Plea To Poseidon

Plea To Poseidon

For those who know me well, you may have been witness to my moments of superstition. Touching wood when necessary, not stepping on cracks, not walking under ladders. Most don’t know that this has extended into almost OCD-like behaviours from time to time, especially in moments of higher stress. Stu blames it on my Father’s Catholic upbringings (which he’s sure I absorbed, despite no specific teachings). I suspect it was just preparing me to be a really good sailor.

A quick google search will bring you to all sorts of sailor superstitions. While you don’t run into them as much these days, older salty sailors are often the ones who can be pretty particular about the things you can and cannot do while on a boat. Thankfully most will now permit women on board, but some still don’t take on bananas (there are good reasons for that, among them the fact bananas release ethene which causes ripening of other fruit), and most wouldn’t ‘step’ their mast (put it back up after it has been taken down) without placing a coin at its base.

Probably the tradition I’ve always been most familiar with is the bad luck that comes with changing the name of a boat…that is, unless the proper steps are followed.

In any event, the Canadian government has finally approved registration of our vessel and the (second) name we chose for her, so it was time to actually address what it meant to change her name. After extensive research, and some crowd-sourcing of information via the genius of Facebook groups, I tracked down an official ceremony for purging the old and ringing in the new.

On Saturday we invited some of our new boatyard friends to be (socially-distanced) witnesses, and we performed this official ceremony:

Then we drank all the champagne…some white wine, rum, mescal and a whole bottle of scotch to celebrate it. Sunday was slow. For those who couldn’t hear the video properly, here is the script:

“Oh mighty and great ruler of the seas and oceans, to whom all ships and we who venture upon your vast domain are required to pay homage, implore you in your graciousness to expunge for all time from your records and recollection the name Sea Shifter which has ceased to be an entity in your kingdom. As proof thereof, we submit this ingot bearing her name to be corrupted through your powers and forever be purged from the sea. 

In grateful acknowledgment of your munificence and dispensation, we offer these libations to your majesty and your court.

Oh mighty and great ruler of the seas and oceans, to whom all ships and we who venture upon your vast domain are required to pay homage, implore you in your graciousness to take unto your records and recollection this worthy vessel hereafter and for all time known as Skookum V, guarding her with your mighty arm and trident and ensuring her of safe and rapid passage throughout her journeys within your realm.

In appreciation of your munificence, dispensation and in honor of your greatness, we offer these libations to your majesty and your court.

Oh mighty rulers of the winds, through whose power our frail vessels traverse the wild and faceless deep, we implore you to grant this worthy vessel (Insert your boat’s new name) the benefits and pleasures of your bounty, ensuring us of your gentle ministration according to our needs.

Great Boreas, exalted ruler of the North Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your frigid breath.
Great Zephyrus, exalted ruler of the West Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your wild breath.
Great Eurus, exalted ruler of the East Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your mighty breath.
Great Notus, exalted ruler of the South Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your scalding breath.”

Long live Skookum V!

When will the nightmares stop?

When will the nightmares stop?

Ok, I admit, it is a little dramatic of a title. But, truthfully, we’ve experienced our share of nightmares over here on our (not yet floating) vessel. Nothing to be concerned about, but likely an adjustment to the shift away from the old, the shedding of the prior, and our transition toward the new. What I’ve been experiencing occur both daytime and nighttime, when all of a sudden I find myself in a cold sweat, palms sweaty, anxiety at an all-time high. I check my iPhone, and then I realize…I no longer have access to my work email. In fact, I’m no longer ‘working’ at all. At least, as a lawyer, that is. No, now I’m working full time as a mother, wife, chef, housekeeper, master organizer, unsuccessful Spanish learner, anxious sailor and, of course, blogger.

But, the nocturnal nightmares of panic which oft visited me in my professional life seem to have followed me into this unprofessional one. In fact, all my dreams have been quite weird since we arrived. Is that a product of the salty air? The physical exhaustion stemming from hopping around the boat and chasing two small humans? The salsa, hot sauce and spicy food I can’t get enough of? Or, am I just sweating out fifteen years of adrenaline, built up over the duration of my legal career?

