Sunday, 26 October 2014

it ain't all shitty

That morning, we were doing it. After three months of being land-locked, we were finally going sailing once more in the Bay of Islands. We had 4 glorious days of leisure planned. The forecast mentioned gales and rain, but we didn’t care. Nyon can handle 30 knot gusts and being from the north-eastern Pacific, we knew we wouldn’t melt if it rained. Our plan was to just tuck away in a little anchorage and hunker down. It was going to be bliss.

That’s when it happened.

The skies cleared for a brief time,
we were still in denial about the head...

The toilet rebelled. Warning: when you talk about the head*, there is nothing pretty about it. I mean really, how can one make shit sound pretty? So here we were. The toilet was out of order. It wouldn’t flush. We decided we’d deal with it at anchor. “We’ll just pee in a bucket on the way!”

After a boisterous sail, we tucked into Pipi Bay as it is locally known, (oh the irony). The wind was gusting and the rain fought patches of blue skies. The blue skies put up a good fight. And for a brief time, the water glowed turquoise. We opted to procrastinate a little longer. By mid-afternoon, we decided we really should tackle the head. There was obviously a clog somewhere. We took apart the toilet, cleaned things up, and changed the joker valve. After everything was put back together, we tried to flush the toilet: Nothing. This had now become one of those boat chores.

The welcoming committee lulled
us into a false sense of
"it'll be fine"
By then it was dark. We realized that we would have to take the next day to rip apart our plumbing system and find the problem. 

Oh by the way, the next day? It was my birthday.   

When something goes haywire on Nyon, we don’t call the plumber or electrician. That’s why the morning of my 42nd birthday, after fortifying ourselves with toast and scrambled eggs, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. Oh yeah, living the dream. First the toilet came out. The Lectra Scan** was next. Following that, the hoses were taken apart…  Yeah. It was as shitty as it sounds. At least the holding tank was allowed to stay put. We found the problem and went into full repair mode. In the process, we accidentally broke a couple bits and replaced them with other bits. (There are times when I’m grateful that Rick’s father taught him to keep stuff, “‘cause you never know”. Rick is the king of recycling and repurposing. This comes in handy when you are on a budget and you live on an older boat.)

No need to see us do the dirty
work, we'll let your imagination
do the work
I am happy to report that by 1430, everything was back in place, the head was fully functioning, and the boat was cleaner than it was when we left port.

The best part was that we still had two days left of actual relaxation at anchor. And we decided that my birthday hadn’t happened yet. All we had to do was pretend we were on the other side of the dateline. It’s all about perspective.

It’s funny what a flushing toilet can do for your state of mind. When we returned to port and friends asked us about our time in the Bay, we sincerely replied: “It was awesome!” It just goes to show you, it isn’t always cocktails at sunset, but it sure ain’t all shitty either.

Nyon, after the excitement
First barefoot tramp of the season: Best birthday present ever!
(Well, that and a functioning head!)

Making a wish

*Reminder for our landlubber friends: The toilet is referred to as the head on a boat.
**The Lectra Scan is our sanitation system.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

the complicatedness of simplicity

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”
Henri David Thoreau

Home Sweet Home
I have a confession to make: my personal style includes a certain amount of clutter and I’m a proponent for simple living. It’s just that my life doesn’t fit between the covers of a simple lifestyle magazine. Yes, there are entire magazines that preach the gospel of minimalism and de-cluttering. Sleek spreads show you immaculate homes with only three items on a desk and a flawless bunch of organic produce on an otherwise bare kitchen counter. The phrase “simple living” has reached mythical proportions. If we are to believe the media, it is synonymous with perfection. And the colour white.

But we do live simply aboard our old Nyon, and there is nothing further from perfection than our sailboat: all you need to look at are her fifty-something year old wood floors, her leaks, and the piles of homemade throw pillows. To be honest, I prefer the term living consciously. The Epicureans of 4th century BC also tried to live by that mantra. The philosopher Epicurius was the founder of the movement that called for living modestly and limiting one’s desire for material things.

There are many more recent examples of people moving away from materialism and embracing self-sustaining lifestyles: Shakers and Mennonites come to mind. And have you ever read Rousseau, or Thoreau’s “Walden”? This concept is a recurring one. However, the images now associated with choosing to live simply have glossed over the realities of what it means.

The actuality of “simplifying your life” is that it’s more work, it’s often time consuming, and everything happens slowly, especially on a boat. So why do it? What’s so bad about material things and convenience? Nothing. I just found that for myself, when everything is at my fingertips, I tend to go on auto-pilot. When I don’t have to think about water consumption or space, I become less conscious of what is around me or of what I may choose to acquire. When I have to plan to make water on a sunny day, when I can’t accumulate food in a freezer (because I don’t have one), or when there is nowhere to put that last item, I am forced to think about how my actions impact my resources. I notice the finite edge of things and I shift my priorities. Convenience no longer takes precedence, things just become things.

The advantage of living on a boat is that even if you have pack-rat tendencies, the limitations are very clear. There is no attic, no shed. And if you actually sail that boat, everything needs an “away”. It’s almost cheating. We live the simple life in part because we have to. When you live aboard, you cannot replicate your land life, period.

Simple moments
From my perspective, living consciously isn’t just about limiting material things and becoming self-sustaining. It’s also about being in the present moment. That’s challenging, especially now that we once more have access to first world comforts and technology. Regular access to the Internet and media fills every crevasse of the day. I can’t think of a happier time than our stay in Suwarrow in the Cook Islands. There was no Internet there, no cell phones, and no stores. We could send e-mails, but we’d check our inbox every few days via our satellite phone, not every hour. If we were restless, we didn’t pick up the iPad and check what our friend had for breakfast on Facebook. I got my art supplies out. We took apart our winches and serviced them. We did yoga on the beach and swam with manta rays. Life was rich with possibilities.* I miss the quiet of that disconnected world.

When we choose to strip our lives from unnecessary things and distractions, it can be challenging. Often, there is the need to overcome feelings of emptiness that come from removing the usual distractions. The resulting quietness lets the noise of our minds take over, which can be unsettling. It’s certainly not all Zen all the time. My personal hurdle is managing the available technology in a way that it doesn’t eat me up.** For other live-aboard sailors (cruisers), the lack of a washing machine or not having a seemingly endless supply of water is especially difficult. I imagine landlubbers have their own demons to wrestle with. Still, I am an advocate for the simple lifestyle in its many incarnations.

I also realize that I am writing this from a place of privilege. I can make the choice to strip my life from luxuries; I was not forced by circumstances. Though I never had the option to buy the big house or the latest toys, I still recognize how fortunate Rick and I are to voluntarily choose to live simply. 

There are many ways to bring your life to its core essentials, and to be present. While it’s a sometimes challenging path, it is freeing in ways you can’t imagine until you do it. It’s like taking a deep breath after being underwater for too long. Though I can guarantee that for most of us, it will not look like the glossy photo in that magazine.

*Of course, it was easier to do “fun” things as we did not have work commitments at the time, however, we are working now and the advantages of simple living are still evident to us.

** We have reduced our Internet use to what our phone plan offers: up to 1GB each per month, plus the occasional free Wi-Fi connection ashore. This makes a big difference to our time spent online. 


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