Friday 16 February 2018

One Woman's Tale - Suburbia to being a cruising sailor.

Sailing the world's seas is a far cry from Karen's previous life in the suburbs. Below is a recent interview with her about how she came to be a cruising sailor and her life afloat.

Hi Karen! Who are you and what do you do?

I'm a 51 year old daughter, mother, grandmother, wife and cruising sailor. I have had a diverse career spanning from serving in the Australian Defence Forces to event management then to being a full time practicing visual artist. I now live on a 42 foot yacht with my husband of 32 years. We've been sailing full time since 2011 and have lived on latest boat Our Dreamtime since March 2014.

All sounds exciting! Can you tell us more about your adventures?

We started our sailing as crew on other peoples boats. We'd planned to sell some real estate to buy a yacht of our own but circumstances made it impossible at the time so rather than not sailing we decided this was the best option. We also thought this would be a good way of finding out if we were just in love with the romantic idea of sailing off over the oceans full time or, if the reality of long distance cruising was really for us. We have now sailed about 17,000 nautical miles (22,000 klms) around the top of Australia, throughout South East Asia, the Mediterranean, England and extensively around the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea.

It wasn't fair winds and calm seas to begin with,
but we never gave up on the Dream.

Stuff it ... Let's go sailing anyway. Available on Amazon.

Sailing lets you go to places humans rarely visit

Helming Moksha down the Italian Coastline
How did it all start?

We began by doing some sailing courses that teach you the basics through to our RYA Skippers Certification. We then applied on internet sites that match boat owners with crew.... A bit like an online dating agency. We  accepted an offer to crew on a 57 foot boat leaving from Cairns, Australia in 2011 and sailing to Malaysia on a four month trip. It  was the beginning of us truly falling in love with the cruising life.

After that we crewed with some excellent skippers on different boats in Asia, the Med and Atlantic. It was great and we learnt so much that had us far better prepared to sail a yacht of our own. The Indonesian trip started it all for us but was also a very interesting adventure in human dynamics and not without its dramas.

Oh ... How so?  Well now that's a story in itself .... You could write a book about it. Oh! That's right. Rob did.

How did your family and friends react at the beginning? Were they supportive of your lifestyle?

We departed for over two years just after this photo was taken.
Lyla our Granddaughter was 5 weeks old. Her younger
brother was born while we were in the Mediterranean. 

Well .... Half our friends think we are mad. The other half want to be us, but all seem really intrigued with what we are doing. My parents have been very supportive, saying "we put you on this earth to live life ... So live it! " Our kids had all different reactions Rod, the eldest really misses his Dad when we are away for extended periods. Yasmin, the middle child says we "are the most financially irresponsible parents she knows ... But go for it!" and Felicity, our youngest, is excited for us but always worries where we are. She keeps close track of us.

Fortunately, modern internet based communications make it easy to stay in touch with family and friends.

Far out in the Coral Sea at North East Herald Cay 360 klms off the Australian coast.

Could you tell us more about the way you travel?

We basically have traveled in the direction the wind fills our sails so to speak. We can have a plan but from one day to the next it changes to suit the circumstances. We have a general idea of what we want to do but it is up to weather most of the time. We have also jumped at unexpected opportunities that have come our way.... Delivering boats for owners, helping as crew when needed on others doing passages and even leading a Charter Flotilla around the Greek Isles for a northern summer.

Click here to see video

Tunisa is a country I had really never thought of visiting but it
proved a fantastic experience sailing there on Moksha.
What has been your favourite place to sail?

Oh .... can I say everywhere ... (laughs).... To be honest when the opportunity came to sail the Mediterranean it was unexpected so we jumped at it. We were going to be sailing the Pacific that year but our crewing opportunity fell through. So at the last minute we were headed for the Med to sail on a 72 foot super yacht called Moksha. Every moment in the Mediterranean was special. But I must admit sailing with friends and family is fantastic. To share just a little bit of our lifestyle, to take them on a journey to discover amazing places and to show them we are not totally crazy ... (laughs) ... That's the BEST!

Click here to see video

How did you decide on the boat's name?

