Travelling overseas in a sailing boat is a gentle process. It lacks the suddenness, harshness and sometimes emotional distress of air travel. I’ve left home often enough to know that uncomfortable and distressing feeling of saying goodbye to loved ones before you are quite ready, in front of hundreds of strangers in the placeless void of an international airport. Dictated to by airline schedules and airport rules, you shuffle through security, glancing back at your loved ones who gaze and wave at you until you are out of sight, and then you impatiently await your boarding call. You are herded, with hundreds of others, into a metal cylinder identical to the tens of thousands of other metal cylinders all over the world. Irish, Japanese, French, Canadian, German, Singaporean planes – they’re all the same. The same safety routine, the same on-board staff, the same disgusting food, the same schedule of when you are permitted to eat or use the toilet. After hours of sitting in a cramped confined space you are spit out into an airport that is exactly the same as the one you left, but this time you shuffle along hoping to be accepted, tired and bleary eyed, and not sure what you’ll do when you re-enter the world in this new and strange country.
We’ve all seen those returned holiday makers at the airport, still wearing their shorts and flip-flops and their Hawaiian shirts, even though it’s 5°C and winter outside; or the opposite, you arrive in some hot holiday destination wearing your heaviest winter jacket and jeans that suddenly don’t feel quite so comfortable any more.
Sailing provides the time and space to emotionally and physically prepare for a new environment and a new culture. You don’t know when you will depart or when you will arrive. You might depart today or some time next week. There is no schedule. Rather, you listen to weather forecasts, assess long-term outlooks, attend to jobs little and large, decide to hang around for one more day so you can have a beer with an old friend.
You set out, the country you are leaving behind gradually receding and fading from view. And life carries on (mostly) as normal as you sail for a day or two or more, depending on the distance to your destination. You eat and sleep and read and chat, and eventually someone catches the first glimmer of your destination. As you slowly sail along, you have time to reflect on where you are going and what you might do when you get there; you change your clothes to match the changing weather conditions in the environment around you. And when you arrive, you choose when you are ready to step off your boat. It might be hours, or even the next day, before you decide the time is right. A cup of tea is called for, or supper, or even sleep, before you are ready to set foot on dry land once again, before you have to try to communicate in a different language, before you have to declare yourself to the authorities.
We think we might depart Plymouth tomorrow. Or if not tomorrow, then the next day, or some day after that. We’ll see. We’ll go when it feels right, when we have favourable weather conditions, and when it suits us.