by Ray Jason
|Photo of AVENTURA by Tor Pinney|
The building of boats is one of the earliest chapters in the book of human history. Tools and fire and dugout canoes were all essential to the beginning stages of the voyage of humanity. And lazing about in the Archipelago of Bliss, keeps me directly connected to this heritage. Every time a weathered Indio sells me a fish from his cayuco, I am looking down at a hand-carved canoe whose design harkens back even further than the Pyramids.
This pleases me. For I believe that a philosopher’s task is to seek out that which is elemental and enduring; and discard that which is artificial and ephemeral. My job is to distinguish between events that are only important in the moment and those that are genuinely momentous.
But often this is an emotional burden. My last three essays, which examined the Social Engineering that almost invisibly controls our existence, left me saddened and depleted. So I have decided to let my senses and mind wander around my little ship, and rejoice in how splendid she is - both tangibly and symbolically.
Here, at AVENTURA’s navigation station, there is a brightly polished brass oil lamp that would have blended in nicely on Captain Cook’s ship. A few feet away there is a sextant similar to the ones that guided the Clipper Ships around Cape Horn. And in the cockpit there is a magnetic compass that is not much different from the ones I used in the U.S. Navy. I treasure them all because they are tools passed down the centuries. They are physical manifestations of The Old Ways, and they still work – brilliantly.
But I am not so stubbornly traditional that I completely forsake The New Ways. Onboard there are also electric lights and a GPS and radar and a wind generator and solar panels. These are perfect examples of the concept of “appropriate technology” as advanced by E.F. Shumacher a few decades ago. They are appropriate because they are utilitarian. When Mother Ocean becomes tempestuous, it is prudent and wise to have the right equipment to survive the wrong conditions.
And speaking of the wrong conditions - or the terrors of the tempest – one of the great joys of this sea gypsy life is the utter exaltation that one feels after the waves subside and the wind slackens. Exposing oneself to deep sea danger is in stark contrast to our coddled society that is so unwilling to take risks. When the wind starts to shriek in the rigging, you will most certainly be “triggered.” And your only “safe space” will be your physical and emotional capacity to deal with it. But the reward of feeling truly self-reliant is worth the ordeal.
At Sea you are truly in Nature. You are not just in National Park Nature. And you are not just visiting it - you are metaphorically and literally immersed in it. This is so vital and yet so rare in our modern world. We have been profoundly deceived with the myth that we humans have “conquered” Nature. But two nights in a gale will reaffirm how impotent and fragile we are when Nature asserts herself.
But besides the sheer folly of this “We are Masters of the Planet” hubris, there are also more mundane but horrific consequences. The geometry of life is not a pyramid with Humanity at the apex. It is a web with Humanity but a single strand that also depends on the strength and resilience of the other strands and systems.
In our pride we believe that we can destroy foot-deep topsoil and replace it with a foot of dust laminated with fertilizer and pesticide and herbicide. This is not just folly. This is lunacy. We might think we can compensate for poisoned rivers and groundwater, with better filters, but we should think again. History is littered with dead civilizations that thought their technology could offset their pillage of their living habitat.
That word “resiliency” has reminded me of another important word that is so vital on a small ocean-going vessel – redundancy. AVENTURA has a low-tech back-up for all of her sophisticated systems. If the electric windlass fails, I can raise the anchor by hand (like I did for 25 years) with the manual over-ride. If the autopilot decides to rest, (and it frequently does) I can steer by hand. If the outboard motor turns temperamental, I can just row my dinghy (which I do 90% of the time anyway.)So my little boat is practically a floating shrine to “flexibility.” But life for most of the world that lives on the land is a shrine to “rigidity and fragility.” There is no “grid” to go down on my lovely sloop. But the so-called Real World is supremely dependent on the uninterrupted flow of electricity. Imagine a weekend without ATMs or air conditioning or internet or functioning gas stations or household lighting or TELEVISION. Now imagine how grim and chaotic things would be if that scenario stretched out far beyond a weekend.
This brings me to the next comforting aspect of my fine little ship and my sea gypsy life. Should things become severely unraveled, I can sail away to the safety of a better harbor. And if conditions become Nasty with a Capital N, I can flee to the safety of the open ocean. Ironically, 500 miles from land, I would have more essentials and even creature comforts than someone trapped in the mayhem of the suburbs.
The solar panels would power the fridge to chill the beer. There is six months of non-perishable food stowed throughout the boat. I keep my drinking water tanks topped off from the rain, and have an emergency manual water-maker as well. There are books and music and movies as well as the constantly changing panorama of the waves and the clouds. Plus, I have already tested these systems several times on voyages that have lasted as long as 30 days.
As I finish this essay and glance around my ship’s handsome cabin, I am so thankful to live this simple but luscious sea gypsy life. I am also heartened to know that my writing has inspired others to try this path less traveled. Every few months some readers will email me and tell me that they have cut the real world rope and set themselves free. Learning this, my spirit soars – just as theirs will at that magical moment when they turn off the engine and let their sails fill and carry them onward. For they have now entered that Enchanted Realm where their neighbors live in the Sea and the Sky.
For a very detailed presentation of my views on the worthiness of a life cruising the Wide Waters, I recommend my Sea Gypsy Tribe concept, which you can find here. If this appeals to you, there are 5 or 6 more essays that flesh this out scattered throughout my blog. Enjoy!