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Safe Harbor

SAFE HARBOR

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-----Cruising happily ever after is a glorious image of the future. But is 'ever after' realistic? Perhaps there are events or times of life when such 'ever after' cruising is not prudent unless one waypoints a safe harbor.

SAFE HARBOR IN A STORM

SOME BACKGROUND

------There are many stories of setting off on adventures, either those of a short nature or some of a lifetime. Many authors detail the decisions, choices and sacrifices involved in the decision to 'march to a different drummer.' However, we have found few stories that include the decision to prepare for the end of that adventure - and we know that all stories, like all lives, eventually come to an end.

The Beginning - Scott, El, Bill, Halcyon and a bottle of Champagne - Oregon

------We have done the same on our story of our live-aboard boating lifestyle here in the writing of our Halcyon Days. We have spent considerable time discussing with you how we made the choice to live aboard a small boat and see America. We have, however, also had considerable time discussing with each other how we might prepare for the inevitable end to the voyage, and we would like to share that with you who either are adventuring or are considering such a homeless live aboard lifestyle.

OUR DISCUSSION

------"Well, we made our choice to live a nomadic on-water lifestyle," El said over our usual evening sundowner while we swung slowly at anchor in a small bay off Chesapeake Bay. "But someday perhaps something will happen to make us reconsider this lifestyle. How do we manage that?"

------That's exactly the question I had been pondering for some months. We had sold our house and drifted for the past twenty years. Years abroad, years living on a small sailboat cruising Eastern US waters, months through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, months kicking around the back blocks of many foreign countries, weeks canoeing Arctic Rivers, days rafting and kayaking some of America's great whitewater rivers, and now years aboard a small 'pocket' cruiser experiencing almost all of America's navigable waterways. It has been a wonderful shared time. We had carefully plotted some of our choices ('how to share the next six months?') to include the most physically taxing experiences while we still had sufficient youth and good health (one doesn't easily hike the entire AT when you're eighty years old). We have been extremely fortunate with good health and strong bodies, but time marches on and the vigor of youth slowly fades, and it is imperative for us all to anticipate and recognize this fact. Just as we carefully analyze conditions before making an open water crossing on our little boat, it is even more imperative to consider future choices in life.

The Choices?

------The analogy of living a life with that of living aboard a small boat is both apt and educational for us. The vast majority of people live lives of little real risk - oh, there's the usual holiday or weekend trip that includes adventure (a term defined differently by each of us - we know a woman who describes a trip to the library as "an adventure"). But most folks (wisely) are risk averse. They know when the next pay-check comes in, where they'll lay their heads tonight, when the bargains come to the familiar local super market, and precisely where they will be next Thursday. The vast majority of boat owners seldom leave their marina, rarely cruise on new water, and have never set an anchor or remained overnight on their boat swinging on a hook - and that's fine and normal. They bought a boat as a surrogate waterside cabin or a day- fishing boat, and that's a good (usually) non-risk use for them.

------There are a few who decide to take their boat "on a vacation cruise." Risk increases with this choice. There are financial risks, lifestyle risks, and perhaps even risks to the boat, crew or passengers. Often this cruise is viewed as 'the cruise of a lifetime' - a one-time adventure around The Loop, or up the Inside Passage to Alaska, are good examples. More power to them, and this is a great goal for many. Then, there are the very few, who choose to live aboard and have a cruising lifestyle. Homeless wanderers (usually with no pay check), unaware of where they will set the hook that night, as unfamiliar with every inch of water ahead as they are with the next supermarket … drifters. Harlan Hubbard and his wife described their lives living on a shantyboat on Eastern rivers in his marvelous book, Shantyboat - and he didn't even have a motor on his shantyboat! - They were true drifters!


-------------"Honors and crown of the tempest-footed
--------------------Horses delight one;
------ ----------Others live in golden chambers;
------ ---------------And some even are pleased traversing securely
----------------------------The swelling of the sea in a swift ship
."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hubbard, p. 91, Shantyboat

------We had set ourselves adrift in life in 1986, when we quit our jobs and sold our house and most all our belongings except photo albums and journals. We are well aware that even Harlan Hubbard eventually had to put down a hook. Someday, we too would have to do the same. Someday … a word to describe avoidance or forestalling. We pondered that 'someday' … Would a prudent cruising boater say, "someday I'll learn to use the radar" … or "someday I'll look ahead at the chart." No, not if he is truly prudent. Those are the words of the foolish and one reason boating (or life) can be hazardous. El had just used that word and it jarred me … "someday perhaps something will happen."

------"Absolutely right, El," I replied. "Now, is this a good time to ponder the 'something' that might happen?"

