Weather Helmed

an adventure in renewing the spirit and living the dream…on a sailboat

Weather Helmed

A Day in our Life on the Boat

July 14th, 2010 · 5 Comments · First Mates, Funny, Introspection, Life Lessons, Life on the Boat, Random Thoughts

Most of the time, the things I post on here are just about the places where we’ve been and a few things we did there.  It gives a very skewed picture of what our life on the boat is like.  I mean to say that our life is really NOT that exciting.  I’ll admit, though, that it is pretty glorious to get up around 7 or 8, knowing that I don’t have to rush into work or sit on a BART train for half an hour!  It’s funny, though, because most of the time, I don’t know that we’re really relaxed even though I guess we should be. After spending the last decade or so being stressed out, I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that it’s taking me a while to just sit and be still.

So, Matt and I usually get up around 7 or 8.  If we’re sleeping outside, I get up earlier because I can’t sleep once the sun comes up and shines in my face.  Then, most days, we sit on the settees, staring at each other for an hour, racking our brains and the boat cookbooks for ideas of what we could eat.  For the last month, our supplies have been dwindling to where our options are basically eggs, toast or pancakes.  Now, I know that’s generally what it is for most people back home, too, but it’s different being out here when you realize that’s really it.  Those really are ALL your “normal” options – I have been known to make pasta with alfredo sauce at 8:30am.  There’s no going to the grocery store to get yogurt or cereal or sausage or bagels or smoothies.  This is all we have.  For some reason, I can’t stomach eating eggs on the boat, so my breakfasts are now limited to granola bars and/or toast maybe with a can of fruit, and today I ate a row of oreos for lunch.

Eventually someone makes coffee and I drink juice, all of us quickly following these beverages with iced tea which we have recently started making by the GALLON.  Matt and I had been going through about 4 normal sized nalgene bottles of iced tea in a week, and then Jon brought 2 huge 1-gallon nalgene jugs for us.  One jug has been lasting us about two days.  Yeah, we drink THAT MUCH TEA. There is no shortage of caffeinated people on this boat.  (and, for the record, we’ve gone through 20 POUNDS of sugar since January.  Oy.)

For being all hyped up on caffeine (and sugar!), though, we certainly don’t do much.  Jon, getting up to watch the sunrise each morning, leads the pack on being active.  Soon after breakfast, or perhaps even before, Matt and I typically have a really crappy book in hand (you would not believe how many awful awful books we’ve read on this trip) and have staked out some comfortable spot up on deck or down below on a settee or in the quarterberth.  At some point in the late morning, Jon usually asks if we want to join him on a swim; snorkeling; going to shore; doing boat work; fishing; etc.  and our answer 99.9% of the time is NO.  We are, if not happy, at least relatively content with our stupid book of the day and simply can’t be compelled to do anything more than turn a page or refill our glass of tea.

Sometime around noon, we spend another hour or so talking about/thinking of/planning for/cooking our lunch. Lunches might be anything from last night’s leftovers to more pasta, to a pb&j sandwich, although yesterday I settled for a plain bowl of rice.  Yes, we are really getting to the bottom of the barrel when it comes to our provisions.

If we are close to an interesting bit of land, say one with a town, we might consider heading in.  This simple task has been significantly impeded by the lack of cooperation from our ridiculously stubborn dinghy.  If the engine takes less than ten minutes to start up and dies only five times between the boat and land, we consider the trip a success.  However, those successes are rare.  So, our fun shore excursion almost always turns into a b*tching and moaning fest about how much Slurpee sucks.  We arrive at our destination – at most maybe a quarter of a mile away – after at least half an hour of cursing at the dinghy, frowning and grumpy and ready to go back to the boat because the whole adventure no longer feels enjoyable.

