Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Tree Swing

The bare patch demonstrates how much the swing is coveted.
Here we are on the second to last night in the house that has kept us safe and warm (well actually usually too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter…darn old houses) for the last 8 years.  This is the only home our girls have known, Ella moved here when she was 5 months old.  We have put a lot of sweat and money into this house and we have adored raising our family in this home.  I am going to miss it so much! 

When I think of one thing I am going to miss the most, oddly enough it is not even inside the house, it is the tree swing in the backyard.  That swing has provided our girls with countless hours of thrills.  That old cherry tree, which blooms after all the other cherry trees in the city have started to drop their blossoms and starts dropping its leaves far earlier than it should, has proven the test of time with keeping that swing tied securely to its branches. 

We have found a million ways to twist and twirl, under duck and test the limits on just how high we can push the girls, always to screams of delight.  Well nearly always…there was one time when I was swinging Ella by her ankles pretending she was an axe chopping the tree and lets just say I accidentally demonstrated she is not an effective axe, but she does bounce fairly well off the trunk.  I am fairly sure Ella will never let me forget that one.  But generally it has been laughter that swing has brought to our family. 

The swing also functions as a highly effective delay tactic.  Nearly every morning, when I am rushing the girls out the door to school, at least one, if not both, of them would jump on the swing on their stomach and do everything they can to delay getting themselves to the car.  Which of course usually results in my impatiently, and not always so quietly, prompting to get their butt moving in the direction I want them to head.  That swing has played a nearly daily role in our family for eight years.

I can’t believe I am being sentimental about a tree swing, but what can I say, I am the one who cries like a baby to sentimental commercials.  I suppose it is not really just about the swing, but how our home has been a wonderful space for us to create eight years of amazing memories.  I can’t believe how hard it is hitting me that we are saying good-bye to our home this week.  Here is looking forward to what the next chapter holds and we will always have the memories this house has played in the story of our family.


Ella at 18 months when we were completely gutting the backyard. 
Ella at 4 ½ years old, always fearless.
Iris giving the swing a shot at 12 months.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Inspiration - Life #2

This quote makes me smile, it fills me with excitement as I look ahead to life #2. I don't know if I started that life when we made the decision to take our family and explore the world, or if it will start once we actually take our first steps away.  I suppose it doesn't matter because either way I'm doing what I wanted - I'm living intentionally, examining why I make the choices I make and trying to do things with intention, rather than by rote.

The interesting thing is, just because we have chosen this path in our lives, doesn't mean it is for everyone and doesn't mean that others are not really living.  It doesn't have to be a question of right and wrong.  Our choice does not reflect negatively on the choices of others because we all have the ability and right to choose the path we take for our own reasons - the ones that meet our needs.

I am inspired by all of those I know who are living with intention.  Those who are deliberate in framing their lives by choosing the lifestyle, climate, companions, vocation, hobbies, religion or philosophy that gives them peace.  All of these people blow my mind and are an inspiration.  I'm in awe of the strength that they have had to follow their hearts in spite of the bruises they might suffer.

I suppose some day I should tell them...and thank them.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Goodbyes suck...

There's one thing that I read consistently in other blogs - I didn't really give it lots of weight until recently.

Making the decision to adopt a semi-nomadic lifestyle has some downsides - principle among them are the need to say goodbye.  Some goodbyes are easier than others - we've had relatively few issues letting go of our stuff, and our house.  We won't miss yardwork or the Vancouver rain.

Other goodbyes are harder...like goodbyes with good friends and family.

In many ways, friends and families are like a good pair of shoes.  Some days you take them for granted but regardless you expect them to be there helping you out when you really need them.  You don't even realize how much you value them until they're not there.

We've been spending more time in the last few months with family and friends than we have in the past - noticeably more.  And it hasn't even been that painful.  Except when we realize that in many cases the goodbyes are different, and difficult and they suck.  They suck even though we're coming back, and we live in an era when communication globally is not just possible it's simple and nearly free.