------"There's never a good time to think ahead of trouble," she said with a smile and took a sip of the sundowner. "So this is as good a time as any. -Well, we could have a cruising accident and damage or lose the boat. If that happened, we would be forced ashore, at least for a period of time. We could live in our camper for the interim," El said with a grin.

------We watched the sun slowly sink into the weedy shoreline and saw the blackbirds dive into the rushes for their night roost. "The US economy could go into a hyper-dive and we'd not have the income to continue our cruising lifestyle," I ventured.

------"No problem," said the risk-taker. "We would still have enough steady income to simply hang out, either on the boat or the camper. May not have much left over for extras, but we'd have a place to live and food to eat - just might have to give up the higher fuel costs and hang out, swinging on the anchor, in a pretty cove."

------"Health is the big unknown," I said with a frown. "If something serious happened to either of us, it would be really tough for the other, without a home base. How do you make hospital visits from a boat, and where is the hospital? Some of the places we cruise are mighty far from medical help. We're healthy but every year we get older the risk increases, and eventually something will get to us - no way around that one."

------"True," El was frowning now also. "That's the one imponderable without an easy solution with our lifestyle."

------"The tough one on that is timing," I continued. "One never knows - something could happen any time, any where. Sure, that's a risk we were willing to easily accept twenty years ago - and we got through that bad fall and broken leg you suffered on the boat ramp back in Kentucky. That was truly 'luck in unluck.' (www.geocities.com/bill_fiero/luck). -"Now, at our advancing age, let's try for another bit of luck." ----

------El grinned in the gathering darkness, as the moon began a slow rise from the water of the Bay. "What luck are you thinking of, oh conservative one?"

THE DECISION

------"Let's promise each other, right now, that we will have a home port, somewhere, by age 70."

------"OK. Done! Age seventy will give us a few years to find a place. But, we're not stopping our roaming, right? Just a home port to return to, in case we need it." Folks have gotten an earful when they have mistakenly assumed that this live aboard lifestyle was Bill's idea - El is the true cruiser and nomad, and she wasn't about to give that up for a 'normal' lifestyle.

THE CHOICE

------As we continued our travels, on land and water, we carefully evaluated places that might be a home port for us. Each had some drawback - "whew, are taxes high in this state" or "I can't stand six months of gray weather - we need sunshine - this 'rain shadow' is still a six month shadow" or "whew, lots of sun but these summer temperatures are much too high" (remember, as Nevadans we know what a hot summer truly is - and that's why we left Nevada every summer, back in our teaching days). When you have infinite choice, it's hard to make a decision.

------We were visiting our daughter, Kim and her family, in Lakewood, Colorado for the '04 Christmas holiday. Each of our kids (knowing we were glancing about evaluating for a home port) was hoping we would settle near them (we are, and always have been, a close and sharing family). One day during that winter visit, Kim took El out to see a rental condo available on a lake a short distance from her home. It looked good to both, so that afternoon, they called the owners for a walk-through. Even before going into the condo I could see that this was a perfect location for folks like us, and that evening we had our Safe Harbor - a little more than a month before our self-imposed deadline.

------What a surprise to find a harbor in Colorado. That possibility hadn't crossed our minds since we were focusing on a location along one of the coastlines or rivers. But, our place on the edge of a small lake whose borders are a park, with a paved one mile trail around the lake and trees and wetlands shielding the location from any vestige of urban America, is like country living - with a Starbucks less than a mile away!

-

------Our middle kid, Scott, came up to visit his sister in the summer. They were also looking for a change of scenery from bustling Southern California. Of course, they stayed in our condo during their visit, while they became familiar with Colorado and looked at houses for sale. One afternoon, one of their kids took a walk around 'our' lake - he spied a 'For Sale' sign on a shorefront house - within a week the family owned the house and were beginning preparations for their move to Colorado. Neighbors told them how incredibly lucky they were - no one around the lake knew of anyone selling their lakeside house to anyone but family. Now, we had two of our kids and their families within walking distance of our Safe Harbor.

FURNISHING

------We were like newly-weds, again. A home and no furniture - not even a bed! So, just as we did when newly married, we borrowed furniture from friends and family (only, this time, some of the family were our kids). What fun! Hanging pictures and finding a toaster - just like almost fifty years ago! And our furnishings are as simple now as those we chose then.