If we make it ashore, we walk in a random direction just to see what’s going on.  So far, the answer generally has been not much.  If people seem interested in chatting us up, we stop and talk and see what they’re up to.  Otherwise, we just wander around specifically looking for a store, a post office, internet and/or a restaurant.  Matt often makes me laugh by his earnest desire to simply find some place akin to Starbucks or Peets where he can get a good cup of coffee and sit and read his book.  Thus far, we’ve found no such type of cafe since we left Mexico.  Matt has said numerous times, “Did I really come all this way to learn that all I need to be happy is a coffee shop??”

After spending some time on land, depending on what’s happening there, we get back in the dinghy for another long, frustrating ride back to the boat.  We plead, we pray, we curse, we yell as we rip at the starter pull again and again and again.  As we begin drifting away from the anchorage, Matt or Jon will grab the oars and start rowing while the other takes the lid off the outboard and tinkers with it by hand to find that sweet spot where the engine will actually run above an idle for longer than 30 seconds.

Back at the boat, Matt and I pick up our lame books again and read or maybe open our journals to note, “Today we are at ____.  We went on shore and did ____.  The dinghy still sucks.  Tomorrow we are going to ____The weather is ____.”  I mean, seriously, we are living such fascinating lives.

If we don’t go to shore, Matt and I will read the day away.  If I’m feeling particularly motivated, I’ll mix up a new round of bread (the wild yeasties are my pathetic version of a pet) and coerce Matt to knead it for me, or I’ll find another new recipe to try, or (if company’s coming over) I’ll take a few minutes to wipe down the galley and the head and maybe even sweep the floor. I consider that a big day.

Then it’s time to think about dinner.  I never thought preparing meals in this modern day and age could consume so many hours of the day, but I find myself thinking about it almost non-stop.  Part of it, of course, is that our pantry has become pretty limited so I’m beginning to run out of ideas.  Forget fresh stuff, everything comes out of a can, a bag or a box.  As Jon says, “can of meat + can of vegetables + pasta or rice = meal.”  And, without having an endless supply of “supplements,” there is only so much you can do with canned chicken.  Every time we try to be creative, we preface the plate delivery with, “I don’t think is going to be any good, but we’re going to eat it anyway.”  Consequently, the fish around our boat have been eating rather well.

Before Jon came, Matt and I would pretty much just pass out right after dinner (around 7pm).  Every once in a while we would find enough energy to watch a movie, but even that was usually too much.  Since Jon’s arrival, we’ve started doing things like playing cards and board games.  For the first few weeks, we were playing games late into the night and then waking up grumpy because we hadn’t gotten our requisite 12 hours of sleep.  Now, though, Jon’s novelty is wearing off (don’t tell him I said that!) and Matt and I have begun to show less interest in after-dinner activities, explaining, “Well, it’s already after 8:00, if we start playing now, we’re not going to be done until after ten, so…”  as though we have anything pressing to do the next day! Matt, though, has taken a particular liking to a game Jon brought called “MasterMind.”  It’s a two person game: One person creates a “code” of four colored beads.  The other person tries to guess the code by choosing beads and then getting feedback as to whether he picked any right colors, has any in the right order, etc.  The thing Matt really likes about this game is that when you’re breaking the code, it’s a good mental challenge, but when you’re the code maker, you get to sit back on your laurels and read your book while you wait for the other person to figure out your code.  He and Jon can play this game for hours.

I have taken to spending more time writing, journaling, and thinking,  although there are often entire days when I couldn’t tell you exactly what I did. The constant exception, of course, being that at least 1-5 hours of every day are spent thinking about/planning for/cooking or cleaning up before/after meals.

When we start to feel too salty or sticky or stinky, we’ll take “showers.”  For Matt and Jon, sometimes me, a “shower” consists of jumping in the water to get wet, climbing back onto the boat to soap up, jumping back in to rinse off, and repeating until we’ve soaped and shampooed to our heart’s desire.  The salt water showers are best if finished by a fresh water rinse, which is simply pouring the contents of a water bottle over your head.  Me? I prefer to take my “shower” in the bathtub (the cockpit well) using our deck wash system.  The deck wash hose transfers the salt water from the ocean to the cockpit.  I make an announcement that I’ll be naked and then sit in the bathtub and try my best to do a low-profile clean up without giving the rest of the anchorage a T&A show.  Sometimes, I’ll take a luxurious fresh-water shower which means I fill up a couple of bowls with fresh water and then scoop the water over my hair and body – a.k.a a sponge bath.

