June 5, 2017

Are You Settling In? Do you miss the boat?

Are You Settling In? 
Do you miss the boat?

We’re asked this a lot. And I think the questions mean something different to every person who asks. In some cases people assume that we’ve given up an indolent life of beaches and BBQ’s to embrace one where we need to get up everyday, on a schedule, and wear shoes (just like everyone else, sucker.) Other people are curious about how we’re navigating the changes in cultures and values, or settling into expensive urban living, or simply staying warm. Behind every question is a bit of ‘why on earth would you give that up?’ combined with ‘I knew you’d come back.’
At anchor on Raiatea
So, ya, we miss the boat. But maybe not for the reasons you might imagine.

Long ago, during one of our forays into shore life, we realized that separating our life into sailing and not sailing was a false divide. There are absolutely some big differences; we’re not floating, we’re not able to sail to windward and the neighbours we go to sleep next to are typically still there when we wake up. But the big things that we love about cruising; friendship, living simply, exploration and adventure aren’t boat dependent, they’re actually lifestyle choices.
Walking donkey's with the first female governor of St Helena
Over our 16-years onboard we’ve had lots of conversations, with a lot of different types of people, about what makes life aboard special. For many people it came down to the fact that living aboard is an uncomplicated way to live intentionally. Simply put, cruising is a lifestyle that emphasizes connection and shies away from consumerism. It’s just easier to spend time with your neighbours and not glorify consumption when 1) you and your neighbours have time for each other and 2) there’s nothing to actually buy (and nowhere to put it).
a few of the amazing friends cruising brought into our lives
Some of my most-loved cruising moments are the connections we’ve made with people we might not have ever met. We’ve had the chance to befriend a much wider circle of friends than we might otherwise have: how else could I have ended up with friends who range in age from teen-ish to 70ish and who come from almost every continent in the world? Another thing I grew to love were the spontaneous gatherings that came together organically. One of my recent favourites was an Easter celebration for the boat kids in La Cruz:

Spontaneous dinner out
saying goodbye to our special life

Because several families were around, one of the mums offered to boil some eggs while another said she’d bring homemade dyes. This doesn’t sound too atypical for Easter—but from that casual offer, a complete party came about. Without any back-and-forth, or planning. Me and another mum bought chocolate to hide along with the eggs and came up with a simple craft. The older kids helped the younger kids without prompting and everyone spent the afternoon playing together. I couldn’t help but think that a similar ‘land’ party would need to be shoe-horned into busy lives and would probably be made stressful with way too many details.

Being too busy is one of the markers of modern adulthood and it’s the lifestyle choice we most want to avoid. It’s also the hardest one to avoid—because being busy is so wrapped up with our sense of being successful. The perception is if you have too much any free time on your hands, clearly you aren’t living a full life. But the full life we just spent eight years nurturing emphasized the value of spontaneity. I love spur of the moment adventures and find having to plan to make a plan is a bit soul destroying.
even a haircut is an adventure while cruising
The weird thing though is no matter how little time we have for each other, North Americans seem to have plenty of time to shop. I recently read that the US has 23.5 square feet of retail space per person (the next highest was16.4 square feet in Canada and 11.1 square feet in AustraliaEurope is down in the 2 foot range). Living space in much of Africa is less than this.
so much of what we bought over the past eight years came with a story
Happily, unlike avoiding becoming too busy to spend time with old and new friends—not shopping is an easy one for us. Currently we’re living in a furnished sublet—surrounded by someone else’s stuff (which turns you off of acquiring things in a big way). We’re also broke. So this means we’ve been turning to thrift shops and craigslist for everything we need and I can honestly say—we’re hooked.
Alma told me how molas are made and talked parenting with me
the Sri Lankan fishermen danced and sang after trading for fish
 I think in part it comes back to connection. Most of the shopping we did around the world was for food. A lot of that happened in traditional markets, but even if it was in a grocery store we often shopped with friends and got to know the shop clerks. Buying from craigslist means we have to interact a little bit more than you do in a normal store (I’m sure were not the only people who have had a decade-long friendship come out of a craigslist purchase) and as science has told us, connection makes us happy.

So there’s lots to miss about the boat—also lots not to miss (don’t miss those boat chores and I love flush toilets, easy access showers & washing machines). But the aspects that make living aboard so special for me aren’t just boat-life things. They’re just a little easier for boat people.