Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Boat Life, Just Life

Science experiment
Elias is seven.  From this sample of one, I have deduced that seven year old boys are old enough not to want to cry when they're upset, but young enough that they can't always help it.

For the last week we've been in a forgotten little estuary next to the first capitol of New Zealand where visiting sailboats congregate to make their final preparations before leaving for the tropics.

The kids whom Elias and Eric played with in Whangarei are of course not here, and the boys are keen to interact with some peers.  Knowing that we also need to recycle some books and toys, Alisa took matters in hand and announced over the daily radio get-together that she was organizing a kids' book and toy swap on shore.

Our boys arrived at the appointed time brimming with excitement at the prospect of new possessions, and with two bigs sacks of their own stuff to trade away.

A few other sailing kids showed up.  But none brought anything to trade.  Eric, who we have realized really should have been in preschool during our three months in Whangarei, screamed and hit.  Alisa, who was recovering from shingles and doing laundry, had to call me on the radio for child-minding backup.

That's never happened before.

Undaunted, Alisa drove the boys around the anchorage in the dinghy the next day, asking boats if they had children aboard.  They need some mates, she said to me.  They look at other kids with longing.

And - success!  A Swedish boat, in the throes of their last 48 hours of preparation for going on passage, did have kids on board.  And yes, they would like to trade some books.

Elias ended up staying on board their boat for a play while Alisa went to do some chores ashore.

When she came back she could tell that something was wrong.  And when Elias got back on board Galactic he sprinted for his cabin, trying to stifle his sobs.

It turns out that he gave away some of his very best books, and somehow got nothing in return.  And he didn't know how to speak up and explain that he wanted to trade, and not just give the books away.

Kids' books on Galactic get used.  We read them so many times that the boys learn entire books by heart, word for word, before they can read themselves.  Individual books become associated with a hundred different bedtimes, and rainy days at anchor, and long afternoons on passage when the boys curl up with Alisa in the cockpit to read book after book after book.

So poor Elias, who is learning his way with possession and acquisition (central actions in our culture, after all), was heartbroken to see these old friends going away without anything to take their place.

It was one of those moments of paternal empathy, when you watch your kid learning his way in the world and getting bruised in the process.

And, Elias was running into the exact kind of situation that bothers adults all the time.  Buying and selling, trying to carry yourself in a way that keeps you from being taken advantage of, trying to be savvy without hurting others - this is so much of the business of life.

I guess that's why I don't think of what we're doing as "cruising" - that solipsistic concern with amp-hours and crevice corrosion and osmotic blisters and so on.  All that stuff is really very secondary.  Living on a boat is, at this point, just living to us - living with a constant family togetherness, so that there are few moments in each other's lives that go unobserved.


  1. Aww, poor little fella. Life lessons can be hard, on land or sea.

    1. and the life lessons seem to never end!

    2. I love this post. It tears me apart. As usual, all the characters of Galactic's addictive family drama have their part - Elias, Alisa, Mike, Eric. Beautifully written. You call this a sailing blog? You wanna know about our autopilot?? x

    3. "Life is what happens when you're thinking about your autopilot." - Me :)

  2. What a great post. As you say he is certainly "learning his way in the world" and that definitely comes with a bit of bruising along the way.

    1. thanks, Mary. I didn't even put in the part about Alisa dipping into her stock of new books for passage to reward Elias for being generous.

  3. As the ruler of your world your smartphone might meet all your needs! But wait..a great cloud computing solution could ease burdens, a VOIP phone can work wonders at home and if you want to improve your skills, lets get you professionally trained.