Someone recently asked us: “How did you make the decision to live on a boat?” And someone else asked: “What will you take away from this trip?”

It was a road trip to Bellingham in September of 2011, the Pacific Ocean in our rearview mirror and salt still on our lips and minds. As Katie and I reveled in our previous three days on the coast and drove towards a Montana winter and talked of the office drudgery that lay ahead, we spoke again of our dream of a sailing adventure to warmer waters.  On that drive we stopped dreaming and simply said “Let’s set a date, and let’s do it.”

It was that easy to convince ourselves to turn our lives upside down (or right side up, depending on your perspective), quit our jobs, leave our house and security, buy a boat and transplant ourselves in a foreign country. We knew it would have to be a small, simple and inexpensive boat, and we were ready to live a simple and inexpensive lifestyle once we started sailing. We’ve never been anything close to wealthy, so we knew it wouldn’t be too much of a transition.  Ten months later, we pulled up to the border crossing at Nogales, Mexico, car loaded to the gills, and we crossed over into the unknown.

The unknown was what excited us. It is the unknown that defines it as an adventure. We were willing to accept instability and discomfort, knowing that the rewards of adventure are always large. Fear presented itself on occasion, but was always rendered small because we had confidence in our ability to improvise. And after living on a boat for almost a year, most of the time in very isolated locations, improvisation became second nature. But the ability to improvise, at least to improvise well, also requires a foundation.

 

Our foundation was always research, both before the trip and while on the water. We would compile all available information and analyze it meticulously, and then form a detailed plan of action. I’m talking here of everything from boat buying spreadsheets, to border crossing scenarios, to sailing between islands. We always had a plan. But within those plans we built flexibility. The plan was the foundation, but it was expected at some point to crumble, and so we built in contingencies. And when those contingencies faltered as well, then we improvised. And on a boat, as any sailor out there knows, you improvise a lot.

This is life. You can act shocked when things don’t go your way, and respond with frustration. Or you can expect that the plan will fail, and be ready and waiting at the piano to play a little jazz. Beautiful things happen when you are willing to push the composition aside.