A large portion of those living here in long term, no-fee anchorages don't live near the edge. They are sitting on the edge with their feet dangling over the abyss. Many are over the edge, barely hanging on with bloodied fingernails. The crew of Kintala, by comparison, is sitting comfortably within view of the edge, hoping no more earthquakes trouble our world for a while.
Sailors take pride in “well founded boats”. There are not many of those around these anchored parts. Faded paint, decrepit teak, and torn canvas are the norm. Scavenged solar panels supplement noisy generators to keep the lights on and the food from spoiling. Decks are buried under cast off items that may prove useful in the future. There is very little money out here. That bit of dock line lying around cluttering up the place may look ratty and ready for discard, but next year it may be the best bit of line on the boat. Tossing it now may mean having to dig up the bucks to replace it later, and by later that hole might already be empty. Take a picture of a common "cruising boat". Compare it to a picture of a shack in the poverty stricken Appalachian mountains. The two will look remarkably similar.
To put it bluntly, the “This Old Boat” cruising community is a community largely trapped in poverty. This seems particularly true of two sub-groups of the cruising clan; veterans of America's never-ending love of wars, and young people.
Young people are especially vulnerable. Those who spend their 20s and early 30s “living the dream” are likely to find themselves locked in. For all of their worldly experience and independence, they have no solid footing. There are few skills the water dweller can trade to the land living for income. Some itinerant boat work in a yard, stray contract work here and there, maybe a few weeks of a minimum wage - part time schedule at a little place within walking distance of a dink landing sight, are what pass for “work” in the cruising world. It isn't much, and there isn't much of it. In addition the young cruiser likely has no social network that is “home” and lives outside the reach of America's expensive and limited version of health care. Unless very carefully considered, the choice to go cruising while young can easily become a permanent life of poverty.
Many dream of writing for pay to fund their lifestyle - the reason for all of these blogs perhaps. Alas, even living modestly off of a keyboard is less likely than making the bush leagues in almost any big name sport, let alone the Big Show. One must be an excellent word-smith and have access to good editing, with entertaining stories to tell or a keen eye for commentary. Even then one will be most likely have to remain content with writing for the love of art, not for the money.
Cruising is a simple lifestyle that doesn't take much to sustain. But food, boat parts, maintenance, health care, fuel, and travel expenses are mostly non-negotiable. Going from having little money to having no money is a small step financially, one that means going from a simple life to an impoverished one. Floating or fixed, living poor is living hard.
On land, poverty is institutionalized. The poor are born into poor neighborhoods, attend poor schools, suffer the indignities and harm of poor law enforcement, and only have access to poor food and even poorer health care. It is a social problem Americans simply don't care about enough to address. But poor people don't move onto cruising boats to escape poverty.
People living on a boat usually think they were making the choice to live modest and light. Cruisers don't start out living poor on a boat, they end up living poor on a boat, often the result of a string of bad personal decisions and/or unexpected personal or family responsibilities or tragedies. It is a risk of choosing this life that simply isn't mentioned very often. But it needs to be.
Some will insist that living poor is not, itself, a bad thing. They are welcome to their opinion. But I doubt many of them are living poor, and by choice. Come “out here”, run out of funds, be anchored somewhere for months because there is no money to move, have no way back to land, and no options. Pick up a cruising magazine. Look at the pictures. See if that makes it any better.
That may sound like I am down on the “cruising life”. That isn't true, though I am a bit down on the cruising media. We love living this way. It is simple. It is modest. It takes very little from the planet but offers a lot for the heart in return. If one wants to live well while living modestly, this is a good choice to make. But we have been out here for a year now. Those living well outnumber those living hard, but there are more living hard then I ever expected. It is far easier to move from a good life to a difficult one than most will admit, and it can happen very, very, quickly. No one will be out here long before they anchor next to someone struggling to get through each day.
Though this must be said as well: even those struggling, who wish it was easier, would still rather be struggling on the water than struggling on land. If they would rather be living easier on land than struggling on the water, is a question no one asks ... and no one answers. The fact is, once one is living hard on the water, it is damned difficult to get back to land without help.
Coming out here without thinking of how easily this good life can turn into a hard one, is a good way to find one's own story changing into something much different than what was expected.