Groundhog Day

By Judge David Langham

Last week it was Groundhog Day. I was amused to see a story of one network playing the movie Groundhog Day all day on a loop to celebrate the occasion. The movie is a funny message of maturity, learning from mistakes, and perhaps questioning how we use our limited time on this planet. In it, Phil Conners (Bill Murray) laments that he must play by other’s rules, saying:

It's the same thing your whole life: "Clean up your room. Stand up straight. Pick up your feet. Take it like a man. Be nice to your sister. Don't mix beer and wine, ever." Oh yeah: "Don't drive on the railroad track.”

And, we all identify with Phil, at least a little bit. We all resist convention and rules to some extent. By the denouement of the movie, Phil has grasped the error of his thoughtless and selfish ways, has gained focus, and wins the love of a special person, Rita (Andie MacDowell). Like Phil, I think we are all afforded opportunities to grow. We are imbued with dreams, purpose, and aspirations. 

I thought this when I read an article the New York Post recently titled Couple’s life savings go down with sunken sailboat. The Post referred to the two as a “ditzy Colorado couple,” ages 24 and 26. According to one news outlet “they were tired of working” (the story is covered now on various news websites, the most detailed is perhaps the Tampa Bay Times). They sold their possessions, quit their jobs, and travelled from Colorado to Alabama about a year ago. 

The Coloradans purchased a 28-foot, 49 year old sailboat, now named the Lagniappe (Creole for “a bonus or extra gift”), for $5,000 in Alabama and set sail for Tarpon Springs, Florida (just north of Tampa, a distance of about 383 nautical miles). There, they spent a year renovating and loading the Lagniappe with supplies. 

Last week, they set sail for their “good life” dreams in the Caribbean, with $90 in their pockets, all their remaining possession, a GPS, nautical charts, and a pug named Remy. The couple claimed “we were pretty prepared,” but they also reportedly admitted that they “were ‘new to sailing.’” The Tampa Bay Times reported that they only learned to sail after purchasing the Lagniappe, “along the Gulf Coast, from Alabama to Panama City.” Some struggle to reconcile the “pretty prepared” with these other facts in the story. 

On the second day of their Caribbean trip, after sailing about 30 miles (yes 30 miles in a day), they ran the Lagniappe aground near Madeira Beach, Florida. The boat floundered and sank, reportedly in about 9 feet of water. The couple “’grabbed a few clothes,’” important papers,” Remy’s “favorite toys,” and, they abandoned ship. The end of their dreams of the good life?

No, the two “are not giving up on our dreams!” according to a GoFundMe page they published seeking $10,000. That is needed they say to raise the Lagniappe. They had set sail with only $90 in cash, and despite help they are receiving from family they simply lack the resources for salvage expenses. Once they raise the Lagniappe, they reportedly plan “to get another boat.” 

They then hope to again depart to "travel and do things on our own terms when we wanted to.”  Their dream is to “leave the rat race behind,” and forego “working most of the day” in a cycle in which “you have to pay so much just to live?” They lament that, during their working life in Colorado, so much of their income was required for necessities. They concluded “there has to be another option.” One noted that “you only have one life. Why spend it doing what you don’t love. Money isn’t everything!” That is ironic to some because though it may not be everything, the couple’s GoFundMe effort has resulted in $14,266 raised as of early this week. 


So, it appears that the Coloradans should now be able to raise the Lagniappe ($6,700), purchase another similar $5,000 sailboat, and supplies ($5,000), and embark for the Caribbean.  The current GoFund Me balance may not cover those expenses completely, but the Internet charity is getting close. 

This story has a lot to do with life. While the Internet or 329 people at least, has been financially generous, a fair number of others have been less than kind in their comments and criticisms. They question the naiveté and preparedness of inexperienced sailors, the logic of embarking with $90 cash, and the propriety or hypocrisy of seeking other people’s charity to finance their dream. While some commenters applaud the couple’s spirit, a great many criticize alleged immaturity and seeming selfishness. Several noted the couple’s age and generally indict the entire millennial generation based on their story.

Certainly, any of those observer reactions might or might not be fair. But, perhaps there are valid lessons. The first that struck me is the inappropriateness of judging an entire generation based on two people. It also seems unfair to criticize people for their feelings about the stressors and challenges of self-support, whether one agrees or not. And, their desire to salvage the Lagniappe and clear the channel before sailing off seems commendable. 

But, there are other lessons as well. How lucky were they that they were in 9 feet of water and within sight of shore when their minimal sailing skills failed them? Such an accident at sea might have less forgiving. And, how can anyone believe that $90 cash is a sufficient “nest egg” when sailing off to the open sea, uncertain ports of call, and potentially unforeseen expenses? Finally, not having insurance on either your place or residence or vehicle is perhaps not the wisest choice?

And, there are perhaps other take-aways. The “next” generation may never be easily understandable to the “last” generation; perhaps focus on our similarities would be more productive than focus on our differences? People around us are going to make decisions with which we do not agree, which we may find contradict our values; that is their right, but the results and costs of their choices are equally theirs. And, finally, perhaps we can appreciate in any event the spirit demonstrated in having goals and aspirations; realistic or frivolous, conventional or outrageous. 

Shouldn’t we all have aspirations? In the end, shouldn’t we all keep “reaching for the stars” and focus on how we will get back up and move on, each and every time we stumble or fall down? Perhaps this couples next attempt at the carefree Caribbean sailing life will be better executed and more successful. That’s what Phil eventually did with his many second chances. And it took a fair few, but he finally got it right. Perhaps we all can? 


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