Monday, October 17, 2016

Rich Man's Jail

If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about. -Sterling Hayden

Reader "horizonstar" left that quote as a comment to my post about opportunity costs.

While I admire the notion that's expressed there, I admit to some reservations. I'm not one to romanticize hardship. There have been many times when I've been happy to be working enough that we have relatively deep pockets for maintaining Galactic.

But then we put the barky into a marina in Curaçao, and the sentiment expressed in that quote made a whole lot more sense.

The marina in Curaçao
We had a pretty good excuse for being there. In order to leave Galactic in Curaçao so that I could get some work done in the States and we could all visit family, we had to put her in customs bond. And that required putting the boat in a marina.

The place is a sterile nothing that was created as a part of a tourism mega-development. It's quite expensive. But at least we had the excuse of leaving the boat to explain our presence.

But there were quite a few other crews living aboard in the marina, with no apparent excuse on offer.  And the scene was dull

To paraphrase a good friend's comments on visiting his in-laws: never have so few, with so much, done so little.  The marina is full of super high-end "cruising" boats that are busy doing nothing. The people living aboard them seem to have very carefully recreated their home culture in this new place, and the dockside scene has all the verve and authenticity of any beach condo community anywhere.

By contrast, the anchorage in Spanish Waters that we had just left felt like a thrilling, anarchic place. And believe me, as anchorages go, Spanish Waters is pretty low on the thrilling/anarchic scale.

But there is a fundamental upside to being anchored as opposed to being tied to the dock. You have a wonderful moat around you, keeping the rest of the world at a respectful distance. And at anchor you're keeping alive the feeling of contingency and impermanence that is the essence of living on a sailboat. The outcome of your voyage is still in doubt. You could pull the hook at any time, and suddenly avail yourself of the great sailor's freedom of being on the way from here to there

When your boat is tied to the dock, on the other hand, it is literally and metaphorically tied to land. Your voyage is over for now. And nothing very worthwhile will happen with your boat until you untie it again.

Our neighbor boats in that marina are variously weighted down with watermakers and gensets, those two great tools for maintaining the life of land on a boat. But still their owners pay perfectly good money to forsake any feeling of freedom, just for the comfort of those two leashes to land, the power cord and the water hose. 

I wonder if it isn't the terrible handicap of wealth that keeps them there. Once your boat and its accouterments are astronomically expensive, it might be so much more comforting to live behind a locked gate.  And to pay a subset of the dark-skinned locals to protect you against the imagined depredations of their kin.

Ah, but! Into this sad scene come the crews of Itacaré, Gentileza, and El Caracol - two Brazilian families living in the marina, and their friends, a Portuguese family, anchored just outside, whom our family had the good fortune to fall in with.

This mob instantly swept Alisa and our kids into their orbit of fun. Elias and some of the dads involved discovered a shared deep appreciation for fishing. And after I was away in Oregon on my work trip, Elias even got to go out on a blokes-only fishing mission with the fathers. I think this kind of exposure to role models who aren't me is a very good experience for a boy Elias' age.

And thus, one of my great motivating beliefs as a traveler: there are good people everywhere.


  1. Ah, a silver lining to the Spanish Waters clouds. So relieved. But ouch, pity the poor folk who do not meet the mark. We've met them. We've pitied them too. But really, who are we to judge....say we, who are now (it seems) to be relieved of our boat by an Alaskan fisherman. Permanent shore power. Can you stomach it? Love your style, Galactics. Go on setting that bar for living ridiculously high! Diana x

  2. Beautiful words Mike - and so true!

  3. Captain Su - Sailing Journalist Indonesia

    Captain Su is a nom de plume for an expat Aussie currently living in Bali, Indonesia. From 2011 to 2013 he worked as a journalist for the Bali Advertiser, News stories from his column “From the Sea” are included here courtesy of the Bali Advertiser.