Refined Wayfarers

or… having good stuff on the boat!

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“I refuse to go sailing unless I can have a fresh water shower every day!” The schoolmistress voice sent shudders through my bones, “lord knows how her husband deals with this”, I thought.

I am being unfair; we each have our own quirks or ‘thing’ to make life more enjoyable onboard. Don’t get me wrong, I would love a fresh water shower every day while at sea, but logistics, unnecessary indulgence and fear of thirst mean those spine tingling salt water showers will continue; not forgetting the whole cup of fresh water to rinse off the salt!

Enjoying the after party for the Panama Canal
Enjoying the after party for the Panama Canal

Our “at port” shower is a garden water/sprayer.  It holds five litres and with one kettle of hot water, makes a fantastic shower in our cockpit.  At sea, we use the deck wash pump, which we consider a luxury, not an essential; a bucket of water on a rope was used for the first five years of cruising.

The male contingent of our American friends, consider two fresh water showers a day (via water maker), freezer/fridge and radar, luxuries.  However, he adds they would not leave port without any of them!  The female contingent misses her washer/dryer, dishwasher, gym and personalized scooter, however she did leave port without any of these.  It’s interesting to note that the schoolmistress in the beginning of this article is American too . . . .arhh, but I jest, you only need to look at the pommies that don’t wash…

A salt water lake - luxury! Mid-way Panama Canal
A salt water lake – luxury! Mid-way Panama Canal

Can we find civility?

Can the cruising lifestyle be civilised.  YES.  Is the resounding answer from most of our salty buddies.  Well, it’s what each of us term as civilised is where the question becomes a little ticklish.  For example, soft, fluffy towels and running hot water are the things I miss most within our gypsy lifestyle.  The fridge/freezer, water maker and radar you can keep, we just didn’t need them and felt mighty smug when plaintive whines of “it’s not working” echoed over the airways.  Again, to have these ‘luxuries’ would be ideal, doubly ideal if they never broke down.

Shiny Stuff

Reliance on equipment, shiny stuff and buttons, is a fear that was at the forefront of our minds when getting ready for a long voyage.  Even though we have back up GPS’s, we still carry two sextants – you just never know.  Our bilge is crammed full of doodads and thingymygigs, for repairs.  Carrying spares for everything is impossible, so having weird and wonderful ‘bits’ that can be cajoled into replacement parts makes us feel a little more relaxed whilst at sea.

Fun on a friends' boat
Fun on a friends’ boat

One man’s trash is another’s treasure

It really is “horses for courses”, what one sailor considers a luxury another wouldn’t haul anchor without it.  Friends of ours cannot believe we survive without a fridge, let alone a freezer.  “How do you cope?” they ask with deeply furrowed brows.   Powdered milk, peeling cabbages and learning how to keep fruit and vegetables happy are easy.  A cold beer would be nice, but we don’t drink on passage and at anchor, well our buddies have a wonderful fridge/freezer unit to cool our beers!

Use your own equipment

On two occasions, within eight years living aboard, we wished we had radar.  That was in thick fog and exceedingly scary.  Our cruising friends who do not know life without one, are astounded that we still have no radar.  Radar’s are not infallible, you cannot beat a good set of eyes.  And as for avoiding squalls – don’t make me laugh!  In the South China Sea, cruising buddies twisted and turned and tried to avoid approaching squalls they could see on their radar, while we ploughed straight through them.  We took two day less to do the 800-mile trip and they still got hit by all the squalls!

What is refined roaming?

For us, it is a good book, the odd movie and cheap (but drinkable) wine.  Mostly though, it is the clean air, 360-degree views, kindred spirits for neighbours, comfortable cushions, moving by Mother Nature’s hand and a life that is the closest thing we have found to freedom.

Brewed coffee, a stereo and TV are our luxuries.  A borrowed DVD is a great way to forget your current worries and indulge in some unbelievable Hollywood hype.  We no longer consider a laptop a luxury.  I sometimes earn pocket money hitting the keys in an interesting order and navigation is backed up with electronic charts.  It also receives our weather faxes via the SSB, so becoming an integral part of our cruising.  I could also make a good case for the stereo as being an essential, my husband certainly does, as good music can lift a dark mood from my shoulders as quick as a flash of lightening.  Our current watery neighbours (Australians) mention Candelabras, well why not?  Life maybe simple but why not jazz it up a little with some elegance.

Noel enjoys a peaceful moment on the bow
Noel enjoys a peaceful moment on the bow

Our place in society

Our American friends noted that they miss their place in a community that was developed over 25 years of working and living.  This is something that can only happen with time and they say “we can never go back, from here on out we will be breaking new ground one way or the other until the end.”  An interesting point, it is hard entrenching yourself back into society after years away.  Noel and I are trying it now – frustrations, enormous expense and technology confound us on a daily basis.  The fact that our conversation is limited to boats is noticeable; boat people talk about boats.  Stretching our conversation to dinner tonight, community gossip and even news(!) (it’s great to avoid the unchanging news whilst at sea), is starting to happen, but we really aren’t fascinating people to be with – unless, of course, you want to talk boats (and then ‘fascinating’ is debatable).

 Is ‘watch’ at 2 am civilised?

So how can life be civilised when you wake up at 2 am to sit in a dark cockpit, in the middle of nowhere and stare at the horizon for hours on end?  On board “Mariah II” I do the ‘graveyard’ shift.  Noel will wake me and give me a cup of tea as soon as I am dressed and seated in the cockpit.  Simple things like wearing comfortable, warm clothes make life a little better.  A good book, a light that is not intrusive to night vision and a comfy seat are paramount.  Easy access to snacks and music also helps the shift roll along smoother.

 The nitty gritty

A New Zealand couple highlight that the lifestyle is a luxury in itself.  “Compared to living in this fast passed consumer based society, just living and being away on the boat, is total luxury.”  They are right, with just ourselves to think of, only the people you meet and places you visit is a simplified, therefore, a luxurious life.  However, as I write we are all sitting in comfy harbours or houses, waiting out the cyclone season and have forgotten the ‘washing machine’ swells, seasickness and fear that the powerful ocean creates.  Still we digress, the New Zealanders continue, that on board they consider luxuries as “Aries wind vane steering gear, a wonderful GPS and being able to lie back and put our feet up on the walls”  Judy goes on to say, “I’ve noticed people look at me funny when I do this at home!”

Special and unique times
Special and unique times

Embrace the esoteric

What do we miss-out on?  Well this is where I am stumped.  Culturally our lives are awash.  Each country we visit we witness their unique way of life, see how they dress, behave and communicate.  In Oman we spent a glorious evening in a young man’s home.  He provided local fare, music and singing, all organised just for us.  He even gave us gifts of the local’s dress.  Noel was presented a beautiful Dish-Dasha (men’s tunic) and I was given a puke green, tent dress, we still have these, although not worn often!   In Borneo we were invited and became honoured guests at local’s wedding.  Everyone was a perfect stranger and not a word of English was spoken.  That day we were treated like stars, fed like kings and revered like holy people.  Never have strangers made us feel so welcome.  Our favourite was the most simple ‘cultural’ event.  In Eritrea on a dark, star lit night walk, a tinkle of soft music tickled our ears.  We wondered along rubble streets towards the sweet sounds.  On the doorstep of a small shack a group of youths sat.  They beckoned us over, the lack of language understanding was no barrier.  That night we sat with people we could not verbally talk to, but communicated with smiles and gestures.  Their coffee ceremony is a ritual we will never forget.  In the unlit doorway, the young lads played home made guitars and commenced the ceremony.  They have a magic box that contains all the tools and a small brazier.  The ceremony is serious, unique and quite romantic.  Small cups are set out on a round tray and a show of washing them is made.  The beans are naked, straight from the plant, added to a small saucepan and roasted on the coals.  Once they are roasted it is customary for everyone to smell them.  The beans are ground and water is added gradually.  The whole process takes about half an hour.  Two big teaspoons of sugar are stirred into the small cups, so you expect a very sweet drink.  But the coffee is so dark and rich, the sugar is just right.  We sip the perfect cup of coffee; a feeling of calm envelopes us.  With their generous, welcoming hospitality, our keenness to take part and become a temporary local we are all content to sit together and enjoy the unique moment.

Who needs refinement when you have potluck!

We may not have the refinement of fine arts but what we have is so much better.  In a remote anchorage, with a welcoming beach and shady palms, where do we get our culture from here?  Well these can be the best spots.  Good anchorages will fill by the end of the day with Aussies; Pommies; Americans; Turks, Canadians, Dutch, Kiwis ad infintinum.  A potluck will be organised.  We all take enough food for everyone on our boat only.  Putting the different dishes together, the feast becomes a banquet.  Not only sharing the food but stories, cultural differences and many laughs – tell me, where else would this happen?

Keep your mod cons and bureaucracy

So keep your latest movie, we’ll see it sometime, as we will the latest plays.  Keep your petty gossip and the strains of land life.  You can also keep your bureaucracy and those little bits of paper with large numbers shoved through the mailbox, known as Bill.  And missing the latest TV shows, well that’s a bonus surely!  Satisfaction with life, contentedness is what we all crave.  Moulding our lives to the natural world, catching fish and bathing in the sea is the life; gadgets and electric toilets are very nice but do we really need them?  After all at some point they will all get covered in a fine layer of salt and promptly stop functioning.

Very refined!
Very refined!

What is it really about?

As I probe further into our salty, cruising buddy’s minds, it seems the simple things in life are important.  Showering out on deck no matter what port you are in, uncomfortable cockpits and beds are highlighted.  Adjustments to the basics have the potential to flip the cruise to a more comfortable status.  The fact that cruising folk are kindred spirits makes the life civilised.  At Christmas we all have tales of getting together with other boaties, usually in beautiful surrounds, no family to tie you up in knots, no presents to buy and a hearty meal, which everyone has contributed to.

Loading up

Why load up your boat with air conditioners, electronics, and the latest communications, if you can afford all this, why not just catch a plane, stay in a hotel and visit the place you want to get to?  To me living this lifestyle is about embracing simplicity.  Lack of destructive world news, phones and TV is refreshing.  The deluge of information after returning back to land is hideous and unwanted.

Back home

Returning to Australia, cultural events means stacks of money, stiff, uncomfortable clothing – “why can’t I wear my thongs?” and stuffy people.  We still live onboard, but that awful four letter words is being whispered around the decks – w-o-r-k.  Moreover, we miss all our cruising buddies.

Remote and glorious anchorages
Remote and glorious anchorages

Simplicity is the reward, the brilliant sunset, good friends, exciting book swaps and thrilling adventures; those unique get-togethers of worldwide travellers, playing instruments and singing; those invites from total strangers in a new country, to have a peek into their world.  Where else can you cram in this much civility?

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