Every once in a while, a boat project is undertaken or we visit another boat or have another crew visit us, or we find something interesting to do on shore, or we download a weather fax or check in with a net on the SSB, but generally, this is our life.

In some ways, our life on the boat hasn’t changed all that much from our life on land except that now we just have more time to read bad books, procrastinate on the things we said we wanted to do, and reflect on all the other ways we could be better enjoying our days.  At home, silly work took valuable time away from these things; these things were sadly relegated to just evenings and weekends.  Granted, we are now reading, procrastinating and reflecting on the deck of a sailboat in beautiful exotic-seeming anchorages, and I shouldn’t take that for granted.  There was a day when I truly believed that, somehow, these beautiful places would inspire me to do more than I was doing at home, to be more than I was at home, to actually motivate me to do all those things I said I never had enough time/energy to do.  Now I know that what all those sailing books said is true – a trip like this is not an escape.  More so, the trip becomes a magnifying glass for your life, bringing into harsh focus the realities of how you spend your time, what your priorities are, and who are you are when no one else is watching.  In that way, I suppose, this life is VERY different from our former world, where we kept ourselves too busy to give those things much thought.

What I’ve learned from our rather boring life here on the boat is that we could all learn so much about ourselves if we just took the time to pay attention and listen.  The revelations we have out here could just as easily (and more cheaply) be had back at home were we willing to set aside time to really look at our lives.  The compelling thing about taking a trip like this is that the “willingness” factor is replaced by the “adventure;” you no longer have to actively force yourself into a personal evaluation, rather the results just show up right in front of your face as a consequence of your journey. You can’t escape them.

So, I hope that when our daily life on the boat switches fairly seamlessly back to daily life on land, I’ll remember this personal insight that where I am doesn’t necessarily change who I am, and that what I do doesn’t really change all that much regardless of where I go. No matter the circumstances, *I* am the only one who can change the way I respond, change the way I act, change the things I do, change the way I approach the world.  I also hope that this trip will forever and always cure my “grass is greener on the other side” mindset.  While I dreamed and prayed for years for this voyage to foreign ports, I now find myself thinking longingly about carpet and broccoli, text messaging, deli sandwiches, long drives, and flat, stable ground… Therefore, may the trials of this trip enable me to fully appreciate all the comforts of home and realize that true contentment can be found, literally, in my own backyard!  Just like Matt’s craving for a good café, most of the time it’s the simple things that make us happy even though we often pay far too high a price to realize just what they are.  But, then again, you know, if it’s going to cost me thousands of dollars and a whole year to realize that all I really need in life are some cute sundresses, a stack of really good books, fresh vegetables, and a rug under my feet, well, I’d rather discover that out here in the South Pacific than behind a desk in a windowless office. Aha!  Maybe when others say we’re “living the dream,” that’s what they’re referring to…??!?!?!  🙂

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Dana

    Hi Karen. Your posts make me cry. In a good way. Miss you guys.

  • Aunt Arlene

    Ah, discovery is a wonderful thing!

  • Phil

    Love it. Great post. It’s wonderful how you don’t pull any punches. You aren’t trying to sugar coat things; if it sucks, you say “it sucks.” The food thing on board really is hard. One of my fondest memories in the South Pacific (Tonga) was when when we found a little German bakery and spent much of the day sipping tea, reading, writing in the journal, and munching freshly baked goodies. May you find such a place.

  • edith

    I love to read your posts – am at new job now and loving it. Cannot wait for you to get home so we can “dish”

  • kevin

    Absolutely amazing. You see it perfectly.

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