by Ray Jason
It was a moment of pure, transcendent bliss. AVENTURA had just cleared some treacherous, shallow reefs south of Jamaica. As I studied my chart, it suddenly dawned on me that now there was nothing but open Caribbean water between my lovely sailboat and a cornucopia of enchanting destinations.
I could select the beautiful and historic walled city of Cartagena. Or perhaps the stunning San Blas islands with their feisty Kuna Indians, who never fell to European conquest. Maybe a visit to the magical Rio Chagres was in order. It is a jungle wonderland where the howler monkeys outnumber the humans. Or possibly I should set my course for the undiscovered jewel of the Caribbean – Bocas del Toro. But then again, maybe I should sail west to the turquoise, fish-lush waters of Belize.
Pondering these exquisite choices reinforced my belief that there is no freer way to live than the sea gypsy path. Since I didn’t want to waste my fresh stash of Jamaican limes, I made myself a tall gin and tonic. Then I retired to the foredeck with my clipboard. Feeling utterly at peace - with the sails pulling and the wind-vane steering - I decided to inventory the many forms of freedom that wandering the Wide Waters bequeaths me.
FREEDOM FROM FRENZY – The usual speed for AVENTURA is around five knots, which is only about twice as fast as someone out walking their dog. This allows me to leisurely observe and enjoy my surroundings. The adjoining world is not reduced to a frenetic blur, it is a panorama to examine and savor. I love the fact that my sailboat is such an organic part of nature. It is enmeshed within its rules and constraints. In the same way that you never see a turtle driving a jet-ski, you never see a boat like mine traveling at 50 knots. This magisterial pace is also vital for someone with a philosophical inclination. That’s because Speed is the arch-enemy of contemplation.
· FREEDOM FROM A BRAVE NEW 1984 WORLD – The two classic dystopian novels of the Twentieth Century proposed very different approaches that governments might use to impose tyranny. In Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD, the authorities used entertainment and drugs to enslave the people so effortlessly that they didn’t even notice their bondage. But in Orwell’s 1984, the rulers used gruesome “boot on the neck” totalitarianism to subdue and neuter the people. They combined a vicious secret police force with an inescapable surveillance grid.
I contend that the evolving, low-grade tyranny that is so evident in the USA combines BOTH of these tactics. The populace is sedated and dumbed-down with a 24/7 kaleidoscope of escapist media that prevents them from noticing the erosion of their freedoms. Simultaneously, the State is militarizing police forces and installing a surveillance dome that is all-pervasive. Orwell would be shocked at how thoroughly the Overlords can monitor the modern citizen. Out here in the sea gypsy world, I am invulnerable to their electro-techno seductions and much less visible to their all-peeping eyes.
· FREEDOM FROM HUMILIATING DEPENDENCY – Self-reliance is mandatory for the ocean sailor. You can’t call a plumber a thousand miles from land. But not only is being able to fix that leaking toilet vital - it is also extremely invigorating. Being a “minor master” of one’s seagoing domicile is deeply empowering in a modern world overflowing with incompetency.
· FREEDOM TO EMBRACE MY WILD, FERAL, ANCESTRAL SELF – The Western techno-industrial paradigm has decimated almost all of the indigenous cultures on our planet. There are only about 85 native tribes still surviving in the deserts, jungles and Arctic snow fields. But even though civilized people view them as savages, they see themselves as self-reliant human animals who can attend to their complete life needs. On the other hand they are amused by our deadly dependencies, and they think of us as domesticated animals – like sheep or cows. By spending much of my time in un-peopled places, I can reconnect with my lost feral self. When I whack open a coconut with my machete and savor my Tarzan Tea or greet the sunrise with a blast from my conch shell or stop my boat in the far ocean to swim in miles-deep water, these are not just symbolic gestures. They are steppingstones along a path to greater freedom and back to the wisdom of the wild.
· FREEDOM FROM THE FEAR OF COLLAPSE – When I first started cruising many years ago, there was no such thing as Peak Oil or derivatives or methane venting. But as our Energy, Economic and Ecological mega-systems have become overwhelmed, the specter of a major societal unraveling is a genuine possibility. Fortunately, a well-equipped ocean-worthy sailboat is probably the best survival module there is. I have discussed this belief thoroughly at my various “Sea Gypsy Tribe” essays that can be easily scrolled down to here on my blog. So when I finish this essay, I will sleep soundly knowing that AVENTURA can handle almost any catastrophe that the world might present to us.
· FREEDOM FROM “WORKER BEE EDUCATION” - The actual goal of state-sponsored, industrial-model education is not to inspire the love of knowledge into students. Instead, it is designed to teach them just enough so that they can operate the machines that are needed to keep the system functioning. The prevailing educational template does not just discourage critical thinking, it suffocates it. That’s because too much careful inquiry would reveal a system that is founded upon injustice and exploitation. But the children that I see around me in the sea gypsy community, who are being home-schooled by their parents, are full of curiosity and creativity. They are learning about Nature and other cultures not from documentaries but from direct contact. The normal inquisitiveness and originality that comes with childhood is not suppressed - it is supported.
· FREEDOM FROM SUPPORTING IMPERIAL GOVERNMENTS – In my ideal world, there are no borders. And as a symbol of that vision, I fly the Earth Flag aboard AVENTURA. It also permits me to show no allegiance to my birth country, the USA, which has become such a malevolent force on the planet. I am not referring to the bulk of its people, who are largely decent, caring humans, but to its political, corporate and military Overlords who wreak havoc and death around the world. And to those foreigners who claim that I SHOULD ridicule the average American because they keep electing such soul-less leaders, I submit that the system is now so corrupted that voting or protesting no longer offer any genuine hope for change.
· FREEDOM FROM AN UN-CULTURE WHERE “OUR STUFF” DEFINES US – Most of my friends suspect that my lifelong simplicity has been involuntary rather than voluntary. They believe that if I had applied myself better I could have been successful and wealthy. But much of it has actually been conscious and deliberate. It began when I first read this sentence by Thoreau: “A man is rich in direct proportion to the number of things that he can live without.” That inspired me to judge the worth of a person not based on their “stuff” but on their non-material qualities such as intelligence, kindness and humor. Such a non-conformist perspective means that I am dramatically out of step with the dominant culture. Fortunately, by living close to Nature in my small boat, I can avoid a disposable un-culture that is addicted to “the latest and greatest.” My sextant could have been used by mariners 200 years ago - and it could be used by future sailors 200 years from now.
· FREEDOM FROM “WORST-CASE EVIL” – It is fairly indisputable that those who control our world are greedy, arrogant, selfish power freaks. But there seem to be credible insiders and whistleblowers who maintain that the people in charge are even beyond hideous - that they are genuinely diabolical and evil. My genuine hope is that this is not the case. But if it is so, what better way to escape their web, than to wander about the seldom visited coasts and the vast ocean expanses of our wild, wet planet.
The sun had now vacated my longitude in the Caribbean, and so I decided to go below and cook my dinner. But the remembrance of that Thoreau quote about voluntary simplicity, inspired me to dig out my little folder of what I call “road quotes.” I had collected them during my long ago hitch-hiking days on the Asphalt Seas. I freshened up my gin and tonic, and settled in to renew my acquaintance with these memorable quotations. About halfway through them, I came across one that I had forgotten. It is by Albert Camus, and it is so relevant to the subject of this essay that I was both stunned and delighted. Allow me to share it with you:
“The only way to deal with an un-free world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”