Jumping from a a fast-paced, highly-productive office life to the search of a sailboat crossing the Atlantic in the marinas of Las Palmas.
We’d like to call the transition subtle but it wasn’t. We’d like to say it was smooth but it wasn’t either ..!
The last weeks of 2022 were full of preparations, filled with expectations and rushes to last-minute gifts for end-of-year celebrations. Wrapping up was not only about Christmas presents but also work-related projects before our big leap of faith: a 7-month sabbatical headed towards Central America.
Why Central America? Because for once, we carved out enough time to travel slowly and thus limit our footprint. There are countless of other good reasons but in that case specifically, Central and South Americas were continents that progressively became un-accessible to us due to their distance and our wish to avoid plane as much as possible.
This led to the first major decision (and challenge) of our trip: trying to reach the “other side of the pond” on a sailboat.
Before talking about our research, one must understand why we chose to cross this way.
First the footprint, we already mentioned it but there is a considerable difference of CO2 footprint between a crossing by plane (about 900 kg of CO2e) and via a sailboat.
Beyond the mere numbers lied the ability to inspire. Alongside our fields of work, Estelle and I realised (as many before us) that one can only do so much about his/her personal footprint. We see it as a balance between our inclusion into the ‘mainstream’ society and our overall footprint. We could decide to cut ourselves away more drastically from medias, friends, technologies but decided that we’d lost too much in the process. Thus the balance we found: Being as low as possible, while remaining fairly connected to our modern society. A mean to extend our impact was to inspire action beyond our own footprint, in other words: showing the right example. This became one of the reason to cross by sailboat.
In third comes the challenge. For aspiring sailors like ourselves an Atlantic crossing represented a steep step. A step which height we progressively lowered by training and rationalisation. For sailors (the real ones, with crazy stories and true spirit of freedom) an Atlantic crossing is perhaps one of the easiest leg that can be sailed. Trade winds are predictable and mostly steady which calls for very few manoeuvres aboard (some even call it boring!). Yet, it remained a challenge for us, as beginners both technically but also emotionally and it started with the search.
Fourth and final reason, the enjoyment of the trip itself. Starry nights, kilometers of depth, broadest horizons were amongst the few promises that got our eyes to shine.
Those 4 reasons put back-to-back, we had a proper motivational tank filled to the brim and attacked our search heads-on in the first days of January. We’ll see that motivation and proactivity alone are not necessarily sufficient to succeed in our endeavor.
5 years of work in Dutch companies may have accustomed us to speed and efficiency in the workplace. Maybe it is also the way we developed. Maybe the general pressure of our modern society (Subtle art of not giving a f*ck ?).
Nonetheless, after putting all chances on our side we started to roam around the pontoons of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria; one of the biggest islands in the Canary archipelago.
First stop: Boat hitchhiker is a trendy position, not that there are more and more sailboats crossing but we soon realised that our 4 good reasons were shared by many. Especially so after a couple of Covid years and a growing sustainably conscious youth.
Second stop: The aspiring sailing crowd is sometimes a very experienced sailing crowd. Combined with the fact that it is a crowd, it left us only a few opportunities open to beginner sailors.
Third stop: Boat owners and harbour offices see this valse happening every year. What feels fresh and thrilling to us is completely ordinary and somewhat annoying to them. That doesn’t mean we ever got anything else than polite if joyful answers from Captains, but it’s to be taken into account.
With all these, adding a pinch of proactivity/stubbornness into the mix and you soon get an exhaustion which seems out of place at the beginning of a sabbatical.
Yet I wouldn’t want this rant to feel like a first-world whim. We tremendously enjoyed these 5 weeks of research, the highs and the lows. I’d like to believe that this whole experience taught us some lessons which I’ll try to distill below.
Quenching (not trying to be smart as I had to look it up:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quenching) is the rapid cooling of a workpiece in water […] to obtain certain material properties. It feels quite adequate to compare it to our experience of ‘the search’. We suddenly moved from a high-paced office life to the stillness of a search that didn’t entirely depend on us.
In the free time it opened, we had plenty of time to reflect on this shift and what it meant. It was, perhaps, the best introduction to the slower pace of life we aspired to return to when starting our journey. It was also very frustrating at times, seeing later hitch-hikers catching a ride in no time. But this frustration was only the gap between our expectations and a - predictable - reality.
It was also, as we came to realise, a real disrespect for the wonders surrounding us.
Many captains encountered enjoined us to consider the islands beyond a mere milestone in our trip but as a destination in itself. And the Canary islands surely have a lot of wonders to unveil.
So lesson taught: do not let expectations overrule your experience of a place. Certainly easier said than done when we’ve spent months building up expectations of our trip but perhaps the single sustainable lesson to remember.