The Goal Over the Horizon

Amber and I are in Annapolis looking at sailboats. When we met nearly 13 years ago, I was living and working on boats. She domesticated me under the condition that we would get back on a boat one day and sail around the world. We’re still years away from departure, but perhaps only two or three years from selling the house and moving onto a boat.

I fell in love with sailing when I was very young. The beach house we went to every year had a small sunfish sailboat. Really just a dinghy with a triangle of fabric. But the thing would scoot, and at ten years old, it was like having your own car. The sensation of freedom, quietude, awareness, and constant striving were intense.

In college, I bought a 27′ Watkins to live on. It saved me a lot of money and filled my weekends with mini-adventures. After my junior year, I sailed south with plans to see how far I could make it. Not far, it turns out. The Bahamas were too nice; I was having too much fun; and then a couple hurricanes wiped me out.

The year I spent in the islands was largely afforded by doing odd jobs on other boats. This ballooned into a career as a yacht captain. I started delivering boats anywhere from Chicago to Barbados. I worked full-time on several boats for a while, living on them, caring for them, and taking the owners and their guests wherever they liked. One of these owners introduced me to Amber. Which brings us to our search for our next home.

The part of our looming trip that I look forward to the most is the immersion in literature. I already read a lot and write a fair bit, but spending five to six years circling the globe will give me the chance to do a lot more. One of my projects will be to write about our adventures, our travels, our observations. Maybe each month will be its own little story. Some might be about relationships, some about the environment, some about the people we meet along the way. The best part of such a trip is not having a definite plan. Perhaps we never escape the pull of the Caribbean.

I used to think that living simply (small house, few possessions, low expenditures) would make this trip possible. A lot of people take off on sailboats with very little means. Hell, I did it for a year when I was college-broke. But it isn’t living simply that makes a trip like this possible, it’s having a goal like this trip that makes living simply possible. It’s easy to forgo distractions and to not accumulate things when you have a larger goal on the horizon. Many of the decisions we make are based on our eventual departure. It makes me wonder what life would be like without a long term goal like this.

There are parallels with writing. Putting words on paper every single day is motivated by having a larger goal in mind: writing a novel. But more importantly, the goal serves as the impetus for doing what’s truly important, and that’s the habit of daily writing. It doesn’t matter if you finish the book, if you publish it, how many copies you sell. What matters is the daily routine of escaping into your imagination, crafting sentences that please and scenes that excite, getting away from the noise and enjoying the soft sigh of sail, wind, and sea.

The goal is the thing only because it affects our daily routine. I’ve wanted to sail around the world since I was a young man who read Joshua Slocum’s account of doing just this back around the turn of the 20th century. But even if I never complete the journey, it won’t matter. I’ve applied myself daily to get there, and that’s made all the difference.

24 responses to “The Goal Over the Horizon”

  1. To live simply is to do away with everything superficial and to focus on that which is real and important in your life.

    It ignores the pressure to consume, to conform, to compromise.

    Good luck on your trip.

    Oh, I’ve sailed a Sunfish, a Petrel, a Laser and a Gramian 30′ sloop. Check the drain plug before setting out, as the hull will fill up and she starts to handle real funny in the waves.

  2. Inspiring stuff, Hugh. Thanks.

  3. Hugh, I REALLY enjoyed your short story of being a boat captain and almost drifting into the reef. If you did devote a few years to sailing and writing about it I have no doubt it would be entertaining and would have an audience. I could even see Scifi tie-ins… Imagine riding out a Wool or Zombie future by sailing around and scavenging?
    Best of luck and success.

  4. Hey Hugh –
    I have two close friends who, in 1999, sold their apartment on the Upper West Side, shipped their motorcycles to Moracco, and started a 12-15 month adventure – that lasted four years! That was their goal and they definitely lived simply. They ride BMW bikes so the local dealers would hear of them coming and invite them to stay with them.

    They loved it and returned to find out they had almost doubled the Guinness world record! They have fabulous pictures at if you want to view.

    I applaud the effort and the message. Best of luck in achieving your goal – till then, please keep us entertained! ;)

  5. Very inspiring. It is the distractions of our daily lives that keep us from looking at that goal right over the horizon. We become so consumed by what’s around us that it becomes easy to forget what we are after.

    Thank you for this post, Hugh. It is helping me with some change in perspective that I desperately need right now.

    Good luck with your goals!

  6. Write about it. For those of us who don’t have the physical strength making the real journey would require.

    And do it before you don’t, either. There is a Mexican proverb: ‘Lo bailado, nadie te lo quita.’ Which, loosely translated, is, ‘That which you have already danced, no one can take away from you.’

    I am very glad my parents took the trips to Europe they could when they were young enough and healthy enough to take a single suitcase they could carry with them – and lived out of it. When they were ‘old enough,’ it was too late for Mother.

  7. Your ‘long plan’ can be used in many variations. When I gave up my life driving trucks and working construction at age 39 I had nothing to show for it, so I took a simple civil service job that came with a pension. My inability to save would be taken care of for me, lol. But that wasn’t enough for me, I could work 25 years and retire with a decent pension, but who wants to be traveling to work in their 60’s? So I chose the age of 55 to retire, but I will only have 15 years and a pension that won’t cover much, so with every financial decision i make now i am looking at that picture. Do I want the new iphone, or do i want to retire at 55? It is a good way to keep the eye on the prize.
    Of course, if i finish my Wool Fan Fiction and a few of my own works, maybe there will be a chance of shooting for retiring at 50? I have 2 years and 1 month to do it, lol. Better get off here and back to writing……

  8. This brings back memories; I had a blue-and-white Sunfish as a kid.

    Should you depart–will you be going dark, or uploading your writing from wherever? (If the former, this could be a traumatic experience for many…)

    1. I’ll write and also blog. What I’ll probably do is send manuscripts and blog posts to someone by satellite and pay them to format and upload things for me.

  9. James McCormick Avatar

    In high school, I sailed competitively. Got to travel to London and New Zealand because of it.

    One of my fondest memories was from Auckland. We had just arrived from a 14 hour plane trip. Were groggy as hell. We were match racing in boats we’d never been in, so we needed to practice. Which meant, get off the plane, toss us in a boat in the wee hours of the morning, despite only a knot or two or wind.

    Through the morning marine layer, this massive black racing yacht appeared. It was Black Magic. New Zealand had won the previous America’s Cup (making it New Zealand’s Cup) and there in front of us was the yacht that had done it. Black Magic.

    We were the only two boats for miles around.

    It was surreal.

    But the best part was as we started to steer out of its path, and they started to hunt us. Being match racers, we instantly knew what was going on. The guys on Black Magic (also match racers) were having some fun, toying with us. I can’t describe the moment, other than, instead of simply watching Black Magic sail by, we got to play with it.

    When they got close enough (cuz lets face it, we were outgunned big time), they veered away. The crew was waving and laughing. And we waved and laughed back.

    Truly one of the most surreal events of my life.

    I grew up in Newport Beach. I worked in a sail loft for my summers as a kid. It’s very difficult for me to explain how close people are in that community. How you tend to grow up together. Young America’s crew I knew personally (Black Magic’s competition). Not from being a fan, but from having been to their apartment on the boardwalk as a teenager and seen it littered with beer bottles. Pete Melvin was down there in New Zealand at the same time with PlayStation — a giant catamaran that was supposed to circumnavigate the world. Our coach in New Zealand went on to rep the US in sailboards in the Athens Olympics. I remember years earlier going to Olympic trial regattas with him, my Laser tied to the top of his Nissan Z ( FYI — end to end a laser is longer than a Nissan Z). For some reason, everything culminated in New Zealand. Sometimes you get to see just how big the world is and just how small your niche within it really is — most of the guys there, sailing competitively had grown up sailing in the same harbors I had. Small world.

    /snaps back to reality. Sorry. Didn’t mean to hijack the thread. I often find it hard to relate my thoughts toward sailing with others. Bringing up the topic usually results in a raised eyebrow and the question, “Sailing?”

    1. Thanks for sharing, James. Now I’ve been to NZ sailing – and have been hunted by Black Magic.

    2. Great stories, James. I’m so glad you shared them.

  10. Hugh,

    Be sure to plan and budget for protection and countermeasures.

    An organization, headquartered in New York, which shall remain nameless, upon reading your post, just instituted a crash SWFL (Sharks With Fricken Lasers) program.

    Just sayin….

  11. I’ve spent countless moments underway pondering the connections I feel between being a sailor and a wanna-be writer. There is something there. The spell cast when carried along by a tale well told feels so much like a vessel well sailed. And so many sailor/authors in the pantheon; Jules Verne, Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joshua Slocum, Jack London. And now, of course, Hugh Howey. There must be a connection.

    I imagine the moment a satisfying plot twist comes together on the page feels much like that heartbeat when the sails catch the wind and the boat powers up. Some primal connection between the instincts of the helmsman and the surrounding power of the universe, the individual tapping in to something larger.

    The sailor tunes the boat to synchronize with the wind generated by our nearest star, and the boat carries us onward. The author dials in to the fundamental human need for storytelling, and heroes are born. It’s magic.

    Early in my sailing life, an instructor repeated an expression that’s stuck in my head for decades. While beating across the Chesapeake in a stiff chop, he told us “Progress upwind is like money in the bank.”

    Progress upwind is like money in the bank. I can still hear him saying it. The meaning in the moment was literal. Every foot of progress we made sailing into the wind was hard-earned, and it belonged to us. The reward was in the journey. But like so many lessons I’ve learned from sailing, the wisdom of this mantra carried into every aspect of life. Years later, as a Captain and instructor, I’ve passed along this wisdom to my own students, seeing that spark when the power of sail captures another soul.

    Putting the words on the page every day, purely for the joy of it. Maybe it’s never done. Maybe it never sells. Of course. Why didn’t I see it? Progress upwind is like money in the bank. Thank you, Hugh.

    1. I love that saying. Awesome. Applies to so much in life.

  12. For one magical summer I sailed a Laser every afternoon. This was on a lake in Greensboro, NC which could be dull. In fact, at times it was so hot and boring that I would set the boat and let what minuscule wind there was drag me as I floated on my back in the water and stared up at the sky.

    But then there were the Thunderstorms.

    The wind would pick up and that hour or so before lightning was seen was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I broke a hiking strap. I tried to see how far I could throw myself off the boat when capsizing it.

    How’d you make the transition to bigger boats?

  13. I’ve never sailed, except once with others on a lake in Switzerland. My dream is to get a camper and write while I travel around Europe and the United States. (Or two campers – one for each continent.) When I was young I hitchhiked around the U.S., Europe, across the Middle East and through India. Later I traveled around a good part of Italy, Slovenia, and Greece while living in campers. When my family of three sons and wife moved from Italy back to Greece we lived in our camper for months until the weather got too cold and the kids had to get into schools.

    Yes, traveling and writing in a comfortable camper is my current dream – just a dream, mind you, as I still have sons with me and we financially live month to month. I want to re-visit India too and see all my favorite places again, but I’ll have to leave the camper behind for that one. I work my ass off now trying to realize that goal, distant though it may seem. I spent thirty-five years abroad on various continents and settling down somewhere in a rocking chair just isn’t an option.

    For me, memoirs seem to erupt from time to time between fictional undertakings. I’ve written one about my hippy travel days, one about my years in Greece, one about culture shock after returning to the States after thirty-five years abroad. I’ll be looking forward to reading a memoir about your life on a boat, Hugh. Don’t convert it all into fiction, please. Sometimes it’s a profound experience reading about what someone is really going through. Take now, for instance. This post really spoke to me. I can’t understand why anyone would want to settle down in one place for their whole lives. The world is too vast and fascinating.

  14. […] The Goal Over the Horizon | Hugh Howey […]

  15. I learned how to sail in a University class, on dinghies. And I hope you forgive me, but for me, tacking back and forth on Kiel fjord on my own is … utterly boring. I need a goal, a challenge and fun crew to enjoy a day on the water. (But truth be told, I would probably prefer a walk in the woods or being on a trail with a horse.)

    That’s why I admire your goal. I can put myself into that adventure and sense the excitement. It’s awesome, and I wish you the best of luck for it.

  16. I lived aboard a ’64 Owens Tahitian motoryacht (wooden), for just over two years on the San Francisco Peninsula. She never left the dock (we ventured into the Bay in small sailboats and dingies). Even without the round the world voyage part, there is something so joyous about living aboard. I look forward to your tales from the tiller.

  17. I read your blog as an aspiring writer, but this non-writing post is the one that made me squee. My husband and I are planning to sell the house, buy a boat, and take off for parts unknown in seven years. Good luck with your cruising plans! If your wife is on Facebook, have her check out the Women Who Sail group.

  18. Love this post! I met my husband while he was living on a boat (a power boat, though — a converted WWII lander called Folly, which seemed an appropriate name for the beginning of our relationship.) My relationship with him set off Boat Fever among my entire family. Shortly after, my mom learned to sail and ditched several of her landside properties and moved onto a 1977 Valiant 40. She still lives on it, years later. Here’s an article about her boat adventures:

    Paul and I have been learning to sail this summer with a borrowed Dash 32. It’s a racing boat, so it’s bare-bones below and neither of us can stand up straight, but it’s fun to go fast. Now we’re looking at buying property on the San Juans. We’ve determined that the best place to live while we build on acreage would be on a sailboat… so we’re also slowly starting to peek at boats for sale.

    I’ve managed to convince him that a schooner is the way to go. We found one and we’re actually half-way seriously considering buying it… :) It’d be fun to live on a boat again for a little while!

  19. Hey there! This is my first visit to your blog!
    We are a team of volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided us beneficial information to work on. You have done a marvellous job!

    my webpage super yacht crew

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *