July 15, 2006 South Portland, Maine, USA
Re-entry: Trying to assimilate back into American life

I have been putting off making this final trip update. I apologize. I think there are a whole host of reasons why it's been difficult to sit down and write this. For one thing, it just seems so final. The end of the trip. We're back in our house, no longer living on Zora, and that's sad. Also, I didn't want to write this final Trip entry while I was in a blue mood -didn't want it to be all sad and depressing- but that's the way I've been feeling since we got back. I'm feeling a little better now -we've been back for 7 weeks- so I'll try to write this as honestly as I can.

Well, let me tell you about the last leg of the trip, first! We left Norfolk between two cold fronts. We'd planned to stay a day or two, but with the crazy weather pattern of fronts spinning off the coast every few days, we felt we should take any reasonable window that presented itself. So we left Great Bridge and stopped for fuel in Norfolk, then spent one squally night and left the next morning. We had a fast sail north, and had hoped to make it all the way to Buzzards Bay, or at least Block Island. But NOAA was forecasting another one of those violent cold fronts with "deadly cloud-to-ground lightening" and 50-knot gusts so we stuck close to the New Jersey coast and headed for New York Harbor. In the early morning hours, as we approached the shipping lane convergence, Neil tuned the VHF to monitor both 16 and 13, so he could listen to the commercial traffic. When I came on watch at 0500, I was glad he'd done that, since it allowed me to hear which of the 25 or so monstrous tankers anchored in the harbor was about to up-anchor and start moving around. It gave me enough time to get out of their way. Another sailboat came in from offshore about an hour after we did, and by then about half the ships were underway: the sailboat was caught in the middle of them, dodging these big ships and fighting the strong current as well.

Here are some pictures of our pre-dawn approach under the Verrazzano Bridge:

We had a couple of hours to kill before the tide turned in the East River (we didn't want to fight the 5 knot current at Hell's Gate!) so we anchored beneath the Statue of Liberty and rested a while. Then we continued up the East River and out into Long Island Sound, bundled up against what seemed like bitter cold (it was probably about 50 degrees) and watching the sky as the cold front steadily advanced. We wanted to get as far as we could before the thunderstorms and squalls hit. By early afternoon the first fat raindrops were falling, and we followed a stream of sailboats into Huntington Bay. We'd been told by a friend who was a member of the yacht club there that we could use a mooring, but when we radioed the dockmaster he told us, basically, to get lost. "NO. We do NOT have any guest moorings that members are allowed to let people use. We are full up!" and a while later when we called back to be sure it was the right yacht club, "We can certainly accommodate you, but you'll have to pay." Geez, thanks for the hospitality. By now the visibility was down to barely a boat length in the rain. We went in anyway, hoping we'd find a spot to anchor, but Huntington Harbor was packed with moorings. We poked into Lloyd Harbor instead, and circled around trying to find a deep enough spot to anchor (it was strange to have to be considering significant tidal ranges again!) between the vacant moorings. The one other sailboat on the harbor called out to us and said we could pick up his mooring, he was leaving. It was a relief to have someone being friendly to us, and we were happy to use his mooring. We were all pretty bleary-eyed and exhausted after the sail up from Virginia. Anchoring in one of the more exposed harbors, for 50-knot winds, just didn't sound too fun.

The next day we plowed northward and arrived at Marion the following morning. We had a reunion with our friends Frank and Lynda on Simba, and spent some time on the library internet and phones trying to get utilities set up for our house in Maine. It was beginning to dawn on me what a colossal project it was going to be to re-enter land life.

Two days later, after an easy overnight through the Cape Cod Canal and up the coast, Zora entered her home waters again.

I had fully expected that when Portland Head Light -the prominent lighthouse at the edge of Casco Bay- came in sight, I'd be hit with the same excitement and nostalgia I felt when when returning home after the long cruise to the Mediterranean I'd taken with my family years ago. But when we passed Portland Head Light, even though Olivia was giddy with excitement, I felt mostly resignation and quiet sadness. It took me a little by surprise: I really thought that once we got back I'd be more excited to be here..... (notice the folded-back bimini: it was so cold that we were trying to get every speck of warmth from the sun that we could. Quite a change from the last couple of years!)

After spending the night at Diamond Cove and a nice welcome-home dinner with my family, we started the enormous task of moving back to land life. Neil wanted to get us moved back into the house right away, so that he could devote his time and energy to his job hunt. So the next morning we borrowed cars and took the first load of stuff off Zora and over to our house in South Portland. We'd spent a lot of time and energy renovating the house, so I was surprised to feel so little upon returning. Even getting all of our treasures out of storage didn't excite me. It just seemed like a lot of stuff. So much stuff! And the house (modest at 2400 sf) seemed so huge! Weird, weird, weird.....

