Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Howdy from another sailing dreamer"

Sometimes I think my life is just a little too complicated to ever allow my sailing dream to come true, but then I hear from a reader like Aaron Evans, who is living about the most complicated life I have heard of in some time. And yet he shares the same dream:

I live in Seattle with my wife Kelsey and newborn son Harmon. We got married last year. We started dating a couple years before that. I'd been trying to avoid any entanglements because I was moving to Fiji to try to start a tourism business. I'd visited before on vacation, and had local friends.

The plan was to partner with a village and do "survival tours," basically camping on the beach and learning to climb coconut trees, spear fish, and start a fire without matches. I didn't know if we'd target Jeremiah Crusoe wannabes (like myself) or wave palm fronds over Thurston Hemingway wannabes (like myself) and do catered lovos (Fijian luaus) but figured there was a market for both.

This was to be a scouting trip, where I'd get some contacts lined up, and then come back to arrange financing and market it. It didn't work out quite right, partially because I was lazy, and partly because I realized it was a bigger project than I thought, but the biggest problem was that I fell in love right before leaving. Kelsey got me to promise I'd come back, and so after three months I did.

While in Fiji, I realized I'd need a boat, or partner with someone who had a boat, so I went to the Royal Suva Yacht Club looking for contacts. On the bulletin board there I saw a posting for a crew-wanted position to Australia. Taking this as a hopeful "in," I contacted the skipper by email. It turns out that the autopilot was broken and he needed helm watches. I'd never sailed before, but convinced him I could do it.

In Fiji they have a saying, "Fiji Time," which means essentially "whenever." While tourists might get frustrated with "Fiji Time," I learned it's nothing compared to "Yachtie Time." Long story short, I spent several weeks waiting for the boat to finally leave, after picking up extra crew and eventually even getting the autopilot fixed.

In the meantime, I became friends with the skipper, Alan Toone, and another sailor, a young single-hander from England, Tony. I sailed around Fiji with Tony, and helped him get a few paying crew that helped him buy enough food and fuel to make it to New Zealand.

Finally, I went with Alan to Australia, buying a surfboard in Fiji that I lugged around, planning to use it for a couple weeks and give that country a proper tour. By the time we got to Brisbane, there was only enough time to clear customs, sleep on the boat, and catch a taxi to the airport the next morning, stopping at a thrift shop to buy a sleeping bag and some tape that I used to wrap the surfboard in to take on the plane.

I learned a little about sailing, and developed some friendships, but hadn't spent much time doing what I planned to do, and besides, I was hooked. Unfortunately, I only had a little over a week left in Fiji. I made the most of it. Finally got to one the outer islands on the local freight ship and stayed with friends, and even got in a day of surfing (or rather, floating outside the break, being intimidated by the surf.) I caught a fish on the boat ride back though, and we had a couple of really good lovos. Apart from a confusing mix-up with the daughter of my host, it was a great time.

I returned to Seattle, Kelsey picked me up at the airport, and I remembered I loved her. I got another job doing what I hated, but tried to make the most of it and sock away money for a boat. I tried to sate my appetite with a Hobie cat on Lake Washington, but Kelsey took most of my time.

I heard from Tony, who'd washed up on the beach in Australia after a storm and dead engine, but minimal damage, and no complaints. He met an American girl down under and plied his trade through Oz, Indonesia, and Thailand. He was looking to sell his boat, a Cascade 42, and I wanted to buy it, but had about $5000 less than he needed. I thought about getting a cash advance on my credit card, buying a plane ticket and a bag of rice when I got there, and trying to sail backwards across the Pacific, but instead I got married two months later.

Kelsey knew my plans, and had agreed to them, even taking sailing lessons and chartering with our families in the San Juan Islands the year before we got married, but she had her own dream: Ecuador.

Before we were dating, she'd spent a year in Ecuador as a volunteer at an orphanage. We've been back for Christmas a couple times, taking gifts to the kids and visiting friends. On one return trip we spent a few days in Florida, visiting the Everglades, the Keys, and the King Tut exhibit in Ft. Lauderdale. We learned two disappointing facts. She gets seasick (discovered on an amazing Sail-fishing trip off Key West), and the King Tut exhibit was a sham. No gold tombs, or even a facemask. Re-created artifacts and artists' "conceptions ," and a lot of large cardboard posters. After paying something like $60 and waiting in line for 3 hours. I can't believe there wasn't a riot from dissatisfied museum-goers.

Anyway, we got married, I spent all my time shopping for boats online, and one day while she was away at a work conference, she called me up. She listened patiently to me describe the newest boat I was interested in (a Wauquiez 32), and then announced that she wanted to move to Ecuador and start a program for the orphans there. One for childhood development, and another for troubled teens. I said sure. So four months after getting married, I quit my job again and we moved to Ecuador for 6 months.

While she worked with the kids, I worked on a business plan. I do software testing and web development, but always get testing jobs, and do a little development on the side. I'd finally decided I'll try to develop testing tools. I'd reconciled myself to a career, but wanted to be my own boss, and more importantly, wanted to have an income that I could generate from anywhere. I made some progress, and tried to recruit some local talent, but the pool was small, and I didn't speak Spanish.

Well, one day at the end of January, we found out the news that she was hoping for. She was too sick to do any work for the next few weeks, so we went home a bit early. And I got another job. On October 24th, 2 weeks late, she had a 10 pound, 12 ounce baby boy. We called him Harmon after my grandfather.

Of course, I'm practically out of money now, and my priorities have changed, but I hope in the next couple years we'll ready to sail away. Back to Ecuador, to Fiji, to the Mediterranean, and of course, everywhere else. I owe my dad a trip up the inside passage to Alaska, too.

I'm chomping at the bit to try and get my own business going, which I feel has real potential, but there's the thought that if I take the risk, I could set the boat back a few more years. On the other hand, if it succeeds, it could make the dream a permanent reality. A high speed satellite connection would only be around $15,000 extra and maybe a thousand a month. That's less than I pay on rent now. Or we could park the boat every few months, and at the very least I could get a contract job.

Anyway, that's my story. It's a foggy day, but I can just see Puget Sound through the window behind my back at work, and the winters are long and rainy here.

-Aaron Evans

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