When we made the decision to buy a boat and move aboard I vowed to be a full partner and competent sailor in the adventure. I did not grow up around the water so this was a very steep learning curve for me. We quickly fell into his and her chores; some boaters refer to these as blue and pink tasks.
One day, I decided I wanted to understand how our manual windlass worked. This was a blue task while I “manned” the helm. Fifteen minutes later and a deep wrinkle developing between my brows in spite of the layers of lotion I diligently apply each night at bedtime, I could not figure out how to operate the bloody windlass.
Perhaps a diagram would help and in that moment the little black book was born. Well, it’s actually a turquoise book because that’s all we had on board.
So page one of this book has a diagram of the windlass in with arrows and explanations in my handwriting so that I can understand it. Soon to follow were serial numbers of parts and where to get them from; window measurements for curtains; diagrams of engine components so that when you take the alternator off, you don’t put it back on again upside down; the size of the zinc we prefer so that you don’t have to dive down each time it needs replacing because you can’t remember the size you bought last time; the location of all the sea cocks throughout the boat – well, you get the general idea.
In frustrated moments, we refer to it as the first thing we will bequest to the next owner of this money pit we call a boat, and when things are going well, we refer to it as our bible. We keep our little “black” book in the same place so that it can always be referred to quickly if needed and it has become a conversation piece with other boaters on more than one occasion.
So, I share with you this idea that came of my determination to learn something new and who knows, one day your boat may have a little black book of her own. I could also tell you about the colour-coded lines so that I know which sheet to pull when tacking or the labels on the gears so that I don’t accidentally put the transmission into forward when I ought to have put it in reverse. We have basically idiot-proofed the boat so when under pressure we don’t screw up.
We bought this boat with the intention of circumnavigating the world. Our plan was to develop skills and save money for the first five years and then cast off the docklines for a life of adventure. Ten years later, it is ironic that we are still in a marina with extra lines attached to the dock to make sure that the boat is secure. There is no casting off of the docklines except for weekends and holidays.
Through navel gazing and experience, we realized that we are cruisers, not circumnavigators. We love nature and beautiful, peaceful places. Swinging on an anchor after a day of being on the water is one of my favourite things. I don’t have to defend this to those of you who live in a house in a subdivision. The ability to get out on the ocean on a sailboat probably seems adventurous, but periodically, my fellow boaters judge me and conclude that because I am not going offshore, that I am less of a sailor.
Judgement requires that you make an assumption about someone’s motives for an action. It brings your bias and experiences into a situation that usually has nothing to do with you. The ego likes judging other people. It makes you feel superior – all puffed out and important running around yelling, “Look at me! Look at me! I am better than you.”
Can you imagine a world where our interactions come from a place of compassion with no judgement? But be careful here – the ego understands that compassion is a worthy ideal and will sometimes hide judgement within the guise of compassion. “Oh, that’s too bad. I am sure you wouldn’t have liked it anyway.” Drop the judgement. Let the ego be naked – it will free your soul.
If this was Girl Guides, the “Offshore” badge is the highest badge that you can earn and only a few kids ever achieve it. Does it make you less of a Girl Guide if you don’t get it? Do you enjoy sailing any less because you don’t have the badge? No. Similarly, a sailor without the “Racing” badge isn’t a bad sailor; she is a sailor who sails for different reasons.
There are many different ways to enjoy the water: coastal cruising; offshore cruising; crewing on someone else’s boat; renting a kayak; or admiring boats from shore. All of these activities are wonderful if they bring you joy. Hopefully, the more people enjoy activities in nature, the more inclined they will be to take good care of Mother Earth.
This isn’t a competition to see who can get the most badges. This is your life. Do what feeds your soul, not what someone else thinks will feed your soul.
Truly, if you told me nine years ago that I would be living on a sailboat, I would have thought you were out of your tree. Not intending to slight my gender, but the notion of living on a sailboat does seem to originate with men more than women. This sexist statement is based on my own research when I am introduced to somebody new. Eighty percent of the time, it is a man who says, “I have always wanted to do that!”. This is quickly followed by a question directed to my husband, “How did you get your wife to agree to live on a boat?”
Perhaps, it is a result of reading Robin Lee Graham’s classic, Dove during impressionable teenage years? Maybe there is a plethora of reincarnated sailors’ souls from previous centuries clamouring for expression in men? I don’t know the answer, but the romantic dream to sail the oceans does seem to be male-oriented. I say this in spite of knowing many competent female sailors.
I must confess that I was a reluctant sailor initially. I didn’t hear the siren’s song calling me to the sea. I was called to the white-picket-fenced house with baking in the oven and a dog in the yard. My only frame of reference to my husband’s dream was a shared passion for nature and adventure – however, we were to discover later that my definition of adventure was considerably different than my husband’s.
It would have been a mistake to make my husband’s dream, my dream. I had to find my own passion for living on a boat. The first winter was tough, but a sense of humour, investing in warmer clothes and a caring, marina community helped me through. Initially, my fears played themselves out in my dreams at night adding to my discomfort. Learning everything that I could about the boat reduced the number of things that I was afraid of. Having a patient partner who was willing to help me learn, made it easier.
Fast forward to today when we have to be realistic about aging and continuing to live on a sailboat and I can’t imagine leaving our floating home. This lifestyle is simple, challenging and rewarding in ways that are difficult to articulate.
There is nothing quite like falling asleep to the gentle sway of a sailboat at anchor. A large cradle swinging me gently from side to side in the protected embrace of Sister sailboat.
And then there is the quiet. An absence of sound so profound, that it is full in spite of its emptiness. Save for the call of a pileated woodpecker ashore, there is pure silence. I am full of this silence and am grateful for places like this where it still exists.
“See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence;
see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence