When I was living and traveling on a sailboat I liked to explore coastlines which makes me a pilot not a navigator. Webb Chiles describes himself as pelagic inasmuch as he enjoys the open oceans while I am contented to poke around coastlines. However a funny thing would happen every time we found the world's best anchorage and it happened to me and my wife and may have happened to the dogs too for all I know, though they couldn't communicate with us on that level.
Inevitably we would pull the boat into the world's best refuge, away from pacific rollers crashing on land, far from noise and light pollution, close to a lovely beach and an easy dinghy landing and we would settle in to our new found paradise. And then aft a day or two or a week or some unspecified amount of time my wife and I would look at each other and say quite firmly: "It's time to go." The anchorage had worn itself out in our minds.
It may have been because the novelty had worn off and exposed the fatal flaws in what had seemed perfect or it may just be that we were in nomad mode and eager to keep traveling. Whatever the reason, when the time came to get moving we knew when we were ready. If we left before the feeling enveloped us we would leave with regrets and in some anchorages the feeling of relief and pleasure at being in the anchorage was fleeting because we weren't really enjoying what was on offer. Some refuges are just that and are not places of paradise where a weary coastal sailor wants to put down roots..
It has become obvious to me this nomad instinct is alive and well even when I am not technically traveling. Of course one is traveling through life and time is fleeting and all those panic-inducing feelings. However while I have been traveling through time I have not been traveling through space. I have taken trips, small journeys here and there, but my home has been Key West and I have not been a nomad. This anchorage has after two decades worn itself out.
I remember pounding down the coast of Nicaragua in the Spring of 1999 blissfully unaware of the war in Kosovo and the US intervention which I heard about later. I was busy trying to figure where we might stop to let the dogs ashore as we tried to navigate the long featureless coast from El Salvador to the southernmost coastal village in Nicaragua, more precisely known as San Juan del Sur (St John of the South). We saw no suitable anchorages, no patches of flat water with easy beach access to let the dogs ashore, so we pressed on overnight and arrived in the dark in the open roadstead off the curving semi circle of yellow sandy beach that makes San Juan a vacationers' paradise ( that word again!). It was pitch black and we edged our Gemini catamaran into the bay getting confidence from the chart that showed no submerged obstacles, though spotting the unlit fishing boats at anchor was a trial.
Eventually after nudging our way in we reached flat water and I dropped the dinghy into the water. with outboard attached I got the dogs in and we went ashore where I found a massive cement launch ramp that made beaching the dinghy easy. I walked the dogs around the harbor, their first walk since Puerto Corinto 36 hours previously, and stayed inside the fence to avoid irritating authorities with whom we had yet to check in. At 2 in the morning there was no one in the office anyway but I'm sure we had been spotted unofficially so we stayed in the harbor limits. The dogs were happy to walk and soon we were tucked up asleep on board secure in the knowledge we had arrived and the anchor wasn't dragging in the calm conditions in the harbor.
We stayed in San Juan for several weeks where we met an American expatriate businessman who ran a hotel and with whom we are friends to this day. But the day came when the day trips to see the sights, the long walks in the woods, the zip line tours, the sumptuous meals in the hotel overlooking the bay, the long drunken conversation's in Marie's Bar all faded away. We looked at each other and we knew It Was Time. A few days later we were pulling into the perfect, completely protected anchorage offered by Bahia Santa Elena in Costa Rica. There were wild mangoes ashore, parklike forest walks for the dogs, seclusion and solitude. We could stay there forever! Well, not exactly...
Key West was the perfect anchorage. We never intended to stay as we put the anchor down because we had to, as money had run out and we needed to find jobs. Our intention was to return to Santa Cruz California and figure out a way to pick up where we had left off two years before. Then life intervened and my wife's arthritis responded well to the warm humid climate of the tropics, work fell in our laps and my wife's long held ambition to enjoy a pension in old age came true in Key West when she got a job as a teacher with the promise of a funded retirement.
Paradise found no doubt about it. Even at the turn of the century Key West was rated poorly by people who come to live here twenty years before, as they saw gentrification over taking the city and ruining the come-as-you-are attitude of the city. For us Key West was as close an environment as we could find on the East Coast that resembled life in our pleasant little California town that we had enjoyed previously. So we put down our anchor and settled in for the log haul. My wife the native Californian was quite startled to suddenly find herself holding a Florida driver license but she could use her hands freely and that made up for a lot.
Now as we start planning retirement on the road we realise living in Florida and having that retirement in tax free state means we will save a lot of money and effort driving around in a Florida registered van. With pensions from the state we won't have to prove we have a right to claim residence in this desirable retirement haven! California by contrast makes even Key West look affordable by comparison.
Beyond all those dreary but necessary financial considerations which are propelled by my wife's good sense and not my pie-in-the-sky dreaming the fact is we both gave each other the look a couple of years ago and agreed the anchorage has grown stale. At first we tried to rationalize it y thinking we could travel part time, then we figured we could do a snowbird retirement and spend summers in California among friends, or in Europe among family or something. Then reality set in and we knew we needed one more adventure before we die.
One thing that bugged me to death on our sail through Central America was my wife's vagabonding history such that everywhere we went she had been before. Indeed planning to drive South America she has visited half the continent already...but there are a few laces I have been where she hasn't and a few more where neither of us has journeyed before. They are now on the agenda. With the Promaster van scheduled to be delivered sometime around March the pressure is on the figure the design details we want for the interior. By next summer we hope to spend vacation time breaking in the engine, transmission and interior appointments on a road trip. Then we will know we have done this right.
The fact remains the anchorage is constricting us right now. I wonder if a boat in Key West might be suitable after Rusty goes to his reward, but right now I want to take full advantage of being here because who knows what the future might bring. The past couple of years have shown beyond a shadow of doubt the future is not written and nothing can be known in advance. I might not be pelagic on the water but I have no idea even now how far offshore my van meanderings might take me if one thinks of this speck of land as home and everywhere else out there as distant oceans.
Rusty of course has no idea what he is in for but I hope and expect the broad horizons will appeal to the wild dog adventurer that burns in his domesticated heart. This will be his journey as much as ours, though he shows no sign of being bored by his current snug anchorage.