Four years of(f) freedom

It’s on a Thursday just over four years ago that I close the door to my office for the very last time. Friday we hand over the keys of our empty house to the new owners. That same day we drive for the last time in our fully packed and already sold VW Polo to Kollum in the North of Holland. It takes three days for all our last belongings to finally find a place in our new sailing home: a seven-meter-long Cornish Crabber. The great adventure can begin. Or actually: it has already started.

Our almost empty house

Some call it tough, brave and an admireable step. They would like to do it themselves, but something is holding them back. They follow our adventures with enthusiasm.

Others find it selfish and unwise. Why are we leaving our family and friends behind? Why are we giving up everything we have achieved for an uncertain future?

Other ‘leavers’ sometimes share this opinion. Leaving might be fun, but you must of course try to exclude all risks. The Dutch way, so to speak. Insure everything, keep on saving money for your pension, don’t sell your house and bring a first aid kit that wouldn’t look out of place in an operating room. Even if we wanted to, our budget would be totally inadequate for such an approach.

Living aboard our Cornish Crabber ‘Janna’

So we do it our way: with a small boat, a meager budget, uninsured and with little to fall back on. No house, no work and an annual shrinking old-age provision. In fact, we have become vagabonds: we lost our Dutch residency so have no permanent place of residence, but for the time being still a filled bank account.

The crew at the start

I have never felt so light and free. Escaped from a self-constructed cage of money making, rat race and overconsumption. Escaped from the yoke of hack and mortgage slave. Into the adventure with nothing but ourselves, our boat and some meager possessions.

At anchor in Atheras bay on Kefalonia

And adventures we got. When I reread our old blogs, I reminisce about the highlights: our first palm trees in Cherbourg in France, the beautiful nature and wild waters of the English Channel Islands, a nighttime Italian crossing surrounded by dolphins, the many idyllic Greek anchorages, new friends, a new ship and our with two dogs extended crew. I’d rather not talk about the setbacks, with the illness and death of my younger brother Remco as the deepest lowpoint.

The crew after 3 years of sailing

But how free are we really? Limits are popping up everywhere. Borders of countries, borders of bureaucracy and of course the unexpected borders of the so called ‘new normal’. ‘Free? No one is free now’, is the reaction of the Greek men on their sunday morning walk when we tell them we’ve been in Koronisia for seven months now. For every move we have to send an SMS. After more than 500 of those messages I gave up. Like most Greeks. Due to the lockdown, sailing is also prohibited here.

However, one exception is possible: if the boat has to go to a yard for maintenance. After more than two years in the water, that moment has certainly arrived for our Coco, so I take the bold step to call the Port Police in Preveza. We are not allowed to leave our port without their permission. After many transfers, a kind lady speaks to me in English. In the background, a man yells his commentary in Greek. I imagine it’s her boss, who still likes to stay in control. ‘Coco?’, isn’t that the boat that a Greek crew member has already been in touch about, he inquires suspiciously? After much back and forth, I convince him that we do not have a Greek crew member and that we have been in the harbor of Koronisia for more than half a year. I have to send an e-mail with all possible ship documents in the attachments and to our great joy we get ‘permission for movement’ the next day. Freedom of movement for one day and one trip. The ‘new free’ so to speak. That still feels much lighter and freer than our old not so free life.

At the beach in Koronisia

Because despite all the new frontiers, I’m glad we got rid of the old ones. Glad we took the plunge and radically changed course. Glad we are now celebrating four years off, four years of freedom. Free as a bird.

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