This is Clouds Form Over Land, weekly writing about life at sea and going ashore.
We often joke that we could have walked, biked, rollerbladed, or even crawled from California to Virginia by now.
We could have packed this sailboat on a truck and reunited a week or so later. We could have stayed on payroll, kept in touch, and continued paving our personal patterns and practices. Sport, the sticker-covered station wagon and daily driver, would likely still be our trusty stead. Our bank accounts — padded by five years of living in a marina instead of an apartment —may have landed us a title and a mortgage.
Instead, we took the scenic route.
We chose the unknown and paired it with the vastness of oceans.
This 9,000-mile route has been our guide through countless setbacks and surprises, a bulwark when things went sideways (sailboats are designed to tilt, after all).
We accepted the discomfort and freedom of being “in progress” for a couple of years. Of knowing where we were headed, but not how we’d get there. We located our limits and found out what was beyond our breaking points. We fixed almost everything that broke (who needs an oven in the tropics?). We found out what it takes to get to the other side of the continent. We became functionally bilingual. We made friends aboard dugout canoes and million-dollar yachts. We sourced our energy from solar panels, water from a desalinator, and food from whatever the locals sold.
Doing something so inefficient, unique, and pointless has tapped all of my resources and paid me back in the form of clear priorities, closer relationships, stronger capabilities, and confidence that’s alluded me for a long time.
The COVID-19 lockdown, plus the wildfires, health challenges, protests, and isolation that followed showed us how little (and how much) we could really control in our day-to-day existence. It refined the fuel to take that trip we’d been talking about for years. The isolation isolated us.
Along the way, we’ve met countless souls who have affirmed or questioned our resolve, route, and choices. We’ve discovered that the approval of our crew matters most, that helping hands can come from the most unexpected places, and that more people have our backs than we ever imagined.
We stayed upright in the flood of difficult and doable tasks that come with moving a vessel from one place to the next.
We adopted a cat that we never would have met otherwise.
We made tortillas, tamales, ceviches, moles and mote de queso.
Every day we wake up with the responsibility to keep our vessel and ourselves afloat, and every day we seem to get a little better at both.
There’s a month left of Spring and 440 miles left to sail. Hurricanes follow the seasons and so we’re flying north like migratory birds. The equinox struck during our 8-day sailing passage from Cartagena, Colombia to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. This season felt wily and transformational, so I intended to keep things loose. I didn’t play piano and I did sew two shirts.
As is becoming tradition, here’s what else is in progress this season:
Fresh washcloths for spring!
While on an Olympic-level run of errands with the help of friends with a car, I added three skeins of Peaches & Creme cotton yarn to our Walmart cart in the green/blue color scheme of the Caribbean. I packed these for a recent jaunt home to Michigan and have just about finished them. I cast on 31 stitches for each cloth and continued one in moss stitch, another in seed stitch, and the last in plain ol’ knit. At the airport and on planes, numerous people asked me what I was up to. Many exclaimed they really ought to get back into making something with their hands. One told me about a discouraging sweater back home and seemed buoyed by the idea of making something so simple and usable to get unstuck.
I’ve been knitting for seventeen years and it seems that with enough tenacity, snack breaks, and support, we could make anything. Crafting something “easy” is awfully refreshing to me too.
Rag rug for the future!
I processed worn-out clothes, scrap fabric, and rags into 2” strips and started braiding. Our closets and cupboards seemed to give a little sigh of relief for the extra space around the stored items. My new thing is carving out actually actionable areas of the upcoming transition to shore and rolling up my sleeves. I am fairly certain a bathroom, kitchen, or laundry area in our future dwelling can be cozied by a floor covering and that’s enough clarity to begin. I’ll hold off stitching it together until I know the destination and approximate size and shape.
Here are my instructions for making a rug and extending the lifespan of fabric in our homes.
Coat for a captain!
I cut out an Ilford Jacket in black canvas, wool batting, and olive linen when we were in San Diego in October 2021. Scott had just completed a rigorous course to earn his US Coast Guard captain’s license. This credential comes with a little red passport and some stickers, and I thought a coat would go far to ring in the achievement. It could also hold his grandpa’s brass anchor and flower pin awarded to petty officers serving on the Pacific front. We’ve been nowhere near cold weather, so it stayed rolled up by the sewing machine until I started quilting the jacket in Panama and pieced together the sleeve placket and body of the jacket back in Mexico.
I used a bar tack quilting method learned from @minimalistmachinist and this tutorial from Friday Pattern Co. had me flying high while creating my first sleeve packets.
I accidentally used up the fabric for the pockets on another project, so I’m working on hunting down some Elizabeth Suzann black canvas to finish this (do you have some?!).
Books in progress:
The American Sea from Jack Davis’ The Gulf.
Growing up gay in Cuba from Lorenzo Chavez’s The Light of a Cuban Son.
Aging, exploring, and making art from Jimmy Buffett’s A Pirate Looks at Fifty.
Women at work in the 60’s from Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus.
I’m a sucker for painstakingly slow projects, especially when progress is steady and visible. Books and fiber arts are an active meditation that likely cultivated the stick-to-it-ness required to be on this sailing route. I have to want the finished product and enjoy the process, otherwise, what’s the point?
On the boat, a mechanical failure or missed weather window can feel derailing, but in retrospect, we’ve never sailed backward.
What’s in progress for you this spring? What are you crawling or sailing towards?
Still awed by your journey and writing !! I don’t always comment but I always read! Hope to be able to see you when you get to Virginia !
We launched our 40' sailboat 2 weeks ago. We have managed to clean the cockpit, walkways and put up the main sail. This weekend promises to get the jib up and finish cleaning the balance of the topside. Summer plans include a week-long sailing adventure with our 15 year old grandson-Mason. He asked us for this and we're excited to spend the time. Our annual sail to Mackinac Island is tentative for August or September.
We're retired, but never without activity or projects. They say it keeps you young.
Keep doing; you're good at the writing and adventures.