Friday, September 23, 2016

Opportunity Cost

One of the upsides of our stop in Grenada was meeting the like-minded crew of "Pelagic", people with whom we share some Alaska connections.

In conversation, Amy of Pelagic commented how an economist friend of theirs is horrified at the way they have gone sailing, and therefore foregone three of their "prime earning years". The opportunity costs! Unfathomable!

Alisa had the ready reply that perhaps that's why, while it seems impossible to get together any collection of traveling sailors that doesn't include an engineer or three, we have yet to knowingly meet an economist afloat.

Finally, it's been discovered! A class of people less romantic than the engineers! (My colleague and a reader of the blog, Alan Haynie, excepted, I am sure.)

Me, I'm more vulnerable to that talk of opportunity costs. I have this memory of the staff at a very good chandlery in San Diego that I cannot shake. The place seemed to be run entirely by people who had buggered off in their prime to go sailing, and were now passing their sixties working retail for none too high a wage, I imagine. I will admit to the occasional middle-of-the-night fear over the past nine years that that not be us.

And there is another sort of opportunity cost involved in a trip long enough to be measured in the lifetimes of our children. That's the what-might-have-been scenario that imagines us putting all the immense time and effort that has gone into the business of sailing across oceans into some other endeavor. While we've been servicing winches and slapping on bottom paint my sister has built a practice as a pediatrician and my brother in law has made himself a successful career in academia. Maybe we could have done something more concrete with our energies.

I think this is a big hurdle for a lot of people who consider the sailing life. We know people who could afford to take it on, and would like to, but I suspect are unwilling to make the commitment to giving up other endeavors in their lives.

You can only sit in one chair at a time, as the saying goes. And the sailing life, more than most, rewards the quality of being all-in.

(I might have some recourse to argument on this point, since I am the only full-time yachtie whom you will ever meet who completed a PhD while crossing oceans. Ironically, I likely wouldn't have done that if we'd stayed ashore.)

Ultimately, though, I think this "lost opportunity of endeavor" that is presented by the decision to go to a-rovin' on the oceans is a weak argument for your better sort of yachtie. There is a class of people, even in this post-post-modern age where screen time stands in for life experience, who believe that human endeavor is best measured at the scale of oceans, and in the experience of self reliance. For these people, going to sea isn't such a choice as a burning desire, to be realised if it at all can be. "The oceans are wide, but my ship is up to the task, and who knows what adventures I'll meet on the far shore?" If that idea doesn't at least occasionally strike you as enough meaning for life, if the rising tide and steady glass don't quicken your breath and make you long for the feeling of decks coming to life beneath your feet, well! Then why in the world are you reading this blog, anyway?

And it's those same people who feel that pull of an active and questing life, who know in their marrow that living for at least a few years in a way that relies on sinew of arm and speed of wits is to know what it was to really live when life's end comes, who have the most irrefutable answer to the economists' "lost opportunity cost".

To whit: what a circumscribed view of life, to see our arc of existence as nothing more than an economic endeavor! The real opportunity is to go sailing now, while you still can. Go while you and your kid are still able to have a civil conversation. Go while you still have enough adventurous spirit of youth that you might consider some daunting itinerary of remote navigation and decide you just might be up to it. Go, above all, while you're still hale and hearty. Regret what you did, and not what you left undone.

(I wonder if that's how the staff at that chandlery in San Diego see things?)

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!


  1. I think Sterling Hayden said it best:
    “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.

  2. I am not a sailor but I read and follow your journey with a great deal of interest. The foundations of a good life are not measured in money. Your sons will have a rich adult life because of what you are doing now. The future will take care of itself because you both have the right outlook and enquiring mind to try things out whether on land or at sea. What we have is 'life' it is to be lived and money, well it is useful but it is not the sole reason for our existence. So stuff the so called economists and politicians et al. Go for it, enjoy it, embrace it all, your sons will be the beneficiaries. Regards Virginia

  3. Hi Galactic !
    I follow your writing with interest. I have been sailing for a life time and my experience is that those not familiar with longterm cruising have no clue of what it´s all about. These people have the tendency to mirror themselves in what you do. They do not always like what they see and too easily turn their reaction into scepticism and even criticism. I have seldom met a more happy family than that on Galactic (even if the father was `missing`when i met them in the southern ocean. Keep cruising and fair winds! All the best from the captain on Villvind !

  4. Whatever you do, it'll cost you and you have to take risks. What your economist is ignoring, that spending your prime earning years earning isn't guaranteed to work either, be it because they be short-cut by lay-offs, bad luck with employer or a financial crisis.

    So the safe bet can end you in a run-down retirement home after a bunch of strokes just like cruising might leave you the crazy old fart on dilapidated boat in run-down marina. Both are probably no fun.

  5. Do you ever worry that the dream, once it becomes reality, may not be quite the pinacle standing event you were expecting. Just wondering. I'm in the cockpit in a marina that has all of the potential to be excellent, but didn't quite get there, waiting for weather to continue south. I've dreamed of this trip and here I am 899 miles on, haven't seen fireworks but have seen amazing things and met wonderful people. I'll just keep doing this until I get a job in the chanderlry.

    Kind regards, and thanks for the blog

    1. Hey Phil. It's a funny thing once you're living the way you dreamed. The dream becomes your everyday life, so becomes pretty un-dream-like. But! Once you're out of the marina and into the just-right palm-fringed anchorage, far from the internet access that brings you other people's sailing blogs, that might be allright.