People keep telling us how adventurous and brave we are, making the decision that we have but I think about those adventurous people who settled new lands throughout history, whether they were striking out thousands of years ago from Africa, travelling across the oceans from Scandinavia, trekking across land bridges from Eurasia, sailing across the oceans to settle the South Pacific atols, or more recently paying for passage to the new lands in North America.  They left everything behind, without the ability to ever see their families again.  They were the adventurous ones and I can't say I would be brave enough to make the choices they did.

Adventurous or not, goodbyes suck.  But we will be back, we welcome visitors and we will see everyone again.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Making a difference...

Voyage of the Labyrinth: PILOT EPISODE from Jase Kovacs on Vimeo.

Jase Kovacs cashed in his life savings to buy a cruising trimaran.  He's been sailing in Southeast Asia for a little while with his crew Jolene, Roxy and James.  Along the way they've seen the impact of human activity on the ocean.

Now the crew of Labrynth are looking to turn their talents towards helping secure a future for the fragile eco-systems of the region they're sailing in.  They team up with local groups in an effort to bring awareness to the efforts being made.  They've also got a kickstarter campaign going to fund their efforts at conservation.

I've never met these folks, but appreciate what they're doing to make the world a better place for my kids and hopefully their kids.  It has also made me reflect a little on what we could do in our travels to leave the places we go to a little better than we found them.

We're actively exploring ideas that will help make a difference, teach our kids a little about giving and be practical given our planned lifestyle.  As we land on things we'll be sure to share them - and while we work our way through these explorations, we'd welcome your feedback - any ideas on how a sailing family could make a difference in the lives of those they touch?

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Shipping News

Costco Xiamen off Vancouver

So it turns out shipping a household full of stuff overseas is not as easy as expected.  Should have known it would not go off without a hitch.

As it stands right now we have about 12 boxes to have shipped, call it 1 cubic meter of stuff.  About enough to respectfully load a pallet similar in nature to the load recently moved by the Zero to Cruising gang as detailed on their blog.  Unfortunately it seems to be way more than the Windtraveler gang moved - and they have 3 kids...no excuses here, we likely over packed.

But volume is not really the issue...the issue is getting things nailed down.

So far I've looked into international movers and freight forwarders.  I've learned some stuff and have still got lots of questions.

Here's where we stand so far:

4 - Number of "International" Moving Companies contacted
3 - Number of said companies who promised to provide quotes to move a pallet full of boxes to Greece
0 - Number of actual quotes received to date

Some more numbers:
30+ - days to ship goods via cargo ship from Vancouver to Greece
9 - cost per cubic foot of goods shipped using freight forwarder

I've also learned that regardless of the fact that we're shipping well used household items and said household items are bound for a boat that is our home, but which is not resident in any country, we may be seen as importing these items to the EU.  Importing means we could be subject to duty and possibly Value Added Tax.  Really?  VAT?!?!  On used goods?

Anyway, on the advice of the friendly freight forwarder I contacted I have reached out to some customs agents to get specifics on what may be involved in this move and I am optimistic it will all work out, but a bit on edge waiting to get some clarity...

If anyone out there has any advice on how to proceed or what to expect, or a recommended customs broker in Brindisi, Italy or Thessaloniki, Greece I'd be happy to hear from you!

The adventure continues...

Sunday, 10 May 2015

To the Mothers in my life...

Mother's Day Cupcakes (4592972238)

It's Mother's Day, an important day to many of the key women in my life.

First - my wife - mother of my children.  Thank you for supporting me in my darkest times and sharing in the exciting times.  We have many years and a brilliant future in front of us.  I love that you're up for the ride!

Next - my mother.  You never doubted our plans or desires, even when it obviously means changes to your life too.  Thanks for being my mom and supporting us in this.  Without the team we have behind us we could not succeed.  My mom deserves a special mention for taking on the effort managing our mail while we're away - a job which could be more involved than it might appear.

Finally - my mother in law.  Not last, and certainly not least.  You have been supportive and strong as we've moved forward in this.  We will miss the easy access to drop by and chat, and the girls will miss afternoons in the pool but we know that you will visit as we will.

