Velella's Drift

An account of Velella's voyage from Seattle to New York via Panama, 2009-2011

The Work of Living

It’s no secret that cruising may be fun but it’s not all play. The tropics have an easy time ravaging all your hard work: peeling varnishes, blackening oils, and fading canvases, keeping your metals coated in a fine film of salt, and sprouting a five-o’clock algae shadow almost overnight on the hull. Basic tasks like laundry are a day-long event, beginning with gathering all possible fabrics into a body-bag-sized sack, hefting it over the lifelines and down into the rocking dinghy, rowing into the choppy wind, surfing to shore, and taking turns carrying the beast through the hot  streets to the nearest Lavanderia, which is usually not too near at all. Grocery shopping involves trips to multiple stores, a heavy dinghy-row back through the surf, and a ritual of washing every bit of the new food while still in the dinghy, using chlorinated water (a bleach and saltwater mixture), and then patting it all dry, before reorganizing the fridge in order to find space for it all. We spend at least 70% of our time engaged in these daily “chores” that maintain our lives.


 

Does it sound like I’m complaining? Because I’m not really. Before we left, I imagined cruising as a utopian place where things were always clean and food sort of appeared with cold beers on the side. (I know that sounds ridiculous, but how often do your daydreams really involve the grittier stuff?) But reality is relentless, and an excellent teacher; after two months of cruising in the tropics, I have grasped that life IS—on a boat or elsewhere—simply the work of living. Choosing to live on a boat is just choosing a different line of work, in a way. Whereas on shore, my life’s work was spent in an office, maintaining the car, and on a never-ending list of to-dos, on the boat, our life is much the same, just with different things on the list. Such as “catch fish for dinner.”

After spending over a week lounging in the Barra de Navidad lagoon for the holidays, Velella had a significant amount of green-black growth on the underside of the hull. With my trusty Marina del Rey dive service being several hundred miles away now, we decided it was time for us to dive and clean the hull ourselves. So here we are, moored alongside the stunning Moorish-inspired architecture of the Las Hadas resort in Manzanillo, jet skis surrounding us—and we are probably the only ones here swimming with sponges in hand. We swam along either side of the waterline, gently wiping away the algae to reveal the bright blue bottom paint, flicking off the tiny beginnings of barnacles, and sponging clear the dried salt splotches from the white gelcoat. It felt intimate somehow to run my hands over every inch of my boat’s hull—it reminded me of the feeling of brushing a horse: meticulously restoring her prideful sheen with a loving hand. Dare I say, the boat work has become FUN. When we were done washing Velella, we washed our own hair and did a couple somersaults in the water before rinsing off with hot fresh water on deck.

Any boater has heard the expression, “Cruising is doing boat work in exotic locations.” It’s often said ruefully, knowingly, and with a bit of warning to would-be cruisers. And that’s absolutely right—that is essentially what we’re doing in these exotic locations—a constant regiment of light boat work. But I have to admit, it’s a great place to work, and the benefits package is pretty awesome.

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1 Comment»

  siri wrote @

Some of my coworkers and I were talking about how life is 75% maintenance. Doesn’t that perfectly describe so much of what we do? Cleaning, exercising, washing, planning… I kind of think of it as a cycle of emptying and refilling. I think traveling or living in other places is sometimes simply experiencing that cycle in different time, with other colors and shapes. I can’t wait to be in your place – even if just for a little bit – bound by the swell of water and wood rather than the hardness of concrete and steel. See you guys soon!


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