I stood at the helm of the 44 foot sailboat looking at the unending expanse of water all around. I checked my Indiglo watch again- it was 3am and I was the only one awake. Land was 800 miles ahead and 500 miles behind me. The light on the water sparkled as bright as the vast sky above me. I was alone. I mean, alone-alone. There was a lot to think about, but for now determining if the huge cargo ship ahead was going to cross our path was all I could think of.
But my story is NOT a sailing story. A sail boat just happened to be my vessel of choice as a “Plan B” for a major career transition.
My way out seemed drastic to the observer, but for the few who knew my heart it all made sense. To just stop, turn around and head in a completely unchartered direction. Soon I was flying to Italy to meet up with longtime friends on their sail boat that was to be my home for a year and a half…I thought.
It was not a quick decision. Making money had become my own self-inflicted prison. Time had provided this routine that had become a protective comfort zone…smothering me. But the economy kicked me awake and losing most everything that I had worked so hard for by owning a business for 27 years, forced me to come to a crossroad.
However, the restlessness had been there for years whether in my conscience or sub-conscience. It even came out in health related issues, my body screamed “I AM NOT HAPPY” but my busy routine kept me running. I ran a business in advertising and to everyone around me, I was the stable one in a world of movement. A life full of clients, employees, meetings, volunteering, friends and responsibility…and somehow it was done well. I was darn good at it, earning me awards and recognition. And when conversations ever turned “real”, I used to say “I love what I do, I’m just not doing what I love.” What was it I wanted then? I wanted challenge and meaning. I kept it hidden in my heart, gaining relief from an Alaskan adventure or a solo trip to Istanbul, racing jet skis, marathons, anything to keep my mind stimulated. To not face myself.
And suddenly, I had thrown myself into an entirely new world overseas. Never staying in any one place for more than 10 days, my odyssey took me from Italy, a summer in the Greek Islands, through Sicily and the Sicilian islands of Vulcano, Lipari, Stromboli to Sardinia and then the Balearic Islands. Traversing down the coast of Spain, nearly hitting a fishing boat, and on to Gibraltar where I flew to South Africa while the boat was being prepared for the ocean passage. I returned to Gibraltar to sail on to Africa, by way of Rabot, Morroco, followed by the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands as we worked our way toward crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
The ocean crossing took 18 days and the time across helped me confirm the decision to leave the boat, an internal struggle that had given me 3 months of turmoil. All was NOT well on the Sailing Vessel Juno and reaching Barbados then quickly on to Bequia was a bittersweet reunion with land. The way I was treated and the things that had happened on that boat traumatized me. My spirit was horribly shaken, but my feet stepped firmly onto the dock with all my things. Basically abandoned 2 days before Christmas. Alone, there I stood, on the tiny island of Bequia, West Indies. But I did it. I had stood my ground and I left. It was NOT what I wanted, but it was the right thing to do. I moved into a studio apartment to figure out what to do. Moments like these help you find out what you are made of. I call them “defining moments”. Even more so when days later, weak and dehydrated, I stumbled down a hill to the only island hospital with possible Cholera. High fever, drained in every way possible and alone I got both medical help with antibiotics and the “local remedy” with several coconuts picked for me by a kid who scampered up the tree. I got better.
But I set my mind to find a new boat to crew on. Every time I considered flying home I felt nauseous. I wanted to be overseas for at least a year and returning now felt too much like failure. Websites helped my search. I considered several older men that wanted companions fearing what that word meant to them. Every day, their boats sailed closer to my location and every day I became more nervous. Something had to give. And it did, word came by email that YES!, a non-profit humanitarian/conservation organization out of New Zealand wanted me to crew on a new 50’ boat expected soon in Trinidad heading through the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and Galapagos. Alone, in a studio apartment, in the Caribbean, I did my happy dance.
Soon my resort wear turned to business skirts as I found myself meeting with the Ministers of Environment on different islands. Our team of four volunteers, each from a different country, worked to research island’s needs regarding reef damage and humanitarian concerns. It was a chance to give back.
But nothing is ever perfect and you can’t live in that close of space without learning dark secrets of those around you. Life isn’t simple. I didn’t sail away into the sunset…not without looking in the mirror. Long and hard.
I had started a blog called ChangingCourses that recorded my entire saga starting three months prior to even leaving! Soon I was hearing from strangers who had teared up over my “Dear Turbo” post, an entry saying a wrenching goodbye to my 16 year old dog. A friend dreamed up a marketing tool to get people involved in my trip: PayPal allowed people to “sponsor” me and I wrote about how I spent the money, everything from visiting “The Church of 100 gates” in Paros Island, Greece or buying a pair of Avarca shoes, only found on the Island of Menorca, Spain.
Writing stories along the way allowed others to follow my adventures. Many who continuously commented that they were “living vicariously” through my change, a decision many others longed for but were not prepared to do themselves. But no one knew what was not written, what was happening between the lines.
The trip lasted one year and one day, starting in Italy and ending in Ecuador. My book will share both the told and the untold, in chronological order bouncing from an enhanced, more detailed version of what followers read to a narrative “diary” about what was really happening behind the scenes. A story of loss, love, pain, hope, life questions and redefining the person I am, forever different than the person who left a career one year earlier.