What do cruisers panic about?
People that don’t live on a boat probably think that the biggest worry for a full time cruiser, commonly referred to as a ‘live-aboard,’ is about the boat sinking, getting caught in a hurricane, smashing into a whale, getting lost, dragging into the sea or rocks from a mooring or being gobbled up by a giant sized squid. And let’s not forget to mention pirates!
Although these worries may exist, they’re often temporary and short-lived.
There’s another worry that seems common, especially amongst the women cruisers that I’ve been privileged to befriend.
What is this cause for panic?
Let me tell you about my personal experience. Last night I woke in a panic – an event that happens a few times every month. I opened my eyes; looked at the few stars I could see through my open hatch and felt my stomach gnawing away with what? Was it dread or guilt or fear? I couldn’t quite tell.
The panic attack seemed to have strange timing. Earlier that day I explored an island in the Caribbean called Bequia, for the first time, with friends and family. We enjoyed the colorful pink, blue, orange and green Caribbean houses and shops, took in the sparklingly clear turquoise waters, devoured chicken roti’s and ran into good friends we met in Europe (it’s a very small world in the cruising community).
The day was perfect so what caused me to wake in the wee hours of the morning in a state of panic?
After I opened my eyes, heard water splashing along the hull and felt the perfect breeze sweep past my body. Then all hell broke loose and I could feel my stomach churn and heard my inner voice say:
“What the heck am I doing?”
“What am I doing sitting on a boat sailing around the Caribbean after two years of sitting on a boat sailing around the Mediterranean? Who do I think I am being able to constantly enjoy one big vacation? And how can someone actually enjoy being on a permanent vacation – my love for this life can’t last forever. THIS can’t last forever. When it ends what am I going to do? And what’s my purpose anyway? I go from place to place ‘living’ but I’m not ‘serving’…I’m not contributing to the world.”
And then another voice in me pipes up and says,
“What’s the sense of worrying as it totally tarnishes the whole experience. Why sell up and sail away if you’re going to allow your thoughts to overtake your mind and temporarily ruin the fun?”
And just like a program, my mind then goes into overdrive trying to plan, organize or visualize a solution for the future. Unfortunately, however, the gnawing in my stomach is so strong that it drives my thoughts into doom and gloom mode and I envision us sailing until all our money runs out, our daughter is sent to live with relatives and hubby and I end up in a tent alongside a desert road. I can even visualize the two cactuses, a small fire pit and a beat-up harmonica!
My panic attacks are not an everyday occurrence, and for the most part I carry on with life in quite a positive manner, however I feel that instead of coming to terms with my issues I just keep pushing my fears to the side. For weeks I can ignore the fear but eventually it pops up again and again.
What is my purpose? Is that the issue?
Back on land, I ran a company and felt a sense of purpose – I contributed to society, gave employment to many people, unleashed my created mind in a way that made the world a better place (or at least, that’s what I told myself)…
That said, even though I had a purpose I felt as if it wasn’t good enough. During my childhood I always thought I’d not only make the world a better place but I’d do it in a certain way. I dreamed that my contribution to the world would be more like Mother Theresa however I accidently went down the capitalistic Donald Trump road… Financial achievement was my main motivator and it eventually left me feeing very empty.
Hence, my action to sell up and sail away!
I figured that life on the sea would help me get back to nature, gain stronger family bonds, learn how to make real friends (instead of making work my family and friend base), provide me the ability to slow down and eat a real meal (not peal off the plastic wrap and microwave), remove myself from over-capitalism…and ultimately lead a simpler life.
Everything I wanted came to fruition except for life becoming simpler, but that’s okay.
Being a full time live-aboard is nowhere near simple. It’s actually a lot more complicated than I ever envisioned. That aside, I must profess that I have definitely become closer to nature, my family bond is amazing, I have loads of real friends, I have no space to buy anything so money is only needed for food, fuel, insurance and boat repairs and I’ve definitely slowed down in terms of how I think and the pace of work I uphold. (Read any of my past ‘Journey’ articles and you’ll get information about how sailing slows one’s thinking and way of life – in a good way).
The benefits of cruising have been incredible but why is this need for a sense of purpose still waking me up at night? Where is this drive coming from? Why do I feel like I must be contributing to the world and I’m failing?
Is it simply a sense of too much good will create a lot of bad?
Why do I feel like I need to go out and get a job? Why do I wake in a panic thinking, ‘what am I doing out here on a boat?’ I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to do this. I don’t know where this is going…
There’s such a conflict.
As I mentioned earlier, these thoughts are not constant. At least 90% of the time I’m having a whale of a time. But out of all the worries I have, aside from my desire to not screw up our daughter, is my lack of purpose, direction, planned future…
There’s no moral to this story (yet). Perhaps you can help provide one?!
Like all things that panic us, the first thought is “I’m going crazy” the 2nd is ” I’m all alone with this crazy panic feeling, no one anywhere in the world except for me , feels this way….” and then someone writes about it and the world is right again. Thank you Kim, for voicing that gut wrenching fear that seems to come only at night. Love your articles.
Kim Brown says
Great to hear from you Maggie! And it’s great to get more confirmation that I’m not alone with my fears 🙂
Great commentary on one of the psychological stresses of, not just sailing, but life. What is our purpose and how do we find fulfillment and satisfaction?
Often there are lives lived that bring joy to many others yet the person who is doing the “living” doesn’t even realize the impact they are having on many. This is actually a good thing; it keeps egos at bay. Perhaps at the moment this is your life. Your articles are fabulous and cover every aspect of interest for sailors or wanna be sailors. They are motivational, inspiring, thought provoking, entertaining, and instructional. And the fact that you began writing from the start as a novice is most compelling. I for one am looking forward to you publishing your articles in a book!
Secondly, your husband and daughter are your greatest purpose. In almost every society in the world, “family” is life and you have the gracious fortune to be with them on a magnificent adventure that will never be forgotten. Your constant bonding with them is unique and formed, not just out of love, but as the adventure goes on, you continue to build a profound sense of trust, communication skills, and an awareness of the value of each of them and hopefully the value of yourself in your role as wife and mother.
Continuing… every place you go you have the ability to be an ambassador. An ambassador of good will and love. When you leave a place your interaction should be one that has the residents of the location say to themselves, I am glad our paths have crossed. My life is better having met you. That is a legacy worthy of life!
Not quite the corporate mind set so engrained into western living but a mindset that perhaps is God-like. You have been given a gift (I know you earned it) to let go of the corporate mindset of greed and false success, to let go and experience “life.” Life with nature and those whom you cherish.
You have to “accept” where you are and let go of any guilt. Perhaps, reach the state of “flow” as psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (yes I spelt it correctly LOL) writes about in his book “Flow, the psychology of optimal experience.” Mihaly writes of reaching a happy state of mind, the feeling of complete engagement in your creative or playful activity. I have chuckle looking at his last name for in the centre is “Zen.” And zen is a entering of ourselves during our activity in complete focus and peace.
I feel like a goof writing to you for I am approaching retirement and I find I am having thoughts of “What am I going to do?” and feeling a surge of anxiety. However, I spent much of my life in the state of zen or flow… as a 40 year veteran airline captain flying 8 different large commercial jets around the world, my career provided me with an opportunity to focus and it brought joy; as did my life of athletics; as does my coastal sailing. Now, as the transition is coming closer I too must focus on my continuing purpose and remain in the calming state of “flow.”
I believe living life to its fullest, in a sense of total appreciation of this life, is our purpose.
Kim Brown says
David! Thank you for such a heartfelt and wise reply. I really enjoyed your response, in particular the part about being an ambassador. We’ve had the opportunity thus far to meet so many wonderful people – both locals and sailing folk. We’ve also had the opportunity to have many guests join us on Britican. One thing is for sure, our lives are better for meeting them and surely we must have had some sort of positive impact (on them) too.