The rest of our support team (friends and family, Pyrats yargh) has many mothers in it.  Your support now and in the past has been so incredibly important to us.

To all of the mothers out there, nurturing the dreams and futures of their children - keep up the hard work.  It does pay off.  And kids - whether you're 6 or 60, don't be afraid to live your dreams.  That's what your mother's would want and no matter what might happen they will stand with you.

Inspiration - What if money was no object?

What If Money Was No Object ~ Alan Watts from Edgar Alves on Vimeo.

From time to time we'll be posting some of the material that has inspired us to be brave when we are scared, be thoughtful when we are frantic and be confident when we are timid.  Nothing this huge happens on its own and we have relied on these snippets to keep us driving forward.

Today's inspiration is a clip that can be found on Vimeo.  It was created by the owner of the following youtube channel.  youtube.com/user/tradgedyandhope

Alan Watts was one of the most insightful philosophers and speakers of the 20th century.  There have not been many talks of his that I've been exposed to and not had impact on my view of the world, myself or the choices I have made and have in front of me to make.  Hopefully you enjoy this as much as I did.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Selling our house...

The realty photographer did a great job...
Yesterday I wrote about how to reset your life.  One of the points I touched on was managing your assets.  This is the story of how we chose to mange our major asset, our house.  It's the story of where the decision has left us and how we hope it will work out.  One thing we're learning as we move forward with this is that you can never have plans that are rock solid, but regardless of that, things seem to have a way of working out.

Now, in order to make this dream a reality, there was one huge condition.  We had to sell our house.

Since 2000 Janet and I have lived in North Vancouver.  At first we rented, then in 2002 we purchased a 980 square foot pre-sale condo on the North Vancouver waterfront for what seemed to be an outrageous sum of money.  We sold that, trading up (in size and debt-load) in 2007 and settled into the suburban life, trading time for money and money for home.

The thing is, the Vancouver real estate market is a strange beast, rising faster than a farmer at the rooster's call.  In spite of dismal financial markets, employment figures that caused some doubt and cautious economic outlooks for BC the value of our home far outstripped what we paid for it.

So - in order to make this all real we took the huge step of listing our house for sale.  That was January.  We had been watching the market for more than a year and hoped that it would be a time of high demand, coming off of the rainy winter in Vancouver.  With that in mind we anticipated that it might take a month or so to get reasonable offers and interest.  We had no inkling of how wrong we were or the flurry of activity that was about to come.

The day before the listing went live was a Thursday and we were a bit surprised when our realtor asked when we would be looking at offers.  Uncertainty descended and in a moment of blind intuition we said we'd consider offers the following Monday.  The moment that decision was made we began second guessing ourselves.  What if we didn't have any offers?  What if buyers were put off by an offer deadline?  What if it made us look greedy?

We should not have worried.

We listed on a Friday, by that afternoon we had 8 showings lined up for Saturday and more for Sunday.  By the time the weekend was over we had more than 40 individuals walk through the house.
Monday night came and had 4 offers presented to us.  Each one was above asking.  We were blown away.  Never in our wildest imaginings had we expected that it would take just 72 hours to sell our house.  The accepted offer?  $998,000.

We had just won the lottery - the Vancouver real estate lottery to be specific.

Now we are due to leave our house on May 27.  It is the only home our girls know and has sheltered us, providing warmth and security for the last 8 years.  We're sad to leave it but also so happy that the final thing we'll take from this home is financial freedom.

With the money from the sale we're able to pay for our boat - our next home.  What's more, the sale is the source of most of the funds that will enable us to live this dream.  Invested and spent wisely, they should be enough to fund this lifestyle for as long as we choose.  (See my post on cost of cruising for details on what the lifestyle costs).

There's no doubt in my mind that we were extremely fortunate in the decisions we made and the timing we had, and I like to think we will keep that in mind and make the most of our good fortune as we embark on new adventures.

Monday, 4 May 2015

How to hit "reset" on your life

This is what we put in storage (minus the wicker)...everything else we own
 is either going with us, or going to a new home.