Our Dreamtime in Fitzroy Reef lagoon.
We always wanted an Australian name. Something that represented who we were. It's our Dream ... It's our Time ... It represents our Past, Present and Future. It's our story to tell generations ... It's "Our Dreamtime"

We knew the previous boat we sailed for a couple of years in the Mediterranean was not going to be our 'forever boat' so we didn't want to use the name then but we stayed with the theme and named her "Alcheringa" which is an aboriginal word for the The Dreamtime.

Why sailing? Has it always been the dream?

We fell in love with cruising life sailing in Indonesia.
No it was never really the plan. We had both had time on the water before Marriage, Mortgage and Kids. We actually met at the famous Airlie Beach Yacht Race in the Whitsundays. We knew we wanted to travel when we retired but that was about the extent of our thinking.

I had a wake up call a number of years ago with the passing of a very close friend before she turned 50 ...None of us know how long we have so I said to Rob "We go now while we can and do something adventurous with our lives." He took a little time to come around then our choices came down to riding Harley Davidson's around Europe or sailing. Having limited funds, sailing is a cheaper way of life with travel as the added benefit thrown in so sailing won.

You are a very dynamic and outgoing person, how do you go about meeting new people?

Out cruisng you can be quite isolated and we can go days if not weeks without seeing another boat when sailing remote areas. We meet people through Facebook, Instagram and our blog. These people give us an opportunity to share our world and be our virtual crew, but unbeknown to them they are supplying a constant contact to the "real world' for us at the same time. When we find other boats in an anchorage we tend to invite them over for "Sundowners". I also love to cook on board so that's another opportunity to entertain. It's a great opportunity to meet people. We are constantly amazed at how diverse the sailing community is. We've developed an incredible international network of new friends.

Sundowners are a tradition among sailing cruisers .

What do you love most about your travels and what do you find the most challenging?

I do love the solitude, how time slows down, how the small things in life are important, how each sunset is so important to us now that we share them all. I love seeing new places, discovering the world's hidden treasures that are not on the tourist map. However, yes, there are challenging moments. Weather always plays a part in every minute of your day. Maintaining your boat is a constant work in progress. "Cruising is fixing things in exotic locations" is a well repeated saying for a very good reason. Being self reliant and self sufficient is challenging. Having self belief in your abilities to problem solve when you can't call an electrician or plumber is important.

I love your positivity. How do you plan your finances to be able to afford traveling? What are your income sources?

Now this is one of our most asked questions. So far we have funded our sailing out of our spendings (other people have "savings" we have "spendings") We progressively sold off the big family house, a rental property, the flash cars, the etc, etc ... We have retained a small house that is rented and paying for itself and bit left over each month for us. We wanted a safety net so if in case of illness or for whatever reason we couldn't continue to sail we would have something to come back to.

We blog, we write books, we sell boat merchandise, we YouTube and I sell my artwork. Compared to our previous life, we now live very, very cheaply! We were surprised at how little you need in life to be happy. You really don't need all the "Stuff" you spend ridiculous amounts of money on.

When we are back in Australia we try to do find work to top up the kitty. Last year we flew off to Europe and worked leading flotillas of Charter Yachts around the Greek Isles. At the moment we're back in Brisbane working to build the funds up to head off in Our Dreamtime again. Books available on Amazon 

Setting up an exhibition of Karen's work and the book launch of "Stuff it Let's go Sailing Anyway"

What advice would you give to those who want to follow your lead?

Beside Moksha in Grand Harbour Malta
If you are unhappy change what you are doing. Just do it! You will never know what you're missing until you do. You don't know how long you have on this earth so do whatever it is you love. You only get one life. Make the most of it. Every one of those cliches are true.

If moving to the country is your thing do it. If it's sailing be aware not all days are blue skies, calm turquoise seas and champagne in hand. Lots of days are just about making sea miles to get to those exotic destinations we write about. But that's what makes it worth it. What ever it is that will make you happy, don't wait. That perfect time may never come before it's too late..

In a few words sum up what the cruising lifestyle has given you.

Freedom, travel, togetherness with my soulmate and the opportunity to have a life rather than an existence.

Working as Flotilla Leaders for Greek Sails in 2017

So Karen, what is next for you?

What next? ... Watch this space. Even we never quite know what's over the horizon for us.

And a last mandatory question for the music lovers, what’s on your playlist?

Well I'm a bit of an old fashioned girl and I love my easy listening, jazz and blues ... Eagles, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Art Tatum to name a few but there's plenty of everything on my Ipod except rapp..


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