The Art of Leaving

If you're dreaming of sailing to distant shores, just leave now.

Having been the recipient of several lifetimes' worth of unsolicited advice when we were preparing this boat and the last to set out across the Pacific, I have been quite loath to offer any of my own bright ideas to people who are just starting out to chase the salty dream. But, since it fits in so well with what we're doing now, I'll go ahead and get it off my chest.

(And then I'll get to the part about Kafka.)

So here it is - if you're dreaming of sailing to distant shores, just leave now. Go sailing in your boat. Sail a thousand miles - just sail five hundred miles down the coast, then turn around and sail back home.

After you do that, you'll have a much better feel for what the life afloat entails. You'll save yourself the effort of all sorts of boat improvements (needless complications) that look good only in a marina. With any luck, you'll discover the magic of sailing the ocean in your own boat, that "oh right, this is how I thought my life would turn out" feeling that makes all the expense and effort worth it.

And, not least, you'll have had your first experience with one of the very hardest things about boats - leaving.

After having been through it off and on for seven and a half years, I still don't quite understand why it seems so hard to leave port. Part of it is that the period in harbor between big seasons - say, between crossing the Pacific and wintering in Patagonia - necessarily involves a lot of Port Engineer-type jobs. Clearly, this is the part of the sailing life for which I have the least aptitude.

Part of it is doubtless my personality. Back when I had a job (!) I was the guy who was always five minutes late getting out the door in the morning.

But although part of it is me, there is also some larger vortex at work that tends to keep boats tied to the dock.

But! We're getting past that point. So much so that I went to the Armada today (the Navy, natch) to request the necessary paperwork for leaving Valdivia and sailing to Chiloé.

This is where the Kafka part comes in.

Back in New Zealand, when we went through the emergency gear, we noticed that our flares were getting close to their expiration date. Being tired by then of keeping the New Zealand economy afloat all on our own, we decided to put off buying new ones.

(If you have a picture of "cruising" on sailboats that is derived mostly from sailing magazines and online forums, this decision might be surprising to you. Who would put off buying safety gear? The answer is, many of us. Most of us. We're total outliers among our friends because we actually service our life raft every three years - most people forgo the pleasure of shelling out a thousand bucks for nothing much. And hey, if the flares are a few months old, it's not like they all suddenly go on strike. And if one happens to be a dud, we've got tons of the things.)

So we decided to put off getting new flares. And forgot all about it.

And then, this morning, the armada boarded us for an inspection prior to giving us permission to leave Valdivia.

And, you guessed it, they weren't too impressed by flares with September 2014 expiration dates.

So, no problem - I went out to buy new ones. They were (are) shockingly expensive. But that wasn't the problem. The problem was that we couldn't buy them.

Turns out that to buy flares we need permission from the same division of the carabineros that regulates firearms.

So, no problem, I'm up for a travel experience - to the carabineros it is!

Unfortunately, the officer I dealt with came from that 40% of Chileans who I can understand not at all. But from what I could gather, he couldn't give me permission to buy flares because I'm a foreigner.

So, he sent me back to the armada to get a piece of paper saying something about having permission to operate my boat in Chile, and once I give him that, then he'll give me another piece of paper (in triplicate, and I'm not making that up) that I can take to the shop to buy the flares. And then I'll take the flares back to the armada and they'll give me permission to leave Valdivia.

Now, let me make it explicitly clear that I am not complaining about Chilean bureaucracy. It is inappropriate and dull for travelers to impose their cultural standards on the countries they visit.

But I did start to think about Kafka - specifically, The Trial. Really liked that one.

Luckily, by the time I finished at the carabinero office the armada offices were closed for lunch, so I went back to Galactic to regroup. We made our appointment with the fuel truck at a dock a few hundred meters from the Club de Yates. And then a funny thing happened.

I met a man who works in the marine side of things here. And after hearing my story, he said something along the lines of, "Shoot - flares? I got a heap of them things that are gonna expire in six months anyway. I'll come down to your boat and give 'em to you tomorrow."

So we'll see what happens.

When we left Alaska to sail to Australia with our toddler for crew, we thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But then we had our second child, and bought our second boat, and sailed across the Pacific a second time. We've been living aboard for seven years now. Sometimes we wonder how long we'll keep at it, but all we know for sure is that the end doesn't seem to be in sight just yet. Click here to read more from the Twice in a Lifetime blog.

Sailboat Projects in Chile

Sailboat Projects in Chile

"Dad's plumbing in the cabin heater!"Mike Litzow
Club de Yates, Chile

Club de Yates, Chile

Outside the club de Yates, ValdiviaMike Litzow
Refueling in Chile

Refueling in Chile

Buying 1,040 liters from the fuel truck. We must be getting close.Mike Litzow