Friday, March 17, 2017

Time Enough

Recently we've been in two conversations that illuminate diametrically opposite relationships with time.

Part 1: American Dream? Work-Work-Work!

During our first tour of duty on the Galeon, Dan's closest colleague was the lead carpenter, Juan. Given that neither of them could speak the other's language even a little, it was surprising that they were able to collaborate on many of the maintenance projects they completed, much less become friends. Language consisted of a lot of pointing and hand gestures, using the ship's bosun as an interpreter, and mostly the common language of tools and wood.  Juan is smart, incredibly strong, totally devoted to the ship, and one of the most passionate workers we know.  When he worked, he was totally focused and gave it every drop of energy he had. His background was more industrial, big projects like steel bridges and structures; yet he translated that to the more subtle and delicate structure of the maintenance needs of the historic wooden ship, like replacing curved beams carved from heavy wood. Juan eventually left the ship to marry an American woman and settle in south Florida.  Because of his excellent work we fully expected him to be able to fit well into US society.

He and his wife had just moved into a new apartment when we went to visit them one afternoon. We met his wife, briefly, and then she went back to work. Because they had just moved and everything was still in boxes, we ended up going to Pollo Tropical for lunch rather than staying in the apartment. We were eager to hear about his new life here. But his view of life in the US wasn't as happy as we had hoped for him.

"What is it with you people?" he grumbled. "Work, work, work, it's all you do. American Dream - bah! When do you have time to enjoy your family, your town? In Spain, we work, but we also take more time with family. Remember, on the ship, how hard we worked?" (Oh, yes, Juan, we remember, and how no one could keep up with you.) "And yet, it was 2 days on, 2 days off, and there was time to explore the ports we stopped at, for an afternoon siesta, or a beer in town at the end of the day.  Work hard, get it done, but life is not just work. I barely see my wife.  Work, work, work, always she works. What American Dream? It's just work work work!" (Of course, this conversation was half English, half Spanish, and a whole lot of body language, so you're not quite getting the full flavor.  But the phrase, in English, "American Dream - work work work!" was repeated, numerous times.)

We explained that what we call "work-life balance" was an issue that many people and companies here struggled with, and that we knew we still had a ways to go before we got it right; and that many people were acknowledging their frustration with the culture of material things that required the excessive work hours.  We talked about missing the simplicity and purity of life on the ocean, how little we really needed when we were on the ship, and promised to visit again when we sailed Cinderella north again in the spring.

Carpentry tools that Dan and Juan used on the Galeon. (Photo by Teaira Marque)

Part 2: All They Have is Time

On Monday we drove to Miami to hear a talk by the crew of Sailing Totem about their circumnavigation. I noticed that on their voyage they very rarely visited developed areas and big cities; instead they chose mostly smaller islands, more pristine and hard-to-get-to locations, more primitive societies.  Think South Pacific islands instead of the European countries surrounding the Mediterranean, for example. Of course, the snorkeling is better in those places, and the connection with nature is one of the reasons so many of us live on boats.  And, these folks are self-described introverts, so less populated places hold appeal. But it's more, because really, if you go long-distance cruising, you are doing so in part because of the people and the culture. "In places where tourism is a big industry," Behan told me after the talk, "most of the interactions with the local folks is transactional. And that's really not what we were after." Taking an airplane and staying in a hotel can give you the same thing, with a lot less work to there than sailing would be! She described instead spending time together, studying new languages, sharing stories, learning to cook yams with one of the local women.

"In the subsistence societies, all they have is time," both Behan and her wonderfully articulate son Niall told me.  No minivans, carpools, to-do lists, calendars. These people have few material things, and spend less time working than we do, leaving so much more time for interactions, for simple pleasures, for appreciating the world, or for making friends with visiting cruisers.  My anthropologist BFF Karen that the average time working to fulfill their physical needs in these subsistence cultures is around 20 hours per week, not the 40+ that we spend.

The whole Totem family, after the talk in Miami

Part 3: Making it Count

We've been here in the Keys for 3-1/2 months.  We've had some great times, met some wonderful people, and enjoyed lovely weather and scenery. (and maybe a bit too much rum!) But as we've started to settle into the local scene, our calendar has started to fill out and we're getting "busy." Each individual item - dinner with friends, a concert, a road trip - is lovely, but in the aggregate, less so, because what gets squeezed off the schedule are things that are important but not urgent, quiet mornings sipping coffee in the cockpit while watching the pelicans dive-bomb for their breakfast, kayak trips up the creek hoping to meet a dolphin or two (amazing to see these wonderful creatures from the boat, and indescribable to see them at eye level from the kayak or dinghy) or long spontaneous conversations with fellow cruisers on the dock.

This, ultimately, is why we go cruising. Because we want our relationship with time to be more like Part 2 and less like Part 1.  But now that we're (temporarily) settled, there is less spontaneity and more planning in our lives. When we're cruising it's just the opposite. The most memorable days for me are the unplanned ones, the ones that just unfold as they will, and there's time to explore whatever we encounter, go off on unlikely tangents. Because really, that's how the best adventures always occur. The most memorable days are not the ones where Things. Get. Done., no matter how efficiently items come off the to-do list. The most memorable days are the ones where Things. Happen. spontaneous, wonderful surprises, personal connections, new experiences, unexpected interactions. Ultimately, we all have 24 hours in a day, and we all have needs and obligations and choices. Those 24 hours are never enough ... unless we live in such a way as to make it enough.


  1. Love your take on the visit with s/v Totem last week! I posted our view this morning on our blog.
    But particularly Resonate with that sense of being "over-schedualed" in port. I find myself jealously protecting my few quiet moments. Yet I also yearn for the time with friends, like you folks. It's a quandary!

  2. The dual nature of cruising! I love that we both attended the same presentation, and got such different things out of it!

  3. What a great post! I just read Keith and Nicki's post. Neat to see the different takes each of you had on it.

  4. Yes, as I mentioned to Behan, it's a rare speaker who can capture the imagination of such a wide range of audience. Sionna and Cinderella are at very different places in our cruising experience yet we both got something to think about from the presentation.