Everything that comes out of you and goes into the boat, well, it’s not going to stay in the boat. Pumping out your yacht’s holding tank will be a lengthy and fetid process. It’s a task that when able to be skimped from that eternal chore list will be. When your boat’s moored, it’s probably going to be far enough away from the pumping station to be inconvenient, so anything you flush down the head will go straight into the water. When your boat buddy, or any neighbor in the bay, uses the head while you’re enjoying your morning swim, it’ll be best to stay focused on your enchanting turquoise aquarium yard instead.
You won’t want to think about or see, let alone eat out of, a can again. A swimmable front lawn may seem like a fair trade for a strictly canned menu, but there will be days when your diet alone will convince you cruising life sucks. Yes, it’s simple. Yes, it’s lovely. But, yes, it gets old. Thoughts of freshly picked greens and cold beer will consume your mind more than you ever thought possible. You’ll dream about catching a fish, or buying a refrigerator — but then something will break, and your funds and fishing time will go toward purchasing and installing some crucial and expensive new thing that can’t go ignored.
Your beloved boat will generate a to-do list for you each and every day. You’ll grow tremendously tired of having to fix another broken part, mend a ripped sail, unclog the head, and investigate another strange sound. You may have to blow hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on a suddenly flooded engine. You’ll have no choice; every task will be central to your existence. It’s the price you pay — the colossal ingredient — for living the dream.
Whether it’s the jaded sailor, overly cautious friend, or eavesdropping neighbor — everyone will have a tale to tell about someone falling overboard, mooring lines breaking loose in the middle of the night, masts snapping halfway to destinations, horrendous medical emergencies, and even whales vaulting right onto boats. “Don’t forget to put down that swim ladder before taking a dip. Plenty of folk drown out there forgetting just that,” every single person you talk to ever will warn. They’ll be right though. Things do happen. But just like anything worth doing, there are risks involved. You can be as prepared and informed as the next sailor, but obstacles are going to find you.
Talk to the wrong people, and you may be talked out of the sailor’s life before you even begin it. Talk to the right people, and they’ll tell you about risks and how to best prepare for them but also miracles and unimaginable joys awaiting you in a life not often experienced. So find some sailors worth their salt. You can rely on what they have to say.
Sure, chances are you’ll safely complete that ocean crossing, and your keel won’t strain and split. You probably won’t be left stranded or capsized in deep waters. A whale probably won’t launch itself onto your deck — though I do know someone who had that happen during a trans-Atlantic voyage. Every sailor knows somebody who knows somebody who’s had something horrid happen on the water. Anything can happen while at the mercy of nature. People will suddenly fall ill. Storms will roll in. Masts will snap. Tanks will leak. Engines will die. Lightning will strike. And fires, of all things, will start. Risks are going to be everywhere, so choose wisely and prepare for the consequences. Bill Bryson nailed it when he said: “That doesn’t happen often, but — and here is the absolutely salient point — once would be enough.”
One flawless sun-drenched moment your mind might be consumed with thoughts of your life, effortlessly drifting away with a tropical breeze. But then you’ll find yourself infuriated with every decision you ever made that led you to this boat, where you have to row a quarter of a mile to shore to get another can of beans, or a single abnormally shaped bolt, exclusively designed for your boat and your boat only. You’ll regret your life. But then a pod of dolphins might rise from your infinite front yard, close enough to splash you. On a boat, your mood swoops between surrender, determination, caution, and recklessness at alarming rates. There will be difficult and trying days, but in between them you’ll sweep up moments that enrich your life in immeasurable ways. These moments will teach you about the world, about people, and about yourself. You’ll be humbled, surprised, reassured, and scared stiff beyond words. But not a moment will pass when you don’t feel tremendously alive.
Sometimes you’ll forget that, eventually, you’re probably going to leave your boat. Maybe you’ll still be living on it tomorrow, next week, or even next year, but perhaps somewhere down the line you’ll live on terra firma again. It’ll be hard to jump back into civilization and not feel cooped up or even trapped, and not become hopelessly irritable each time you step indoors. It’ll be hard to adjust your habits — especially your hygienic ones — to societal standards. Taking a shower won’t mean jumping off the boat into cool, translucent waters anymore. Nor will it include vibrantly colored fish, sea turtles, dolphins, or dodging dinghies. Water faucets and shower heads are going to leave you baffled and amazed for months. There isn’t going to be an infinite amount of stars glowing above your head at night. You’re not going to feel as terrified or astonished when thunderstorms and windstorms pass through. You’re going to miss seeing, smelling, and hearing the change in the weather and in the seasons.
You risk so much by diving into the unknown. You risk giving up everything that gives you joy in the hope you can find something greater, and you risk finding nothing at all. But that’s the beauty of it. No matter how long you decide to stay salty, you’ll always carry the inspiration, wonder, and desire boat life will instill in you.