A Firm Foundation

Teresa Carey Words 30 Comments

“To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest,” explains Sterling Hayden in his book “Wanderer.” And a big Thank You to John for reminding me of Hayden’s words and his book at a time when I need to be reminded.

My journey was most certainly built on a rock solid foundation of financial unrest. With little savings I impulsively decided not to return to being a school teacher and instead, purchased a Nor’Sea. I had less than one month left to finish my contract with the school and an equal amount of time to build a savings and a plan to finance this indefinite journey. I needed to find a mobile living that would keep food on Daphne’s table. The plan I came up with quickly became hazy and unclear until it was completely lost in the pea soup fog along with my savings.

Then began a few years of my work as a jack-of-all-trades and wanderer. I earned a few dollars as a teacher, tutor, sail maker, dance instructor, resume writer, web designer, social media consultant, charter boat captain, waitress, hostess, housekeeper, steward, babysitter, first mate, tutor for children with autism, study-hall proctor, sailing instructor, and boat caretaker. The only thing I have done consistently the entire time is write. A lot of writing. If only blogging could be a profession. I would write every day. 

But I agree with Hayden. If I had enough savings to last for a few years of cruising, how would I have challenged my creativity? If I had provisions filling my lockers, how would I have learned resourcefulness? If I had at my fingertips enough resources for comfort, would seeking ways to be sustainable be important? If I had a little extra to spend how would I appreciate the beauty of less that I have grown to love more and more? And if I had security, where would be the adventure?

I never planned it to be short lived, a sabbatical away from ‘real life.’ Instead, voyaging was to become my life. A sailor that takes to the sea without a compass quickly becomes lost and doomed. It is the same for life’s ventures. I chose Simplicity as the compass to my journey, guiding me as I define my values. I don’t keep an apartment full of furnishings and comforts awaiting my return. I never planned a destination or timeline so that when I ‘get there’ the cruise will be over. This is the way of most cruisers. Some save enough money for a few years, some have homes, some are trying to cross an ocean or set a record. They go to sea listening to Jimmy Buffet, their compass pointing to white sandy beaches. Instead, I went to sea looking for challenge, the depths of my strength, and creativity. I’ll keep sailing for as long as I can, and Simplicity will guide me even longer.

To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea… “cruising” it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

“I’ve always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can’t afford it.” What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of “security.” And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone.

What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.

The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.

Where, then, lies the answer?

In choice…!

Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life…?

– Sterling Hayden

Comments 30

  1. Susanne

    I agree with what you have written here. Ultimately, it is a choice for those who dream of sailing away: to stay, and perhaps be financially secure but unfulfilled, or to go, and live on that foundation of financial unrest while pursuing adventures that many will never experience. People errantly assume that life is being forced upon them when in fact they have so many possibilities – assuming they’re willing to take risks and be at least somewhat okay with uncertainty.

    That said, money is one of the biggest obstacles… If we could purchase a solid boat outright, would we make the leap and assume a liveaboard lifestyle? Yes. Can we do that right now? No, and there is no way I want to finance a boat. I’d want to just buy it. (I assume that’s what you did with your boat – purchase it outright?)

  2. RichC

    I enjoy your writing and feel a kinship with you, both as NorSea 27 cruiser and someone who was bitten by Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer as a teen. It’s been a few years, but the book is still in my bookshelf.

    My wife and I enjoyed cruising in the 1980s, but we were never able permanently sever the mooring. We eventually traded our Baba to have a family and settled into the dirt-dweller life. The draw of the wind and waves remains and hopefully when we get our two through college, we’ll be sailing again — for now it’s arm chair reading and dreaming.

    Thanks for keeping me connected.

  3. Post

    Susanne, I financed the entire thing! Thats why I haven’t sailed to foreign soil. I need to keep working and finding work in the US is hard enough, let alone trying to find it elsewhere. In time, though…
    My thought, at the time, was that it would be better to be paying “rent” to a boat loan then on an apartment. Would I do it the same way again. Probably. But I do wish I had had enough money to purchase the boat entirely. Instead of making money after college, I climbed mountains, hiked trails, rafted, traveled. Ah well…its been good and it will be good in the future.

  4. Lee

    Ah, the old Hayden. I haven’t read those lines in awhile, but I still love them. Found that book when I had a 1971 Catalina 22 in New Mexico of all places and long before the big boat purchase ever seemed even possible.

    Choice is the hardest part of all. One other favorite quote along the same lines is, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it which no man could have dreamed would have come his way”. — William Hutchinson Murray (1913-1996), from his 1951 book entitled The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.

