I really had no idea what I was getting into when we changed our house for a yacht. The only sailing experience I had was a damp afternoon on Albert Park Lake in Melbourne, in a little wooden boat with a boyfriend who was a Sea Scout. All I remember was dodging the boom (not always successfully) at the shout of “prepare to come about!”, and trying not to think about the slimy weed waiting for me in the shallow water. If this was sailing, I’d stick to landlubbing, thanks. For a few months, my friend and I planned to build a yacht and sail off into the sunset, but then the relationship did that instead, and I stopped thinking about boats.
Fast forward 35 years, and here I am, living on board a yacht, with my husband Lex. This is it, this is our home. That boom must have connected with my head harder than I remember all those years ago on the lake. My lovely little study with its bookshelves and cabinets and piles of papers is reduced to a distillation of books in a locker, a precious drawer of ‘stuff’, and my MacBook Air.
Have you ever stopped to consider just how solid a floor is? How it doesn’t move under your feet? How the desk doesn’t tilt and lurch beneath your notebook, and the cup of tea stays in one spot? You can forget all that when you go sailing. And include long showers, high ceilings, wardrobes, beds that are easy to make, and space.
Showers are short (on water and on room) and relatively uncomfortable. Ceilings? if you’re over 6 ft you’re in for a bent neck on most boats. Wardrobes? For starters they’re called “hanging lockers”, and if there’s any room left over from the wet weather gear, you’re welcome to it. Beds: this is something you discover about boats the morning after your first night. Most of the bed is generally jammed against the walls, er bulkheads, and you have to climb onto the bed to make it. And space? According to my husband, space is for spare parts and tools. Somehow I’ve managed to steal a couple of cupboards – sorry, lockers – for my writing gear, clothes and sundries. Oh, and food. Men regard food on yachts as something that takes up minimal space, but can feed multitudes. The loaves and fishes story is obviously missing a boat in there somewhere.
So here I am, the hoarder of the family, the keeper of the family archives, the archaeologist’s Nirvana, forced to render my life’s accumulation of fascinating historical….stuff, into three lockers with about the total capacity of half a 44 gallon drum. But archaeologists of the future can relax. Luckily someone invented Storage. I made sure I packed up the house when Lex was at work, so I managed to salvage a lot of my life and squirrel it away. I DID chuck out, oh, at least a whole bag full of stuff in the process. Even I can make mistakes in the hoarding business.
I managed to whittle down the truly important stuff of my life into a very small pile. And I am embarrassed to say, I found the experience quite liberating. For example, getting rid of a wardrobe full of bad choices, kept out of guilt, was cathartic. Now I have 10 tops, half a dozen shorts, 3 pairs of jeans and a couple of jumpers, and that’s it. The fact that they are still bad choices seems less of a worry out of sight of land. Fashion’s not my strong point.
Books, on the other hand, caused me a lot of angst. There are 37 boxes of books in storage. I took only 25 books on board with me when we first left Darwin, and it was agony choosing between old favourites (too many), books not yet read, and references for the current work in progress. The real drama for a book lover however, is that when you sail, you arrive in ports where other yachties are desperately looking for new books to read, and they want you to swap. Giving away a book I love is like giving away a child. Impossible! So I have to make room for temporary residents on the book shelf so that there’s something to trade for something not yet read.
I have to confess that in 8 months of off-shore sailing I didn’t actually read many books. When we’re at sea, reading makes me sea-sick. If it’s too rough, I’m busy hanging on. And there’s so much to look out for, like dolphins, whales, floating logs, submerged rocks, ships the size of small countries… and when you finally arrive somewhere, there are things to fix, maintenance to do, provisions to buy, sights to see and sleep to catch up on.
But at the moment, we’re living on board in the Darwin marina, back at work for a while, so reading – and writing – are back where they should be – top of the list!