Sunday, April 13, 2008

Why we do it!

I am reading "The Happy Isles of Oceania" by Paul Theroux, one of my favorite travel writers. He began his odyssey in Australia and worked Eastwards through the S Pacific so I expect at some point our paths will cross, figuratively speakin
Everything they say about blue water cruising is true! The old joke about it being the most expensive, most uncomfortable and slowest way to travel is very true. And the other one they like to joke about in the yacht club bars is getting everyone up at 3AM and standing you on a moving platform, I like to imagine one of those old fashioned wooden gliding swings that rock back and forth, while someone dumps buckets of water on your head and turns giant fans in your direction.
Oh, the romanticism is still there! It is just harder to focus on at times. Perhaps it is some primitive instinct in us that is trying to escape the slow death by a thousand cuts that living in the cities brings? Is it that we do not feel truly alive unless the adrenaline flows occasionally? Are we escaping from something or someone or somewhere? Is it simply the challenge of 'pulling it off'? One of the best descriptions I have heard, given in one of the Blue Water Cruising talks, is simply
that "the highs are higher and the lows are lower". In other words, we are stretching our boundaries, moving outside the confines of the safe little world most people instinctively surround themselves with. The comfortable home, the yard or garden, the family pet, the friends and even jobs and going to movies and all those things we enjoy and often take for granted!
None of that out here folks! No, out here you face totally different and often unexpected challenges. It is in large measure simply an exercise in self sufficiency but unlike taking your tent off into the wilderness, you are at the same time moving a boat across the globe and trying to maintain some semblance of order in the process, not to mention maintaining it along the way. Someone else once very succinctly pointed out that there are really only three things you need to cross oceans: water,
food and navigation. And I would agree! Everything else is a 'nice to have' but not a necessity. The electronic gizmos and gadgets, all of which are subject to failure at some point and frustration if you grow dependent on them, are very nice to have. I love the electronic chart plotter that shows graphically exactly where we are, what our course is, our speed and how long it will take to get there. But I still plot our noon position on a big paper chart because I like to see those little crosses
with a circle around them that somehow truly represent the efforts we've made! And when you measure between them with the dividers, that really is how far you have come on the journey. The squall in the night may have blown you 5 miles sideways before you could react and get things under control but that is par for the course. When, like we happen to be at the moment, you are sailing on your rhumb line, which is simply a direct line to your destination or intermediary waypoint, the sails are set
perfectly, the boat is balanced, the wind vane is steering with minimum effort and you are reeling off the miles towards your goal, then you feel some kind of 'symbiosis' with your environment. You are still over tired and ache all over from the buffeting you took a few days ago but there is a good kind of tired and the other kind. The good kind rarely comes from stress or anxiety but from an exertion to some degree that you have chosen willingly, no matter how crazy some people think you are!
And if your first mate is baking bread, just doesn't get much better than this. Do you need a fridge? Nice to have for sure....and we appreciate it but if it fails, we will survive. And the big, heavy, thirsty, iron monster that lives under your you really need that engine? Many small boats have circumnavigated without one but it sure is convenient at times! You become a much more proficient sailor pretty quickly when you lose it, as we found out last year off the Baja
Peninsula. But it only served to build confidence in ourselves and our boat. Self steering, solar panels, fancy downwind rigs....all wonderful things to have and they all make life on board easier when they work but generally the more complicated you make it, the more time you spend maintaining those devices. We have met several people who gave up cruising because they felt they just spent all their time fixing things. I can relate to that! Somewhere in there is a healthy balance and everyone
must find what works for them. And the important thing is that you will never learn this by reading of other people's experiences, valuable as that is, but by doing it. I've always lived by the old adage that there are many more mistakes out there just waiting to be made! The trick is to learn from them so you are not doomed to repeat them!
And then there are the people you meet along the way! The cruising fraternity is still relatively small. There are those who have consciously taken a break from their busy lives to experience it and there are those who do it on a part time basis. And then there are the RBers as our friends so succinctly coined them. These are the ones who, if they have finally built up the courage to leave the marina, will gravitate to another marina or yacht club or occasionally now, with the advent of the GPS
which allows anyone to find their way, they take over an anchorage. What was once a quiet, secluded place to commune with nature becomes a destination for the 'organized games on the beach' and 'never a moment's peace' crowd because without constant distractions, they may have to face themselves. These are the people who try to bring with them to the cruising world all the things some of us are trying to escape from in suburbia! No offense, it's just different strokes for different folks! I am
glad they are out there enjoying themselves and it just makes us look a little harder and a little farther for whatever it is we are looking for! But the small fraternity of real cruisers is still very much alive and the rewards of meeting them and sharing with them are boundless. The bonds formed can be fleeting and enjoyable or deep and long lasting. Often circumstance throws you together and if you are 'open' to it, the rewards are great.
And there are, of course, the destinations. Most of the places we go are not accessible any other way or at the least very difficult to get to without a boat. So they are special because the world is getting smaller every day. There are more people and more ways to travel to more places and therefore it becomes more difficult to get 'off the beaten path'. The cruising life still affords that option. Yes, it is getting crowded out in paradise but there are still places you can explore, especially
if you stray from the multitude of guide books and publications trying to help you, full of useful information but often leading you to the same places everyone else is going. But it is relative as well, because 16 boats in Hanavave Bay on Fatu Hiva cannot possibly be compared to 16 boats in Winter Cove, because these 16 have all gone through a shared experience to get there, and though often unspoken, the bond is strong in the cruising community. And the local people usually live and survive
close to the sea so you have something in common when you arrive in their community.
So why do we do it? I honestly don't know if there is any simple answer to that. I will admit to having been 'brought to my knees', so to speak, on several occasions and asked myself what we were doing out here! But that moment passes and another takes its place and in the end, all we have is these "moments in a lifetime"! So our goal is to make each one meaningful and to take as much from it as we can by living in it as it passes. Living on "the razor's edge" as Somerset Maughn put it...a fine
balance indeed!

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