I was texting today with a dear friend from my old firm (hi, Cass!), and we were talking about how strange the legal world can be, where we tend to exist in a heightened state of adrenaline at most times, and even when we feel stressed or overwhelmed, we tend to thrive best when things are most intense. Many of us are certain we do (or, in my case, did) our best work when the stakes are high and we’re under some form of pressure. To make matters worse, if we aren’t stressing about the work we’re actually doing, we go into overdrive worrying about where our next client or file will come from.

I remember someone telling me one day, likely when I was in law school, that practicing law was like writing a university final exam every single day. Turns out, they were pretty spot-on about that. So, I have no doubt it is going to take some time for me to let go of the adrenaline kick of every email notification, or the intoxicating (and not in the way a good gin and tonic on the deck is) draw to check emails at all hours. I had told some people that I felt like it would take some time to ‘sweat out’ my prior law life, and I suspect I’m just at the beginning. So don’t mind me over here as momentary panic crosses floods my body and all the blood drains from my face. I just am having one of those moments where I feel as though I’ve just happened to ‘forget’ to go to work for a few weeks!

The other person in our little Skookum V crew who has been experiencing some night terrors is our eldest, Ellie. A few nights in a row now we’ve either found her on ‘our’ side of the boat, or talking to herself (loudly) in bed, but completely sound asleep. I haven’t yet researched whether this is common at all for kids between 3 and 4, or whether it is common with kids who’ve experienced a lot of upheaval in their lives, but she’s clearly working something out in her sleep. I expect once we’re on the water, and start creating some form of rhythm to our lives, she will settle a bit, and the sleepwalking/talking may subside.

So, no, living aboard our (soon to be) floating home is not a nightmare, not in the least. But, it appears one can’t just up and leave a career like that one without some lasting symptoms. Nothing a cerveza and some tacos can’t mend though, am I right?

For those keeping track, we hope to ‘splash’ on Monday, three weeks to the day we arrived here. We’ll plan to spend a few days at a dock in the harbour, making sure our systems work in the water, doing a few practice day sails, and awaiting a solid weather ‘window’ that will permit us to make the 160 nautical mile journey to our first anchorage safe and soundly.

BLOG or VLOG?

BLOG or VLOG?

Trying our hand at a little vlogging, so you can get a glimpse at our first week or so on Skookum V:

What do the fisherman do when no one buys the fish?

What do the fisherman do when no one buys the fish?

Well, I’ve finished my first book of this adventure (The Winner Stands Alone, Paulo Coehlo, which I found on board, thank you Ken), so I suppose it is time to think about another post. This one is a deviation from tales of boat preparedness and wrangling toddlers. Please forgive my over-simplification of very complex matters, but fitting this into a blog post challenges extensive detail.

The boat yard we are sitting in is located right at the northern end of the actual port of Puerto Peñasco, and from our vantage point right at the edge of the yard next to the launch, we can see many of the other boats in the port. The vast majority are fishing boats, and as far as I’ve been able to tell, few leave the dock. Each time we walk toward the Old Port, we walk past groups of (what I assume are) fishermen and women, sitting at the side of the road, next to the docks, awaiting something.

If anyone has had the pleasure of reading John Steinbeck’s reports on the matter, the Sea of Cortez has been chock full of immeasurable species of fish and sea life. The historical catch of Peñasco has been shrimp; however, I understand that since the 1920s some fishermen (and I’ll use that term to indicate both men and women who fish, simply for ease of reference, but for the most part it has seemed to be primarily men we see) have also sought a fish called totoaba, which was desired for its medicinal properties, instead of for food (more on that later. Totoaba (also known as Totuava) flourished in this area, but extensive fishing has led to it being listed on the CITES Appendix I and deemed critically endangered. But, as with most things in life, it’s more complicated than that.

Totoaba are sought out for their swim bladders, which apparently go to China for astonishing amounts (latest reports confirmed somewhere around $22,000 each). The swim bladders of the Totoaba are used in Chinese medicine for everything from arthritis cures to aphrodesiacs. Unfortunately, as is frequently the case with items valued at this magnitude traded between nations, organized crime ends up involved, as has happened on both the Mexican and Chinese sides of the picture. Catching and selling Totoaba is highly illegal, so it is transacted on the black market. Mexican cartels and Chinese cartels run the business, and the fisherman end up caught in the middle. In addition, it is my understanding that to make matters worse, destitute fisherman borrow funds from Mexican cartels to purchase fishing equipment, and thus are motivated to service their debts (and thus catch the most valuable items they can).