  5. maggie

    Hi Teresa, I understand what you are saying, but feel conflicted about in this way. In my 20’s,not having much money , only a van and a yearning, I set off on an overland adventure, where hardship, uncertainty , and “tough times” soon became my most constant companions. I was forced, as you say to become creative in my wage earning, and like you have done a lot of everything to keep going. The experience was visceral and raw, and “real”, but would it have bee less valuable if I had money? I’m not sure. I think I just would have been learning different lessons, that’s all. Its true that it is contrast that makes the sunshine more glorious after the rain, but isn’t it possible to love, enjoy, even worship that sun, without the rain? I don’t know. I’m pondering these questions as my partner and I restore a sailboat, wondering if it would have been better to save up and buy something that doesn’t need restoration. Again that same question, would be ultimately be better off having bought something that was “ready to go” or does this process of “boat resurrection” deepen our connection to the boat and to each other?

  6. Bill

    This post hits really close to home. As we prepare to leave solid land and pursue our dreams of sailing, we’ve asked ourselves many times whether we think we can afford it, or if we are just plain crazy to leave a life of relative comfort and ease.

    But, as we’ve been getting rid of so many of our things (sold our TV yesterday) that have been holding us down, it feels like weights being lifted. I think you are right to use Simplicity as your compass. By living a simple life you can achieve your dreams.

  7. Rick Patton

    Teresa, Now that the Monday morning crazies are over I’ve had a chance to reread your blog. You’ve made my head cock-to-one-side. I never thought of security for myself or my family as, cancerous discipline of “security.” Misguided, sometimes, yearn to do something else, on occasions but never cancerous. Sometimes frustration (life) makes us do what we have to do and not what we want to do. I do enjoy reading you and thank you for the challenges you put my mind thru.


  8. Post

    Maggie, In my experience, the cruisers that I have met who have enough money to last a few years and/or have homes to return to are on a cruise that has a different flavor than the experience I am having; a different mindset, and a different outcome.

  9. Merry

    We can all endure hardships if we know they are time-limited. It’s harder to make life work when you know that certain hardships (reductions in comfort, etc) will be permanent. Sure, you get all the great stuff too like nights under the stars in the cockpit! I guess the trick is in the balance. That’s where it gets interesting! Your blog is definitely interesting and gives me food for thought as I negotiate those choices in my own smaller way.

  10. Deb


    When we were first married we left our families with everything we owned in a ’69 Chevy van and headed 1100 miles away to a new job and a new life. Those first few years were sometimes excruciatingly difficult and they are years I would never wish to repeat. Would I give up the lessons learned and experience gained? Not in a heartbeat.

    Now, 35 years, 3 kids, 5 grandkids, multiple moves in multiple states, assorted motorcycles 2 airplanes and one “practice boat” later we’re 3 years into our 5 year plan (that I think will ultimately be a 4 year plan). If we wait to be able to afford the catamaran we would love to have, we’ll be too old to enjoy it, so we’re shopping monohulls.

    While I really connect with Hayden’s comments, I do see things a little differently from this age. We want to shed the weight of “stuff” and live more simply, but we have no desire to be as uncomfortable as we were in trying to survive those first few years of our marriage. So it is indeed an intensely personal journey, that attempt to find the balance between comfort and excess. No one can make it for you. Each must be at peace with their own choices.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  11. Fran

    I love the different points of views…..and love that reading them is yet another learning experience…..while I agree with so much that has been written here….I think it best to let all of you say it for me. Thank you.

  12. Mark

    Health,is the biggest wealth! I wonder if Hayden wrote that book, after he settled in. After a career as a Hollywood actor, you know Hollywood actors, and their ideas of hardship !!

  13. Post

    UPDATE!!!!!! I forgot one thing in my post! I listed all the jobs I have had in the past two years. Well, there is another…I was also a virtual assistant! Add that to the list.

  14. Mark Hassinger

    Teresa, I wanted to bring to your attention,and others here,the wonderful books and philosophy of the late Bernard Moitessier.My favourite is ” A Sea Vagabonds World”. Another author you may enjoy are the books by Vito Dumas, a fellow countryman of mine(ARGENTINA)and one of the toughest single handers in the annals of singlehanded voyaying. One hand for yourself and one for the ship! be well Mark

  15. Chad (s/vSabbatical)

    “I went to sea looking for challenge, the depths of my strength, and creativity.”

    I would say that even after a few years of planning and saving we are certainly challenging ourselves. There are no coral heads to dodge in the ICW and even the worst storms don’t seem that bad inside a marina basin. It is true that we are not challenging ourselves to find work every couple of months, but if we sought that challenge we would not want to live on a sailboat.

    “I never planned it to be short lived, a sabbatical away from ‘real life.’ Instead, voyaging was to become my life.”

    The irony of Hayden’s quote is that while he professed the romantic notion of going to the sea without financial means, he continued to return to acting in order to fund his own sailing voyages.

    The question of funding the voyage en route or before is a question that most of us face. While finding work along the way certainly challenges you in some respects it limits you in others. Personally, I am not sure if I would have enjoyed my voyage or if it would have challenged me as a sailor if I was limited to living anchor for months at a time.

  16. Post

    Chad, thanks for the comment! I love hearing friends and other sailors perspectives. After reading your comment I realize that there is so much, much more in me to write on this topic. Perhaps it will be a book someday.

    I agree with you that Hayden’s quote has some irony. And so will mine, as I will have to return to lubbery life at some point anyway. For me, there is a time for both ways of life. But I understand his distinction between cruisers and voyagers. I sense and experience the difference.

  17. SailingSimplicity

    Chad and Deb,
    After rereading your comments, I’m having many different thoughts on my sailing experiences in the past and now;

    Such as:
    -a way of life
    -a way to get away from life

    This may be what Hayden means. Just food for thought.
    But you are right, Deb, “No one can make it for you. Each must be at peace with their own choices.” Thank you for your comment. I love it.

    By the way, did you read Hayden’s other book? Did you like it?

    Thanks for the tip on the authors. I’m familiar with Moitessier, but I’ll check the other one out as well.

  18. Post

    Chad, Once again, I have to thank you for your comment. I realize that I need to rethink this post and write it more in-depth to better explain my thoughts.

    “even the worst storms don’t seem that bad inside a marina basin”

    I can’t imagine you are referring to my few months here before I continue my sail. With all my days at sea…a few months is no biggie! You know me well enough to know that I’m not one to hide in an anchorage to shy away from a storm. Do you remember Bellhaven…Ben and I were the only two boats (and only solo sailors) to leave the anchorage, likely because of the storm.

    Anyway, I have tried cruising and decided that it was time for something else for me. I want my life to be a voyage!

  19. Soundbounder

    A few years back I bought a copy of Wanderer at a yard sale. Never got around to reading it until last year. Was completely impressed by it, and I have become quite of fan since of Sterling Hayden. I am really glad you posted this, and I love the quote at the end.

  20. brad

    I long for the day when I can escape. I long for the sun stained skin, and salty air. I long for the wandering and wondering. I long to show my wife what I truly love about the ocean. How it can make you feel so small yet so special. How you can become lost in it and find yourself. I long for those days, and then feel sad that they are so far away.

  21. Matt

    so inspiring! I am working myself to get off of dry land… so many weights.. and not enough money!
    What do you do about health insurance… or are you just winging it and praying?!

  22. Isabelle

    As I am currently preparing my voyage, which will not have a planned duration, I fully appreciate this distinction between cruise and voyage. Yes I belive the flavor is not the same.

    I was lucky enought to enjoy a full year family “cruise” when I was a tennager, and remember both aspects : our cruise was always under time pressure, we could never decide “this is a nice place, nice people , let’s stay here for a couple of more …(weeks, months)” , and some other folks’ voyage, looked a little desperating, especially with regards to affording the actual cost of keeping the boat safe enough to sail accross oceans.

    So in my preparation, there is a little of both financial foundations. I have enough savings (I am 45) to ensure the maintenance of the boat, and suitably not enough savings to afford a “cruise”. So my partner and I know we will have to work for food.

    Thanks for you simplicity …

  23. Gregory

    Nice: “firm foundation of financial unrest”. If you wait to long your course may never be sailed.

    I really enjoy your writing, and again, thank you!

  24. Suzanne

    I truly enjoyed this post. I, too, wandered around after college. I lived on Maui, working at a restaurant and on a fruit farm. I lived in Portland, Ore., one of the raddest cities ever. At a certain point, I decided I wanted to be more comfortable. I don’t see security as so evil — though I also used to think of mortgages and car payments as evil. There’s something nice about having security. And car payments or mortgages? You’re either paying it to the bank, the repair shop or your landlord.

    That’s a rant, but I also wandered what you do about health insurance. I used to wing it. i got cancer young — at 27 — and that’s not the normal case, but you never know what’s going to happen. Even breaking an arm is expensive.

    I guess that’s part of the adventure.

    I really do admire what you’re doing. And I wish I was still that adventurous. Sometimes I want to take off and go traveling again. As I get older, I take risks in different ways, I guess. I have a boyfriend and a dog that like to stay put. But they bring me so much joy!! That’s stability I can get down with.

    I think the coolest thing about your adventure is that you’ve found something you’re completely passionate about. Passion is probably worth sacrificing stability for, but if you’re just lukewarm about an idea, you won’t have the commitment to see it through.

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