Casting Off Concerns

Even for experienced offshore sailors, sometimes the hardest part of the journey is just untying the dock lines.

February 7, 2019
Casting Off Concerns Lin Pardey

Why is this so difficult?” I keep asking myself as I go over the latest list. “I’ve done this literally dozens of times before.” Autumn is winding down. We want to set sail before the onset of winter gales. We’ve set a departure date, and it’s only five days away. As I look out of my office window to see David wheeling yet another load of gear down the jetty, I remind myself I know the steps to take.

Sahula, the 40-foot steel Van de Stadt sloop that David Haigh has sailed almost all the way around the world, is looking ever more disheveled as gear and provisions are loaded onto her deck. I can’t help him much because I am on overload, beavering away in my office as I try to disengage myself from the business and community projects that have filled my life for the past seven years. But now I’ve been invited to join David as he sails to Fiji, Vanuatu and then on toward Townsville, Australia, to help him complete his circumnavigation. I don’t want to pass up this chance.

As I look over my list, I remind myself that setting sail with David and leaving New Zealand both add extra stress to my situation. I’d spent almost five decades sailing, adventuring and working with Larry. Together we’d built two of the boats we used to explore the farthest reaches of the world. We’d grown into a well-oiled sailing team. The boats we’d sailed had been custom-tailored to my diminutive size and strength. Now I had committed myself to sail off across one of the more boisterous of oceans with a man whom I’d only recently come to know, on a boat that was far different than I was used to — a boat fitted out to suit a 6-foot-1-inch-tall singlehander — and I’d be doing it at an age when I knew I was not as agile as I’d once been. And there was an even bigger problem: I was leaving Larry behind. After helping him through several years of ever-worsening Parkinsonian dementia, the time came when I needed professional assistance. I’d searched for and found an excellent facility with warmhearted, well-trained staff. Larry had been there for more than a year. His caretakers plus all of my family and friends urged me to take this leap, telling me, if Larry could comprehend and speak, he’d join their chorus. But still, I had concerns because, for the first time ever, there would be possibly weeks at a time when I could not jump on a plane and rush back to be at Larry’s side should there be any way I could make his life easier.

wooden cutters
Unlike Seraffyn and Taleisin, the wooden cutters that she and her husband, Larry, cruised aboard and set up specifically with Lin’s small size and strength in mind, Sahula required some adjustments. Lin Pardey

Then there is the more universal complication of putting any shoreside life on hold: turning over my publishing business so the authors and their new publisher were comfortable; securing the house, boatyard, three boats, the car; shutting off the phones; relinquishing the responsibilities I’ve taken on in my very supportive small island community.

If it’s this hard for me, just imagine what it must be like for people who are trying to get away the very first time, I thought as I crossed one chore off my list then added two more. I remembered one cruising couple who came up to me after a seminar at the 2017 Annapolis boat show. “We’ve sold the house, bought the boat,” said the woman. “But now my boss has offered me a really tempting bonus to stay on and help him on a special project. He says only I have the skills to handle it. It would be just six months more. That would give Doug more time to make sure the boat is ready to go. What would you do?”

Not only had Lin missed cruising, she also missed using her rigging skills. Lin Pardey

I could remember my answer; it was similar to the one I’d given to dozens of almost-ready-to-go voyagers. “Your boss isn’t trying to help you out. He’s trying to keep you right where you are so he doesn’t have to spend the time and money training someone else. Grab your chance and go now while both of you are healthy and eager.”

With Lin busy wrapping up her life ashore, David was left to do most of the projects aboard. Lin Pardey

I am still satisfied with the answer I gave that day. But, armed with my current dilemma, I might have added, “Even for those young enough to appear free of responsibilities, even for those folks who seem to have all the money they could need, breaking away at any time in your life is not easy.” I recall the very first time Larry and I actually had to make the break from shore life. We owned almost nothing but the 24-foot-4-inch boat we’d just finished building. As soon as Seraffyn was launched, we moved on board to avoid paying rent, so had no home to dispose of and few possessions to consider. Larry was a professional sailor with several ocean trips under his belt, so there was little concern about his skill level. Armed with his experience maintaining charter boats, we’d decided on a minimalist approach to control our budget, thus had very little to shop for or install. We had enough money in the bank for five or six months of cruising, and the offer of interesting jobs if we decided to sail back to Newport Beach, California. Then someone offered us a contract that could have, with just six or eight months’ work, netted us enough money to keep cruising for four or five years. Of course, our compatriots said we’d be crazy to turn it down. My parents were thrilled at the idea that I might not leave so soon, or maybe have time to reconsider and not go at all. Larry and I spent two restless weeks making lists of pros and cons. Then I remembered a small book by pop philosopher Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity. “When you reach the figure that you once felt would be enough,” Watts explained, “you’ll worry about losing it or your needs changing so it might not be sufficient.” I read this to Larry one morning, and that settled it — we left with what we had and never once looked back.

Now, as I contemplate the next items on my list I reflect, resolving the financial issue might be one of the easier parts of breaking free because you can put the facts and figures down on paper. The really difficult items on my list are mostly done: resigning as secretary/treasurer for the local boating club — one I was emotionally involved with because I’d helped start it four years previously — and turning over my duties as elected representative for my Kawau Island community. I’ve spoken with many potential voyagers who, at this stage in their plan, began to have doubts. “Am I being irresponsible?” some had asked. Others said, “Everyone will be disappointed in me,” or, “Who will take over if I leave?” Their worries, which I have been feeling the past few weeks, might reflect a deeper concern, which is, Will we actually be missed? Will we ever feel as important? Can we ever return and get involved in the same meaningful way?

No matter how long you’ve been voyaging, cutting the dock lines is hard, but the lifestyle — and the sunsets — are worth it. Lin Pardey

Then there are the final farewells. Friends, family. By this stage you have made it clear you are going sailing. But few noncruisers will realize you have set a date and you have to stick to it. There is nothing quite so difficult as phone calls like the one I had to make yesterday. “As much as I’d like to help you celebrate the fact that you have been named on the Queen’s Birthday Honours List,” I’d told Leanne, my best island friend, “David and I can’t delay our departure for a week.” In 2008, Larry and I got caught up in almost exactly the same situation when, at the end of our second circumnavigation, we delayed our departure from Southern California for the first leg of our voyage toward New Zealand via the Line Islands for six weeks to take part in my niece’s wedding. I tried to say no, but my family had all the good arguments: “You might not be back for a long, long time. You’ve missed so many fun family celebrations. …” So we took the easy way out (saying yes) and suffered the consequences. Because of that delay, we ended up right in the track of Boris, a relatively early hurricane, seven days out of Ventura, California. Boris crossed from Mexico to Baja California, then headed offshore toward Hawaii and fortunately was downgraded to a tropical storm 90 miles before it hit us.


Now I notice David heading back toward the boat shed with an empty wheelbarrow and realize it’s growing dark. As I close down my computer, I contemplate how much more difficult breaking away must be for someone with a complicated boat, or with new grandchildren. Yes, this transition is difficult, but as I head over to the house for sundowners, one of Larry’s favorite quips comes to mind: “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

As Lin continues to explore the eastern coastline of Australia on board Sahula, she is finding time to write once again. A tribute edition of her very first book, Cruising in Seraffyn is now available at All profits from sale of this edition will go toward maintaining and upgrading the Larry Pardey Memorial Observatory at the ­children’s camp on Kawau Island.


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