Monday, May 2, 2016

Navigating the Ups and Downs

I belong to a women's Facebook Group called Women Who Sail. It was started by Charlotte Kaufman of The Rebel Heart, and has grown to over 8,000 members. Even with all those members, the tenor has remained helpful, caring, and positive, a feat that not many online sailing or boating communities can claim. If you are a woman who sails, or motors, or dreams of either, it is a tremendous resource.

One of the common threads in the group posts is that of discouraged ladies seeking some support and encouragement. While only a fraction of the members are full time cruisers or dreamers of such, selling everything and moving onto a boat can be the most trying venture a person can attempt. Once cruising, the learning curve is steep; the unexpected can sometimes be overwhelming. Among long-term cruisers, it is a well-known fact and oft-sited meme, that of the highs being higher and the lows being lower than land life and each cruiser has to find their own way through. I was thinking particularly about this issue this morning because after checking a few things off my project list yesterday and feeling pretty good about it, this morning I made the mistake of asking Tim what was on his list. Wow.

So how do we navigate those ups and downs, highs and lows? Clearly, the highs are great. Those fantastic take-your-breath-away sunsets, the hour long parade of dolphins dancing in your wake, the sight of that rare Tropic Bird, the lightning on the horizon and, yes, finishing a water pump overhaul and installation. The lows? They come in all sorts.

Loneliness can sometimes be the hardest. The cruising community is in a constant state of flux depending on where you happen to be at the moment. Dinner Key Mooring Field? Tons of cruisers, lots of community and social functions. Hoffman Cay in the Berry Islands? Better like your shipmates because they're the only ones you're going to see. Then there's the ever-present missing of family members back on shore: aging parents and grandbabies that grow up entirely too fast.

The current state of boat maintenance is probably the other main cause of deep lows. You spend a lot of time maintaining the boat and yet it will knock the feet right out from under you every chance it gets. We have a good friend who finally got to leave the dock after a long summer refit, only to have it break down a few times on their way south. Again. And they're not isolated. Two other friends have been held hostage by the dock for over a month waiting on parts to fix major issues on the boat - transmissions and rudders.

I've had someone tell me it's all about your attitude. I admire people who can just buckle down and say, "OK this thing sucks but I'm going to just be happy anyway." If I had that sort of emotional discipline, I wouldn't be carrying around 20 extra pounds. I've also had land-bound friends wonder how you could possibly ever claim the right to be depressed when you're living the life in paradise. You know the answer to that one, the exceedingly well-used (or abused) phrase "Cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places" thing. Boat maintenance brings with it physical pain (at least for those of us who are aging boat owners), stress over money (unless you are independently wealthy), and endless frustration because you can't find things, parts are unavailable, you don't have the proper tools or expertise, or the weather is not cooperating.

Ah The master of highs and lows, if you'll pardon the pun. The weather rules the cruising life and, inevitably, the sun will be bright and too hot when you need to do stainless polishing, the wind and rain will be ice cold when you have to travel down the ICW, the storm will be the strongest when you have people anchored too close, and rain will pin you inside a very small space for days. But that pristine steel blue sky after a cold front? The salty, light breeze whispering through the palms on shore? The deep reds and golds of a sunset reflected in the clouds? We live in the weather and these stunning displays that so many land dwellers miss are the stuff of good cruising dreams.

For me, navigating the highs and lows involves finding ways to maneuver things around me to a manageable flow. One of the ways I do this is through lists. I am a meticulous list keeper. I put everything on The List no matter how small, just so I can check it off. Checking something off makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something, like I'm making some progress. If I'm installing a new bilge pump then the list might get four entries: research type of pump to buy, buy pump, run wiring, install pump. I do this, because many projects take days and if I just put, "install new bilge pump", I might not get to check off anything for a week. I will end each day feeling like I haven't accomplished anything. If the lows are getting to me, I find something quick and easy to get off the list and I immediately feel better. This approach doesn't work for everyone. Tim absolutely hates lists. He feels like they sit there mocking him, a constant reminder of his inability to stay on top of things. Fortunately for us, the two of us are bummed by different things so we rarely are at the low together and can encourage each other. You have to decide what works for you and for your partner if you're in a relationship

Another way to maneuver things around me to make it better is by simply taking a break. Go for a walk. Watch a funny movie. Read a book. Play a game. Cook a new recipe. Call a friend. Announce a day off and go for a hike in the park or a bike ride. Blow the conch horn at sunset. Anything that will allow you to take a deep breath and renew your energy to tackle things again.

All of life is waves and cycles and seasons, something that you don't think of much when you're living on land, but something that is acutely accented when living on the water. I wouldn't trade the intensity of life here for anything. Sure, it comes with the cost of those deep lows, but that's a price I'm willing to pay. Any life richly lived comes with a cost. I'm learning to find ways to mitigate the depth of the lows and, in the process, I'm accumulating a wealth of memories, experiences, and stories for the grandkids. So if you're planning to cruise some day and you hear fearsome stories of weather and boat maintenance nightmares, don't let them scare you away.

It's a life well lived and worth every bit of effort.

4 comments: said...

Great post! I like your way of making lists including even the small sub-tasks, such that checking them off makes you feel accomplished. That works for me, too, when I get around to making lists. I'm apt to make one, then forget I made it. All of life is highs and lows with the 'beige' straight line stuff holding everything together. I think that on a sailboat, it's just magnified because the highs and lows are more intense. Attitude is critical, of course, but like you, if I had that kind of emotional discipline, I wouldn't be carrying around extra pounds! Or extra anything, for that matter.

The Cynical Sailor said...

Wonderful post, Deb! Full of honesty, encouragement and good food for thought.

Robert Salnick said...

Two thumbs up - great post!

And I must add that I too am a list person, and derive the same satisfaction from checking off an item


Robert Salnick said...

In fact I should add that the "Our Groceries" app is a wonderful way to keep multiple lists, and to share them with a partner - I use it for everything.