2007-03-19 • Volume 1 • Issue 1

Adventures without Boundaries: A Young Couple Sailing to Fulfill Their Dreams

What will you be doing on your 35th birthday? Gearing up to quit your job, relinquish all of your material possessions, and tour the world for three years in a navy blue sailboat named Lotus? Probably not, but that’s exactly how Christine Hoff is celebrating hers this year.

By the end of March, Christine will have stepped down from her position as the Graduate Program Coordinator for Rice’s English Department so that she and her husband Jason can pursue their dream of circumnavigating the globe. It might sound fantastical and a bit far-fetched, but for Christine and her husband Jason, it will very soon be reality.

How did they get to the realize their wildest dreams? Well, in a roundabout manner, to say the least. Fifteen years ago, Christine had finished her undergraduate education at Colorado State University, where she majored in English and minored in Political Science while simultaneously earning her teaching license. She was teaching high school in Colorado when her future husband Jason decided to take a new job as an engineer in the mountainous western state. He chose the job specifically so that he could ski, climb and enjoy the outdoors. One evening, a friend of Christine’s was on a blind date with Jason at a student production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. The friend dragged Christine along to keep things from getting awkward. Christine and Jason met, and they began dating.

The couple spent a lot of time together camping, backpacking, rock climbing, and generally enjoying the fresh air and beautiful scenery of Colorado. In addition to their love of outdoor sports, they both discovered a shared interest in travel. Soon they began taking short trips, and then saving up for a longer one. At first, they talked about investing in an RV to drive through North America. While they were vacationing in Florida, they decided to rent a sailboat. Suddenly the draw of traveling the world by boat struck them, and they began taking sailing classes on a lake in Colorado. They worked and saved up their money, and finally took off for a year to sail through the Caribbean and Central America.

Their first trip was hardly simple, as both realized that they had underestimated the difficulties of life at sea. Learning to navigate both geographically and culturally proved to be quite a challenge as they journeyed through Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize, and Mexico, among other exotic destinations. Reading up on cultures, memorizing important phrases in the native language, and figuring out how to locate English-speakers to help them were all hard-earned lessons. Moreover, long stretches at sea proved trying both physically and mentally, and Christine quickly discovered the importance of having plenty of books to read. Though they took a lot of reading materials, they were soon bored of rereading them. Fortunately, the sea-faring lifestyle breeds camaraderie, and she and Jason were able to share books, maps, and much-needed drinks with people they met while sailing, saving them from boredom and cementing their appreciation of life on the ocean.

Perhaps one of the best and worst parts of life at sea, according to Christine, is the complete silence of being out on the water, completely disconnected from the world. As Christine put it, you learn to crawl inside your head, to meditate. You learn the meaning of being self-contained. It’s a beautiful and scary experience, and Christine half-jokingly points out that it’s not hard to see why people go crazy on the sea.

They were entranced by the people they met, and the beauty of the places they visited. A trek through the bayous of Louisiana brought them into contact with large groups of Cajuns. They found themselves in awe at the cultural distance of these people from what they had previously experienced all over the United States. In Belize, they discovered the Rio Dulce, a freshwater river that snakes through the rainforest, busy with nearly undisturbed indigenous populations. They also found large pockets of American, Canadian, and British expatriates in the warm ports they visited. Most of these expatriates were retired, living the bohemian lifestyle and traveling by boat between long stretches in their chosen resting places. These older people were charmed by Christine and Jason’s young, adventurous spirits, as it is so rare to take time off to travel at their age.

Though Christine and Jason slept on their boat the majority of the time (which in the sailing world is known as living “on the hook”), they did take trips inland to backpack and explore the countries they visited. They ended up spending more time than they expected in some places; in Belize, their engine broke down and they had to wait for weeks to ship parts in from the United States, while in Mexico, they fell in love with a small island called Isla de Mujeres, and could barely tear themselves away. Finally, they invited their families to visit, and got married aboard their boat after a five-year engagement. They sailed to Cuba to honeymoon for two weeks, where they found themselves surprisingly welcome. They discovered that the United States embargo was scorned by the many British and Canadian tourists who were vacationing there. The Cubans happily stamped a card for them to slide in their passports, but reminded them to throw away the cards after they left to avoid getting in trouble with the American government.