I guess I knew that taking on full time cruising was going to be challenging, I just didn't realize how challenging until I was in the middle of it.  I mean - how do you pause your life, mid-stream and then hit reset without hard work?  The answer: you don't.

Okay, so you wake up one morning and decide that you're done with your corporate life and are going to chuck it all to go cruising.  Sounds good - what's first?

How about the boat - you do have a boat don't you?  No...ok this just got a bit harder.  How about a job that you can work at remotely?  That's taken care of right?  Oh - you were hoping to not work.  Hmmm...good thing I like a challenge.  Ok, but the good news is you're not tied down by debt or family committments.  Wait a second - you have a house and mortgage and 2 kids under 9...

My thoughts on how to hit reset on your life (keeping in mind we don't even move aboard until July):

Step 1: Believe you can.  
Don't let anyone tell you that you need to start small, buy a day-sailer or dinghy and sail locally for a few years before you move up to a bigger boat.  Don't let anyone tell you that you can't afford it or that you have to have a job that's location independent and don't let anyone tell you that you should wait til your kids are older, or your parents don't need you or...  Not to be selfish, but this choice needs to be about you, about living your life the way you want to and accepting the risks, sacrifices and potentially catastrophic outcomes that it may bring.

Step 2:  Prepare.
You can do this even if you have no experience, but you can't go into it pretending it's not hard.  Earning the skills necessary to survive the worst that the ocean can dish out is a long term game.  The price of admission to the game is knowledge.  Learn everything you can before you leave, learn from classes through a local yacht club, association or power squadron, learn from fellow sailors and non-sailors alike.  Learn first aid, learn how to deal with diesel engines, learn how to play with electricity, learn about radios and getting along with others in small spaces.  Learn about knots and boat bits.  Every piece of knowledge you gain is a credit against that day when something unexpected and potentially life threatening may happen.

In Vanouver we were lucky to have access to a fantastic group of cruisers in the Blue Water Cruising Association www.bluewatercruising.org.  This group is world-class in terms of support, education and fellowship.  If you live in Vancouver, on Vancouver Island, or Calgary I suggest looking them up.  Membership is worth every penny.

Step 3:  Go on a diet.
No, not from calories, from stuff.  Boats are small.  Houses are big.  Western culture values consumption and collection of stuff.  Unless your positively Ghandi-esque in your habits there's a reasonable chance that you own too much stuff for your boat.

We began our diet by stopping new purchases fairly early in the process.  We got tired of asking each other whether that new item could be used on the boat, but it worked.  We didn't buy much that we aren't going to take with us.  Keep in mind that we may still overpack - I'll update you later on whether we actually need all the stuff we're taking onboard.

From not purchasing we graduated to downsizing our possessions.  We have 2 girls under 9 - they had lots to off-load.  Again we took it in steps starting with garage sales, regular thrift store runs to donate usable goods and by filling our trash can each garbage day with those items that we didn't need and were either broker or unsaleable.

Starting about 6 months before leaving we ramped things up a bit.  We began posting our belongings on Craigslist (the big ticket items).  Now, with 8 weeks before we move aboard we're in a mostly empty house, eating dinner at a borrowed card table and sleeping on mattresses on the floor.

At the end of the day what we've got left is what's coming to the boat and what's in storage at my mom's and fit in 3 boxes in the back of a truck along with some stuff that she's taking off our hands permanently.

Step 4: Manage your assets.
There seem to be two major camps when it comes to cruisers and houses.  There are those who see it as a long term investment in their ability to return to land based life and those who see it as a source of cruising funds to draw on.  The former group typically keep their home, rent it out or find some other way to ensure it pays for itself and plan to return someday to take up life in the house again.   The latter cash in their chips (and in Vancouver it wasn't much different than a lottery) collect their winnings, and quite happily march off into the sunset to spend it all "out there".  We fall into the latter group.  Making this decision means its unlikely we'll ever own a home in Vancouver again, but there are worse things in life.

Step 5: Make sure you've got a boat.
Kind of important, but not necessarily a pre-requisite.  You don't need to have one in advance, you don't even need to know much about them (see step 1) but you will need one eventually.  You'll hear lots of people voicing their opinion about which boat to buy, but what's important is that it is built for what you're planning to do with it and that you like it.  Your options in this area are vast but boil down to some key decisions.
  • Mono-hull or multi-hull?
  • New or used?
  • Fibreglass or Metal or Wood (becoming rare)?
  • Buy locally or buy overseas?
I can tell you from experience that getting a boat can be challenging, but it is not that bad...even if you buy it from a broker 1/2 way around the world.  I'll write a separate post about the process once the deals actually completely done.

I think for now it's enough to say that we found the boat we wanted (multihull, used, fibreglass) in Europe.  What this meant is we were dealing with an unknown boat, in an unknown area where we didn't have any resources (read surveyors) that we knew around.  And that's where google comes in. There is no doubt that the world is getting smaller and we're benefiting from how easy it is to get information about anything, anywhere with just a few key-strokes.

My last little bit of advice on hitting reset?  Understand that you'll never be 100% confident, nor can you be 100% prepared.  You can however, think of every possible aspect that you can and trust that you will have the ability to manage past those you missed.

Life is a journey, not a destination so enjoy the ride and don't worry too much about the pot-holes.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Cost of Cruising: Budgeting for a life under sail

Those of you who know me know that I'm a bit, shall we say, retentive about my personal finances.  As It turns out, that's a good thing.  It's allowed me to seriously lay out a plan that makes this journey possible.

When I started considering the possibility of  taking a sabatical, or even retiring early - really early - my first question was what does the lifestyle cost?  How much do boats cost?  How much will I spend on maintenance?  What is a reasonable cost of living in some of those far away places?

Of course, to get answers to these questions I turned to Google.  What I quickly found is cruisers forums and the interweb in general were full of helpful advice. 

"It takes whatever you've got..."

"How much do you have?"

But, with a little digging it is possible to find details; and while every cruiser is different, knowing what others spend, where they spend it and how they prefer to live can allow you to estimate your future needs.

Here are links to those budgets I've found online.  I'll post some of the other tools I use as I get the time.

Ariel32' Cat2 Adults, 2 Children09-'10 $          1,716.67
Atom28' Mono2 Adults'98-'04 $             800.00
BeBe53' Mono2 Adults'06-'13 $          5,043.33
Billabong44' Mono2 Adults'04-'07 $          2,678.07
Brio35' Mono2 Adults'11-'13 $          2,751.67
Buckeye38' Cat2 Adults'12 $          3,500.00
Bumfuzzle35' Cat2 Adults'03-'07 $          3,100.77
Bumfuzzle 243' Mono2 Adults 1 Child'12 $          3,332.24
Camille38' Mono2 Adults'12-'13 $          2,221.69
Carina33' Mono2 Adults'03-'10 $          2,000.00
Charbonneau40' Mono2 Adults'99-'07 $          1,825.00
Del Viento40' Mono2 Adults 2 Children'10-'13 $          4,277.73
Dos Libras45' Mono2 Adults'14 $          4,222.83
Duende43' Mono2 Adults'09-'12 $          2,752.50
Elizabeth27' Mono1 Adult'09 $          1,000.00
Elysium42' Mono2 Adults'09-'13 $          3,899.90
Gilana50' Mono2 Adults 1 Child'99-'11 $          1,175.00
Groovy44' Mono2 Adults'12-'13 $          2,000.00
Hello World40' Mono2 Adults'09-'13 $          2,273.00
Hotspur41' Mono2 Adults 2 Children'09-'11 $          2,182.64
Kintala42' Mono2 Adults'14 $          2,200.00
Let It Go38' Cat2 Adults 1 Child'13 $          1,800.00
Livin' the Dream44' Mono2 Adults'06-'11 $          2,757.65
Location47' Mono2 Adults'06-'10 $          1,500.00
Long Passages38' Mono2 Adults'94 $          2,483.33
Luckness37' Mono1 Adult'12 $          2,916.67
NonConformist47' Cat2 Adults 3 Children'11-'12 $          3,761.00
Nor Siglar40' Mono2 Adults'91-'00 $          2,541.08
Ocelot45' Cat2 Adults 2 Children'02-'14 $          3,000.00
Pacific Bliss43' Cat2 Adults'00-'08 $          2,500.00
Perry48' Cat2 Adults 2 Children'13 $          3,296.29
Picaroon40' Mono2 Adults'12 $          2,854.53
Sage38' Mono2 Adults'10-'13 $          1,000.00
Savannah40' Cat2 Adults 1 Child'10-'13 $          2,521.88
Scream45' Mono2 Adults'08-'12 $          2,401.56
Serendipity34' Mono2 Adults'12-'13 $          1,437.17
Serenity30' Mono2 Adults'12-'13 $          1,709.00
Simmer35' Mono2 Adults'99-'03 $          1,101.00
Slapdash34' Cat2 Adults'07-'12 $          2,000.00
Sophia35' Mono2 Adults'12-'13 $          1,884.62
Soulmates40' Mono2 Adults'09-'14 $          3,064.17
Tamure40' Mono2 Adults 2 Children'87-'91 $          1,800.00
Third Day36' Mono2 Adults 2 Children'07-'13 $          1,868.64
Velocir27' Mono2 adults'12 $             920.00
Ventana40' Mono2 Adults'96-'01 $          2,200.00
Viking Star45' Trawler2 Adults'11-'13 $          3,135.00
Wondertime38' Mono2 Adults 2 Children'11-'12 $          2,462.40

Friday, 1 May 2015

Tough questions

One of the most common questions I get when I tell people what we're planning is simply why?  What has possessed you to choose to disrupt your life this way?  Why pull your kids out of school and away from their friends?  What about everything you're leaving behind?

That's a tough question.  Its tough for a couple of reasons.  First, our motivations are complicated.  There are layers of emotion and reason and intuition mixed with regrets, fears, dreams and aspirations.  Some days it all gets jumbled together and it takes hours of talking and thinking and glasses of wine to sort through.  Second, it can be hard to talk about the reasons for making choices so radically different than those made by people closest to you. Its easy to give the impression that the decision we're making is right and the decision others have made is  wrong.  There is no wrong or right here, just different paths that we all can choose.  What is right for us may be wrong for others and, who knows this may not even be right for us.  So care must be taken when answering the question "why?".

  1. The only thing you can't get more of is time.  If you make this realization, then let it drive your course, amazing things can happen.  That's not to say people who trade their time for money, or their time for things are wrong, it's just not where my priorities lie.  That's easy to say coming from a middle class home in Canada, but I suspect I'll feel the same when I'm living below the Canadian poverty line.
  2. There will come a time when my kids don't want to spend time with me.  This is like the axiom that youth is wasted on the young.  If I had the choice why wouldn't I spend time with my family when they (and I) are young, even if it means cat food for dinner after a long day working at Walmart when I'm older?  (For the record, I've never tried cat food and am confident it won't come to that and I'm actually not that confident that Walmart would hire me.)
  3. Health and life are unpredictable.  Lets face it - we've all heard about the 66 year old who retired only to drop dead weeks after leaving work.
  4. We got tired of living on 'autopilot'.  Go to school, graduate, go to University, get a job, get married, have kids, buy a house, have more kids...  It felt like we were doing what was next just because it was next.  We decided we wanted to live intentionally.  And this is where it gets dicey.  I am not saying that anyone who leads a more traditional life is not living intentionally, but we have chosen a different path - eyes wide open.
  5. Its a big world, and we want our kids to learn from being in it, not reading about it.  There is so much that travel and seeing the world can do for our kids, we're looking forward to showing it to them and watching them grow.
Really, this just begins to touch on the question of why and when I read these, they don't begin to do justice to the soul searching done over the last few years.  I guess what it  boils down to is that we felt something was missing - life wasn't what we knew it could be for us.  Ultimately, we want to live differently than we are so we're going to take a chance and see if this fits the bill if not, we'll find a different path.