I am astonished how different my life is now. I know we bring ourselves and our troubles with us, and that has not all vanished, but life is substantially different. We moved permanently on board July 7 so we are nearly at the ten month mark. During that time we have mostly lived at marinas, but of that ten months about a month of it was underway either coastal cruising or offshore, another month at anchor, and the rest in various marinas while we continued to pack, work on the boat, and deal with whatever life threw at us including a change of boats. So on one hand while I tell myself we are “not really cruising yet” I’m beginning to think we are and have been. There are benefits of cruising I had not been aware of while focusing on destinations and provisioning and repairs.
Living on a boat is living closer to nature. I feel like we live outside, although we do have a roof over our heads. (We call it a deck, but whatever.) The best part of our living space IS outside. And even inside we can’t escape the wind and the waves. Our table, even at dock, tilts slightly, making us aware of the water below us. Every night is different – sometimes the bed is still, sometimes rocking. The waves and wind surround us, there’s no escaping. At dusk and dawn from our small ports we see Angel Island behind us, the city, often in fog, beyond that. The moon rises and wakes me peering through the hatch above our bed. Our home feels very small and in the palm of the sea and sky. Lovely.
And then there are the inconveniences. We walk a mile round trip through the weather to get our mail. When the head is not working or we are conserving tank space we walk rapidly up the dock to do our “land poops”. Buffeted by rain or cold winds or bathed in warm sun we trundle our laundry up the dock on laundry days. Groceries carried down the dock, trash carried up. Rarely do we travel that route without carrying something. It gives us a great deal of time to notice what’s around us.
And in the final balance – beautiful or inconvenient – it’s the noticing that wins. We notice, we care, it matters what’s around us in a way I didn’t find on land.
Making friends when you live at a marina seems to be far easier than on land. In the first marina we lived in during this last year, our home marina, we hadn’t quite gotten the message. Sure, we were working frantically to get ready to go to sea before the season changed, but I didn’t quite get it. We had a lovely neighbor (thank you, Rick!) who invited us for drinks, and to go to dinner, but I felt like my real job was on the boat and didn’t quite appreciate the opportunities.
At our latest marina we were fortunate to land in a live-aboard community that has made us feel immediately welcome. We do favors for each other, pick up groceries, lend a hand fixing, share frustrations and joys, all the things that I’ve found can take years to happen in a conventional neighborhood, if ever. We may be different persuasions, different backgrounds, but we share the experience of living in a “different” environment, maybe a slightly more difficult one than is “normal”. It seems similar to the brief but sudden comradery of being caught in a violent rainstorm and sheltering with strangers in the dubious protection of a storefront awning. You feel the difference and excitement of the temporary setback and you laugh and joke as if you weren’t total strangers. The inconvenience, almost adventure of the situation somehow lowers our boundaries and hastens friendly exchanges. I think living on boats does that, too.
Learning New Things
Traveling by sailboat offers so many opportunities to learn. I’m currently eager to really conquer my new Icom m802 (which I have only used in data mode so far – downloading weather and uploading email etc). I also am happy to be studying Spanish for our upcoming voyages to Mexico and Central and South America. I’ve been reading up on the new-to-me navigation system and studying recipes for being healthier and more self-sufficient. (Homemade ginger beer anyone?) I’m always gratified to hear that many of the conversations around the marina are about how someone figured out something, and what they found worked – everyone hangs on these conversations as if they were vital information – and perhaps they will be. Although my work in web programming constantly demanded that I learn new things, I generally didn’t expect that from my “life”. Learning was perhaps a “keep up” behaviour not a “this is for fun” behaviour. I’m not saying I’m actually becoming expert at anything at any great rate, but I like how I’m excited about these opportunities, not just collapsing on the sofa with a glass of wine. (Ok, I do that, too, but we call it the settee, and there’s no tv). There’s so many fun and exciting ways to spend my time even when we’re not actively sailing. I like that.
My professional life as a software programmer and manager, compounded with being a single mother for many years, and further compounded with having a slightly driven personality developed my schedule consciousness from my 20s on. Much of the worry in my life has been about “getting things done” and “meeting schedules” – (well, and what my boys were up to, but that I seemed to have little control over). That is still my default mode, but cruising is loosening that up.
Old habits die hard. Last weekend we had old friends come visit us on the boat – our first visit with old friends and our first overnight guests. All my old tensions came back to play – I “had” to get the cushions finished and I “had” to have a meal plan and I “had” to get it all done by such and such … everything “had” to be “perfect”. Well you know what happens when you focus on “must” and “perfect” – fate slaps you with things out of your control. In this case the holding tank packed it up. So here I was focusing on the new cushions (which, I do realize, no one was going to care about for two seconds) and we ended up hosting our friends and introducing them to the far away porta-potties and the five gallon bucket in the head. Not the elegant note I was foolishly going for. And you know what? We had a great time, lots of laughing, and the additional bonus that they have something to tease us about for the next millenium. I will never hear the end of those damn cheetos in the vaccum packed storage bag – which turned from treat to dust in microseconds upon being opened. And now they have another story to tease me about!
But I am seeing a loosening of these schedule demons. I am treasuring the possibility of human moments or nature moments even above meeting-my-schedule moments. I am realizing that we are living, not just working down a list of tasks. I know in my mind that the tasks will never end but the human possibilities can be grabbed and enjoyed when they offer themselves. And you know what? I like this new person better.
So here we are, 10 months into the voyage, haven’t even left the country yet. All my plans lie in tatters at my feet. And I’m happier and excited and have good friends around me. I know we’ll leave this place and these friends, but now I trust there will be new places and new friends. And thank god for email and blogs and international phone plans. I see the spiderwebs of connection – with people, with knowledge, with nature – growing thicker around us and I’m content.