Thursday, September 1, 2011

Water And Pilings

To look at a sailboat tied up at the dock is to see the inherent contradiction in travel by boat. A fellow traveler once remarked to me that visiting the world from the deck of your own boat is like just dipping your toe into the life and culture of the countries you visit. There was a lot of truth in her criticism of how I was traveling at the time, but for a misanthrope like myself travel by sailboat has it's compensations.

One arrives in a new place yet one always has one's own home to retreat to when the culture clashes become too much. One can travel inland for a while but the fact that the boat, alone and vulnerable at the coast is your everything limits the travelers' ability to immerse themselves in the life of the place they are visiting. One foot on the boat, one foot on the beach, always, when traveling by boat. It's not like hitchhiking by truck and bus through a colorful new landscape with your life on your back and no retreat from the world around you. Ah youth! Pass the bottle.

In Key West my wife and I found life on our boat, after we arrived from San Francisco to have the same social limitations when we decided to stop in Key West. Our catamaran was tied to the dock but our putative friends immersed in the culture of the land viewed us as transient, able to slip our lines and leave at a moment's notice. In their eyes we still had only one foot on the beach and the effort of friendship would likely be wasted on two obvious drifters.

We were in the place but not of the place, connected by a few lines, and an electrical cord that became an umbilical, feeding us energy to power the comforts of life ashore in a tiny fiberglass shell. The boat that had been a spacious floating tent for ourselves and our dogs in Central America became a place of confinement in Key West. Tourists looked at us from behind the safety of a restaurant menu and a confirmed flight home. We were colorful but shifty. I craved respectability.

In sailing as in every other activity driven social grouping (motorcycling comes to mind) there are those who do and those who criticize. I had for years viewed those active sailors who criticized sailors for living on their boats as being rather unfair to us liveaboards, but life aboard in Key West opened my eyes to that point of view. I found life on my boat in a town filled with drifters and grifters to be the life of the marginal dweller. We sailed not much at all and groped through our daily lives using our travel machine as a tent. It was dismal.

In 2002 we took off for one last go, sailing one idyllic spring through the Bahamas living at anchor, swimming and beach combing alone when we felt like it and in company when we didn't because there are always places where sailors gather in those islands. It was too much for Emma, at the last stages of a long life filled with more adventure and travel than any rescued yellow Labrador might expect. She had visited thirteen countries and 23 US states, and finally she fell ill as though to tell us it was time to put down roots until she was ready to die. We sold the boat, the dog died in a house and we were on land.

When I walk the docks in Key West I see the youngsters in their dinghies making plans, buying stuff, making deals and they look right through me, the old dude with a camera wishing he was them. Actually I was them and glad I did it too and probably I overdid it as is my way because I am content now away from the life aboard a boat drifting on the margins. Sometimes though I do want to walk away, step off land and push off from the pilings of a routine life. However next time I do it I will go sailing, to see over the horizon, not to sit still in one place and drift in circles around an anchor. I'm doing that now, and it's much more comfortable in a house than in a boat.

Believe me, I know.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


RichardM said...

Very insightful. When traveling on a motorcycle, you tend not to wander to far from the bike due to security concerns and this somewhat limits your ability to explore on foot.

I used to dream of living on a boat and exploring the world but like many other dreams, life just sort of gets in the way....

Chuck and the Pheebs said...

there are few things left in this world that I'd rather do than explore the world from my extended sphere of comfort as defined by a blue water sailing vessel.

It is not to be, alas, as I've married a risk averse wife. Otherwise - I'd be off tomorrow to parts unknown.

Such are the compromises of wedded bliss. I'm not complaining, mind you - but if gien the opportunity, I'd be on this like a fat kid on chocolate.

Anonymous said...

Scamper is 20!

Conchscooter said...

A tiny bundle of black fur found under a bush and covered in fire ants. That cat was destined to live.