“The idea that you can go to sleep and not expect to have something strange happen during the night.”
We were munching on salami and tangerines for lunch as we talked about our experience last summer living on land for the longest period in the last 15 years. While it was only a relatively few months, we took on the challenge in order to sample the current flavor of what sailors sometimes call the dirt life.
|Sally is leaning into the rail as Hopalong slowly|
heels over to a 45 degree angle as she goes aground.
Our respite on land did indeed offer a different perspective. At night, when the wind began to howl and the rain poured down, we were snug in our bed. No longer did we have to leap from our berth, go on deck in driving rain to see if the anchor was holding and to peer into the darkness to see if other boats were dragging down on us as lightning lit up the sky and thunder shook our tiny vessel.
Then there was peril in Panama. On the eve of the Fourth of July, 2012 in the Perlas Islands, a change of wind pushed Hopalong onto a sandbar as the tide ebbed and rain fell. She lay on her side at a 45 degree angle until the incoming tide refloated her at dawn. We clung to her like a couple of forlorn rats.
Our maunderings over salami and tangerines were triggered by our farewell an hour earlier to two friends, ages 77 and 78, who set sail in their 36-foot sloop, Saucy Lady, for Zihuatanejo. We wondered whether we would be involved in the cruising life at that age, which is no longer so remote for us.
Hmm, we said to each other. Living on a boat offers unusual opportunities to learn and experience new things. Such as figuring out why your diesel auxiliary engine is not leaking its usual quart of oil every 30 hours of operation. Instead the dipstick says the engine is making its own oil and is becoming increasingly full. That was a sailing first for us last week. One that means replacement or rebuilding the faulty fuel injection pump – a new learning opportunity for David since good mechanical help is questionable here.
Then there is the challenge of simply finding a grocery store when entering a new port – not to mention actually shopping and trying to find your favorite food. We have learned to adapt to different vittles and accommodate reality.
Last summer, while staying in Prescott, Az., for six weeks, we bicycled and joined a gym for exercise. Here on Hopalong we kneel down and rise up with astonishing regularity, a function driven by having to fetch food, clothing, tools and parts from tightly packed quarters both low and high, but mostly low. We climb up and down a five-foot ladder scores of times a day while entering and leaving the boat. Sails are cranked up, and lines are hauled. Fuel and water jugs are lifted, moved and decanted. Making our bed is a 15-minute exercise in twisting and turning and squirming for Sally. There is no way she can walk around it. She has to crawl over it.
Intellectual and emotional challenges abound compared to the dirt life. The tight quarters mean you are in your mate's face almost all the time. Walking down what amounts to the main hallway in your house requires delicate maneuvering and courtesy on a boat – if you both try to do it at the same time. Living in a country with a different language and culture means honing your linguistic skills and understanding of different people. Reading is a mainstay because of the lack of the usual video and electronic inputs of the dirt life, although that has changed enormously over the last decade or so. So instead of “The Survivors” it could well be “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.”
Overall, life on the sea seems to contain both more variety and more angst than life on land. Things can and do go wrong on the sea. The possibility of death by user error or simple bad luck is always there. But our bet is that the freeways in Los Angeles are more dangerous.
Sometimes we are asked, “How long are you going to continue your dubious pursuits?” We considered that question as we nibbled our salami and tangerines and just shrugged.
(What's your choice? The sea or land? For yourself or for the deluded souls aboard Hopalong? Click on the word "comment" below to vote and don't forget to click on ad as well.)