Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Dichotomies and Ironies of Cruising

The other night, as our boat tugged relentlessly at her anchor and the wind shrieked and howled around us, shaking our rigging and whipping up whitecaps in the harbor, I was struck - once again - by the tremendous dichotomies that cruising presents to the cruiser.  I also thought to myself, "Thank God we're not out sailing right now."  Which brings me to irony numero uno:  you can live on a sailboat, and be super thankful you are not sailing.

Just a few hours earlier in the day I had posted a picture on Facebook that depicted, quite literally, a picture perfect anchorage in the Caribbean (see above).  But weather can (and often does) turn quickly in these parts and within a few hours the skies grew dark and we were experiencing squalls with 30-35 knot gusts and driving rain at regular intervals.  Mind you, the situation was hardly dire and we were in no immediate danger.  Our anchor was firmly set (and our anchor alarm on), we were one of only three boats in the anchorage and risk of dragging (or being dragged into) was minimal... but still... to hear the creaks and groans of a boat fighting against it's anchor and to listen to the sounds that an angry wind can make around a sailboat can certainly create a lot of anxiety and worry in a gal.  And it got me thinking as I lay awake in bed, my body tensing with every jerk, shriek and groan: isn't this lifestyle touted to be one of the most stress-free and relaxing?  How ironic.

Yes.  Yes it is stress-free and relaxing... some of the time.  But this lifestyle is also rife with polarizing divisions.  On the one hand, we live life on legitimate "island time" where rum and sun are plenty, but there is another hand at play as well... and it's the one that regularly slaps those tropical slushy rum drinks right out of our mitts if we get too comfy.  Yin and yang.  (It's a constant theme in this blog, no?)  But just like every drug addict must come down from a high, so must a cruiser be reminded that all is not perfect in paradise.  The Universe has a way of balancing everything out and, believe me, there is no "utopia".  If you think that living on a sailboat in some tropical place will solve all your problems and make your life amazing, you are in for a big disappointment.  There's a great quote by Emerson that says it best: "Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not."  So here's a newsflash and a pretty neat life-lesson for you:  If it's not inside you before you shove off to Shangri-la, it won't be inside you when you get there, either.  To simplify further:  If you are not happy inside, you won't be happy anywhere.

But I digress...

I was still thinking about the dichotomies cruising presents the next day as we sailed to yet another beautiful anchorage to call home for the night.  There are so many times during this past three years that I have literally been brought to tears of joy because I am so grateful and happy to be able to live this life: the beauty, the freedom, the magnificence of it all... and yet there are an equal number of times I have been brought to tears of misery because I curse it so: the work, the stress, the alienation.  Anyone who lives on a boat can understand this.  Anyone who has enjoyed a perfect sail from point A to point B and then endured a hellish sail from point C to point D, knows exactly what I am talking about.  I have feared for my life one day and laughed about it the next (well, maybe not laughed).  It's the best of times and the worst of times all rolled into one.  Our lives as cruisers are constantly teetering between extremes but, for us at least, the good always seems to outweigh the bad (sadly, this is not the case for everyone).  Nevertheless, the profoundly simple concept of yin and yang has never been more apparent to me than these past few years of living afloat.  I wondered out loud to Scott, "How many other lifestyles offer this sort of stark polarity?"  We couldn't think of any.

I cannot tell you how many times we've sailed into bad weather and both Scott and I have cursed our boat and this lifestyle only to forget about it as soon as we drop the hook in some beautiful place as the bluebird sky and bright Caribbean sun greet us the next morning.  It doesn't end there... every time a system breaks that we have to fix, we curse.  Each time the atmosphere of our boat grows stale with a marital dispute or grudge, we curse.  Each time we discover a new rolly anchorage, we curse.  Every time I accidentally tap the friggin' bar that holds up our top-loading refrigerator door and it subsequently slams down on my head or hand, I curse (a lot).  The list goes on... and on and on and on.  And yet, here we are.  Despite threatening to sell our boat and throw in the towel more times than I care to admit, we still choose this path.  Despite feeling every emotion on the richter scale during the past few years, this is still what we want.

I suppose cruising is kind of like childbirth in this way; there is a sort of amnesia at play otherwise none of us would do this for very long.  The extremes we endure are muted and dulled by the magnificence, beauty and incredible satisfaction after each rough passage, boat project, storm, etc.  Like birth, it never seems as bad as it was in hindsight and, looking back, was totally worth all the blood, sweat and tears.

Either that, or we're all completely bipolar.  But I'm rooting for the former.


Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

Awesome- what a great description of the cruising life.

Gladys Strickland said...

I think you got it when you realized no other lifestyle would offer such extremes. In order to fully enjoy and appreciate the highs, you have to endure the lows, and this is also what keeps you fully alive! You can accept a life more even, suffer through fewer lows, yet you also give up the great highs. I've spent much of my life on that safe path, and let me tell you, I am BORED with it! Going after adventure now, and trying to remember that while it isn't all bliss, it isn't boring either. Thanks for the reminder.

Fair winds!!

MaryJo Boyle said...

Very well stated, Brittany...VERY well stated!

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