Sailing Around the World

Necessity Mothers Invention

by Lyn Foley on January 13, 2008


My husband and I moved back to land in 2002 after living aboard a 40′ sailboat for 12 years. In order to sail around the world, we sold our house, our two cars, and our three businesses. We were both artists, but over the course of our lives together I evolved into the business manager/director of the partnership, and Jim, my husband, the jewelry designer/goldsmith, became the artistic star.

“Well”, I told myself, “I’m creating on a grand scale; my palette is merchandise, my canvas is large, dimensional spaces (the three stores), and my artistic creation changes every day as customers purchase the products, and new ones enter the mix.”

I managed 14 employees, orchestrated the buying of all the merchandise we sold that we did not create, and shuffled whatever was needed to keep the stores profitable. I was a fiber artist when I met Jim. I also designed and created one of a kind necklaces using antique beads from an extensive collection I had amassed since the 1960′s.

Customers often came into the jewelry store bringing estate pieces for repair – lapis necklaces missing a clasp, a strand of carved turquoise beads with worn silk threads, enameled fish with broken fins, or fine pearls from the South Seas that needed setting. So I designed new pieces for them, and for the store. When I could get Jim to make something other than rings, I put his gold pendants or other creations together with pearls, or gemstones, or some beads from my colletion. My fiber work fell by the wayside as the businesses grew, but I kept my hand in the bead box, my little link in the strand of my artistic life.

We sold the stores and most of our possessions when we moved aboard the sailboat in 1990. But I kept six precious boxes of my bead collection, and a bag of my beading tools: silk threads, clasps, pliers, needles, special glues. My bead board was too big for the boat,so when I made jewelry on board the boat I spread a white towel down to keep the beads from escaping from the tiny navigation station desk. I didn’t get to bead very much – a rolling boat is not an ideal platform for tiny, mostly round, objects. But when in port, I unpacked my treasures from the locker they were wedged into, and created jewelry.

As we slowly sailed our way around the world, the quest of finding and buying beads led us on lots of inland journeys. (I learned the word for “Beads” in eight languages). Using my on board laptop, I connected when I could, and set up a web site, printed some business cards and price tags, and “Bead Safari” was born. Every year when we flew back to the United States I tucked finished jewelry into my carry on bag, and sold it to stores in California. Back on Sanctuary (our boat) we made booths out of borrowed tables, displays out of cardboard, and found objects, and sold at any art fairs we could find whereever we were. The languages of beads and jewelry were universal, and except for Africa (where I thought it would have been ridiculous to sell beads – I bought everything I could afford), I found customers and buyers in every country we visited.

By the time we sailed back to America, my bead collection had ebbed and flowed, and my bead boxes had transformed into the biggest fishing tackle box I could fit into the bottom of our one hanging clothing locker. The necklaces and bracelets I made from my worldwide collection filled a duffle bag. We sold our sailboat, but didn’t know where we were going to live – or how.

We were debt free, and had a small income from some investments we’d made when we sold our businesses and possessions back in 1990. But expenses aboard a small sailboat docked in a third world country with third world prices was very different than expenses in the Seattle area – we were driving a gas guzzling van, drinking Starbucks coffees, eating designer vegetables, buying new warm clothing, and contributing to household expenses at our friend Mary Anne’s house where we lived in a basement bedroom. We needed a larger monthly income – Bead Safari had to get serious.

So we set up an art show schedule, created a booth, and took Bead Safari on the road. And the road led to Texas: my mother lived there, my sister and brother -in-law lived there, and most importantly, Jim’s neurologist was in Houston (Jim has Parkinson Disease, a progressive, incurable, brain disorder).

We rented a 2 room cabin in Round Top, Texas, bought six acres of land, and started building a house. We had definitely “swallowed the hook.” A year flew by – Bead Safari took off, and we settled into a “one art/craft show a month” schedule in Texas. I was running out of special beads – and needed to fly back to a few places where I had bought a lot of beads, find an importer on the Internet , or …?

While deciding what to do about my dwindling bead supply, I realized our “Market Days” show schedule wasn’t really the best. My jewelry needed a different audience and more discerning customer. I applied to several high end shows, but was rejected. My favorite show, The Winedale Texas Crafts Exhibition, also rejected my application. One juror took the time to write to me, saying, “Your work is very special, but since you don’t make your beads it is only assemblage.”

Actually, I didn’t make any of the beads, but thought my work was excellent anyway. That rejection in particular incensed me, and I told Jim.” I’m gonna learn how to make beads, and I’m going to be in that show next year.”

I’d bought some great raku beads when we were in Greece , and thought they would be fun to make – but I couldn’t find a teacher nearby. The other newer beads I liked a lot were the glass ones from Italy, often just called “Murano”. I searched the Internet, and found a class here in Texas offering glass beadmaking (I learned it was called “Lampworking“). Using a torch scared me, and I spent most of the first day of the class just trying to control my shaking hands. But by the end of the second day I was hooked. I bought the rods of glass, the stainless steel mandrels, the hot head torch, a kiln – and set off to change my life – again.

P.S. I got into the Winedale show.

Leave a Comment

Next post: