Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cruising: The Highs are Higher, the Lows are Lower, than Life on Land

Cruising boats in the anchorage at sunset -- living the dream
Cruising, and living on a boat in general, seems to me to be life in saturated color.  The good times are more intensely good than the good times on land.  The scenery, being in touch with nature, the amazing friendships that grow so deep, so fast, because on some level we know that our time together is limited as cruising itineraries draw us apart as quickly and capriciously as they drew us together ... all combine to make this life spectacular.  The bad times are correspondingly worse than land life -- something's always broken, or moldy, or impossible to fit in or find in the cramped spaces of our floating home.  Despite careful navigation and planning we can be hurled about by rough weather.  When we lived on land, we never worried about waves or collisions capsizing our house!

Our friends James and Ellen described their cruising experiences through the life-in-the-moment eyes of their dog: If it was a good day, and beautiful on the water, then all days cruising were always good, and always would be good.  But if the next day was bad, then cruising sucked, it always did suck and always would suck.  I'm the same way ... if its unexpectedly threatening weather, then I hate this, I'm DONE, let's go back to land.  Then when we get to a pretty anchorage, or an interesting city, and are sharing sea stories with friends, ooh, I could live on a boat FOREVER.  Other friends, Jane and Ean, describe this phenomenon as the reason cruising has made them bipolar.

And that set of alternating extremes is exactly what the first part of our southbound cruise has been like so far.  However reluctantly we released our Annapolis ties at the end, release them we did.  With two companion boats, Seneca and Catmandu, we set out southbound.  Our first stop was the Seven Seas Cruising Association's Gam (old nautical term referring to a gathering of boats/sailors to exchange news and information and gossip) on the Rhode River just 2 hours from Annapolis.  The weather was perfect and we reconnected with old friends and met some new ones.  We again presented our round table discussion on books and digital resources for making the ICW trip, and it seemed well-received.  But Dan had an intuition that we needed to hurry out of the Bay.  With 3 days ahead of predicted light winds and clear skies, the three boats motored (mostly) and sailed (a little) down the length of the Bay, about 8 or 9 hours of travel each day.  While it was beautiful and warm and sunny, it felt a bit like "work" to be underway all day.  Each night, we dropped anchor and Catmandu (the smallest boat) rafted up to us (the heaviest boat).   Seneca anchored nearby and came over by dinghy.  Each boat took turns making dinner. We'd sit in the communal cockpit and share dinner and stories.  These days were like the fantasy of travel by boat, personified.

The fourth day was to be a half-day of travel, but with lots of new experiences, going through the first bridges; passing the immense commercial shipping traffic and Navy yard at Norfolk; and transiting the one and only lock of the voyage.  I love this stretch for its incredible variety and many sights to see.  After we were through it, we would tie up at a marina to take a day off, do laundry, go out to dinner, and reprovision.  Then, weather permitting, we'd move on - a few more underway days, then another break.

Except, the weather didn't permit -- Tropical Storm Karen and her remnants may have been what tickled Dan's earlier intuition.  At the end, we stayed a week at the stop that was supposed to be a single layover day while the NENE (never-ending nor'easter, my friend Bill termed it) brought winds and rain.  One day I expressed frustration that we had overreacted, the winds weren't that bad ... until I decided to go for a walk.  Then I learned that the secure hurricane slip they had tied us up in was fully living up to its reputation.  I hadn't thought the storm was that bad because we weren't out in it.  As soon as I got out from the shelter of the slip ... there were the winds.   Alrighty, then, we'll stay put and wait it out, thankyouverymuch.

Once we finally started moving again, we had a series of days that included misty gray ones and sparkling sunny ones, a rough passage,and the most acrobatic dolphin display I've ever seen, in rapid alternation.  Midway between "all too soon" and "after a passage that felt like forever" we tied up at Deaton's Yacht Service in Oriental, NC, our go-to small town boatyard for big systems issues.

But the biggest work that I want to attend to is my own brain.  I'm seeking a new think about this whole issue of the binary nature of cruising.  It's probably true that any given moment is either wonderful or terrible, with little in between (except maybe for boring; cruising has also been cynically described as hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of terror).  To reframe this I'm thinking of my excellent physical therapist Jen.  Her world is binary too, but the word "terrible" isn't in her vocabulary.  Situations in her world are either "awesome" or "challenging."  That's all - either great as they are, or opportunities for growth.