I sometimes wonder-- and am occasionally asked by friends-- why in the world we would leave our work, the comforts of home, and our 'stimulating' San Francisco lifestyle to go live 2000+ miles from home in a foreign country in a tiny 31-year-old boat ? In short, why would we take a "sabbatical"? (click on image for larger view)
The first reason is rather fuzzy and ambiguous...it is simply to take a break, or as the Germans call it, a "pause" (pronounced "pow-sah" and carrying slightly deeper and weightier connotations than our English word of the same spelling).
I think it is very healthy to occasionally step off the treadmill...to continue with this cliche, life goes so fast, and somehow the treadmill seems to have started accelerating right after college graduation (and continues to accelerate) . Taking a pause in this manner helps to slow things down...as my father in law Roy puts it, "sometimes it's necessary to stop and smell the roses". It's healthy to actively make time to appreciate the sunsets, have longer and more in-depth conversations, get to know friends and family better, etc. Otherwise, what's the point?
Taking a sabbatical also allows time for introspection and it's corollary, putting things in perspective. This is almost impossible to do when working a 60-hour-a-week job and filling every other waking hour with socializing, paying bills, planning the weekend, recuperating from the weekend, etc.
Deep-tissue reflection of this nature is much easier when disconnected from excessive stimuli and surrounded by nothing but sky, stars, and 150 miles of open blue water; in fact, it is almost forced upon you by the zen-like state of keeping a compass heading for a 35-hour passage.
Such reflection is intrinsically healthy, but not always easy. Although we've yet to have any major epiphanies on this trip, the life-analysis that accompanies a pause can occasionally spur dramatic changes in careers, mindset, attitudes, goals, etc. I've taken two other extended breaks, one right before college and one right before b-school, and both instances set me off on a revised (and improved) path through life.
Anyway, the other major reason (or more accurately, the set of reasons) for taking a sabbatical is much more American, much more goal-driven. They are:
1. To become awesome sailors
2. To learn Spanish
3. To get healthy
I would say we have made incremental-- but not major-- improvements in our sailing ability. Sailing out here is much like sailing in the SF Bay, but with less wind and a lot fewer layers of clothing. I would say we've improved a lot of ancillary skills, such as anchoring, docking, navigation, safety, and my favorite, diesel motor maintenance. We've also gotten pretty good at piloting the dinghy.
As for learning Spanish, we are doing an "ok" job. It is very easy to remain almost wholly in the insular cruising community, which is mostly Americans (with a few Canucks and Euros thrown in for good measure); dreams of immersing ourselves with the the Mexican people and their culture have been elusive. However, I have been pretty diligent about playing my "Spanish In a Week" CDs most mornings. Though falsely-advertised, they are very good. Naomi has passable Spanish from prior studies, and we are now able to do pretty well with the Mexican bus drivers.
We've done much better with the third explicit goal of getting healthy (although as of this writing we're just coming back from gut-busting holidays in the States, and about to head to our friends on La Palapa for a roast duck Christmas dinner). We've both gotten into reasonably trim shape, we have golden-but-not-burnt suntans, and are benefitting from lots of fresh air, exercise, and pretty simple food. However, we still have a few bad habits we're wrestling with, and like most sailors, tend to drink like sailors.
So that's the "why" in a nutshell. It's worth mentioning that sailing is just one method for taking a pause, and all of the above could just as well be accomplished biking across Spain or climbing mountains or something.
But...it sure is nice when the wind kicks up and the seas are flat, when we hoist the mainsail and jib and turn off the diesel, and the only sound is the bow of our 31-year-old Hurulu slicing through the azul water....