At first the house seemed to be in pretty good condition, considering it had been rented out for 2 1/2 years. But then we saw damage: the floors, newly refinished before we left, needed to be redone in several rooms; the gardens were a mess; we needed to repaint; and the worst was when Liv flushed the upstairs toilet and it rained in the kitchen! Neil spent the weekend ripping up the bathroom floor and re-plumbing, and buying and installing a new toilet in the downstairs bathroom. I went through endless lists of everything we needed to do to live this life again. Unless you've been away for a long time, you can't imagine how much is entailed in re-entering American life. Insurances need to be researched and changed, doctors called and appointments made, telephone (what kind? regular, cellular, digital?), water, electricity, heating oil, city tax office, banks, internet service, cable.....so much STUFF is involved!!! We actually decided not to have TV at all. We were looking at the plans and complaining that the "basic" service, with only 13 channels (we really only need PBS for Liv) was actually going to cost MORE than the cable company's 250-channel package. But we didn't want 250 channels! So Liv said, "Let's just not have TV!" What a cool kid. So we have our TV for movie-watching only. I think, given our overall reaction to the rest of American culture so far, that it's a really good thing we don't have TV. It would just be too much...

Neil wanted to start working in boatbuilding/refitting. So he talked to all of the local boatyards and was thrilled that everyone wanted to hire him. He got five excellent job offers, and it was incredibly difficult to decide which job to take. He's been at Maine Yacht Center for 5 weeks now and it's going really well. We're mostly moved back into the house. We're eating fresh vegetables from the garden. Olivia got to do her promised bedroom makeover, and is having fun with her friends. I'm busy-busy-busy on several projects. We have had some great family reunions, including meeting two babies who were born while we were gone, Henry and Sally:

Zora has been emptied out. She looks so bare without her cruising gear. The decks are clear now, gone are the bimini, self-steering windvane, jerrycans, surfboard, man-overboard-pole, two outboards, stern anchor. We took over a thousand pounds of books and personal stuff off her. Now she's bobbing out of the water, showing off nine inches of bottom paint. She looks weird. Weird, weird, weird.

We were hoping to get a couple of charters this summer, to offset the costs of keeping her for "the next trip", but have no bookings so far. We did a whole bunch of work to her to get her ready, though, so we'll have less to do this winter. Neil scraped all of the varnish off the toerail and we're going to let it go grey. It's just too difficult to keep varnish on it, since it's so often wet. But all the rest of the varnish looks great now, and we're even varnishing the cockpit table, which we never got around to before. This winter we'll repaint the non-skid on the decks, build some dorade boxes, and maybe even paint her hull dark blue.

I'm not sure if I can accurately describe how I'm feeling about being back. There are so many different issues. Part of it is simply American life. We're just not used to the frenetic pace, and the outrageous consumerism everywhere. Go-Go-Go! Buy-Buy-Buy! Our friend Dave on Macy just got back, too, and he told Neil the other day, "I don't get it. I run around all day doing stuff, and at the end of the day I'm exhausted but I think to myself, "What did I accomplish???"" That's exactly how I feel! I go around in a sort of daze: partly feeling like it's all familiar, but also disconnected from it, not really here, in a way. I mean, I'm there in Target buying bedsheets, or whatever, but it feels sort of surreal. Hard to describe. But then when I'm down working on Zora, I don't feel totally comfortable there, either. It's not the same as when we were living on her, all together.

One day I was looking at the newspaper, and there was a photo of a smiling Jamaican guy. He was working seasonal work in Kennebunkport, already had one full-time job and was out pounding the pavement for another, so he could take the money back to Jamaica and buy a house. He was working harder than many Americans, but his smile was so big and relaxed. On another page were photos of Americans "enjoying" a "fun" jazz festival: none of them looked remotely as happy as the Jamaican worker. Just seeing that smile made me "homesick" for the Caribbean. And then I heard a report on the happiness of various nationalities- it wasn't too surprising to learn that countries we'd just visited (Columbia, Central America) had a much higher level of general happiness and satisfaction with life than did America, despite what most would consider much lower standards of living, harder work, more poverty, etc.

And then I'm torn about where to focus my energies. Should I embrace land life and make it the best it can be? Sometimes I think so, and I make lists of things to do to make the house a more comfortable home. Or should I concentrate my energies and resources on getting back out there as soon as possible? In that case, I should just leave the house half-unpacked and live with things as they are, saving every single red cent for the next trip. And I miss my family! Neil's gone all day at work, and soon Liv will be off at school. Just a short time ago we were together all the time, every day. Weird. Weird. Weird.

I wonder how long this will last.

I keep telling myself that it's absolutely ridiculous that I should feel sad or depressed. Just think how lucky I am! Just look at what a wonderful and fantastic thing we did! And I try to remember that, and try to be grateful (and I really am) for everything, my wonderful family and health and the darned nice life we have here - even if it isn't a sea life. Luckily, I've spoken to other returning sailors who feel, or felt, the same way. So at least I know I'm not totally crazy!

And we're definitely hoping there will be a next trip. That's the game plan right now: 3 years if we can possibly save enough. Hopefully, an even longer trip next time. Some days, it's all that keeps me going.