When Christine and Jason finally ran out of money somewhere around Guatemala, they turned their boat around and sailed home. They both took new jobs in Houston, and quickly began saving up for another trip. The traveling bug has a firm hold on both of them, and they have been working hard and sacrificing a lot for the last six years in order to save up money for their next great adventure.

Now it is March and as Christine begins training her replacement, boxes arrive for her each day in the mail, one containing a deflated lifeboat, another a brand-new (very heavy) anchor. She is compiling a list of books to read; when you work in an English department there is no shortage of recommendations. She is also gathering music, podcasts, movies, and any other sources of entertainment she can fit on the one laptop they will be bringing aboard the boat. A nice high-speed digital camera will serve to capture the long adventure, and she and her husband are currently designing a web journal where they will post accounts of their travels. But aside from these luxuries, they’ll be leaving nearly everything behind when they embark. They will be giving away the many of their material possessions, all but a few prized mementos that they will put into storage and the bare necessities they can fit on their boat.

All of these trials and preparations will come to a close as Christine and Jason board the Lotus in Clearwater, TX. After an eight-day trip across the Gulf and a short rendezvous with relatives in Florida, they will speed up the eastern seaboard and spend the winter in the Bay of Fundy to avoid hurricane season in the Caribbean. When the coast is clear, they will sail back down to the sunny Caribbean islands, and eventually through the Panama Canal into the Pacific sometime in March of 2008, just in time to avoid monsoon season. After stops in Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and the Marquesas, they will begin their first long journey on the ocean: it takes three weeks to get to the next stopping point, somewhere around Tahiti and Fiji in the South Pacific. From here, they will be traveling all over Asia, Australia, Africa, and Europe.

In addition to studying maps and weather patterns, Christine and Jason have purchased hundreds of “cruising guides” for the countries they will be visiting, and in fact this has been one of their biggest expenses so far. Similar to Lonely Planet guides, the books are geared toward people who are traveling by boat and provide suggestions such as sights to see, and places to anchor, buy groceries, or do laundry. The couple has read up on the dangers of life at sea, and they have taken important safety precautions. When on the ocean, they will both be strapped to the sailboat by body harnesses that keep them from being washed away in rough waters. Gallons of sunscreen will protect them from burns, and they have purchased a desalinator that, when hooked up to the boat’s engine, can convert about five gallons of seawater into potable water each hour. Though they have read about the problems with piracy, particularly around Indonesia and North Africa, they have decided not to carry a gun on board. Both are convinced that fear mongering has magnified the problem. Moreover, gun control laws tend to be more stringent internationally than they are in the United States, and neither of them wants to end up serving jail-time in an Indonesian prison.

Right now, Christine is particularly looking forward to sailing up the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea to visit her brother, who now lives in Stockholm, Sweden. She can’t wait for the smooth sailing around the barrier reefs of Australia, or the stunning blue waters near the Indian coast. However, while she and her husband eagerly anticipate revisiting cherished locations and checking out places they have always longed to see, they have also allotted themselves enough time on this trip to stop for long periods of time anywhere they decide to, and they’re hoping to fall in love with someplace completely unexpected.

Though it would normally take about two years to circumnavigate in a sailboat, Christine and Jason are giving themselves plenty of time, anywhere from three to five years, to experience as much as they can until they are ready to come home. And when they do return? “Who knows?” says Christine. “Maybe I’ll go to law school. Maybe we’ll become park rangers, or join the Peace Corps.” Right now it doesn’t matter. They’ve got a boat, some time, and a dream to chase, wherever it leads them.

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