Sailboat on Dock
The sun has set on another sailing season. That’s Moondust under her winter cover on the right, following a day of fast winterizing in anticipation of the frigid Arctic air that has now enveloped the Atlantic coast. Sometimes a boat gets put away with a sense of a sailing season well done. Last year it was like that. My friend Ivar and I had found a good boat at a good price, and brought it down the Hudson River to the Chesapeake Bay. We took our families cruising. It was new and fun. When we finally put the boat away, it felt right to give it a rest. It felt okay that we would be taking a break, too.
This year was different. As we tied down the winter cover, it was a bittersweet moment. I felt slightly uneasy, and a little resentful that I now have to endure the long, cold, hiatus to a new sailing season. It is made worse by the fact that I sold the Laser, and don’t have the escape of frostbiting to keep me out on the water through the winter. But mostly I felt like we hadn’t done any unusual or ambitious sailing. That we hadn’t really tapped the potential of the boat and the Chesapeake. That there was unfinished business.
There had been some good times on Moondust on the Chesapeake in 2013, without a doubt. But the plain fact is that the boat also spent a lot of time sitting at the dock. I mentioned to Ivar my sense that we hadn’t really done enough this year. He responded that, according to his calculations, there had been eight weekends spent aboard Moondust. And that since the running costs are negligible (we have free dockage) we can justify even minimal amounts of sailing.
Fair enough. But a lot of what we did involved returning to the same nearby anchorages, because we were pressed for time. That sort of cruising weekend is better than sitting at home. But, to me, the allure and thrill of a boat is to explore, to get to new anchorages, to spend a week or more at a time with your kids, sailing and messing around, and mostly detached from the intrusions and distractions of the modern world. I kept thinking how much fun it would be to have the boat up in Buzzard’s Bay for a week or two. Or to show the kids the Great Salt Pond at Block Island, to spend a night at Cuttyhunk or Hadley’s Harbor, or sail through the cut at Wood’s Hole in Vineyard Sound with 5 knots of current doubling your speed over the ground.
That’s how I cruised when I was a kid, and we have the boat to do it again so naturally that is my vision of what is possible. Of course, my kids don’t always want to go sailing (curse you Minecraft!), despite the fact (which I casually mention to no apparent effect) that they always seem to have a great time as soon as they are on the boat. And I’m not sure why modern culture thinks it is a good idea to make family decision-making so democratic. Schedules and work commitments, and weather, and everything else which gets in the way of disappearing for a decent chunk of time, can also stand in the way of a solid sailing plan. But I know deep in my heart that giving in to those distractions and letting them dictate your life, is a cop-out, or at least shows a serious lack of gumption, determination, and creativity.
How do I know that? Well, look at what James Burwick and Somira Sao are pulling off: a global cruise with young children, via the Southern Ocean. If they can do that, it is hard to accept that I can’t get beyond Harness Creek, or Shaw Bay, both within hours of the dock. What they have achieved, though, requires the abandonment of many norms of modern family life, and a commitment to celebrating and cherishing values such as self-sufficiency, minimalism, and exploration of the natural world. I can imagine lots of parents I know scoffing at, or even condemning, their choices. I can also imagine that their kids will grow up to be amazing, unique, individuals.
And if you need further inspiration, then I urge you to read the little-known early 20th century cruising classic, “The Boy, Me, and the Cat.” My grandmother gave it to me when I was about 12, and it has stayed with me ever since as a manifesto for seeking freedom and the unknown. You can find a good preview and summary here. Is there any quotidian excuse for not going over the horizon that is acceptable after you are familiar with the cruising adventures of this father and his son? I didn’t think so.
And, of course, the cruising canon is groaning under the weight of similar books of daring and adventure (see: Smeeton, Miles).
So I haven’t given up my aspirations of spending weeks at a time on Moondust, poking our noses into unfamiliar waters and testing our ability to detach from the increasingly disturbing conventions of modern family life and the need to be plugged into the world. In fact, I am determined to snap Moondust‘s winter cover on next year with a feeling of satisfaction, and adventure well done. It will take some good marketing within my family, and some creative planning to break through all the predictable objections and binding ties that try to keep us in place. But if a boat is not for adventure and exploration, then, to me, it is not much good at all.