Monday, October 26, 2020

Easy Is Not Simple; Simple Is Not Easy



It's taken quite a bit to adjust to, this living in suburbia thing. It's a very easy life, though easy is not the same as simple

I remember a cocktail party icebreaker game where you went through the keys on your keyring and described them -- "This is the key to my house, I live in a cabin in the mountains; this is the key to my office, I work as a financial planner; this is the key to my car, I drive a Subaru ..." I don't remember exactly how it worked but somehow you also got points for having a kind of key that no one else did, say, to an airplane hangar or the backstage at the local theater; I'd often earn a point for having a copy of the master key to USGS stream gaging stations nationwide. 

When we started cruising I'd been unable to play the key game at all -- I had no keys. No office, no car, no house. We rarely needed to lock the boat, and when we did, it was with a straightforward combination padlock. Simple life. But not easy. Grocery shopping on Caribbean islands might mean a long dusty walk or ride in an open bus crowded with locals (and sometimes chickens as well!) and an equally long walk back with a backpack full of sometimes unfamiliar products, hoping we correctly understood the explanations of how to cook them we received from a friendly stranger. Laundry also took half a day -- and that was if you were lucky enough to arrive at the laundry room when machines were available -- and you were trapped there for the 2 hours or so that a load took to wash and dry and fold; couldn't do anything else while doing the laundry, except maybe chat with others who were also doing their wash. Even morning coffee was a slow-but-relaxing ritual of heating water in the teakettle then pouring it over the grounds to drip. 

Here in suburbia, in an air-conditioned house and with a car parked just steps from our front door, life is much, much easier than cruising by boat. Groceries are selected online from a website, then we drive to the parking lot where a store employee delivers them to our car. Total interactive time: 10 minutes. Laundry, when the washer and dryer is right here in the townhouse? Throw in a load while doing something else. Again, total interactive time: 10 minutes. Coffee? Push a button on the electric machine; interactive time 5 seconds. Hungry? Grab a prepared meal or snack from the wide selection stored in our huge freezer and pop it in the microwave; push another button; interactive time 5 seconds (not counting the amount of time it took to decide!). And on and on ... 

It's easy, but complex with so many specialized appliances. Every time we're back on the boat I find myself longing for the simplicity and clarity and focus I find in that tiny space, so for all the comfort of the rental, I'm looking forward to going back home.

(Oh, and by the way, as for the keychain game, our present life exemplifies the "easy, but not simple." Landlords gave us a keyring with 5 keys just for the property - one for the front doorknob, one for the deadbolt, one for the mailbox, one for the storage shed, one for the pool.) 

Friday, October 16, 2020

C.L.O.D.s (Cruisers, Living on Dirt)


White picket fence dreams, anyone? (It wasn't our plan, but, covid changed that!)

Cruisers jokingly refer to other cruisers who have moved back to land as "CLODs." There's a little bit of good-natured ribbing there (we all think we're going to do this forever and never get old!) and also a tacit acknowledgement that living on a boat and traveling forever changes you. In that way even after you retire back to land you'll always be a cruiser.

After the horrible heat from 2 years ago where we stayed in Jacksonville for the summer while Dan healed from hip surgery, we promised ourselves that never again would we voluntarily stay on the boat in Florida over the summer. Well, the key word was "voluntarily" and covid threw us a curve ball. Our planned time on El Galeon evaporated when all the tall ship festivals we were scheduled to visit were canceled due to covid. Covid also thwarted our plans to sail Cinderella north to the Chesapeake Bay. Not all marinas were open, the situation changed daily. We didn't want to risk any exposure for Dan, which meant that even if we could travel, we wouldn't be able to explore any cities along the route. And staying where we had an established support network also seemed wise. So suddenly, we were facing another summer in Florida.

Well, since it was going to be summer and we were going to be in Florida, the only remaining part of our pledge that we could modify was "on the boat." So we asked our network and extended network of friends if anyone knew of a furnished place for rent for the season. The cruisers network is absolutely amazing, and within a couple of days our friend Nichole introduced us to her friends Jenia and Michael. They had a townhouse in the nearby town of Crescent Beach and would be delighted to have trusted renters while they spent the summer exploring the western US in their RV. A perfect win-win! We quickly arranged some details, and Cinderella went to spend the summer at the incomparable Oasis Boatyard getting new chainplates, (more on that later) while we became land-dwellers temporarily.

It's been a lovely change from the confines of being on the boat during covid lockdown, very safe and private and with a lot more room than we have aboard. Very different from our home slip in vibrant downtown, the townhouse is very quiet, offering us a chance to reconnect with each other and nature. Mornings start with chirping birds instead of the clangs and whistles of the opening Bridge of Lions drawbridge.The location, on a barrier island only 250 meters wide, means an easy 5-minute walk to watch both sunrises and sunsets over the water.  It's newly renovated and nicely furnished, with a kitchen big enough to play lots of cooking experiments in. 

But it's also been ... weird. The townhouse is packed full of many fascinating and deeply personal items, musical instruments and souvenirs of the homeowners' world travels and candles and cutesy knick-knacks. When we added our possessions as well, and contrasted it with the necessarily streamlined style we have on the boat, the net effect was to feel a bit jumbled (our styles are very different!) and cluttered. I long for the calm and focus of life on the boat, and realize that the townhouse is not in fact cluttered when judged by ordinary land-based standards, just by boat-standards. Indeed, even though we are temporarily "living on dirt" we still have the minds of cruisers! 

Peaceful sunrises over the Atlantic, and sunsets over the Matanzas, bookend our days

Wednesday, October 7, 2020



Saudade (Portuguese). Google Translate simply describes it as “missing” but a book I read recently gave a more poetic definition: “A vague longing for something that cannot exist again, or perhaps never existed...” 

St George Street during Nights of Lights. The magic already getting dimmer in my memory.

We have loved living here, the last 7 years. But now, the very vibrancy of the town we enjoy so much, the historic buildings and attractions that draw the visitors from everywhere, is exactly what makes it dangerous for us. So many of the ways we worked and volunteered in town involved close contact with large numbers of strangers. Festivals on El Galeon, where we welcome two or three thousand people per day aboard after they've stood in line sometimes for hours, when many days my job was to greet them at the top of the gangway while discretely holding a clicker-counter in each hand to ensure that we didn't exceed the Coast Guard maximum of 150 people aboard at any time, and when the poetic Captain Pablo commented that the ship couldn't breathe when it was that crowded? Yeah, not so likely now. Strolling crowded St George Street in pirate garb and posing for photos with strangers? Um, thanx but no thanx. Volunteering at the Castillo, standing behind a table of artifacts while surrounded by visitors, explaining the everyday life of a soldado on patrol, letting the kids touch the tools and implements, hold the dummy musket and try on a great coat and tricorn hat? A recent email from the ranger coordinating the program explained that when they do reopen, there will be no cannon firings, and no one will be allowed to dress in period clothing, for fear visitors would be too tempted to ignore social distancing to get close. 

After a day dressed as soldados at the Castillo, we'd walk across the street and have pizza at Al's. No Castillo anymore, or eating pizza on Al's balcony either.

So from the safety, comfort -- and isolation -- of the townhouse we rented for the summer, we ponder all we've lost, and what to do next. 

We've learned so much, the Spanish history and culture here from the early days, as well as the civil rights history, the Underground Railroad that ran south from South Carolina and Georgia to Spanish territory where runaways were given their freedom if they pledged allegiance to Spain. That knowledge, of course, will be with us forever.

But the tourism that is the engine that drives this wonderful town and all the opportunities here, are continuing to keep us isolated. And I can't even begin to talk about the varied restaurant scene that has been decimated since March. Although restaurants are open again, we don't feel safe eating in, and takeout food has never been my thing. The other tourist things, the historic lighthouse and climb to the top; the alligator farm and native bird rookery where we visited every week last spring to watch the baby birds grow; the weird Victorian and Gilded Era collections at the Lightner Museum; or just walking the wonderful old streets and the architecture, all are either still closed, or closed-to-us now as we continue to keep isolation in the wake of Dan's scuba accident and general cautiousness. All are dimming in my memory. We did know how good we had it. We'd often turn to each other and say, "I love where we live!" Now, though, it is as though the word saudade was invented for these times. Wistfulness, memories, and loss.  There's a similar word in Welsh, hidraeth, a blend of homesickness, nostalgia, and longing. The memories are still there of things we did and people we met, but they are flat; I remember but do not feel the emotions that went with them. It's like reading about something that happened to someone else. The affection remains, but the passion has evaporated, silently and without fanfare, like a mist blown by the night wind.