plan. Yes, you need a general idea of where you want to go and when you might like to get there but if you insist that the two things (the where and when) need to coincide, you’re asking for trouble, or at the very least an uncomfortable trip.

This is why we’re still in Coos Bay. A place we never intended to stop, and that really never warranted a week or more out of our lives, but that has kind of grown on us.

We’ve announced our departure from the dock a few times now. The first time we had a weather window I got a sudden assignment with a pressing deadline. Weather windows crop up with some regularity, but every assignment is precious, so we skipped our departure and I put in some computer time. It turned out to be a good decision because a boat that left during that same so-called weather window got pasted – an experience we’re typically not keen on and are especially trying to avoid until our rigging is redone.

Departure number two was cancelled when we decided that a rather benign sounding weather report had a sinister undertone to it. Neither of us was really sure what the problem was, but there was something hinky about the lack of information on the after midnight part of the report. In other words – the weather was fine, we were nervous.

But today, today is perfect. A high has filled in. The sky is bright blue. The winds are whispering in the lightest, most gentle fashion. The seas are barely swelling and it’s all scheduled to stay this way. It’s all we can ask for when embarking on a trip south with an unreliable rig.

So we started doing our predeparture stuff early in the morning: Downloading a few podcasts to listen to on night watches (why not use the midnight hour to get a bit smarter?); cooking a few underway meals; tiding up the boat and overhauling the diesel heater (just in case the nights are chilly…)

I was down in the galley wondering why my milk (for scalloped potatoes – always soothing for sensitive, slightly seasick tummies) had a black film on it, while Evan was cheerfully vacuuming out the built-up soot from the heater. Then I looked up and gazed through a grey haze that was reminiscent of the coal fogs in England that followed the Second World War (gotta love the information gleaned from a podcast…) I asked Evan if the vacuum was working and he insisted the haze was caused by smoke, likely by something I was cooking.

I wasn’t cooking.

The vacuum hadn’t liked sucking up soot and in protest it pulverized the oily carbon and sent it out in a cloud of sticky, fine, black nastiness that coated every surface of the boat's interior, including the cat, who was leaving cute little black footprints everywhere he went as he tried to avoid black lung.

Considering we’re at a dock, which has ample fresh water and a laundry facility with the cheapest machines we’ve yet to encounter, our decision was made for us. We stayed. We turned on the podcasts I had painstakingly downloaded (on the slowest connection imaginable!) and began to scrub, and scrub and scrub. And then scrub some more.

The moral (there’s always a moral) is not what you think. Sure plans are always subject to change, and the best laid plans oft go awry, and life is what happens when you’re busy making plans… But I’m not about to give up making plans - because they're important. They get you from A to B and then motivate you push on to C even when B has cheap beer, and easy anchorages, and nice people. They inspire you and give you the feeling that you’re really living and experiencing all that life offers the very best way you know how. Plans are what assure you that you're not just scratching the surface of life, that you're getting down into the juicey bits, and savouring the parts that really make it all worthwhile.

No, the moral isn’t about not making plans and not having goals, it’s simply about letting goals go when they don’t work out. It’s about enjoying the podcast while you clean the boat and then using the free afternoon to head out for icecream after doing laundry. It's about not regreting the moments you didn't get and the sights you didn't see. It’s about believing that weather windows will come again and that you’ll leave tomorrow.


Sarah said...

That photo is AMAZING.

Sarah said...

*the photo of Maia writing her name in the sand, that is

jmax said...

So, if we say that your current expedition is a literary event, as opposed to merely the process of moving a catamaran and 4 crew around the planet, then I think you're doing rather well, actually. This is my favourite post so far in your journey. I begin to wonder that if you guys start making unproblematic headway (geographically speaking) the literary merits of the cruise might suffer. Just a thought.

Diane, Evan, Maia and Charlie the cat said...

John, I don't think anyone, ever has a problem free voyage. The nature of the thing is something will go wrong. Mishaps are definitely more interesting to pen than waxing poetic about a goregous beach, or perfect sunset (although we get those too!)

But if it does get easier, I'll try not to bore you.

Evan says thanks, Sarah!

Drew Smith (mux) said...

AHAH, awesome! Ernst gave me the URL to your blog; I am living on my sailboat in False Creek, upgrading her and preparing for a voyage very similar to yours, starting next summer.

I have done *EXACTLY* the same thing with the vacuum vs. the diesel heater, only with a wet-vac with enough wet in it that all the soot blown out the back was a sticky mess instead of airborne.

Nice to see others with similar dreams, you definitely have a new subscriber! I too am keeping a blog, you can find it at if you're interested.

- Drew.