I read Flow a long time ago – it’s a great book. And good for you for being able to spell Mihaly’s last name. Hahahaha. I can’t even pronounce it, let alone spell it. Joking aside, being on the boat has taught me an amazing amount about flow. I actually spend long durations of time looking out over the water, usually while we’re sailing, and I’m full of peace. Actually, it’s more than peace – I find myself not thinking, not judging, and not concerning myself with the usual thoughts about life. I suppose I simply flow – I lose myself in the moment and it’s wonderful.
When I was younger I had no flow or zen moments. As I grow the moments are expanding and feeling more meaningful. It’s so funny because my life was all about taking action, being proactive…working hard, but what I’m finding is that the less I force things, or try to tell the universe what I should be doing, the easier life flows. It’s not about doing less…it’s about thinking less. It’s about reducing the need to force life the way you want it to go. We’re not a religious family but my brother and I often joke and say, ‘Let go, Let God.’ The comment usually makes us laugh but the there’s so much truth in it – whatever ‘God’ means to you.
But it’s just so hard!!!
Thank you again, David, for your wonderful response.
Hey, how about “The Purpose” as being that you are doing us all back here in the dark and dismal “real” world a load of good by reading about your exploits, keeping us entertained and giving us hope of getting out of here ? Since you have been out there at sea, the world has gone slightly mad and seems as if humans are intent on self destruction as quickly as possible. Xenophobia, hate, racism, terrorism, overpopulation, environmental destruction and …… Donald Trump are all doing their level best to kill us all. Keep on trucking (sorry sailing). You are living more sustainably than anybody back here.
Kim Brown says
Thanks for your feedback Rob! Hopefully I’ll see you on the seas soon?!
Gaston Paquette says
Your words are so deep that even sitting in your cockpit you could give as much to the world than behind your desk. Your sentences are filled with emotions as an undercurrent recalling some memories.
Your daughter and your family are the most beautiful gift in the world, what you give her, now and later, it is to the world that you give.
Enjoy, time passes very quickly.
I remember that every time to sail when it’s sunshine, a good wind, not too many waves, with my wife, sailing 5,5 knots, I have that same feeling running through my stomach, WHY ME ?. Yet I have a very happy moment but I feel selfish. But I coming back to reality, because there are plenty of people happy playing golf, swimming in their pool, at the beach or in their kitchen but they would not be necessary happy on my boat. So everyone lives his happiness in his own way.
I do not have to feel guilty but I always invite family and friends to share my hobbie, and they really appreciate it, but none of them have even bought a sailboat!. So, they invite me in their pool, kitchen etc etc. Share is give.
Every time I read you, each time is better
Kim Brown says
Gaston – thank you so much for your kind words. They mean a lot to me. Thank you for taking the time to write this 🙂 Smiles, Kim
As an armchair sailor I’ve loved following your families trip and adventure which you so entertainingly and very honestly narrate.
After a few short boat trips (most under an hour) launching from Umhlanga (near Durban South Africa) and Hout Bay (Cape) for a short trip to Seal Island I realized sea sickness can be very unpleasant. More recently I tried kayaking from Simons Town to nearby Boulders Beach to see the penguins. It was an amazing experience to feel surrounded by ocean, wet by the waves, be able to almost touch the penguins as well as take in the awesome coastline but that too did not last long before the nausea overtook.
Reading your article ‘What do cruisers panic about’ the following passage from Ecclesiastes immediately came to mind …..
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 3:2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 3:3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 3:4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 3:5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 3:6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 3:7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 3:8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Making the right choices appropriate to the time and circumstances we find ourselves in is a challenge for us all.
Good luck & look forward to reading the next chapter in your journey.
Kim Brown says
Thanks so much for your comments Charles! 🙂