Sunday, January 17, 2010

Zen and the Art of Boat Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Boat Maintenance: It is your choice, so deal with it.

Simplify, simplify, .. the words of Thoreau have no weight today. In order to simplify our lives, look at what we have consumed! Hello irony, I live on a boat and I'm here to befriend you.

After about the third or fourth time provisioning, I think we have a system in place. Much less time is taken to put away $400 worth of groceries into appropriate spaces. I'm slightly overwhelmed, but the boat manages to gulp it up somehow. Still, towels have to be stowed in a certain way, computer cables and battery chargers in their designated containers, and I can never seem to get a handle on the miscellaneous toiletry items. Sometimes, it is satisfactory to squish a new loaf of bread in the cupboard and close the door. But I'm afraid it is not the same quick fix as force-shutting an overhead compartment full of luggage for a two-hour flight.

My days seem to be filled with the details of arranging and tidying the boat. Whether it is for safety or functional living, the boat and its contents have to be in immaculate shape. Every day, the inside has to be swept. Every few months, all contents have to come out and the inside walls need to be wiped down with vinegar or bleach or whatever. That is, if you have the luxury of having plenty of freshwater. The Japanese have the small space living pretty much dialed. I have not mastered it at all. So far, figuring out where to put all the books has offered more challenge to me than the book contents themselves have.

Our friends on S. V. Estrellita called it "the boat moment". A small example: After removing about eight items, I struggle to take out the compact portable printer from the cubby hole because it fits in there without an inch of moving room. My blood starts to boil, foul language starts spraying, and I look like a lunatic yanking on plastic or clawing on cardboard. "That's it, I'm tossing the bloody thing overboard!" But later I calm down and contemplate on the bulk, weight, and frequency of use for this item. I coil the cord in a certain way, place the printer in the dry bag, then stow it away in the reverse five-step order. You choose to keep the printer, then deal with it.

Despite Mike's enormous effort on preparing our boat for cruising, the boat keeps demanding more. The sink drain needed to be replaced. The toilet exploded. Apparently, we need a working temperature gauge for the engine. Forget it, we're sick of spending money.

When boat moments accumulate and frustrations build, I feel as though I'm consumed by the boat. Truly, how can you be such high maintenance? Aren't you supposed to serve us? Remember the friendly message from the sticker on a rental video tape, "Please be kind, rewind"? Please be kind, sweep me every day, oil me every three months, maintain me until your bones turn to dust.. There's something wrong here. How do I make peace with this? Because it is a lifestyle that we have chosen again, for now, we can't let it get to us. Otherwise, our already dirty temperaments might get worse. Key word: we have "chosen", so deal with it.

In Ensenada, I was struck again with the familiar scene of several old men working non-stop on numerous projects on their boats. Every port is full of these people and their to-do lists for their precious boats. I might as well start calling them Golem and their boats "your Precious". Anyway, they did not seem to accomplish much, but just tinkering away was the goal of the game. It was not the end product, but truly the process that seemed to matter for them. Then it occurred to me that the boat is their friend. Stories are told as though the boat is a living entity. Even when the man uttered, "The projects never stop", there was not a hint of complaint in his tone.

Perhaps I have been deaf to the breathing of our Io. Our friendship may be relatively new as we have renamed her not too long ago. I mean, we (we, as in, Mike) got to know her very well in the physical preparation of Io. But it seems as though we are now just starting to befriend her and get to know her. I have noticed this especially when we are sailing. She seems to become animated, safely carrying us, and seems to enjoy her movements in the element that she is destined to be. She is very tough.. a lot tougher that I am. She is intimidating and sometimes induces pain. But she is patient like Buddha. I feel proud when people repeatedly tell us that she is strong and seaworthy. If this is a friendship, then it is truly a unique one. She demands a lot. But I suppose we demand a lot from her, too. If this is a friendship, then I shall learn about it.


  1. Learn the lesson of ship Mike and roll with the waves. Each new challenge brings lessons in patience and forebearance that you need to learn. The challenges will never stop, so your anger and impatience is a waste of energy and only damages your body and your own mind and is painful to those around you who must suffer through those rages. You are so clever and to give into such temper tantrums is a total waste of your intelligence. It is such a destructive force and you could be developing a calm and peaceful spirit instead. Io is trying to teach you this. Listen to her.

  2. That was a beautiful entry and captures a lot of the same reasoning I've been going through.

    I think what I find most challenging about what you two have done is that you (I believe) started living aboard full time, without land breaks, essentially when you started voyaging. Is that true? I know you had lived aboard on and off during all of the refit as well, but it seem that yYou have been working through the living aspects and the traveling aspects simultaneously. Give yourself a lot of credit for that.

    - Livia

  3. Love that boat!
    True friends do require love & maintenance...once you two are off for some real "sea time" you're souls will sing a mighty song that no one....on land to sing. All the present work will fade into blissful times...and you will know you did the best thing of kept your promise to one another and to your sailing yacht.
    Dorothy Guzzwell (wife of infamous John Guzzwell and good friend and co-worker with your Mom, Valerie .....our smiles and happiness sail off with you.