Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dropping, stepping, and setting

A friend from my aviation days called. We flew little tail-dragging airplanes together back about the time his corporate flight department was being closed. Which was a couple of years before mine did the same. He flew for an "All American Company" that decided they could add a few tenths of a cent to the stock price by pushing the more experienced Captains out the door and replacing them with cheaper, less experienced airplane drivers. My friend was one of those being pushed. A short time later the "All American Company" traded red-white-and blue for black-gold-and red, selling itself to a foreign manufacture. I heard it described as one of the biggest sell-outs in American history.

The stock holders took the money and ran. The new owners laid off a few thousand workers and closed the flight department entirely. A little bit later they discovered that America is a big country with domestic airline service that sucks. Last I heard they were starting a new flight department; smaller, less capable, and none of the original crew were invited back. (The last TV add I saw for the company still touted its "All American" image.)

Anyway, my friend wanted to know if I was still in the St. Louis area, unaware that we had moved onto a boat and sailed away. When I told him that we were just starting our second year as cruisers, his response was,

"Oh, you dropped out."

Actually, I was thrown under the bus of corporate America during a Board fight of egos, got a hold of a bumper to keep from getting run over, spotted a soft spot to land, jumped, and managed the timing well enough not to get too badly bruised. The fact is, we were already standing in the aisle and reaching for the "Stop Requested" cord. We landed a bit short of our original destination (meaning we had less money on the back than we wanted) but at least had an idea of where we were going.

There are a lot of different reasons for being "out here". Some, as I suggested a few days ago, are near the end of their financial rope. A cheap boat parked in a free place is better than living under a bridge. Since they are marginally mobile there is a spark of hope that things can get better. And I really believe that moving onto a modest boat might be the best way to stretch minimum dollars into maximum living. Those doing so are, maybe, some of the best of us who are out here. We have met such who are endlessly creative, capable, and at least as happy as most land dwellers we have known. I love that we can share an anchorage with such fine excuses for human beings.

Others are more like Deb and I. Retired, maybe with a little less, funds wise, than we would like, but doing okay and learning our way around. Our boats reflect more of what we thought important than just what we could find cheap. For all of our struggles, Kintala has also been a bit of a "hobby boat". On land I had airplanes, motorcycles, a work shop, built things, fixed things ... hobbies. Kintala fills that roll now, sometimes too much so, but still keeps my hands calloused and gives me things to do. She looks, and works, as good as I feel like making her look and work. In any collection of cruiser hulls there will be a few that are clearly providing someone with an excuse for staying out of trouble. And yes, I admit to being one of them.

Others quit land exactly when they wanted, with the funds they wanted, on the boat they wanted, and do anything that they want wherever they might be. We don't know too many of those folks personally, but their boats can be seen pretty much anywhere. People like this are important to the cruising world. They take the "shine" off of a boat and, when they move on, some of the rest of us can afford to move in. They spend lots of money when they stop somewhere, making the rest of us look good to the business owners who have a big say in our access to places. And, one must admit, a lot of them are running really, really beautiful boats. I am not talking mega-yachts, but 35 to 50 foot cruising boats that sparkle in the sunshine like jewels. It is a pleasure to have one anchored nearby.

Of course there is nothing at all wrong with the well traveled cruiser. In fact, they are some of my favorite boats to have anchored close by. Every one of their nicks, scratches, stains, and faded bits were clearly well earned far out of sight of land, baked in the sun and soaked in the salt. There is a dignity to such boats, maybe just a slight aura of arrogance. Of all of us "out here", they are the ones who have been "out there". They, and their owners, carry the thousands of miles covered with a self-assurance that cannot be bought, only earned the hard way. I like when they are around, though sometimes I feel like a kid with his plastic toy tools walking through a truck maintenance shop and pretending to be a grown up mechanic.

Are we all "drop outs"?

Maybe, but I like to think that we all just decided to play a different game, take a different path, or see the world from a different place. Not so much quitting, but changing the rules to something that makes more sense for us. Less dropping out, more stepping up...

or just setting out.

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