Adding insult to injury, many have blamed the illegal Totoaba industry on the near extinction of the marine Vaquita, a species of porpoise, claiming the gillnetting and trawling as responsible for their by-fishing demise. Alternate reports have suggested a much more complex ecological impact from such things as the damning of the Colorado river, which has had its own myriad of complicated consequences.

Unfortunately, these activities have led to an embargo on the sale of Mexican seafood from the Sea of Cortez to the U.S., which in turn has decimated the lives of the local fisherman, and lead to those immobile fishing boats we see here in the port. The local fisherman make the valid argument that, since Totoaba fishing is already illegal, the sale of other marine life to the U.S. should not be prohibited.

Stemming from these issues have been ongoing disputes between the people who make their livelihood via fishing and the environmental conservationist group, Sea Shepherd (including ex-Greenpeace board member, Paul Watson), largely due to the impact of the netting on the Vaquita population. The other week a local fisherman lost his life after his aluminum boat collided with the Sea Shepherd vessel, Farley Mowat, wherein the fisherman’s boat broke in two and he was thrown to the sea. Needless to say, there are differing accounts on how the collision actually occurred. Some state the fishermen were charging the Sea Shepherd vessel, throwing Molotov cocktails and ramming the sides. On the flip side, the desperation of the fisherman in these circumstances cannot be overlooked, as Sea Shepherd is standing in the way of making any pittance of a living and the fishermen feeding their families. Some reports have suggested that the Mexican authorities are the ones who’ve requested the presence of the Sea Shepherd vessel, and others suggest they’re there without permission.

Ultimately, this all raises the question of whose responsibility it is to protect these waters and these species? Who is responsible for the local and global health of an environment? And, who is there to help clean up the consequences of these changes – who will provide the education and guidance on different ways to earn a living to people who have been sustaining themselves this was for generations?

While I’m not making a suggestion one way or the other (as I’ve not yet educated myself enough yet), for another look into this issue check out the National Geographic documentary, “Sea of Shadows”.

Staying Afloat

Staying Afloat

We awoke this morning to another beautiful Baja sunrise. Violet, pink and orange floods the sky for the first 15 minutes of dawn before the sun breaks the horizon and blue sky is revealed. We get the same beautiful ritual in the evenings and are eagerly anticipating the uninterrupted views of protected anchorages farther south. We hope to ‘splash’ the boat this week and spend a few days testing the systems and doing a couple of test cruises out into the bay here as a precursor to our first passage from Peñasco to Bahia de los Angeles. Our daily work preparing the boat and making any critical changes to her and our systems will (hopefully) soon bear fruit.

Yesterday was an important day in my work, the third Friday of the month is the expiry date for some of the options that I trade to make our income as we travel. Erin has been incredibly diligent and successful at earning and saving throughout her career. I and the girls have benefitted enormously from her hard work, but have also struggled as we watched the toll it took on her. We collectively felt the cost of Erin being away in Vancouver three days each week since we moved to Whistler, which ended up being one factor in our making the decision to give it all up and bet the farm on a different way of life. As the sailing dream started to solidify, I also started to intensify my thinking and efforts around relieving Erin from the burden of having to earn income for our family and taking on the responsibility in that area of our life.

Part of that strategy is really one of simplification; the move to the sea has resulted in a massive reduction in our fixed monthly expenses. No home insurance (although as I wrote this sentence it suddenly occurred to me that I might have forgotten to cancel it. Cue: quick deviation to email our broker), no vehicle insurance or vehicle expenses, no property taxes, no gym memberships (who am I kidding, I hate the gym). We’ve also eliminated all the costs of going to work for Erin – clothing, travel, meals, and even haircuts (yikes!) as well as several costs related to the girls as well. We not only sold our home in Whistler, but also two vehicles, bikes (x5), two motorcycles, all furniture, tools, toys, sports equipment, clothing, kitchen items…we ended up condensing our life into 6-8 large plastic bins. The mental release I felt during this process makes me much more cautious about acquiring stuff going forward.

I remember reading Live on the Margin by Pat Schulte and Nick O’Kelly when it was published. Pat and his wife Ali have been living on boats and in vans since 2003, and Nick and his wife Megan are currently living aboard a catamaran similar to ours, and they fund their respective travels through trading. In a way that book planted some seeds that have grown over the last few years and created a pathway to Skookum V. Pat talks in the book about his own realization of the cost ‘going to work’ and then outlines how he started as a trader and how he used those skills to fund their travels working 100% remotely from their boat, van, RV…wherever.