------We were only in our harbor for a few months that winter and then we were off traveling overseas (where we were remarried - this time by an Imam in Morocco). It was like we were on our honeymoon, again, only this time we were overseas. Again, the next winter we were only in our Colorado condo for a short time during the winter, and the rest of the year we were abroad or cruising.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Our Remarriage--------------------------------------------------------

ONCE AGAIN, LUCK IN UNLUCK

------We cruised the Inside Passage during the '06 summer, with our Tucson son and his son aboard for the five week Alaska portion of the trip. During fall, we were overseas (part of the time living on a boat). We debated about spending the winter on Halcyon along the Gulf or Florida coasts, but decided it would be nice to get to know a Colorado winter and share more time with our family.

------We thoroughly enjoyed our Colorado winter - before the predicted snowstorms arrived, we always had a full larder, extra logs for the fire, and some good books to read. Boaters know how to avoid rough weather, and we had been well-trained during our nomad years. What a joy to sit in front of the fire and watch the snow drift past the window and follow the graceful swirling patterns of wind-drifting snow over the frozen surface of 'our' lake.

--

Home, in Winter Sunshine

------March arrived and some warm weather - that gets a nomad's blood stirring. So, we took off to southern Arizona to chase some unusual birds with friends. We also volunteered to 'guard the fort' in the Tucson house of our eldest son, Brad, while he and his wife took off to Hawaii to celebrate their 20th Anniversary. We had a great time with their two kids and reveled in the warm AZ winter sun. The only downside was Bill was feeling light-headed and twice had to lie down, due to dizziness, unfocused eyes and nausea. We didn't think much of it, since we have both been so healthy. We didn't recognize the signs of T.I.A., minor strokes resulting from momentary blocking of blood vessels in the brain (often a precursor to a stroke). When the parents returned, we high-tailed it back to our Colorado harbor. We made an appointment, before leaving Tucson, with our doctor in Colorado and saw her the day after our return. All was well, then, so the Doctor gave us some pills for dizziness.

------A few days later, while writing email on the computer, I collapsed to the floor paralyzed and unable to speak - a stroke. El called 911 and the emergency service (located 1/4mile away) arrived in a few minutes. I recovered during the ambulance ride to the hospital and had full faculties back when we arrived at the hospital within a few minutes. So, in less time than it tells to relate the tale, I was in the emergency room of Swedish Hospital - one of the top hospitals in the country for stroke treatment. I spent the next three days in ICU, hooked to IV, monitors, oxygen, and whatever - oh, yes - the reputation of ICU awakening you at night to see if you're ok is essentially correct, although in my case it was every fifteen minutes when the blood pressure monitor squeezed my arm and every four hours when a nurse took a blood sample. Because, after my close call, all was normal with my facilities, I was soon sitting up in a chair and taking walks in the hall (trailing the IV). They moved me to a neurology ward for a day and then sent me home with pockets full of pills. I was lucky.

Swedish Hospital - ICU - March, '07


------It has now been almost two weeks - life is normal - with shopping together, walking the mile around the lake each day, and watching the evening news. What's new is trying out delicious zero cholesterol and low Vitamin K diets, injecting myself in the stomach twice a day, and taking my blood pressure four or five times a day. In a few weeks, after all is stable, I will have a stent placed in my vertebral artery to maintain blood flow to my brain.

------Those few weeks are now up. My return to stability allowed the neurologists the opportunity to schedule a procedure to do a balloon angioplasty and emplace a stent into an artery in my cranium. There are two vertebral arteries, one of mine blocked (perhaps all my life) and the other down to 5% flow - now, with the stent, 80% flow, so better than ever. So, we returned to our harbor from I.C.U. yesterday. Our granddaughter is now concerned that with more 'brain power' I'll beat her at the game of Risk, and she'll lose her family standing as reigning champ. So, we're back to normal, whatever that is.

------Our decision to find Safe Harbor, by a set age, was most fortunate - it gave us access to quick, efficient and proficient medical services during an emergency. A kid spent every night in the hospital with me, another drives us to go shopping and back to the hospital for the alternate day blood tests, the grandkids come over to 'cheer me up' and play hours of board games together - none of the medical or human services would have been easily available if we were not in our harbor. Luck in Unluck, again.

FUTURE PLANS

------If all's well in May, we hope to return to Halcyon and cruise most of the summer, living aboard her, in the Pacific NW, and continue our live aboard cruising lifestyle. No one can predict the future - events, such as our case, are often sudden and unexpected. All we can do is anticipate their probability (and if age-related, recognize the increasing odds of something every additional year of life) and take steps each of us considers appropriate. We were fortunate to be at home during our emergency. When (and if) such an event should suddenly occur to us again, we have a land-based home, a doctor, a good hospital, and family to return to - we have a Safe Harbor. In the meantime, we nomads will continue our roaming ways.

Halcyon, Heading Out

Exactly our Philosophy

(4 - 07)

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