Q & A With India: Do You Miss Living on the Ocean?

Q — India, I read in your bio that you spent seven years sailing around the Pacific Ocean on a 31-foot sailboat. That must have been quite an adventure. Do you ever miss the sailing life?

A — Well, there are definitely some things that I miss, like being anchored off a secluded beach in Bora Bora or spending a week at an uninhabited island in Tonga. But overall, I can say that I’m happy to be living on land now. When my husband and I first arrived in the Philippines and decided to rent a house, I was so happy to be away from the sea that I chose to live in the jungle. All I wanted to see were trees and green plants all around me. No water! I stayed in that house for eleven years, until I started feeling a little bit suffocated by the heaviness of the jungle. Now I live on a cliff overlooking the ocean, so that water connection is back in my life.

Q — In your essay, “The Rainiest Season”, you wrote: “… I’ve grown very attached to this beautiful island, its good-natured people, and the thriving garden I created with my own hands — the sensation of earth under my feet an enormous pleasure after seven years of floating on the back of the Pacific Ocean.” Was it difficult living on a boat?

A — Yes! It’s a lot of hard work. But I’m grateful for those years. I have come to realize that the ocean has been the greatest teacher of my life. It has taught me lessons that will carry me through pretty much any situation I can think of.

Q — Such as?

A — The number one lesson: be patient! Storms come and go — and sometimes those storms can be pretty terrible, really frightening. But if you batten down the hatches and just ride them out (and they can last for days) you’re going to survive. And how sweet it is when you see blue skies and sunshine at the end of the long, dark tunnel. The truth is that absolutely nothing stays the same. The weather constantly changes: the wind shifts direction — sometimes it’s with you, sometimes it’s against you and sometimes it disappears altogether. Sometimes the waves tower over the stern of the boat; other times the sea is flat calm. Just wait out the bad times. They pass. That’s a HUGE lesson.

I think the next biggest lesson for me was to learn to enjoy BOTH tides. It’s always ebbing and flowing, just like life. Sometimes happiness pours in, sometimes it leaves for a while. Money comes in and it goes out. Business is great, then it slows down. It’s life’s natural flow. Go with it and learn to enjoy whichever tide you’re in. That’s sometimes tough for me to remember. But I try.

Finally, I would say that my sailing life has taught me to be a little more comfortable with living in uncertainty. We used to pull up the anchor and leave for a new island which would be days or even weeks away. I always hated saying goodbye to land. I was leaving life as I knew it, while the next destination was really only a figment of my imagination, a giant leap of faith. You point yourself in a certain compass direction and hope you get there 23 days later. I mean, we would be literally living in limbo, just a tiny speck on the Pacific Ocean — what if the GPS malfunctioned and we never saw land again? It’s dangerous out there! Boats do disappear. And would the new island be worth the risk? It was impossible to know. But here’s what I learned. The next island was always uniquely different and often more beautiful than the one I had been so sad to leave. And that’s a great lesson for life…

Q — It must be very strange to see no land for days or weeks at a time.

A — The first couple of days were always the hardest. My mind didn’t want to be at sea. It wanted to be grocery shopping or watching TV or emailing — it wanted to be pretty much anywhere except where it was, but by the fourth day things would settle down and my mind would get into a different routine.

When I began offshore sailing I found it very disturbing to be just a dot on the ocean. It felt like we were NOTHING. I could barely stand to look at 360 degrees of empty horizon, oblivion stretched out in all directions. Later on, that changed. After weeks at sea, there was nothing else on the ocean but us. We were EVERYTHING. The boat truly became the center of the universe for me. Odd what goes on in the mind. The longest trip we ever made was from the Marshall Islands to Hawaii — 43 days at sea. If you can believe it, when we finally approached the harbor in Kauai, I didn’t want to return to land. I would have happily turned around and gone back out to sea. To freedom. That was definitely weird.

Q — Any plans to take up sailing again?

A — I really don’t think so. You know, sailors are a superstitious bunch and I always kept track of our sailing stats. I’ve spent exactly 250 nights at sea. I think that’s a good round number and I don’t intend to press my luck any more than that. I’m alive today because the ocean LET me live. Trust me, if the ocean wants you dead, you will be. So, I think I can probably say that I’ve retired now.

Q — Thanks, India. Let’s take a break for now…

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