Sailing Is Not Just for Rich People

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The topic for my last TROM discussion was meant to be ‘money,’ with a focus on how money is a fictional reality (i.e. the money system works only because we all use imagination), but I accidentally spent the first hour of our meet up telling everyone stories about my sailing adventures in New Zealand and the Caribbean ?.

You see, I used to think that sailing was just for rich people until I lived on a yacht myself and met all kinds of people that sailed around the world with almost no money :).


Here’s how it happened: I was studying at Sydney Uni when I was 22 and wanted to snowboard in New Zealand for my winter break in June/July. I didn’t have that much money so I searched for people to stay with for free on couchsurfing. I came across a very interesting profile of a Brazilian guy who worked in Wanaka as a skydiver. I didn’t know any skydivers back then, nor had I tried skydiving, so I was really excited to meet this person. Unfortunately, he wrote back saying that he was in Aruba all winter and wouldn’t be back until October. But he also wrote that he read my profile and would love to meet me because there aren’t a whole lot of “us” in this world. Then he invited me to sail around the North Island of New Zealand in his little yacht at the end of October for a couple of months.

I thought it over. Flew to New Zealand. Snowboarded and hitched all around the South Island, met a bunch of nomadic travelers and skibums, and admired New Zealand’s dramatic beauty. I also visited Christchurch and saw the aftermath of the devastating earthquake (this was 2011) and talked to many people that had been affected by this disaster.

When I flew back to Australia, I decided that opportunities like this don’t come around very often, so I have to accept this sailing trip. I dropped out of university for the third time. Wrote a long letter to my mother, promising her to come back and finish one year later. Then I worked every day and every night for one month (in 3 Wise Monkey’s Pub, Sydney), saved as much money as possible, caught a ride with an aboriginal friend to Alice Springs, hitched to Darwin, then caught the cheapest flight I could find out of Australia the day before my visa expired. Then I had 2 months to exist somewhere on Earth before I could fly to New Zealand (because of more visa bullcrap). So I spent two months “existing” in Indonesia on a budget of $10/day and traveled from Bali to the eastern-most tip of Nusa Tenggara and back by myself.

Here’s a picture of me in East Nusa Tenggara :). (but that story’s for another time :)).

I flew into Auckland at the end of October and hitched a ride to Tauranga, NZ. There, I finally met Jon- the crazy Brazilian skydiving sailor. Interesting fellow he was, around 30 years old, tall, brown hair, somewhat attractive. He was extremely interesting to talk to and gave me a bunch of books to read. One was “A Culture of Make Believe” by Derrick Jensen- brilliant and shocking book which exposes the horrors of our make-believe culture while exploring the relationship between hate/exploitation/destruction and economics. Jon said I had to read this book if I wanted to stay on his yacht :).

Another book he gave me was “Maiden Voyage” by Tania Aebi- really interesting true story about a girl who took off on a sailboat in the 1980’s (before GPS) when she was 18-years-old, and spent two and a half years sailing around the world by herself. These two books changed the course of my life just a little bit.

So we worked on Jon’s boat for a couple of weeks, then took off on our first sailing trip- to Mayor Island, just off the coast of Tauranga. We left in the afternoon, sailed past the sunset and into a brilliant starlit night.

There was a big swell that night, about 3 meters or so. Jon’s 37’ steel yacht crashed into these icy cold waves with immense power. I was absolutely terrified, yet incredibly excited. The sound of the wind, the sound of the sails getting hampered and turned, the waves- crashing against the hull, weaving, swirling, disappearing into the dark obis. Reappearing again, crashing.

Down below it was the worst. I had no idea that you would hear such sounds inside of a sailboat- the sound of crashing waves was maximized tenfold, as if the boat was getting beaten down by the ocean. There were vicious clanking sounds from the steel hull, as if some giant was hitting the boat with a hammer. It sounded like the boat was going to fall apart at any moment! I couldn’t be down below for more than 10 seconds. You couldn’t stand down there as the boat rocked you from side to side, back to front. And I felt this intense heaviness as soon as I stepped down below, as if the mass of my body had suddenly doubled, and the mass of my head had tripled.

On the deck it was calmer- ride the boat up the wave, roll it down the wave, then crash into the next wave. Ride the next wave up again, down again, crash again. Stay in the cockpit and hold on, if you fall out, you’re dead within 30 minutes.

Each crash was spectacular. There was bioluminescent phytoplankton in the water- plankton that light up like stars when agitated. So every time the boat crashed into a giant wave, the little plankton appeared like a galaxy on our deck, then rolled down and vanished like shooting stars. I was mesmerized by this sight- stars above, stars below, the wind, the elements, the waves, the ocean. This is what life should be about! Not learning how to make some business plan in university!

I remember this moment perfectly because I fell deeply in love right there and then. Not with Jon :), but with sailing, and with life.

When the waves got stronger, Jon made me go down below and sleep. I was absolutely terrified down there, but that heaviness pinned my body to the bed and knocked me out cold and fast.

I woke up a few hours later to the sound of calm waves and easy rocking. We were anchored.

Jon took my hand and said he wanted to show me something. We went onto the deck, the night was calm and dark, I could see a halfmoon bay and black mountains in the distance.

Then he asked, “do you believe in magic?”

I replied, “sure” :).

And he took a stick and crashed it along the water. The ocean lit up like the Milky Way.

In the morning, I stuck my head out of the hatch. Felt the cool wind hit my face. I smelled salt, dirt and lush vegetation.