Another book that had an impact on me at that time was The Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, which I read just before a previous sailing-sabbatical I took in my late 20s (we do our best not to refer to that adventure as ‘Take One’). Tim put words to an energy inside me that resisted the conventional career path. The book expounds on Tim’s philosophy of working hard to identify and leverage one’s skills and knowledge to get non-linear (as in not 1 hour for $x of payment) returns. I have a strong aversion to having to be ‘at the office’ at set times of day, and also really dislike trading time for money – being paid by the hour. On the outside I may look like a bum – I ‘ve retired 3 (or is it 4?) times already at age 41. That, or that I’m just not that career orientated. I certainly to-date have not found a job or career that really excited me and felt like a good balance of effort, purpose and financial reward. Over time I’ve come to realize that I place a very high value on personal freedom, the phrase that came to resonate with me is the freedom to act. Not the unbridled ability to act selfishly nor acquire unlimited material possessions. Rather it’s something of holding the freedom of myself, my family and my friends to do whatever they would like to on the earth in tension with an also innate sense that the world can be better and that I have a responsibility to act positively in the world for its (and my/their) betterment.

Erin and I spoke many times about retirement planning early on in our relationship. We bought books on managing money as a couple and have even met with a financial advisor to create a plan, but never found a fit that resonated for us. It seemed that no matter where you looked the model was broken. It was essentially we’ll take all of your funds, invest them to generate mediocre returns, and we’ll charge you 2% off the top no matter how we do. Over time we came to the conclusion that for us we felt more comfortable self-managing our money – which, ultimately, I would recommend for everyone. [Side note: Beat the Bank by Larry Bates is a great start for Canadians who are thinking about this.] We ended up walking away from that financial advisor and I kept looking for the tools to help me advance a self-managed investing strategy.

Having decided that we didn’t want to entrust someone else to manage our money and ultimately grow our retirement savings, I needed to find a way to take action, but felt somewhat overwhelmed by the range of options and conflicting opinions. I read several books during this time – often on Audible while renovating our house – but one grabbed my attention in a way that I knew I had to act. It was Invested by Danielle and Phil Town. Danielle, Phil’s daughter, is a lawyer who had zero interest in her Dad’s career or money throughout her life. In her early 30s she realized that despite earning a very good income as a lawyer she was not confident that she was building a stable and secure financial base for retirement. Reluctantly, she asked Phil to teach her about investing, something he had wanted to do her whole life. I think the combination of Danielle being a 30-something female lawyer and the parallel to Erin was meaningful, and the book lays out such a clear strategy to long term predictable results that don’t require expert financial knowledge. I found it very compelling.

I had first heard of Phil through friends that saw him at a conference in Vancouver in 2017. He has written several books on investing, advocating the Warren Buffett/Charlie Munger value-investing school of thought and Phil is a very successful hedge-fund manager. Phil and Danielle have a weekly podcast InvestED that is really accessible and a good entry into the subject matter. Having read both Rule One Investing and Invested, I decided that I wanted to go to Phil’s free weekend investing seminar and was convinced that this method of investing was in our future. On June 6th, 2019, my 40th birthday, I flew down to San Diego to attend the seminar and in July I enrolled in Phil’s 2-year investing course, which I am still completing. Marking my 40th by getting myself a financial education that could change the course of my next 40 years on the planet felt very appropriate and empowering. Ironically, or fatefully, exactly one year to that date later, Erin and I made the decision to make a major change in our lives, but more on that in a future post.

San Diego, 2019 at the Rule 1 Investing workshop with Phil Town.

Since June 2019 I’ve been trading with a small amount of funds practicing the skills, but the move to the boat was predicated on my ability to earn us a stable income as we travelled, and that was initiated in December with the sale of our house. Basically, I created a new job and a new career. I can do it from anywhere as long as I can connect to the internet. I can work at any time of day or night, and I can work with kids sitting on my lap or barefoot in a pair of board shorts. It requires me to take calculated risks and manage my emotions – both exuberance and fear – and to read the newspaper daily to keep in touch with the business and financial news. Really, it feels like the perfect career for me.

