Monday, March 22, 2010

On the Hard

"We're in the boat yard."

This is what I've been telling our new friends in Hobart, but it's not strictly true.  We're actually living in a housesit in Blackmans Bay, and it's the boat that's in the yard.  But I say that "we're" in the yard because I'm conflating our identity with that of our boat, a long-standing habit of thought for people who spend too much time on the water.

We've hauled Pelagic every year we've owned her, so counting the two months we spent in the yard right after we bought her, this is our seventh haulout.  Normally when we're in the yard I'm impatient to get back into the water - both because the yard isn't much fun, and because of that habit of commingling our identity with the boat's.  As long as the boat is on the hard, immobilized, we're in limbo, unable to sail anywhere, living for some hypothetical future when we'll again be in the water and free to go as we please.

This time, though, I'm not too anxious to get back in the water, even though it's a three-week haulout, with me working a full day every day.  I've been enjoying the feeling of being pretty capable in the yard, which contrasts with my clueless stabs at yard maintenance early in the Pelagic years.  I'm spending lots of time repainting the hull, which is fairly meditative work.  As I sand and sand and sand to get the hull smooth and fair before I paint, I have lots of time to think.  

I think a lot about what sort of boat we might get next.  And I think about how Alisa and I are so much at the peak of our lives, how we find ourselves swimming in the full tide of things.  We have a baby on the way, soon, which places us right on the cusp between our generation and the next, and places us also at the very quick of things, in the midst of the fecund years that will soon be the source of our reminiscence.  And we also have a child already, a child who is the focus of our every day, the little person who we have made ourselves hostage to as we have, in the normal run of things, given over an essential part of our lives so that we can raise him up and see him off into the future.

And there's a lot of less profound stuff, like finding ourselves still living this waking dream of a life that is built around living on a boat and traveling the world slowly and (if we should be so lucky) at great length.  There is the writing that I have been doing, and the feeling that it might actually come to something, and a bit of recognition that has come my way in the marine biology world, and the inevitable, heady plans for future research that intoxicate people who work in science.

And we have this envigorating experience of making a raft of new friends, and the delight of getting to know a new city that is very different from anywhere we've ever lived.  And we find ourselves in no danger of the loss of bearing, the dissipation of everything that was vital and good in youth, that can sometimes come when people reach their forties and begin to rise to positions of authority in the organizations where they work.  We have no organization!  We are beholden only to our responsibilities to our child(ren) and ourselves!

Having read Hemingway, I of course pause to touch wood often as I think of these things.

And, finally, all this time in the yard gives me the chance to savor that feeling that comes when all my waking hours, day after day, revolve around what's best for the boat.  Total immersion in the physical object of your boat is the only route to successfully sailing across an ocean on a small vessel, and I'm enjoying that complete concentration, that nautical monomania, one more time as our between-boats period looms.

Elias in the door of our housesit.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Boat, Life, Time

We're back in Hobart, after two and a half weeks of knocking around the third trimester-appropriate cruising grounds of the D'Entrecasteaux Channel.  Pelagic goes into the boatyard on Tuesday, and we move into a house sit.  After the time in the yard is finished, Pelagic goes to the yacht broker, and Alisa and Elias and Little Baby Brother and I will officially be Sailors Between Boats.

I am determined not to be nostalgic about the impending sale.  We've decided that we need a boat more appropriate for a family of four, and we assume that we'll be happy with what we get.  But still, as the end of the Pelagic years draws inexorably nigh, I am struck that boat ownership is like life in two ways.

First (not to be morbid!), it's over more quickly than you expect.

Second, it's never quite as perfect as it might be.  After all these years aboard we still don't maneuver the boat in close conditions under sail nearly as much as we might, opting instead for the ease of the engine.  The light that I'm writing by still has a dodgy switch that I haven't gotten around to changing.  A full-time liveaboard, traveling boat is inevitably a set of compromises and contingencies, a mish-mash of the good enough and (in the case of Pelagic) the great.  But perfection is forever beyond us, both in the physical state of the boat and in the skills we bring to bear on sailing her.


During the two and a half weeks we spent in the Channel, we weren't trying to get anywhere.  The furthest anchorage that we reached was an easy day from Hobart.  We were really just sailing around to enjoy ourselves.  I wrote, we took family walks on beaches and forest tracks, Elias and I fished, and we visited with friends.  We took a nice break after the three weeks we had spent beginning to get settled into Hobart.  We enjoyed life.

That two and a half week sail was the fulfillment of one of the promises of the cruising life that I most fervently hoped would come true when we set out from Kodiak: the promise of redefining our relationship with time.

In our old lives, we would have planned a two and a half week vacation months ahead of time.  Back then we worked a certain number of hours a week, enjoyed a two-day weekend, and had a certain number of weeks of vacation every year.  But in all that careful accounting of hours and days and weeks, life was passing us by.

On the boat, we've regained something of the fluid relationship with time that I enjoyed during my spectacularly dysfunctional twenties.  We use time as we see fit, deciding ourselves how much to allocate to work, and family responsibility, and Everything Else. 

It's almost like we have reverted to a pre-Industrial Revolution lifestyle.  Our seasons of hard work come and go.  But our routine is not so constant that our very connection with life is dulled by the monotony of the all-too-predictable.

And that's a situation that we like very much.


Some highlights of our time in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel:

Elias in Recherche Bay.

Going fishing.

Abalone for dinner.

Feeding the swans.

South Bruny Island.

A palliative at Cape Bruny Light.


It was also a social trip.  Our good buddies Catriona and Fraser came down from Iluka with their two daughters.  Here's Catriona and Erin...

...and Elias and Islay.

Our Maria Island friends, Mike and Ingfried, came out for dinner the first night of the trip.  Here's Elias and Emily on their motorboat.

We crashed the annual Southport Regatta.  The crowd has gotten older, and the regatta has devolved into a great get-together on the beach.  The only coordinated on-water activity took place the next morning, when the tsunami warning sent all six boats in the anchorage out to sea at once. 

The end.