I heard birds diving into the water, and the sound of small waves crashing on sand. I looked ahead and saw a perfect bay. No people, no other boat in sight. Just a deep dark green forest of interwoven trees and vines reaching out towards the crystal blue water. We had breakfast then took the dinghy to shore and explored the rolling hills and fantastic views of New Zealand.

We did this for about two months, sailing to different islands and back to Tauranga from time to time. Being in Tauranga was great too, since we lived in Jon’s yacht and talked to many other people who lived in their yachts as well. That was when I figured out that sailing was not at all ‘just for rich people.’ In fact, it seemed like everyone in that harbor was dead broke!

Our neighbor Dave, one of the nicest little Kiwi guys I’ve ever met, barely had a penny to his name, but he lived for sailing. He dreamed of sailing to Antarctica and around the world one day. He lived on his boat year-round and worked odd jobs to pay for food and boat maintenance.

I also talked to many old people, sailors that had been all around the world. And I decided that if I ever grow up, I’d like to be just like them :).

You see, real traveling is not about ticking off a list or taking selfies in pretty places, it’s about the people you meet. And trust me, you’ll never meet these kinds of people in the lobby of a Marriott.

At the end of December, I flew to New York and Jon went back to skydiving on the South Island.

New Year’s Day, 2012, I get an email from Jon saying that he’s in the hospital and paralyzed from the hips down.

Later that year, I visited him in NZ and he was already planning to participate in the Paralympics.

Two years later, he invited me to sail a boat halfway across the world (from St. Maarten to NZ) and film a documentary. I met him and two other friends in the Caribbean in spring of 2014. We spent a few weeks fixing up the boat, then sailed a bit around St. Maarten, then across the Caribbean Sea to Aruba. Long story short, I got kicked off the boat in Aruba :). Then Jon sailed to Panama with another friend. That friend left there. Then Jon sailed from Panama to New Zealand by himself and became the first paraplegic that had ever single-handed a yacht across the Pacific Ocean.

We are no longer friends, but despite that, he is quite an inspirational person. You can find his blog here- jonmartins.com If you ever write to him, just don’t tell him you found his blog through mine :) ?.

So, none of those adventures took all that much money. Both times sailing, I pretty much only paid for food. Plane tickets are probably the most expensive thing, but you can get around that as well if you have ‘open time.’ Here’s how- 1. Hitch hike 2. Hitch a boat :D.

You see, it’s difficult to sail a yacht by yourself- you have to constantly keep watch to make sure you don’t hit anything. So when people go on long journeys (like across an ocean or sea), they usually need crew. There are many captains who don’t have much money and don’t want to pay to hire experienced crew, so they will look for random people that can help them keep watch. -That’s basically the main thing they need, just for someone to stay on deck and make sure there are no boats in the way while they sleep. There are websites, such as findacrew.net where captains will post where they’re going and what kind of crew they need/for how long/etc.

Sailing experience helps if you’re looking for a boat ride, but it’s not always necessary. Also, be careful before signing up for a long journey (especially if you’re a girl) because there are a lot of crazy captains out there. Get to know the captain face to face before you decide to cross an ocean with him or her.

Before leaving for my second sailing adventure (which was meant to last 8-9 months and go halfway around the world) I did three things: 1. I took a beginner sailing course 2. I saved about $3,000 (AUD) 3. I read a few books written by people who survived on a dinghy or liferaft for several weeks or months after their boat had been capsized in the ocean. I figured, if shit really hits the fan, it doesn’t matter how well I know how to sail, what I would really need to know is how to survive.

Jon recommended three books:

1. “Adrift: 76 days lost at sea” by Steven Callahan. Amazing story of a man who survived in a liferaft in the Atlantic Ocean by himself for 76 days. He almost died several times as he got caught in storms, attacked by sharks, was constantly on the verge of dying from dehydration, and had to fix his deflating liferaft to save himself from drowning.

2. “Survive the Savage Sea” by Dougal Robertson. Six people- husband, wife, three kids, plus a crew member survived in a liferaft and dinghy for 37 days in the Pacific Ocean in the 1970’s.

3. “117 days adrift” by Maurice and Maralyn Bailey. Wife and husband survived in their liferaft for 117 days in the Pacific Ocean, catching fish, seabirds and turtles by hand and with safety pins to stay alive.

These are all true stories written by the survivors. I think these books impacted me far beyond what I had expected. Aside from learning that you have to have a very strong will to survive being lost at sea (and also be a lucky motherfucker), I learned about reality. You see, in a situation like that, nothing matters but survival. What do you need to survive? -Drinking water, food, flotation device. All three books described the devastating times when they had but 3 drops of water to drink in a single day, and those times when they managed to collect a large amount of water. All three described how rich they felt when they had a lot of water. All three described that the fish’s eyeball was the best part of the fish :) because it holds the most water. Water is all you need! (Okay plus some food and a flotation device).

You can extend this to your own reality. Think about it! If all these people can survive in the ocean for months with almost nothing at all, surely you can survive on land!! I think this is why I’m not afraid to never have a “real job” and in general to have “no security” (no income, no health insurance, no home, no home-base, no car, no retirement plan, nothing really- I love it! :D). I am on land! Not in the ocean! And on land I don’t even need a flotation device! I just need food and water (ok plus shelter and clothes here in Siberia), but the rest is just extra.

I think that most people today are so caught up in our culture of make believe that they have completely lost touch with reality. To understand reality, you have to try to understand your existence in relationship to the Earth and the Universe. Who are you? Just a little human who needs food and water to live. That’s all.