So what do I do? Essentially, I do two things:  sell options to generate income on a monthly or weekly basis, which is our money to live on while we sail; and research and buy shares in companies that we believe in and want to support over the long term. Options training is basically selling insurance. I promise to buy a specific company, say Zoom (ZM) at a specific price, for a specific time period. If you own shares of Zoom and are worried that they may decrease in value over a specific time period you can buy insurance that guarantees the lowest price the shares will decline to before someone else is obligated to buy them from you at a set price, the strike price. Yesterday for example I could have promised to buy Zoom at a price of $325 at any time between now and February 12th and any person could buy that insurance from me for a payment or premium of around $5.60. Options contracts are sold in 100 share blocks, so 1 contract at $325 commands a total premium or net credit of $560 USD.

An options trading window in our brokerage account. ZM options for Feb 12th 2021 are shown.

That might sound a little complicated, but basically, I look at the options pricing on a given stock on a given day and decide whether the premium is worth the risk – the risk in this case being that Zoom’s price drops below $325 before Feb 12th and I am ‘put’ the stock. Zoom was priced at $384.53 yesterday, so my strike price would be about 15% below that. The annualized return on investment in this case would be about 21%, so we’re generating cashflow from our savings by selling these options. The concept is that by restricting our trading activity to great companies that we believe in, and that (we hope) will succeed over the long term the downside risk is very low. In this example, in the event Zoom’s price drops drastically, say a 50% drop to $190, as long as we are in a position to hold the stock for the long term until the price recovers then we are effectively insulated from the loss. The exception being if a company goes through bankruptcy, then of course we would be exposed to a total loss.

The second half of the work is searching for great companies that we love, evaluating their worth or value (distinct from their price on any given day) and watching for them to go ‘on sale’. This is the long-term value investing that Warren Buffett and others have employed successfully to build their wealth over time. It’s not as sexy as options trading in a way but is more lucrative over the long term. The goal is to buy a company at 50% of its intrinsic value, creating a margin of safety. In the last year tech companies have been trading at very high prices and other sectors like energy, banks and consumer staples have not been doing as well. The trick is to find companies that you love, can understand fully and believe in, and that are on sale. In the last year, especially in March and April there were many opportunities like that, and even today there are a few companies on our list that are on sale. Our goal is to balance trading for income against long-term investing.

On a day-to-day basis I’m watching companies that I like either as long-term prospects or as short-term trading candidates. I read the newspaper most days and check in on the stock market every day that I have internet access. A couple of nights each week I spend time after the kids and Erin are in bed generating ideas, and then when the market opens at 7:30am (Peñasco time) I spend between 15 mins and 2 hours placing orders and seeing if they fill. On average it’s probably 30-45 minutes. All in all, I’m probably working on it for 8-10 hours per week, and in December and January we have been able to maintain a higher income level than when Erin was working. It will be less predictable, and there will be losses at times, but with a tolerance for risk, I feel very confident that we can sustain our needs for our sailing adventure. I am quite confident that this is actually a career for me for the long term and one that enables Erin to choose how to spend the post-sailing season of her life doing things she wants to do, rather than things she is obligated to do.

So back to yesterday, and why the third Friday of each month is significant. Options contracts can be sold on a weekly or monthly expiry, and the monthly expiry date is the 3rd Friday of each month. While I am paid the premium at the moment the contract is sold, I don’t know if my ‘bet’ has paid off until the contract expires. I had 17 different trades expiring yesterday, and whilst most had been quite safe, or far out of the money, a couple were closer than I would have liked, and I was watching them carefully. At the close of the market yesterday I was able to change the label in my spreadsheet from Open to Expired, and at that point the premium became income, rather than obligation. This month, like last month, my bets paid off and the premiums were added to the income-earned column.

Since the sale of our house closed at the end of November, we’ve averaged over 40% annualized return, quite a bit over our goal of 25% per year. It’s validating to see the plan working, and I’m extremely grateful to Erin both for her hard work in creating our little pot of gold and also in entrusting me to manage it. I’m also grateful that learning this skill enables us to travel with an indefinite time horizon. I don’t expect us to be perpetual cruisers, although we do know several couples who are, but I like the thought of choosing to end the journey on our own terms when we do decide it is time to pull up to the dock for the last time. Here’s to many, many more months staying afloat!

I even managed to get through this whole article without mentioning bitcoin once. I’ll save that for a future post.