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Working and Cruising

It is September in Vava’u, Tonga, and we are on a white-sand spit, the first we have found since Bora Bora. Under a full moon, at least 12 cruising kids play tag, dashing and running among the standing adults who are mostly talking—learning about each other at another cruiser potluck.

There's money to be made almost anywhere a cruising boat would want to go. Nevertheless, having the right skills is an important part of keeping the cruising kitty from running dry.

Marc and I are talking to an Australian couple in their late 50s. "How do you do it?" they ask. We assume you two are not old enough to be living on retirement benefits, like us. You must be independently wealthy."

"Don’t we wish," I respond.

"Oh, then are you planning to work in New Zealand or Australia during the cyclone season as some do?" the lady continued.

"No," I respond again. "We are working as we cruise. I write and Marc designs and fabricates one-of-a-kind jewelry."

"Wow! I like Doreen’s pearl pendant," says the wife. "Marc, maybe you could do something with the black pearls that we got in French Polynesia. Make a ring for my daughter and maybe a pendant for me." Thus begins another jewelry transaction that adds to Imani’s cruising kitty.

"As we set out from California nine months ago, I was more than a little apprehensive about our ability to make a living as we sailed. Most of that worry was based on fear of the unknown."

When we set out from California nine months ago, I was more than a little apprehensive about our ability to make a living as we sailed. Most of that worry was based on fear of the unknown. However, time and experience have proven my fears unwarranted. Marc has maintained several of his wholesale accounts back home. He sends jewelry back to them periodically through the post or visiting friends. The stores in turn send checks, which are received at our home address and deposited into the bank by our fiscal/mail angel. (Never leave home without having someone to take care of your banking and mail.) We are able to access funds there by using our bankcard here in Tonga.

Marc has also successfully acquired two new wholesale accounts in French Polynesia—a store each, in Tahiti and Bora Bora. His geometric designs put together with the Tahitian black pearl have sold well this spring and summer. The black pearl is a new material for Marc to work with an he really enjoys working out the challenges of handling new gems and coming up with new designs. The French Polynesian stores pay for the jewelry by bank-to-bank wire transfer. As we negociate our way across the Pacific we find that the world of money and finance is small.

You don't have to be a Rockefeller to get away from it all. Real-life cruisers Marc and Doreen Gounard work along the way.

Of course, jewelry making is not the only occupation that cruises well. Diesel mechanics, refrigeration experts, and sail/canvas makers can be so busy while cruising that they sometimes have to find ways to limit the projects they take on. As sail/canvas maker Dave Dobson on S/V Astrolabe points out, "We are still figuring out how to get work when we want it, but not get so busy that it turns into the full-time job that we left." Dave and Laura Dobson operated Dobson Sailmakers in North Vancouver, BC Canada, for 12 years before selling the business and setting off for their current long-term cruise. Laura is considering flying a pennant with a needle and thread insignia when they are available for business and taking it down when they are in ‘cruising-only’ mode. Dave’s work while cruising has increased gradually over the last year virtually all by word of mouth and that has suited the Dobsons just fine. "If we wanted to just make money, we would have stayed home," Laura points out.

For cruisers, working brings up the issue of payment—cash or trade. For Marc, payment is determined by a variety of factors. If our cruising kitty is short—cash works best. If Marc is working for someone who has something or a service that we need, like sail repair—then a trade is the best option. Yet, we have found that each situation is unique and the best way to handle each becomes self-evident as the deal is negotiated. Dave on Astrolabe says that he trades with those he is close to, and accepts money from the others. Most everyone out here can handle simple sail repairs, but when a sail breakdown exceeds the basics, the skills of a professional are a welcome relief. I know that we here on Imani are thrilled to have our asymmetrical spinnaker back from repair, billowing playfully before the boat, thanks to Dave.

Being able to offer a service in the middle of nowhere is a great feeling. We are currently in an anchorage that is full of small coral heads surrounded by fish that look like they just spilled out of a tropical fish tank. Eight other cruising boats lie at anchor. The island nearby has a small village of mostly fishermen. Yet, here inter-boat commerce is alive and well. Cruising folks idle up to Imani in their dinghies with plans for the pearls that they acquired some months ago in the Tuamotus.

Who knows? In a far away anchorage, you might be able to offer someone a service—and get paid in some sort of currency.

Tristan, our six-year-old, helps Marc with the ring-sizer as the order is taken. Our kids are able to see firsthand what it takes to work independently—the self-motivation and discipline it requires as well as the rewards of living a well balanced life of work and play. They understand that work sometimes determines where we go and what we do—but not all the time. This balance in our lives is healthy for our family.

We made what many would have considered quite a detour last month when we left the island of Nuie, located at 19 degrees 02 minutes south, 169 degrees 55 minutes west, and went almost due north for 290 miles to American Samoa. Most everyone else in Nuie was heading up to Pago Pago, American Samoa. Pago Pago has the reputation for having the dirtiest harbor in the South Pacific, but it also has US Postal Service. And that alone was worth the trip. Marc was able to get more jewelry supplies shipped Priority Mail at domestic mail rates to us there. The Post Office was a little confused, but we received all packages quickly once we understood their filing system—or lack thereof. We kept asking different employees to look for our last package until one of them spotted it. The provisioning was also very good at the Costco-type store Cost U Less. So we stocked up on lots of goodies before heading to Vava’u, Tonga.

Our two-week detour worked out well for Marc’s business, for now he has plenty of materials to take care of his stores and to make custom orders for the cruisers. Hi Ho, Hi Ho, we’re working as we go.

Doreen Gounard is offline  
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