Friday 8 April 2011

Living Aboard, Philosothinking

     "...and I was thinkin' to myself, this could be Heaven or this could be Hell..."
                                                                                                         -The Eagles

   I originally scrawled this as a post on the WoodenBoat forum, then tweaked it a little as a post on that, months later, still generates comments.  I figured I'd really dial it in and post it here.  Let me know what you think.

     Here's a reality check- people live aboard for one of two reasons:
1. They can afford to, or
2. They can't afford to live anywhere else.

    I used to live aboard due to reason #2.  Now, we summer aboard because of reason #1.

    I suspect that the vast majority of us are barely ekeing by, but as long as we work 60 hours a week while getting paid for 40 to make the minimum payments on the cards, and continue to be distracted by the devices those cards bought, and as long as the month/money ratio is near enough to 1:1, we don't have the time to realize that we are stuff rich and cash poor.

     I hear that the average 21st century family is one paycheque away from insolvency.  Been there, and still occasionally do that.

     Think about how many fewer hours you would have to work every week if you didn't have a mortgage, a car payment or two, credit cards, utility bills, home theatres, a laptop, cable and internet, a family...

     Sometimes chucking all of the dirt-dwelling, soul-sucking encumberments of everyday life in the 'burbs seems like the answer- no lawn to mow, no mortgage, no property tax, no neighbour's cat crapping in your petunias...

     ...And sometimes it might be the answer to a question you shouldn't have asked.

     Here's my story. Draw from it what you will.

     I was a marina rat between wives, homes and jobs. It altered my perspective on what, and who was important, how much space and stuff I needed, and led to a more pragmatic and creative approach to life. 

     I became a better and more creative cook. 
     I read more, and rediscovered the cheap joy of a library card. 
     I picked up pennies.
     I learned that really cheap beer in cans tastes just fine when the can is really cold, and you are sipping it after an honest day's labour, watching the sun pass beyond the horizon from the bow of your home. 
     I noticed more. 
     I discovered that you could feel rich with $100 in your pocket, and you could easily spend a couple of hours plotting and scheduling how to spend it, figuring out how to make it last, because the longer it lasted the longer you didn't have to work. 
     I learned to abstain from impulse purchases. 
     I learned the value of tipping 20%, even on a cup of coffee, and the value of being a regular customer- good loyal tippers sometimes get free coffee when their pockets are empty on cold rainy days. 

     It wasn't idyllic, it was occasionally a grind, occasionally depressing, and more than once I found myself in tears, feeling sorry for myself. But I always knew where I stood.

It was one of the best experiences of my life.

     If you're broke, then the ideal location for living aboard is wherever you happen to be right now, by default. It doesn't matter how much better or nicer or safer or easier it is somewhere else, you ain't there, you're here, and you're here because you're broke, which is why you ain't there.

    That's the reality of being broke on a boat. Another reality of being broke on a boat is that if it doesn't crush you, it tends to make you really damn creative about getting UNbroke. You barter, you trade labour around the marina, you scrounge stuff out of the trash that Sea Ray owners toss and clean it up and sell it. On Monday morning you work the trash barrels and pull empties to return for the deposit. On Friday afternoon you get out your bucket and brushes and furiously clean the topside of your boat, then pimp your boat cleaning services to those Sea Ray owners. In the spring you  furiously scrape and varnish the brightwork on your boat, working to hook some cash money from those Sea Ray owners. If you get really, really desperate, you sell parts of your boat that you don't need right now, because you aren't going anywhere, like the compass, the VHF, and your Mustang floater coat. If you want to survive, you swallow your pride and you HUSTLE, and stretch every dollar until it snaps.

     You become a low-movement low-exposure hermit, never leaving your boat except to scratch some work or stock up on ramen noodles and beans because the less you do and the less you leave your boat, the less you have to spend on food and laundry and hygiene. Or you grow into an integral part of the marina environment, a de facto security guard and boatkeeper. Most marinas don't mind having a broke guy around, as long as he keeps his slip rent current. If you're broke, sooner or later, if you hustle enough and eyeball the opportunities, you get unbroke enough to cast off and journey on.

Some call it "cruising."

     If you're impoverished, that's different. Broke is a temporary condition- poverty is a state of mind. When you're impoverished you don't hustle, because you figure you'll never get ahead anyway. you don't look for opportunities because you don't believe there are any. How you even ended up with a boat is a bit of a mystery, but it's usually an inheritance or the misplaced charity of a relative who thinks all you need is a chance. You're just marking time, and sooner or later your boat sinks, burns, gets stolen or liened and you end up in the shelter you always figured you'd end up in anyway. Most marinas aren't unhappy to see you gone.

    Life onboard is the same as life ashore- it is exactly, and only, what you make of it.

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  1. I have no pride no shame and no money but I'll sail forever.

  2. Jack,
    That right there is a philosophy I can get behind!

  3. Yes, I think you did nail it this time.

    Okay, I'm a (1) - we live aboard because we can afford to. Doesn't mean I never had the consciousness-raising experience of standing in the grocery store with $3 in my hand and wondering how I was going to eat for the week. People who've been, in your words, broke but not impoverished, also fall into 2 groups: the ones who say, "That was awful, and I'll sell my soul to avoid having it happen again;" and those who say, "Been there, done that, it kinda sukked but I know I'm strong enough to live through it and I'm not scared of it anymore." (The latter group make fascinating friends.)

    Actually, I think you need a new category, the (1.5) - people who live aboard because, even though they can afford to live elsewhere, they can't afford to live *this richly* elsewhere.

  4. Shortly, we be jammin' at dock six where you leave your pretentions in the parking lot and don't forget the ice, mix and snacks. As long as I can get the dock money together and the gas to get to the boat, the world is a wonderful place. The magic of the boat, the water and the wind perform about the best attitude adjustment available. Long may the solar rays replace the cathode rays.

  5. As long as the boat floats it's going to be a good summer.

  6. Uh, Im going to agree with jack, as long as the boat floats it should be a good year! If I can ask anyone reading, to remind me to put that darn plug in my boat that be real helpful!

  7. Well written, I`m category 2. If I wrote I`m #2, you might of thought of something else, then you`d be thinking like my ex-wife and I wouldn`t want to wish that on anyone.

  8. Two things you should know about the wise man ..... one , he is a man and two, he is wise. (Shamelessly knicked, with a gender realignment, from Blackadder.)